Be The Help

We had a very successful signing at Kate Birkel’s The Mystery Bookstore in Omaha this past Saturday. Kate had set out chairs for her customers, who all came at once, so I had to give a talk, and it got rather rambling since I hadn’t come prepared. But we sold a lot of books, including a set of my first series, written as Mary Monica Pulver, featuring Det. Sgt. Peter Brichter and his horse-breeder wife, Kori. Kate is going to close her store, probably late this year, which is sad. But, like me, she’s getting older and the work doesn’t get any easier.

A very strange thing happened on our drive home Saturday from Omaha.  We were on I-35 somewhere near the Iowa – Minnesota border (I don’t know on which side) when we saw this broad cloud formation ahead.  The sun had long set, but the sky was still blue and this formation was dead black.  It was miles across and piled high with cumulus clouds, like black mashed potatoes.  There was no lightning inside it, but we thought there was rain along the bottom in places.  We drove and drove, and never seemed to get any closer to this formation, and began to realize it was really big.  We drove and drove some more, and I noticed there was light coming out of the bottom, as if there were houses with lights on under it – it at first seemed to be right down on the ground, but then it was seen to be only close to it.  Closer and closer we came and yet not coming up on it, it was strange, beyond strange, like an optical illusion. Scary. And HUGE.  “The Gates of Mordor,” remarked Ellen.  Towering high and higher, it seemed to mark the border between the clear weather on our side of it and horrible storms on the other.  But why the glowing light?  It got to be ridiculous, how we came closer and closer yet couldn’t get right up to it. It may have been moving north though it didn’t seem to be moving, nor were the piles of cloud changing shape. Then I noticed it was changing. It wasn’t as far from side to side, and the dead black of it was softening to a very dark gray.  We finally – finally! – got up to it and saw that it was indeed low to the ground, perhaps a couple hundred feet up if that, and thinning fast.  And it was narrow, very narrow, the light showing under it was from the sky on the other side of it. Under it at last, I looked up and saw it was a thinning dark gray. As we emerged, I saw the sky was dark off to the east and it suddenly began to rain, but not hard and not for long. The rest of the sky to the north and west was the same dimming blue as on the south side.

I have never seen anything like it.  It wasn’t a wall cloud, we encountered one of those on our way to Bismarck a couple of years ago and that didn’t look anything like this and it led to unbelievable downpours.  This? Meh.

So what was it?  Was it a metaphor? An omen?  A lesson of some sort? Maybe the lesson was, “Fear knocked on the door; I opened it and no one was there.”  This thing was eerie, even scary, but ultimately harmless.

Some good news and another lesson: A collection of boat-owning volunteers in southern Louisiana called the ”Cajun Navy” has been rescuing people and transporting supplies in the flooded areas, using Facebook to coordinate their efforts. As one said, “In South Louisiana, we don’t wait for help, we are the help.” Well, God bless them and may we act the same if we find ourselves in a similar fix!

I have signed up to be an election judge this November. I’ve done it before, and it’s interesting, important work, though it makes for a very, very long day, all done by volunteers. This will be, I think, an historic election with a big turnout, and your precinct may need extra volunteers. Please consider it.

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Tempus Fugit

We’re going to Omaha the end of this week, will spend one day exploring the aircraft museum there and then Saturday from 3 pm we’ll be at The Mystery Bookstore, 1422 South 13th Street, gabbing with the owner Kate and customers, signing books, and eating Oreo cookies, which I’m bringing as a treat. Drop by if you’re in the area.

The signing at Excelsior Bay Books went extremely well this past Saturday. A customer came in and told me her grandparents bought land around Thunder Lake in Cass County – the setting for my novel Buttons and Bones – and that she actually knew the location of the log cabin I used, having seen the tall pine tree next to it that a pair of bald eagles nest in every year. You’d think after having experienced such “small world” stories all my life I’d not be surprised at another, but I was blown away at this one. As usual.

