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Friday, November 24, 2017

Thanksgiving and the Tale of Two Hearts

Two hearts?

Well, one heart, really. Just mine. But sometimes it feels split in two.

This Thanksgiving holiday has been marked by wonderful visits. My husband and I traveled to New Hampshire to be with his family. Yes, I stuffed myself on a feast I gratefully didn't have to prepare. Returning the favor with a perfect post-dinner clean-up was a small price to pay. The annual family game night was topped by one of the most epic games of Pictionary ever. Have you ever played this game -- kind of like charades but with drawing the clues instead -- with two award-winning artists who can draw faster than you can think? Three hours later, eight of us had laughed ourselves silly. The next morning's breakfast started with reliving the highlights and laughing even before the caffeine kicked in.

And, of course, The Hike. As many family could manage, we hiked six miles to a remote pond and took the obligatory selfies with the perfect duck face and filters. My college-age daughter let me know I'm hopelessly dorky and my son laughed in a way that's reserved for the I'm-glad-I'm-not-seen-with-her-in-public kind of way. I basked in their gentle teasing because they freely gave their love and I felt new doors open in our relationships. They are becoming fine adults and my maternal heart swelled.

I'll cherish these memories and let their positive energy fill me and carry me on through the tougher times.

Because earlier in the week I was with my parents. I spent five days at their New York home and became painfully aware these will be my dad's last holidays. I left as my sister arrived, with all the Thanksgiving fixings packed carefully in her car to ensure her three Labrador dogs didn't feast early on the four-hour trek from her Vermont home. I spent my visit outfitting my parents' home with the stuff of the ailing and aged, taking my dad to doctor's visits, and checking his O2 levels. She called in hospice.

And this is where a piece of my heart feels as if I left it somewhere along the highway. The full spectrum of family pulled on me in one short week. I hurt for my dad. I ache for my mom. I felt surrounded by love and laughter as I texted and emailed and called for updates.

I cannot deny this process of life even as I know it inevitably leads to death.

So, for now, my heart is full to the point of breaking and I will cherish all of what these holidays have to offer.


If you are a mystery, thriller, or suspense writer, you owe it to yourself to join Sisters in Crime. Not only does the organization provide workshops and conferences to support the craft of writing, but the networking opportunities and the fellow authors you meet provide soul support as well.

It was through our New England chapter that I met today's blog guest, Sharon Healy-Yang. Sharon is passionate about her writing and does what I really love in a good mystery: She does her homework to get her details right.

Sharon's second book is out and I had a chance to ask her about why she chose to write about a sassy female protagonist and set her in America during World War II. Read on!

Why write about Jessica and WWII?
I've always been a huge fan of the late thirties through the 1940s:  the clothes, the hair, the music and dancing, films, and mystery novels (though not so hot on the racism and sexism).  I especially love how the women in most of the mysteries and comedies were bright, witty, independent, and innovative.  Joan Bennett, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Claire Trevor, and Joan Crawford were some of my favorite fast-talking gals.  They could track down the villain, solve the crime, and be back in time to scoop all the other reporters or the cops - and in spectator pumps, too! 

I also loved the clever dialogue, the dark ambience, and the plots that twisted and turned more torturously than the back-street settings of these films.  So, since I could never find enough old films to satisfy my hunger, I decided to write up my own.  And I had a ball casting them like an old movie.  In Dead Man:  Joan Bennett and Rosalind Russell as the wise-alec sisters Jessica and Liz; Clair Trevor as the deadly and sardonic femme fatale; Brian Aherne as the smooth, mysterious Evan Blair; and Fred MacMurray as a the skeptical, experienced cop.  Dusty, of course, comes from a more recent vintage and embodies a clever puss that used to own my family. But what's a mystery without a smart-meowing cat?

Spring 1945: WWII may be crashing to a close, but Jessica and Liz Minton’s hopes for the future are short-lived as they become entrapped in a noir world of intrigue and murder. Jessica’s beloved is missing in action in Europe, leaving her on her own to save herself and those she cares about from the shadows of a dark past entangling them in false identities, a cut-throat search for stolen jade, and murder. Join Jessica and Liz as they strive to restore a friend’s family honor, to save Elizabeth’s love from the deadly frame-up of a predatory socialite with underworld connections, to outsmart two dogged detectives, and to deal with an F.B.I. agent from Jessica’s past with secrets of his own - all without getting themselves killed! It’s enough to make Dusty the cat’s fur stand on end!

