Wednesday, May 30, 2012


By Kristan Higgins
Winner of the 2008 RITA

One of my BFFs attended a conference where Kristan Higgins spoke, and raved about her. So, I checked out one of her books, and have to agree with my friend.

Maggie Beaumont has inherited a diner from her grandfather, much to her mother’s horror. While Maggie’s twin has married a doctor and has a baby, Maggie is single at 32. Worse, she has been publicly humiliated by her ex, then humiliates herself when she publicly announces she’s fallen in love. Gideon’s Cove, Maine is a small town, and no one will let her forget her faux pas. Not only that, since hers is the only decent place to eat in Gideon’s Grove, she sees the man she can’t have daily. Does Maggie mope and complain? No.

Maggie is a kind, compassionate woman who feeds people in her diner, then bakes food for the poor, for shut ins, and for just about every group in town for free. She serves on committees. She pays her cook more than she does herself because he has five kids. Her beloved dog Colonel has a special spot behind the counter in her diner and is her constant companion. This heroine is so admirable she makes saints look like slackers. The one person in town who never sets foot inside the diner is a local fisherman, Malone, tagged Maloner the Loner.

Nothing will satisfy Mrs. Beaumont for her daughter unless Maggie snags her own doctor immediately. Instead, Maggie’s curiosity is aroused by Malone. Heavens, no one even knows his first name, and he won’t tell her. The two have one magical day together before everything gets even crazier.

CATCH OF THE DAY is filled with snappy dialogue and terrific characterizations. I enjoyed this book a great deal. I felt the end was a bit rushed, but it was the correct ending. This was a fun (with one sad part), fast-paced read that I would highly recommend to anyone who loves a good romance.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, May 28, 2012


Thanks for stopping by to help me celebrate the launch of my new Heather Cameron cozy mystery series, DIGGING FOR DEATH.  I am beyond excited that this book is now available for readers. While it’s only at Amazon Kindle for now, I’ll be releasing it in print as soon as possible. So, pour yourself your beverage of choice (alas, mine is a cup of hot tea) and join me while I tell you about Heather and her family.

Heather Cameron
Heather’s great-great grandparents helped found the town of Gamble Grove north of Dallas on Highway 75. Gamble Grove is only a real town in my imagination. It’s near where Van Alstyne and Anna are on the map. My dad was born nearby at Pilot Grove and my own maternal great grandparents were named Gamble, hence the name Gamble Grove. Like real towns in the area, Gamble Grove is rapidly growing and fighting to retain its small town charm as it copes with expansion.

Heather’s grandfather founded Gillentine Gardens and Landscape Design. In spite of the usual big box type stores that come with growth, customers are loyal to Gillentine Gardens. Heather, who majored in horticulture and landscape design at Texas A&M University, also holds a B.S. in business. She is a sharp young woman. The death of her parents when she was eight resulted in her being raised by her maternal grandparents and great grandmother. One of her mentors has been Walter Sims, who had been a good friend of her dad’s and worked for her grandfather. Now Grandpa Gillentine has retired and put Heather in charge of the business. Her best friend, Chelsea Bedford, works for Heather in the garden center shop. Heather's overall assistant manager is Miguel Diaz, a man so reliable and loyal that he receives a percentage of the year's profits.

Here’s the blurb for DIGGING FOR DEATH:

Garden center manager Heather Cameron is DIGGING FOR DEATH to prove her old family friend and employee, Walter Sims, is innocent of murdering the meanest man in town. Heather can’t trust the police to find the real killer when all clues point to poor Walter. The dead man was beaten to death with Walter’s shovel several hours after they were overheard arguing, and the two men had a long history of enmity. Walter definitely looks guilty, but Heather is sure—well, almost positive—okay, she certainly hopes her friend and mentor is innocent.
  Heather is compelled to scour the fictional North Central Texas town of Gamble Grove to exonerate her old friend. She’s encouraged when the new police detective in town, Kurt Steele, shows interest in helping her look for clues. Or, is Kurt just interested in spending time with Heather?
The deeper Heather digs into the dead man’s life, the more she justifies his ruthless reputation. Walter is indicted, but police begin to suspect the victim’s stepson as murderer. Heather is convinced the stepson couldn’t have murdered anyone either—although it’s clear no love was lost between the two men. The attempted murder of the victim’s real son creates a new twist. A chance observation at dinner after the reading of the murdered man’s will slips the last piece into the crime’s intricate puzzle. Can Heather solve the murder without becoming another victim? (Of course she's her series!)

Do you like the cover?

Here’s an excerpt of DIGGING FOR DEATH:

     Lining the Rockwell’s drive nearest the new garden plot were a fire engine, an ambulance, a van, what was probably an unmarked police car, two black and whites and—dang, wouldn't you know it?—the Gillentine Gardens truck. The muscles in my stomach were like vise grips clenched on my insides as I drove past the other vehicles and parked. Sickly dread overwhelmed me at what I might find.
     I wanted to turn my car around and drive home and run up to my bed and pull the covers over my head. No such luxury for me. I climbed out of my car and strode quickly toward the crowd, swallowing down fear’s metallic taste in my mouth.
     Container rose bushes destined for Bootsy Rockwell's garden almost filled the garden center’s staked-bed truck. Miguel Diaz sat on the truck’s bed with his feet dangling off the end. Steve Harris sat beside him. Bad vibes shot through me. A uniformed policeman and another man stood talking to Miguel. Miguel looked ashen and ill, but he nodded to me. Steve said nothing, merely hung his head.
     "Hello, Heather." Miguel shook his head, despair evident in his sad brown eyes. "It's really bad."
     "What's happened?"
     The officer turned to me. "You know the whereabouts of Walter Sims?"
     "He's supposed to be at the garden center. What's happened?" I repeated my question.
     Steve looked up, but said nothing.
     Miguel looked as if he were trying to send me some sort of signal. "Heather, it's—“
     The man in plainclothes quieted Miguel with a glance as he stepped forward. Good heavens, what a giant. Must be six-four with shoulders broad as our truck. Even a long, tall Texas gal like myself had to look up to meet his gaze.
     Whoa. What a gaze it was. Worried and puzzled as I was, I couldn’t fail to notice his eyes were delphinium blue and his dark hair the color of moist peat moss was cut short. He wasn’t GQ handsome, but definitely attractive.
     "I take it you're Miss Cameron? I'm Detective Kurt Steele and this officer is Sergeant Jack Winston. We need to ask you a few questions."
     "Not until I know what's happened. Why are you questioning Mr. Diaz and Mr. Harris?" Darn, stress must have fried my mind. I couldn’t believe I refused a detective.
     "Vance Rockwell was murdered early this morning. We want to speak with Walter Sims. No one here seems to know where Mr. Sims is.” He paused. “Do you?"
     Rockwell dead and Walter missing? Panic rose with the bile in my throat.
     No, please don’t let Walter be the killer.
     At that moment, paramedics wheeled a gurney bearing a black body bag past the truck and loaded it into the ambulance. Oh Lord, Rockwell dead from Walter’s shovel? And Walter hated him.
     Carole King was in my head, and the earth really did move. Dropping away from my feet, leaving me drifting. The sky tumbled down. Swirling, everything was swirling. Spiraling around me. I thought I might throw up or pass out—or both.
     The detective stepped forward and grabbed my arm, anchoring me in the mixed up universe. "Miss Cameron? Maybe you should sit on the truck by Diaz and Harris."
     But the sky still tumbled, the earth spiraled around me. I was a kid spinning until I was drunk with dizziness.  Sky flipped places with earth. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.
"Yes...Yes, I’d better." With Detective Steele's help, I staggered to the truck. I shrugged off his hand intent on levering myself onto the bed. But I stood there as if in a trance.
     The detective hoisted me up onto the truck s if I were a kid. I sat there wondering if I were going to pass out.
     I felt Miguel’s hand at my neck. “Your head, put it between your knees.”
     I did as he instructed, closing my eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. When I straightened, my head was throbbing but the earth and sky had resumed their correct positions.  Sky above, earth below.
     Willing my eyes to focus on the detective, I insisted, "Walter wouldn't bash in anyone's head." I prayed I spoke the truth.
     Detective Steele referred to his notes. "It appears he and Mr. Rockwell had a heated argument yesterday about a quarter of five. Mr. Sims stalked to the truck—“ he pointed at Steve ”—where Harris waited, and peeled off."
     Drat Walter, coming here when I’d ordered him to stay at the garden center. "If you consider anyone who argued with Rockwell a suspect, you'll be interviewing half the state." I almost included myself but thought better of it. "Besides, you said Walter left."
     Sergeant Winston said, "Maybe he returned."
     "Phffft." I peered at Detective Steele. "Sounds like you’re grasping at straws. What kind of detective work is that?"
     Steele's clenched jaw displayed a small tic.
     Oops, I shouldn’t have said that.
     He stood directly in front of me and glared. "We just started the investigation. If we had some cooperation, maybe we could wrap this up in time to buy donuts before we take our lunch break."
     Way to go, Heather. Not a good idea to annoy the police.
     I took another deep breath. At this rate, I’d soon hyperventilate. “There’s no need for sarcasm. I don't know where Walter is, but I know he wouldn't kill anyone, not even Vance Rockwell."
    He raised his eyebrows, making his nice blue eyes more noticeable, darn him. "Not even? What does that mean?"
     "Rockwell was not a popular man. I imagine you'll find a long, long list of people with motives, detective. Leave Walter alone." I glanced at Miguel slumped beside me and patted his shoulder. "Leave all my employees alone. None of them would have done such a thing."
     Detective Steele poised his pen over his notebook. "Where were you just after midnight, Miss Cameron?"
     I thought again about his nice blue eyes, but pushed those thoughts aside because of his nasty question. "In my apartment. Asleep."
     He raised one eyebrow.
     I shot him a glare. "Alone."
     "So, you have no alibi?"
     "People who live alone never have an alibi. That doesn't mean they're guilty of anything more serious than drinking juice from the carton."
     He pulled out a business card and handed it over. "We'll be in touch. Call me if you hear from Mr. Sims."
     "Can Mr. Diaz and Mr. Harris go?"
     Detective Steele nodded.
     Miguel and Steve slid off the truck bed to the ground, and Miguel helped me down.
     While they walked to the truck's cab, the detective speared me with another no-nonsense glare.
"If you hear from Walter Sims, you'll be doing him a favor if you convince him to call us. We need to talk to him, and the sooner the better."
     I turned and walked back to my Jetta. My heartbeat fluttered and my throat threatened to close so I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to the car, but I climbed in and turned the ignition.

I hope that excerpt tempted you to buy DIGGING FOR DEATH. It’s available from
Amazon Kindle at

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Memorial Day is a time for remembering heroes, especially those who fought for our freedom. But here are two special heroes, two real Men of The West, John Wayne and my dad. Many western authors are honoring John Wayne this weekend. I can't be certain, but I don't think anyone else is featuring my dad. Unlikely as it seems, I discovered they had several things in common. Each smoked way too much and it contributed to his death, neither served in the armed services, each lived a part of his life in California, and both loved westerns. One other thing they have in common is May 26th: One came into the world on that day, and one departed on that date.

First, My Dad: 

My Dad
Who was your first hero? Mine was my dad, Pearson Madison Johnson. May 26 marks the anniversary of his death. He was a chain smoker from the age of fourteen, and died from emphysema complicated by a stroke. Other than smoking, I don’t believe he had any bad habits...except some might call a fault the fact that he loved a good debate.And I do mean he loved to debate. He was a debater in school, back when there were debate competitions.

