COMING IN 2016 2017

While it’s motivating to publicly announce an ambitious goal, there’s always a chance you will publicly fail to meet it. When that happens you have two choices: you can forget your self-imposed deadline and hope everyone else does, too, or you can ‘fess up and move on. Pledging to release two books in 2016 was just crazy talk. Now there are only 4 days left in 2016 and Santa didn’t leave the last fifty edited pages of Squatter’s Rights under the tree. (What was he thinking? I’ve been good. Mostly. Well, at least twice that I remember clearly.) Anyway, since Santa ate the cookies (I’m just sayin’) but didn’t finish my homework for me, the odds are SR won’t be in print in 2016.

There are good reasons why I failed to meet my publishing goals for this year. In fact, there are so many reasons, listing all of them would eat up today’s writing time. Also, each and every one of those reasons is my fault. Well, not the vacations and long weekends with the twins and family visits – I was just a willing participant in those. Sometimes the instigator. Okay, those are on me, too. But then there is my writing partner. While she patiently listens to all of my ideas and stays right next to me while I work, she insists on frequent cookie breaks and long walks. She’ll also sleep on the laptop if it’s left open and within her reach. What a big, shaggy Goldendoodle head can do to a keyboard still amazes me.

But, as I am apt to say in all kinds of situations, this failure just can’t be my fault. For proof, I submit a pictorial summary of my year of writing distractions blessings. I’ll be a lucky girl, indeed, if 2017 will just mirror the last twelve months.

Here’s wishing the best of everything wonderful to you and yours in the new year!



A Compassionate and Practical Guide to Living with ALS

Our good friend and neighbor, Mike McHale, has written a moving account of his wife’s battle with ALS. ‘ ALS – Taming the Beast: Living, Really Living, with One of the Planet’s Most Dreaded Diseases’ is a compassionate and practical guide to life after a diagnosis. The indomitable and wonderful Jean McHale lived life on her own terms and that included dealing with ALS. Mike’s book radiates hope – not for a cure today but for quality of life during the time between diagnosis and inevitability.

Other books can educate us on the biology of ALS and the ongoing research for a cure, but Taming the Beast offers solutions for the everyday and once in a lifetime issues no one ever expects to face. Every patient’s experience is different and this is one of the main themes of this book. It offers not only insight to how the McHales decided to handle the diagnosis, but real ‘Takeaways’ that can be applied to almost any ALS or other chronically ill patient’s situation. Not everyone will want -or be able to – deal with a terminal diagnosis the way Jean and Mike did, but there is something for everyone in this book.

In addition to being informative and uplifting, ‘Taming the Beast’ is a down-to-earth good read that will open your eyes, broaden your outlook and even make you laugh. I dare anyone to read the accounts of Jean on her scooter and the cruise ship waiter without at least a big smile. Not possible.

There is a large rock just to the left of the McHales’ front porch. On it are these words: “I am not a bystander”. Jean McHale wasn’t a bystander and Mike, her love and co-conspirator in life, isn’t either. Read the book – you’ll be glad you did.

‘ ALS – Taming the Beast: Living, Really Living, with One of the Planet’s Most Dreaded Diseases’ is available on All proceeds from the book go to Johns Hopkins ALS Clinic.

Memorial Day – A Civil War Mystery

Last week I did a Facebook reposting of my annual thank you note to our veterans, identifying four in my direct maternal line. I started that posting the year after my mother died. Every Veteran’s Day she called her brothers, C.L. and Frank McMahan, and thanked them for their service to our country. I liked the idea of continuing her tradition and I added her father and great grandfather to the honor roll. Why just those four men?

First, the short answer for the original selection of McMahan veterans: I knew and loved three of them and spent hundreds of hours looking for the fourth. My grandfather, Charles Lee McMahan and his sons, Charles Lee, Jr. and Franklin served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War, respectively. George William McMahan, my grandfather’s grandfather served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Four bloody wars, each with untold acts of honor, bravery, sacrifice and horror.

Those who read the post this year might have seen my sister’s comment asking if we had Confederate soldiers in the family. A reasonable question since we are Southern, born and bred. Yes, we had had Confederate soldiers in our family, each with a story worth writing about. We also had veterans of the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War and before that, territorial battles on the western frontiers. But George William, our Union soldier, has a story with a twist and one of these days, I’ll write it all down.

Around the time I did the first posting, I finished a five-year search of genealogical records in which I successfully traced our branch of the McMahan family to their departure from Ireland around 1740. My direct line eventually settled in what is now western North Carolina and stayed in the same general area for more than 200 years. It wasn’t hard to find a George McMahan in the historical records, it just took ages to pin down the right George McMahan. There are (at least) two McMahan lines dating from that period in the North Carolina mountains. Each has a George William McMahan and, at one point, I thought there were three. When I started the research on my mother’s family, all trails of our direct line stopped with her grandfather, William Nelson, because I couldn’t find his birth records or determine which of the Georges was his father. His mother’s name was illegible on the few documents that listed her.

