Sunday, March 29, 2009

"There's a Family Story . . . " by Robin Minnick

Robin Minnick was born without a mean bone in her body. She had to work hard to develop them; her children would say she was reasonably successful.

She has spent the 24 years prior to the last 1 1/2 (you figure it out) living in Nashville, Tennessee where she and her husband spent most of that time partially raising their family. (They ain’t done yet!)

Before that she lived in various places including but not limited to – and not in this order – Brookview, North Syracuse, and Oswego, New York; Laurel, Maryland; and Winooski, Vermont.

She is sister to 4, wife to 1, mother to 6 and mother-in-law to 1 (that she knows of) and is a friend to all who don’t get on her bad side.

Her writing credits have as many ancestors as her friends and are just as colorful, in a minor sort of way, and with hope, one of her many irons-in-the-fire will light her proverbial star, allowing her to mix her metaphors with abandon and still expect her cake to come out all right. Even with run-on sentences and fragments.

She is very grateful for the existence of blogs as they allow her to live out her dream of writing helpful, humorous columns like those of John Maguire on the Albany Times Union in the ‘60s and ‘70s without having to worry if they are good enough to be paid for. For proof, see:

In fact, Robin is working hard on finishing up two book projects and then will be digging up the courage to write synopses and go agent-hunting. (she suggests some of you duck!)

note regarding photos:
"pictures courtesy dkminnick (except the boat; I don't know the source for that one)"

"There's a Family Story . . . " by Robin Minnick

There ‘s a family story that tells how my mother-in-law, on a family trip to Disneyland, spotted then-governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller. My future husband was in his early teens and could only look on aghast as his mother walked right up to Rockey, stuck out her hand, and said, “Hello, I’m Virginia, one of your constituents, and here’s my family. This is…” She then proceeded to chat with the Governor for ten minutes while her children looked anxiously for places to hide. I never did hear what her husband thought of it all.

It was, I think, this story that told me my mother-in-law and I had much in common. I was also fascinated by events, coincidences, but above all, connections between people. Mom was always on the alert for making a connection.

If she could make it in person, a la Rockey, so much the better, but even third-party connections were not below her.

If my husband’s brother was going to be in a certain city – he travels in his work – she’d pester him to look up her dear friend so-and-so who’d lived there for years.

“Be sure and call Eleanor,” she’d say. “She’ll have you over for dinner one night, if you just call her.”

Sometimes it was annoying because, as her sons and daughter pointed out, these were her friends, not theirs,
and schedules didn’t always allow for extra personal visits. They usually ended up going along, however; it was just Mom’s way of connecting people.

If she wasn’t forging a connection herself, Mom was searching to see if one already existed. She had a knack for it. The first visit I made to her house,
she quizzed me about my hometown. On hearing its name, she asked if I knew a Muriel H.

I stared at her. “Yes! She’s our church organist! I went to school with her kids, and she always looked out for me when I sang in choir!”

They’d been best friends when her husband was in college after WWII. In fact, Mom and her husband introduced Muriel to her husband. And she, my lifelong friend from church, had babysat my Dave when he was an infant. Does it surprise anyone to hear she was the organist for our wedding? Mom had struck gold again.

Connecting the dots wasn’t understood by everyone. Especially everyones who lived in small towns in upstate New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When I tried asking people about relatives or if we possibly knew the same people, I’d get puzzled looks that said “Why would you think that?” “What do you care?” “Are you nuts, or just nosey?” I was surrounded by people who didn’t care about any connections they might have to some other person I knew. While my need to know was thwarted, it was even more frustrating to realize these people just didn’t understand what I found so fascinating.

Fast forward in my life about 10 years. Dave and I married, and our little family (we had 1 child then) moved to Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re a Southerner, you probably see where this is going; bear with me.

Our first trips to church were marked by questions about where we came from and who we might be related to. “Do you have family over in Mt. Juliet?” “Did you grow up up North, or do you have relatives there?” (They always looked so glum when we admitted to being Yankees.) “I had a friend from Buffalo once; know anybody named Christantello?”

These people spoke my language! They were trying to place us, to connect the dots and see what our lives and relationships looked like. That similarity, the sharing of that little quirk of my own nature did more to make me feel at home in Nashville those first months than anything else. The longer I stayed, the more I grew used to the idea that the trait everyone I’d grown up around thought was odd seemed to be firmly rooted in the Southern gene pool.

I think it was in an Anne George’s Southern Sisters mystery where I first read this, but it rang true as Gospel when I did. Southerners simply love to connect the dots. They look for connections between you and them and the rest of the world, trying to place exactly who you are and how it all fits together.

Which takes it all a step farther.

Because, you know, it’s really a giant game of “What if?” What if your cousin is my cousin-twice-removed’s sister-in-law? What if my best friend’s brother kissed her full on the lips? What if, because of that relationship, his furious ex, hellbent on making his life plumb miserable, ran her down with a bass boat?
And so it goes, with Southerners and other people of imagination, ‘what-iffing’ their way through the world.

Some of us ‘what-if’ our way through an outline or a storyboard and eventually put it all down on paper. Maybe it’s easier for Southerners to write because they grow up with all that incessant searching for connections. Maybe that’s why the ‘Southern Writer’ evolved. Regardless of place of origin, I can’t help but think that the best writers among us are those whose unharnessed imaginations are continually finding ways to connect the dots.

