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What If You Planned a Party and Nobody Came?

May 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , ,

What if you spent a year planning a party, sent out the invitations, and nobody came? For the past year, that has been the scenario for writers and readers. Each writer’s plan was simple: write the book and go on tour launching it. Readers looked forward to the party aspect of interacting with authors at bookstores, libraries, and conferences. Then, on March 14, 2020, the world shut down.

That weekend, I was in Washington, D.C. at a family function, not knowing it would be a year or more until I saw those loved ones again. Before arriving in Washington, I had been on a whirlwind tour for newly released Three Treats Too Many, the third book in Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. The tour had taken me to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, Fairhope, New York, and Atlanta in two months. More stops were planned for April through August, but they were canceled.

I, like many authors, had to pivot. We spoke to groups or participated in panels virtually. Authors learned to sit up straight, use microphones or earphones, adjust lighting and backgrounds, and provide bookplates instead of only bookmarks. Using Zoom, Crowdcast, or other platforms was a good substitute, but not the same as live interaction with readers and bookstore owners. Reaction times were different, especially for webinar platforms where readers could only communicate by leaving a chat message.

Although readers still establish links between themselves and the characters in books they choose to read, experimentation with new authors dropped. Why? Housebound, people found comfort spending time with familiar characters and scenes that brought back good memories.

Four Cuts Too Many, the fourth Sarah Blair book releases May 25. In it, Sarah, who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, has no desire to learn knife skills from her friend, sous chef and adjunct college instructor, Grace Winston. But, when Grace’s department chair is found dead with one of Grace’s knives in his neck, Sarah is forced to sharpen her own skills to uncover the elusive killer. The premise and the book are fun, especially for a summer beach, airplane, or bath read, but how to launch it to the most people is a dilemma.

It is a problem that is not mine alone (although it sometimes feels like it). Most authors with release dates that would offer readers the perfect summer book are finding that stores are still not having large in person book parties nor are the usual conferences taking place. Consequently, we’re planning individual virtual store appearances or panels, we’re increasing our number of Facebook parties and group take-overs, more blogs are being written, and we’re hoping for word-of-mouth help.

Whether it is Four Cuts Too Many or any other book you read, review it, and tell your friends about it. Publishers look at sales and numbers, so it is important that readers and writers work together if favorite series and characters are to be survive the pandemic.

I know I can’t wait to see you in person again, but in the meantime, do you have any ideas how you’d like authors to connect with you? I’ve got my pen and paper ready to take notes.




Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debuted with One Taste Too Many on December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Find out more about Debra at any of the following links:

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Debra’s Newest Sarah Blair Mystery

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The Sarah Blair Mysteries

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ONE TASTE TOO MANY

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ONE TASTE TOO MANY

TWO BITES TOO MANY

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TWO BITES TOO MANY

THREE TREATS TOO MANY

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THREE TREATS TOO MANY

FOUR CUTS TOO MANY

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FOUR CUTS TOO MANY

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Sacrifice by Dianna Sinovic

April 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , ,

Ryner held the sharpened spade two hand widths above the marker and, with a grunt, drove it into the thick, dense soil. The first shovelful was always the hardest, but his stocky frame gave him the power needed to break through the crusted surface. He flung the damp dirt aside and, without pausing, set the spade in place again.

The scout had located the precise spot for Ryner to dig. But the hole must be deep enough, and that would take time—something he had very little of. The cavity must provide a secure haven for the sacred pillar. That meant at least four velens down. He must hurry.

Already he could feel the gust from the advancing horde flowing over his face and arms. They were at most a half medido from where he stood. So many crowded into the vast column and so tightly packed were they that, like the outflow from an impending storm, they pushed the air itself before them, bringing with it the pungent scent of crushed chitin.

Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down his face. It stung his eyes, making him blink and squint. He could see nothing on the skyline yet, but he must not stop.

He knelt and levered more dirt from the hole. Then more. The thick clods left his hands stained and grimy. Was it deep enough? There was a blackness low on the eastern horizon now. Faintly, the buzz and clap from that darkness joined the twitter of the field sparrows hunting in the fallow meadow. The fear he had kept tamped down began to slow his movements.

