Dam Witherston: Guest Post by Betty Jean Craige

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Dam Witherston is the third of my Witherston Murder Mysteries. The others are Fairfield’s Auction and Downstream. They are all set in a fictive town in the north Georgia mountains where everybody knows everybody else and few people are bad. However, even in this idyllic community of four thousand souls somebody is murdered every year or so, and Mev the police detective, Aunt Lottie the online columnist, and Mev and Paco’s teenage twin sons Jaime and Jorge and their friends collaborate to identify the murderer.

After Black Opal Books accepted Downstream for publication and took on the series I learned that I was writing “cozies.” A “cozy mystery” is a category of crime fiction in which the characters, often eccentric or comic, are well developed, their actions involve little violence or explicit sex, and the events take place in a closed environment. The author tacitly agrees to play fair with the reader by giving appropriate clues to the crime’s solution—not so many as to lead the reader to guess what happened early on, but enough to enable the reader to figure it out by the end of the novel if he or she thinks hard. And the reader must have fun participating in the detection.

In my mysteries I provide information about the events not just through the narration but also through an online newspaper called Witherston on the Web, locally known as “Webby Witherston,” to which Lottie, the boys, the police, and other folks in town contribute. Webby Witherston includes Breaking News, Announcements, Editorials, Lottie’s “North Georgia in History,” Cartoons, Letters to the Editor, Police Blotter, and the Weather.

Why do I enjoy writing cozies? Because I like creating a puzzle for readers to enjoy solving. It’s a game we play together. I only wish I could hear my readers laugh, or at least say, “Aha!”

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BJ Craige and CosmoDr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Betty Jean is a teacher, scholar, translator, humorist, and writer. Her first non-academic book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot (2010). After retiring in 2011, she published a column about animal behavior in the local paper titled “Cosmo Talks” and began writing fiction. Her Witherston Murder Mystery series includes Downstream (2014), Fairfield’s Auction (2016), and Dam Witherston (2017).

Buy links:

Dam Witherston  https://www.amazon.com/Dam-Witherston-Murder-Mystery/dp/1626945985/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487542092&sr=8-1&keywords=dam+witherston

Downstream http://www.amazon.com/Downstream-Witherston-Murder-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00OSXPV4A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458158780&sr=8-1&keywords=downstream+craige

Fairfield’s Auction http://www.amazon.com/Fairfields-Auction-Witherston-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01AXN3546/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458158803&sr=8-1&keywords=fairfield%27s+auction+craige

Bookish Podcasts


As you might know from previous posts, I love listening to podcasts. Usually I listen to true crime podcasts, but sometimes I branch out into different genres…mainly book-related podcasts. Here are the main bookish podcasts I listen to, as well as a few that I might need to start listening to in the future.

wsirnWhat Should I Read Next is the show for every reader who has ever finished a book and faced the problem of not knowing what to read next. Each week, host Anne Bogel interviews a new person and finds out their tastes. Then, she makes recommendations about what to read next.

I’ve been reading Anne’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, for a while now. Truth be told, I think that MMD is what this blog wants to be when it grows up. When I saw that she was launching a podcast, I knew I had to subscribe. I have found so many books to read thanks to this podcast. I have a whole spread of TBR books in my bullet journal (post about that later), and I’m so excited to check them all off soon. The first one I’m trying is Still Life by Louise Penny, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Thanks Anne!

 

overdueOverdue is a podcast about the books you’ve been meaning to read. Join Andrew and Craig each week as they tackle a new title from their backlog. Classic literature, obscure plays, goofy murder mysteries: they’ll read it all, one overdue book at a time.

I love the tone of this show. It’s just two guys talking about books they’ve read. It makes you feel like you’re sitting in there with them. I jump around with the episodes. I only listen to the ones that feature books I’ve read. There are plenty of books that they cover that I want to read, but I don’t want to spoil them for myself. My all-time favorite episodes are the 50 Shades episodes (numbers 50, 100, and 150). They’re absolutely hysterical.