But that's appropriate. Daddy was named after a lawyer who was a friend to my grandparents. Had he been able to attend university, I believe my dad would have become a professor or lawyer. He loved to debate, and would argue a point endlessly. My brother in law, Buster, said he left the room once when my dad and half-brother Herschel were arguing. When Buster returned, he swears they’d switched sides and were just as adamant. Sounds crazy, but I believe him. Haven't I seen it happen?

Daddy was in his fifties when I was born to he and my mom. When they met, my dad was a widower a generation older than my mom and had four children. My mom was in her mid twenties. Daddy’s eldest son was actually a couple of years older than my mom, so I’m certain that seemed weird to everyone. Still does, in fact.

I asked my mom how she even met a man 23 years older than she was and started dating him. She said they met on Christmas Eve. My mom had accompanied her mother and step-father into town to buy groceries. Mr. Davis, a man she had occasionally dated but only liked as a friend, asked her if she was attending a party at the home of a mutual acquaintance. She said she had no way to get home. Mr. Davis invited her to ride with him and offered to take her home afterwards.

My dad had been talking to Mr. Davis when my mom and her parents went by. Uninvited, my dad said, “I believe I’ll just ride along with you.” The car was a coupe with only one seat, so three people were crowded. At the end of the evening, when Daddy got out and held the door so Mother could exit the car, he said, “Now I know where you live, and I’ll be coming to call.” Doesn't that sound old-fashioned and courtly? Obviously my mom thought so.They were married the following February, and I was born three years later. I think theirs is a romantic story.

Here’s are a couple of quotes from my dad:

When you cheat, you cheat yourself.”

"You are only as good as your word."

My dad was and still is my first hero. My dad thought highly of my Hero husband. I'm lucky to have two heroes in my life!

And John Wayne:

John Wayne
Who hasn’t watched a John Wayne movie? Wayne admitted, “I play John Wayne in every picture regardless of the character, and I've been doing all right, haven't I?”

 He also said, “When I started, I knew I was no actor and I went to work on this Wayne thing. It was as deliberate a projection as you'll ever see. I figured I needed a gimmick, so I dreamed up the drawl, the squint and a way of moving meant to suggest that I wasn't looking for trouble but would just as soon throw a bottle at your head as not. I practiced in front of a mirror.”

Even though he died 11 June 1979 from cancer, he consistently appears on lists of favorite movie actors in the United States and United Kingdom. His movies are still available on DVD, Netflix and other movie streams, and are re-shown on television. At six feet four inches, he was a large man who still looms larger than life in reputation. Sixteen years after his death, a 1995 Harris poll cited him as America's favorite movie star. Not one of the favorites, but THE FAVORITE!

Movie Poster

While I do not agree with his ulta-conservative or racist politics, he starred in several of my favorite movies. My number one favorite John Wayne movie is “The Quiet Man,” which Hero and I have watched so many times we know all the dialogue. I know, it's not a western, but bear with me. Released in 1952, this movie was a family affair for Wayne. His children - eighteen year old Michael, sixteen year old Mary Antonia “Toni”, thirteen year old Patrick, and twelve year old Melinda - had bit parts in the race scene.Patrick even had a line,. The movie was a family affair for others in the movie. Maureen O’Hara’s brother, James Lilburn, starred as the younger priest. Barry Fitzgerald and his brother James Shields (the Anglican minister) were in the cast. Wayne's good friend Ward Bond played the senior priest and his friend Victor McLaglen played "Red" Will Danaher. John Ford's brother Francis also played a part in the film, that of frail Dan Tobin.The movie received seven Academy Award Nominations and won two. By the way, Hero and I had breakfast at the Irish Bed and Breakfast where Maureen O'Hara stayed during the filming of "The Quiet Man." (I just had to throw that in because she is one of my favorite actresses and Ireland is one of my favorite vacation destinations.)

Back to John Wayne's westerns, all of which I enjoyed. “North to Alaska ” was a fun movie, and “McClintock” was another in which Maureen O’Hara co-starred with Wayne.  They co-starred in five movies. I also enjoyed his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award. Accepting the award, he said if he'd'd known wearing an eye patch would have done it, he'd have worn one sooner. One of his so-called B westerns I loved and still like which never receives mention was “Three Godfathers.”

John Wayne's birthplace
John Wayne was born Marion Morrison in Winterset, Iowa on 26 May 1907, the son of pharmacist Clyde Morrison and his wife Mary. He was of Scots-Irish and Scottish descent on both sides of his family, and he was brought up as a Presbyterian. Clyde developed a lung condition that required him to move his family from Iowa to the warmer climate of southern California, where they tried ranching in the Mojave Desert. (What were they thinking? A pharmacist ranching in the Mojave Desert?)

When the ranch failed (Told you!.), the family moved to Glendale, California, where Marion delivered medicines for his father, sold newspapers, and had an Airedale dog named "Duke" (the source of his own nickname). He did well at school both academically and in football. He narrowly failed admission to Annapolis and he went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship 1925-7, where he majored in pre-law.

Tom Mix got him a summer job as a prop man in exchange for football tickets. On the set he became friends with director John Ford for whom, among others, he began doing bit parts. His first featured film was “Men Without Women” in 1930.

After more than 70 low-budget westerns and adventures, Wayne's career was stuck in a rut. But then John Ford cast John Wayne in “Stagecoach” in 1939. That movie made John Wayne a star. It won 2 Academy Awards and was nominated for five more.
John Wayne's favorite of his western movies was his portrayal of Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers." He named one of his sons Ethan after the character in that movie. Certainly it's a movie I remember having a great impact on me.

He appeared in nearly 250 movies, many of epic proportions. John Wayne holds the record for leading roles, starring as lead in 142 movies.

