Diabetic? Who, Me? Part 3

Reducing the Risk

“The doctor says to keep doing what you’re doing and come see him in three months,” said my doctor’s nurse over the phone a few days after I’d had a follow-up blood test to the one of March 21, 2014, that showed me at high risk of developing diabetes.

All right! I thought.

Now, if you’ve read my original blog post of March 26, 2014 on the subject, you know that my initial response to the question “Diabetic? Who, Me?” was “No way” quickly followed by some research and the realization that I had indeed developed some symptoms of pre-diabetes including blurred vision, a ravenous appetite for sweets, and injuries slow to heal. And if you’ve read my follow-up blog of June 26, 2014, you’ve heard about some progress that I’ve made toward reducing my risk of developing diabetes.

Three months later, I’m happy report even more progress.

Following the eating plan designed just for me by a registered dietitian, I’ve lost a little more weight for about 12% of my starting weight. My BMI is now 22.7, well within the normal range. These stats sound good to me, so I’ve switched from weight-loss mode to weight-maintenance mode.

And I’m also happy to report, finally my waist measurement has dropped below 35 inches, pretty good for a woman whose waist has always been just two or three inches less than her hip measurement. (Like my Jazzercise instructor who came up with the line: I’m not shaped like an apple or a pear. No indeed, I’m shaped like a banana.)

The other day it just felt so good to put two pairs of slacks and a pair of shorts in the Goodwill giveaway bag because honestly I can’t keep them up anymore unless I tightly cinch my belt, not a stylish look. Right now, I’m wearing a new pair of cropped pants in the next size smaller than most left in my closet. And the belt I’m wearing is four notches in from where I used to buckle it. Hey, let me get up and do my happy dance.

Okay, that’s done and I’ll also report that my vision is no longer blurred and I don’t have any pain in my hands or even much stiffness. (T. V. has improved so I’m knitting more and that helps.) I did crave sweets the other evening, but I quickly dispelled the craving by eating a clementine.

All that said, I must admit to some disappointment when I actually read the report on my Hemoglobin A1c level. It has now dropped out of the high risk for diabetes zone into the increased zone, but only by two points, from 60 to 58.

Still that’s progress. And I will continue to do what I’ve been doing. Here are some things that have helped me make progress.

My daughter and I limit eating-out to three times a month. Most of our meals we prepare at home. One of my friends complimented me on the discipline required to lose weight. But honestly, it mostly just takes time: time to plan meals using my eating plan, to grocery shop, to fix meals, to clean up afterwards, and to record the calories and the carbohydrates I take in. A tip for success from me to you: Weight Watchers and Real Simple recipes help me get nutritious, enjoyable meals on the table fast.

Also, I try to stay on my feet and moving around at least three hours a day. My activities include walking the dog three times a day, Jazzercise three to four times a week, grocery shopping two or three times a week, and daily meal preparation. (Hey, it all counts.) Another tip from me to you: to avoid mid-exercise-class low blood sugar and subsequent collapse drooling flat-out on the floor, thirty minutes before class, I snack on a serving of Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt: 80 calories, 8 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein. So good. (Peach is my favorite.)

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name

Boy, howdy, can that man write!

A week or so ago, I needed something to read and so I started buffeting the nine or so new books close to my bed where I do most of my fiction reading. (So what if I spend lots of bucks buying hardcover fiction? As an addiction, my fiction fetish is comparatively cheap. Plus, unlike other consumables, you can experience the high of reading a really great novel more than once.)

Oddly, at first I couldn’t find anything to suit me. The next alphabet mystery? There are so few letters left now that I thought I’d save it a while longer. The latest, just published, from the brilliant Canadienne? I thought I’d save that one, too, since it will be another year before the next one. The next choice of my book club? Well, no, I like to read those closer to the discussion date.

And so, going lower in my stack, I came upon Craig Johnson’s Any Other Name. The acknowledgments set me back briefly since Johnson says right up front that this book takes place in the winter and at least three of his previous Walt Longmire mysteries include hip-deep snow and harrowing blizzards. I needn’t have worried, though, because Johnson uses winter especially well in Any Other Name. In fact, it might be my favorite for reasons I won’t describe because I’m not given to spoilers. But I bet you’ll love it, too.

But anyway, Johnson’s great personal charm that showed up even in the acknowledgments in giving floral names to his helpers for the book got me through my misgivings to the first page. And there Walt Longmire’s voice hooked me and I knew I’d found the book I wanted to read next. I never regretted my choice from first page to last.

