Friday, March 15, 2013

Meet Author Lisa J. Lickel and Get a Sneak Peek!


Where are you right now (LVR, DR, Bathroom) and what are you wearing? You have to tell the truth.  J 
      Oh, gravy—caught me dead. I’m in the living room at the “big” computer – which does NOT have a web cam, in my pajamas. Gulp. Right, thanks, now someone’s going to come to the door. Never fails.

What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned when researching a story?
 Ricin is the assassin’s poison, as it doesn’t leave a trace.

Many writers will say they see stories all around them. Is there any place unusual you’ve found a story?
I think for me it’s more like I find unusual stories in usual places. The story of a drowning during the flapper era at the lake we visited a couple summers ago; using coded signals in traffic jams while on the freeway; okay—I guess this qualifies as an unusual place: underground tunnels that many cities built during various war times for protection of goods and people.

What is your favorite part of writing? Did anyone inspire you to write or was this something you always wanted to do?
 The favorite part is coming up with the idea and early plotting before all the messy stuff, like this or that can’t work when I dig into research. I never really considered writing as a career until I got involved with developing a local historical society and started editing local histories, doing newspaper articles and press releases, then took an online course.

If you could be any character in any literary book who would you be and why?
If Agatha Christie counts a literary, right now I’d love to be Miss Marple, who’s lived long enough to develop a patina of wisdom and accountability and self-confidence to be useful to the society in which she exists.

What is something that very few people know about you?
      Well, this could get ugly. How about the fact that I sit around in my pajamas checking my e-mail and responding to interviews first thing in the morning. So much better than revealing I have a secret crush on Edward Cullen.

What is your favorite material item that you own? 
The first miniature pewter dragon in my collection. It’s handmade, not molded, and perfect.

What do you do to unwind and relax?
Relax? What for…um, acupuncture. Seriously. It’s awesome and I may have to take a class so I can do it to myself.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
Well, yes, actually.

What are your expectations for your book?
 I’d the love the re-release of The Last Bequest to jumpstart the rest of the series.

What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
 I no longer have to embarrass myself in front of the congregation I used to work for by making the angels sin at Christmas time.

Do you have any upcoming appearances that you would like to share with us?
I plan to schedule a workshop on micropublishing, but as of this date, haven’t any information.

If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be?
Take care to read deep, take small bites and chew well before swallowing. Savor the melded flavors the author used and lick your lips. We put a lot of effort in creating this dish just for you; don’t ruin it by gobbling it up and letting leftovers get moldy in the fridge.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I had great editors with this round…no, I’m finally content with where we went on this journey.

Do you remember how your interest in writing originated?
      If I did, I would run screaming.

 Would you like to share a little about your current work in progress? Perhaps the first chapter of your book? Absolutely. I’m working on the third book in the mystery series, currently called The Newspaper Code (comes after The Map Quilt). Of course, this hasn’t been through the editor yet. It’s due out in April 2013.

The Newspaper Code, Book 3 of the Buried Treasure Series

Dead-heading the petunias isn’t just a gardening expression in Robertsville.

Judy Wingate’s NOT-BFF, Olivia Hargrove of the Robertsville Reporter, uncovers a 150-year-old secret stash of four and a half million dollars—and the statue of the founding father is behind—above—it. When an elderly civil servant is murdered and the statue stolen, who can Judy and Olivia trust? 

