Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Flash: Pismawallops PTA Christmas revisited

I'm neck deep in NaNo, so no new stories right now. But this one I wrote last year is now finding its way into the new novel (bits and pieces of it, anyway). So this week and next I'll share the two-part story. Sorry about making a jump on the season, but you know those holiday bazaars have to be done early!

A Pismawallops PTA Christmas

“JJ, we need another table for the baked goods!”

“JJ, the tree won’t light up!”

“JJ, the—”

I tuned out the last voice. Arne Hancock always had a crisis for me to fix. I dispatched two kids to get the table Patty Reilly needed for the brownies, and went to help Kitty Padgett with the lights that didn’t light. Kitty’s the PTA president, so she was getting her own share of people demanding instant fixes.

“It’s plugged in?” I asked.

Kitty gave that the eye-roll it deserved, so I added, “In an outlet that actually works?” The Pismawallops High gym needed some upgrades, no question.

“I tried three outlets,” Kitty said. “It’s got to be a burned out bulb.”

I eyed the antique string of lights on our decidedly fake tree. There was no good way to find the defective bulb, unless the principal had someone in detention he really wanted to punish. Each bulb would have to be replaced, one at a time, and the string tested after each one. I made the sort of executive decision expected of a VP, even of a small-town PTA.

“Toss ’em. Buy a new set at McMullens when we get done here, and we can string them in the morning.”

Kitty nodded agreement and we moved on to the next set of crises. Arne was at my shoulder, so this time I had to pay attention.

“Someone has been playing with the hot pads and scrubbers. I left them perfectly arranged, and now look at them!”

I could see his point. The colorful clothes and crocheted plastic pot scrubbers were jumbled in disarray on the table. I thought it looked fine—a cheerful chaos—but Arne liked order.

“I suppose someone must have bumped the table or something,” I said. “It won’t take long to fix it. Get some of the kids to help.”

He pursed his lips and regarded the teens who swarmed over the gym, hanging decorations and creating a joyful chaos. At length he selected Kat and Brian—Kitty’s daughter and my son—and set them to work lining up the handicrafts.

By bedtime, the gym looked pretty good. Swags of greenery covered at least some of the cinder-block walls, and the tables lining those walls were heaped with seasonal goods. Our Holiday Bazaar was as ready as it would ever be, aside from the lights. Arne’s table was a perfect rainbow again, and Patty had the food tables organized with pricing signs to show were everything would go when the goodies rolled in in the morning. A fair number of sealed containers were already in place.

I checked to make sure none of the containers could be opened or nibbled through. We’d been known to have a pest or two in the school. Convinced everything was tight, I doused the lights, the last one out, and locked up.


I was the first one back at the gym Saturday morning, with Kitty right behind me hauling new strings of colorful lights. It was two hours until the holiday bazaar opened its doors, and we had some work to do.

I hit the lights, and scanned the room. Everything looked like we’d left it…until my eye reached the hot pads. Arne’s fastidious rainbow had been scrambled into a chaotic swirl once again.

“Oh, no! Arne’s going to have a coronary!”

Kitty, coming up behind me, said, “What?”

I pointed.

“We’ll have to get it back in order, fast.”

“But how could it have happened?” I wanted to know. “I was the last one out. It was fine then, and I locked the door. No one’s been here.” Except someone obviously had been there.

Carlos, the custodian and our PTA secretary, had keys, but he swore he hadn’t been near the place, and I believed him. That left burglars, who I assumed would at least have stolen some brownies, not just messed up one table; students, who would have no way to get in; or ghosts.

“Poltergeist. That has to be it,” I told Kitty.

“The Ghost of Christmas Presents?” she suggested.

“Let’s get these lights strung, then we can do something about the table.”

I checked the other tables, but as far as I could see, no one had touched anything else. I did eye one well-sealed pan of brownies, which seemed to have some scratches on the cover, but nothing had gotten in. We shared a brownie before we started, just to be sure they were okay.

We strung the tree in record time. Expecting volunteers and food donations to begin arriving at any moment, I crossed the room to turn on the music, though I’d been enjoying the silence. Kitty headed for the hot pads.

I was about to flip the switch when Kitty gasped.

“What?” I turned around, not sure what to expect. That talk of ghosts had been a joke, but maybe we were a little jumpy, or just punchy.

Kitty was crouching by the table, hand extended. She made a little kissing noise and said, “Kitty!”

“Why are you calling yourself?” Now I wondered if there’d been something odd in those brownies we’d tested.

“Not me—kitty as in cat.”

“Kat? What’s she doing under there?” And Kat couldn’t hide in that heap of hot pads.

“Not Kat. Cat.”

I still wasn’t getting it, and became convinced the brownies had been laced with something. That would be a fiasco, we’d have to…

“C-A-T. There’s a cat in here!” Kitty was laughing, at the same time as she tried to keep still and not scare the animal.

A little, scared, scrawny kitten crawled out from under the hot pads, where it had obviously made a warm nest for the night. Kitty scooped it up, cuddling it. “Here’s our Christmas ghost!”

“A Christmas present for Arne, for sure,” I laughed. “But how on earth did it get in here?”

“Santa?” Kitty guessed.

“And what do we do with it?”

“Her,” Kitty corrected, having taken a look. “She’s for Arne, of course.”

