Do you remember your first time?

Reading your favorite mystery novel, that is. What did you think I was talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter and join me as I talk about the first time I read a book by one of my favorite authors, Sue Grafton.

Back in the early nineties, I was working at a home for unruly children. There’s probably a better term for this, but at the time that’s what I called it. I worked the third shift and part of my duties included sitting in the back hall at night and making sure that the girls on the unit stayed in their rooms. I occasionally had to walk around and check each room to make sure that they were, in fact, sleeping and not hurting each other. For the most part, they behaved, so it was a fairly easy assignment. We were allowed to read while we sat in the back hall, since there was really nothing else to do. So, one night I grabbed a random book from the shelf in the office before venturing back to my post. The title was, simply enough, “B is for Burglar.” I thought it sounded fairly mild and that it wouldn’t require much thought on my part, so it seemed like a good choice. Little did I know that waiting for me beyond that cover were pages of a story that would inspire me to start writing my own mystery series.

It was around 1993 or ’94 and the book had been published in 1985. The author, was Sue Grafton. One of the reigning queens of mystery (in my opinion). And after reading this book, which was the second book in the series, I immediately went in search of the first book. And from there, I later read every single one up to the very last book Grafton published before she passed away in 2017. I read them in paperback and listened to the audiobooks throughout the years, sometimes several times over. They were comforting, in the way that old television reruns are a comfort. And when I needed inspiration or just motivation to keep going, listening to Kinsey Millhone work her way through a case without the help of the internet, cell phones, or other modern-day accoutrements was refreshing. It reminds me that anything is possible no matter what it may look like on the surface.

In 2006, I actually received some advice in a letter from Ms. Grafton. Unfortunately, it was not what you’d call uplifting. It was early in my writing career and I had stupidly sent her a copy of my first book, In the Wash: The Rona Shively Stories. She had read a few chapters and then decided to let me know that my work was substandard, in her opinion. I had been so hurt by her feedback that for a time, I couldn’t even look at her books for several years after that. In the letter, she made the snap judgement that my first attempt at a hard-boiled private eye novel was something I’d not taken seriously and implied that my motivation was simply to be published quickly and get famous. She decided this without knowing anything about me and I was so absolutely deflated by her comments that I nearly trashed the whole writing thing. But I knew that my motivation had never been anything so lame or pretentious as just wanting to be published or popular, so I decided to press on. She had no idea how many hours I’d spent in the library researching all of the pieces of the plot I’d put together in my head. She had no idea that I’d been discouraged from being a writer when I was still a teenager and that I’d only just picked it back up after nearly fifteen years of not writing. She had no idea that the birth of my first and only child had inspired me to try writing again. Or that reading her books was why I had decided to write a book in the first place. She just assumed that I was another of hundreds of amateur writers who would never put in the kind of time and energy she’d put into her novels. But she was wrong. She was an excellent author, but God rest her soul, she knew nothing about me, my personal struggles, or what kind of writing I was capable of and her criticism became the number one reason why I went on to write books two through ten of The Rona Shively Stories series.

Eventually, I did read the rest of her books, as I indicated above. I read the whole series and was always impressed by how she could weave a story together so vividly and with so much detail. She was an excellent writer and I’m truly sad that she did not get to finish the Kinsey Millhone series. It’s probably one of the greatest injustices a writer can suffer; leaving a great series unfinished. But no one will ever be able to write Kinsey like she wrote Kinsey. And no other author should want to do that. As authors, we should want to write our own characters in the way that we want to write them. And we should write unapologetically, using our experiences and the skills that God has given us to create stories of our own; stories that will speak to readers as no other author’s stories can. Her words may have ripped my heart out at the time (even if that wasn’t her intention), but in that pain I found what I needed to justify writing Rona the way I wanted to write her. She was my character and my characters don’t always know everything they need to know when they need to know it. My characters are on a journey, trying to figure out what it all means and why we bother.

