The other day I came home to find the men I hired to build my patio sitting in my backyard looking at a stump. This was not a normal stump. This was a giant. Paul Bunyan, Big John kind of stump. I sat down with them and I, too, considered the stump.
“George had to get his chain saw for that sucker,” one of them finally said.
“Took two hours to get it out,” another offered.
“I think it broke George’s saw,” the first chimed in.
“Why didn’t you leave it in the ground,” I asked. “You know, pour the cement around it?”
“We thought about it,” the third said. “It wouldn’t have been right.”
They told me that they had managed to cut it up into the piece we were looking at but that it had been twice as big and buried deep in the ground; a remnant of a primordial tree. Their task had been Herculean. They told me that if they poured the cement over the stump, the darn thing could rot and my steps would fall in, and I would be upset with them because they had poured cement over a stump the size of San Francisco.
“It looks petrified,” I said. “How many years do you think it would take to rot?”
The first guy shrugged, “Twenty. Thirty years.”
I shrugged back. I would probably be dead by the time the stump rotted and my stairs fell in. I guess it was the principal of the thing. They would have known the stump was there.
We sat in the hot sun a while longer. Someone suggested carving the stump into the likeness of the contractor. I liked that idea but no one knew how to carve. I thought we could make it into a table. Eventually, we all stopped looking at the stump. The men moved it out of the way and started work again; I went inside to make dinner.
That stump has now been in my backyard for months. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. But, like all things that are hard to get rid of, it eventually served a purpose. It taught me a few lessons:
1) Everybody has a stump. It might be in your real backyard, your professional backyard or your personal backyard, but it is undoubtedly there.
2) What you do with your stump will tell you a lot about yourself. Either you will dig it up and deal with it, or you will leave it to rot.
3) If you’re stumped and need help there is always someone willing to work hard with you to take care of it as long as you work as hard as they do.
4) You can never go through a stump but don’t panic. You can go around them, over them and sometimes even under them but that takes the longest.
5) Sometimes stumps are not as big as they look and sometimes they are bigger. Size doesn’t matter. Stumped is stumped.
SECRET RELATIONS, book #3 of the Finn O’Brien Thriller series is available now.
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It is no wonder that Mary Castillo is a paranormal mystery and romance author. She grew up in a haunted house.
Her mom once found her in the closet talking to the nicest lady who had a daughter and two sons. Mary was the only person in the closet and the more questions her mom asked, the plainer it was that her then three-year-old child described the previous (and deceased) resident of their house!
Mary grew up in the same town as the psychic detective of her paranormal mystery series, Dori Orihuela. She even “gave” Dori her dream home, a three-story white Edwardian mansion based on a real historic property. (And no, there are no bootleggers buried in their backyard!) Also, Mary made Dori a tough, smart robbery detective because Mary has discovered from practical experience as a former reporter that is not cop material. She likes to think that Dori is a psychic version of Wonder Woman!
With her degree in history, Mary also loves to find and share untold histories such as bootlegging women and no-nonsense World War II era nurses. Mary’s background is in marketing, public relations, and journalism, proving that yes, you can make a living as a writer! Combining her love of the paranormal with historical, Gothic fiction is a dream come true. Mary now writes the books she loves to read—chilling, psychic suspense novels with sexy heroes and courageous heroines.
However, her current home in Orange County, California is not haunted.
Jann: We’re here today with the remarkable author, Mary Castillo, to talk about haunted houses, a Mystery series and audiobooks.
Jann: What are some of the best things you have learned since your debut novel, Hot Tamara, in 2005?
Mary: The best thing I learned since Hot Tamara is how we can touch our readers’ lives. A few months after its publication, I received an email from a woman who never thought she’d laugh out loud in the chemo infusion room. But she did thanks to reading my book! What a beautiful gift. Ever since then, she pops into my mind and inspires me to do the very best I can with each story because I never know how or when one of my books will come into someone’s life.
Jann: What was it like to have Cosmopolitan magazine select Hot Tamara as the Red Hot Read in April of 2005?
Mary: It was very unexpected and so exciting. The only problem was that my grandma read that issue of Cosmo first before reading the book. Her first impression of my writing was well, spicy to say the least! But she was so excited to see my lifelong dream come true. I must lay the blame on her because when I was 12 she lent me Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins and told me that being an author would be the best job in the world. Good thing I listened to my grandma because she was right!
