Thursday, December 28, 2023

Happy New Year - Please!


Don and I - 49 years later...

Here we are again, at the end of the year, and the beginning of a whole new cycle. December has always been a momentous month in my life. Besides Christmas, my family celebrated my mother’s birthday, my grandfather’s birthday, my sister Carol’s birthday, and my birthday. My mother and grandfather are gone, but Carol and I are partying on! 

2024 is going to be quite a year. For one thing Don and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in the fall, which if you had any idea, Dear Reader, some of the health things he's been through over the decades, you would be as amazed as I am, though nobody could be more grateful.

Another reason 2024 will be one for the books - well, I think we all know what the stakes are. So let me wish you all a fabulous year, many happy returns, many good books to read, and may every good thing come to pass for you and your loved ones.

In my family, we always begin the new year with black eyed peas for luck, so here's one for you.

 Hoppin’ John is a Southern dish that is traditionally served with greens on New Year’s Day in order to bring good luck and prosperity. Of course you don’t have to wait until January 1 to eat hoppin’ john. It’s delicious whenever you eat it. It’s good for you, too. I haven’t used the hoppin’ john recipe in any of the Alafair novels as of this writing, but I expect I will. It’s too yummy not to use.

Hoppin' John

I’m giving the scratch recipe, but there is no reason one can’t simply open a can of black-eyed peas and doctor it up with onion and garlic and bacon or ham hock. In fact, that’s what I did yesterday.

1 1/4 cups of dried black-eyed peas

4 cups of fresh water or broth

1 cup of chopped onion

3 cloves of minced garlic (I like mine garlicky)

1/4 tsp. cayenne (optional)

1 Tbsp. oil

ham hock or large chunk of fat back or bacon.

Soak the peas in water overnight. Drain, then cover with the fresh water or broth. Heat the oil in a large stock pot and brown the ham or bacon. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the peas with their liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour, until the peas are tender and luscious. If needed, add more liquid as the peas cook.

Serve over rice, with a side of cooked greens (or mix rice and greens and peas all together). Best eaten with a buttery hunk of cornbread. For luck in the new year, add a coin to the pot just before serving. Whoever gets the coin will have a prosperous year. (Be sure and warn everyone to be on the lookout for the coin, unless you want to start the new year with a trip to the dentist.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Happy Holidays!

 Wishing you all the best this holiday season. May the new year bring you lots of great books to read.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Happy Holidays!!

 Happy Holidays from the coast of North Carolina.  May all your mysteries be intriguing, and your endings be happy.   Thank you Lee Hinson and Dean Vick for the photo.  

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Four Books for the Holidays

The original idea for this month's post was a humorous reflection on my family's Xmas traditions. Then last night I learned that a good friend, someone from my critique group, was in a very bad motorcycle accident. When I started to write about him, it read too much like a eulogy and we're not there. Hopefully, on next month's post, I'll have good news. Needless to say, my Holiday spirits have dimmed a bit.

Instead I'll give a recap of the most memorable books that I read this year.

When Breath Becomes Air, a remarkable and poignant memoir by Paul Kalanithi. He started his university studies with the intention of being a writer, then switched to becoming a neurosurgeon, only to have terminal lung cancer interrupt his promising career. Kalanithi's literary talent shines though his prose and his 1st POV narrative reminded me of Flowers For Algernon, where we the readers are helpless bystanders as the author describes his descent toward the tragic end. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear, came to my attention via one of my ghostwriter clients. As we struggle to get a handle on life and find ways to improve our station, we often turn to self-help books. While the advice is usually sound, finding ways to exercise it can be frustrating. One of Clear's habits is the idea of getting one percent better in a specific area of your life. In applying this concept to himself, my client determined that getting one percent better meant devoting one percent of his day (which calculates to 14 minutes 24 seconds) to a particular effort. Not even fifteen minutes. How many increments of fifteen minutes a day do we waste? Sitting in traffic. Scrolling through social media. I embraced this idea and used it to improve a skill I'd been slogging after for years, improving my Spanish. 

Now my daily routine is to study Spanish for at least fifteen minutes a day, usually by reading a book in Spanish. Which brings me to Corrido de Amor y Gloria by Reyna Grande. While Corrido is fiction, the story is based on the Mexican-American War of 1847, during which Mexico lost more half of its territory (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, California, and parts of Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas) to the US. The narrative is told through John Riley, one of the Irish-American soldiers who defected to fight for the Mexicans in the St. Patrick's Battalion, and Ximena, a Mexican curandera (healer), who served as a battlefield nurse. Besides laying out the historical foundations for the war and sharing the cruel deprivations suffered by the ordinary Mexicans, Reyna also relates the internal treachery and political machinations that undermined their nation's resistance. 