I’d love to someday feel I’d earned the right to join those ranks. Maybe, if I’m lucky, eventually I’ll have linked enough dots together to create a picture rich enough and vibrant enough to qualify for that right. Meantime, I have to ask, any of you related to Kaye Barley here?

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Premio Dardos Award

You know, sometimes we just don't know how blessed we are. Sometimes we need to stop and remember the people in our lives who are special to us and thank them for being there. And for the gifts they bring us.

Jen Forbus
- I not only thank you for this award, but for being in my life, sweetie.

So here's a HUGE thank you, and a hug.

Now, y'all - I know these awards that we bloggers are sharing recently aren't the big deal that receiving an Oscar, or an Emmy, or an Anthony or an Edgar would be, but - they're given with kindness and respect amongst peers, which, in my opinion, makes them awfully special. Don't you think? I mean - how many bloggers are ever going to win an Oscar or an Emmy?! And - not many will win an Anthony or an Edgar - not as many as deserve them, in my mind. BUT. That's another topic for another day . . .

I've come to learn that the world of blogging is an awfully special place to be, and I am just lovin' it.

Here's what Jen has graced me with -

Isn't it pretty?! And cool?! And here's a little bit of its history.

"The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."


I find this to be quite humbling.

In the tradition of these types of awards, I share it with the following blogs who I think add tremendous value, and ask that they pay it forward in order to increase the visibility and audiences of worthy blogs out there:

1. BiblioBuffet - Writing Worth Reading, Reading Worth Writing About

2. Book Chase

3. Cobbledstones

4. What Fresh Hell is This?

5. Lesa's Book Critiques

So. Those of you who enjoy blogs, if there are some in this list you're not familiar with, I hope you'll check them out. And don't forget all the others in my list to the left - you'll discover some gems, I promise.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Sisterhood Award

I am delighted and honored to have recently received not just one Sisterhood Award nomination, but two of 'em! This is an award from bloggers, to bloggers, in recognition of a blog spot which shows great attitude and/or gratitude.

Both came from women I not only like, but also admire. Being a part of their world has brought me a great deal of joy, and to have Meanderings and Muses recognized by them is quite gratifying. Thank you to Carol Murdock, who writes the ever so lovely blog, The Writers Porch. And a big thank you to Kelli Stanley, who somehow finds the time in between writing great novels of historical noir - the first of which, NOX DORMIENDA (a long night for sleeping), is an award winning, beautifully written novel already in its third printing, to also write a blog.

Keeping with the tradition of paying it forward, by the rules shown below, herewith are my nominees (wonder women all), and the directions:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate up to 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude!
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog, or sending them an email.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

And my nominees are:

1. Julia Buckey's Mysterious Musings
2. Sam Hoffer's My Carolina Kitchen
3. Maggie, Marilyn, Rhonda, and Marian's The Stiletto Gang
4. Patti Abbott's pattinase
5. Sandra, Darlene, Julia, Liz, Lonnie and Sharon at Poe's Deadly Daughters

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rhymes with "Duck"

Cornelia Read knows old-school WASP culture firsthand, having been born into the tenth (and last) generation of her mother's family to live on Oyster Bay's Centre Island. She was subsequently raised near Big Sur by divorced hippie-renegade parents. Her childhood mentors included Sufis, surfers, single moms, Black Panthers, Ansel Adams, draft dodgers, striking farmworkers, and Henry Miller's toughest ping-pong rival.

At fifteen, Read returned east, attending boarding school and college on full scholarship. While in New York, she did time as a debutante at the Junior Assemblies, worming her way back into the Social Register following her expulsion when a regrettable tantrum on the part of her mother's boyfriend's wife landed them all on "Page Six" of the New York Post.

Today, her Bostonian Great-Grandmother Fabyan's Society of Mayflower Descendants membership parchment is proudly displayed at the back of Read's tiny linen closet in Berkeley, California. She has twin daughters, the younger of whom has severe autism.

unny enough, here I am, down to the wire on completing my second book.

It is coming in large chunks, which I only hope are not written in Klingon. Or Portuguese. Either of which feel like a huge possibility.

I know whodunnit.

I know what happens at the end.

I know that there will be a helicopter blowing up, because my friend Sweeper Dave likes books in which helicopters blow up, so I promised him I would work one in.

(You may not think it sounds reasonable to blow up a helicopter in a book about a boarding school for disturbed kids in the bucolic Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Trust me, however, when I say that my working title, The Crazy School, is warranted when it comes to this place.)

But here is the one thing a number of people have asked me not to do in the second book:


The first person to comment on the swearing in book numero uno was Joan Fontaine, whom my mother met in a hardware store in Carmel, California, because Miss Fontaine has a taste for Belgian shoes—said shoes being the premier footwear fetish of my family.

Mom thought Miss Fontaine might be amused by my book, as Belgian shoes are in it. Miss Fontaine read an ARC of A Field of Darkness, but did not comment on the whole shoe thing. She basically said she thought the language in the book was appalling, which caused her not to enjoy the experience of reading it.

The flap copy on the hardcover starts out with the first three sentences of the book itself, which read as follows:

There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them.

When the house on the next street went up in flames for the second night in a row, I wondered again what the hell I was doing in Syracuse.

Only they took out the word “hell,” in the flap copy.