Chapter One
    Judy Wingate stretched her eyebrows at the sounds of dismay coming from the house. She paused in the act of rapping on her friend Ardyth’s screen door, and instead cuddled her infant daughter higher in her arms. Elizabeth kicked her in the ribs. Stifling a gasp, Judy leaned toward the screen door, then took a hasty step back when Ardyth peered back from inside.
    “Well, I never!” Ardyth sniffed and huffed. “There you are.”
    “Ne-never what?” Judy asked, then turned sideways to keep the door from smacking her and Elizabeth as Ardyth pushed it open.           
     “Sorry, dear. Come in, do. Oh, my. I just don’t know how I’m going to break the news, that’s all.” Ardyth’s plaid tennies slapped the glossy narrow oak floor boards of her hallway as she led the way to the little bungalow’s kitchen.
     “Explain what, Ardyth? You’ve lost me.”
     Judy’s elderly and histrionically inclined friend opened her sunny yellow refrigerator door, covered with childish cat drawings, plucked out the lemonade pitcher and poured a glass. Judy, in slow motion, sank into a seat at the kitchen table. Ardyth stared at the telephone handset perched on the kitchen counter next to the chrome sink. She didn’t even offer Judy a glass, or exclaim over how much Elizabeth had grown.
     Elizabeth cooed and waved her little fist.
     “Oh! Where are my manners.” Ardyth bustled to pour another glassful of her special homemade drink.
     Judy decided on a sympathetic tactic. “I can see you’re upset. Perhaps Elizabeth and I should go water the flowers ourselves this time.”
     Ardyth drew in her normally poofed crepe-skinned cheeks. “Well, of course I’m upset. Who wouldn’t be? I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”
     “Won’t you tell me about it?”
     Ardyth gasped. With a quick glance at Elizabeth, she stage-whispered: “Not in front of the baby!”
     “Elizabeth is only six weeks old.” Judy held up her hand. “I promise. I won’t let her tell anyone.”
     Failure to elicit a kidding rebuke, or any response, fanned Judy’s sense of fear. “Are you all right? Is Bryce?” Oh, please, Lord! Don’t let anything happen to either of them! I love them so much. They’ve only had three years of marriage, just as many as Hart and I.
     “It’s nothing like that. I’m sorry I scared you, honey.” Ardyth’s cat strutted into the kitchen. Ardyth paled. The brindled gray sat squarely in front of her mistress. Judy squinted. Something was definitely different.
     “You!” Ardyth scolded her pet. “How could you do this to me, Cat! You’re grieving me to no end.” Ardyth actually shook her finger at her pet. “Just wait until Bryce gets home! Ah! I don’t know what I’m going to say. How will he take the news?”
     Ardyth sniffed and addressed the ceiling. “Cat’s—well, she’s—” her voice dropped to a whisper. “Expect­ing.”
     Judy blinked and bit the inside of her cheek. She took a deep breath, then hid her face in Elizabeth’s little tummy. Don’t laugh…do not laugh. “Um…you never let her outside, I thought.”
     Ardyth drew her shoulders back regally. “I don’t!”
     “Bryce wouldn’t—”
     “Of course not. He knows better.”
     “Then how…who?”
     Ardyth abruptly faced the kitchen window where she braced her hands on either side of the sink as if for battle. “That Lois! That’s who.”
     For a woman who named her pet cat “Cat,” Ardyth was really laying it on thick. Judy sucked in her cheeks to hide a smirk. “You think Lois Birdseye snuck over here and let Cat out?”
     “Didn’t have to sneak. I gave her a key.”
     “Oh. You mean when she watched your house when you and Bryce went on vacation last month.”
     Ardyth folded her arms and nodded her gray head until her shoulder-length curls bounced.         “You know what they say. When the folks are away…the cats will play.”
     Cat gave a low yowl, as if affronted.
     Ardyth ignored her pet and snatched up a green and yellow plaid visor that matched her footwear. “Come on, dearie, time to give old Robert Roberts a good dousing.” She grabbed a flamingo-overdosed-on-shrimp pink plastic watering can on the way out of the back door.
