Sunday, June 28, 2009

Guest on Nancy Famolari's blog, July 1st & 3rd



I'm excited to announce that as part of the group VBT-Writers on the Move, I will be a guest on Nancy Famolari's blog on July 1st and 3rd. Amongst other things, she'll be featuring my collection of poems "It's a Teacher's Life...!" So drop by Nancy's place, if you have a spare minute, and learn more about the ups and down's of a teacher's and a writer's life!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Father



In honor of Father's Day - a tribute to a remarkable and much loved man.

THE FATHER

1910 the year,
the second eldest in a family of nine,
a quick, sharp brain
fascinated by all things mechanical,
math and science a breeze,
English and history, too,
a military career for him, of course,
following the tradition of years.
An officer he becomes,
listening to long tales of hunting
and shooting in the mess,
but these things do nothing
but bore him completely to death.
Eager to share his mechanical passion
the words pour forth in youthful naivety
about Aston Martins, Rovers,
engines, pistons,
motor bike racing, the lot...
But “Don’t you know, my dear chap,
that’s just not the done thing, what?”

A square peg in a round hole,
a nonconformist
rubbing superiors up the wrong way,
an army career dissolving,
a first marriage ending,
but then war — a reprieve,
distinguished service,
mentioned in dispatches,
family honor retrieved.
Part of the British occupation
on the shattered German soil,
encounter with a native woman
who’s fled her homeland in the East,
fifteen years the difference,
yet what of that?
Elegance and intelligence intriguing,
to joyful marriage vows finally leading...

A few months later a soldier no more,
a career in technical writing beckoning,
but money is tight
and work has to be found
be it north, south, east or west,
so lonely weeks spent away
from family and home
are the price he has to pay.
Yet delight he finds
with two daughters,
helping with homework,
encouraging, comforting,
supporting, teaching,
answers never failing
to satisfy the countless questions,
revealing nothing of financial worries
robbing his nights of sleep.

Insatiable curiosity driving him
to devour books galore
on history and science,
philosophy and war,
to ask all he encounters,
whether workmen in the road
or politicians in the street,
about their work and trade
and the knowledge he gains
is oh, so precious and so sweet!
Up with the lark is his habit,
preparing breakfast before the household stirs,
enjoying the early morning quietness
and the richness of coffee freshly ground,
turning the pages of the ever-present book
or allowing the beautiful notes
of arias and symphonies divine
to transport his soul
to the realm of the spiritual.
A daughter enters
and in companionable silence,
minds perfectly attuned,
a breakfast is shared.

Can’t be found?
In the study perhaps,
planning family holidays
with military precision,
or maybe the garage,
clamped under engine
hands black with oil and grime,
or glued to the workbench
cutting, shaving,
repairing, mending,
gifted fingers
weaving skillful patterns
with tools for this
and tools for that.
A call comes,
a friend in need
of his technical expertise,
or a daughter’s plea,
“Can you take me into town, please?”
No problem!
Requests fulfilled
with grace and speed,
a heart full of kindness
willingly performing
deed after deed.
In the kitchen, too,
a whiz of a chef,
roasting and stewing with admirable flair
and conjuring up delicious puddings
from ingredients plain, simple and bare.
What to do for relaxation and rest?
A book, of course,
(science fiction a favorite)
or a trip to the pub,
to converse with friends
and partake of a pint or two of best.

Yet the money worries of earlier years
have taken their toll
and blocked arteries around the heart
darken tomorrow’s goals.
An operation he wants,
not a body rattling with pills,
but the doctors aren’t sure;
he’s too old, they say, for an operation,
it’s too risky, they say, at seventy-three.
But he persists,
a second opinion he wants
and at last he finds a doctor to agree.
He waits for a hospital bed,
the call arrives,
the bags are packed,
and off he goes,
this man who thinks
his life doesn’t amount to much,
always dreaming of ideas
to make that fabulous fortune,
though it eludes him at every turn,
yet surely it must be there, it must —
if not now, then soon, very soon!
But look at the daughters he’s brought up,
teaching them right from wrong,
never failing or deserting them,
filling their memories
with endless happy hours
of warmth and affection.
Look at their pleasure,
their laughing, smiling faces
when he is near,
look how they listen
with eyes so eager and keen
to the words that fall from the mobile lips —
that’s a wonder to be seen!
How well he’s taught and loved them!
Isn’t that an accomplishment
more valuable than all the prizes
the world of men offers
and more precious than all
the gold and jewels we hide
in strongholds and coffers?

The surgeons await
and wield their instruments
with skill and care.
The operation’s a success,
but the body’s too weak
and the torrent of drugs is too forceful and strong,
the heart fails,
a minor collapse,
hours later a massive one...
The race begins to open the chest,
massage the heart,
it beats,
but too many minutes have passed,
imprisoning the brain in a vacuum too long.
The body seeks refuge in coma;
organs fail as the days tick by
and hands switch off machines —
a flick here, a click there,
that’s all it takes,
not much,
to enable the soul to pass
to its existence beyond,
accompanied by the love
and gratitude of hearts
enriched by its touch.

