Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Simple Writer's Life

By Vicki Delany

“Writing is a lousy way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life.” --Jeffrey Siger

I came across that quote by Jeffrey just the other day, in a blog post he wrote for the Poisoned Pen Press Author’s Blog. And it started me thinking.

Fame and (certainly) fortune might have eluded me in my writing career, but I am richer in friends and in experiences because of it.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, about the last reason was so I’d make new friends, but that turned out to be the best part. Crime writers are (mostly) wonderful, interesting people, and the Canadian crime writing community is close and warm and supportive.

Beyond our borders I’ve been lucky to meet and make friends with countless other writers.

I was at a book event recently with three of my best writer friends and someone asked why we’d do an event together. Weren’t we in competition with each other? No, I don’t think we are. Unlike ‘literary’ writers, who live and die by grants and awards (which only a small number or even just one of them can get), we aren’t in competition. Unlike, say, a house or a car, people don’t usually buy one book. At a multi-author event, people often buy one by each author. Even if they don’t buy everything, they might take a card and get a second author’s book another time. 

Travel goes with friends. Book tours have taken me to some great places I might not otherwise have visited: Hawaii with Deborah Turrell Atkinson, Arizona and California with Donis Casey, North Carolina with Mary Jane Maffini and Elizabeth Duncan, where we were hosted by the incomparable Molly Weston. I look forward all year to the annual road trip down to Bethesda, Maryland for Malice Domestic with a carload of my Canadian buddies such as Erika Chase, R.J. Harlick or Barbara Fradkin. 

Canadian writers Erika Chase, Barbara Fradkin, Vicki Delany, Janet Bolin at Oakmont Festival of Mystery

But all of that costs money.

As the first part of Jeffrey’s sentence says, “a lousy way to make a living.”

I am often asked if I make a living out of this.

In short, no.

I say that I supplement my income. I’ve made sacrifices to be able to have the writing life, but nothing I consider too onerous. I like the simple life out here in the country, and it suits me. 

A life of writing, reading, good friends, the occasional travel to interesting places.
A wonderful life.

Vicki Delany’s newest novel is A Cold White Sun, sixth in the critically acclaimed Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press.  She is also the author of the Klondike Gold Rush series and standalone novels of psychological suspense. Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki enjoys the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario. 
Visit Vicki at,, and twitter:
@vickidelany. She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Battle of the Sexes

by Sheila Connolly

This week marked the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes.  Don't have a clue what I'm talking about?  The event was the tennis match between Billie Jean King and the now-deceased Bobby Riggs.  The commentator was the unforgettable Howard Cosell, who called it a "very, very quaint, unique event."

And ABC news and other sources are telling us that maybe it was rigged—by Riggs.

It is a bit jarring now to remember how important this match seemed in 1973.  Millions of people watched on television.  The Houston Astrodome was packed with spectators.

Billie Jean was 29; Riggs was 55, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open Champ fallen into comedic shtick, coasting on his former fame. Billie Jean was a crusader for women's rights; Bobby Riggs was a hustler and a tennis has-been. Still, the betting was on Riggs—surely he could beat a mere woman?

I hadn't thought about the event in years, but when I saw the segment on the news I immediately remembered where I was, who I was with—having dinner with a bunch of Cambridge friends who had gathered to watch the match on a small black and white television.  It was a mixed crowd (men and woman), and I don't remember how we reacted at the outcome. But the record shows that King won in straight sets, making Riggs look winded and out of shape and pathetic.

And now someone claims that Riggs threw the match, to settle his gambling debts with the Mob.  King disputes it, but then, she would, wouldn't she? She worked hard for her win.

The whole thing makes me sad.  Okay, it was a hokey event, more prime-time entertainment than sport. But it said something about the status of women in 1973.  In an ESPN article by Don Van Natta Jr. from August 25th, the author points out that in 1973 a married woman couldn't get a credit card without her husband's signature. Ah, yes, those were the days. (Guess what, ladies—we're still earning less than men for the same jobs.)

I was part of an art history graduate school program then where the numbers of men and women were more or less equal—but the men got the elephant's share of financial aid.  Heaven forbid one of the woman should get married during her studies, or (gasp) have a baby!  A number of the women did drop out.  What was the point of racking up big debts if you weren't going to find a job anyway, because your (male) professors were pushing their (male) favorites?  Maybe it's better now.  I don't know because after several years of trying to find a job in art history, I moved on to other things.