Here are some John Wayne quotes:

Westerns are closer to art than anything else in the motion picture business.”

His westerns were full of action but usually not excessively violent. "Fights with too much violence are dull," claimed Wayne, insisting that the straight-shooting, two-fisted violence in his movies have been "sort of tongue-in-cheek." He described the violence in his films as "lusty and a little humorous," based on his belief that "humor nullifies violence."

About the low morals of some movies, he said, “I read someplace that I used to make B-pictures. Hell, they were a lot farther down the alphabet than that . . . but not as far down as R and X.”

The West - the very words go straight to that place of the heart where Americans feel the spirit of pride in their western heritage - the triumph of personal courage over any obstacle, whether nature or man.”

A man's got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”

When the road looks rough ahead, remember the Man Upstairs and the word Hope. Hang onto both and tough it out.”

Happy Birthday, John Wayne!

Appropriate to this weekend, here’s a video of John Wayne explaining Taps:

Have a safe Memorial Weekend. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Many authors (and non-authors) have found the companionship of cats desirable. Count me in that number. I know that to them I’m mostly staff, but they seem to be fond of me. Don’t say “tummy love” because I know all about that. I love dogs, and am so grateful we have our little black Shih Tzu, Webster.He's adorable and faithful, but there's something undeniably attractive about cats.

Consider, for instance, all the books about cats. Only a few include Lillian Jackson Braun's long-lived The Cat Who mysteries, Miranda James' Cat in the Stacks mysteries, Leanne Sweeney's Cats in Trouble series, Shirley Rousseau's Joe Grey mysteries, Carole Nelson Douglas' Midnight Louie series, Linda Stewart's Sam the Cat mysteries, and countless other single titles which feature cats. We love them!

Miss Delilah Sue Kitty

My favorite cat (shhhh, don’t let Sebastian and Bailey know) was Delilah, officially Miss Delilah Sue Kitty. She was sometimes ill-tempered and used a nip on the ankle or elbow to keep her humans in line. If we'd been out of town, even though Darling Daughter Two provided excellent substitute care, once we returned Delilah would nip my ankle once to let me know she was not pleased, then she was over her snit. She used to sit beside my keyboard for long periods while I worked at the computer. For a long time, she’d sit motionless until she wanted my attention. Then, she's simply sit on my hands and the keyboard. Annoying, but endearing in an odd way. She died at the age of sixteen, and I miss her companionship every day.

Sebastian and Bailey on my office half bed
In spite of their eyes in this photo, they
are not actually possessed. Really.

As I’m writing this post, my cat Bailey Erin is vying for my attention. She doesn’t really meow, but sounds more as if she’s saying “Blachhhht.” I try not to take it personally, even though it sounds a bit like a raspberry. She stand up and taps on my arm for attention. After several years, she is still mostly feral, although she now never leaves my office. She loves our other cat, Sebastian, but is not very fond of Hero or our dog, Webster. As for me, she loves for me to brush and pet her as long as I don’t try to pick her up. Yep, that feral gene or whatever makes her wary and afraid to be held. I have considered contacting a pet psychologist Darling Dughter One knows.

Sebastian in repose

Sebastian is mostly a real sweetie. He is huge cat and has the softest, shiniest coat I’ve ever seen or touched. For part of the night, he sleeps on the foot of our bed, then he returns to sleep with Bailey on the half-bed in my office. In the daytime, he follows me from room to room. He’s not a cuddly cat, but only wants to be petted or held when he’s in the mood. He is extremely smart and talks to us. Yes, I know cats cannot talk. They lack some sort of vocal mechanism. But he makes the same sounds at the same times, so I know what he means. Yes, he has me well trained. He waits for me to open the gate that keeps our dog from my office litter box. When I open the gate for him, Sebastian makes a sound like “Thank you.” When I don’t do what he wants, he makes a sound like “Now.” He has one sound like “Ca-rooo-liii-nnne.” That’s because when Hero is annoyed with me, he makes my name about five or six syllables. (Hero doesn’t yell, just draws out my name.)

We adopted Sebastian because he was the runt of the litter and falling behind in growth. Like starving. Has he ever made up for that! Once when we had a tiny mouse who apparently lived under our entertainment center, Sebastian was no help. Although Sebastian was fascinated by the mouse, he had no idea he was supposed to kill the little thing. Instead, he watched as if the mouse were a new toy.  As much as we hate to kill anything, the mouse had to go. Hero took care of the ugly deed.

Darling Daughter Two also loves cats. She has a tiny black cat named Meisha Louise that meows just like Bailey. Darling Daughter Two tamed a lovely feral cat named Kiki Dee who now realizes being indoors is a much easier life. In winter Kiki has her own large heating pad she grudgingly shares with her housemate, Saint Brendan the chihuahua. Rough life, eh?

You may remember Darling Daughter One's friend, Darlene Arden, was a guest here several months ago with her book on THE COMPLETE CAT'S MEOW: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CARING FOR YOUR CAT. Darlene is a true pet lover, because she also writes about dogs. She has rescued cats and her book helped me realize why Delilah died. If I'd read the book years ago, Delilah might have avoided renal failure for years. Unfortunately, I'm gifted with 20/20 hindsight.

My friend and Texas western romance author, Lyn Horner, also loves cats and used them in her mini-memoir, SIX CATS IN THE KITCHEN (only $1.99 at Amazon).  She has several cats, not six as she covers in her book, but more than I have.

If Hero were not sensible, I’d have a houseful of cats and need all my carpets replaced by new wood and tile floors in no time. Hmm, now there’s a thought.. . .

What pets do you have?