When I got to read over the flap copy, I put the word “hell” back in.

nlikely as this may sound, my very kind editor emailed to say that they couldn’t say “hell” in the flap copy, in case anyone who read the flap copy, in, say, a bookstore, would be offended.

Considering that one of the main characters is named “Ice [insert word- that-rhymes- with-‘runt’- but-does-not-start- with-the- letter-‘R’ here],” I wondered what would happen if people offended by the word “hell” ended up actually reading the book.

Here is what happens. They write reviews on Amazon which say things like:

“The foul language, which I think is supposed to be smart, sassy, and funny, is grossly overdone and gets in the way.”

Which is a sentiment that has been repeated on DorothyL. Repeatedly.

And I'm perfectly okay with that.


However I would like to state here, for the record, that the foul language in my first book is not supposed to be smart, sassy, or funny. It is just supposed to be foul.

And I would also like to state, for the record, that I respect the right of anyone not to swear.

Some of my best friends don’t swear. And I still even kind of like them, although admittedly they tend to be way less fun at parties than my friends who do swear, unless you get them really, really drunk.

I also fully understand that there are a lot of people in the world who dislike and eschew the use of profanity… people who say things like “shucky darn” when a Mack truck runs over their foot, or they get riddled with bullets, or find themselves being chased through the Amazon River Basin by a bunch of pissed-off Mensheviks who happen to be waving glittering machetes, or whatever.

I respect the hell out of those “shucky-darn” people, but to quote the second sentence of my first novel, “I am not one of them.”

I’m sorry, I love swearing. L-O-V-E. I-T. And I love hearing other people swear.

I think it’s funny. I think it adds spice to life. I think that sometimes, “shucky darn” just doesn’t express the sentiment that is yearning to escape from our heart of hearts, in the form of spoken language.

I love the part on the Woodstock Album where Country Joe MacDonald of Country Joe and the Fish yells “Gimme an F…” and the ginormous crowd yells “F!” and then Country Joe keeps going until he makes them all yell “K!” with equally resounding fervor. I am forty-three years old, and that still makes me laugh my butt off, although I’ve heard it several hundred times.

Perhaps this indicates a deep and abiding lack of mental balance on my part, but, hey, as I once said on DorothyL, chacun a son gutter.

As such, when my mom recently asked me whether I would tone down the swearing in my second novel, I laughed and said "[word-that- rhymes-with- “duck”-but-does-not-begin- with- the-letter-“D”] no.”

Especially since one of the central things about the book is that the school’s founder has prohibited everyone on campus from saying [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck”-but-does-not-begin-with- the-letter-“D”], ever. And requires that anyone who ignores this prohibition has to donate a dollar to the local Rape Crisis Fund, as he feels that [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck” -but-does-not-begin- with-the-letter-“D”] is inherently linked to violence against women.

oincidentally, this is based on an actual rule at an actual boarding school for disturbed kids in the bucolic Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.

An actual boarding school where I once worked, actually.

The students and teachers and administrators at that school were often required to donate dollars to that fund, though they were allowed to use any other swear word—in class and out, while jostling one another at the salad bar, say, or answering a question about Yalta in American history class—in fact, they could even say [word-that- rhymes-with- ‘runt’-but-does- not-start- with-the-letter-“R”], which just seems really, really stupid to me, but the founder-of-the-school guy was big on arbitrary prohibitions, which he considered “therapeutic.”

So, anyway, as a result, we couldn’t get ENOUGH of saying [word-that-rhymes-with-“duck”-but-does-not-begin-with-the- letter-“D”], in all possible combinations, declensions, and conjugations; as noun, verb, adjective, proper name, dangling participle, split infinitive, and even adverb—which takes some doing, the adverb thing—and, as such, it shows up rather often in the manuscript. It is on the first page. It was today applied to Freud and Jung and Werner Erhard (and his little dog too).

It will be uttered when the helicopter blows up, and it will probably be the last word at the very end, if I work it right.

It will probably not, however, appear in the flap copy.

So, if you are a person of the “shucky-darn” persuasion, let this be a warning to you… indeed a caveat, yea verily.

But if you are, on the other hand, a person who enjoys a good expletive, undeleted, this might be a book right up your alley. And all I can say, if so, is...

...gimme a

(originally posted with Naked Author Blogspot 6/13/06)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's Chat About Hats

This morning while I was doing my stroll through some of my favorite blogs, I was nudged onto Memory Lane. You all know how much I enjoy my strolls down Memory Lane. Kathryn Stripling Byer, who has served as North Carolina's poet laureate since 2005 writes the "Here, Where I Am" blog which is always full of lovely words and images and is one of my favorite spots. This morning she's bemoaning hats. Not those fabulous hats a lot of us love, but the uncomfortable little, practically pinned to our heads, prissy hats sprouting feathers, fruit, or stiff netting that many of us were forced to wear to church when we were little girls. And she has the beginnings of a poem she's writing about said hats. Drop by and spend a little time with Ms. Byer - she's a dream. And I'm hoping she doesn't mind me "borrowing" her brilliant idea to blog about hats.

Somehow from those forced hat wearing episodes Ms. Byer talks about, I grew to have a major love affair with hats. It may have something to do with family. Apparently, the Wilkinson women liked hats - as shown here by my Great Aunt Sadie, and my paternal grandmother, Laura Street Wilkinson.