Copyright © 2008 Helena Harper

(Excerpt from my book Family and More - Enemies or Friends? )

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Murder Takes the Cake - a delicious mystery by Gayle Trent


Today, in my second post this month about mystery writer, Gayle Trent, you will be able to find out more about her latest book Murder Takes the Cake and read an extract from it.

Murder Takes The Cake tells the story of Daphne Martin, a forty-year-old divorcee who returns to her fictional hometown of Brea Ridge, Virginia to start her life over. She has left behind an ex-husband who is in prison for an attempt on Daphne's life, a dingy apartment and a stale career. She has started fresh in a new home with a new career, Daphne's Delectable Cakes, a cake-decorating company Daphne runs out of her home. She is thrilled to be living closer to her beloved niece and nephew, although being close to other family members brings up lifelong resentments and more than a couple of complications. Daphne is also reunited with childhood friend, Ben Jacobs, a full-fledged HAG (hot, available guy). Then Daphne finds her first client dead.


Here are some reviews of the book.


“This heartwarming and intriguing story will leave the reader hungering for the next two installments in the series. The small southern town charm, combined with the mystery, and the descriptions of food, make this a book to read with a slice of cake on the side.” Suzanne Pitner, Suite101


This is an entertaining amateur sleuth culinary cozy starring an obstinate baker who needs to know the truth about her mom, her sister, others and the murder. The breezy story line is fun to follow, although fans will pick out the killer early on. Even with several cooking sleuths like Diane Mott Davidson “Goldy”, Daphne is a solid lead character as she follows the murder recipe one step at a time to the delight of sub-genre readers.” Harriet Klausner, The Mystery Gazette


"Trent has written an absolutely captivating cozy, complete with all the traditional elements of the genre. ...I hadn't even read past page 7 and I had absolutely laughed out loud numerous times. The dialogue in this book is filled with snappy wit.” Pudgy Penguin Perusals Blog


"I absolutely was startled to find out whodunnit at the end and it was not one of those lame-o choices so the author could hurry and finish up. I could identify with Daphne's relationship with her family. I think this was the part I liked best. Daphne has a cautious and teeth gritting relationship with her mother, a loving warm one with her father and her sister.
And the cake baking and decorating!!! I didn't get the recipes in the copy I reviewed, so will get the book just for those. This is one of my criteria for a cozy, it makes me want to learn how to do the activity that's the basis of the character and story......This one makes me want to learn how to decorate cakes. Four frosted beans!"
http://iyamvixenbooks.blogspot.com/2008/09/murder-takes-cake-daphne-matin-mystery.



Excerpt from Murder Takes the Cake


Chapter One



“Mrs. Watson?” I called, banging on the door again.


I glanced up at the ever-blackening clouds. Although I had Mrs. Watson’s cake in a box, it would be my luck to get caught in a downpour with it. This was my third attempt to please her, and I couldn’t afford another mistake on the amount she was paying me. Whoever said “the customer is always right” had obviously never dealt with Yodel Watson.


I heard something from inside the house and pressed my ear against the door. A vision of my falling into the living room and dropping the cake when Mrs. Watson flung open the door made me rethink that decision.


“Mrs. Watson?” I called again.


“Come in! It’s open! Come in!”


I tried the knob and the door was indeed unlocked. I stepped inside but couldn’t see Mrs. Watson. “It’s me—Daphne Martin. I’m here with your cake.”


“Come in! It’s open!”


“I am in, Mrs. Watson. Where are you?”


“It’s open!”


“I know! I—” Gritting my teeth, I walked through the living room and placed the cake on the kitchen table. A quick glance around the kitchen told me Mrs. Watson wasn’t in there either.


“It’s open!”


Man, could this lady get on your nerves. I decided to follow the voice. It came from my left, so I eased down the hallway.


“Mrs. Watson?”


On my right, there was a den. I poked my head inside.


“Come in!”


I turned toward the voice. A gray parrot was sitting on its perch inside its cage.


“It’s open!” the bird squawked.


“I noticed.” Great. She’s probably not home, and I’ll get arrested for breaking and entering…though technically, I didn’t break….


It was then I saw Mrs. Watson lying on the sofa in a faded navy robe. There was a plaid blanket over her legs. She appeared to be sleeping, but I’d heard the parrot calling when I was outside. No way could Mrs. Watson be in the same room and sleep through that racket.


I stepped closer. “Are you okay?” Her pallor told me she was not okay. Then the foul odor hit me.


I backed away and took my cell phone out of my purse. “I’m calling 9-1-1, Mrs. Watson. Everything’s gonna be all right.” I don’t know if I was trying to reassure her or myself.


Everything’s gonna be all right. I’d been telling myself that for the past month.


I lingered in the doorway in case Mrs. Watson would wake up and need something before the EMTs arrived.