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, May 21, 2012


Please welcome my guest and friend,Gretchen Craig. As you will see from her post, Gretchen knows how to hook readers. Here she is:

Gretchen Craig

A lot of the research for my books has centered on antebellum New Orleans.  Would you like to know who the governors were? Yeah, I figured that would not be particularly interesting. But I think all of us who ever had to feed our families day after day are interested in the usual kitchen in 1820s Louisiana.

Start with fuel. They burned wood and coal. Wood was plentiful, as you can imagine, and our imaginary Cook – let’s call her Lucienne -- would have preferred that in her brick oven and grill. But charcoal had its uses, too, for heating the house for instance. We always think of how steamy New Orleans is, and it is, but two of the most miserably cold days of my life have been spent in New Orleans in December (1968 and 2011), and I lived in Maine for ten years.

Lucienne might have cooked
on a stove like this
Lucienne would have had a cistern in the courtyard behind the house.  Rain, as you know, is also plentiful in Louisiana, and drains from the roofs into the cisterns, many of which were big, big as my Camry turned on its nose, maybe. She used cistern water for laundry and bathing. She could have used it for cooking, too, but mostly, she bought her drinking water from vendors who did not get it from the nasty Mississippi river. Even in 1820, it was a sewer for the town and for the scores of ships docked at the levee at any one time. There is/was a bayou north of town whose water was much cleaner, fresher, and clearer. Other streams abound as well. So some enterprising fellow would have loaded his wagon with barrels of water and hawked eau through the streets of the Vieux Carre.

The French Market, the same one along the river that’s there now, busily serving beignets and coffee, had everything. Cocoanuts from Cuba, bananas, grapes, peaches, rice, okra, live chickens, watermelon, sausage, French bread, corn, and on and on. Lucienne had no refrigerator, of course, nor an ice box. They could get ice once the steamships started speedily delivering it in the 1820s, but it was a costly luxury. People were not accustomed to icing their drinks, anyway, so no keeping foods cold in Lucienne’s kitchen.  Instead, she shopped often, and what she bought was fresh. Organic, in fact.

New Orleans French Market, founded 1791

Lucienne had a safe in her kitchen. My grandmother had one, too, and likely so did yours. It was a wooden cabinet with punched tin facing so air could circulate. It kept the mice and most of the bugs from getting the food, and seemed to work quite well. Today, I wouldn’t think of leaving leftover fried chicken or ham on the counter for several hours until the next meal, but my grandmother and my aunts did it all the time and none of us seemed any the worse for it.

Antique pie safe with punched tin panels

Lucienne seldom baked bread. It’s a lot of work, heats up the house, or the courtyard if she cooked out there, and it was readily available at the market, delicious, and fresh. She did make beignets for a treat, sometimes, and if she was an interested cook, not just a feeder of children and husbands, she probably made pralines.  She squeezed fresh juice for her children, sliced up pineapples and mangos and bananas every day. And she made soups and stews – gumbo!

Gumbo comes in as many varieties as there are cooks. And as for my own gumbo, it’s different every time I make it. For one thing, one is meant to use what one has available. Lucienne, and I, feel we must have okra for our gumbo, though if you go to some very nice restaurants in New Orleans today, they will tell you okra is not the thing. Well, humpf. I want okra in mine.

My husband makes gumbo with an actual recipe and puts file in his. I don’t much like file, myself.  (It’s dried sassafras and it’s gray and you can buy it in cute bottles in most any grocery, even here in Texas.) Rather than give you a precise recipe, I’m going to tell you what I like to put in mine without bothering with measurements. Who measures? As for the rice, you can cook it in the pot with everything else, or you can cook it separately and spoon the gumbo on top of it. Whatever. New Orleans, after all, is known as the Big Easy. 

Yum! Gumbo...but it's
best with cornbread or French bread

Most Creole cuisine starts out, “First you make a roux.” I’m sure that’s delicious, but it’s also too much trouble for me.  So I start by sautéing onions, garlic, and green and red bell peppers in olive oil. Butter is gooood, but olive oil is healthier.  Then I pour in a box or two of chicken broth.  A can or two of diced tomatoes, with or without the spices. As for adding my own spices, depending on what I have, I add basil, garlic, black pepper, salt, and cilantro. If I’m going to add sausage, which I recommend, I add the cut up pieces now and let it all simmer together for a while.  You can add canned or frozen corn. How much? Some.  (Now don’t go adding beans of any kind. That is just wrong! Save them for your beans and rice dish.)  If you can get fresh okra, and you have the blunt, as they said in Regency days, to pay for it, that’s super. Otherwise, frozen cut okra is great. Don’t worry about overcooking the okra. It is also your thickener.  All of this can simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.  If you want the rice in there with everything else, be aware you want lots more liquid than the rice package calls for. Your gumbo should be fairly soupy, but not too soupy.  Otherwise, go ahead and start the rice about twenty minutes before you mean to serve it. Then, just a few minutes before the rice is ready in its own pot, add the shrimp to the stew and cook just until they are curled and pink.

Serve with a salad, if you must. And serve with French bread, or corn bread. And iced tea and/or wine. Bon appetit.

Gretchen Craig’s lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval.

Gretchen was born and raised in Florida. She’s lived in climates and terrain as diverse as the white beaches of the Gulf Coast, the rocky shores of Maine, and the dusty plains of Texas. Her awareness of place imbues every page with the smell of the bayous of Louisiana, the taste of gumbo in New Orleans, or the grit of a desert storm.

Gretchen writes historical novels with romance elements. EVER MY LOVE and ALWAYS AND FOREVER are set in Louisiana among the Cajuns, Creoles, and slaves. Her latest two manuscripts, now making the rounds of the Publishing gods in New York, are also set in New Orleans. Setting inspires her writing, and she has conjured up the heat and aridity of the pueblos in CRIMSON SKY as well as the heat and the humidity of the Everglades in THEENA’S LANDING. She’s yet to write anything set in a cold climate, but she’s thinking about those frozen steppes in Russia.

