The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas Present


“Before you get mad, just hear me out. There’s no reason you shouldn’t do Christmas a little bit just because you’ll be home alone. It’s gloomy enough in here already.” Kit glanced around my apartment as she stepped inside. “So I’ve brought you a little something to cheer up the place.”

A bottle of tequila might have been a better choice than the tall cardboard box she carefully placed on my coffee table.

“It’s a Christmas tree, Val,” she said, removing the three-foot delight from its packing. Three feet of total enchantment, decorated with tiny white birds wearing cozy plaid scarves. Kit unrolled the cord and plugged it into a vacant outlet next to a lamp. “There.” She removed her coat and plopped down on my couch. “It’s gorgeous.”   

“Where and why did you buy it?” I asked, not oblivious to its perfection.

“Neiman Marcus.” She looked surprised, like where else do you buy a Christmas tree. “Now don’t worry about the cost; it was marked down a million times.”

“Well, it’s very similar to the one I got for the office from Big Lots, and that cost three bucks.”

“Big Lots? What is a Big Lots? Oh, don’t even tell me. I just wanted you to have some sense of Christmas.”

“Well, thank you so much, because I’ve often heard about this Christmas you speak of, yet I know so little.”

“Are you depressed? And why are you talking like a Ukrainian immigrant?”

A big laugh escaped from somewhere inside me, and I was forced to cover my mouth with both hands. I wasn’t depressed, but I might be a little insane? “No, I am not a bit depressed,” I enunciated carefully, like an insane person. “But I am tired of you harping on about Christmas. And as I have explained to you many times—but you don’t listen—I have to work late on Christmas Eve for that corporate account thingy.”

“It’s not too late for you to come to Texas with us.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” I said, “are you still not listening? I have no desire to go to Texas.”

“You make it sound like I’m offering you a trip to a state prison.” She looked annoyed. “It’s our largest state, Val, and you don’t have to be so rude.”

Alaska is our largest state, as any idiot knows—”

Idiot?”

“Yes, that’s what I said: idiot. And I was not being rude. What’s rude about not wanting to go to Texas? Look, I’m happy you get to spend Christmas with Sam—”

“Are you sad because you won’t get to see Emily?”

“Kit, LET IT GO. You know perfectly well Emily can’t come home from England. So just go visit your son and stop making me feel like some pathetic loser. I’m fine . . . good . . . great, and now I’m late for work, so please, take your damn tree and give it to someone who wants it.”

“Rude, rude, rude.” She stood and buttoned her coat while heading toward the door.

“Here, don’t forget your tacky tree.” I shoved it roughly back in its box.

“Oh, I won’t.” She grabbed it. “I spotted a drifter at the end of your street, and I’m sure he will love it.”

“Drifter?”

“Yes. Drifter. Homeless person. Whatever you call those people.  I’m sure he’ll be more grateful than you.”

Right. Because that’s what every homeless person wants. A decoration that requires an electrical outlet. Are you even hearing yourself?”

“I heard you call me an idiot when I was just trying to be nice. Merry Christmas, Val”

***

So Christmas Eve arrived. I hadn’t spoken to Kit for two days, since our little altercation, and it was killing me. When I got to the office, it was empty, except for the Big Lots tree. I couldn’t help but compare its shabbiness to Kit’s tree from Neiman Marcus. Whereas hers appeared to have been decorated by children in Victorian England wearing hooped skirts and bonnets, mine screamed China. Six of the lights had stopped working.

I worked diligently all day and thought about calling Kit, even though she had not returned my calls or texts the previous day. But I knew she and Larry had an early flight and were probably still on the plane, or had landed and were enjoying their time with their son in the second-largest state of the union. My twisted logic confirmed she was the rude one for not calling to say good-bye.

When it got dark outside, I unplugged the tree, although it hardly mattered since another four lights had stopped working. It was snowing, soft white flakes that landed and quickly disappeared on the sheet of ice below.