Unfortunately, the days of fun and sassy and outrageous hats passed me by. Most of us don't live the type of lifestyle that we can get away with wearing the types of hats I have in mind. Those are works of art you see at Ascot.

Hats are fun. They're supposed to be fun. And as far as I know, no one has been hurt by a hat.

Some are, perhaps, a little much , but still - I don't think they can hurt you.

Ascot, however, was not a part of my Memory Lane.

But weddings were. And hats were just made for weddings!! First girlfriend weddings and cousin weddings, then came their childrens' weddings. While we're waiting for their grandchildren to get married, I'm in a hat lull, so instead of buying and wearing a new hat, I'll have to content myself by reading and writing about them. And maybe going back to watch Aretha so proudly wearing her hat at The Inauguration. i do love that hat.

Hats were my treat to myself whenever we went to a wedding. A lot of times I might be the only person there wearing a hat. Not always, but often. Until we went to the wedding of our friends James and Melody. This was our first experience at an African American wedding. And oh my - had I not worn a hat to this wedding, I would have been sadly under dressed. The wedding was perfect. The bride and groom were both gorgeous. The service was moving, emotional and joyful. Every detail of both wedding and reception were attended to with loving perfection by mothers and family members, and every guest attended to with the same loving attention. I will remember that wedding as a high point in my life.

Ironically, shortly after James and Melody's wedding I ran across a book that I had to have and which will forever remind me of this glorious day. It's called "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats" by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

Marberry had this to say, "I think it's because it's rooted in the African tradition that says that when one presents oneself before God… that you should be at your best –- that you should present excellence before the Almighty." And that tradition of adorning the head for worship is a very African tradition."

"Crowns" is a stunning book. And it's much more. It delves quite deeply into a history that we must never ever allow be forgotten. or allow to ever happen again. Whenever I, for example, pranced into the lovely and grand Downtown Rich's Department Store in Atlanta to buy myself a new hat whenever I wanted, never once did I give a thought to the fact that there had been a time when a black woman could not do this. This simple act that gave me such joy. Other women were unable to do. In that regard, "Crowns" becomes a history book. But one written in the words of women who are able to find humor in their situation regarding hats. Nancy Carpenter tells us about a department store in North Carolina where she wasn't allowed to shop. After some years passed, and Mrs. Carpenter became the owner of many hats, some quite spectacular, she was able to realize that the store's hats really weren't so special - it was the fact that she couldn't own one that, of course, caused her to want to own at least one of them that much more. Fact of the matter was though - the hats Mrs. Carpenter ended up owning, she says, were more beautiful than anything that store ever carried. And, she ended up owning more than they more than likely ever carried at one time.

From "Crowns:"

"Listen, never touch my hat! Admire it from a distance. Those are the hat queen rules, honey."
-Peggy Knox, child care provider

"You can flirt with a fan in your hand. You can flirt holding a cigarette, too. But a woman can really flirt with a hat." -Dolores Foster, real estate agent (retired)

And, my favorite hat ever? The one I wore to my own wedding. May 11, 1986.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jonathan E. Quist - A Stitch in Time

Jonathan E. Quist is a lifelong resident of Illinois, where he learned everything he knows about government ethics. A graduate of Northwestern University, he has spent the past twenty years failing to escape Information Technology for a less lucrative field.

He wrote his first mystery nearly forty years ago, to critical acclaim, but similarity to another story prevented publication. Similarity. That's a laugh. It was lifted outright from "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", is what it was. But "plagiarism" wasn't in his fourth-grade vocabulary list, until Mrs. Christensen explained it.

Mr. Quist's turn-ons include sunny days and playful kittens. His turn-offs are mean people and wiggly seats on public toilets.

He currently lives 31.3 miles from the hospital in which he was born, where by day he works for a telecommunications equipment manufacturer, and by night is writing the first novel in a humorous historical traditional mystery series, set in the world of small-time Vaudeville.

A Stitch in Time

Last week, my daughter brought home "Batman Returns" on DVD. This was the only Tim Burton-directed film of the franchise that I had not seen. So, with some busy work at hand, I put it on. I was looking forward to Danny DeVito's performance as The Penguin. And I vaguely remembered something about a stalker who was after one of the producers, something about wanting the role of Catwoman, which eventually went to Michelle Pfeifer.

I grew up on the 1960's Batman TV series. Yes, the many weekly guest villains included Catwoman. (And yes, I was a big Julie Newmar fan, even before I was old enough to understand why.) But the old series was very unapologetically two-dimensional. Characters were simply good or evil, in black and white. The only time grey appeared on the palette were those occasions when Batman found himself attracted to Catwoman. (And to an 8-year-old, those moments were comic relief, nothing more.)

The Batman feature films have corrected this - most characters have quite a bit more depth and complexity, and in many cases, we know their back story. In "Batman Returns", Pfeifer's Selina Kyle discovers some information she's not supposed to know. A man she previously trusted pushes her out a window for it; she miraculously survives, to find herself set upon by a pride of stray cats. As she rises from the pavement, her face reflects the fact that a few of her screws were loosened, and tightened again, but they're not set quite the same as they were before.

In the next scene, she returns to her apartment, in a craze, and proceeds to do the only logical thing to meet her forming persona as Catwoman - she sews herself a costume:

This scene reminded me that quite a few heroes have created and sewn their own costumes. Catwoman did it. Dr. Horrible did it.
Okay, both are technically villains, but both have heroic qualities.