The eleventh in the Walt Longmire series (counting the delightful novella Spirit of Steamboat) centers on the suicide death of an old friend of Lucian Connally, the retired sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. As Walt and Lucian look into this, other possible crimes emerge and the whole case becomes very complex. The weather, too. Meanwhile, Walt’s daughter Cady is about to have her first child way across the country in Philadelphia and from time to time she calls him to remind him he must be present for this event. This is not easy when he’s. . . . Never mind. You’ll find out.

In keeping with my standard blogging practice of sharing what I learn from the books I read that help me write my own, I’ll offer this. Johnson is a master of the set-up and follow-through. So when Walt and Lucian are stuck waiting for a long, long coal train to pass on page 1, you can be sure that trains will figure importantly in the plot of Any Other Name. Boy howdy, do they ever!

For your additional pleasure, I’ve attached my first blog installment about Craig Johnson’s work, originally posted in August of 2011, when I was working on Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel (now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty

“Boy, howdy,” as Walt Longmire would say, is Craig Johnson ever a wonderful story-teller.

I’ve heard Craig Johnson speak twice, once on the book tour for Junkyard Dogs, the sixth in the series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and the second time for Hell Is Empty, the seventh. Both times were delightful.

Both times he visited here, he wore jeans, a casual shirt, boots and a cowboy hat, reflecting a genuine need since Mr. Johnson lives on a ranch and starts his work day with chores before he holes up to write. On his first visit, he’d recently returned from France where he’d received the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir. (His mysteries are very popular in France.) While in Paris he had an encounter with a group of French school boys that I think of as “Le Cowboy at the Louvre,” a story Johnson told with great humor and flair.

I’ll give you highlights of Mr. Johnson’s other presentation at the end of this discussion. Before I start, here’s an update on the WiP.

This week I finished the fourth draft! A few whistles and a little applause, but don’t go on too long because I still have lots of work to do. One thing I’ve noticed is a big difference between the tone, voice, and style of the first half of the book and much of the second part. The former is pretty dark, formal, fairly literary. The latter is lighter, informal, chattier. In my fifth and I hope, final draft of this book, I really need to make those elements consistent throughout the book.

Right now, though, I’m wondering whether to go light or dark, but a comparison/contrast of Junkyard Dogs and Hell Is Empty gives me much needed guidance.

Hooks

Junkyard Dogs begins out-and-out pratfall funny as Walt Longmire tries to take in the fact that an old man had been up on the roof of a house on an icy midwinter day and secured by a rope to an Oldsmobile when his grandson’s wife drove off.

Hell Is Empty begins in a much darker way with Walt Longmire feeding a hamburger to Marcel Popp, one of three murderers the sheriff is helping to transport. Popp has just threatened to kill Longmire for the twenty-eighth time so far.

Characters

Aside from the regulars, many of the characters of Junkyard Dogs are comic as well. For instance, Geo Stewart, the old man hauled off the roof and dragged down the icy road, waves to a neighbor as he slides by. Stewart’s grandson Dwayne seems pretty dim and Dwayne’s wife Gina initially plays the vamp.

There’s nothing funny about the antagonists in Hell Is Empty. Besides Marcel Popp, the sheriff and his deputy are transporting Hector Otero, a murdering gangbanger from Houston, and most sinister of the three, Raynaud Shade, a Crow Indian who has visited the Bighorn Mountains before.

Plot development

The action of Junkyard Dogs continues in the comedic vein quite a ways into the book with the discovery of someone’s missing thumb in a cooler as well as a revelation about Walt’s former English teacher that I won’t share because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

In Hell Is Empty the action escalates and the body count eventually is very high. Not surprisingly given the title, Walt must travel into hell before the book’s over. Both books are winter tales, but the weather provides much more grueling obstacles for Walt to conquer in Hell Is Empty than in Junkyard Dogs. In many ways also the plot of the sixth book is grounded in reality while in the seventh Walt goes on what is, in many ways, a mystical and spiritual journey.

Settings

The settings of Junkyard Dogs tend toward the interior and the manmade. Several important scenes take place in a hospital, for instance. Settings also include a huge junkyard guarded by two wolf-dogs and filled with trashed cars, stacked one atop the other and going decade by decade back in time.

More of the scenes of Hell Is Empty take place outside where wind, darkness, and cold threaten Walt’s life. As in Randy Wayne White’s Deep Shadow, nature is an adversary in Hell Is Empty.