     Judy made her stop at the end of the walk so she could buckle Elizabeth back into her stroller. Ardyth plopped the can on a Red Flyer, then deftly splashed water from the hose into it before twisting the faucet handle and yanking the wagon behind her down the street. 
     Judy had to walk fast to keep up with the muttering Ardyth. Occasional phrases, ones that sounded like “If I ever catch her twitching her tail at another…” and “I’ll fix him…” echoed back.
     “Ardyth!” Judy puffed. “Slow down!” The two of them were taking their turn to water the flower patch surrounding the statue of the founder of Robertsville. Judy had gotten used to jokes about how to tell a townie from a newcomer: the length of time it takes them to stop laughing at the ridiculous placement of the monument.
     Robert Roberts’s formidable likeness was planted in the middle of one length of the sidewalk framing the town square. The leading ladies later formed a gardening society to soften the shock of the huge statue by planting a ring of flowers about the base. The ugly pipe fence was added later to discourage stepping on the plants and defacing the statue.
     “Hey, Ardyth! Wait up!” Judy called. “I’m not in as good of shape as you, yet!”       Septuagenarian Ardyth, in her agitation, could have lapped twenty-seven-year-old Judy around the block. “Remember that meeting when Esme Espe asked the Garden Club—”
     “Whew!” Ardyth came to a halt and blew back her bangs. “I guess we don’t need to hurry. I’m just befuddled. Yes, yes, of course I do. It was your first meeting, wasn’t it? Awful nice of you to volunteer. Wasn’t that long ago.”
     “Three years. I’ll never forget that first time, anyway.”
     Laura Reynolds was the perennial president of the club. The sight of Esme toddling around with her walker was about the only thing that seemed to rattle her. Blonde, chic Mrs. Reynolds, whose real estate developer attorney husband wanted Judy’s farmland, had pinched her lips together so tightly her lipstick slid down her chin.
     Ardyth struck a hunched-over pose and peered up at Judy, her faded bachelor button-blue eyes twinkling. “Ah don’t want you plantin’ or nothing,” she said, imitating Esme’s husky Joan Crawford voice. “Ah got a reg’lar rotation, you know. Ah kin keep up weedin’. Jes cain’t cart wadder bucket no more.”
     “I only hope I have as much energy as she does when I’m ninety-nine,” Judy said. “Do you think we dare deadhead the petunias?”
     “Well, Esme’s eyesight is starting to go.”
     “I heard Mayor Thompson wants to throw her a birthday party.”
     Ardyth giggled. “A retirement party is what I heard.”
     “I wondered why there were some red petunias mixed in with the purple this year. So, her eyes are that bad? How can she still drive?”
     Ardyth stopped a few yards shy of the statue, just beyond the waving plots of petunias softening the fencing that guarded Robert’s personal space. “Well, when you’ve been around as long as she has, everybody knows her. They just stay out of her way when they see her old Fairlane coming.”
     Judy recalled more than one occasion when that mostly blue road yacht took up more than its share of the road. She stopped beside her friend and regarded Robert. “I can’t imagine anyone whose last name was Roberts would plant the same first name on a kid.”
     “It’s not exactly the same.”
     Judy raised a brow. “I guess not.”
     “It’s Scottish.”
     “They were frugal people, you know.” Ardyth turned a deadpan look at Judy. “Even economizing over a name.”
     Judy doubled over the stroller in her laughing fit.
     Elizabeth waved both little legs and burbled. Ardyth knelt to tickle the baby’s feet. “I didn’t even say a proper hello to this young lady. How are you this fine August morning, sweetheart? Such a precious thing, you are. I can’t believe it. Just six weeks ago, there we were in the middle of the night, outside in the dark, scrambling down the banks of Macsen Stream, afraid for our lives, while your husband was hanging out with Barry,...”
     “And you’re worried about talking about your pregnant Cat in front of her!” Judy interrupted.       “You’ll give her nightmares.”
