Thursday, April 6, 2023

Journaling is like praying, it’s not for everyone

Pan and Barbara
What follows is an approximation of the start of a conversation my husband and I had early this Maundy Thursday morning: 

Me: "So I read the cozy mystery Grandma and I wrote years ago, and it's not salvageable. It's heavy-handed and sucks."


Husband: (Knowing my disdain for platitudes) “So let it go.”


Grandma was my mom, writing partner, and best friend. She died in the summer of 2021, safe to the end from Covid but not the ravages of age -- chronic UTIs and dementia. I inherited the title last year when our two beautiful grandsons were born.


She was a multi-published romance novelist who took me on as her partner when she was ready to have writing be fun.  At the time, my father protested. He didn’t want her sharing profits with me. She’d had a lucrative run until the romance boom of the 1980s went bust. 


"What's 50 percent of nothing?" she asked him, which ended that talk.


Later after 41 years of marriage, they divorced. We got custody of my mom, who lived with us for more than 22 years. It wasn't until she fell three times the year she died, she could no longer stay home safely. We'd only been able to keep her home that long due to the angels who lived next door, one nurse then another who made it possible.


Curious people used to ask my husband how on earth he could live with his mother in law. I would always pipe up sweetly it was their idea.


It was. 


She lived in a townhouse by us in the university town we lived in at the time. When we bought our first house, they both thought it would be a great arrangement for all of us.


It was. 


Besides I'd add, she always took his side.


Maybe not always, but he was her best friend too. He still misses her as his movie partner. She enriched our sons' lives beyond measure.


So back to the catastrophic cozy mystery. We wrote romance and women's fiction for nearly three decades. Our collective voice matched what we wrote though our reading tastes ran to murder and mayhem (me) and swashbucklers or heavy tomes on ancient civilizations (her). Occasionally we'd veer off in a new literary direction just for fun. Hence the dreadful decade-old manuscript I slogged through yesterday.


A week after my mom died, I ended up in a boot for a long-term foot problem. I always said I'd deal with when not taking care of my mom. But my foot decided for me. I spent eight months in that boot. I read a lot of books and wrote one.


A publisher I’d had brief contact with several years ago emailed me about writing the third book in a new women’s fiction series. 


I wasn't sure I wanted to or could do it without my partner, even though for years we traded off writing chapters for each book.  A long deadline and determination made me decide to do it. 


I’m blessed with supportive, dear writer friends. One gave me invaluable advice: “You can’t fix a blank page.”


After a decent outline, and a lot of dreck (two drafts) followed by amazing editorial revision notes, the book was done. And it didn’t suck.


Since then I’ve been mulling what do I want to do next writing-wise, if anything.


Yesterday I finally read that dated dud of a mystery. Which led to this morning’s convo:


Husband: "You'll write when you have something to say, until then don't worry about it. Why don't you journal?"


Me: (After making a deregatory noise): "Journaling is like praying, it's not for everyone."


Disclaimer: My spouse and I each have a different relationship with prayer but both of us are adamant about putting prayer into action. And despite being a journalist by trade years ago, I’ve never been a journal-er.


Husband: "Point taken." 


He didn't really say that, but maybe something similar. 


This week I had coffee with a new friend whose late father had been a successful published writer of short stories. 


She asked about my mom and me, and I heard fascinating stories about her father. 


It’s not often (maybe never) I meet someone who grew up with a writer parent. He had a day job too, she said, but writing was his passion.


I’m looking forward to more conversations with my new friend about writing and other subjects near and dear to our hearts. Like love of words and family.


As much as it pains me to admit, my husband could be right.


I'll write when I have something I want to say.


Not entirely sure what that is but maybe metaphorically putting pen to paper will help me navigate what feels like sorrowful empty nest syndrome. 


And maybe just maybe, I'll take another look at the crappy cozy.







Monday, April 6, 2015

A Taxing Season

Wednesday my husband flies to a work conference in Portland, Oregon. As I try to write one more blog post about Guideposts’ ‘official release’ of a two-book mystery set by my mother and me…I am distracted.

