Aimee Machado Talks Turkey

Today on the Sharon St. George website I’ve invited the protagonist from my Aimee Machado Mystery series to post a story about life in fictional Coyote Creek, where she lives with her fictional boyfriend and her fictional grandmother and step-grandfather.

Hi,

My name is Aimee Machado. My boyfriend, Nick Alexander, and I live in a ranching community in Northern California called Coyote Creek. Our apartment is a converted bunkhouse over my grandparents’ llama barn.

I’m a hospital librarian at Timbergate Medical Center, a few short miles from where we live, and Nick is a corporate pilot. But when we’re at home, we’re all about country life.

Sometimes it’s just routine, like helping my grandmother Amah and her husband, Jack, feed and care for their llamas and turkeys. Other times, something a little different comes along.

Like last weekend, when Amah was out of town visiting her brother, and Nick was away flying his billionaire boss to meetings in another state. I was enjoying a relaxing evening, watching Hugh Jackman in Logan, when Jack knocked on my door.

“Aimee, the setting hen just left her nest with three of her hatchlings. Come help me catch them before they scatter. She needs to be caged with them for a while, or they’ll fall victim to all sorts of predators.”

I paused my movie, reluctantly, I admit, and headed out to participate in a poultry roundup. We caught the three little ones easily, and settled them in a large, roomy cage with their mother hen. Jack provided food and water, and I thought we were finished. Back to Logan.

No such luck. Jack had checked the hen’s vacated nest and found one egg still there. The egg was pipped, which meant the poult was still inside, trying to get out, but it was too late to put the egg with the hen. As far as she was concerned, her incubating time was over. She had three offspring to take care of, and she had moved on.

Jack took the egg to the main house, put it in a box and set a lamp over it, hoping once the little one broke out, we could take it to its hen. But nothing was happening. After a few hours, Jack decided to assist by opening the shell himself. The poult was alive, but feeble and floppy, as newborn turkeys usually are for the first few hours.

“This has happened before,” Jack said. “Your Amah usually puts the little one under her shirt next to her heart for a few hours. Then when it’s strong enough to walk on its own, we give it to the hen.” He gave me a meaningful look. Would I volunteer?

“Does that always work?” I asked. “I thought the hen wouldn’t take a baby that had been handled by humans.”

“Not true, at least not with our turkeys,” Jack said. “We’ve done it successfully a few times before. Mama hen and baby both have a strong, instinctive desire to connect.”

I’ll skip to the finish and tell you that the little one came along just fine. After a few hours of cuddling next to my heart, it could stand and run around with sufficient strength that we were able to put it in the cage, reunited with the rest of its family.

Now, back to Logan. He and his fellow mutants have performed amazing feats over the years, but have any of them played nursemaid to a baby turkey? I think not.

To see what Aimee and her crime-solving cohorts are up to these days, have a look at Spine Damage, the newest release in the Aimee Machado Mystery series. If you’re not sure where the Azores Islands are, you’ll know all about this nine-island archipelago by the time you’ve taken an armchair trip there with Aimee and Nick.

“There are many well-researched crime and medical details which lend authenticity to the novel . . . Readers who enjoy detailed world and character building with sweet romance will thoroughly enjoy Spine Damage.” —Claudette Melanson for InD’Tale Magazine

http://indtale.com/reviews/mystery/spine-damage-aimee-machado-mystery-4

 

DON’T FENCE ME IN: GIVING A MYSTERY SERIES ROOM TO ROAM

Some of us are old enough to remember the jokes about “Cabot Cove Syndrome” that were going around back when Angela Lansbury’s mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher, was solving murder cases. Others may have discovered Murder, She Wrote through the ever-present reruns on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel.

The program about a small fictional town in Maine featured a new murder every week, and with the small population there, it seemed townsfolk were dying off like flies. The jokesters had a saying that still rings true as good advice for mystery writers today. “Don’t move to Cabot Cove.” This is particularly important if they’re writing an amateur sleuth series or cozy mysteries, which are often set in small towns.

Eventually, Jessica Fletcher’s writers picked up on the problem, and sent her off to New York City where she kept an apartment. Then they began sending her to all sorts of other cities and countries to practice her detecting skills. She kept her home in Cabot Cove, but far fewer murders happened there.

So how do we place our mystery series protagonist in a small town, yet still offer her, or him, the necessary room to roam? In my case, planning ahead before writing the first book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series was the key. Using what I knew about the world outside my own hometown seemed like the way to go. What were the reasons my protagonist might break away temporarily from her hometown and her job as a hospital librarian to solve a crime?