After years of piecing together records from family documents, interviews and internet records, I determined that there were only two Georges who were possible contenders for G-G-grandfather status. Each man linked my family to a very different path. One led back to English sympathizers in the 1770s, the other to revolutionists. One was in the coastal region of South Carolina, the other in the Western Carolina mountains. In genealogical research, it’s best to go with simple until it’s no longer an option – I concentrated on western North Carolina.

In 2011, my cousin and I interviewed some far removed cousins near Burnsville and Barnardsville. The Burnsville Historical Society reading room produced an inventory of cemeteries in the area which led me to tiny mountainside family plot that held the answers to a five-year search. There I found George William, father of William Nelson, son of Edmund, grandson of James and so on and so on back through the mists of Ireland. My vacation photos from that year are full of glamour shots of tombstones.

But back to the Memorial Day post and my sister’s question. While we had many ancestors who fought in the Confederate Army, our George McMahan was one of six men listed on the Union pension rolls for Yancey County, North Carolina. At first I thought it was a typo in the snippet of information I found on Ancestry.Com. Or yet another George rising up in the records to torment me. Then I remembered Sharyn McCrumb’s 2003 book, Ghost Riders, which introduced me to a history that is often passed over – that of mountain people who wanted no part of the war, but who ended up under conscription to one side or the other, and in many instances, both sides at different times. Again with the multiple Georges, but there are tantalizing indications that our George was both charged with desertion and decorated for bravery in addition to somehow earning a Union pension.

Some men were paid an enlistment fee and promised they’d be home for harvest or spring planting. In those years of terrible hardship, such offers would ensure food for their families. Other men where ‘enlisted’ against their will by roving bands of both Union and Confederate ‘recruiters’. Still others fought for the side they believed in and took up arms against their brothers. I have no idea where our George falls, but one day I hope to find out. In the meantime, I’m just grateful that he survived.

At the end of the Civil War, G-G-Granddaddy was a 21-year-old disabled veteran. George William went on to have seven children, outliving four of them and both of his wives. When he died in 1917, he was raising an orphaned grandson. The year after George William died, another of his grandsons, my grandfather Charles, went off to the Army and eventually to France and World War I. My heart believes George William knew what was coming and didn’t want to see war visited on his children’s children.
And so on and so on into the mists of time.

2011-05-19 15.57.39


WHISPERS, the Novel – Authors Talk & Book Signing

Saturday morning, April 9th at 11:15 at the News Center

“Writing Whispers”

Where do the ideas come from?  How are characters developed?  What drives a plot?

How do you write a book?

These are some of the questions that co-authors Susan Reiss and Cheril Thomas will address at the Authors Talk and Signing on Saturday morning, April 9th at 11:15 at the News Center 218 N. Washington St., Easton, MD 21601Whispers, their new novel derived from the mystery serial that appeared last year, will be featured.

The story of Whispers is set here on the Eastern Shore.  Antique dealer Maggie Maitland’s search for unique pieces get her involved in a police investigation into the mysterious death of a local dentist, the man she believes killed her husband.  Two competitive sisters and a man with a snake tattoo complicate her life.  Is there a connection?  Once she starts asking questions, she is surrounded by whispers of family secrets, betrayal— and murder.

“This book is a page turner with all the elements of a juicy mystery. The cliffhangers are madly irresistible.”  Attraction Magazine

Many local events and places feature prominently.  One of the characters is a real Boston Terrier pup adopted from Talbot Humane will be making an appearance with the authors.

Hope you can join us!


Traditions, Luck and Inspiration

Shamrock March 11 is Ron’s birthday and one of my favorite days of the year. It requires a lot of thought, intuition and, sometimes, the luck of the Irish. We have been married since God was a baby and every year around the middle of February we have this conversation:

Me: “What would you like for your birthday?”

Him: “Chocolate cake with chocolate icing.”

Me: “No, for a present.”

Him: “Not a shirt.”

The shirts are a tradition. He knows he’s getting a shirt; he’s just being contrary. But he’s serious about the cake, which of course, he’ll get. (Thank you, Miss Cindy!)  And I do try to come up with a surprise of some kind. Occasionally, I even pull one off.

For a while, we went to D.C. for his birthday weekend. Brunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a movie at the Uptown, lunch at our favorite Greek restaurant near DuPont Circle and a few museums to round out the mix and prove we aren’t only there for the food. Then came the magical year when I accidentally pulled off the best birthday celebration ever. A never to be repeated epic that I had nothing to do with, but took all the credit for.

This miracle of non-planning started when I stumbled over an incredible $99 a night room at the Capital Hilton. When we checked in, we learned we’d grabbed the last room and all the other guests were there to attend the Gridiron Club Dinner, an event featuring the President of the United States and the Marine Corps Band. I told Ron I’d arranged the party for his birthday.