Ultimately, Grafton’s words did motivate me to become a better author and to help others get their stories out there (hopefully without ever making them feel as low as I felt back then). I’ve always felt that there is more than enough room on the stage for all of us. Writers who have just started and writers who have been around a while. And I never saw the logic in making someone feel terrible about their writing if they had the courage to at least try it. Everyone has a story to tell; some may not be as exciting or endearing as others, but they don’t have to be. We can all learn from one another’s experiences and if someone wants to try and share those experiences in a book, what harm does it do to encourage them to do just that? As a publisher now, I always try to look at the stories I receive through the lens of someone who is looking for advice in whatever the subject mater area presented in a manuscript may be. Some are a fit for my company, some aren’t. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious about writing. Or that they shouldn’t bother. We can’t all be Sue Graftons or Lisa Scottolines or James Pattersons or Janet Evanoviches (pardon the pluralization on these). It would be ever so boring if we all were. I’d much rather be Rebecca Benston writing Rona Shively and reading all of these other great authors who have given me such inspiration and joy over the years. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Rebecca Benston is the owner of Higher Ground Books & Media and the author of over twenty titles currently available through Amazon and other outlets. Her books include a mystery series (The Rona Shively Stories), empowerment resources such as Wise Up to Rise Up, Don’t Be Stupid (And I Mean That in the Nicest Way), and From Judgment to Jubilee, children’s books including Grumble D. Grumble Learns to Smile, All the Scary Things, and See How Strong You Are. Benston lives in Springfield, Ohio with her awesome daughter, Mya and enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and telling it like it is. She enjoys being able to help other authors get their stories out there through Higher Ground and has recently expanded her freelance services to offer more extensive guidance as a writing coach and social media manager. For more information, you can contact Benston at

New Contest: Tell Me Your Story and you might win a Kindle…

Well, it’s that time again. I haven’t had a contest on my blog for a while and so I figured that it would be great to do something this holiday season!

Here’s the scoop. To enter this contest, all you have to do is follow this blog (Benston Blogs) and then send me your story about the most ridiculous Christmas gift you ever received. The winning story will receive a brand new Kindle E-Reader as well as Keeping the Faith and This Side Up for Kindle. And, I’ll include your story in an upcoming Rona Shively book. Easy! Follow, share, win!

Deadline to enter is December 10th. Winner will be announced on December 15th right here on Benston Blogs!

As I’ve said, proceeds from all sales of the Rona Shively Stories goes to help my women’s empowerment ministry, Higher Ground Ministries. With that in mind, please consider purchasing all five Rona stories for just $50. This price includes shipping. Just e-mail me to order! If you don’t want to order all five, my newest Rona Shively story, Now You See Me just came out on October 31st so, it’s a great time to order the latest story if you’ve read the rest. You can get your copy of this book or of any of the Rona Shively Stories for just $10 (includes shipping)!

Good luck to those who enter and thank you for following Rona!

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From the latest Rona Shively Story…

Here’s a preview of my new Rona Shively story:

