Saturday, October 31, 2009


In honor of Halloween, here's a photo of me hanging out with some spooky "friends" at Universal Studios last year about this time. :) Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"A Book and A Dish" Reviews To Hell in a Handbasket

Martha Cheves, the author of the blog named A Book and A Dish, posted a review of the second novel in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, To Hell in a Handbasket, tonight. I'm very pleased with what she had to say!

Martha also posted my recipe for Fruitcake Cookies. I was given this recipe by a favorite teacher when I was in high school many moons ago, and the cookies are a staple at my house around Christmas time. I hope those of you who decide to try the recipe enjoy them as much as I do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth Zelvin Visits!

Today I am pleased to welcome Elizabeth (Liz) Zelvin to my blog. To read her bio and a short blurb about her latest release, Death Will Help You Leave Him, scroll down to Monday's "teaser" post for Liz's visit. Today, we have photos! Of Liz and her book cover. Also, her answers to my interview questions follow. Please feel free to ask Liz questions here today about herself and her books, and if you've read any of her work, share your praises with the rest of us.

1. Please describe your current release and the series in which it’s contained in more depth.

Death Will Help You Leave Him is the second book in the series that began with Death Will Get You Sober, featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Jimmy, a computer genius who’s been sober a long time and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara, an addictions counselor who’s also a world-class codependent. In the first book, Bruce got sober—and stayed sober by becoming involved in a murder investigation. In this one, he’s still sober, so he has to deal with all the stuff that he blotted out with booze over the years, especially emotions and relationships. He’s torn between a budding interest in Luz, the friend whose abusive boyfriend is murdered in her apartment, and a toxic but very powerful old relationship with his ex-wife, Laura, who’s pretty crazy. The idea of the series is to show through Bruce how remarkable the transformation that takes place in recovery is, whether it’s recovery from alcoholism or some other addiction or compulsive behavior. He’s coming back to life and taking responsibility for the first time, and it is not an easy process. Throw in a murder and stir, and you have a volatile situation—which is of course what writers and readers want.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

That may be the wrong question for me, because the whole process is completely intuitive. I know certain things about how alcoholics and codependents feel and act—when they’re at their most destructive and out of control, when they’re in that shaky state of early recovery, and when they start to use the 12-step programs and in some cases the tools of therapy to make remarkable changes. But what makes these characters individual and not simply generic recovering people is a matter of voice. Bruce talks in my head all the time, and at this point I have a good handle on what he will and will not say. Someone who edited a short story of mine a while back tried to make some changes that I think demonstrate the difference. Bruce said something was “not far enough,” and the editor wanted to make it “not sufficiently far.” Then he referred to “alcoholics like me,” and the editor suggested “alcoholics such as I.” Bruce wouldn’t say “sufficiently” or “such as I” in a million years.

The process was different with Barbara, the nice Jewish girl from Queens who can’t get past her codependency. She started out as a first-person character with a backstory a lot like my real-life background. What I learned in the editing process was how to make her less like me. I began to take her codependent tendencies—rescue, control, minding other people’s business—over the top, and that was a lot of fun. She also had a tendency to be a little preachy, and I began to see that readers might not like her as much as I did unless I fixed that. Thanks to an editor’s suggestion, I took her from first person to third—got a little distance from her—and that worked much better.

As for Jimmy, who’s a history buff like my husband—well, if you ask my husband, he’ll tell you my process was stealing all his one-liners.

3. How does your training and work experience in psychotherapy help you with character development?

My professional training and knowledge doesn’t exactly dictate who my characters are as people. But if I have a character who’s depressed or suicidal or manic or narcissistic, I’ll make their behavior and thought processes plausible. I won’t use the wrong words, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. If someone feels ambivalent, I won’t say he’s schizophrenic. Or if she is in a dissociated state, I won’t say she’s schizophrenic either. Schizophrenic is something else. Dissociation can be as mild as road trance—or getting lost in a good book—and as extreme as dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. I’m not going to get that kind of thing wrong. And if someone does have DID, I’m going to make sure they have a history of childhood sexual abuse, because that’s where it usually comes from—that or some other severe trauma that the child survived only by walling part of him or herself off from what was happening.

4. In talking about your visit to my blog, you said, “This book is about bad relationships.” What did you mean by that? What types of bad relationships do you explore in it?

I said “bad relationships” rather than any kind of clinical term because I want to engage the reader. Everybody’s had at least one bad relationship of some kind. The two that popped into my mind just now were my first marriage, to a guy who was quite controlling and argumentative, and a boy who stalked me when I was fifteen. Really—he was a classic erotomanic stalker. Google it if you want to know what they’re like. Only we didn’t have the term “stalker” then, and everybody around me thought it was funny. It went on my whole senior year of high school. His delusion was that it was a relationship.

