Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What was the secret in that mysterious battered box in my father's closet? by Mary Jane Maffini

Mary Jane Maffini is a lapsed librarian, a former mystery bookstore owner, a previous president of Crime Writers of Canada and a lifelong lover of mysteries. In addition to the four Charlotte Adams books, she is the author of the Camilla MacPhee series, the Fiona Silk adventures and nearly two dozen short stories. She has won two Arthur Ellis awards for best mystery short story as well as the Crime Writers of Canada Derrick Murdoch award. She is having fun with the fifth Charlotte Adams adventure: *The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder* (Berkley Prime Crime 2011) and says she’s grateful for all the tips she gets from Charlotte. Mary Jane lives and plots in Ottawa, Ontario, along with her long-suffering husband and two princessy dachshunds. Visit her at

What was the secret in that mysterious battered box in my father’s closet? 

by Mary Jane Maffini 

Charlotte Adams is always trying to get us to clean out our closets. Usually we find too much clutter. But sometimes that closet yields a treasure worth keeping. After my father’s death, my brother and I discovered a small, battered cardboard box on a high shelf in his closet. Luckily it didn’t get tossed away in that distressing activity of clearing out. Inside the box, we found a collection of yellowed letters my father had written to my mother while they were courting from 1939 to 1941. People sure didn’t leap into marriage back in those days. They had weathered the Great Depression and were heading straight into World War II. After my parents met in New Brunswick, my father had returned to his home town of Sydney, Nova Scotia to help his father run the family retail business. My mother returned to her home town to manage the ladies’ wear
section of Eaton’s department store (A big deal if you are Canadian!). At that time, everyone wrote to keep in touch. Daily letters weren’t uncommon. People even wrote to make an appointment for a phone call.

A few years passed, before I could bring myself to sit and read those letters without unleashing more emotion than I could deal with. But when I did, I found insights into my parents as beautiful young people and also a treasure trove of heartwarming moments, and many chuckles. My dignified and elegant white-haired aunt -- mother of seven, grandmother of umpteen -- was portrayed by her brother as a spoiled and willful teenager. Abby, who would become my mother’s best friend, was then a vivacious young court reporter about to be surprised at a wedding shower held by my aunts. She bought a lot of hats too! My father was happy to announce all that. He regales my mother with details about the dances and parties he, his sisters and friends went to. The meals, the family skirmishes the parties, the outings and the trips to the beach. He asks about her family and friends, tantalizing tidbits for me after all these years. He talks about the movies:

I’ve been to see Rebecca, a very good movie. Have you had a chance to see it?

It was such an innocent time. Canada had entered the war, but no one had any idea of the tragedy and horror that lay ahead. In one letter Dad wrote: They’ve had to cancel the hockey tonight. That darn Hitler!  I never learned exactly how Hitler caused the game cancellation, but I am guessing a blackout.

My father had no idea of the terrible, tragic and incomprehensible times that lay ahead, that he would serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force and that his brothers would go overseas. While his brothers came back, cousins and friends and one brother-in-law didn’t. Other uncles languished in POW camps until 1945. Everyone’s lives changed.

This look into the daily doings of the surprisingly optimistic and cheerful young people in an era with no television and no computers had a big impact on me. I loved the mood and the surprising optimism. Later, I was able to mine those letters for *The Dead Don’t Get Out Much*, a Camilla MacPhee book set partly during World War II (where the vivacious Abby got a role as Hazel, and some nice hats)

I also learned that’s the thing about closets: you have to know what to toss and what to keep. Dad’s letters didn’t go back onto a high shelf. I gave that correspondence a new home in a beautiful new box. It has a place of pride in my office.

My dad was a quiet man, so the biggest surprise was getting to know him as a lively man about town. I learned how much he admired and respected his own father, how he was involved in his community, and more to the point, how much he missed that beautiful, elegant lady who would become his wife. Years later, they adopted me and later my brother, John David. Good news for us. We continue to thank them for the gift of history, laughter and the value of family and friends. 


Isobel Ryan and John Merchant were married 69 years ago today. Happy anniversary, Mum and Dad, wherever you are.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Versatile Blogger Award

I'm excited.

One of my favorite bloggers, Michael, who writes the "Lazy Thoughts from a Boomer" blog, has bestowed me with an honor.

The Versatile Blogger Award.

I'm honored and tickled pink - thank you, Michael!

The award comes with some rules. 
  • Thank the person who gave you this award  -  Easy Peasy - Thank you, Michael!
  • Share 7 things about yourself - I can do that!
  • Pass the award along to 15 who you have recently discovered and who you think fantastic for whatever reason (I'm going to copy my friend Jen who writes the wonderful blog "Jen's Book Thoughts," and cheat a little. And for the same reason Jen did.  We must be hanging out at the same places because a lot of the folks on Michael's list would have been included on my list - so many of my favorites are already recognized).  
But.  As time goes on I think I'll bend the rules a little more and pass this along kinda piecemeal when people are least expecting it.  Which may mean more or less than 15 people could be receiving this at some point in the future.  Is this a terrible thing?  My bending the rules like this?  I'm sorry!  I can't help it.  Truly!  I refused to color inside the lines when I was growing up, and I guess I just haven't moved beyond that.

