Showing posts with label Thanksgiving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thanksgiving. Show all posts

30 November 2018

The Kindness of Strangers
A Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

by Leigh Lundin

The Oyster Pub, Dalton, Florida, and Georgia American Legion Riders. Remember that.

Meanwhile…

The near ox died at noon. After prayers, we buried our little Bessie beside the loyal beast, then continued south at wagon train speed.

Georgie Boy Cruise XL
Bertha
So it seemed. I was volunteered to drive a 40-foot, 33,000-pound machine a thousand miles from Indianapolis to Orlando. (12m, 15,000kg, and 1600km, respectively) I’ve driven that distance straight through, but not a 15-ton covered wagon the size of a Greyhound bus: Freightliner chassis, Caterpillar diesel engine, Allison transmission, a flippin’ huge RV.

I haven’t driven anything that size since young and foolish teen years driving large, dual-axle trucks semi-legally (notice author’s clever avoidance of the word ‘illegally’) for a legislator who interpreted his state’s labor and highway laws loosely.

With three drivers and only two vehicles, the trip should have been a snap, right? Except…

It’s like that puzzle of the weird guy at a river who wants to ferry a chicken, a fox, and a sack of grain in a rowboat that can accommodate only one thing at a time (setting aside the obvious question of why he’s carrying around a fox drooling over his pet chicken). See, one of the drivers couldn’t drive the big motorhome. One person couldn’t drive at night. Another party (me) wasn’t permitted to drive the car. I was told that’s because of my out-of-state license, but I suspect it had more to do with a previous encounter with an elk. Furthermore, parties with XX chromosomes suffered motion sickness. Coincidentally, said motor coach suffered XX passengers’ deep fingernail gouges in armrests when XY chromosome driver gleefully hurtled down twisting Tennessee mountain roads. Ahem.

After fighting high winds and icy roads either side of Louisville, we holed up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to gather strength. From the rolling, twisting, pitching hills, two drivers took sick… consumption or maybe cholera. Another driver (me) was running critically short of sleep.

We opted for a motel rather than further strain the RV’s sensitive plumbing. The motel, which shall remain anonymous, featured two unique amenities.

First, the immaculately tiled bathroom stank like a water buffalo died. We came to suspect the stench was piped in through the ventilation system from room 127, a room where Bobby MacAllister caught his wife in bed with his best friend Buddy Hatfield, in flagrante delicto you might say. He shot them both, hung a ‘Do Not Disturb’ placard on the door, and paid for the room for the next six months. I’m pretty sure I’m correct.

Second were the fine acoustics that allowed us to hear every nuance of neighbors on either side. Room 125 thoughtfully tuned in the shopping channel for the entire night. I’m not sure how mental exhaustion played into it, but I’m now the proud owner of genuine 45kt zirconia earrings, a set of exquisite, hand-painted vice president portrait collector’s plates, and a complete set of Rachel Ray engraved Chinese-quality knives– and I’m not even sure who Rachel Ray is.

The other neighbor (for those who suspect I’m susceptible to hyperbole, I swear this is absolutely true) had a bangin’ good time… again and again… at length (pardon the pun).

Session № 1 commenced at 02:54 –that’s AM in the bleedin’ early morning– and ended at 03:11. For the really good at math, that’s more than a quarter of an hour of energetic bunny rabbit bumping. After a mere ten minutes, my lower back muscles began to ache in sympathy. Guys know what I’m talking about.

After fifteen continuous minutes, one of the women suggested the loudspeaker lady was alone and “really spanking it,” whatever that meant.

I didn’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong, but symphonic percussion included slapping headboard and xylophonic bedsprings allegro, accompanied by feminine coloratura ‘ooo’s, gasps, and grace-note shrieks. Duet or solo? May the reader decide.

Eventually the participant(s) wore out and went silent. We settled in, trying to sleep to a sales pitch for the Rachel Ray Chinese macramé kit, which if you ordered now, included a matching tea cosy and serviette ties.

Session № 2 commenced at 7:14. I swear that time’s accurate because I’d blankly stared at the clock for hours. This session waxed as enthusiastically as the previous bumps in the night.

I’m ashamed of the womenfolk, I really am. Granted, once again they were abruptly awakened, but what good are all those romance novels if one nips flowering love in the bud? I’m talking their loud clearing of throats and not-so-discreet coughs while I’m hushing them, “Shhh! Shhh!”

I’ve studiously ducked that no-win discussion whether men are more logical than the opposite sex, but when admittedly half-asleep women in a motel call out, “Get a room!” I retreat back to my cave to avoid debate.

