December 2020

As we close out this difficult and challenging – and, in many cases, sad – year, I want to wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with prosperity and peace of mind, with good health and lots of hugs!!

This will be my last blog. I’ve decided to do a Newsletter for 2021. I’ll send it out to everyone on my email list on the 13th of each month. If you’re not on the list yet, I hope you’ll sign up. You can click the tab on the top of this page. As a thank you for joining, you’ll also receive Chapter 1 of Death Rang the Bell, Book 3 in The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries.

Each month, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the Death Rang the Bell production schedule – where we’re at, what we’re doing. I’ll also let you know about any upcoming events I have. At least through most of the summer, all events will be online. I’ve participated in dozens of Zoom events this past year and they are efficient and easy to navigate. You don’t need an account. All you do is register for the event. I always have all the information on the NEWS & EVENTS page of my website. The bookstore or library hosting the event also has registration information on their website. The link to attend will be sent to your email. Click “join meeting” and you’re good to go. You can attend with your video on or off. You can participate as much or as little as you want.

The second part of the monthly newsletter will be an AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT. I’ll share with you a book or books that I recently read and enjoyed. It’s always great to find a new author – or to be reminded of someone we used to love but forgot to go back to for a new book. I also enjoy rereading some of my favorites from time to time.

Finally, I’m going to really enjoy sharing this last part of the newsletter: AN INTERVIEW WITH… one of the characters in the books! Do you remember “Inside the Actors’ Studio” on A&E with James Lipton? Before the Q&A at the end of each show, Lipton asked a series of questions originated by French TV host Bernard Pivot. These were in turn based on questions set forth by French novelist Marcel Proust. I’m going to pick questions from both lists depending on which character is being interviewed. Steven is up first in January. He’s excited – and a little nervous!

These are the questions James Lipton asked:

1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
7. What is your favorite curse word?
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

So, as we count down to 2021, please stay safe and healthy. The end is in sight.

As always, thank you so much for your interest in Steven and Olivia!!!

November 2020

If ever there was a year that called for an escape from real life, surely 2020 has been that year. From the pandemic to politics, we’ve been inundated with scary and upsetting news. I am not embarrassed to say that I wanted to run away many times this past year. I have several go-to escapes that have served me well.

I love getting lost in the Harry Potter series. Whether I’m reading them, listening to them, or watching the movies, sliding through the portal on Platform 9¾ transports me to a magical time where all is well. Of course, Harry has his challenges, but my focus is on the lush description of Hogwarts−the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s office−as well as a snow-covered Hogsmeade and the fabulous, fascinating shops in Diagon Alley. I conveniently ignore the threats from Voldemort. After all, it’s my escape!

The Apothecary in Diagon Alley

My second tried-and-true method is a simple but effective escape: I go for a walk. There is something about being in nature and breathing in the fresh air that erases stress and puts the world right. I am lucky to live in an area in Central New York where there is no shortage of beautiful places to walk. I’m close to rivers and lakes, parks, woods, and forests. If I want to take a short drive and make a day of it, the spectacular Adirondack Mountains aren’t far away. My favorite times to be outside are fall and winter. I love the look of crimson, gold, and chocolate-colored autumn leaves and a pristine expanse of untouched snow all around me. Inhaling the smell and feel of cold, crisp winter air transports me to evenings when I was a teenager and my Dad took my sister, a friend, and me ice skating on a nearby pond.

A magical winter’s day.

Another wonderful escape is armchair travel. It used to be something we talked about decades ago when I was working in a library and patrons would came in for travel guides and large books full of pictures of foreign places. I have been blessed to be able to travel a lot. I’ve visited countries on 5 continents and am planning several trips with friends as soon as we can travel again. Like many people, I don’t print photographs like we used to, but I do print all my trip pictures. I put them in albums and write captions. I am currently remaking some of my albums, upgrading what I had previously. It’s a relaxing project and allows me to relive some lovely and fun times.

A Tea Plantation near Hangzhou, China

In my Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries, Steven and Olivia discover a portal in the house where they live−he in 1934, she in 2014. They learn that Einstein was right: there is no past, present or future; all time happens simultaneously. They figure out how to travel to each other’s time and spend many hours experiencing life in a world completely different from their own. Steven enjoys reading science-fiction and is thrilled to visit the future. Olivia has a nostalgia for the 1930s and revels in the clothes that she gets to wear when she visits Knightsbridge in 1934. The adventures are exciting escapes for both of them despite the troubling fact that Steven is always working on a murder investigation!

I hope you can escape via my photographs−if only for a moment.

The Great Wall of China
Shanghai Harbor
An 82-foot high statue of Buddha covered in gold leaf.

October 2020

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed during the past several years is doing interviews – in person, online, or during the Q & A session after panels at events. For this month’s blog, I decided to pick the 10 most common questions that I’ve been asked and share them with you.

Here they are…

1. Why do you write mysteries? I love the adventure of a mystery−the hunt for the killer and the quest for the truth. I like that a mystery can take place at any time and in any place−a quaint English village in the 1930s or a desert town in 1500BC Egypt. I especially like the satisfaction the reader gets at the end of a mystery. Everything is always wrapped up and explained.

2. What is the most challenging aspect of your writing life? Time management has been my biggest challenge. I would be happy if I could sit at my computer and write all day long. But, in addition to maintaining my normal life with exercise, walking, family, and friends (to say nothing of household chores and errands), I also need to maintain an active online presence, do marketing, and keep up lots of book-related paperwork. I’m also an active member of my Sisters in Crime chapter and attend a couple of conferences every year. I could use about 36 hours every day.

3. If you could be any fictional character, who would you be? Why? Ariadne Oliver in Agatha Christie’s mysteries. She’s quirky and fun. She has exciting adventures with Hercule Poirot. I love the portrayal of Mrs. Oliver by the British actress Zoe Wanamaker.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot and Zoe Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver

4. Are you a pantser or a plotter? In writing-speak a panster is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants, while a plotter outlines the novel beforehand.

