Monday, July 23, 2012

Tending the garden

Tending the garden- now there's a phrase you don't hear a lot these days. Back in the day, people used to tend gardens because they grew their food. I don't know about you, but I can't even grow tomatoes on my patio without something eating them. Much easier to buy something from the farmer's market or grocery store.

But I've been tending a different kind of garden lately. Flower beds. Or, I should say weed beds. Mine get out of hand because I hate weeding, then when I finally get motivated to "weed" I have to hack the weeds out so the bed looks like it wasn't abandoned ten years ago.

Even worse than my flower beds are the ones in a rental property we own. The first owner and the second tenant were gardeners. They took pride in having a bit of this here and a bit of that there, so there's lots of stuff planted in the beds. Both of them liked viney things that grew up on the trellis and softened the fence line.

The second tenant was ill for a number of years and didn't keep the beds up. Though the recently moved-out tenants kept good care of the lawn, they also didn't pay any attention to the beds. Between the rampant wild grape vines, the Virginia creeper, assorted vines, and sticky bushes, it was hard to make a determination about what was supposed to be there.

I've been hacking out weeds as big around as my wrist. They've been there so long, they thought it was home. Not anymore. They are not welcome and have been pulled up and cut back to nothing.

All of which got me to thinking, how many other areas of our lives do we let slide? As a writer, I know I put off all manner of chores and yardwork with the excuse of I'm too busy to do it now. And filing. I put that off too. I have stacks of paper for this subject, writer's group, research project, newsletter, you name it, its on my desk.

Friendships require an investment of time. So does family. How many times do we put off doing something with a friend or family member because we'll get to it later?

And exercise. How many of us don't tend the garden of exercise? I have the best excuses for that. Exercising is even lower on my to-do list than weeding.

But it's a mistake to forget to tend your personal garden. You can potentially jeopardize your health, distance yourself from friend and family, and isolate yourself in the weeds of your life. No one wants that all the time.

So we have to do better. I'm going to put it on my to-do list. What about you?

Maggie Toussaint
In For a Penny out now as an e-book on

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A new "old" release: In For A Penny

E-revolution, here I come!

Announcing the digital release of In For A Penny. It's got a sharp new cover but it's the same fab story reviewers loved in 2007. The list price is $2.99. It will be exclusively available at Kindle for 90 days.

This cozy was my first published mystery, and it opened all kinds of doors for me. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to bring in out in e-format for mystery lovers everywhere.

First, let me introduce you to my amateur sleuth, Cleopatra Jones, small town accountant. She knows everybody and does most of their taxes, but she was the last to find out of her husband's affair. Now two years later, they're divorced but her anger at his adultery comes out in her golf game, causing her score to shoot into the stratosphere and her balls to fly into the woods.

One shot sailed over the green and landed on a dead guy. A dead banker, to be exact. Worse, she knows him. Even worse, the cops are sure her best friend Jonette killed him.

Cleo and Jonette have been best friends since forever. She can't let her BFF go to the slammer, so she starts poking around in the case, turning over rocks, and dodging the nasties that come crawling out.

Want more? An excerpt follows.

Chapter One

The golf course is one of the few places I don’t have to pretend. Oh, I still give the socially correct answer of “fine” when asked how I am, but I am not fine. There’s enough anger churning through my gut to fuel a volcano.

Golf therapy is how I’m relieving my stress. I imagine my ex-husband’s face on every ball I hit, and when I’m done, I’m almost fine.

My name is Cleopatra Jones, Cleo for short. Self-employment allows me to spend my Wednesday mornings playing golf in the Ladies Nine Hole Golf League. So far in today’s round, I hadn’t experienced any signs of rebirth into a nicer, perkier thirty-five-year-old, but I hadn’t given up hope.

Sunbeams danced around me on the number six ladies tee of the Hogan’s Glen Golf Club as I aimed my shoulders at the distant flag. I swung hard. My tee shot hooked left into the trees lining the fairway.

I whacked my driver against the ground. Exorcising Charlie through golf was therapeutic to my mental health, but it was hell on my golf score.

“Provisional ball,” Jonette Moore suggested. People thought of Mutt and Jeff from the comics when they saw us together because I was tall and slender while she was short and stacked. I’d known Jonette since forever, a fact she never let me forget.
Jonette’s tee shot taunted me with its perfect lie in the middle of the fairway. By mutual agreement we’d decided that the winner of the previous round got to drive the golf cart. I can’t remember when I last drove Jonette around the course.

I dropped my provisional ball on the tee box. Hitting this second ball would speed our play if I couldn’t find my first ball. Unfortunately, my provisional ball curved along the same evil trajectory into the woods. 

Drat. I stomped back to the cart. 

“Looks like you’ll be buying more golf balls,” Jonette said with a smirk.

I’d used up my late father’s lifetime accumulation of golf balls during the first year of my golf therapy. If I didn’t find either of my tee shots, I’d only have one ball left for the remaining three holes. Not good. “I’ve been over there before. The underbrush isn’t too thick.”