Learn more about Gretchen and her books here:

Amazon Page:

Mmmm, now I'm hungry for gumbo, aren't you? Thanks to Gretchen for her interesting post. 
Thanks to you for stopping by and reading.!                       

Friday, May 18, 2012


The grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. This morning I was mowing our lawn, happily riding our tractor mower back and forth and back and forth, when I spotted six black Angus grazing in the back yard. Whoa! Hero and I knew they weren’t those of our neighbor who raises Brangus because some of these had horns and her cattle don't. Hero called to ask if she knew where the runaway cattle belonged. She didn’t, but said she’d try to locate the owner for us. She’s such a nice person and combines the cattle business with a singing career.

Lubbock, TX - the city in which Hero and I lived as children

Hero and I grew up in the city. We don’t have cattle, we have pasture for hay and an orchard. Neither of us was eager to engage in an altercation with cattle. Especially since these had their horns. Even one of them is large enough to kill a person, and there were six. An average bull weighs from 1800 to 2000 pounds and there was one in this bunch. The females weigh less, around 1100 to 1200 pounds.

Black Angus Cattle with Calves

After they grazed in the hay meadow, they moved on to our back lawn. They loved our birdseed and drank the water in the birdbath. The mower did not phase most of them, but I thought one was going to butt heads with the tractor. Not a good thing! We can share birdseed, grass, and water, but they were wandering toward the road. Cattle in the road presents a hazard for the cattle and for any vehicles driving by. Our road snakes and cattle in the road catch drivers by surprise.

Our neighbor is a real cowgirl. I mean the genuine article. She has starred in Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show at the Fort Worth Stockyards, plus she has the voice of an angel for which she has received awards and acclaim. But she loves her little ranch here in the country. Today when she decided she’d found similar cattle a road over, no one was home. She s a feisty little woman, though, so here she came on her own with her lead pole that she uses when her bull, named Bob, goes for a stroll through greener pastures and takes his harem with him. About that time, here comes a man in a red pickup truck, one of approximately a gazillion red pickups in this state. Turns out he owns the adventurous cattle. He and our neighbor drove them home with no problems.

So NOT our Llama
This little saga impressed further on Hero and me why we do not ever, ever, EVER want cattle or sheep or goats or any other farm animal. (Darling Daughter 2 lives in Fort Worth but wants us to get a couple of llamas and some chickens so she can visit them, Not happening.)  When we acquired our land (I hesitate to say bought the farm), all our neighbors advised us to get at least four calves in spring and pasture them over the summer, then sell them in the fall. They guaranteed that the three sold would repay our investment plus processing costs when we had the fourth one slaughtered (Ugh, that term!). Supposedly, we’d have free beef for the year. Longer for us, because we don't eat much meat, especially not beef.

I repeat, Hero and I did not grow up on a farm or ranch. We don’t have that protective filter that lets people sell animals they have raised. We could not do it. Instead, we would name them, pet them, and have them forever. Then we’d be buying winter feed and all those disgusting looking medicinal tubes and packages that are sold at the tractor supply and feed store. No, thank you. Even the neighbor who helped out today only sells her Brangus for breeding, not for slaughter (there’s that awful word again). Yes, she's named each of them--Bob, Blossom, Prairie Flower, and Heather are those I remember.

Copperhead - One of the few things we kill
Each of our neighbors raises horses or cattle or both. Hero and I have only our little menagerie of cats, a dog, the wild birds we feed, plus the stray critters that wander by. We don’t kill anything unless it threatens us, like the copperhead in the photo above.Yes, we're weird.  In an area where everyone else hunts, we are misfits in a way, but we are mostly accepted and no one mentions (to our face, at least) our eccentricities. Life here is mostly peaceful and pleasant. We need a little excitement now and then. Hopefully it will only be via a few stray cattle.

What recent exciting event can you share?

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Linda LaRoque, Author

Please welcome our guest, Linda LaRoque today. Linda was born and reared in Texas and she and her husband call Central Texas home.  She credits her sixth grade teachr for hooking her on the written word.

From then on, books were her best friends, and like many young people in school, she had one open when she should have been working on an assignment. Ironic, then, that she became a public school teacher. In summer months, she read as much as possible.

 In 1990, after reading  a number of romances, she said to her husband, "I can write a book.  It doesn't look that difficult."  After several stressful months of struggle, she admitted.  "It's much harder than I anticipated."  Fortunately for readers, she persevered! She joined numerous writing organizations, critique groups, and attending many writing conferences, and finally finished her first book.

WHEN THE OCTOTILLO BLOOM was released in February 2007.  Since then, she has been prolific and has received excellent reviews and awards. Check her website for the complete list of her books. Linda has a GIVEAWAY today, which is explained in her post. An excerpt from her latest release, A LOVE OF HIS OWN is also included in her post.And now, here's Linda LaRoque:

                             LIFE IN THE OLD WEST 

By Linda LaRoque

When writing MY HEART WILL FIND YOURS, I learned a lot about nineteenth-century kitchens.

Nineteenth-Century Ice Box

Very few homes had an ice box, the kind where a block of ice was delivered to sit in an insulated reservoir in the top of the wooden structure. They were invented for home use in the 1840s, but it wasn't until the 1870s that the U.S. had ice plants that produced artificial ice. In the model seen here, the block would go in the unopened door to the left. As the ice melted the cold water flowed down the sides and kept the contents inside cool. Note the pan on the floor. Of course, in hot weather, the ice didn't last more than a couple of days. Owners had a sign with 25 lbs, 50 lbs, 75 lbs, and 100 lbs on each side. You'd prop the side up with the amount you needed out front so when the iceman came by he'd know what size block to bring in for you. This picture can be found in an online article titled Early Days of Refrigeration at

I found an advertisement for a model almost identical to this one. No date was given but the price was $16.98.