But I can share seven things about myself.  They're probably not going to be new things to most of you though.  I seem to have very few secrets.  I need to work on this and become more of a woman of mystery, don't I?!

1.  I was a very clumsy child.  My parents, being concerned about how clumsy I was, mentioned this to our family doctor.  Dr. Wolff suggested they sign me up for dance lessons.  I took tap and I took ballet.  For a lot of years.  Unfortunately - I'm still clumsy.

2.  I am mommy to Harley the Wonder Corgie.

3.  I am wifelett to Sir Donald of the Loom.

4.  Two of my very best gal pals are Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo.

5.  I'm a lot like my mom.

6.  I like to bake.

7.  A sunrise, especially at the beach, is one of my favorite things ever; 'course, sunset at the beach is pretty special too.

 This was fun!  Thanks again, Michael!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Illegal by Ben Small

An honors graduate from Indiana University and an experienced trial lawyer, Ben F. Small has over thirty years experience handling complex antitrust, litigation and other legal matters worldwide for Fortune 500 companies. He lives with his wife and alpha female cat in Tucson, AZ and on Lake Waubesa in McFarland, WI. 


by Ben Small 

By now, surely everyone is aware that Arizona has passed into law a bill making illegal presence in this state a felony. Boycotts in response to this legislation are in process, and demonstrations against Arizona and the law are occurring in various cities across the country. 

But what to boycott? Arizona Tea? It's manufactured in the Northeast. The Diamondbacks? Would anybody care? I've been boycotting baseball since the 1994 strike/lockout, whichever -- I don't remember who closed down that season. Baseball lost me then, and they haven't recaptured my interest. Lettuce? How do you know where your restaurant salad came from? 

It all seems a bit silly to me. Especially when those who are urging boycotts, for the most part, don't live in Arizona and have no idea what's going on here. 

Arizona is being overrun by illegal smuggling. It's everywhere, and the effects of it are being felt throughout Arizona. No doubt you've heard of the murder of prominent rancher Robert Krenze. Krenze had found tons of marijuana on his vast, thirty-five thousand acre ranch and turned it over to the Border Patrol. He'd suffered the destruction of his fences, his cattle and damage to his grounds, not to mention a vast amount of littering. Then last week, a deputy sheriff in Pinal County, just north of Tucson at Case Grande, was on regular patrol when he discovered bales of marijuana and five smugglers. They shot him with an AK-47. The deputy will survive, but the next day, a sweep of the area discovered seventeen more smugglers, all of whom were arrested, three of whom fit the descriptions of those who'd shot the sheriff. 

Arizonans see this sort of crime every single day. It's not unusual at all; it's become a part of life in southern Arizona. Streets in my neighborhood have signs erected by the Feds warning of illegal smuggling activity. Drive just about anywhere in southern Arizona and you will see these signs. They're hard to miss. They're large and bright orange. 

Both humans and drugs are being smuggled through Arizona. Phoenix has the highest kidnapping rate in the world. Drop houses are common, and the violence associated with these activities is becoming an everyday occurrence. I-19, which runs from Nogales to Tucson, is commonly known as Smuggler's Alley, but these activities extend far beyond interstate 19. Interstates 10 and 8 are also frequent passages for the smuggled goods and people. Arizona has become part of the ongoing Mexican drug lord battleground. 

But that's just the side of smuggling commonly reported. What is not reported, except locally, are the number of people killed on the state's highways because of smuggling activities. It's commonplace for a van or bus loaded with illegals to wreck on one of these highways -- usually I-10 -- tossing dead bodies across the roads, medians and berms. One such accident killed twenty-four illegals, another last week killed twelve. Often, other vehicles are involved, as these smuggling vans and buses usually travel at night, sometimes without lights. 

Arizona residents are scared, and efforts by the Feds to curb or control the border have failed.  In many areas of the Arizona border region, an illegal can just walk across the border line. Indeed, Robert Krenze's murderer was tracked back to Mexico; he just stepped across the barrier.The Fence Project, which was to build a high, difficult to cross barrier, was stopped by environmentalists and those who want an open border. So many of the areas of the southeastern Arizona border, particularly those areas east of Nogales, have a barrier a cripple could cross without breaking a sweat. Home invasions, destroyed fences and robbers lying in wait for smugglers are on the increase. Homeowners who live along these smuggling routes are finding spent and unfired AK-47 rounds in their backyards, near their kids' swingsets. The border inspection stations send many smugglers through housing districts, moving much of the smuggling activity from the highways to the housing districts around them. 

The Feds have been unable to stop the flow. The Border Patrol does what it can, but much of their activity is spent rescuing illegals who are dumb or desperate enough to attempt to walk across the Arizona desert in summer. The Border Patrol rescues numbers not in the hundreds but in the /thousands/ each year in this state. And many of these poor people don't make it; they die in the desert. The death toll is unknown, but bodies are found each and every day, regardless of season. 

