In a Comma Coma

Dear Readers, Writers, and Grammar Police Officers,

I have spent the last week poring over my formatted copy of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets for the second time. (This doesn’t count the 100 times before formatting.) My goal is to catch every error I can so the public doesn’t have to. To my horror, I have found that I am guilty of comma abuse! My mind has been whirling in commas such that I have thought of little else. You might say I am officially in a Comma Coma!

How could those pesky punctuation marks have sneaked in initially and gone undetected for so long??? My excuses are that in my rush to get my thoughts down when composing my story, the rules of commas flew out of my head; and, I’ve been too close to my own work for some time now to see the superfluous little devils. I am no longer capable of doing a “fresh eyes” read.

In my defense as an English major and literacy teacher, I really DO know comma rules:

  • Never in restrictive clauses but always in nonrestrictive clauses;
  • Between two independent clauses but never before a dependent clause;
  • With coordinating adjectives but never with cumulative adjectives;
  • Not in essential appositives but always in nonessential appositives.

The list goes on, but I won’t bore you with any more!  (That comma after “on” is correctly placed, by the way.) But I will regain consciousness, and my work will be better for my present delirium.

So get a clue, Everyone. Errors happen in writing! Be prepared to read, reread, and reread your work again! (Yes, that’s a beloved Oxford comma after “reread.” It stays.) And don’t be afraid to ask some Fresh Eyes to read your work, too. It just might prevent a Comma Coma.


Dear Readers,

It’s September–that time of year when my mind naturally wanders to BB&B. No, not “Bed, Bath, & Beyond”! And also not “Better Bed and Breakfast.”

I’m talking, of course, about Bulletin Boards and Books.

Regarding the first two Bs: Every September since I retired from teaching in 2013, I reflect on how as an educator, I would be proudly gazing right about now at my newly created classroom Bulletin Boards. I hoped they would be welcoming for my new crop of students and give them a hint as to what my literacy class would involve. For example, one of my favorites was “The Six + One Traits for Great Writing” from Ruth Culham’s model. I taught kids the seven traits all year, and we watched those tools help us improve our fiction and nonfiction prose and poetry. I would post the students’ final drafts on that board, invite the principal and parents in, and serve cookies or brownies for our Publishing Party. I got lots of writing practice, too, because I would always do the same project along with the kids. (They loved hearing about–and seeing–my ups and downs as a writer!)

Now, to the third B: No more bulletin boards these days, for better or for worse. In my new profession as an author, my mind has shifted to Books, especially those I’m writing. I’m proud to have finished three so far! Work on the fourth, however, in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries has gotten shoved to the back burner since my energies must currently be focused on getting Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets into readers’ hands and hearts by February 1, 2020.

So get a clue, Readers. Watch for books in my series to appear slowly but surely. As to bulletin boards, hmmm . . . I wonder what I could put up as a backdrop for those upcoming book signings?


Sari . . . or Not?

Dear Readers,

It’s time to meet the fourth and last–but not least–of the Botanic Hill Detectives, thirteen-year-old Rani Kumar!

Rani moved to Las Palmitas, California, from her native India when she was five years old. Her father, Devi Kumar, is a professor of geology at the local university. Her mother, Gajara Kumar, is an airline manager at the city’s international airport. Rani and Lexi are best friends, live only two streets apart on Botanic Hill, and know so much about one another.

One thing Lexi was surprised to learn was that Rani is a synesthete. That’s someone with synesthesia, an extra sensory ability where one sense, for example hearing a word or name, triggers something else, such as a taste or smell. That’s Rani’s type, and it’s called lexical-gustatory (word to taste) synesthesia. It’s very rare. About 0.2% of the world’s population has lexical-gustatory synesthesia. Rani enjoys what she considers her special gift and likes to try to use it to help solve the squad’s cases.

During a mystery, Rani will sometimes drift away in thought. When, she returns, she has just the right idea to help the group. She can be quiet and reflective one minute, then snap her fingers and loudly express her feelings or ideas the next. You can count on her to keep things running smoothly on the case since she quickly shuts down occasional spats among the squad members.There is an air of mystery, gracefulness, and intelligence about her that she brings to each case. She does, however, enjoy teasing Moki–especially about snakes.

Rani is the smallest of the four detectives, very athletic, and a fast runner. Her long, wavy black hair is often in a thick braid or ponytail. She loves wearing saris, the beautiful draped-fabric costume of some women and girls of India. Her grandmother, who lives with the family, makes Rani’s saris by hand, and the girl is very proud of them. She’s usually wise enough to know when to wear a sari, and when to choose Western dress instead for working on a case. She enjoys painting henna tattoos on Lexi’s arms and telling her BFF stories about life in India.

So get a clue, Readers. Since I, too, have lexical-gustatory synesthesia, many of Rani’s name-to-food associations will actually be mine! Watch for Rani’s use of synesthesia and her other gifts as she and her fellow detectives try to solve the mystery of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets.


Dear Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian Readers,

Welcome to Hawai’i! Well, not quite. More like, say aloha to our pure-blooded Hawaiian character, the third Botanic Hill Detective, thirteen-year-old Moki Kalani!

Moki is the comedian of the squad and usually wears a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. His intelligence and laid-back nature give him the ability to see the humorous side of situations. This helps him keep his best friend and often too serious detective, Lanny Wyatt, balanced. Moki can also appear not to be paying any attention but will comprehend everything that was said. (I had lots of students like that when I was a teacher!) The squad counts on Moki to come up with clever, descriptive names for various suspects and to take notes on his tablet during their meetings. He’s one good-looking dude, too, kind of like a Hawaiian Elvis Presley! Because Moki can speak Hawaiian, watch for your chances to learn more words than just aloha in Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets.