First, I gave her parents who live half a world away on a mid-Atlantic island in the Azores. Something I was familiar with, because I’d been there.

Then, I gave her a corporate pilot as a boyfriend. Something else I knew about, because there was a general aviation pilot boyfriend in my own past. With a pilot and a plane at her disposal, Aimee can hop to all sorts of destinations when the need arises: San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, even the Azores.  No problem.

And remembering Jessica Fletcher’s New York adventures, I gave my protagonist a grandfather and step-grandmother who are actors living in New York City. Something else I knew about, as I had spent a lot of time around New York’s theatre scene while living on the East Coast studying for my Theatre Arts degree.

And last, but far from least, my protagonist lives on a llama ranch owned by her other set of grandparents. Her home is a converted bunkhouse above their llama barn. Conveniently, it’s only a short drive to the hospital where she works. In the second book in my series, her experience with llamas gave her the opportunity to hike in the mountain wilderness near her home when tracking down a missing character.

So a small-town setting may be a great home base for a mystery protagonist, but it’s a lot more fun for readers if that character has plenty of room to roam. I know it’s a lot more fun for me.

In Spine Damage, the fourth book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, Aimee and Nick travel from their hometown of Timbergate, California to the Azores Islands and then to San Francisco’s yachting scene. They’re on a desperate search for clues to the fate of a missing teenage girl held captive on a superyacht whose destination is unknown. We’ll know if they find her in time when the book is released May 15, 2017.

 

Novelists: Actors Who Play All the Parts

In a temporary lull between final edits of the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery Series, and working out the plot of book five, I found myself tempted to take a plum role in a local theater production of Ken Ludwig’s Edgar-winning play. The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes For the Holidays.

Several years had passed since I last trod the boards, and I had spent those years following my dream of becoming a published mystery novelist. Once that dream became a reality, I thought I had conquered my addiction to live theater. I was confident that I could take on this role, strictly as a favor to the director, of course, and when the run was over, I’d go back to my keyboard and my life as a mystery novelist.

And that’s exactly what happened, but something else happened along the way. I discovered that fiction writers and actors are very much alike. One of my fellow cast members made a remark in the green room about her long-ago desire to write fiction. She said she gave it a try, but everything she wrote seemed stiff, so she decided she wasn’t a writer and gave it up. Hearing her say that made me sad that she had given up so soon, because I recalled going through that same experience. Not only in writing fiction, but in my first attempts as an actor. Stiff. Self-conscious. Blah. I wasn’t “gifted” with spontaneous ability in either art form, so why even try?

For me, the reason to try acting was the feeling, when I attended live theater productions, that I didn’t belong in the audience. I couldn’t stop thinking I belonged on the stage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized where that feeling came from. As a two-year-old, I was signed up for dance lessons by my mother, and for the next ten years, I was always on stage, never in the audience. First came the hula, then Spanish dancing, rumba, tap, and ballet. Finally, when it became clear that I did not have the feet of a ballerina, my dancing years came to an end. Instead, I turned first to live theater, and then to writing fiction.

After my recent return to acting, it struck me that fiction writers are, in a sense, actors who play all the parts. In theater, we actors usually create only one character—the role we were cast to play. We start with a script, and within the context of the story, we gain some idea of what our character is like. But we must bring that character to life with attitude, emotion, personality quirks, a past, and best of all, a secret. We do everything we can to flesh out that character on a live stage and to give the audience something to understand and relate to.

In writing fiction, we do the same, but instead of creating just one character, we create all of them. In our writing space, we put our physical bodies in a chair and tap a keyboard. But in our minds, we’re becoming any number of living, breathing people. We know what they look like, sound like, think like, and act like. Are they sane or crazy? Healthy or ill? Happy or sad? If we’re doing our characters justice, we could step into any of their skins and take them on a stage, fully formed and ready for an audience who will see them as we do in our minds.


In SPINE DAMAGE, book four of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series, 
Aimee and Nick are on their way to the Azores to hunt down clues to a missing teenage girl who vanished after attending a party on a luxury yacht. They stop off in Boston to visit Aimee’s grandfather, an actor who is appearing in a Boston theater’s production of BUS STOP. Although they enjoy the play, the mystery surrounding the girl’s disappearance deepens, and solving it becomes a deadly race against time. SPINE DAMAGE is due for release on May 15, 2017.