Jann: What was it like to grow up in a haunted house?
Mary: My parents were very open and natural about our resident spirit, so it didn’t occur to me that it was odd until I was old enough to tell my friends and either scare the heck out of them or be teased! My mom got a few concerned phone calls from parents. Honestly, our ghost was like a nosey, shut-in spinster aunt. Every now and then she’d switch the lights on and off, or open and close doors. We knew she was around when the room would turn cold and we’d just say hello and ask her not to scare us.
Mary: Lost in the Light is heavily inspired by the classic movie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (I listened to the soundtrack while writing and editing the book). I was also edging into the paranormal with little touches in In Between Men and especially, Switchcraft in which the heroines switch bodies and live each other’s lives.
Jann: Tell us about Detective Dori Oriheula and the series.
Mary: Dori first appeared in a novella I wrote with my author friends titled, Names I Call My Sister. I loved her from the start: she’s beautiful, smart, tall and can take down a grown man without messing up her hair. She’s the least likely person to be psychic and I’ve had a lot of fun watching her wrestle with accepting this fact. She’s getting there.
Jann: Dori is getting a second chance at love with Gavin Salazar. Where do you see their relationship going?
Mary: I can’t tell you or else I’ll ruin the series! But I can say this: as long as they’re together, there will be challenges. He is a laid-back, creative surfer guy who loves his little daughter. Dori is quiet, fact-driven and on the surface, isn’t cozy. While he’s open to the idea of the paranormal, Dori is very guarded which only adds to their trust issues. When I threw them together, I knew they had something if only they’d open-up to one another. It’s been fun to make their lives difficult and see them come together as a team.
Jann: You have published three books in this series, Lost In The Light, Girl In The Mist and Lost In Whispers–is there a book four coming soon?
Mary: Yes, I’m preparing the fourth book (a novella) for October 2018. It picks up right where we left off with Lost in Whispers. My mom begged me to tell her what happened to one of the main characters who was in a coma at the end of the book. I didn’t even tell her. She’ll make me pay for it, one way or another!
Jann: All three books are available on iTunes and Audible and you are the narrator. Why did you decide to do your own narration?
Mary: I really, really wanted an audiobook. But we didn’t have the budget to produce one. I have a background in drama and video production, and I’ve always had so much fun performing at book readings. In January 2016, I did some test recordings and began narrating my audiobook. I fell in love with this method of telling stories. Now that it is a finalist in the ABR Listener’s Choice Award for Mystery, I may have found a new career!
But the unexpected gift of recording Lost in the Light while I was editing Lost in Whispers, helped with continuity because I recalled details that I had forgotten! Once I finished Lost in the Light, I jumped into Girl in the Mist, which taught me that it is fun to write a steamy love scene but a bit awkward recording it! I’m now recording Lost in Whispers which I plan to release in the fall and then the fourth Dori novella to be released in Winter 2018.
Jann: Thank you Mary for letting us into your writing world. You can contact Mary at the following sites.
A selection of Mary Castillo’s books are available below. Hover over the book cover for the buy links.
Maureen Klovers is the creator of the Jeanne Pelletier amateur sleuth series set in Washington, DC, and the memoir In the Shadow of the Volcano: One Ex-Intelligence Official’s Journey through the Slums, Prisons, and Leper Colonies to the Heart of Latin America.
As suggested by the title of her memoir, Maureen has served as a U.S. intelligent agent; taught in the shantytowns of Quito, Ecuador; toured a notorious Bolivian prison in the company of a German narcotrafficker; and been inspired by some of the most positive, life-affirming people on the planet–residents of a facility for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (the new name for leprosy).
More recently, she has switched to writing mysteries. Her first novel, Hagar’s Last Dance, features lawyer-turned-bellydancer Jeanne Pelletier and her zany, crime-fighting urban family and delves deep into the Washington, D.C. that tourists never see. A sequel, Graveside Reunion, is set to be released in January 2018.
Maureen is also hard at work on a garden-to-table culinary mystery series starring Rita Calabrese, an Italian-American matriarch (and excellent cook!) turned small-town crime reporter.
She loves poking around forgotten corners of DC; speaking Italian, testing recipes for Italian-American classics (which will later work their way into Rita’s cookbook!), and traveling to Italy; and spending time with her incredibly supportive husband, fun (but exhausting!) toddler, and energetic black Lab.