I would have to say I’m a little of both. I always start out with a detailed plan. I outline the plot. I create the characters and their relationships. I sketch out who gets killed, how and why, and the killer. I create the arc of the relationship between Steven and Olivia, deciding what’s going to happen between them and how the friendship is going to evolve. Once I start writing, the book tends to grow organically. The characters usually take over and do things I hadn’t planned on.

If I’ve created realistic people (as opposed to characters), they will act according to the personalities I’ve given them. Their hopes, fears, desires, and motivations will lead them to do−or not do−certain things. More than once I’ve discovered that the person I originally thought was going to be the killer wasn’t. I got to a certain point in the rough draft and realized that it made more sense for someone else to have done it.

Robert Frost is quoted as saying, “No tears in the writer, No tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, No surprise in the reader.” For me that says it all.

5. Who are some of your favorite mystery authors? I love British mysteries. My top 3 authors are: Agatha Christie, Martha Grimes, and Deborah Crombie.

I fell in love with Christie’s books decades ago. I own and have read all of her books at least 2-3 times. I love the PBS Mystery programs with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot and Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. To me, they embody the characters Christie wrote.

All the Agatha Christie books take up 2 shelves in my office

I also love the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes. The characters are wonderfully quirky. Her child characters are often precocious and have loads of personality. I enjoy getting lost in Grimes’s settings time after time. Each of her titles is the name of a real British pub. One of my favorite activities has been to visit several of those pubs on trips to England. It made the stories come alive.

The Black Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon is known to the locals as The Dirty Duck
Arriving at The Dirty Duck from the opposite direction. Notice the sign.

Deborah Crombie is the author of the Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James Mystery Series. I love the way she’s created a community of friends, family, and co-workers around her two main characters. This enhances the stories and makes the characters seem like real people. It’s something I hope to do with my series.

6. Name a couple of your favorite time-travel books. The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser and Summersea by Eileen Lottman. I read them every couple of years and enjoy them all over again! I highly recommend them.

7. When and why did you begin writing? After I retired from teaching. I had a memory from my teenage years that I wanted to preserve for my family. When I sat down to write it, a huge wave of contentment washed over me. I haven’t been the same since! I submitted the piece to Victoria magazine. They published it and asked for more. I absolutely love the feeling of writing. I can’t not do it.

8. Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging? My background is languages. In college and grad school, I read mostly poetry and plays in French and Spanish. Because of this, I focus on the sound of the words and sentences. They must have rhythm, a certain cadence. They must flow.

Steven uses Radio Guide to look for interesting programs to listen to.

9. How do you research the historical details? I’ve used a number of primary sources to get the information I needed−newspapers, magazines, menus, photographs, old movies. I own a reproduction of the 1927 edition of the Sears Catalogue that I use for a lot of household goods and clothing. Once, I made an amazing find in a used bookstore−a February 24, 1934 copy of Radio Guide. That’s the week when Doorway to Murder takes place. So, I can be accurate about the programs Steven is listening to on the radio. How cool is that?

I also had the pleasure of interviewing my father about his memories as an 11-year old in 1934. He actually remembered quite a lot of details which I’ve incorporated into the books.

10. If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead? Aaron Staton did a great job as a 1940s-era man in the PBS show My Mother and Other Strangers. He was very believable both in the way he spoke and the way he moved. Although the hair color is wrong, he would make a good Detective Sergeant Steven Blackwell. As for the female protagonist Olivia Watson, no idea.

BONUS QUESTION: What advice would you give new writers? Never give up.

Another pub that’s the title and centerpiece of a Martha Grimes mystery
Inside the Lamorna Wink, Cornwall, UK

August/September 2020

I love finding a series with characters that grab me, making me want to follow their story over multiple books. That’s what I’m creating in The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries.

In Doorway to Murder, Depression-era cop Steven Blackwell comes face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folds over in the house where they live−he in 1934, she in the present day. Because of her work, Olivia has recently researched time travel and recognizes Einstein’s theory: there is no past, present, or future; all time happens simultaneously; and time can fold over, revealing another “time.” Olivia tells Steven she thinks that’s what they’re experiencing. The skeptical detective, however, is unfamiliar with the theory and demands physical proof. “Hard evidence,” he says. Olivia easily provides it. Thus, they begin a magical journey together.

Steven and Olivia reflect their own time but have the potential for a strong bond and an understanding of each other.

Steven is fascinated by the future and reads science fiction−he especially likes Jules Verne. In Doorway to Murder, he and Olivia make a plan for him to visit her in the 21st century. He compares himself to two of Verne’s characters:

Steven enjoys reading science fiction. Olivia likes movies from the 1930s.

Although he wasn’t going twenty thousand leagues under the
sea like Professor Aronnax, traveling from the Earth to the moon
like Michel Ardan, or journeying to the center of the Earth like
the famed Professor Von Hardwigg, this would be just as exciting.
Just! What was he thinking? They were only books, fiction. He
would be living it!

Steven embraces all the latest crime-solving methods and technological advances available to him in the early years of the 20th century. He’s excited about J. Edgar Hoover’s new Federal Crime Lab in Washington, D.C. and everything the scientists there can do. He tells Olivia the Feds are compiling a list of fingerprints from all over the United States and that he, Steven, shares information and results pertaining to his cases. He exclaims, “This is the best time to be a cop!”

Olivia enjoys a nostalgia for the 1930s. She dreams about The Golden Age of Travel,

Packed and ready for a grand tour.
when well-to-do travelers packed hat boxes, suitcases, and trunks and embarked on lengthy sea and rail voyages to exotic places. She’s hooked on Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto,and The Thin Man movies. She even named her kitten Mr. Moto!