I continued my "One Percent Better" practice in Spanish as I explored one of my favorite periods in history, the years between WW1 and WW2, in El Hombre Que Amaba a los Perros by the Cuban mystery writer, Leonardo Padura. We follow Lev Davidovich, aka Leon Trotsky, in exile and his assassin, Ramón Mercader, the Spanish communist who wielded the murder weapon, the infamous ice ax. The tome sprawls over 700 pages, and Padura does a masterful job giving us context and tension as the characters maneuver to their fateful encounter in Mexico City on August 20, 1940. Trotski died the next day.

On that cheery note, Merry Christmas, and I'll see you Next Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Evolving traditions for the modern world

 As a few people have noted, the holiday season has begun, and with it, the good, the bad, and the sad of family traditions. I decided that rather than write something erudite about the creative arts, I would, like Donis, add my own evolving traditions over the past three quarters of a century.

I was born in Montreal, my mother a native Anglo-Montrealer going back several generations and my father born in a Newfoundland outport and arriving in Montreal as a McGill student via a circuitous route. Both were of British Isles stock, equal parts Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English, and brought to the Christmas table many of the traditions of "back home". We had a huge turkey with stuffing inside it - chopped celery, onions, turkey liver, walnuts, chunks of bread, sage, thyme, and sometimes rosemary. Mashed potatoes smothered in the gravy made from the drippings, peas, cranberry sauce, plum pudding set afire in brandy and served with hard sauce, and as many chocolates as we kids could handle. It was not a meal for the faint-hearted.

This meal was served mid-afternoon on Christmas Day. In the morning we opened stockings and presents under the tree and then while my mother ran around the kitchen, my father read us the portion of Dickens' The Christmas Carol about the Cratchet Christmas dinner. He was a university professor and delivered a dramatic reading in his powerful, sonorous voice. 

We often had an extra guest or two at the table, often one of my father's foreign students who was far from home. Christmas crackers sat at each place setting and once they were pulled, we all had to wear the silly paper crowns.

My mother was the undisputed queen of the day, and she presided over Christmas dinner long after we all left home, until she moved into a retirement home at the age of 87. By then, I had married and had my own children. My husband was Jewish, so although we continued to share Christmas with my extended family, in our own house we switched our celebration to Hanukah. My husband was an only child whose parents were dead and who had no family in the city, so we developed our own traditions. We made latkes and lit several menorahs each night for the eight nights. To make it festive, we made Hanukah-themed decorations, played Hanukah games such as dreidel, and sang traditional hanukah songs and lively Yiddish and Hebrew ditties. All these we learned from records and tapes and I played them on the piano. Hanukah was a playful, joyous holiday, and our three children got a small present every night!

This is the combination of celebrations that we continue today. As my mother grew old and later died, my sister and then her sons hosted the large extended family Christmas dinner. As spouses, in-laws, and grandchildren appeared, the crowd grew. This year I expect there will be about twenty-five people around my nephew's table. We all pitch in with some side dishes, but the turkey remains the piece de resistance.

As my own children grew up, moved to other cities, and began their own families, we have worked hard to maintain the tradition of all the family getting together. Christmas is easier to coordinate because both school and work holidays take place around that holiday, but the dates of Hanukah change every year. Sometimes they coincide with Christmas, but often, such as this year, Hanukah is over before Christmas holidays begin. It's not possible for my family to all get together for one of the nights of Hanukah. So, ever flexible, I instituted "Fradkin's famous Ninth Night of Hanukah" so that one of the days of the Christmas holiday, when my children are all at my house, becomes our joint Hanukah celebration. This year, it will be December 26. My motto is "better late than never".  We have the traditional latkes, light several menorahs, and have a festive meal. We are now introducing my grandchildren to the songs and the dreidel game. 

In recognition of the diversity in our family, I have a tree that is decorated in blue and white and we hang stockings on Christmas morning for the grandchildren before heading over to my nephew's for the big feast. I believe combining and honouring both traditions enriches the family and gives us twice the chance to celebrate together. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays to everyone, and may 2024 be a year of happiness and peace everywhere!

