Granny Grace Award Feed

What's the Motive? Karen Musser Nortman

Karen Nortman book cover

Karen Musser Nortman is a recipient of the Amazing Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40. She's also a fellow indieBRAG medallion winner. The latest book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series is really out there, as she explains for the "What's the Motive?" series.

Karen Musser Nortman:

 Any time you have amateur sleuths as the main characters in mysteries, it is necessary to create a motive for those characters to become involved in the investigation. In police procedurals or any thriller or mystery where the main character is in law enforcement, it's his or her job to solve the crime. But ever since Nancy Drew and Jane Marple, the author of 'cozy mysteries' must come up with a credible motive for the amateur sleuth to investigate. It requires enough of a suspension of disbelief for the reader to accept that the same person gets involved in murders over and over. How many people have said, "I sure wouldn't want to be Jessica Fletcher's neighbor in Cabot Cove"? So there must be a motive for, in my books, Frannie Shoemaker being a busybody.

 Last March, we took a camping trip through Texas and New Mexico. After an overnight at Ft. Stockton in west Texas, we were headed north to Roswell on our way to Santa Fe. Traffic seemed sparse until we came over one of the few hills and saw a line of cars stretching up to a police road block. As we worked our way up to the front, it became obvious that they were searching vehicles—we assumed for drugs or contraband. However, the patrolman explained two felons had escaped while being transported from Santa Fe to Los Cruces, and they suspected they were either being helped or had stowed away in a vehicle.

 What does this have to do with motivation in my books? Our camper had been locked since we left Ft. Stockton, so the patrolman said it wasn't necessary to search it. But as we continued on, I thought about the four storage compartments accessible from the outside. Sometimes we forgot to lock one of those, and two of them were large enough to hold a person. 

 A new book in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries began to form in my head. After all, it was a long drive. The main characters are two couples who camp together and occasionally stumble over dead bodies. I tend to have titles before I have stories, and combining of the idea of a stowaway in a camper and the UFO culture around Roswell gave me the title: The Space Invader.

 Why would my little group be hanging out around Roswell? One of the four main characters, Mickey Ferraro, is the comedian of the crew—sort of a Don Rickles type—a retired English teacher, guitarist, cook—in other words, a man of many interests. It seemed fitting that he might also be a science fiction aficionado. 

 This gives the group a reason to plan on a couple of days in the area, and when a man is found dead near the campground wearing Larry Shoemaker's rain gear, the decision to linger is taken out of their hands. So now they have real motivation to help find the escapee. Other turns in the plot make it mandatory.

 In previous books in the series, Frannie Shoemaker is motivated to help solve crimes because of accusations against one of their group, danger to their grandchildren, discovering the body or the murder weapon, or isolation from any outside help. Larry Shoemaker is a retired small town cop, so this gives him a little credibility and influence with the local authorities. But readers are not generally willing to accept straight curiosity as a valid reason for interfering in a police investigation. Coming up with a motive for Frannie's interest has become one of the most important motives that I need to settle when working on a new book.

Review The Space Invader on Amazon.

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Karen Nortman

Karen Musser Nortman's Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries includes seven titles. She has also written two light time travel books in The Time Travel Trailer Series. Several of her books have been named IndieBRAG Medallion honorees and placed in Chanticleer writing contests. Find out more at www.karenmussernortman.com.

 


Amazing Grace, the Seventy-Something Power Yogi: Could You Keep Up?

  Gap-Ad1

One of the main characters in my Dreamslippers mystery series is Amazing Grace, AKA "Granny Grace," a lifelong yoga devotee. At 77 in Cat in the Flock, Grace begins an apprenticeship with her granddaughter Cat not with a lesson on dreamslipping or even sleuthing but with yoga. Grace wants to train Cat in a holistic manner, not teach her "dreamslipping parlor tricks." The evening Cat arrives in Seattle, she and her grandmother practice together in the "Yoga Yolk," a room Grace designated specifically for this focus, a bit like this awesome meditation room I pinned to this board showing the entire novel as told through Pinterest photos.