     Ardyth straightened. “Nonsense. I’ll give nightmares to myself just remembering all that. Thank heavens those monsters were caught. Well, come on. We might as well get this over with.” She grabbed her wagon handle and trundled ahead of it. “Speaking of frugal, I can’t believe that school board not even trying to get a resolution passed to get a new school built. Anyone can see Robertsville Elementary is falling apart! It’s practically unsafe for you to go to work there, let alone the children. And what’s going to happen by the time Elizabeth is old enough for kindergarten? I’m almost ashamed of Robertsville. Robert Roberts must be rolling in his grave.”
     “Raising taxes would be a hardship for so many people,” Judy puffed a bit in her effort to keep pace with the Red Flyer.
     “I’d rather be a little poorer than embarrassed. What’ll happen if we can’t have school? Where will the children go then? No one will want to move here. Then there’ll be no one left to pay taxes for anything. Huh!”
     Judy pushed Elizabeth faster in Ardyth’s righteous wake. Judy couldn’t accept Ardyth’s dire prediction of the demise of public education in Robertsville. They’d had discussions on the subject on and off all summer, as the town paper kept up a running report on the state of the school after the plumbing went haywire and flooded the building, resulting in a necessary replacement of much of the tile, which in turn led to a discovery of asbestos, which led to a discovery that the maintenance fund was depleted.
      She wasn’t going to let thoughts of a future without a teaching job ruin her morning. Time for a lighter subject. Judy arrived at the fence surrounding Robert Roberts, his tarnished head held high and holding the town charter in one hand. His other hand pointed in a direction that had been debated for over a hundred and fifty years. “Have you heard any more about moving the statue?”
     Ardyth offered Judy her characteristic sniff of displeasure. “Stuff and nonsense. Mr. Roberts has been here forever. No reason to get your goat up.” She began to tip her watering can over the striped flowers. “This is his neighborhood—you know—”
     “Yes, I know.” Judy grinned. “But, still, why did it have to go in the middle of the sidewalk? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have put it…oh, say…” Judy swiveled on one toe to point toward the center of the green. “Over there? Closer to the band shell?”
     “Well, then it might get in the way of kids playing.” Ardyth plucked a few deadheads. “Hmm. Can’t believe Esme let this go. She’s usually so prompt with her care.”
     “People have been writing letters to the paper lately. Olivia’s printed several in the Reporter. About moving the statue.”
     “New folks. Don’t understand our ways.”
     “They’re petitioning the Council. It’ll have to go on the agenda if enough people request it.”
     “Vote it down, they will.”
     “Oh, come on, Ardyth. You can’t tell me this is the best place to put a statue?”
     They ducked inside the rusty black pipe fencing surrounding the statue on three sides.      “Somebody smarter than me thought it was.” Ardyth bent over to reach for a waving dandelion, just around the corner of the big square cement block base of the statue.
     “Besides, Judge Hampton rubs Robert’s knuckles for luck on the way to court every day.”
     “Luck! I doubt the judge believes in luck.” Judy glanced at Robert’s shiny knuckles, remembering last month’s trial, where Ardyth’s grandson and his friends had been found guilty of trespass and theft. That other boy with them, Jason, had narrowly escaped a murder rap. The incident had nearly broken Ardyth’s heart. Thus the two-week trip to Hawaii that Bryce called a second honeymoon.
     The trip in which, apparently, Cat was let out of the bag—er, house. Judy sighed. “I see some weeds over here. That’s not like Esme, even with her bad eyes.” Judy left the stroller outside the pipe fence and ducked underneath a bar. “I’ll go pull these, then get more…. Ardyth?”
     “Come here, quick!”
     There was no mistaking the figure that leaned in unnatural repose at the base of the statue. Esme’s flowered skirt flapped in the breeze, exposing the ruffled ends of what could only have been bloomers. Esme would have been absolutely mortified if she knew people were looking at her bloomers.