Distracted because taxes aren’t yet sent to accountant, a date for cracked foundation work has yet to be set, a downspout is clogged with leaf stems, the grass needs watering but a freeze could still come…and the list goes on and on and….

Ironically the one thing not causing me concern? My children. Older son has been accepted into graduate school in Vancouver, where his girlfriend lives. Younger son just signed up to take the Graduate Record Exam because he is graduating from college a year early, next spring. My mother and writing partner, who fell gravely ill last April, is doing so much better.

Exactly twenty-five years ago, I flew with my husband to Portland to the same conference. We had just learned we were expecting our first child. I remember eating a sleeve of saltine crackers on the flight, splurging on room service in our hotel room, the intense lush green-ness of Portland compared to the high desert palette of northern Arizona where we lived at the time, and visiting Powell’s Books, the incredible huge book emporium.

It was not long after that trip, that my mother –-the author of nearly 20 novels at the time on her own – asked me if I wanted to team up with her to write.

Two and a half decades later, we have co-written nearly 50 books together, including these two in the Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries series.

Books, family, friends, faith…somehow when I take time to reflect on the good, tax returns and a cracked house foundation don’t seem so bad.

In this warmhearted Guideposts original two-book fiction set, widowed Miriam Maxwell returns to Chesapeake Bay to take over her late sister's antique store and reconnects with old friend Samuel Bentley. When Samuel buys a desk that belonged to Miriam's family for generations, a discovery hidden in a drawer sends the pair off on delightful adventures in mystery and history.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forgotten History Preview

This week Guideposts Books is officially launching my mother's and my latest book set - Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries.  In these books we explore two of our favorite topics: mysteries and antiques! Below you'll find a preview of the first chapter of Forgotten History, the first of the two books. We hope you'll enjoy it!

Best Wishes,


Forgotten History - Chapter 1

“What on earth is this?” Miriam Maxwell asked herself as she dusted a bizarre little figurine in her late sister’s antiques shop. It sat between a Roseville water lily vase, easily identified because their grandmother had had one similar to it—or could it actually be the same one?—and a brightly colored teapot by a famous English potter.

The little statue was made of garishly painted wood with seashell eyes and feathers for hair. It had to have some value because Ruth had priced it at $600, but Miriam had no idea what it was. She was beginning to feel that way about the entire store. The deeper she delved into the stock, the more mystified she was by her sister’s reasons for buying what she did.

After a hard morning of trying to organize the shop she’d inherited in picturesque Maple Landing, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay, Miriam was entertaining serious doubts about whether she could run her sister’s business. For several weeks Miriam had been trying to ready the store for a mid-June reopening, but she was still at a loss to figure out her sister’s business systems. The stock was a hodgepodge of anything and everything, and the second floor and the cellar were loaded with unsorted boxes and items not in the store inventory—not that Miriam could read many of her sister’s scribbles in the ledger.

Their phone conversations in recent years hadn’t been very informative, especially not where the antiques shop was concerned, and Ruth had always seemed too busy for the long heart-to-heart conversations of earlier times. One of Miriam’s reasons for returning to her hometown was to regain the feeling of closeness she’d once had with her sister, but so far she was only bogged down by dust and confusion.

“At least I’m good at dusting,” Miriam said aloud to bolster her resolve.

She moved her stepladder so she could reach the items on top of a display cabinet. A cobweb dangling from the ceiling brushed against her cheek, but she made short work of it with her feather duster. Thankfully she was wearing old jeans and an oversized plaid shirt with her hair covered by a red bandana. If the students who’d been in her high school business classes back in Indiana could see her now, they might not recognize her.

As she reached over to dust an old weather vane mounted on a wooden base, she was startled by the tinkle of a bell over the front door. The man who entered had carefully styled white hair and was dressed in a finely tailored blazer.

“I’m sorry, we’re not open yet,” she said, brushing a silver lock of hair out of her eyes.
“Miriam? Miriam Davis?”

She looked into the pleasant face of a man with a neatly trimmed snowy-white beard, and could hardly believe her eyes.

“Samuel Bentley?”

“It’s been a long time, Miriam, but I’d recognize you anywhere. What are you doing here?”