Spiderman did it.

The Hulk did it. He took a more holistic approach.
Iron Man did it. His approach is not so much a costume as a Segway on steroids.

Batman did it, though I suspect Alfred performed the actual tailoring. There are many things Batman did not do alone.

And there are many others - Daredevil,

Green Arrow,

and The Lone Ranger, to name but a few.

In other words, among all the many super powers, skills, and codes of conduct among our most cherished heroes, one characteristic stands head and shoulders above the rest as the most prevalent, most useful, and most unilaterally heroic: the ability to wield a needle and thread with ingenuity, dexterity, and imagination. A blind stitch may be as important as blinding speed, and a back stitch as helpful as a sidekick.

Is there someone in your life who is a super seamstress? A master milliner? A consummate couturier? A talented tailor?

If so, then ask yourself a question. Has this loved one ever appeared in public with Batman? Stood side to side with the Mayor and Wonder Woman? Recoiled in horror from The Toxic Avenger? If you cannot answer "yes" to these questions, then there is a good chance you are in the company of an honest-to-goodness hero. Quite possibly one with super powers.

I can hear some of you asking, "What makes you so sure?"

I have first hand experience.

My daughter Leona was recently cast as Amneris in her high school's production of Aida. A role with seven costume changes. And while the school has enlisted the aid of both the X-Women and the Justice League to costume the show, she was not ready to trust her appearance to just anybody. So she teamed up with my personal Wonder Woman, my wife of twenty years, Karin. Over the years, my wife has wielded her super powers numerous times, crafting such Instruments for Good as:

A pea-in-a-pod costume for our then-two-week-old Faith.
A Henry VIII costume and a tuxedo jacket for me.
Formal gowns for the girls.
Cross-stitched seat cushions for antique chairs.
Countless draperies.
Complete reupholster of a Cessna airplane.
Hand-woven tapestry commemorating her parent's 50th anniversary.

The girls have inherited some of these powers. Faith, admittedly, does not sew so much, but she does knit, and she knows how to wield a fencing foil, which makes up much of the difference. A few years back, Leona decided she wanted a Scarlet O'Hara dress for Halloween. There was never any question that she was not making a costume, but an authentic antebellum ball gown.
All seven layers of it. But without the curtain rod.

So now, faced with the task of costuming Aida's Amneris, Leona and Karin have joined forces to battle the dark forces of fashion. To mere mortals like me, this is unthinkable. Selecting pants and a shirt for the office is a challenge. But with Leona's designs and Karin's super sewing powers in full swing, they are up to the task.

They are my heroes.

Of course, their ability to make needles dance is not the only reason I hold them in such high regard.

After all, in twenty years, I have never seen any of them together with Wonder Woman or Elastigirl.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fabulous Blog Award

Fabulous Blog Award

Well, this is just about the most fun thing ever! I just received recognition from Vicki Lane,, in the form of a "Fabulous Blog Award" for Meanderings and Muses.

This is particularly lovely coming from a woman I greatly admire. I first "met" Vicki through her Elizabeth Goodweather books, which I fell in love with immediately upon reading book 1 - " Signs of the Blood." Vicki's books take place in the North Carolina mountains, where I'm lucky enough to live. I was immediately struck by how perfectly Vicki captured the beauty of the region. And how perfectly she captured the culture. We have since met in real life, at the fabulous Baltimore Bouchercon,
and keep in touch fairly regularly through the magic of email. I also start most of my days with her blog while I'm not so patiently awaiting her next book.

As I've already told Vicki, this is irony in it's greatest form. For Meanderings and Muses to receive some recognition of this sort means a lot. For it to even exist is due in part to Vicki, which she doesn't even know. I was one of those people who "poo-poo'd" blogs. I didn't see the point, thought they were pretty self-serving, didn't have time to read them, and on and on and on. Well, now I'm extraordinarily proud of my Meanderings and Muses. It tickles me to death to click on the site meter to see not only how many people have dropped by, but to see that they come from all over the world. Literally. In addition to hits from all over the country, I've received some from China, Japan, Australia, England, Ireland, Iceland, Korea - you name it, we've had a hit from there. Amazing. I'm proud of my guests, who include readers and writers from the mystery community. And that's really how Meanderings and Muses came to be. Through the mystery community. Doing a couple of guest blogs for others and attending my first Boucheron. Attending B'Con filled me with stories and emotions I had to squeal about and one of the ways I squeal is to write it down. A fairly recently discovered method of squealing - that's what blogging has become. And I love it. So thanks to Vicki and the rest of the mystery world for getting me into the world of blogging in the first place, and gracing me with a little bit of recognition. Ha! Who'da thunk it! Life is fun! So. Receiving this stamp of approval from a fellow blogger can be, I think, viewed as a gift of generosity of spirit and maybe a bit of validation. To receive it from a writer of critical acclaim who I greatly admire is a special bonus, indeed.

The recognition comes with rules.
Not such tough rules - actually, kinda fun. You must pass it on to 5 other Fabulous Bloggers in a post. (You might find their email addresses on their Profile page or, if not available, post as a "Comment" to their latest post.).

You must include the person that gave you the award, and link it back to them. You must list 5 of your Fabulous Addictions in the post. You must copy and paste these rules in the post. Right click the award icon & save to your computer then post with your own awards. To my way of thinking, this is not only a nice tribute, it widens the reading audience.

