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I’m A Duck

It’s true . . . I’m a duck. Most people think I glide through life with barely a ripple but what’s happening beneath that glass-like surface is a fury of paddling feet. And that’s definitely been the case since January 1st. I claimed 2019 as MY year of reinvention months ago and I’ll be darned if I let my prediction fall short. I started the new year with a bang and refuse to let up.

I renewed my membership with Sisters in Crime, national and the Tucson chapter. I’ve applied for and was AWARDED an educational scholarship from national to help defray cost of attending Writer’s Police Academy’s first ever MurderCon held at the renowned SIRCHIE facility for forensic and crime scene investigation in Raleigh, NC. But that’s not all. I’m signing books again this year at the prestigious event, Tucson Festival of Books. You can find me on Saturday, March 2nd at the Sisters in Crime booth from 1:30-3:30 pm. I’ve also developed three new seminars and have gotten some good “bites” for presentations in 2019. More news to follow on that one but if you could use a fun, user friendly hour to learn or refresh skills on these topics, let me know. I’m still offering my crowd pleaser – Gold, Ghosts and Gravel Roads – a delightful journey through some of the more curious places I’ve traveled as an RVer. It’s especially fun for those who enjoy paranormal pursuits or treasure hunting.

  • DIY WordPress Blog/Website For Beginners
  • DIY Book Covers for Beginners
  • The Basics of Author Platforms and Branding
  • Gold, Ghosts and Gravel Roads

Most new and mid-list Indie authors simply don’t have the budget or time to create appealing websites and book covers. Trust me, I KNOW! That doesn’t mean you can’t present a professional image to the public with minimal training and investment. In this era of brutal mass market competition, snagging a reader’s attention is increasingly more difficult. Let me help! I learned the hard way and can show you how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

I’ve saved the most exciting news for last. After a 2 year hiatus from publishing . . . I’m back! March 1st will see the release Book 2 in my humorous DEAD MEN cozy sleuth series, featuring southern caterer/psychic sleuth Daisy O’Connor. In DEAD MEN CAN’T DANCE, Daisy finds herself knee deep in trouble with both the county sheriff and Deputy Chief of Tribal Police, John Greyhawk. Her penchant for little white lies, disregard of the law, and bloodhound approach to crime solving are a sure recipe for trouble when a murder victim asks for help. As Daisy sticks her nose into police business, the ghost issues a warning, “another will die”. The only question is, will it be Daisy or someone else?

Summer will see the release of a new genre for me. Temporarily named THE DEAD DO NOT LIE, this dark thriller follows the emotional and mental collapse of a disaster inspector who witnesses too much corruption and fraud. I’ve created a realistic view of post disaster chaos, gleaned from my many years as a contract disaster inspector. While the story is purely fictional based on a “what if” moment of inspiration, the elements of strife and grief are real. I think it will be a good read. I hope you feel the same.

Summer also brings a much needed break in my professional life. I’ve hired the most amazing personal assistant to help with social media, book tours, and keeping me organized. She’s a school teacher so you KNOW she can multi-task! And just in time because we are buying a house. It’s located in an obscure part of southern Arizona but close enough to Tucson and Phoenix for those big city getaways and writer’s groups. We’ll still travel off and on but our “stuff” will be planted in one place. I’m excited . . . and nervous. My gypsy spirit is crying, “No, no!” but my old bones are saying, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” We’ll downsize from the fiver to a small travel trailer more suitable for dry camping and the back road excursions I so enjoy. In the meantime, expect a lot of remodeling photos throughout the year!

That’s it, folks! I’ll keep you posted on new happenings as they happen.

Coming Up For Air

What a whirlwind six months it’s been! I assure you my MIA status was not because of slacking. Ok, maybe a little. 🙂

Our travels took us to Albuquerque where the hubmeister and our rig were pummeled by high winds. Both lost the battle. A 70 mph gust hit our fifth wheel head on, lifted it up by the extended slides and set it back down. Even though it was only a few inches, it was jolted enough to delaminate the exterior shell from the frame. Our insurance company (USAA) was awesome and agreed to honor our claim. Even though the final amount wasn’t enough to pay for a complete new panel, we finally found someone who agreed to repair the damage and stay in our financial budget. RV body repairs are not cheap! In the meantime, those pesky winds followed us all over northern New Mexico. Terry is a Vietnam Vet so his lungs are not the best. The blowing dust took its toll and he ended up in the hospital. He’s fine now but still requires oxygen from time to time. If you think living in an RV is tight quarters, try adding oxygen tanks and breathing machines to the mix. Sheesh!