But I don’t think the “badness” of the relationships in Death Will Help You Leave Him are debatable. Frankie, the guy who gets killed, bullies and spies on and intimidates Luz, his girlfriend, probably hits her—shoving and shaking are also physical abuse, by the way—periodically walks out on her, and lies to her about his marriage. No wonder she’s the prime suspect when he’s killed in her apartment.

Then there’s Bruce’s relationship with his ex-wife, Laura. She’s all sex, drugs, and rock & roll, and he’s trying to stay clean and sober. She takes him to bed and then rubs his nose in her relationship with her new boyfriend. She makes suicidal phone calls to him late at night and guilt-trips him into taking care of her. She doesn’t want him, but she won’t let him go. And he’s hooked, even though she epitomizes the “people, places, and things” he needs to stay away from to remain in recovery.

The third bad relationship is Laura’s with her new boyfriend. She’s pathologically attached to a guy who’s brutal to her. There are reasons for this. I wrote a piece called “Why She Can’t Throw the Bum Out.” It’ll appear in the November issue of Mystery Scene. The first version was too clinical—I got caught up in explaining the reasons—and I had to rewrite it and bring it back to the story. And even more in the book itself, I have to keep telling the story and not start describing a clinical case.

5. Are there any good relationships in the book? If so, which ones? And how do you distinguish a good relationship from a bad one?

Jimmy and Barbara have a good relationship. It’s not a perfect relationship, and I don’t dwell on it. But you can see the affection between them and the graceful way they handle how very different they are from each other. There’s a lot of backstory that doesn’t appear in anything I’ve written so far. And there’s future backstory that I might eventually get a chance to write. For example, Barbara’s biological clock is ticking. But Jimmy is afraid he’ll be a father like his alcoholic dad. And both of them are scared that any child they have will be genetically predisposed to alcoholism or other addictions. That’s more like a biological bomb ticking—very scary for those involved.

How do you distinguish good from bad relationships? Uh, it’s not a good relationship if one partner abuses the other physically (hitting, beating, kicking, punching, pinching, shoving), sexually (forced sex, including marital rape), verbally (calling the partner obscene names, belittling, perennial sarcasm), or emotionally (bullying, intimidation, contempt, controlling, the silent treatment). In fact, I’m not exaggerating—you’d be amazed how many people have experienced some kind of abuse. But for a measure of the necessary conditions for a good relationship, I like the tenet from relational psychology (for which I bless the feminist psychologists of the 1970s and 1980s, who finally figured out how women develop) that says that an emotionally healthy relationship is mutual and growth enhancing. Think about it.

6. Okay, in the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Character every time. No contest. People are the most interesting thing in the world, as far as I’m concerned: their feelings, their relationships, their struggles to change and grow. That’s not only why I’m a writer, it’s also why I’m a shrink. E. M. Forster’s famous tag, “Only connect,” works for me.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I’ve already done it, when I talked about the high school stalker. I’ve been thinking about it since I read an article on stalking in one of the MWA or SinC newsletters (if anyone remembers which one, please email me), and I might blog about it eventually. But if you really want the deep stuff? West Wing or True Blood and peppermint stick ice cream.

8. What’s next for you, and Bruce, after Death Will Help You Leave Him?

The next book has Bruce, along with Jimmy and Barbara, taking shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the Hamptons. And they may appear in some more short stories: three have been published so far. But a very different story, a historical about a young Marrano sailor on Columbus’s first voyage, has been accepted for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I’m toying with the idea of a Young Adult novel about that character.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

You can visit my author website and I blog weekly on Poe’s Deadly Daughters. I’m also on Facebook and open to friends—though not to any of the games or applications. Death Will Help You Leave Him is in stores now, and I’ll be visiting some bookstores, libraries, and writers’ groups in North Carolina in November. I’m delighted to meet with book clubs if I can get to them, and discussion questions for both Death Will Help You Leave Him and Death Will Get You Sober are available on my site. In my “other hat,” I do online therapy at And if you want two great gifts for the mystery lovers on your holiday lists, I hope you’ll consider not only Death Will Help You Leave Him but also the holiday crime anthology The Gift of Murder, which benefits the Toys for Tots Foundation. I have a link to the ordering information from Wolfmont Press on my site. My story in the anthology is about Bruce, and it’s called “Death Will Trim Your Tree.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Elizabeth Zelvin will visit my blog tomorrow!