Jann: We’re starting out 2018 with a bang! Maureen Klovers, author of the Jeanne Pelletier amateur sleuth mystery series, is going to chat with us today.
Your character, Jeanne Pelletier, that you introduced in Hagar’s Last Dance—what can you tell us about her?
Maureen: By day, Jeanne is a mousy temp attorney slaving away at a big Washington, D.C., law firm. But outside of work, she has a whole different persona—as a belly dancer named Zahira, and as a successful amateur sleuth. She’s assembled a fabulous crime-fighting “urban family” in D.C., consisting of her curmudgeonly ex-CIA agent neighbor; her ravishing sister, Vivienne; her commune-dwelling wild child best friend, Lily; her Scottish hacker boyfriend, Fergus; and a Salvadoran ex-con, Carlos—the only man other than Fergus that gets her pulse racing. She’s also got a third-legged rescued Golden Retriever named Scarlett!
Jeanne’s a strong, independent woman. She’s smart, caring, and funny—but not perfect the way most protagonists of mystery novels seem to be! She guzzles hot chocolate, struggles to get to work on time, and has a fear of commitment. Basically, she’s human—a little like a more intellectual and more wholesome American version of Bridget Jones.
Jann: How did the idea for an amateur sleuth mystery series originate?
Maureen: One blistering August day, when my mom and sister and I were holed up in the air conditioning and a little bored, the three of us decided to write a spy novel set in 1960s Italy and starring Sister Gilmary, a character very loosely based on my mom (who actually was a nun in the 1960s and did live in Italy—just not at the same time). We ended up having creative differences, so we never published the book together (although my mother did on her own!). However, this process jump-started my interest in writing crime fiction. But I am more interested in writing about amateur sleuths than spies! (Which is ironic, given that although I was never a spy per se, I did used to work for U.S. intelligence.)
Jann: Tell us about the plot for Graveside Reunion, the second book in the series, which will be published on January 19th?
Maureen: When Jeanne meets a wealthy conservative congressman at a Halloween party, neither is in a festive mood. Jeanne is cash-strapped and anxious about her upcoming high school reunion. Congressman Richardson is worried about the mental stability of his wife, a beauty queen-turned-historian who claims to be terrorized by a vindictive two-hundred-year-old ghost.
Before their dance is over, Jeanne agrees to investigate who—or what—is behind his wife’s “haunting.” But when Jeanne finds a body draped over a Confederate spy’s tomb near the Richardsons’ Georgetown mansion, she begins to suspect that the “haunting” has escalated to murder—and that her clients may be involved.
Jann: Are you working on book three?
Maureen: Not yet. But I have an idea that involves Carlos, the Salvadoran ex-con who forms one leg of the Jeanne-Fergus-Carlos love triangle, being arrested for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. It gives me lots of possibilities to explore Jeanne’s conflicting feelings and put her legal and investigative skills to work!
Jann: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes in your stories? What? Why?
Maureen: I seem to gravitate to strong, not-particularly-girly female protagonists and nuanced, not-totally-evil villains. I’m really interested in local history, so setting my story in an atmospheric, historic location is important.
Jann: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?
Maureen: I am working on the first novel in a new culinary cozy mystery series starring Rita Calabrese, an Italian-American matriarch turned crime reporter. It’s peopled with an eccentric cast of small-town characters and features mouthwatering recipes and a bucolic Hudson Valley setting.
Jann: Do you have a website, blog, twitter where fans might read more about you and your books?
Maureen: Absolutely! Please connect with me at http://www.maureenklovers.com On my blog, I discuss anything and everything that’s related (even, tangentially!) to my books. That means sharing my favorite mysteries; telling you about my upcoming books, author appearances, and conferences; sharing the joys and tribulations of writing; giving you insider’s tips to Washington, D.C. (where my Jeanne Pelletier mystery series is set); and feeding your inner Italophile (like the protagonist of my upcoming garden-to-table culinary mystery series, Rita Calabrese) through Italian and Italian-American recipes and tips and trivia on la bella lingua italiana, travel in Italy, and Italian culture and cuisine!
Jann: In your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Maureen: Jerry, Jeanne’s lovably grumpy ex-CIA agent neighbor. He is Jeanne’s sleuthing partner, sidekick, and confidant. They communicate by banging on the paper-thin wall between their apartments, and since they both suffer from insomnia, spend many a late night drinking coffee and solving crimes. Jerry is something like a cross between her older brother and the oracle of Delphi—he manages to say some pretty profound things in his own inimitable way.