I waddled into the restaurant, mentally ordering my pancakes, eggs, and sausage as I scanned the dining room for someone who fit my client’s description of herself. She had said that she was tall and thin with dark brown hair. She said that she would be wearing a red leather jacket. I spotted her almost immediately. Her hair was short, in a stylish bob. She was almost too conservative-looking to be meeting with the likes of me. I walked up to the table and made one of those “Ahem” noises to get her attention. When she looked up, the expression on her face went from calm to catty in something like seconds.
“So, you’re Rona Shively,” she said, her tone extremely unfriendly.
“So, I am,” I said, “What’s the problem? Are you Susan Fleming?”
“That’s right, and I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” she said getting to her feet. She jabbed a finger in my face as she continued her tirade. “Where do you get off trying to take money from helpless, old ladies?”
Now, I’m not generally speechless. This is especially true when some hag is pointing her gaudily painted fingernails in my face as this woman had done. A few months ago, she would have been on the receiving end of a nasty ass-whooping for this kind of behavior. Today, however; I was feeling generous. Whether it was the nature of the accusation or the instability of my hormones that made me stop and think before taking a swing is not important. What’s important here is that I simply stepped back and calmly asked, “What are you talking about?”
“You know very well what I’m talking about,” she said loudly. People were starting to watch our exchange and with my reputation, I really didn’t need this kind of publicity. “I’m talking about Esmerelda Haynes, my grandmother, the woman you convinced to sign over $5,000 of her retirement money for a phony insurance policy.”
Okay, now she was just being ridiculous. “Esmerelda Haynes?” I asked. My patience was wearing thin and since she was making it very difficult for me to order those pancakes I’d been fantasizing about, I was starting to feel a little less charitable and seriously considering punching her in the mouth to shut her up.
“Esmerelda Haynes,” she said. “You just spoke with her last week, didn’t you?”
I took a moment and then shook my head. “Uh, no,” I said, “I’ve never spoken with any Esmerelda. Not last week or even over the course of my entire existence. I do not sell insurance, nor have I ever convinced anyone to give me $5,000.”
She gave me a look that said she absolutely didn’t believe me. This woman did not know me and I wasn’t sure who had told her that I was the one who swindled her poor old granny, but at this point, I just wanted to sit down.

You can order your copies of The Rona Shively Stories by contacting me here. Get all four for just $40!

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Read an excerpt from This Side Up!

From Chapter One…

I slammed the phone down with somewhat unnecessary force; slumping in my chair like a woman who had spent the better part of the day trying to convince herself that she really didn’t need one man while fretting over not being able to get an altogether different man on the phone. Ah, the irony.

As I pondered this, there was a knock at my door. It was most likely the pizza, but I checked the peephole anyway to make sure. I didn’t see anyone there, so I opened the door cautiously. I’d been fooled by this trick before. I peered outside to see if anyone was waiting to club me over the head, but no one was there. That was odd; I could have sworn someone had been at the door. Maybe I was hearing things. I shut the door and went into my kitchen to see if I had anything to drink in the refrigerator. I opened it up and looked inside. One can of Coke and a couple of bottles of beer. I grabbed the Coke and opened it.

As I took a swig, there was another knock at the door. I was pretty sure it was actually a knock this time. I set the can down on the counter and went over to the door. This time, I reached into my purse which was hanging on its hook near the door and grabbed my gun. I held it at the ready as I looked through the peephole again. This time, I saw the pizza delivery guy standing there holding my pizza, grinning like an idiot. What the hell did he have to be so happy about? He was a pizza delivery guy for Christ’s sake.

I opened the door, still holding my gun. The boy’s eyes grew wide as he saw it in my hand.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s not for you.” I smiled reassuringly and handed him a $20 bill to cover the cost of my order. “Keep the change, dear.”

He handed me the pizza and the Coke and then backed away from me without saying a word. I’d tipped him about four bucks, so in addition to not getting shot, I’d say he did pretty well on this order.

Pre-Order your signed copy today at my website!

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Keeping the Faith…available September 25th!

I’m so happy to announce here on Benston Blogs that my third Rona Shively book, Keeping the Faith will be released by Publishing on September 25th! This is the first novel-length Rona Shively story and I can hardly wait for the release date! Rona is going through some changes and you won’t believe what she’s up against or for that matter, whom she’s up against in this one.

Stop by my Rona Shively website for more about this book!

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Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter Two)

I collected my mail when I got to my apartment building and was surprised to see only a couple of bills in the pile. The rest were flyers and advertisements for products or services for which I had no use. I removed the two bills from the stack and chucked the rest in the trash can as soon as I got in the door. It was about three p.m. and somehow, I’d forgotten to eat lunch. The meeting with Nellie had left me feeling unsettled and I hadn’t even thought about food until I reached my apartment. I was starving so as soon as I got in the door, I checked the refrigerator to see if anything had miraculously appeared in there since this morning when there was nothing to eat for breakfast.