I love hosting fellow mystery authors on my blog when they're conducting virtual book tours, though I do warn them that my readership is probably not as high as the multi-author blogs. Tomorrow, I am pleased that my good buddy and fellow Sisters in Crime Guppies member Elizabeth (Liz) Zelvin will visit my blog during her virtual tour to promote her latest release, Death Will Help You Leave Him.

In Death Will Help You Leave Him, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, computer genius Jimmy and world-class codependent Barbara, investigate a murder when a friend's abusive boyfriend is found dead in her apartment. Bruce has to juggle sleuthing, sobriety, a crush on the bereaved girlfriend, and the lure of his compelling but self-destructive ex-wife, who's on her own collision course.

The series started with Death Will Get You Sober and includes three short stories, one nominated for an Agatha award, one published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and the third in the 2009 holiday crime anthology, The Gift of Murder, to benefit Toys for Tots and to which I gave a glowing blurb. Liz is a New York City psychotherapist who has written and lectured widely about addictions, codependency, and relationships. Please visit her author website and her group blog, Poe’s Deadly Daughters.

I had fun coming up with unique questions that I thought Liz would not get from other hosts on her tour, and she told me she had fun answering them and said things she hasn't said elsewhere. You can find out about a scary incident in Liz's past and her favorite food, among other interesting facts. So, please stop by tomorrow to read the interview, post questions and comments for Liz, and talk about her books!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another Good Review and Royalties

Kristen Howe at her Kristin's Book Jungle blog has posted another good review for A Real Basket Case. Please take a gander at her review of my book and others that she has read. I hope she reads To Hell in a Handbasket soon and lets her blog readers know what she thinks of that book, too. :)

Also, I just received my royalty statement from Five Star for January-June, 2009 and two checks (one for each Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery novel). I was thrilled! I earned out my advance on To Hell in a Handbasket, which was released in mid-May, and got a nice check for additional royalties. A Real Basket Case is still selling and making money for me, too. I have the funds to go to the Malice Domestic conference next spring now. I want to say a big thank you to all my readers!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My novella is available for 40% off preorder!

My long-awaited science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, will be released in late November in eBook, eSerial, and paperback formats by Virtual Tales. The publisher is waiting to see how many pages the paperback will be once it's typeset to set the price, but they expect it to be under $10. To register for the pre-order mailing list for it, e-mail As soon as the novella goes to press, you will receive an e-mail with a link to purchase it for 40% off the cover price. If you're still interested, simply click the link and finalize your purchase. For more information and to see the beautiful cover art, go HERE.

Here's the blurb:

What would you do if confronted with a kill or be-killed scenario? What if you had to kill an infant? Of an alien species? And what if the future of the human race depended on your decision? The Epsilon Eridani Alternative novella explores a timely ethical issue--the use of stem cells for medical research--but with a futuristic twist. Space colonists from Earth face the dilemma of whether or not to harvest stem cells from alien infants to counteract the effects of human aging.

"Entertaining and thought-provoking. Groundwater uses engaging characters to adeptly contrast the intellectual, biological, and emotional urges we have to protect our species."

-- Laura E. Reeve, author of the Major Ariane Kedros Novels

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bouchercon Report

I had a wonderful time at my first Bouchercon conference, held in Indianapolis this year, but was so exhausted afterward that it took me until now to blog about the experience. A lot of my fellow mystery community cohorts have already posted their thoughts and photos, and I've enjoyed reading & viewing them. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera! So, if anyone took a photo of me with others, I'd love to get a copy. Please send it to me by clicking on "Contact Me" at my website.

I flew in Wednesday afternoon. After dumping my things in the hotel room I'd be sharing with fellow Five Star author Patricia Stoltey (who has some great posts about the conference), I registered for the conference and rushed into the book room to meet some of the booksellers. I saw that Jim Huang's The Mystery Company was already carrying my books, and I left consignment copies with Mystery Mike's and Scene of the Crime Books. I also met Steve Warne there, who is a distributor for UK mystery books in the US, and we really hit it off. I dined that night at the Old Spaghetti Factory with about thirty members of the 4MA yahoogroup, organized by our fearless leader Maddy, who had us each shout out our name & what we wrote if we were an author, where we're from, the favorite book we read this year, and our goofiest nickname. Great fun!