After delicious Waffle House carbohydrates served by country’s most patient waitresses, the wagon train again hit the road. What is it those FedEx tandem trucks have against me? Barely three minutes into the journey, one of FedEx’s semis towing twin trailers passed me… almost… before it pulled back to the right lane… with me still there. Apparently the driver forget he was hauling two wagons.

FedEx predator
Interstate 75’s “Christine”
Swift, heroic action on my part saved the day. Heroic here means gut-wrenching terror.

This marked the second time I was attacked by a FedEx tandem rig. The day before, a speeding driver in heavy winds nearly sideswiped me and others as the semi serpentined down a mountainside from median to right shoulder and back again. At the bottom of the slope, the road straightened and the driver regained control, whereupon he headed to the nearest Pilot truck stop to wash his jeans.

On the way and at loose ends, we’d discussed where to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner. The tally had run against me 2-to-1. My companions opted for Cracker Barrel. I don’t have anything against crackers or barrels, but I have this prejudice about the evil lovechild of a rooster and a cow called chicken-fried steak. I mean, how bad does a meat slab have to be to rekill it with a hammer, bread it and deep fry it? Maybe it’s just me. With visions of steak-fried turkey dancing in my head, we pulled off I-75 at Exit 333, Dalton, Georgia.

I’m not saying West Walnut Avenue isn’t made for motor homes, but skateboards would feel more comfortable among its dips, hollows, and tight turns. In fact, a number of RVs could be found there, caught, I believe, in a sort of giant Venus flytrap.

I inadvertently (or perhaps Freudianly) passed the street to the Cracker Barrel. With a charming brick median and short, narrow streets, I had to figure out how to turn around.

My co-pilot suggested reversing in the Steak ’n’ Shake parking lot perched atop a hill. I looked aghast at it. This flatlander’s not saying it was steep, but goats rappelled up the slope with T-bars. Best I could make out, my navigator meant the tilting twelve-foot tall vehicle should tiptoe low-gear up a dangerous, curving slope and suicidally leap off the cliff into the correct lane. That’s my theory.

I chose to squeeze through a bank parking lot where my graceful U-turn back onto Walnut resembled… well, picture a twelve-foot high, fifteen ton, unbalanced washing machine determined to shake its way out of a laundromat.

Further misadventures ensued until we found the backside of Cracker Barrel and parked in a mall lot. Here, my friends, our story took a charmingly unexpected turn.

The Kindness of Strangers

I love people who don’t ‘act’ polite and caring but *are* polite and caring. I want to be a Southerner, I really do. Except for cracklins. My grandmother cooked grits and cracklins. I love Southern food but I could not abide hominy or pork rinds, a sad defect in my genetic makeup.

Two gentlemen of Dalton who’d parked nearby noticed my forlorn look as I foot-dragged toward the Cracker Barrel. John and Steve were headed toward a tavern called The Oyster where, they explained, we could eat homemade Thanksgiving dinner without charge. Gratis. Free.

American Legion riders
I didn’t understand how that was possible, but we took them up on it. Thanksgiving in The Oyster turned out the highlight of the trip.

Thanksgiving dinner was sponsored by a local consortium underpinned by local American Legion Riders, as explained by John Brown, Assistant State Director of the Department of Georgia. They made a tradition of inviting folks who couldn’t be home for the holidays.

Loved it! We enjoyed ourselves and the food… oh, that Georgia cooking. The turkey breast, moist and tender, ranked right up there with the best. Great corn. Homemade mashed potatoes, another weakness. People enjoying themselves.

Thank you, Dalton, Georgia. Thank you for the kindness of strangers.

20 November 2018

Putting the Happy in Happy Thanksgiving

by Barb Goffman

It's two days until Thanksgiving, and I bet some of you are stressed. Maybe it's because you're cooking and ... it's the first time you're hosting, and you want it to be perfect. Or your mother-in-law is coming, and your turkey never lives up to hers. Or the weatherman is predicting snow on Thanksgiving and you're afraid that your relatives won't show up ... or maybe that they will.

Or maybe your stress stems from being a guest. Are you an introvert, dreading a day of small talk with the extended family? A picky eater, going to the home of a gourmet who makes food way to fancy for your tastes? Or are you a dieter, going to the home of someone who likes to push food and you're likely to spend the day going, "no thanks, no rolls for me," "no thanks, no candied yams for me," "no thanks, no cookies for me," ... "dear lord, lady, what part of no thanks don't you get?"

No matter who you are, or what your situation, Thanksgiving can cause stress. The best way to deal with stress is laughter. And that's where I come in. So set down that baster and get ready to smile, because I've got some fictional characters who've had a worse Thanksgiving than you.

Paul and Jamie Buchman from Mad About You
 

They tried so hard to make the perfect dinner ... only to have their dog, Murray, eat the turkey.