To make it easier for Steven to believe what’s happening to him and Olivia, I wanted him to be at a vulnerable point in his life. When Doorway to Murder opens, he’s reeling from the recent unexpected and devastating death of his mother. Like other unmarried people of his time, Steven lived at home with his French-artist mother. His father is an admiral in the U.S. Navy who lives and works in Washington, D.C., only coming home on occasion. Because of the long hours and demands of his job, Steven has little social life. His mother had become his companion and confidante. Now, he’s lonely and misses their lively conversations.

Olivia is focused on the adventure of meeting Steven, rather than Steven himself. At the start of the series, she’s getting over the betrayal of her ex-fiancé. She’s finding herself again and enjoying her active single life. She has no interest whatsoever in a new relationship. Olivia left her job as a reporter five years ago to form The Watson Agency, a research enterprise. Its success and her free-lance travel-writing career give her the opportunity to travel overseas, which she loves, and the freedom to set her own working hours, which allows her plenty of time to interact with Steven. When Olivia meets Steven, she boldly seizes the chance for the ultimate trip−one which will take her back in time.

Unlike many characters created by writers, Steven simply was. With the exceptions noted above, Detective Sergeant Steven Blackwell came to me fully formed. I didn’t have to work on him. I was stunned when I realized that I knew him the first time I “saw” him. I had a strange experience (that’s a story for another time!) nearly fifty years ago when I saw the image of a young man. He was of average height and build with dark brown hair and eyes. He was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and dark corduroy pants.

As I wrote Steven’s story, he grew organically. Detective Sergeant Blackwell is a man on a mission. Whatever the circumstances surrounding an investigation, Steven drives himself to uncover the truth and get justice for the victim. In Doorway to Murder, the difficulties of the case lie in the absence of clues. In Threshold of Deceit, Steven must ignore his disdain for the victim and his admiration and respect for his two main suspects in order to solve the murder.

A classy 1934 Ford V-8.

In some ways, Steven and Olivia are quite different, but in their differences they balance each other. Where he is circumspect and weighs all sides of an issue, she is impulsive and often acts without thinking. He gets comfort from the order of rules and a daily routine. She is a free spirit and goes where the moment takes her.

To help in their understanding of each other, I wanted to be sure they shared some traits. They are both fiercely loyal and expect loyalty from those around them. They are bold, adventurous, and exceptionally curious about the world around them. While each is a product of their time, they both have a strong sense of what is right for them and have created a life unique to themselves. Thanks to Steven’s bohemian mother, he is open-minded, non-judgmental, and more tolerant than many of his contemporaries. Although Olivia is interested in getting married and eventually having children, right now she lives the life of a professional business woman and world traveler.

Over several months, Steven and Olivia have forged a strong bond of friendship. He has told no one about her. She has confided in her two best friends. When one of her friends asks about any hint of a romance, Olivia shakes her head and says, “But, how could we? In his time, I haven’t even been born yet. And right now, he’s probably been dead for years.”

Steven Blackwell and Olivia Watson still have a long road to follow. But we can be sure it will be filled with exciting adventures most of us can only dream about.

In Threshold of Deceit, Olivia subs for a day in the local high school.
Threshold of Deceit takes place in April 1934.
I gave Steven my grandfather’s love of Chevy cars and baseball. circa 1934

July 2020

Who doesn’t love going on a picnic? During this difficult time of coronavirus there are many things that we can’t do. But one beloved summertime activity not off-limits is a picnic. The beauty and joy of having a meal al fresco is that there are virtually no limits to where you can go. A local park, along the shores of a lake, in the woods, or in your backyard are all fun places to relax and enjoy lunch or supper. I have many wonderful memories of picnics – some of which marked milestones in my life.

The first picnic that I remember was on the occasion of my First Communion. My parents told me we could celebrate in any way that I wanted. We could have a party for family and friends, go to a restaurant for a nice meal, or something else. I asked for a picnic in Highland Forest with only the 4 of us – Mom, Dad, my sister, and me. My mother was surprised at my choice. What? Take off that beautiful dress, put on pants and t-shirts, and tromp through the woods? Yup. That’s what I wanted.

Highland Forest Picnic for my 1st Communion

It was a chilly spring day. My sister and I gathered branches and my Dad built a small camp fire. It was a typical 1950s American picnic – hot dogs in soft white buns, pickles, potato chips, and soda. My Mom probably brought cookies but I don’t remember that. My family spent a glorious afternoon in the peace and quiet of a forest where the only noise was the sound of birdsong and our laughter.

Throughout my childhood summers, my mother made special efforts to make ordinary everyday things memorable. My sister and I had lots of picnics in the backyard – bologna sandwiches, pickles, and potato chips for lunch (notice a theme here?). And once or twice a week, she packed up a cold supper and our beach things so when my Dad got home from work, we could go right to Green Lakes State Park. We would play in the sand, swim in the crystal-clear lake, and eat our supper at a picnic table under the trees. We stayed until the sun set and it got dark.

Picnic in the back yard

Picnics in France are a completely different affair. When I was teaching in Marseille, I became friends with a French woman and her family. They introduced me to un pique-nique français. This involves what some Americans might call gourmet food – fresh baguettes, pâté, an assortment of cheeses, cold salads and meats, olives, fresh fruit, and, of course, wine. The French bring a collapsible table and chairs or spread a colorful cloth on the ground. There is always a table cloth, cloth napkins, and real glasses, plates, and utensils. They don’t necessarily go to a designated park or picnic area. More often, they go wherever they think would be a beautiful spot for a meal en plein air.

After I returned to the States and was teaching French in a local high school, I got in the habit of taking my students to Paris in the summer. A picnic in a park became one of the favorite activities every year. I’d pack a separate bag with a red-and-white table cloth, napkins, plates, cups, and silverware.