Sadly, there was only about a half gallon of orange juice, two slices of American cheese, one pickle and what was left of a deluxe pizza that I had ordered three nights ago. Anyone who knows me knows that I have practically no culinary talents. There was really nothing I could do with two pieces of cheese and a pickle that would make me less hungry, so I picked up the phone and dialed Paco’s. My old favorite, Micelli’s had gone out of business a couple of weeks ago and Paco’s had opened in their old location. I hadn’t tried their pizza yet, so I decided on a large Italian sub. Since orange juice didn’t go so well with Italian food, I also ordered a six pack of Coke. That accomplished, I plopped down on my couch with the two bills in my hand. Reluctantly, I opened the first one and pulled out its contents.

It was the bill for my renter’s insurance and it looked like the premium had actually gone down from last month. At least that was something good. The next bill wasn’t quite so wonderful. Last month I had to have some dental work done after an altercation with a rather surly individual I’d encountered as part of a case I was working. Some words were exchanged and before I knew what was happening, a couple of fists were flying. One of those fists had connected with my jaw and knocked out one of my teeth. In short, I still owed about $475 for the time I’d spent in the dentist’s chair. I tossed the bills aside and got up to go to the bathroom. I went down the hall and did what I needed to do. By the time I made my way back to my living room area, there was a knock at the door. Thank God, I thought. I took a twenty from my pocket and opened the door. I handed the money to the delivery boy and took the bag and the six pack.

I was so frigging hungry. The sandwich smelled heavenly, if that’s possible. I unwrapped it and took a bite. This was just what I needed. I opened one of the cans of Coke and put the rest of the six-pack in the refrigerator, still holding the sub in one hand. I wasn’t about to put this sandwich down. Once I had settled down, I realized that my attachment to the sandwich was worrisome. I really needed to find a hobby. It’s a sad thing when the most exciting event of the day is unwrapping an eight inch sub. Though it might have been more sad if it had only been the six inch.

After I had finished the sub, I opened up my laptop to do some research. If I was going to play the role of a salesperson, I needed to come up with something clever to “sell.” It’s not like you can go into a business and say, “Hi, I’m a salesperson, please let me come in and look around.” After about an hour, I stumbled upon an idea that I thought might work. I couldn’t find much in the way of products, but I figured that any business needs decent advertising. Since I hadn’t been very effective in marketing my own services, I wasn’t sure how I was going to come across in a sales presentation but hey, who really cares? All I needed was a business card and maybe a flyer or two and I could at least look like I knew what I was doing.

Though I’m not highly computer savvy, I opened up my Word program and started working on a template for a business card. I had recently taken one of those free classes at my local library where they taught me how to do some basic stuff with Word. I had liked the class so much that I had gone out and bought myself a couple of tutorial programs that I worked on in my spare time. After selecting a business card template from the menu, I filled in a fake name for myself, Jenny Herman. It was the first thing that came to me that didn’t sound like something out of a cheap movie. From there, I added the fake P.O. Box number that I use for all of my undercover endeavors. After that, I decided that my “company” really needed a name. Like I said, I’m not terribly good at this marketing stuff. I sat back in my chair for a moment and looked at the ceiling. Often, ideas came to me when I stared at the ceiling. I’m not sure what’s up there, but it usually sparks some creativity. As I studied the grid of the suspended ceiling tiles, the name came to me. I typed in “Criss-Cross Advertising Solutions.” After that, I pulled a graphic into the document to spiff it up a bit. I was pretty impressed with myself. Just a month ago, I couldn’t have figured this shit out and now here I was making fake stuff like a pro. Cool.