Rachel Green from Friends


All she wanted was to cook a nice dessert for her friends ... only to learn too late that she wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good.


The Gang from Cheers 


Those poor Thanksgiving orphans. They waited hours for a turkey that just wouldn't cook ... only to then suffer the indignity of being involved in a food fight. (For anyone who's ever read my story "Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy," this Cheers episode was the inspiration.)


Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond


She was determined to have a happy Thanksgiving despite her overly critical mother-in-law ... only to drop her uncooked turkey on the floor three times before flinging it into the oven. Yum.



Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati




He wanted to create the greatest promotion ever, inviting the public to a shopping mall and providing free turkeys ... live ones ... only to learn too late that turkeys don't fly so when you toss them out of a helicopter from 2,000 feet in the air they hit the ground like sacks of wet cement.


Garner Duffy from "Bug Appétit"


All this con man wanted for Thanksgiving was to eat some good food at his mark's home before stealing her jewelry ... only to learn too late that her mother is an ... inventive cook. ("Bug Appétit" is my story in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I'm so pleased to have heard from several readers who enjoyed it, including one who called it "hilarious.")

So, dear readers, I hope you're smiling and feeling less stressed. If you'd like to read my story, you could pick up a copy of the current EQMM, available in some Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores, as well as in an electronic version. You can find more information about getting the magazine here. The issue also has a story from SleuthSayer alum David Dean that I'm sure you'll enjoy.) As to the TV episodes mentioned above, I bet you can find them all online.

Until next time, please share your favorite funny turkey day story (fictional or real) in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving!

07 October 2018

Talking Turkey

by Velma

Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.


A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous


Thanksgiving cornucopia
I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me a fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labeled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First smells awful, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks if it grows no worse.
vintage post card wreath turkey

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving. Graphics courtesy of Antique Images, The Holiday Spot, and Spruce Crafts.

21 November 2017

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

by Paul D. Marks

Well, since Thanksgiving is in a couple of days I thought I’d write about what I, as a writer in particular, am thankful for. We all have things in our “regular” lives to be thankful for, so this column will address specifically some of what this writer has to be thankful for:

Computers: Whoa! I can’t say enough about this one. Changed my life. I’ve mentioned before how when personal PCs came out I thought they were just another silly toy. Then my former writing partner got one and I saw him move a paragraph from one page to another and I was hooked. How much better than literally cutting and pasting with scissors and white out. (Of course I’m sorry for Mike Nesmith and his mom, who invented white out, but I think they’re doing okay anyway.) So I was the second person I knew to get a PC: two floppy drives, wow! And we know how far computers have come from those days. Now your phone is a mini-computer.

Microsoft Word: When I started out on that dual floppy computer I used a word processing program called XyWrite, which I really liked. But it didn’t weather the transition to GUI programs like Windows. So I switched to Word. One can complain about both Microsoft and Word plenty, but overall they’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier.

Paying Markets: In the ye olden days of the mid-20th century writers could actually make a living selling short stories. That’s not really true anymore. There aren’t a lot of paying markets. No one would think of not paying their doctor or plumber, but for some reason people don’t think writers’ work is worth paying for. Sure, sometimes they’re struggling themselves, but even a token payment would be nice. When I was teaching screenwriting seminars on occasion I would always tell the students not to work for free. And, though I have published with non-paying markets it’s definitely better to get paid. So thanks to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock (and others)—magazines that still pay and still publish short stories. Long may they live!

Assistants: I’m most grateful for all the wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years. A variety of dogs and cats, who’ve kept me company, provided inspiration, and sometimes aggravation, but have always been wonderful companions and who make the solitude of writing much more bearable. And who, on occasion, have tripped the light fantastic over the keyboard and probably added a little extra dazzle to my writing.
One of my former assistants

My current assistants

Kindle and E-publishing:  I have mixed feelings on this one. Yes, I prefer hard copy books, though I read about 50-50 these days between those and e-books. But e-publishing has opened the door for lots of people to read my scintillating syntax (or is that sin tax).  And it’s kind of cool to be able to go on a trip and bring 100 books along so I can read whatever I feel like. And even more cool to be able to buy a book at 3am and have it in my cyber-hands faster than you can say “Amazon-one-click”.

Social Media/Facebook/Twitter: Aside from the marketing benefits of social media, it’s a great way for writers, who are pretty much a solitary bunch of people, to be able to get together at the cyber “water cooler” to chat, share ideas, happy moments, sad moments, laughter and opinions—sometimes too many damn opinions…. I’ve made many friends across the country (and the world for that matter) and figure there’s someone I could have lunch with almost anywhere in the country and in many parts of the world.  Of course, as with anything, there’s always some jerks and trolls in the bunch. And to those people I say CENSORED.

