Monday, April 28, 2014

France 2014 - Part 1

This is the journal I kept while we were in France this spring. It only reflects our unique experience. Enjoy a virtual trip to France with us!

April 6 - Sunday

Woke at 3:30 a.m. Showered, dressed, stripped the bed, and washed the linens. We were packed and ready to go by 5:00.
Bob Schwenck arrived a little before 6:00 to take us to San Diego. We still felt sad Bob and Bernie weren’t going with us.
Bob dropped us off at the international terminal. Our tickets were for British Airways, but we discovered we had to check in with American Airlines. The airline clerk assured us our seats were together for both legs of the flight (I had been unable to get our seat assignments online ahead of time.)
My ticket was TSA Pre-checked (meaning I didn’t have to open bags, take off shoes, or anything else). We were both pre-checked for our last flight to San Antonio. However, this time, Larry wasn’t. I sailed through screening, but had to wait for Larry, who had to wait in the long line.
We exchanged our cash for Euros, ate breakfast, and read until it was time to board. The flight to DFW before ours was cancelled for mechanical issues. Fortunately, ours was not. However, ours was a few minutes late taking off.
On the plane, we discovered we had an aisle seat and a window seat—with a center seat between. The nice man in that seat was happy to change with me to take the window.
Not only were we on the screaming baby flight, but the rotten kid from hell (probably two years old) sat behind me. When he wasn’t screeching at the top of his lungs, he was pounding the tray or kicking the back of my seat. Several other families traveled with little ones, but he was the only one making a nuisance of himself. Imagine my horror when the family (mother, father, grandmother and three boys, including the terror) waited in line to board the Paris flight.
We had lots of time to make our connection, despite the delay, and our seats were together on that one. The family with the rotten kid were a dozen rows ahead of us, thank God. But there were several small children on the flight.
We ate dinner onboard, watched a movie (Ender’s Game) and then tried to get some rest.
Another screaming baby flight. Several times, while people were trying to sleep, one or another of the kids started screeching. In the middle of the night, one father decided to walk the aisles with his shrieking child—assuring that everyone else woke up, too. Larry got some sleep. I got very little. And since I had been up after eleven the night before, I was operating on exhaustion.
We had all three seats in the center section since the flight wasn’t full, so we could stretch out a bit. Larry lay down across two of the seats. I tried it but couldn’t quite manage the contortions. I was reminded of one vacation when we tried sleeping in our 1958 Thunderbird. (A long story, and one of the reasons I do NOT do camping!)

April 7 - Monday

We ate breakfast onboard and then landed in Paris. We were really there at last!
We were accosted by a rogue taxi driver—the kind of guy we had been warned about in the literature. Our taxi ride cost us nearly double what it should have and pretty much depleted our stash of Euros.
However, we were in Paris, and nothing could spoil our excitement.
Our first sight was the Arc de Triomphe. Gorgeous! Traffic was horrible with horns honking and drivers cutting each other off. I was glad Larry wasn’t driving! Of course, I would never have considered trying it myself.

As we passed the Eiffel Tower, a gorgeous arrangement of “La Vie en Rose” by Michel Legrand came on the radio. What a perfect introduction to the city!
We arrived at Hôtel L’Empereur at 11:00 a.m., but check-in wasn’t until 2:00, p.m. so we dropped our bags and walked for the next two hours or so, exploring the area. We were close to Dôme des Invalides—Napoleon’s Tomb and the Military Museum—and not too far from the Tour Eiffel—the Eiffel Tower.

Old Paris buildings, with their magnificent iron fretwork, shutters, and window boxes, sat right next to modern ones. All were lovely.
Our hotel was charming. In the US, it would probably be called a boutique hotel. Everything was quite small and compact, but the place had obviously been remodeled and upgraded fairly recently.

We were on the 4th floor with a terrific view. (In France, the ground floor is numbered zero. Their first floor is the equivalent to our second floor and so forth)
Once we checked in, we took a nap for a couple of hours. We were both exhausted!
Around 4:30 p.m., we went back out and explored the neighborhood trying to decide where to eat dinner. So many choices! Lovely little cafes dotted every block. Each seemed to have had its own personality. We finally decided on La Terrasse on the main boulevard—mostly because its menu was in both English and French and Larry could read it. We took a table outside and ordered. Then the sky clouded over, and it began to rain. We moved inside where we could still look out and people watch.