But just for a moment, in September 1973, it felt good to see a woman—a smart, well-trained woman—beat a man.  And it makes me sad now to have that little victory, however flawed, taken away from us.

GOLDEN MALICIOUS(Orchard Mystery #7)Coming October 1st!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Is My Talent?

Elizabeth Zelvin

Not long ago my older granddaughter, just turning nine at the time, asked me what I thought her talent was. I don’t know where the question came from—school? her peers? a book she’d read in which the character’s quest was to find her talent? I think kids nowadays start far too early to worry about what they’re going to be when they grow up. In my parents’ generation, most people made a choice, got education or training, and had one career during their whole working lifetime. Mine was the generation of which it was said we had seven different careers. If we substitute “roles” for “careers,” I’ve had many more than that. And if my granddaughter is anything like me (which she is), she has a multiplicity of talents already. May she never have to choose between (or more accurately, among) them!

In the creative arts alone, I’ve been a writer since the age of seven and will always be one, whatever happens in the realm of publishing. Also at seven, I studied piano and modern dance. I started singing in Girl Scout camp, learned to play guitar at age 13, and studied cello in junior high and high school. In college, I got a taste of acting, playing Juliet’s mother in Romeo and Juliet. I published my first poem at 37 and my first novel at 64. I’ve done my share of painting, and you can see my drawings on my therapist website. I’m a photographer, and I designed all three of my websites and my album of original songs. I hope all of the above doesn’t make me sound insufferably conceited. I’m just saying, Talent? Singular? Why?

My granddaughter has been taking the stage since she got her little pink karaoke set and her first tutu at the age of two and a half or so. At six, she was performing to a cheering audience in a state-of-the-art theater as part of her dance school’s hiphop company. She’s still dancing (and her little sister now dances right along with her). I forget at what age she wrote a “book” (a charming illustrated story which she folded and stapled and had me edit for spelling errors) one afternoon. She asked me how many books I’d written, and when I said, “Five,” (true at the time) she said, “Is that all?” Her six grandparents are all still kvelling about her first piano recital, which we were able to see on YouTube. Dressing up and getting photographed is an everyday part of these kids’ lives, and I’m proud of their parents for letting them enjoy it.

I googled “What is my talent?” and found listings ranging from quizzes to personality tests to essays on finding your secret talent, your God-given talent, and your psychic talent. From “Talents are different from skills, in that they tend to be innate rather than learned. Once found, they can be nurtured and developed, but finding them can be tricky. It's partly a process of self-observation and honesty. The rest is learning and practice.” From “We discover our God-given talents through trial and error. If you fail in one area, keep searching until you find something that you can master.” From “A lot of people are good at things they didn't even know they were good at.”

What I wish for my granddaughter is that she will enjoy her talents; that she’ll never think she has to choose just one or that having more than one means she’s somehow unfocused or “master of none”; that she won’t feel pressured to decide which of her dreams she’ll follow for the rest of her life—and that she’ll cultivate some of her more marketable talents, which include mathematics and the intuitive grasp of technology that’s her generation’s gift, to make a decent living while finding joy through her artistic gifts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Joy of Pandas!

by Sandra Parshall

While I'm going a little crazy here trying to meet a book deadline AND keep up with the panda news from the Smithsonian National Zoo, I'm begging off writing a fresh blog this week and reprising one I wrote way back in early 2007, when my beloved Tai Shan was still a cub in the care of his devoted mom, Mei Xiang. As you have no doubt heard, Tai is all grown up now and living in China, where he may become a father soon. And Mama Mei has just had the most eventful weekend of her life, encompassing jubilation, panic, sorrow, and, finally, enormous happiness in the shape of a robustly healthy little sibling for Tai. 

The one and only Tai Shan
And now, a stroll down Memory Lane, aka The Asia Trail at the National Zoo: 
I am hopelessly in love with a short, hairy guy who chews with his mouth open, still lives with his mother, and doesn’t know I exist. Oh, he’s glanced my way a couple of times when I’ve been -- yes, I admit it -- stalking him. But I’m just another face in the crowd. I share him with millions of other women and more than a few men.