Our State Fair begins in less than ten days, a marker for the end of summer. Where did the time go? I haven’t even worn all my summer clothing and it’s time to review my fall wardrobe. The only thing moving slow right now is the story of Rafael and Godwin’s wedding. And even it is picking up the pace.

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Had a wonderful adventure Sunday. The man who would be the producer of the movie version of my novel Knight Fall (Murder at the War in hardcover) drove down with Ellen and me to scout a site for it to be filmed. It’s a Boy Scout Camp called Gamehaven and it’s near Rochester, Minnesota, and a really big piece of rolling land (over 100 acres). It’s got a variety of woods (pine, mixed deciduous, oak), meadows, marsh, a little river and a beautiful lake. The Society for Creative Anachronism, about which the movie is to be made, has used the site for events for several years, so Boy Scouts of America know what they’re like. What’s more, the management of Gamehaven is excited at the prospect of a group of film-makers – even just a small company of locals – coming to make a movie.

The weather was perfect, warm and sunny with low humidity and not many bugs. They drove us all over the place, pointing out small and large campsites, a couple of steep dropoffs (maybe one is suitable for the scene where five men on top hold off several dozen trying to pry them loose), and angles from which nothing of the twenty-first century can be seen. It was interesting to see with new eyes, to realize that this place would make a good place for King William to give his pre-battle speech, that over there we might hang tapestries and turn a pavilion into the place where the kings could hold court, that this little clearing would perhaps be the spot the little group from Appleby could set up camp. One almost wanted to do that thing of holding up one’s hands palms forward and thumbs touching to frame a scene. So it seems we have a good site. We already have a good script, an excellent director (well, almost; he’s interested but hasn’t committed), the nucleus of a crew, and a producer. We’re thinking of actors to invite to audition. All we’re really lacking is the money, which is, of course, a very serious problem. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket?

If any of you reading this are interested in the plot, see if you can find a copy of the book, which was published under the name Mary Monica Pulver.

Meanwhile, I am doing the second signing for Knit Your Own Murder at one pm, Saturday, August 13, at Excelsior Bay Books on Water Street in Excelsior.

On Saturday the 20th I’ll be at The Mystery Bookstore in Omaha, Nebraska, at 3 pm.

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Wake Up, Muse!

I guess my muse isn’t completely back on the job. This past Saturday I went to my writers’ group meeting, read Chapter Two of Tying the Knot, and got unanimous negative feedback on it from the other members present. It seems I didn’t fully develop a scene between Betsy and Roo, her first husband, who has turned up out of the blue and wants to take her to lunch. She had thought she “was content to never see him again,” but he talks her around. Except as I wrote it, she was too easily convinced. So, back to the drawing board – well, keyboard.

Writers’ groups, as I have said before, are very, very helpful. These people certainly are.

A catless house sure is different. I keep expecting to see Snaps or hear him or step on him.

Friends Tanya and Ann and I are already planning to go to the State Fair. I have been told that needlework submissions need to be properly finished, as the mat-and-frame are also judged. That means my wonderful Moondancer needlepoint, which is within a few hours of being done, won’t get entered this year, because it takes weeks to get a piece back from the finisher, and entries for the fair have to be in by August 13. I have another finished piece I may enter instead, just for the experience of making an entry.

Meanwhile, I am doing the first signing for Knit Your Own Murder at noon on Saturday, August 6, at Once Upon A Crime mystery bookstore, 604 West 26th Street, Minneapolis.

On Saturday the 13th, I’ll be at Excelsior Bay Bookstore in Excelsior at one.  So this would be a twofer, see me and my book, and see the setting of this series in a quaint little town on the shore of a beautiful lake.

Drop by!

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Sad Post

We have a wonderful, competent and compassionate veterinarian. He comes to our home, which costs more than a clinic visit, but this has been far less stressful on our pets. But we won’t be seeing him anymore. We had our cat Snaps put to sleep on Monday. It was a hard decision, he’d been going downhill lately, but had been cheerful through it all. But he seemed depressed lately and in pain some of the time, and . . . well, not himself.