 

hpatstWhat if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? What would we learn? How might they change us? Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is a podcast reading Harry Potter, the best-selling series of all time, as if it was a sacred text. Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims read the Quran, we will embark on a 199-episode journey (one chapter an episode, to be released weekly) to glean what wisdom and meaning J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels have for us today. We will read Harry Potter, not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.

I love the idea of this series. I know that the Harry Potter series is important to many people on a personal level, and I like the experiment of reading the series for something more. Vanessa and Casper provide such great points and personal stories throughout their analyses. Not really a spoiler, but at the end of most episodes they try to do a reading activity. Usually it’s picking out a random quote from the chapter and viewing it through the podcast topic’s lens. I’ve tried that on my own, and I think it helps me get more involved with my reading. I want to do it more often!

 

pcJoin PotterCast in a continuing adventure through J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. For eleven years PotterCast has remained your trusted source for discussion, celebration, and interviews with creators and actors from the Harry Potter Universe.

If I can get the backlogs of all the episodes, I’ll think I have died and gone to heaven. Eleven years of Harry Potter podcasts?! Oh man, sign me up! I’m really excited to hear from the actors and see what their experiences were like on set.

 

rgDo you love books? Want to learn how to make the most of your reading life? Join hosts Brea Grant and Mallory O’Meara every week as they discuss tips and tricks for reading better on Reading Glasses! Reading Glasses is a podcast designed to help you get more out of your literary experiences. As professional creatives and mega-readers, Mallory and Brea are experts on integrating a love of reading into a busy lifestyle. Reading Glasses listeners will learn how to vanquish their To-Be-Read piles, get pointers on organizing their bookshelves and hear reviews on the newest reading gadgets. Brea and Mallory also offer savvy advice on uniquely bookish problems. How do you climb out of a reading slump? How do you support authors while still getting books on the cheap? Where do you hide the bodies of the people who won’t stop talking while you’re trying to read? Mallory and Brea engage in a spirited weekly half hour discussion geared towards all kinds of book lovers — nerds, avid bookworms, comic fans and science fiction geeks, literary fiction readers, book hoarders, library users, people who prefer the company of words on a page to a crowded party and casual readers who want to read more.

Based on this description, it sounds like something I would create! I know this is a relatively new podcast (I think there’s only 2 or 3 episodes out), but I’m definitely going to check this one out!

 

tholEnthusiast Jacke Wilson journeys through the history of literature, from ancient epics to contemporary classics. Find out more at historyofliterature.com and facebook.com/historyofliterature.

I love fun history. When I was in college, the introductory lessons at the beginning of literature units were my favorite, because I loved learning the history of the time period and the writing. Now there’s a whole podcast about it! This is right up my alley.

Do you have any bookish podcast recommendations for me?

How’d You Sleep? 


If you’re anything like me, you value your sleep. I know I do, now more than ever. I’m actually writing this as I’m wide awake with my son (it’s 3AM where I’m at). Did you know that about 68% of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week? That’s around 164 million people. Glad to know I’m in good company! I bet all of us try to squeeze in sleep where we can, but sometimes it’s hard.

In my college days, I was the nap queen. I would take naps after every class. There were a lot of all-nighters pulled so I could finish assignments. I’m pretty sure that contributed to my sleep being terrible. Before I was pregnant, I had the roughest time falling asleep. There were many nights that I would be awake most, if not all, of the night. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying; I blame my insomnia genes I inherited from my dad. I’d try to use the time wisely and read as many books as I could, but mostly I would just lay awake, staring at the ceiling. During my pregnancy, I had the best sleep ever. I’m not even kidding. As long as I slept on my right side, I was golden. I think it was my body stockpiling sleep for the future. Enter now: I’m wide awake with my son, who’s snoozing away. When I put him in his crib, he wakes up. I also know that if I try to sleep, I won’t be able to. The joys of motherhood, am I right? I definitely try to sleep when he sleeps. Most weekends, he and I nap together.

