Stain on the Soul

If you haven’t read Michele Drier’s books, you should. She’s got something for everybody—even a fan club! She writes mysteries; her corpus includes a standalone psychological thriller, and she’s written a series of  (so far) ten paranormal romances—The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles. That’s where I tuned in, with volume 1, Snap: The World Unfolds, after I met her at a Left Coast Crime* conference in 2014. What an introduction to paranormal romance! I couldn’t put it down. But I invited Michele to Building a Better Story today to talk about the first in her new series, Stain on the Soul   A Stained Glass Mystery.

Michele dubs the book a “dark cozy” for the fact it  uses little  eroticism, violence or profanity, and surrounds a “current moral issue.” As with all of her books, her themes are important and disturbing. In Stain on the Soul, Michele explores themes of homosexuality, pornography, abuse and pedophilia and the cover-ups of pedophilia within the Catholic church. Dark indeed.

The book is set against the backdrop of quiet, seaside Hamilton on the Oregon coast ,where protagonist Roz Duke, has moved after the unsolved murder of her husband, Winston. Roz is an internationally renowned  stained glass artist working on an installation for a Catholic church, and plans to “use the beach, scoured by wind and water, to cleanse her soul and rebuild her creativity” after the senseless drive by shooting. Of course, her best intentions are shattered by emergency vehicles sirens and watching her neighbor’s body being taken away. The neighbor has been stabbed by one of her custom glass knives. She joins the Neighborhood Watch group, which introduces  her to journalist Liam Karshner. Liam and the act of the murder are Roz’s entree into Hamilton’s small town life of gossip at the diner, friendly police and odd neighbors.

Roz and Liam have different reasons to want to solve the  murder, but they form a team as their friendship  grows through shared confidences. As the disturbing truths are revealed, Roz uses her rescued Greyhound, Tut, the dunes, and sunsets from her porch as refuge from her grief and troubles as the wind and surf comb her mind to untangle the truth of her neighbor’s and her husband’s deaths.

I have to agree with one reviewer who describes the book as “authentic, not contrived.” It’s the characters who bring authenticity. Both Roz and Liam are well crafted and well-rounded. They have strengths, weaknesses, biases and secrets. Secondary characters such as busybody Patsy and Police Chief Giffen ring true to their purposes within the story as well. I believed  each character, down to the former priest living across the street and the retired fisherman and town drunk, Clarence.

As far as far plot goes—OMG! I was hooked from the start and didn’t see  the ending for the tight twists and turns throughout. Stain on the Soul reminds me of a Jane Marple mystery: quiet village on the surface, dastardly deeds underneath and way too many denizens with secrets. Not surprising, in an interview, Michele lists  classic British mystery writers—Christie, Sayers, March, as well as contemporary authors,  French, Atkinson and Sanford as favorites. The book appears to move slowly on the surface (Life in St. Mary Mead!) as Roz sifts who is innocent (Liam?) and who is out to get her, but it’s  a deception of the smooth dialog and calming nature of the setting. A lot is happening, and Roz has to work it out before she’s the next casualty

Just to let you know, Roz lives to investigate another crime. Michele says, “I’m half-way through the second book in the Stained Glass Mysteries, have a third one plotted, have another two plots for the Newspaper Mysteries, at least one more of the Kandesky Vampire and two more standalones (at least as this point, though they may turn into series). After Bouchercon, I’m going back to writing two or three books a year.” And with the pandemic, Bouchercon 2020 scheduled for Sacramento has been closed down for in-person attendance., but registration for Virtual Bouchercon October 16 & 17 is now open. Check it out: https://www.bouchercon2020.org.

Roz Duke is “already well into her next adventure on the south coast of Kent, England where she runs afoul of international art thieves.” Internationally renowned stained glass artist Roz Duke takes on a challenge—recreate part of the medieval masterpiece, the Bayeux Tapestry, a needlework done in the eleventh century to commemorate the Normal Conquest of England. While spending a sabbatical in Kent, staying near the site of the Battle of Hastings which changed England forever, she stumbles across a body in an ancient church, starting a journey of international intrigue and danger. Steeped in history, she finds this part of England has plenty of contemporary terror. (And you’ve still got time to read Stain on the Soul.)