“You don’t think he’s going to adopt a cat, do you?” I looked at the ruin of his perfect rainbow. “Fussy, tidy people do not like kittens.”

Kitty smiled. “Wait and see.”

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Writer's Update: How's Your NaNo?

It's almost the halfway point in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I'm well past the 25,000-word midpoint of the standard NaNo target. I'm hoping to have 34,000 or even 35,000 by the time you are reading this, and to hit the actual midpoint of my draft by the end of tomorrow (the middle of the month). Death By Library is growing fast, and I'm having fun tormenting JJ, especially with teen drama.

I think I hit a good balance between planning and letting things develop as they will, and I'm having fun with my characters. I know I'm writing too much daily detail, but I've made my peace with that: I seem to need to write those details to get to what's important. I just have to be ready to deal with the mess of deleting them when the time comes (I think that also means I should probably aim for closer to 90K words than 80K for a full draft, but I'll just see how the story arcs).

November can be a difficult month for the NaNo project (I have wondered if that's why they chose it: if you can write every day through the holiday season, you can do it absolutely any time). But for me this year, it's actually working well. The New England weather is closing in, with more rain and cold weather, curbing our tendency to travel. And we are far from family, so there won't be an extended Thanksgiving gathering to distract me (I'm not totally happy about that, but if we have to be away from the family, I'm willing to find the good in it).

The main thing my writing is missing this month is regular contact with my California writing pals. I keep feeling like I want to bounce ideas off someone, to have them check me if I'm going the wrong way. I'm not sure if anyone can do that, but it's what I want, and Lisa's usually my favorite victim. I'll just have to do it later, when there's time to slow down and take a look at what I've done.

How about you? If you are doing NaNo, are you hanging on? Writing every day, or nearly so? Or are you up to something else this month?

And which do you prefer: Thanksgiving dinner, or the leftovers?

LATE ADDITION: If you are having trouble with comment and use Safari, please read Jemima Pett's post on how to fix your privacy settings! It works for Blogger though I am still having trouble with her blog (which is Word Press based).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cozy Mystery Review &Tour: Thread Herrings, by Lea Wait 

Title: Thread Herrings
Author: Lea Wait
Cozy Mystery, 7th in Series 
Kensington (October 30, 2018) Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages  
ISBN-10: 149671671X 
ISBN-13: 978-1496716712  
Digital ASIN: B079KSZ92D
Publisher's Blurb: 
Angie's first auction may turn out to be her last—when she bids on a coat of arms that someone would literally kill to possess . . .

Tagging along to an estate sale with her fellow Needlepointer, antiques shop owner Sarah Byrne, Angie Curtis impulsively bids on a tattered embroidery of a coat of arms. When she gets her prize back home to Haven Harbor, she discovers a document from 1757 behind the framed needlework—a claim for a child from a foundling hospital. Intrigued, Angie is determined to find the common thread between the child and the coat of arms.

Accepting her reporter friend Clem Walker's invitation to talk about her find on the local TV news, Angie makes an appeal to anyone who might have information. Instead, both women receive death threats. When Clem is found shot to death in a parking lot, Angie fears her own life may be in jeopardy. She has to unravel this historical mystery—or she may be the next one going, going . . . gone . . .

My Review: 
I was attracted to this mystery because it's set in Maine, where we are currently living. I was entertained to find the characters visiting our town in the first chapter, and dining at an establishment just down the street! (Note: this is a small town in Maine. *Everything* is just down the street). As usual with themed cozies, I wasn't much interested in the featured craft (needlepoint), but that doesn't really matter. No knowledge of needlepoint is needed to enjoy this mystery.

As a story, this is engaging, though I definitely felt the lack of back-story as I was jumping into the series at #7. Still, I cared about the characters and wanted to know what happens to them (and the author's carefully dropped hints about past adventures made me want to go back and start from the beginning). I very much enjoyed the setting, including the comments about how little is open in town during the winter--we have already encountered that reality on some of our excursions out and about! 

I felt that the mystery was only adequately developed and challenging. I could guess fairly early who might have done the crime, in part because there were so few suspects. What I did appreciate was the far more realistic than usual degree to which Angie cooperates with the police. She's trying to figure things out, but she doesn't go off on a lone-wolf search or deliberately put herself in danger. Kudos to the author for finding a good balance on the amateur detective vs. police scale! 

One grammatical niggle annoyed me, and I can't decide if it's an editorial failure or a deliberate move to make the first person narrator sound more natural. She consistently uses "I" instead of "me" where it should be the other way ("He'll meet Sarah and I at the shop..."), an error that I admit is common but which bothers me. Aside from that, the book is well-edited, and well-written.

My Recommendation:
This is a good read for a winter's day by the fire, I think--engaging enough to keep you turning the pages, and light enough to combat the winter darkness. I think it would be even better to start at the beginning of the series and see how Angie got to this point!

About the Author
Lea Wait lives on the coast of Maine. A fourth-generation antique dealer and the author of the Agatha-nominated Antique Print Mystery series, she loves all things antiques and Maine. She also writes historical novels for young people set in (where else?) nineteenth-century Maine. Visit her at
Follow Lea on Facebook and GoodReads Purchase Links - Amazon - B&N - Kobo

 And... we have a giveaway!
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Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of  Thread Herrings as part of a Great Escapes free blog tour, in exchange for my honest review, not for a positive review. I also purchased a copy when I had issues with my ereader. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."