Tai Shan, the giant panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, has been my favorite diversion since his birth on July 9, 2005. Between personal visits -- fortunately, I live near him -- he’s never more than a few mouse clicks away, and I visit him via the internet when I’m feeling frustrated, sad, or cranky. A scene isn’t coming together the way I envisioned it? Let’s see what Tai is up to on the zoo’s live panda cam. I’m a little queasy after writing a bloody murder scene or watching the latest bloody scenes from Iraq? Tai’s innocence and utter ignorance of human cruelty take me to a better place. His very name, Chinese for “peaceful mountain”, promises an oasis in a violent world.

Mei Xiang, mother of Tai Shan and his new little sibling

It’s not that I lack furry Significant Others at home. Our cats, Emma and Gabriel, are more than happy to distract me from writing. They often insist on it. I didn’t need another animal in my life, yet I fell hard for Tai when he was a bald, squawking thing no bigger than a stick of butter. Now he’s 100 pounds of pure charm and I am addicted beyond recovery. I need to see him every day.

I also make daily visits to the web forum of Pandas Unlimited, a haven where pandamaniacs can indulge our passion without having our sanity questioned. Four U.S. zoos have pandas, and three of those -- Washington, San Diego, and Atlanta -- currently have cubs. PU members know all the U.S. pandas’ genealogies, personalities, quirks, weights, and favorite treats. We watch them on the cams, worry about them and delight in them, visit them in person and share our pictures.

Zoo Atlanta's twin boys (aka "The Twinkies"), now six weeks old

But Pandas Unlimited is more than a bunch of people who ooh and aah over the antics of cute critters. We put our money where our hearts are -- collectively, PU members have donated thousands of dollars to the panda programs at U.S. zoos and to organizations like Pandas International and World Wildlife Fund, which work to protect this critically endangered species and its wild habitat. PU is a diverse group of people united by a common love.

These days, I'm checking on this little charmer, Mei Xiang's new cub, born Friday, August 23:

I’ll leave the floor open to anyone who wants to share a favorite source of non-human comfort and spiritual renewal in this harsh, unforgiving world.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Aren't you Supposed to be Writing?

Sharon Wildwind

Of course I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve got only chapters left to write before my next book is finished, but I’ve been waylaid by what was once called the dog days of summer. Too hot to do anything. Too much on the horizon with school starting and Labor Day only a few days away .

I want to play, not write, and when I'm in this mood I am very easily distracted. I intended to write today, honestly I did, but purple beans got in the way.

I’m so disappointed when gorgeous purple beans turn green while cooking. I went looking for suggestions on how to keep them purple.

Alas, the world doesn’t work that way. The purple color comes from a plant coloring agent called anthocyans. If the soil feeds the beans "juice" (for lack of a better word) about half way between a neutral pH and a very acid pH, the beans turn purple. Go to really, really acid and they turn red.

When heat is applied, anthocyans are deactivated, allowing the green chlorophyll, which was there all along, to show. So the beans go into the pot purple and come out green. So sad. We need more purple food.

I went from being distracted by purple beans to being distracted by asking Could I make a movie in my own kitchen? Yes, I can, but it takes an incredible amount of time. It’s amazing how wonderfully distracted I can be on a hot August day.

Next week I promise I'll be back in the grove, writing those final three chapters.

Monday, August 26, 2013

For the Boy Who Has Everything

by Julia Buckley

My youngest son turned fifteen yesterday; this is an interesting birthday, because I can no longer take care of his presents by simply buying a slew of Batman toys.  Now I have to consider his interests and talents and buy gifts for the boy who, for all intents and purposes, has everything.  So how did we spend his birthday?

We started with our family tradition of a birthday boy placemat (this year with accompanying treasure chest, cup of tea, homey candle, and gift pile.  And, as you can see in the background, a cat named Mr. Mulliner who insisted on being in on things).

One of the gifts was a Squishable walrus from his brother, whom Graham, despite his advanced age, carried around for much of the day (occasionally using it as a projectile).

He spent some time with his brother and cousin Joe (the latter of whom was born just two weeks before Graham, so can relate to being a high school freshman, and had lots to talk about with his cousin).