“Attempting to reopen my sister’s antiques shop. She passed away this winter and left it to me, but I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

“The girl I knew in high school could handle almost anything,” he said.

Except your going away to the naval academy, she thought, remembering how they’d dated during their junior and senior years. Their separation became permanent when she went off to a teachers’ college, but now the happy memories flooded back.

“Everything but seventh-hour biology,” she said with a laugh. “It still creeps me out to remember the snake Mr. Van Hoff made us touch.”

He laughed with her. “You must have washed your hands twenty times that day.”

“It’s been a long time,” she said, starting to climb down but forgetting how dirty her feather duster had become. A big puff of dust caught her unaware, and she sneezed violently, nearly losing her balance on the ladder.

Samuel rushed over and steadied the ladder, saving her from a fall, and extended his hand to help her down. Grateful for his help but a tad embarrassed, she thanked him and brushed her hands off on the sides of her jeans.

“How long has it been?” he asked thoughtfully.

“More than forty years.” She remembered he was only a few months older than she was. He’d turned sixty in March.

“I’m guessing your name isn’t Davis anymore,” he said, glancing at the wedding ring she still wore. 

“Have you and your husband lived here long?”

“It’s Maxwell. Ray passed away nearly five years ago, but I just moved here.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your husband,” he said. “Do you have children?”

“A daughter and son-in-law in Indiana. They have two lovely twins, Becky and Abby. I debated with myself a long time whether to leave Terre Haute to take over Ruth’s antiques shop.”

 “How long did you live in Indiana?” Samuel asked.

“We settled in Terre Haute after our marriage. I taught high school business courses for more than thirty years, but I’m retired now—retired from teaching, anyway. I may have bitten off more than I can handle with this shop.” She suddenly felt a little self-conscious telling him more than he’d asked. 

“What brings you to Maple Landing? Last I knew you were going to make a career in the navy.”

“Admiral Samuel Bentley, U.S.N., retired,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “I decided to leave the service when they assigned me to a desk in Norfolk. I’m on my own now—my wife passed away suddenly six years ago from an aneurysm, and my two sons are both in the military.”

“You live in Maple Landing now?”

“I just moved here. In fact, I’m furnishing a house near the water. That’s why I came to your shop. I’m in need of a desk.”

“My sister must have liked desks. There are quite a few back here.”

She led the way to the rear of the store where the furniture was on display. They had to step over a child’s wooden wagon and a rusty scooter to reach the desks, reminding Miriam of how badly she needed to hire someone to help organize everything.

Samuel followed her, squeezing past a Victorian love seat and a mid-nineteenth-century cherry dresser with handkerchief drawers on either side of the top.

“Now, this is nice,” Samuel said, peering under and around a Queen Anne desk with inlaid mahogany. It was more table than desk, with only three small drawers across the front, but it was easily the most beautiful piece of furniture on display.

“It isn’t what I had in mind, but this should work better than a rolltop. I work on a laptop computer, but I need a lot of room to spread out my research materials,” Samuel said, pulling out one of the three drawers along the top. “Dovetail construction. I don’t have any doubts about its authenticity.”
Miriam watched as he tried to open a third drawer, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Hmm. Odd, the other two worked fine,” he said, bending to examine the stuck drawer.

“I should have a carpenter look at it,” Miriam said, concerned. Most of the items on display were in good condition.

“I don’t think it’s a major problem. How long would you say the top is?” Samuel didn’t wait for an answer as he used his hands to gauge the length. “Fifty-two, maybe fifty-four inches.”

“You must plan to do a lot of work,” Miriam said for lack of anything else to say.

Turning toward her, he smiled broadly. “Would you believe the guy who struggled in a high school lit class is planning to write a book?”

“Struggled and got an A minus, the only class where you didn’t get a straight A,” she teased, remembering what an outstanding student he’d been. “What kind of book?

“A history of America’s navy,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now’s my chance. That’s part of the reason I retired, although it was time to try something different.”
“That’s wonderful!” she said, genuinely enthused.

“It’s in great shape except for the drawer and the scratch on this side,” Samuel said, still examining the desk from all angles. “I would say it’s the original finish.”