More about Sharon:

Sharon Healy-Yang is passionate about mysteries from the golden age, whether in a book or on the screen.  Her fascination with mysteries and the 1940s drives her pleasure in crafting novels that recapture the wit, adventure, and suspense of the era.  Known on the campus where she teaches as the lady with the 1940s hats, she has the great fortune to combine her love of literature and film in courses aimed to enkindle that same excitement in her students.  Healy-Yang lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two cats, and an enormous collection of vintage films.

Sharon's website contains not only descriptions of the novels and where to buy them but lots of fun stuff like reviews of Sharon's  avorite tea rooms across the Northeast by state; reviews of her favorite golden age mystery authors and authors who set their novels in the gold age; similar pages for video golden age mysteries; links to various interviews she's done; a "What's new page"; a page of upcoming appearances and events; and blogs of photo essays that range across subjects like her travel, nature, gardening, her glorious cats, latest appearances, and the art in cemeteries.
You can find Letter from a Dead Man: 

Letter from a Dead Man is available at Booklover’s Gourmet (Webster, MA)

Look for Sharon's first book, Bait and Switch at:  

Barnes and

Touchpoint Press

Bait and Switch available at the following independent bookstores:  Annie’s Bookstop (Worcester), Booklover’s Gourmet (Webster, MA), Mystery on Main Street (Brattleboro, Vt), Barrington Books (Barrington, RI), Mrs. Bridges’ Pantry (Woodstock, CT).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

It's my blog and I get to brag if I want to! (Hmm. Isn't there a music riff that goes with that?)

I'm over the moon excited that The Wake won Best English Fiction at the EQUUS International Film Festival in New York City this week!

I'll have more pictures and more to say later, but for now, I wanted to share the news with you!

EQUUS Film Festival is a celebration of the horse in art. The three day event included showing documentaries, feature films, shorts, and commercial work as well as photography, multi-media and, of course, books!

I was more than a little nervous as my books were the only art there that did not feature a horse on the cover or image! Seriously! Take a look to the right of this page. See a horse? Nope. That was a head-scratcher for some folks. What's a mainstream thriller doing at a horse event?

But here's the thing. EQUUS Film Festival is passionate about how horses in art elevate the messages of beauty, connection, and healing. You heard it. HEALING. This is where EFF's passion and my inspiration meet. The Wake's story line was inspired by witnessing the power of healing through the eyes of physically and emotionally challenged hippotherapy clients. (Wait, what? Hippotherapy? Yes. For you muggles out there, hippotherapy is horse-based physical and emotional therapies performed with a licensed therapist using the horse as a platform.) My twist on the thriller genre is to use this therapy to heighten suspense and sharpen my plot.

My main character, Jessica Wyeth, is a world-class equestrian entangled in international crime. I'm pleased that my books resonate with avid readers and horse people. I get my details right and crank up the tension. If I screwed up anything to do with horses, I'd be shunned and turned out to pasture by horse folks.

And this is why I'm so darned pleased to win this award. The Wake follows in her sister's footsteps, too. The Troubles won the same award last year, so I'm a two-fer!

Horse people can live in a horse-centric bubble. My books resonate because they reach a wider audience and pierce that bubble. I've already heard from readers who had never heard of hippotherapy and tried it to achieve great success in battling PTSD.

The films and documentaries at EFF told powerful stories and showed transformational moments where the horse was a major factor in healing.

Oh, and my next book? No horses (yet), but it was inspired by my volunteering as a horse handler during therapeutic sessions with survivors of human trafficking.

Okay. I'm done with my end-zone dance. Now, back to work.
Connie Johnson Hambley's THE WAKE won Best English Fiction
at the EQUUS International Film Festival in New York City.

Monday, November 13, 2017

One Deep Breath Before There's More

I have time for one deep breath between events before I charge on for more.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sharing the Seminar Stage at Equine Affaire held at the Big E in Springfield, Massachusetts with author Laura Moore. If you're not a horse person, I won't blame you for not knowing that Equine Affaire is the country's largest horse-centric conference that draws over 100,000 people over a four-day period. If you're a reader, shame on you for not knowing who Laura Moore is.

