Ahh…to be a Child Again

I recently had the good fortune to visit Universal Islands of Adventure while I was in Florida. What a hoot! I spent the whole day in awe. We arrived early and had the time to walk around the park twice. Since it was already busy when we arrived we went straight to the new Harry Potter exhibit. We walked down the street in Hogsmead, past the train and train station, potion shops, The Three Broomsticks and the Hogs Head pubs, the Owl Post, and even Ollivander’s wand shop. I wanted to go in the wand shop and watch a magic wand pick it’s owner, but the line was too long. So we went straight to Hogswart, Harry Potter’s school. There was a line of muggles (people without magical powers) that led all the way down the hill into the town and out the gate to the bridge near Jurassic Park. However, we soon discovered there were two lines, one without bags and one with. If you carried a bag you had to put it in a locker before you went in the school. That was the long line. A word to the wise if you ever go…There are other lockers in Hogsmead. Put your bags in a locker first and then go to Hogwarts. Once we were in the bag-less line we were inside the school in about ten minutes.

The school was fun to walk through but the real experience was in the simulated ride. It swoops you out and over the school, through the trees, and onto the Quidditch court. You can almost reach out and grab a snitch as you follow Harry Potter and Malfoy up and down and around the court. It feels like you’re actually in the game. The ride also takes you through the forest and the caves and you meet lots of creepy stuff like giant spiders and death-eaters. I have to admit there were a few times when I closed my eyes.

We stopped at The Three Broomsticks for a lunch of fish and chips and a glass of butterbeer. We also had some pumpkin juice. I liked it although it tasted a little sweet for me. The butterbeer is a non-alcoholic butterscotch drink. It has a foam that they add to the top so it looks like real beer. The foam was delicious…so was the butterbeer.

I didn’t get a chance to ride the dragon or the hippogriff but after we covered the rest of the park we returned to Hogsmead. It was about an hour and a half from closing time and the streets were nearly empty. I went straight to Hogwarts and rode through the castle again. This time I never closed my eyes once! It was so, so…magigal. I felt like a kid playing in a magic land. There was still a wait of about fifteen minutes at the wand shop, but well worth the wait. Ollivander, the wand shop owner, looked like the real deal.

If you’re ever in Florida and have the chance go to Universal Island of Adventure and even if you don’t want to ride on anything, go to Hogsmead and enjoy the architecture and the magic it has to offer.

The whole day was fun and the other exhibits were worth seeing as well. My second favorite area was Dr. Seuss. Just look at that carousel…yes, the magic spell from Hogsmead continued to transform me into a child all the way through the park.


Big Cat Habitat

Sunday I had the chance to go to the Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, Florida. What a wonderful thing these people do to provide a sanctuary for these animals. They are a non-profit organization running entirely on donations. They provide a safe haven for big cats, bears, and other animals in need. They primarily take in exotic animals, but they also had some goats, turtles, and greyhound dogs. They were looking for homes for the dogs. It is a family run organization founded by Kay Rosaire who has had more than thirty years experience working with exotic animals. The commitment the Rosaires make to these animals is one for life. When they take an animal in it will be their last residence.
I had the pleasure of meeting a lion named Handsome, a liger (no it’s not a typo…it’s a cross between a lion and a tiger) named Mia, and a chimpanzee named Ricky. Guess what? Ricky was having a book signing. Yeah, a chimp signing his books. He had quite a crowd around him, more than I usual get. I think maybe I could learn a few things from Ricky. Maybe he could teach me to make those funny noises. But then I don’t have my picture on the front cover of Jon Stewart’s “Earth,” a book that spent ten weeks on the New York Times Best Seller’s list.
It’s not a fancy place, and it’s not as large as they would like (although they are expanding) but it’s a loving shelter for animals that wouldn’t survive elsewhere. If you’re ever in Sarasota, stop in and see the service the Rosaires and their staff of wonderful volunteers provide.

Great GALS in Florida

When I talk about the great GALs of Florida, I’m not talking about the woman with the purple hat walking her white shiatsu dog clad in booties, a pink skirt, and matching sunglasses. Nor do I speak of women like Lucille Ball who was purported to own a home on Bird Key. No, I’m talking about the men and women who volunteer as child advocates for abused and neglected children. They are Guardian Ad Litems, or GALs and they spend many hours investigating the child’s life to help determine what is the best course of action for the court to take for this child.

