Category Archives: Story Inspiration

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.

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  • 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.

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What does KY Warming Gel, Preparation H and Cowboy Hats have in Common?

Each product was part of an interesting conversation at the high traffic tourist stop where I work near Bryce Canyon. Hubs and I decided to “workamp” this summer. For those not familiar with the term it describes seasonal or temporary workers who live in their RV. In exchange for hours worked, we receive a wage, great perks, a nice campsite for a pittance of what we would normally pay which includes full hook-ups, wifi, and cable. We also have plenty of days off to explore the beauty of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Not a bad arrangement.

Hubs works light maintenance at one of the hotels. I work a variety of positions in the retail store.

About eighty percent of our customers are European, Asian or Australian . . . and many speak limited or NO English. I’ve become adept at hand signals/charades, choosing the right coins from paying customer’s outstretched hands, and learning common words in various languages. It’s fun but can sometimes present challenging situations.

For instance – I had a German gentleman with very limited English skills purchase a western hat. He was part of a group who clearly found his hat amusing. I cut off the tag so he could wear it immediately, telling him he looked like a cowboy and now he just needed a horse. He didn’t understand the word “horse” so I pretended to ride an imaginary equine, using my hands to imitate holding the reins. “Ride horse,” I said. His friend must have understood because he translated in German. The man laughed and pointed at his wife. “I have her.”

Oooookay.

A young couple came to my register with KY Warming Gel. They’d just returned from hiking. He asked if the contents would help his sore ankle. ???? I said no. He then asked in broken English what it was for. My face was red. I pointed to his girlfriend and replied, “For her.” Both looked at me funny. “It’s used to enhance intimacy.” At that, they both laughed. He returned later with a tube of Icy Hot..

An Asian man brought a tube of Preparation H to my associate, a young male in his late teens. The customer asked if it was face or hand cream, once again in broken English. The boy turned to me and said, “She can help you.” Really? I told the man it was used to ease hemorrhoids which thankfully he seemed to understand. I then instructed him to a different area of the store for hand cream.

After these encounters . . . and more . . . it makes me wonder what non-English speaking countries think of Americans when we try to communicate during travels and vacations. I’m not sure I want to know. Hopefully, no one blogged about me during my last trip across the border.

Exploring Mark Twain’s Boyhood Haunts


I’m back! It’s been a while and I apologize. Now that family visits, medical issues and whatnot are out of the way, we are back on the road enjoying new adventures. So here goes . . .

Hannibal, Missouri . . . just the name evokes visions of lazy riverboats puffing down a wide river, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer atop a wooden raft, and the man who gave them

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Historic Hannibal

life – Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. I’m not exaggerating when I say I almost piddled myself in excitement when the day finally arrived to explore this quaint, historical town. After all, Hannibal’s rolling hills and riverfront access provided the inspiration for Mark Twain’s most famous works. It flavored his writing as it flavored his wit. And I was about to see all the places I’d read about in my youth! How cool is that?

Reality seldom matches expectations. The more we dream and visualize about what lies ahead, the more we risk disappointment. Hannibal is a perfect example. The town itself should be renamed “Mark Twain City” because everywhere you go is reference to the famous author and humorist . . . understandable. One might never venture to Hannibal were it not for Mark Twain’s legacy. And everything tagged with his name comes with a price.

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Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

Yes, Hannibal is a tourist trap. But if all I came to see were paid attractions, I’d miss out on the true ambiance of a historical town.

Driving into the outskirts from Highway 36, it was as if we entered a time warp. Hannibal is firmly rooted in the past and the period architecture reinforces that aura, beckoning with untold stories of days gone by. Had I never heard of Samuel Clemens, I would still be lured to this incredibly picturesque albeit decaying community. A great many of the clapboard houses and brick storefronts remain unrestored which supports the character of an aging 1800’s riverfront town.
I enjoyed a short walking tour along the river and railroad tracks, meandered along scenic Cardiff Drive to where it meets the lighthouse replica erected in Mark Twain’s honor, absorbed majestic views from Lover’s Leap, explored Mark Twain’s childhood home and the wooden fence still fresh with whitewash. What I wanted to do and didn’t was visit McDougal’s Cave, popularized in Twain’s 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The property is part of an adjoining campground and gift shop and is only viewable on special

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Mark Twain Sightseeing Riverboat

tours. Adult tickets ran about $20 and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for what I felt should have been free. Perhaps if I’d visited the nearby winery and tasted a few glasses, I might not have been so put-off by the entrance fee. Bottom line is I’m a cheapskate.