LOOK FOR TAPESTRY OF TEARS AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER! 

Michele’s tips for emerging writers:

“Read, read, read. Know the language. Understand the basics of grammar. Know how to tell a compelling story. And show not tell. And read, read, read.” She reads anything she can get her hands on, especially crime genres, Nobel, Booker and Pulitzer lists. And, of course, books recommended by friends.

Autobiography
“I was born in Santa Cruz, California to a family that migrated west to San Francisco in 1849. Unfortunately, they never found gold, nor did they buy (and hang onto) any California land. My mother named me Michael, after author and actress Blanche Oelrichs, who wrote under the name of Michael Strange. After months of saying, “Yes, she’s a girl. Yes, her name is Michael,” my mother finally caved and I became “Michele.”

I was read to as a child, and needed always to have a book with me. My maternal grandmother belonged to a writing club in San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century and wrote poems and jingles–one of which won her a travel trailer during the Depression.

I’ve lived in San Francisco, the Bay Area, the Central Valley, the Sierra, Southern California and the North Coast.

My first career was in journalism, and I spent seven years as a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News. After returning to Humboldt State University to complete school and work on a master’s, I fell into my second career, as a non-profit administrator, including a legal organization serving roughly 10,000 senior citizens in Alameda County. I’m a member of the Society of California Pioneers and Sisters in Crime and live in California’s Central Valley with a cat, skunks, wild turkeys and an opossum (only the cat gets to come in the house).”

Fun facts: She started college as a chemistry major and if she could re-do it, she’d be an anthropologist. Or maybe take up closed circuit sports car racing again? She used to drive in time trials.

Find Michele Drier at  MicheleDrierAuthor.com. Her Amazon author page lists all her books.

Michele’s twitter handle is @MicheleDrier . Please drop her an email or comment at mjdrier@gmail.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/michele.drier.

 

Editor’s notes: I’m hoping if you read and enjoy Stain on the Soul as much as I have, you’ll generously leave a review wherever you bought your copy and on Goodreads or  a readers site of your preference.

*And if you’re a crime reader—fiction or non-fiction— Left Coast Crime  is a wonderful way  for writers and fans to meet each other and share what’s new, what’s trending and what might be to come in our world in a friendly, intimate conference. I’m betting Michele will be there in 2022!

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Summer Reading

 

We’ve made it to  summer.  While coronavirus remains a threat, the weather is warm and, until fire season, we have a great opportunity to read (and drink!) So pull your lounge chair into the shade, mix a martini, and sink into a good read.

Here’s what’s on my list:

The Paris Package by A.W. Harton, set in pre-WW2 Europe. A young American couple on honeymoon in Vienna take possession of a book the Nazis don’t want  to surface, and they must get the book to its rightful owner in Paris.  The SS knows they’ve got it and are on their trail. I’m trying the Kindle/audiobook sync on this one. Too exciting to put down! I can listen while I make dinner.

 

The Blue Period by Luke Jerod Kummer about the young Picasso’s “blue period” as he bounced between Barcelona and Paris. Kindle.

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon—seven Outlander universe short stories to tide us through the season break! Audiobook.

 

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart all about the sordid lives of plants behaving badly. Want to kill, maim, intoxicate or possibly drive someone mad? Do it nature’s way. Paperback.

 

No Bad Deed the debut thriller by Heather Chavez turns my home county into a menacing backdrop to a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Hardbound.

Not for everyone on the list, Steven James, Story Trumps Structure. How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules is jam-packed with great information. It was recommended by my favorite writer of mysteries set in Paris, Cara Black. She’s written 19 books. I’ve read them all. Start with the first book: Murder in the Marais and finish with the latest, Three Hours in Paris.