Ironically, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, demanded the National Guard patrol our borders when she was governor of Arizona. She got no response. But now that Janet's the Homeland Security Secretary, she's changed her mind and refused to bring in the Guard. 

No doubt, politics are involved. 

The current federal administration seems more focused on attracting Hispanic voters and granting amnesty than they are in protecting our borders. They talk of immigration reform, of a path to citizenship. /But how can one have an effective immigration policy if one cannot control one's border?/ The Feds oppose Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County (Phoenix) policies of sweeping up illegals, claiming he's guilty of racial profiling.  The Administration even went so far as to deny Sheriff Joe the assistance of ICE, those agents who are supposed to be focusing on smuggling. 

None of this makes any sense unless one looks at it from the political side. 

So, lacking any effective federal response, Arizona's legislature passed a law which many, including myself, think will eventually be overturned. It's a stupid law. Instead of just passing a simple law making an illegal presence in Arizona a felony, the state legislature added nebulous, ambiguous language which guarantees that anyone attempting to enforce the law -- or refusing to enforce the law -- will get sued. Then, faced with near universal  criticism over the bill's language, they amended the statute and made the language worse. The lawsuit risk is so prominent, some county sheriffs have said they won't enforce the law, because they're in trouble no matter /what/ they do. 

And sure enough, there will be cowboy sheriff deputies who make dubious arrests. Count on it. Lawyers will flock to the courts filing cases on all sides of the issues.  The law should have been called the Lawyer's Economic Recovery Act. 

Why oh why couldn't the Arizona legislature have made the law simple? If you're here illegally, you're here illegally. What does the term "illegal" mean? It means you're not here legally. Simple as that. 

But of course, politicians rarely do /anything/ simply. 

The legislature did do one thing simply though: They approved driver's licenses as proof of legal entry. How much of a burden is it to produce your driver's license upon demand? Heck, I have to produce mine every time I make a purchase at Best Buy. Indeed, a Hispanic woman in Tucson went before the Tucson City Council Friday and made the same point. She produced her license, and said, "There. How hard was that?" She went on to say she followed the route to become a naturalized citizen. She said she resents those who seek what America has to offer, but do so illegally. 

I agree with her, as do most Arizonans. Indeed, while many Arizonans agree with me that the language of the new statute sucks, over seventy percent of the Arizona population agreed with the bill's intention: /We must control our borders/. 

So what are we to do with all these illegals we're going to arrest? Arizona is hurting just like every other state. While Sheriff Joe has no problems adding tents to his Tent City Jail, other counties won't approve that option. One suggestion I liked -- which of course has no chance of passage -- was to dump these illegals at either the California or New Mexico state lines. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Albuquerque have all declared themselves to be Sanctuary Cities. Okay, if these cities want our illegals, maybe we should accommodate them. 

Meanwhile, Arizona is a war zone. Gun sales are at record levels, and a new militia has formed and claims /it/ will enforce the laws, patrolling the border armed to the teeth. Now, that's something to worry about.

The problem is not Mexicans or other Hispanics. You can't live in Arizona without encountering Hispanics. They're everywhere, and by and large, they're hard-working, good people, with family values, and deserving of respect and admiration. The war is not against them; it's against those who are entering our country illegally. And not all of these illegals are Hispanic. Believe it or not, there are a huge number of Chinese illegally slipping across our borders. And it's not unusual to find copies of the Quran spread across the smuggling trails. The porous Arizona border makes for easy access for would-be terrorists, and there are plenty of coyotes who know the routes and will take them across for a fee. 

So... while I don't support the language of the new Arizona law, which will be effective late July, I fully support the intention behind it: controlling our border. 

But as is often the case, our legislators screwed it up.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Killer Ideas by Simon Wood

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. A longhaired dachshund and five cats dominate their lives. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. He's one of this year's CWA Dagger nominees. His latest thriller, Terminated, just came out in mass paperback. Curious people can learn more at

Killer Ideas by Simon Wood

I live with a cold blooded killer. I haven’t turned him into the cops because he’s my cat, Tegan.

He’s on a roll at the moment. It’s spring and that means young and inexperienced creatures are poking their heads from their protective homes and Tegan is there to bite them off. I spent last week picking up the chewed remains of mice, rats, birds and a lizard. As soon as I’d drop a carcass in the trash, he’d have the
remains of something else dangling from his jaws.

“Tegan, you git. Stop killing things.”

He’d look at me with a typical cat arrogance that said, “Yeah, right.”

After I’d dealt with his latest trophy and sat down, he joined me on the couch for cuddle and a purr (okay, I purr. It’s what I do). I stared into his big eyes and I looked for a sign of remorse and obviously saw none. Morally, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s an animal and his genetic code is programmed with the need to hunt and kill—irrespective of how much kibble I give him. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. But he takes lives on a pretty regular basis without a hint of killer’s repentance.

That chilled my human sensibilities.

Transpose Tegan’s killer instinct to a person and that person wouldn’t be a cute, furry companion, that person would be a psychopath, no ifs or buts. Tegan can wander in from a kill, snuggle up to me for companionship then clean up the two kittens he’s rearing. Sounds cool for a cat, because we accept this as cat behavior, but we don’t accept this behavior in all things. Substitute a person for Tegan and Tegan’s behavior would present a very different picture. Imagine a father like any other caring for his family while there is still blood under his fingernails. This is serial killer country.