Plus, Jerry’s lines seem to write themselves! That’s a real gift for an author. He’s one of those characters I can really see with my mind’s eye.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share a corner of your world with us Maureen. Wishing you a wonderful 2018!!
Jann Ryan grew up with the smell of orange blossoms in Orange County in sunny Southern California, where she has lived her entire life and dreamed up stories since she was a young girl. Never an avid reader, she was in her thirties when she picked up her first romance quite by accident. She fell in love with happily ever after and has been reading romances ever since.
Wanting to put pen to paper, Jann joined of Romance Writers of America®. Currently, she is working on a romantic suspense series set in Stellar Bay, a fictitious town along the California central coast to fulfill her publishing dream.
I hit an unexpected writer’s block this past year. I sort of lost my way and it had me really wondering what to do next with myself. I have always been a goal driven person who needed to be reaching for that next carrot in order to feel good about myself. Yes, I agree that may not be the healthiest way to live, but I guess it’s just how I’m wired. The other part of me is that I expect that dedication and hard work will more times than not – result in success. But it’s the definition of that word – success – that suddenly had me paralyzed, and more than a little uncertain of my writing future.
It all started three and a half years ago. After thirty-five years in education, I retired. I had loved being an elementary school principal and there were still a thousand stories, strategies and recommendations racing through my head. I wanted to share all that I had learned and decided to try writing parenting books. I poured out my heart and soul with strategies on bullying, homework issues, parent/teacher relationships and more.
Six books later I realized that I was getting bored talking about the same old stuff I had for the last thirty-five years. I needed to do something different. I took a chance, deciding to throw my hat into the world of fiction writing. And I had a blast creating my first fictional series The Witches Of New Moon Beach. I created a welcoming – albeit quirky, action packed world filled with witches, magic and love, all at the beach.
Although I was happy with how the series did, I guess I had hoped for more. After all, I felt like I had worked really hard, spending endless hours in front of my computer. Suddenly I was wondering what the “more” was that I was looking for? More sales..more exposure more…
A couple of my friends gently suggested that I might consider giving up. Why spend so much time if it wasn’t truly productive. “I mean are you even making any money?” one asked. Others said that I should give in to the fact that the e-book market may have shrunk. Maybe I’d missed my chance and I’d never make it big. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough. It left me considering, who was I to think that I might actually make it in this gigantic world of publishing?
It was my husband who caught me feeling down one day and said something rather life changing – Get Real! What the heck did that mean, I asked – not really wanting to know the answer.
Then he asked me four powerful questions.
1) Did I still have a passion for writing?
2) Was I having fun?
3) Had I done all that I could to improve my writing skills and publishing opportunities?
4) Was I really ready to throw in the towel and walk away from writing?
After dropping these atomic questions on me, he calmly reassured me that whatever my answers were – he’d still have my back.
I spent a lot of time thinking about his queries. And in the end, it was the answers to those questions that helped me to redefine my idea of success and happiness.
I do have a passion for writing. I love creating fictional worlds over which I have total artistic freedom and control. My mind is constantly spinning with new characters, themes and plot lines.
I love creating new characters. It’s fun. In fact, I wake up at night to jot down new ideas that just popped into my head while I was supposed to be sleeping. I carry around my Book O’ Names with me so that when I hear an unusual name I quickly jot it down for later use.
Ouch! No, I hadn’t done everything that I could to improve my writing skills. I listened to writer podcasts, read articles by other writers and secured new support software. I knew that I needed to do a better job editing my books. I’d been zinged for it in the past and recognized that it was one of the areas I could strengthen. I secured the help of a fab editor – Jenny Jensen. She has been a godsend and has made all of the difference in the world in helping me to tighten up my story lines and confirm correct grammar usage. Most importantly, I feel better about my work with her support.
Hell No! I am not ready to throw in the towel. I love writing and even though I still hit bumps in the road; writing makes me happy.
So what did I do with all these newly found answers? I put my head down, recognized that this was what I’m meant to be doing right now – and wrote. I reawakened by imagination and had fun creating a new story – one that I am ready to share with you.
Murder By Magic is my first cozy mystery and I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
And should you feel stuck along the way, you are more than welcome to borrow my husband’s four questions to get you headed in the right direction – right for you that is!
Oh, and thank you Paranormal Romance Writers Guild for giving me a 5 star review!