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of new CASA GALs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in Sarasota, Fl a few days ago. What a delightful experience. They asked great questions and I could hear the compassion and the eagerness in their voices as they started this new chapter in their lives.

Since my book, The Advocate, deals with juvenile court, I left each volunteer with a copy as a thank you for their unselfish act. I wish I could do that for every CASA graduating class, but at least I can say thank you for all the GALs out there who are serving our children. I, for one, appreciate your hard work and dedication. And a special thanks to the 12th Judicial Circuit Guardian Ad Litem Program of Sarasota, DeSoto, and Manatee counties.

If you have any interest in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate there is lots of information on the CASA website. Check it out. It might be just the thing for you.


What are you reading?

Unfortunately, I don’t get to read as many books as I’d like. I’ve never spent so much time surrounded by books and not able to read them. It seems if I’m not at a book signing, I’m writing. But I’ve managed to read a few and most recently I’ve been listening to books on tape since I’m spending an inordinate amount of time in the car.

A dear friend of mine recommended Philippa Gregory’s “The Red Queen,” which I just finished. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres—second only to mysteries. And the Tudor era is of particular interest to me. It was a wonderful read and I’d highly recommend it if you have any interest in that genre. I’m anxious to read the rest of her novels.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is now playing in my car as I drive from one book signing to another. Yes, I finally got around to Stieg Larsson and it’s about time. What a treat. Although I’m only on the third disc, out of about thirteen, I’ve already purchased “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” It’s a very compelling story. I think it’s a particularly good book to listen to on tape because the names are all so unfamiliar and on tape you don’t have to stumble over them. I guess we can’t all be an Olson or a Johnson…oh wait…I was a Johnson.

So, what are you reading?


CASA in Florida

On Thursday, January 20th, I have the privilege of speaking to a graduating class for CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate, also known as Guardian Ad Litems or GALS. This particular group is the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida, advocating for children in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties.

CASA is an incredible organization where ordinary citizens volunteer to look out for the needs of children in the juvenile court system. The volunteers need to submit to a background check and go through an extensive training program. They are then appointed by a judge to advocate for the well-being of children who have fallen victim to parental abuse or neglect. The CASA worker (the GAL) fights for the safety of these children and often changes their lives in profound ways.

The GAL’s role is to get acquainted with the child and everyone in that child’s life such as the parents, teachers, relatives, social workers, etc. In the San Diego juvenile system where I practiced for twelve years, the GALs often worked very closely with the minor’s attorney. The volunteer then reports back to the court regarding the child’s needs and often with a recommendation for permanent placement for the child.

Being a CASA volunteer can be an extremely rewarding experience but it’s not always an easy job and it takes a serious commitment of time and energy. The volunteer must agree to stay with a case until it closes. I believe the average time is approximately one and a half years but I’ve certainly known cases to take much longer. I commend anyone who is willing to make that sacrifice for those innocent, little children.

I’m really looking forward to meeting with the next graduating class in Sarasota, Florida. I’m honored to be a part of their program.


The Advocate #3

As you may well know, I’ve been working on my third novel. With all the book signings I’ve been attending, the book is not quite on the schedule I had hoped. I do most of my writing from my home in San Diego and since I haven’t been home much it has been difficult.

A brief insight into The Advocate #3 without giving too much away:

Sabre receives a sudden influx of cases dealing with victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Of course, her friend, Bob, is back and admits he likes the idea of having a case different from the everyday physical and sexual abuse or tox-baby cases. Only Bob could get excited about a case involving chicken feet and goat blood.

JP is also a returning character with his Stetson hat, his cowboy boots, and his Texas slang. JP’s investigation stays closer to home this time. So far he hasn’t left southern California (but there’s still quite a few chapters left so who knows). He works diligently trying to uncover the source of the satanic-like behaviors exhibited by the juvenile court clients, while he does his best to keep Sabre out of whatever mess she finds herself in.

The novel includes at least one murder, a “devil-house,” missing children, and people in power with a great deal to lose. Sabre has to protect her minor clients and try to answer the nagging question: Did the devil make them do it?