Heavy Traffic Got You Down? It’s Worse Than You Think!

While channel surfing the other day, I happened to land for a few moments on a program where a lovely twenty-eight-year-old Pakistani woman named Nelufar Hedayat was being interviewed. She spoke about a series titled The Traffickers on the Fusion Channel. My interest was aroused, as I had just finished the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery series.

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In my book, titled Spine Damage, a fifteen-year-old Portuguese girl goes missing from her home on an Azorean island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after she makes the mistake of accepting an invitation to a yacht party.

I can’t reveal here what happens to my character, a lovely, naïve and headstrong teenager named Liliana Ferrera, as that would be a spoiler, and the book isn’t due for release until May of 2017. What I can say is that I wish more attention were being paid to the devastating impact every sort of illegal trafficking makes on countries around the world, including the United States of America.

Not once during the recent, seemingly endless presidential campaign, did I hear a candidate express a workable solution to the problem of trafficking, whether the merchandise is drugs, stolen art, rhino horns, or human beings (often children) who are sold for purposes of slave labor or for sex. Nor did I hear any reference to the illegal trade in black market organs.

Yes, there was mention of building a wall. Of course, Paul Revere could have reminded us that not all invasions come by land. A wall will not stop drug boats from reaching our shores, or freighters from docking in our harbors laden with containers (only a fraction of which are searched). And how many airplanes touch down in our country on remote landing strips? What about autos and foot traffic arriving from the north? Will we build a second wall from coast to coast along the Canadian border?

I hold the fictional answers to lovely Liliana’s fate, but what of the thousands of real-life human souls who have been taken from their homes and forced into a black-market world, or the flood of other illicit trade that feeds the appetites of criminal buyers in this country and others throughout the world? For more on this subject, watch Nelufar Hedayat on the Fusion channel on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m..  http://fusion.net/page/the-traffickers/

Will an innocent, trusting young teen be rescued in time? Find out when Spine Damage, book four in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, is released in May of 2017. And in book five, we’ll continue the theme with a mystery surrounding illegal organ harvesting. Meanwhile, the first three books in the series are available in print and e-book versions by shopping online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or upon request at your local bookstore.

Hospital Volunteers: Unsung Heroes

We tend to think of hospital volunteers as elderly, gray-haired Pink Ladies who sit behind a reception desk in the lobby giving directions. Or we imagine young female Candy Stripers who staff the gift shop, selling flowers or teddy bears to patients’ families. Yes, those are volunteers, and we love them for caring and donating their time. But the modern hospital volunteer fills many other rewarding and sometimes surprising roles.

dsc_4336These days, candy striper outfits only see the light of day at Halloween parties, but most hospitals do require volunteers to wear uniforms that allow them to be easily identified. In spite of the lack of financial compensation, there are many ways that volunteering in a hospital can be rewarding. Men and women of all ages and walks of life are participating in this vital and generous form of volunteer work. They are vibrant, productive and priceless assets in the health care world.

The American Hospital Association’s website mentions a host of volunteer roles that many of us have never imagined. One hospital uses volunteer doulas, trained professionals who provide hands-on physical and psychological support during and just after birth: or who provide emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. That hospital estimates that 23 percent of its 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas.

And volunteers need not be involved directly with patients. In other hospitals and outpatient facilities, volunteer artists have painted calming scenes on ceiling tiles, providing creative art as a distraction for patients awaiting procedures, lying in hospital beds or undergoing other tests and therapies, as well as for families sitting in waiting rooms.

In another setting, volunteers staff a freestanding bookstore in the center of the hospital, which lends and re-sells new or gently used books and uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for the hospital’s teen storycatcher-1-3volunteers.

A meaningful project for writers is practiced in a hospital where volunteers obtain the life
stories of patients and share them with hospital staff, physicians, family and friends. The stories or poems capture the essence of the patients’ lives and allow patients to restore and/or enhance their relationships with loved ones.

Examples of many more hospital volunteer job descriptions are listed on the Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center website:
http://www.memorialmedicalcenter.org/community/Volunteer/Volunteerservices.html

Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, book three of the Aimee Machado mysteries, two senior volunteers, a widow and a widower, find satisfaction and purpose by volunteering in Aimee’s domain, the hospital library. The volunteers work their shifts on alternate days, but their common interest in the library soon brings them close together and promises to light up their golden years.