Style, tone, and voice

Both of Johnson’s books are first person narratives, that is, told by Walt Longmire in Longmire’s voice. But inevitably the more comedic characters and plot of Junkyard Dogs make that book lighter.

When I planned this installment, I thought I should just stick to Junkyard Dogs because, long-time lit major that I am, I kept trying to trace all the illusions to Dante in Hell Is Empty, not just in the overall plot but in the characters’ names. I mean, there’s a waitress named Beatrice, for goodness’ sake, and another one named Virgil. I was going crazy doing that.

I don’t mean to imply that Johnson sprinkled in the literary allusions superficially because he didn’t. The references are integral to the plot. He set it up from the start by having Walt’s deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, reading a battered copy of Dante’s Inferno that Walt later takes on his journey. The style of the book doesn’t come off as literary. And Johnson does what all good writers do when they rework stories like journeys to hell. He transforms it and makes it his own timeless story, yet of and for our times.

The lesson for my WiP

I’m thinking that since I’m reworking fairy tales, in particular those known to most people through Disney movies, I should stick to the lighter side. In other words, I should stick to the lighter tone, style, and voice of Junkyard Dogs instead of the darker side of Hell Is Empty.

And finally, as promised . . .

The second time I heard Johnson speak, the word had gotten out about how great he and his books are and the place was packed. Again, he displayed his wonderful sense of humor as he told us about his involvement with the production of Longmire, a series coming to A & E in 2012. It sounds great. I’m sure I’ll love it and I bet you’ll like it too.

This closing comment from 9/11/14. I have loved the Longmire series and thought Season 3 especially strong. And so the news that A & E has cancelled the series disheartens me. However, at this time, it’s possible that another channel will pick the series up.

Darlene Deluca, Romance and Women’s Fiction Author

Darlene Deluca, my friend and fellow writer, is answering some questions about being a writer on my blog today. But first here’s some background about Darlene.

She writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction and likes to explore relationships – what brings people together or keeps them apart.

Her intent is to bring to life interesting characters that readers can relate to in real-life situations that combine a little fun, plenty of drama (with perhaps a tear or two), and big helpings of friendship, love and self-discovery. She hopes that her books will leave you either cheering or sighing with a satisfied smile as you turn the final page.

Darlene released her debut novel, Unexpected Legacy, in January 2013, and it advanced to the quarterfinals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition.

Darlene has been a reader and writer since childhood. With a degree in Journalism, she started her writing career as a newspaper reporter, and later moved into corporate communications before settling into the world of fiction writing and romance.

She writes day or night, whenever the words/mood/deadlines strike, and almost always has a cup of tea and a bit of dark chocolate nearby!

Here are some questions for Darlene and her answers:

What are you currently working on?

I am about two-thirds done with the second book in my small-town trilogy, the Women of Whitfield. The first book launched last August, so I’m running a little behind, but I’m hoping to have the new one available by the end of the year. The trilogy is about three friends who live in a small, fictitious Kansas town, and how they support, nudge, tease, and encourage each other through the ups and downs in their lives. This just in – the working title of the new novel is “Her Second Wind.” It’s the story of Dana who is picking up the pieces of her home and life after a tragic tornado.

The first book in the trilogy, The Storm Within, is still getting four-star and five-star reviews. Quoting one reviewer: “The circle of friends that Darlene Deluca created in The Storm Within was so powerful, I was drawn in immediately.”

How does your work differ from others?

I try to make my novels truly life-like. I want readers to connect and identify with the characters, to feel their emotions and live their actions/reactions. I don’t want far-fetched plots or unbelievable circumstances. Nor do I want to write dark, tragic tales in which at least one primary character has to be killed off in order for the story to be considered a “good” book. I want readers to feel satisfied after investing the time to read one of my novels.

Why do you write what you write?

I guess I write the kinds of stories I do because that’s what I like to read. And I’m fascinated by relationships. I like stories that include some drama, some humor and a little romance, and touch on the things that real people deal with, such as parenting issues, career decisions, financial troubles or family angst. I also enjoy stories that have multiple plots woven through them, so I try to do that as well.

So far, my stories fall into the following categories: Contemporary romance (Something Good), sweet contemporary romance (Meetings of Chance), fiction with romantic elements (Unexpected Legacy), and women’s fiction (The Storm Within).

Why do you write?

I write to get the stories out of my head. And to create. I enjoy the process of making stuff up! I love that I can create characters from nothing, and get to decide their situations and background and personalities. I prefer to create my own towns and settings, too. It’s a departure from my Journalism background, and it’s the best part of writing fiction.