Thursday, December 14, 2023


 Thanksgiving is over for both the U.S. and Canada, which means that the holiday season is officially off and running. My husband and I had our traditional vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. We have been doing this for years. It has become our ritual. For the past many years, our Christmas ritual entails a giant brunch with another friend who invites several family-deprived persons over to her house on Christmas morning. We are happy with the holiday traditions we have developed over the last quarter-century.

But it was not always thus.

Every family has its holiday traditions, and it is always a wrench the first time you are separated from your ancestral table and are forced to eat something that your mother or grandmother would NEVER have served. But even in your old age, you look back with fondness on the Thanksgivings and Christmases that you had at grandma's house, and all others pale in comparison.

Of course I'm not talking about the Christmas or Hanukkah where your uncle and brother-in-law got into a fistfight over politics or the Thanksgiving when grandma was too drunk to finish the turkey and the kid had an allergic reaction to the sweet potatoes.

I'm talking about the many Thanksgivings and Christmas dinners I had at Grandma Casey's house. The ones where she started cooking the turkey the day before, and when the hour came to eat, the bird had practically fallen off the bone. My aunt always brought a Jello salad, which was really a casserole dish full of diced apples and pecan halves with just enough red Jello to hold it together. The stuffing was really stuffed in the bird, but no one died of salmonella. Grandma put something different and interesting in the stuffing every year. She liked oysters, which tasted like rubber bands to me. I really liked the roasted chestnuts, though, and the years she used walnuts or pecans. Oh, and in Boynton, Oklahoma, the dressing is always made of pure cornbread. No soggy wheat bread for us.

And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the pies. My mother always made a pecan pie (lots of native pecans in eastern Oklahoma.), always a fruit pie, and a couple of pumpkin, naturally. Pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream. I do mean lots.

My late cousin Craig is the one who began the more-whipped-cream-than-pie ritual in my family. It didn't take too many years before it became tradition to always serve the pie in a bowl, the better to hold the cream. So here's to you, Craig, and to all the family rituals that we simply cannot do without. It wouldn't be the holidays without them.

FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS ENJOYMENT:  The following recipe is for the easiest and most amazing pumpkin pie ever made. This is my mother’s recipe, and I’m presenting it here exactly as she wrote it down. This is the pie my cousin loved.

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin

2 tsp. butter

2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk

2 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 inch pie pan. Beat all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pan. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

(No, you don’t make a crust. The pie will make its own crust.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Words of the Year 2023


by Sybil Johnson 

Words of the year for 2023 have been announced by various organizations. A number of them use word of the year in the broader sense of vocabulary item so suffixes, phrases, etc. are fair game.

Merriam-Webster chose ‘authentic’ as their word for 2023. They define it as “not false or imitation,” or “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” According to Merriam-Webster, look ups of authentic saw a substantial increase this year. I thought that was interesting. I guess the word has been bandied about lately. Don’t really remember that, but then I’m not up on what’s going on in the social media world these days. Other than Twitter/X’s rapid decline. Read more about it here

Collins, a British dictionary, chose “AI” as their word of the year defining it as “abbreviation for artificial intelligence: the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs.”. Artificial intelligence has certainly been in the news a lot this last year. This choice seems like a reasonable one to me. Read more here.

The Cambridge dictionary chose “hallucinate”. I wondered for a bit if I was hallucinating this, but then I read on. Apparently, this also has to do with AI. From the Cambridge website, “When an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information.” Read more here

The Macquarie Dictionary (Australian English) chose "cozzie livs". Sounds pretty Australian, doesn’t it? It was coined in the UK, though, but seems to resonate with Australians. This is a light-hearted play on cost of living. “Blue-sky flood” and “algospeak” were honorable mentions.Blue-sky flood comes from floods that occur  not from rain storms, but attributable to high tides or rising sea levels. These often occur when skies are clear. Algospeak is another reference to AI. It refers to “code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that will avoid getting their posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems.” They also have a People’s Choice word of the year: generative AI. Read more here.

The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is “rizz”. This is short for charisma or“someone's ability to attract another person through style, charm, or attractiveness.” The finalists were “prompt” (an instruction given to an artificial intelligence program, algorithm, etc., which determines or influences the content it generates), “situationship” (a romantic or sexual relationship that is not considered to be formal or established), “Swiftie” (an enthusiastic fan of the singer Taylor Swift). I don’t know if Taylor Swift’s popularity has increased, but she sure has been in the news lately. She seems to have “rizz”. Read more here

The American Dialect Society will select its word of the year at its annual meeting in January 2024. The 2023 word of the year was a suffix “–ussy”. Not sure why this is. I guess a lot of people have been putting it at the end of words. And, apparently, I am out of touch with this trend. You can read more about why they chose it here.