Do you know what your body does while you sleep? Depending on how long you sleep, a lot! Leesa, an online mattress store, created this awesome infographic to help explain what goes on while you sleep. I now realize that I usually wake up within the first 10 to 20 minutes, and that makes sense. I also know that my naps with my son have to last at least an hour, otherwise I’m going to feel terrible for the rest of the day.

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Throughout the years, I’ve tried a couple different sleep aids. One that I used on and off for awhile was melatonin. It usually works fine…as long as you get at least 8 hours of sleep. If you get less than that, be prepared to feel groggy the next day. Another thing I’ve tried is aromatherapy. I used to spray lavender on my pillows to help me sleep. I’ve been researching essential oils, and I think I want to try them with my son. Best case scenario is that they will work and he will sleep through the night. Worst case scenario is that they don’t work but his room will smell nice. The best thing that’s worked for me was actually getting a new mattress. Now I can lay on my back and sleep without pain! It’s pretty amazing.

Tell me: do you get enough sleep? What are some tips and tricks to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

 

On the Subject of Humorishness: A Guest Post by Gino Bardi

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“Where do you get your jokes?”  This question came from a well-intentioned woman who had asked me to sign one of my books for her. The fact that someone just asked me to sign a book, screwed me up a little, so I had to think about it a few seconds.

“A joke is when a priest, a rabbi and a kangaroo go into a bar, and the bartender says… something which I can never remember,” I explained. “I don’t write jokes.”

“What do you write, then?”

“Humor.”  Surprisingly, this was not a satisfactory answer. I could tell this by the metamorphosis of her facial expression. Her bright, eager smile drooped like a candle in a microwave oven, which is exactly the wrong place to keep a candle.

“Is there a difference?” She said this in a tone that told me any answer I gave her would be the wrong one. I spent the rest of the day, and long past my 8 PM bedtime, pondering the question. ‘What, really, is humor?’ I asked myself. “Don’t ask me,” said myself. “Ask the ladies.”

So I brought my question to Cortana, Siri and Alexa. They know everything, after all. Hang on, this will only take a minute.

(Talk amongst yourselves)

Okay, I’m back. Waste of time. Not to mention how much they sound suspiciously alike. Don’t ever ask the ladies anything unless you’re prepared for a lecture featuring lots of big words like cognitive and perspective and experiential. I had to figure it out myself. That’s okay. I’m a writer. I make stuff up all the time.

Here’s what I think: Humor is whatever is funny. And funny is everywhere and everything. Okay. Almost everywhere and everything. You only have think of a subject…then think just a bit harder, push just a little, and the mundane becomes funny. Or funnyISH, which is close to funny. And funnyish is way better than not funny.  Mel Brooks, a very funny man, puts it like this: You only have to exaggerate a little bit.

For example…let’s say you’ve decided that your next automobile will be a self-driving one (and while we’re imagining stuff, let’s for a moment pretend that someone has offered you, say, forty grand for the 2003 Saturn you’re currently driving, so you can afford to buy it.)  There are plenty of concerns and considerations you might have about self-driving cars. Big important life changing stuff that everyone is worried about.  But there is also a lot of stuff no one is thinking about.

You can pick the color of your new car, of course, but how about the sex? Would you want your car to be a man or a woman? What if you were sitting at a stoplight in your very macho Jeep Cherokee, and a cute hot pink Corvette pulled up alongside…would your car even notice when the light had changed? Or would it be flirting as hard as it could with the pink Corvette? Would the car behind you start honking it’s horn, embarrassing the owner?

And what about gasohol? How much gasohol can a self-driving car consume before you shouldn’t ride in it? Would you let a self-driving car fill up on gasohol and drive your daughter to the prom?  Would the owner get in trouble for buying gasohol for an under-aged car?  