How does your writing process work?

I generally have one idea or situation that pops into my head. Then I work with that and expand it to figure out what might make an interesting plot and what kinds of issues and characters would make sense for that particular story. From there, I go to work on making the characters into believable people. I’m what writers call a “pantser,” working more by the “seat of my pants” than a strict outline of chapters or scenes. The story unfolds as I write it, though I most often have the ending in my head.

Tell us about your most recent work.

My newest novel is a contemporary romance titled Something Good. It’s about two people living two very different lifestyles, who find common ground beyond their attraction to each other. Crippled by the past, Mandi Evans feels unworthy of a better life – until Lane Whitmore walks into the diner where she works six nights a week. An urban planner, Lane is looking to revitalize the rundown part of town where Mandi’s hidden herself away. He can’t help but notice this diamond in the rough as well, and what starts as simple good times grows to . . . something more. With Lane, Mandi feels alive again, and she makes a bold decision – one that could chart her course on a path to redemption. Unless keeping her plan from Lane turns out to be Mandi’s biggest mistake of all.

I love this quote from one reviewer: “Watching Lane learn from her was a much needed change to the average love story. . . . This was a great read and a story that will linger with me for a while … will even be added to my re-read list from time to time I’m sure.”

Here’s the link to Something Goodhttp://www.amazon.com/Something-Good-Darlene-Deluca-ebook/dp/B00J8UN1GI/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409085697&sr=1-4&keywords=darlene+deluca

What do you do for fun?

Lots of things! Reading is a favorite pastime, of course, and my book club that meets once a month and reads a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction. My primary social life consists of lunches out with friends. I’ve attempted to garden, but have almost given up due to constant battles with the wildlife around my house. But I love flowers, so I enjoy visiting botanical gardens. And I am quite fond of warm, sunny days at the beach!

Thank you so much, Darlene, for sharing your insights into your writing.

Here are links to Darlene’s website (http://www.threewritersofromance.com/all-about-darlene.htmland to her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Darlene-Deluca/282385088481413), so you readers can keep up with news and new developments in this author’s life.

Helen MacInnes’ Snare of the Hunter

Classic Romantic Suspense

I can in no way fault Helen MacInnes’ Snare of the Hunter, originally published in 1974 and republished last year along with some of her other spy thrillers.

Though forty years old, the book doesn’t feel dated. Sure, characters must drive to the nearest village to make critical phone calls instead of whipping out their mobile phones. But cells probably wouldn’t work in the Swiss Alps which provide a majestic setting and challenging winding roads to Irina Kusak, who has escaped Czechoslovakia and her ex-husband Jiri Hradek, an ambitious official in that country. He has let Irina go, so she can lead him to her father. A renowned writer who defected to the West some time before, Jaromir Kusak now has written a novel that threatens to reveal Hradek’s most guarded secrets.

David Mennery, an American music critic with a good excuse to be in the neighborhood, agrees to help Irina escape to the West. Years before, Irina and he met in Prague and fell in love, a match thwarted by Irina’s mother, then a high official in Czechoslovakia.

This novel has well-drawn, realistic characters and a well-paced, plausible plot. No 007-style goons or high speed chases here, but the suspense kicks in at the end of Chapter 1 when someone who has helped Irina leave her home country dies. The suspense remains pretty constant throughout the book.

Besides getting caught up in the story, I admired MacInnes’s deft management of viewpoint. Though MacInnes presents much of the story from Irina and David’s perspectives (fairly standard in romantic suspense), she also incorporates the perspective of several other characters. In my own fiction, I tend to play it safe with point of view by sticking to one narrator, whether by the intimate first person perspective (“I”) or by the more removed third (“he” or “she”) throughout a story or book.

When I taught Creative Writing, I used to warn my students about “head hopping,” that is, shifting abruptly from one character’s perspective to another. I also advised them to place any shift at the start of a scene or chapter. MacInnes does that when she ends the first chapter in Irina’s perspective and opens the second chapter from David’s perspective. But in Chapter 4, inside the third paragraph, MacInnes slips out of David’s head and into the head of the flight attendant taking their drink orders. I didn’t get at all lost, though, or even jarred because of MacInnes’ smooth, skillful transition.

What does MacInnes accomplish by doing this? Well, it’s awkward to have a character describe himself. (He knows what he looks like.) So handily, the flight attendant observes David and speculates about him. We readers can feel smug because we know the answers to her silent questions. This immerses us farther into the story.