Graham got to spend some valuable time with his grandparents.

And they gave him an heirloom cardinal ornament (they're both big birdwatchers).

Two more cousins--Kate and Pam--enjoyed talking about the new school year.

Graham and Ian posed for a simulated 19th Century portrait.  :)

He also got some valuable aunt and uncle time (my sister borrowed her husband's cowboy hat for the photo).

The walrus somehow picked up a hat, as well.

Graham, a mustache aficionado, received a new set for his disguise drawer.

And at the end of the night, he got to spend some quality time with a very tired canine, who spent 
almost all day begging and barking.  Then that puppy just cashed out in his bed--which is pretty 
much what Graham did.  :)

So because of our long weekend of 1) cleaning  2) partying  3) cleaning, I didn't have much blogging time.  That's why I figured I'd share the pictures and let you celebrate vicariously through my teen.

Have a great week!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Value of Libraries

by Jeri Westerson

My library.
Of course I knew this. Libraries are for far more than checking out your library books. They have certainly served as a platform for me to do events and garner more readers. And I spend a great deal of my time--yes, even in this internet age--actually researching for my medieval mysteries in libraries. But lately, libraries have come to mean even more to me: As a place of refuge.

I live in one of those places in southern California that is far from the coastal breezes and cooler air. This region is called the Inland Empire. And like much of Orange County with its Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm fame, it is land-locked. The IE encompasses some pretty vast desert spaces, too, like the Mojave and Palm Springs. Though I don't technically live in a desert, it is just about considered high desert and as such, can be pretty unbearable weather-wise this time of year.

At least it's a dry heat.

Our household budget has been stretched to the extreme lately, what with sporadic income on my part, and huge bills...also on my part, I'm afraid, due to an author's ridiculous personal expenses for travel and promotion. So we've had to cut back on almost anything we could. In the summer, our air conditioning bills used to top $600 a month at the height of summer, but we can no longer afford to indulge ourselves with air on day and night. We switched to having a window air in the bedroom and in my home office, but even that will run too much.

Enter the library.

In the years following the beginning of the Great Recession, library funding got cut to the bone. Some had to close their doors for part of the week to make ends meet. Ours did. But now they seem to be on healthier fiscal footing (I know that this is in large part to the efforts of their Friends of the Library, that raises a rather hefty sum from their in-library bookstore [alas, this also means that if you donate books to your library, more than likely they won't end up on the shelves but in the library bookstore. It still helps your library, but if you want to help your local author, consider asking the library to order their book instead.]). My local library in Sun City is open every day and so I decided to avail myself of their hospitality...and their air conditioning.

Huntington Beach Library's atrium.
Now, I've been to tons of libraries, both for myself to get information I needed for my books, and to visit the library as a panelist or presenter as an author. I've seen some pretty spectacular libraries, from the Huntington Beach main library with its spiraling atrium and fountain, community theatre, cafe, and enviable gift shop, to the frankly amazing Cerritos Millenium Library with its opera house-like appearance, room with banks and banks of computers, and huge fish tank. Some libraries have cafes inside. Some have spectacular kid's spaces. Some, like Agoura Hill's library, have a relaxing craftsman-style designed interior complete with working fireplace. And some, like Corona's, has a money-making passport office right inside.
Cerritos Library computer banks.

Children's section, Cerritos Library.
These awe-inspiring library of libraries are among many that I haven't mentioned or haven't yet been to. They all offer books, of course, but some offer much more. But what they all have in common are their meeting spaces, working spaces, or restful spaces. And they are full of people! It's still quiet--as it should be--except perhaps immediately before and after storytime--but there are loads of people there. Youngsters, moms with strollers and toddlers, teenagers, young adults who wouldn't look out of place at the local Starbucks, seniors...and the occasional author who just wants to get in out of the heat.

I was surprised, after spending day after day there, like my nine to five job that I used to spend at home (and perhaps less efficiently since I had loads of distractions, especially of the furry kind), I discovered how very efficient and valuable and NEEDED are libraries. Not only does it supply a place out of the heat (or cold, or rain, depending on the time of year) but its computer banks also supply much-needed access to the internet for folks of all stripes. You can't apply for a job anymore without being able to log onto the internet, and some people either can't afford a home computer or can't afford the internet, or both. Shut down libraries
Agoura Hills Library
and you disenfranchise the poor more than they are already disenfranchised.

