Showing posts with label New Years. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Years. Show all posts

03 January 2023

A Halkett Happy New Year

According to historians, the Babylonians were the first people to embrace the concept of a New Year's Resolution. For them, them, the new year began with the vernal equinox in the middle of March. As an agricultural society, they planted crops at this time. Then, they kicked off the year with a 12-day party.

The celebration, called Akitu, seems to have been a mixture of revelry, patriotism, and religious ceremony. The Babylonians renewed their vows of loyalty to their king and promised to pay off debts to the gods. They promised to return borrowed goods (Usually thought to be farm implements traded around during the planting season).

These promises are considered the forerunners of contemporary New Year’s Resolutions.

The Roman emperor Caesar moved the start of the year to January in 46 B.C.E. As we are reminded regularly, January is named for Janus, the god of arches and doorways. The god is pictured with two faces, one looking forward while the other looks back. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus on January 1st and promised good conduct for the year to come.

Using the Caesarian calendar, early Christians adopted the first day of the new year as a time for self-contemplation. It became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past sins and resolving to perform better in the year ahead. Medieval knights reportedly renewed vows of chivalry at the end of each year by placing their hands on the feathers of a peacock. The “peacock vow” was a commitment to be a better person in the year ahead.

On January 2nd, 1671, Anne Halkett, a member of Scotland's gentry, wrote a number of pledges in her diary. These included the vow, "I will not offend any more." She entitled the page "Resolutions.” It is the first recorded resolution to kick off the start of a year.

The full phrase "new year resolution" is first found in a January 1st article, “The Friday Lecture,” published in a Boston newspaper in 1813.

And yet, I believe there are multitudes of people accustomed to receive.

Injunctions of new year resolutions who will sin all the month of December With a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behaviour, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away all their former faults.

© Wikimedia Commons

What I like about the 1813 note is not the solemn resolve to be better in the year ahead but rather the expressed thought that resolutions may serve as an excuse for a December blow-out.

While resolutions have always been about getting better, over the centuries, the emphasis has shifted from an abundant harvest, avoidance of sin, or securing salvation to personal improvement goals like weight loss or smoking cessation.

Let me then gather up the nearest peacock, draw him close, and make a few writer resolutions for 2023. I know I've waited until January 3rd. But, if Anne Halkett can postpone a day or so to drop her self-improvement goals, so can I.

  1. Set a realistic writing goal.
    I read a back-and-forth debate in the online community about this. Write honestly every day, and don't worry about the output is one admonition. But I like measurables. Last year, I averaged a story a month. I vow to be a bit more productive in 2023. I'll stake out 15 stories as my goal. (I know that writers like John Floyd call that a Tuesday.) Still, it measures my attempt to spend a smidge more time in the writing chair while balancing my other commitments.
  2. Set a realistic reading goal.
    This one is harder for me to quantify. I used to keep a running list of the books I'd read in a year. I stopped a few years ago. I don't really know why. As a result, I can’t say how many I read in 2022. So I can't set out a number goal to build upon that total. But I know I need to read more. It's good for me and for my craft. This 2023 resolution, therefore, is a two-parter. Read more and keep a log. That way, I’ll have a baseline for 2024.
  3. Meet more writers.
    Like many of my fellow writers, I'm introverted by nature. That's why I work a job in the jail's basement. I tend to control the conversations with the inmates and don't find myself forced into too many casual conversations. But I need to get out more. I'm resolved to be more active in at least one writer's group. In my experience, it's not that hard. Most people will gush with talk when simply asked, "What are you working on?" I must make myself pose the question more frequently.
  4. Screw up something new.
    Making a mistake I've made before is something I do frequently. It usually means I need to pay more attention. But fouling up in a new way, hopefully, means I'm challenging myself to try something different. It could be a new genre or a different voice. I don't know. With any luck next year, I can tell you about my colossal success with my 2023 experiment.

On the day of this blog post, we'll be driving across the southwest. The landscape provides a lot of open desert and time for contemplation. I'm sure I'll think of other writer's resolutions—consistent use of commas, more and better rewriting.

I hope you remain firm in whatever resolutions you settle upon. May you find the write words for 2023.

Until next time.

