30 November 2020

Earth's Future?

Back in March when the idea that this Covid-19 was contagious and we all needed to quarantine at home, my thoughts turned to space. Yes, first to Isaac Asimov's robot books, then to thinking about our astronauts. Ever since the space program started the astronauts had to be in quarantine for two weeks before going out into space. They didn't want to take some earth germ to the moon. Then when they came  back from the moon, they once again had to go into quarantine  in case they picked up some germ from space and didn't dare give it to earth and cause a pandemic. They didn't necessarily like it, they wanted to see their families to assure their family they were still the same person. That space had not changed them into some weird "outer space creature." 

As the days and weeks passed people began to learn Zoom meetings for business because many  people were now working from home. Before long folks learned Zoom for personal visits. My side of the family who never have reunions had one by using Zoom and our computers. I have two sisters, we all live in Texas but each of us have grown children and some of those grown children have children. One niece lives in NM, one nephew in MO, my daughter anher sons live in TN so it was great fun to at least see everyone, even if it was just in and out on the computer via Zoom for a few minutes. My daughter had taught me how to Zoom and it was great to see her. Actually on Thanksgiving afternoon she and I visited for a couple of hours and even played a dice game. 

In my little town, I'm on the Parks and Rec committee and we had a couple of  meetings on Zoom. There are eight of us and this was a great way to discuss our  projects and plan what to do next. 

This all brings me to Asimov robot books and he writes about the planets of Aurora and Solara where people NEVER "see" each other in person. They "view" each other on large screens in their home. Even married people. They go for walks "together" but they are holographic images not together in actual physical contact. This has gone on for so long that people have become afraid to actually touch each other. Some people actually can become physically ill to even be in the same room room with a human being. The idea of being in the same room with a human from that nasty germ filed planet Earth can cause such a mental upset can be even as bad if not worse.

If this pandemic can't be controlled will earth ever become like that? Will people who are not afraid of science and technology eventually be the only population left in 2050 or 2075? What about the people who won't take the vaccination? Will they just eventually die off? Could visitation by computer only happen on Earth even sooner than 2050? Say 2035? 

29 November 2020

What Does It Say About You?

Almost every author has at least one of what I'm going to talk about. And, some of what I've seen are better than others. I'm referring to the photo you use on your book cover, or on your blog site and/or submit to the writers conferences so the committee can include that photo of you in their conference booklet.

Unless you are hiding out from say, bill collectors or the drug cartels, you want people to recognize you for several reasons. Readers may want to say hello to their favorite author and perhaps to discuss one of your story characters or maybe ask questions about you latest story which really impressed them. Agents, editors, publishers and booksellers passing by at a conference may decide they'd like a congratulatory business word with you. Other authors, upon recognizing you, may want to meet their competition or discuss aspects of the writing craft. All of these are missed opportunities to network if no one knows what you look like or who you are.

Well, says you, I already have a photo for all those purposes. Good for you is my reply, but not so fast there. Per chance there is a question or more you should ask yourself.

Does it still look like you?

How old is the photo? Have you changed your hair style in the meantime? Do your clothes date you to a certain time period? When you look in the mirror every day, any change in the appearance of the person looking back is probably minimal, but over the passage of time, the change from the photo may become very distinct. We've all seen that conference booklet photo of the author who tried to stay young forever. At those times, it can become jarring to see the reality in person. So, make a more current photo when needed. These days, it's easy to update photos to have a gradual transition in appearance.

What does your photo say about you?

Obviously, if you write Westerns, you'll probably be dressed in cowboy gear. And, if you write Romance, then you'll probably have your hair done, have professional make up and wear a classy dress. Readers have expectations as to what their authors should look like. Do your best with what you've got, but try to fulfill those expectations as best you can You only get one chance to make a first impression and that impressions can make a difference in sales.

With the digital cameras we have these days, you don't need to go to a professional photographer, unless maybe you're a big-name author. The rest of us can keep taking digital photos until we get the look we like, one that says "this is me and I'm a professional at what I'm doing."

It's up to you to decide what goes into your photo. If you have a background in what you're writing, then you may want to reflect that in your photo, whether it's through a prop or a staged backdrop. I've also noticed that some authors will pose with their dog or cat. I assume they are appealing, in a subliminal way, to other dog or cat lovers. Kind of a "We have a common bond here, so you'll like my book" approach to advertising.

For me

My first three appearances in 1990's writers conference booklets showed a profile caricature in trench coat and fedora rather than an actual photo. You see, I had a few felons (one of whom had gone down twice for homicides before he brought me a kilo of coke), who had done their time and were getting released back into society. (The kilo guy was on the streets less that a month before he was revoked for choking someone.) Anyway, I didn't need them finding me from a photo and causing a disruption at the conference.

My first real photo was back when AHMM used to publish photos of their authors when they had a story in the magazine. I also used that same photo for the MWA Board of Directors when I attended my first board meeting in NYC. It showed me in a black cowboy hat during the time I did ranch things on the Front Range of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The next photo, which I still use, is me in an EDGE ballcap, glasses and a bandido mustache. None of that has changed over the years, except that the real me has acquired some crow's feet around the eyes, but that change wouldn't show up in my photo anyway.

And, lastly, the photo I use for SleuthSayers is one I originally made for a non-fiction book I wrote under an alias. Under the terms of the contract, book signings could be held simultaneously on both the East Coast and on the West Coast and neither one of them would be me. I used a navy watch cap, dark sunglasses and had my wife dye my sideburns and mustache with black shoe polish. I guess you could say this photo reveals one of the many personas I've adopted in my past.

For you

So, tell us what your photo says about you.

Does it reflect your background?

Does it go with your genre?

Does it distinguish you from other authors?

Got any author photo tips or insights for others?

28 November 2020

Cozying Up the Facts

Melodie, here! Are you ready for Hot Crime in a Cold Climate?

In between the usual loopy columns by yours truly, I'll be introducing some of our butt-kicking, snow-loving, positively laugh in the face of Jack Frost, Canadian Crime Writers in this column.

First up is Crime Writers of Canada President, my friend and colleague, Judy Penz Sheluk. Judy has a cottage in the North-north (as opposed to the 'Near-north' as we say in the banana belt) so she is a babe to be reckoned with. Take it away, Judy!

— Melodie

Judy Penz Sheluk
Judy Penz Sheluk

Cozying Up the Facts

by Judy Penz Sheluk

As a former journalist and magazine editor, I’m all about doing the research and getting the facts. As an avid reader of mystery fiction, I also want to learn new things from the books that I read. What might come as a surprise, however, is how much you can learn from a cozy mystery.