“Oh my!” Miriam bent to see the defect he’d noticed. “I recognize this scratch. This desk was in my family for generations. We always thought some naughty child tried to scratch an initial on the side. I can’t believe I forgot about it.”

“Maybe it’s not something you want to sell,” Samuel said. “I don’t want to deprive you of a family heirloom.”

“No, it’s definitely for sale. The house is so crowded with all my furnishings and everything Ruth left that I can’t possibly find a spot for the desk.”

If there was one thing Miriam had learned about the antiques business from her sister, it was that everything was negotiable. She was debating what kind of discount to give Samuel to compensate for the stuck drawer and the scratch when he took the initiative.

“I’ll take it. How do you want me to make out the check?”

“To Ruthie’s Antiques. I’m keeping her name on the shop as a way to honor her memory.”

“I was so taken aback by seeing you again, I didn’t even ask about your sister. I’m really sorry you lost her. She was considerably older than you, wasn’t she?”

“Ten years older. In fact, she was almost a substitute mother for me after our mother died. She was on a buying trip in Pennsylvania when she suffered a fatal heart attack—although I’m not sure why she needed to find more stock. You wouldn’t believe how jammed full the cellar and second floor are here. But she died doing what she loved best: picking for antiques.”

“I take it she didn’t have children since she left the shop to you,” he said.

“Sadly, no. After her husband died, she put all her energy into finding and selling antiques. I gave a lot of thought to auctioning all her stock and the contents of the house and selling the buildings, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I feel closer to her surrounded by the old things she loved. I just have to figure out if I’m up to running the shop. So far, I haven’t made a very good start.”

“You’ll do fine.” He gave her a warm smile and took her hand between both of his. “Miriam. It’s nice to have you here. I hope we’ll see more of each other.”

“That would be nice,” she said, feeling a bit awkward. “Thank you for buying the desk. I’m glad it’s going to a good home.”

Samuel wrote out a check and handed it to her. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”

“Not unless you’re looking for a job,” she teased. “I haven’t had any success finding a sales assistant yet.”

After making arrangements for Samuel to pick up the desk later, Miriam watched him leave, feeling nostalgic about the times they’d shared when they were young, and then her thoughts turned back to the shop.

Could she make a go of living in Maple Landing and running her sister’s business? Maybe she was too old to start a new life. She could retire and enjoy her family, but would she be satisfied with her garden, her bridge friends, and her church work? As fulfilling as her life had been, she still faced long days alone in Terre Haute now that her daughter’s family was planning to move to California. Was this a second chance, or a bad mistake? Only time would tell.

In this warmhearted Guideposts original two-book fiction set, widowed Miriam Maxwell returns to Chesapeake Bay to take over her late sister's antique store and reconnects with old friend Samuel Bentley. When Samuel buys a desk that belonged to Miriam's family for generations, a discovery hidden in a drawer sends the pair off on delightful adventures in mystery and history.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Finding Hidden Beauty

Author’s Note: Thanks to my friend Karin Tauscher Fuller for co-writing this post with me.

While many antique lovers are in it for the thrill of finding a great piece, one perfectly preserved thing of beauty, my friend Karin chases down antiques because she says they need her. Not all antiques -- if it’s pristine she rarely even pauses as she passes. This same friend once bought a house that needed massive remodeling, regularly takes in animals known to draw blood, and buys plants at the grocery store because the soil’s too dry. That Karin would buy furniture because it needs her is just her style.

Karin says even though they’re inanimate objects, there’s something about them draws her in. Maybe it’s that antiques are survivors. They’ve lasted through moves and deaths and divorces. They’re still useful, still beautiful, in spite of their age.

On more than one occasion Karin has helped me feel still useful and not haggard, in spite of my age.

Recently she shared her strategy for finding the best deals on the well-disguised, gunked-up treasures she so adores.

“I go to auction houses before the bidding begins,” Karin told me, “and scout out the pieces that need the most work. The rougher and uglier it is, the later it will go in the auction, since they sell the higher dollar stuff first.”