Are you even worried about this kind of stuff? You should be. When you worry about this stuff all the time, and find yourself writing it down, then you can stop worrying about “what is humor?”  Or are you still wondering what the bartender said to the priest, the rabbi and the kangaroo?

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Gino BardiGino B. Bardi was born in New York City in 1950, and lived on the South Shore of Long Island until he attended Cornell University in 1968, during the tumultuous era of Vietnam War protests. Armed with a degree in English/Creative Writing, he diligently sought work in his field and soon wound up doing everything but. For the next forty-four years he cranked out advertising copy, magazine articles, loan pitches and short stories while running a commercial printing company in Upstate New York. Along the way, he married his college girlfriend, became father to three lovely daughters and decided that winter was an unnecessary evil. In 2008 he sold the printing business, retired, and now writes humorous fiction in his home on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Two signs hang above his desk: “Bad decisions make good stories,” and Mel Brooks’ advice that “You only need to exaggerate a LITTLE BIT.”

The Cow in the Doorway is his first full-length novel and won the statewide Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished New Adult novel for 2015, followed by the Best Humor Novel of 2016, also from the Royal Palm Literary Awards.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gino-B-Bardi-247107555622707/?fref=ts

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/ginobardi1

LinkedIn:  Gino Bardi

Skype:  gino.bardi

Buy links:

Three on a Match https://www.amazon.com/Three-Match-Gino-B-Bardi-ebook/dp/B0711LXSGG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496103622&sr=8-1&keywords=three+on+a+match+by+gino+bardi

The Cow in the Doorway http://www.amazon.com/Cow-Doorway-Gino-B-Bardi/dp/1519493398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461959101&sr=8-1&keywords=cow+in+the+doorway

Books I Loved As A Kid

Meaning Beyond Words

Do you remember the books that got you hooked on reading? The ones that once you picked it up you couldn’t stop reading until it was done? Harry Potter was definitely that for me, but I was a bookworm before the HP series even came out. These are the books that made me a lifelong reader.

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I adored the Goosebumps series. I’m fairly certain this was the first book series I ever read. On one of our many trips to Disney World (you can read more about my love for DW here), there was a stage show going on that was filled with Goosebumps characters. There was Slappy the ventriloquist dummy, the mummy, and the giant rat that ate everyone. There was a magic show (that I totally participated in) and a mirrored maze. There was one part of the maze where the mummy jumped out and scared me. Naturally, I cried, and the mummy gave me the biggest hug and walked through the rest of the maze with me.

I know not everyone can have that kind of experience, but that stage show made the characters real for me. I was invested in the books before, but after that I was even more hooked. Every time I would go to my elementary school library or there was a book fair, I would get a Goosebumps book.

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Speaking of book fairs, I received Ella Enchanted from my 5th grade book fair. I remember my school had prize baskets, one for each grade. I was the lucky winner for the whole entire 5th grade. Ella Enchanted was in my basket, along with bookmarks and pencils and erasers. I’m fairly certain that EE was one of the first books that got me into fantasy novels (well, that and the following book).

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I don’t know if I’d qualify Redwall as a regular fiction book or a young adult book; either way, Redwall was one of the first “non-kid” books that I read. Sadly, I have not finished this series, but one day I will! I always felt drawn to fairy tale fantasies. I loved the stories of knights in shining armor saving the princess. I loved Redwall because not only was it that kind of story, but it was cute little animals.

I want to go back to these books and reread them. Hopefully the magic that drew me to them in the first place will still be there. Plus, I can introduce them to my son. He’s fascinated with books and being read to, so when he’s older I think he’ll get a kick out of them.

What were your favorite books as a kid?

Use the Force

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In honor of Star Wars Day (you know, May the Fourth…get it?), I thought it was totally appropriate to review this book! I even dressed the part today.