People always ask, ‘where do you get your ideas?’ I don’t have to trawl through the aisles of the true crime section to learn about killers, or even experience terrible events. Sometimes, I don’t have to leave the house.

Stories are out there waiting to be discovered. Anything and everything can be the ignition source for a story. It’s all about watching the world around me and seeing how things interact and what everyone else misses. Usually, it’s the little things that people miss that make for the best stories. With a little ingenuity, the mundane can become the extraordinary.

So Tegan could be the genesis for a very nasty killer. All it takes is a little imagination and a dash of transposition. J

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Ned Kelly Changed My Life by Sarah Byrne

Sarah (EC) Byrne is a lawyer, musician and crime fiction aficionada based in Canberra, the Capital of Australia. She is currently Public Advocate for the Australian Capital Territory, but has also held such roles as General Counsel for the Australian Medical Association and General Counsel for the Commonwealth Department of Finance & Administration. Sarah is also the vocalist for the Spectrum Big Band and for quartet Frequently Asked Questions, and can be found singing jazz at assorted venues in Canberra and surrounds when not reading or writing about crime fiction. Fortunately, her mathematician partner not only plays bass and tuba in the same ensembles, he also writes pantomimes and works of a similar ilk, and is thus in no position to complain.

by Sarah Byrne

When Kaye offered me the opportunity to contribute a column to Meanderings & Muses, my first reaction (after being really chuffed!) was that obviously, I should write about Australian Crime Fiction.  Some fellow Aussies and I had recently put on a very successful panel on the subject at the Hawaii Left Coast Crime, and it seemed a great opportunity to pitch Australian crime fiction to the rest of the world. (We gave away about 50 books at that panel; we gave away Australian food, too - the Tim Tams were very popular; the Vegemite somewhat less so...)

I nearly changed my mind, a dozen times.  For one thing, it *is* possible to have too much of a good thing (see aforementioned Tim Tams and Vegemite).  Occasionally I have bouts of immersing myself in OzCrime to the point that I almost never want to see it again.  But that's a problem of not being discriminating in my reading - I pick up anything Australian, and then blame Australia if not all of it is good.  Which is bizarre, because I've read some appalling UK and US crime fiction, but I don't give up on the whole country. 

The second reason was the exact opposite - am I doing Australian crime fiction a disservice by separating it our from the rest of the genre? Are we not standing on our own two feet yet, without needing to spruik our Australian-ness to the world? Is Australian-ness even relevant - many contemporary Australian writers are not particularly dependent on having an Australian cast to their writing - PD Martin's excellent books feature an Australian protagonist but are set in the US; Barry Maitland sets his works in London; Kathryn Fox's novels feature Australian cities, but would work just as well set in Chicago or Manchester.

Something that kept me away from Australian crime fiction for longer than it should was a fear that it would all declare its Australian-ness by featuring the Australian tropes I like the least - the arid wasteland of Russell Drysdale's paintings, the outbackwardness of "Wake in Fright" and the ocker boorishness of "Crocodile Dundee".  I confess I find Arthur Upfield's "Bony" books boring to the point of unreadability, and for a long time that's all we really had.  It wasn't until I was further into my reading career that I discovered that one of the first mystery novels, and the best-seller of the 19th century, Fergus Hume's "Mystery of a Hansom Cab", was written and set in Melbourne, and that the first Edgar went to Australian Charlotte Jay (Geraldine Halls) for "Beat Not the Bones", also set in Australia.

There's always been a tendency in Australia toward what we call the "cultural cringe".  I'm not even sure that term exists in other countries.  AA Phillips invented it back in the 1940s or 50s to explain the phenomenon whereby Australians tend to feel that anything imported is better than the homegrown (though Leonard Hume has argued somewhat uncharitably that this also gives unsuccessful artists/writer/musicians etc an easy way to avoid being responsible for their own failure). It only applies to The Yartz, of course - don't try challenging an Australian on the prowess of our sporting teams or beauty of our beaches, etc.  And our most famous building is, after all, an Opera House.  But it's also true that some great Australian artists and academics - Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James, Barry Humphries - were sadly unrecognised in their own country and have only achieved fame and fortune by taking their talents overseas.

I woke up this morning to the news that Peter Temple had just won the Miles Franklin award for his new book "Truth".  This is two years after "The Broken Shore" won him the Silver Dagger in the UK.  Those of us who love crime fiction have been pushing Temple's work on others for years, but it seems to be only now that he has won international recognition that mainstream Australian readers - the ones who won't hesitate to pick up the new Ian Rankin or (heaven help us) James Patterson - are willing to consider actually reading him.

Perhaps it's merely a population thing - with a country of only 20 million people, perhaps our writers, like our actors, have to seek audiences abroad for the recognition they deserve.

In any event, thinking this through I realised that Australian Crime Fiction had changed my life, and for that alone it deserves my attention.

