Category Archives: Musings

Déjà Vu All Over Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI heard about Yogi Berra’s death this past week and thought about all the times I’ve used one of his famous quotes. The guy had a way with words that made people laugh and think at the same time.

I found myself using one of those quotes earlier this month when Hubby and I had an evening at the theater. The first thing you must know is that, left to his own devices, Don would not choose to spend a Saturday evening at the theater, watching actors rush around the stage, spouting lines that half the time you can’t even understand. But because he loves me, and I love going to the theater, he will suck it up and take me there when I have a burning desire to see a play.

I had hinted around for a couple of months that Arsenic & Old Lace was coming to the Albuquerque Little Theater, and that I would like to attend a performance. As often as I said that, it never got a response. As all wives know, after subtlety goes out the door, the brutally direct approach is next.  I said, “I want to go to the Little Theater this Saturday night to see Arsenic & Old Lace.” We quickly eliminated the various friends he suggested I take with me, leaving him as the last man standing (so to speak.) I made the reservations and on Saturday evening, September 12, we headed downtown to the Little Theater.

All right, it’s confession time. In one of my previous lives within this current life (I can explain that to anybody who doesn’t immediately get it) I was an active participant in the Albuquerque theater community. For more than ten years I did shows with Continue reading Déjà Vu All Over Again

Amber Foxx Interview With Patricia Smith Wood

A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Patricia Smith Wood

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Patricia Smith Wood’s father, first as a police officer, and later as a career FBI agent, sparked her own interest in law, solving crime, and mystery. After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning her own computer business) she attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken & Kent published her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, on February 14, 2013. Murder on Sagebrush Lane, the second in the series, is finished and awaiting publication.

Last week I reviewed her book and this week she’s here to talk with me about it.

AF: The Easter Egg Murder has one of the most complicated plots I’ve ever read. How did you keep track of it as you wrote? (I picture you with a wall-sized chart covered with color-coded diagrams, or moving some sort of double-layered chess-board of characters around.)

PSW: It really wasn’t a problem for me. I’m a “pantster” and I didn’t map it out. The story simply developed as I wrote. Sometimes I’d start a chapter with a vague idea of it going one way, but it ended up completely different. I would finish and think, “Well, now what?” Then the next idea would just be there, and I’d go with it. I routinely found myself surprised at the twists that came out.

AF: Was there a historical event similar to the murder of Chipper Finn that inspired this book? Are any of the characters from that 1950 part of the plot based, even loosely, on actual people in New Mexico history?

PSW: Definitely! The actual murder of Cricket Coogler happened in Las Cruces, NM in 1949. But her body wasn’t discovered in the desert until sixteen days after she disappeared. Four young men (17-18) found her partially buried body in the desert on the Saturday before Easter when they went rabbit hunting. I used the basics, but changed the details to suit my version. Many of the actual people make an appearance (usually in disguise) in my version. And of course, Cricket’s murder was never solved.

AF: 21st century Albuquerque is the main setting in your book, and easily recognizable. Tell me about Los Huevos. I looked it up and found a rock-climbing site of some apparent difficulty, but no town. Is it based on a real place? Do you have any connection with a little town like that?

PSW: Los Huevos is a completely made up town, located conveniently at the foot of Los Huevos Peak (also fictional). Since the body in my story is discovered on Easter Sunday morning at the foot of Los Huevos Peak, that would be a natural reason to call it The Easter Egg Murder. I had been told I should have a title that stood out, and that seemed to me to fit the bill. I have no connection with such a town, but I suppose the small town of Los Lunas (which is actually southwest of Albuquerque about 20 miles) might have given me the idea.

AF: The story of the murder in 1950 and all the events around it, all the characters involved, could have been a book by itself. Did you ever consider writing it that way? How did you decide to make it a story within the story?

PSW: The story of the actual murder (in 1949) has already been written. In fact, I read everything I could get my hands on about Cricket Coogler’s murder. An excellent book by Paula Moore, titled Cricket in The Web, came out in 2008, right about the time I finished my first draft. I wanted to use some actual things, but ended up fictionalizing most of it. No one in New Mexico who knows about this murder wants to say, on the record, who they think was responsible. It was much more fun (and safer) to make it up.