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via CarolineBakker.com

Here's a roundup of Grace's poses. How many can you do? This first one is from that beginning scene in the Yoga YolkNote how in yoga, experience often trumps youth: "Granny Grace moved into crow pose, crouching forward till her knees touched her upper arms and then lifting her legs so her whole body was balanced on her arms. Cat couldn’t do that pose yet, so she sat in a wide-legged squat, watching her grandmother with admiration." 

via GIPHY

Cat struggles with meditation, especially taught by one 'Guru Dave' at a studio over a record store--you try holding Downward dog while listening to the umpa umpa sound of polka music. But Cat persists in her training: "They practiced yoga twice daily—an energetic round in the morning at a studio near the house and a slower style called yin that Granny Grace led in the Yoga Yolk each evening to wind down." Here's a yin variation on swan pose. Can you hold this for five full minutes? 

IMG_0585_2--_Swan

photo by Christy Collins, via Wikimedia Commons

Grace is adept at full lotus (spoiler alert: until book three), and she often turns to seated meditation when she finds herself stuck on a case. How's your lotus these days? If it's not exactly waterfall-rock-perch worthy, don't worry. There's an alt pose below.  

Tanumânasî_en_Meditacion_Loto_Padmasana

I've been practicing for twenty years and still can't get into full lotus. Neither can Cat. But all of us can handle Cobbler's pose, so why don't you try that instead. Yay for Baddha kohnasana! 

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via Elephant Journal/Christine Festa

Probably my favorite yoga moment in the series is when Grace convinces Cat to try "Midnight Moonlight Yoga" in Framed and Burning. This powerful experience gives Grace metaphysical insight into the case, foreshadowing the darkness to come:

The energy was dark and red, vibrating to some frequency that wasn’t positive. She thought she heard the sound of large wings beating. Her eyes flew open. Breathing hard, losing her ujaiyi breath, she carefully extracted herself from the pose and took a resting pose on her knees, her hands in her lap. The place where her heart chakra should be ached.

The instructor is a composite inspired by the many memorable yogis who've taught me over the years, not the least of whom is Greg Bowles from Embody, who might recognize something here:

Their teacher, Spiritfire, was a master yogi who had traveled through the earth’s chakras, from points in India to South America and beyond. It had never occurred to Grace that one could travel through the earth’s energy centers. She made a mental note to do so before she died.

I dare you to practice yoga under the moon tonight. Just think of your sun salutation as moon salutation instead.

Beachyoga 

via Pixabay

If you're reading this thinking that someone like Amazing Grace (yes, it's her legal name) can only exist in fiction, here's some evidence to the contrary. First, she was in part inspired by my husband's mother, the late A. Grace. Second, I offer you these beautiful photos of the oldest living yoga teacher in the world, a woman who at 93 has more than a decade on Granny Grace.

Namaste.

Gap ad (kudos to them for the age diversity) via In My Own Style


All It Takes Is a Red Door

Reddoor

On Saturday I went down to Salem, OR, for a book event with the Red Door Community. This informal network was founded in part by my husband's mother, A. Grace, who died several years ago. The members of the Red Door engage in spiritual retreats and activities together, volunteer in their community, and support each other in times of need. They were there to help Grace through the difficult process of dying, a constant, comforting presence and a source for the divine rituals she wanted at that time.

The gathering on Saturday was gracious and giving. I read from all three books, a particularly emotional activity in this case since my character Granny Grace was inspired by the woman they knew and loved. My books aren't autobiography, and the real A. Grace and Granny Grace aren't one and the same--but I think they would have been great friends. Granny Grace would surely have been an honorary member of the Red Door.

I'd asked those in attendance to bring stories about the outstanding women in their lives. I read to them this profile of Cheryl Sesnon, the latest winner of the Amazing Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40, who is the executive director of an organization that helps women transition out of homelessness. A few shared stories of great women, included their own Grace. But one woman brought up an excellent point: That sometimes the most outstanding thing a person can do is simply endure.

Her words struck a chord in me, as just that morning, I'd been thinking the same thing in relation to my own mother. She has not spearheaded organizations or won awards or been interviewed by the press. It's unfair to compare any two women anywhere, but I can see the greater challenges in my mother's life and honor the strength and perseverance she's had to endure so much. While our society is built to pour accolades on those who accomplish things in the measurable world, it's those who survive tough circumstances who often deserve the most recognition.