It all started back in 2000 or so, that year of fresh starts and new resolutions.  Gayle Lovett, the proprietor of a wonderful, local independent crime-fiction specialising bookshop Gaslight , mentioned my name to the equally wonderful David Honeybone, who was setting up the late lamented Crime Factory magazine. (Sadly, there no longer remains even a web remnant of this excellent publication, but the good news is that it has now been revived as an on-line 'zine by a new team of entrepreneurs, and is looking pretty healthy.)

After contributing a few articles and reviews etc, David invited me to join the judging panel for the Ned Kelly Awards for Australian crime writing.  I'm not sure if the system remains the same now, but at that time, the publishing market here was sufficiently small to render a shortlist unnecessary.  Which means that the judges read everything submitted to us,  We didn't get a lot of time to read them, either - a huge box was delivered along with an eight week deadline - so the other thing for which I am grateful to the Neds is teaching me about holidays.

As a lawyer from a family of lawyers, I had always viewed workaholism as a virtue; seeing some sort of moral superiority in spending 16 hour days at the office plus the occasional all-nighter, travelling interstate several times a month and feeling twitchy if the mobile phone didn't ring every couple of hours on the weekend, thus proving I was indispensable.  (The armchair psychologists amongst my friends will also tell you that this is why I tend to turn my interests into work - I can't just enjoy jazz, I have to study and perform it; I can't just enjoy books, I have to write articles and buy crates of lit crit). But faced with a box of books and no time to read them, I was forced to a drastic solution - I took a week's leave and booked a flat at the beach, where there would be no distractions. It was literally the first holiday I had taken for eight years, having used leave previously only for family commitments.

That week changed my life. First, I rediscovered my love of crime fiction, and the community around it, and second, I discovered my life outside the office.

The great thing about judging and reviewing (and why I always try to read the Edgar and Anthony nominees) is that it takes you outside your comfort zone.  I read some amazing books that I would never have picked up off the shelf on my own.  I found two of the most extrordinary protagonists it has been my joy to read about.  One was Caroline Shaw's Lenny Aaron, a thoroughly unlikeable yet deeply engaging pet detective - an unhappily celibate lesbian from a deeply dysfunctional family, addicted to prescription drugs, with all the dishonesty and unreliability that entails.  The other was Andrew Masterson's Joe Panther, a Perth drug dealer, who believes he is - or perhaps actually is - Jesus Christ.  The originality of these characters aboslutely blew me away, as did one of the best historical novels, and crime novels, I've ever read, "The Notary", by Catherine Jinks. 

And I rediscovered wonderful writers I had set aside for a bit, such as Peter Temple, Kerry Greenwood and Shane Maloney - three authors not only completely diverse in style, but very Australian in a way that reminds me how much I do love this country.  Maloney's take on Australian politics is urban, quirky and completely hilarious. Greenwood, like Temple, almost needs no introduction, but like Temple has also only really gained the recognition she deserved once overseas readers latched on to her.  She suffers the second disadvantage of not writing hard-boiled fiction, which meant that the lightness of her touch sometimes misled the noir establishment to overlook the depth and quality of her writing.  Her novels about the Hon Phryne Fisher, set in 1930's Melbourne, and her more recent series about zaftig baker Corinna Chapman, set in contemporary Melbourne, are unalloyed pleasure.  The writing has a facility and felicity of phrase that I think is unequalled since Sarah Caudwell, and tiny tributes to PG Wodehouse abound. 

The drawback in not short-listing is that the goodie box also included some absolute dreck, including a couple of self-published novels which should have been rejected even by vanity publlishers - though easily the worst book I read - in that process or EVER - was from a "proper" publishing house that can only have allowed feminist zeal to overcome taste, sensibility and commercial instinct.  I won't name the book, but it was something like 800 pages of closely spaced type about a lesbian separatist collective in Gold Coast hinterland, and it was turgid beyond description or belief.

It was during these interludes, though, that I looked up from my armchair over the view to the beach, or went for a stroll along the jetty, or nipped out for some calamari and cider at the pub next door where I could sit on the balcony and stare out over the water to Montague Island.  And I could not believe it. Anything. I could not believe the colour of the water, or the freshness of the air, or the sheer wonderfulness of not being at the office. Most of all I could not believe that I had not been doing this for all those years behind me.

And without the Ned Kelly box of books, I might never have found out.

I made two resolutions that week which I have stuck to ever since.  The first is to take a holiday every year.  The second is to find time outside of my working life for the things that bring me joy.  And now every year I take a trip to Bouchercon, to find new writers and rediscover old ones, to participate in the wonderful community that exists around crime fiction, and most of all, to not be at the office. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Father's Day Post

Reposted from last year - - -

Daughters and their daddies.

There's a special bond between the two, and if you grew up with a dad like mine it makes for fun and lovely memories. And some terrific stories when you're all grown up. All grown up maybe, but at times miss your dad so badly you feel as small and unprotected as you did when you were 4 and wanted him to chase away the monsters living in your bedroom closet.

Here are a few of my memories of my dad . . .

