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JANET CHRISTIAN

JANET CHRISTIAN

Janet Christian began her adventure in writing in second grade, with a book of fanciful poems about cats. She later became a professional technical writer, creating complex but boring computer manuals. To escape the drudgery of describing hardware circuits and software routines, she returned to writing fiction.  She served as 2003 President of the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime in Austin, and became a published author in 2012..  She now also maintains a weekly blog at http://janetchristian.com.

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. 

These days I live with Eric Marsh, my husband and best friend since 1989, on a 100 acre ranch in Lockhart, TX – 30 miles south of Austin. We have four goofy dogs, an ever-changing population of cats (usually around ten… or so), and a small herd of four-horned, spotted Jacob sheep.

Q: What do you do for fun?

When I’m not writing, I create art pieces in my combination pottery studio and tiki bar. I don’t throw (an odd term for making pottery, for sure). I have a slab roller, which looks like a giant lasagna noodle maker. There’s nothing quite like working big flat pieces of wet clay into fun shapes while also sipping on a fresh, cold Mai Tai.

My husband and I also travel, which is incredibly inspiring for a writer. In the past three years we’ve been to 18 countries in Europe and Asia. In the fall we’re going to Portugal.

Q: What genre do you write in?

That’s a trick question for me. I’m mostly attracted to murder mysteries, but you couldn’t tell that from my track record. I write what shows up in my head. Stories come to me in a flash, like a “blipvert” fromMax Headroom (I guess I just dated myself). It usually happens at three in the morning and I have to get up and capture it right then or I’ll lose it. I’ve written a children’s novel, a murder mystery, a dystopian science fiction, and I’m currently writing a speculative fiction. I’ve written short stories in all those genres, although most of my short stories seem to end up with a horror twist in them.

Q: Tell us more about your books

My first was a coming-of-age children’s novel called Wanda’s New Eyes. I originally wrote it before cell phones, so I’m busy rewriting it for a contemporary audience. I already have a great cover design, thanks to Karen Phillips, who now designs all my covers.

After Wanda, I wrote and published The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, which is, hopefully, the first of a series of murder mysteries featuring Private Investigator Marianna Morgan. My next novel was a dystopian science fiction called Born Rich. I still love that story, but I pulled the book off Amazon after rereading a Frank Herbert novel. I couldn’t stop thinking of ways to improve and expand my first effort at creating a new world, or at least a new future for this world. There is so much more potential in Born Rich than I originally envisioned. I’d never really pushed it, so sold few copies. I’ll be offering anyone who bought the original version a free copy when the expanded one comes out.

These days I’m finishing up a speculative fiction novel called Virgilante. It can best be described as Dexter-lite. Virgil takes karma into his own hands; he just doesn’t use plastic sheeting and large knives. And his victims don’t end up in small pieces.

Q: How do you tackle writing in such diverse genres?

As they say, “Research, research, research.” I do a lot of online research and even face to face interviews and site visits. I’ve found most experts love it when you ask them questions. I’ve interviewed police chiefs in two small towns, the Historian and Curator of the Alamo, head librarian at the San Antonio Public Library, the owner of the Snake Farm (a roadside attraction north of San Antonio), bicycle police who patrol the San Antonio River Walk, the Ford Mustang Vintage Car Club, a former professional motorcycle racer, a database specialist, a psychiatrist, a veterinarian, and a realtor. They were all thrilled to be asked for their expertise.

I also belong to an awesome critique group called the Lockhart Writers. In spite of the unimaginative group name, everyone is incredibly creative, knowledgable, and capable, not just in the mechanics of good writing, but across many areas of expertise.

Q: What was your favorite research effort?

Hands down, my visit with Dr. Richard Bruce Winders from the Alamo. My murder mystery was inspired by a news article. Someone had donated a Brown Bess musket to the Alamo. There were thousands of these muskets used at the battle of the Alamo — most every Mexican soldier had one. What made the one in the news article unique was that its triangular bayonet tip had an unusual bend in it. My brain thought, “It could be identified years later!”