Mission Viejo Library
I am happy to report that my local library seems to be doing well. It's a very pleasant place to spend my afternoons, working on my manuscripts--or this blog post--and I urge you to support your locals by making donations and supporting local bonds in support of them.

Thank you, libraries, for being there when I needed you! 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Touching the Past

by Sheila Connolly

A few weeks ago I bought a huge lot of antique cookware at a local auction.  When I walked into the preview, I saw the table full of implements, some familiar, some still unexplained, and I said, "I want that." I bid and I won, and I've been working my way through them ever since.

The biggest surprise has been the dozen or so choppers.  Today those of us who cook at home use knives almost exclusively.  Even forty-odd years ago, through today, chefs such as Julia Child have been instructing us on proper knife handling.  Just watch Iron Chef sometime.  I admit that, done well, that style of chopping is fast and efficient.  But what happened to the old ways?

My chopper collection presumes the use of a wooden bowl (how handy I got one of those at the auction too).  The curve of the choppers (all different, but all somewhat curved) fits nicely with the curve of the bowl; the wood helps hold the material to be chopped so it doesn't slide out of the way.  It's a peculiarly satisfying was to chop (once you've found your favorite chopper, and believe me, they all feel different). And one source I read said that women used to sit cradling the bowl on their lap while they chopped—given the size of my bowl, I can believe it.

But I think there is more to cooking implements than fads or fashions.  I think it's safe to say that home cooks (or their "help") no longer cook the way they did in 1900. 

In the Orchard Mysteries, I write about a colonial house in western Massachusetts, and the historical society in the real town owns a series of diaries written by the woman of the house, Olive Barton Warner (to whom I'm related through the Barton family), starting in 1880.  I have transcriptions of the first two, and they make fascinating reading because they capture the nature of farm life in the day.  Olive simply reports what she did from day to day, both chore and socializing.  Hers was a small family:  husband Eugene, and two daughters, Lula and Nettie.  Olive was forty when she started the series in 1880, and her daughters were young teenagers, still in school.  Eugene handled all the outside work; the women took care of the house. It's not clear whether they had any additional farm help—no one is ever mentioned—but there is a lot of sharing of work among neighbors.

What is relevant here is what Olive writes about cooking.  Just a few examples:

(January 13, 1880) I baked thirteen pies 7 pumpkin, 6 apple, made a quart apple sauce.  Eugene peared (sic) all my apples.

(February 13) I baked bread, and fourteen pies apple five, pumpkin five, & four mince. 

(February 26) Baked 13 pies, mince apple & pumpkin.  My last pumpkin.

(March 20) I and girls baked 6 pies, some bread, and two kinds of cake. 

This is just a random sample. Nowhere does Olive mention selling or giving away any of her baked goods (although she does talk about Eugene going into town to sell apples or potatoes), so I have to assume that these quantities were for household consumption.  I don't know how long any of these would keep, without refrigeration.  I did peek ahead, and she's still baking come summer. (And I couldn't resist sharing this note:  on May 10th she and Eugene "took off their flannels".)

My point is, back in the day cooking involved a lot of chopping (I'm assuming some of the choppers, particularly the two-bladed ones, would have been used to "cut in" pastry for all those pie crusts). No fast foods, no short-cuts: it was all done by hand. I don't even want to think about how you cooked all those pies and bread in an oven back then, particularly in summer (early in the day, I presume!).

But what is so wonderful is that holding and using these implements puts me back in that time, and I can picture Olive and her girls busy in the kitchen (which I've seen more than once), and now I know how they did it.  To my mind, this is the best kind of research—the details that make things real.

And I think I'm going to keep using some of the choppers—they work really well.

Coming October 1

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quail Hill Farm

Elizabeth Zelvin

On a sunny day last week, a friend took me to visit a place I’ve passed by thousands of times in the past twenty years and always wanted to see: Quail Hill, a farm cooperative in Amagansett on eastern Long Island, a stone’s throw from the ocean between East Hampton and Montauk.
The Orchard at Quail Hill
It’s part of the Peconic Land Trust, whose mission is to “conserve Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage for our communities now and in the future.” Quail Hill Farm is one of the Trust’s stewardship projects, “producing over 400 varieties of organically grown vegetables, flowers, fruit and herbs.”