     Ardyth gasped and knelt next to Judy. Ardyth’s image wouldn’t stay in focus, and a whooshing sound reverberated in Judy’s head. She reached to grab the edge of the statue’s base for support. A piece of it came off in her hands. She closed her fist around it automatically. “Do you think…”

     “We can’t touch her,” Ardyth said. “Poor Esme.”
     “Is she…how could…why…who—”
     “That garden claw stuck in her forehead explains quite a bit,” Ardyth replied in a grim tone. “Do you have your cell thing handy?”

Read a Sample of
The Last Bequest
Lisa Lickel
(formerly published by Barbour Publishing as The Gold Standard)

Chapter One 

                Judy Winters made divots in the lawn with her church shoes, the ones with the high heels she saved to wear once a week. She stopped her frenetic crisscross pacing under the clothesline to look at her trail. Hah! She could dethatch the entire yard if she kept walking. She needed a few minutes away from everyone in the house. Just a few minutes to grieve alone. And to think about poison.
                Hand at her brow to shield the sun’s harsh light, Judy surveyed her late aunt’s farm. The half-acre surrounding the house sure could use work. What had Aunt Louise Jamison done these past two years to allow her once lovely yard to decline into crabgrass and thistles? Birds might enjoy the seeds. But only a recent lawn-mowing kept the dandelions from taking over. Judy brushed a tear off her cheek, wondering inanely who had mowed since Louise’s death. Certainly not one of her new “earth hugger” friends who’d probably convinced her that mowing was bad.
                Judy had offered to visit last week when Louise acted suspiciously lethargic during their Thursday night phone call.
                “Nothing to worry about,” her aunt assured her. “I don’t want you catching whatever bug I’ve come down with, Judy dear.”
                Louise hadn’t answered the phone the next night. While Judy dithered whether to drive over anyway, she’d received the shocking phone call from her aunt’s solicitor, Gene Reynolds. “Sorry to inform you, Miss Winters, but your aunt, Louise Jamison, has died.”
                Before Judy could catch a breath, Reynolds continued in his monotone, “The initial report indicates some kind of poisoning—not sure what kind.”
                What was the saying? That Louise bought the farm? Judy shook her head. What a horrible way to occupy her thoughts with her closest living relative freshly buried.
                “Your aunt had gotten into some of those odd nature food hippy granola crazes, you know,” Mr. Reynolds had said. No, Judy hadn’t known that. “She even tried to have me invest in some wheat juice thing for her. I told her I’d research it.”
                Wheat juice wouldn’t have killed Aunt Louise. But—poison? Louise’s condition at the time of death led the emergency room doctor and the sheriff to suspect a toxic substance of some kind. She’d obviously been sick and her skin was mottled, according to the doctor. But Louise was the smartest person Judy knew. Her demise couldn’t have been accidental, no matter what the doctor thought.
                Barry Hutchinson, the chief of police in Robertsville, agreed with Judy. But how to prove it? The autopsy report with toxicology screen would not be available for weeks.
                Judy continued to meander through the yard. Walking might keep her from wailing in grief in front of all these people. Louise had been all the family she had ever known.
                As she wandered to the back door, Gene Reynolds propelled himself toward her on feet that were much too dainty to hold up his great bulk. “Miss Winters, again our condolences.” He took her hand into his pudgy moist one. Judy steeled herself not to shudder. “I have the legal paperwork regarding Louise’s estate to go over with you, at your convenience.”
                Reynolds’s pupils flickered just enough for her notice. He has something to gain.  Sometimes Judy’s ability to decode body language came in handy. She’d picked up the trait in one of her continuing education courses and never seemed to be able to stop “ reading” people afterward.
                Judy removed her hand from his. “Thank you.” Other friends followed Reynolds to seek her out before taking their leave. She accepted a shoulder squeeze from a neighbor, an offering of sympathy, and an invitation to church while Reynolds stood guard on her right.
                She’d wanted to meet some of those people Louise gushed about, and wondered now if, in that last phone call, Louise had been making an excuse to keep her away.
                When they were alone, Judy asked, “Would this afternoon work out for you, Mr. Reynolds? I don’t want to rush or seem greedy, but I have two weeks left of the school year in Lewiston, and        need to get back to work.”
                “Miss Winters, this afternoon would be fine. How about I go to the office, pick up the files and return, say in an hour or so? We can go over everything here.”
                “Yes. I appreciate your time.” Judy watched him clasp his hands together before joining his stately blonde wife in the driveway. He wants something, I can tell.
                She said goodbye to the last lingering guest, a woman dressed wildly in clashing plaids whose    name Judy couldn’t conjure. She could hardly remember the names and faces of Louise’s many friends. If not for Graham Montgomery standing at her side all day until he had to leave for his own job, she didn’t know how she would have dealt with her aunt’s untimely and wholly unexpected death. Graham had not complained once about making small talk with strangers.
                While she waited for Reynolds to come back, Judy continued to poke holes in the creeping charley under the clothesline. This was where they’d found Louise.
