ihodt with chill and 2020 recommended read awards
Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Serenity Layne

A new year and a new character to feature on my blog. Meet Serenity Layne, created by author Melanie Robertson-King. It Happened on Dufferin Terrace, a holiday novella and a perfect escape for readers who are hunkering down during this pandemic. Plus this is the first in a planned six-book series. And check out Melanie’s impressive list of books she has published way below.

Here, I will let Melanie take over.

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Melanie Robertson-King

Thanks, Joan, for letting me introduce you to Serenity Layne, the main character from It Happened on Dufferin Terrace. The book is a Christmas novella set in beautiful old Quebec City.

Think Miracle on 34th Street meets Sleepless in Seattle. She’s married to her career, and he’s a widowed father.

I came up with the name Serenity Layne on my way home from my sister-in-law’s house in Northern Ontario. It was a street name. I added the “y” to her surname, so it sounded more like a person than a part of a city.

While not based on a “real” person, I modeled Serenity after Doris from the movie Miracle on 34th Street. She’s had a rough life, and anything she’s gotten, it’s been through her hard work and no help from her family. After the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company closed in Etobicoke, her father turned to the drink. Her mother was unable to cope and spent her days in her bedroom watching television. Her brother, Erik, got mixed up with drugs and disappeared so and the responsibility for cooking, shopping, and cleaning fell to Serenity.

She worked her way through school and is now a successful business consultant with the firm, Thacker, Price & Associates. Along the way, she had no time for intangibles and never had any relationships with men. While she’s not materialistic, she has a comfortable condo on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto, is well-dressed and perfectly manicured.

It Happened on Dufferin Terrace is book one of a six-book series featuring the Scott and Layne families. Serenity also appears in the second book, It Happened in Gastown, and will be in the third, It Happened at Percé Rock, which I’m currently writing.

An EXCERPT:

Snow, packed down from shovelling and plowing, made the boards slippery. High-heeled shoes were inappropriate for the conditions, but escaping that room was paramount.

Why did she allow that man to antagonize her? Any other time, any other meeting, and she would have let comments like his roll off her. This action was out of character.

Struggling to maintain her balance, she picked her way to the handrail. At least she had gloves in her pockets. After extracting the knitted mittens, she pulled them on her hands and tried to regain her composure so she could go back to the meeting. She would have to create an excuse for her sudden departure.

Arms resting on the railing, she took in long, slow breaths. Each time she exhaled, a puff of steam formed in front of her.

About to go back into the warmth of the hotel’s conference room, she let go and turned. A massive black dog charged at her with a man and a boy in pursuit. The ear flaps of the man’s trapper hat resembled wings. Stretched out horizontally, how he managed not to take flight astounded her.

“Tori, bad girl. Halt.” The man shouted commands to the canine, but the animal was oblivious to them.

Before she had an opportunity to react, the black Lab launched itself in the air and hit her square in the chest, knocking her to the ground. The impact sent her eyeglasses flying, and they crashed on the granite ledge beneath the handrail. The child dove for them but couldn’t get a proper grip. His fingertips brushed the frames, and her eyewear skittered away from him on the icy rock and vanished.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melanie Robertson-King has always been a fan of the written word. She grew up an only child, and many happy hours were spent with her face tuck in books from the time she could read. Her father was one of the thousands of Home Children sent to Canada through The Orphan Homes of Scotland. Melanie has been fortunate to visit her father’s homeland many times and even met the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the orphanage where he was raised.

AUTHOR LINKS:

 Website: https://melanierobertson-king.com/

Celtic Connexions Blog: https://melanierobertson-king.com/wp02/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieRobertsonKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertsoKing

 BUY LINKS:

mybook.to/dufferin-terrace

mybook.to/it-happened-in-gastown

mybook.to/The-Secret-of-Hillcrest-House

mybook.to/yesterday-today-always

mybook.to/A_Shadow_in_the_Past

mybook.to/shadows-from-her-past

mybook.to/Tims-Magic-Christmas

mybook.to/aboard_the_Canadian

 

 

 

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Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Jenny from Cultivating a Fuji

Miriam at Isabella Plantation Cropped Small

Author Miriam Drori

Next up in my Character Traits series is Miriam Drori, an author of both fiction and nonfiction that deal with people who experience deep social anxiety. I’ve learned a lot about the subject from reading her books. Miriam is also my editor at darkstroke books, a skilled one I might add. (She lives 9,000 miles away in Israel.) For this series, she tells us about  Jenny, a character from her latest, Cultivating a Fuji. I will let Miriam take over.