Shortly after we moved inside, we saw a bright flash of light followed almost immediately by a huge clap of thunder. Then the rain began in earnest. We’d brought umbrellas with us, but we’d left them in our room since it was clear when we started out. However, the rain didn’t last. The sky cleared long before we finished our meal.
Because the Metro station was located around the corner, many people passed by on their way home. Parisians truly do have a great sense of style. I had pictured a city where everyone was as stylish as our friend Ginny Stephanian. I was not disappointed. Of course, these were mostly working people, the men in suits and trench coats and the women well-dressed, too.
The only disappointment was that nearly everyone smoked. All the restaurant tables were set with ashtrays. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Parisian women stay thin. Oh, and all the walking! In total, we’d covered over five miles the day before, according to Larry’s birthday present—his fitbit. He enjoyed it since it kept track of the amount of exercise he got. Since we were together all the time, it tracked mine as well!
For dinner, Larry ordered the chicken brochettes with rice, and I had the quiche Lorraine. The portions were just right, a nice change from American ones where we either split or take half home.
My quiche was fabulous! It was obviously made with whole cream. The serving was about an eighth of an 8” pie—just the right amount. It was served with a “salad” consisting of a quartered heart of ruffle-edged butter lettuce. The dressing—a tart mustard-style—came in its own little container.
Larry’s meal consisted of two small skewers of chicken chunks grilled with small pieces of green, red, and yellow pepper and lemon slices. White rice (about half a cup) was served in a separate cup-size small bowl along with a small container of sauce. Along with the usual baguette, a totally satisfying meal. We ordered American coffee afterward, and were served about two ounces in small cups. It appeared to have been brewed using a French press. Delicious—strong but not bitter. Of course, Larry added lots of sugar to his.
Back at the hotel, we went to bed early—around 7:30. The TV stations were mostly in French, but they got CNN International in English, so we were able to catch up on the news. The alarm clock had a docking station for my iPod, so we were also able to listen to music. I was glad I’d brought it since I also listened to it on the flight over.

To be continued next week...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Marilyn Levinson - Interesting Multi-genre Writer

My guest today is fellow mystery writer and Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Levinson. Her varied published works and fascinating background provide some interesting insights into the writing life. Welcome, Marilyn.

1.    Why did you become a writer? Was it a lifelong dream or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a writer or a ballerina. In high school, an English teacher managed to stifle my creativity, and I became a Spanish teacher instead. I found myself writing fiction when my sons were small. They’re now in their forties, and I’ve been writing ever since.

2.    What was the inspiration for your latest work?
Once I decided that my sleuth would lead a mystery book club, I knew that I wanted the book club to read and discuss various Agatha Christie novels. To me, Dame Agatha is the founder of the cozy mystery. Murder a la Christie is my tribute to her.
3.    Do you base your characters on real people, or are they totally from your imagination?
I don’t base my characters on real people—at least not consciously. My characters arise wholly from my imagination and take on a life of their own.

4.    What kinds of research do you do, and where do you go to do it?
I do whatever research is necessary as I write my book. I’m lucky to have friends who were in police departments. I seek their advice when I’m not sure about police procedural. As for other research, I first go to the internet and learn what I can online. Then I turn to people, many of whom are my fellow mystery writers.

5.    What was the most interesting research you’ve done?
Learning how a building is demolished. I needed this information for Murder in the Air because a body is discovered that was hidden 70 years earlier.

6.    Are you currently working on any new projects?
Right now I’m editing Murder the Tey Way, the sequel to Murder a la Christie. I’ve also begun work on a new mystery series about a Connecticut librarian in charge of Programs and Events.

7.    Do you have any writing advice for beginning writers? What about promotion?
Write, read, critique. Promotion is necessary for every author. Discover how you enjoy connecting with readers and your fellow writers, since they are readers too, and promote that way.

8.    What is your favorite book and why? Do you have a favorite author?
Among my favorite books are Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. I’ve no idea why these two books, of the thousands I’ve read, come immediately to mind. They are very different from each other, but alike in that they’re both beautifully written and have unforgettable stories.

I don’t have a favorite author, but many of my favorite mainstream authors are British. As for favorite mystery authors, I love Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Tana French, Katherine Hall Page—to name a few.