Later in the plot when the perspective shifts occasionally into a bad guy’s head, we feel the suspense a great deal because we know the dangers that lie in front of Irina and David as they flee through the towering grandeur of the Swiss Alps.

(I really liked the setting cluttered with the tourists, oblivious to the perils around them, who innocently visit those ruined castles and picturesque views.)

Even after the forty years since it first appeared, Snare of the Hunter still thrills.

 

 

Sally Berneathy’s The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die

Sally Berneathy’s Lively Ghost

Sally Berneathy puts us on a speeding Harley with Amanda Randolph at the pulse-pounding start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die, the first in her Charley’s ghost series. Sally keeps the action going through a terrible crash and Amanda’s rescue by her husband Charley, who cajoles her, berates her, and bullies her into crawling up an embankment to the road so someone will find her.

Only thing: Charley is acting weird. He says he can’t call 911 on her cell. And when she tries to grab him, she falls right through him. This is logical since Charley’s dead, murdered by someone who’s also out to kill Amanda.

I’ve written about the start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die partly to show how well it hooks the reader. But also Sally shows great range in this mystery with a light touch. In fact, some of my favorite parts are the quiet scenes in which we visit Charley’s family home. Again, Sally presents plenty of details–fried chicken on a flowered plate, the songs of the mockingbird Amanda hears from the porch–to let us experience the place in the country where Charley grew up. This house and Charley’s mom exude calm amid the calamities of Amanda’s life. And I found these sections powerful and touching. To me, these scenes are the heart of the book.

And overall, though this mystery focuses on a ghost, its pages are very much alive.

I also recommend Sally’s Death by Chocolate mystery series. Featuring another troublesome husband, those mysteries are also light–downright hilarious in spots.

Sally Goldenbaum’s Murder in Merino

Late September Vacation

It’s always a pleasure to read Sally’s latest Seaside Knitters Mystery because for me, living in the landlocked Midwest, it’s like taking a vacation at the shore. When I was a youngster, my family often visited several of my mom’s relatives who lived in New Jersey, if not on the beach, then within an hour’s drive. A trip to the shore isn’t feasible for me now, but Sally’s deft descriptions on page one take me right back there. Plus, contrasting details like “foamy surf crashing against the rocks or water smooth as silk” create tension, ever a plus in fiction, especially mysteries.

For the eighth outing in Sally’s series, the author has chosen autumn as the season–after the tourists have left Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, leaving one mysterious visitor lingering there. Julia, nicknamed Jules, Ainsley soon becomes a subject of speculation for the Seaside Knitters: Nell Endicott, the main viewpoint character of this novel; her niece Izzy Perry; Cass Halloran; and the lively octogenarian Birdie Favazza. Why has Jules decided to stay so long after the season? Why is she so interested in buying Izzy’s little house without ever having been inside it? What’s inside the locket Jules always wears?

With many popular series, readers get caught up in the personal lives of the continuing characters and enjoy following them from book to book just like we enjoy catching up with the lives of old and dear friends. Murder in Merino is no exception. Here we find Nell and husband Ben approaching their fortieth wedding anniversary. Will it go off all right? Izzy and Sam dote over their baby girl while Cass is shocked to see her boyfriend Danny Brandley standing too close to the beautiful Jules Ainsley. Is there something going on between them?

Personally, I also enjoy being in on some of the continuing, comforting rituals of these characters’ lives like the Friday evening potluck suppers on the Endicotts’ deck. The food is delicious and so is this lively mystery, especially when it plunges backwards in time to other folks that once lived in the little house Jules Ainsley longs to own. Why?

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 I’ve included my blog post about the fourth installment in this series. Originally posted on December 23, 2010, as part of the “fiction addict” series, it focuses on what I learned from A Holiday Yarn that helped me write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, the mystery I was working on at the time.

Sally Goldenbaum’s A Holiday Yarn

The Power of Thought

Not long ago, in one of the writing groups I belong to, my friends gave me to know that the pace of early chapters of my WiP is hectic. I’ve got lots of plot, they said, but I need to slow down and give my protagonist and my readers some breathers here and there.

By good fortune, at the time my friends told me “You need to slow down, Juliet,” I was reading A Holiday Yarn, the latest in Sally Goldenbaum’s Seaside Knitters Mysteries. This installment has a particularly thoughtful protagonist/viewpoint character in Nell Endicott.