Thursday morning I attended the Bouchercon 101 session featuring Hank Phillipi Ryan, who gave me not one but two of her lip balms, saying the second one was for the baboons! :-) At 9:00 am, I shared the stage with Joanna Campbell Slan, Margaret Grace, Sally Goldenbaum, and Betty Hechtman for the Killer Hobbies panel. We had a standing room only crowd, got lots of laughs and gave away prizes, including two mini gift baskets from me featuring Zulu necklaces from my recent trip to South Africa. After that I signed books in the book room and enjoyed meeting new readers and getting reacquainted with existing fans. I had so much fun talking to people that I missed the next panel session. I grabbed a quick snack in the room, then manned the Hospitality Suite from 1:00 - 3:00 pm. Instead of serving ice cream as I was supposed to, I spent the time explaining why there wasn't any ice cream (mechanical failures with the machines).

After that was the Sisters in Crime librarian tea with lots of scrumptious goodies, lots of mystery authors, and a panel discussion about Why We Love Librarians featuring Charlaine Harris, SJ Rozan, Nancy Pickard, Carolyn Hart, and Eve Sandstrom. I donated a copy each of A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket to the book giveaway and came away with a lovely teacup and saucer and a full tummy. Next, I listened to the announcements of who won the Derringer Awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society, then snuck out of the room before the other awards were announced to join some fellow MidnightInk authors for dinner at Weber Grill: Keith Raffel, Cricket McRae, Jess Lourey, Lisa Bork, and Deborah Sharp. I ate just a salad and beer after the filling tea. After that I headed over to Gameworks for the Extravaganza. Over dessert and decaf coffee with whiskey, I watched the Author Talent Show. Parnell Hall and Peter Lovesey earned my votes for best laughs for their ditties, though fellow Coloradoan and Five Star author Mike Befeler was a close third for his stand-up comedy. Then my roommate Pat and I raced cars, doused fires and slaughtered zombies on the video games until collapsing into bed at midnight.

Friday morning dawned hard and early, and I slurped down lots of coffee at the Sisters in Crime breakfast where we voted in our new slate of officers, including Marcia Talley as President. Next I attended the Setting as Character panel with William Kent Kruger, Debby Atkinson, Tom Corcoran, Jonathan King, and Eric Stone. Then I popped into the First Novelists "speed dating" event to hear some new authors (including Lisa Bork) tout their first books. After having "been there-done that", it felt good to be on the other side of the table and find out about some interesting new talent. Then came lunch at Buca di Beppo with the Sisters in Crime online Guppies chapter, followed by the Michael Connelly interview at the Convention Center.

My energy was flagging by this point, so I took a brief rest in the room before boarding a bus for the Eiteljorg Museum and the Art of the Western Mystery panel with good friend Ann Parker and Scott Montgomery, C. J. Box (who signed two Joe Pickett mysteries for me while waiting for the bus), Craig Johnson, Blake Crouch, and Steve Hockensmith. Then I headed over to the Marion County Public Library for the Indiana Authors Reception where I chatted with Colorado author Lori Lacefield, who I discovered grew up in Indiana, and with Debby Atkinson and her sister over snacks. I ended the day at the bar with fellow Five Star authors and Tekno editor John Helfers, where we talked about the Five Star/Tekno relationship and future plans.

I got up early again on Saturday morning for a 7:30 am breakfast with some fellow Mystery Babes, including Dana Cameron and Toni L.P. Kelner. Then I sat with prolific short mystery fiction author and friend, R.T. Lawton, to listen to the State of Mysterious Short Fiction panel with Terence Faherty, Clark Howard, Melodie Johnson Howe, Janet Hutchings (editor of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine), and Linda Landrigan (editor of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). At 10:30 am, I taught my Mystery-themed Gift Baskets session in the craft room to a class of about thirty. We had great fun constructing creative baskets out of assorted Halloween goodies the craft room committee had purchased for the workshop. I sure hope future Bouchercons include this new idea of a craft room. I heard a lot of compliments not only about my session, but about all of the craft sessions and the concept in general.

After a quick lunch with Pat, I attended the IMBA and the Dilys Winn Award panel with Robin Agnew, Greg Bruss, Sean Chercover, William Kent Kruger, and Louise Penny, which was unexpectedly hilarious. A sucker for humor, I followed this with The Humor Panel, featuring Alan Gordon, Donna Andrews, Chris Grabenstein, Harley Jane Kozak, and Allyson Roy. Then I attended the Anthony Awards Ceremony and was especially pleased that Chris Grabenstein won the Best Children's/Young Adult category. Dinner was munchies served at the reception following the awards, then I had a glass of wine at the bar with fellow Crimespace member Curtis Hawkins and some other Colorado authors. Okay, Crimespacers, Curtis and I were at the Hyatt bar between 6 & 7 pm. Where were the rest of you? At 7, I headed over for the amusing Chris-and-Donna show at the live charity auction at the Artsgarden, as the two tried to get folks to up their bids. The desserts there were just too yummy to resist. After that, I soaked in the hot tub to ease my old, tired muscles, took a hot shower and hit the sack.