WRITING THE NOVELLA: A Guest Blog by Sasscer Hill

High Resolution 4Today I’m pleased to welcome a talented guest author to the Sharon St. George website. As a horse lover and a mystery writer, I’ve read everything written by the beloved Dick Francis, as have his scores of loyal followers. Although he is no longer with us, we are fortunate to have talented authors like Sasscer Hill following in his footsteps. Sasscer is the author of the multiple-award-nominated Nikki Latrelle mystery series, as well as author of the “Fia McKee” series forthcoming from St. Martins, Minotaur. The first book in the Fia McKee series won the 2015 Carrie McCray award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and was the 2015 Claymore Runner Up. Her novella, RACING FROM EVIL, the prequel to her Nikki Latrelle mystery series, was released in May of 2016.

It is my pleasure to welcome my guest, Sasscer Hill, to the Sharon St. George website to provide insights into a topic she knows well:

WRITING THE NOVELLA:  SASSCER HILL’S ODYSSEY

As a wild-eyed teenager, there was one quote that touched my soul.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot- 1955

Eliot’s words describe so many of life’s adventures, and for me, none so much as my journey as the writer of the Nikki Latrelle series. When I started this series, though I could write, I knew nothing about being an author, and nothing about writing a mystery or suspense novel. So I read several how to books and took some mystery writing courses at the Bethesda Writer’s Center in Maryland.

Following the suggestions of my instructor and various gurus in the how-to books, I wrote a whole backstory for Nikki. The idea was to learn who Nikki was, and what made her that way before I started writing FULL MORTALITY.  It was a huge effort, but it paid off. FULL MORTALITY was nominated for an Agatha and a Macavity for best first novel.

Over the next few years, I wrote two more Nikki Latrelle books, before finally being forced to abandon her. I was searching for a big five publishing contract and my agent and everyone else in the industry said I had to write a new series if I hoped to accomplish this. So I did. My new heroine, Fia McKee, landed me a two book deal with St. Martins, a thrilling and heady moment, for sure.

But then reality set in as I saw the huge gap between the last Nikki Latrelle, published in 2013, and the not-available-until 2017, FLAMINGO ROAD. I’d planned to immediately start a third in the Fia McKee series. But I woke up one morning and realized if the first two books in this new series don’t sell well, St. Martins will drop me like a hot potato.

I was aware that some publishers are asking their authors to write novellas and short stories to keep themselves in the public eye during the intervals between their full length novels. I decided it was time to produce another Nikki Latrelle. And so, after the long journey of writing five books, I returned to my notes about Nikki Latrelle’s early years. Like the Eliot quote, I came back to where I’d started and knew the place for the first time.

So what if it was backstory? This tale of Nikki’s early years was both poignant and loaded with reader satisfaction.  Imagine a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl whose mother dies suddenly. In a sense, this mother has abandoned her daughter, leaving her in the hands of a lewd, malevolent stepfather. What happens to this girl after she flees from her stepfather through the streets of Baltimore and climbs the razor-wire fence into Pimlico Racetrack? Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive?

The fact that she does survive and succeed makes, in my opinion, a great story. So I recently wrote and self-published the Nikki Latrelle novella, RACING FROM EVIL. The novella has sold well and I’m very glad I wrote it. But now we come to the next phase of my writer’s journey.

In my heart I believe the St. Martins/Fia McKee series will sell well. After all, the unpublished series has already won the Carrie McCray (South Carolina Writers) Award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and been nominated for a Claymore Award.

I wanted the next Fia McKee to take place at Santa Anita Park in California, and even took a trip out to the track, touring it and the Hollywood area nearby. I wanted a murder mystery set at this well-known track surrounded by the glitz and deceit of Hollywood. But still, suppose the first two don’t do well? What good will this idea be then? If I want to sell to another big five publisher, any book I write has to be something new, which means yet another series and a new set of characters.

Since I can’t afford not to hedge my bets, I’ve already started a new book–a murder mystery about the Irish Travelers here in America. By happy coincidence, the largest enclave of these people is Murphy Village, not more than forty minutes from my home in Aiken, South Carolina.

Travelers have a fascinating culture. The children are taken out of school by eighth grade, if not before, and the girls are married by contract and usually as young teens. Travelers stick to themselves and have little dealings with outsiders. Society believes the Travelers are scam and con artists. What would it be like for a girl who grows up in this atmosphere? What if she wants out? Where would she go? What would happen to her?

And so, another story evolves, and another exploration begins. Only time will tell which way I travel, but at least I’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.

