Showing posts with label Callie Parrish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Callie Parrish. Show all posts

17 July 2017

Cats and Gats

by Steve Liskow   

Last Friday, my wife Barbara and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.
For 31 of those years, we've had from one to three cats, and knowing that Ernie and Jewel will probably be our last pets is disconcerting, especially since both are developing health issues at a much younger age than we expected. Jewel has been on steroids (forfeiting her football scholarship) for nearly two years to fight her asthma (yes, cats get asthma!) and she's beginning to exhibit some of the side effects that the drug can cause.

Ernie has developed stage two kidney disease. So far, he loves his diet food--he has always eaten like a teen-aged boy--and is responding well to the blood pressure meds he takes because of the kidney problem. But both cats are only nine years old, and they've been together almost from Ernie's birth.

Barb and I met at a theater audition not long after I'd adopted a cat from someone who couldn't keep her. Many of out theater friends pointed out that cats fend for themselves more easily than dogs--which we both grew up with--if their servants have a schedule that involves late rehearsals or travel.

Cats are better teachers, too. They can demonstrate everything an actor needs to know about concentration, and they help me with my writing now because they give me a sense of proportion. Dogs may pretend they like a chapter because they want you to feed them. Cats don't care. If you don't feed them, they'll go out and kill something...or tear up the couch and stare at you so you understand it was your own damn fault.

A character in Jodi Picoult's House Rules claims that all cats have Asperger's syndrome, and it may be true. If you have a cat, you know it's always about them. Cats are narcissists at heart, and that fits well with some of the great villains in literature: Moriarty, Goldfinger, Hannibal Lector, or Edmund in King Lear. When cats stalk their prey, they model a focus that can be truly frightening, but the also convey a calculation that works with either villains or sleuths.

Cats can help you depict character quickly in other ways, too. What does it show you if a person doesn't like animals--or, better yet, if animals don't like him? Fran Rizer's Callie Parrish has a Great Dane. Robert Crais gave Elvis Cole a feral cat. He's just called "Cat," which says it all, doesn't it? Linda Barnes's PI Carlotta Carlyle has a cat, too. Megan Traine, the female protagonist of my Chris "Woody" Guthrie novels, has two cats. She named the tuxedo with double paws Clydesdale (usually "Clyde"), and calls his calico sister Bonnie.

Remember the Disney film That Darn Cat (I know I'm dating myself here)? Dean Jones's character was allergic to cats, and it helped deepen his character. Clint Eastwood played a New Orleans detective with two children in 1984's Tightrope, and a crucial scene shows the family dog stuffed into a clothes drier. What does that tell us about the bad guy? Don't worry, he gets what's coming to him.

Many publishers and contests stipulate that an animal can't be killed or tortured in the story, and that just shows ho much most of us value pets. Watch the memes and petitions on Facebook if someone mistreats an animal. Some of my neighbors complain when a rabbit or raccoon gets into their garden, but sometimes I think I'd rather have a raccoon, rabbit, skunk, fox or coyote living across the street instead. We wouldn't talk politics and they take care of their space.

17 May 2017

Family

  Family Fortnight +   Following the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you another article in a series about mystery writers’ view on families. Here’s Fran’s take on the family of her original character, Callie Parrish. Settle back and enjoy!

by Callie Parrish

When Leigh Lundin invited Fran Rizer to participate in Sleuth-sayers' celebration of families, she encouraged her older son, who is in law enforcement, to write the blog. He has a great fiction voice and has been published, but he declined. She consulted her younger son, who after teaching in Japan for years, returned state-side and now works in a nationally acclaimed library. He specializes in children's literature. Turned down again, Rizer asked her teenaged grandson. He replied, "Aw, G-Mama, just use the essay I did before."

What to do? Rizer considered writing about a true crime family like Ma Barker's brood, the James brothers, or any one of numerous others she Googled. In the end, she got busy, and like she's done most of the time since 2007 when the first of eight cozyesque mysteries about me was published, she shoved the writing off on me.

I'm Callie Parrish. After graduating from USC in Columbia, South Carolina, I married and was teaching kindergarten when my then husband did what he did that made me divorce him. He is NO longer part of my family. Robert Frost wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." I came home to St. Mary, on the coast of South Carolina, where I was raised. (I know "reared" is the correct word, but we southerners don't always speak proper English.) Didn't take long living with my redneck father and most of my five older brothers, who also move back home between relationships and jobs, to convince me to get my own place.

My mother died giving birth to me, which is why I'm called Callie. Daddy got drunk, really drunk, after my mother died. When he filled out the papers, he tried to think feminine, which he equated to pink. He couldn't think of anything that color except the stuff folks put on poison oak rash. He named me Calamine Lotion Parrish, which is bad enough. Thank heaven he didn't think of Pepto Bismol.

Role playing at a book signing--left to right: Callie Parrish,
Fran Rizer, Jane Baker.
After my divorce, I realized I was tired of five-year-olds who wouldn't lie still for naptime. Back home, I used the SC Cosmetologist License I earned in high school voc ed to work at Middleton's Mortuary as a cosmetician (Funeraleze for cosmetologist). I like my work because my clients don't get up and run around, nor need to tee tee every five minutes.

