Friday, April 22, 2016

Should Have Played Poker: Debra H. Goldstein


Today, I'm pleased to introduce you to Judge Debra H. Goldstein. She's the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing – April 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Mardi Gras Murder and The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel, whose blood runs crimson.

When did you first decide to become an author, and why did you shift your focus from publishing to law?
As far back as my first memories, I wanted to tell stories – of course, they were usually tales aimed at getting one of my cousins in trouble.  As time passed, I wrote short stories and plays for school and my neighborhood friends, but I thought, when I went to college, I probably would end up being a journalist who occasionally wrote creatively on the side. Two days after graduating early from the University of Michigan, I went to New York seeking a job in publishing and an opportunity to get on Jeopardy.  In case things didn’t work out, I spent evenings of the days I was job-hunting typing up law school applications for the following fall.  I was lucky enough to meet my goals, but realized I wanted to attend law school. Once I did that, my author career was put on a back burner, except for briefs, decisions, and social writings, for most of the years that I was a litigator and judge. In 2010, I became interested in creative writing again. After my 2012 IPPY winning book, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, was published, I became so involved in the publishing world that I decided being an author rather than a judge was the career I wanted to pursue.

You were on Jeopardy!  How did they choose you? What was it like?
I became hooked on Jeopardy when I was in elementary school.  It became a dream to become a contestant.  When I was graduating from college, I sent in an application and was assigned an interview time. This was when they still did in person interviews in New York and occasionally other cities, fifty to sixty people at a time, rather than the computer application process. We were brought into a large room where Polaroid pictures of us were taken and attached to a written application we filled out.  Once the applications were collected, the moderator threw out an answer and went around the room seeking questions from us, not changing until we ran out of possibilities.  Because I followed the advice I received to sit in the front row and be eager, I was lucky to receive the answer “blue,” so I could pose the question “What color is the sky?” After we played this oral game, we all were handed answer sheets and together responded to fifty “answers” flashed in front of us on all possible topics.  The answer sheets were then collected and we waited while our tests were ostensibly graded. As this was not scan sheet grading, there was no way our papers could have been graded during the period the Jeopardy staff left the room.  Rather, I believe our behavior was being observed.  A few minutes later, the staff returned, thanked and dismissed everyone except four people whose applications allegedly had a problem. I was one of the four.  When the room cleared, and we leaned forward to find out what was wrong with our applications, we discovered we were the only four selected from the group to be contestants. Although I lost to a five day champion, the experience was a blast.

Do you have a writing routine and/or special writing space?
I only wish I had a writing routine!  I envy those who do, but as structured as I was throughout my legal career, my present juggling of family, writing, volunteer work and friends, is predicated on flexibility and fun.  The result of my non-routine is that I write short stories and novels in spurts, often to the pace of show music playing in the background.
My favorite place to write is anywhere I can see water, but I don’t get much opportunity to get to the beach.  Consequently, I have created different places in the house that I write depending upon the task.  Drafts are written in a chair in my bedroom or one in the living room while first draft revisions are done in the living room and final revisions are done in the room I dedicated to being my office.

Have you read anything good lately? 
I’m an avid reader whose taste includes bestsellers, books by brand new authors, and biographies.  Unlike some, I usually read the entire book, whether I like it or not.  Recent literary ones I enjoyed are My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I’ll plead the fifth respecting mystery choices.

Tell us a little bit about Should Have Played Poker.
In Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery, Carrie Martin's precarious balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is upset when her mother appears, out of the blue, in Carrie's office twenty-six years after abandoning her family. Her mother leaves her with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie’s father.  Confused, Carrie seeks answers about her past from her father prior to opening the envelope, but before she can reach his room, she finds her mother murdered.
Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie's continued efforts to discover why someone murdered her mother quickly puts her at odds with her former lover--the detective assigned to her mother's case. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel Wahoo, Alabama's past secrets in this fast paced cozy mystery, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren't always what she was taught to believe.

Since this book is described as “A Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery”, will there be future stories featuring Carrie Martin?

I like these characters and hope they will reappear in many of my writings.  Although this is Carrie’s first public outing, the Mah Jongg Players and the son of the group’s ringleader appeared in my first published short story, "Legal Magic". When I came up with this plot involving Carrie, I needed a comic balance and realized the Legal Magic characters would be a perfect foil for her.