Near the end of the auction, she said the pieces that need refinishing can often be bought for next to nothing, and she’ll happily head home with a car filled to the roof with stuff that—well, she’s seen cleaner pieces at the curb on trash day. But by the time she’s finished with them, they’re ready to put on display.

I like that my friend can see beyond the blackened lacquer or through those many layers of paint to the potential that still remains in a piece. She looks beyond the flaws into the heart of it.

We can’t just love what is perfect. We also love, especially love, those things and people who are not.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Guest Post: Why do people love antiques?

This March is special for several reasons. My mother, who has been my writing partner since I was expecting my eldest son, has a milestone birthday. As an aside, that son will turn 25 at the end of this year and just recently moved to Vancouver! And Guideposts, our publishing home for more than a decade, is officially releasing Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries, a two-book set near and dear to our hearts. The set will be available exclusively through the Guideposts website, and here is the link:

Over the next several weeks, you can learn more about these books, how a mother and daughter manage to write together, and our interest in antiques – as a well as what antiques mean to friends and colleagues. 

Now I’m thrilled to ‘introduce’ you to Jon Woodhams, editor at Guideposts Books, and our editor on this series as well as others – and a fellow Michigander!

Guest Post By Jon Woodhams
Editor, Guideposts Books

Why do people love antiques? Perhaps it is the thrill of the hunt. Perhaps it is the quality and craftsmanship or the classic designs found in many older items. Others enjoy them because of the sense of nostalgia, or a longing for a simpler time, that we find in these old items. And some people love antiques because they hold memories of family members or early childhood that fade as we grow older. While I love antiques for every one of the reasons above, it is often this last one that propels my search for antiques.

When I was a child, my mother’s parents lived just down the road from us outside our small Michigan town. Grandma was famous for her homemade molasses cookies, and somehow I often seemed to arrive at her house just as she pulled a batch of them from the oven of her wood-fired stove. Other times my bib-overall-clad grandpa and I would sit together in companionable silence on the spacious porch, and he would give me a fresh, soft piece of Juicy Fruit gum. The tastes of Juicy Fruit and of molasses cookies evoke a world of childhood memories.

Three of the things I loved most at my grandparents’ house were a humpback mantel clock, a stereoscope (sometimes called a stereopticon), and a Victor Victrola. (I won’t even mention Grandpa’s John Deere tractor or Grandma’s upright piano!) I delighted in its rhythmic ticking in the quiet parlor and the gentle chimes playing the stately Westminster chimes, then counting the hour. The stereoscope was an early form of View-Master, itself now an object of nostalgia for my generation, that allowed the user to view photos and engravings in eye-popping 3D. The images printed on the cards took me away to other places and other times. It was mesmerizing to study the exotic locales and peoples depicted in three dimensions.

Perhaps most intriguing to me, Grandma’s Victrola occupied an upstairs bedroom in the rambling white farmhouse. And even though we had a record player at home that I often listened to, there was something fascinating to me about the ratcheting crank, the rapidly spinning 78rpm records, and the scratchy yet vibrant tone of the records, pouring out of the opened doors on the walnut cabinet.

When I was still very young, my grandparents moved from their big old farmhouse to a newer house, just down the road. To downsize, they held a large auction that drew people from around the area. Sadly, the Victrola, along with many other items I had known, was sold to someone outside the family, and I never saw it again. The Westminster-chiming mantel clock followed my grandparents to their new home and now belongs to my Aunt Barbara. The stereoscope (along with a large selection of the 3D picture cards), I am grateful to report, later came to me, and I cherish it still.

Still, in some fashion, I must have mourned the loss of the Victrola and the clock. For when I was still a very young man, I found a clock shop where I put a Westminster-chiming clock on layaway until I had paid for it and could take it home. It was not an antique, but its sound brought back wonderful memories—and the newer-style keywound movement was far less finicky than the pendulum movement in the one my grandparents had owned. I have it to this day, nearly thirty years later.

The Victrola took longer, but I eventually purchased a similar wind-up phonograph—a Columbia Grafonola, and then later I found a Victor Orthophonic machine and brought it home—not quite a match for the one my grandparents had, but close enough. My childhood memories had again taken on a tangible and audible form, and I could enjoy them whenever I wanted to.

