Love in a Small Town


I love small towns. They are the keepers of history, the incubators of innocence, the repository of the American dream. When I think of small towns, I think of Fourth of July parades, white churches, old cars, houses with porches, vegetable stands, the American Legion.

Some of my favorite towns:

In the middle of an Illinois cornfield, (near Arthur, pop. 2,000) there is a town that is more of a crossroads than a town. The crossroads has a grocery store and a general store. So what?, you may say. Well, the surrounding farms belong to the Amish so the “parking lots” are filled with horses and buggies and the goods on the shelves are suitable for homes with no refrigeration and no modern conveniences. Bolts of cloth, needles and thread, hand tools, quilts, carved boxes and powdered everything. Like being in the nineteenth century … only you get to drive there.

A small town that is no longer small is Carefree, AZ. Thirty years ago, you’d drive up to Carefree via a narrow, slightly treacherous road. The sleepy town center was surrounded by adobe shops and restaurants, and we’d sit outside in the shade, sip margaritas and enjoy the sound of the nearby water fountain. The shops sold blankets and turquoise and baskets. Streets have names like Easy Street, Tranquil Trail and Ho and Hum Roads. Then there’s Bloody Basin and Long Rifle Roads. Of course, it is now a bustling suburb and refuge for snowbirds, but at one time it was one my favorite small towns.

One more: Galena, Illinois. The quaint town sits on the banks of the Mississippi so it is blessed with steep hills and rolling valleys. The town rises on a hillside above the main street with gorgeous old houses from the turn of the nineteenth century. The buildings on the main street haven’t changed much in the past 150 years. You can find crafts and antiques, lots of great food, and boutiques. And my favorite—used books. Nearby is a ski resort and golf course, and of course, the mighty Mississippi. It is always exciting to drive over the vast, heart-of-America, muddy Mississippi.

Okay, enough about me … tell me your favorite small town and win a chance for a $25 gift card to your favorite online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks).

It’s September!

In exactly 14 days, Crimson will release the Love in a Small Town bundle, which is 10 books for 99 cents. What a bargain. My book, Angel Without Wings, is one of the stories, but there are nine other great books by some great authors. The Bundle will be available here starting Sept. 15 in all the popular formats.

On Sept. 18 look for my post on small towns and a contest for a gift card to your favorite online book store.

Small Town Bundle


#chiword – Join us on Twitter tonight at 9

Tonight is my night to host #chiwords, which is a 1 hour/1,000 word Summer Writing Challenge jointly sponsored by Chicago North Chapter and Windy City Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Check in starting at 8:45 until 10 p.m. by tweeting @chicagonorthrwa and using the hashtag #chiwords to report on how you did.

Although I’ve had all summer to think about this, I realized this morning that it was my turn to host, and I needed to come up with some ideas for giveaways … which I did while taking a shower this morning. It turns out to be a great place to think … until the hot water runs out.

Anyhoo, here is what you need to do to win a “prize”:

1. Last spring I took an online Margie Lawson class, which really turned out to be seismic for me. She knows her stuff. One writing technique she talked about was ending your chapters with power words. Here’s an example from a Winston Churchill speech: “… for without victory, there is no survival.” Survival is a power word. So is victory. In much humbler vein, here is one I wrote the other day: “…warn her to bring her smelling salts or a bottle of whiskey.” Is whiskey a power word? I hope so. (-:

Contest # 1 — Tweet a power word ending to a chapter or a break in a chapter.

2. After reading the synopsis for book two of my Texas romantic suspense series at a Chicago North meeting, I learned that my hero’s name had already been used by none other than Robyn Carr. Yup, the name I sweated over for days, weeks even, was taken. I could, of course, continue to use the Noah Kincaid name, but it’s a little like going up against Susan Elizabeth Phillips by naming a character Dallie Beaudine. So, I had come up with a new name — Seth Maguire — which I hope is not taken, and I hope sounds sexy. What is your hero’s name?

Contest #2 — Tweet your hero’s name. The sexiest name wins. And feel free to chime in on the name you think is the best. 

Now for the prizes:

You can choose a free copy of one of my books: Holding Out for a Hero or Angel Without Wings or, if you are willing to wait until September 15, you can have the Love in a Small Town bundle, which includes Angel Without Wings, as well as nine other romances set (of course) in small towns.

Or, if none of these tempt you, I will critique 20 pages of one of your works.

Hope to see lots of writing getting done tonight!

Small Town Bundle

Celebrating the Small Town with Free Books

Small Town Bundle

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, on September 15 Crimson Romance will release the Love in a Small Town Bundle. The cost for 10 great books? 99 cents. Can’t beat that, can you?