I noticed that a lot of them have to do with artificial intelligence. Not really all that surprised about that.

What word do you think should be the word of the year?

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

I Wonder If . . .

 by Charlotte Hinger

Is there anything more frustrating for a writer than being half-sick and half-well? This year I've been plagued with intermittent health issues. Most of which can be traced to allergies to medications. That's a happy ending. All I have to do is quit taking them. But oh, the search to identify the culprits because the conditions produced mimicked rare forms of cancer. 

For instance, I'm diabetic and my body turned against Metformin, a medication I've been taking for twenty years. Why? And why can't I take Tylenol, everyone's go-to drug?

The medical mystery game show has come to symbolize all the "I wonder if . . . ." issues I've puzzled over this year. For instance:

I wonder if...When the mega-productive best-selling authors say they never ever ever miss a day writing, are they telling the truth? Do they ever have the flu? Covid? Just throw in the towel for a day occasionally? Have overwhelmingly difficult family situations? 

I wonder if. . . other writers take time off between books? During this time do they catch up on other stuff? I do. I've done everything I need to do for my new historical novel, Mary's Place. It won't be published until July, so I'm not going to do a thing about marketing until the first of the year. I've developed a sudden mania for making Christmas gifts. Five aprons down and two more to go! Plus, a quilt!

I wonder if . . .Does marketing on social media really pay off? If so, which sites are the best investment of time and energy? Some time ago mega best-selling authors Kathleen and Michael Gear tweeted about the vast number of books in their personal library. It's huge! For some reason the tweet went viral via a raging controversy over whether they were destroying the planet (all those trees cut down to make paper) and those to whom all the books represented a commitment to culture. Incredibly (I'm not making this up) there were 10 million views of this tweet. The Gears are serious archeologists and anthropologists.

The Gears later reported that all the views did not produce a single sale beyond the usual number of books purchased. Not one!

My media presence is not robust, but I'm going to beef it up come January. I'm sorting through what I'm comfortable with. For some reason, signing into Facebook has become an ordeal. That's just one of the many sites where I go through too-elaborate identification processes. On the other hand, I've had several friends tell of the horrors of ID thefts and untangling hacking situations. 

I wonder if . . .I'm making a mistake when I've turned my back on TikTok because my mystery publisher (Poisoned Pen) really likes it.  But due to all the controversy over that site, I'll skip it. I would love to say the decision is the result of conviction, but honestly, it's because I'm too lazy to learn the ropes to create an effective presence. 

I wonder . . .why I have to give a review for everything under the sun? I mean everything! From a visit to my dentist to an Amazon purchase. Why is it no longer acceptable to give an honest three-star review instead of the expected five-star? I can no longer heap praise on a book I think deserves the Pulitzer Prize through a five-star rating because five-stars are expected for anything that is well written. 

I wonder if . . . all our lovely readers will receive all the blessings I wish for them during the coming year.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Favorite Holiday Tales

 by Thomas Kies

My third Geneva Chase mystery, Graveyard Bay, takes place shortly before Christmas.  Now, under no circumstances would I classify it as a holiday tale.  Of all my
novels, Graveyard Bay is probably the darkest.  Whips, chains, assassinations, jailbreaks—not a lot of eggnog moments.  Toward the end, I broke down and gave Geneva a proper holiday ending, but that’s not the kind of girl she is. We know she’s really not going to enjoy it.  Pour her another Absolut.

When someone asked me what my favorite Christmas movie is, I immediately answered Die Hard.  Filled with murder, action, explosions, gun play and Bruce Willis wisecracks, there aren’t a lot of warm and fuzzy holiday moments.  But in the words of that infamous bad guy, Hans Gruber, “It’s Christmas, it’s the time of miracles, so be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.”  Yippee-ki-yay.

Curious about everyone else, I reached out on my social media platforms and asked what their favorite Christmas story, book, or movie is.  The book (and many movies it spawned) named, overwhelmingly, was A Christmas Carol.