He unwrapped the pillar from its royal blue cloth and stared at the intricate, filigreed lettering, the language of the Ancients. Exposed to the air, the pillar vibrated slightly in his hands. No longer than a hunting knife, it was as thick as his arm. Quickly he rewrapped it and thrust it into the hole, then tossed in clods of earth, chunk upon chunk, to bury it. The invisible thread connecting him to its power broke with the last handful of sod. His muscles relaxed and his shoulders straightened. If that depth was enough to sever his tie, it was more than adequate to ensure the horde would never sense it.

He stomped the dirt with his boots and covered the small, fresh mound with dried grasses. He placed a cairn of rocks on the spot. Blayne would know the sign; it would take him several moon cycles, but he would find it.

The buzzing had grown deafening, the sky dark at midday, and the swarm was there. He was lifted and twirled. The pain engulfed him, roaring through him until every nerve fiber was afire. But the pillar was safe.

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Enter the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2021 Short Story Award

March 13, 2021 by in category Writing Contest tagged as , , ,

Enter

The Bethlehem Writers Roundtable
2021 Short Story Award

A bird on a tree branch

Our theme: An Element of Mystery (broadly interpreted)

We are seeking never-published short stories of 2,000 words or fewer for a chance to win:

First Place:
$250 and publication in our upcoming anthology: An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Second Place:
$100 and publication in An Element of Mystery or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable

Third Place:
$50 and publication in An Element of Mystery or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable

The 2021 Guest Judge is Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since  then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchildren, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

For more information and to submit a story please visit Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award.

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Enter the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2021 Short Story Award

February 25, 2021 by in category Writing Contest tagged as , , ,

The Bethlehem Writers Roundtable
2021 Short Story Award
Is Open for Submissions

A bird on a tree branch

Our theme: An Element of Mystery (broadly interpreted)

We are seeking never-published short stories of 2,000 words or fewer for a chance to win:

First Place:
$250 and publication in our upcoming anthology: An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Second Place:
$100 and publication in An Element of Mystery or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable

Third Place:
$50 and publication in An Element of Mystery or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable

The 2021 Guest Judge is Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is a true daughter of the South. She was born in Mississippi and has lived in Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas. After years of dabbling with poetry, plays, and essays, her career as a novelist began when her husband invited her to write full time. Her first book, Sweet and Deadly, appeared in 1981. When Charlaine’s career as a mystery writer began to falter, she decided to write a cross-genre book that would appeal to fans of mystery, science fiction, romance, and suspense. She could not have anticipated the huge surge of reader interest in the adventures of a barmaid in Louisiana, or the fact that Alan Ball would come knocking at her door. Since  then, Charlaine’s novels have been adapted for several other television series, with two in development now. Charlaine is a voracious reader. She has one husband, three children, two grandchildren, and two rescue dogs. She leads a busy life. www.charlaineharris.com is her website.

For more information and to submit a story please visit Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award.

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Living in Colors by Diane Sismour

February 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , ,
Diane Sismour | A Slice of Orange

This month in From A Cabin in the Woods, we have the short story Living in Colors by Diane Sismour.

Diane has written poetry and fiction for over 35 years in multiple genres. She lives with her husband in eastern Pennsylvania at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Diane is a member of Romance Writers of America, Bethlehem Writer’s Group LLC, Horror Writers Association, and Liberty States Fiction Writers. She enjoys interviewing other authors and leading writer’s workshops. You can find Diane on Facebook and Twitter.

Living in Colors

by

Diane Sismour

The last person leaves the gallery carrying an unframed painting wrapped in an oilskin sheath. The sole purchase of the evening, a painting of Mount Rainier at Sunset. Of the larger artwork hanging, only one holds a sold sign. A canvas I’ll never sell.

Tonight’s sales present a bleak outlook for my career. The prospect of continuing to paint, to doing something that brought such pleasure through my life is fading—fast. I throw the latch to secure the entrance door and draw the thick velvet drape closed across the storefront window before walking to the center of the room. From this vantage, each piece should give some glimpse into the emotion experienced when my brush stroked the canvas.

I feel nothing when looking at them now. I’m not surprised they didn’t sell. They’re colorless. The past year held no joy for me, and my art reflects the void. What was I thinking, exhibiting this trash? The piece that did sell hardly provided enough revenue for the booze everyone swilled.