9.    What are you currently reading?
I read a few books at a time. One is a wonderful mystery entitled An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson. Interesting, that the sleuth in this book is Josephine Tey. I’m also reading Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl.

10. Do you have a writing schedule? When do you find time to write?
I find I write best in the late afternoon. Promotion and internet activity often cut into my writing time.

11. What was your journey to publication? How did you find your publisher?
My first book, a children’s novel, came out in 1986. My agent sold And Don’t Bring Jeremy to Holt. It received a good deal of attention, and I assumed that everything I wrote from then on would be published. Hah! No such thing happened, though one children’s book remained in print for 18 or 19 years, and another was named a “Children’s Choice.”

Some years ago I started writing mysteries. My first few came out with e-presses. The first, A Murderer Among Us, my first Twin Lakes mystery, was awarded a Best Indie by Suspense Magazine. Murder a la Christie, a Malice finalist, came out this February with Oak Tree Press. I am delighted by the wonderful acclaim it has been receiving.
12. Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies? Any routines or rituals?
Oddly enough, I can’t settle down to my writing first thing in the day so I go through my email first.

13. Are your friends and family supportive of your writing?
One friend is especially supportive of me as a writer, and often tells me I don’t realize how much I’ve accomplished. My kids and my non-writing friends are proud of me, but that’s not the side of me uppermost in their minds. Frankly, I prefer it that way. I receive a great deal of mutual support from my writing friends.

14. What’s your most challenging aspect of writing?
Occasionally I’ll have a plot problem. A good thing I’m in a small group of mystery writers for this. We brainstorm plot problems, ways of murdering people, titles, etc.

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids.
Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out a new e-edition of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us—a Suspense Magazine Best Indie—and will bring out a new e-edition of the sequel, Murder in the Air, in April. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.
Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children's Choice; Getting Back to Normal, and And Don't Bring Jeremy.
Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Her books are available on her Amazon page: and her website:

Read her blog on Make Mine Mystery the first and third Mondays of each month:


Monday, April 14, 2014

Where Does F.M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith Get Her Ideas?


Today I am hosting good friend and wonderful mystery author Marilyn Meredith. Murder in the Worst Degree, the tenth book in her rocky Bluff P.D. series, has just been released, and It’s my very favorite yet. So I asked her where she gets all her ideas since she writes two books a year, one for each of her two mysteries series. This is her answer:


Ideas are everywhere.

For instance, just by being observant and letting your imagination go wild, you can come up with all sorts of ideas. Watch people and wonder. Why is she in such a hurry? Is someone following her? Is that man on his cellphone really watching that man who is going into his house?

Another way to get ideas is to watch the news—or read about something happening on the Internet. Then ask yourself, what if it happened this way instead?

I’ve collected news stories for years, ones that I thought I could change around and use as a partial plot and I’ve done it many times. Of course no one would recognize them because they’ve been changed so much as I’ve worked them into a story.

Sometimes I’ve asked a police officer friend to tell me some outlandish thing that’s happened to him, or his most scary arrest, one that could’ve gone wrong. Once I asked for a funny vice story and got a lulu and yes, I did use it in a book.

I love to listen to cop friends share stories and yes, I’ve used many of them. Of course they are never exactly how it was told because I need to work it into a plot that works for my Rocky Bluff P.D. guys.

One of the easiest ways to pick up ideas is listen to what people say on their cell phones. Everyone talks so loud on them you can’t help but eavesdrop. And speaking of eavesdropping, listening to conversations in restaurants can sometimes trigger ideas too.

A new way to pick up ideas for both characters and plot is on Facebook. It is amazing what people reveal about themselves in such an open forum.

So really, the best advice I can give anyone about accumulating ideas is to pay attention to everything that is going on around you. Jot things down in a way that works for you. When plotting a new book, sort through all these gems and see what occurs to you.

Writing is fascinating—and so is gathering your ideas.

Thanks for hosting me today, Lorna.
Murder in the Worst Degree:

The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith is the author of over 35 published books. She enjoys writing about police officers and their families and how what happens on the job affects the family and vice versa. Having several members of her own family involved in law enforcement, as well as many friends, she’s witnessed some of this first-hand.


Once again I am offering the opportunity to have your name used for a character in a book if you comment on the most blogs during this tour for Murder in the Worst Degree.

Tomorrow you can find me visiting