On the day of our adventure, we would go shopping for our pique-nique. We inhaled the heavenly aromas of the fresh breads and chose carefully in the boulangerie, selected pâtés and a variety of salads in the charcuterie, picked out fresh fruit in the marché, and then swooned at the pastries in the pâtisserie. I have wonderful memories of each déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Threshold of Deceit, the 2nd book in The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries, begins with a very different kind of picnic. Here is an excerpt:

Chapter 1

She sat across from him on the red-and-blue plaid blanket, legs stretched out and ankles crossed. It was a glorious day and the sun felt delicious on her skin. The wide-brimmed hat shaded her face, but already her arms were growing pink. She smiled, watching cardinals swoop back and forth in the lush meadow around them. She closed her eyes and listened−the air hummed with birdsong.

Today was their first picnic of the season. He had carried the wicker basket packed with all his favorites—ham sandwiches and garlicky pickles, potato salad, and apple muffins with chopped walnuts. He’d finished eating first and was lounging on his back, elbows bent, hands locked together behind his head. He squinted in the bright light as he gazed sleepily at a flock of Canada geese flying high above in a V-formation.

She sat quietly, watching, waiting for the poison to take effect.

As she popped the last bite of oatmeal raisin cookie into her mouth and was brushing the crumbs off the skirt of her new dress, Frankie Russo began to choke.

Until next month, Bon Appétit!!

June 2020

During this corona-virus pandemic, when we all need to pull together and work toward a common goal, it seems a fitting topic to talk about what it takes to go from an idea in the writer’s mind to a published book on the shelf.

The Nigerian phrase “It takes a village” has become familiar to many Americans, partly because of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book. I recently thought how appropriate that sentiment is to writing and publishing a novel. Before I was a writer, I never gave any thought to what it took to get a book written and published. Now I know it takes a lot of people! A lot!!

Of course, I can only speak for myself but I believe I am representative of many authors.

After I have written my rough draft, I turn to my college friend MAS who has generously offered to listen to me read my draft out loud to her on the phone. This is an enormous help because I hear things that I don’t see when I’m writing or reading my manuscript on the computer or on pages I’ve printed out. I hear mistakes, repetitions, boring bits, and other things best left out. MAS suffers through that very rough rough draft. She also offers insights on plot, character development, and, most of all, she tells me when I haven’t written well enough and she is confused.

After we’ve finished, I return to my draft and rewrite it. I let it simmer for a week then reread it. I fix things that jump out at me as awkward, confusing, or slow. I enhance the characters and setting. I add all the layers I wanted to do earlier but was too focused on getting my basic ideas down. I make sure there are enough historical details. I go through a pile of notes that I’ve accumulated over the months when I was writing the first draft, selecting and discarding ideas and sentences. After letting it sit once more, I read it again. Hopefully there are only minor tweaks at this point.

Here is where the village takes over. I send the completed draft to my Beta readers and anxiously await their comments and critiques. I am blessed to have talented friends who are also extremely supportive. Lifelong friends MH, MLM, SSW, and KL take anywhere from 1-4 weeks to read the copies I’ve printed out for them. They write notes in the margins about things they like and I should keep, as well as things they suggest I should change. They also write out several pages of notes much like my editor does in the developmental arc edits. As I receive each batch of notes and comments, I decide if I agree with what my Beta readers have said or not. If more than two people make the same comment, I definitely address that issue. I go through the manuscript 4 more times implementing each person’s comments, one at a time.

At some point while the Beta readers have the manuscript, I contact GM, my go-to cop. He reads the novel and tells me where I have made mistakes in the police procedure. Naturally, I fix most of those. For the sake of the story, I occasionally leave something I know is wrong but I note that in my comments at the end of the book.

Once I’ve incorporated all my changes and reread the manuscript a final time, I email it to my editor. She reads it and, in a month, she’ll send me what are called developmental arc edits. These are notes on plot, character, pacing, dialogue, and action scenes. I’ll rewrite the manuscript again to incorporate her suggestions−or explain why I don’t want to make a certain change. Luckily so far, we have ended up agreeing on things.

After all the writing and rewriting, a copy editor goes over the manuscript for errors in punctuation or verb tense. The interior designer decides what the inside of the finished book will look like in terms of margins, spacing, page color, font, and any artistic elements that might be added. The cover artist designs the artwork and cover. It finally goes to print. Then, hopefully you will be interested to read it!

I would like to give a huge and heartfelt Thank You!! to my village. I couldn’t do it without all of you.

If you’ve read previous posts, you will have noticed that I like to include photos with each one. I couldn’t think of anything appropriate this time, so I decided to simply post pictures of some of my favorite villages. Enjoy!

Chartres, France
Chartres isn’t technically a village but with its beautiful medieval buildings, it feels like one.
Eze, France
Eze is what the French call un nid d’aigle (an eagle’s nest). It’s a village cut from the rock perched on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean. No real streets, no cars allowed.
Looking down on the village of Eze.

Clovelly, England
Clovelly is the British version of an eagle’s nest village. See a theme here?
Clovelly looking up.
Hogsmeade. (I couldn’t resist!!)

May 2020

I love the Harry Potter books. I’ve read all of them twice. I’ve seen the movies. I’ve listened to the audio books on trips in the car. I’ve actually been to Hogwarts−via the Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden, England.

Why, you ask, would a grown woman be so enamored with a children’s series? One reason is the language. It’s one of my favorite things about the Potter books.

I’ve always loved languages. I enjoy the challenge of learning a new one when I travel−even if I only master a handful of useful phrases. I have favorite words. Language is especially important in the Harry Potter books. Not only are there fun facts and clues hidden in the names of many characters, but because J. K. Rowling actually invented new words. There is an entirely new lexicon that now exists because of these books. To someone like me, that is just plain awesome.

The Gryffindor Common Room
The Gryffindor Common Room

If readers look carefully at some of the characters’ names, they’ll discover clues to their personalities as well as secrets they’re trying to keep. Three individuals whose names betray their character are Draco Malfoy, Remus Lupin, and Voldemort.

We know from our very first encounter with Harry’s nemesis that Draco Malfoy is bad news. His first name is connected to the word draconian, which refers to extremely harsh and severe laws, and to the Latin draconem, a reference to dragons or large serpents. (Draco is sorted into Slytherin House, whose symbol is a large snake.) His last name Malfoy comes from the old French mal foi, which means bad faith. Putting all of this together, we have an untrustworthy, unyielding, sneaky kid. Throughout all seven books in the series, Draco Malfoy will be Harry’s enemy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Magic.