I pulled out a sheet of business card paper that I had purchased for making my own cards and stuck it into my printer. I hit the print button and within five minutes, I had my very own set of cards for Criss-Cross Advertising. Now, all I had to do was come up with some pricing and services. To do this, I just looked online for some advertising companies and copied from them. Most of them offered the same types of things, but I stuck with the ones that looked like things I understood. Pricing was a little more difficult. For that, I had to make a couple of phone calls.

“Hello,” I said as the receptionist for AAA Advertising picked up the phone.
“Can I help you?” she asked in a polished, professional tone.
“Yes, I am looking for a company that can do an advertising campaign for my business,” I said, not really knowing what to ask for. “What kinds of services do you offer?”

She ran down a list of things and then said that she could connect me to a Marketing Specialist. Before I could object, she had put me on hold and transferred me over to Ted in Marketing.

“This is Ted, what can I do for you?” he said cheerily.
“I’m looking to do some advertising for my business, can you tell me how much an advertising campaign might cost?” I asked. That sounded really stupid.
“Were you looking for print, direct mail, tv, radio?” he asked and then added, “Or maybe online?”
“Well, I don’t really know, what do you think works best?” I asked. I hoped he would be able to explain some of this stuff to me so that I could just repeat it all when asked later.
“What type of business do you have?” he asked.
“I make and sell stuff, all kinds of things like toys, knick-knacks, you know,” I said, remembering Donella Clos’s words.
“Okay, well, then you’re probably going to want a mix of all of these to reach the largest possible audience,” he said, “Where is your business located?”
“Here in Crystal Ridge,” I said.
“What kind of advertising do you use currently?” he asked.
“Currently?” I said, “Well, I really don’t have anything right now.”
“How long have you been in business?” he asked.

I didn’t know the answer to that one, “Five years,” I blurted out.
“You’ve managed to stay in business for five years with no advertising,” he asked, incredulous.
“Well, yeah, I mean, there’s word-of-mouth I guess,” I said, cringing.
“Sounds like you’re going to need a lot of help,” he said. I could hear him smiling like an idiot on the other end of the line. He was no doubt thinking that he had caught a live one with me. “Can we meet to discuss some of your options?”
I hesitated, “Well, right now, I’m really just calling around to get some idea of what an ad campaign would cost. Can’t you give me a ballpark figure over the phone?”
“It’d be better if we could talk in person,” he said, “But, I guess the type of campaign I’m thinking of might run you around $15,000.”

I nearly fell off my chair, “$15,000?” I said, “What would I be getting for that?”
“Well, of course there’s brand development and some really great market research that we could gather for you to help you target your customers more effectively…” he went on and on after this and I could feel my eyes glaze over. Finally, he finished up by saying, “I have some time available today if you’re free.”
“Uh, well, I’m going to need to get back to you on this,” I said, “I didn’t really plan to spend so much.”
“We can work with you on payments,” he said, “our goal is to get you results.”
We went back and forth a little before I was finally able to get him to hang up the phone. I had jotted some of what he said down as he spoke so that I could capture some of the key phrases. I looked at my paper; market research, brand promotion, print, direct mail…none of these meant anything to me. Maybe that’s why my P.I. business never really took off.

I spent a little more time putting together some materials for my performance and then picked the phone up to call Mrs. Clos. No one answered, so I left a message telling her that a “representative” from Criss-Cross advertising would be stopping by tomorrow morning to talk with her about her recent inquiry. I hoped she would recognize my voice and that I wouldn’t take her by surprise when I showed up there.

Party animal that I am, I curled up on my couch at around 9 p.m. and fell asleep. I had strange dreams as I tossed and turned on the small sofa. Why I didn’t just get up and go to bed is beyond me. I just felt restless and I couldn’t get my mind off of how weird this little old lady had been. My dreams took me out into a snowy field where I saw a Santa Claus-like figure loading boxes into the back of an SUV. There were reindeer, I think, or maybe they were some other kind of animal. I’m not good with nature, so they could have been horses for all I know. Through the whole thing, I heard Christmas music playing in the background but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I floated through the field until I came to a house that was decorated up with all kinds of lights and other holiday junk in the yard. I walked up to the window and I could see my new client inside. She was baking cookies, but not just one tray of them. There were literally thousands of cookies coming out of the oven. I could actually smell them baking.