Finally, the drinking part! A Drinkable Feast. A Cocktail Companion to 1920s Paris by Philip Greene. Did you ever wonder what the Lost Generation drank and where they drank it? A Drinkable Feast not only offers the recipes, but tells the stories behind the drinks and the artists, writers, and celebrities who drank them. My favorite so far? The Bailey created by Gerald and Sara Murphy, wealthy American ex-pats—the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonists in Tender is the Night.

 

The Bailey

2 oz. Hendricks gin
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1-2 tsp. simple syrup
2 sprigs of mint

Tear up the mint leaves into a shaker, add the gin and steep for a couple of minutes, add the grapefruit then lime juices. Shake with ice and don’t allow it to dilute. Strain into a wine or cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!

 Drinking and literature—a time honored pairing!

And if you haven’t already, pop open a Victoria and try out the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures. Lawn chair travel—next best thing to being there! These will offer you plenty of suspense and muy rico meals. Book three, Nothing Comes After Z is scheduled for release late this year.

2SET UP postcard   +   Now in digital and paperback  +

(and if poetry is your thing, check out Nature Girl. All available on Amazon)

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The Virus and US by Russell Hvolbek

Miasma—www.stufftoblowyourmind.com

The Virus and US

So, now, a miasma here.

Not only over there, somewhere

backward, but here too in our towns,

gleaning away the soft jostling of

American life; a little money

made and spent, children maturing,

mothers and fathers dying of old age, normal

as it should be, has been, is

normal no more.

The virus roils, exposes our naivety:

Humans have no more purchase of earth

than a virus.

 

 

 

Meet Russell Hvolbek:

Russell Hvolbek is an intellectual historian with a PhD from The University of Chicago. He has written three books, the most recent, Humans: What We Are and Why We Exist, argues that language and the historical fields they produce, brought humans beyond the grooves of nature. Humans came into existence when they became able to name themselves. Humans are a language-historical creation. He is concerned that the utilitarian realm of facts and data have so overwhelmed us, we can no longer ponder what we are.

Russell now finds that people opposed to having to think through difficult ideas are more likely to engage them if they are presented as poetry. He now writes more poetry than prose.
Contact: Russell Hvolbek 818-746-0757 rhhone@hotmail.com

 

On Amazon

On GoodReads

 

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Hope and Determination

 

On March 10th I walked across the border into Tijuana on an adventure to discover the best street tacos and learn firsthand how refugees are faring at our locked-down border.  And while overlooking The Wall, clinking margarita glasses,  I didn’t imagine that 48 hours later I’d be back home with my husband, both unemployed refugees of COVID-19, locked down within my own borders at home.

 

Coronavirus has slowed things down.  My days are long and task-full as spring dries into our golden summer—I’ve pulled thistles, weeded the perennial borders, mowed the oats, piled the downed eucalyptus for dump truck pick up and filled jars of delicate Cecile Brunner roses to scent the house. I’ve cleaned my cupboards, closets, pantry, scrubbed baseboards, wiped the framed artwork, washed shelves, cabinets and walls and dusted away cobwebs. I’ve tried new recipes, invented my version of the Covidtini and howled with the neighbors at 8 pm.  Now I practice yoga with a Zoom group, walk with a masked walking group, virtually chat with girlfriends over wine, talk to friends for hours on the phone  and share socially distanced game afternoons with our neighbors. Wine and Punderdome anyone?

At first fear was the driving factor. How would we pay the mortgage? The insurances? Eat? Would we catch COVID? I remembered the Guatemalan moms and children in Tijuana, emigres from gang violence and poverty—waiting, hoping—even in the face of being 4000 names down on the US Immigration interview list.

 

In TJ,  what I found was hope and determination. I’m not going to let  Coronavirus get the better of my family. I learned Zoom and Canvas and restarted two of my classes. I joined a daily “write-in” and am busy writing the third novel in my Mexico series. I landed editing jobs, created a schedule and two months later, I’m more productive than before the virus. (Hoo boy! I’m tired.)