My mother-in-law said that even in the early thirties they kept their perishables in a spring house, a small shed built over a spring. Food was covered with dish towels or cheese cloth to keep out flies and other pests, and the flowing water kept the room cool. Some homes had a larder which was a room on the coolest side of the house or in the cellar. None of these solutions would make modern homemakers happy, but folks back then didn't know any difference and the system worked for them.

Hoosier Cabinet or Cupboard - Pull out work
space, flour sifter, meat grinder, and churn

No kitchen was complete without a cupboard or Hoosier. Here kitchen utensils were stored. Many had a flour bin (see above right in cabinet), a built-in sifter, a granite or tin top for rolling pie crusts and biscuit dough, and drawers for storage. Note the meat grinder attached to the left and the butter churn on the floor to the right with a wash board behind. Hopefully the homemaker had a sink with a hand pump with room to the side to stack clean dishes to dry. A shelf below would hold pails and a dish pan.

This picture was taken at the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas, and dates somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. The design in these cupboards didn't change much over time so earlier models looked much like this one. Today cupboards or Hoosiers have become popular decorative additions to modern kitchens, as have old ice boxes. I'd love to have one but my kitchen is too small.

Victorian Era Kitchen Stove - Note
Water Reservoir On Right

Last, but not least, in importance to the homemaker was the wood cook stove. Before the cast iron kitchen stove was invented, women cooked over hearths with ovens built into the wall, if they were well-off, or outside in a fire pit. Both methods were hard on the back due to bending over to stir food in pots suspended from iron hooks. Cast iron pot bellied stoves, used mainly for heat, could be used for some cooking, but lucky was the woman who had a genuine kitchen cook stove like the one pictured here.

This is a restored model pictured at Many models such as this one had a copper lined reservoir on the side to keep water warm for beverages, dishwater, or bathing. In my reading I noticed some even had a kick plate to open the oven door when hands were full. Some of these models were designed to use either wood or coal oil. Restored wood stoves are popular and being added to homes of individuals who like antiques and love to cook. They aren't for the person who wants to pop something in the oven and go about their business as the product must be watched carefully to make sure oven temperature is maintained. Also, they're quite expensive, between two and three thousand dollars.

Managing a house hold during this era wasn't for the weak. Just lifting those iron cooking vessels took a strength many modern women don't possess. But, I guess carrying buckets of milk from the barn, doing the wash in the yard using a scrub board, and their other daily chores built muscles.

My time travel heroines face multiple challenges when learning to live and take care of a home in the nineteenth century. Though it’s never easy, their love for their hero gives them the perseverance to adjust to a past way of life.

A LAW OF HER OWN, A MARSHALL OF HER OWN, and A LOVE OF HIS OWN from The Wild Rose Press are all set in the nineteenth century town of Prairie, Texas. In this last story, the individual to travel back in time is the hero and, though he doesn’t have to adjust to cooking in a Victorian kitchen, he does have to adjust to many other aspects of life in the past.

GIVEAWAY: Leave me a comment today to be entered in my contest for a pdf copy of either A LAW OF HER OWN  (shown below) or

A MARSHALL OF HER OWN (shown at right).

But wait - there's more!

A blurb and excerpt from Linda's latest release,
A LOVE OF HIS OWN, is included below.

Bull Dawson, New York lawyer, mourns the loss of his daughter, who disappeared from a cabin in Fredericksburg, Texas four years ago. A history book found in his office safe leads him to believe she traveled back in time to 1888 Prairie, Texas.  He's determined that if she can time travel, he can too. Life will be different, probably hard, but practicing law can't be so difficult back in the Old West.
Widow Dipsey Thackson scratches out a living for herself and her young son on their farm. Shunned by the locals, she keeps to herself. When a man appears in her wheat field one day, life changes for the better. Then her brother-in-law arrives, claiming the farm is his and threatening Dipsey and her son. She fears for both their means of survival and their safety.
Her dilemma will take more than a knowledge of the law, but Bull vows to do his best to protect her and her boy.

Here's an excerpt from A LOVE OF HIS OWN:

“Whoa, boys.” Dipsey pulled the wagon to a stop and set the break. She hopped down, her leather boots hitting the road with a thud. Sam, the lead mule had been favoring his right front leg the past few minutes. She’d better take a look before he went lame.
“Let me see, Sam.” She lifted the mule’s big hoof and held it between her knees. “Ah, a rock. No wonder. Hurts, doesn’t it?” With a small twig, she flipped the stone out. “Now, that’ll feel better.” She let his foot drop and patted his neck. Joe snorted and butted her shoulder, so she turned and gave him a pat too. The brothers were jealous, afraid one would get more attention than the other. They were the same when it came to feeding time. She had to separate them lest they try to horn in on the other’s grub.
Dipsey walked back to the wagon and placed a foot onto the spoke of the front wheel to climb into the wagon. A snorting sound from behind her made her pause. Grabbing her rifle from under the seat, she whirled and peered into the field of winter wheat gently waving in the cool morning air. Sunlight glanced off the stalks giving the field a slight iridescence, but no movement caught her attention.
The noise stopped, then resumed with a loud bleating resonance. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Thomas was asleep in the wheat field, but she’d buried her husband two years past. Who trespassed on her land?
Rifle cocked, she stepped in the direction of the snoring. Thomas always said she could sneak up on Satan himself. She hoped her skill served her well today.
Lying on her precious wheat, breaking the stalks flat and making it useless, was a big, burly man. Wrapped in someone’s finely stitched quilt, he had a brown felt hat over his eyes. One arm lay across his chest, the other cradled a new-fangled model Winchester, so new the shine hadn’t yet worn off.
She snatched the rifle from his arm. The dang fool didn’t open his eyes. Dipsey thumped him on the shoulder with the butt of his weapon. He farted and rolled to his side exposing a muscled butt and legs encased in denims. She stumbled back a few steps. Disgusting man!