I turned forty this year. Forty seems to be a sobering age for every woman, but it hit me especially hard. When most women get to be my age, they at least have some bragging rights: successful career, happy marriage, beautiful children, nice home. I had none of the above. My so-called bragging rights included a failed marriage, a dingy apartment, and twenty years’ service in a dead-end job. Cue violins.


When my sister Violet called and told me about a “charming little house” for sale near her neighborhood, I jumped at the chance to leave all the dead ends of middle Tennessee and come home to southwest Virginia. Surely, something better awaited me here.


So far, I’d moved into my house—which I recently learned came with a one-eyed stray cat—and started a cake decorating business. A great deal of my time had involved coming up with a name, a logo, getting business cards made up, setting up a Web site and other “fun” administrative duties. The cake and cupcakes I’d made for my niece and nephew to take to school on Halloween had been a hit, though, and had led to some nice word-of-mouth advertising and a couple orders. Leslie’s puppy dog cake and Lucas’ black cat cupcakes were the first additions to my website’s gallery.


Sadly, my first customer had been Yodel Watson. She’d considered herself a world-class baker in her hey-day but no longer had the time or desire to engage in “such foolishness.”


“I want you to make me a cake for my Thanksgiving dinner,” she’d said. “Nothing too gaudy. I want my family to think I made it myself.”


My first two attempts had been refused: the first cake was too fancy; the second was too plain. I’d been hoping—praying—third time would be the charm. Now the laboriously prepared spice cake with cream cheese frosting decorated with orange and red satin ribbons for a bottom border and a red apple arranged in a flower petal pattern on top was on Mrs. Watson’s kitchen table. Mrs. Watson herself was lying on her den sofa as deflated as a December jack-o-lantern. Oh, yeah, things were looking up.


I was startled out of my reverie by a sharp rap.


“EMT!”


“Come in! It’s open!” the bird called.


I hurried to the living room to open the door, and two men with a stretcher brushed past me.


“Where’s the patient?” one asked.


“Back here.” I led the way to the den, and then got out of the way.


“Come in!”


I moved next to the bird cage. “Don’t you ever shut up? This is serious.”


“I’ll say,” agreed one of the EMTs. “Are you the next of kin?”


“Excuse me?” My hand flew to my throat. “She’s dead?”


“Yes, ma’am. Are you related to her?”


While the one EMT was questioning me, the other was on the radio asking dispatch to send the police and the coroner.


“I don’t know anything,” I said.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The book is available here:
http://www.gayletrent.com/




And you can see a trailer for the book here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGnKwHYlPCQ


Fatal Foodies website http://fatalfoodies.blogspot.com/


If you have any questions for Gayle about her writing, her book or even cake decorating, Gayle will be more than pleased to answer them. Please leave a comment.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gayle Trent - mystery writer and cake decorator!



This month, it is my honour and pleasure to have as a guest on my blog fellow writer and member of the group VBT-Writers on the Move, Gayle Trent. Gayle is a full-time author who lives in Bristol, Virginia with her husband, daughter and son. Gayle worked previously in the accounting and legal fields, and her last such job was as secretary to a Deputy Commissioner in the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. Though she enjoyed the work, it was a long daily commute and she felt she wasn’t spending enough time with her family. Now she writes while her children are at school and, thanks to a crock pot and a bread machine, can often have dinner ready when everyone gets home.

“I think it’s important to be here for my children…to take part in school functions and to be an active part of their lives,” Gayle says. “I can certainly sympathize with moms who work outside the home—been there, done that—but I would encourage everyone to make time to visit their children’s schools, to have lunch with them at school occasionally, to get a feel for who their friends are…little things like that.”

She is currently working on a new cozy mystery series, involving her hobby of cake decorating. The series features Daphne Martin, a 40 year old divorcee, who has begun the second phase of her life with a new home and a new business venture – Daphne's Delectable Cakes. The first book in the series is called Murder Takes the Cake (ISBN: 978-0-9802453-6-3, printed by Bell Bridge Books, October 2008). In the story, the meanest gossip in Brea Ridge dies mysteriously, and suspicions turn to cake decorator Daphne Martin. But all Daphne did was deliver a spice cake with cream cheese frosting--and find Yodel's body. Now Daphne's got to help solve the murder and clear her good name. Problem is, her Virginia hometown is brimming with people who had good reason to kill Yodel, and Daphne's whole family is among them. Here are just a few comments about the book to whet your appetite:

"Gayle whips up a sweetly satisfying mystery that'll have you licking your lips for more!" – Christine Verstraete, Searching for A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery

Murder Takes the Cake has all the right ingredients for a delicious read.” – Ellen Crosby, The Bordeaux Betrayal

In my second post on Wednesday about Gayle and her writing , you'll be able to read an extract from her book and see more of the reviews it has been earning! If you have any questions for Gayle, please leave a comment.
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Contact details

You can contact Gayle via e-mail at gd830@hotmail.com or via one of her websites: http://www.gayletrent.com/ or http://gayle24202.tripod.com/.

If you share an interest in cake decorating, please visit Daphne’s website, available via click-through from either of Gayle’s sites or at http://www.gayle24202.tripod.com/id9.html.