I still remember my third grade teacher giving me one last piece of advice before summer vacation. “Mary, whatever you do, don’t stop writing.” I wasn’t sure, then, what she meant. Had I been writing in third grade? What made her think I should keep writing?
Finally it hit me, and sure enough, forty-some-odd years later, my first book was published. I’m a slow learner.
During those “between” years I read and I read. I’ll never forget the summer I discovered sports biographies. A whole set of them! Probably due to my yet-to-be-discovered OCD, I read them in order – A-Z.
I tore through the biographies in record time. Patty Berg, Jim Brown, Althea Gibson, Pancho Gonzales, Byron Nelson, Warren Spahn. Each book put me into the game, the match, the tournament. I was there swinging a golf club with Patty Berg or running for a touchdown with Jim Brown. Then, the unbelievable happened. I finished Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Finished. Caput. A through Z. There were no more. I was crushed.
I muddled along reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and then got bored with the writing and storylines I considered beneath my reading and comprehension level.
As luck would have it, around that time my aunt replaced the ancient librarian (Miss Georgia Stockslaver – yes, that was her real name!) who had been in her position for, oh, around 108 years, give or take a few. What a refreshing change! Nothing against Miss Georgia, but she single-handedly destroyed my older brother’s love of reading. It was the summer after his fourth-grade school year. He took “The Bears of Blue River” to the front desk to check it out. Miss Georgia wouldn’t let him read it. “This is a Fifth Grade book. You’ll have to wait until you’re in the fifth grade!” It was late July, just over a month away from the start of his fifth-grade year. My brother, who had a bit of a stubborn streak, left the library and to my knowledge, never returned.
Back to my reading boredom. Between my eight grade and freshman year, the new librarian, my beloved Aunt Gertrude, began setting books aside she thought I’d enjoy reading. Knowing my love of time travel and science fiction, she suggested H. G. Wells. I imagined flying on rocket ships to the moon and, especially, taking a time machine that could send me any place my heart desired in history or the future. This book, no doubt, led to my 5-book middle-grade time-travel series, Cynthia’s Attic.
Slowly, but surely, my love of reading gravitated to writing, thanks to my dad. My first appreciation for his writing began to grow when I’d go with him to do interviews for his daily human interest column for the Courier-Journal. I’d listen to his subjects talk about their lives, their work, their interests and they didn’t seem all that interesting to me. The questions and, especially, the long-drawn out answers made no sense. How could anyone put a cohesive story together from this mish-mash of material.
But as Dad formed stories from information he’d gathered on his notepad, (That was before tape recorders became small and manageable), then spend hours editing before he submitted it to the newspaper editor, I discovered a writer’s true gift: To pull out words, sentences, and paragraphs from rambling statements and situations, and make them interesting and exciting. My dad had that ability to write characters and scenes that just jumped off the page and grabbed the reader. I aspire to that.
As writers, we love our writing, don’t we? Nothing makes us happier than to write a line of poetry or prose, sit back and say, “Wow! That’s good!” A few years back I had the honor of listening to Georgia author, Terry Kay, give a keynote address and something he said has stayed with me ever since. I’m paraphrasing here. He might’ve used a bit saltier language: “I don’t care how your writing makes you feel. All that matters is how it makes the reader feel.”
If you’re a writer and would like to be remembered, the most important advice is to make your readers feel something.
MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER: Mayhem & Murder: Synopsis
Andi’s step-mother is a real piece of work! But is Ruby a murderer?
Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will lead to the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby will be the main suspect.
Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with the charming local sheriff, Manual Rodriquez. After an embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, a chance to check out an eyewitness to the murder leads her to Las Vegas.
In Vegas, a mysterious meeting in the Bodies Exhibition, a body preserving in the prep-room, and an evasive owner of a dance studio, give Andi clues to help Ruby. But when Andi is mercilessly drugged and locked in a storage room, she realizes dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
REVIEW BLURBS FOR MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER!
“If Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum were a travel agent, she’d fit right in working this case alongside Andi, a wanna-be detective readers are sure to love.” —Regan Black, USA Today bestselling author of the Escape Club Heroes and Knight Traveler novels.
“Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder...WOW. Snappy dialog, quirky characters, opens with a curious bang and yanked me through the pages. A fun, fantastic read. “—Jean Rabe, USA Today Bestselling author, Piper Blackwell Mysteries.
“Grab a margarita and hold on tight; you’re in for a wild ride.” —Karen MacInerney, Agatha Award nominee and author of the Dewberry Farms Mysteries
“Charming, lively, and unpredictable, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder excels in a vivid story mystery fans will relish.”—Diane Donovan, Senior Editor Midwest Book Review
PURCHASE MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER:
B & N Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/margaritas-mayhem-murder-mary-cunningham/1127355519?type=eBook
FIND MARY ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/marycunninghambooks/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002BLNEK4
Author, Mary Cunningham, grew on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn.”
Childhood experiences, and a recurring dream about a mysterious attic, inspired characters, Cynthia and Augusta Lee, for her award-winning middle-grade series, Cynthia’s Attic. The setting is in her childhood home in Southern Indiana. Family stories and ancestors comprise the storylines. There are currently five books in the series: The Missing Locket, The Magic Medallion, Curse of the Bayou, The Magician’s Castle, and Legend of Lupin Woods.
Through a horrifying stint as a travel agent and more rewarding experience teaching travel and tourism, she received inspiration for the character, Andi Anna Jones, travel agent/amateur sleuth, Mary’s latest adult mystery series. She’s currently writing Book # 2 of the series, along with another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max and Maddie, an historical time-travel, and a biography about a former Army brat/University of Connecticut women’s basketball player who started a non-profit foundation to create scholarships for children of deployed veterans.
Cunningham is a member of The Georgia Reading Association, and the Carrollton Writers Guild.
When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.
I’ve stumbled across another commemoration of interest to me. I have no idea who names these “official” dates, but they succeed in focusing some public attention on their distinctive topic. This one is Short Story Month, which, in case you don’t know, is May.
A short story is, by definition, fiction. It drives me crazy to hear wanna-be writers describe a work as “a fiction short story.” Don’t need the term “fiction.” Still, better to talk about short stories than not, even with a superfluous word.
Superfluous words are what short stories don’t have. They enable us to read tales about imaginary people, events, locations minus the length of novels or novellas. Why does this appeal? As we become more inundated with electronic media, videos, selfies, instant photos, self-published discourses, and every form of communication ever dreamed of, some of us feel we’re losing control. Our time is not our own.
But short stories abbreviate their length. While writers hate to be limited by rules or even guidelines, short stories are, indeed, shorter than novels. They still have characters, settings, themes, and conflicts. Some have mystery, romance, puzzles. So they have essentially everything a novel can have but in a manageable amount.
I’ve heard of book clubs whose members are so strapped for time, they’ve turned to only reading short stories. The best writers in the world have created short stories. They’re handy to read when you’re traveling and are squeezing in some recreation on a trip. It’s easy to be introduced to a new writer in a short story. Their succinctness has an appeal all its own. Another favorable point: publishers and publications are starting to post free online short stories to encourage readers to sample their wares.
The day when a writer could actually make a living writing short stories is long gone. The market, however, is still strong, if you don’t mind creating for extremely low pay or, even more likely, none. Literary journals are the home for most.
If you’re interested in my short stories, I have links on my website to some you can read.
Take some chunks of time this month to sample new short stories or re-visit old ones. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, the list is fascinating and apparently endless.
I have trouble in cars. The nine wrecks I had in one year as I tooled around Houston qualifies me as a road disaster. Sarah, my haphazard angel (in the book series), causes trouble in vehicles. She has accidents in red high heels too. She often tumbles into someone, knocks them down and falls on top of them.
Not all car disasters have been my fault. Houston has other crazy, inept drivers besides me.
These days, I drive a red car. In fact, my last two cars have been red. If another one is in my future, it will be red too. Why? Not because the color attracts the police, but because others can easily see me. I have no desire to own a gray color. Steely colors blend with the road. If you can’t see me coming, you can’t get out of the way.