New Year’s Resolutions: A Pretty Old Practice,

01 January 2023

№ 00419088

Lee Morris, Helen Louise Morris, Ryan Morris
Lee Morris, Helen Louise, Ryan

Louisiana Perish

Twenty seven years ago on another New Years Day in a small northern Louisiana town, the bodies of a moderately wealthy couple in their late sixties were found shot to death, Lee and Helen Louise Morris. Their visiting 9-year-old grandson, Ryan, was missing.

Near the end of the month, a teen found Ryan’s pajama-clad body. All three Morrises had  been shot in the head by the same .22 calibre pistol. Two months after the discovery, investigators arrested Mark Morris, son of Lee and Helen, father of Ryan, for first degree homicide.

The arrest surprised no one except the arrestee. He had been terribly careless in quotes and comments, raising suspicions since the beginning of the case. He was even picked up on a courthouse microphone admitting to his then-lawyer that he was guilty. The unusual aspect of this case was the motive– Louisiana’s Legislature had recently changed the law.

Untenable story, miniature of page 1

Fiction Becomes Factual

Several years ago, a Canadian publication serialized a locked-room mystery, one I’d written. Its title, ‘Untenable’, was a play on words. The motive in that homicide was a 2010 change in federal law.

It was a damned good locked room conundrum and I considered the motive unique. Then recently, I discovered a real murderer reacted to a change in state statutes.

For two centuries, a Louisiana doctrine called ‘forced heirship’ dictated that parents must divide their estate evenly amongst their progeny. No child could be disinherited without disinheriting all. The repeal abolished forced heirship and would take effect exactly midnight on New Year’ Day 1996.

Unhappy New Year

Helen Louise and Lee Morris visited their attorney and wrote a new will, leaving out their troublesome kid, Mark. They made the mistake of telling him.

Mark Morris allowed his parents to live into the waning hours of 1995 and then killed them for their nest egg. Grandson Ryan witnessed the killings and, in that parent’s depraved mind, he had to go.

With one exception, surprisingly little about the case appears on-line, mainly an AP news item and a find-a-grave squib. The one exception, however, is a well-written article explaining details. I recommend it.

As far as I can determine, Mark Morris resides in Angola Prison. He’ll die there whereupon his corpse will be interred in a grave with no marker revealing his name nor even his prisoner number, 00419088.

May you have a singularly wonderful — and safe — 2023.

02 January 2022

New Years - Past, Present, Future Done Lightly

New Years Past

A century ago, similar concerns.

cartoon © 1921 Buffalo Times (New York)
Normalcy © 1921 Buffalo Times (New York)

New Years Present

The light show, just because.

New Years Future

At heart, mystery writers are romantics searching for happy endings in our own little world.

Oh, c'mon, admit it– that's sweet.

Happy New Year!

01 January 2020

2020 Foresight

Congratulations!  If you are reading this you successfully navigated into the year 2020!  We hope the champagne hangover is not too painful.

One of the great traditions of New Year's Day is making predictions for the year to come.  Another is mocking the idiotic predictions people made last year.  Maybe we can try the latter in 2021, but for today a bunch of SleuthSayers and some of our favorite mystery writers have pulled out our Ouija boards and tried to tell you where to invest the rent money.  Or at least give you something to ponder until the Alka-Seltzer kicks in.  Enjoy.

S.J. Rozan: My prediction for crime writing in 2020: the field will continue healthy, getting a new jolt of energy with the continued erosion of the white male as the default character and writer around whom women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and disabled people orbit. We're a long from there but the field will continue to move along the path of everyone's stories being equally valuable and equally interesting. 

For my prediction for myself I turned to that 21st century Magic 8 Ball, the iPhone's predictive text. I typed in "In 2020 my career" and let the phone finish the sentence. Uh-oh. "In 2020 my career is in my mind and I’m not going on the right side because I have a plan."

Marilyn Todd: 
What’s ahead, you want to know.
Noir? Thriller? Short storio?
I predict that from PIs to history
To a nice cozy mystery
Publishers still make all the dough.

Melodie Campbell: 2020 will be a year of great vision.

Josh Pachter: I predict that, truth being stranger than fiction, 2020 will see a whole lot of true-crime books detailing the antics of current and former members of the Trump administration, plus a lot of nasty name-calling during the months leading up to Election Day.