Combining horses and books? Oh, yes!

Laura and I spoke on, "Writing a Horse Book: How to Bring a Love of the Horse to Life in a Fiction or Non-fiction Book." Our audience was filled with folks ranging from published authors, to those with completed manuscripts looking for a few more pointers, to folks with an idea for a story who needed a few "how tos" to get them going in the right direction. There was even a mom who brought her ten-year-old-book (and horse!)-loving-aspiring-author daughter.

Authors Laura Moore and Connie Johnson Hambley
on panel at Equine Affaire. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Lane
Laura and I spoke about the writing process, research, and the all-important "getting it right for the touch the horse world but don't inhabit it. This puts pressure on me to get my details dead straight or my horse-loving audience will kill me. Laura elaborated how the structure of good story mimics a Grand Prix course...successfully landing a climactic story requires knowing where your story is headed, making sure the approach is sound, and knowing how to overcome obstacles. 

Before and after the panel, Taborton Books held a signing for us where we were able to talk with readers more directly. For me, this is always a blast. My hard-core fans make the pilgrimage to EA each year and I'm thrilled to be on their "Gotta Get To" list and they were thrilled that the third book in The Jessica Trilogy, THE WAKE, is out. Their wait is over! I'm still new enough at this author stuff that I'm tickled when fans stop people in the aisles telling them my books are "the best books EVAH!" and that they have to read them. No, I do not pay them a commission, but I do give them extra hugs and kisses. These memories will keep me smiling and glued to my keyboard during the many long, lonely writing hours ahead.

I would have spent all four days at EA, but the other best event of the year beckoned. Crime Bake was on! This is one of the best conferences for mystery and thriller authors and fans put on by the New England chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. This year's honored guest was Lisa Gardner. Do I have to say how amazing her master class was or how terrific her keynote speech was? 

My focus this year was on finding an agent and publisher for my new WIP. Yes, I work-shopped the query letter and first page, and practiced my pitch. Yes. I pitched. Yes, I received multiple requests for the MS from agents and direct from a publisher. Yes, I'm freaked out that now I have time pressure to finish writing the damned thing!

BLACK ICE wine by
Candia Vineyard of NH
Oh, and my short story, Black Ice, released with the launch of Best New England Crime Stories: SNOWBOUND published by Level Best Books. If you know me even a little bit, you know I LOVE having marketing fun, so, guess what? I discovered my story has a name-sake wine  and the vineyard sponsored me with a bottle for the launch. I'm going to share bottle with a lucky person to comment on this post, so comment! 

Okay, that's it folks. I'm taking a deep breath. Think about it...All that happened in just four days! I'll keep the comments open for a week or so since I'll be traveling again to NYC and the EQUUS Film Festival. THE WAKE is up for an award! Yippee! THE TROUBLES won last year, so my fingers are crossed THE WAKE can follow in her big sister's footsteps! (Oh, and click through the link, find THE WAKE, and "like" it. Every bit of author love helps!) Last year's event was terrific. I met Debbie Loucks, Monty Roberts' (the real Horse Whisperer) daughter who interviewed me for an upcoming podcast. Stay tuned for more.

Debbie Loucks and Connie Johnson Hambley at
the EQUUS Film Festival in NYC 2017.

Oh, and NaNoWriMo? All of my promises to myself have gone out the window. I'm lucky to get 1000 words a week rather than a day. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

JOAN WRIGHT MULARZ: YA Readers Need a Strong Protagonist

I've gotten to know my guest today through a thriving writers' networking group near my home. Her presence is like her writing: calm, thoughtful, and insightful. Joan will be launching her third book in the E.T. Madigan YA series later this month and I wanted to give you a chance to meet her and get to know her work. -cjh

A Strong YA Protagonist
Joan Wright Mularz

I write YA mysteries because, as a teacher of middle and high school students, I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the issues teens face, especially females. Growing up in a generation that had gender-specific expectations, I wanted the opposite — a strong, smart and capable girl who follows her interests unhindered by gender bias. I also wanted her to be a positive role model for showing girls that they can be assertive, active, curious, adventurous and still feminine. My main character for three books, Ellen Theodora Madigan, loves science and nature, is energetic and fit, solves mysteries and gets crushes on boys. Finally, I wanted her name to honor my two grandmothers who were each strong in different ways. Ellen is for my Nana who raised six children alone after her husband walked out and Madigan is for my Grandma who emigrated to the States from Ireland on her own at the age of sixteen.