AF: Harrie has precognitive dreams which add a sense of foreboding to the early part of the story. Was there any additional reason behind your decision to integrate this into the plot? I have this kind of dream myself so I liked that you treat it as only a little unusual. Also, it seemed true to “the woo” of New Mexico to have it in there but not make big deal of it.

PSW: I know several people who have some form of precognition, or “knowing”, about events. It’s always fascinated me and seemed like an interesting story-telling tool to use in fiction. I hoped to convey the mystical atmosphere that weaves its way through New Mexico’s history and culture, from the Anasazi and Chaco Canyon ruins to present day native practices.

AF: Tell me about your research. The illegal gambling and the political corruption in New Mexico back in the fifties were things I really hadn’t heard that much about, and I found them fascinating.

PSW: My father was an FBI agent who was transferred to the Albuquerque Office in 1951, two years after the murder. Events were still transpiring when he arrived here, and he later told me what he knew about the case. I also interviewed many people who lived through that era in New Mexico politics during the period 1949-1950. That included former FBI agents, former residents of Las Cruces, a couple of newspaper men who were around at the time, and even the former governor of New Mexico, who was elected mostly because of the Cricket Coogler murder. I also read books, and watched a film made on the subject: The Silence of Cricket Coogler. The book Cricket in The Web goes into the gambling issue in great detail, but I had also heard a lot about that from the people I interviewed.

AF: I know you have a good background in law enforcement, but you chose to give major roles in solving the mysteries to the two amateur sleuths, though you do include police and FBI. I’d love to know how you made that choice, and how you came around to casting two editors in the role of sleuths.

PSW: I have been a fan of the “cozy” mystery genre since I was a teenager. The cozy requires the sleuth (or sleuths) to be amateur, so it was always my intention to follow that basic rule. My favorite series at that age was the Judy Bolton mystery series by Margaret Sutton. In the early books, she was a teenager like me, and her boyfriend, Peter, helped her solve the mysteries. When they grew up, Peter became an FBI agent. Since my dad was an FBI agent, I thought that was a cool thing to do. Toward the end of the series, Judy and Peter eventually married, and she still managed to help him solve crimes.

As for making my sleuths editors, it seemed the best way to get them involved in a half-century old murder. By editing Senator Lawrence’s book about the murder, it gave them an excuse to become embroiled in digging out the answers. I didn’t stop to think how that might play out over a series, but in the beginning, I didn’t know it would be a series!

AF: Just for fun, I have to include this “outtake.” I made the mistake of asking Pat a question about some other books, and here’s the answer.

PSW: If you “Googled” my name, you might have run across a different Patricia Wood (which is why I insert my maiden name into the mix: Patricia Smith Wood) who has written at least one book (The Lottery) and perhaps more by now. She lives on a boat in Hawaii (which I obviously don’t). But that didn’t stop a local magazine from running a small piece about The Easter Egg Murder in which they stated that the author, Patricia Wood, lives on a boat in Hawaii!

It turns out Patricia Wood is a pretty common name. One day in 2012 I received a phone call from a local television station asking if I was Patricia Wood. I agreed that was me, and they then asked if I was the Patricia Wood who had stolen jewels from luggage at American Airlines and was I headed for federal prison in two weeks. Once I recovered my senses I assured them I was not that particular Patricia Wood, they thanked me and hung up.

AF: Tell me about your newest project.

PSW: My newly finished second book in the series is Murder on Sagebrush Lane. In the first chapter, Harrie McKinsey goes out to retrieve her newspaper at 5 a.m. on a summer morning and finds a small girl playing in her flower beds. She notices a dark stain on the child’s pajamas and teddy bear, and when she realizes it’s blood, her journey to find the child’s parents gets her involved in another murder. Of course, Harrie’s life is never that simple, and before it’s over there’s another murder, a race to uncover a plot to steal top secret data, an attempted kidnapping, and a desperate killer who intends to make Harrie his final victim.

AF: It sounds exciting. I’m glad to know there will be more of Harrie in the future. Let me know when the book comes out. Thanks so much for being my guest.

Pat’s web site:

Welcome – Glad You’re Here

Ode To My Computer

I am NOT a poet. However, one evening, in a fit of despair, I created this little diddy.

 Ode To My Computer

101_0687I love you . . .

