New words in the dictionary — a quiz (part 2)


At the Get Published Writers Conference in Bozeman this past June, where I was a speaker, my friend Lynn Kinnamon, the conference chair, shared these new words. All were published in the Merriam Website Online Dictionary in the last year or so. How many can you define?


8. sriracha (n)

9. vocal fry (n)

10. dark web

11. dox (v)

12. hyperlocal (n, adj)

13. lifehack (n)

14. microaggression

Part 1 last week


8. a hot sauce made of chile peppers, often used in Thai food; said SEE-rah-chah

9. the break in a voice when it drops to the lowest register; women tend to be criticized for it, and NPR reports that researchers have found some people view it as a sign of being untrustworthy

10. online, the hidden web, operating with masked ISPs and false, sometimes stolen, user names, usually for illicit ops, such as the child porn ring that stole a local man’s id, triggering a search warrant and much agony

11. to publish private info on line, without consent, to harass or cause trouble

12. not, as you might think, a very specific location or small community, but the practice of focusing on information directed at a specific community, such as a weekly newspaper that publishes info aimed at residents of a specific community and rarely comments on regional or national news

13. a tip for making life easier, like using plastic tags from bread bags to label power cords in the tangle behind your desk

14. In the words of Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue, “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Not a criminal, but a victim — a twist on identity theft

Image0073Some stories are almost too strange to believe — or too strange for fiction. This one is frighteningly real — and may give you a few story ideas.

The Missoulian reported earlier this year that last February, federal Homeland Security agents obtained a search warrant for the home of a NW Montana man they suspected of trafficking child pornography. They quickly concluded that the man was not a trafficker, but himself the victim of a form of identity theft. The real trafficker had used readily-available software called E-Phex to establish what’s called a “peer-to-peer connection,” making it appear that emails he sent distributing child pornography had come from another man’s computer.

Once that became clear, according to a lengthy story in the Daily InterLake, the department publicly announced that the man was “not the subject of, or a person of interest in, an investigation. … We believe he is an innocent victim of cybertheft.” The department would not reveal how the thief obtained the man’s Stell’s IP address or how they concluded that it had been stolen, to avoid revealing their plan to catch the thief and trafficker.

The Homeland Security spokesman acknowledged that it was rare for a law enforcement agency to make such a public announcement, but the computer owner is an older man who volunteers with a local charity that suspended him after learning of the warrant and suspicions, which were widely published in Montana. Local agents asked the regional spokesman to speak out to clear his name. “The agents in Montana saw an injustice was occurring and wanted to make it right,” the InterLake reports.

The computer owner and his wife were questioned extensively, separately and together, for several hours. More details on the investigation and its toll on the couple in the InterLake article.

(Photo: Flathead Lake in winter, by Leslie)


“The best book award acceptance speech ever?”

StevensonI write occasionally about people who fight for justice—especially if they might make good characters in novels—and I’ve mentioned Bryan Stevenson and his work with prisoners on death row and other issues related to justice and inequality. Last month at the annual American Library Association convention, the ALA awarded Stevenson its Andrew Carnegie Medal for Exellence in Nonfiction for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau). Publisher’s Weekly reprinted his acceptance speech, asking “Is this the Greatest Book Award Acceptance Speech Ever?” His comments illustrate some of the statistics related to his work, but mostly he tells us—he shows us—what working for justice really means. Read it.

Everything’s better with butter — a book launch update

IMGP3023Thanks to all of you who’ve helped me celebrate the release of BUTTER OFF DEAD, the third book in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. Some of you joined me at the release party at Frame of Reference on June 26, at Montana Book and Toy on July 11, or at Fact & Fiction on July 14, when debut mystery writer Christine Carbo and I interviewed each other. Others bought a copy and curled up in a favorite chair to beat the heat by getting lost in a book set in February in Montana! However you celebrated, my thanks — and cheers! (Yes, that ‘s one of Erin’s huckleberry margaritas shown with the book. In a plastic glass — we don’t want any repeats of the Event that set Fresca off!)

IMGP2435If you’ve read BUTTER, I hope you’ll take a minute to post a review online or to tell your friends about it. Word of mouth and those brief reviews mean a lot to an author, as well as boosting sales and helping a series continue. Plus those online reviews involve stars, and you know how much Erin loves her lucky stars!

Festival 2014If you’re in Western Montana, I hope you’ll come visit with me at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts on Sat and Sun, August 1-2. Look for me in front of Frame of Reference Gallery on Electric Avenue. And in Billings, please swing by Barnes & Noble at 2:00 on Sat, Aug 8, when romantic suspense author BJ Daniels and I interview each other!

Guest posts, reviews, and giveaways: I’ve visited a few book blogs in the last couple of weeks, sharing bits and pieces of the writing life and dishing about my characters. And if by chance you don’t have a copy of BUTTER OFF DEAD yet, a few include publisher giveaways that are still open:

Fresh Fiction — Collecting can be murder! A few of my own collections — happily, none leading to a deadly obsession!

Lori’s Reading Corner — A Vocabulary of My Ownest — making up words to put in my characters’ mouths!

Escape with Dollycas — Killing Christine, or how my victim chose me! Contest ends midnight July 24!

Fresh Fiction — The Family Business. The lovely women at Fresh Fiction liked me so much, they let me come back and talk about the challenges Erin faces in running a business with her mother!

Dru’s Book Musings — A Day in the Life of Tracy McCann, sales clerk and chocolatier Contest open till midnight July 22!

