Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods.....

For most of my adult life, I've worked in retail. Thanksgiving to many of my colleagues means Black Friday and the start of the Christmas rush. But for me, Thanksgiving is something far more special.

The very word Thanksgiving evokes an image of my Mom in the kitchen with a frilly apron covering her dress, basting and stirring, preparing a feast.

Unlike the song, we didn't go "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house" for Thanksgiving. Instead, our house was the gathering place for most holidays. My parents' doors were always open to friends, neighbors, and my grandparents when the weather allowed them to make the long drive from Ohio.

The preparations were marvelous. The good china and crystal had to be carefully washed and dried then my sisters and I would set a festive table with linen tablecloths and fancy napkins. Every year, we'd make a special centerpiece of colorful leaves and flowers and would design homemade place cards for each of our guests. I shudder to think what some of those "masterpieces" must have looked like, but Dad and Mom always praised them as the cleverest and most beautiful they'd ever seen.

Delicious aromas wafted through the house -- sage dressing, roasting turkey, pumpkin pies and fresh rolls baking. Dad would open the record player and put on a favorite Christmas album. That was the first time we'd hear the carols since we'd packed the records away the previous January. While we worked, we sang along with more enthusiasm than harmony, but somehow it all seemed perfect.

In a short while, our guests would arrive. Favorite dishes were added to the already groaning table. Dad would pour glasses of sugary-sweet Mogan David Concorde Wine so everyone could join in a toast. Even the little ones got to have a small taste of wine, and we thought we were so very grown up. It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered there were far tastier varieties of wine, but I still smile whenever I see that familiar bottle on the shelf in the store.

At Dad's signal, everyone would take their places around the table. It wasn't uncommon for us to host 20 or 30 guests. Mom and Dad weren't wealthy. They were just average, middle class Americans, but there was always room at their table for others. Before eating, Dad led us in Grace then asked everyone to share their reasons to be thankful as we passed dish after dish of holiday specialties.

No one wanted the day to end. Since there was no school the next day, the fun continued well into the evening. The littlest ones would be put to bed in one of the bedrooms while the older kids and adults played games or watched a Christmas program on TV. The party would finally break up around 9:30 or 10:00. Each departing family would get a parcel of leftovers home to take home with them, too.

Dad has been gone now for almost 35 years, and Mom recently had a stroke that put her in a nursing home. However, the hospitality and love they extended to others is a legacy they passed on to their children and grandchildren.

So, this year, we'll gather with my family at my oldest son's home on Thanksgiving. Everyone will bring dishes to contribute to the celebration. We'll laugh and hug, eat and visit, and hopefully make happy memories for the next generation.

But there won't be any Mogan David...at least I don't think so.

My Thanksgiving Wish for you...
May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious,
And your pies take the prize
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Happy Thanksgiving!
- Stephanie

Saturday, November 21, 2009

There's Just Something about an Accent

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Montreal, Canada. Although, it was primarily a business trip, I got to visit a lot of the city and fell in love with its culture and antiquity.

Montreal is actually an island named for the triple-peaked hill, Mount Royal (or Mont RĂ©al as it was spelled in Middle French,) that lies in its center. The area is estimated to have been occupied for at least 2000 years before the arrival of Europeans. The French explorer Jacques Cartier found a village of over a thousand St. Lawrence Iroquoians residing on the island when he arrived in the area in 1535. It has been continuously occupied since and is now the second largest city in Canada.

Although modern skyscrapers, hotels, and casinos can be seen across the the island, Montreal has managed to maintain its air of antiquity in the older quarter of town. There, many of the older, European buildings are historic sites and the government has forbidden any changes to their facades. Developers are able renovate the insides of these edifices -- sadly many have been gutted completely to build new offices and condos-- but their outsides preserve the look and feel of this very old French city.

Thankfully, I didn't need to rely on my four years of high school French to navigate the town as many of the residents speak English. In fact, even though French is the official language of Montreal, in some quarters of the island it is treated as a second language with English taking the primary spot. Still, I had a ball trying to translate signs and newspapers while I was there (I'd forgotten how much I loved the language). If I couldn't decipher something, there always seemed to be someone handy to to translate for me.

Why is it that even directions to the taxi stand sound romantic in that wonderful French-Canadian accent? Especially when the man giving the directions looks like Gerard Butler. Yummy.

I definitely need to go there again!

~ Stephanie

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Pirates and Piracy

I like pirates.

Movie characters like Jack Sparrow and Rhett Butler are sexy as hell. There are some pretty memorable pirate/heroes in romance novels, too. I can also get on board with pirates as literary villains. Who can forget the infamous Long John Silver from "Treasure Island"?