The problem was, I knew nothing about Brown Bess muskets, so I arranged an interview with Dr. Winders. First, I told him I’d never seen one other than pictures and was wondering how a wooden-stock musket could be hidden for 35 years without damage or deterioration. He got up from his desk, crossed to a closet, and handed me an actual Brown Bess to hold. I then told him about the article that inspired my story, and about the bent bayonet tip. He pulled open his desk drawer and said, “You mean this one?” He had the ACTUAL TIP! He let me hold it, too. Definitely the most awesome book research I’ve ever done.

Q: What’s next?

Finishing Virgilante, of course. Karen is working on the cover and my new editor, Crystal Hubbard, is waiting for the final draft. I have three different beginnings for sequels to my Marianna Morgan series. I want to get back to one of them. I love all the plot ideas, so I’ll probably have to flip a coin. Also I want to tackle expanding Born Rich. I’m honestly not sure which I’ll do first, the murder mystery or the science fiction. I’m not good at writing simultaneous stories. When I’m writing, it feels as if I’m living in that world. Writing two stories at the same time would be like jumping between parallel universes. Plus I think both stories would suffer.

Janet’s book (soon to be books):

FrontCover

The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket

Private Investigator Marianna Morgan finds she has more than she bargained for when Stephen Davidson hires her to tail and identify a woman he believes is his long lost sister Stephanie. There’s just one problem: Stephanie was kidnapped and presumed murdered 35 years ago.

The twins were seven when the Davidson home near San Antonio was burgled, their father was murdered, and one item, an Alamo-era, Brown Bess musket was stolen. Now, 35 years later, if the woman in question is Stephanie, why has she suddenly resurfaced, where has she been all this time, and why hasn’t she contacted her brother? If it isn’t her, why is the woman in question searching for the musket and attempting to stop Marianna via death threats… and worse?

Marianna must use all of her investigative skills to figure out what is really going on and resolve the decades-old mysteries.

Amazon print and ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Cold-Trail-Hot-Musket/dp/1477699597

Take A Hike!

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To join in the fun of sharing our morning over coffee, write your post, publish it, then head over to Part Time Monster and add your post’s URL to the Linky at the end of Diana’s post.  It’s great fun to pop in and see what others are doing each weekend.

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If we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that although it has been incredibly hot this week, it did cool down to the 60s over night so the house is relatively cool right now which means we can have our “coffee and convo”  here where we can relax and listen to the birds chirping and a couple of my wind chimes as they let us know that there’s a slight breeze out there. It won’t last long so let’s chat!

It was a busy week.  I normally watch my grandsons on Wednesday and Thursday (will be adding Fridays from now on) but on Monday my daughter went to have her car appraised at Carmax (where she used to work until March) so I stayed with the boys.  The appraisal turned into a car purchase which takes a lot longer than the appraisal.  That meant that she wasn’t home until the late afternoon and then we went for a drive on the new car so I ended up babysitting that day and it threw me off of my calendar as I kept thinking it was a day later than it was all week.  The car is great though and she’ll be saving $70 a month on gas!  That evening, we all went for a walk down the trail at the end of the mobile home park.  It leads down to the Clackamas River.  I’ve lived here for seven years and I had never gone down there.  It’s an enjoyable walk (although the climb back up the hill on the way return is a bit strenuous) and it takes you right down to the river bank.  It’s kind of a spooky trail though because no one goes back there although I hear the teens go there to get drunk and high.  We did see remnants of a campfire, beer cans, and cigarettes so someone goes there!

Clackamas River

                   Down by the river

I didn’t end up babysitting at all because the boys’ dad wasn’t feeling well this week (sinus pain and problems) so he stayed home and watched the boys.  I always take them for a little bit anyway so this week we ran some errands and they came over here to my house.  Anderson stays for a long time, overnight a lot of the times.  Spencer just stays for a short while then we walk him home (in the stroller or he’ll have you running after him). He’s like a homing pigeon.  Let him loose and he runs off where he wants to go.  He can get from their house to mine without getting lost or confused and he will do it if you turn your back on him.  He’s only two so that can be quite a problem as we found out last Saturday when he ran off while playing in the backyard at their house.  His dad was sweeping the driveway. He took off (there is only a bush fence in the back) and ended up on the street behind their house and four doors down.  They took him in and called 911. His dad had tracked him down by the time the sheriff arrived (they got here amazingly fast) so all was okay but he had to do some explaining.  Then he had to explain to my daughter…that was the tougher of the explanations!  I’ve since ordered a “child locator” alert for him.  It will let us know (with a loud beep) when he gets more than the set footage away from us.  It arrives in a couple of days.