One of the lessons that can be learned from reading Cultivating a Fuji is that the effects of childhood bullying, which the perpetrators might see as a bit of fun, can last a lifetime. That’s what happens to Martin, the main character. Most of the people he meets, whether at school or later in his life, don’t understand this. I don’t blame them for that. They all have their own issues to worry about. Some of them even want to help Martin, but they don’t know how.

Jenny does understand — not at school, where she torments Martin at least as much as the others, but later when she learns about bullying in her teacher training course. There was a real live Jenny, called Gill (soft G, short for Gillian; I know Americans have trouble with that name), who was one of my bullies at school and expressed a lot of remorse for it when she reconnected with me decades later. Too much remorse, in my view, because it led to unnecessary guilt. I was the one trying to persuade her that, as a schoolgirl, she didn’t have the maturity to understand what she was doing, and couldn’t have been expected to understand without adult guidance, which was completely lacking.

That’s why the two names begin with the same sound. Jenny isn’t exactly the same as Gill, and all the episodes in the novel are made up, but they do have a lot in common. Gill certainly recognised herself in the novel. I don’t know if anyone else did.

In the following scene, set in 1973, three young former schoolfriends meet in a café. (Warwick is the university where Anji is studying.)

“You’ll never guess who I’ve seen at Warwick.” Anji had joined Jenny and Sandra on this occasion.

“The Queen? William Whitelaw? David Bowie?”

“Martin! And he’s as strange as ever, if not stranger. Always keeps to himself. I don’t know anyone who ever talks to him. I saw him around last year, too, but this year he took computer science with me and I saw quite a lot of him. God, he’s such a weirdo.”

Anji continued, oblivious to the looks passing between Jenny and Sandra. “A funny thing happened with him a month or two ago. I was with a group of friends when I passed him in the corridor. I said, ‘Oh Martin, Professor Angel’ – he’s our computer science lecturer – ‘asked me to tell you he wants to see you urgently. Some big problem with your project, I think.’ I didn’t expect him to believe me; I really put it on – like I did now, you know. Anyone else would have said, ‘Up yours, too,’ and gone off. Not Martin. He turned white and marched straight to Professor Angel’s room. We followed at a discreet distance. He knocked on the door, went in, and came straight out. Walked right past us without noticing. We laughed at his receding back. He didn’t turn around. Nothing. He kept on walking. What’s up? Why are you two staring at me?”

“Anji,” Jenny got in before Sandra joined her. “Grow up.”

Anji frowned and pouted. “What do you mean by that?”

“Jenny and I have discussed Martin before,” said Sandra. “We think we were… less than fair to him.”

“You might think that,” said Jenny. “I think we were bloody nasty.”

Anji laughed. “That’s a good one, coming from you. You were one of the w—”

“I know what I was, Anji. I was a bully. I picked on a vulnerable kid and made things even worse for him. Knowing that doesn’t make me proud of it. I’ve learned too much psychology at college to be anything but totally ashamed of what I did, now that I know how I made him feel.”

“Jenny, Martin is a robot, an automaton. He does what he’s told. He doesn’t have feelings.”

“We’ve discussed that, too. Everyone has feelings. Some people wear them on their sleeve, while others lock them away. But everyone has them.”

During the silence that descended on their table, Roberta Flack was apparently losing her life to a song, lightning flashed in and out of their lives, and a waitress dropped a cup full of coffee. It splashed on her sandaled foot and she uttered a little scream.

ABOUT MIRIAM DRORI:

Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London, but has lived most of her life in Jerusalem. Here, she married, raised three children, and worked in computer programming and later technical writing.

Miriam has been writing fiction for about fifteen years and has been published numerous times. Some of her books are temporarily unavailable due to changes in the publishing world. She began writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then, the scope of her writing has widened, but she has never lost sight of this passion.

Besides writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, touring and dancing. Unfortunately, the last three are currently on hold.

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names

What’s in a Name

I am talking about what we call the animals who live with us. A few arrived with names. The others didn’t. So what do you choose to name them? That’s the fun dilemma.