“Have you given any more thought to going out with that lawyer friend of Dean’s?” 

Jonette asked as we zipped towards the woods. Dean was the current man in Jonette’s life. He was also her boss at the tavern where she waited tables.

The thought of dating twisted my stomach in knots. “Sure I’ve thought about it. And the answer’s no.”

“Damn you, Cleo.” Jonette waggled her finger at me. “Don’t let Charlie win.”

My ex hadn’t won. I was being cautious. I wasn’t giving up. Who said I had to jump back in the dating pool right away? The view from the high dive was terrifying. “I’m not ready.” 

“Maybe some hot guys will move into White Rock. I wouldn’t mind checking them out for you.” 

“That development is wishful thinking and you know it.” The much-hyped new subdivision on the old Wingate farm had stalled in the bulldozer phase of construction. 

“You need to get out of that house.”

“If I wanted to get out of the house, I should take a golf lesson so I don’t spend half my round scouring the woods for my balls.”

“There’s an idea.” Jonette beamed her approval. “The golf pro is definitely hot.”

I sure wished Jonette would get off this dating kick. “Don’t go getting any ideas. I’m not interested in dating.”

“You may be right about Rafe Golden,” Jonette said. “He’s supposedly slept his way through the women of the club. But, he’s such a hunk.”

“I don’t want a man that reeks of sex appeal. If I ever dated again, I’d want someone like me. Hardworking, loyal, trustworthy, family oriented, and obedient.”

Jonette’s mouth gaped. “Where’s the excitement in that? You need someone to sweep you off your feet.”

I leveled my sternest gaze at her. “Forget it.”

Jonette rolled her eyes and huffed her disapproval.

Too bad. If I could erase Charlie from my life, I would, but his weekend visitations with our two daughters put him on my schedule every week.

Shedding Charlie was more difficult than getting fungus out from under a toenail. Just when you thought you had the problem solved, there it was again.

Jonette stopped the cart near where my balls had disappeared into the woods. “Should I help you look?”

“Stay put.” I waved her back in her seat. “I won’t be responsible for you getting poison ivy again.” 

I marched into the thicket alone, kicking through last year’s musty leaves as I searched for my golf balls. A gleam of white beckoned in the honeysuckle-scented shade ahead.

Both balls lay adjacent to each other. That brought a fleeting smile to my face. Hell, if I couldn’t hit straight I’d settle for consistent. “Got ’em,” I called to Jonette as I pocketed my provisional ball.

A massive maple stood between me and the number six green, blocking forward progress. I had no choice but to chip out of the rough and hope for distance on my next shot. Of course if I missed and hit the slender trunks of the myriad of smaller obstacles between me and the fairway I’d quite possibly lobotomize myself. Fair enough.

I marched back to the cart and selected my pitching wedge. “You might want to back up the cart while I hit.”

“Won’t do it.” Jonette smoothed her flirty little red golf skirt. “But you hit me and you are one dead dog.” 

Back in the woods, I took aim at Jonette and whaled away. My ball skimmed over the top of her head and landed in the center of the fairway. 

Success tasted sweet in my mouth. “Hot damn! I’m on a roll.” I jogged back to the cart and noticed Jonette had a death grip on the steering wheel. Served her right. I thumped her on her back.

She choked in a breath of air. “Didn’t think you had it in you, Cleo. Nice shot.”

I was still furthest from the hole, so I exchanged my wedge for a seven iron. In truth, I didn’t see the point of having so many clubs in my bag when my trusty seven worked well for any occasion. I took a deep breath and swung easy. 

My ball landed twenty yards ahead of Jonette’s. Counting all my strokes, I lay three to her one, but that was beside the point. If the world ended right this minute, my ball would still be closest to the pin. That was worth a lot. 

The golf gods must have taken a lunch break because my next shot zoomed over the green and down a steep embankment. I grabbed a club and started down the hill.
Jonette followed, sniffing tentatively. “Do you smell something?”

I did. My eyes watered at the latrine-like stench. It wasn’t unusual to smell something ripe this time of year in Maryland. The odor could be anything from farmers manuring their fields to the groundskeeper’s natural fertilizers. “No telling what that is.”

Using my golf club as a cane, I crabbed sideways down the hill, scoping the terrain near my feet for my ball. At the base of the hill, I saw something that resembled a bundle of clothes. 

A huge lump formed in my throat. “What is that?”

“I’ve got a real bad feeling about this,” Jonette said.

“You and me both.” The closer I came, the more certain details stood out in my mind. I saw that the bundle of clothes was actually an expensive business suit. Pinstriped trouser legs were rolled up to reveal dark crew socks and black-and-white golf shoes. 

The man lay on his back staring straight up at the cloudless sky. Between his slate-gray eyes was a dark circular wound. Bloodstained grass framed his lifeless head in a grotesque abstract shape, as if some wicked cartoonist had thought to ink in the conversation.

Only there was no conversation coming from this person. He was dead. Very dead.