I know a little about farm coops, because I knew a guy who ran one for many years. Coop members could donate work or money or both, and in return, they got a share of the veggies. That guy’s farm was just a few acres with a limited number of shareholders. In effect, he sold his whole crop in advance. It took some of the perennial anxiety out of farming for a living, and unlike a lot of backyard gardeners I know, he didn’t have to go around begging people to accept his excess zucchini.

The Valley
Quail Hill is an impressive spread of more than two hundred acres, and membership is always available. Its full name is the Quail Hill Farm Community Supported Agriculture program, and you can find out more about it at According to my friend, it really is a community, from dedicated oldtimers to a yearly flock of one interns who, as my friend put it, get out of college with a business or arts degree and decide they really want to farm.

We happened to visit on a special day, that of the annual “At the Common Table” dinner. This is the Hamptons, after all, heartland of the celebrity fundraiser. As the brochure states, “Guests come together in the apple orchard for cocktails and a sumptuous, four-course feast prepared by East Hampton and Amagansett chefs, using the farm's own produce, as well as regional meat, fish, and shellfish.”
An elegant dinner for 170
The wine, too, comes from a local South Fork vineyard. All the food and drink is donated. There’s live music and a silent auction. The brochure quotes the mission behind the first dinner nine years ago: “to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” We arrived around noon, as they were just setting up the long table for 170 and hanging paper lanterns in the apple trees.

Cock of the walk
I was given the grand tour, from the Valley, where long rows of Swiss chard, basil, and flowers were available for members to pick, to the domain of some handsome chickens. I bought honey from the farm’s own bees and would have bought fresh eggs, but none were available. I was told the hens can get lazy about laying on hot August days. At the farm stand where members can get additional produce, I got to taste green cantaloupe and yellow watermelon as well as delicious home baked cookies. Everyone I met was very friendly and seemed to be having a wonderful time in this paradise of intertwined work and play, nature and food.

Getting lettuces started
A whole lotta garlic

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Does crime fiction contribute to violence?

By Sandra Parshall
Benjamin LeRoy, publisher of the independent press Tyrus Books, worries that the hardboiled crime fiction he publishes may be contributing to gratuitous violence in American society. He is addressing his own concern by moving Tyrus away from offering crime fiction exclusively and introducing  general titles among its 10 annual frontlist publications.

LeRoy said in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly that the change was inspired by the string of mass shootings in American schools and public places. “I look at what we’re doing, what we’re saying. What are we putting out there in the public consciousness?” he told PW. “I’ve always been fascinated with how fiction is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s something I’ve wrestled with: if what we’re publishing, if what we’re putting out there, contributes to this gratuitous violence.”

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the four-year-old press is a division of F+W Media. It has 60 books in print, and a number of its crime novels have been nominated for and won awards. However, its bestselling book to date, with 20,000 copies sold, is neither a mystery nor crime fiction but a 2011 “literary noir” novel, Untouchable by Scott O’Connor, which explores the impact of a woman’s death on her husband and son. LeRoy wants to diversify still further, while continuing to publish novels about “people who are outcasts, struggling to understand who they are, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do.”

Tyrus recently released Graphic the Valley by Peter Hoffmeister, a coming-of-age novel with an environmental theme. LeRoy says Graphic the Valley has persuaded him to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature. In November Tyrus will publish children’s book author Betsy Franco’s first adult novel, Naked, described as a magical realism fable inspired by the life and death of sculptor Camille Claudel.

This new direction for Tyrus, and LeRoy’s concern about crime fiction contributing to real-life violence, haven’t received much attention in the mystery community. If Tyrus had a bigger footprint in the publishing world, LeRoy’s comments would undoubtedly be the subject of a lot of discussion among writers and editors. But doesn’t he raise valid questions about what we’re doing? Should we ignore those questions just because Tyrus publishes 10 books a year?

Where do you think crime fiction fits into our society? Do novels featuring graphic violence (usually against women) desensitize us to real-life murder? Do cozies that make light of murder persuade readers that killing can be clean and lots of fun, with no lasting consequences?