Come back tomorrow for Chapter Three!

Until next time…

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Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter One)

I don’t ask for much. In fact, I don’t ask for anything at all. The Christmas season is always a little stressful for me, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not the shopping, hell, I don’t really shop. I just send everyone gift cards and let them figure it out. It’s not the parties…I don’t really go to those. Since I work for myself, there really isn’t much need for a company sponsored event. It’s not the jolly bell-ringers that stand outside of the grocery store begging for your spare change. They don’t really bother me because I usually just ignore them. No, for me, the stress comes from an entirely other place. For me, the stress hits me at about the time when everyone else is starting to feel relief. It hits me as I’m putting away my little, fake Christmas tree and trying to figure out why I bothered to set the damned thing up in the first place. It’s not like I have people over anymore. The people I used to spend Christmas with are either dead or out of my life for some other permanent reason. This year, I needed to keep busy. If I didn’t, it might give me too much time to think about why I don’t have a best friend to share the holidays with. It might be too much of a reminder that forty is right around the corner and I’m just now starting to grow up. I’ll have to put that conversation on hold for a bit, though. Don’t want to spill the beans.
I’m sitting in my office, looking at the ceiling as I do on many occasions. It hasn’t changed. It’s nothing fascinating, but it’s a hell of a lot better than looking at the pile of bills on my desk and comparing it to the ever-withering balance in my checkbook. My phone started ringing and I nearly fell out of my swivel chair. I had been deep into my “meditation” and the sudden shrillness of the phone’s ringer had startled me. I sat up and collected myself before reaching across the desk to answer.
“Shively,” I said.
“What are your hours today, ma’am?” a voice asked.
My hours are pretty much what I make them, I thought, but in an effort to sound halfway professional, I said, “9 to 4, what can I help you with?”
“I’m just down the street, I’d really like to speak to you in person if you don’t mind,” the voice said. I couldn’t really tell if this was a man or a woman. The voice was low and gravelly, but it could have been either had they smoked enough cigarettes in their day. They were definitely over forty. That I could tell. I’m not sure how, but I could tell.
Inwardly, I groaned. I really hated having people come into the office. I had only invested in the space to keep people from coming to my apartment. I wasn’t much of a hostess and truthfully, I preferred meeting my clients in public places. It was just one of those things. One less place they could track me down should they decide they want to shoot or otherwise injure me. “I guess that would be alright. I’m here for at least another hour,” I said reluctantly.
“Thank you very much, I’ll be around in a few minutes,” the voice said and they hung up.
“Okay,” I said to the dial tone.
I hung up and waited for the inevitable knock at the door. This visitor would be here whether I was ready or not. I sat back and put my hands behind my head. I really didn’t know how to prepare, so I figured I’d just sit for a moment and look stupid. It’s one of my strengths.
Fifteen minutes passed before I heard the knocking. I must have drifted off for a moment, because again, I was nearly startled out of my seat. I stood up, collected myself and walked the five steps across the office to my door. When I opened it, I didn’t see anyone. I stepped back and started to close the door when a tiny, old woman exclaimed, “Hey, wait a minute!”
I looked down and was shocked to see a woman, not more than three feet tall, standing in my doorway looking up at me. She was dressed in some kind of velvety, red wrap that made her look like a fancy bag lady. She was disheveled and her face sported a fresh bruise the size of a walnut just under her left cheekbone. Someone had roughed up this poor little, old lady. This immediately pissed me off.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “what happened to you?”
“Can I come in, please?” she said huffily. This woman was not happy. She pushed her way past me before I could invite her in and then plopped down in the small wooden chair beside my desk. She fussed and fidgeted around for several moments apparently trying to arrange her wrap so that it wasn’t bunching up underneath her. I could understand that, I hate bunching.
“Can I ask what happened to your cheek?” I asked her.
She ignored me, so I gave her a few minutes to get situated and then I walked back over to my own chair and sat down. I thought about offering her something to drink, but then decided to wait and see if she answered my question. She looked up then and eyed me suspiciously, as though I was the one who was forgetting something.
“Aren’t you going to offer me something to drink?” she asked, twisting her face up as she spoke.
This is why you should always trust your first instinct about a situation. “I’m sorry, would you like something to drink? I have coffee and bottled water. I might have a Coke in there.” I pointed to my mini-fridge as though it held the answers to the questions of the universe.