However, I have nothing but loathing for the latest incarnation of pirates, the Internet Pirates. These pirates upload eBooks or music to their sites then offer free downloads to anyone with Internet access.

Beware, mateys! Those tempting downloads are illegal!

In the last couple of years, the FBI has begun to crack down on these sites, covering them under the blanket of Internet theft. A person found guilty of downloading a pirated eBook or song can be given "up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000." That's per occurrence -- which should make those "free" downloads look a little less appealing.

Unfortunately, the threat of fines and prison doesn't stop the flow. The owners of these sites claim they aren't responsible, they didn't upload the eBooks or tunes themselves. Users did. Some of the sites may even post vague warnings about copyright infringements. But none of the sites monitor what's uploaded or remove it unless directly confronted by the owner of the copyright.

So the piracy continues, because a large majority of the downloads are done by teens and others, who don't read the fine print. Or they think, if it's offered on the Internet, it must be okay since there was no warning posting on the website about downloading being illegal. It just said that uploading copyrighted items without permission is a crime. Besides, what's the harm in one little download?

Well, it could earn you a five year vacation in a Federal penitentiary and a quarter million dollar fine. Harsh you say?

Consider this, in a single day those free sites (I won't give them credence by naming them) give away hundreds of copies of a single eBook title that some author has spent long hours sweating over to bring to life. These downloads can easily surpass in a single day what the authors will be paid for a month's worth of downloads from their publishers' legitimate sites. Would you like it if you worked a whole month but only got paid for a day's worth?

Those illegal downloads rob the authors (or artists in the case of music downloads) of the legitimate commissions they are due for their hard work and talent. If that amount exceeds $500, it's called a felony! Those commissions are their paychecks, folks, and anyone who downloads a pirated eBook or tune is stealing. Why else would they be called "pirate sites"?

So, while others may be shocked over the courts recently fining a Minnesota woman $222,000 for pirated music she made available to others for downloads, I stand up and cheer. I say keep up the good work, FBI. Go after more of these pirates and the users, too, because the sites wouldn't exist if there were no users.

This might sound harsh, but the subject is one on which I take a firm stand. It's personal to me since I have so many friends who are authors of eBooks and are being robbed each and every day by pirate sites. These are everyday folks not millionaires living in big mansions and driving luxury cards. And even if they were, it would still be a crime!

There's another more invidious side of Internet piracy that worries me, too. It's hurting our kids! In our techno world, kids are online all the time. Piracy is blurring the line between right and wrong for them. It's delivering a message that it's okay for people to help themselves to whatever they want, and that they aren't culpable, because they didn't actually steal the song or book from a store, all they did was download it!

Is that the message we want to give the next generation?

Parents need to discuss piracy with their kids. Drive it home to them that these downloads are a crime. Monitor the stuff their kids download on their computers. If they find pirated music or videos, make the kids delete it. Block the pirate sites. Another way to make kids realize the seriousness of the crime is put in terms they understand. Talk to them about adult wages then have your child figure out how many years it would take at the various wages to repay a quarter of a million dollar fine. If they get an allowance, tell them you will fine them the full retail price of any download they make.

Do whatever it takes. If your child gets mad at you, too bad. Parenting isn't a popularity contest.

Schools can help, too, by stressing in computer classes that piracy is a crime, and those songs the kids may be sharing with their friends could result in jail terms and fines.

It's not a message that can be delivered once then forgotten. Not when the temptation is always lurking out there.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Talk to you soon,
~ Stephanie

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Better to Have Loved and Lost...?

There's an old saying about it being "better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all."

As a divorced woman, I'm not sure I completely agree. I'm such a romantic. I cry at weddings and get all melty at the idea of undying love. However, I do know I wouldn't trade my wonderful kids for anything. They've brought so much joy into my life and now, their kids add another whole level to my happiness. So I'm very grateful to their dad, because without him I wouldn't have had them in my life.

However to get back to the saying, it's a favorite because it always reminds me of one of my youngest son's kidisms (you know those gems that pop out of kids' mouths).

Since I had split up with his father when this child was only 18 months old (and since his dad lived in another country at the time), my son never really had experienced having a dad around the house. One day, when my son was about three years old, my sister was babysitting for him while I worked (the other two kids were in school at the time). Sis had a talk show on TV about parents. Out of the clear blue, my son looked up from playing with his cars and said, "We used to have a dad, but I think Mom lost him or something."

Then he went back to playing with his cars again.

Oh, the way the gears and wheels turn in the heads of our little ones.

God bless them all!
~ Stephanie

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Advice to Take to Heart

I'm really excited - it's been a very productive couple of days for me.

