The Thing About Snakes. . .

I like to turn on the morning news in the morning before I head out to work. The first words out of the newscaster’s mouth this morning incited my inner panic. They were “Authorities are searching for a cottonmouth in DuPage County.” Most people living in DuPage County probably went about their morning routine. Not me. I pictured that snake everywhere. I have an abnormal, irrational fear of snakes and because of this I see them everywhere.

I stepped out to the garage to my car and pictured that snake, hanging upside down from the overhead door, crawling into my car via the muffler, hiding under the bushes by the front door. I hear myself and know it is not rational, but it still doesn’t prevent me from checking under the covers or inside the dryer when at home. And the interesting thing is, we don’t have many venomous or poisonous snakes in Illinois. Or, I should say that I know of.

I’m not sure when this fear started. I’ve had it as far back as I can remember. Perhaps it originated when I was four, and my well-meaning older brother gave me a shoebox full of “kittens” he had found in the woods. When I opened it, it was full of writhing garter snakes. Was that enough?

This fear hasn’t stopped me completely. I traveled to Sudan for work but spent the entire time there in fear that I would encounter a pit viper, momba, or python or other slithering creature. My experience there provides the background for Alexander, the lead character in my science fiction novel, the Lexicon. Alexander shares my fear of snakes.

Before I travel anywhere I research snakes to learn about the native species. To date, I’ve never encountered any live ones but live in dread that I will. I’ve researched snakes in Arkansas after seeing signs in the subdivision where my parents lived briefly announcing the high population that spring. I’ve researched snakes in North Carolina before traveling there to go to the emerald mine. I’ve researched rattlesnakes in Arizona and California. It hasn’t stopped me from visiting any of these places.

I know it is completely irrational but I cannot get past it. And, thanks to today’s news, I will have to look more diligently everywhere I step in Illinois.

Getting Back in the Groove

A year and a half ago, I switched to a low carb diet. I’ve been overweight for the past 15 years, ever since I turned 35. It seems like my metabolism just shut down. I went from a size 8-10 to a size 16-18. It seemed overnight.

After trying everything, including Weight Watchers, extreme exercising and low calorie diets, it seemed that nothing worked. I would lose a pound and then my weight loss would just flatline. With a family history of diabetes and a father who died from pancreatic cancer, my numbers started to climb. My A1C was high, my fasting glucose was high and my cholesterol was high. I was heading in the same direction.

My doctor recommended that I see her nutritionist. I went and she put me on a low carb diet. She told me that I would lose maybe a pound or two a week. I saw results almost immediately. I lost three pounds in a week. By the end of a five months, I had lost 20 pounds. I lost another 10 pounds. And, then my weight loss stalled.

In October, I started a new job and the first month I made three trips. Traveling makes it hard to maintain a low carb diet especially when you’re stuck in airports. Then the holidays came. I would eat low carb during the week and then binge on the weekend, eating all my favorite things.

At this point, I was simply grateful that I didn’t gain any weight. It seemed that it was hard for me to get back on track. And, then we went on vacation. My husband and I ate everything we wanted during our 10-day long road trip. When I came back, I had gained 10 pounds back, and it showed. That was in late June and since then I have managed to lose 5 pounds of that 10. I have struggled with staying low carb especially in situations where I am surrounded by sweets, bread and potatoes.

In writing this post, I am hoping I can get back in the groove and on the low carb bandwagon.

What’s in a Name?

Quite a bit to quote Shakespeare. I’ve been thinking a lot about names, or more specifically, titles this week. My husband and I finished the first draft of the second Antique Hunters Mystery on Monday. Anne and CC nearly follow the path that we took this summer on our vacation.

We sent it to our publisher for her input. While we waited for her feedback, we started working on our next cozy mystery series about our 70-year-old neighbor, Grandma Pat. More to come about her later.

Initial feedback on the new manuscript from our publisher was good, however, she was not fond of our original title, Picked for Murder. I explained that we liked Picked due to the double entendre with antique picking and guitar picking. The story takes place in Nashville and involves musical antiques.

It was back to the drawing board. She offered some suggestions, and we bounced around ideas. Which led me to thinking — what does a title need to convey to readers? How much does it need to say about the story?

At the same time, we were working on the back cover copy. That is another challenge. How do you write intriguing copy that doesn’t give away too much of the story but still entices readers? We went back and forth, brainstorming ideas, some just ridiculous but fun. I liked Antique Road Kill or Killer Song, but my publisher was afraid those sounded too much like non fiction. We finally settled on Pickin’ Murder: An Antique Hunters Mystery.

I hope the title conveys what we need it to, and that readers will understand the meaning. I enjoyed writing this book and spending a little more time with Anne and CC. I am anxious to start on their next adventure and hope I can join them.

The Best Laid Plans. . .

This summer, my husband and I planned our vacation carefully. We researched destinations, hotels, restaurants, even shopping locations. The trip was partly vacation and partly research for the next book in the Antique Hunters Mystery series. We traveled from Chicago to Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, to Hickory, North Carolina, to Nashville to Indianapolis and finally home. It was even better than I could have imagined.