The last few weeks have been marked by several wonderful signing events, successful home shows, and busy planning for the days ahead. Those of you who follow the world of mystery writing know what I’m talking about. Bouchercon, one of the premier mystery conferences for writers and readers alike, will be held in the beautiful city of San Francisco this weekend.

I’ll be a panelist on a new event called “Continuous Conversation.” I’m excited to see how it all works. The conversation will be led by authors and continue throughout the conference. I’ll be on the panel on Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. At 2:30 p.m. that same day I’ll be on the lower floor signing my newest release, “The Advocate’s Betrayal.” Please stop in and say hello if you are at the conference…or in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow I fly north with a stop in Concord to spend a few hours with some dear old friends, and meet a couple of new ones. Then on to the conference where I’ll meet up with more friends. I always meet so many wonderful people at these events. I’m excited.

Writing, Blueberries, & Lobster

What do all these things have in common? They were all things that I enjoyed when I was in Maine a few weeks back. That and the good company of some dear friends. It was such a relaxing time, even though I spent a great deal of time working. But I was writing, so it doesn’t feel like work. I’d get up every morning around 6:00 and start to write. I usually kept going until about 10:00 a.m. when my friends returned from the gym. After that we would go do “Maine” things, like pick blueberries, or drive the beautiful countryside, or go to Moody’s Diner for the best pie ever. Sometimes we would go to the lobster tanks and buy fresh lobster and take it home and eat it for dinner.

Compare that to the time I spent in NYC. What a different world. It truly is the town that never sleeps. As you can see in the photo on the left, the streets were just as crowded at 11:00 at night as they were midday. We didn’t eat blueberries or lobster, but we did get our fill of knishes and bagels. And it’s true, I didn’t get any writing done there, but I did get a head full of experiences and characters to put in future books.

Another thing that amazed me about NYC was that ninety percent of the cars were yellow. Yeah, yellow cabs. Every single picture I took in the streets of NYC had a yellow background of cabs.

I did get to see a few sights outside of Time Square, like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and Ellis Island. And besides all the cool people I met at the conference, I also got to meet a television celebrity, Cheryl Burke, two-time winner of Dancing With the Stars. She was there for a charity event and I had the privilege of signing a copy of “The Advocate’s Betrayal” for her. She was very sweet, and cute as can be. It’s too bad you can’t see her cute freckles on her nose on television because they really do look good on her.

ThrillerFest 2010

This year’s ThrillerFest was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, a bustling, energetic hub of mystery writers and readers. I know, because I was there! On July 7th, I met up with the Barnes & Noble representatives at the event who were promoting both of my titles among their debut authors. Sales were good, but the best part was meeting so many legends among the book world. Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, Michael Palmer, and Sandra Brown were some of the biggest names. To the left you can a picture of Clive Cussler signing a book for my good friend, Ron Vincent. I also had a great conversation with Lisa Scottoline, and was even able to give her a copy of my newest book! Here we are on the right after we signed each others’ novels…a couple of lawyers turned author. That woman is a hoot! Great writer, great speaker, and truly a great woman.

There were several events at the festival, from panel discussions to banquets, but the best part for me was meeting fans, making new friends, and listening to those wonderful authors mentioned above who have so much to teach us newbies. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I’m already excited for next year! It may be too early to buy tickets, but it’s never too early to mark your calendars.

The Launch of “The Advocate’s Betrayal”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to this blog, but that’s certainly not because things haven’t been happening. Along with my friends, fans, and family, I celebrated the release of my most recent book, The Advocate’s Betrayal, early in July. The book follows Sabre Orin Brown as she attempts to solve the murder of a close friend. All our favorite characters are there, of course, plus one or two new ones you’ll hopefully find intriguing. Yet again, the outlines of many of the court cases are drawn from real experiences. And yes, I have chased a woman’s mysterious past all the way across America. Such mysteries are real for many people. That’s the darker side of these books. The brighter side looks a bit more like this:

It was standing room only at the launch party in July! Many thanks to everyone who came to support me and celebrate the new release. Your generosity and encouragement are unspeakably appreciated. I also owe a thanks to Linda Dilday, the community relations manager at the Barnes & Noble, Galleria Mall in Riverside. She and her crew of booksellers and cafe workers were beyond gracious.

The launch was followed by several other events, signings, and travels, but those are all for another post!