Smith Mountain Lake Mystery Writer

Contemplations from a quiet cove on Smith Mountain Lake.

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Location: United States

I'm a Southern gal who loves life, my husband and our family (which, to date, includes 13 grandchildren). I enjoy being with friends and family. But I also like being alone and thinking up plots for future books. I've published two novels, both mysteries, and I'm working on my third. For more about my books, visit me at If you ever hear me say, "I'm bored," please get me to the ER immediately! Paddling my kayak and snapping pictures of the critters I see relaxes me. Beach music has the opposite effect--when I hear those old "doo-wops" I want to dance.

Monday, September 27, 2010


In the previous post, I didn't tell you about two people I met at The Long House Hotel. While we were eating breakfast, a lady looked at the complicated waffle maker and said she needed help. I answered that my husband was a waffle-making expert. We started talking while Ron assisted her with a waffle. And we talked and talked some more.

She and her husband are fascinating people. That's why I'm doing a separate blog post about them. Both artists, Ruth is a wildlife painter; Mike is a wildlife photographer. Their passion has taken them all over the world. I think their work is fabulous. Below is one of Ruth's paintings entitled "Grizzly Truth," which is mixed media on canvas 18" x 24 ". Nice, huh? To see her work, go to

Below are the two photographs of grizzlies that Mike sent me. Do you see baby bear in the second picture? What a Mothers' Day card that would make! Better quality processed raw images are available if anyone is interested in getting prints. To see Mike's pictures, go to

In the next blog I'll talk about the land tour we took on a double-decker, glass-domed train. And you might even see a picture of my husband with a famous woman! No, I'm not talking about me.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010


Be forewarned. For the next few (well, probably many) blog postings, I will be writing about my love affair with Alaska. Read at your own risk.

Alaska. Just saying the name always evoked thoughts of high and craggy mountains, snow, glaciers, dog sleds, eskimos, grizzlies, salmon, gold, adventure. Alaska. A place I've always wanted to visit, a place my husband Ron had planned to run away to when he was in the eighth grade. (He didn't.) This year we took the travel plunge, left Lynchburg, Virginia, for Alaska on August 6, returned August 26.

Anchorage: Population 275,000. Around 41% of the Alaska population live here; only 610,000 in the whole state. Temperatures ranged in the high 50s to mid 60s during our visit. Even though August is considered the rainy season in Alaska, we had no rain while in Anchorage.

The first two nights we stayed at The Long House Hotel. Located a mile from downtown, it was clean with no frills (one chair in the room), had a nice complimentary breakfast and free internet service in the lobby. The city bus stop was located a block away.

Near The Long House was a small lake, home for numerous float planes. I was told that one out of every 60 Alaskans owns a float plane. Since there are thousands of lakes in Alaska, flying is a good way to travel. In the winter, many of these planes trade their floaters for skis so they can land on snow or ice. We wanted to ride in a float plane, but they were all booked.

On our bus ride to downtown Anchorage, a pastry chef who had just finished baking 1,000 cupcakes talked about the two weddings he would cater on Saturday. Another man, jobless, was traveling across Anchorage to help a friend with her new cell phone. This same man got off at the bus terminal with us and explained the complicated bus system. Our talkative female bus driver's hair was brown with purple, pink, and blonde streaks running through it.

A trolley driver asked what part of Virginia I was from. When I told her Smith Mountain Lake, she said she was from Burnt Chimney, Virginia, grew up on the Lovelace plantation built in the 1700s. Her original home is about 45 minutes from where I live! She has her Masters, teaches drama and social studies. In the summer she earns extra money driving the trolley to and from The Ulu Knife Factory. Invented by Alaskan natives centuries ago, this rounded knife is still used for skinning, fishing, filleting, and chopping. I bought four of them.

Even though the growing season is short, the vegetables, flowers and fruits are huge. Hanging baskets such as the one above are on every corner. Alaska also grows big mosquitoes. Below is the Anchorage Visitors Center, complete with plantings.

A mecca for tourists, Anchorage is loaded with museums, restaurants, gift and souvenir shops.In the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, we viewed a presentation of Dave Parkhurst's photographs of the Aurora Borealis, also called Northern Lights. Parkhurst has chased aurora across Alaska since early fall of 1980, has battled frigid temperatures and sleepness nights to capture the perfect pictures for his collection. The Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks is the largest central database for in-depth studies of aurora in the world. In the Federal Building we saw performances on Alaskan wildlife, a film on bears, and a documentary on the Good Friday 1964 earthquake that devastated Anchorage. And there are also ways to just have crazy fun, i.e. the two of us below.

After two nights at The Long House Hotel, we moved to the elegant Anchorage Marriott Downtown. Our room was on the 20th floor of this gorgeous hotel. Our entire outside wall was glass, and offered us panoramic views of the city and Cook Inlet. The sun set around 10:30 p.m., popped up again around 5:30 a.m. I loved lying in bed and watching ships traverse Cook Inlet.

I wanted to look down and see the person who designed the putting green below, wave to him, tell him how impressed I was. But, alas, no one ever climbed the ladder to the roof while I was watching. If you enlarge the picture, you'll see the golf balls and the putting hole.

On Saturdays, the city of Anchorage closes some streets to automobiles so folks can interact with craftsmen, food vendors, musicians, and other performers. The picture below is of a woman dancing to Irish folk music. I don't know if she was with the band. I do know that she was passionate about the music and her dancing. She fascinated me. I wanted to know more about her, where she lived, how she grew up, if her life had been hard. I watched a few more minutes, then left.

We lunched on the deck at Snow Goose Restaurant with Ron's cousin David and his wife Pam. Actually, David is the son of Carl, Ron's first cousin. That makes David Ron's first cousin once removed. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but to us Southerners it's important. The picture was taken on the deck overlooking the water. Left to right are: Me, Pam, David, Ron

Hope I haven't bored you. As for me, so far I love Alaska and her people.

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Deltaville Book Club

Deltaville, a charming town on the Chesapeake Bay, is the sailboat capital of Virginia. The seafood there is some of the best I've ever eaten, and the little shops in Deltaville and the surrounding small towns are unique. So you can imagine how tickled I was when several months ago Keaton Garber invited me to speak to the Deltaville Book Club on September 14th.

Some of the ladies on the Kelly House sun porch. I'm wearing the white jacket.
Photo by Martha Stokes

The meeting was held in the Kelly House, a restored 1840's Virginia planter's home. Furnished with period antiques, the house is lovely. Around 20 delightful ladies came to hear me. Southern hospitality was everywhere, and a lavish spread of goodies covered the dining room table. The centerpiece, created by Keaton and inspired by my first novel "Secrets at Spawning Run," surprised me.

If you've read "Secrets at Spawning Run," you will recognize the black Labrador retriever, King, complete with red collar, sitting on the dock. On my book cover, King is on the dock. Look carefully and you will see the Jack Russell terrier, Little Guy, tied to a tree, an overturned red boat with anchor and rope attached to a man lying in the water, a water bird, and a jeep and police cars. All of these things are in the book! It must have taken Keaton days to come up with all the figures. One of the ladies who had not yet read the book kept turning the boat back up and putting the man back in it because she didn't want him to drown!

I had fun, met some nice ladies, sold some books, and had the opportunity to spend a few days in Deltaville again. If you're looking for a nice place to visit, you won't want to miss Deltaville.

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