I am quite appreciative of this award and am happy and proud to pay it forward. Vicki has already included, along with Meanderings and Muses, blogs which I would have passed this along to, so here are five additional picks -- some of the most frequent posters of the blogs I follow:

1.) Blackwater Tales -
2.) Auntie Knickers -
3.) Jen's Book Thoughts -
4.) Swetzel's Weblog -
5.) Mornings at Noon -

I have some more I'd love to link, but I'm going to follow the rules (for once!), but I have some other favorites linked from here, (over on your left), and hope you'll visit them all.

Five of my Fabulous Addictions (not in any particular order): reading, blogging, sunrises, my digital camera, and Facebook wordgames!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bill Cameron - Yes, I am; No, I'm Not

Bill Cameron is the author of the dark, Portland-based mysteries LOST DOG and CHASING SMOKE. His stories have appeared in Spinetingler, Killer Year, and the forthcoming Portland Noir. He is currently at work on his third Portland novel featuring Skin Kadash. Learn more at:

Yes, I am; No, I'm Not

by Bill Cameron

I'm not a thief. I just want to state that up front.

What I am is more banal. Here's my diagnosis: I have a mildly depressive personality with an accent of bipolar disorder. To these base ingredients, add both a strong resistance to authority and an overdeveloped sense of
justice. Seasoning the stew are my almost narcissistic certainty and my flagellating self-doubt. Top it off with a sprinkle of impulse control disorder and a dollop of needing to make those around me happy and you have Bill Cameron goulash: father, husband, graphic designer, writer, and so forth. In short, I'm an inedible mess. But at least I'm not a thief.

So what? We're all a mess in our own ways. The healthiest among us surely struggle with inner demons. What makes mine so special? Nothing, really. Especially since I'm not that bad. At my worst, my troubles are well managed with talk therapy and the occasional prescription to manage anxiety. I know people with far greater challenges than my own.

Most of the time I get up in the morning and do my job, meet my responsibilities, satisfy some of the desires that give me pleasure in life. A little reading, chatting with friends, good coffee. It's not like I can't get things done. I just know that I have weaknesses and sometimes those weakness get the better of me. (Heaven forbid I get access to internet during a depressive swing.)

But sometimes they're my greatest strength. Lost Dog and Chasing Smoke, my two books to date, are examples of using my weaknesses to, I hope, good effect.

In Lost Dog, my main character Peter is a kleptomaniac. He's a little atypical in the way his condition presents, but Peter's kleptomania falls within the diagnosis described in the DSM-IV. He suffers a "failure to resist impulses to steal items even though the items are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value." Furthermore, this process starts with "a rising subjective sense of tension" followed by "relief when committing the theft." He doesn't steal "to express anger or vengeance," nor is the theft "done in response to a delusion or hallucination."

Skin, who appeared in Lost Dog but is the main character of Chasing Smoke, has his own troubles. He's fighting cancer, struggling with his place in the world, and trying to quit smoking after a lifetime of lighting up. His darkness sometimes consumes him, and why not? Few of us are sanguine in the face of our own mortality, especially while trying to break a powerful addiction.

As a writer, the most gratifying moments are when readers tell me they think I've captured some aspect of character well. I've heard from a number of folks who found Peter's struggle with kleptomania particularly convincing. When I've had the opportunity to speak in public, a not uncommon question has been, "How did you come to understand kleptomania so well?" This question is often accompanied by a nervous chuckle.

I've also been asked, "When did you quit smoking?" and "Have you had cancer yourself?" Aside from a few cough-inducing Marlboros while in junior high, I've never smoked. No cancer either. But I am very pleased readers found my presentation of these character problems successful. I believe it's because I've been able to build character and situation on a foundation of my own personal challenges. (To be fair, not all readers agree, and some disagree quite emphatically.)

I've never been a kleptomaniac; I'm not Peter McKrall and Peter McKrall is not me. But I have struggled with impulse control at times in my life. That sequence of "failure to resist -> rising tension -> self-destructive act -> relief" is very familiar, and the consequences are familiar as well. Nor am I Skin Kadash, though Skin and I share certain contradictions, including that whole certainty/self-doubt problem.

I'm the kind of writer who uses writing to work through many of my own issues. I don't want to suggest that my stories and books are all just some kind of self-therapy. My first commitment is to tell a good story about
interesting characters. But I do try to come to understand my own problems better through the act of writing, and in the process create characters which are both powerful and believable. I want them to be real, and a big part of what makes that possible is facing my own weaknesses and learning from them. To the extent I am successful, I believe it's because I have been able to confront my own demons and, to some small extent, exert a measure of control over them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chester Campbell - A Writer by Fate

Chester Campbell was born in Nashville in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. As a boy he dreamed of roaring off into the wild blue yonder, but you'll find out below the fate of that dream. He has been writing for more than sixty years in areas such as newspapers, advertising, speeches, public relations, magazines, and mystery fiction. He lives in Madison, TN with his wife and an eleven-year-old grandson.

A Writer by Fate

Unlike many of my fellow authors, I didn’t know I was going to be a writer from the time I first learned what those squiggly lines on the page were all about. Though I enjoyed reading suspense/adventure stories in The Saturday Evening Post and Liberty magazines as a teenager, I never gave a thought to writing anything myself.

