Category Archives: Favorite Stuff I Read

The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler

the art of dying wellIf you’re alive, and/or have parents, and/or have children, you should get your hands on a copy of this book.

It includes a ton of research and indispensible advice about the end of life, yours or someone else’s. Katy Butler, the author, is a journalist who leads you with a gentle hand through all phases of aging — questions to ask, issues to think about, places to find more information. It’s honest and unflinching, written in an easy-to-read manner.

I haven’t blogged here since I blogged about my dad’s death in April. I’m pretty sure that’s no coincidence.

I visited him many times while he was on the hospice floor of the hospital. I was lucky enough not to have to deal with any of the details or paperwork, because I have older siblings who thankfully handled all that.

But as I read this book a few months later, I was struck by how lucky we were about some of what happened to Dad (and to us) and how other information would have been really helpful to have known. The author talks about what you can start doing now to prepare for aging, because—surprise—none of us is getting any younger.

She explains how you can find allies in the medical community to help with your goals. If you want to stay in your house, who can help you do that? If you want to move to a facility, how do you find one?

There are sections entitled Disaster-Proofing Daily Life; Knowing Your Medical Rights; The Art of Honest Hope; Understanding the Trajectory of Your Illness; Avoiding the Hospital; Coping with Dementia; Making Good Use of the Time You Have Left; This is What Dying Looks Like; Preparing for a Home Death; and Humanizing a Hospital Death, among so many others.

Each chapter begins with a checklist to review for yourself, or someone you love, to see how the chapter can help in your situation. You’ve given up driving. Your health conditions have changed how you live. Your hair is thinning in familiar places and sprouting in others.

I found every page of this book useful and thought-provoking, and I’ll be buying a copy for each of my kids, with notes—lots of notes—in the margins.

We research major vacations over a long period of time. We make preparations many months in advance, sometimes years, for an upcoming birth or adoption. We start laying the groundwork for our kids’ college in middle school, if we don’t get it done in the preschool years.

Isn’t dying well worthy of at least the same level of preparedness?

How prepared are you to tie up things on this earth? Does this topic freak you out or are you comfortable talking about death?

 

Money and Funny

I had two books going recently, one nonfiction and one fiction.

the business of writing

SCRATCH was a mostly fascinating collection of essays from writers of all stripes talking about the money part of writing. You know, making a living.

As Vladimir Nabokov said, “I write for my pleasure, but publish for money.” As J. Robert Lennon remarks in his essay, “this philosophy seems unambiguously useful: fiscally pragmatic and mojo-positive.”

Money is something we don’t really discuss, which in her essay Choire Sicha might be because “writers cleave off from the real world, where math actually exists. Many of us gleefully profess an incompetence with all kinds of numeric systems, up to and including taxes. If you ever want to see something sad, ask a room full of freelance writers about their tax strategies. It’s like asking a pack of baby kittens about space travel.”

But the most illuminating one for me was the interview with Cheryl Strayed in which she speaks very candidly about her money issues. She describes being on tour promoting her wildly successful bestseller, WILD, and having her rent check bounce.

I don’t think most writers understand the money part of publishing, and I’m sure non-writers don’t. This book can fix that.

The second book I just finished was from my friend Gretchen Archer.

funny mysteries

She writes an absolutely hilarious series of capers set in the world of casinos. DOUBLE DOG DARE is her latest, but I suggest you begin with her first and savor your way through.

Conan Doyle For The Defense by Margalit Fox

I just finished this fascinating true crime story involving none other than Arthur Conan Doyle.

Over the years I’d heard that people would write to Conan Doyle and ask his help on various legal or criminal matters but I thought that was anecdotal, since people also thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person.

But this is one of those actual cases.

A man named Oscar Slater was jailed for the murder of an elderly woman in Scotland in 1908. But the investigation was a sham and it was clear that Slater was railroaded. Slater was a convenient person to nab … Jewish, foreign, poor, held dodgy jobs. He checked all the easy boxes and was sent to a brutal place, Peterhead Prison, just north of Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. He was there for eighteen years.

The author very adeptly travels back and forth between Slater’s case and the investigation, the history of law and police procedures in general and in Scotland in particular, and how Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. It’s pretty clear Sherlock was based on Joseph Bell who was a doctor at a teaching hospital. As a second year medical student, Conan Doyle was chosen to be his clerk. Bell diagnosed illnesses exactly as Sherlock solved crimes.