From the time I was 3 months old until I was 16 we lived in a wonderful old apartment in Cambridge, Md. The Arcade Apartments. I loved that place. All the rooms were big and spacious and the living room and the dining room had big bay windows with window seats. The kitchen was huge and our stove was an old one that sat up on legs. Remember those old stoves? Anyone else have one of those?

A friend of my mother's, Clara Rook, kept bringing me little chicks one Easter. Those pitiful little chicks that people would dye pink and blue and green at Easter time? AWFUL! and, of course, they usually died fairly quickly, bless their hearts. Well, my sweetie pies didn't. They just kept getting bigger and bigger. In an apartment! Daddy knew I loved those chicks. Every time the subject came up about them being too big to live in an apartment, I would start crying. Finally my dad put some chicken wire around the legs of that old stove and put the chickies in there. You just know how much my mother loved this, right? The chicks just kept growing and one morning I woke up hearing my dad yelling some pretty bad words. The chicks had knocked down the chicken wire and they were all hopping on Mom & Dad's bed. For real.

The chicks went to granny's that day. I was told they were going there so they'd have a big yard to "play" in. uh huh. Sunday Dinner. I'll never get over it. We went to my grandmother's for dinner and the minute I walked into the dining room I spied the fried chicken on platters on the table. Mother tells me I just squalled "My Sweetie Pies! Oh Nooooooo - You've cooked my Sweetie Pies!" and cried and cried and cried. Heartbroken. And nobody ate fried chicken that day.

I have a million memories of that apartment. But let me set the record straight - it wasn't a fancy big city type apartment. This was small town living. And we were not wealthy people; not by any stretch of the imagination. There was no private entrance into our apartment. There was a downstairs lobby, and in the lobby was the entrance to the Arcade Movie Theater. If we were out and arrived home before the movie started, it meant mingling with the line of people buying tickets to see a movie before we would get upstairs and into our apartment. Since it was a small town and everyone knew everyone, it sometimes took awhile to get through all the "Hi, How are You's?" and get up the stairs to home. And, since neither of us had a key to the apartment, which meant it was never locked, we also never knew who might be there waiting for us when we did get home. But it seemed there was always someone. It might have been one of my many aunts or uncle or cousins - there was a gracious plenty of them. Or it might be one of dad's cronies, or one of mother's girlfriends, or friends of mine from school. Amazingly enough now as it might sound, it was never cause for concern back then. It was just an accepted thing. That apartment was, as my mom often said, "Grand Central Station." (There are enough of these stories to keep this little blog of mine going for the next several years.)

There was also a jewelry store owned by Mr. & Mrs. Henry DeVoe in the lobby of the Arcade. Sometimes on Saturdays they would babysit me while Mother did the grocery shopping if Dad had to work. It was the beginning of my love affair with jewelry. Mr. DeVoe was my buddy - he opened my first charge account. Remember the silver bands we called "Friendship Rings?" They were $1.00. Sterling silver bands for $1.00. Can you imagine? Well, I loved those, but would lose them often. He would let me charge one and pay him on installments out of my allowance. About the time I'd have one paid off, I'd lose it and he would let me charge another one.

There was also a beauty shop, and an insurance company and I was in and out of those places like I owned them. I don't know why those people put up with it. If some poor woman was having her hair washed, I'd just march right over while she had her head in the sink and strike up a conversation.

I don't think I'd trade my growing up years in Cambridge for a beezillion dollars.

My dad played basketball, and was apparently quite good. While growing up, I would hear stories about his basketball career. Many times in school my teachers and parents of my friends seemed stunned when realizing who I was - that I could be Alan Wilkinson's daughter and not have any more athletic ability than Adam's house cat was just not understood.

I had been gone from Cambridge for many, many years, and my dad had been gone for many years when Donald and I were home for a visit. We had gone out to the High Spot for dinner with our friends Pam and R.T., who I grew up with and graduated from Cambridge High with. Pam said there was someone in the restaurant she wanted me to meet - he had been a friend of my dad's. When she introduced me, he said he had played ball with my dad and besides my dad being quite talented, he had a trait which he admired even more and that was the simple fact that my dad was also a gentleman - off and on the court. "A good, clean playing ballplayer," he said. and I promptly burst into tears.

It's a lovely thing to have someone remember your dad in such a sweet and simple, exceptionally special way.

He was a very good man, my dad.

"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
Clarence B. Kelland

1. Lewis, 2. Irvin, 3. Roy, 4. Ethel, 5. Alan (my dad), 6. Pop Pop (Irvin), 7. Belle, 8. Grandmother Laura Mae. Picture taken by older brother Ed

Dad taught me to ride a bike - and I vividly remember when he was trying to teach me how to drive a car he made a comment or two about how the bike learning experience had been a whole lot more fun and less traumatic for both of us.

We were all three HUGE Oriole fans and it was a very big deal and very special occasion for us to go to Baltimore for a game. Not as big a deal as going there for a Colt's game, but still a big deal.

And pretty special to get to Ocean City too. (Think he's wondering "What's with the HAT?!)

