Talking mystery e-books

ABQ Friends: I'm speaking on e-books and self-publishing next Tuesday (7/24) at a meeting of Croak & Dagger, the Albuquerque chapter of Sisters in Crime. The 7 p.m. meeting is at a police substation way up by Montgomery and Tramway.

Directions and more info at their website: http://www.croak-and-dagger.com/index.html

This talk will cover some of the same ground as last Tuesday's speech at SouthWest Writers, but with an emphasis on the mystery and thriller genres.

Admission is free!


Talking e-books

"The e-book revolution" is the topic when I speak to SouthWest Writers next Tuesday (7/17).

I'll discuss how to self-publish in e-books, including the nuts and bolts of turning your manuscript into an acceptable e-book, and some of the trends in independent publishing. Authors are taking control of their own work, and it's producing interesting results!

I'll also read a little from my new Kindle book, A BOX OF PANDORAS.

The SouthWest Writers meeting starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at its usual location at 5540 Eubank NE in Albuquerque. Click here for more info about the meeting and about SouthWest Writers..

Hope to see you there!


Hothouse Flowers, Part II

This is the second half of a short story featuring characters from my new mystery novel, A BOX OF PANDORAS. If you enjoy the story, try the novel, which is available on Kindle-only for now. Click here to see more.

The front door opened without a knock, and Nannette blew inside, scrawny and brittle, a scarecrow in a pantsuit. Her puckered face flushed when she saw us standing by the orchid.
"We were just admiring this beautiful plant," I said. "Mitzi said someone gave it to you?"
Nannette glanced outside before she closed the door. Sounded like other cars were arriving, but I couldn't see the long driveway from where I stood. Just endless plains out every window.
"I can't talk about that," Nannette said as she crossed the cluttered living room.
"Why not?"
"It's a church thing."
Nannette attends Wildweed Community Church, one of those strict evangelical outfits where you're guilty until proven innocent and it's perfectly acceptable to shout during Sunday services. They're a busy congregation, knocking on doors at dinnertime all over Pandora. We Presbyterians do not approve of such fervent intrusion. A shameful number of us refer to Nannette's bunch as the "Wild-Eyed Community Church."
"You a priest now?" I said. "You hold people's confessions secret?"
Nannette flushed redder, and there was venom in her narrow eyes.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," she said. "You've never kept a secret in your life."
I couldn't have been more shocked if she'd slapped my face. I'm perfectly capable of keeping a secret. If anyone in this room had a big mouth, it was Mitzi Tyner, which she proved at that moment by speaking up.
"What secret? What are you going on about?"
Nannette didn't get a chance to answer. I'd recovered from the insult enough to sputter, "That orchid is stolen!"
"What?" Mitzi acted surprised. "What is she talking about, Nannette?"
"I can't discuss it!"
Voices rose outside, the buoyant sound of joshing men. I recognized the booming baritone of Hugh Lindenpool, the banker who sings in our church choir. I was running out of time.
"Tell us now," I said, "or tell us in front of the entire committee. I won't sit still while you try to--"
"Somebody at church asked me to get rid of that orchid." Nannette addressed her comments to Mitzi, but I mentally recorded every word for future courtroom and/or Garden Society testimony. "This person felt guilty about how it had been acquired. And that's all I will say about it. Now or ever."
The door burst open, and Hugh Lindenpool flooded in with a couple of his loud golfing buddies. Before I could even get my thoughts straight, the meeting was under way.
Well. Let's say I didn't do my usual thorough job keeping the minutes. The yellow orchid was right there in the room with us! But nobody else around the dining table recognized it. Of course, most of them were men, and they wouldn't know an orchid from okra, but still. You'd think one of these geniuses could put two and two together.