My personal problems receded in a heartbeat. I fought down dizzying nausea as I felt my blood charge through me like a speeding freight train. I wanted to run and get far away from this grisly scene, but my feet weren’t listening.

I knew this man. He was my ex’s best friend and coworker down at the Hogan’s Glen Bank. His name tumbled from my lips. “Dudley Doright.”

Still want more? Click on over and download your copy right now! It's priced at $2.99.

Wishing you a summer full of reading and mystery!

Maggie Toussaint
ps the second book of this series, On the Nickel, is out in hardcover and the third book, Dime If I Know, is under contract!

Monday, July 9, 2012

All my bags are packed - travel tips

Remember the lyrics from "I'm Leaving On a Jet Plane"? All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..

In those days, you weren't charged for checking your bags and you could check multiple bags.

Fast forward to 2012, when you pay for checked suitcases, starting at $25 a bag, and you must meet a weight limit. Argh!

Now more than ever, it pays to be a tidy packer. Gone are the days when you could pack 5 pairs of shoes for a weekend jaunt. Today folks try to cram all the clothing for a long weekend into a single carry-on bag.

I've always eyed up those dressing systems, where you select a skirt, two pants, four tops, and a dressy jacket/cardigan all in a non-wrinkling neutral color. Everything mixes and matches and if you have extra days, you just rinse them out in the sink. Anyone ever bought one of these sets?

Indispensable knits. Mix and match these nine versatile pieces. Premium Tencel lyocell fabric resists wrinkles, shrinking and fading. Breathable and comfortable for every season.
as seen at
My budget won't allow for such a bulk purchase, so I try to make do with what I have. Trouble is my closet is an explosion of bright colors, my waist a saggy accordion depending on diet or no diet, and my shoes tend toward comfort.

She looks put together
With conference season breathing down our necks, it's time to take a hard look at our closets for those far flung adventures. Even if you don't have the luxury of those travel sets, it's a good idea to stick to a color family. I don't have a lot of blue slacks, so for me the choice is black or brown?

I always seem to have black slacks that fit, and black looks professional so I often go black. But brown is different and sometimes it pays to be different, in a good way. Luckily, I have comfortable "dress" shoes in black and brown, so I can accessorize either way once I decide on the color.

For conferences, I go with two pairs of slacks, four tops, a dress-up outfit for the banquet, pjs, and one or two warm "toppers" (nice sweaters, blazers, or shawls) because I'm always cold in the conference rooms.

this is a much nicer pic than me with my sneakers
I usually travel in a pair of non-dressy shoes. They are handy for walking during those time-out moments, or for when I head out for meals. I travel in less dressy clothes, something like khakis or nice jeans, which double for casual clothes if I want to dress down for dinner.

The other travel tip I've learned is to carry a backpack. It corrals the overflow from the suitcase, and its where I keep meds, computer, and the see-through baggie of travel-approved liquids. That convenience makes it easier to get through the security screening - much easier to access the backpack than the suitcase, and no risk of underwear falling out at the wrong moment.

Also, many conferences have a service onsite where you can ship books or conference swag home. That makes for a lighter suitcase too.

And, if you're going to visit family (or close friends) and don't wish to travel with a suitcase at all, you can ship your clothing ahead of time through USPS or UPS, so that all you have with you is stuff for the plane. My Mom did this one summer when she came up to help with the new baby and it worked out great.

One last packing tip from me. When I have a lot to pack and not much space, I roll up each article of clothing tight like a fruit roll up. That really does save space. The downside of this method is you have to roll up the dirty clothes too or you'll never get them all back in your suitcase.

Do you have traveling tips? Chime in and share. I need all the help I can get.

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guilty pleasures G!veaway

Do you need a break?

Life presses in on us, squeezing us, making us squirm. Yet, we hold out hope that it will subside, that we will get away and know relief.

I was blessed with a getaway recently. I took a trip to visit distant family. The relief from the daily grind was nearly instantaneous. Those knots in my shoulders, Sigfried and Roy, the ones that had been driving me crazy, stayed home.

The zany multi-tasking schedule that is my daily routine faded from view. The responsibilities of helping with caretaking of a person with a severe illness - those lessened too, though in their place came a wave of guilt that others were doing more to "cover" for me.

One of the guilty pleasures I rediscovered was reading. How did I get so busy that I don't have time to read? That is so wrong.

Other guilty pleasures hovered at the corners of my mind: walking at a strolling pace (instead of walking to burn calories), getting a massage, enjoying the company of others (real people, not the ones I'm inventing for books), yoga, watching the waves roll in, lunch with the girls, chick flicks, playing my guitar, and more.

These are things I used to do for leisure activities, before I got so busy. These are things I intend to do again.

Please comment with your guilty pleasure (keep it PG, please!). I will give away a copy of one of my books, your choice, to a lucky commenter. The winner will be announced on Saturday, July 7, so it isn't too late to comment. Don't forget to leave an address if you want to be considered for the drawing!

Maggie Toussaint
Mystery and Romance author