And I hate you . . .

 

You are my communication tool . . .

You are my encyclopedia . . .

You are my creative companion.

 

You are my nemesis . . .

You are my frustration . . .

You are my enemy.

 

You help me seek out knowledge . . .

You keep me in touch with friends and family . . .

You give me a canvas to paint my words.

 

You give me headaches . . .

You hurt my wrists . . .

You make me groan with despair.

 

You are a genius of engineering . . .

You are an invention of monumental importance . . .

You constantly grow and improve.

 

You defeat me at every turn . . .

You mock me in my ignorance . . .

You withhold results for no apparent reason.

 

Why do I put up with you?

Am I truly such a masochist?

Are you really so impossible to replace?

 

Yes.

Saying Goodbye

1968 Sweet Adelines Convention
1969 Sweet Adelines Convention

 

I said, “Goodbye” to a friend today. I’m planning to go back after the weekend, but you never know.

She’s had a rough life: full of physical illness, childhood trauma, loss of a child shortly after birth, divorce, and the ravages of age. She’s less than three months away from her 87th birthday. Her current state of health is dismal and the family’s been told it’s only a matter of three or four weeks. She agreed to enter hospice the day before yesterday. For the moment she’s still in her own home, with a nurse checking on her daily, and her son and daughter taking turns staying with her.

She’s had more surgeries than I can remember. What I do recall Continue reading Saying Goodbye

Monday Observations

This morning was a fairly typical beginning of the week. I’m looking to get organized for the next seven days, and I’m brimming with insights.

DSCF22331.  I’ve Become My Father – No lie, I remember when I was much younger, I saw my father entering into “old fogeyness” (if that’s not a word it should be!) It seemed to me he railed against everything new and, in my opinion, exciting. Whereas all my life we’d enjoyed the same music, now he thought Elvis Presley was too loud and vulgar. Not only that, but his conversations were peppered with phrases like, “Well when I was young . . .”; “In my day we were more . . . ” and similar observations. I think he would love being here now to see Continue reading Monday Observations

Three Women and a Conference: The Initiation of a New Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday starts the week of initiation. I’m frantically preparing for a five-day stay in Colorado Springs for Left Coast Crime 2013. This conference will mark my debut in the world of authors, and for the first time, my book and I will be introduced to attendees. I’ve been waiting for this occasion so long it’s difficult to realize it’s almost here.

I’m driving up with two dear friends from my writers critique group. We’re called The Marvelous Ones, and for good reason. These women really are marvelous ones to have as friends and doing critiques of your work. I wish our entire group could go right along with us. But Margaret and Charlene will be good representatives for the team. They’ve promised to sit at my table at the New Author’s Breakfast on Friday morning and be my fans. I hope others will join them there!

After that, we will have another three days of panels to attend. Published authors will share their wisdom and experiences on such topics as: “The Lighter Side of Death & Dismemberment”; “Read My Shorts”; “You Don’t Have To Be A Lawyer To Kill Like One”; and the two I’ve been invited to be a panelist for, “Occupations To Die For” and “Breaking & Entering: Tales of the First Sale.”

It’s a great opportunity to meet new writers and mystery fans, learn new skills, and for me, begin to feel like a real writer. (I’ve already experienced a taste of that feeling when friends who’ve already bought the book give me feedback. That is a real thrill.) Then  Sunday afternoon, we pack up and make the drive home. With three of us all trying to talk at once about our wonderful weekend, it should be an entertaining seven hours!

On Easter Sunday, I’m having my first “official” book signing at Treasure House Books and Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque. I can’t thank John Hoffsis and his dad, Jim enough for being so supportive, not only to me, but to all the other local writers. I’ll be there from 1:00 to 3:00 that day, handing out candy-filled Easter eggs and signing books. That morning at 9:00 a.m. I’ll be a guest on the Terrie Q. Sayre Show on 770 AM, KKOB Radio. Terrie has been very kind to let me and my fellow ham radio operators appear on her show the past three years to promote the annual ARRL Field Day activities. Now I get to tell her and her audience about The Easter Egg Murder.