There’s no need to recount the story because we all know it, but a couple of little-known facts are: the book was published on December 17, 1843 and was sold out in three days. By the end of 1844, thirteen editions had been printed. Dickens began writing the novella in October and finished it in six weeks to have it ready before Christmas.

One last fact, Mark Twain was in the audience when Dickens did a reading (actually, more of a performance than a reading) in New York and gave him a tepid review.  “There is no heart.  No feeling.  It is nothing but glittering frostwork.”

Before his readings, Dickens would drink two tablespoons of rum with cream for breakfast. Later, he would have a pint of champagne, and just before the performance, he would drink a sherry with a raw egg beaten into it. During the reading, he would sip beef tea and would have soup just before bed. Much like Graveyard Bay and Die Hard, there’s not a lot of laughs in A Christmas Carol.  It does have a satisfying story arc.

The number one movie pick in my unofficial poll was It’s a Wonderful Life.  Here’s a little known fact about it.  Philip Van Doren Stern, an author, editor, and Civil War historian was inspired by a dream he had, based on A Christmas Carol, and wrote a 4000 word short story called The Greatest Gift.  He shopped it around, but couldn’t get it published.  So, in 1943, he printed 200 copies and sent them out as Christmas cards to his friends.  Someone showed it to a producer at RKO Pictures who gave it to Cary Grant to read.  The actor was interested in playing the lead and the studio purchased the film rights for $10,000.

Grant eventually passed on it, however, and Liberty Films bought the rights and George Capra made the film calling it It’s a Wonderful Life. Should you forget, there are some mighty dark scenes in that movie as well.

The next most popular movie choice was Miracle on 34th Street. Look hard at Kris Kringle’s Foley Square trial scenes.  If it looks vaguely familiar, it’s because in the movie The Godfather, those are the same steps where Barzini is murdered. Interestingly, the comedy Christmas Vacation came in third.  This was the last film for Mae Questal who played Aunt Bethany.  She started her career as the voice of the cartoon character Betty Boop in 1931, then voiced Olive Oyl starting in 1933 in the Popeye series of cartoons. And in the movie, look closely at the kid playing Rusty.  He’s actually Johnny Galecki, who went on to become a megastar as Leonard Hofstadter in the series Big Bang Theory.

Some honorable mentions in the poll were White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Christmas Story, Polar Express, Elf, Bells of St. Mary’s, Mixed Nuts, Home Alone, and Nightmare Before Christmas.

Other than A Christmas Carol and the Bible, the only other literary vote was cast by my daughter-in-law, Gillian.  She says, “There’s a series of children’s books by Graham Oakley about church mice.  I’ve always loved Church Mice at Christmas. The written story is entertaining, but the illustrations are what really tie everything together.  My mother and I would spend hours looking through the book, finding little nuances and clues about what will happen next.”

Gillian hits it on the head when she talks about how she and her mother bonded over that story. Perhaps that’s why we have favorite holiday stories and movies.  We have warm memories of sharing them with our families and friends.  Tearing up a little when a bell rings and an angel gets his wings or laughing our butts off when Cousin Eddie shows up unannounced and uninvited at the front door.

So, step away from your Work in Progress, close your laptop, pour yourself some eggnog and spend some time with people you love. Happy Holiday and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Timing and the Big Reveal

 Last week, Sybil posted about the importance of pulling the various threads and subplots of the book together at the same time at the end of the book, and it made me smile because I think this is one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of writing a mystery. Perhaps more than in any other type of fiction, a mystery has to pull together in exactly the right way at the right moment. The climax, the big reveal. This is no time to wander off on some sidetrack or whimsical flashback, or to introduce a random new subplot. In the classic mystery, at least, no matter whether it's amateur sleuth or detective, cosy or edgy, the writer is playing a game with the reader of guess it if you can, drawing the reader through the mystery to try to solve it along with the protagonist. The quest to be solved can be whodunit, whodunit, or even howdunit, but there is usually some puzzle that the detective and the reader is trying to solve.

It's an element of story building that I really enjoy but also find the most challenging. I am not a plotter, so I don't know ahead of time whodunit it and how the sleuth will solve it. The story evolves as I write and introduce a variety of suspects with credible motives. Since it's a guessing game for me until quite near the end, I figure it will be one for the reader as well. But there comes a time in the story that I realize who makes the most exciting and meaningful perpetrator and then I have to figure out how the detective solves it. Gone are the days when the detective gathered everyone together in the library and accused them one after another. I like a more dramatic climax with suspense and danger. 