I went to the Goodwill on one of those babysitiing-less days.  It was the first time I had gone alone, without either of the boys, in a long time.  I spent two hours in there.  It was like a vacation.  I found clothes for me and both of the boys and a few other things I’ve already put to use.  Everything I bought was the half price color for the week then I got the senior discount on top of that! Yay!

Yesterday Anderson and I went for a hike.  It was incredibly hot but I had promised and I don’t back down from promises, especially to children.  I grabbed my hiking stick and off we went.  We ended up at Mt. Talbert Nature Park where I’ve wanted to go exploring for some time.  Every time we drive by the parking lot entrance, I wonder what it’s like up there.  It’s a nature park right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  I finally made it there.  It was great!  It was shady all the way up the hill and we only ran into about four or five other groups in all the time we were there.  I stopped to talk to a young couple, tourists from France.  Anderson was super.  He didn’t want to stop.  He led the way, stopping only when I asked him to (so I could catch my breath a couple of times).

On the trail, nice and shady.

               On the trail, nice and shady.

We placed love rocks along the trail.  Anderson loved doing that. We left about ten there and on the way back down the hill, about an hour and a half later, the rocks were all gone so someone(s) found them and carried them off (which is what is supposed to happen).  He was so excited about the love rocks that when we got home he ran to the yard (we have tons of river rock) and picked out a bunch more rocks so we could make more love rocks.  I now have about another 50 love rocks ready to go. He wants to go on another hike today!

Love rock left in a hole in a tree!

Love rock left in a hole in a tree!

Well, I’ve taken so much time and it is beginning to get warm in here.  Grab another coffee if you’d like while I turn on the fans (no AC here) and put the wash in the dryer.  I want to hear about your week.  Your plans.  How hot has it been where you’re at?  Any travel plans?  Are you in the U.S.?  If so, what are you doing to celebrate Independence Day?  It is so hot and dry here in Portland that conditions are not good for fireworks but you can bet there are plenty that won’t heed the warnings.  Here in our mobile home park, the management has banned all fireworks from the property under threat of eviction should anyone set any off so hopefully people will listen and we’ll stay safe.

Until next time, have a wonderful week and if you get a chance, take a hike! :)

The Last Gift

My father's last gift.

My father’s last gift.

I hadn’t planned on it.  I had thought about it but decided not to. When my sister picked me up at the airport two weeks ago, she said we were stopping by the house where my father had lived the last 18 months and where he died. I sort of guessed we were picking up ashes. It made me sad.

When we got there, we were given a bag with four small blue velvet boxes tied with white ribbon. Each was accompanied by a permit to have and maintain the ashes. The permits were made out in the name of each of my three sisters and myself.  I was taken by surprise.

Apparently my dad wanted us to have them and left instructions and money to have his wish carried out.  That made it different. It was my father’s last gift to me. How could I not accept it? How could I not want it? It was a game changer.

Inside the box was a small, tasteful urn which now sits on a shelf in my hutch, waiting for me to rearrange a different shelf where this gift will reside.

It Was So Hot…

Yup, it’s hot out.  Hot.  HOT.  H.O.T.

In March, we went to IKEA and they had a special on their chocolate bars so I bought three of them.  I opened one in the car and between Tina, the two boys, and myself, we ate one. The others Tina put in the glove box so the kids wouldn’t see them and ask for more.  They were forgotten there.  Yesterday, I opened the glove box to grab the scissors I keep in there. Melted chocolate.  All over.

I was going to write a post about things that happen when it’s so hot outside but it’s too hot to think.  Instead how about this?

For A Song

Reading a friend’s blog in which she writes about her daughter’s application, prep, and audition to an arts school, I was reminded about my own daughter’s desire to attend an arts high school and the preparations.

