Showing posts with label 1990s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1990s. Show all posts

30 June 2016

Kids These Days....


So, about my day gig.
I teach ancient history to eighth graders.

And like I tell them all the time, when I say, "Ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s.
For thirteen/fourteen year-olds, mired hopelessly in the present by a relentless combination of societal trends and biochemistry, there's not much discernible difference between the two eras.

It's a great job. But even great jobs have their stressors.

Like being assigned chaperone duty during the end-of-the-year dance.

Maybe you're familiar with what currently passes for "popular music" among fourteen year-olds these days. I gotta say, I don't much care for it. Then again, I'm fifty-one. And I can't imagine that most fifty-one year-olds in 1979 much cared for the stuff that I was listening to then.

And it's not as if I'm saying *I* had great taste in music as a fourteen year-old. If I were trying to make myself look good I'd try to sell you some line about how I only listened to jazz if it was Billie Holiday or Miles Davis, and thought the Police were smokin' and of course I bought Dire Straits' immortal "Makin' Movies" album, as well Zeppelin's "In Through The Out Door" when they both came out that year.

Well. No.

In 1979 I owned a Village People vinyl album ("Go West," with "YMCA" on it), and a number of Elvis Presley albums and 8-track tapes. I also listened to my dad's Eagles albums quite a bit. An uncle bought Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" for me, and I was hooked on a neighbor's copy of "Freedom at Point Zero" by Jefferson Starship, but really only because of the slammin' guitar solo Craig Chaquico played on its only hit single: "Jane." And I listened to a lot of yacht rock on the radio. I didn't know it was "yacht rock" back then. Would it have mattered?

But bear in mind we didn't have streaming music back then. And my allowance I spent mostly on comic books.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, my point is that someone my age back then may very well have cringed hard and long and as deeply if forced to listen to what *I* was listening to at eardrum-bursting decibels, and for the better part of two hours.

That was me on the second-to-the-last-day of school a week or so back.

Two hours.

Two hours of rapper after rapper (if it's not Eminem, Tupac, or the Beastie Boys, I must confess it all sounds the same to me) alternating with "singing" by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, etc.
Thank God we got some relief in the form of the occasional Bruno Mars song. Bruno, he brings it.
And through it all, the kids were out there on the floor. Mostly girls, and mostly dancing with each other.

 One group of these kids in particular caught my attention. Three girls, all fourteen, all of whom I knew. All wearing what '80s pop-rock band Mr. Mister once referred to as the "Uniform of Youth."

Of course, the uniform continues to change, just as youth itself does.

But in embracing that change, does youth itself actually change? Bear with me while I quote someone a whole lot smarter than I on the matter:

"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of getting off their butts and moving around."

The guy quoted (in translation) was Socrates, quoted by his pupil Plato, 2,400 years ago.

And some things never change.

Getting back to the three girls mentioned above, their "uniform of youth" was the one au courant in malls and school courtyards across the length and breadth of this country: too-tight jeans, short-sleeved or sleeveless t-shirts, tennis-shoes. They looked a whole lot like so many other girls their age, out there shaking it in ways that mothers the world over would not approve of.

In other words, they looked like thousands, hell, millions of American girls out there running around today, listening to watered down pablum foisted on them by a rapacious, corporate-bottom-line-dominated music industry as "good music", for which they pay entirely too much of their loving parents' money, and to which they will constantly shake way too much of what Nature gave them–even under the vigilant eyes of long-suffering school staff members.

Yep, American girls. From the soles of their sneakers to the hijabs covering their hair.

Oh, right. Did I mention that these girls were Muslims? Well, they are. One from Afghanistan. One from Turkmenistan, and one from Sudan. At least two of them are political refugees.

You see, I teach in one of the most diverse school districts in the nation. One of the main reasons for this ethnic diversity is that there is a refugee center in my district. The center helps acclimate newcomers to the United States and then assists in resettling them; some in my district, some across the country.

So in this campaign season, when I hear some orange-skinned buffoon talking trash about Muslims, stirring up some of my fellow Americans with talk of the dangerous "foreign" *other*, it rarely squares with the reality I've witnessed first-hand getting to know Muslim families and the children they have sent to my school to get an education: something the kids tend to take for granted (because, you know, they're kids, and hey, kids don't change). Something for which their parents have sacrificed in ways that I, a native-born American descendant of a myriad of immigrant families, can scarcely imagine.

(And it ought to go without saying that this truth holds for the countless *Latino* families I've known over the years as well.)

I'm not saying they're saints. I'm saying they're people. And they're here out of choice. Whether we like that or whether we don't, they're raising their kids *here*. And guess what? These kids get more American every day. Regardless of where their birth certificate says they're from.