Let’s take the example of award winning author Ellen Byron, who includes a “Lagniappe” chapter at the end of each book in her Cajun County cozy mystery series. Included are some of the real inspirations for fictional locations, characters, and moments.

Then there’s award winning author Vicki Delany. Writing as Eva Gates, her Lighthouse Library series is set in the Bodie Island Lighthouse, just outside of Nags Head, N.C. Apart from the interior of the lighthouse, with which liberties were taken (the lighthouse is quite small), all of the geography is correct. History also factors in with Read and Buried, where facts about the Civil War era Freedman’s Colony in Roanoke are important to the story.

And of course, we all wonder how the research gets done for Melodie Campbell's mob caper comedies in The Goddaugher series!

The central theme of my latest Glass Dolphin cozy mystery, Where There’s a Will, revolves around the old Hadley house, rented out for years, rumored to be haunted, and now on the market as an estate sale. Enter protagonist and Glass Dolphin antiques shop owner Arabella Carpenter, who, along with her ex-husband, Levon, has been hired to appraise the contents of the house. Among those contents is a roll-top desk hiding more than one secret.

roll-top desk

Now, I could have left the description as an “antique roll-top desk,” but what fun would that be? Instead I dug around until I discovered the Cutler Desk Company of Buffalo, NY. Not only did the company specialize in roll-top desks, they obtained the patent for the first American-made roll-top desk; in all they were granted seven patents related to the desk’s mechanism.

But wait, there’s more. During my online search, I managed to stumble onto a photograph of a Bill of Sale, yellowed in age, for a desk sold by Cutler on February 19, 1900. You can’t leave a detail like that out of a story, though, like Vicki and her Bodie Island Lighthouse, I’ve taken some liberties with the Bill of Sale that Arabella and Levon discover. Instead of the desk selling to someone in Ohio, I changed that to read T. Eaton & Co.

Now, I'll admit I’m not 100% positive that T. Eaton & Co. sold Cutler desks, but it’s certainly plausible: the store was headquartered in Toronto, just across Lake Ontario from Buffalo, and they do offer roll-top desks, such as the type made by Cutler, in their Fall and Winter Catalogue 1899-1900. And isn’t that a whole lot more interesting than “antique roll-top desk?”

Find more on Judy’s Facts in Fiction web site.

About the Glass Dolphin Mystery Series: A cozy mystery series without cats, crafts, or cookie recipes, the Glass Dolphin mysteries follow the investigations of amateur sleuths Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland. The books include: The Hanged Man’s Noose (#1), A Hole in One (#2), and Where There’s A Will (#3).

Available from…

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KFLQ6KH

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/where-theres-a-will-judy-penz-sheluk/1137780682?ean=2940162992455

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/where-there-s-a-will-87

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/where-theres-a-will/id1533844283?ls=1

About the author: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreaks & Half-truths, which she also edited. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at

27 November 2020

The Greatest Christmas Mystery, Ever (Part I)

Every year in December, a curious event used to take place at the Church of the Intercession, an Episcopal congregation located in upper Manhattan. Local children would meet for a Christmas musical pageant capped off by a poetry reading. Later, everyone traipses to the cemetery across the street, places a wreath on a grave, and sings carols before returning to the church for some snacks.

Until this, our pandemic year, this tradition has happened virtually unchanged every 24th of December for more than 120 years. The oldest continuing tradition in New York City, they call it. Older than, say, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The grave that has drawn congregants for more than 100 years belongs to a man named Clement Clarke Moore, who died in 1863.


In life Moore was a professor, a religious scholar and theologian, an occasional poet, and, curiously, a savvy real-estate developer who founded a Manhattan neighborhood called Chelsea, named after and built on land that once belonged to his family. But that’s not why anyone remembers Moore on this night. No one drags their child to a freezing cemetery to celebrate the life of a man who wrote a 1,000-page scholarly text entitled *The Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, in Two Volumes*. No. Moore is remembered because when he wasn’t busy cranking out his alefs, bets, and gimels, he apparently found time to write A Visit from Saint Nicholas, also known as ’Twas The Night Before Christmas.

For much of his life, Moore downplayed the poem associated with his name. When he first read those immortal lines to family and friends gathered at his home one Christmas, he strictly admonished them not to share it outside his residence. One of his guests nevertheless snuck out a copy and sent it to a newspaper in Troy, New York, which printed it anonymously, a common practice at the time. Countless other newspapers followed, and reprinting those lines became an annual tradition.

Like many writers, Moore wanted to be remembered for his “serious” work. Later in life, whenever someone cajoled him to tell how he came to write the classic poem, he related the same story. One day in 1822, he went out to buy a Christmas turkey and saw a fat Dutchman sitting in a carriage smoking a long clay pipe. Inspired, Moore rushed home and dashed off the 56-line poem about a plump, “jolly old elf” in a feverish bout of creativity. The poem literally poured from his pen—without a single correction necessary.

Even today it’s hard to quantify how important the poem is. Every culture in Europe has its own tradition of a Christmas “gift-bringer.” The English have Father Christmas, the French Père Noël. Icelandic children are visited by 13 mischievous Yule “lads”—tiny dwarves who leave children sweets or rotting potatoes, depending on their behavior. The Dutch had Sinterklaas, a homegrown version of Saint Nicholas, the kindly, fourth-century Turkish-born Catholic bishop who was regarded as the patron saint of sailors, pawnbrokers, reformed thieves, brewers, and, last but not least, children.

Though centuries had passed between the life of the real Saint Nicholas and the creation of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version was and still is visibly religious: he’s a dour-faced man who wears a bishop’s miter on his head, and carries a bishop’s crook in his hand, the symbol of a shepherd leading his flock.

Every culture’s gift-bringer behaves differently. My mother grew up in Italy believing in La Befana, an old witch who flies her broom into every Italian home on the eve of the Epiphany (January 6th). Every year on December 5, the night before the traditional Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, Dutch children leave carrots in their wooden shoes for Sinterklaas’s white horse. Come morning, they find candy in those shoes if they have been good, a bundle of twigs if they have been bad.

The American Santa observes a totally different protocol, and everything we know about him was sketched out for the very first time in the poem we’re discussing. The poem codifies Santa: how he looks, which night of the year he visits, how he transports himself to your house, how he enters and leaves the dwelling, how he behaves while there, the precise number of his reindeer, and their names. So it’s not too crazy to suggest that the author of A Visit from Saint Nicholas wasn’t just dashing off a delightful little poem that day, he was building American culture.