During the last year of living in Los Angeles, I decided that it was time for me to move out of the area.  It was too stressful for me. Everywhere we went, we encountered traffic, rude people, crowds, etc.  My diabetes was very bad then and it is exacerbated by stress so I needed to cut down on my stress.  At that time, it was just my youngest with me.  She was about to enter high school and I knew that if we stayed, she would begin school and we would be stuck there for four more years so the time to make the move was before she entered high school.  She was home schooled for middle school so we could, theoretically, move anytime before September.  When I discussed this with her and with the older kids, Susie went ballistic. She did not want to move and leave all her friends behind.  She said she wanted to go to the performing arts high school.  She had mentioned this previously but I didn’t realize she was serious about applying.  So we did some research (of course she had already gotten a lot of information and made some inquiries from her choir teacher from elementary and from before she left middle school).  We looked online for the time frame for applications and auditions.

I felt bad that I was taking her from something she wanted so badly.  The rent where we were living was astronomical.  It was over $1700 for a one bedroom townhouse with 875 square feet of livable space.  My health, both physical and mental, were declining.  But I wanted her to be happy.  So I told her that I would help her apply and prepare and if she made it into the school, we would find a rental closer to the school which is on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles (basically east L.A., not a great place to live but we would find something affordable and safe) and we would stay until she finished high school.  If she didn’t make it into the school, we would move as soon as we could find some place to move.

The Los Angeles County High School for Performing Arts is very exclusive in who they accept.  They demand excellence and prepare their students to enter performing arts colleges and/or professional employment.  Each year thousands of students apply for admission.  Of the applicants, those that make the academic cut go on to audition.  Then those that make the audition are put into a lottery because the number of successful auditions is far more than the number of slots available each year.  That particular year, it was something like 30 openings for the choral program.  The number that auditioned was at least a couple of hundred.

Her academic application was accepted and she had begun to work with a choral coach in preparation for the audition, even before we knew if she would be accepted on her academic record.  She was excited but of course, with so much riding on the audition, she was very apprehensive.  So was I.  I knew the best thing for me was to move out of the area (to northern California) but I knew that Susie really wanted to attend this school.  I was torn but I stuck to my deal with her as we both prepared for the audition.  We began to look for a pianist to accompany her at the audition because each applicant had to provide their own.  I also began scouring the newspaper and the internet for information about the area and prices of rentals.

The audition was mentally grueling.  There were hundreds of (mostly) girls auditioning, each with their “stage mother” and singing coaches.  The atmosphere was very strained as they all looked upon each other as the “enemy” they had to beat.  Susie had only me and did a good job of keeping as calm as she could. When it was time for her audition, I had to leave because no one was allowed to view/listen to the auditions.  I went outside to decompress and enjoy the beautiful March day.  Her accompanist came out and I knew the audition was over.  He came over and told me she had done beautifully.

In the end, she made the cut with the auditions but not the lottery.  She was so far down on the wait list that we knew she would not get it.  By then, she had pretty much decided that the people at the school were “too snooty” and she didn’t want to go there anyway.  She still didn’t want to move out of Los Angeles but that was the deal.  With a lot of arguing and rationalizing, we went up north to look around.  She was determined not to like it. She pretended to be asleep the entire drive and then as we drove around a few small towns I had picked to investigate as possible places to move.  Even after I had signed the two year lease on a house three blocks from the local high school (she had decided to go back to school instead of being home schooled), she resisted, contacting her father and asking if she could move in with him so she could stay in Los Angeles.  He said yes but after a family meeting with all three of the kids and their father and I, her dad realized what he was getting into and started to back down.  Susie realized that her step mother would not allow her to bring her cats or her bearded dragon or her geckos with her if she moved in with them so she decided to move to Santa Rosa with me.  I was relieved because I knew that if she stayed behind, there was no way I could move away and I would end up staying in Los Angeles which would be suicide for me.

End of story is that she had set her sights on something and we had made a deal.  We both followed through.  It didn’t work out for her the way she wanted it to work out but in the end, she found a wonderful group of friends in the very artsy Santa Rosa. We were less than an hour away from San Francisco and we went there often.  She ended up with home schooling there, too. When she graduated, she went on to an arts college in Baltimore and upon graduation, moved back to Santa Rosa where she is working and happy and thriving!