Just something to think about, as we kick into the final leg of this excruciating election season.
Oh, come on. You didn't think this piece was gonna be just me grousing about kids having lousy taste in music, did ya?

(And they do, but that's really beside the point.)

Blessed Eid.

04 January 2016

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times


I claim it was 1998, but it really all started in 1997.  I was lucky.  I'd been around for quite a few years by then, and still had an intact family.  Two parents, still married to each other, a big brother, his wife and two sons, and a little brother and his wife.  I was most fortunate to have a husband to whom I'd been happily  married since 1972 and a beautiful teenaged daughter. As a family we were blessed.
My big brother's name was Frank Rogers.  He was three years my senior and had been my hero as long as I could remember.  He had two webbed toes and eventually grew to be six foot, fix inches.  He saved me from death (or a slight concussion) when I almost fell off the porch into a pile of bricks our dad was saving for a patio he might (or might not) build.  He benignly blackmailed me for multiple decades for an indiscretion when I was seven years old.  He missed me so much when our family went on vacation without him that, upon my return, he took me to downtown Dallas to see a Troy Donahue movie -- and he didn't even like Troy Donahue.  He introduced me to the Kingston Trio, the Smothers Brothers, and Alan Sherman.  He made fun of me for a week when I cried while watching an episode of "Wagon Train."

As adults we became scattered as jobs took us to different parts of the country, but we seemed to manage to all get together at least once a year, and quite often on Thanksgiving.  As the years progressed we started a Thanksgiving tradition:  tequila shots before dinner.  Our parents didn't partake, but the three siblings and our spouses certainly did (and even some of the kids when we weren't watching closely enough).  It was silly, but, hey, it was tradition!

Then in 1997, Frank got sick.  He was in the hospital and I called him as I had been doing on a daily basis since he'd been in there.  But something was wrong.  My big brother was crying.  And I could hear my sister-in-law sobbing in the background.  Never, in all those years, had I ever known my big brother to cry.  The doctor was in his room.  The doctor just told him he had terminal cancer.  The doctor just told him he had a year to live.  To my knowledge, Frank never cried again.  He yelled, got drunk, and laughed a lot, but never cried.

The whole family was staggered by this.  We were blessed.  Things like this didn't happen to us.  Our family members only died when they were in their eighties or nineties.  Not like this.  He was only fifty-four.  One child left in college.  Things like this didn't happen in our family.  We were blessed.

We learned that what Frank had was cancer of the common bile duct -- a very rare cancer that no one was studying.  He could try chemo and radiation, but the results wouldn't amount to much, if anything at all.  He opted not to bother.  He and Rosella, his wife, took leaves of absence from their respective jobs and decided to spend the year he had left doing whatever they wanted and, as he told me, he had no intention "of suffering fools gladly."

In those last months of 1997, my sister-in-law and I conspired to save him.  It was a real reach, but one does what one can.  There was a Mexican bodega my husband and I frequented when we wanted ingredients we were unable to find in the regular grocery store.  But this bodega had more than mere spices and strange fruits; it had talismans and cancer cures.  Frank and Rosella lived in Baltimore, and I lived in Austin, but I found a way to send a talisman and cancer-curing tea to my sister-in-law.  Both of us knowing Frank would laugh at such an attempt, she hid the talisman deep in his wallet (the lady at the bodega said he must always have it on him for it to work - duh), and slipped the tea into Frank's morning coffee.  And then Rosella prayed and I kept my fingers crossed.  One does what one can.

That last Thanksgiving, 1997, before our tequila shots, we had a meeting at my younger brother's house in Dallas and decided we were going to take a vacation together -- something we hadn't done since we were kids.  So we made plans.  It was to be eight days at a rental house on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I started saving for the trip we'd take in March.  But in February of 1998, I got a call from my agent in New York.  I'd been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Novel of 1997.  After telling my husband, who was in the room at the time, the first person I called was Frank.  He was elated, I was elated, everybody was elated.  And I wanted to win it for him.

In March of 1998 we left for St. John.  It was a wonderful eight days of conch fritters, rum, and too much Jimmy Buffett on the CD player.  We saw giant turtles, beautiful white beaches, and pigs walking along the roads.  We learned to drive on the wrong side of the street and found that a pint of Ben and Jerry's cost over eight dollars.  And we discovered my daughter and Frank's youngest son had "found" a bottle of champagne and had taken that and a bottle of orange juice out to the pool late one night and were making "mouth mimosas."  And it was all over way too soon.