We try to come up with something that fits their personality and is fun to say like Roxanne, which was the name of calico we had. Of course, I was thinking of that song by Sting, and I often found myself singing her name although not as well as him. Roxanne was an extremely smart cat who figured out that if she jumped on the latched door handle in the kitchen, she could let herself inside. We also had a cat we named Phoebe.

Cats, Amos and Lewis, already had their names, so kept them. When we adopted Two at a shelter in Taos, she came with the name Dusty, which we didn’t like. But we were stumped, so we named her Two after the best two cats we’ve owned — Amos and Lewis. Two, or Two Two or Princess Two Two, as we was often called her, lived with us for 11 years, until last Christmas.

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One of Two’s favorite perches was a gate Hank built for our front yard in Taos.

We’ve had two dogs. Sheena’s previous owners, actually neighbors, left her tied up and moved away. She managed to break away and find us. Sheena was not a name we would have chosen, but she sure responded to it, so we reluctantly kept it. A black Lab, she was a wonderful companion and it turned out, the inspiration for a character in an as-yet-to-be published book, The Sacred Dog. But I gave her a more suitable name.

The next dog, a golden Lab mutt, that came after her was named Sadie, which fit her sweet disposition.

Our most recent adoption is a cat who found her way to outside a friend’s home. I saw a post on Facebook that she was looking for someone to take her in since she already had a cat. We were ready after nearly a year to do that. She appears to have a lot of Maine Coon in her. We are guessing she was at one time an inside cat but was dumped. Perhaps her owners couldn’t afford to take care of her any longer. Understandably, it’s been an adjustment for her after being on the lam for a few months, but she has made great progress in the couple of weeks we’ve had her.

So. about her name. Hank and I went through many before deciding on Stella. We wanted to find something from Maine to call her but couldn’t. Personally, I like giving human names to our animals.

Yes, I was inspired by “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and I feel I channel Marlon Brando when I call her, well, in a lot more loving and softer version, or the poor cat would be frightened. Right now, she’s sleeping in my office as I write this. Aw, Stella.

And if you’re curious here’s the way Marlon said it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1A0p0F_iH8

PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s Stella.

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Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet George Tokay

J Lewis Paper Picture

Author Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis is the next author to contribute to my Character Traits Series. Like many of my author friends, I met Joe, as I call him, via social media. A longtime educator, he writes thriller mysteries. I’ve read and learned from all of his books, which have exposed the ugly world of  human trafficking and other badness in our lives. His books also have an interesting connection to the Navajo Nation. So, fittingly the character he shares is George Tokay from his latest novel, Betrayed. Here. I will let Joseph take over. 

George Tokay is a sixteen-year-old Navajo boy raised in the traditional way. He is a member of ‘Azee’tsoh dine’e or The Big Medicine People Clan, which is one of the oldest clans among the Dine’. His grandfather was a Haatalii, a medicine man. The Navajo elders referred to both George and his grandfather as Hosteen Tokay, a term of respect. His grandfather had been training George from an early age to follow in his footsteps, however, his family had been murdered and he was orphaned. A high school counselor, Jeremy Evans, adopted him and George now lives in Wisconsin. George still practices his heritage with reverence and appreciation, speaking his native tongue and wearing his hair long in the traditional style.

George is quiet by nature, reserved, and content to observe and then act accordingly. He is adept at riding horses, tracking, shooting- particularly with a rifle, and with a knife his grandfather gave him at a coming of age ceremony when he was twelve.

He has suffered greatly. Not only with the death of his family, but he carries the scars of killing at least nine men who had come to kill him or members of his adopted family. He is given to visions and dreams where his grandfather speaks to him. Law enforcement, his newly adopted family, and in particular, the FBI listen when he speaks and take his visions seriously.

EXCERPT FROM BETRAYED:

George and Rebecca stopped at the top of the long dirt driveway leading to the Yazzie ranch. From a distance, it looked quiet, almost sleepy. Neither George nor Rebecca knew him, but it was mid-morning and there should have been some activity.

George thought back to his own home a lifetime ago. Robert might be racing around the yard with his sister, Mary. William might be in the barn working with the horses. His mom and grandmother would be hanging laundry or cooking a meal.

However, there was no laundry hanging on the line. There were no kids playing in the yard. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, and there was no fire in the outdoor stove.

Maybe no one was home. Maybe they were in Round Rock at the trading post.

Impatient, Rebecca flapped her reigns and made a clicking noise getting her horse to move forward. George followed at first, but as they neared the ranch, he sped up next to her.