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Have you ever wished that you could be a Jedi and harness the powers of The Force? Joshua P. Warren has uncovered the secret…and it’s probably something you already know about: The Law of Attraction. Warren says you can “improve your finances, health, and relationships by controlling the reality around you”. As a person who doesn’t read self-help books, this seems like a stretch to me. However, going into this with an open mind, I have indeed learned some things and am trying to apply them to my life.

I really loved the idea of weaving Star Wars references into a self-help book. Being a nerd myself, I thought this was a wonderfully creative idea. Also, it really makes me want to rewatch the series. Don’t judge me too harshly on not seeing Episode VII or Rogue One! I need a marathon first!

While I was reading, there was a particular quote that spoke to me:

If you want to attract good things to yourself, you must begin by believing that the universe is a friendly place.

I really like that idea. If you have a negative view of the world all the time, all you’re going to attract is negativity. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Warren talks about repeating a certain mantra throughout the day, everyday, to reaffirm that thought: I live in a friendly, supportive universe that loves me, and wants me to be happy and succeed. I took it to heart and I now have it pinned to my cube wall at work.

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Warren seamlessly used Star Wars references to enhance his points throughout the book. It didn’t feel as though  he was arbitrarily throwing Yoda quotes around; the references built upon his thoughts and ideas.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. For not being a self-help reader, I’m more inclined to try more books like this. I especially loved the nerdy twist. Give this book a try!

Spy on Your Children


Did I grab your attention with that title?

I bet when you read that, your gut reaction was, “That’s a terrible idea, why would you do that?”

Hear me out. I think there’s some wiggle room for this.

As a teacher, my job was not only to teach the younger generation about academics, but also about life. I also wanted to keep them safe at all cost. Physically I could do that, no problem. Mentally and emotionally…that’s a different story. As a parent, all I want to do is keep my son safe from harm. I know he’s not old enough to be affected by this yet, but it’s something to keep in the back of my mind for when the time comes. Technology has advanced so much over the years. We’ve become so immersed with it. Sometimes it’s hard to give it up. It’s our jobs as parents and teachers to show our kids the right ways to use technology.

So what does teaching our kids to be safe and healthy have to do with spying on them?

Turns out, a lot more than you might think.

As much as our children think that they know everything about social media and the Internet, they don’t know the half of it. What starts out as an innocent conversation on Facebook or Twitter might turn into 24/7 harassment. Liking a picture on Instagram could become a potential extortion situation. Posting a comment on Facebook can last forever. Keeping an open dialogue with your child and monitoring their phone use could prevent these things from happening.

I never realized how much of an impact phone use had on your health. There have been plenty of nights where I couldn’t sleep so I played with my phone. I never thought for a second that my phone was the reason I couldn’t fall asleep. It turns out the blue light phones emit delay the release of melatonin, which means you don’t fall asleep as fast. Around 87% of high schoolers don’t get the recommended amount of sleep per night, which will affect their learning the next day. Prolonged phone use can also contribute to obesity and high blood pressure.

As a parent, what can you do to ensure that your child is using their phone safely?

Have an open discussion with them about why this is important to you. Tell them that this is about their safety. Show them the statistics about phone usage. Talking to them like adults and providing them legit reasons (as opposed to “Because I said so”) opens the door to more open dialogue about whatever’s going on in their lives.

They should be speaking and behaving appropriately at all times, no matter who they are talking to or how they are communicating.

There are third party apps that can help you monitor your child’s phone. KidGuard allows you to see your child’s text messages, track their phone using its GPS location, and check all their social media accounts. While you can use this app without your child’s knowledge, KidGuard recommends having a phone usage contract so that everyone knows when the phone can be used and what for. I like this idea because it allows your child to think more like an adult and make those decisions for themselves.

The end goal for this is to keep your child safe and healthy, no matter what.

Parents: would you consider using an app to track your child’s phone? Or do you have any other ideas?

If you’d like more information, check out this parent guide

KidGuard provided me with the reading material, but all views and comments are my own.