Tell us about the donations that go to YWCA and CARES.
Thank you for asking about the fact that all royalties I earn from any hardcover or e-book sales from the pre-order point through May 30, 2016 are being donated evenly between the YWCA of Central Alabama’s domestic violence and the CJFS CARES dementia relief programs.  I serve on the boards of both of these organizations and know the impact these programs have.  I’ve been so fortunate to have a successful legal career and be at the beginning of a really wonderful second opportunity that I believe it important to give back.  Hopefully, my writing will provide fun and enjoyment for readers and accomplish some good.

Thank you for stopping by!

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Interview: Strangely Funny Contributor, Sylvia Son

http://www.amazon.com/Strangely-Funny-III-D-J-Tyrer-ebook/dp/B01DPQ4AAGSylvia Son is an author who lives in Mississauga. She has a degree in English from York University. Her novella, The Guest of Honour, made the shortlist in the 2014 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest for Quattro Books. She likes horror movies, improv, and board games, but not at the same time - although she has played Ultimate Werewolf, which she views as sort of the same thing. She's also a contributor to the latest anthology I've edited, Strangely Funny III.

What would you like people to know about you?
I like comedy and nonsequiturs; like growing up, I watched Kids in the Hall on TV and when I was two, I was hit by a car. Both of them are true.

When did you begin writing?
Since grade ten of high school. I wrote comedy skits for my high school productions with my sister.

How did you get the idea for "Patience My Unspeakable Nightmare", your story in Strangely Funny III?
I had finished a series of stories based on cats, and I was in that mentality of pet-based stories. Then one day I was watching a really horror film with my sister and we made fun of it and I came up with a phrase to match the cheezey dialogue which eventually became the title of this story. Then I began to think, what kind of person would say it to and would that be a pet that was called a nightmare and would that be a pleasant or unpleasant experience. And that was it.

Is there a genre you haven't written in, but would like to?

YA fantasy.

Who are your current favorite authors? What do you enjoy about them?
Neil Gaiman for his ability to create a complex story universe, and manga artist/writer Fumi Yoshinaga for her story and characters.

What are you working on next?
Other than finishing up my novel on ghost towns that inhabited by sci-fi and fantastical events, I'm working on two stories that work the same trope of a haunted house. One where a house is constructed with the hibernating remains of a monster from another dimension by monster worshipers who brought it here prematurely, and a city hall employer whose job is to make sure it remains asleep while trying to keep the public out. The other is a young woman is looking for her dead parents' spirits that now reside in a house that functions as a sanctuary for the dead, and the only way to communicate is by tapping Morse Code on the walls.

What is your favorite writing snack food/drink?
Popcorn chips. They're too addictive.

Thank you for your time!

If you'd like to read "Patience My Unspeakable Nightmare" and other amusing stories, check out Strangely Funny III, now available on Amazon.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Short Story on Kindle: Red Beans and Ricin

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DIK0OKE


If you read "New Age Old Story" in Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology, this is the follow-up. When partygoers become ill at a Mardi Gras potluck, Lana Fisher's red beans and rice are blamed. Bad enough, but when the hostess dies, the consequences could be far worse.

Red Beans and Ricin is free for Kindle Unlimited users, and only 99 cents otherwise. This story first appeared in Mardi Gras Murder.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

My family and I loved the original film; my father often said that it bore a strong resemblance to his courtship of my mother, sans the religious conversion to Greek Orthodox. Of course I wanted to see the sequel. Toula's family was wacky, lovable, annoying, and over-the-top Greek.

I was not disappointed. In a feat comparable to the recent X-Files miniseries, the cast reunited to play the same characters as before, but 10-15 years down the road. Due to the economic downturn, Toula is working in the family restaurant again, and has become a central support to her family, volunteering for committees, taking her father to physical therapy, and being the person the family turns to when things go wrong (as, of course, they do). Ian has become a high school principal. Their daughter, Paris, is graduating and desperately wants to get away from her overwhelming extended family. She is considering going to New York for college; her parents want her to stay in Chicago.