I was born and raised in California.  I lived there all my life until 2008, when I was 52 years old.  At that point, it got way too expensive for me to live there so I moved to Oregon.  However, California is home.  It will always be home.  Here are 5 things I miss about California and 5 things I don’t miss about California.

Things I Miss

1.  My daughter.  She lives in Santa Rosa and I don’t get to see her enough or often.  She’s my baby, my youngest.

2.  Family.  My mom and my three sisters live in California.  So do some cousins, nieces, nephews, etc.  I miss them all.

3.  Having history with places in California that will always identify me as a “California girl”.

4.  Incredibly good weather most of the year.

5.  Fruit.  Fresh fruit can be found in abundance in California and because it is so plentiful, it is a lot cheaper in California than up here in Oregon.  The fruits I miss most:  apricots, peaches, plums, oranges

Things I Don’t Miss

1.  Traffic.  Traffic can be unbelieveably stressful in many metropolitan areas, and even less populated areas.

2.  Sales tax.  We don’t have sales tax in Oregon and you don’t realize what a chunk of your dollar it takes until you go back to California for a visit and have to deal with 9% or more tax.

3.  Film crews.  When I lived in southern California, it was not rare to go to the park or the zoo or even the grocery store and have areas blocked off because “they are filming there”.  There was one house on my street that was used often for different movies so at least for a few days every three or so months, my street was blocked off and I would have to back up and get home through another street.  Not fun.

4.  Pretentious people.  Yeah, especially in southern California.  They’re all over.  ‘Nuff said.

5.  Incredibly good weather most of the year.  (Yeah, I know I said I missed that but sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much!)

Sunday Silliness

Today, I have a couple of silly things to share about my grandsons, one from each of them.  I don’t think I have written a post that is exclusively about one of the grands in a couple of months so hopefully this doesn’t bore you.

Spencer turned 2 on April 3 so he’s still a relatively young 2 year old.  He thinks he knows everything and has seen everything but he hasn’t.  The other day, while looking through some of the clothes that didn’t fit before my surgery but might fit now, I found one of my favorite Tshirts.  It is the concert shirt for a show I went to a few years back (2006).  It was Rod Stewart.  I love Rod Stewart, the old stuff and the new stuff and his covers of others’ work.  So I pulled out the Tshirt and washed it and wore it the next day.  As I walked into my daughter’s house, Spencer heard my voice and came running to see me.  Then he stopped dead in his tracks and stared…not at my face but at my shirt which looks like this…

Rod Stewart shirt

Rod Stewart shirt

I talked to Spencer but his eyes were fixed on my shirt and his face was kind of puzzled.  Then I realized that he was looking at a picture of a whole person’s body on my shirt and figured he must be wondering if it was a real person.  I said, It’s okay Spencer, it’s just a picture on Nana’s shirt.  See?” And I pulled the fabric away from me and kind of waved it so he could see it was just a shirt.  Then he smiled and walked up to me and touched my shirt.  Then he was himself again, hugging me and looking in my purse to find the lollipop that is usually hiding there for him.

Then there is Anderson who is 5.  He loves milkshakes.  When we go to the drive thru Starbucks by my house, we also have to drive thru Jack In the Box which is in the same lot.  He gets a milkshake and we get our coffees (Spencer gets a milk with a bit of whipped cream so he thinks it’s a fancy drink).  The other day, when I was at Safeway, I bought some vanilla ice cream and a can of the spray on Cool Whip stuff.  When Anderson came over the next day, I fixed a pitcher of milkshakes in my blender and poured some in a glass for me and some for Anderson in his glass.  I put whipped cream on his and took it to him to surprise him.  He said, “What’s this, Nana?”  I told him it was a milkshake I made specially for him.  He looked at it and said, “Oh man! You can make milkshakes at home?  That’s crazy!” then proceeded to drink his shake.

I guess it all goes to show that we often forget that young children have limited experiences on which to draw so when they come across something new, no matter if it is a picture on a shirt or a treat fixed at home, it is a new experience they are adding to their memory and it might seem a little strange to them at first.  And of course, it makes me laugh at their wonder.

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