First, I had the pleasure of meeting with my critique partner on Saturday for the first time. We spent about an hour and half reading and talking about each others' manuscripts. She's very dedicated to a writing schedule-slash- goal she set for herself, and I know she'll inspire me to stay on track. Hooray. This may be just the boot in the rear I need to get my story done. Thanks, Patty.

The second thing that's excited me is The Writer's Evolution blog I've been part of for the last few weeks. In last week's post, I bemoaned the problem I have with this infernal editor who lives in my head and keeps yammering at me to polish my prose. One of the writers who reads the blog, Molly Daniels, posted a very succinct comment that really nailed it for me. She said "Don't get it right, get it written!" Believe me, I jotted that quote down and posted it on my desk and in my writer's notebook. When I feel like polishing yet again, I see the note and read it out loud. And it keeps me writing.

All in all, I'd say it's been a good few days.

~ Stephanie

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's a Good Thing My Friends Understand...

I was sitting at my writing desk tonight, looking at my bookshelf, and wondered what an ordinary person might think if they wandered into my home office and saw the titles crammed into my bookcase there.

I suppose they might consider four different versions of English dictionaries, two thesauruses (is that a word?), and the Encyclopeadia Brittanica showed a somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm for reference books. But what about the other titles?

Would Stephen Cohle's Skeletons in the Closet and Louis Catalide's Coroner's Journal cause the cable repairman to look at me askance? Would titles like Deadly Doses or The Encyclopedia of Poisonous Plants or a slim little volume called Making Crime Pay send a snoopy neighbor running to report me to the police? What about Creating Murder and Mayhem or maybe the one called Planning the Perfect Crime? Might those put a damper on a visit from a co-worker? Then there's those magazine jackets holding copies of Handgun Digest and all the catalogs from various International knife and weapons dealers. Last, let's not forget my scrapbook with the carefully preserved articles from the local newspaper about various crimes committed here over the the last couple of decades. Would those items make you look for the nearest exit, too?

Okay, I admit it, reading over the list just now has even creeped me out just a little, and it's my office for goodness sake. However, before any of you reach for the phone to call your local FBI office to report me, I invite you to look a little closer.

Interspersed with all those ominous titles are other books like: The Gregg Reference Manual; MLA Style Book; How to Write a Damn Good Mystery; A Writer's Guide to Private Eyes; and dozens of others writing books. There's also a book of baby names (good for coming up with character names); biographies of a couple favorite writers and authors; and even a dog-eared copied of Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul.

Yes, I am a writer, a mystery writer. On weekends, vacations, evenings, and the occasional stolen lunch hour, I cook up ways to "make crime pay." My writer's library is heavy on reference books about every aspects of genre, aiding me in my search for the perfect crime. My friends know it. They keep their eyes open for unusual books I may not yet own. I'm grateful for that and for them.

Afterall, you never know when you might need a good character witness! LOL!

Talk to you soon,
~ Stephanie

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Three Sweetest Words A Mother Can Hear

As I wrote in my blog the other day, this has really been the Summer That Never Was here in Michigan. June was cold. July was the second coldest on record. August was cold and rainy. It just wasn't our typical summer filled with long days of fun in the sun.

We never got the sweltering heat of July or August's Dog Days this year. Instead, kids were cooped up inside much of the time due to rain or cold temperatures. Moms (or sitters) had to find things to counter their perpetual complaints that "there's nothing to do." A summer like this makes for irritable kids and frazzled adults.

But recently, the moms in my neighborhood have been looking much happier. They actually laugh as they talk across the fence or as they stand in line at the grocery store. They share amusing stories of little Suzi using perfume to wash the dog or junior breaking the lamp when he and his buddy decided to play football in the family room.

So, what's caused this strange metamorphosis from scolding and frazzled to relaxed and happy? It's those three magical words that quickly make mom forgive and forget. What are the words that set her heart aflutter, restored her good temper, and put that smile on her lips?

Back to School!

And it's coming soon to a school district near you! LOL!

Have a great Labor Day weekend.
~ Stephanie

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Isn't It Great?

For those of you who visited this blog previously, welcome back. If you were expecting the old blog -- think pastel beach scenes and Cape Cod lighthouses -- this new design might come as a bit of a surprise. I wasn't really satisfied with the previous design; it was much too pastel and beach book looking, which really isn't my style of writing. So why did I use it? Simple, it was what was available on the Blogger site when I started.

However, as of today, thanks to the effort of my multi-talented daughter, I have this much more suitable blog design. She researched and tried out several very nice options this afternoon before hitting on this one. I'm very happy with it and think it suits a working writer much better. Thanks, Brynn.

I hope you agree. I also hope you'll return and visit me often.

