17 September 2021

SleuthSayers Tenth Anniversary: What It's Meant To Me


Ten years ago today the Great John Floyd, one of several mystery author refugees from the long-running Criminal Brief blog, became the first SleuthSayer by posting the initial Sleuthsayers blog entry, "Plots and Plans." Ever gracious, John modestly pointed out that he was not posting first in the new Sleuthsayer rotation because he was best-suited to do so, but because it was simply his turn at bat.

Today, I have the honor of posting the 10th Anniversary post for the SleuthSayers blog, and I'd like to echo the sentiment. Long-term readers of this blog will know that my own usual turn at the wheel comes not on Fridays, but on Thursdays. So why did I draw 10th Anniversary duty?

Not because of what I bring to this blog, but because of what this blog has brought to me.

In a recent late-night conversation with Fearless Leader Leigh Lundin, I expressed how much posting at SleuthSayers had helped me as a writer, how I felt the better for the experience, and how grateful I was for the opportunity to share as part of this endlessly shuffling ensemble of writer friends.

Leigh suggested I reproduce the sentiments I expressed in that conversation in this tenth anniversary post. So here goes.

A bit of background: I'm not an original SleuthSayer. My tenure with the blog dates back to February 21, 2013, when the Immortal Rob Lopresti (Leigh's co-Fearless Leader) introduced me as the freshest-minted Sleuthsayer. My baptism by fire came that very day, with my maiden Sleuthsayers post: "I Owe It All to Rilke." So, yep, I'm not an O.G. SleuthSayer. My tenure only clocks in around eight and a half years and counting.

But that's one of this blog's greatest strengths: the breathtaking diversity of the writers who share their experiences here. People have stayed a while and moved on. Others, such as old friends R.T. Lawton and Eve Fisher have been here for years (both longer than I. I'm positive R,T. is a founding member of the blog and Eve must be close to that, if not also one.). Folks have even left and returned. And the best part is that all of this endless, diverse content churns out daily, and has for 3,650 straight days.

Imagine, whether you're a writer or a fan or some combination of the two, being able to learn something new about the art and science and blood and sweat and swearing and muttering to yourself in a crowded supermarket and dancing in the parking lot when having the Eureka moment that fills that plot hole that had you muttering to yourself in the supermarket in the first place and all the depth and breadth and heights that mystery writing has, can, should, and will again reach.

Every. Single. Day.

Rob and Leigh's invitation to join this happy band came at just the right moment for me. I was recently married, with an infant son, and two years removed from the publication of my most recent book. Getting married, buying a house, combining households and having a child, all in just a couple of years, put a genuine crimp into my writing time/head space.

Turns out, SleuthSayers was a lifeline.

My wife, wise woman that she is, maintains that I work best when I'm working on a deadline. SleuthSayers really allowed me to keep my hand in, as it were, by giving me an on-going bi-weekly deadline. This was instrumental in maintaining my chops, developing other aspects of my writing voice, and outlining new projects. This was the case especially early on, when my total actual output was a single published short story over a three-year period.

These days I'm back on pace: with several completed and published projects-my three-novella collection Suicide Blonde (Down & Out Books, Octobber, 2020) the most recently published. And 2021 has been a great year writing-wise. As I've expressed multiple times over the years, I'm a very slow writer. The process for me just takes as long as it takes. And yet this year alone I've placed three new short stories, wrapped a fourth, and am nearing completion on a too-long delayed historical novel.

And I owe it all to this blog. Thanks to all my fellow SleuthSayers, past and present, to Rob and Leigh for believing in me and my writing enough to invite me to take part in this supportive and welcoming community, and especially to our readers, for taking the time and trouble to read what we lay down here for you. Without the audience, the artist is irrelevant.

So Happy Tenth, SleuthSayers! Here's to another ten!

Feels like we're just getting started!

See you in two weeks!



16 September 2021

Scott and Zelda in My Own Backyard



The Grove Park Inn is a fancy old mountain resort in my neck of the woods, Asheville, North Carolina. Each year the hotel allows visitors to wander free through adjoining rooms 441 and 443 on a weekend that falls close to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, September 24th. An English professor from one of the local universities, serving as a docent of sorts, shares with guests the unusual circumstances that brought Fitzgerald to the Inn during the summers of 1935 and 1936.


The inn’s staff always “decorates” the room with period props, conveying the impression that Mr. Fitzgerald has just stepped out. A typewriter is among the artifacts, but that doesn’t mean Fitzgerald ever got any serious writing done while here.