Pop Pop's 90th Birthday - July 18, 1965
In front - Aunt Belle, Dad
In back - Uncle Lewis, Pop-Pop, Uncle Irv, Uncle Roy, Aunt Ethel, Uncle Ed

Deep sea fishing - Morehead City, NC

"It's sad when our daddies die. It makes one less person inside."
Pamela Ribon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Catching Up With Myself by Carola Dunn

I was born and grew up in England. With a degree in Russian and French from the University of Manchester, I set out around the world, making it as far as Fiji before turning back to marry and settle in California. While my son was small, I had a variety of part-time and temp jobs: child-care, market research, construction (leach-lines to roof-tiles), building design, proof-reading, and writing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology. Then, faced with the prospect of getting a "proper" job, I sat down to write a book instead—longhand, at the kitchen table.

I was lucky enough to sell my first manuscript, a Regency, and went on to write another 31 books in the genre, not counting a number of novellas. They are all still going strong as ebooks, available at and other ebook sellers. Many are also taking on a new life in large print.

I had just moved to Oregon when both the publishers I was writing for stopped publishing Regencies. That was when I started writing mysteries, my Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s. Again I was lucky, selling the first to St Martin's. The series is still going strong. The nineteenth, ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH, will be out Feb/March 2011, and I've just signed contracts for two more.

In the meantime, I've started a Cornish Mystery series, set in the 1960s, also for St Martin's/Minotaur. The first, MANNA FROM HADES, came out in 2009 and was an IMBA bestseller (as were many of the Daisy books). The second, A COLOURFUL DEATH, comes out in June 2010.

So much for a "brief" bio. I'll conclude by saying I have two gorgeous grandchildren (is there any other kind?) and I live near the Willamette River, where my border-collie mix, Trillian, walks me every morning.

by Carola Dunn

It's been interesting writing in two genres and three time periods. For a while, I was writing mystery and romance, 1920s and Regency, at the same time (I found another Regency publisher after the two dropped out). That was when I realized how many of my Regencies had mystery/thriller elements: the very first, Toblethorpe Manor (aka A Girl with No Name), has kidnapping and attempted murder/suicide; Angel has three attempted murders, as does Captain Ingram's Inheritance; there are spies and smugglers galore. The big difference is that you're not trying to work out whodunnit as much as trying to bring the hero and heroine together in spite of what's going on.

In fact, the greatest difficulty was keeping the colloquial, time-sensitive language separate. I'd find Regency slang creeping into 1920s England. I had to immerse myself in novels written in the '20s to switch my mind to the right mode. I've always been very particular about making sure the words and phrases I use are correct for the time. I have the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the one that comes in two immense volumes with a magnifying glass included. I consulted it so often, my biceps were in great shape, but I'm glad to have OED online these days!

I'd stopped writing Regencies before I moved into the 1960s. Now I just have to keep '20s and '60s straight. Of course, I lived through the '60s, but I've change countries and time has moved on. I speak a different language now—my English friends and family say I speak American, though my American friends and family swear I sound as English as the day I stepped off the boat. One way or another, there's still almost as much research to make sure I'm getting it right.

Besides the language changes, and the changes in the way people think and dress, I have to contend with the changing age of my protagonist. My oldest Regency heroine was, if I remember correctly, 42. Daisy remains in her 20s, though now married with children. I decided I wanted to write about a character closer to my own age, and the result was Eleanor Trewynn, a widow in her sixties, who stars in MANNA FROM HADES and A COLOURFUL DEATH.

So, you might say, I'm gradually catching up with myself. I don't know if I ever will, but the journey's fun!

You'll find me, and Eleanor, and Daisy, at

We're also on Facebook, where Daisy Dalrymple and Cornish Mysteries have their own pages.

Drop by and say hello.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo Drop by for a "Donald Update" Visit

 Thanks to those of you who continue to check on Donald - he's doing remarkably well; getting stronger every day.

He had a surprise visit over the weekend from our little buddies Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo.  

As you may have guessed, "the girls" entertained Donald in grand style.  I stood by and observed while the three of them played catch-up.  With Harley poking his little nose in too - he just adores Sissy & Lou Lou.  Sissyfriss doesn't even seem to mind when Harley nibbles her toes.  I took some pictures, but they had me laughing so hard, many of the pictures are blurred.  Hard to take pictures while you're hysterical!!  But I'm posting them anyway - just 'cause.

We ALL were tickled!  What a fun afternoon we had.  Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo are the best kinda medicine.  Besides coming by to make us laugh, fill us in on neighborhood gossip, and share a bit of pasta salad, they wanted to hear all Donald's news, and this is what he had to share - 

He's going to cardio-rehab three days a week where they're monitoring him as they put him through the exercise wringer to help him build up his stamina and get in the best shape he's probably ever been in.  We're not sure how long he'll be in this program - it could be 3 months, or it could be 6.  Or more.  Or less.  We just know they'll allow him to graduate when they're sure he's ready.

While he's not at The Wellness Center going through his paces, one of the things that's been keeping him occupied, busy, engaged and engrossed is weaving.