In book 3 of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we are introduced to a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher−Professor Remus Lupin, a man with a potentially dangerous secret. If we look at his name we can guess what Lupin is hiding. The name Remus means unknown and refers to the mythological twin who founded Rome with his brother Romulus. So, we have a clue to the double-character of the DADA professor. The second indication is in his last name, which comes from the Latin lupus, meaning wolf. In addition, the French word for wolf is loup, which is quite similar to Lupin. Fudge a couple of letters, put it together, and we have Professor Lupin who works hard to hide his second nature−a werewolf.

Harry’s greatest enemy, in fact, the evil that lies at the core of the series, is the character called Voldemort. French-speakers throughout the world knew immediately the most profound desire of this character. Breaking the name into 3 separate words, we have vol de mort. In French, this means flight from death. The character Voldemort is horrified of dying and goes to extreme, criminal, and terrifying lengths to avoid death. This is one of the threads that is woven through the entire series.

The Potions Classroom


If we consider the magic spells, there is a definite logic in the way J. K. Rowling created them. Some are direct translations from other languages and others rely on Latin suffixes. We’ll look at three: Accio, Expelliarmus, and Wingardium Leviosa.

Accio is a summoning spell. Witches and wizards use it to call an object which is located at some distance away from them. The object then flies to the person casting the spell. Accio is a direct translation from Latin meaning I summon.

Expelliarmus is Harry Potter’s signature spell. The witch or wizard uses it to force an enemy or opponent to drop the weapon they have in their hand. Breaking the word into 3 parts, we get: expel arm and a Latin-inspired suffix –us. Expel means to force or drive out, to eject. Arm, of course, refers to a weapon. I don’t know this for a fact, but my guess is the additional letters in Expelliarmus are to make the sound flow properly. The suffix gives it an otherworldly feel.

The meaning of Wingardium Leviosa is evident at first glance. The spell begins with the word wing with the obvious connotation. The second word starts with the root lev. In the Romance languages French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, any action that connotes an upward movement and the words meaning to raise up, to lift up, to rise all begin with lev. The spell Wingardium Leviosa is cast to make an object or person fly or lift up from the ground.

Dumbledore’s Office

Finally, there are the words J. K. Rowling invented. Until 1997, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the British title) was published, dozens of words did not exist. Quidditch had never been played, no one had ever heard of Muggles, and nobody understood what it meant to apparate.

J. K. Rowling said in an interview that for some reason she wanted the wizarding sport to start with a Q. She tried dozens of words and none sounded right to her until she rhymed quidditch with pitch, the British word for the cricket playing field. She liked the sound of the two words together and the name of the sport was born.

Muggles are non-magic people. From a witch or wizard’s point of view, they might be seen as mugs. In Britain, London in particular, a mug is an easy mark, someone who is somewhat stupid or gullible. Muggles are most definitely at a disadvantage in the Harry Potter books.

When someone in the wizarding world apparates, they magically leave the place where they are and appear somewhere else. This activity is fraught with danger and can only be legally performed after the witch or wizard has turned 17 and has taken a test. Again, looking at Latin and the Romance languages, the root of this verb is associated with appearing. In French, for example, to appear is apparaître. It’s a small step to the word apparate.

The last item I’d like to mention is pure conjecture on my part. I noticed that the main thoroughfare in Hogsmeade, the crowded and bustling street filled with all kinds of intriguing shops, is called Diagon Alley. Putting the two words together, we get diagonally. Something that is just fun to think of.

The 12 foot tall queen in the chess game from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I imagine J. K. Rowling had a lot of fun coming up with all the names of food, especially “sweets”
Getting on to the platform at King’s Cross Station

One of the many exciting shops in Diagon Alley
I’ve been fascinated by owls since I was a teenager. Eeylop’s Emporium would be my first stop.
The Shambles in York, England. I’ve always wondered if J. K. Rowling based Diagon Alley on this medieval street. The entire street sits at an angle. Not a straight wall in sight.

April 2020

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt. Exploring Cairo, Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings, drinking in the architecture and art, walking up the ramp at Deir el-Bahri were the stuff my dreams were made of. My father shared this interest. Some years ago, we decided we’d waited long enough, we were going to Egypt. I was so excited!

At Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple Deir el-Bahri

Whenever I travel, one of my pleasures is learning about the place I’m going to visit. I research the history, geography, and culture of the region and read everything I can get my hands on. As it happened, I had read Sphinx by Robin Cook a number of years before. There’s a scene in the novel where the protagonist is offered tea by a merchant in the Khan el Khalili Bazaar in Cairo. I thought how cool it would be to look for treasures in a shop in the souk and be invited to tea by the owner!

During the first few days of our adventure, I rode a camel into the Sahara Desert to the Pyramids at Giza. We explored the Sphinx and the funerary barque of Cheops. We marveled at the treasures recovered from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. We gazed in awe at the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Sakkara. Day after day we were overwhelmed by the brilliant engineering, art, and architectural wonders of the ancient Egyptians.

On my way to the Pyramids at Giza

On Wednesday, I had the afternoon to myself. This was my moment to experience something genuinely Egyptian. Thrilled, I headed out armored with my half-dozen expressions in Arabic–Hello. Please. Thank you. No. It’s hot out today. Goodbye.

The Khan el Khalili Bazaar is a labyrinth of tiny, twisting streets occupying several city blocks. Constructed in the 1300s, this seemingly endless emporium sits nestled inside the Old City Walls. I wandered past shops selling gleaming copper pots, finely wrought silver and gold jewelry, and hanging brass lamps. I examined soft leather poofs and alabaster statues of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. I considered beautifully crafted marquetry trays and boxes.