However, speeding in a red car does gain a patrolman’s attention. I once was going about 95 on Texas Highway 6, speeding to meet a friend for lunch. I was late, as usual, and even though I’d been there many times, I didn’t remember how to get to the spot. Like Sarah, the scatterbrained, dyslexic angel I write about, I have no sense of direction, and it makes no difference if I’ve been to a location before.
The nice patrolman pulled me over. After the identities, he asked why I was in a hurry.
“Well, officer, it’s like this, I always drive fast when I don’t know where I’m going. I have to hurry up because I’m so lost. Going faster means I have a better chance of finding my destination before time runs out.”
He scratched his head and smiled. “What are you trying to find?”
After I told him, he said the place was up the road and if I traveled the speed limit, I’d get there in ten minutes. He was super nice. I drove slowly away with a warning instead of a ticket.
Sometimes, I’m totally innocent. Like the day I went to court.I was called for jury duty and left early enough to wander about Houston’s freeways. The bizarre experience that followed was my red car’s fault, not mine.I arrived at the court annex, parked, gathered my purse and grasped the door handle to get out. Oops! No way!The lever was broken. I was trapped!
I decided to crawl over the console to exit on the passenger side. Oh, my goodness! People were walking around and would see me.Should I go feet first? Bottom first? Those small car spaces aren’t made for tall people. I finally made it out. Plenty of people inside the courthouse were on their way to jail. I didn’t tell them how I escaped confinement. It’s my secret.
In my humorous, Sarah books, some of the episodes are based on my life experiences. Sarah is a dyslexic angel who comes to earth to help humans find romance. In Sarah: Laney’s Angel, Sarah, masquerading as a bride, is dressed in a wedding dress and veil. She doesn’t know how to drive, but she’s in a car. She accidentally thrusts the thing into reverse and totals the hero’s car as he sits behind her in his expensive sports vehicle. She tells him she was on the way to her wedding. Being the kind, Texas guy that he is, he offers to take her to the church. As they ride along, he discovers Sarah doesn’t know where the church is. Oh my. I enjoyed writing that scene. Stuff happens in Sarah’s adventures. Count on it.
A new Sarah book comes out in July 2018. Sarah must help a young woman lose weight and gain confidence. She also must find a mate for the lady. Just wait till you read her adventures in the gym.
All the Sarah books are set in Texas.My Sarah Series has ten books, but two books have three stories in them. Novellas were combined into a print selection. In Sarah and Three Times a Charm, or Sarah and a Family Affair, you receive several stories.
I’ve written two serious books. The latest is Mattie’s Choice. It’s historical, Christian, women’s fiction, loosely based on family experiences, and helps the reader consider attitudes and social mores. My mother-in-law was married to a demanding man who refused to let her see her family. Research shows that controlling men do this, even today. In 1925, women had few choices, but more are available today. Women can choose not to live in an abusive household. There’s humor in the book, but there’s also a lot about faith, or the lack of it.Clue into Kindness is a contemporary novella with a similar theme.
Want to know more about my books? Here you go. http://amzn.to/2hwc6nB and http://gaynlewis.blogspot.com/
(Guest blogger Gay N. Lewis, a Texas minister’s wife, writes about angels and romance. She and her husband primarily have served churches in Texas. Before becoming a full time author, her livelihood embraced interior design, photography, and communication.)
The last Saturday in April has been declared Independent Bookstore Day, I assume by the American Booksellers Association, although I can’t find anything to confirm that. Regardless, April 28, 2018, is the day to give a cheer for independent bookstores, those locations owned and operated by humans rather than huge corporations. (Another caveat—sponsors are giants like Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, and Ingram, which, granted, aren’t bookstores but are big guys as opposed to little guys bookstores.)
I have some favorites here in Denver. The one that springs to mind is West Side Books, owned by a friend of mine, with an eclectic mixture of used, new and collectibles. Owner Lois Harvey and her friendly staff help you find nearly any book you desire plus some you never thought of but decide spur-of-the-moment you can’t live without. Lois, indeed, does all the activities mentioned in the p.r. materials about the commemoration. She sponsors readings, art shows, special events, exhibits. You can drop by for five minutes or linger five hours.
West Side is just one of hundreds of indie bookstores across the country. Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party. Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.
In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism. They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.