Mitzi chaired the meeting in her usual haphazard fashion, idiot smile pasted in place the whole time, and I'm sure they couldn't tell she'd just been accused of receiving stolen property. She wouldn't look at me, though.
Nannette sneaked out midway through the meeting. I resisted the urge to chase after her. Grilling Nannette Hoch was a job for the Llano County sheriff.
From the sound of it, Nannette was just a conduit anyway. The real thief was the person who gave her the orchid. The church member who'd stolen it from Betty Sue Lybrand.
I remembered with a jolt that Betty Sue, too, attended Wildweed Community Church. She's always such a friendly, levelheaded person, I forget she's a holy roller. Betty Sue undoubtedly knew everyone in that congregation. She'd certainly know which fellow believers visited her home around the time the orchid went missing.
As soon as the committee meeting clattered to its usual uneventful conclusion, I high-tailed it for Betty Sue's house.
She was out in the rose garden when I drove up her dusty road. Betty Sue grows beautiful roses in the unforgiving New Mexico sunshine, and an amazing variety of exotics in a greenhouse Archie slapped together behind their garage.
She waved me toward the house. Her ginger hair was the usual frazzled mess as she met me at the front door, and perspiration dotted her round face. I practically chewed my tongue off, waiting for her to finish inviting me into her cool kitchen and offering iced tea and asking after Harley and the kids. When I could finally get a word in edgewise, I blurted out everything I knew about her missing orchid and Nannette and Mitzi and the mysterious Wildweed connection.
Betty Sue flushed and fidgeted through my hurried narrative, and I mistakenly assumed she was thrilled by my sleuthing. When I paused for breath, she said, "You need to drop this, Loretta."
"Drop it. That orchid already caused enough friction. I don't want Archie to get riled up again."
"Don't you want to call the sheriff?"
She shook her head, but she wouldn't look at me, too busy watching her freckled hands fretting with each other on the tabletop. Silence filled the tidy kitchen.
And then I got it.
No wonder Betty Sue didn't want the sheriff involved. She'd known the thief's identity all along
I don't know why I hadn't seen it sooner. Betty Sue never would've dared to spend hundreds of Archie Lybrand's hard-earned dollars on a single houseplant. She'd stolen the orchid from that flower show in Albuquerque.
Once people like me started gushing over her new acquisition, how wonderful and rare it was, Archie would've asked questions she couldn't answer. The orchid had to disappear.
Betty Sue couldn't bring herself to throw away such a beautiful flower, so she gave it to Nannette. She probably hoped that would be the end of it, but Archie blabbed her fib all over town.
I glanced around her kitchen, at the faded wallpaper and the aged appliances. The only joy in the drab house came from the pots of colorful flowers at every window. We need such things of beauty in our lives, little gifts to ourselves, what Mama always called "orchids for the soul."
Betty Sue got so carried away by beauty that she made a terrible mistake. I could sympathize. I myself am sometimes afflicted by enthusiasms.
"If that's the way you want it," I said softly, "we can let it go."
"That would be best, Loretta."
I got to my feet. Betty Sue teetered over her nervous hands, and I got the impression she was waiting for me to leave so she could put her head on the table and have a good cry.
"Despite what some people say, I can keep a secret," I said. "You can trust me, Betty Sue."
She nodded, but still couldn't look at me. I cast about for a parting kindness.
"Mitzi will take excellent care of that orchid." It pained me to say so. "She'll smile at it all the livelong day. That's got to make for a healthy flower."
Betty Sue looked up at me then, her eyes red and wet.
"I'm glad it found a good home."