About RACING FROM EVIL

AA Cover Teresa racingevil-coverproof4 (1)Nikki Latrelle’s mother dies suddenly, leaving the thirteen-year-old girl in the hands of her lewd, malevolent stepfather. Nikki has no other family, and when the stepfather forces his way into her bedroom, she flees. Her best times were spent with her mom at the racetrack, so this is where she runs, climbing the track’s razor-wire fence late at night, in Baltimore. Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive? She needs money, but must hide from the police and her stepfather who relentlessly search for her. As these men close in, a groom named Carlos helps her escape. Carlos has problems of his own, but through him, she meets the old horse-trainer Ravinsky.  Will the old horseman take her under his wing? Risk his status and reputation to help her? And what evil has befallen Carlos’s young son, Pedro? The boy is missing, and Nikki senses evil forces are at work. Because she knows too well how it feels to be alone and frightened, she risks her life to find Pedro.

“Could Sasscer Hill be the Dick Francis of her generation? Count me among those who would vote yes.”
Margaret Maron, New York Times Best Selling Author and Winner of Edgar Best Novel, Edgar Grand Master, Agatha, Anthony & Macavity Awards

FIVE STAR REVIEW. “RACING FROM EVIL, a fast paced exciting work of writing and proverbial ‘page turner’ of the best mystery style. Sasscer’s way with words makes the story unfold in a clear concise manner that’s believable, and accurate to details. I love her portrayal of the horses in the book. A horse lover’s delight, a mystery lover’s thrill. I would recommend this novella to all readers for it’s quick pace, as well as a look into some of the real life dangers of being a young girl.”
Bishop, Amazon Reviewer

Follow Sasscer Hill at:
http://SasscerHill.com/
Twitter: @SasscerHill
https://www.amazon.com/author/sasscerhill

HOSPITAL PHOBIA: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

When you anticipate a trip to the hospital, does your pulse quicken? Does your blood pressure rise? Does your throat go dry with dread? Then you’re probably hospital-phobic.DSC_4332 When I set out to write this post, I did an online search of the term hospital phobia and found 480,000 results. I knew the phobia was real, but I didn’t know it had a name. The medical term for this condition is a mouthful. It’s called nosocomephobia.

What is it that strikes fear in the heart? What causes that panicky sensation? If you’re about to be admitted as a patient, it may be the latest headline about deaths caused by medical errors. If you’re a visitor, it may be something as simple as the thought of all those nasty germs floating around. Ick!

Even worse, you just watched a TV show about a crazed shooter running amok in the corridors of a hospital.

So what are you to do? If you’re a potential patient, you need to be admitted. Your appendix is about to burst, and it isn’t going to heal itself. Or perhaps your loved-one is in the hospital, needing you there by his or her side. You have little choice but to face your fear and go into that terrifying place filled with germs and other potential threats.

Let me try to reassure you. I worked in an acute care hospital for seven years. My administrative position sent me to every floor and every department in the hospital complex. The worst danger I faced in all of that time was . . .

Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of even one example, but I can think of endless examples of how hospital administration and staff are involved in keeping patients and visitors safe.

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The welfare of patients involves a complex system of safety protocols designed to cover not just the care provided by physicians and nurses, but by every department and hospital worker. These include: emergency, pharmacy, radiology, pathology, dietary, infection control, and many more. Safety protocols are in place for every aspect of patient care.

But what about the safety of visitors? How are they being protected? From fire? From shooters? From other disasters? Fire and disaster drills are conducted regularly. Each department knows its procedures and assigned duties, and stands ready to assist. Hospital security protocols are in place, and personnel are constantly on alert for the very rare occasion when a patient or visitor becomes unruly or dangerous. As an added protection, more and more hospitals are requiring visitors to show photo ID and wear a visitor’s badge during their visit.

If you’re hospital-phobic, don’t give up or give in. There are treatments that can help. You can find a wealth of helpful information by doing a search using the key words hospital phobia.

Here is just one of the 480,000 links I found for information about this condition.

http://www.allaboutcounseling.com/library/nosocomephobia/

Book 3 Cover00020002In BREACH OF ETHICS, the third book in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, the issue of patient and visitor safety is on the mind of Timbergate Medical Center Administrator Jared Quinn. His concern for the wellbeing of patients and visitors results in a locked room murder mystery for Aimee and her team of amateur sleuths to solve.

The first three books in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, published by Camel Press, are available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by request from your local bookstore.