But there are some rules that mystery readers expect, or they may well throw the book against the wall in frustration. First of all, I have to answer the central  questions of the story– who, how, and why. I don't have to spell everything out and tie it all up with a neat bow, but, I must give enough of a hint that the reader can  figure out the answers and feel a sense of satisfaction as they close the book. I like a book that leaves me slightly bewildered and thinking about the story long after I've closed it, but I don't like feeling cheated or frustrated.

Secondly, I have to play fair with the readers who're engaged in the guessing game along with the sleuth. None of this "butler did it" or some previously unknown twin who's parachuted in at the last minute. The "villain" has to be fleshed out and participate in at least part of the story. There have to be clues, cleverly slipped in, that an alert reader can piece together. There have to be red herrings that lead readers astray, because that too is part of the enjoyment and suspense.

For me, anyway, the detective has to be as much in the dark about the villain as the reader is, which means that they can't figure it out until the climax either. I know it's not uncommon for writers to cheat a little and have the detective learn some crucial piece of information that he doesn't share with the reader before he goes off to confront the suspect. This is a device that gives the writer an easy out but I have never done that. I've always kept my detective in the dark until the big reveal, often suspecting the wrong person or not knowing which of two possible suspects it is. It puts the sleuth in added danger and ratchets up the suspense.

It also adds an extra challenge to the writing. How to keep everyone guessing until the crucial big scene, how to reveal just enough but not too much, but also how to avoid the sleuth looking like an idiot for not figuring it out earlier. 

But I've always loved a challenge. None of this is solved in the first draft. That's what rewrites are for. That's the time when clues are planted, removed, or better disguised; when characters' motives and actions are enriched and massaged to fit the story; and when subplots or scenes are inserted to clarify or distract.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Life Happening

 I'm really, really late today but I want to post because I missed my last Friday. I was busy with my day job (teaching at university) and lost track of the schedule. Today I wanted to get a post up. Except last night, I felt a small jab of pain in my eye. It was gone in a second, but it was in the same eye that I saw an ophthalmologist about back in spring. My GP referred me when I called her about the bloodshot eye had seen when I happened to glance in the mirror I was passing. He determined that I had a fairly common broken vein in my eye. It looked and sounded scary, but it wasn't painful and would probably resolve itself. 

He could see my eyes were dry and asked if I had ever been told that. I said I but I hadn't used artificial tears since the wave of recalls of contaminated eye drops.  Even though my artificial tears had not been among the brand or type of drop in the several recalls, I had been spooked enough to stop using them. We agreed it might be safe to start again. But this morning I woke up with both eyes itching and I forgot about my post because I was busy getting my dog to daycare and then calling for an appointment to see what's happening. After I'd gotten in for Monday, I turned to emails I needed to respond to and then picking up dog and feeding pets and self and responding to more emails and I'm finally here now.

I had intended to write a longer post about the topic my Type M colleagues were discussing recently -- muddled middles. I've been dealing with that, too. It isn't usually a problem that paralyzes me for long periods as I'm writing because I'm a plotter. But this time I'm writing a historical thriller and trying to plunge in and see where it gone. With that in mind, I have focused on the characters and their goals and motivations rather than extensive outlining. That worked until I got to the middle and realized I wasn't sure where to insert my parallel murder investigation by my Albany police detectives happening in the months leading up to the presidential election in their present. Their "present" because my two Albany books were set in the alternate near-future when I wrote them, but now are in the recent past. In their present a presidential election is approaching and in the first book I had Howard Miller, a character who turned out to bear a striking resemblance to one of the real-world candidates that we all now know too well. In Book 2, people connected to him had McCabe and her family under surveillance because her father is a retired journalist and had been doing some research on the candidate's activities. In my third book --when I get to it -- I intend to deal with that, but meanwhile I want to use the characters as the investigators of the murder in my historical thriller.

I think I may have mentioned this complex structure before. But I didn't realize last time I mentioned how difficult it would be to deal with the "muddled middle" when I can literally flip a coin to decide when a scene should appear. Knowing that has slowed me down to a crawl. I have gone back to my preferred method of outlining and that has taken me down a path that didn't occur to me when I was attempting to write faster. 

I'm just hoping that whatever is happening with my eyes is no more serious than an allergy or something I've been using on my face. I want to get my pile of term papers read and grades submitted and then settle into summer writing. By then I should have outlined enough to find my way out of my maze.

Have a good weekend, everyone.