The Internet: In a word—research. I love being able to research everything on the internet. From
murder methods, to maps, history, music and how-to videos on You-Tube. Of course some of those how to videos are how to play this or that guitar or bass part or just watching a bunch of old clips of rock bands. As for murder methods, I hope the police never have to search my computer—I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty of researching heinous methods of offing people. But what better way for a writer to procrastinate and call it work!

Smart Phones & tablets: At first I was reluctant to get a smart phone, but now I love being able to check my e-mail on the go, post photos on Instagram of my doctor’s waiting room while I wait and wait and wait, like the people trying to get an exit visa out of Casablanca, for the doc to show up. Or snap a picture of the traffic jam I’m stuck in on the drive home. And while I never want to become one of those people with their noses glued to their cell phones all day and all of the night (to borrow a line from the Kinks), I am grateful for the little distractions both the phone and tablet provide and how I can stay connected even when I’m away from my computer. Oh, and thankful for Android. I love that all my Google contacts, etc., are integrated across all my devices.

Support from Friends and Fellow Writers:  I’m thankful for all the friends and writers who have supported me and cheered me on, read my books and stories, nominated me for awards and voted for my writing, given me great reviews, interviewed me, published me in their magazines, given me space on their blogs (including this one: shout out to Leigh and Rob and everyone else here!), congratulated me on FB, liked my FB posts, shared my good news and sympathized when bad things happened, and on and on. Grateful, too, for Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, et al. Writing is a lonely profession and the support of friends who understand the struggles of a writer is…to quote a famous commercial…priceless…

And last but not least: My wife, the indomitable, inimitable, indefatigable, intrepid and on occasion infuriating ;-) when she wants me to rewrite things (but she’s almost always right), Amy, who has stood by me through thick and thin. Who, though not a writer, is my number one reader, number one editor, number one fan and number one supporter. And who puts up both with me general (a job in itself) and as a writer (another job in itself as all the significant others of writers are well aware).




So, Thank You All And Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving!




***

16 November 2015

Thanksgiving

by Susan Rogers Cooper

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches I thought I'd jot down a few things I'm thankful for: my beautiful daughter and her three wonderful children, the memories of a good marriage that lasted over thirty-four years, old friends and new friends, and, yes, books.

I'm thankful for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Winslow Brothers who enriched my childhood, for Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck and J.D. Salinger who molded my teenage years, and for John D. MacDonald who brought me back to mystery in my early twenties. I'm thankful to Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Sarah Peretsy who taught me that women can write just as hardboiled as any man. And I'll always be grateful to Jan Grape, my mentor, who did more for my career than any agent or editor has ever done. And I'm thankful for those agents and editors who helped mold my work – especially the undisputed queen of mystery editors, the late Ruth Cavin, who once told me – when I complained after she read my fifth book that I hadn't gotten the editing letter from her that I usually got – that I finally sent her one without any big boo-boos.

I'm thankful that I've been blessed with the career of my choice, and that I've had a job that makes me mostly happy – except on those days when all I can do is stare at a blank screen. I'm thankful for the friends I've met since I started this career – Joan Hess, Sharan Newman, the late Barbara Burnett Smith and the late Nancy Bell, Dean James, Charlaine Harris, and so many more who've made me laugh and cry and given me advice that I'll always remember.
This is a good time to remember these things, to count our blessings, and say thank you to those we love. And to stock up on extra books since we'll soon have a day off.

06 October 2015

Murder at a Nudist Colony? Ah, the Joys of Research.

by Barb Goffman

Questions I've asked over the last few years that never would have crossed my mind before I became a mystery writer and editor:
  • If you're found with a murder victim and the police take your clothes for examination, will they also take your underwear?
  • If a murder occurs at a nudist colony, and the suspect is a colony member, how does the pat down work during arrest?
  • Is it easy to break into a home by crawling through a doggy door?
  • How does a groundhog react when cornered?
  • What's the approval process for exhuming a body? How hard is it to dig up a casket? What does an exhumed body look like? And smell like?
  • If I'm writing about someone who's a douchebag, when I spell out the word, is the bag removed from the douche?
  • How many synonyms are there for male genitalia, and why does the word johnson make some women laugh so much?
Yes, I now know the answers to all these questions. I'll give the answers below. But first, a few observations:

It pays to have friends. How do I know the answer to the underwear question? I asked my friend
Robin Burcell
author Robin Burcell, a former police detective, who's always there in a pinch to take my odd questions. Robin's not the only expert who helps mystery authors. Dr. Doug Lyle, Luci "the Poison Lady" Zahray, and Lee Lofland, another former member of the law-enforcement community, have all shared knowledge with me (and many other authors) over the years. A big thank you to you all.