Everywhere I looked, there were marvels for sale. But nowhere did I see what I had come for. I wanted to purchase 2 galabiyahs (Egyptian kaftans)–one for myself and one for my mother. Oh yes, there were robes galore but the one for my mother had to be of the softest Egyptian cotton in pale blue−her favorite color.

I wound my way through crowded narrow alleyways, up stone steps, under pointed Gothic arches. Vaulted ceilings caught the aroma of spices, tobacco, and coffee and I breathed in deeply. I strolled by tiny cafés where men in galabiyahs stayed cool in the heat while they played backgammon or smoked water pipes filled with homemade mixtures of tobacco, straw, and sugar cane. At last, I came to a tiny shop on the edge of the market. The proprietor, garbed in a striped kaftan, waved at me from the open doorway. Why not?

Marhaba. Hello. Goods for sale were crammed on wooden shelves that rose to the 20-foot high ceiling. Cheap tourist stuff. La. Shukraan. No. Thank you. The man raised his hand and pointed toward a dark recess at the rear of the long narrow shop. He hurried to the opening and flipped a light switch, revealing another packed room. Better quality, but still no galabiyahs. I explained what I was searching for. Ah ha! His index finger popped up again, indicating a third dark room. He squeezed past me and hit another switch. Now, we’re talking!

The sanctum sanctorum was smaller and more cramped than the previous 2 rooms but it was chock full of colorful kaftans. I tried on several and picked out a black one trimmed in gold and scarlet for myself. He took robe after robe off the shelves. How about this color? What about that design? I told him it had to be pale blue. After much darting about and rummaging through shelves and boxes, the pile of untried galabiyahs grew wobbly tall.

At last, he cried out and spun around to face me, a delicate blue robe in the softest of cottons in his hand. I smiled and nodded.

The shopkeeper wrapped them up, handed me the package, then left the room. A moment later, he returned grinning and carrying a small tray. On it was a steaming pot of tea, a bowl of sugar, and two tiny glasses set in silver-like holders with handles. I was so involved in picking out the kaftan I had completely forgotten about the tea.

My host set the tray on a small round table. With a flourish, he gestured me to sit on a rickety wooden chair as he invited me to tea. I felt like I had arrived!

I loved the rest of the trip−the train ride to Luxor, exploring tombs in the Valley of the Kings, sailing down the Nile. But having tea in the Khan el Khalili Bazaar made me feel, if only for a moment, that I belonged to this wondrous culture.

Camel market in the desert
The Step Pyramid at Sakkara, designed by Imhotep for King Djoser.

Inscribed and painted columns in the Karnak Temple
A close-up of the gorgeous colors painted over 2000 years ago and looking as fresh as if they’d been done yesterday

At the Temple of Horus with a falcon.
The Temple of Seti I in Abydos

March 2020

In the UK, a cuppa−that is, a cup of tea−fixes everything. It’s the universal panacea. You have a cold and a stuffy nose? Have a cuppa. You’re sad that your favorite show was cancelled? Have a cuppa. You’re getting divorced? Have a cuppa. For all of life’s trials both big and small, the British drown their sorrows and find solace and hope in a cup of tea.

In this challenging and scary time, I’d love to be able to say, “Come over and have a cuppa. It’ll soothe your mind and wash away your cares.” Since that’s not possible in this period of self-isolation and staying home, I invite you to share in some of my favorite tea memories. Make yourself a cuppa and enjoy . . .

The first time I visited the UK, I stayed with a friend who was working and living in North London. On the Monday when she went off to work, I headed down the road to have breakfast in a small shop. I was excited to partake in that quintessential British custom of a full English breakfast with a pot of tea. I watched fascinated as the waitress brought the tea items−steaming pot of a rich black brew, jug of whole milk, and sugar bowl. She patiently explained the proper way to serve England’s magic drink. She filled half of the cup with milk, then she poured the strong tea up to the brim. She pushed the sugar bowl toward me and told me to add two spoons full.

Prior to that morning I had never drunk tea with milk or sugar but, when I travel, I always do what the locals do. Otherwise, what’s the point of traveling? While I waited for my English breakfast, I sipped my tea. Revelation! It was delicious. Sweet and wonderful. I was forever hooked. From then on, whenever it’s a rainy day, I make a pot of English tea in the afternoon while I’m writing−and I make it exactly as that lovely woman taught me.

Drinking tea in the United Kingdom isn’t limited to breakfast, of course. There are cream teas and the grande dame of them all−afternoon tea.

Belinda and me in Burford enjoying a yummy tea.
I was thrilled to taste my first cream tea in Stow-on-the-Wold, a small village in the Cotswolds. My friend and I sat in a tiny tea shop and mmmed our way through delicious scones covered in strawberry jam and clotted cream (whipped heavy cream only slightly sweet). I’m sure the expression to die for was invented for cream teas.

Afternoon tea is something else! It was invented at Brown’s Hotel in London. Established in 1837, Brown’s is London’s oldest hotel. Not long after, they began serving afternoon tea to society’s elite. Agatha Christie (my favorite author) frequented Brown’s and often enjoyed afternoon tea. The hotel in her Miss Marple mystery At Bertram’s Hotel is modeled on Brown’s.

I’ve always wanted to have afternoon tea at Brown’s−it was in the top 5 on my bucket list. A few years ago, I had the chance to do it. My friend Belinda and I went to London for a couple of weeks to celebrate our 65th birthdays. I made the reservations. We packed a special outfit−according to their online information women are expected to wear dresses or skirts. We ate very little that day in anticipation.

Nothing could have prepared me for this glorious event. The Drawing Room at Brown’s embraces its guests in luxury. Thick carpeting and rich wood paneling quiet the room. Conversations are kept low. Scattered throughout the room are camelback sofas upholstered in jewel tone velvets. A crackling fire in the hearth kept out the November chill on our visit.

Agatha Christie’s favorite spot in Brown’s tearoom. The waiter told us this was where she always sat.