Or can you?

In honor of this fun occasion, I am giving away five free Kindle e-copies of my first book, Holding Out for a Hero. Hero starts out in Chicago, but a lot of the action takes place in Peabody, West Virginia. A very small town where everyone knows everyone.

How can you win your own copy for your Kindle. Go to my Facebook Page and “like” me. It’s that simple.

I will pick five winners at random from my “likes” on September 8 so you have a whole week to read it before  Love in a Small Town comes out.

My Triscuit Diet


A heated controversy erupted recently over the “extreme diet” of Candace Cameron Bure, who was one of the kids on Full House. I know. There’s been an outbreak of Ebola, women and children are getting slaughtered all over the Middle East, and Walgreen’s is threatening to move to Switzerland.

No one cares.

Not when Candace Cameron Bure is dieting, er, I mean cleansing. Says Candace herself, “I’m excited to start my 5 day cleanse, not to lose weight but to get my body back on track, ridding all the toxins and unhealthy stuff I’ve put in it the last few months.” For those of you not in the loop, Candace picked up her “toxins and unhealthy stuff” from “a very indulgent week in Napa.” So stay out of Napa or you, too, may be forced to drink expensive shakes and eat vegetables for dinner.

Of course, Candace isn’t the only Hollywood native who is “cleansing.” That’s right, my gal Gwyneth is also a cleanser. Of course, Gwyneth can be counted on to approach cleansing creatively and cluelessly. Here’s her day one menu, which according to the article, serves four: “some water and tea, a lunch of one cup chickpeas, six cups water, one large onion, juice from three lemons and salt and pepper. Why an onion? A cucumber has the same number of calories and tastes better. And what’s with the salt and pepper. If your entire day’s worth of calories is coming from an onion and a handful of chickpeas, is salt and pepper really going to help?

The better question is how did she come up with this menu. What did her kids say when they saw a raw onion and the juice of three lemons on their plate. Did her husband scurry off to work so he could grab a burger at lunch?

Another star, Anne Hathaway had to lose 25 pounds for a movie role so she ate “two thin squares of oatmeal paste a day.” At least she called it dieting. But she was not without her share of drama: “I couldn’t react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed.” What does that even mean? Should we forbid presidents to diet lest he be overwhelmed by chaos? Why does Anne need to “react to the chaos of the world”?

Here’s a few other fun “diets.” Jennifer Aniston does the “baby food” diet, which consists of small amounts of pureed food. The article doesn’t say whether she actually eats baby food from the supermarket, but  my money is on a high-priced chef since I’ve tasted regular baby food. Then there’s Renee Zellweger who “reportedly likes the ice cube diet.” Is that really a diet? Don’t you have to at least eat a chickpea or a jar of baby food for it to be a diet? Eating ice cubes is just starving yourself.

Which brings me to my own diet experience. This goes back a few years … after I’d just finished eating several ice cream bars and was checking my profile in the bathroom mirror. “I really need to lose a couple pounds,” I said to myself. I had just read somewhere that you could only gain weight from eating fat, so I decided to put the theory to the test. I discovered that Triscuits don’t have any fat so I figured I could eat as many as I wanted and never gain a pound. Over the course of my diet, er, cleanse, I went through several boxes of Triscuits, but ate NO fat.

Two days later I weighed more than when I started out.

Maybe my brain needed cleansing. Pass me the chickpeas!

Performance Art or Lady Gaga + Vomit

Performance Art

It appears that there is a new genre of entertainment known as “Performance Art.” I know, I know. Performance Art is not new. In the old days, it involved scripts written by men in which naked women uttered philosophical lines about existentialism or the ritual transfer of immateriality. Performance Art had titles like “Meat Joy” and “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Most of this happened in the 60s and 70s because you had to be high to sit through it. Or at least that’s my theory.

But it is the 21st century, and we are all relatively sober, and the deep void of nothingness just doesn’t excite the way it used to.

Enter Performance Art of the 21st century where crazy people swallow dye and then vomit it all over people who want to be noticed. Or maybe it’s people who want to be noticed who swallow dye and crazy people who allow themselves to be vomited on. Anyhoo …

When Lady Gaga got vomited on recently, everyone was all excited about this new turn in Performance Art. But really. If this is performance art, then Lady Gaga is merely a follower of those cutting edge performers at my alma mater, St. Sebastain the Martyr, where Performance Art was a regular activity, especially during cold and flu season.

Imagine if you will a hot, steamy room, the smell of damp wool uniforms, Sister Mary Bernard reading out the week’s spelling list, when suddenly the tell-tale splat of someone’s lunch hits the floor. Desks squeak across the linoleum to a chorus of squeals. You turn around, the scent of sickness already filling the air to see Stanley Smith surrounded by a sea of vomit.