Gathering the opened champagne bottles, I manage one glass more-empty-than-full from the dregs left by the customers. The smell of wine aerated too long and crab at the marginal time still allowed for consumption almost turns me away.

Who am I kidding? My morning toast and coffee burned off hours ago. I’m starving. In one swig, I down the flat vintage, and shovel the few remaining crab Rangoon through the Thai chili dip and into my mouth. The cleanup can wait until tomorrow.

The ever-present anxiety of whether to paint until morning or to spend time talking with Jeromy ultimately weaves an invisible door that closes me off from the studio upstairs. My friends’ condoling voices barrage my thoughts: “Julie, you’ll feel better in time.” He died over a year ago. The pain is still as deep today as then. “He’ll always be in your heart.” Yes, he will. “You’re young. Before long, you’ll find someone new.” I don’t want someone new.

Painting can wait until tomorrow, again.

Carefully, I remove the wire off the hook to carry him downstairs to the basement apartment. My sleeve catches the sold sign and rips the paper off the heavy frame. The tag flutters like a kite lost on the wind to the ground beneath the life-sized portrait.

The face I memorized is inches from mine. I can almost smell his scent of fresh air and salty sea above the oil paints. His mouth, a slant of the lips he greeted me with every morning. His skin tone, a perfect fleshy tan with sun-reddened cheeks from working the docks compared to the last time I saw him prone in the hospital bed.

The day he died held bittersweet memories forever etched in my mind. Often times I painted through the night, my muse freed from the everyday annoyances of running a gallery. That morning, I had just finished the last strokes on the canvas, the wisps of sun-bleached hair highlighted in Jeromy’s portrait.

He brought coffee up to the studio as sunlight drenched Mount Rainier at daybreak. The mountain effectively framed by the large bay window. The snowcaps glistened.

“A good looking guy. Anyone I know?” he teased.

“Just someone I found roaming the pier. Why don’t you pick a frame while I clean the brushes?” Turpentine fumes wafted in the small room overtaking the rich coffee aroma from the cup he had set beside me.

He placed several moldings alongside the canvas. “How about this one?”

The six-inch wide thick-ridged boarder didn’t overpower the image. “We’re going to need a forklift to help hang that thing,” I teased, and removed my smock.

Pulling me into his arms, he said, “I’ll carry the frame wherever you want.”

Hip to hip, our noses almost touched. We stared into each other’s gaze. Flecks of gold sparkled when he smiled. They sparked then. He smoothed a stray curly lock back behind my ear, and kissed me softly, tenderly, the black coffee flavor blended with his sweetness.

He bent on one knee, and removed a small velvet jewelry box from his jacket pocket. Inside held a marquise cut diamond. The engagement ring refracted the sunlight creating prisms of light around the room creating a surreal and magical moment.

 “Julie, do you remember when you were little, and how you wouldn’t go to sleep because you were afraid of missing something? I don’t want to close my eyes and miss spending a minute without you. Will you marry me?”

Why did I tease him by saying, “Let me think about it?”

Hours later, a fishing boat pinned his body against a piling and crushed him below the waist. If I had said yes and he stayed with me ten minutes longer, the dock handler’s rotation might have changed, and someone else’s husband-or-fiancé-or-brother would be dead instead of him.

When the dock chief called to break the news about the accident, he gave me hope, reminding me how strong Jeromy could be. The moment the nurse walked me into the room, his injuries appeared much worse than described­­.

Heavy dried blood splatter covered his face and arms. Antiseptic pierced the air. Multiple monitors cast a blue hue to his face and the pale yellow walls glowed a sickening putrid color. His broken body lay strapped to a gurney twisted in directions not humanly possible. My heart broke knowing he wouldn’t survive.

I intertwined our fingers. My thoughts reeled. How happy we were together. His proposal uttered only hours ago. He never heard me say, yes.

A doctor droned on in the background about the multitude of injuries Jeromy sustained. All I heard—he possessed an organ donor card, and he didn’t have much time.

Surgeons hovering outside the surgical room peered in at us from above through a wide window, waiting. They gleaned for each vital organ still functioning. None of them made eye contact with me.

My soul fractured, as crushed as his body. Tears fell onto his cheek off mine.