Honolulu, Hawai’i, was Moki’s home until his mother died in a car accident when he was eight. His father, a police officer named Sergeant Dan Kalani, moved them to Las Palmitas in Southern California, to make a fresh start. Since the Kalanis live directly over the backyard fence from Lanny and Lexi, the twins’ mother, Dr. Rebecca Marlton, does her best to be a substitute mom for Moki. This causes the appreciative boy to see all of them as one big, happy ohana (Hawaiian for family).

Despite being a champion surfer and the tallest and most muscular of the four detectives, Moki is really a big softie. He has a deathly fear of naheka (Hawaiian for snake). They bring him much pilikia (trouble) since he seems to run into naheka more than the average person. This makes him feel pupule (crazy)! You might say Moki and naheka are in a vicious circle.

If there’s a chair or low table for someone to fall over, Moki will be the one! Lexi says that he’s like a tall swaying palm tree in a china shop. And no one can eat more than Moki, a confirmed foodie and a very good cook. In fact, he wants to be a chef when he grows up.You can thank Moki for contributing a munchy recipe to this author’s monthly newsletter.

So get a clue, Readers. Watch for Moki’s monthly recipes, try them out at your house, and learn some Hawaiian. Aloha and mahalo for now. Next up, our fourth detective, Rani Kumar. You won’t be “sari”!





Twin Talk

Dear Readers,

How about a sneak peek at two of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets’ four, thirteen-year-old detectives?

Meet Lanyon “Lanny” Wyatt and Alexia “Lexi” Wyatt, brother and sister twins.

Lexi thinks that Lanny is a “brainiac,” which he is. His ability to reason through situations, staying cool and on task, and having loads of confidence have made him the head of the Botanic Hill Detectives Agency. It’s no wonder. Lanny’s favorite fictional character is the great British detective, Sherlock Holmes. He tries to imitate his hero by seeking strong evidence in most instances. What the other detectives see as Lanny’s flaw is that he is forever defining words, assuming that he’s the only one in the know. As a result, he often gets eye roles and called various nicknames like “Lanny the Lexicon” and “Lanny the Linguist” from the other detectives.

Lanny has his mother’s artistic sensibilities, curly, sandy-blond hair, and blue-violet “Liz Taylor” eyes. He hopes to be a writer of detective fiction when he grows up. Lanny and Moki, the other boy detective, are best friends.

The twins’ parents are Dr. Rebecca Marlton, an art historian specializing in classical antiquities; and, Dr. Ian Wyatt, an archaeologist. Both work at the Antiquities Research Collective, aka, the ARC. The twins have earned their parents’ respect and trust since they are polite, responsible, and always tell the truth. The close-knit family travels the world together and values open communication to solve problems.

Lexi is five minutes younger than Lanny and leads with her emotions. She often frowns at her brother’s insistence on hard evidence, though in her heart, she knows he’s right. Lexi is the first person to notice when another character is in need of a hug and is there to deliver it. The other detectives are often victims of Lexi’s admittedly bad habit–hands on flesh. When excited, Lexi will grab a person’s forearm and squeeze until their cries alert her to what she’s doing. To prevent this, she will often put her hands behind her back. The other detectives have learned the hard way to keep their arms away from Lexi. Despite this, she’s a vital and respected member of the squad and accentuates the positive.

Lexi has her father’s love of archaeology and science, straight, dark brown hair, and piercing green eyes. She wants to be an Egyptologist someday. Lexi and Rani, the other girl detective, are best friends.

Did I create Lanny and Lexi to be twins since I’m one? Actually, I was more inspired by my teenage, girl-boy twin cousins, whose actions and personalities I’ve had fun observing over the years. I must admit, though, some things my fraternal twin sister and I did growing up have found and will continue to find their way into my stories!

You may wonder where I got the twins’ names. Well, Lanyon is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. Many of my Lanyon ancestors were from Cornwall, a county on England’s rugged southwestern tip. And I saw the name Alexia on a bag of frozen waffle-cut fries in the grocery store one day and liked it. The name, but not the fries, followed me home.

So get a clue, Readers. It takes a team to solve a mystery! Next time, you’ll meet Moki Kalani, the third detective in the squad. Get ready to learn some Hawaiian. Until then, Aloha!


Botanic Honorific

Dear Kids and Grown-up Readers,

Since Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets is the first of the Botanic Hill detectives mysteries, I thought it was time to reveal the origin of the “Botanic” part of the series name.

I was further inspired when I recently hired a graphic artist to make a cool map of Botanic Hill. That way, you will be able to track the detectives’ whereabouts as they solve the mystery. The map will appear in the front matter of the book, right after the Table of Contents. I think you’ll like it! But back to the origin . . .

In San Diego where I live, there are streets named “Jacaranda,” “Upas,” “Spruce,” “Nutmeg,” and so on, representing various types of trees, flowers, spices, nuts, herbs . . . in other words, botanics. I’ve always found those street names charming and have often fantasized that something magical would happen if I could just live on Nutmeg Street. So, it’s no accident that I created a character who does. The kids’ case about a stolen ancient Egyptian urn launches from Mrs. Thornsley’s house on Nutmeg Street. Hence, the title and why I chose Nutmeg first.

So get a clue, Readers. Stay tuned for additional books in the Botanic Hill series. Each will begin with a botanic street name followed by a two-word clue to the mystery. Since there are twenty-six streets, from A-Z, on Botanic Hill, my plan is to live long enough to write a mystery for each. Since I’ve only written three so far, I better stay healthy and get busy. Happy exploring to each of you when come February 1, 2020, it will be your turn to visit lush, beautiful Botanic Hill!