So this goes out to my mother, who pulls herself out of darkness time and again through her own faith and mettle. That deserves its own award.

 


‘Granny’ Award Winner No. 3: Cheryl Sesnon, An Expert in Getting You ‘Unstuck’

Sesnon_Cheryl_5x7_cweb_credit-Karissa Carlson,The Evergreen State College

Cheryl Sesnon. Photo by Karissa Carlson, The Evergreen State College.

Everything about Cheryl Sesnon screams success. At 58, she’s currently the executive director of Jubilee Women’s Center, a well-regarded, highly effective non-profit organization that helps women transition out of homelessness. Besides this Amazing Grace Award, she’s received a number of others: Harlequin’s “More Than Words” Award, the Aubrey Davis Award for Progressive Leadership, and Seattle University’s “Lead, Ignite Award,” just to name a few. And she was the leader behind FareStart’s legendary job training program, which boasted an 82% retention rate under her tenure and experienced explosive growth.

So it might seem surprising that Sesnon once thought of herself as doomed to a life of failure.   

At 24, she suffered from chronic depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. She was in an abusive relationship. She attempted suicide.

“I realized I needed to either commit to dying, or to living,” she says. “I felt hopeless, I was on a negative, destructive path, and I had no idea how to get out of it.” Sesnon remembers standing on the sidewalk and watching happy people walking by and thinking they were stupid, that they didn’t know how awful the world really was. 

To snap herself out of this bleak world view, she adopted the attitude that everything she assumed about the world was wrong and vowed to watch how happy, successful people lived their lives and learn from them. She got herself into therapy, took classes, and stopped feeding her anger toward the world. “It was coming from a place that was wired up wrong,” she says.

Now she considers herself an expert at how to get people to break out of the limiting patterns of their lives, and she clearly does so with compassion for how difficult change can be. “I understand being stuck in a certain way of thinking,” she explains. “It’s very real. You think it’s the way.” 

Sesnon’s positive rewiring was so complete that it forever altered her career path. Early on, she launched a successful catering business, but ultimately, the work felt unsatisfying. “We were spending money to make money,” she says. “There was a piece missing for me.”

She found her heart’s work in non-profits, but she doesn’t consider herself a “bleeding heart.” Rather, that work feels solid to her, substantive. “Jubilee is my dream-come-true,” she says. Now she works with women whose life circumstances have brought them to a place where they feel stuck and don’t know how to live differently. “To work with women and meet them at that place, it means the world to me.”

At the start of our interview, Sesnon shared with me that she’d recently beat breast cancer after a nearly yearlong process that included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. She describes this ordeal not in terms of her own struggles but for the remarkable experience of being cared for by others.

“I’m used to being on the service end,” she says. “I’ve never been on the receiving end of being surrounded by compassion and care. I felt so loved. Everyone—staff, residents, donors—were incredibly generous and supportive.”

Congratulations to Cheryl Sesnon for winning a ‘Granny,’ and may she continue to serve the women of Jubilee well with her talents and gifts.

About the Amazing Grace Award

The 'Granny' recognizes the outstanding achievements of women over 40. It’s named after the trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers Series, Amazing Grace, AKA Granny Grace, a seventysomething who solves crimes while pursuing her own spiritual path.

The first recipient of the award was indie writer Karen Nortman, 72, award-winning author of the Frannie Shoemaker mystery series. 

The second was Cherie Althauser, 65-year-old yoga teacher, volunteer, and spiritual devotee.

Winners are profiled at www.catintheflock.com and receive a modest award self-funded by me. 

A Note About My Involvement with Jubilee Women’s Center

I’m a Jubilee donor and have previously written about the organization for Seattle Woman.


The Joy of Movement and Mandalas

Cherie_mandala

Yoga teacher Cherie Althauser makes elaborate mandalas using Sharpie pens.

In case you missed it, I'm writing for a new site called LewisTalk, and my first article is a totally new, fresh take on 'Granny' Award-winning yogi, Cherie Althauser.