I’ve already gone through almost thirty of the books I ordered from the publisher. I’m also taking thirty to Left Coast Crime to be sold in their book store. We’ll see how many I have left after that. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, because I’m not! This is so exciting and dream fulfilling. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s no longer something living in my imagination! It’s here and now, and it’s real! Wahoo!!! Bring it on!!

And so the fun begins . . .

Back in the dark ages (before I understood the nature of these things) I figured finding a publisher for my book would be the biggest hurdle and most difficult part of the writing process. Well, as you know from reading my previous post, that happened on September 6 last year. One would think I’d have all sorts of time for blogging and catching up on things.Cover

One would be wrong! Granted, finding a publisher is a huge part of the equation. I also knew (somewhere in the back of my head where life has a kind of story-book quality) that soon I’d be editing and promoting the book. What I didn’t realize was how fully it could consume a person and how I, in particular, seemed paralyzed to focus on anything else. From the moment I received the good news that I had a publisher, my brain started buzzing. What things did I need to do in preparation for the day I had the book in my hand? Who knew this would also be hard?

So it went. Each day my brain got more fevered. I needed to tell all the bookstores, “I’m on my way!” My friends at Treasure House Books in Old Town were jubilant for me and very amenable to hosting a book signing for me. Then there was my next encounter.

I was full of the enthusiasm only a newly contracted writer would understand. After years of dreams and toil, I had a book coming out. One afternoon I happened to be in the neighborhood of a store in which, over the course of thirty years, I’ve spent a lot of money. This was the first time I wanted something from them. I naively approached the first person I encountered and asked who I could speak to about buying my book. He directed me to another employee in the front of the store. I repeated my question. He informed me they took used books in each day, and that I would receive cash or store credit for turning them in.

Huh? Then I realized I was talking to the poor schlub who takes on all the outcast books from owners cleaning out their bookshelves. “No, no,” I quickly protest, “You don’t understand. I’ve written a book that is being published even as we speak, and I want you to order it from Ingram, put it on your shelves, and invite me to hold a book signing in your fair establishment.”

His raised eyebrows and weary expression (and yes, you can have both) told me I was definitely on the wrong track. “Lady, you need to talk to our manager. Maybe he can help you.”

So back I went to the bowels of the store and found the proper person. I repeated my fully rehearsed question. He heaved a huge sigh. “We only stock books by well-known authors.”

I explain that my books will be sold through the book distributor, Ingram.

He shakes his head.

“But,” says me, “I’m a local author. The book is set in Albuquerque and surrounding area. This is a book you should want on your shelves.”

“Lady,” (I’m now getting close to not fitting the description of a lady . . . at least by old school standards which require I not spew forth invectives) “we only stock books by local authors like Tony Hillerman or someone equally famous.”

I’m thinking, (thank God to myself) how the Hell do you think Tony Hillerman got to be famous if somebody didn’t stock his books so people could buy them, and he could GET famous? But instead, I smile . . . my most dazzling smile. Then he relents a tiny bit.

“Well, we allow all self-published authors and anyone who has a book to sell to come in one Saturday a month and  bring their books.”

Not to be denied, I try another ploy. “How about I bring in a supply of my books that I purchase from the publisher. Then you could put them on your shelf and sell them, couldn’t you?”

I get the raised eyebrow again. These guys clearly need lessons in other facial expressions. “Sure thing, Lady. You bring them in if you want to. We don’t guarantee they won’t be stolen, though, and we aren’t liable for your losses.”

Gee, such a deal. I smile, eyes narrowed (I hope he noticed the eye thing) and thanked him. I’m out of that store and not likely to return.

I see everywhere that brick and mortar stores are having a rough time. People are buying at discount chains and on Amazon. I’m sure I won’t make a difference to that store’s bottom line. But if they can’t even stock books by local authors, then they don’t need my business.

So I’m off to talk to other, more friendly bookstores. We have several locally owned stores who seem to appreciate our local talent. I’m sure to have better luck with them. There’s also the libraries all around the area. I need to find out who to sweet talk into stocking their shelves with my book.

I hope I talk to you before next year!

The Lovely Experience of Tea

Tea. It’s a mysterious drink. As a little kid, tea meant “iced tea” (or as we called it in Texas, Ice Tea.) People drank coffee or ice tea. I wasn’t aware of the concept of hot tea until childhood was behind me.