Our feast included: a choice of 17 teas, finger sandwiches, an assortment of delicate pastries, fruit and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, and a choice of freshly baked cakes from the trolley. The choice of sandwiches was: ham, cheese, and pickle relish; smoked salmon with a light mayonnaise; egg salad; corned beef and gherkin on a poppy seed bagel. We could have as much as we wanted. Our waiter brought more of our favorite sandwiches and pastries without our having to ask. The selection of pastries included: pineapple tart, red velvet cake, banana caramel, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, chocolate cup with yogurt and blueberries, rice pudding with coconut milk and mango topping, and red jelly.

When the waiter took our tea order, he asked if we were on vacation. We told him we were celebrating our 65th birthdays. To our great surprise and delight, he brought out champagne−compliments of the management−and wished us many happy returns. To say we were thrilled is an understatement. As Belinda and I enjoyed our sandwiches, scones, and desserts, he returned a couple of times to refill our champagne glasses. Finally, as if all of that wasn’t enough, he brought out 2 small cakes with flaming candles and wished us one more Happy Birthday. I happily crossed off Tea at Brown’s from my bucket list.

Although afternoon tea at Brown’s was certainly luxurious, I enjoyed those other firsts equally as much. And every time I return to the UK, I anticipate with great pleasure that pot of tea with an English breakfast and as many cream teas as we can fit in our visit!

Sampling one of 17 different teas.
Tea at Brown’s, London.
My favorite dessert was the tiramisu – with an edible gold coffee bean.

Some of the pots in my teapot collection.

February 2020

I awoke this morning to the quiet hush of gently falling snow. It’s been snowing since yesterday afternoon and shows no signs of letting up. I’m sitting here in the breakfast nook, which is normally flooded with sunlight, with my first cup of strong black coffee. Today the room is dark and the screens are so thick with blown snow that it’s difficult to see outside. If I stretch my neck just so, I can barely make out the towering martin house, sitting abandoned in the middle of the field, its roof an over-sized birthday cake with thick vanilla icing dripping down the sides. Just behind it, the apple tree’s branches bend low, heavy with drifts of snow. It’s going to be a lovely day, I think to myself, as a gust of wind lifts armfuls of the stuff and races towards the woods. I love snowstorms. They’re the perfect atmosphere for a mystery writer. In between the writing, I putter around the house doing little jobs and fun projects. I listen to old Mireille Mathieu records in French. And I remember when I got snowed in with Proust.

It was my senior year of college, up north along the shores of Lake Ontario. I was living in an all-girls boarding house in a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorian homes. My room was on the top floor in what was once the attic, a space I now shared with the treetops and birds. I was a French major and a romantic. I used to imagine that I lived in a small garret tucked under the mansard roof of an eighteenth century stone building on the Ile-St.-Louis in Paris. I loved the isolation of my room. I would sit for hours reading the works of Baudelaire, Balzac, and Rimbaud, writing essays, and dreaming of the future.

The blizzard began on a Tuesday and, at first, everyone was excited that classes would be cancelled for a couple of days. Then sometime during the night, we lost power and the temperatures plummeted below zero. I awoke in the morning with a cold nose and quickly rushed to my closet to add several thick warm layers of clothing. Outside everywhere I looked was a swirling, whirling world of white. I went downstairs to make a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast on the gas stove and ate it hunched over the kitchen table trying to absorb the heat of the cereal. I returned to my room with a steaming mug of sugared tea. That semester I was taking a course on Proust and our assignment was several hundred pages of Remembrance of Things Past. I read all day, curled up in the corner on my bed, covered in sweaters and blankets. In the quiet stillness of the darkening afternoon, I lit candles and continued reading long into the night.

I spent the next three snow-filled days and candle-lit nights with Proust and, like his characters, I thought about time−time and memories. I let my mind drift through snowstorm memories of my childhood. I smiled as I pictured my sister and me making snow angels in the backyard, lying in the deep snow, arms and legs determinedly pushing up and down in arcs. I remembered the igloos we built, lopsided domes that sheltered us from the whipping wind and seemed magical once we crawled inside. I thought of my father taking us ice fishing on Saturday mornings. We would drive onto the lake, weaving in and out of the many shacks, cars, and trucks scattered over the thick ice. The highlight of the day was always our winter picnic. My sister and I would sit in the open doorway of the car bundled up to our chins in snowsuits and scarves, savoring the hot chocolate and melted cheese sandwiches that my mother had lovingly prepared. Memory flowed into memory and my childhood came to life. Finally during the fourth day, the blizzard stopped.

It’s been years now since that storm; but every time snow begins to fall with great abandon, my mind travels back to those days in my aerie room and I remember how time folded back to reveal the past. I sit quietly and let the snow take me back to those glorious days of innocence and fun.

January 2020

I’ve always been inspired by strong independent women who knew what they wanted and worked hard to get it−Hatshepsut, Elizabeth I, J. K. Rowling, Cher to name a few. Although I usually read mysteries and political thrillers, last year I read two autobiographies that I couldn’t put down.

I had along admired Michelle Obama for her spirit, intellect, grace, and passion. But, when I read her autobiography BECOMING my admiration grew. She put forth her life story with honesty and humility. She was a smart, sassy, outspoken little girl who came across as someone I could identify with. She grew up in a modest family with a lot of love and a thirst for knowledge. She wasn’t afraid to take risks or work hard to achieve her goals.

When I got to the part where she described the early years of her marriage to Barack Obama, I was stunned to realize she spent many years functioning very much like a single mother. Why hadn’t I thought about that before? While he was campaigning or climbing the political ladder−in Chicago or out of town−she was home alone raising two kids and working. Always generous of spirit, loving, and supportive of his career, I don’t remember any point in the book where she complained about her situation. She tackled each day and got the job done.

I believe that BECOMING will find its place as a classic in American literature and will continue to inspire girls and young women for many years to come.

A story equally inspiring but vastly different in experiences is LIFE UNDERCOVER: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox. I never thought a biography would be a page-turner but Fox’s autobiography reads like a LeCarré novel or a James Bond story.