Sunday morning, I joined the crowd at the Book Bazaar, jostling to reach the authors whose books I wanted. I ended up trading my tickets for books written by authors whose last name was between J and M so I only had to negotiate one row. I beat a hasty retreat to drop the books in my room, then I attended the Would I Lie panel with Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Ed Lin, and Eric Stone competing to win honors as the best liar to questions posed by S.J. Rozan and the audience. A good time was had by all. After that, I closed out my consignment accounts with the booksellers, packed and checked out of the room with Pat, and we met Bonnie Ramthun & her hubby Bill, and Cricket McRae for lunch. I found out there that the Mystery Through the Ages silent auction item that Patricia Stoltey, Mike Befeler, Bonnie Ramthun and I had donated, for a character name in our next four books, went for $350. We were gratified to raise so much for the charity! After lunch we shared a taxi with them and Laura DiSilverio to the airport, where we all caught the same flight to Denver after taking turns nodding off.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I've Joined the InkSpot Blog

Check out my post today over at Inkspot, the group blog for Midnight Ink authors. For those of you who thought I only sat around writing and making gift baskets, you may be surprised about what you'll find out about me there! :) I'll be at Bouchercon in Indianapolis this weekend, so if you comment about my post either there or here, I'll respond after I return. If you are going to be attending the conference, too, please come up and say hi.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I've been interviewed on the Author Exchange Blog!

Linda Faulkner at the Author Exchange Blog interviewed me and posted her questions and my answers at the blog today. Learn how I use the psychology half of my BS degree (the other half was computer science) to develop and motivate my characters and more! I'll be winging my way to Bouchercon when this interview appears, but if you post a comment here on my blog or on the Author Exchange Blog with a question of your own, I'll answer it after I return.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Second (and last) Batch of South Africa Photos

Here's the second batch of photos that I've selected from our South Africa trip, from the second half of the trip, mostly spent in the Cape Town area. The first one shows tourists reacting to a boat ride on large open ocean swells in Durban. The second shows Vicki's B&B in the Khayelitsha township and the third shows how most people in the townships live.

The fourth shows a typical South African dish, bobtie, a curried meat loaf covered with an egg custard, baked and served with chutney. The fifth photo shows an African penguin and the sixth shows people taking photos of four penguins under the boardwalk at Boulders Beach. The seventh photo shows Neil and me at Cape Point. The ninth photo (sorry, it's out of order), shows two whales that were playing in the water below Cape Point.

Back in the eighth photo, is the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, and the tenth photo shows Neil and me at the top. The eleventh photo is the King or Giant Protea, the South African national flower, taken at Kirsten- bosch Gardens. The next photo is of a cycad in the same garden. The thirteenth photo is of three African penguins at Betty's Bay.

The fourteenth photo is of Neil and me tasting wine at Waterford winery, and the fifteenth is of us at Nobel Square at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront with the statues of South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize winners. The sixteenth photo is of a cannon being fired at The Castle in downtown Cape Town. The last one shows Table Mountain and the city in the evening from our departing aircraft. Thanks for the memories, South Africa!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First Batch of South Africa Photos

Here's the first batch of photos I've selected from our South Africa trip, from the first week we spent at the game lodge in Kwa Zulu Natal. The first one shows my husband Neil and me with our ranger, Philemon. The second and third are of the resident elephants and show how close we could get to the wildlife in the jeeps. The fourth is of a lovely warthog and the fifth is of the almost- tame ostrich. The sixth photo is of a white rhino and the seventh shows zebra.

The eighth photo is a cheetah, and the ninth, a sleepy lion. The metal bar in the photo is on our safari jeep, so yes, we were darn close! The tenth photo is of a giraffe and the eleventh is of a vervet monkey. The twelfth shows a couple of baby hippos and the thirteenth shows a crocodile. The fourteenth photo is of a herd of cape buffalo at a waterhole. The fifteenth is a male kudu and the sixteenth is a herd of impala.