It pays to have friends who pay attention. How did I even come up with the nudist colony question? I learned from my friend Donna Andrews (thank you, Donna) that a Catholic church in our neighborhood used to be the home of a nudist colony, and in the 1940s, a murder occurred
there. That sparked a very interesting discussion about where a nudist might try to hide a weapon (not having pockets and whatnot), and it
Donna Andrews
resulted in my story "Murder a la Mode," which appeared in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping. It's set at a nude Thanksgiving, and was a lot of fun to write.

It also pays to have friends with a good sense of humor. My unpublished novel involves a phone-sex operator, and writing it required coming up with a lot of synonyms for certain body parts. How a writer toils for her art. And what she learns, sometimes, is that the wrong word can take a reader from eagerly turning pages to laughing out loud. And not at an intended time, either. So thank you to my friend Laura Weatherly, who several years ago burst out laughing when she read about a man on the phone talking about his johnson. "You have to find another word," she told me. Done.

It pays to have access to the Internet. No, this isn't for research for the phone-sex book. It was for the groundhog research. When I began writing my short story "The Shadow Knows," (which is a finalist for the Macavity and the Anthony awards at this week's Bouchercon mystery convention), I knew I wanted to write a caper about a grumpy man who believes his town's groundhog is responsible for
Old groundhog who visited my yard.
every long winter, so he decides to get rid of him. But it wouldn't be a caper if things went smoothly. So I began researching things that could go wrong, and I learned many fun tidbits. Did you know that when groundhogs feel cornered, they might bite? Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned this the hard way. Thank you, Mister Mayor. Groundhogs will also squeal extremely loudly when upset, dig up drywall, and scratch with their long, sharp claws. All this detail went to good use in the story. Yes, research sure can be fun.

Now, back to the questions:
  • Will the police take your underwear? If the victim's blood has soaked through to them, they might indeed.
  • Can you break into a home by crawling through a doggy door? Yep, if you're petite. But beware: there's going to be a dog inside. And he might not be too happy with you.
  • What are the details about exhuming a body? Every state's process is different, but it's not that easy to get approval, and digging up a casket, then breaking the vault open, is hard work. And then there's the state the body might be in. I'll give you one word: mold. Yuck.
  • If I'm writing about someone who's a douchebag, when I spell out the word, is the bag removed from the douche? Nope. In this context, it's all one word. (And you thought copy editing was boring.)
  • How many synonyms are there for male genitalia, and why does the word johnson make some women laugh so much? This one, I'm leaving up to you to find out. Ask your friends. Make a party of it.
  • How does the pat down work during arrest of a nudist? This one ... well, you'll have to read "Murder a la Mode" to find out. It's too good to give away.
  • And, finally, how does a groundhog react when cornered? This question is answered above, but if you want to see the resulting story, which puts all the fun facts to good use, head over to my website: http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Shadow_Knows.html
But don't stop there. All the other nominated stories are available online, too, through these links: http://www.bouchercon.info/nominees.html (for the Anthony finalists) and http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/06/read-all-macavity-short-story.html (for the Macavity finalists). You should check them all out, especially if you're going to vote. They're all good reading--no question about it.

So, authors, what's the most interesting question you've researched while writing? And readers, what's the most interesting tidbit you've learned from fiction? Please share your fun facts. I really want to know.


22 November 2012

"The Unicorn in the Garden", or God Bless You, Mr. Thurber

by Eve Fisher

I freely admit that Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. In my household, there were only the three of us, which meant that I was outnumbered. With neither church nor company, there was little occupation for my parents other than to eat, drink, and fight. In the immortal words of Laura Ingalls Wilder, "It was a queer, blank day," and sometimes more. The turkey was good, and the stuffing superlative, but I got the same at Christmas, and we had more variety in the way of entertainment.

Robert Benchley
But we all have our escape hatches, and mine was books, for which I give grateful and ever-lasting thanks. Especially humor. When I was a child, my grandfather found a copy of "The Thurber Carnival" lying on the street and gave it to me. At the same time, someone else gave me a copy of "The Benchley Roundup" and I was hooked - and warped - for life.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, just to warm us up:

Benchley - "A freelance writer is a man who is paid per word, per piece, or perhaps."

Thurber - “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.”
James Thurber

Benchley - "Even nowadays a man can't step up and kill a woman without feeling just a bit unchivalrous."

Thurber - “With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and definite hardening of the paragraphs.”

Benchley's work was, 99% of the time, the classic humorous essay. Thurber's work ranged far more widely, from wistful to sardonic to straight-up reporting to literary analysis. (He wrote what I consider the best essay on Henry James' writing ever - "The Wings of Henry James", in the November 7, 1959 issue of the New Yorker.) And then there are his parables. Here, for our Thanksgiving entertainment, is "The Unicorn in the Garden", the obvious predecessor of "The Catbird Seat", and in both cases, one of the neatest ways of getting rid of someone unpleasant I have ever found. Not that any of us would be interested in that...