We ended up spending the summer south of Tucson in a little hamlet called Amado. The area is rimmed by mountains and so pretty. And so hot! We traded a little workamping for our RV spot and hookups which allowed hubs to finish his follow-up care at the VA Center in Tucson. Since we were stuck in Amado for the summer, I also scheduled long overdue cataract surgery. I’m stunned by how much better I can see! And absolutely no pain. Between doctor visits, we dropped a thousand dollars at a couple of veterinarians until we found a good one. Our cat is diabetic and now receives insulin shots twice daily. Um, that was a bit of a learning curve on technique but we mastered it. Our dog has low thyroid and takes the same meds as me. Ha! We also renovated the interior of the rig by removing those dated valances and ugly furniture. It was replaced with wide slat faux wood blinds and Ikea Pong chairs. We removed the dining table and chairs and replaced them with a real desk! Squee!!!

I was deployed to North Carolina for Hurricane Florence and returned feeling drained and depressed. It was a tough one with some brutal sights burned into my thoughts and heart. Of course, as any good writer knows, those experiences will find their way into a future book. Actually, I’m working on it now . . . a gritty thriller set in the aftermath of a hurricane. While the story is fictional, the disaster scenes are pretty realistic.

Upon my return, we ventured up to Cottonwood, Arizona for a month or so. I hiked a lot, mostly in Sedona where the good vibes helped heal my soul. We explored the area, met good friends in Prescott, enjoyed the warm weather and drank a little wine. In November, we returned to one of our favorite areas, a small RV park on the T’Ohono Oodham reservation near Ajo and north of Organ Pipe National Monument. Love the miles and miles of remote desert and mountains for hiking. There are seriously dark skies here that rival the beautiful evening panoramas at Bryce Canyon. The first three nights we were treated to a display of meteors and impressive stargazing. Thanksgiving was spent at a VRBO house with family and extended family in Phoenix. It was the best holiday I’ve had in years!

And now we’re back on the rez surrounded by wonderful friends, some old, some new. A perfect way to end 2018 and herald in 2019.

I have a lot of exciting things planned for next year. Unfortunately I can’t share them just yet so let me say this . . . put on your reading glasses and prepare to join me at some wonderful events!

Happy New Year! Wishing you the most marvelous, exciting, crazy wonder-filled year you’ve ever had. Thanks for the company in 2018.

Story Molecules – Guest Blog by Ellen Behrens of Ellenbooks

Deb has a great way of finding the hidden stories in the places she visits and the people she sees, don’t you think? Writers get asked a lot where we get our ideas and we usually tell them, “Everywhere!” But how do we get to the point where we can see those hints of stories?

I can’t speak for Deb – she has her own way of finding threads of stories in the places she visits and people she meets, and her stories and novels are great evidence of this.

In my case, I give a lot of credit to my mother, who raised four kids (she had three kids three years old and younger at one point) and was forever inventing ways to keep us entertained, especially in the confines of our four-door car on very long road trips.

“Look at that house! Who do you think would live in a house like that?” she’d ask, and we’d quit squabbling long enough to swing our heads in the direction she was pointing to see what the house looked like. Sitting in a grocery store parking lot, waiting for Dad to run in for a few groceries on the way home, she’d say, “Which car do you think that woman will go to?” And we’d pick out the vehicle we thought matched her – and usually we were all wrong. People, of course, surprise us all the time.

Pretty soon, everything started to be a question: “Why in the world would anyone want to be out in weather like this?” Mom would say, hand on hip, looking out the big front window into blowing snow. We’d swarm to stare with her at the hunched man, head bowed against the brutal, sub-zero temperatures. Hmmm… What would drive someone out into the drifting piles of frigid white? Was he out of bread? Would the store even be open? What would he do if he got all the way there and it was closed? Our brains turned the possibilities over. We traded theories, my mother long vanished back to the peace and quiet that reigned once again in our small house.

My imagination is in overdrive these days. Living and traveling full-time in our RV, I’m bombarded every day by this sort of stimuli: how do people make a living in this tiny town where every business is boarded up? Why is there a two-track trail leading into that stretch of prairie? What does that sign “No NPS Allowed” mean?

That sign had a lot of meaning behind it, it turns out. That detail, plus a few others, swirled around in my head. I started writing. Then re-writing. Eventually I had a story, then a book I titled Pea Body, after the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, in the Outer Banks.

Pretty soon its main characters, Walt and Betty Rollin, full-time RVers, reappeared in Yuma Baby, the second in the Rollin RV Mystery Series, another story born from images and details gathered during my nomadic life.