I left the office, and when I got to my car, I looked back to be sure I had turned all the lights out. Then I decided to run back inside. I was going to take the Big Lots tree home. Perhaps a little cheer wouldn’t hurt after all. But unfortunately, the same could not be said of my ankle when I slipped on the ice and landed on the ground.

***

The ambulance driver who delivered me to the nearest ER sat me down on a chair and arranged another chair underneath my throbbing foot. Then a nurse knelt down beside me and took my vitals. She assured me she’d move me to an examination room shortly.

Three hours later I was still waiting for the promised move, even though hordes of others from Chicagoland had hobbled in after me. They all seemed to have first dibs on the elusive examination rooms. By ten thirty, I began to cry—not exactly sure why, but definitely something to do with birds wearing plaid scarves, homeless people with no Christmas trees, and Kit two-stepping down in Texas. Oh, and yes, it was Christmas Eve.

At eleven thirty, according to my dying phone, I closed my eyes and tried to get comfy. Pretty soon it would be Christmas Day. I had become accustomed to the quick rush of cold air every time the main doors of the hospital opened. In the distance I heard a man yelling to someone to either come in or get the hell out. It made me smile and think of Kitand feel shame at having ever been angry at my best friend.

And then suddenly it was Kit, standing beside me in an outrageously gorgeous black wool coat that had scarves, belts, and who knows what else wrapped around her body.

“Kit?” I whispered. Was I dreaming, or was she the ghost of Christmas past?

“Ugh!” she said, unraveling one of the many accoutrements of her fabulous coat. “This place is a dump. What did the doctor say? Have you even seen a doctor? Let’s get you moved; I’ve got a call in to my doctor—”

“Wait,” I stopped her. “Why didn’t you go to Texas?”

She sighed, fluffing up the makeshift pillow behind me. “Who says we didn’t go? We spent a delightful hour and a half visiting with Sam in the Dallas airport, waiting for our flight back to Chicago. And by the way, it wouldn’t have killed him to shave before coming to meet his parents.”

I was woozy with relief at the sight of her. I grabbed her hand and held it firmly to my cheek, never wanting to let her go. “And I’m sure you told him that, right?”

She laughed. “Of course not; do you think I’m an idiot?”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Metaphors and Similes: What’s the Difference? And Do We Care?


Metaphorically speaking, Vanessa’s smile lit up the room (literally, the three LED lights over the kitchen counter did the trick). As a simile, when Vanessa smiled, it was like the sun suddenly came out (whereas actually, someone opened the blinds).

But seriously, we love punctuating narrative with our metaphor and simile friends. They add a literary richness to our prose and get the job done. Countless words could be wasted describing shapeless legs, with their lack of any discernible ankle and their undefined calves; or the legs could simply be called, as they were by one author, Doric columns. That comparison has stuck with us, even though at the time we had to look up Doric columns on Google, and even though we don’t remember whether the author was using a metaphor or a simile.

And just what is the difference?

A simile is a figure of speech using the words as or like to compare two unrelated things that share some common traits. A metaphor draws a comparison without using those words. Not that we really care about that distinction; an original and apt analogy by any name or technique is what we are looking for as readers and as writers. We crave a drink when we read about a Thanksgiving turkey as dry as the Gobi Desert, and we empathize with the cook when someone says her gravy was so runny Michael Phelps could have gone for a dip.

In Foreign Relations, our latest Val and Kit Mystery, Val says her new little friend takes a sip of milk, leaving a bubbly white mustache under her nose. Whereas Merriam-Webster says a mustache is the hair growing on the human upper lip, we know Val is metaphorically comparing that to the white bubbles of milk on the young girl’s face. Later, a simile emerges when Alistair stood up, and Devon rose with him, as if they were duct-taped together.

Metaphors and similes aren’t the only literary devices that intrigue us. So don’t relax, idioms; and keep your guard up, euphemisms. We’re coming for you soon.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It Takes a Real Village to Manage a Fictional One

We don’t wake up looking like this. And Foreign Relations, the latest in our Val & Kit Mystery Series, didn’t arrive on anyone’s Kindle or bookshelf without help from a lot of people.