Then come shots from the baboon incident. The first is right before the baboon opened the car door and chaos ensued. The next one shows the purse thief with his prize, a chocolate Hershey bar, and the last one shows smaller baboons who moved in after he was done. The one in the middle looking at the camera is holding a tube of mystery author Hank Phillip Ryan's lip balm!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

My Trip to South Africa

Late last year, my husband and I attended a charity event for Disability Services of Colorado. While there, we bid on a silent auction item for six nights at the Zulu Nyala Game Lodge, in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa, including meals and two photo safari drives a day. That became the foundation on which we built a two-week trip to the country, adding a timeshare exchange for week at the Strand Pavilion near Cape Town, frequent flier tickets on United Airlines, and stitching together the pieces with a few single-night stays in Johannesburg, Durban, and downtown Cape Town. We returned very late in the evening on October 4th after a 38 hour journey home still enthralled with our amazing adventure. I'll try to share some of it with my blog readers with words tonight, followed soon by some of the thousands of photos we took.

We left home Tuesday, September 15th to spend the night at a hotel near the Denver airport before boarding a flight to DC the next morning. After a long, long flight from there to Johannesburg, with a refueling stop in Dakar, Senegal, an overnight stay in Johannesburg and a morning flight to Richard's Bay, we picked up our rental car at the airport on Friday, the 18th. Neil got reacquainted with driving on the left side of the road on the way to the lodge, which sits on a hill overlooking the 1400 hectare (about 3500 acres) private game reserve.

That afternoon, we met our other eight safari companions for the week, who would sit with us at dinners and share the safari jeep with us: two couples from Louisiana, a young couple from Wisconsin, and two women from Paris, France. We also met our Zulu ranger, Philemon, who took us on our first game drive in cool, wet weather. We saw impala, nyala, kudu, giraffe, vervet monkees and more. Then he got a call from another ranger who was observing their small elephant herd of two females and a 4-year old baby. Soon after our safari jeep arrived, one of the females charged us with ears flapping, while Philemon drove rapidly in reverse. We learned she was in heat, which made her ornery, and wanted the two jeeps to give them more space. We observed the three elephants eating and playing, saw a herd of cape buffalo, then dined at the lodge while being entertained by a group of Zulu dancers. What a first day!

On our morning game drive Saturday, we saw baboons, zebra, warthogs, a Nile monitor, a white rhino, a gray & red duiker, the elephants again, and the ever-present impala and nyala. Back at the lodge, the resident ostrich held court for admirers in the parking lot. On the afternoon drive, we saw lots of giraffe and, at one of the watering holes, some young crocodiles. Then we stopped at a river, climbed out of the jeep, and walked quietly and carefully behind Philemon until we spied their six hippos in the water warily observing us observing them. On the way back to the lodge, we passed the movie set for "I Dream of Africa," which is on the reserve. One of the dinner buffet choices that night was kudu, and it was delicious, as were other game dishes they fixed us other nights, including stir-fried impala and warthog stew.

Sunday morning we drove to the nearby 100,000 hectare national park Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, the second largest in South Africa after Kruger, and spotted lots of game, though not the elephants and lions we were looking for. That afternoon, though, we took a game drive through the nearby 25,000 hectare Phinda private game reserve, which specializes in big cats, with one of their rangers. We observed a mama cheetah and three almost-grown cubs playing, found three young male lions having a good snooze after a large meal, and toasted the sunset with gin & tonics. On all the game drives, I was amazed at how close we could get to the animals, within a few yards even for the big cats, because the smell of fuel and the shape of the vehicle (as long as we didn't stand up and remained inside) hid the fact that we were humans from them.

Monday Neil and I drove our own car through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and encountered lots of game and got some great close-up shots, including of a herd of giraffe crossing the road ahead and behind our parked car. Back at the lodge, we joined the rest of the group for an evening drive scouting for a mama leopard and her 2-week old cub that had been spotted by another guide. We never saw the leopard, but Philemon's spotlight found other game, including steenbok and large spotted genet (a small cat).

After a morning game drive on Tuesday, Neil and I lunched at Zulu Nyala's other lodge, the Heritage Lodge, outside the reserve, and saw their crocodile pond and resident zebra. We toured the Zulu Historical Village, where we were given demonstrations of shield and spear-making, beading and pot making, a witch doctor & seer. Then I shopped for Zulu baskets and souvenirs at Illala Weavers, while Neil chatted with a British tourist whose wife was also shopping. On Wednesday, Neil and I drove to the St. Lucia Wetlands, where we took a boat tour up the estuary and spotted lots of hippos, crocodiles and various water birds. After lunch we drove to the beach so we could dip our hands in the Indian Ocean, though we didn't go swimming since it was another damp, cool day.