In April I left for New York and the Edgar banquet.  My friend Jan Grape had also been nominated that year for Best Non-Fiction and we were able to rent a small apartment on the east side and spent a wonderful week up there.  I had strict orders to call Frank the minute I won.  He never said anything about my not winning.  Needless to say, I didn't win, and it was the hardest phone call of my life.  I called my husband first and he was stoic about it, but then I had to call Frank.  Somehow in my mind I'd confused my winning that Edgar with my brother living.  I'm sure my winning would have worked as well as the talisman in his wallet and the tea in his coffee; i.e., not at all.

In early October I went to Bouchercon in Philadelphia, just a train ride from Baltimore.  Frank was once again a guest at Johns-Hopkins, and I took the train down to see him.  He was excited.  He and his doctor had just seen Carl Ripkin, Jr., in the halls of the oncology ward.  The two of them, on seeing Mr. Ripkin, Jr., going down the stairs, followed him, my brother carrying his IV pole and clutching the back of his hospital gown.  Frank's doctor told me the son was there to see his father, Carl Ripkin, Sr.  I found the mental picture of my brother chasing the baseball star down the stairs amusing and shared this later that evening, back in Philadelphia, with my dinner companions.  I forgot that one of them was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.  The headline in the next day's paper?  Carl Ripkin, Sr., hospitalized in cancer ward at Johns-Hopkins.  For a short while, my family referred to me as "deep throat."

It was only a few short weeks later that I got a call from Frank.  "I need to tell you something," he said.  His voice was ragged.  "Anything," I said.  "I'm sorry I blackmailed you," he said.  "That's okay," I said.  "It's what brothers do."  And he told me he loved me and I told him I loved him.  Two days later he died.

We buried my brother's ashes on Halloween on a beautiful hill in the Maryland countryside.  My sister-in-law stuck one of Frank's favorite cigars in the hole with his ashes, then we went to her home, got drunk, and all smoked the rest of his cigars.

And our family was no longer blessed.  I lost both my parents in 2001 -- Dad in January, Mom in April.  Five years later my beloved husband, Don Cooper, had his fourth heart attack and was unable to come back from that one.  He was sixty-one.

To this day, my sister-in-law, my daughter and nephews all call each other on Thanksgiving and give a tequila toast to Frank.  After a few years, we added Don's name to the toast.

But I'll always remember the year 1998 as the best and the worst.  An Edgar nomination, a trip to St. John, a week in New York -- and the death of my hero.  My big brother.

28 April 2014

The Story of a Story


IN THE EIGHTIES

Once upon a time, a writer of magazine articles and promotional materials for entertainers read about a seminar being held at the local university.  Several big name fiction authors including James Dickey were featured speakers and would serve on panels to consult with attendees about their work.  A short piece of fiction or the opening fifteen pages of a novel could be submitted for a contest.  The writer sat down, wrote her first short story on a portable Underwood, and sent in "Positive Proof" with her registration.

Did she win the contest?  No, but an interesting thing happened.
On the last night of the conference, one of the "big" names sought her out.

"I was one of the short story judges," he began.

Being more in awe of successful authors back then than she is now, she replied quietly, "Yes, I know."

"I wanted to tell you that I fought for your story.  I thought it should have won first place, but I was outvoted."  He smiled.
"For some reason, they went with that usual southern memoir kind of story."
Fran Rizer in the Eighties

"Thank you," she replied and thought no more about it.  Her first fiction was no more 'southern memoir' than what she writes now. It was about the Kennedy assassination.


The writer continued selling pieces to magazines and really had no desire to delve into fiction again.  "Positive Proof" lay dormant for several years.  I am that writer, and the story of "Positive Proof" is my story.


IN THE NINETIES

After my divorce, I joined a writers' group at the local B&N.
Every time I took in nonfiction or even magazines with my articles printed in them, I heard, "Oh, that's fine, but fiction is a different ballgame.  It's a hard nut to crack."

One night the man I thought of as "the guru" (I had private nicknames for each member of the group), passed out brochures about the Porter Fleming Fiction Competition, sponsored at that time by the Augusta, GA, Arts Council.  (The contest is now in its twenty-first year and sponsored by Morris College.)

That's the first and last time I ever paid anyone to read something I've written, but I dusted off "Positive Proof," wrote a check for ten dollars, and entered the contest.
The nineties

No, I didn't win first. That went to George Singleton, an already successful short story writer from the Greenville, SC, area whose fiction had been published in Playboy. 
George won $1000. With my prize came $500 and an invitation to read the story at the Arts Festival. I accepted both.