As I read, it struck me that Nell’s thoughts and reactions are exactly the way a person not used to violence might react to murder, much differently than the police detective in Tami Hoag’s Kill the Messenger, for example. Nell is quietly unsettled by the murder and determined to figure out, with the help of her fellow knitters, who committed the crime so that peace will return to their little town.

Another knitting amateur detective leaps to mind, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple. Like Miss Marple, Nell is an armchair detective who figures out solutions to crimes often while she knits. Over the years, though, Miss Marple has developed a type of wisdom edged by cynicism. Nell’s not cynical but thoughtful and quite troubled about what would drive a person to commit murder.

In more ways than one, Ella, the protagonist of my WiP, resembles Sally G’s Nell more than Agatha G’s Miss Marple. For one thing, like Nell, my protagonist is married though she has three kids while Nell and her husband are childless.

In the years of their marriage, Ella’s husband has shielded her from the type of abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. She’s forgotten about the worst elements of their torment, though they twit her slyly every chance they get, especially about her slight weight problem even though her younger stepsister is downright fat.

Once the plot of my novel gets rolling, the protection Ella’s husband has provided over the past twenty years is ripped from her, her children taken away, and she’s exposed to scorn, sarcasm, blame for a crime she didn’t commit, as well as to physical violence she’s grown unaccustomed to. The antagonists in the book give her lots to think about and to react to along the way.

Going back for a second look at A Holiday Yarn, I noticed that indeed it starts with Nell reflecting on the unsettling events that unfold in the book. Though this lasts only a page before we zip back several weeks and head into a scene with increasing amounts of dialogue, action, and some description, it establishes Nell as a thoughtful person.

The book continues for another twenty-four pages leading up to the discovery of the murder victim. Shortly after this, Nell literally sits down to ponder the events of the night before. Sally gives Nell nearly five pages to react to this event that deeply shocked and saddened her before the narrative moves into the next scene. Later in the book, though not at such length, Nell again takes time to think about what has happened.

Sitting down to think about a murder instead of rushing on to the next thing as my character often does strikes me as a very realistic response of a quiet, thoughtful person unused to violence. Besides the emotional and psychological realism they add, the thought-passages allow the protagonist and the reader to consider the moral elements of the crime before continuing.

And so, following the examples provided by A Holiday Yarn, I’ve already added a quiet, thoughtful scene between two action scenes in my WiP. Thanks, Sally G., for your model, and happy holidays to all who read this blog installment, the last of 2010.

 

 

Cinderella: Living Happily Ever After

Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013bMost of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.

How did I come to write these mysteries?

Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)

Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.

Why did I choose Cinderella?

Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”

FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.

But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)

Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)

Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.

Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.

For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.

I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.

The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.

When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”

Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.

One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.

Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

 

Diabetic? Who, Me? Part 2

Not If I Can Help It

It’s been three busy months since I posted my previous blog about being diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Since then I’ve nearly finished my WiP, Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel; lost more weight–altogether 14 pounds or 10% of my starting weight; and dropped my BMI from 26 to 23. I’d like to brag that I’ve brought my waist measurement below 35” but I can’t. Still, several pairs of my slacks or shorts that once were too tight now fit comfortably in the waist. Others that fit before now practically slide off unless I secure them with a belt. This feels good.

More important, some of the symptoms of pre-diabetes that worried me three months ago have gone away. I haven’t had a sweet tooth fit for quite some time. My vision is no longer blurred. And I no longer have the scary pain in my fingers and left big toe.

How did I manage these positive changes?

1) I told people about my pre-diabetic diagnosis, both through my previous blog and in person, to friends and to strangers as well. From that openness came an awareness of just how many of us are touched by the disease in some way. For example, at a recent meeting of five people, one is pre-diabetic, two are diabetic and one has a spouse who is diabetic. At lunch recently, two of my old friends revealed they are pre-diabetic.

From my openness, I also received valuable advice. For example, my daughter and I went out to eat one evening. And when I’d revealed my situation to our server, he said, “I’ve been diabetic since the day I was born” and pulled an insulin pump out of his pocket. “But with this, I can eat whatever I want.” He calmed my fears of blindness and amputations and helped me make a good choice for my dinner.

Thank you all for your help, kindness, and advice.