Thanks for reading,
Linda LaRoque
Writing Romance with a Twist in Time
A MARSHAL OF HER OWN, Feb. 2012 Book of the Month at Long and Short Reviews

My thanks to Linda for sharing with us today. Readers, thank you for stopping by!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Have you ever ridden a train? Do you like books in which the characters travel? Do you love a good historical family series that combines mystery and romance? I have the very book for you!

THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE is Book One of the Kincaids, and is available for only 99 cents from


Smashwords at

Both this book and THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND, Book Two of the Kincaids, involve train travel to Texas.

THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE is about a marriage of convenience that blossoms into a true love match. I love when that happens, don’t you?

Steam locomotive

In researching train travel for this book, I visited museums and read books and wrote curators for additional information. As a result, I have a huge notebook filled with details about nineteenth century train travel. We hear about the deluxe Pulman car, but without them train travel could be pretty grim. I suppose even at its most uncomfortable, riding a train beat walking beside a covered wagon.

Interior of an early Pulman Car.

In THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE, the hero (Drake Kincaid), his cousin (Lex), heroine (Pearl Parker), and heroine’s siblings (Sarah and Storm), and “cousin” (Belle) travel from Tennessee to Central Texas by train. Personally, I love train travel, so I was happy my characters had a chance to enjoy it. Well, they enjoyed some of it. Not the part, can’t give a spoiler, can I?

Here’s the blurb:

Wanted: one completely improper bride.

Even if Drake Kincaid had placed such an advertisement in every paper in the country, he couldn’t have found a better candidate than Pearl Parker...which is fine with him. After all, his parents’ will stipulates only that he marry by his thirtieth birthday, not that he marry well. And no one--including Drake’s grandfather, the man determined to hold him to the ridiculous provision--could possibly think tall, bossy Pearl with her ragtag siblings and questionable “cousin” Belle will make a good wife. Until Drake realizes that in her startling violet eyes he sees a beautiful woman with a generous soul...

Their life together may not have started with hearts and flowers, but Drake and Pearl will soon learn that real love--with a breathtaking dose of passion--will make their marriage a true romance.

Excerpt after they’re in Texas and Drake announces that he’s going on a cattle drive, leaving Pearl and her family at his grandfather’s home in town:

"What do you mean, stay here?”
Pearl had wakened cocooned in the hazy glow following a night of intermittent lovemaking with her husband to find him dressing for the ranch. Then he dropped a bombshell on her.
"You know it's not safe for you to be on your own. Ranch is too isolated. You'll be safer here in town.” Drake stomped his feet to settle each in the boots he wore. He retrieved a blue chambray shirt from his bag and donned it.
"For how long?” Pearl slid from bed and grabbed her nightgown from the floor.
She whirled on her husband, confronting him, "You never intended for me to move to the ranch, did you?” She yanked her nightie on. No one could argue buck-naked.
"Don't get riled. Women hate the seclusion. You'll be happier in town. Things to do here and people about you.” Drake shoved his shirt into his twill pants without looking at his wife.
She stepped toward him and pointed at her chest. "What do you know about what makes this woman happy?"
A crooked smile broke his face. "Aw, I know what makes you happy, all right. Didn't I keep you happy all night?"
She shrugged away the comment aimed to distract her. "Did you ask me which I prefer? No.” She hoped her glare chilled his randy hide.
His voice softened, placating. "Pearl, be reasonable. We don't know who's tried to kill you and your family. Someone might be trailing you right now, waiting somewhere and watching the house.”
He met her gaze. That muscle twitched in his cheek, letting her know he was less than happy with this conversation. Well, that didn't bother Pearl in the least. Some things needed talked about.
He walked over and put his hands on her shoulders, then took a deep breath and continued,  "Look, the sheriff and his deputy as well as several of the town's leading citizens will be looking out for any newcomer. I talked to the owners of the livery stable, the hotel, the mercantile, all the places I could think of that a newcomer would stand out. If any strangers come around asking questions, the sheriff will find out immediately. You and Sarah will be safer here."
"You're taking Storm with you?” She hugged her arms, sensing a lost battle.
"Yes, um, with your permission. I can't see him attending teas or shopping here in town. Besides, he's a big help to me."
Her head came up and her hands fisted at her hips. "And I suppose Sarah and I are just so much baggage?"
"Now, I didn't say that and you know it.” He held up a hand, palm out, as if to stay her fury. "But you have no place rounding up cattle and getting ready for a drive."
"It's true we don't ride, but we could learn.” She could learn anything, given a chance. She suspected no chance would come.
"There's no time to teach you. 'Sides, it makes the cowboys and vaqueros nervous to have women around the cattle. They think it's bad luck. And I can't leave the two of you at the house with only the housekeeper to help you."
She sagged in defeat. "Okay, Drake. I'll stay here for now, and I'll try not to shame you. But this is only until we know there'll be no more meanness against my family. Don't think you can keep me waiting too long," she warned.
His face broke into a smile of relief. "You'll see. By the time this is over and things calm down, you'll like this sweet life so much you won't be able to tear yourself away from Grandpa's house."
"Too much sweet gives a body a belly ache."
Ignoring that and stepping close, he kissed her on the cheek then nuzzled her neck. "I'll be sleeping tonight in a bedroll on hard ground. Give me a kiss to remember."
Something to remember. She'd give him something to remember all right. She raised her mouth to his, let him plunder with his tongue. Her tongue did some plundering of its own as she moved her body against him. When their kiss ended, the heat of passion darkened his eyes.
"When you're sleeping on the hard ground, all alone, you remember that, husband.” Head high, she turned and walked into the dressing room.

Thanks for reading!