Superstition Victim, set in a Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona (though never named in the novel), is in progress, plunging Walt and Betty into yet another who-dunnit.

Ideas? They’re out there, floating around in numbers as uncountable as molecules of air. What have you seen today? What did it make you think of? Will you write about it?

Many thanks, Deb, for letting me share a bit of what goes on when some of those story molecules hit me!

Ellen Behrens is a novelist, short story author, and nonfiction writer. Her Rollin RV Mystery series has given her the reputation as “RVers’ favorite writer.” Her books are available in print and e-book format for all major e- reader devices. Behrens’ first novel, “None But the Dead and Dying,” came out in 1996 from Baskerville Publishers. Former Fiction Editor for Mid-American Review, she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship in 1993. Find out more about her books at ellenbooks.com, or drop her a note at ellenbehr@aol.com if you’d to be part of her inner circle and receive personal alerts about upcoming publications and events.

 

EGO – Everyone’s Got One

I’ve often wondered at what point A-list celebrities become jaded to their success. Recognizable folks from any walk of life are at risk but since the world (especially Americans and Brits) obsess over the antics of the rich and famous, it must happen more quickly with those prominent, newsworthy folks. However,  even photogenic “beautiful” people have flaws.

Authors are a different lot for the most part, perhaps because we hide behind our characters. I seldom see that nose-in-the-air snootiness with a well-known author. Oh, there’s a few, don’t get me wrong. I won’t name names but every aspiring or mid-list writer knows who they are. Unapproachable. Kiss-my-ring, peon attitude. “I’d be happy to speak at your event but I must have Evian water and no red M&M’s at my table” type requests. “Certainly I will be a keynote speaker but keep those autograph hounds away from me.” Sadly, I’ve even met some of those ego driven folks at chapter meetings for various author organizations.

Sad, isn’t it? My parents stressed that I should never forget my roots – which came from an archaic middle class, hard working, respect your elders, have pride in your work, look at those less fortunate and say “for the grace of God, there goes I” type upbringing. That being said, today’s world requires caution when dealing with the public because the values I was raised with got thrown out with the bathwater.

Old habits die hard. I’m a writer. A good writer but not the best or most recognized writer. I’m not sure I would even classify myself as mid-list. I love spinning a good yarn and am flabbergasted when others seem to like it, too.

Today I received a 5 star review for one of my older books. A book I considered irrelevant to today’s market. It’s not graphically sexy. My characters are not as contemporary as those written by my peers. It’s kinda hokey, I guess, but back when romantic suspense was popular, it did okay. I like it. In fact, it’s one of my favorites. A nice blend of things I love like strong men, sassy women, Native American culture, and a bad ass (IMHO) villain. I actually thought about taking this book off my availability list. But now, because of one kind and expressive person who cared enough to leave a short review saying they liked it, I will keep Red Hot and Dangerous active in hopes someone else might find respite form the craziness between its pages.

Thank you to all my reviewers. Remember, most authors are an insecure lot. It makes us feel good when you enjoy our hard work that probably took months, or even years to release. Writing a novel is like giving birth to a child. We carry it inside us for ages, allowing it to grow and nurture. When our manuscript finally takes its first breath as a published work, we are proud.

If you don’t like it, there’s no reason to be cruel. Just let us know what you think would have made it better. The majority of us want to know. Believe it or not, we listen – and also realize it’s impossible to please everyone. But as writers, we’re probably still going to try.

 

Short Story Time Again!

Gather ’round. This little horror story puts a different twist on “roadside shrines”.

The Lore

ROADSIDE SHRINES

Roadside shrines can be seen on almost any major highway in the world. In the United States, they are common throughout the Southwest, especially on Highway 86 between Tucson and Why, Arizona. This two lane road cuts through the lands of Tohono O’odham nation.

Shrines on the reservation serve multiple purposes. Many are placed as memorials to loved ones who died while walking or driving at a specific location. Others are to honor a vow or prayer. And still more offer tribute to the Virgin Mary. The shrines for highway deaths are also referred to as “descansos”.

On some unpaved roads through the reservation, you might see an elaborate grotto or altar built into a mountainside. These are usually family or special group shrines that feature statues of the Holy Mother or a saint. Often, during a religious feast or celebration, a ramada is set up nearby to serve food to attendees.

Not all shrines look alike. Some are simple white crosses etched with a name and date. Others are elaborate stone or brick grottos filled with religious figurines, candles and offerings. They might be located a few feet from the highway shoulder, or elevated high on a hillside. It’s not uncommon to see shrines and grottos in residential yards.