The reception and readings were a wonderful experience. To make it even better, George came up to me at the end and told me he liked my story and was positive I could sell it.

I sent the manuscript to only one mag, which was a big mistake because it was a mystery magazine, and that story isn't a mystery. Devastated when I received a personally written rejection letter stating that the story wasn't suitable for them, I put "Positive Proof" back in a bottom drawer. My magazine features always sold first time out. Why should I inflict this self-induced agony of rejection on myself?


IN THE 2000s

A few years after my retirement on disability in 2001, I ventured into fiction again.  In 2006, I contracted with Berkley Prime Crime for the first three Callies.


Early 2000s

In 2012, I realized that much would be made in 2013 of the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination, so I pulled out "Positive Proof," updated it a bit, and sent it off to Strand in plenty of time to be considered for publication in 2013.
I still haven't heard from them, so I assume they didn't want it.
The Fran Rizer who sold
"Positive Proof"

On a whim, I sent that story somewhere else a few months ago.  I am pleased to announce that "Positive Proof" has found a home and will be published next month.  Check back in two weeks to see who is publishing it and where you can read it.

Until we meet again… take care of you.

28 October 2013

More of the Favorites


More of the Favorite Mysteries of the Century

In case you've forgotten, the 100 favorites were chosen by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.  The book was published in 2000 and edited by Jim Huang.









1960-1969

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar (1960)
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre (1963)
The Deep Blue Good-Bye by John D, MacDonald (1964)
The Chill by Ross MacDonald (1964)
In The Heat of the Night by John Ball (1965)
Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes (1965)

1970-1979

Time And Again by Jack Finney (1970)
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (1970)
No More Dying Then by Ruth Rendell (1971)
An Unsuitable Job For a Woman by P.D. James (1972)
Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain (1972)
Dark Nantucket Noon by Jane Langton (1975)
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (1975)
The Sunday Hangman by James McClure (1977)
Edwin of the Iron Shoes by Marcia Muller (1977)
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978)
Chinaman's Chance by Ross Thomas (1978)
Whip Hand by Dick Francis (1979)
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (1979)

1980-1989

Looking For Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker (1980)
Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (1981)
The Man With a Load of Mischief  by Martha Grimes (1981)
Death by Sheer Torture by Robert Barnard (1982)
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes by K.C. Constantine (1982
 "A" Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton (1982)
The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell (1984)
Deadlock by Sara Paretsky (1984)
Strike Three You're Dead by R.D. Rosen (1984)
When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman (1985)
Sleeping Dog by Dick Lochte (1985)
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block (1986)
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen (1986)
The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman (1986)
Rough Cider by Peter Lovesey (1986)
The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais (1987)
Old Bones by Aaron Elkins (1987)
The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham (1987)
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987)
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (1988)
The Silence of the Lamb by Thomas Harris (1988)
A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman (1988)
Death's Bright Angel by Janet Neel (1988)
Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke (1989)

1990-1999

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (1990)
If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O by Sharyn McCrumb (1990)
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (1990)
Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White (1990)
Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton (1992)
Booked to Die by John Dunning (1992)
Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron (1992)
The Ice House by Minette Walters (1992)
Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr (1993)
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1993)
Child of Silence by Abigail Padgett (1993)
The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly (1994)
The Yellow Room Conspiracy by Peter Dickenson (1994)
One For The Money by Janet Evanovich (1994)
Mallory's Oracle by Carol O'Connell (1994)
A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross (1994)
Who in the Hell is Wanda Fuca? by G. M. Ford (1995)
Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry (1995)
Blue Lonesome by Bill Pronzini (1995)
Concourse by S.J. Rozan (1995)
Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane (1996)
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte (1996)
A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (1996)
Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie (1997)
Blood at the Root by Peter Robinson (1997)
On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill (1998)

 I know some of you might complain that your favorite author isn't listed.  Please remember this list was compiled by the mystery bookstore owners or managers or staff. The bookstores were all members of the Independent  Mystery Booksellers Association. And the selections were not necessarily best-sellers. These were the favorites of each store and some members picked on the criteria of "what books would I want to have if I were stranded on a desert island." Sometimes, if the author had a continuing character, then the first in the series was listed, when that author had repeats from more than one store. Another criteria was an author or book was one the bookseller recommended to their customers most often. That was one of the fun things for me in our bookstore...when a customer asked for a new author.  New to them, although the book might have been written years ago. Most mystery readers enjoy an author who had a series and naturally they wanted the first book in the series.

This was a fun project. We owe Jim Huang a big debt. For getting the IMBA members to compile this list and publishing it.

Okay, class, how many to you know and/or have read?