“I’m here, Jeromy. I love you.”

I rocked my body in distress and stared at the finest in modern medicine from the person who needed them the most. None of them would make eye contact with me.

“Can’t you help him?” I screamed. “You’re just letting him die?” His mangled body looked so…broken. “Please, somebody,” I begged, sobbing. “Fix him. Please, fix him,” I pleaded, my appeal ended in a whisper.

His lips paled with each passing minute. I kissed him, his mouth unmoving and cold. The coppery taste of blood mingled with the taste of him. The man I’d always love.

The numbers and chart lines fluctuated erratically on the monitors. Buzzers and alarms sounded. More nurses and technicians rushed into the room and they shouted orders to one another above the din.

“No,” I wailed. “Jeromy, don’t leave me.”

A nurse pulled me away from him. The moment I stepped back from Jeromy’s bedside, someone else pushed me from the room, into a hallway, and onto a bench opposite the doorway. A door blocked the view, but I knew the surgeons leeched to him and kept him comatose only long enough to retrieve whatever organs they could harvest.

They were vultures, the lot of them.

I waited, and prayed to the gods for mercy, refusing to acknowledge the brush of Jeromy’s soul against mine until his presence shifted. Air filled my lungs in a whoosh. With my next breath, I knew he was gone.

Through hiccupping sobs I whispered, “Look for me through the next door.”

An attendant brought two plastic hospital bags to me when they finished. One with Jeromy’s personal effects, and the other with the clothes they cut off him.

The trauma caused my hands to tremble when I returned the sack with bloodstained garments back to him. “I can’t.”

Without a word, he turned and carried away the carnage.

The remaining bag held a wallet, a watch, and a small jewelry box. How could I accept a gift so symbolic when he never heard me say yes?

I never looked at the ring again. The box sets beside Jeromy’s urn on the highest shelf in the closet.

I push the memories from the present and carry the painting to the rear of the gallery. The lack of sales has me irritable. The heavy clicks from my heeled boots on the polished concrete floor echo my mood in the large bare room. The champagne on my empty stomach takes effect, and the effort to move him this short distance exhausts me. I should remove the boots before managing the stairs, but carrying both Jeromy and the shoes down to the apartment seems an impossible task.

In order to open the door to the basement apartment, I place Jeromy on the floor and lean him against the wall. The stairwell’s motion light flickers on. Stale air envelopes us as we descend the first few steps into the windowless basement.

After we’re both through the doorway, I stop and balance him on the top of my foot before pulling the door closed behind us. I maneuver him in front of me and manage two more before having to rest the forty-plus pound replica on my foot again.

“You need to go on a diet.” I struggle to regain enough arm strength to complete carrying him the remaining steps to the apartment. Transporting him back and forth from the basement to the gallery, from the gallery to the studio, or from the studio to the apartment is the only exercise I’ve managed since he left that morning.

Such a different lifestyle from the long walks we took through Seattle to listen to bands playing around the square, or the strolls through the marketplace—the fish flying between sure-handed clerks at the wharf market, bountiful flowers piled into baskets, and crafts made by the Indian tribe from across the Sound.

“Maybe I should get out more.”

No, I would do anything to avoid seeing those knowing looks. What I can’t buy online, the corner grocer delivers with everything paid by credit card. People expect quirky from artists. Becoming a recluse didn’t take long.

“We didn’t do too well tonight, Jeromy,” I say. “Only one small piece sold. There’s only enough money for another year of mortgage payments. Should we sell and find another place? We could rent out the art studio,” I suggest.

The words barely leave my mouth before I’m regretting them. I can hear him. “You’re so talented. I can’t even draw a circle and you create art.”

How can I just give up so easily?

Exhaustion from masking my feeling for the public all evening wavers my resolve to stay strong. Tears well and I struggle to find the next stair tread through the emotional haze. Blindly reaching with my foot, I get down another step before stopping again.

“Tomorrow I’m building you a different frame out of balsa wood. Eight more steps—we can do this.”

I lift him higher. My arms are shaking under the strain. “One step, two steps, three…” The painting tips forward pulling me and gravity does the rest. We tumble, cartwheeling down the stairway and crash into the apartment.

Thankfully, Jeromy breaks my fall.