2) I did some soul-searching. In my previous blog about diabetes, I mentioned my incredulity that I could have this problem. But a little reflection showed me that I didn’t always eat right, my weight was up and I was spending more time than usual on my butt at my computer while I worked on the WiP. Also in the past I added a whole bunch of stress in my life by trying to do all the many things required of a successful self-publishing writer. These tasks include writing, editing, and marketing through social media and producing blogs regularly. I’m even doing my own covers, for heavens’ sake. But around the first of the year, I had the wonderful epiphany that while I need to do these things, I don’t have to do them all at the same time! What a relief! I’m so pleased I realized this and removed a ton of stress from my life. And stress can cause diabetes. I also realized that it’s taken me years for me to get to that score on the blood test and it will take time to lower it.

3) I actively sought information on the subject. I went on-line several times to investigate it and also talked to some experts. For one thing, I made a follow-up appointment with my physician to discuss my situation. Something he said really struck me. In my previous blog I concluded that if I, an active person who watches what she eats, can be pre-diabetic, no senior is safe. When I expressed my disbelief about being susceptible to diabetes, my doctor said, “You’re susceptible. You live in America.” This stunned me at the time, but it’s true. The American lifestyle has led to record rates of obesity. None of us is safe from the threat of diabetes.

One of the most effective things I’ve done so far is visit a registered dietitian. Because I’m not actually diabetic, Medicare wouldn’t pay for this visit. But since my doctor had arranged the referral, the medical center charged a discounted rate. And it was one of the smartest $54 I ever spent.

The dietitian explained how the pancreas processes the food we eat, often less efficiently as we age, especially with starches and other carbohydrates. She introduced me to some useful products that will help me achieve my goals. And she designed a food plan specifically for me, based on my record of what I ate the day before our visit. Thanks to that food plan, I’ve been able to lose a pound a week steadily without the sense of deprivation some diets I’ve followed in the past have produced.

4) One piece of advice that I received soon after I posted my blog about being pre-diabetic came from my fellow senior and self-publisher, the radiant Edna Bell-Pearson, who said that when she’s faced with a problem like mine, she does something about it. So I’ve been quite pro-active in my attempt to reduce the threat of diabetes by very careful meal planning and by tracking both the calories and the carbohydrates in nearly everything I eat. This can take time. It can be tedious. I might not do it forever. And ultimately, I might have to go on medication. But I’ll continue attacking this problem because I have many more books to write, publish and promote in addition to Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Best, Juliet

 

 

Fondly Remembered

Memory as a Resource for Characterization

I’ve completed the almost final draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and it’s in the hands of my readers. (Thanks so much, Gail, Denise, and Barbara.) And I’m working on the cover. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’ll take copies of the current versions to my art class tomorrow for help.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on some of the people from my past who have appeared with fictional disguises in the Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries.

First off, a riff on naming characters, often a chore for fiction writers. Some authors run contests among their fans for the right to name characters after the fans, but right now I’m mining out my memories of the past in three ways.

1) The first two characters I’ll discuss soon are named for the people who inspired them.

2) Desperate for names for a group of four men who appear in Wings, the sequel to Walls, I recalled the last names of my mother’s brothers-in-law: Walen, Young, Johnson, and Morse. Ha! Nailed that.

3) Soon after that I realized that I have a resource of character names in the teachers I’ve had over the years. Since I have a Ph. D. and went to school for twenty-three years altogether, we’re talking lots of names. So when the cook in Wings needed a name, I called her Mrs. Swetnam after my professor in Romantic Poets at the Ohio State University.

And now to a tribute to three women important in my life:

1) After I left my husband and returned to Huntington, WV, my hometown, I found a job in the Acquisitions Department in the library of Marshall University. So I needed a babysitter for my very young daughter. And my former Sunday school teacher and longtime family friend graciously agreed to care for my child while I worked. So Jessica spent weekdays for the next eight months or so in the loving care of Vi Sullenberger and her husband Delbert, a retired clock repairman, in their little house filled with clocks. When Sophie, Cinderella’s youngest child and only daughter, needed a nanny, I gave her Nana Vi.

2) In the first Cinderella, P. I. story, written in 1996, later in “Cinderella and the Missing Queen,” Prince Charming’s mother was simply the Queen, but by time I came to write Walls, I realized she needed a name. Now, the Queen in these stories loves to dance and at one point, she taught it, too. And so I named her Frances after Frances Nestor with whom I studied the ballet and other forms of dancing for eleven years. Mrs. Nestor was my first teacher who was passionate about the subject she taught. As such, she made a wonderful role model for me as a teacher.

3) And now I’ll talk about my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith, called Middie for Midget by her family members and Susie by my dad and their friends. I was my mother’s only child and my daughter her only grandchild. But she was the stepmother of my older half-brother, Homer Dale Willman, Sr. So I got to see first-hand how a stepparent operates and how a stepmother in particular can feel that her relationship with her husband is challenged by the presence of another woman’s child in the household.