We capped off our stay at the lodge the next morning with a very special early morning bush walk with Philemon, his loaded rifle and just the two of us. Soon after we got out of the jeep to approach a grazing white rhino he'd spotted, we saw the elephants up on the hill beside us making their way down to a waterhole on the other side of us. On the way, they flushed out a cape buffalo and skirted the rhino (they don't get along). Philemon said he couldn't believe that in the space of twenty minutes on one hillside we saw three of the "Big Five" game animals (elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, lion, leopard). We circled the rhino on our walk, looked at lots of tracks and lots of kinds of dung, including leopard scat, the closest we got to seeing that animal. We spent a lot of time scraping mud and dung off our shoes afterward, packed up and headed south to Durban. We stopped at Mtunzini to see their Raphia Palm National Monument and lunch on calamari at the Fat Cat restaurant. After arriving at the Quarters Hotel in Durban, we dined at their restaurant and ended up talking to the chef about her training and our son's training to be a pastry chef.

Friday, the 25th, on the advice of the Quarters Hotel staff, we parked in the Royal Hotel's garage downtown (to avoid the high crime area) and walked to the waterfront. We toured the Maritime Museum and took a harbor cruise that went out briefly into the ocean to give passengers a thrill ride on large rolling swells. Durban is the largest and busiest harbor in South Africa, with lots of cargo ships, tankers, tugboats, etc. Then we flew to Cape Town and met Zyad Burrows, our tour guide for the next day, at the airport. He drove us to the Pavilion, saving Neil from navigating busy highways, rotaries, and city streets in the dark.

Zyad took us on a fascinating tour of Cape Town Saturday, with commentary on local history and politics. We stopped at Signal Hill, a Cape Malay open market where we bought pastries, the Company's Gardens, and at Vicki's B&B in the Khayelitsha township, the largest township in South Africa. 1.2 million people live there in shacks made out of corrugated metal sheets that are slowly being replaced by small concrete-block homes, with community water taps and port-a-potties or latrines, and only some shacks having part-time electricity. Vicki is one of the enterprising black residents trying to provide businesses and jobs within the townships. We toured the District Six Museum with Zyad, that honors the residents of the last neighborhood where black and colored residents were forced out and their homes and businesses bulldozed because it was to become a "whites only" neighborhood. These two stops gave us a brief glimpse of the devastating effects of apartheid.

Sunday after doing some laundry and taking delivery of a rental car, we lunched at the Constantia Uitsig winery's River Cafe and toured the Groot Constantia winery estate and museum. On Monday, we drove along the edge of False Bay to Simon's Town to tour their museum and see the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Then we drove on toward the Cape of Good Hope Reserve at the end of the peninsula on which Cape Town sits. We spotted a pull-out with tourists in cars in it and on the other side of the road, a few folks standing outside their cars taking photos, and a troop of baboons in the brush nearby. Neil pulled in, and after rolling up the car windows and checking for baboons nearby, he got out to take photos, thinking I was safe in the closed-up car. Well, the dominant male baboon of the group ran across the road behind Neil's back, promptly OPENED the car door Neil had just gotten out of, and climbed in the car with me. Yikes!

I scrambled out of my seat belt and the car, then the baboon exited--carrying my purse! After quickly locking the car doors so no more baboons got in, we pursued the one with my purse, but all we could do was stand nearby and take photos while he went through the whole purse, fighting off any other baboons who showed interest and unzipping all the pockets until he'd found everything remotely edible, including lip balm and gum. After he finally lost interest and left, we were able to retrieve my wallet, cell phone and the purse itself (which needed a thorough cleaning afterward), but we left the rest of the contents to the returning baboon troop. Shaken, we let our adrenaline subside over a late lunch at the Cape Point restaurant, then rode the funicular to the top. We spotted a couple of whales in the water below from one of the lookout points, walked back down to the bottom, and saw a couple of ostrich there.

On Tuesday, September 29th, we rode the tramway to the top of Table Mountain, lunched there then toured the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens, with its displays of flora, including cycads and the Giant Protea national flower, from the unique fynbos ecosystem found only in southern South Africa. On Wednesday, we drove southeast along the other side of False Bay to Betty's Bay and saw the African penguin colony and rock hyrax (small mammals) there. We continued on to Hermanus, the whale watching capital of South Africa, and watched a few whales playing in the distance before lunching at Bientang's Cave restaurant, built into the rock cliff facing the harbor. After returning to the Pavilion, we took a short walk along the beach in the howling wind (one thing I'll remember about Cape Town is the wind!). That evening we had wine & cheese with a South African couple Neil met in the hallway who were also vacationing at the Pavilion.