He whispered, “Rebecca, wait. Something is wrong.”

She pulled on the reigns to stop her horse. She turned, stared at him, and whispered, “What?”

George frowned and shook his head. “Stay back.”

Rebecca reached for her rifle and laid it across her lap. George’s rifle was within reach, but he kept his right hand on his knife.

“Hello, the ranch. Mr. and Mrs. Yazzie?” He and Rebecca waited, but no one responded, nor did anyone appear in the doorway.

George was at once patient and impatient. He felt he needed to give the Yazzies time to respond, but he knew something was wrong. His “Navajo thing.”  A sixth sense sort of thing. Many times, his grandfather would speak to him, sometimes appear to him. Always warning, counseling, or guiding him.

One more time George yelled, “Hello the ranch! Mr. and Mrs. Yazzie!”

Nothing.

George dismounted, handed his reigns to Rebecca, took his rifle out of the scabbard and held it like a sentry, his finger above the trigger, not on it.

The smell. He knew the smell. In three short years, he had experienced this same smell. Nothing like it. Stronger in the hot desert air, and not at all pleasant.

He held a hand up to Rebecca, though he didn’t need to. She hadn’t moved.

George knelt down, bowed his head and shut his eyes, and asked whatever chindi might be present for permission to advance. He promised to find out the truth of what he suspected had taken place, and to bring their spirits justice as well as peace.

He opened his eyes, and instinctively searched the ground. He found tire impressions in the dirt, as well as footprints in at least three different sizes. A shell casing- large caliber. Then another, and another. On the left side of the driveway, there were small caliber casings.

Hard to do in cowboy boots, but he tip-toed into the front yard avoiding any footprints he saw. He would mark and take pictures of them later. The closer he got, the pock marks caused by bullet holes became more noticeable. So were the broken windows.

And the smell. Dark, thick, and wet.

George flashed back to his own ranch home and he imagined his grandparents, his mother, his little brother and sister huddled together in the driveway. He pictured his brother William on the slope watching over the sheep. His cousin had described the two scenes to him, and as he did, George knew his cousin had purposely held things back.

He pictured Brian’s home. The mess of blood, bone and tissue that covered the desk and computer in the office. The dark wet stain in the hallway. Though he had never seen what was behind the bedroom door, he knew who was in there and he suspected- correctly, according to Graff- what had happened.

Just like he knew what had taken place inside the Yazzie home as he stood in the doorway. Wanting to go into the house, but not wanting to. Knowing what he would find, and not wanting to find it.

George turned to Rebecca who looked anxious. He shook his head. Rebecca’s response was to grip her rifle tighter.

Cautiously, George took one step inside and held his breath. His second step took him into the kitchen.

Mrs. Yazzie lay on her back on the floor. Blood had pooled on either side of her like angel wings. George touched it and found it tacky, not wet, but not dry. Her death was recent. Further back in the room towards the hallway were a teenage boy and a preteen girl. The boy lay on his stomach with his arms outstretched overhead, the back of his shirt ripped open and bloody. George counted at least four bullet holes, maybe more. A bloody trail led to the girl. Bullet holes had shredded her blouse leaving the back of her shirt bloody. It looked to George as though she had not died right away, but had tried to crawl to safety.

The only person George didn’t see was the old man.

Staying to close to the wall, George moved further down the hallway and peered into the nearest bedroom. Pock-marked walls and shattered glass blown in from a window. George surmised that the shooters moved around the house and fired indiscriminately into the ranch home.

The second and last bedroom appeared in the same condition.

The old man was not in the house, and there weren’t many other places to look for him.

George left the house, held up a hand to Rebecca to stay put. He patted his knife once to reassure himself, and then crept around the side of the house towards the barn. He stayed close to the walls, but had to cross an open area to reach the barn. He took a deep breath, hunched over, and sprinted to its side.

Staying low, George took off his cowboy hat and peered into the barn from a crack between two broken boards. He set his hat on the ground behind him and tiptoed to the doorway. He peered into the barn, first just one eye. Then he stood up and entered.

He wasn’t surprised at what he first saw. However, further back in the corner in a small corral, he saw something he didn’t expect to find.

CONNECT: Here’s Joseph Lewis on social media.