COPY EDITOR
Thank you to Sarah. Don’t be fooled by the fancy title, it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It means she gets the first “final” draft and a lot of work. (Note to selves: give Sarah a huge six-figure bonus.)



COVER GIRL
Laura is the brilliant woman who takes our amateur photographs and turns them into dazzling covers (and bookmarks). We are so thankful for her. (Note to selves: book Laura into a weekend spa in Paris.)



FIRST RESPONDERS
Melissa and Kerri, our first beta readers and the first to us on Instagram and Facebook, are our cheerleaders. (Note to selves: send these girls on a Caribbean cruise.)



SPECIAL-MENTION RESPONDERS
Johnny and Jack. (Note to selves: these guys deserve a new fishing boat; let’s get on this.)



COMMENTARY
Pete is always the first to comment on our blog. Since Pete is also a writer, we look forward to his witty critiques crammed full of entertaining trivia. (Note to selves: build a log cabin in Jackson Hole for Pete to write in.)



PROPS DEPARTMENT
Emma, Anna Lydia, and Anna Belle. These three girls all contributed to the photo shoot for the cover of Foreign Relations. And handling bloody knives is a lot to ask of teenage girls. (Note to selves: get them Ed Sheeran concert tickets, front row, with backstage passes.)



RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Since Foreign Relations is set in England, we called on Jill and Jennie to make sure we were doing stuff that the English really do. (Note to selves: send Jill and Jennie to Disneyland in California for a week.)



ARTWORK
Thank you to Mike for our fabulous logo.  
(Note to selves: let’s send him to Las Vegas.)



THE REVIEWERS (BUT ONLY THE GOOD ONES)
We love, love, love our reviewers, especially those who take the time to write a good one on Amazon.  (Note to selves: sign them all up with Steak-of-the-Month Club.)



THE AUTHORS
That would be us. But without our READERS we wouldn’t be here. An enormous thank-you for buying our books and helping us keep our village maintained. It’s not easy. Or cheap.  (Note to selves: rethink all suggested gift items above; and remember, a bookmark is always nice too.)


 Leave a private comment on our website to receive a free bookmark!

           


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Keeping It Real


Anachronisms are sneaky. They can creep into a narrative when you aren’t looking. From the Greek word anachronous (against time), an anachronism is something that wasn’t around during a story’s time periodlike if Lady Grantham summoned an Uber to pick her up at Downton Abbey.

In our Val & Kit Mystery Series, anachronisms aren’t likely to rear their devious heads. Because our books are set in the present, surely we authors know what’s what. But many of our blogs do take place in the past lives of Val and Kit, so careful research is needed to be sure we don’t make any slipups. Fashion, music, and film figure greatly in the young lives of our protagonists, so we cautiously ensure that things like bell-bottom pants, Farrah Fawcett’s hairdo, and Easy Bake Ovens are in in their respective and correct decades.

Not everyone gets it right. It can be fun to watch a period-piece TV show and spot examples of anachronisms, like a show set in the thirties or forties featuring a modern jet airplane flying overhead. Amazon’s Prime Video very kindly does the work for us, pointing them out in the description of the show. They call them goofs.

Anachronisms can also, of course, occur with language, which continuously evolves. Keeping up with the latest idioms can make a person cray-cray. Back in the day, Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet that “clothes make the man,” but today he might just say the guy looked sick, or even dope (as in awesome), unless, of course, these up-to-the-minute terms have already returned to their original meanings of feeling unwell and being a moron. (We need to check the Urban Dictionary.)



So, keep an eye out for offending anachronisms. They are sometimes easy to spot. If your copy of Wuthering Heights boasts that the house has Wi-Fi, then hmm . . .  If you notice the lead actor of the hit Broadway show Hamilton checking his bank balance online, that could be a problem. And if Mad Men’s Don Draper is caught streaming The Bachelorette on an i-Phone, raise the alarm.

And remember, George Washington did not communicate with his generals via Snapchat. Jane Austen was never an Amazon Prime member. And Romeo and Juliet definitely did not meet on Tinder. Stay woke, people!