The unwritten etiquette for viewing shrines is If the front  faces toward the road, visitors are allowed to pay their respect. If it faces away from the road, especially on private property, it is intended for that family’s personal use and not mean for public visitations.

The Story

ROAD KILL

by Debra S. Sanders

I’m a thief. Big deal.

I never stole from the poor – just from those who have more than they need. There’s a point where these rich bastards got so much money, they stop counting. Then when they die, their families put on a show with a big funeral, dressing up the dead with things they can’t use when they’re six feet under.

My mama used to say “waste not, want not” so I decided to help myself to a few trinkets just so they don’t go to waste. I guess that makes me a grave robber. At least, I was until Shorty Long spilled his guts to the feds about a gold necklace I showed him.

Some partner he turned out to be. Now I’m on the lam and I got nobody to fence my goods.

So I was thinkin’ . . . if I gotta lay low anyway, I might as well be someplace warm. Who wants to huddle around a fire with a bunch of homeless guys on the banks of the Mississippi? Everyone thinks Memphis is great until they spend a winter here. The wind blowing off the river is cold enough to freeze a gargoyle’s ass.

It took three days of hitchhiking but I finally made it to southern Arizona. It ain’t exactly the tropical paradise I imagined but at least it’s warmer than Memphis. I left Tucson yesterday. Figured I’d put my thumb out on the two lane highway that heads west through the Indian reservation . . . Tohono oooooodham, or however the hell you say it.  The back roads are safer but man, there ain’t nothin’ out here except cactus, coyotes and border patrol.

Nobody’s offered me a ride, not even the tourists driving their big motorhomes. Damn Feds got people scared to death. They think every hitchhiker is a freakin’ illegal from Mexico. Well, take a look, assholes . . . I got blonde hair and blue eyes.

I may be a thief but at least I’m legal . . . hahahaha!

Last night I slept in a wash under an Ironwood tree. Kept a small fire goin’ to chase away the chill. I had no idea the desert could get so cold at night. I’m so hungry, my ribs are beginning to rub against my backbone. I ain’t had nothin’ to eat since yesterday when I snatched a loaf of bread out of some chick’s cart in a Walmart parking lot. My mouth tastes like I swallowed a handful of dust. If I don’t get some money soon, I could die out here.

Geez, it’s hot. I need some water. Hey, ask and you shall receive! What’s this up ahead? A pump house?

Hang on, nope it’s a . . . shrine? You gotta be kiddin’ me.  Look at this cross and religious shit. And . . . oh, my. Ain’t this sweet? Somebody put a silver bracelet next to these flowers.

I bet I can pawn it for a few bucks. Dumbasses. Who would leave a perfectly good bracelet like that out in the open? Whoa, check out this photo. Cute chick. Isabelle Sa . . . . whatever. Some kind of Indian name, I guess.

I reckon your family musta built this little memorial thingy after you died. I heard about people doin’ stuff like that. You don’t mind sharin’ the wealth, do you, darlin’? It’s not like you can use it on the other side. Let me take a look at this picture again. Damn, baby, you ain’t bad lookin’, at all. If’n you was alive, I might just show ya a good time.

Oops, there’s a car comin’. Gotta scoot. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya. Hahahaha…..

Phew, that was a close call. I barely had enough time to hide behind those bushes before the driver saw me. No matter, I scored good on that shrine. Candles to keep me warm. A silver bracelet to pawn. And a photo of a pretty girl to look at when I jack off. Not bad.

*****

Okay, this is gettin’ old. I’ve been walking for over an hour. Found two more of those little shrines. Didn’t get nothin’ from the first one. Pissed me off, too, cuz I had to climb over a bunch of damn rocks to reach it. But I got a jar of coins at the last one – came to just over five bucks and some change. I figure that will buy me a burger and beer.

Man, this sun is brutal. I’m roastin’ like a chicken on a spit. I had to tear off the tail of my shirt to use as a head band. Damn sweat kept drippin’ in my eyes. At least I got this bottle of water somebody tossed out. It was half full. God, I hope nobody slobbered in the damn thing. <sniff, sniff> Smells okay. Tastes okay. Alrighty, then, guess I can keep goin’.

What the hell? Another frickin’ shrine? Ain’t these Indians got nothin’ better to do than build shit for dead people? I hope to God there’s somethin’ good inside. I mean, hell, I’m usin’ my time and energy to check these damn things so somebody better make it worth my while. The jerk who died was probably a drunk, anyway. There’s broken whiskey and beer bottles everywhere you look. I guess when these folks aren’t building shrines, they’re drinking. Can’t say I blame them. This place has gotta be the ass crack of the nation.