Thursday we toured the wine country. First stop was the Blaauwklippen winery and a tour of their carriage museum. Second was the nine wine and three chocolates tasting at the Waterford winery. Yummy! Third stop was Stellenbosch for lunch, the Village Museum, the Dutch Reform church, and the Om Samie se Winkel general store. Fourth was the Delaire winery with their gorgeous hilltop view and the last stop was Franshoek. We drove back through the rugged mountainous terrain of the Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve. On Friday we toured the Victoria and Albert Waterfront area of Cape Town and the Gateway Museum to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Unfortunately we couldn't get on a tour boat to the island, because wind had prevented them from going the last three days and the next three days were booked with make-up tours. We toured the Aquarium instead, with its shark tank and kelp forest and watched sea turtles, rays, and penguins being fed. We checked into the Fountains Hotel, in front of a huge fountain of course, and dined there.

On Saturday, October 3rd, we visited The Castle, the oldest building in Cape Town, and its museums, watched a cannon firing demo, and took the tour. Then we went to the Gold of Africa museum to see some amazingly intricate African gold jewelry, artwork, and regalia for chiefs and chiefs' wives. Then it was off to the airport to start our long journey home, arriving late on the night of the 4th.


Wow! I just checked my book listings on the Barnes & Noble website and saw that they have To Hell in a Handbasket hugely discounted. It's listed for sale at $14.92, with a member price of $13.42, which is 48% off the list price of $25.95. If you've been waiting to buy a copy for yourself or as a birthday or holiday gift to a mystery lover in your life, now's the time. This price is even less than I can get the books for direct from the publisher with my author discount!

Here's the link.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Second Eons Author Online Event

I have been an active member of the Eons social network since July, 2007, a few months after the release of my first book, A Real Basket Case. The official blurb describing the network states, "Eons is the online community for spirited BOOMers who want to explore their passions, keep in touch with friends, connect with interesting people to share life experiences, and most of all have fun."

So, most of the members are over forty but still young enough to enjoy partying. And they're throwing a big party today for all the authors on Eons, the Second Eons Author Online Event. You can meet online with authors, chat with them, enjoy free workshops, win prizes in contests, and learn all about their experiences in writing the books you love to read and how they do it!

If you're not already a member, follow the link above and sign up so you can participate in the event. It's free and easy to become an Eons member. Then head over to the Eons Book Gallery group to join in the fun. Click on the first "sticky message" at the top of the group page, WELCOME TO EONS BOOK GALLERY, to see the Roving Book Van with quick links to all of the books written by Eons authors, including my two mysteries (see the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller category).

Then go back and click on the second sticky message, INFORMATION ABOUT THE EVENT, to see how this whole shebang will work. Then scroll down the messages to find individual authors' "booths" (messages) and open those you're interested in. You may find a contest, workshop, chat or combination of the three happening in that booth. I will have a booth at the event, but since I'm out of the country until October 4th, it won't be interactive until after the event ends. However, if you post a question for me at my booth, I'll answer it on October 5th or 6th.

Lastly, I am "AuthorBeth" on Eons, so if you decide to join the network, or you're a member already and aren't a friend of mine yet, please visit my profile and send me a friend request! I hope you have a great time at the Second Eons Author Online Event.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Writer's Week

This repeat post, from November, 2008, describes some of the many things a writer does for her career other than writing. I can say I'm just as busy with non-writing activities now as I was then! This will be my last repeat blog post while on my South Africa vacation, and after I recover from jet-lag, I hope to post some trip reports and photos.

Little did I know when I embarked on this new career as a writer how much of my time would be spent on tasks OTHER than writing. This past week I did the following:

- Contacted a bookstore to determine the status of my payment for consignment books, then deposited the check when it arrived,
- Mailed a copy of A Real Basket Case to a Japanese publisher interested evaluating it for publication in Japan,
- Participated in a 20-author library signing event,
- Attended a meeting of the local MWA chapter,
- Wrote the minutes for the local Sisters in Crime board meeting, mailed them out, and sent out an invitation to the members for our December tea,
- Went to my own book club meeting and discussed The Yiddish Policeman's Union,
- Had coffee with a new writer starting on his first novel-length manuscript to offer advice and encouragement and gave advice to another writer on novella markets,
- Made plans to host a fellow author on my blog next month and to host a discussion in a Facebook group next week,
- Started a list of revisions to my author website for my hubby to implement next week,
- Reviewed a second edit of my science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, and returned my comments and revisions to the editor at Virtual Tales,
- Kept up with my email loops, social networks, and this, my blog, and
- Prepared a talk I will give tomorrow to the local chapter of Pen Women about "Networking Your Way to Success in the Creative Arts."

The only new fiction I wrote this week was one paragraph of new text for the novella. Gotta do better next week!