Did I mention that things went wrong? Well, they did. Gus, Toula's father, ardently wants to prove that he is descended from Alexander the Great. I think this is rather amusing, since the Greeks of Alexander's time considered him Macedonian and thus a xenos. While filling out his documentation for the genealogy website, he discovers that his wedding certificate (issued in Greece) hasn't been signed or stamped with the seal of the Church. He and Maria have been living in sin all these years.

Okay, so easy fix, right? They can get married in the church they go to. Not so fast, though: Maria wants Gus to propose properly. Apparently, his first proposal consisted of "I'm going to America; you can come with me, or stay here." Gus, being a stubborn ass, refuses to humor her. This is the first of several hurdles Toula must help the family cross before they get Gus and Maria to the altar. You didn't think this film was going to end with anything but a wedding, did you?

Oh, yeah, Paris makes her decision. Unlike the major plotline of the film, it was less predictable. Plus, we do get to see Toula and Ian realize that the majority of their interactions concern their child and the family, and wonder if there's any 'them' beyond that.

Part of the buzz going on about the film is the revelation that cousin Angelo is gay. They refer to it as cousin Angelo coming out, but it really was less of him coming out and more the family asking him if his business partner is something more than that (they are nosy, after all). Lo and behold, another xenos in the family, life goes on. I thought it was handled nicely.

I enjoyed the film greatly, but it doesn't really work as a standalone film. If you loved the characters in the original film, it's a good catchup. Otherwise, stick with the original.




Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review: 11/22/63

11/22/63 11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grew up with the public fascination of the Kennedy assassination. It's spawned many articles, TV plots, etc. written with the notion of "What if..?" I wasn't interested in hearing another story about conspiracy theories or time travelers hoping to save JFK.

It was a while before I would give this book a tumble. I'm glad I did.

The core of King's talent doesn't center around his penchant for horror or his flights of fantasy; it's his ability to create good characters that the reader can truly get involved with. Jake Epping is a teacher who cares a great deal for the people around him. In the opening of the novel, we find him gripped with the story of Harry Dunning, a janitor seeking his GED. Harry's father killed everyone in the family but Harry when he was young.

When Al the diner owner shows Jake the portal to the past, Jake resolves to save Harry's family. After several attempts, he succeeds. The feeling of power, the ability to change bad to good, helps suck him into Al's dream: saving JFK to create a better world. This requires that Jake travel back to the Fifties (the portal only leads to one point in time, every time) and take up residence, trailing Lee Harvey Oswald's path until the Big Day (hence the book title). He accepts the mission.

Along his path in the past, Jake makes new friends, touches the lives of students, and falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful but straight-laced teacher. He also gets harsh reminders of how very different things were in the Fifties: people smoked like chimneys, racism was the norm, and singing Rolling Stone lyrics could nearly end a relationship. The story of Jake's new life is interwoven with his pursuit of Oswald. Sadie unbends and becomes part of his quest, helping him in the final confrontation.

King's talent at character creation, combined with his command of pop culture, immersed me in the story and the time period. Overall, 11/22/63 was a book that exceeded the concept it started with.

Spoiler below (highlight to read):

I would have given this novel five stars, but the ending disappointed me. When Jake returns to 'modern time', the world has gone to hell. Earthquakes, thunder, the works. He also encounters cosmic authorities who urge him to essentially undo his entire mission in order to save the present. By changing so many events in the past, he's warped the universe. While cosmic authorities worked well in Ur, I don't think they're as necessary here. King described enough events following JFK's survival to screw the world up without threatening the space-time continuum. The final echo of the love he and Sadie shared, though, was very sweet.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Short stories

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005D7VCUW/My short story, Caldera of Trouble, is now available on Kindle Unlimited.

You may have read about this story in my interview with Gwendolyn Kiste. "Caldera" went up on Amazon before Kindle Unlimited came into being; I thought adding it to KU might be a more cost-effective way for people to download and enjoy it.

Some of my other stories will be appearing as singles as Gwen uploads them. I'll try to keep you posted.


Friday, January 01, 2016

A Warm Exchange

I've had a few days off, so I soon found myself in one of my favorite time-sinks: Twitter. One of the trending hashtags was #NewYearsResolutionIn5Words. Most of them were the usual: exercise more, eat healthy, write more, etc. One was a PSA, though:



Well, I couldn't resist. I replied:

The response:


My comeback:


Their suggestion:


Which goes to...



Made me laugh, so I shared it.


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