I suppose the real reason I wanted to see the cave, aside from a trip down Tom Sawyer memory lane, is the wickedly strange events that took place there. During Twain’s childhood, the property where the cave is located was owned by a St. Louis surgeon, Dr. Joseph McDowell. The man was brilliant by all accounts, and genius sometimes borders on the edges of insanity. When Dr. McDowell’s fourteen-year-old daughter died of pneumonia, he decided to “petrify” her body. After constructing a copper tube lined with glass, he filled it with alcohol and placed the corpse inside, suspending it from the ceiling of the cave.

According to Twain, the local youth discovered the contraption and began to gather there, telling ghost stories to frighten each other in the flickering light of their torches. Even more macabre, the top of the cylinder could be unscrewed so the girl’s face was visible. After two

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View from Lover’s Leap

years, the adults in the community got wind of the girl’s unofficial interment. They complained, forcing the doctor to relocate his daughter’s body to the family mausoleum in St. Louis. However, some people believe the girl’s spirit is still there, following tourists as they navigate the dark cavern.

The cave is not the only place where hauntings occur in Hannibal. A year-round ghost tour features many allegedly active sites for adventurous souls. If we had planned a longer stay (and might have if the weather were not so damnably hot and humid), this cheapskate would have coughed up the bucks for the tour since I’m fascinated by the paranormal.  Perhaps another time.

Would I return to Hannibal for an encore visit? That’s hard to say. I love the ambiance and historical significance of the area. Unfortunately, this area of the Midwest doesn’t generate the same fascination as other places we’ve visited. We like less populated areas like mountains, remote coastlines, and high desert.

That being said, we’re enjoying our slow loop around the Great Lakes through Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. We may not venture this way again so if you know of any unusual, oddball or off-the-beaten track destinations, please let me know. I’m always up for an adventure!

What Lurks Beneath The Ground In Iraan, Texas?

Iraan (pronounced Ira Ann) is a small oil boom town in west Texas. Somehow this little wide spot in the road has garnered some good and bad attention over the years.

Let’s start with the “good”. The town was built on land owned by Ira and Ann Yates, thus the name “Iraan”. Unfortunately, most people call it Iran and that doesn’t sit well with the locals. An interesting bit of trivia: it’s the second largest town in the second largest county in the second largest state.

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Iraan is Victor T. Hamlin, creator of the syndicated comic strip Alley Oop –  which at one time was as popular as Dick Tracy. Victor worked as a cartographer for an oil company but had a nice sideline as a cartoonist. It is said he came up with the idea for Alley Oop while watching the steam shovels and scrapers haul up truckloads of dinosaur bones during the excavation process for the oil wells.

To perpetuate the association with Hamlin, Iraan built a park dedicated to the mythical characters in Alley Oop, including “Dinny” the dinosaur. If you’re too young to remember Alley Oop, the park is still a fun stop for kids and adults. The adjacent museum offers more than just Alley Oop history. There are some interesting exhibits and artifacts which make it worth a visit.

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                          Is there an underground city beneath that hill?

Now for the “bad” – generated by a flood of strange allegations. An online media source claims Iraan is empty. Stranger Than Fiction News used Google Earth clips as proof that no one inhabits the town, citing an empty high school parking lot, an empty hospital parking lot and “street” images of the town which makes it look deserted.

I admit to viewing the YouTube video and humming the theme song from Twilight Zone. I might have discounted the entire story had I not also read about a mysterious underground city several miles beneath the surface outside of Iraan. Two bizarre claims in the same week aroused my curiosity. Since the town was only fourteen miles off my designated route to research another strange phenomenon, I decided to check it out.

When we drove into town, I immediately noticed gas stations, restaurants, markets, schools, a bank, post office, library and traffic. I suppose they might have bused actors to town and staged the activity for my arrival but they since they had no way of knowing I was coming, that seems unlikely.

After debunking Stranger Than Fiction’s claim, investigating the underground city proved more challenging.

The story has nebulous origins since it is hearsay from a second party. That being said, I listened to an interview with the person who repeated what was told to him.

Allegedly, a truck driver was hired to deliver an unknown cargo to a location outside of Iraan. He was met by two military jeeps and escorted through the hills to a secret “base” where he drove switchbacks into the ground for approximately three miles. The driver saw an entire city with thousands of residents. One building was seven stories tall. He was told to back his truck into a loading dock. Once the cargo was unloaded, he was escorted above ground.

The person telling the story marveled at the fact an underground city of that size could exist in the “desert”. Iraan is not in the desert. The geography is hilly with thick foliage, trees and grasses. It is dotted with oil rigs. That was a big red flag.