When I think of what I missed! Even when I reached the teen years my introduction to a cup of hot tea consisted of a tea kettle of water heated on the stove, and poured into a cup containing a Lipton tea bag. No wonder I never took to it! Later on I discovered herbal teas and some flavored teas, but it was still always dispensed in a tea bag.

At some point I must have experienced tea brewed with just the leaves, but it never seemed impressive enough to do it that way myself…until recently.

Last year I found my way to the St. James Tearoom. I’d heard of these places but never experienced one. The occasion never presented itself, and with my lukewarm appetite for tea, it didn’t seem likely I would ever make the effort. But things have a way of coming together, in just the perfect way and the ideal time, to launch us into new adventures. The day I walked in to the tearoom last October, the ambiance of the place and the lovely people I met propelled me to arrange an outing for the next week.

We have a dear friend who visits us a couple of times a year from Maryland. On his trip last October he was in search of fine teas for his daughter. He did some research and found two tea shops in the area that he wanted to visit. The first one we saw didn’t impress me that much. They sold loose tea, tea pots and accessories, and served lunch. But it was more like a small cafe that also sold tea. Nothing special, and certainly no atmosphere.

The next stop took us to the St. James Tearoom, and I fell in love. When they discovered we were unfamiliar with their operation, I was offered a tour. To walk through the door is to step back in time and place. You are in Victorian England, and the furnishings and decorations quickly make you at home in that era.

The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, and tea is served during two-hour sessions. Reservations are required. You and your friends are seated in your own private room, where the table is set for you with elegant tea cups and saucers, matching china plate, and dainty utensils. A pot of tea, complete with a tea cozy, is brought to you for starters. The menu for the day is explained, and when they bring in the three-tiered tray and set it down you know you are in heaven. They explain you will be served three different teas, one for each of the courses on the tray, and that you have the room for a luxurious two hours.

Everything is so delicious I’ve had to learn to pace myself. In this day and age we are all used to hurrying through a meal so we can move on to the next thing on our  list. At the St. James you learn to slow down and experience a more genteel time. From the first I’ve been accompanied by two dear friends. Although we see each other and talk together often, it’s different at tea. We’ve found we engage in conversations that are more meaningful, and learn more about each other than we ever had.  After about our third visit, we decided the place must be magic, because each visit is more enchanting than the previous one.

We try to go once a month. At first it seemed like an expensive indulgence, but now it’s an investment in mental health. Actually, you can purchase one of their “Passports” which gets stamped each time you visit. After your eighth visit, you earn a free tea time. This week we cashed in for our free one, and we’re looking forward to going seven more times to earn another free experience.

A happy overflow of this tearoom experience has been buying some of the loose teas to take home. My wonderful husband and I started our own evening tea time. It’s a chance to stop and unwind, and it’s a soothing break in the evening. I’ve learned how to properly brew it and serve it in some charming cups I picked up at the tearoom.

I’m glad I found out what I’ve been missing all these years!

If You Can’t Breathe, What Are Your Options?

Not many, really. When your oxygen supply is cut off panic sets in. Then, depending on what’s preventing you from taking a breath of air, you consider what you can do to change things.

When little kids want to punish their parents, they sometimes hold their breath. Fortunately most parents know that the little buggers will eventually let go and breathe on their own.  Most children don’t try that tactic after they figure out that, 1) it’s uncomfortable, and 2) they really can’t keep it up long enough to make it an effective tool of persuasion.

But what if you develop a condition that causes you to occasionally be unable to get the air you need. What if this condition Continue reading If You Can’t Breathe, What Are Your Options?

Yucky Weather

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I don’t enjoy bad weather. That’s not unusual, I suppose, although I do know people who get all charged up about thunder and lightning. (Yes, Paula, I mean you!)

But I don’t think anyone in Albuquerque today could be said to have enjoyed the rotten wind, blowing sand, and distribution of pollen we’ve endured. There are multiple power outages all over the area, and things are blowing off roofs, trees are being stripped of their new blossoms, and high-profile vehicles are having the devil of a time on the freeways.

We had a beautiful day yesterday. It was sunny, shirtsleeve weather, and the azure blue skies of New Mexico were on display for all to see. We have lots of folks in town this week for this big deal Continue reading Yucky Weather