Over the years, I have scooped up many, many other bits of my childhood memories at antique stores from Oregon to New York, with many stops in between, and my antique obsession shows no signs of abating. So when it came time to develop a new set of books for Guideposts, it was easy for me to draw upon my genuine love of antiques as both an inspiration and an integral part of the plot. 

Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries revolves around a charming antiques store, chock full of enticing and arcane treasures from ages past. In this new Guideposts exclusive set, the antiques themselves lead our heroine and hero on a quest, just as rediscovering my grandparents’ antiques did for me. So we hope you’ll enjoy the antiques—and the charming mysteries surrounding them—in the Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Holding on and on and on….


The last time I posted a new blog it was December 2013.  At the time, my older son was working at a university in Seoul, celebrating his birthday a world away.

Tomorrow he moves to Vancouver, starting a new chapter of his life. Clich├ęd phrasing, but in a family of writers we forgive things like that.

When I started thinking about how to approach writing a blog after so much time had elapsed, I turned to Karin Tauscher Fuller. Not only is she a great friend, she is an award-winning columnist.

Show them what you’ve been up to, she wisely advised. Thanks to her I have photographic evidence of my activities the last year or so.

In reality, 2014 was a rough year of holding on and holding on and not letting go. My mom, and writing partner of 25 years, got seriously ill but has since recovered. The last year was…challenging. And now I’m finally back in the saddle and ready to start blogging again.

Many thanks to Karin and the family and friends who didn’t ride off into the sunset when the going got tough.

Happy Trails to all of us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy 23

Happy 23rd birthday to my firstborn…

My desktop computer clock set to Korean time reads 4:20 in the morning in Seoul, where my firstborn currently resides -- meaning it’s officially his 23rd birthday. But here on the prairie it’s 1:20 on this Friday afternoon. Martina McBride croons “The Christmas Song” on an old-school CD player downstairs in my office as I struggle to put into words a whole bag of mixed emotions.

Chestnuts roasting segues into “What Child Is This”…what child indeed?

Nearly nine years after my husband and I were married, we welcomed our first child into the world on a snowy December evening in northern Arizona two-plus decades ago. Every family has its own stories, retold countless times until a fine patina coats the precious lore. With Erik, it’s the tale of his winter birth where there was even snow on the cactuses in Phoenix that year.

Fast forward to last December.

Erik graduated from college with a degree in German and a minor in English. In less than a month, he got a year-long job advising international students at the university where he’d studied abroad in Seoul. Previously he’d been to Germany twice, once in high school and once in college. 

Today was his last day on the job in Seoul. He’ll be home in mid-January for just a while before heading to Europe for new opportunities.

When he called his dad on Skype this morning, we wondered if he was contacting us to say he was taking off for Thailand to meet up with his dad’s former grad assistant – and fellow child of the world --  who is traveling there – but no. He just wanted to let us know he’d finished his last day on the job.

He looked tired…and happy.

Earlier in the week, Erik’s younger brother finished his freshman year of college. He’s “officially” a sophomore now, due to all the college credits he accrued while in high school. This child is busy making plans of his own for his future.

Back track to the day after Thanksgiving and this younger son, Andrew, was putting up the Christmas tree for me and stringing the lights. Me, the mom queen of ‘holding on and letting go,’ was nearly brought to my knees realizing in a few short years this child would be out on his own too, and I’d have to depend on my color-blind husband to figure out the complicated color-coded branches system of our not-real tree….

I preach constantly, quietly and publicly, if we parents do our job right…our children leave us. That’s the whole point.

Earlier this week a dozen or so women, including me, met to eat dinner and laugh and talk and unwind – many of whom who teach at the university here. One, new to our fold – a new mom of a son – looked exhausted from being up since three a.m. the night before but happy to be out on a night out….

Many of us are in the same book club, and we joked about that elusive parents’ ‘manual’ none of us seemed to have gotten at the births of our first or subsequent children.

Our sons and daughters don’t come with instruction manuals.

They just come with a guarantee that if we do our jobs as parents well and right and heartfelt, they will leave us.

And we will rejoice.

And weep.