Hothouse Flowers, Part I

Dear readers: I wrote a short story featuring some of the main characters from my hilarious new mystery novel, A BOX OF PANDORAS, and thought I'd share it here on my blog. Part II will appear tomorrow.

 My first thought when I saw the purloined orchid was that I'd finally found a way to wipe the rodeo-queen smile off Mitzi Tyner's face.
I've labored in Mitzi's shadow my whole life. We were in the same grade through school, and raven-haired Mitzi was Miss Everything-All-the-Time. Homecoming queen. Class president. Head cheerleader for the Pandora Boxers (dogs, not underwear). Editor of the school newspaper, though she can barely write her own name.
I never got to be any of those things. All my ambitions were thwarted by the blinding charisma of Mitzi Tyner. My yearbook caption might as well have read: "Loretta Kimball: Most Likely to Come in Second."
I thought it would end after school, but Mitzi follows me through middle age, thwarting me. If I join a civic organization such as the Association to Beautify Pandora Creek, she joins, too, and is inevitably elected president within weeks. She's president of everything in town. Not that she ever does any work, mind you. That's left to drones like me. Mitzi believes her role is to stand around and be admired, and the people of Pandora just eat that up with a spoon.
I try to avoid all contact with her, but that's not possible in a town of two thousand souls surrounded by hundreds of miles of empty prairie. I suppose I could go stand out in the desert by myself, but I'm social by nature. I want to help people, to be involved in our community, but every time I turn around, I bump into the surgically enhanced bosom of Mitzi Tyner.
The worst is when my civic duty requires me to visit her home, which is just as overdecorated as she is. Oh, Mitzi has many lovely furnishings in that mausoleum she and Long John Tyner built on the outskirts of town, but the decor is so thrown together, it's got all the charm of a flea market. The Chinese vases and Southwestern landscapes and ceramic elephants might as well have price tags hanging on them. All of Mitzi's taste is in her mouth.
She often hosts civic events out there at the Taj U-Haul, so I'm sometimes forced to actually cross her threshold. On this day, it was a meeting of the Save Old Route 66 Committee. I'm secretary of the committee, which used to be headed up by my husband, Harley. (Of course, as soon as Mitzi joined, the downtown businessmen elected her president, but Harley didn't mind. He's got enough to do at the hardware-and-feed store that's been in his family for three generations.)
I was first to arrive for our monthly meeting, and Mitzi greeted me wearing a puffy blue frock and dangly earrings and a white apron decorated with black cows. She can't wear jeans like everyone else in Pandora. She dresses as if she expects a TV crew to stop by any minute.
"Loretta!" She always acts pleased to see me, but I know better. "Come in this house!"
I was carrying a sack full of plastic bottles of soda pop for the meeting, and it was like holding an armload of slithery babies. I followed her to the kitchen to dump my burden, and that's when I saw the orchid.
She hadn't even bothered to hide it! The orchid sat on a mahogany sideboard in her dining room, bold as you please, its drooping flowers so yellow they seemed made of sunshine. Oh, the blue ceramic pot was new, and she'd clearly pruned a couple of the leathery leaves, but that was a Yellow Lantern hybrid, and it most definitely was the one stolen from Betty Sue Lybrand.
I'd seen that rare orchid once before. I happened to stop by Betty Sue's place right after she brought it home from a flower show in Albuquerque. Just the most precious orchid you've ever seen. Must've cost hundreds of dollars, and I'm sure that didn't sit well with her husband, Archie, a shade-tree mechanic known for being tighter than new boots. Betty Sue had planned to show the orchid off at the next meeting of the Pandora Garden Society, but a sneak thief took it from her home a week ago.
Now there it was, in plain sight, with half the town's bigwigs on their way to Mitzi's house. Did she think no one would notice? Did she think we were fools?
"What a beautiful orchid!" I said as I crossed the room to examine it closer. Definitely Betty Sue's missing hybrid. "Where did you get it?"
"Isn't it pretty?" Mitzi was at the kitchen sink, opening a bottle of cheap champagne. "Nannette gave me that the other day."
Nannette Hoch is Mitzi's sidekick. She's a dried-up lemon of a woman, bitter and nasty, with only three passions in life: devotion to her church, loyalty to Mitzi and loathing of me. The feeling is mutual.
"Since when does Nannette know anything about orchids?"
"Somebody gave it to her, and she knew she'd just kill it," Mitzi said. "You know how she is with plants, bless her heart."
I nodded. Nannette was quietly banned from Garden Society meetings years ago because she could wipe out a roomful of healthy houseplants with a single jinxed exhalation.
Had Nannette stolen the orchid? I couldn't imagine that. First of all, Nannette hadn't broken one of the Ten Commandments in decades, if ever. Secondly, her bad plant karma would've killed such a delicate hybrid right away. I was surprised it survived the car ride to Mitzi's house. Nannette must've kept the windows rolled down the whole way.
The cork popped. Mitzi beamed at this accomplishment, her capped teeth shiny as truck mirrors. She poured herself a healthy fluteful, though it was barely two o'clock in the afternoon, and joined me in the dining room.
"This is a rare orchid," I said.
As if she didn't know. Betty Sue's tightwad husband had moaned to anyone who'd listen about the loss of that valuable plant.
"Why would someone sentence it to death by giving it to Nannette?"
Mitzi's smile waned while she concentrated on one of her periodic thoughts, then she flashed the high-beams again.
"You can ask her yourself," she said brightly. "I saw her out the kitchen window a minute ago. Her car was just pulling up."
My pulse quickened. Nannette wasn't a member of the Save Old Route 66 Committee, so I hadn't expected her here. Did I dare confront her? The town fathers would be arriving any second. Did I want them to find three middle-aged women in the middle of a hair-tearing fight?
(To be continued . . .)