Okay, what have we got? Flowers. Check. They all got plastic flowers. Ain’t worth nothin’. Crucifix. Don’t need no religion today, thank you very much. Some kind of bird feathers. Yuck. Hmmm . . . and this. A little box. Jewelry box?

Well, hell yeah! Looks like a silver charm. Maybe I can put it on the bracelet and sell ‘em together. At this rate, I’m gonna be a millionaire before I reach the other side of the reservation. Hahahaha…..

I gotta eat somethin’ soon. All this shrine robbin’ worked up a fierce appetite. I ain’t passed a town or nothin’. Wait a sec . . . is that a light? I think there’s a house way back there. Maybe I can talk ‘em into giving me some food. I bet they get lost travelers all the time.

“Hey, old man!” Dang, he looks like he’s been knockin’ on death’s door for about ten years. <snicker> I crack me up some times. “Hey, mister. Can you spare something to eat?” Well talk, you old fart. Don’t just stand there and stare. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ve been walking for most of the day. I’m hot, hungry and thirsty. Think you could help out a stranger in need?”

Aw, hell. This guy ain’t got no teeth and his face looks like boot leather. He’s one ugly SOB. “I don’t have any money but what if I give you this bracelet? It’s gotta be worth a sandwich and soda.”

That’s right. Take it. Okay, you can stare at it as much as you want . . . after you get me somethin’ to eat. Wait . . . come back here. “Hey, don’t take that unless you aim to give me some food!”

Oh, good, he’s coming back. What the hell is he carrying? It don’t look like food. And it smells like . . . somethin’ dead. Stupid old fart is putting his hand in there. FUCK!!!

“Whaddya blow that crap on me? It’s in my eyes . . . and nose. What the hell is this? Dust? Ash? You son of a bitch!”

I can’t see. My eyes are burning like crazy. Where is the old cuss? If I get my hands on you . . .

“Hey . . . dude . . . get up. I didn’t mean to punch you so hard. Dude. Old man . . . get up . . .”

Aw, hell. That’s blood. He must have hit his head on a rock when he fell. Okay . . . okay. Breathe. Go inside. Grab some food and water and get out of here before someone shows up.

*****

It’s not as cold tonight. Or maybe I’m not feelin’ it ‘cause I got a full belly. The old man had some decent food, I’ll give him that. I don’t even feel bad about him dyin’. He was ancient. If it’d been me, I’d rather go quick like that than linger around fighting off cancer or some old people’s disease. Guess that makes me the angel of death. <snicker>

Ahhhh, now this is a good. I got a warm fire, a thick blanket and a sack of grub. Look at them stars. Damn! You never see stars like that in Memphis.

Huh? What’s that? “Somebody out there?”

Somethin’ moved by that cactus. There it is again. Friggin’ illegals are tryin’ to steal my food. I ain’t got no gun. Nothin’ to defend myself. Geezus!

“Okay, amigos . . . you can have my food. I’m just gonna back away. No harm. No foul.”

What the hell is that? “W . . . who are you?”

Fuckin’ shadows are moving. Everything is moving. How many of these fuckers are there? Huh? It can’t be . . . my eyes are playin’ tricks. But it sure as hell looks like . . . “Isabelle?” Who’s that behind her?

Go, go, go. Need to get out of here – shit’s goin’ down.  What the hell? “Hey . . . old man . . . I thought you was dead. I thought . . .”

Oh . . . God . . . that hurts. Feels like someone ripped open my chest. What the hell is he laughing about? “This ain’t funny, assholes!” I can’t move. Can’t breathe. They’re circling me. All I can see are their painted Day of the Dead faces, laughing . . . at my heart in the old man’s hand.

Aw, fuck . . .

*****

Three weeks later.

“Look, Daddy. There’s another shrine. That’s the sixth one we’ve passed since we left Tucson. Can we stop?”

“Okay, kiddo, but just this once or we’ll never reach Organ Pipe National Monument.”

The little girl bolted from the car as soon as her father stopped and ran to the arched shrine. Her eyes widened with awe.  “Why do they build these, Daddy?”

“I think it marks the place where someone died. But other people can visit and light candles, or pray for their souls. Would you like to do that, honey?”

“Yes, please.” The little girl put her hands together and bowed her head. After a few seconds, she swiveled to meet her father’s bemused expression. “The man who died here said I could have the silver bracelet and coins. Is it okay, Daddy?”

“No, you must never take anything from the shrines. The mementos were left for those who passed on. They contain a little piece of their soul. If you take it, you might bring them home with you.”

“Oh . . . okay.” She turned back around, lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m sorry, mister. You have to stay here – with your friends.”