Okay, so that's my immediate family--Daddy and five brothers, but to me, my family is much bigger. My bosses, Odell and Otis Middleton, are no longer identical as they were at birth. When they began losing hair, Otis got hair plugs; Odell shaved his head. Otis is a vegetarian who put a tanning bed in the prep room at the funeral home
--not for the dearly departed, but for his personal use. Odell is addicted to barbecue and weighs about forty pounds more than his twin. They treat me so well that I consider them family, also.

Jane Baker has been my best friend since ninth grade when she came back to St. Mary from boarding school. Some folks say Jane is visually challenged, but I call a spade a flippin' shovel. Jane is blind. She works as Roxanne, whom Jane describes as a "phone fantasy actress." What this means is she spends her nights on a 900 line to support herself without depending on anyone for transportation to and from a job. My other best friend, a gorgeous Gullah lady named Rizzie Profit, owns G-Three, which stands for Gastric Gullah Grill. Rizzie has a teenaged brother named Tyrone. I count Jane, Rizzie, Ty, and even Roxanne, as family, too.

To be truthful, and I try to be (most of the time), I used to be a little green-eyed about Jane and Rizzie. Both are better endowed than I am. Inflatable bras and padded fanny panties solve that problem for me.

I don't have any children (yet), but I do have a fur-baby, if you can call any animal his size a baby. That's him with me in my author photo above. When my brother's girlfriend gave me a puppy, I had no idea how large Great Dane dogs grow. Like Topsy, Big Boy just grew and grew and grew. He's an important part of my family, and it terrifies me when he's kidnapped in Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL OF POSIES, scheduled for publication in September, 2017.

Thank you for letting me introduce you to the most important people in my life. I consider all of them family. To paraphrase my favorite quotation about families: "Family are the people who love you when you're least lovable." The people I've told you about have definitely shown me love over the years, frequently when I probably didn't deserve it.

My employers are Otis and Odell Middleton, but Fran Rizer bosses all of us around. She told me to close with this true anecdote.

An adopted child asked his mother, "Do you love my sister more than me? She's your biological child, and blood is thicker than water."

The mom replied, "I love you both, and love is thicker than blood."

Fran Rizer with two friends who are like family to her.
Left is Richard D. Laudenslager, her collaborator on
SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS. Right is Gene
Holdway, her "partner in rhyme," with whom she
co-writes music. No, Rizer is not a "little person."
Her writing partners are both over six feet, three.

Until we meet again, take care of … YOU!



In addition to the Callie Parrish mystery series, Rizer's published works include KUDZU RIVER (a southern serial killer thriller), SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS (a collection of haunting tales in collaboration with Richard D. Laudenslager), and THE HORROR OF JULIE BATES.



PS - Happy birthday today, Rick.

31 October 2016

At Last

By Fran Rizer

Today is October 31, 2016--Halloween.  Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Eve, Halloween begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembrance of the dead.

To most of us, Halloween is a holiday characterized by the dispensing of candy to costumed young people who threaten, "Trick or treat."  Other traditions include costume contests and parades.  When I taught elementary school, teachers and parents worked together to hold Halloween carnivals for students.  Before my retirement, these changed to Fall Festivals, and scary costumes (such as vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and this year--clowns) were forbidden because some people felt that Halloween was a celebration of witchcraft.

The traditions of Halloween include decorations such as black cats and pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns as well as activities like apple bobbing, pranks,  bonfires, and divination games.  In some parts of the world, Christian observances include church services and lighting candles on graves.

What accounts for the popularity of the non-religious aspects of Halloween? I believe it's because humans like to be scared--so long as what frightens us isn't real.  We might think that fall and Halloween would amplify the appeal of spookiness, but horror is a genre that transcends season.

How does the title "At Last" relate to Halloween and the horror genre?  Recently I've been doing a lot of writers' workshops in South Carolina libraries.  One of my most popular is entitled "A Late Start." The topic is writing as a second career after my retirement including disadvantages of waiting so long to begin writing fiction as well as the obvious advantages of greater maturity and vaster experiences. The workshops include tips on speeding up the process of successful writing and publishing.  The story of my first horror book proves that I don't always follow my own advice when it comes to fast writing and quick publication.

"At Last" would work as well if this blog referred to my first novel in 2007 as it does now to my tenth book released this month, but Leigh Lundin didn't invite me to return to SleuthSayers to summarize the workshop.  I'm here to tell you about my newest book and why "At Last" is a perfect title for this column.

The HORROR of JULIE BATES began several years ago as A Midnight Dreary and morphed into Something to Fear.  Both David Dean and Dixon Hill critiqued the manuscript during one of those phases, and I incorporated several of their suggestions. After numerous rewrites, my agent accepted it, but held back a year before pitching it.  Berkley was interested and made two suggestions.  Pardon my unladylike expression, but I busted my butt to work out the changes and dashed it off back to my agent in two weeks.  I didn't hear anything.