From her often unsupervised childhood, where she used London as her playground, to her time working undercover as a spy, at times unofficially, without protection from our government if caught, in order to infiltrate terrorist networks in some of the most dangerous theaters in the world, Amaryllis Fox has lived life on the edge.

Fox is passionate about understanding how people think and why terrorists do what they do. She is über-smart, clever, resourceful, exceedingly brave, and steadfastly loyal. She tells her story with honesty, humor, and humility. I admire her passion, commitment, and courage more than I can put into words. I am astounded by the missions she undertook on our behalf. She put herself in harm’s way, risking her life for the United States. She risked never seeing loved ones again, especially her adored daughter (who was a baby at the time). She put country above personal life and never complained. She deserves our recognition and our thanks.

I highly recommend this amazing autobiography.

December 2019

On December 6, I had the honor of spending the day with the Jungle Red Writers – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Deborah Crombie, Rhys Bowen, Lucy Burdette, Hallie Ephron, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Jenn McKinley. We had a lot of fun talking about travel souvenirs. I’d love to have you check it out.

From my house to yours, I wish you and yours a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY and BLESSED NEW YEAR.

October 2019

Who doesn’t remember their first car? I sure do.

It was a 1964 red VW bug and, although it was a mess, I loved it. It had belonged to a college friend who was going into the Peace Corps and didn’t need it. I was on Long Island, at Stony Brook University getting my Masters. She lived about 45 minutes away. Of course, it was a standard shift, which I didn’t know how to drive. But, why would I let that stop me? I got my friend Chucho from Mexico, who didn’t have a license but knew how to drive a standard, to come with me on the train then drive it back to campus. He showed me the basics on the way home.

The first time I went out on my own, I caught a red light on a small incline. Depress the clutch, hit the brake, downshift to first. Good. I’ve got this. Green light. Release the brake and give it a little gas. I rolled back into a Lincoln Continental. BRAKE! I’d forgotten to release the clutch. Luckily, I only tapped his bumper and the man was very gracious. After that, I learned fast. A week later, I drove into Manhattan where I really learned to drive a stick.

My maternal grandfather, affectionately known as Pa, was born in 1900−a year before Steven, the Depression-era cop in my series. Pa embraced the advent of the automobile like a long lost brother. He was a “Chevy man.” He traded in for a new one every two years. Pa loved his cars and treated them like they were his children. Every Saturday, he lovingly washed and hand-polished his Chevy. On Sunday, he and my grandmother often took a drive.

Since Pa and Steven would have been contemporaries, I gave Steven his love of cars. Steven saved his money and, a month before the Stock Market Crash of 1929, bought his first car−a 1929 dark green, 4-door Chevy sedan. It has a 6 cylinder engine, a spare tire mounted over the back bumper, wire spokes in the wheels, and a leather strap inside for the front, bench seat passenger to hold.

In Threshold of Deceit, Olivia spends several days in 1934 with Steven and gets to ride to Syracuse with him while he’s working on an investigation.

Olivia sank onto the roomy bench seat and ran her hand
over the soft tufted upholstery. The luxurious interior was
a pale gray, chenille-like material. Olivia stretched out her
legs and leaned back onto the seat, enjoying the moment.
Yeah, this is pretty cool. (Threshold of Deceit)

I’m having a lot of fun picking out cars for my characters. I search the internet and, because I live in Central New York, I actually get to see them in person. I even have a choice!

The fabulous Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, NY has nearly 200 vintage cars in stunning display. In addition, every summer, Syracuse hosts the Syracuse Nationals, the largest classic car show in the Northeast. In 2018, over 90,000 people came to see more than 8,000 classic cars from 34 states and 6 Canadian provinces. For someone who writes a mystery series set in the 1930s this is fabulous! Enjoy these pictures of some of the cars I had a chance to see recently.

1930 Packard Roadster

1932 Oldsmobile
1933 Buick

1935 Auburn Phaeton

1933 Buick dashboard

1929 Nash

Rumble seat in the 1929 Nash

September 2019

I love the promise and possibilities of a new beginning. I like Monday, the first of the month, New Year’s Day, and, after spending my life in school, September. It’s a fresh start, a do-over, a second chance.

Since I began writing and have become very busy again−after a brief 5 years of being retired from teaching−I set goals and make lists. Early Monday morning, I look at what deadlines that are imposed on me and what deadlines I set for myself in order to get everything accomplished without feeling stressed or rushed. I want to enjoy what I do. Some goals are related to writing−copy edits are due to my editor, the video script must be written so we can film it. Others are more personal. I’ve been in training to swim laps again after an 8-year hiatus because of back problems. I mark my calendar with the days I’ll work out in the pool and those when I’ll walk and exercise. So far, it’s working. I’m thrilled to say I’ve been able to swim 4 laps so far. And it feels awesome!!

I love the promise and possibilities of a new beginning

I’ve experienced lots of new things this year. In January, I signed with a new publisher. After searching for the better part of a year, I was thrilled to become a part of the Level Best Books family. Trust me when I say that the submission process is not for the faint-hearted. I hit the jackpot and have loved working with my editor. I also have a new book out this year after a long and unavoidable delay. I’m buying my first laptop and am launching an updated website. Yay!

In Threshold of Deceit, Olivia embarks on an epic adventure filled with firsts. After 2 months of successful experiments inside their house, she and Steven decide to push the boundaries and take a risk. Olivia time-travels to 1934 and leaves the house for the first time. Every step she takes and everything she does thrills her; some of it scares her.

Steven had forgotten his watch and ran back upstairs to fetch it. Olivia waited on the front porch, sensing she was on the cusp of something epic. The enormity of what she was doing made her a bit light-headed and her heart beat faster from the fear of the unknown. (Threshold of Deceit)

As we begin a new month, I’ll keep making my lists and, like Olivia, maybe take a risk or two trying something new.