My circuitous trek through the literary landscape began with one of those random quirks of destiny. I graduated from high school in 1943 when things were getting pretty ugly in Europe and the Far East. After flunking the Navy’s pilot trainee physical (underweight), I beefed up with bananas and milkshakes made with raw eggs—Salmonella being a foreign term back then—and passed the Army Air Corps exam. But they wouldn’t call me to active duty until I was eighteen at the end of November.

By the time I got into the Aviation Cadet program, they didn’t need as many pilots or bombardiers or navigators, so they shuffled us from one base to another like pawns on a chessboard. Stationed at Randolph Field outside San Antonio near the end of the war, I worked with another cadet who had spent a year at Yale before going into the service. One day he told me that if he had it to do again, he would study journalism. For some reason, that resonated with my psyche. Maybe it was like my mother always said, “If Chester’s going to do anything, he’ll have to do it with his head because he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.”

After my discharge from the Army, I joined many of my buddies in signing up for college under the GI Bill. My research showed journalism schools were typically junior and senior programs. I enrolled at the University of Tennessee, intending to transfer after two years. Fate intervened again, and by my sophomore year, UT had instituted a reporting course. The associate editor of The Knoxville Journal, a morning daily, took a year’s sabbatical to teach it.

The following year, a full journalism curriculum was added, and the editor invited a few of us to come to work at the newspaper. It was a good source of cheap labor, since we were only allowed to make a minimum amount and stay under the GI Bill. But I got both a formal education and invaluable on-the-job experience. It was during this period, in 1948, that I read Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and No Pockets in a Shroud. Both involved murders. No Pockets dealt with a newspaper reporter.

While going to school fulltime days and working fulltime nights, I sat at my little portable typewriter in the basement of my fraternity house in spare moments and banged out a murder mystery. It featured a reporter solving a murder case. I’d like to say it was published and I became a big success. But I don’t like to lie. For me, publication didn’t come for another fifty-four years.

The path of my writing career wriggles like a snake. I left The Journal in 1951 to go on active duty with the Air National Guard, winding up in Seoul as an air intelligence officer in the Korean War. Back home in 1953, I signed on as a reporter for The Nashville Banner. I followed that doing publicity for the local mayor, free-lanced a bit for national magazines, and wrote speeches for the governor.

After that I started Nashville Magazine, a slick paper monthly, which was a bit ahead of its time. After nearly seven profitless years, I moved on to writing advertising copy and another stint at public relations. I wrote a Cold War spy novel in the sixties, which languished with a New York editor for six months before he gave up trying to sell his colleagues on buying it. I didn’t know I should have kept sending it out.

The last eighteen years of my business life were spent as a trade association manager, responsible for, among other things, putting out a bimonthly magazine. On approaching retirement, I told everyone I would write novels when I departed the business world. And write I did. Starting in 1990, I turned out a book a year for several years, mostly post-Cold War thrillers. My experience with agents during that period is another story, but suffice it to say nothing sold.

My writing slowed when my wife’s Parkinson’s Disease worsened. She had a bad surgical experience and went into a nursing home. After her death in 1998, I took a Holy Land tour that led to the writing of Secret of the Scroll, my first Greg McKenzie mystery. I got a three-book contract from a small press, and the eighth book I had written since retirement was published in 2002. It was a long apprenticeship.

After writing two more for Durban House, Designed to Kill and Deadly Illusions, I switched to Night Shadows Press for the fourth McKenzie book, The Marathon Murders. My first Sid Chance mystery, The Surest Poison, will be published by Night Shadows in April. Both series feature Nashville PIs. The McKenzie books deal with a couple in their sixties, an age group I feel notably qualified to write about.

If I have any claim to fame, it’s that I stand as a shining example of the value of persistence. I had rejections galore and unproductive agents to spare, providing ample opportunity to chuck it all along the way. I never thought of quitting. Since those early days at UT, I’ve considered myself first and foremost a writer, and I expect to continue it until they slide me into the incinerator.

If you’re game for a more lengthy version of my sixty-year odyssey with the written word, you’ll find it under “Reflections on My Writing Life” at

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Metaphysical Aspects of Fiction for Readers & Writers by Professor Robert W. Walker aka Pontificator Extraordinaire

Robert W. Walker is a graduate of Northwestern University and NU’s Graduate School of Education; he holds a master’s degree in English, and has recently turned his 1972 dissertation into a novel entitled Children of Salem.

His novel Dead On is due out in July from Five Star Books. Rob is the author of the 11-book Dr. Jessica Coran Instinct Series, the 4-book Detective Lucas Stonecoat Edge Series, and the historical trilogy featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom in City for Ransom, Shadows in the White City, and City of the Absent.

Rob has published over forty novels and has recently begun publishing in ebook format as well.

While he grew up in Chicago and was born in Corinth, MS., Rob now lives with his wife, Miranda, and their four children in Charleston, WV. To learn more about Rob or to get his help on your next story, as he is an accomplished editor as well, visit him online at:,,

The Metaphysical Aspects of Fiction for Readers & Writers by Professor Robert W. Walker aka Pontificator Extraordinaire

Although I write scary, frightening, exciting, suspenseful, fast-paced fiction, I consider what I do literature first—that it strives for the level of literature. I don’t know if it’s great lit or bad lit but my definition of literature is a story that aspires to the metaphysical. I am ever-wanting to deal with issues both of a physical nature and a metaphysical nature—that is concerns of this life: hunting, gathering, sex, fighting, fleeing or how we live our lives when put in a pressure cooker. However, I also want to deal at the same time, in the same story, concerns of a spiritual nature, i.e. who we are, why we act as we do, and how we live our lives between the dates on the tombstone. Working both pumps at once has always been my larger goal, and the longer I write, the more important this has become for this author.