Although the relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother in Walls and Wings resembles my parents’ relationship before my dad’s retirement, I do want to make it clear that my own mother isn’t the direct model for Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s one very important difference between the two women: the fictional character lacks my mother’s inherent generosity. For instance, my mother went without new clothes for years, so that I could have the dance lessons with Frances Nestor that I so loved when I was young, the lessons that I still benefit from in terms of self-discipline, health and happiness early in the eighth decade of my life.

Thank you so much, ladies. You are all fondly remembered.

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Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-0-4) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-2-8) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-9899504-3-5).

COMING SOON: Wings, A Cinderella, P. I Novel, second of two novels featuring Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball; and two more fairy tale mystery short story collections featuring Cinderella, P. I.: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

Diabetic? Who, Me?

Last week the nurse from my doctor’s office called me and said that my recent blood tests indicated that I was at extreme risk of developing diabetes.

My immediate reaction was “Diabetes? Me?” followed immediately by “Baloney.” Actually, I used a different expletive though it also starts with the letter b. My daughter used the same word when I told her the news.

Why?

It’s like this.

I exercise regularly. This places me among the 10% of Americans who do so. Specifically, I walk our dog 40 to 60 minutes a day, barring snow, heavy rain, or a polar vortex. I go to Jazzercise 3 to 4 times a week. I’m also on my feet grocery shopping 2 to 3 times a week plus preparing meals and cleaning up after those meals every day. I don’t watch lots of t. v., averaging maybe an hour an evening. I’m a self-published writer, but I try to limit my computer time to three to four hours a day.

I eat right. Those five servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day everybody is supposed to eat? I get those, consistently, and I’ve done so since I joined Weight Watchers in 2006. We’re not vegetarians, but I limit the amount of lean red meat I serve in favor of chicken, seafood, and pasta. We do eat a ton of cheese, but I take medication for cholesterol. We have a can of ginger ale in the fridge and a few more cans in the garage in case one of us gets the flu. But I haven’t had a Coke since 2010 and even then it was a Diet Coke. I haven’t had a beer or a glass of wine in at least a year. I read the labels on food at the grocery store, vigorously watch my salt intake, and avoid prepared food that has sugar of any kind. Before I retired in 2004, we ate out two to three times a week. Now I eat out three times a month.

I maintain a close to normal weight. At the time of that nurse’s phone call, I was about 7 pounds over my Weight Watchers’ goal weight. In the five days since then I’ve lost a couple.

Finally, neither my mom nor my dad developed diabetes in their senior years though they lived to be 94 and 87 respectively. (I am now 72.)

My conclusion after hearing the news that I could develop diabetes? If this can happen to me, no senior is safe.

Even though in denial, I immediately took some measures against this ailment I didn’t think I could possibly get.

I extended my dog walks somewhat and set the timer on my phone to make me get up from the computer every hour to do some household tasks.

It was painful, but I went to the cupboard and got out the wonderful Green and Black’s organic chocolate bars I recently bought at Whole Foods. “Here,” I said to my daughter. “Take them somewhere so other people can eat them.”

The day after the call, I got out my old Weight Watchers stuff, figured my 5% and 10% weight loss goals, and started tracking.

The denial phase lasted until I went online and read up on the symptoms of incipient diabetes.

I’m not drinking or urinating excessively, but a few weeks ago I developed an incredible sweet tooth.

When I took the eye exam during my doctor’s visit, my vision seemed blurred. This I ascribed to a faulty fit of my current pair of contact lenses.

Recently I’ve had considerable pain in my hands. About a month ago, my daughter and I watched A Hijacking, an incredibly suspenseful film. As is my habit while watching t. v., I was knitting a scarf. I must have really clenched up on those number 9 needles because the next morning my fingers were so knotted up I couldn’t unfold them without considerable pain. My hands are now pretty much back to normal, but for the last few weeks I’ve had chronic pain in my left big toe and some in my right that can’t be explained away.

As for the lack of genetic predisposition for diabetes, my mom and dad didn’t develop it, but maybe people elsewhere on my family tree did.

So for now I’m assuming that the test results were correct, tracking my calories, avoiding sweets, and gathering information. These measures don’t mean I’ve arrived at acceptance. Actually, I’m pretty angry about this whole deal. I’ll tell you why in the next installment of my blog.