Each book stands alone even though the protagonist is the same. The main difference is that, while keeping focused on her mystery solving, she matures from a preteen in Italy who thinks boys are kind of annoying or, at best, helpful, to celebrating her 16th birthday in Maine and finding her first boyfriend who supports her in her quests.

For me, the main reason that I wanted a main female character who wasn't hindered by expectations that were gender specific, is because I've always believed that women can excel in any area they choose to pursue. For me, it's kind of personal. I had to assert myself to get an education like my brothers because my parents were of the generation who believed a woman's place was to devote herself to raising children. It wasn't until I finished graduate school and won some awards for teaching that my dad admitted that I had done a good job! With my own kids, I made sure that both my daughter and my son had equal opportunities to grow.

Arco Felice on via Domitziana, near Cuma, Italy

In the first mystery, set in southern Italy, Ellen ages from 12-14. She is focused on specimen collecting and exploring and is excited about the ancient ruins and underground places of her new home. When her prophetic dreams suggest that the nearby Cuma hillside has a mystery waiting to be solved, her curiosity is activated. A combination of events involving a strange inscription on a pet collar, an otherworldly pig and witnessing the purported murder of a local farmer, drive her to seek answers. In the process, she climbs a steep rock face, stays cool dealing with a wounded man, asks good questions, is persistent, is pursued by kidnappers, keeps a promise despite freaky circumstances, obtains the assistance of a local Italian family and gets NATO personnel to mobilize.

Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
The second mystery finds Ellen, at age 14, in Munich, Germany. The family’s rental house gives her eerie sensations that tell her something is “off” and she feels compelled to learn the house’s history.  An old diary plus some Nazi dreams cue her to the fact that a World War II mystery needs to be solved. A clue in the diary that no one else has picked up on compels her to start a search for two missing women. Spurred on by a picture in an antique locket belonging to one of the missing, she locates relatives of their former employer, seeks answers at places of Nazi resistance in Munich and is gobsmacked by the way German lives are still affected by Hitler’s evil. Ever intrepid, she follows clues throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland until she is able to learn of a small group of German Nazi resisters and bring closure to several families.

Island in Rangeley Lake, Maine

The third mystery transports 15-year-old Ellen to western Maine where a Native American story told by her grandfather plus some dreams about the early Abenaki residents alert her to the possibility of another mystery. For a while she is distracted by her compassion for a friendless girl at school and by some strange encounters with loons in the various ponds and rivers. Her perceptiveness, curiosity, and thirst for history lead her to seek answers to her questions and solutions to the problems of others.


Ellen Theodora Madigan sees past events in her dreams and has the smarts to solve the mysteries they hint at. At age fifteen, she moves to Rangeley, Maine after spending much of her life living near her dad’s archaeological dig sites in other countries. She and her family spend her dad’s sabbatical year at her grandparents’ lake house. She befriends a loner girl at school, starts having dreams about the first inhabitants of the area, Abenaki Native Americans, and keeps encountering loons that she feels are trying to communicate. With the help of her first boyfriend, she solves the three mysteries: Why is the girl so alone? What are the dreams and the loons telling her? and Why did the Abenaki leave?

Kirkus Reviews Says: "A winsome tale of a girl whose paranormal gift is only one of the traits that makes her exceptional."

Joan Wright Mularz is a YA mystery author and sometime author and illustrator of picture books. Her short story, The Souk, won honorable mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2017 Short Story Award Competition.

Two and a half years living in Italy became the inspiration for her first E. T. Madigan mystery, Upheavals at Cuma. Six years in Germany led to the writing of the second mystery, White Flutters in Munich. Her picture book, What I Like About My Friends, celebrates the diversity she found through both teaching and travel and another, Island Times, celebrates the multiplication and diversity of animal and plant life found on islands.

She has also written curriculums and educational grants. When not traveling, she divides her time between a small town in Massachusetts and a small town in the western hills of Maine, inspiration for her alliterative alphabet book, Down West — the Other Maine and for her third E.T. Madigan mystery, Maine Roots Run Deep, due out in late November 2017.

You can learn more about Joan on her website: and on her Amazon page.