Sure, I wanted to push for a response, but we all know that it's not a good idea to put pressure on agents or editors.  After months and months, I asked the agent to touch base with the interested editor at Berkley.  I almost had another heart attack when I received an apology from my agent because he had forgotten to send her the manuscript revised to her requests.

Meanwhile, there had been major changes in the publishing world. To make a long story short (literally in this case), it was too late.

I began querying new agents and received some requests for the complete manuscript, but when Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing said, "Let us have it," I jumped at the chance.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, at last, my first horror novel is now available.  Here's the back copy:

                                 Who knew Columbia, South Carolina, could be so scary?

Julie Bates discovers a corpse in front of the Assembly Street post office.  Arson destroys her home the same day, but Julie's story is not a mystery.  It's horror--southern style.  Police officer Nate Adams thinks the killer who raped and murdered Julie's mother the year before is stalking Julie, but Julie's tormentor is not human.  The well-known ghosts of South Carolina barely skim the surface of the evil that awaits Julie Bates.  Move over, Amityville.  Columbia, South Carolina, is right there with you on the scale of terror.

How does a writer transition from cozyesque to horror? The preface explains:

When a red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing, I expected her to ask me to autograph one of my own cozy mysteries.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she could do a better job of putting her story on paper than I, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story. Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this mysterious stranger that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly,

The HORROR of JULIE BATES is that woman's story.  I spent many, many hours recording Julie Bates' tale and many more days and nights scaring myself as I wrote her story from her point of view, changing only names. The occasional third-person chapters were added after I was fortunate enough to obtain Richard Arthur's journal.

I have already received several emails questioning, "Did you make up this story or did a red-haired woman really tell it to you?"  I can honestly say the story came from a red-haired woman.

Long-time SleuthSayer readers know that I've jumped genre from cozies in the past when I wrote the thriller KUDZU RIVER.  I have no idea where I'll land next, but in the meantime,

Until we meet again, take care of . . .  you!
                                                                     

14 December 2014

A Callie Parrish Christmas

by Leigh Lundin

Callie Parrish Christmas
Mortuary Cosmetology News…

In Fran Rizer's Christmas novel, A Corpse under the Christmas Tree, Callie ‘Calamine Lotion’ Parrish is the main protagonist in a panoply of memorable characters, including her family, the ever patient Sheriff Harmon, the Middleton twins, and Big Boy, her dog who’s very shy about ‘doing his bidnez’ in public.

Callie couldn’t celebrate Christmas without her BFF blind Jane. I’m relieved to report Jane gave up shoplifting in the second novel in the series. Instead, she turned her oral talents to working as a phone sex operator at the expense of breaking off her engagement to one of Callie’s brothers. That didn’t stop Callie’s family– she insists on calling them rednecks but they’re considerably more than that– from inviting Jane to celebrate Christmas.

So as Christmas winds down, what could possibly go wrong?

The title offers a clue, A Corpse under the Christmas Tree. Callie couldn’t fit her extra-giant humongous tannenbaum through the door, so the girls (who hate being called girls by guys) set up and decorated the tree on their front veranda.

There, someone left a fully-wrapped Santa under it. Dead. Or as Fran and Mickey Spillane might say, dead as hell. (See Fran Rizer’s Kudzu River.) Sheriff Harmon worries about a possible break in. It’s difficult to determine because, thanks to Callie’s housekeeping standards, he can’t tell if the place has been trashed or not.

This is a story about birth and death, one on the floor of the Gullah Grill and the other wrapped around a tree, and somehow the author makes it all seem hilarious.

About the Author

Fran Rizer writes cozies, but she slips in a bit of sly and gently naughty humor. She’s also a keen observer, both of eye and ear, and she writes some of the best 30-something dialogue in the business.

The author is a dedicated researcher, a necessity when casting a heroine who works as a cosmetician in a South Carolina funeral home. I like to think the setting in the village of St. Mary’s is a tip o’ the cloche to Aunt Agatha.

About the Book

The playful typography at first led me to think the book might be a collection of short stories, but no, it’s another full-fledged Callie novel. Each chapter is demarcated by an Alice-in-Wonderland-like separator shaped like a Christmas tree that reads something like:


ON
THE

FIRST
D A Y  O F
CHRISTMAS MY
TRUE LOVE GAVE
TO
ME

A CORPSE UNDER
THE CHRISTMAS TREE

This perfectly coincides with a trademark of the Callie series that never contain a chapter 13.

Notice that Fran knows what modern celebrants have nearly forgotten: The first day of Christmas is the 25th, meaning January 5 is the 12th day of Christmas, followed by the final feast of the season on January 6. That’s right, you can officially keep your lights and decorations up through the 6th of January and give a Callie book on any one of those days. You know… just in case you overlooked Auntie Maude in Dubuque.


ON
THE

ELEVENTH
D A Y  O F
CHRISTMAS MY
TRUE LOVE GAVE
TO
ME

ELEVEN AXES GRINDIN’

I have no axe to grind, but in the interest of full disclosure I’m a colleague, fan, and friend of the author’s. That said, if you enjoy Christmas and chicklit cozies, you’ll love this Callie story.

But wait… there’s more! The book includes a number of Southern recipes making it a gift that keeps on giving.


ON
THE

TWELFTH
D A Y  O F
CHRISTMAS MY
TRUE LOVE GAVE
TO
ME

TWELVE EGGS A’NOGGIN

10 November 2014

Shameless

by Fran Rizer

Part One:


Santa isn't checking his list--not even once, certainly not twice.  He doesn't care who's naughty or nice until he finds out what happens to Callie Parrish in Fran Rizer's A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, available now from Bella Rosa Books and Amazon in print and ebook.

Part Two:


Don't worry about the difference between Lowcountry, Beaufort, and Frogmore Stew.  As Callie Parrish's gorgeous Gullah friend Rizzie Profit explains, "They're all the same thing."

Here's Rizzie's recipe:

Ingredients

Water to fill great big pot half full
3 cans of your favorite beer
1 bag Old Bay Seafood Seasoning or 1/4 cup other commercial seafood boil seasoning
4-5 pounds small red potatoes or quartered larger potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 2-inch pieces
(use Andouille if you love Cajun spice)
6 ears fresh corn cut into halves
4 pounds medium or large shrimp with heads removed, but not peeled
Optional:
4 pounds whole crabs, cleaned and broken into quarters
(soft shell crabs are fantastic when in season)
Rizzie's Directions

Just like many things (I won't embarrass myself or you by naming them), timing is everything.  Bring water to low boil.  Add beer and seafood seasoning.  Add potatoes and cook 10 minutes.  Add sausage and cook 5 more minutes.  Add corn and crab.  Cook another 5 minutes.  Remove one potato and one piece each of sausage, corn, and crab.  Check for doneness.  Return to pot.  Add shrimp and leave everything together for 3 more minutes.  Drain the water and discard it or scoop ingredients out with a slotted spoon.

In summertime, dump drained food in center of paper-covered picnic table for guests to serve themselves.  In cooler weather, serve in large restaurant style pans.  Most folks like cocktail sauce and lots of beer or sweet iced tea with this dish.

Callie's Brother Frankie's Comments

Rizzie's stew is different from lots of others because she uses beer in the water and she likes to add crab to the original recipe.  In the Lowcountry (coastal South Carolina), some people use shrimp with the heads on while others prefer cleaned, deveined shrimp. Rizzie removes the heads because she thinks some tourists might object to them, but she prefers to cook the shrimp in shell because she says it preserves the texture of the meat. This recipe is how Rizzie makes the stew at Gastric Gullah Grill, but at home, she sometimes adds whole crawfish.  She also claims that the next time someone insists on calling it "Frogmore Stew," she will add frog legs to the pot.

This is only one of Rizzie's Gullah and Pa's southern recipes found in Fran Rizer's A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, a Callie Parrish holiday whodunit now available from Bella Rosa Books and Amazon in print and ebook.

Part Three:

Why did I title this with a Garth Brooks song title?  Because I'm shameless about my subject today. Garth sang about shameless love.  I'm referring to shameless self-promotion.  An old adage tells us that any publicity is good publicity, and I'm beginning to believe it.  I'm also having a great amount of fun coming up with methods and places to post self-promotion for my books.

Now, we'll switch from Garth's song reference to one from James Brown (yes, the same one who sings from Callie's bra when she tucks her cell phone in there to keep from losing it).

"Please, Please, Please," check out my newest self-promotion effort:



What about you? If you're a writer, how much do you self-promote your writings and how do you do it?  If you're primarily a reader, give suggestions and tell us what you think is most effective. Please share your ideas as well as what you think of my very first book trailer.  I can hardly wait to show you what's coming in January, 2015.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!

08 September 2014

Introducing Callie Parrish

by Fran Rizer

Last Monday, Jan Grape wrote about the Meet My Character Blog Tour.  Tagged authors write about their main characters by answering questions on their blogs.  The writers then invite one to five other authors to join. Jan tagged me, so here goes:

1.  What is the name of your character?  Is he or she fictional or a historic person?
At the launch for TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR,
THERE'S A BODY IN THE CAR, these Callie fans showed
up dressed as Callie on the left and Jane on the right. They
definitely matched the way I see these characters as I write
about them although Callie is known to dye her hair 
frequently so is occasionally blond.
The main character of my first six books is fictional Callie Parrish. Her full name is Calamine Lotion Parrish.  When her mother died giving birth to their sixth child, Callie's father got drunk--really drunk. This was his first daughter and the only thing female he could think of was the color pink.  The only pink that came to mind was Calamine Lotion.  Callie frequently thanks heaven that Pa didn't think of Pepto Bismol.  If you don't recognize the particular shade of pink in front of me in the above picture, it's a Victoria's Secret pink bag which contained a gift from Jane.  

2.  When and where is the story set? 

Callie's adventures are set in contemporary times and primarily in the fictional town of St. Mary located near coastal Beaufort, SC. In the series, Callie and her BFF, visually handicapped Jane Baker, have encountered murders in other places such as a bluegrass festival on Surcie Island and a casket manufacturer in North Carolina.

4.  What should we know about him/her?

Callie works as a cosmetician/Girl Friday at Middleton's Mortuary for her twin bosses, Otis and Odell Middleton.  After graduating from St. Mary High School, she left St. Mary to attend the university in Columbia, SC, where she married and worked for several years as a kindergarten teacher. After her husband "did what he did" to make her divorce him, she returned to St. Mary where she spends time with Jane, her daddy, her five brothers, and whoever she's dating. She likes working at the funeral home better than teaching kindergarten because the people she works with at Middleton's lie still instead of jumping around all the time, don't yell or cry, and don't have to tee-tee every five minutes.

Callie's time teaching five-year-olds led her to stop using some of the language she grew up with living in a house with only her father and five older brothers.  Instead, she "kindergarten cusses," which consists of "Dalmation!" when she's irritated and "Shih tzu!" when she's extremely annoyed. She has a Harlequin Great Dane dog who's named Big Boy though he acts more like a girl dog. Callie is a talented banjo player and vocalist, but she's not perfect. She can't cook, and she's flat-chested which led her to wear inflatable bras because she's scared of breast-augmentation surgery.

5.  What is the personal goal of this character?

In the first books, Callie's goals (besides solving murders and her own personal survival as well as Jane's) were to convince Jane to stop shoplifting and to comfort families by providing peaceful memory pictures of their deceased relatives. She also wanted a closer relationship with her redneck father and to meet a romantic interest as unlike her ex-husband as possible.  She achieved these goals except finding the right romantic interest, but she's still looking.

6.  Can we read about this character yet? 


The top three Callies were published by Berkley Prime Crime, and the
first three on the bottom row were published by Bella Rosa Books.  
 Kudzu River is not a Callie Parrish mystery.  In fact, it's as far from cozy
as possible.  Kudzu River is a novel of abuse, murder, and retribution 
that's scheduled for release by Odyssey South Publishing in November.  
The six Callie Parrish mysteries are all available electronically. The first three are out-of-print, but used copies can sometimes be found on Amazon.  Callie books four through six are available in print and electronically from Bella Rosa Books and on Amazon.

7.  Who do you tag?

I've tagged Janice Law, and her Character Blog will appear right here on Monday, September 22, 2014.  A surprise Character Blog is scheduled for my first Monday in November.  If you're interested in participating in the Meet Your Character Blog Tour, let me know. 

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you. 

05 December 2013

The Great American Novel - Yeah, Right

by Eve Fisher

First of all, thank you, Fran, for a great idea for a column!  Fran wrote on Monday a blog called "What's Lit Got To Do With It" -  http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2013/12/whats-lit-got-to-do-with-it.html - in which she unveiled her new Callie Parrish novel, which is great, and I can hardly wait to read it.  But something she said - "it's not the Great American Novel..." - triggered a whole range of responses in me, beginning with,

WHY do we always say that?  (Except of course, for those who think they have written the GAN, and all I can say is, God bless you and just keep moving on.  Nothing to see here.  Nothing to do with you.)  Really, I have heard this rap - "well, thanks, but it's not the Great American Novel" - from all sorts of mystery writers, fantasy writers, romance writers, sci-fi writers...  And here's my response:

(1) Most "literary" novels, most "great" novels, are depressing.  I know this because I have read a lot of them.  They are mostly about how crappy life is, how disillusioning, how people make bad choices, and very few of them have happy endings.
File:Huckleberry Finn book.JPGSIDE NOTE #1:  I believe the only humorous novel that the critics agree is a Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn - surely there are more than that.  And the last comedy to win Best Picture was "Annie Hall" in the 1970s...  Tells you something right there, doesn't it?  And a lot of people today are embarrassed about "Our Town" winning a Pulitzer Prize "because it's so sappy" - no, it isn't.
SIDE NOTE #2:  Interestingly, the Russians - who always get a bad rap for depression - are much more hopeful than the British and the Americans, but I think that's mostly because Dostoevsky and Tolstoy both had strong spiritual beliefs, and so believed that there was a way out of hell.  (And if you want ribald humor with that, try Gabriel Garcia-Marquez or Gunter Grass.)  But there's a whole lot of authors who simply provide hell, and no way out, and I'm not just talking about Kafka.  Back in Victorian times, after reading Jude the Obscure, Edmund Gosse wondered, "What has Providence done to Mr. [Thomas] Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex and shake his fist at his Creator?"  I tend to ask the same about Cormac McCarthy.  Enough is enough.
SIDE NOTE #3:  I don't have to have a happy ending - I still re-read Edith Wharton and "Madame Bovary," and I loved "Mystic River" - but if your characters are universally unpleasant, violent, inarticulate, and hostile, moving across a bleak landscape in which there is no hope and it's all a mug's game, and everyone ends up miserable, raped, tortured, and/or dead...  I may give it a pass.  Forever.

File:James Thurber NYWTS.jpg
The one and only
James Thurber
(2) What are the novels you read and re-read?  The ones where the spine's broken, and the pages are falling out, and you finally have to buy a new copy because you've read them to death?  My bet is a lot of them are funny.  A lot of them are fun.  A lot of them make you feel good.
SIDE NOTE:  Please feel free to provide your own definition of fun and what makes you feel good:  for some it's Stephen King (personally I read too much Poe and Lovecraft as a child, and I don't like being scared that much anymore).  Other's it's P. G. Wodehouse.  I go all over the place, myself, from the complete works of Patrick O'Brian (who has a wicked sense of humor) to James Thurber to Gunter Grass (everyone talks about "The Tin Drum", and all I can say is, read "The Flounder") to Angela Thirkell.

(3) There are not enough humorous works in the world.  Seriously.  We need more laughter, folks.  We need more jocularity, as Father Mulcahy would say.  And those who write funny, humorous, amusing, entertaining, witty, acerbic, knee-slapping, whimsical, ribald, facetious, farcical, waggish, playful, droll, campy, merry, and/or playful stories, sketches, plays, novels, essays, poems, etc. should never, ever, ever be ashamed of it, or put themselves down for it, or say, "Well, it's not the Great American Novel..."  I repeat, THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH HUMOROUS BOOKS OUT THERE.  Write some more.  People will thank you, read you, love you.  Repeatedly.  I know I will.

File:Chaucer ellesmere.jpg(4) People have been giving the lighter stuff a bad rap for millenia.  Petrarch told Boccaccio that his "Decameron Tales" (the world's largest collection of dirty jokes, told against the background of the bubonic plague, and if the world ever needed a laugh, it was then) were unworthy of a humanist and a scholar.  The result:  Boccaccio quit writing.  Religious pressure made Chaucer add a retraction to his "Canterbury Tales", taking it all back.  Samuel Johnson said that "Tristram Shandy will not last."  All I can say is, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah."

To these and every writer who has tickled, amused, and made me burst out laughing, thank you!
Keep it up!









28 June 2013

Mother Hubbard has a Corpse in the Cupboard



And, evidently, when “Mother Hubbard” is a guy from India, those corpses can really start to pile up! 

A book review by Dixon Hill 

I read, once, that in the best mysteries the murdered body is usually discovered by page seven. Fran Rizer beats that count in Mother Hubbard has a Corpse in the Cupboard, when the first body is discovered on page three. The cupboard, where said corpse resides, is a pantry/storage room formed by canvas walls separating the kitchen space from the dining area in a county fair food-tent known as Mother Hubbard’s Beer Garden.

Calamine Lotion “Callie” Parrish (the series protagonist) has convinced her two friends – Jane and Rizzie — to join her for a ‘Ladies Day Out’ at the Jade County Fair, and naturally, the trio stops for a fair-food repast. But, a good time is not to be had by all, when Callie gets a troubling call on The Bat-Phone (er…I mean: on her bra-phone – I won’t explain more, except to say that James Brown has never made me laugh so hard!), and Jane literally stumbles over the corpse without knowing it.


How can someone UNKNOWINGLY stumble over a corpse? 

Well, Jane – Callie’s best friend since childhood – doesn’t see too well. In fact, she doesn’t see at all, as she was born without optic nerves. And, for those who don’t know: Jane earns her living as a phone sex operator and has only recently given up shoplifting. She’s also somehow become engaged to Callie’s brother, Frankie, (Even Callie isn’t sure how THAT happened!),and now Jane thinks she might be pregnant.

Callie’s other BFF, Rizzie Profit, is “ Gullah and gorgeous.” Though she and her extended family hail from Surcie Island – a fictional member of the real “Sea Island” chain off the coast of South Carolina, perhaps loosely modeled after Saint Helena Island -- Rizzie owns the Gastric Gullah Grill in St. Mary, Callie’s mainland hometown. It’s there that Rizzie works with her grandmother, Maum, and her 14-year-old brother, Tyrone.

The bad news on the bra-phone is that Maum landed in the hospital with a heart condition and a broken hip. A worried Tyrone is at her side, but Maum is terrified as well as in and out of consciousness. The teen needs his older sister to lean on.

Exit Rizzie, to the hospital, while Jane and Callie wait for the cops. 







At this point, I’ll quit the play-by-play and level with you: 

As you may have guessed from my lead-in, it’s possible to read most of this book as a light-hearted romp through what some might call the Southern Mystery Chick Lit genre, but there’s a dark streak that runs straight down through the center of this one. And, if you don’t watch out, you just might find it jerking more than a few tears out of your eyes.

Ms. Rizer has done a marvelous job of balancing the dark with the light – in more ways than one. And, I can honestly say that I was laughing out loud by the end of the very first paragraph. But, that humor is offset by the poignant loss of a loved one in the book.

Until now, no “living” character who died within the confines of the series time-frame experienced a natural death. In fact, this is the first character who actually dies on the written page; all the others were killed off-stage and discovered later. Callie’s there for this passing, however.

No slouch at writing, Ms. Rizer took this opportunity to do what I can only call “an excellent job” of comparing Callie’s feelings of personal loss when such a close friend dies, and the feelings she deals with on a daily basis while working on the dead as a funeral parlor cosmetologist.

In fact, the comparison is quite stunning.

Which should come as no surprise 

Because long-time readers of the series should have noticed, by now, how much Callie, herself, is a walking dichotomy.

Okay, this isn't really Callie,
but she's evidently her understudy.
A southern pearl struggling to prove herself a full-grown woman, Callie is in her early thirties, yet she puts up a constant false-front. She wears lip gloss like a teenager, padded panties (to give her fanny a more-rounded shape) and an inflatable bra. She also constantly changes her hair color. It’s as if she’s restrained from maturity by some unknown emotional black hole that warps her behavior in childish directions, even as she yearns to throw off the last vestiges of her childhood. 

Not that she disliked her childhood; she clearly enjoyed it. And, she obviously loves her father, even though the guy is pretty overbearing (at least, that’s what I’d call a man who won’t let his thirty-something daughter drink a couple beers in front of him). Callie also puts up with a lot from her brothers, though she seldom has a bad word to say about any of them.

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that she never explains what caused the dissolution of her marriage. All readers know is that Donnie, her ex-husband, did something “that made me divorce him” and that she “didn’t catch him doing the dirty on the dining room table like Stephanie Plum did her husband.”

We know she divorced Donnie and simultaneously quit her job as a kindergarten teacher to move back to her hometown and become a cosmetician at the local funeral home – an action she sums up by quipping that she traded a job working with five-year-olds who wouldn’t take naps or lie still, for one in which she works with dead people who don’t move.

Faithful readers know, of course, from previous books, that Donnie is a surgeon and Callie’s teaching job put him through med school, and that Donnie is an ass (he makes that clear though his own actions). But, on the subject of the catalyst for her divorce – this thing that Donnie did -- she is mute.

This silence, issuing from the normally gregarious Callie, is haunting. It hints at a maturity that’s usually missing from her light-hearted chatty persona, and tells a thoughtful reader that there are deeper waters running through this woman’s silent heart.

Callie is more than she reveals to us on the written page, except in those rare instances when she’s too concerned with other things to keep up the act. Then we catch a fleeting glimpse of a different person – one which Callie is sure to dismiss with some lighthearted comments a few pages later.

Her behavior in a tight spot, for instance, often belies her daily air-head pretension. In this book, when Callie realizes that the thing Jane stumbled over in Mother Hubbard’s is a body with a bullet hole in it, she quickly hands her car keys to Rizzie, directing her to drive her (Callie’s) mustang to the hospital to comfort her brother and grandmother. Then she contacts the police and calls a waiter over to explain the situation – all while trying to calm a near-hysterical Jane. Later, it becomes clear that she’s carefully orchestrated the situation in a manner that permitted Rizzie to take care of her personal emergency, while Jane and Callie remained at the beer tent so that responding police officers could interview the two of them.

She even exerts a thought-out limited influence, in order to keep the crime scene from being disturbed before investigators arrive. These are the actions of a quick, orderly and intelligent mind, yet they’re performed by a woman who seems compelled to pretend that she’s a bubble-head concerned with little more than personal appearance.

This is what makes me suspect Callie’s hiding something from us, for some reason. I can’t help thinking that this hidden reason deals in some way with that thing Donnie did. Whether or not it’s a direct cause and effect relationship, it seems apparent that there’s some relation between her break with Donnie and the emotional insecurity that drives her to wear an inflatable bra and act in childish ways.

Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps, as she claims, Callie’s just trying to make her outside resemble the maturity within, but is stymied by a body that looks as if it belongs to a girl just past puberty. Maybe she’s one of those unfortunate people who suddenly seem to physically jump in age from 16 to 47 almost overnight – though the change is often tacked up to hard living and loneliness, by the person’s peers.

But, we readers (or, at least, I) don’t want to see this happen to Callie. Instead, we want her to meet a man who will tell her – to borrow a phrase from Bridget Jones's Diary – “I like you … just as you are,” while unsnapping that silly bra and sliding her out of those padded panties for the last time.

Not that Callie has to be “rescued” by a man. We just want to see her snap out of it. This is part of the series allure: I want Callie to realize she doesn’t need to pretend to be somebody she’s not – that she’s a smart, industrious, and pretty terrific young woman. And, if her dad and brothers can’t handle that fact, it’s not her problem. They’re the ones who need to find a way to deal with it.

I can’t help thinking that when Callie realizes this, she’ll finally be the full-grown woman she’s striving to become – both inside and out. Beating my hands on my thighs while I read the books, wanting to tell her that’s the answer, wanting to help her quit this whipsaw effect between adolescence and adulthood, that’s what drives me crazy about the Callie character.

Yet, in some strange way, this personal fallible is also what brings Callie’s character to life.

And, if I’m fully honest: It’s also what makes me love her.

Not that there isn't a satisfying mystery here … 

 … all I’s dotted and T’s crossed by the end of the book. Rizer proves her mettle by presenting us with such a gripping story of personal loss, as a loved one fades slowly away, yet she never lets this overpower or derail the mystery. A difficult feat, but one she handles with a hand so deft I sometimes found myself laughing through misty eyes, as I tried to weigh the suspects:

 Jetendre “J.T.” Patel: He’s the Mother Hubbard concession owner, who was born in India and immigrated as a child with his parents. He met Callie after she discovered the corpse, but it’s her body he’s thinking of. Or, is it?

 Nila and Nina: Identical twin spinsters, one of whom has finally succumbed to old age. The survivor wants to be sure she and her dead sister are coifed and dressed identically for the viewing and funeral—complete with a costume change between the two events.

When a mysterious man arrives, claiming to have been an old flame of the dead woman, but begins dating the living one, Callie’s suspicions are raised, particularly after she learns that the funeral director from the twins’ hometown wants to know why the dead sister is being buried by an out-of-town firm.

As the book progresses, with no visible ties between the murder victims, another question looms large: Who defaced caskets at the mortuary where Callie works, keeps smoking cigarettes out front of Callie’s place late at night, and riles her normally placid dog, Big Boy, until the angry Great Dane lights out after the culprit only to return with his tail between his legs?

When a second murder victim turns up, the evidence strongly points at Rizzie’s brother, Tyrone. And, while Callie’s friend, Sheriff Wayne Harmon, wants to give the teenager a break, the local lawman’s sympathy is checked by concerns that it seems the boy has fallen in with the wrong gang – and by the fact that the boy, who’s a crack shot, claims to have thrown away his hunting rifle, which is the same caliber as the murder weapon.

But, if Tyrone is the perp, why was the family van torched in the hospital parking lot?

Callie fans needn't fear: Their favorite inflatable-bra detective is on the case!
Fran Rizer (center) at a reading with "Callie" and "Jane"
Mother Hubbard has a Corpse in the Cupboard is published by Bella Rosa Books.  It is available in trade paperback at bookstores and Amazon, as well as on NOOK and Kindle.  I highly recommend it.

See you in two weeks!
--Dix

29 October 2012

Guest Blogger

by  Callie Parrish


EXCERPT FROM Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD

 CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Anyone who’s read a Callie Parrish Mystery knows I’ve never written a thirteenth chapter.  I’m not superstitious, but I, Calamine Lotion Parrish, have not and will not write a Chapter Thirteen.  It started with my first book when I thought about buildings with no thirteenth floor and why that might be. 

                     When I was a child and went to Charleston or Columbia with Daddy, we rode in elevators, and he let me press the buttons. I didn’t realize there was no floor called the thirteenth.  I thought they just left out the number between twelve and fourteen because there was something evil associated with thirteen.  I believed the thirteenth floor existed, but it must have been a place of secrets.  That fascination with hidden doings behind closed doors and the slight fear triggered by those thoughts probably account for my enjoying horror stories along with the mysteries I’ve loved since my first Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books.

                     This time, I have a really good reason for being scared of thirteen and refusing to write a Chapter Thirteen.  I just finished reading The Thirteenth Child by David Dean.  I’m telling you:  When I got to the last fifty pages of that book and what happened on Halloween, I wet my panties.  I’m not kidding.  Problem was where I was reading.  In bed.  I was snuggled all cozy under the blankets reading when my bladder protested being full of Diet Coke, and I was  too scared to get up and go to the bathroom by myself.   
Big Boy

                     All one hundred and forty pounds of my full-grown dog Big Boy slept like a puppy on the rug beside the bed, but by the time I woke him up to go with me, it was too late.  Of course, then I had to go to the bathroom for a shower, to the kitchen to put the wet things in the clothes washer, and to the linen closet for dry sheets.  After we did all that, Big Boy wanted to potty, so I took him outside.  He thought we’d go for a walk, too, but I only let him hide behind the oak tree and do his girl-dog squat to tee tee like he always does.  Made him come right back into the house. Feeling a little guilty about refusing to walk him, I gave Big Boy a banana Moon Pie. His vet doesn't like for me to feed him my favorite--chocolate--so I have to keep two boxes in the cabinet at all times.

                     I’m not telling anyone why David Dean chose The Thirteenth Child as the title of his book.  Let ‘em read it, and find out for themselves.  I will say it was a good decision, and I’m going to visit  that book again.  I might read it in the bathtub next time so that I won’t have so far to go if it scares the—oops!  I’d better not go there.

NOTE FROM FRAN RIZER:  Thanks to Callie for blogging for me this week.  I thought with Halloween upon us, it would be nice to hear what she thought of David Dean's new book, but please excuse her references to bodily functions. I try to control Callie, but she says and does as she pleases.  There's a great Halloween scene in The Thirteenth Child.  Check it out, but you might want to read near the bathroom.  .