I credit my family’s recovery to the hope I found in the faces of people who don’t have our resources or opportunities. Every day I remember these refugees as I jot my gratitude in my journal or stop to smell the roses, iris, wild asters, lavender. . . . Lockdown has turned from a disaster to a happier, more relaxed and socially connected life. Imagine, I haven’t had to put gas in my car since the 4th of April! We’re managing to pay the bills, we’re spending more time happily at home (the 8 pm howling helps) and the stack of bedside books has dwindled.

Now please excuse me, it’s cocktail time, and I want to toast you with my newest creation, the I Beat It-tini. Here’s to all you writers. Now, let’s get back to work!

ZOOM and Canvas classes start up on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday  June 8th, 9th and 11th for six week sessions. Register for on-line Summer Writing Classes Now!

Mondays 2-4 on Zoom: Vintagehouse.org Fee (707​) 996​-0311 6/8-7/13
Tuesdays 10-12:30 on-line through Napa Valley College​  Fee  (707) 302-2452 6/9-7/14
Tuesdays 4-6 on Canvas​ through Napa Valley College Free  (707) 302-2452  6/9-7/14
Thursdays 2-4 on Zoom through Rianda House  Free (707) 968-5877 6/11-7/16
                See you in class!

Better busy than bored, cabin crazy or homicidal!

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My Lockdown by Dina Corcoran

Back by popular demand and coronavirus be damned! I’m thrilled to have Dina Corcoran as today’s guest blogger. Dina’s work inspires me to find the beauty and good in any situation—excuse me while I put on IZ’s CD and contemplate rejoining my “treasures” when the pandemic is over.

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My Lockdown

Old Toll Road is not a busy road under normal conditions, but under this lockdown it appears abandoned.  Alan and I walk it every day, and as we round a bend, we come upon a field of lupines and poppies busy being glorious—no one to notice them, except for us. 

A face appears, smiling a greeting from on high.  It’s the bee lady, up in the apple tree manipulating a pair of loppers as she prunes, surrounded by a few friendly bees. That’s it.  The only contact we have on the whole walk.

Back at home, the warm gentleness of IZ’s Hawaiian music soothes me.  I play it on Spotify to make it all go away—and it almost works.  IZ’s soft voice rolls over me like waves of the ocean.  When the waves break and calm down again, peace will reign.

My daughter Kim comes for weekly visits.  We sit outside on the deck, fifteen feet apart to maintain social distancing, and chat. She doesn’t even think of coming inside the house.  An attorney, she still has cases at her job; others at her firm have been let go, and she gets their work. This is sad for them, but a relief for her.  She can continue making the payments on the house she just bought. She enjoys working at home and being with her twin sons who must continue their college classes now via remote learning.

My son is an “essential” worker in Southern California for Cal-Trans.  He keeps the freeways functioning. With most everyone off the roads, the speed-demons have taken over, and its common for drivers to go 95 m.p.h. and crash into things. His mother worries about him hanging from light poles or overhangs, fixing the electricity, with this going on.  But he continues to get a paycheck.

Since we are over sixty-five, Alan and I are allowed to Email our grocery list to Cal-Mart, charge it, and have our purchases loaded into the car behind the store. No social interaction. When we get home, we don disposable gloves to unpack our supplies so we can wipe them down with a bleach solution. (Fresh produce gets scrubbed in the sink with water.) As they sit in the sun to dry, we notice that certain items have been left off the list—there’s never any toilet paper.

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My friends are tucked away like treasure to be saved for later. Except for the occasional phone call, we don’t see each other anymore. This virus! Gisela sits alone in a big house, since her husband died. She is saved by her German inclination to abide by a housekeeping schedule. Tuesday is laundry day. Every day has its own obligation.  Her week has structure.​​ ​Minna, from my book club, sips wine and reads Proust. 

th-5We all cope in our own way.

I write.

 

 

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