In a panic, I realize the absurdity of this thought, and hurry to remove my leg from the painting. At the same time, I’m trying to twist the wood into some semblance of a rectangle. He appears as contorted now as the day he laid bloody and mangled.

I run my hands over his limbs, and smooth the wrinkled canvas. He lay on the floor with rips shred up his neck and across his face. The hole punched through his body appears irreparable. A hollowness seizes my heart. Keening shrieks and crying fills the void for a long time before I realize the mantra of “I killed you” is coming from me.

Pain radiates up my leg. My ankle won’t support me to stand. On the floor beside him, sobs choke me. I trace his face, his lips, and rest my hand on his unbeating heart.

I wake on the concrete floor, stiff, sore, and cold, with the torn canvas clutched in my grasp. The painting lies in ruins beyond repair. “You will live again, my love.”

My ankle throbs in pain, but my toes wiggle on command supporting the theory that the injury is a sprain rather than a break. Nothing a good night’s sleep and some ice won’t fix.

Sorry, Jeromy. Wincing, I pull the broken wood off the canvas, and feel the last connection to Jeromy slip away. The void more painful than any injury sustained tonight.

Tears fall unchecked as I push myself off the floor using the support as a crutch for balance, and hobble to the small kitchen nook to assess my wounds and gather all the supplies needed. No cuts, just some scrapes. I grab three Ibuprofen for pain, use scissors to remove my leather boot, fill a plastic bag with ice, and hold the pack onto the ankle with painter’s tape.

The bed beckons only a few feet away. Jeromy’s broken body left just beyond. I shuffle and hobble my way to the rumpled sheets.

Three days later, the ankle is purple and black, but supports my weight without the makeshift crutch. I don’t want to chance destroying Jeromy any further by moving him up two flights to the studio. After several trips, I manage to carry enough art supplies from the studio to the basement to repaint Jeromy.

Every artist paints differently. My preference is to apply oils from top to bottom by overlapping my wrists to stabilize the brush hand. The focal point grows in small, finite strokes. The final details touched into place at the end.

The ultimate luxury of a windowless apartment, time becomes irrelevant. Unless I watch the clock, days can speed passed. I eat when hungry, and sleep when exhausted, my muse controlling my focus. At one point, I shattered the bathroom mirror to avoid seeing the haggard, half-starved woman reflected.

In tiny caresses, his proportions emerge onto the canvas. The pigments color a burst of brightness against the stark white. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months. The image before me expands to full height, the background, a hazed ocean scape. Finally, I step away. Before me stands a perfect portrait of Jeromy’s doppelganger, but not one of him.

What’s missing? I study the first portrait—his eyes, his mouth, the jut of his jaw. The painting, even fragmented, exudes his personality. He’s alive.

His twin doesn’t compare.

“I failed you. I can’t bring you back to me.” The croaking in my unused voice sounds foreign.

Tears don’t fall. A calm replaces the ache, cloaking my soul from the pain endured for too long. For the first time in months, I notice the piles of takeout boxes, and laundry heaps on the floor. A stench equally bad emits from me.

After a massive housecleaning task, and a long necessary shower, I climb the stepladder to remove the velvet box. The jewelry box shakes in my hands as I open the lid. The diamond band slides onto my right hand ring finger, very loose after my depression and weight loss, but still shimmering.

“Let’s put you on a chain, just in case.”

When the paint dried the next morning, I fit a thin frame and string a wire to the canvas to hang the portrait in the highlighted area centered in the storefront window. The idea of having people gawking at him as the surgeons had, almost forces me to return to the basement. Instead, I affix the for sale sign on the upper corner and open the heavy velvet drapes.

Sunlight spills into the room. The diamond refracts prisms over the art and over me. The color sweeps across all the canvases, brightening each piece, bringing them to life. I unbolt the lock and flip the sign to open, ready to resume living.


Some of Diane’s Books

A READABLE FEAST

Buy now!
A READABLE FEAST
FIRST IMPRESSIONS SECOND CHANGES
FUR, FEATHERS AND SCALES: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales

LET IT SNOW

Buy now!
LET IT SNOW

ONCE AROUND THE SUN

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ONCE AROUND THE SUN

ONCE UPON A TIME

Buy now!
ONCE UPON A TIME

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