The Unicorn in the Garden

by James Thurber
reprinted from
Fables For Our Time
Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. "There's a unicorn in the garden," he said. "Eating roses." She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him.
"The unicorn is a mythical beast," she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; now he was browsing among the tulips. "Here, unicorn," said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely. With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. "The unicorn," he said,"ate a lily." His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. "You are a booby," she said, "and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch."
The man, who had never liked the words "booby" and "booby-hatch," and who liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment. "We'll see about that," he said. He walked over to the door. "He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead," he told her. Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn; but the unicorn had gone away. The man sat down among the roses and went to sleep.
As soon as the husband had gone out of the house, the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could. She was very excited and there was a gloat in her eye. She telephoned the police and she telephoned a psychiatrist; she told them to hurry to her house and bring a strait-jacket. When the police and the psychiatrist arrived they sat down in chairs and looked at her, with great interest.
"My husband," she said, "saw a unicorn this morning." The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police. "He told me it ate a lily," she said. The psychiatrist looked at the police and the police looked at the psychiatrist. "He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead," she said. At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her. Just as they got her into the strait-jacket, the husband came back into the house.
"Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn?" asked the police. "Of course not," said the husband. "The unicorn is a mythical beast." "That's all I wanted to know," said the psychiatrist. "Take her away. I'm sorry, sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jaybird."
So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after.

Moral: Don't count your boobies until they are hatched.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may all your unicorns lead to high hearts.

20 November 2012

Thanksgiving Ruminations


  by Dale C. Andrews
    Nora planned Thanksgiving with a sort of desperation --  a woman trying to hold on to her world as it growled and heaved about her.
  There were two of Wiley Gallimard's fanciest toms, and chestnuts to be grated in absurd quantities, and cranberries from Bald Mountain to be mashed, and turnips and pumpkins and goodies galore . . . all requiring preparation, fuss, work, with and without Alberta Manaska's help . . . all requiring concentration.  And while her house filled with savory odors, Nora would brook no assistance from Alberta -- not Pat, not Hermione, not even old Ludie, who went about muttering for days about "these snippy young know-it-all brides."  
    Hermy dabbed at her eyes.  "It's the first Thanksgiving since we were married, John, that I haven't made the family dinner.  Nora baby -- your table's beautiful!"
     "Maybe this time, : chuckled John F., "I won't have indigestion.  Bring on that turkey and stuffing!"
                                                                                               Ellery Queen
                                                                                               Calamity Town, 1942

    T. S. Eliot, in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock reflects on counting out one’s life in coffee spoons.  For me, more and more, I find myself counting out my life in Thanksgivings.  This is probably anchored in the fact that for the past thirty-some years Thanksgiving (by some thank-less tradition) has become my responsibility.  I cook the whole thing.  I used to have a real approach/avoidance conflict as the fateful day approached, but as the years have passed I seem to have fallen into a rhythm.  More often than not everything comes out fine in the end.

   The holiday hasn’t contributed a background to many mystery stories (although an internet search will reveal a fistful of cozies that use the day as backdrop).  A notable exception to this is Calamity Town, Ellery Queen's first Wrightsville mystery, published in 1942.  Calamity Town is the only Ellery Queen selected by H. R. F. Keating in his 100 Best Books of Crime and Mystery, and a poisonous (literally) Thanksgiving gathering figures prominently in the plot.

    As Ellery discovered when he found himself interjected into the midst of the Wrights' family holiday get together in Calamity Town, sometimes one of the less predictable aspects of Thanksgiving is the people who will in fact be in attendance.  One of the reasons Thanksgivings in our household are memorable is that they tend to have a completely different cast of characters each year, often comprised of folks who do not know each other, or who know each other just barely.  Throughout the years Thanksgiving has been a day when we “take in strays.”  We try to find acquaintances who otherwise have no one with whom to celebrate. 

    This year’s list of attendees has its own unique theme.  The usual core group will be present – Pat, me, our elder son Devon and our younger son Colin.  Colin’s significant other will also be dining with us, as usual on the holiday.  I am reflecting on Dixon’s column last week as I type this, particularly his discussion of the gay sheriff in the next county over. 