Twitter @jrlewisauthor

www.simplethoughtsfromacomplicatedmindsortof.com

https://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Lewis.Author

BOOKS: Here are the links to Joseph Lewis’ books:

Lives Trilogy: https://amzn.to/2QKpwuY

Caught in a Web: https://amzn.to/2GrU51T

Spiral Into Darkness: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L15328K

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Character Traits, characters

Character Traits: Meet Marlene Martínez

Teresa Dovalpage and I have a bit of history. When I lived in Taos, NM, I took her Spanish I class at the university branch where she was a professor. Originally from Cuba, she was a lively prof, and shortly after that she started doing freelance writing in Spanish and English for The Taos News, where I was the editor-in-chief. We became good friends, and I will admit Teresa, who had already written many books, inspired me to stray from writing literary fiction to mysteries. Since then, she has left Taos to work as a professor in the southern part of New Mexico, and I moved east to Western Mass. But we still keep in touch and, yeah, I have read and enjoyed all of her books, including her most recent Death Comes in through the Kitchen. Here. I will let her take over and tell you about her character, Marlene Martínez.

Thank you, Joan, for inviting me to your virtual home!

Teresa in the cruise that inspired the book

Teresa Dovalpage on the cruise that inspired her novel.

I would like to introduce your readers to Marlene Martínez, a character that appeared for the first time in my culinary mystery Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018). The story takes place in 2003, when Marlene is still a young lieutenant in Cuba’s police force:

“She was around twenty-five years old and very tall, with short brown hair and stern gray eyes. Despite her youth, she looked imposing and severe.”

While writing that book, I encountered a problem: I didn’t have the slightest idea of how the Cuban law enforcement operates. So I did what I had learned while working for Joan at The Taos News. I found a source and got all the details. I interviewed a former Cuban cop now settled in Miami who provided me with the information needed to build both character and setting: the way police stations are organized, the fact that they are called “unidades”—that’s why I kept the term in Spanish; using “units” didn’t sound right in English—, and the scanty resources they have at their disposal.

Marlene, however, had mostly a supporting role in this book. The real star was Padrino, a detective turned Santeria practitioner and Marlene’s former mentor, who in the end solves the case.

A similar situation happened in my second mystery, Queen of Bones (Soho Crime, 2019).

But by the third book in the series, Marlene was tired of playing second fiddle. And she let it be known. She is quite opinionated, let me tell you! She wanted, and needed, her very own book. And it so happened that the character followed, with some variations, my source’s real-life journey. Marlene’s next appearance was in the novella Death of a Telenovela Star (Soho Crime, 2020). By then, in 2018, she is living in Miami and owns a bakery called La Bakería Cubana.

Death of a Telenovela Star is based on a Caribbean cruise that my husband and I took three years ago, where I witnessed some mischief that provided the initial chispa, that spark that books need to be born into the world. The story is set on a week-long cruise to Mexico and the Caribbean that Marlene has booked as a quinceañera present for her niece Sarita.

“Aboard the North Star were five thousand travelers and one open bar. What could be expected from such a crowd but shenanigans? That’s what Marlene Martínez thought as she looked around her with suspicion. With so many passengers crammed onto the one-thousand-foot boat, something bad was bound to happen.

Her grandfather, bless his soul, used to say, “Somewhere, something bad is happening to somebody right now.” Years ago, Marlene had laughed at his unabashed pessimism, but now, watching from her lounge chair the noisy throng waiting by the pool for their cabins to be ready, she couldn’t avoid a sense of dread.”

When Sarita discovers that a Cuban telenovela star, Carloalberto, is also aboard, and starts obsessing about him, Marlene realizes there’s going to be trouble.

And it will be up to her to keep it at bay.

I hope you enjoy the book!

Muchas gracias.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Hobbs, where she is a Spanish and ESL professor at New Mexico Junior College. She has a PhD in Hispanic Literature by the University of New Mexico and has published eleven novels and three collections of short stories. Once in a while she delves into theater. Her plays La Hija de La Llorona and Hasta que el mortgage nos separe (published in Teatro Latino, 2019) have been staged by Aguijón Theater in Chicago.

Contact information

In English: https://teredovalpage.com

In Spanish: https://teresadovalpage.com/

Buy links:

Death of a Telenovela Star:

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Telenovela-Novella-Havana-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07XX832PJ

The Havana Mystery series:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0881XQZPK?ref_=dbs_p_mng_rwt_ser_shvlr&storeType=ebooks

 

 

 

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