Oh, just an FYI, I debut on the Writer's Evolution blog tomorrow as their new Slushpile Surfer (I sure hope I have as good of luck as the last two did with getting books published). Keep your fingers crossed for me. Tomorrow's article is a brief peek at how I design my heroines.

Got to run now and get some real writing done now.

Y'all come back now, ya hear,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Summer That Never Was

Doesn't that sound like a great title for kids' book? Maybe with some wonderful Tim Robbins illustrations. Wouldn't you like to read it to your kids or grandkids?

So would I....I just prefer not to experience it.

Unfortunately, The Summer That Never Was is exactly what this summer has been in Michigan. Usually, about now, we'd be complaining about August heat and humidity, days like steam baths and nights too hot to sleep. This year, those "dog days of summer" are more like polar bear days. Cold, cold, and more cold. Brr!

Today, it reached a whopping 61 degrees. All day long, we've had a drizzle so fine it looks more like snow than rain. I'm typing this wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and fuzzy socks.

Pass me another blanket, Nanook.

Talk to you soon!
~ Stephanie

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Okay, I know writers march to a different drummer than some of the rest of our friends. We drink lots of coffee, we work whenever the muse whispers in our ear, and we view the world around us with a more curious eye than some of our -- um -- saner friends.

But what do you do when the muse isn't whispering in your ear, you haven't been drinking coffee, and yet it's two a.m. and you're wide awake?

Well for me, after I groan "I'm going to hate myself in the morning," I usually will go on the Internet and do any number of things to waste time. Sometimes I play a computer game, sometimes I browse the FBI website (yes, I admit it, I'm a cop groupie - see the picture of me at the Civilian Police Academy below?), I can spend lots of time catching up with friends on Facebook, or I can do something constructive and post on my blog.

So here I am, two a.m. and here's my blog entry. Aren't you impressed?

Wishing you and yours, a good night. Sleep safe tonight, the boys in blue are watching over you.

~ Stephanie

P.S. - Yes, Chief Dolan really is that tall and no, I'm not really that short -- I had on 2" heels.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And So the Story Goes...

Where has the summer gone? August is almost over, and it seems like we've had very little summer here in Michigan. Today is one of the few sunny days we've had this month, and I'm feeling pretty happy to have picked it for a vacation day. Yes, starving authors have daytime jobs that keep them from, well, starving. So today, I get to play on the computer and get a bit of writing done, too.

On the writing front, I've been drafted by the creative group at the Writers Evolution to post a weekly blog with them as their new Slushpile Surfer. It seems the previous Surfer recently became published so no longer fills that bill. Hooray for her! I wish her every success with her new book. The blog is a lot of fun. Five writers at different stages of their careers post a weekly view on a specific writing-related topic. I'll be making my debut there on Monday.

Hope you'll stop by to check out the blog and give me a little feedback.

Well, I need to get back to Chas, Molly, and the rest of the crew at Retribution. They've been chattering for my attention ever since I discovered what the problem had been that was causing the slump in Chapter 4. So I need to tune in and get writing.

Check back later and be sure to check out the Writers Evolution. They are a bunch of very interesting ladies!

See ya!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let Me Introduce Myself

Hi to all of you who've signed on to view my blog. Thanks for visiting, I'm glad you decided to take a peak.

I'm Stephanie Michels, a mystery writer living in mid-Michigan. I have three adult children (one who is also a writer) and 11 grandkids. My pen name is a combination of the names of my daughter and two sons -- although they didn't realize it.

I'm a compulsive reader, enjoying everything from catalogues to classics, and I've been writing plays and stories ever since I discovered Nancy Drew books a lot of years ago (I did mention grandkids, didn't I?). I'm currently at work on two very different types of mysteries.

The first story, Retribution, is a THRILLER that takes place in a fictional resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's a tense story of an unsub who's spent much of his life eliminating people through "accidents" and the female FBI agent, Chas Davis, who stumbles on his activities while working on a different case in the area.

The other story, ALL TEED OFF is a much lighter piece that falls in the category known as a COZY. This one also has a female protaganist, Andy Archer, a divorced ex-cop who is trying to make a living as a private eye, despite the interference of her mother (who Andy calls the Midwest Distributor of Guilt), her grandfather (who decides he should move in with her while he cruises for a new wife), a busybody upstairs neighbor (who's bent on making everyone obey "The Rules"), and a sexy ex-boyfriend (who seems bent on breaking them all).

I'll be posting updates on the books and the characters in them -- as well as the characters in my own life -- as the weeks progress.

I hope you'll stop by to visit once in awhile to see what's Chunking up the Pages around here.

Best to all,