So, I understood my 20-year-old stepson’s idea of traveling to New York with his friends. I myself have never been to New York unless you count the five minutes we stopped there when I was about five. I don’t like being in overcrowded cities. What I didn’t understand was his lack of planning. My husband volunteered his services but in typical young adult fashion he said, “We got this, dad.”

He took off late Sunday afternoon with his three friends. They drove in his car. I was concerned as he had only saved about $300 from his part-time job., and I know how expensive everything in the city can be.

Leaving for New York. . .
Leaving for New York. . .

My husband had recommended and offered to pay for the hotel that they should stop halfway between Chicago and New York. They said, “no, we’re good.” Of course, we were not surprised when seven hours into the trip, we received the phone call saying, “Can we use your emergency credit card to book a hotel room?” We said, “go ahead, but you have to pay us back.”

Second phone, day 2, “dad, our hostel in New York is condemned but we can stay there or can you find us a hotel?” My husband spent four hours on the phone because New York City hotels are booked because of America’s Got Talent, most likely. He convinced the manager at the Hilton to save his knucklehead college kids and giving them the last room.

Phone call three. Suddenly, the trip for four turns into five. The hotel only has room for four. I won’t mention which Hilton because the awesome manager said “What she doesn’t see won’t hurt anyone” and sent up extra blankets.

We are still waiting for phone call 4 or at least some pictures from this trip. Except we don’t get phone calls until he needs something. I hope he as much fun on his vacation as I did on mine.

A Little Surprise

This summer my husband and I took our first research vacation to Nashville. We were doing research for the second book in the Antique Hunters Mystery series. We took a side trip to the small town of Hickory, North Carolina. Outside of Hickory are ruby and sapphire mines.

Years ago we had gone to Hiddenite, North Carolina, the only place in the United States where you can mine for emeralds. We had seen it on the Travel channel. In Hiddenite, we found a .5 carat emerald and a 10 carat citrine.

So, we wanted to try our luck again. This time we knew what to expect. The mine I picked had a covered flume line to shield us from the sun. I also brought bug spray and we wore old clothes. Mining is very dirty, you leave covered with an orange dust. I ended up throwing my clothes away because they would not come clean after several washings.

My husband was the lucky one. He found a 15 carat raw ruby in one of the native buckets. I found an ametrine in one of my seeded buckets. Mines sell both native and seeded buckets for tourists. After we were done mining, we ran to the local jeweler. The jeweler explained that he would cut them but it would take up to six weeks, not the overnight time frame that we had hoped for.

Ametrine pendant
Ametrine pendant
IMG_0807
Ruby star pendant and earrings

I am thinking about this today because the cut stones finally arrived.Can’t wait to wear these continuing memories of our wonderful vacation. Especially as we plan to spend this afternoon finishing the second book in the series. Every time I wear them I will remember the summer of 2015.

Nobody’s Perfect But Seriously. . .

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I receive my morning news from EW.com. I rely on it for my entertainment news. And, while I recognize that we all make mistakes in editing. The first article I looked at this morning, an update on Downton Abbey, was full of typos that it made it hard to focus on the content.

In the first sentence, the author spelled poignant, poignent. Refrigerator was spelled refridgerator. The author spelled Joanne Froggatt’s name correct on first reference but on second reference spelled it Froggett. And, most noticeably, cigarettes were spelled ciggerettes. I’m not sure if the editor was asleep or if the story was deemed so high a priority that it wasn’t edited.

As if that wasn’t enough to start my morning, I went to the Chicago Tribune’s website for my local news. There was a typo in one of the side headlines. That since has been taken down as the story has been updated.

I realize that it is not always possible to catch every typo or mistake but you can run spell check. A lesson that I learned very early on in my journalism career. It is easy to see when a word needs to be corrected, even in this blog a red line appears under misspelled words. It galls me to this day when I find typos. In fact, I am updating Murder by the Spoonful to correct three typos that were not caught in editing and were brought to my attention by readers. As I said, nobody’s perfect.

Lazy but Productive Saturday

Is that an oxymoron–being lazy and productive at the same time? On one hand, I was not that lazy. I started the day by taking my 13-year-old Australian shepherd for a 2 mile walk. He gets overheated and doesn’t tolerate humidity well so we have had to cut our walks short.

Then I put laundry away. The laundry that has been piled up for the past few weeks in a basket. I had run out of hangers. It seems that I am always running to Target to buy hangers but can never find them. Maybe they are with the missing socks? Yes, I have that problem, too.

After that, I worked on the rough first draft of the next Antique Hunters story, currently title Picked for Murder. I made it through the whole story, fixing the typos and adding subtle nuances. Now I feel as if I have a solid first draft and can start reading it fresh with critical eyes before I send it to my readers. My dear friends who were the inspiration for the first story read it for me and offer advice. It is nice to have feedback. Following their comments, I will make any changes and send it to my publisher.

It was amazing how fast the time flew by today. I started on page 140 at lunchtime and finished at 3 pm with page 180. It felt like an accomplishment. I only stopped a few times to find the charger for my laptop and to let the dog out.

And, then I had the best part of my Saturday at home — my afternoon nap. I enjoy taking a 30 to 40 minute nap in the late afternoon on the weekends. A luxury I don’t have time for during the week when I am busy with work demands.