“No, thank you,” she replied curtly. Well, now, why the hell would you ask if you didn’t want anything? Any sympathy I had felt for this woman was quickly dissipating.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me, what happened to your face there?” I asked her again.
She looked up at the ceiling and then around at my office. It wasn’t very impressive, so I braced myself for an unsolicited critique. “You should really get some plants in here, dear,” she said, “this place is so dreary.”
“Okay, yes, I know that, but what I don’t know is why you are here,” I said, getting impatient, “I hate to seem pushy, but you’re avoiding my question.” I’m not inclined to ignore signs of abuse, especially when little, old ladies are involved.
“Well, if you must know, I fell down the other day and one of my animals kicked me in the face,” she said testily, “not that it’s any of your business.”
“Your animals?” I said.
“Yes, my animals,” she said, not offering any additional information about the nature of the beast who had kicked her.
I was sure she was lying, but I decided not to press the issue. “Okay, then, what can I do for you, Ms.?”
“The name is Nellie, and I have a problem with my…employees,” she said, “I think someone has been stealing from us.”
This seemed straightforward enough. “What kind of business do you have?” I asked.
She hesitated for a moment and then put a finger up as she nodded her answer, “Manufacturing and distribution of toys, knick-knacks and other stuff, mostly.”
“Mostly? What else is there?” I asked.
“Well, it’s really hard to describe, but the part I’m most worried about has to do with our inventory,” she said.
“How long has this been going on?” I asked, never failing to hear that stupid song in my head as I said the words.
“I think it’s been a few months,” she said, “I wanted to be sure, so I waited before coming to you.”
“And what makes you sure?” I asked.
“Well, I started marking some of the items so that I could track which ones went missing,” she said, clearly impressed with her own ingenuity, “and for the last two weeks, there have been huge gaps in the merchandise that should be on the shelves.”
“Okay, then,” I said, “I guess I can look into this for you. What is the name of your business?” I pulled out a contract and prepared to write down the particulars.
“It’s Santac, Limited,” she said, finally smiling. Her spirits seemed to be lifting somewhat, but for no reason I could ascertain.
“Santac is spelled…?” I asked, writing down what I thought it should look like.
“S-a-n-t-a-c, limited,” she said.
“And are you’re the owner of the business?” I asked.
“Yes, part-owner, my husband and I own it together,” she said.
“Is he aware that you’ve contacted me?” I asked.
“Oh, heavens no,” she said nervously, “he wouldn’t understand all of this.”
I sat back for a moment to consider whether or not I should proceed. I didn’t like to handle family business cases where everyone wasn’t aware of what was going on. It made for a messier than normal investigation.
“Is he likely to give me any trouble if he sees me around your place?” I asked.
“Oh, no, he wouldn’t do that,” she said.
“Are you sure, because I don’t want to be hassled while I’m trying to do my job,” I said.
I hated giving the old lady a hard time, even if she had been a little rude. But, what I hated more was being bothered by people when I was trying to check shit out.
“He won’t even know you’re around, dear,” she said, “he’s usually not in the office.”
I nodded and we continued filling out the contract. I explained my fees and she pulled a checkbook out of somewhere within her frock. She wrote me a check for $1,000 and handed it across the desk. I folded it and slipped it into my jacket pocket so that I could take it to the bank later. We talked about some possible scenarios for my checking out her warehouse and decided that I should come through as some kind of salesperson. I didn’t much care for the idea, but I figured it wouldn’t matter much what I was as long as I got a look at some of her employees. She had it narrowed down to three of her stockers. She couldn’t figure out which one was stealing, but she knew that it was one of the three. She wanted me to come in and look around as though I were assessing their needs for some kind of product that I sell. I hate using my imagination to this extent.
Before she left, she reached out to shake my hand. When her hand touched mine, I was surprised by its warmth. This crotchety gal seemed like the type whose hands would be cold and bony, but hers was warm and soft. I suddenly felt like I was standing there with an old friend. There was something strange about her. I wasn’t prone to being naïve, but she reminded me of someone.
“Nah,” I said to myself, shaking my head. I reached into my pocket to take out the check she had written. The name on the check said, Donella Clos. Not even close, I thought. It was a completely different spelling. Anyway, I didn’t believe in stuff like that and if she was someone magical, why didn’t she smell like cookies. Wasn’t that the deal, all those elves and shit smelled like cookies or sugarplums or something Christmasy. “I must be losing my mind,” I said to no one in particular.
I got out a deposit slip and one of those envelopes for the ATM machine and started to fill it all out. I’d drop this in the bank on my way home. There was really no need to sit here in the office all day. I had an answering machine and it actually worked, so I left.