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Real Power of the Pen



The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. So said Oscar Wilde. Another way to think about it comes from the 1942 movie Bambi, where the wise and forward-thinking Thumper said, “If you cant say something nice, dont say nothing at all.”

Bad reviews are a pain, they hurt, and they can be cruel or plain old nasty. No matter how many good reviews we get (and the vast majority of our reviews are plain old wonderful), the occasional bad ones stick with us. They are impossible to forget, or get rid of, like when you step in something and now you can’t get it off the sole of your shoe. You might forget your social security number, the date of your wedding anniversary, or how your spouse of twenty years takes his coffee, but you can quote verbatim the bad review you got ten years ago and the name of the bad reviewer.

While researching this blog, we learned that many books considered to be classic literature, by iconic authors, received at least one bad review. To name just a few: For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Okay, we get it; not everyone likes everything, but to slam Harper Lee? Come on.

So, while we don’t quite put our novels into the above category, it does make receiving a stinker review on Amazon a little bit easier to take. Some people just don’t like us; we get that too. But a good review, with five stars displayed next to our title, makes us giddy with joy (and relief). A bad review, with the dreaded one star, can be devastating. When that happens, we are lucky to have each other to commiserate with. Wonder who Harper Lee called?

As avid readers ourselves, we turn to our astute and perceptive pink-nosed rabbit friend, Thumper, when it comes to writing reviews: If you can’t say something etc. etc.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Empty Nest (for Now)

Our baby is all grown up, and it’s time for her to leave home. And by baby, we mean the sixth novel in our Val & Kit Mystery Series. Her name is Foreign Relations, and we are excited to send her out into the world.

Even before she was conceived, we had many of our loyal readers asking when she would arrive. Her five siblings have paved the way, but as her creators, we are eager not to disappoint. As always, our creative process has been an exciting and rewarding journey: many Skype sessions between the two of us (since we live at opposite ends of the country, Wisconsin and Texas); many, many long phone calls; thousands of e-mails; and a rare-but-treasured in-person work session. And most of all, a lot of laughs. 

When our journey began, we had little idea where we were going, but as our plot formed, our story took on its own life, and in many ways took over. We merely had to steer Val and Kit in the right direction, admittedly stopping in several pubs and English restaurants along the way. While in Little Dipping, our imaginary and bucolic village in the heart of the English countryside, Val and Kit made their first foray into the theatrical world. Kit took to the stage like a duck to water, or should we say a sixteenth-century noblewoman to the Italian Renaissance. Val, not so much. At the same time, news from back home in the USA was often in the forefront of our heroines’ minds, and they also had an unwelcome American visitor show up. Eventually, mysteries were solved and loose ends tied up, and Val and Kit returned home to Downers Grove, Illinois.

Since Foreign Relations is set in England, the first trip abroad for our protagonists, Val and Kit, we turned to family in the UK for much of our research. What type of tea do the Brits drink? Does sherry come in a corked bottle? Do Brownies still wear brown uniforms?

Roz's Brownie niece Jennie, circa 1987

Roz's Brownie grand-niece Emily, 2017

Now, after much rereading, editing, and Skyping (thank goodness for Skype), Foreign Relations is finally done, and we have to push her out the door, into the world, so she can take her place alongside the others that went before her. Her cover is beautiful. Pre-orders were good (whew!). We are proud.

As always, we are so thankful for our wonderful readers who make the whole process worthwhile. We hope you enjoy reading Foreign Relations as much as we did creating her. In the meantime, while we anxiously await reviews, we also begin thinking of our next baby. She’s in there somewhere.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Daddy’s Day 1974

“I’m wondering what to get my dad for Father’s day,” I said to Kit. We were lying on chaise lounges beside her pool, listening to The Temptations and sipping wine spritzers (minus the wine) from tall glasses. We liked to pretend they were the real thing.

“I assumed you were going to get him a sombrero,” she said from her supine position. “Ya know, to match that Latin scarf thingy you gave your mom on Mother’s Day. You saved that receipt, I hope.”

“Yes.” My mom had exchanged her gift for a trash can that had wheels.