Saturday evening, from our comfy club chairs in the lobby bar, we had birthday martinis and single malt Scotch and watched a parade of dignitaries (both in fact and in their own minds) sweep in through the front entrance of the hotel. Dressed in glittering formal attire, they first posed for photographers before being swept along for a second, less glamorous meeting with the Secret Service. This was a D.C. version of Oscar’s red carpet and was serious entertainment for political junkies like us.

Then we went to dinner and Ron wore his new shirt.

The next morning, we took the Metro to the Smithsonian Station to do the museum tour before heading home. The escalator from the station deposited us above ground to a trumpet fanfare and a drum roll. Clever girl that I am, I immediately said, “I arranged that just for you.”

Ron looked over my shoulder and said, “You are good. A parade just for me?”

Parade? St. Patrick’s Day! I’d already taken credit for everything else, including the good weather, so I quickly said, “But, of course! A party with the President, a parade and a new shirt.”


“Chocolate cake with chocolate icing.”

Traditions are wonderful.

Happy Birthday to my sweet Ronnie and Happy St. Patrick’s Day Week to you all.

Shamrock Shamrock


Progress, Distractions and Issues

In January’s blog, I wrote about resuming work on my mystery novel, Adverse Possession. I was fresh off completion of Whispers, a 33-week serial that Susan Reiss and I wrote for Attraction Magazine. I was getting used to writing on my own again and eager to complete the first draft of Adverse. So far, so good. I am well past 93,000 words and closing in on the final pages. I’ve also gotten sidetracked by a new toy and a problem I didn’t know I had.

I’m an easy sell for software and Scrivener has been calling to me for a while now. Back in December, I finally gave in. This super-cool writing software is turning out to be every bit the God-send its testimonials proclaim. Every day I seem to stumble over a new feature that makes me happy. Just imagine what I could accomplish if I actually followed the instructions. The only downside to Scrivener, so far, is my growing obsession with the neat trick that lets me highlight a series of files and see the word count. I can also get the word and page count for the entire draft in a few seconds. I spend way too much time doing the ‘How Much Have I Done Now’ search. I wouldn’t be surprised to find there is a Scrivener alarm to tell me to knock it off and get back to writing.

My other writing distraction of late has been the worrisome matter of the Title. I use the capital ‘T’ because it is an Issue. My novel is a mystery, the first of a series involving a woman who inherits a house, angry relatives and a sixty-year-old murder. The first working title was Squatters’ Rights. Then, never being enamored of the word ‘squat’ (painful exercises, those), I changed to Adverse Possession. I’ve recently learned that this nice, legal term has given some people the very wrong impression that I am writing horror. Zombies and vampires and possession, get it? Now I’m toying with Nine-tenths of the Law. So far two people I’ve polled sort of like it. Neither of them is me.

Onward toward March, a completed first draft, a solid start at rewrites and a Title. Wish me luck!

I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at

New Beginnings in the Middle

January 2016 –

This time last year, after months of planning, character sketches, plotting – and when I ran out of anything else to do – writing, I was 67,000 words into my novel, Squatter’s Rights. I had several short stories in print, others awaiting publication dates and I was testing a segment of Squatter’s on the (very) patient members of my writing group. At this point in a fictional tale, the author should shake the storyline up a bit. Right on cue Susan Reiss, author of the Silver Mystery series, generously offered me the opportunity to co-author a weekly mystery serial for Attraction Magazine.

By March, Susan and I were racing toward our first weekly deadline and for 33 weeks we produced an episode of Whispers each Tuesday. The project seemed to go on forever. I often refer to it (with a smile, Susan, I promise) as writing boot camp. Susan taught me a lot and we both learned how to write with a partner – something neither of us had done before. Many weeks the only downtime between episodes was a few hours of sleep. Then, just as Christmas decorations went up, Whispers ended. The first morning without a hard deadline found me staring at a blank computer screen and wondering why I’d never noticed how irritating a little blinking cursor can be.

I still had my book to finish, of course. I have a notebook for each project I’m working on and Squatter’s book is filled with ideas that came to me at odd times over the nine months I spent with Susan on Whispers. I kicked off the resurrection of the project by moving it onto Scrivener software, no small task, which I’ll write about in later posts. I changed the title to Adverse Possession and I’ve committed to a 2016 publication date. I added the new title and publication projection to my author bio months ago, but back then, 2016 was ‘next year’.

Now 2016 is here. Once again I have a deadline and am a little wobbly on how I’m going to meet it. I took a break over the holidays, but it is time to get back to work. Finishing and publishing Adverse Possession will be different from the weekly schedule of Whispers. No partner, no editor, no reader feedback, no cocktail parties hosted by generous sponsors. I feel like Cinderella after the ball; I still have this one slipper…

I’ll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, anyone who wants to throw a cocktail party or produce a glass slipper, send me an email – I’m in!


I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave me a message below. And please check back as I continue to post about writing, editing and publishing my next book, “Adverse Possession”.  Thanks for reading!