He sat calmly on my lap while getting a sedative, then lay down after a minute and then lost consciousness. The vet administered the anesthetic and in about two more minutes, he was gone. No fuss, no struggle, painless.

This is probably the hardest part of owning a pet; they don’t live as long as we do and so sooner or later it comes to this. He was a good cat, friendly, loving and cooperative, though he had severe digestive problems all his life. We’re not sure how old he was, we got him as an adult from a friend who had acquired him as an adult. We figure he was probably about fourteen. In the midst of all the sorrow, there’s also a sense of relief. No more vomit on the carpets, no more thoroughly disgusting litter box. No more strange loud cries in the night, or cold, wet nose on the face at three a.m. by a lonely cat. No more expensive vet visits and prescription cat food.

But no more purring snuggles.

We had long ago agreed he was our last cat and we intend to stick to that decision. But oh, my dear sweet orange cat, I’ll miss you.

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Three Goals, One Met

I went to a golf driving range on Sunday and discovered that I can hit a ball without falling down. But I lost so much muscle during my illness that my best “drive” is less than thirty yards. I’ll keep working on that. My goal is to play a round of par-three, nine-hole golf by the end of summer.

Another goal is to finish my needlework project of a skeleton dancing happily through a graveyard. It’s close to done; if I can get it finished by August 9, I can enter it at our State Fair. I know I can finish the stitching, but how to get it “finished,” that is, framed by the deadline? Finishers need several weeks lead time – and we’re within range of that as of right now. If I can’t get it done, I’ll enter it next year. It’s coming out great!

Oh, and for a goal realized, go to and look for Minnesota Vice by Ellen and Mary Kuhfeld, hot off the press. (Searching for Monica Ferris finds it, too.) It’s a collection of previously published short crime-fiction stories we wrote individually and collectively. Price is a very reasonable $2.99.


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In The Swim

I’m back at water aerobics! I met with a physical therapist at Courage Kenny last week and after a thorough exam, she had me come back the next day to try exercises in the pool. It’s Olympic size, flat bottomed with a step down from three and a half to four and a half feet, then to five and a half, then to six and a half; heated to about ninety degrees – heaven! I discovered, to my delight, that I can do the cross-country ski, jumping jacks, and other movements, and so signed up for classes. One problem: they are not covered by my medical insurance.

I went to my first class on Friday – greeted joyously some old friends (I’d been doing water aerobics for years at Courage) and as I was leaving around 8 am, I saw a coyote moving smoothly across a grassy area between a street and the driveway into Courage Kenny’s parking lot. There were a few other cars around, and he ignored them until I cut into the connection to the street, right in front of him. He dodged and trotted back the way he’d come. He was looking healthy, his coat full and tail bushy, unlike most of the coyotes I’ve seen in videos. I thought at first he was somebody’s mixed-breed dog, but no, on second look, it was a coyote. Big, erect ears, narrow eyes, tail carried down, coat medium-long and a mixed tan and brown color, nice springy trot, no eye contact. I like seeing deer and raccoons in the city, but I feel a little less welcoming towards coyotes. I hope nobody’s feeding him.

Romance Times had a great review of the forthcoming Knit Your Own Murder. By the way, do any of you know of a needlework shop in your area that might be interested in hosting a signing? By “your area,” I mean someplace not too distant from my own Minnesota, as I’m still not up to driving to California or Texas or Maryland. Nebraska would be good, or North Dakota, or Illinois. I’m already scheduled for Once Upon A Crime on August 6 at noon, Excelsior Bay Books on August 13 at 1 p.m., at The Mystery Bookstore in Omaha on August 20, and Beans and Books Coffeehouse in Shawano, Wisconson, Sept. 10 (time not yet determined).

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