A Cozy Girl Reads — A lovely review!

Moonlight Rendezvous — Another lovely review! Contest open till July 27!

And I’ll be on the Gotta Write Network this week, talking about how Erin manages to solve crime and run a business with her mother — without killing her.

Also thrilled to share with you a guest of my own, on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen — real-life spice shop owner Amanda Bevill, of World Spice Merchants, shares “The Secret Ingredient” to making a family recipe for apple cake even tastier!

Of course, I continue to share recipes at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays, and my characters take the stage at Killer Characters on the 27th of the month. This month, meet Erin’s mysterious brother Nick, who runs with the wolves.

cat on desk


Happy Reading — and remember, everything’s better with butter! And a cat on your desk. 

New words in the dictionary — a quiz (part 1)


At the Get Published Writers Conference in Bozeman this past June, where I was a speaker, my friend Lynn Kinnamon, the conference chair, shared these new words. All were published in the Merriam Website Online Dictionary in the last year or so. How many can you define?


1. NSFW (abbreviation)

2. jeggings (n)

3. photobomb (v)

4. eggcorn (n)

5. emoji (n)

6. click fraud (n)

7. upcycle (v)

Part 2 in two weeks 


1. Not Suitable For Work

2. denim leggings

3. to appear, uninvited but on purpose, in a photograph

4. words or a phrase commonly misheard, e.g., misunderstood lyrics; comes from the word acorn.

5. symbol used in email or text messages to express an emotion not conveyed by the words themselves

6. deliberately clicking on an online advertisement repeatedly, to cost the advertiser money or drain their pre-set ad budget; a nasty thing to do

7. to make something new out of trash, such as sewing a skirt out of old t-shirts or cutting and polishing a wine bottle to make a tumbler



The Real Jewel Bay — summer in bloom


So it’s winter in the village in BUTTER OFF DEAD, but high summer right now. And I’d much rather share pictures of posies than snow piles!

Left: Arrowleaf Balsamroot, one of my favorite wildflowers. Other faves: Indian paintbrush and wild pink spirea, so brave it grows on the upper slopes of the Continental Divide, right behind our house.

clematis 3 clematis 2


Clematis “Etoile Violette.” We trained it up an old bamboo rake staked to the side of the garage.




Echinacea, aka cone flower. It’s spread like mad in our woodland garden and we love it!

IMGP1939And sedum “Autumn Joy,” over the grave of our much-loved orange tabby, a sweet girl who showed up one fall and so, was named “Autumn.” She inspired Pumpkin, the new cat in BUTTER OFF DEAD.

Butter Off Dead (final)


BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Agatha-Award winning Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, out now.



Litigating Parental Alienation Cases

CKV - Plum LovelyI’ve worked on a wide — you could say wild — variety of cases in my 30+ year legal career, but occasionally a field or topic emerges that’s outside my experience. Continuing Legal Ed — or CLE, said Cee Ell Ee in some states, Klee in others — courses are some of the best “new topic” alerts.

One showed up in my mailbox earlier this week that I think has, sadly, enormous story potential: a seven-hour class sponsored by the CLE Institute of the State Bar of Montana on Litigating Parental Alienation Cases.” Micro version: One parent claims the other has deliberately interfered with his or her relationship with their child, and asks a court to intervene.

From the brochure: “This workshop will help attorneys recognize PA. Participants will learn to identify specific behaviors of the favored, or alienating, parent, and those of the rejected parent and the affected child that are commonly observed in these cases. Presenters will cover what PA is and provide suggestions about case management, litigation strategy, and options for families where PA is at issue.”

Speakers include a psychologist, licensed professional counselors, and an attorney who has worked extensively as a guardian ad litem (meaning she’s been appointed to advocate for the children, for the limited purposes of the litigation), parenting evaluator, and family law mediator.

Some of the topics on the schedule:

“Essence of Parenting—Attachment Theory and Failures of Compassion”

“Introduction to Parental Alienation”

“Primary Manifestations of PA — Levels of PA”

“Specific PA Behaviors—Introduction to Bayes’ Theorem”

“DSM-5” (a discussion of applicable topics from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition)

Others: gathering evidence, examining experts, controversies, a discussion of case law, the role of guardians ad litem, parenting evaluations and parenting coordinators, family reunification options, and alternative placement options for severely alienated children.

It’s easy to roll our eyes or shake our heads at some of the terminology, which can border on psycho babble. Or to shake our heads over the terrible things people do to children—although frankly, I’m not so sure that the world is any worse than it always was; we just have new terms and ways of understanding human problems. And that’s the key, I think, to using this kind of information in your stories: use it to uncover the heart of the conflict between your characters, to understand how they respond and react, how they externalize or demonstrate their emotions. How does a bystander—a grandparent, a teacher, a family friend, a parent’s new partner, an older sibling—respond? And yes, how do law enforcement and judicial systems become involved? Because, ultimately, story is part of how we understand and cope with the world around us.

(Painting: Plum Lovely, acrylic on canvas, by my friend Christine Vandeberg)

The Saturday Writing Quote — the novel and empathy

The novel “breaks down the barrier between the self and the other, which is the basis for democracy, the basis for humane society. … It’s epistemological. It tries to deal with one key question: How do we know what we know? Basically, it’s trying to validate the subjective experience of an individual. That’s why it’s the most democratic form in literature, because it raises up to the level of significance the subjective experience of an ordinary human being.”

– Russell Banks, quoted in The Missoulian 10/9/11, on the novel’s power to evoke empathy for others