                Mr. Reynolds said she’d been into natural foods. The news reported people always getting some sort of disease from sprouts and what not. But surely the doctor would have known that.
                No one had removed the laundry Louise carried to the yard after apparently ingesting some lethal concoction. The basket still sat near the lilac bush, clothing dried and no doubt hopelessly wrinkled. A yellow twin sheet that Louise managed to pin up before her collapse snapped in the stiff breeze. At the resounding echo Judy heard a flutter of cackles from the chicken coop, built against the barn a few hundred yards behind her. Louise kept animals on her working farm. Not just the noisy colorful chickens, but cows, too. Judy visited occasional weekends, and even helped with chores under Louise’s watchful eyes, but she didn’t have the foggiest idea how to tend to their general day-to-day care.
                She had given little thought to the farm since rushing to tiny Robertsville from her home across Wisconsin in Lewiston on learning of her former guardian’s death, Someone must be caring for the animals, she hoped.
                Judy resumed her agitated pacing, shoving a bothersome brown wisp of hair behind her ear.
                What was that in the laundry basket? Something moved. Judy narrowed her eyes. There it was again. A black tipped tail twitched from the depths of the willow carrier.
                “Carranza! What are you doing in there?” Drat. Judy had forgotten about the ferocious cat Louise brought when she moved back here. Carranza obeyed only Louise, and then only when he felt like it. He lifted his head lazily in her direction and offered the malevolent stare she remembered well. She shivered.
                “Carranza, please go away,” Judy said weakly, hoping the animal wouldn’t come her way. He flicked the ear with a bra strap draped around it. Then he shook his head and blinked before insolently licking an outstretched paw, claws extended.
                Enough of that. No way was she going to get into a power struggle with a pet cat. Her class of eighth graders, maybe; felines, no. Judy turned her back. The air was redolent of fresh-cut alfalfa.
                Her aunt rented acreage to a neighbor, Red Hobart who grew it. Judy inhaled enough to feel dizzy with the fragrance she normally loved. Today the scent nauseated her, worried as she was about what Mr. Reynolds would tell her.
                 Walk!  Heading toward the orchard, she almost tripped on an overturned bucket at the edge of the mown area. Sinking to her knees to better see what was buried there, Judy pushed aside the foxtails to discover a tiny rose plant with buds so large they would have tipped the slender stalks had they not been held up by the sturdier weeds.
                “Poor thing!” She yanked out some of the taller field daisies that blocked the sunlight from the roses. “That should help a little.” She should really try to tidy all this up and get the yard in shape in case Mr. Reynolds had buyers lined up. If only she’d known, really taken a good look at how much Louise had needed help, she would have…would have what? Left her new job and come home like some little girl who couldn’t make it on her own? She was doing well, handling her independence. In fact, her principal had recently called her work exemplary. Her students needed her.
                Judy leaned back on her haunches, face to the sun, and listened. Catbirds in stereo with the tinny, peaceful hum of distant cicadas took her mind off Lewiston and her job. She pushed herself to her feet to continue her inspection of the overgrown orchard. A flood of childhood memories of apple blossom petals falling like snow and picking fruit in the fall assailed her.
                A cloud scuttered overhead. Judy shivered. She rubbed her arms and checked her watch. Four-thirty. Back in the main yard, she stopped in front of a gnarled stump. A single mossy branch          dangled like a broken arm but bore a number of determined green leaves. Judy smiled and touched the deeply grooved brown bark. A bee bumbled nearby. She walked around to the other side where a weathered emblem appeared carved into the trunk and bent low to trace a misshapen heart.
                “Can I help you, Miss Winters?”
                Judy looked up from her vulnerable crouch and froze at the sight of a well built young man in     aviator sunglasses striding up the unkempt row. The man came to a halt at the edge of her personal comfort zone. She watched lines form between his eyes and realized her nervous smirk scored no points. Not a good way to make a first impression. Or second, since he apparently knew her name.
                “I don’t think so,” she said in her most polite voice. Judy pushed herself up and held out her hand. “And you are?”
                The man had his hands on his hips. He belatedly reached out to grab hers. “Hart Wingate.
                Mine’s the adjoining farm. I helped Louise, and her father before her, with chores. The police asked me to keep an eye out for strangers.”
                Judy nodded. “Yes. My aunt mentioned she had someone in to help. I assumed she meant a hired hand. You don’t know what really happened here, do you?”
                “No. I wish I did. And I don’t work for Louise. I helped her when she needed it. I don’t recall seeing you here before the funeral.”
                Taken aback, Judy opened her mouth to reply that she hadn’t met him before, either, when they were hailed from the yard.

10.   Where can people find you? Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, Websites…etc.
Honestly, the best place to find me is through my web site:; any social sites where you want to connect are there; Facebook, Facebook author page, any blogs, Goodreads, and so forth. I think I’ve forgotten half the places I’m registered and I haven’t given in to the Twit monster yet, so pick and choose! I’ll like you back. Honestly.

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