“I don’t feel well,” he says in a tone that lets you know only half his lunch is on the floor. Good old Stanley. He delivered his line with panache despite illness.

And if Stanley’s performance doesn’t make you think of “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” you are a hopeless rube.

But the show must go on, er, I mean class must go on.

Stanley is quickly hustled off to the nurse’s office, and the janitor is called for. By now, the whole class and Sister are gagging as the smell clings to the humid air and our damp uniforms and who knows what else. The janitor strides in, a hero in blue khaki, and tosses red sawdust over Stanley’s Performance Art, thereby adding his own touches to an already shocking piece of drama.

And you really feel it, the way Performance Art should be felt, in the pit of your stomach: The pull of sweaty sickness, the release brought by Maintenance Man and red sawdust , the crack of Sister’s stick across the desk as she demands our attention. The smell withers away, but it is hard to concentrate on the everyday when you are sitting inches away from Performance Art.

Maybe that’s the purpose of 21st century performance art, to be an unwelcome reminder of the Nature of our Being. Maybe Lady Gaga is inspired by her grade school experiences. And maybe Stanley Smith joined the existential movement. I hope it’s the latter.


A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

I have just finished reading “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion” by Ron Hansen, which led to my favorite time waster: googling. I liked the book, but if you are into googling, this book lends itself to your guilty passion.

This book was touted as fiction …which it was since there were conversations, descriptions of rooms and scenery that could only come from the imagination of a writer. However, about half way through the book,I discovered that the main characters, Ruth Brown Snyder and Henry Judd Gray, were real. More on this in a minute.

The story takes place in the 1920s. Ruth is an unhappy housewife who is “sylph-like” if the book is correct. More on that later. She begins an affair with Judd Gray, as he is called, a corset salesman whose wife has lost interest in him. Ruth and Judd each have a daughter at home.

Ruth is the stronger of the two. She is angry at her husband who is still mooning over his dead fiancee, and she has begun to hate him and want him dead. Judd Gray stumbles into the affair–literally since he is an alcoholic–and feels guilty about it, although not so much as to make him stop.

After a few years of carrying on, Ruth decides to off her husband, Albert. First she takes out a double-indemnity insurance policy on him. Then she tries crushing him under a car he is working on, kicking a ladder while he is on it, closing the garage door while his car is running, but damn it all, the man refuses to die. Imagine!

She is burning mad by this time and browbeats Judd Gray into helping her. He shows up in the dead of night, dead drunk, and hits Albert over the head with a sash weight, which merely stuns him. They (mostly Ruth) try other means as well, but end up garrote-ing the poor man.

They toss the house (of course) to make the murder look like a robbery gone wrong and empty her jewelry box, hiding the stuff under the mattress (the police will never look there. Hah!). Since Judd is too drunk to do so, Ruth hits herself over the head with the sash weight and ties herself up (but not so tightly as to leave unsightly marks). No one is fooled, especially the police.

To make a long story short, they both get sent to Sing Sing’s death house where Old Sparky awaits.

At this point, I wondered whether this was maybe based on a true story, because it is written with dates and places that make much of it sound real. So I googled Ruth Brown Snyder. Ruth and Judd did exist, did kill Ruth’s husband, did get executed. It was a sensational case at the time. Thousands jammed the street for the trial, newspapers from one end of the country to the other carried the story even though it takes place in New York City, Queens to be exact.

One report claims that the movie Double Indemnity is based on this crime, although Ruth didn’t get any insurance money due to the dishonest nature of the whole situation.

There are photos of Ruth and Judd online. Ruth is not a looker, at least not in my personal opinion, although one of the online stories notes that she gained weight in jail. Or something. If there was ever a sylph-like creature there, I sure couldn’t see it. And I looked. For far, far too long.

A site that specializes in describing last meals (why?) said that she had chicken parmesan, noodles Alfredo, two milkshakes and a six-pack of grape soda. This seems like an awful lot to eat when one is preparing to meet their maker or just preparing to die, but what do I know?

Sorry, I have fallen down an internet wormhole …

One more internet-related note: Twenty journalists were allowed into the death chamber when Ruth met her fate. One had a mini-camera strapped to his leg and snapped a picture as the current surged through her. This picture is online. It’s shadowy and vague, but still creepy.

Back to the book … As true crime stories go, this is a good one. It held my interest, which is not always the case, but I suspect that in part it is because some of it was fictionalized.

Anyway, if you are a fan of “crimes of the century” this is a must read. Be sure to google the main characters. The photos and little snippets are as interesting as the book itself.