 (This is going to be a table runner.  Gorgeous!!! )

This seems to be an excellent choice of activity; a creative outlet and therapeutic - tailor made for Donald right now.  A good bit of math is needed to plan a weaving project, so that keeps his brain engaged.  It's a bit of a puzzlement putting the proper amount of calculated yarn onto the warp board, and then moving that to the loom, along with threading the reed and the heddles, which has him utilizing his mechanical aptitude, and then the actual weaving is pleasing to his creative spirit.  And it pleases me to see him there.  He says the hours fly by while he's at work with this, and it's not too physically taxing.     (and maybe - just maybe - I'll get a pretty scarf or shawl . . . .)

You'll remember that although Donald has never had high blood pressure, and his cholesterol numbers are pretty good, the doctors have put him on a low fat, low sodium diet.  Like most folks, we're fairly knowledgeable about fat content, and checking labels (and sometimes shamefully choosing to ignore them).  We haven't used real salt in our salt shakers during our entire married life - we've always used a salt substitute except for when I bake.  And while I guess I was aware that processed foods do contain a good bit of sodium, I had no idea that a lot of them actually contain a HUGE amount.  I know there are people out there who say they live a "sodium free lifestyle."  Frankly, I'm amazed and perhaps a teeny bit doubtful when I hear this statement.  Sodium free just doesn't seem possible to me.  Donald and I are on a quest for a low sodium diet, and even that is proving to be quite the challenge.

The dietician at Mission Memorial recommended Mrs. Dash products.  That's a good place to start - we're especially fond of their sodium free marinades.  The Mrs. Dash website also includes a lot of recipes and cooking tips.  From here, I found a website called Dietician Center, which says it gives tasty alternatives to fat, sugar and sodium.  Haven't really gotten into this site too much yet, but it looks interesting and helpful.  Another hint from the dietician was to rinse all your processed veggies and this will remove about 40% of the sodium they've been processed in.

One of the first things I did was buy two cookbooks (including one for baking) by Donald A. Gazzaniga, the low sodium guru.  I haven't had time to read through either of them too much yet, so can't really give an opinion regarding the recipes.  I have, however, picked up a few things - including the fact that he will scare you to death regarding salt.  To the point that I think I now know quite a bit, get his point, and probably won't read any more of what he has to say about it - just skip on to the recipes.  This is not to say I don't believe what he's telling us, or that I don't take it seriously, or that I don't respect his work.   My feeling on this is that I'll do the very best I can, but I refuse to live my life scared to death of sodium.  There is, after all, only so much we can do and I'm not ever going to go quite as far as he's gone.  We will, of course, go as far as we can, and continue looking for ways (and products) in which to keep getting a little better, without going  off the deep end and radically attempting a major change in our lifestyle in one fail swoop.  Which would ultimately end in failure, I'm sure.   I have to believe that moderation in all things is good (granted - more moderation when it comes to sodium).  I don't know about everyone else, but after having worked a full day, there aren't a lot of nights that I'm up to doing a lot of cooking from scratch using no prepared foods.  Some nights, yes - but every night?  No way.  I'm going to need to start planning my time during the weekend to cook ahead.  I have some friends who are very good about doing this, and I need to follow their lead. 

Mr. Gazzaniga recommends the, and I have found some things here that I'm trying.  And here's another place I found -

Good places to shop for low-sodium cheeses - and

A couple other products I've found  that I'm very pleased with if you're interested.  At our Lowe's Foods I've found some frozen things we like - Bird's Eye Steamfresh brown rice is excellent and sodium free (and you take it from the freezer, directly into the microwave in the bag it comes it - Yay!).  Some of the Valley Fresh Steamers veggies are also a fairly good choice (lower in sodium, at any rate, than most canned veggies and a lot of the frozen).  

Some additional products we've either tried, or have purchased and are in the process of trying, based on recommendations of others,  are:
No Salt/No Oil Popcorn - but we'll use Kernel Season's Kettle Corn popcorn seasoning.
Frontier salt-free Taco seasoning
Bernard sugar free, low fat, no trans fat, cholesterol free, low sodium Chocolate Brownie Mix (surprisingly good!!!!!!)
Kashi TLC Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Soft Baked Cookies (yum)
Boar's Head Low Sodium Lacy Swiss Cheese

A few of the suggestions from Donald A. Gazzaniga for low sodium substitutes (check with your doctor first!  some of these may have levels of potassium that won't suit your diet!) follow:
Baking Powder - substitute Featherweight Baking Powder
Baking Soda - substitute Ener-G Baking Soda
Brown Sugar - substitute Twin Sugar Substitutes; Splenda Sugar Substitute
White Granulated Sugar - substitute Splenda Sugar Substitute
Butter -  substitute unsalted butter, olive oil, applesauce, cranberry sauce, flaxseed meal

As we keep trying new things, I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, anything any of you might want to share regarding low-sodium, heart healthy eating will be greatly appreciated!

UPDATE - Yay! 
Donald just called.  He's back from the cardiologist and got a glowing report!  The doctor says he's free to now do anything he wants to do, just rest when he's tired.  He told Donald that what the Wellness Center therapists have put him through the past few visits will exceed anything he could possibly do on his own - like weed wacking, etc.   He's to just pay attention to his body and not push beyond reason.
Yay !
Life is grand.