Steve Liskow: First, the traditional publishing industry will double down on what it sees as winners and ignore everything else. Established writers with a large following won’t be affected, but newbies wanting to break in will either write those genres or go indie.

As bookstores need the discount from big houses, they will be less and less inclined to carry work by unknowns or indie writers.  That will drive more Indie writers to publish strictly in digital format. Readers who want more choice than the trads and bookstores offer will push the digital model even farther.

Kenneth Wishnia: I predict that JEWISH NOIR 2 will come out in September!

Steve Hockensmith: I boldly predict that 2020 will be a year of corruption, scandal, zealotry, lies, hyperbole, hypocrisy, vapidity, vulgarity, outrage, spin and animus. In related news, I predict that I will drink a lot.

Gary Phillips: As "Watchmen," "Mr. Robot," and "The Daily Show," have demonstrated, the wall between fantasy and reality will melt completely and only the misguided and misunderstood in crime fiction will be able to point the way out.

John M. Floyd: In 2020 I’ll be publishing a book that’s far from anything I’ve ever done.  More on that later.

Robert Mangeot: 1.We’re living in a glorious age of crime fiction. The genre has never been more diverse and talent-rich. Great authors are treating us to their best work, and in 2020 I’ll read a steady stream of amazing stuff.  2. Much Diet Coke will summon a first draft should actual ideas fail me. 3. I’ve recently bought a working Bat Signal for the writing office. It’s even money that I’ll need it.

Paul D. Marks: Instead of novels about cats and cupcakes, the next new trend in publishing will be slumgullion. The Cat Who Ate the Slumgullion. The Missionary Who Drowned in the Slumgullion. Girl Gone Slumgullion. The Slumgullion in Cabin10. The Slumgullion on the Train. The Slumgullion On the Blue Dress

I also predict that there will be a surge in reading. People will throw away their cell phones in favor of paperback books – about slumgullion. People will stand about staring at paperback books, not looking at the Rembrandt hanging behind them. Not looking at each other. They’ll go to dinner and be reading madly instead of talking to each other.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider: On April 1, 2015, I posted on Facebook: “I was sworn to secrecy until April 1, but I can now announce my Rabbi Aviva Cohen books have been optioned as a movie by Spielberg, as a series by HBO, and as a musical by Sondheim. Bette Midler will star in all 3 productions. And Mel Brooks is teaming up with Gene Wilder and Carl Reiner to adapt my Talk Dirty Yiddish as a PBS special.” I predict that in 2020, my announcement will go from April Fool’s joke to reality.

Travis Richardson: I'm not sure what to predict that's not politically dire. Maybe, due to AI, hacking, and electronic invasion of privacy 2020 will see a surprising demand in typewriters and stationery.

Charles Salzberg: As a kid, when my parents were otherwise engaged—in other words, paying no attention to me--I’d tune into the Tonight Show. One of Johnny Carson’s favorite bits was Karnak who, wearing a garishly bejeweled turban, held a sealed envelope to his temple and mysteriously divined the contents. For some reason, perhaps it’s the alliteration, the one that sticks with me was his prediction of “Tics in Tennessee.”  Knowing there’s no way I can top that one, I can only offer this: as successful as I will be avoiding work in every creative way possible, I will still manage to complete a new novel and it will probably, once again, piss off mystery reader purists.

Mary Fernando: Sex in the New Year:
*Women have spoken out in #MeToo and #TimesUp. Women leaders like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern have redefined what women do on the world stage: they are strong and they are compassionate. New leaders like Greta Thunberg are showing us what women will do in the future.
*These changes impact men too in the growing #HeforShe movements, where men admire this new, strong and compassionate woman.
*How will this change writing? I suspect that some old roles women and men played in fiction will go the way of ‘Blackface’ portrayals, as a different type of woman and man are written.

Michael Mallory:  I predict the widespread trend of setting mysteries and thrillers in the past will continue, and for one reason: it circumvents the cell phone problem. Who today can disappear, be abducted, or even face danger when all they have to do is call 911 on their cell, or be called by others? What detective needs to follow clues when all he/she has to do is Google information on their smartphone? Cell phones are a hindrance to mystery plotting, and rather than struggling to explain why a character doesn’t use one, it’s just easier to set the story in pre-cellphone times.

Signora Eva di Vesey di Neroni (AKA Eve Fisher): As the definition of what is criminal behavior becomes increasingly elastic, the fiction market will primarily be:
(1) hardcore noir, where everyone knows everyone is rotten;
(2) Amish and Heartland detectives, all male, whose purity and probity are incontestable.  They always catch the criminal, win all the hearts, and then go home to Sarah;
(3) More Presidential vampire / zombie slayers.
(4) More Presidential vampires / zombies, being slain by others

T.K. Thorne:
Bookstores will thrive again as people reconnect with the tactile experience of ‘real’ books. Digital offerings will give more choices for the paths of plot. As for murder, I predict it will continue.

Stephen Ross: I predict for 2020 that I will, once again, fail to come up with an ending for a long-time resident in my short story WIP folder. It's a science fiction story I wrote a couple of years ago. It's a really cool, funny story, with a couple of great characters... but it has no ending.

Kate Thornton: I think we are going to see much in the way of public rebellion against the dismantling of the rule of law which will be reflected in fiery discourse, massive public engagement, and a triumph of reason over mindless greed. This will be a field of dreams for writers of both crime fiction and chroniclers of true crime. The field will sprout with book after successful book, delighting us with engaging characters who may have been deemed boring in the past, villains who would have seemed extreme a few scant years ago, and crimes more complex and insidious than the usual whodunit. I urge my fellow writers to get ready for an explosion of creative crime, as we do what we have always done: use our art to right the world, our words to restore the balance once more.

Craig Faustus Buck: I predict no new books from Agatha Christie in 2020. Once again, the Grand Dame shall be resting on her laurels. The same can most likely be said for my lazy self.

Jan Grape:  I predict, there will be another 392 new authors in the Mystery genre in 2020 that I won't know.  I predict that Harlan Coben, Lee Child, & Michael Connelly all will have block buster thrillers and new movies out on various mediums in 2020. I predict our SleuthSayers authors will have more award wins. Finally, I predict, and this better be in your column, Rob or I might have to call you a Texan, I predict I'll finally learn how to use my new 4 month old laptop and my printer/copier/scanner/ dishwasher/microwave/laundry duo so I may get a short story written, be nominated and win an award in 2020 myself.

James Lincoln Warren: I predict that all the predictions I make about 2020 will be wrong.  And when they all are, the fact that this particular prediction will turn out to be true will result the complete breakdown of causality, and time will cease to exist.  After that, either the universe will explode, or I will win the Oscar for Best Prognostication.

Robert Lopresti: The Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards committees will continue to demonstrate their  shameful prejudice against mystery writers who happen to be left-handed Italian-American librarians.

Brendan Dubois: 1. The popularity of novels involving vampires will finally wane, 15 years after I first predicted it.  2. Novels featuring windows, girls, and trains will no longer be popular.  However, novels featuring doors, boys, and Greyhound buses will see an upswing. 3. If you thought the presidential election of 2016 was wild, 2020 will say, "Hold my beer."

03 January 2014

Starting Over

What's that, buddy, you say it's a couple of days after New Year's and you're feeling a little disoriented? Your mind is uneasy and your hand hesitates when it comes to putting the current date in that upper right hand corner of your check when it comes to paying bills? You have to stop and think what year you're in?
Well, you're not alone in this, my friend. That's been the way of the world since civilization began. Different people have started their new years on different dates for centuries and some of us still aren't on the same calendar.

Take for instance, the Babylonians some four thousand years ago. Yeah, them guys what invented the original Hanging Garden. Their new year arrived on the first new moon following the vernal equinox--the day in late March which had an equal amount of day and night. This was the day they cut their barley. I assumed they then used it to make bread and beer for the resulting celebration. Happy New Year!!! I wonder if them guys were also the ones who came up with the idea of blowing horns at New Year's parties while sipping beer?

Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, pinned the first day of their new year to the annual flooding of the Nile, which made their fields fertile again for another year. This date also coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. Not sure how they got it to rain enough upriver for the flood to arrive in time for the star to shine, but that was probably enough to make an ancient Egyptian religious.

Then along comes Romulus, the founder of Rome in about the 8th century BC. He gets credit for the early Roman calendar consisting of 10 months, or 304 days in a year. Time was short in them days. His new year also started on the vernal equinox, although many subsequent rulers commenced their new year on whatever date they began their rule. Talk about having trouble planning your New Year's Eve parties in advance. Later, King Numa Pompilius decided to stretch things out, so he added the months of Januarius and Februarius. Gradually, the calendar fell out of synch with the sun, so when Julius Caesar got to be the man in charge, he put together a bunch of astrologers and math guys. With their input, he then invented the Julian calendar, obviously named after some fellow he knew and admired. Caesar declared January 1st as the first day of the new year, in honor of Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings. If I remember right, that Janus guy used to wear a mask. Citizens then attended raucous parties. Probably drank some of that Babylonian brand of beer. However, I think them Romans, to show they were a higher degree of sophisticated civilization than anybody else, were actually partial to the consumption of wine.

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated Harold at Hastings and therefore declared January 1 to be the start of the year. It was his opinion that his coronation in England should start the year, especially since that date was also supposedly the the date of the circumcision of Christ (the 8th day after his birth on December 25th as they reckoned it). Seems the ruler got to make the rules, and it was good to be the king. This January 1 decree soon slid into disuse as England joined the rest of the Christian world to celebrate the new year on March 25th, which was known as Annunciation Day or Lady Day, the day Mary was allegedly told by Gabriel that she would bear God's son Jesus.

Not to be left out of the ongoing situation, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII got an educated fellow to reform the Julian calendar with January 1 as the beginning of the new year again. Pope Greg then named it the Gregorian calendar after some guy he thought highly of, much like Julius did to the old Roman one back in his day. Turns out, Julius is the one who gave us Leap Years, but it took Greg's math geek to figure out which Leap Years got skipped so as to put us back on schedule with the sun.

Even though Pope Greg told all the Christians what day New Years fell on, it still took time to get all the different countries in line. France converted in 1564 with the Edict of Roussillion, Scotland in 1600 and Russia in 1700. Britain, Ireland and the British Empire waited until 1752 (Scotland evidently didn't want to be part of the British Empire in those days), while Thailand didn't come around until 1941. In the meantime, what date started your new year depended upon whether you had your date determined by the Easter Style, the Modern (or Circumcision) Style, the Annunciation (or Lady) Day Style or some other method. And, some ethnic groups still stick to their own calendars.

So, Friend, if you find some hesitation in your thinking about the what the date is during this new year, you probably come by it honestly. The first of the year date has long been subject to change in the past. Of course that same hesitation you felt could be due to the amount of Babylonian beer or Roman wine you consumed at somebody's raucous party. As for me, these days the wife and I tend to watch New Year's celebrations on either London or NYC time via television and then call it a night. Been about five years since we even bothered to watch the fireworks set off on top of Pikes Peak at midnight to mark the incoming year.

Hope you had a good one.

It's now January 3rd on my calendar of the year 20...uh...14.

30 December 2013

Social Media

Jan GrapeAs 2013 ends and 2014 begins, I'm finding myself in a somewhat melancholy mood.  Maybe even a bit vulnerable, tinged with sadness. The 29th of December is the eighth anniversary of the day my whole world changed. My husband, Elmer Grape, my first reader, my love and best friend of almost thirty nine years died.

Not using this as a plea for sympathy but just asking the question that occurs to me, every now and again. What and why are we telling people our personal information?
Young people are only now realizing that sending nude photos or sexting information to their heart throb can get them in serious trouble. Of course, adults have been guilty of it too. Think that man in the political arena in NY who recently ran for office again. Yes, I know his name, and so do you, but no sense naming him. Just as soon forget him.

People recently have sent messages over Twitter that they wish they hadn't almost immediately. Sometimes managing to get fired from their job in the process. It's also possible to lose out on getting a job because the person doing the hiring, checks out the applicants social media page. How about your lawyer checking it out when you're getting a divorce? Or your parole officer when you're out of jail and on parole? Not to many good reasons here to broadcast your innermost feelings to the whole world.

Yet I find there is much good that happens when you tell everyone that your pet is sick or has died. Other pet lovers send you encouragement, healing thoughts and reminders that our beloved pet awaits us just over the rainbow bridge. That we'll be reunited with that furry child one day. Or mentioning an illness of your pet, you may learn of a different or unusual treatment. It may be nothing more than helping you feel better until you can report your pet has recovered.

How about discussing with social media when there's an illness in your immediate family. Or a divorce? Or a death? Many writers are basically solitary people who actually don't like talking much to outsiders. Others don't think anything about sharing what's going on in their lives.

Honestly, I think sharing and getting positive responses from others, friends, family or even Facebook friends can be helpful in my times of joy, sorrow or stress.  Sometimes just discussing how you feel, helps you handle whatever is going on in your world. To me that's the good part of social media. These "out there" forms of everyone knowing everything about you is certainly something to think about and discuss.

Let me hear how others feel about being reticent or opening yourself up in this manner.
I'm hoping to reach a middle road… not telling everything I know or feel, but certainly not above asking for a hand of friendship when I feel I may need it. How about you?

I had an awesome Christmas and visit with part of my family in Pigeon Forge and Nashville, TN and am looking forward to seeing more family in the next week or two. And I'm certainly looking forward to what this bright NEW YEAR of 2014 has to bring. Look out Texas, here I come.

02 January 2012

January 2012

Jan Grape Janus. I'd always heard that Janus was a two-faced God. That always made me sad since my full name of Janice derived from Janus and I never thought I was two-faced. And never wanted to be considered two-faced either. A couple of days ago a friend wrote a newsletter and she said January was from the word Janus and it meant new beginnings. I like that better. A new week, a new month and a whole new year.

I'm like a number of people I know, I don't really make New Year resolutions. I quit smoking fifteen years ago. I lost twenty-five pounds this past year on Weight Watchers and am still trying to eat healthier and continue to lose. I don't exercise enough but I try. Taking yoga once a week and bowling once a week helps. I'm going to try to get a walking program going.

One major thing I'll try to do this year is write more. I haven't worked on my latest book in quite some time. Partly because I was trying to get moved and get my office set up. Partly because I had an alien move in with me and seems like I was always running him someplace or the other. Partly because I didn't always feel too good. However, I'll admit none of those reasons are worth a tinker's dam (whatever that means.)

Sometimes you just have to sit down in front of the computer screen and write. Okay, that sounds easy enough, but if the muse doesn't move you then what? You have to set a word count and stick to it. But the muse still doesn't tickle your creative brain.

For me, I'm going to have to set a time frame. Maybe start off with one hour. Try to write something in that one hour. I believe it was Sue Grafton who said this in a talk I heard her give, to start by writing "THE." Then sit there for your allotted time frame, no matter what. Okay, I can write, "The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog."

You must start with an urge to write. An idea that fascinates you or excites you or intrigues you. Then not let everything else get in the way. I know these things, but don't always do them. And I honestly don't know why.

I know writers who treat their writing as a job. They get up, dress as if going to their office downtown then go into their office at home and write from eight to twelve or from two to five. Nothing wrong with that, but I think I spent too many years working at a job and that way doesn't appeal to me anymore.

Oddly enough when I'm writing, I'm having fun. I enjoy the heck out of creating a good scene, having the dialogue flow, getting a character to tell me why and how the scene will go. I've often said it's one of the best highs you can have to write something creative and know it's working and clicking along.

So why do I procrastinate? I have no idea. I don't think I'm lazy. I just have in mind that I will sit down a write after while a little later. Then the next thing I know, I've gotten busy with something and time goes by and it's time to clean the litter box or feed the cats or fix something to eat because I'm starving. Or there is laundry to do or it's time to go pick Cason up from work.

So instead of a new year's resolution, I'm going to try, just for one day, just for today, to set a time frame, shortly after I get up and have breakfast and come sit in front of the computer and write something. Even if it doesn't work as a scene for my latest book. Just write something.

And if I manage one hour then I'll try for two, Or try to write as many words as I can, 250 or 450 or some amount.

Other than writing. I'm going to try to be nicer to people. To help someone in need. To call a friend and invite her to lunch. To smile more.

To just enjoy this brand new year to the fullest.