And none too soon, if you believe the historians. At this time in history American cities were struggling with a very scary Yuletide dilemma. So much so that the upper-crusters who bought plots of land in Moore’s tranquil enclave Chelsea had come to dread Christmas. December in 1820s New York City was like frat-boy central. It wasn’t uncommon for idle, laid-off workers to kick in the doors of wealthy homes and to demand pocket money in exchange for a bawdy song. But then, sometime during that decade in New York City, the weeks of unceasing hooliganism abruptly stopped.

Because Santa.

At least two historians* argue that the city’s fathers conspired with the media machine of the time (newspapers and weekly magazines) and retailers to promote a new sort of tradition. Christmas was no longer about giving pocket change to the less fortunate. It was about a visit from Santa Claus and giving presents—not candy or fruit or homemade sweets but store-bought presents—to children. In doing so, responsible adults were ostensibly reenacting the story of the Christ child receiving gifts in the manger from the three Magi.

Once this powerful tradition took hold, a family man could no longer afford to be idle at the end of the calendar year. He had to stay off the streets and gainfully employed if he was going to be able to afford presents for his children and, as the tradition morphed, for every other member of his family. Societal pressure eradicated one tradition and ushered in another. This New York-style Christmas quickly spread to the rest of the nation, aided by women’s magazines and impossible-to-ignore retail advertisements in every influential American publication.

America needed Santa. Needed his benevolent, calming influence to correct and redirect a societal ill. But it would be wrong of us to say that the Santa of A Visit from Saint Nicholas was nothing but a potent and irritating tool for conspicuous consumption.

The poem should be celebrated on its own merits. If you’ve ever read poetry or essays written by amateur writers from the founding era of the United States till about the era of the Civil War, you’ve probably been bored to tears or scratched your eyes out. The Christmas poem is nothing like that. The writing’s clear, its images crisp. It’s probably the most famous American poem. Amazon currently lists no fewer than 732 versions of this public domain book. It’s the book every Christmas-celebrating kid ever born must receive at some point in their lives, along with The Grinch and The Polar Express.

But so few people know the story of the classic’s origin—or why they should even care. If you want to go “meta” on this, you could say that once upon a time a sweet genius conceived of a way to sidestep the messy Catholic-Protestant rift and get back to the joy of the old pagan Yule. Stripping away the baggage of Old World religions, this nimble writer created a magnanimous secular magician who brings presents to worthy children every year without fail. Sans miter, sans crook, sans religious robes, this Santa is, frankly, the perfect, nondenominational gift-bringer for a nation of immigrants. How lucky we are! How truly blessed, that this magical tale was bequeathed to us by a humble New Yorker whose name we hardly know but whose words still give us all the feels!

There’s just one problem with everything I’ve just told you.

It may all be a bright shining lie.

I'm partial to the Charles Santore edition.

* * * 

* Sources for this article include two wonderful books: The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday, by Steven Nissenbaum; and Christmas: A Biography, by Judith Flanders.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you—with the conclusion—in three weeks!

26 November 2020

Thanksgiving in the Time of COVID

 Happy Thanksgiving! 

Yes, it's that time of year again, when we Americans gather together with friends and relations to give thanks for the blessings of the year, watch football and The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special, eat too much, and shop, both in person and online at pre-Black Friday sales.

Except that this is 2020.

And in this, the seeming never-ending Plague Year, everything is different. So why should Thanksgiving be any exception? No large family gatherings. No in-person large shopping crowds. Football in empty stadiums, with fans banned from the seats.

And yet I have rarely had more to be thankful for at any time in my life than right now.

I've had family members come down with COVID (And I'm pretty sure, based on the duration and symptoms, that I had a bout of it in February, before the virus had yet to really muscle its way into our lives). And I've know plenty of people who've had it. I've known a couple of people who died from it, and heard of others (family members of friends) who have also passed away from it.

But so far no one in my family (thank God!) has died from COVID.

And speaking of family, I'm so thankful for mine. Wife, son, parents, brother, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. We're an eclectic bunch, but that just makes our get-togethers (when we can safely have them again!) all the more interesting.

My wife and I both work for organizations which (so far at least) have placed an outsized value on safety in the workplace. So we both have been able to work remotely from home. We and our son stay pretty isolated from potential contact with the virus as a result. I'm thankful for my wife's company and the school district where I work having their priorities straight where public health is concerned.

I teach, and have been conducting my classes remotely this year. And my students have been fantastic about the whole arrangement. This year I have one of the nicest groups of kids I've had in my two-plus decades of teaching. While I have done my best to rapidly pick up the ins and outs of Microsoft Teams and the Canvas grading system, my students have been gracious and patient with regard to my frequently fumbling attempts to remotely facilitate their collective educations.

And I know for a fact that many of them have family situations at home made much more difficult by this pandemic. And yet they show up, day in, day out, ready to learn, and just happy to be together (albeit remotely). I am so thankful for each and every one of them. My young heroes.

I'm thankful for my work colleagues. These folks have done amazing work, bent over backwards to support each other and our students and our community in trying to bring some stability and "normalcy" to the statistical outlier which IS 2020. My bosses, the other teachers, support staff, all of them. My "older" heroes.

I'm thankful for my neighbors, who continue to be interested and interesting without being nosey or judgmental. I'm thankful for my state (Washington) and my county (King) and the legislature and governor who have led the fight against COVID.

I'm thankful for my country. I'm thankful for being American. I'm proud of my fellow citizens who turned out in droves to vote this month, over 150 million of them. I don't care who they voted for. As an historian and a teacher of social sciences, I am a huge fan of participatory democracy. We had that this year in spades, even electing an African-American/South Asian WOMAN as our vice-president.

I'm thankful for my friends. They fill me up (remotely) when I need it most. And that goes especially for my friends in the writing community and for the writing community as a whole. I come away from my interacting with these folks energized. And that means a lot in the decade-which-has-been-the-year-2020.

I'm thankful for writing. It's my outlet. It's something I work hard at, take pride in, and with which I am never wholly satisfied. And I am even thankful for that lack of complete satisfaction. It's part of what drives me.

Lastly, I'm thankful for my readers, whether followers of my fiction, or just of my work here on this blog. Yep, you read that right. I'm thankful for you.

So, "Thank You."

And Happy Thanksgiving!

25 November 2020

Jumbled Up


I don’t remember having much interest in crosswords or other word puzzles growing up, although I played SCRABBLE a few times with my grandmother – but she insisted on being able to use French, too, which put me at a significant disadvantage.  Somehow, the whole idea of crosswords left me cold, with finishing one only a “bleak satisfaction,” in my pal John Crowley’s phrase.

Then, in my early twenties, when I was in the military, I got hooked on the Jumble, which was a feature in Stars & Stripes.  The proximate cause was that we spent a third of our duty time on mids.  (Shift work is days, swings, and mids: 0800 to 1600, 1600 to midnight, midnight to 0800.  It messes with your sleep patterns.  Cops and firefighters, nurses and EMT’s, merchant seamen, anybody in a round-the-clock pursuit is familiar.)  In that dead time somewhere between 3 and 5 in the morning, before the Russian and East German pilots crawled out of their bunks and into the cockpits of their aircraft, and we were fruitlessly searching the VHF spectrum for signals, you needed a little something to stimulate your groggy synapses. 

If you don’t know how Jumble works, it consists of four words with the letters scrambled.  You unlock GOTDYS, for example, to reveal STODGY, or APHISM as MISHAP.  Not always as easy as it looks, actually.  Sometimes you’d get stuck. 

Then there was the second half of the game.  Each of the words you unscrambled had a few letters circled, and once you had all four words, you had another set of scrambled letters, which you matched to a clue for your final answer.  

I should clarify.  The unit I served in back then was a spook shop, Communications Intelligence.  I myself was a Russian linguist; we also had German and Polish.  Some of the other personnel were ELINT, they broke out radar signatures, and there was a small section that dealt with dedicated electronic encryption, computer-driven, back when this was a more primitive engineering skill.  The point being that, operationally, we were descended from a long line of code-breakers.  Our job was to unravel the secrets that our adversary was trying to keep hidden.  In that light, decoding a Jumble cryptogram might be regarded as an analog of our day job. 

Further, solving the Jumble requires a paradigm shift.  The first part, rearranging the scramble of letters to produce a given word, is a left-brain exercise.  The second half, grasping the sense of the clue, in relation to the individual vowels and consonants, is more right-brain or intuitive.  It asks for a different discipline, not so much a logic puzzle as an empathic one: the whole, the gestalt.

I still play the game on my cell phone, over coffee.  Some years back, I got a jolt of recognition when I read an interview with David Mamet, and one of the questions was about writers’ superstitions, or totems.  He said, if I can’t riddle out the Jumble first thing in the morning, the rest of my day is shot.  Gotta love it.


24 November 2020

So Many Murder Methods, So Little Time

How can I kill you? Let me count the ways.

Last month, I was on a Bouchercon panel titled What's A Weapon: Choosing Ways to Murder. We had a fun hour-long discussion of inventive ways to commit murder. You can watch it here. Knowing that my memory often isn't great, before the panel I made a list of all the murder methods I've used in my published short stories, as well as how many times I've killed someone that way. I read the list during the panel, omitting guns, knives, and poisons, because we'd been told the panel's focus was supposed to be unusual methods of murder. Guns, knives, and poisons were all been-there-done-that. But I like the usual methods, so here's my list, including guns, knives, and poisons (oh my!).

My preferred ways to kill (or at least go down trying)

Poison: Six times

Causing a fatal allergic reaction: Five times

Shoving/Tripping down the stairs/hill: Four times

Strangulation: Four times (three with your hands, once with twinkle lights)

Shooting: Three times

Hitting with a car: Three times 

Stabbing: Twice

Bashing with a rock: Once

Bashing with a shovel: Once

Carbon monoxide poisoning: Once

Chimney asphyxiation: Once*

Getting eaten by an alligator:  Once

Overdose of medication: Once 

* I would never kill Santa. Well, probably not. But it was a good illustration for chimney asphyxiation.


They say that poison is a woman's game. For me, at least, that seems to be true. It's my go-to method. It doesn't require brute force, just the sneakiness and will to do it and the patience to wait for it to work. I have all of those qualities in abundance. I mean, my characters do.

Trying to get someone to die from an allergic reaction is similar to killing via poison, since for the victim, the food or medicine would have a similar affect to poisoning. But while you could use a particular poison to kill anyone, killing via allergic reaction requires knowledge of the victim's allergy and how that allergic reaction could play out. Therefore, it requires more due diligence on the part of the killer. As such, I put it in its own category. You might categorize your murder methods differently, of course. I welcome your thoughts in the comments. Your local police department does as well.

Killing someone by shoving them down the stairs or accidentally tripping them is a wonderful method because it could be viewed as an accidental death. Of course, in fiction people probably die from falls much more often than happens in real life. In the real world, a person tumbling down a staircase might merely break a few bones and the would-be-murderer has to try again. So if you want to kill this way, make sure you have it in you to be persistent, because you very well may have to be.

Of course, some murders can't be planned. You have to take your opportunities when they come. So if you're lucky enough to have your stalker try to sneak into your house through your chimney and he gets stuck (look it up--people, burglars especially, get stuck in chimneys a lot), you could simply light a fire and wait for karma to play out. "I'm so sorry, officer. I had no idea someone was in the chimney. I was just cold." And sorry, I don't mean to make light of stalking. Funny how making light of murder doesn't bother me, but making light of stalking gives me pause.

Strangulation is another method of the would-be killer who's caught with an unexpected opportunity. You may not have a gun or knife on you when you find your evil mother-in-law alone, and she might not be loitering at the top of a staircase just waiting for you. But you always have your hands on you (I hope). Hands are so handy that way. (I know, that was terrible.) If you get the chance to strangle someone and you have a fun thing to do it with at your disposal--such as twinkle lights--I urge you to make use of it. Readers do want to be entertained.

Some murder methods only happen in Florida. When I was a newspaper reporter back in the '90s, you often would hear about weird news stories that came over the wire. Inevitably, 99 percent of the time, they happened in Florida. It was such a regular occurrence that I bet you could tell any person who's worked in the media about a weird news story, and the automatic response would be, "Florida, right?" So when I wrote a story for the 2018 Bouchercon anthology Florida Happens, I came up with what I thought was a quintessential Florida murder method: a man tries to train an alligator that lives in the lake behind their house to eat his wife. And like murder via twinkle lights, it was fun to write. (Hmmm. That Florida story also involved pushing the wife down the hill toward the alligator. I didn't include that in my list--pushing someone down a hill. It needs updating. ... Done.)

I have some more fun methods of murder coming up in stories not yet published. But I don't want to ruin the surprise, so you'll have to wait. 

In the meanwhile, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you don't murder anyone in your family. As much as you might be tempted, murder really is best left for fiction.

23 November 2020

Fixing The Wheel

 by Steve Liskow

America has a long tradition of belittling teachers and education. Washington Irving may have started with Ichabod Crane in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," but it has continued unabated.

The closest I remember to a real depiction was the 80s film Teachers with Nick Nolte, and that featured a brilliant substitute who had escaped from a mental hospital. That message was underlined in the film's closing dialogue.

Now, in Jill Biden, we have a champion of education in the White House instead of Betsy DeVos, who expanded the leaks in a sinking ship. The American public school system began its decline decades ago. It became apparent under Reagan when A Nation At Risk was released, but I'm sure my own teachers despaired about how much dumber their new students were, and I will be the first to admit there are many subjects I should know much more about. I looked at a New York Regent's exam from 1920 recently, and I could answer three questions. That was the high school standard a century ago. 

What can we do about it? I've argued the topic with other teachers and normal people for at least 30 years, changing my ideas as I see problems and shortcomings, and I still get more blowback than hugs. But here is my comprehensive plan. Remember, I am addressing ONLY public education. I know some of it would cause other problems, but that's OK. Government exists because it can handle complex programs and address issues private enterprise can't encompass. 

We wouldn't know if these ideas work for at least a decade, and that's a problem in itself. As a culture, we worship the Quick Fix. Some things take time, though, or we would have found a cure for cancer, solved world hunger, and obviated climate change long ago. Political ideology is a major hindrance, and I have no answer for that, even though it would certainly rear its ugly head in this project. OK, enough disclaimers. Now brace yourself.

ELIMINATE ALL STANDARDIZED TESTS. There are organizations (Tutoring scams and test prep shills) with a huge stake in kids failing, and all the money we spend there could be used for pre-school or reading readiness classes, teacher training and hiring, equipment, and infrastructure. If a million students take the SAT every year, there's 60 or 70 million dollars right there. How many teachers or books or buildings is that? More teachers can mean smaller classes. Besides, a good teacher can tell you if your kid can read, write, count, or handle other material at the appropriate level without those tests anyway. A teacher doesn't have to be a genius, but he or she does need to have common sense and understand the students.

WE NEED A NATIONAL CURRICULUM. I resisted that idea for years, but it's necessary. You'll see why in a minute. We would need teachers from all states and at all levels to cooperate in designing the program. It would make writing the Constitution look like a lunch break, but it's vital. Remember, we only need to get the first two or three years in place right away. We can tweak those and learn from them while we develop the rest, based on the latest knowledge and understanding of learning theory, child development, and the subjects themselves. The content must be factual. No, there was never an effing "War of Northern Aggression." Get over it.

WITH THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM, THERE IS ONLY ONE LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY. Honors, Advanced placement, college prep, general, commercial, etc. go by the wayside. Everyone studies the same material and skills and attains the same degree of proficiency or understanding. This means schools don't need to purchase four sets of books for each grade or subject, saving more money. I recommend a passing grade of 80% and there is no social promotion (Would you like to know that the surgeon operating on you got through med school with extra credit?). The student achieves the grade before advancing. Period. 

THE CURRICULUM. I admit, this is much more rigorous than I encountered, but there are tremendous gaps in my knowledge that I'm still beginning to recognize. There are still people who consider me smart, too.

LANGUAGE ARTS. Composition and literature, multi-cultural and diverse. Students must also be able to speak, read, and write fluently in at least one language besides English. Young children learn easily, so introduce a second language in kindergarten. In the U.S., I suggest Spanish or maybe French. Later, maybe an Asian language and an African language, too (Which mean learning different alphabets), with other languages optional. This also introduces different cultures, value systems, and ways of thinking. A subset of this topic is rhetoric and public speaking (debate?) and maybe journalism. The goal is to instill critical thinking skills and include fact-checking and research.

MATHEMATICS. Start with practical math like making change and advance at least through Trigonometry, preferably Calculus. My math background is a disgrace, and my weakness with algebra forced me to leave my pre-dentistry major for English because I could cope with words, but not numbers.

NATURAL SCIENCE. Biology, chemistry, geology, physics, astronomy, meteorology. Teach the scientific method and lots of lab time.

SOCIAL SCIENCE.  World history and American history from several perspectives (Maybe the expansion of the United States from the Native American and Spanish side?). Psychology, sociology, anthropology, civics, economics. Maybe the history should include popular entertainment in the other cultures. My history background is even worse than my math. And I made National Honors Society.


ART. Maybe a better name would be "Aesthetics." Both appreciation and hands-on, including painting, sculpture, and maybe film/video. Performance wouldn't require proficiency, but it will foster understanding and appreciation. Music (history, appreciation, performance on at least one instrument). Again, proficiency isn't vital, but it helps appreciation. Theater arts and drama.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION. Exercise and nutrition and healthy lifestyle. I assume school sports will exist, but with free college tuition (see below), there may be less emphasis on some kids getting into the "right" college for scholarship and turning professional later. Athletic scholarships will be unnecessary and free more funds for other concerns. 

HOME ECONOMICS. Cooking and nutrition and housekeeping skills for all genders. Maybe also sewing and tailoring? Even a guy should be able to iron and sew a button on his shirts and do laundry.

MANUAL ARTS. Carpentry, drafting, mechanics, etc. I'm not asking for a generation of skilled artisans, but everyone should be able to change a fuse or a flat tire. A woman I know makes extra money changing her neighbors' automotive oil and mounting their snow tires. 

THE STUDENT MUST GRADUATE.  There's nothing magic about the age of 16 or 18. A very gifted and motivated student might master all this material at 15. Someone else may be challenged and not finish until 25. It doesn't matter how long, only how well. A responsible citizen can make contributions to the society, and that means education. 

UNTIL A PERSON CAN PRODUCE A DIPLOMA, HE CAN NOT VOTE, DRIVE A CAR, OR GET WORKING PAPERS.  One of my friends suggested that he shouldn't be able to drink alcohol, either. The car and job are the carrot to keep the student working. There is a big reward at the end. It's called adulthood. The national curriculum means someone can't move to another state or town and get an easier school. Everyone leaves with the same skills and knowledge, but certainly with different strengths, interests, and weaknesses. Life will be easier for future employers, and students have more information to plan the rest of their lives. 

One drawback: There might be a criminal industry in forged diplomas, the equivalent of academic bootlegging. See? I even give you a new plot idea.

A STUDENT WITH A DIPLOMA FROM THIS CURRICULUM ATTENDS COLLEGE FREE. At least through a Baccalaureate degree. Students won't need the remedial work so many colleges are forced to offer today. That frees up more funds, and might mean fellowships or financial aid for graduate degrees or extra training.

Some students with a physical handicap or emotional/mental challenge may not be capable of mastering this curriculum. Their care and special needs should be taken care of until they reach adulthood. What happens next is a question government needs to address. It's beyond the scope of my plan, but it has to be acknowledged. 

If the students are all in school, jobs go to adults. When the students graduate, they are equipped to fill more jobs and have more choices.

Is this perfect? Of course not. It's idealistic and I've overlooked or omitted many issues and problems.  We can finance practical solutions if we really want to. I think it would take two or three years to develop the primary curriculum and to create reading lists. Use this system for 13 years or until a substantial number of people graduate with the new standards to determine how well it works and to shore up problems that we find. 

The definition of the school day and year are open to discussion, but it would be convenient if the entire country followed the same calendar. Remember, we aren't an agrarian society anymore that needs summers off so kids can help tend the crops. I'd like to see more flexible scheduling. Maybe five eleven-week sessions with students attending four of them. That's only one example. 

How badly do we want it?

22 November 2020

100 Words

Leigh Lundin

Both Sharon and ABA happened to send articles about old and little used words. That set off research into other candidates that might prove useful in historical stories and even insert playfulness or elocution (there’s a word not heard anymore) in ordinary writing.

Following is a random selection. A few, such as those beginning with ‘fiddle’, I wouldn’t miss outside an English cosy.

Worry not. I don’t expect you to look up each entry. If you hover your mouse over a word, you should see its meaning.

accouchement cordwainer gallivant pantywaist
affright coxcomb glabriety peregrinate
appetency cutpurse gobsmacked persnickety
avaunt d’accord gyve picaroon
balderdash davenport habiliment poppycock
baloney delate hoodwink ragamuffin
bamboozled discombobulated hotrod rapscallion
barnstormer disport hullabaloo rigmarole
bejeebers doohicky humbug shenanigans
beldam éclaircissement jalopy skedaddle
bijoux egads jargogle skewwhiff
bloomers facinorous kerfuffle sweeting
bodkin fainéant kibosh tenterhooks
brabble farthing knave thingamebob
britches feminal knickknack thingamyjig
bruit fiddle-dee-dee knucklehead thunderation
buttonhook fiddle-faddle lollygag tomfoolery
caterwauling fiddlesticks lurdan trigon
catawampus fizgig magdalen varlet
chesterfield flabbergasted malarkey whatchamacallit
churchkey flibberty-jibbit malapert whatsit
codger flim-flam moxie whosemegadget
concoction flummoxed nimrod willy-nilly
confuzzled frore nincompoop wishywashy
contumely fuddy-duddy numbskull yclept

The word ‘nimrod’ has lost its original Biblical meaning, that of a sharpshooter or an outstanding hunter. It’s now used as an insult. A young acquaintance succinctly explained, “a numnutz.”

Bonus Word: Izzard

You may know the letter Z as ‘zee’ or ‘zed’, but once upon a time as early as 1726, Z was called ‘izzard’.  Samuel Johnson featured the word izzard in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. The expression “A to izzard” means “from beginning to end.”

Bonus Word: Trumpery

Trumpery is defined as (adj) showy but worthless, attractive but of little value or use; delusive or shallow; (n) practices or beliefs superficially or visually appealing but of little real value or worth.

21 November 2020

The Same Old Story

How many of you have unfinished or unpublished stories (or novels) stashed away in a drawer or under the bed, or in a folder someplace on your hard drive? Most of us do, if we've been writing fiction for a while. Oddly enough, very few of mine are unfinished--when I think of an idea for a short story I usually go ahead and churn it out–but I certainly have plenty that are unpublished and unsubmitted. Alas, typing THE END doesn't always mean it's ready for prime time.

old manuscript

Most of those abandoned stories are those I wrote many years ago, when I was just getting started. Occasionally I dust them off and look them over, and sometimes I go back in and do a complete rewrite, until that story is what I consider to be submittable and battleworthy. I've done that several times, and so far I've always managed to sell them afterward.

One of those rewrites was on a never-submitted story called "Molly's Plan," written in the early '90s about a New Orleans bank robbery. A few years ago I rediscovered it, changed it in about a dozen ways but kept the same title, and sent it to Strand Magazine. They bought it, and it later wound up in Best American Mystery Stories, was reprinted in Russia's leading literary magazine, was selected for New York City's Subway Library project, etc. All this after sitting idle for more than twenty years as a stack of dot-matrix-printed pages in a box in the corner of my home office. A similar thing happened with another long-ago story originally called "Footprints," about a college student involved in a cheating operation. I rewrote the whole thing, retitled it "Calculus 1," which was the name of one of my first college courses, and sold it to the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post. That story will soon appear again in a bilingual collection of my SEP stories by a Moscow publishing house. Just call me Ivan.

My point here is that some of those early and forgotten manuscripts of mine had some promise and have been worth revisiting, but in their original state none of them were very good. Which was why I never sent them anyplace. Some things about them that were okay from the beginning, I thought, were in areas I've always been pretty comfortable with: premise, dialogue, hooks, endings, structure, etc. Most everything else about them was terrible.

What was it that made these stories so bad? Here are some of the things I found:

  • Too much repetition. Not just of words or phrases but of ideas and thoughts and plot elements. I probably wanted so badly to make everything clear to the reader, I kept saying the same things too often, in different ways.
  • Too many cliches. At the time I don't think I even realized they were cliches.
  • Too many pet words and phrases. My characters were way too fond of sighing, shrugging, turning, staring, nodding, taking deep breaths, etc. This probably belongs under "repetition," and some of it still shows up in my current creations.
  • Too much description. It took me a while to learn there's no need to describe in excruciating detail things like settings, items, or the way people look or dress. Unless it reveals something vital about either the plot or the character, writers should leave most of that to the reader's imagination.
  • Too much exposition. This is just as dangerous and tedious as the overuse of description– I just didn't know it at the time. Overwriting of any kind is bad, and especially when it involves technical details, which I also happily added to the stew now and then. I guess I figured it'd be a shame to waste all that stuff I had to listen to in engineering school.
  • Too many semicolons. All of them were grammatically correct, but I used them far too often. As I've said before at this blog, semicolons can make your writing appear stiff and formal even though that might not be your intention. I still use too many, but I'm cutting back. (Same goes for parentheses, ellipses . . . dashes--and especially exclamation points!)
  • Overuse of dialect. At first I thought anything that makes dialogue sound more "real" is a good thing. The truth is, using too many slang expressions and misspellings is not only lazy writing, it's annoying to the reader. You know what I mean.
  • POV problems. I found that I often made dumb decisions about viewpoint. I didn't know when to use only one, when to switch, how best to use third-person to heighten suspense, how much head-hopping is too much, and so forth. Basic things that I learned later, mostly by paying more attention when I read.

I'm not saying that's everything that was wrong with my early efforts, but those points come first to mind. I still have several stories (several dozen, actually) sitting out there that are unchanged and unsubmitted and gathering dust. On the one hand, I might take another swing at 'em, one of these days. On the other, I might treat them as training exercises and let them rest in peace.

Do you have some of these underachieving stories lying around in your office, or on your computer? Do you ever try to resurrect them? If so, were they later submitted, and published? Do you look back at some of your early published work and see problems there as well? Do you ever update those published stories a bit when you market them as reprints? What are some of the ways you feel you've improved, in your writing?

Before you ask me, No, not everything I publish is old. I've written 32 new stories so far this year, and I typed this column on Wednesday. Whether it's really finished is another matter--but I'm done with it.

Thanks for indulging me, and best to all of you. Keep turning out that good fiction!

20 November 2020

Little Cities of the Dead

When the French colonized New Orleans in 1718, they encountered immediate problems. One was the high water table (about 12 inches), so burying bodies in the ground was not a good idea, so they built above ground cemeteries. Not uncommon in the tropical West Indies and what we call Central and South America.

Won't bore you with details. Here's a good article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_Cemeteries_of_New_Orleans

We cherish our cemeteries. They are beautiful and we (and tourists) take thousands of photos of them.

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1

Police Mutual Benevolent Association tomb in Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Walled or Oven Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Two of the angels of Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3

Cypress Grove Cemetery

Cypress Grove provided a nice book cover

Audio book cover, photo taken at Metairie Cemetery

photo from Saint Louis Cemetery #1

That's all for now. Y'all stay safe.



19 November 2020

Updates from South Dakota

South Dakota has been in the national news a lot lately, and not just because Governor Kristi Noem has been vigorously defending the reelection of President Donald J. Trump in every venue she can find.  She was very active on Twitter but now she's moved to Parler:  

"It's official, I've joined @parler_app! Find me at @GovernorNoem. We need social media platforms that respect and protect FREE SPEECH. We need a whole lot more respect for Freedom and Personal Responsibilty in this country."

Wait until they hear that she's trying to figure out a way to stop Amendment A - which legalized marijuana in this state - from happening, because "it's just not right for South Dakota".  So much for Freedom and Personal Responsibility, right?  Constitutionally, she can't do anything about it, but I'm not sure she's aware of that.

Meanwhile, I know she doesn't care about the virus.  We are in a fearsome situation up here, complete with long articles in WaPo (here and HERE), USA Today ("The Dakotas are 'as bad as it gets anywhere in the world' for COVID-19"),  Forbes (South Dakota is the most dangerous place to travel in America), dire statistics in the NYTimes, and a Governor and a Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken who refuse - ABSOLUTELY REFUSE - to impose a mask mandate or a shutdown or anything else, because "freedom and personal responsibility."* 

How's that working?  Not so well:

South Dakota total cases – 68,671; 1 out of every 13 people in this state (pop. 880,000) has/has had the virus
South Dakota active cases – 19,240; 1 out of every 46 is currently active for the virus
South Dakota deaths 674 – 1 out of every 1,360 has died

Sioux Falls total cases – 22,440; 1 out of every 10 people in metro Sioux Falls (pop. 230,000) has/has 
had the virus
Sioux Falls active cases – 6,115; 1 out of every 38 is currently active for the virus
Sioux Falls deaths – 185; 1 out of every 1243 has died

And - from Johns Hopkins itself - a 56.4% positivity rate for testing, the 2nd highest in the nation.**

Heck of a job, Kristi & Paul.  Maybe you can start a noir folk duo and sing about Freedom & Incubation around the nation.

Oh, and on top of everything else, back on November 10th, "South Dakota health officials acknowledged that they include NICU (intensive care unit beds designed for infants) in their total count of hospital beds available in the state — a key metric that the governor has used to defend her handling of the coronavirus pandemic."  (Rapid City Journal)  In case you don't know, adult human beings, no matter how old and frail, cannot fit into baby pods.  

LATEST NEWS: there's the case of Attorney General, Jason Ravnsborg.  If you remember, he had an accident on a dark night on a rural road and "thought he hit a deer."  Instead, it turned out that he killed a local man, Joseph Boever.  But no one discovered that until the next day, and in the meantime Mr. Ravnsborg had been driven home by the local sheriff, etc., etc., etc.  Well, we finally got an update -  November 2nd, which seems so long ago - and it turns out that the results of the investigation so far are that Ravnsborg was distracted at the time of the crash, and Mr. Boever was holding a light in his hand when he was hit and killed. (NOTE: Deer not only have more legs than humans, they don't carry lights.) But the exact time of 911 call, and the victim's autopsy and toxicology report - and any charges - are still pending. Oh, to be white and hold high office... (Argus Leader)  

And then there's our local neighborhood goings on.  I came home from the grocery store the other day to find a white quad pick-up truck parked in front of a rental house across the street.  Big deal, right?  Except as I inched past (it's a narrow street), I noticed that the window on the passenger side had a small "Police" on it.  And, as I pulled into our driveway, I saw 4 guys get out of the truck, all wearing dark bulky blue sweaters with epaulettes, etc., on them, blue jeans or camo pants, and a very large gun strapped to their thigh.  Well, I was planning on taking a walk, but decided it wasn't the right time.  Instead I went on inside, made a cup of tea, and watched the show from my living room window, which is shielded by a large porch and an even larger tree from outside prying eyes.***  Our boys in blue went from room to room - at one point a woman came scurrying out (in 30 degree weather) wearing sweatpants, t-shirt, and flip-flops to get something out of her car (I'm betting ID) - and started taking stuff in (apparently to search a little deeper, shall we say) and bringing stuff out.  They stuck around for over an hour, and then left.  My personal guess is that they already had someone under arrest back at the station, and were searching for drugs and/or weapons.  (Yes, they found some.)  

Meanwhile, you can't get all your entertainment from a 1919 version of a picture window.  My latest favorite entertainment - besides endlessly looping New Tricks - is Victorian Farm on Acorn (via Amazon Prime) - For one thing, I'm an historian, and the reenactors are historian Ruth Goodman, and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn.  (I have a couple of Ms. Goodman's books, BTW.  Great stuff.)  Shire horses!  Sheep!  Cooking with coal!  More sheep!  Victorian Christmas!  Pigs and sheep!  Yes, life was hard, but it's absolutely fascinating, and I could have used a lot more than 6 episodes of it.

Speaking of Victorians, I'm rereading my way through my library of great Victorian mysteries:  I've mentioned these before on SleuthSayers, but I'll bring up a couple again, because they're brilliant.  And they're long and complex, which helps in these days of social isolation.  

Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. Here two young women's identities are stripped from them as one dies and the other is declared dead and sent to a madhouse for life. What happened? Who died? Who lived? How can the truth be proven? Besides an endlessly twisting and turning plot, there are amazing characters: a magnificent heroine in Marion Halcombe, the ultimate Victorian cold-hearted bitch in Mrs. Catherick, and the worst guardian known to man, Frederick Fairlie, who really should have been shot at birth. And then there's Count Fosco, one of my favorite villains in all of history, with a face like Napoleon's and the heft of Nero Wolfe. Watch him as he plays with his little pet white mice and, at the same time, his irascible "friend" Sir Percival Glyde. Meet his completely subservient wife, who spends her days rolling his cigarettes, watching his face, and doing his bidding. He loves sugar water and pastry and plotting, and he never, ever loses his temper or raises his voice. His only weakness? A passionate admiration for Marion. But can that actually stop him? Don't count on it.

In Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne, the ostensible main plot - and a true Victorian corker it is! - revolves around Isabel Vane, an Earl's daughter who, unbelievably, is reduced to poverty and marries attorney Archibald Carlisle (SO much beneath her in birth). Mr. Carlisle is such a miracle of common sense, rectitude, honor, and beauty, that I have to admit after a while I get tired of hearing how wonderful he is. It almost makes you cheer when she is eventually unfaithful to him with a former suitor, who seduces her, impregnates her, and abandons her (the "Lady! Wife! Mother!" scene is worth the read in and of itself). Lost - in every sense of the word - and alone, Lady Isabel is believed killed in a railroad accident. However, she is only disfigured beyond recognition (isn't that always the way?), and comes back to be the governess in her old home, to her own children, and to the children of her husband and his new wife, Barbara Hare. That in itself would keep almost any soap opera running for YEARS. But what really fuels this sensation novel is the second plot, about the murder of a local gamekeeper, whose daughter, Aphrodite Hallijohn, was "involved" with multiple suitors, among them the clerk of courts (I can believe that one), a mysterious Captain, and Richard, the brother of the second Mrs. Carlisle. Richard and Barbara are the children of the local Judge, and Judge Hare does his best throughout the novel to find, convict and hang his own son. Barbara's whole goal in life (other than being the perfect wife to Mr. Carlisle) is to clear Richard's name. Each and every character is involved in the solution to this murder, and the shifting identities of various people - at least three people live in disguise for major parts of the novel - are obstacles, keys, and clues to what really happened in that hut so long ago.

Mrs. Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret curled many a person's hair back in the day, especially once it was revealed that what they thought was the secret - a secret that should be solved by anyone of moderate intelligence early on - is not The Secret at all. Let's just say that Lady Audley is a work of art, and perhaps the source material for all suicide blondes. Once again, a spicy Victorian stew of bigamy, mysterious deaths, hidden identities, even more mysterious (and convenient) arson, betrayal, adultery, heartache, and suspense, all served up at (for a Victorian novel) a fairly rapid clip. 

One of the reasons I read so much Victorian fiction, BTW, and especially now, is because the Victorians were really good at writing morally good characters.  As Janice Law said on Tuesday, "Evil is easy in writing, goodness is tough to do, a fact that might drive the philosophical to notions of original sin." But the Victorians - who definitely believed in original sin - mastered the art.  From Miss Matty in Cranford to Ruth in Ruth, Emma in Emma, Felix and Lance Underwood in The Pillars of the House, Daniel Peggotty, Annie Strong, Miss Mowcher, and Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield, Marion Halcombe and Walter Hartright in The Woman in White - the Victorians were masters of dishing up characters who were morally good yet unique individuals.  (Notice, I have not mentioned any of the sugary sweet heroines - they're as much stereotypes as Snidely Whiplash.)  

Anyway, from more modern times, also in my personal library, are yards of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe - novels, short stories, novellas.  Just take me to the brownstone and drop me off, okay?  I'll take some Eggs Burgundian, a look at Wolfe's library and orchids, a long discussion / debate about literature with Wolfe, and a long chat on almost anything over drinks with Archie.  

Also Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse books (my favorite is The Wench is Dead); our own Janice Law's Francis Bacon series; Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series (personal favorite The Lady from Zagreb); Len Deighton's Harry Palmer novels; and Somerset Maugham's short stories - including  the Ashenden British agent stories.  (Ashenden supposedly influenced Ian Fleming.)  And yards of Agatha Christie.  And Sherlock Holmes.  

Also, non-fiction:  The Death of Woman Wang (how and why a man got away with murder in a poor province in 17th century China), and God's Chinese Son (biography of the founder of the Taiping Rebellion) both by Jonathan Spence; and Memories of Silk and Straw by Junichi Suga, translated by Garry Evans (pre-WW2 small town Japan).  

In case you're wondering, part of the reason I've fallen back heavily on my own library is because the Sioux Falls library hasn't done interlibrary loans since March, and I've read most of what they have.  And I really can't afford tons of new books all the time.  Just a few here and there.  So...  Back to the classics!  

Finally, last Sunday, I gave a sermon based on Hebrews 13:3: "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." About what I've seen, done, heard - I also talked about AVP and quoted one of our AVP Facilitators - Sly Sam - poems! Sermon begins around 22:50.

Meanwhile, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and stay safe, stay well, stay masked.  

*We finally imposed a mask mandate in Sioux Falls last night - but with no penalty for noncompliance.  

**Worst in the nation as of today is Wyoming, with 90.6% - whatever's going on there, don't go there.

***I am apparently entering the Miss Marple / Miss Silver phase of my life, but then again, I've always been nosy.