Perhaps the best rebuttal came from “Tory”, a life time resident. He laughed at the mention of an underground city and was quick to point out the locals would know of any military activity. Tory explained that the oil fields are shallow. Some flow naturally without assistance from a pump. In other words, the structure of the land would never support an underground city.

While the conspiracy theory is fun to ponder, I would rule out Iraan as the location for a subterranean military city/facility.

Even though Iraan is not a modern day ghost town, the site of nefarious going-ons, or inhabited by genetically modified aliens, it is still a nice town with a quirky park and some of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere.

And I’m not saying that just because I’m old enough to remember Alley Oop.

Story Inspiration: Dionicio Rodriguez – Faux Bois Sculpture

I’m always on the lookout for unusual sights, urban legends or myths to inspire my short stories so as soon as we set up camp in a new location, I make it a point to ask the locals where I should go. While camping near Maumelle, Arkansas this summer, one of our neighbors suggested I check out The Old Mill at T. R. Pugh Memorial Park in Little Rock.  All he would say was the site had been filmed for the opening credits of Gone With The Wind and it was amazing.The Old Mill6

Okay, sounded interesting although not the lore I usually research but I was bored so off we went with Jake in the back seat. Our retriever is a well mannered dog and attracts a lot of attention wherever we go . . . which he loves. Unfortunately, on this particular day Little Rock was in the midst of a brutal heat wave and Jake was feeling it. When we parked in front of the idyllic park setting – water, green lawns, flowering trees and shrubs – I noticed a sign which read, “no pets allowed.” It was too hot even in the shade to leave the Jakester in our vehicle. I resigned myself to leaving until Hubby, being the wonderful, accommodating soul he is, volunteered to pet sit  in the air conditioned truck while I explored The Old Mill. [Hmmm . . . looking back now, I question his motives.]

The Old MillAs I passed through gates flanked by large rock walls and shaded walks, it was like stepping back in time. Tangled vines formed an arch over a footbridge stretching across a small pond. On the other side of the walkway stood a two-story rock mill house with a water wheel churning green blue water. Azaleas spilled across the grounds and beside meandering paths. I can imagine how gorgeous the setting is during spring when the shrubs are in full bloom.

At that moment, I was content with the day’s excursion but it got better. As I eased through the massive portal of old vines, I trailed my fingers across the gnarled surface, marveling at the polished wood. Except it wasn’t wood. Ah ha, there IS a quirky tale here, after all!
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The tumbling vines, wooden planks, bridges and more were crafted from concrete in the early 1930’s by a premier sculptor of faux bois (fake wood), Dionicio Rodriguez. Justin Matthews, developer of the Lakewood Community in North Little Rock, ran across the artist’s work while  visiting Mexico City. He then learned Dionicio had relocated to San Antonio and began a quest to find him. With the help of an interpreter, Justin negotiated sculptures for three of his projects, T.R. Pugh Park being one. Dionicio’s magnificent creation caught the eye of film maker, David Selznick who used the site in his movie, Gone With The Wind.

There are some historic aspects to the site, as well.  The grist mill’s first floor dates back to 1828. Two original mile stones were moved to the site from a road  laid out more than 150 years ago, and used by the Cherokee and Choctaw to travel from Dardanelle, Arkansas to Oklahoma. Three sections of a wrought iron shaft were cut from the stern wheel of an 1800’s passenger steamboat.

But it was eccentric actions of Dionicio Rodriguez during the construction phase that provided inspiration for one of my stories in the soon-to-be-released anthology, Tales From The Back Roads.

The Old Mill2Dionicio hired helpers to assist with building the concrete footings and underpinnings of the project, however he never shared the process behind his artistic methodology. It is said he mixed products in the trunk of his car, slamming it shut if anyone approached and even breaking jars or peeling labels to keep his ingredients a secret. He used a variety of objects to re-create the texture of wood such as spoons, forks and tools he handcrafted himself, perfecting the technique so well, he managed to fool the most discerning eye. Everything “wooden” in the park, including a huge bridge spanning an adjacent lagoon, is crafted in faux bois.

After learning of the eccentric way the artist worked, my imagination began to churn faster than the water wheel next to the grist mill. What obscure motive drove Dionicio to keep his processes and mixtures a secret? Were there illicit or illegal ingredients in the preparation of his product? Did he have an unseen force instructing him? Could he have hidden something in the concrete structures? Body parts, perhaps?

And that, dear readers, is how inspiration for a short story begins . . .