How much responsibility do writers and publishers bear for the effect of our books on readers?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How much a difference could 5 years make?

Sharon Wildwind

I read a historical mystery recently that felt vaguely out-of-focus. I couldn’t put my finger on why until I happened upon an author interview. He said that he’d appropriated several historical figures and events that came along a few years after the book took place, but were too good to miss, so he brought them forward several years.

As it happened I know something about his book’s historical period. It was a time of great perception changes and attitude shifts. The gap between when the book takes place and when those historical figures really lived was only a few years, but those years made a difference.

Huge wars, like the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Great War (1914 - 1918), create those huge societal shifts in a five-year period. It isn’t only war that causes rapid changes.

If I were writing a novel set in the United States in 1958, I could not include any of these large-scale events: a communist government in Cuba, the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, or the Cuban Missile Crisis; John F. Kennedy’s presidency; Second Vatican Council; The Civil Rights Movement; the Mercury space program; Vietnam; or the Woman’s Movement. All of them happened between 1959 and 1963.

Here’s a quiz about cultural icons. How many of these could I legitimately mention in my 1958 book?
Amnesty International
Barbie and Ken
birth control pills
Coronation Street
Dr. Who
General Hospital
human HIV-related deaths
instant reply during football games
James Bond films
K-Mart or Wal-Mart
kidney transplants
Navy SEALs
plain paper photocopying
push-button phones
Tab, the first diet drink
the Beatles
the Peace Corps
the Rolling Stones
smiley faces
the St. Lawrence Seaway
the term personal computers
ZIP codes

It’s not that I object to what the author did. I enjoy alternative histories. I’ve finagled characters and timelines myself. But I do think authors owe it to their readers to tell them when they do this. A sentence in the introductory material like, “Those familiar with Finneas T. Flogg’s Grape-Jelly Bean experiment will realize that I placed it several years before its actual date. Such is an author’s prerogative.”

Oh, that list of cultural things above. None of those things belong in a book written in 1958 because they, also, were coined, invented, or began between 1959 and 1963. The one on the list that surprised me was that the first human HIV-related death happened in the Congo in 1959.

Quote for the week
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.
~ Yogi Berra, New York Yankees catcher, and creator of some very interesting phrases.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Panther Turns One

by Julia Buckley
This was Panther's professional shelter picture.
"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."  So said Prospero in Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, claiming the detestable Caliban.  I use the line in a different, more positive way: we just celebrated the first birthday of the kitten we adopted last year.  His shelter name was Elroy, but we named him Panther.

If there is a container anywhere, Panther will find it and sit in it.
He does not hide, as some of our more private cats tend to do.
He seeks out people and enjoys playing with them.

He especially loves my son Graham, whom he allows to manhandle him
to a ridiculous extent.  When Graham is sleeping and Panther gets bored without him,
he tries everything to wake the poor boy up,
 including biting his toes and trying to nose his eyes open.

He likes playing with blankets, strings, toy mice, shoes, bottle caps, the dog's tail.
He chases our only female cat, Rose, all over the house, and she hisses
with displeasure.  We think she's playing hard to get.  :)

He's a very photogenic fellow, as you can see from 
his patriotic 4th of July photo.

This was Panther when he was a brand new resident of our house.

And this was Panther at Christmastime.  You can see that he's filled out a bit.  :)

Nowadays Panther enjoys spending most days on his tall cat tower or hanging out with Graham.  Graham walks around with Panther under his arm as though he's a stuffed animal, and Panther acts as though this is okay.  Then the two of them sit down together to watch tv.  Graham strokes Panther's head and seemingly hypnotizes him, because Panther invariably goes to sleep.

The only thing that keeps Panther from his relaxation or his playtime is his deep love of food.  He's been hungry since the day we got him, and when he hears a can opening he develops winged feet.  He jumps on the microwave table, where he likes to take his Fancy Feast treats, and there he waits with an angelic expression.

Everyone sort of mocked me for deciding to adopt a fourth cat, but now no one can imagine life without Panther.  He is our glossy black friend, our furry companion.  And now he is a whole one year old.

Who are the pets you can't imagine not having in your life?