“I got my dad a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt whisky,” Kit continued. “My mother suggested it.”

I was impressed with my thirteen-year-old pal who knew her malts. “I couldn’t buy my dad alcohol,” I said glumly, as I heard my mom’s voice in my head. Why don’t I just call the Betty Ford Center and reserve you a room? “It’s back to Ross Dress for Less for me. I’ve only got about three bucks to spend.” I’d blown my savings on a Genesis album.

With a dad like Greg, Patty's granddaughter Anna Lydia
has every reason to celebrate Father's Day!
On the big day we went to the country club for a special Father’s Day brunch. My older brother, Buddy, put a box (wrapped in the same Christmas paper he’d used on Mother’s Day) in front of my father. Then he sat back in his chair, looking smug as my dad picked the box up gingerly and shook it next to his ear.

“I don’t hear anything ticking,” he said.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, just open it, will you. I want to order.” My mother did not enjoy suspense.

So Dad complied, taking great care, until eventually he pulled out a white coffee mug with the words Keep on Truckin’ stamped across it.

Really, Buddy?” My mother glanced at the mug and quickly began placing her napkin on her lap. “You didn’t buy that at an actual truck stop, I hope.”

“Thanks, son,” my dad said. “It’s great.” Now he began holding it up to the light as if it were Waterford crystal.

“Good grief.” My mother slammed her palm into her forehead. “Valerie, for heaven’s sake, give your Dad his gift before I go insane.”

“Okay. Daddy, I decided to write you a poem.” I watched him lean back in his chair in awe over my creativity (but definitely not my extravagance). “Can I read it to you?”

May I read it,” my mother wearily corrected me. She lives in formal-grammar land.

I held up the poem I’d taken from my purse (and intended to get framed very soon) and began. “Dad, this is my day to thank you for the following: teaching me to skate—”

“You call that skating?” (from Buddy)

I continued. “Taking me to see Young Frankenstein

“What? Why didn’t I know that?” my mother interrupted, looking up from her menu.

Again, I continued. “Explaining to me how football works (although I’m still not sure I get it).”

“Man.” Buddy rolled his eyes. “It’s got like three rules; what’s not to get?”

I continued yet again. “Playing with me and my Easy-Bake Oven for hours on end—

“Isn’t it about time you learned how to use a real oven?” (Buddy again)

“Obviously, I meant when I was younger.”

“Valerie, we were all much younger when you started this poem,” my mother said. “Please get on with it. The eggs Florentine are always good here.”

I continued. “For all the times you helped me with my homework, even though you were so tired when you got home from work—

“How come I didn’t get to see Young Frankenstein?” I knew Buddy wouldn’t let that one go.

“You were at a hockey game. Happy now? Shall I continue?”

“Please do,” my dad said, but I could see that even he was eyeing the menu.

And most of all, for giving me permission to go to Tish’s party last week, even though there were no adults there, but plenty of boys, and I drank six wine spritzers.” I stopped and looked at my audience. My parents were now both deep into their menus, and Buddy seemed to be trying to mold his napkin into something obscene. “Did you hear me?” I asked.

Dad closed his menu. “Yes, honey, you were the only girl at an all-night party at a frat house in Istanbul and you drank twelve wine spritzers. Hope you didn’t drive home. How about you read the poem to me later, when were not surrounded by these philistines?”

“What’s Palestine got to do with it?” Buddy had stopped re-creating his napkin and now tucked it into his shirt front like he was an eighty-year-old man.

Without even looking up, my mother whipped it from his shirt and dropped it on his lap.

“Okay, Dad, I’ll read it later. But can I just read the—”

May I read,” my mother interrupted again.

I continued. “Daddy, you are the best father in the world, and I’m the luckiest daughter.”

“I thought a poem was supposed to rhyme,” Buddy said.

That’s why you’re a Palestinian.” I handed the poem to my dad and watched the slow smile form on his face as he read my words silently. I made a mental check mark: job well done. Perfect gift. And certainly better than a coffee mug.

Who buys a loved one a coffee mug?