His life and career were tanking fast by the time he occupied these rooms. For years he’d been the darling of the big magazines. Editors paid him thousands—yes, thousands of actual U.S. dollars—for stories that might have been a subscribing family’s only weekly entertainment in the days before radio. But by the 1930s, Fitzgerald’s glittering take on society folks reeked of elitism in the harsh light of the Depression. 

On those summer visits to the Grove Park Inn, Fitzgerald was struggling to keep himself afloat financially, and to pay for his wife Zelda’s stays at a nearby Asheville psychiatric facility, Highland Hospital. While Zelda battled her demons, Scott battled his. Determined to reduce his gin intake, he switched to drinking beer. His beverage of choice were so-called “pony” bottles of beer, which contained 7 U.S. fluid ounces. The bizarre sobriety plan might have worked, if it weren’t for the fact that he consumed 50 of those bottles a day—a total of 2.7 gallons of beer.


The inn's staff always litters the suite with empty beer bottles.
(This is not a pony-sized bottle.)

You would think things could not get much worse. Then Fitzgerald broke his shoulder in a swimming pool dive, passed out in his bathroom, and was discovered by the staff the next morning. In a later incident, he nearly fired a handgun, but was stopped by a bellman. These two incidents fueled rumors that he’d tried to commit suicide. His biographers are not so sure about that. He wrestled with thoughts of suicide for the rest of his life, but especially after a scathing newspaper article about him appeared in The New York Post and ran in syndication around the nation.

The reporter, Michael Mok, had visited Fitzgerald in his Asheville rooms, and could not help notice how far the Jazz Age icon had fallen. While this trembling, 40-year-old wreck of a man tried to present himself as on top of his game, a nurse (presumably hired by the hotel) hovered and surveilled his every move, trying to limit his alcohol intake and ensure a sensible diet. Mok’s article was devastating. It portrayed this voice of the Lost Generation as a washed-up has-been.

Fitzgerald eventually moved on to other (cheaper) hotels in the region. He wrote his famous essay, “The Crack-Up,” at a hotel in nearby Hendersonville, a town about 30 minutes south that I’ve talked about in a previous post. He went to Hollywood in 1937, hoping to turn his fortunes around. The money he made there was lucrative, but he spent most of it on his wife’s medical bills and their daughter’s education. He was dead by 1940, at the age of 44, a victim not of suicide but his own ailing heart.


Brian Railsback, professor and author, shares Fitzgerald's story with visitors.

At death he no doubt considered himself a failure, and never lived to see what we now all take for granted: that at some point in every young American’s life, you’re going to read The Great Gatsby, whether you like it or not. The book Fitzgerald conceived as his sparkling masterpiece sold poorly during his lifetime, but today racks up about a half million sales a year, has been translated into 42 languages, and has sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide. That’s just one book. Perhaps more impressive is his short fiction output: 181 stories, published and unpublished, that we know of.

One of those short pieces was written with Zelda, who, I might add, survived Fitzgerald by nearly eight years. She died in a kitchen fire that swept through one of the buildings in the Highland Hospital complex in 1948. Nine women lost their lives that night.

Bus tours swing through the leafy historic neighborhood here on a daily basis to share her story with tourists. On its own, her tale is painful enough, but the full Fitzgerald Asheville saga approaches an almost crushing poignancy.


A stone marker on Zillicoa Street in Asheville marks the site.


* * *


If you can indulge me the mention of yet another alcoholic writer, Dashiell Hammett, I promise to cloak it in a more cheerful wrapper. These Nomi notebooks are fashioned from recycled paper, and are fountain pen-friendly. I couldn’t resist backing the Kickstarter as soon as I glimpsed the noir-themed endpapers. New Yorker cartoonist Shuchita Mishra created these two images as a salute to the city of San Francisco. The building depicted at the bottom is 891 Post Street, where Dashiell Hammett once lived, wrote most of his famous works, and where he sited Sam Spade’s apartment. Check out the Kickstarter for these notebooks and the hilarious video here.

See you in three weeks!

Joe



Some sources for this article:

Read excerpts from the letters of Fitzgerald’s nurse here and here.

An NPR article on Fitzgerald’s days in Asheville.

The Fitzgerald episode is also recounted in my wife’s book, The Last Castle.








15 September 2021

Today in Mystery History: September 15


 


This is the ninth in my series on the past of our wonderful field. 

 September 15, 1885.  Marcel Allain was born,  Together with Pierre Souvestre he created Fantomas, a villain who became one of the most popular characters in French crime fiction.  The authors wrote alternating chapters (I had never heard of anyone writing books that way other than Sjowall and Wahloo), producing more than 40 novels.  Fantomas appeared in movies, TV, and comic books.

September 15, 1890.  Agatha Christie was born in Torquay.  She became a moderately successful chiropractor.  Oh, all right, she became the bestselling mystery author of all time.  Happy?

September 15, 1934.  John Lawrence's "Fade Out" appeared in Dime Detective.  It was his fifth story about New York private eye Cass Blue.  Kevin Burton Smith said that Lawrence was "one of many prolific pulpsters who managed to keep cranking 'em out, logic and finesse be damned."


September 15, 1939.
  On this date Raymond Chandler finished the first draft of Farewell, My Lovely, his second Marlowe novel, and my personal favorite.

September 15, 1977.  CHiPs premiered this evening. The show about California Highway motorcycle cops lasted six years.

September 15, 1988. On this date a Calypso musician is found shot to death in Isola, starting the plot of Ed McBain's 33rd novel about the 87th Precinct.  As was often the case in his books, the title has at least two meanings...

September 15, 1981. This date saw the premiere of Seeing Things, a quirky and funny mystery series from Canada.  Louis Del Grande is the antithesis of the glamorous
detective - a balding middle-aged reporter who can't get a break.  When his beloved wife leaves him he moves into the storage room of his parent's store, refusing to consider that the split may be final.  Then he starts having visions about crimes.  Unfortunately the visions never tell him whodunit, so he has to figure that out on his own.  When it aired, it was Canada's most successful "home-grown" series.

September 15, 1989.  The movie Sea of Love was released.  Screenwriter Richard Price was nominated for an Edgar for best movie. And Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor.

 September 15, 199?.  On this day sports agent Myron Bolitar had a meeting in a cemetery with a murderer.  This is the beginning of One False Move, the fifth novel in Harlan Coben's  terrific series.


September 15, 1993. 
On this date Julian Semyonovich died.  He had an interesting life, traveling the world with surprising freedom for a Soviet journalist, leading some people to speculate about his connections to the government.  "Look,'' he told a reporter, "if I tell you the truth, you won't print it. So let me tell you what you want to hear: I'm the general in charge of interrogation and intelligence for the KGB."  Probably not.  But he was the founder of the International Association of Writers of Detective and Political Novels, and one of the first Russians to have mysteries published in the west.

September 15, 2000.  Jamie Foxx starred in Bait, a cop comedy-adventure released on this date.

 


Post: Edit

14 September 2021

The Challenge of Writing Humor


In yesterday's column, Steve Liskow talked about the challenge of writing exposition. With another of my columns due today--the calendar says it's been three weeks since my last post here, but I swear it's been three hours--I decided to follow up on Steve's approach and talk about the challenge of writing humor.

As a former newspaper reporter, I know that a professional shows up when it's time to write and gets the job done. On some days, writing may flow more easily than others, but as long as you have an idea of what to write (whether a detailed outline, a high-level outline, or a jumping off point for you pantsers out there), a professional writer should be able to make progress each day with the story at hand. (Ideas can be harder to come by, at least for me. That's why I email ideas to myself whenever I get them so when I have writing time, I have lots of ideas to choose from. And of course finding that writing time can be another big problem, at least for me. But I digress ...) 

If you're sitting there cursing me out for telling you should always be able to make progress, when you know it's not that easy, you're about to feel much better. Because I have days when I can't make progress either, at least not when I'm trying to write humor.

Writing dark stories, dramatic stories, really, most any kind of crime story, I can do that on most any given day if I have an idea to work from. But if I am trying to write a funny story, all bets are off. If I'm trying to write humor and I'm not in the right mood, that sucker's not going to be funny, no matter how hard I try. You gotta feel the funny. At least I do. 

That said, sometimes when I'm trying to write a story that is supposed to be funny and it's not working, it turns out it's because my idea isn't developed enough. Take my story "A Tale of Two Sisters." (Please! Just take it! ... I know, I know, I'm no Henny Youngman.) Anyway, the story came out in May in the anthology Murder on the Beach. Writing that story was a slog. I knew I wanted to write about a wedding at which the bride's tiara is stolen, then retrieved, then stolen again, then retrieved etc. It sounded like a good idea until I tried to write it. The humor wasn't working. What I ultimately realized was my idea was too simple. A tiara being stolen repeatedly may be vaguely amusing, but to make the story funny, I had to add in more humorous situations and--most important--I needed to add in more humorous characters. 

I gave my main character, Robin the maid of honor, an overbearing mother, whom Robin reacts to in a sarcastic manner. I made Robin feel responsible for making sure her nervous sister, the bride, has a good night, then I had a dog crash the wedding. I made Robin starving but unable to get a bite of food. Basically, I kept upping the ante and setting up funny situations and amusing people for Robin to react to. Once I did that, the writing started to flow.

I faced a similar problem when I started writing "Humor Risk," my story in the anthology Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers. This book is coming out this Sunday, the 19th, and--as you can imagine with an anthology inspired by the Marx Brothers--I had to write something funny. No pressure. 

When editor Josh Pachter approached me about writing a story for this book, I told him (don't hate me) that I don't like the Marx Brothers and wouldn't be right for the anthology. Then he had an idea. The Marx Brothers' first film, Humor Risk, was never released. The history of the movie indicates that the one print of it might have been burned or stolen. There's very little detail about it. What if I wrote about that, Josh said, about the film being stolen. Maybe I could create a PI who hates the Marx Brothers but needs to find the movie. Okay, I said, I could work with that. 

Easier said than done. I came up with the idea of a PI tracking down the only print of the film to a hoarder house. The guts of the story would be this guy versus the house, with him getting hurt over and over. It sounded funny until I tried to write it. After one scene, the story became tedious. I realized I needed more characters, people my main character could react to. Once I figured that out (and changed him from a PI to a thief), the writing began to flow. I still have my main character, Dominic, searching in a hoarder house, but the humor comes not just from pratfalls but from voice--Dominic's thoughts and the dialogue of the other colorful characters. Changing the story's setup made all the difference. 

So, my takeaway from these experiences: If you're trying to write something funny, don't rely only on funny things happening in the story. You also need people reacting to the events. That's where the real humor will come in. 

One more thing: don't forget that sometimes the funniest parts of a story come from surprises. Like this one: It wasn't until after I finished writing "Humor Risk" and it was accepted that I realized I'd made a mistake. It's not the Marx Brothers I can't stand. (I don't love them, but I don't hate them.) When I told Josh I couldn't stand the Marx Brothers, the old comics I actually was thinking of were ... The Three Stooges.

Oops.

If you'd like to pick up Murder on the Beach, it's available in trade paperback and ebook. The book's in Kindle Unlimited, so if you want an ebook, you'll only find it on Amazon. Click here to go there.

If you'd like to order Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, it's coming out in trade paperback and ebook. You'll be able to buy it in all the usual places, but your best price will be from the publisher, Untreed Reads Publishing. And if you order the trade paperback before the publication date (i.e., before this Sunday, September 19th) directly from Untreed Reads, you'll not only get a 25 percent discount but you'll also get a free ebook of the anthology in the format of your choice (Kindle, EPUB, or PDF). To get this deal, click here.

13 September 2021

The Challenge of Exposition


If you write mysteries, you need to pass information to your readers. If your protagonist is a cop or private eye, this usually involves the victim or client explaining everything at the beginning. That's easy, but it involves flat telling with no tension, which means you have to jumpstart the action after laying the foundation. It's even more urgent in plays, where a static opening scene (think Chekhov, Ibsen, or lots of Shakespeare) means the actors have to start over again in scene 2.

All those scenes depend on a particular dynamic: one character has information the other one lacks, so the informed one explaining everything is logical even if it isn't very exciting. But there are better ways to do it.

You can start with ACTION instead of telling. Don Winslow opens California Fire & Life with the fire destroying an estate and burning a woman to death. That will be the focus of Jack Wade's insurance investigation. The play Extremities opens with a man attempting to rape a woman, who manages to blind him with a can of insecticide and set up the rest of the play. These actions grab the audience's attention more effectively than dialogue would.

If you can't use such extreme action, look at other ways to present dialogue. If two people are arguing about who is going to get Dad's old Chevy, it suggests that Dad won't be driving it any more. If a woman in a wedding gown and veil is sobbing to an older douple about "that slimy jerk," it's a fair guess that she's been dumped at the altar.

In both those cases, explanation will sound artificial. "Well, Diane, now that Dad is dead/incapacitated, one of us should take his classic '57 Impala, and it should be me because I love such cars" is what we call "As you know, Bob" dialogue. The characters both know what's going on and talk only for the sake of the audience instead of resolving an issue. My wife gave me the ultimate example years ago after doing a staged reading of several new plays: "I was talking to John, who is your brother."  We couldn't stop laughing.

The car and the abandoned bride illustrate what playwright Jeffrey Sweet calls "High-context exposition." When both characters have the information, they don't explain anything. They use jargon, context, and references to people or events the audience doesn't know yet. This immerses the audience/reader in the event so they gradually absorb what they need. "Low-context exposition," where someone lacks the necessary info, like the mystery sleuth, justifies more explicit backstory and explanation.

Steel Magnolias is not a great play (although it's a great acting vehicle for six women), but we get involved as the women name over 20 characters (mostly men) who never appear on-stage. The Cover of Life refers to three husbands who have been drafted during World War II and never show up, but we know about them from their wives. David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross opens in a Chinese restaurant with two men arguing about "leads," "closing," and other terms they never explain. Eventually, we figure out that they work in a real estate office. Since they're arguing, it adds energy to the scene and draws the audience in.



I tried to use that tactic in my novels. Run Straight Down opens with a shooting in an urban high school, and the teachers use their ed-speak and in-jokes to draw readers in as they watch the chaos. We join their world in small increments. There's a student teacher for when I need a larger explanation, too. 



The Whammer Jammers takes place in the world of roller derby, and my daughter, former captain of the Queen City Cherry bombs in Nashua, helped me develop questions so I could interview skaters, coaches, announcers, and boyfriends at matches in Connecticut. Scenes in the book involve practice sessions and bouts (matches) so the reader gets involved early. That was a lot of fun, too.


Using action or high-context exposition is harder to do, but it pays big dividends. You'll find ways to create more tension early on, which gives you something to build upon later. 

Your readers will love you for it.

12 September 2021

Propositions


Fran RizerI once attended a book talk/signing by a true crime writer at a southern bed and breakfast in a beautiful old two-story, white columned house in Columbia, SC. Sitting around in the elegant parlor, the ladies chatted about literature and artsy things. Luncheon was served on pre-war (that's the Civil War) china in the formal dining room before the writer began her talk. I've read her books. They are all well-written, and, no, I won't name her because of what I'm about to tell you.

I was listening, but not totally attentive because I was off on one of my "What if?" daydreams that frequently turn into scenes in my books.

She said, "I listened at him, and he told me all about the murder."

Listened AT him? I sat up straighter and listened TO her more attentively. How could a professionally published author commit such a faux pas? I don't remember another word she said. My mind wandered to the Preposition Proposition. (Bet you thought that title was headed elsewhere, but would you really have read this far if my heading were "Prepositions?")

Back when I taught English, I dealt with parts of speech including prepositions. By definition, a preposition is, "______________________."

Prepositions are one of the few ______________________. I asked my students to memorize. Most of them could name ______________________.

How about you? How many prepositions can you list? (Do it now before you read to the bottom of this blog.)

Okay, prepositions are a part of speech; they show relationships; and their usage varies in different regions. The writer/speaker turned out to be from South Carolina's lowcountry (not a typo; it's written as a closed compound.) In that area, people listen AT instead of TO.

Proper Preposition Usage.

Pages and pages of instructions on proper usage left me with a few that stand out. Different?
The rule is that things are different FROM each other, not different THAN.

One that always puzzles me is standing ON line opposed to IN line. In the United States South, students and shoppers stand IN line, but on the news, lots of people stand ON line. Of course, nowadays almost everyone is online, but I don't think it has anything to do with waiting AT the cafeteria or to go INTO the movies.

My nosey self read her books again. Nobody listened AT anything. I decided her proofreader had edited some of the lowcountry colloquilisms from her work.

How many prepositions did you list? Here's my list. No, I didn't write it from memory. I looked it up in a fourth-grade grammar book.

• about
• above
• around
• at
• by
• for
• from
• in
• into
• of
• off
• on
• out
• over
• to
• under


Until we meet again… take care of YOU!



I met Fran at my first and thus far only MWA gathering in New York. A new author and a new member, she announced a publishing contract for her first Callie Parrish cosy. After retirement from teaching, Fran faced a choice of moving to Florida to die or starting her dream career of writing.

We became friends and occasionally chatted late at night. She was an incorrigible flirt (yes, worse than I am) and hitting her 70s didn’t slow her down.

Fran’s cousin and best friend since childhood was Linda. They’d double-dated, served as each other’s bridesmaids, and were neighbors in Columbia, South Carolina. Linda organized Callie events and underpinned the Callie fan club.

Then Linda was murdered.

During a home invasion, a robber became a killer.

Fran was devastated. She stopped writing. She stopped interacting.

We chatted every few weeks. I knew she had more writing in her and began to encourage her. I offered her a slot on Criminal Brief if she wanted to announce coming out of retirement.

It took a year, but to my pleasant surprise, Fran accepted. Not only did she announce her unretirement, she grabbed that forum to tell the world her darkest secret, that Linda was a victim of a terrible homicide.

Fran herself died on Christmas Eve two years ago. She left nearly a dozen unfinished articles in SleuthSayers development queue. Most are fragmentary, one is semi-complete but an editing mess, but she’d marked this one ready to go. Her death was such a sore spot, we held it until now. {Rob butts in to say: the three blank spots in this piece were gaps she clearly intended to fill in later.  We lave left them as she did.]  Here is Fran with grammar advice followed by her signature wrapup…

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.

— Leigh

11 September 2021

Remembering 9/11, Twenty Years Later


9-11, Twin Towers, NYC
Twin Towers, WTC, NYC © Wikimedia

Twenty years ago today, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at a professional education seminar. About twenty of us were in the class, including by coincidence my wife. These sessions aren't thrills a minute, mostly folks getting needed hours in toward keeping a license, so everyone settled in subdued and broke open their laptops. The speaker got going, and we were in our meeting room bubble as the terrorist attacks began.

2001 is forever ago in technology terms. If people had a snazzy device, it was those tiny Nokia phones with basic text functions and the amber screen. A few people got buzzed on a phone or pager, and others saw the breaking headlines on their computers, but it was really the facility staff that got urgent word to us. There'd been an explosion in New York City. A bomb. No, a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I'd assumed it must've been a commuter plane off-course, a drunk or deranged pilot. Big planes coming in or out of LaGuardia or Newark wouldn't get that close. 

Wisely, the instructor had us break even though we'd barely started. It was clustered around the snack area television that we began to grasp the scale of what'd happened. We didn't know it was an attack yet, but the World Trade Center seemed no coincidence. It'd been a target before. We just watched it happen. If anyone spoke, it was a brief whispered question. A haze of trying to process events had descended, and it would stay over me long afterward. The world changed that morning. We know that now and still grapple with its consequences. In the moment, stunned, we actually tried to restart the class, one eye on the news. 

The second plane hit the South Tower.

In retrospect, it helped that my wife and I took this in together. We could see that each other was fine. Rattled, but fine. Back then, this went unspoken, an instinctive flash in a mounting confusion. And we had jobs to do.

I was a regional finance officer then, and our territory included the Eastern Seaboard from Metro DC northward. We had operations to adjust and potentially our patients to secure. We could've had people aboard any of those planes. By the time I made the building, the Pentagon attack had occurred. A co-worker asked what I thought was going on. I said, "I think we're at war."

The rest of that day was spent confirming staff whereabouts and dealing with any local needs. I had several calls with a friend and executive based in the Newark area. She was too busy for outward shock, a pro's pro nurse, but in a quiet moment she told me, "I can see the smoke."

Unlike so many other families that day, our group had no one killed. Stress and coping, but these were some of the toughest people I will ever know. We did have people stranded in various airports, with air travel grounded nationwide. We approved whatever expenses it took to get rental cars, overnight hotels, etc. and get folks home. In the evening, I went home. I sat locked on CNN, on every new report or development. I was quiet. I was angry. I wanted to fight back. We had dogs then. They probably didn't know what to make of me.

I don't remember when precisely my need-to-process fog lifted. The mind can let you hold something horrible at a distance a while, especially when you'd been lucky like me. I hadn't lost anyone. I could digest 9/11 in pieces.

Not long after afterward, I was on my own flight into Newark. It was past dark, and by chance our landing path circled us close enough over the Hudson to see the spotlights and the crews sorting through what remained of the rubble. I visit the Memorial every time I'm in Manhattan now.

I'm a flighty right-brain/left-brain mash-up, try as I might to stay organized. My thoughts run where they want, on top of each other or in mid-sentence. I don't remember this last Wednesday, let alone much from two decades ago. But I remember September 11, 2001. I remember the layout of the classroom, the looks on people's faces, the sounds of voices, everywhere I went and when. 

I should remember. We all should, to honor the good people lost that day.