The influence of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle led to new ideas we still use today in police work, but fair warning, the things they did to Oscar Slater will make your blood boil.

This book was a delightful combination of police procedural, biography, history, and plain ‘ol mystery. It also taught me the difference between deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning.

Sherlock would be proud.

What are you reading?

 

I’m reading Nancy Pickard this week

I’m a proud, dedicated member of Sisters in Crime, an organization whose mission it is to support women mystery writers. (Misters do this too, in case you were wondering!) I helped start our Colorado chapter a few years back. It has been by far one of the best things I’ve ever done, personally and professionally.

Members get lots of benefits from the national organization of SinC, but I’m wiggly with excitement about something coming up in a couple of weeks. National has created a Speaker’s Bureau of prominent and prolific Sisters in Crime members. At no cost to the chapter, they pay for these speakers to come and present workshops and other events for us.

The board of our chapter requested that Nancy Pickard come to speak to us so I’m fully immersing myself in her mysteries.

I started with THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, which hooked me from the first few pages.

Here’s the blurb about it…

Small Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his father’s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow around her. Even dead, she is the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. It is a moment that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him. The mysterious dead girl-the “Virgin of Small Plains”-inspires local reverence. In the two decades following her death, strange miracles visit those who faithfully tend to her grave; some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, word of the legend spreads.

But what really happened in that snow-covered field? Why did young Mitch Newquist disappear the day after the Virgin’s body was found, leaving behind his distraught girlfriend, Abby Reynolds? Why do the town’s three most powerful men-Dr. Quentin Reynolds, former sheriff Nathan Shellenberger, and Judge, Tom Newquist-all seem to be hiding the details of that night?

Seventeen years later, when Mitch suddenly returns to Small Plains, simmering tensions come to a head, ghosts that had long slumbered whisper anew, and the secrets that some wish would stay buried rise again from the grave of the Virgin. Abby-never having resolved her feelings for Mitch-is now determined to uncover exactly what happened so many years ago to tear their lives apart.

Three families and three friends, their worlds inexorably altered in the course of one night, must confront the ever-unfolding consequences in award-winning author Nancy Pickard’s remarkable novel of suspense. Wonderfully written and utterly absorbing, The Virgin of Small Plains is about the loss of faith, trust, and innocence . . . and the possibility of redemption.

As soon as I finished that one, I cleansed my palate with the last three short stories from an anthology by one author that was disappointing so I won’t mention it. It was touted in a national magazine, and as I’ve been trying to write a short story, I thought it would be wise to read really good ones. Alas, these I did not find “really good.” The search continues, however.

Then I picked up Nancy Pickard’s THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING.

Here’s the blurb for it…

One beautiful summer afternoon, Jody Linder receives shocking news: The man convicted of murdering her father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-three years since that stormy night when her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody’s three uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents’ ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night.

Now Billy Crosby is free, thanks to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father’s innocence. Despite their long history of carefully avoiding each other in such an insular community, Jody and Collin find that they share an exclusive sense of loss.

As Jody revisits old wounds, startling truths emerge about her family’s tragic past. But even through struggle and hardship, she still dares to hope for a better future””and maybe even love.

Again, as with Pickard’s other book, I was immediately captivated. She has a distinctive way with language, and her descriptions are so spot-on, you could swear you’ve already been wherever she’s describing.

Here’s how it opens …

Pickard has tantalizing mysteries and story questions that I can’t wait to learn. I raced through 100 pages of it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’m only halfway through, but I suspect I’ll continue to be surprised and engrossed through the last word.

Are you a Nancy Pickard fan? In addition to these two books, she has 16 others. Have you read any others?

 

Fiction Can Be Murder

Launch Day is finally here!

In case you haven’t heard enough about FICTION CAN BE MURDER, here’s an interview I did with Deborah Kalb … here’s where the main character Charlee Russo drops in at Dru’s Book Musings for a bit … here’s my book trailer … here are some cool tidbits you might not have known about the book …

And because you’ve been so patient, here is a picture of my adorable dog, Nala eating a MilkBone as big as her head.

And her boudoir shot …

You can buy the book, but not the dog, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere. And if you don’t want to buy it, ask your favorite librarian to order it. (Because then they’d be MY favorite librarian too!)

And remember … when you subscribe to my “So Seldom It’s Shameful” newsletter, you get the chance to win books and other cool stuff. Do it now because ”” SURPRISE ”” this month you can win FICTION CAN BE MURDER!

Good luck!