In this piece, I delve into Althauser's emphasis on the joy of movement at any age and condition, tell the story of her connection to Embody, the studio where she teaches, and describe her nifty hobby of making mandalas like the one above.

Here's the story:

Cherie_side_plank


Ask most people to describe what a yoga teacher looks like, and it’s likely the image doesn’t include grey hair.

Or a chair.

But both are part of the yoga life for Cherie Althauser, whose side plank could be the envy of the most youthful yogi. At 65 years and more flexible than many twentysomethings, she’s a walking advertisement for staying active past retirement. Read More

I really enjoyed talking with Althauser in person and corresponding with her further after she left the area for her fall travels. She's humble, but strong and centered about what she has to offer others.

When I met her in that first yoga class this summer, I realized she'd be the perfect recipient for the Granny Award. And that was before I found out she creates mandalas out of Sharpie pens and plays a lovely harmonium!

Namaste.


'Granny' Award Winner No. 2: Cherie Althauser

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Cherie Althauser, teaching yoga with the Sea of Cortez as backdrop. All photos courtesy of Cherie. Video by me.

I named the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40 after a trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers mystery series. Cherie Althauser could play her in the movie version.

Like Granny Grace, Cherie is an accomplished yogi who's committed to a spiritual path. I met Cherie when she taught a class called "Chair Yoga" at Embody, a gem of a studio in my adopted new locale. The inspiration for Chair Yoga came from Cherie's study of Iyengar yoga, which pioneered the use of props to help students get into postures correctly and safely.

As an experienced yogi, I was deeply impressed with Cherie's use of the chair to give students support--without sacrificing challenge. I took the class because I'd sprained my ankle. I made it through the class without any pain but left sweaty and feeling invigorated. It was especially fun to practice wheel pose using the chair.

Something Cherie said that day stayed with me: "All movement with intention is yoga."

Cherie's focus on movement began in childhood with ballet. She maintains she was never interested in the performance aspects of ballet, but she practiced it as a child and then returned to it for exercise as an adult. Now she applies her ballet training to teaching yoga. She explains: "In ballet, you learn that a movement can express itself from the core of your body out through the hands and feet. It's the same with yoga." 

Cherie_arabesque
 

Cherie in arabesque on the edge of a cliff near Sedona, AZ.

It's clear that Cherie brings diverse movement experience and training to the mat. In addition to Iyengar, she has studied a little Rolfing and Feldenkrais, both methods that focus on movement in order to heal or retrain the body. "I'm interested in how the body moves through life," she explains. "Yoga is the platform."

But movement alone would not be enough to sustain Cherie's path, which is also a spiritual one. In 2004, she came to a fork in the road that lead her to engage in spiritual research. "My whole life turned upside-down," she says. "I had a quantum change experience. I had a vision." She read books on religion and spirituality, reaching out to the authors when she had questions. 

Eventually, this brought her to a guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, and provided structure for her spiritual path in the form of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Cherie, who strikes me as level-headed and practical, says she was highly skeptical at first, wary of being drawn into a "cult." But she learned to meditate, which she and her husband do together now twice daily, and she returns to the Yogananda center in Los Angeles each year to check in with others on the spiritual path.

"He found me," she says. "I wasn't looking for a guru."

Cherie has taken up playing the harmonium and is committed to learning all of Yogananda's songs. She sometimes ends her yoga classes with a short concert.

 

In the U.S. the term "guru" can often have a negative connotation, as someone who exploits his position at the helm of a community of slavish followers. In stark contrast is the way that Cherie herself conducts class: with a sense of humor, as well as humility. She never takes herself too seriously. "Let's do...whatever that pose is called, something in sanskrit; I forget," she'll say. Or this: "You might want to grab onto your chair, as I'm going to, since I'm the one losing my balance." Her teaching reminds me that at its root, "guru" simply means "teacher," or better yet, "guide."

Undoubtedly her yoga instruction is grounded in her longtime career as a teacher and then program manager for the Child and Family Studies department at Centralia College, where she worked for more than 15 years. "The divine has always placed me in the role of teacher," she explains. But this role didn't come naturally. Cherie describes herself as intensely shy, admitting that this call to teach pushed her outside her comfort zone, again and again.

Her first encounter with the Child and Family Studies department came after she gave birth to twins and found herself feeling unsure as a mother. She tried to remember that when she taught, and then again when she supervised other teachers. 

At 65, Cherie is an inspiration for anyone looking for such an age to be filled with vitality and well-being. She shares this gift with others, both in Centralia and when she winters in San Carlos, Mexico, where she teaches English to underprivileged children, as well as yoga to retirees. 

Cherie_kids

 When asked what advice she'd give to others, Cherie answers, "Learn how to nurture your intuition. Learn how to hear it. Cultivate a close relationship with the divine, whatever that means to you. It's speaking all the time. You don't want to miss it."

 


Introducing the First Winner of a "Granny" - the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40!

 

Karen Musser Nortman
Karen Musser Nortman, Winner of the First-Ever Granny Award

We often obsess over youthful achievement in our society, but I think it's more important to recognize what a person accomplishes over the long haul. Not everyone has the opportunity to publish in their twenties, for example, and some choose motherhood first or the responsibilities of working and paying off student loans before they feel they can follow their dreams. This is especially true for women, who even today more often have to make the choice to put their creative endeavors on the back burner. 

To recognize outstanding women over 40, I've created the Granny Grace Award.

My first "Granny" recipient is fellow mystery writer Karen Musser Nortman. She's the author of a clever series of campground mysteries that deliver murder and mayhem along with helpful camping tips. The Frannie Shoemaker series is at Book No. 4 and counting, and Nortman received an indieBRAG medallion for all four. Book No. 2, The Blue Coyote, was a finalist in the Chanticleer 2013 CLUE awards.

I reviewed Book No. 1, Bats and Bones, here. It's a must-read for anyone who loves to camp, especially if you're interested in "glamping," or glamor camping. For those of us who enjoy learning new skills best when they're wrapped around a compelling story line, this is the perfect book. And mystery fiends will enjoy the well-crafted whodunit. 

Frannie Shoemaker is a great heroine. Neither detective nor cop, she nonetheless has a mind for motive and can't help being drawn into solving whatever case presents itself to her on the hiking trail.

And Karen hasn't stopped there: Her recent endeavor is a time-travel novel.

 

Timetraveltrailer
Images courtesy of Karen Musser Nortman

The most amazing thing about Karen is that she launched this--her third career--entirely as an indie. Her craft, quality, and professionalism as a self-published author stand out as best-in-the-business and no doubt come from a lifetime of experience.

Her first career was as a social studies teacher, a job she held for 22 years. She says this is the hardest thing she's ever done. "I am by nature more introvert than extrovert, and those first years were a real challenge. I was very lucky that my first class was an outstanding group and not out for blood. Writing a book by contrast was a walk in the park."

For another 18 years, she was a test developer. The two of us first struck up a conversation, as a matter of fact, over a case Granny Grace pursues in Cat in the Flock, when she investigates a fraudulent ACT test. (Thankfully, my research passed Karen's muster.) But retiring from test development didn't mark the end of Karen's working life. "I knew I couldn't be done yet, because in fourth grade, I had decided to be a writer," she says.

Her lifelong dream to be a writer hitched up with her passion for camping, and a series was born. She explains:

A love of mysteries combined with our avocation of camping provided the inspiration for the Franny Shoemaker campground mysteries. My husband Butch and I originally tent camped when our children were young and switched to a travel trailer a few years back when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure.

Karen has been especially pleased with how her books have reached a wider audience. She got a note from someone in Australia who heard about her books in an Australian campground, and she's built a network of friends around the U.S., fellow campers who sought her out after reading her books. She says, "One is always pleased, of course, to have friends and family read one's books, but it is uniquely gratifying to hear from complete strangers." 

What's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to Karen? Her family. "Even though our children went though lots of teenaged and twenty-something turmoil, they are all now caring, responsible adults and have given us eight delightful grandchildren, four of whom are also adults," she says. "I am especially proud that they are all active volunteers in various causes."

Congratulations to Karen Musser Nortman, and happy trails to all her readers.