From the get-go, let us all understand what it means to talk met•a•phys•i•cal-ly. Yes, it is an adjective with five shaded meanings, and what mystery writer doesn’t like a little shading or noir?

1. Relating to the philosophical study of the nature of being and beings, or a philosophical system resulting from such study

2. Based on speculative reasoning and unexamined assumptions that have not been logically examined or confirmed by observation

3. Extremely abstract or theoretical

4. Without material form or substance

5. Originating not in the physical world but somewhere outside it

A writer’s quite physical efforts which cause him back pain and eye strain, and sometimes blood clots, his or her fifty re-writes result in openings, pivotal plot points, mid-point slumps, denouement, endings, but it all begins with an abstract notion of theme or various “threads” the author consciously wishes to examine and deal with and tug at or carefully pull through. A River Runs Through It is not just a title. In other words, what is physical aside from the manuscript itself are such things as establishing shots and props just as in the movies (or at least in the story these things are ‘physical’ and ‘real’). What appears in the story of a physical nature should be used for what it is—a door is a door for instance, and it should be opened and closed and be mired in the real world (to the degree a writer wishes to represent the real world). However, a writer is often working with abstract notions as well, and often a physical prop from a horse to a deadly stick can and does take on representational or symbolic meaning, or a double entendre as in a stout door that is impenetrable and standing between two characters, or a rope that is unraveling, or an unbreakable chain representing a “relationship”. And suddenly aha! You now have a foot in the metaphysical. Perhaps only the sparest of styles can avoid this lurch to an abstract level within the story—but even Hemmingway is layered with abstract truths.

Authors are throwing fast balls, slow balls, curve balls, knuckle balls, and sliders (physical cues with metaphysical wrappers around them), and it behooves readers to be engaged as catchers with the mitt held at the ready. Else a reader “misses” the strike, or calls a ball when it is a strike, or mistakes a bean-ball to the head, a hammer blow, for something else entirely. What I am getting at in a nutshell is that you can read John Steinbeck for just the story, and you may be happy with that—the plot’s the thing or as Shakespeare said, the play’s the thing. Both Shakespeare and Steinbeck seem to want to be taken simply as two storytellers—only! But if either gentlemen ever said that, they lied. Anyone who works at a Shakespearean play or a Steinbeck novel is an engaged reader who reads these men for the amazing layers of complexity and metaphysical truths each dealt with, most centering on the human condition, ‘human bondage’ so to speak—relationships, being born into hell, crimes of the flesh, addictions, obsessions. Often obsessions that get between a father and his daughters, a father and son, a mother and son, between brothers, among families from their joy to their suffering and back again. And sometimes they look inward and other times they look to the stars for answers.

True a reader can dissect an author to the point of destruction and ruin of style and art, but there is a great deal to gain in seeing the metaphysical aspects of the author’s work—the connections and the double entendres and the meaningful names and meaning-filled titles. Look at that fifth definition of metaphysical again—originating not in the physical world but somewhere outside it. Ideas of an abstract nature are the starting point for many an author. We say to ourselves, “I want to deal with this issue in all of its complexity and demonstrate its physical reality in a world of my creation.” It is kind of like roping a cloud and tying it to your hitching post as Pecos Bill once did.

Imagine the author takes the notion of hatred—a father’s hatred for his two sons’ mother, and it spills over into their relationship and poisons their every encounter. Give it a name: East of Eden. Now write the story and you have to tell a physical story—a fictional plot to illuminate a truth about hatred and anger poisoning the family well. Readers are asked to see how these abstract notions riding the backs of concrete props guide us down a dark path or a light path depending if it is Gone With The Wind or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or Slumdog Millionaire. In its way, East of Eden is as much literature as is King Lear—and all of the stories mentioned here deal with similar metaphysicals—themes or threads.

So by now you’ve got to be asking, “So what’s Walker’s point?” In writing a noir novel, an historical novel, a suspense novel, even a horror novel, this aspect of literature is at work if the author chooses to cultivate it. It is
what I demand of myself—and what many authors demand of themselves. It ain’t easy! But for moi it is a necessity—as I learned to write by closely studying the classics, often reading in a dark closet of a room in a Chicago ghetto. No matter the nature of the novel or story I am working on, I need an abstract target! So again if a reader reads without catching the nuances, say if he reads with ears closed to the sound effects embedded by the author hurling them from the mound . . . if the reader misses the unveiling of the special effects embedded, the taste of the book, the smells embedded by the author, the sights and props, then the metaphysical aspects of the story may remain invisible to such a reader whose only interest is a well turned plot that asks nothing of the reader and does not disturb him into asking questions of himself and of mankind.

All of these spit balls and fast balls—props to sound effects—are pointing upwards from the bargain basement of the physical world. In other words, reading story for plot alone and being satisfied with that is similar to writing
for plot alone, and not challenging oneself to reach for the clouds where the philosophical aspects of the story live. If writing is like keeping twenty spinning plates in the air at once while riding a unicycle, at least one or two
of those plates ought to be metaphysical in nature.