Come back tomorrow for Chapter Two!

Until next time…

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On the road again…

It’s funny how the places you imagine are, in reality, so much like the place where you live. What I mean by this is that I had always envisioned the state of New York to be this big, urban expanse and I really hadn’t thought that there would be parts of the state that looked so much like my hometown.

I recently visited the city of Waterville, NY to present one of my Tea & Mystery discussions at their public library. As usual, the presentation went well and I met some very nice people there. I was surprised that the scenery didn’t actually change between where I live in Ohio and there. In fact, had I not missed my daughter so much, I wouldn’t have even known I’d left town. Although the foliage is beautiful this time of year, after about three or four hundred miles of the same landscape, you start to wonder if you’re actually moving forward. The drive did give me a chance to start working on my next Rona Shively novel. I got my first three chapters drafted on the way to Waterville.

I’ve always loved visiting new places and this road trip proved to be all too short. Since I recently started a new job, I wasn’t able to stay as long as I would have liked to check out the rest of the area. Perhaps next time I’ll have a couple of days to spare. Until then, I’ll just have to look at my own trees.

If your library would like to have me come out and do a Tea & Mystery presentation, please contact me here. I’m still booking these events and would love to visit as many libraries across the United States as possible.

Until next time…

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makes me nervous. Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher about the third book in the Rona Shively series. Right now, I’m kind of nervous. For reasons I won’t go into here, I’m trying to switch publishers. I just think it’s time. Doing this means moving away from what I’m familiar with and jumping out into “Reject Me” territory. Though I know it is a fact of life, I’m not all that hot on rejection. Who is?

My third book is the first full-length novel I’ve ever written and I think I’ve done some really great things with the Rona Shively character this time around. The story has some good, some bad, and some ugly…but no Clint Eastwood unless you count Rona’s new love interest, Garrett Shaw. Rona is nearing forty and so, in the next book, you’ll see that she’s starting to mature a little. It’s about time she did. She’s held some grudges in her day and now, she’s starting to rethink her position on some of these. Still, she maintains that she’s fully justified in hanging onto the others.

One way or another, Keeping the Faith will be published. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the publisher I’ve approached will pick it up, but if they don’t, I’ll figure something out. For now, the series is in a state of literary limbo awaiting the call to be printed but keep the faith, everyone. Rona Shively will return.

Until next time…

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