Kyle and Colin

   Funny how I tend to more easily describe our son’s partner Kyle as a significant other rather than as Colin’s boyfriend.  I think, and hope, that this is a word usage issue and nothing more, like masculine and feminine noun endings in the romance languages.  I say this because we are otherwise completely at home with Colin’s sexuality and with Kyle, who has become another member of the family.  What will be particularly interesting this year is that we will be joined at Thanksgiving by Kyle’s mother and sister, who will be driving in from Michigan, and will be staying with us a day or two on either side of the holiday.  We have met them only once before, so the anxious prospect of getting on with it is understandable.  (Could this have anything to do with the fact that we have just had our living room and dining room painted?)   Rounding out the table will be Deborah -- a friend going all the way back to Pat and my law school days when the three of us met for the first time at registration -- and Deborah’s fourteen year old daughter Bekah.  So who knows what anecdotes will be added to the family lore when this group in fact assembles?

    Anyway, all of the foregoing underscores what an important day Thanksgiving has become.  All of this preparation, all of this travel, all of this anticipation over a meal.  But the day-long preparation, coupled with throwing together people who often do not dine together at all except on that day, is bound to be the stuff of which family legends are made.  We have many.  Sometimes these have focused around mini-disasters, although none that can hold a candle to those experienced by Mr. Queen and the Wright clan in Calamity Town.  Over the years our calamities have been much more prosaic -- a garbage disposal that has not once, but twice, clogged completely on potato peels on Thanksgiving, once with an insidious blockage so far down the line that, unbeknownst to us, the water backed up through a drain in the lower level of our house, leaving us to discover the lower rooms awash with greasy garbage disposal water just about the time we were otherwise ready for pie.  And, again, not once, but twice, our refrigerator has gone out days before Thanksgiving. 

    But all Thanksgiving anecdotes in our family are not mini calamities.  Like all theatre, they seem to break also toward the comedic.  One of my favorite Thanksgiving yarns takes me back precisely 50 years, to 1962, when I was 13.  Other than my younger brother and me, everyone else at that long ago Thanksgiving dinner, served at my maternal grandparents’ home in Creve Coeur, Missouri, is now no longer with us.  But the memory lives.

   Assembled around the table fifty years ago were my father and mother, my mother’s parents, affectionately known as Pop and Grandma Moelling, my father’s mother, known always as Grandmother Andrews, my mother’s sister Eunice and a great aunt, Aunt Ava, from Vandalia Illinois.  My grandmothers, like many in-laws, smiled a lot but in fact grated a bit on each other.  Grandma Moelling was sweet but a bit scattery.  Grandmother Andrews, four foot eight when measured in any direction, had (it must be admitted) airs of pretension.  One would never refer to her as “Grandma,” only as “Grandmother.”  She aspired to matriarch but never could quite pull it off.

   After we had all taken our seats at the thanksgiving table that day in 1962, Grandmother Andrews, as she had every year within my memory, turned to me with the air of a director raising the  baton and said “Dale, say ‘Come Lord Jesus.’” 

   I squirmed in my chair.  As noted above, I was 13 years old on that November day in 1962, and had already begun my long journey into agnosticism.  But I had known what was coming, and I had a plan.  I was going to make my stand that Thanksgiving.  I cleared my throat and said “I don’t want to give the blessing this year.” 

   Grandmother Andrews gasped and stared across the table at me, eyes wide.  Stunned silence otherwise reigned.  Everyone looked at each other, uncertain how to proceed. 

   Finally my father cleared his throat, indicating that he was about to attempt a Deus ex Machina.  “I know what we can do,” he said eying the already unconvinced family members staring back at him.  “When we were at my boss’ house for dinner the other week we did something very special.  We all clasped hands under the table, bowed our heads and quietly to ourselves each of us said grace.” 

   Well we had to do something, so all nine of us clasped hands, bowed our heads, and looked down at our plates. 

   The silence was broken when Grandma Moelling said “Grace.” 

   No one at the table knew what to do except my brother and me.  We burst out laughing.  Grandma Moelling just sat there flustered, trying to work out what she had done wrong.   

   Grandmother Andrews looked up, turned to my father, her son, and said “Wallace, that was nice.”  Then she glared across the table at me and said “Now Dale, say ‘Come Lord Jesus.’”

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. 

05 November 2012

November Already

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!  Congratulations to Elizabeth Dearborn, the winner of our first monthly contest at SleuthSayers.  She will receive a copy of David Dean's exciting new novel THE THIRTEENTH CHILD as soon as we learn her snail-mail address.  Stay tuned later this month for another giveaway!  Back to Jan...

I can't believe it's November already. We had that silly time change this morning at 2 AM. Did you get to church an hour early or get to the football game early. Oh yeah, I guess if you got to the Pro game early that was a good thing.

I can't believe it's November already. It's only hours until we will have a final vote and tally for a President. All I will say here is PLEASE vote. I voted early the other day which is the best way to do it. No line and it only took a few minutes. Thank goodness it's almost over, I'm sick of politics. I'm definitely sick of the negativity, the vitriolic words and the racist overtones from some people.

I can't believe it's November already and it's only two and a half weeks until Thanksgiving. Have you bought your turkey yet? Made out your menu? Invited all your in-laws and out-laws? Gosh, I haven't even taken down my Halloween decorations. And before I can turn around twice it will be time to put up the yuletide items.

I REALLY can't believe it's November already and it's only fifty-two days until Christmas. Yikes! Have you got any shopping done? I haven't but I'm not worried about it, I give money. One size fits all and the color is always right.

One thing I can admit is I love holidays and I hate holidays. I love seeing family and enjoying good food. But I hate trying to travel any distance and all the hoop-la that the stores and television bombard us with. I saw on facebook the other day that Nordstrom's say they won't put up any Christmas decorations until AFTER Thanksgiving. Way to go, Nordstrom's. Wish other stores would follow that example. I actually heard X-mas music in a store the other day and I thought, NOOOO! Not ready for X-mas music yet. Not even ready for November yet, but here it is. Rolling along.

I do want to bring a blog and interview to your attention. The Maine Crime Writers had a blog today that's an interview with an expert, Jayne Hitchcock, on cyberstalking and cyberbullying. This is a must read for all of us who use social media as much as we do and importantly it's important for our children and grandchildren. This is fantastic information. So head to www.mainecrimewriters.com

I don't know if any of our writers or readers were in the path of the storm. I hope if so, then hope that you are safe and warm. I do have writer friends who were without power for several days but are now electrified and warm and safe.

This is about all I know to write about today. Real life seems to take up a lot of my day...like vegging out on the sofa and watching Texas Longhorns yesterday and tonight Dallas Cowboys.

Take care all and keep writing and reading.

27 November 2011

Metaphor Hunting

by Louis A. Willis


Attempting to combine the subject of this column with a Thanksgiving theme, I tried to find a metaphorical image of a turkey’s thoughts about Thanksgiving but I couldn’t find exactly what I had in mind. The image I had in mind shows a large tom turkey in the foreground holding a rifle across his chest. In the background are several turkeys gobbling in an angry mood. The caption reads: “No More Turkey Funerals.” 


(Image courtesy of  Steve Voght )
Like the symbol hunter, I’ve been hunting metaphors. The idea of writing about metaphors has been circulating in my mind since I read Dixon’s column on props. Metaphors are props that ignite the senses which, combined with the imagination, enables the reader to experience viscerally the sensation the writer is trying to convey.


Although we often apply the term metaphor to all figures of speech, the figure writers use most often is In fact that workhorse of the figures of speech, the simile. For my own clarification of the difference between metaphor and simile I consulted a source I have been reluctant to use: the WIKIPEDIA FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA (why my reluctance to use it might be subject of another column). 
From the Wikipedia: “A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., ‘Her eyes were glistening jewels.’ Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance. In this broader sense, antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile would all be considered types of metaphor.” 

“A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words ‘like’, ‘as’. Even though both similes and metaphors are forms of comparison, similes indirectly compare the two ideas and allow them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas metaphors compare two things directly.“

A good simile forces me to suspend my right brain and allow my left brain to take over (I think I got correct which side of the brain controls imagination and which rationality).

Erick G. Benson in his novel Framed Justice describes how rapidly Monday morning greets his detective Tiger Price“: …as swiftly as a bullet exiting the barrel of a rifle.” I imagine Tiger waking suddenly with the morning sun in his eyes, expecting to have a productive day, which he does.
Austin S. Camacho uses a sun smilie in his debut novel Collateral Damage to describe the look the private detective sees on his girlfriend’s face: “When she opened the door he saw the expectant look lift from her face like a mist when the sun hits the land.” The disappearing mist reveals the smiling face of happiness.

Leigh in his short story “Untenable” in Pages of Stories suggests that the Nina character may be a dangerous person when he describes her look “as cold, dark, and tart as the witches brew” and continues the simile with “Her glare turned icier.”

In his short story “Detour” (EQMM July 2011), Neil Schofield made me think of why I hated the 30 plus pigeons that at one time occupied the roof of my house. Questioning by the police makes his unnamed protagonist feel “like being pecked to death by a thousand pigeons.

In David Dean’s short story “Tap-Tap” (EQMM  March/April 2011), the protagonist, sitting at his computer staring out the office window into the street through the cold, steady rain, sees “cars planing past like water-skiers”, and I see my car fishtailing into a ditch on black ice.

The narrator in the early Edward D. Hoch horrifying story “What’s It All About?” (EQMM December 2011) describes Friday night in a Florida city as “alive, with blood of the city throbbing in its veins…” . The description reminded me of Friday nights in downtown Las Vegas when I lived there in the late 1960s.
I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving