Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

04 May 2021

Family Bond


    Whether you're a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum or Dog the Bounty Hunter, bail occupies a central place in criminal law as entertainment. Through literature, we can take discussions about bail back to Robin Hood. During my day job as a magistrate for the criminal courts of my county, I spend a fair amount of my day thinking about bail for particular defendants. Today, however, I'd like to widen the lens and, largely through the writings of bail reform advocate, Tim Schnacke, look at the history of bail development. 

    Let's jump way back to the Anglo-Saxon days of England. Those Germanic tribes were family-linked league of clans. Among clans, blood feuds and tribal warfare were the means to settle disputes. Kinsmen resolved the wrongs of kinsmen. This adjudication technique, however, proved brutal and inefficient. Eventually as system emerged establishing payment of a wergeld or man-price for a wrongful life-taking, the price dependent on a person's social standing. Over time, a tiered system emerged of valuations for death as well as a measure for injury and other wrongs. A complex restitution system replaced the frequent clash of clans. 

    Tribes lived close to one another. Justice was local and the resolution of these cases could be expected to be swift. In this familial, land-bound society, pre-trial detention was little needed. 

    Family members pledged to guarantee both the defendant's appearance in "court" and to pay the penalty should he default. The amount of the pledge was set at the amount of the debt which would be owed. The promise served to allay an Anglo-Saxon's concern that someone may flee to avoid paying the penalty. The familial willingness to bear the burden also fit within the collective worldview of a tribal culture. 

    This Anglo-Saxon system should not be confused with contemporary bail. As noted, the family members were largely pledging to pay the debt upon default rather than posting money to secure the accused's release from custody. The germ of the modern idea of a surety, a third-party, obligating himself on behalf of an accused, however, was becoming established in the forerunner to the English common law. The word "bail" stems from a Latin word baiulare, to carry a burden. 

    With the Norman conquest, however, the nature of English law changed. Justice gradually became more an affair of the state and less an individual settling of accounts. Capital punishment and other sanctions replaced the restitution schedule of the wergeld. Along with changing punishments, notions about who should remain free pending adjudication also transformed. The first to lose a right to liberty included those accused of homicide and those charged with violating the royal forest (We did make it back to Robin Hood.) Norman judges rode a circuit from shire to shire handling cases. Outlying jurisdictions may wait months between judicial calls. The shire-reeve "sheriff" became charged with guaranteeing a defendant's appearance upon the judge's arrival. Jails were miserable and costly. The delay from arrest to trial necessitated some form of pretrial release. 

    People were still land bound. Personal recognizance guaranteed by the pledge of family became the key to the jail door for most people accused of wrong doings. 

Sheriffs, however, as the bail setters were ripe for corruption. In 1274, Edward I sent commissioners throughout the realm to ask questions of knights and freemen. The commissioners recorded the answers. Although most questions dealt with landholdings and related to taxation, the commissioners also delved into criminal justice. Edward I learned of two abuses by many sheriffs: some defendants who should be released were required to pay money; and some defendants who, because of the offense, should not be freed were released upon payment of large sums of money. 

    Bail law developed to extend royal control over shire-reeves' discretion and potential corruption. Culminating in 1689, the English Bill of Rights stated that "excessive bail ought not to be required." The phrase used is similar to the language of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    This shouldn't be surprising as English law sailed to America with the establishment of the colonies. Although the ideas of recognizance and community responsibility traveled to the new world, the changing times brought the necessity for a new system to emerge. 

    As punishments changed from the Anglo-Saxon notion of restitution to death, mutilation or imprisonment, the possibility of flight to avoid the consequences grew. Similarly, as society moved away from the pledge equaling the amount of the debt, it became harder to quantify, with accuracy, the exact amount of money to require as bail. The accused in America found it easier to flee troubles and escape to the western frontier. Finally, as people became more itinerant, finding kinsmen and neighbors willing to pledge also became more challenging. 

    Out of necessity grew a commercial opportunity. Businessman willing to pledge money to guarantee a defendant's appearance at court emerged. They, of course, charged a fee for their service. The first commercial bondsman in the United States was reported to be Pete McDonough who in 1896 established his bond business out of his San Francisco saloon near the Hall of Justice. 

    In 1274, Edward I wrangled with right-sizing the jail population. He sought a just mechanism for determining who gets out and who stays in custody. Bail reform advocates still grapple with these issues. Lawsuits and legislative fixes abound. We are still trying to get it right. 

    Until next time. 



28 March 2021

Support and Dedication


As writers, we all know how important it is to receive support from those around us. And that is why I am dedicating this day's blog to my wife Kiti.

So here's what has been going on. As some of us may have already found out, Old Age can be a Bitch, especially when she comes for you with a vengeance as body parts start wearing out. You see, for part of December through part of February, I had hip pains and upper thigh pains down to my knees.

X-rays and an MRI showed bone degeneration and collapsed disks pinching the nerve bundle. Surgery fused L-3, L-4 and L-5, grafted the appropriate bone and built a metal cage to stabilize it all.

It took incision cuts fore and aft to get there. Nor, with my limited movement during healing, I can't even get out of bed by myself to go to the bathroom without the assistance of my wife. Currently, that is an every two to four hour test of devotion in each twenty-four hour period.

And when I think about it, she was already here as my First Reader, writers conference guide, secretary, best friend, emotional supporter and all those other things, besides being my wife. And, she did this while working as a federal credit union Vice-President and raising four kids, two hers and two mine, plus eleven grandchildren.

Anyway, I think you can see why I'm dedicating this blog to her. And, I hope you have someone this supportive in your life.


23 March 2021

Fare Thee Well, Paul D. Marks


Paul D. Marks joined SleuthSayers in 2015 and has been a treasured member of the gang ever since. He died on February 28th of this year. His wife Amy Marks wrote on Facebook: "He died peacefully listening to Beatles and cowboy music. He loved sharing his film noir alerts, his dog walking pictures, his love of writing and his thoughts on life with you. He used to boast that he could go anywhere in the country and would have a Facebook friend he could have lunch with." Some of us had a few thoughts to share:

Eve Fisher: While I never met Paul, I loved his SleuthSayers posts, because they were always centered around L.A. Often the L.A. of the past, which was my stomping grounds back in the very early 1970s. His writing was so time, place and music centered that it enveloped you in the past: time travel for pedestrians. I remember reading the 8/3/20 interview with him on Mystery Playground, where he said, interestingly enough, that, "My favorite book of all time isn't a mystery. It's The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham. It's about someone trying to make sense of the world and where they fit into everything, which is something I relate to and which also comes through in Bobby's character. Another favorite book is Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. I like revenge stories and that's the revenge story to end all revenge stories. My favorite mystery would probably be Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Just so good." I love all three myself, which are set in a very specific time / place / mood. At the time I thought, I'll have to talk / write to him about that some time. I never thought that time would run out.

Melodie Campbell: I didn't know Paul well, but I always enjoyed his posts. And he was kind in his comments when responding to my posts, which I always appreciated. I feel so sad. We've lost one of our own.

David Dean: Paul's death affected me far more than I thought it could. After all, we'd only met briefly in NYC and corresponded through email and Facebook for a few short years. Yet, the words we shared revealed him to me as a kind, supportive presence that, over time, became a welcome part of my life. He had an honesty, an integrity, that was palpable even in the virtual sphere of our relationship. Paul seemed to me a quietly passionate man. He was a superb writer, an historian of both noir films and the gritty, decadent Hollywood that produced them, and a proud father to his "boys," the dogs he and Amy raised, both past and present. I'm proud to say that I made him happy once when I wrote a story that featured a relationship between a boy and a dog. They prevailed over adversity, of course, and that pleased him very much. I still have the email he wrote me about it. I miss you, Paul, but I, along with so many others, will remember you.

Janice Law: I am so sorry to hear about Paul. We all knew he was very ill but had hoped that he would recover. I never met him but enjoyed his glimpses of Hollywood old and new and respected him as a fine editor. He will be very much missed.

Leigh Lundin: Paul impressed everyone and me in particular with his historical knowledge of Los Angeles and his childlike love of Hollywood. I couldn’t watch an episode of Bosch without remembering what Paul said about Angel’s Flight or the Bradbury Building, or wanting to ask him something about Gehry’s concert hall. His memory seemed encyclopedic and detailed, knowing who attended which famed restaurant when and where. Paul, loyal to the core, cared about us and worried he might miss an article. His attitude was so positive, I thought he was going to make it and, if it was up to will alone, he would have. I’m grateful he had Amy by his side. Somewhere in old Hollywood, a young Paul still strolls those streets.

Barb Goffman: When I first got to know Paul over Facebook we bonded over our love of dogs. I loved when he shared photos of his dogs, walking them, playing with them, just being with them, especially Pepper, who I think held a special place in his heart. You could see the joy they shared spending time together. When my prior dog, Scout, slowed down with age, Paul was often ready with words of encouragement and support, which I'll never forget. It's often said that if dogs like you, it's a sure sign you're a good person. Paul was the ultimate good person. He'll be missed.

Lawrence Maddox: I met Paul in 2014 after reviewing his short story collection L.A. Late @ Night for All Due Respect Magazine. It was written with the voice of one who "got" L.A., who lived it from the inside out. I gushed about it in my review. Paul and I bonded over our shared Native-Angeleno status. We often reminisced about the city we loved, the places we remembered, and the vagaries of the movie biz. One of my favorite memories of Paul is bringing him to the set of Santa Clarita Diet, a TV show I edited. He was so excited to be there. He'd worked in production years earlier, and all the new tech fascinated him. "A lot is different, but a lot is the same, too," he said. I can still picture him grinning like a kid as he watched the crew shoot a scene. I was looking for the craft service table to get some coffee when Paul grabbed my arm. "Larry, is that her?" He pointed to an actress getting ready for a scene. "Is that Drew Barrymore?" Paul had told me about his own experiences working in Hollywood with weariness, but there he was, in awe. "I can't believe I'm practically standing next to Drew Barrymore! Do you think I can meet her? I can't wait to tell Amy." He was genuinely thrilled. The Drew sighting became a goofy joke between us. It would pop up in our conversations until some of our last emails together while he was fighting cancer. Paul could have a jaundiced view of L.A., as he expressed in his unforgettable novels and short stories. That day on set he was as star struck as any tourist at Grauman's Chinese Theater. It was uncharacteristic, which made it even more endearing. Besides remembering him as a dear friend, as someone who championed my own start as a writer, I'll remember Paul like he was on set that day. Smiling. Happy. Caught up in a dream.

Steve Liskow: I never met Paul, but I loved his stories, especially the ones about "old" Hollywood and L.A. His posts on Sleuthsayers were always both informative and entertaining, and they showed how much he loved and respected writing. Even though I never "really" knew him, I feel like I've lost a great friend. My thoughts and sympathy go out to his family and friends.

Travis Richardson: If you had the opportunity to meet Paul Marks for the first time, you would not have any idea that he had once directed movies and played in a rock band. Humble and soft-spoken, Paul was genuinely kind and caring. He always asked about my wife and daughter, and it was always a pleasure to see him at conferences, book launches, and SoCal MWA and Sisters in Crime meetings. As a crime writer, he wrote compelling stories with a spotlight on his hometown, Los Angeles. His award-winning stories captured various parts of LA, highlighting the city’s beauty as well as its warts. Whether he wrote about the LA riots, wandering ghosts solving murders, or a PI living in a bomb shelter, Paul’s stories always made a lasting impression. I wish his wife, Amy, strength in this time of sorrow. As his constant companion, she knew Paul better than all of us and saw his full greatness while we only caught glimpses of it. Rest in peace, Paul.

John Floyd: Like so many others, I never met Paul face-to-face but felt I knew him from his blog posts and emails. That was especially true for me because of the many notes he and I exchanged over the past few years about our mutual love of movies. I was always amazed and impressed by his firsthand knowledge of film and filmmaking, and we sometimes agreed that NO one else would probably be interested in the kinds of things we talked about. Which somehow made it even more fun.

Paul and I had planned to meet at the Dallas Bouchercon in 2019, and when he was unable to make it and then the pandemic came along we resolved to get together somehow after all this is over. Who could’ve known? it’s still hard to believe that this friend to so many of us was lost so early and unexpectedly. My heartfelt condolences go out to Amy and all of Paul’s family—he will be sorely missed. I’m grateful at least that we will always have his writing—both his novels and his short stories—to enjoy and to remind us of his great talent.

Art Taylor: While I was honored to share space with Paul here at SleuthSayers, we first “met” on another group blog, 7 Criminal Minds, where he and I alternated the Friday posts, batting clean-up each week. Even before I knew Paul as a gifted short story and novelist, I knew him as a dedicated and thoughtful blogger, and his posts there and here were always a marvel to read—whether he was writing about writing and reading or about music or film noir (an enthusiast and expert in both) or about more personal matters or more. Many Fridays at our first blog, I not only left a comment on his post but also reached out by email with an extra note. Over time, those occasional notes became a regular correspondence—and not just a correspondence but a friendship too, one of my best in the mystery community. He was a great supporter of my work—both when it was going well and when it was going poorly—and I was thrilled with every success he had, both at novel length (we talked often about his works-in-progress) and especially with his short stories, which I loved so much. He and I were both finalists for the Macavity Award for Best Short Story in 2018—both of us for stories from the second Coast to Coast anthology he edited—and as Janet Rudolph was on stage announcing the finalists, I kept thinking, “Paul’s story, Paul’s story, please.” An absolute joy to see him win that night, a writer who deserved all honors that came his way, and I just wish there were more books and stories ahead.

Stephen Ross: Paul and I were Facebook friends, but I knew him better through his writing and his posts on Sleuthsayers. We had a mutual love of noir. He will be missed.

Robert Lopresti: I thought Paul might enjoy my reprinting this from Little Big Crimes: "There's an Alligator in my Purse," by Paul D. Marks, in Florida Happens, edited by Greg Herren, Three Rooms Press, 2018. The latest Bouchercon anthology is all about that most interesting state in our southeast. This tale is by my fellow SleuthSayer, Paul D. Marks. Our narrator is Ed, a cheerful professional. He likes to satisfy his customers, so he takes lots of photos of the corpses. Corpses the clients wanted dead, obviously. In this case that client is Ashley Smith - the lady with the titular pocket book reptile. She had expected to inherit a lot of money when her elderly husband died happily due to her enthusiastic ministrations. When she found out the dough was going to the first wife, she went looking for someone with Ed's skill set. It wasn't really his photographic skills that she was interested in… A breezy tale of multiple conspiracies.

Elizabeth Zelvin: I'm shocked to hear about Paul's death. I met him several times in person at New York events—where he was usually getting an award—and both face to face and in cyberspace, he struck me as such a bounce-back kind of person that I fully expected him to beat his illness and get better. He's a great loss to the crime fiction and short story communities and to everyone who knew him personally. I went over to his Facebook page when I heard the news. Tributes hadn't yet started appearing, but a couple of weeks ago, Paul posted, "Don't give up," with a gallery of "famous failures" including Einstein, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Oprah, and the Beatles, who'd all been fired, demoted, or told they wouldn't amount to anything at some point. The tag line was, "If you've never failed, you've never tried anything new." What a heartening message to leave us with.

21 September 2018

My Father Died Today


My father died today and I am left here, with my keyboard and memories. 


My father was born in Ceylon in the 1930s, but he had no sense of the place or time he landed on this planet. He was always immersed in books -philosophy, the classics and his beloved biology- and he had little regard for the social norms that were simply invisible to him.

My father got his PhD in Biology at Oxford University, at Christ Church College, in the 1950s. When my son asked him about Oxford, my father - one of the few non-whites there - did not comment on the prestige of Oxford, or the lack of diversity. That was not my father’s style. He was unfailing honest, so he talked about what mattered to him: how, as a poor student, he was able to buy so many of his beloved books at second hand stores and how he had his first sexual relationship there. Yes. That is what he said. That sealed the deal for my son - he was going to university.

My father was born into a wealthy family, one of a long line of doctors and scientists. Growing up in Ceylon, a country with a rigid social stratification, he had a servant whom he chatted with and respected. My father took him on collecting trips and was amazed at his fine mind. We knew him only as ‘Dr. Johnson’ because that is what my father called him. Whenever we returned to Ceylon, Dr Johnson would accompany my father on his collecting trips and lectures.  It was not until I was older that I realized that Dr Johnson was not a professor and he was different than the famous scientists that I often met. Dr. Johnson had no qualifications - not even a high school diploma - and as an adult I found out that my father had given him some family land, helped him build a house and sent him money every month to allow him to educate his children and live a life of ideas. ‘Social justice’ wasn't in my father’s vocabulary - he just did what he felt was right. Whether he was sitting with Maasai in the plains of Africa, or world famous scientists in the halls of a university, he was the same - it was people that he loved and he remained blind to the differences that others saw.

He fell in love with my mother, and stayed in love with her for 62 years. In my mother he found someone as oblivious of norms as he was: she was an MD/PhD with a passion for Parasitology. My father - with his eyes on science -  missed the chauvinistic memos of the 1950s. In my mother he saw a mind that he thought was finer than his. He supported her through her career. He also felt he was a better cook, so he cooked for her all his life, leaving her free to do her work. He supported and fought for many women in science in his lifetime - it was their minds, not their sex, that he focused on and championed.



He took our family around the world, through Africa, South East Asia, the Americas and Europe. He felt at home wherever he was, as long as he could talk bugs and fish, eat good food and share stories and laughter.

Deeply moved by democracy and fairness, my father had no tolerance for political despots. I know this not from what he said but from what he did. He took our family - often at young ages - through dangerous countries in search of fish and bugs. He faced men with machine guns and machetes with equal calm. He had a job to do and we simply went with him. Nothing speaks of his boldness as well as when he was in Singapore, on his way to the Philippines. We were not with him but called to tell him that the Philippines was in the middle of a coup. He said: If I stopped my work for every coup, I would never get anything done. My father felt strongly that political despots, dictators, and even civil war, were transient. Science, that careful, meticulous work of men and women around the world, that is what would endure and he would do his small part to contribute. Looking back - he was right. The despots are now dead or overthrown. The work of the men and women of science has lived on.

My father’s sense of fairness, and his support of my mother, occasionally made his life miserable. We were traveling during his sabbatical year, were in Malaysia, and my mother asked my father to bring some samples from chickens when he visited Burma (now Myanmar). In my father’s mind, if you took anything you paid. So, he offered to pay to collect chicken feces - chicken shit -in an isolated village.  As he was depositing samples into carefully labeled bottles of formaldehyde, he looked up to see many villagers, all carry bags, some of them in various states of degeneration, all filled to the brim with various animal feces. The word must have gone around the village that there was an odd man paying for shit. My father could see how poor these people were and so he did what few people would do - he left with his biological van filled with shit and his wallet empty. He told us this story over a meal, coupled with laughter.

Oddly, for a man of science, one thing my father would never accept is the death of people he cared about. He refused to go to any funeral. Ever. He simply could not bear it.

My father taught me to eat a good meal with people I care about and find a good book to read - every day of my life. He taught me to find every person, in every country, as comfortable as home. He understood - ahead of his time - that the world is a very small place. He taught me that chauvinism and racism are to be ignored in the face of larger, more important pursuits.

Unlike my father, I do go to funerals and I will go to my father’s funeral - my second this year. Why? Because my father - literally - gave me the world.

26 December 2017

Three Typewriters and a Desk


Michael and his mother, Myrta, September 6, 1963.
My mother, Myrta, died when I was 17. She suffered from mitral valve stenosis and died during or immediately following surgery to correct this problem. She never saw my first professional publication, but she was instrumental in my success—not just for encouraging my dream, but also for repeatedly providing me with the tools for success.

This is the story of three typewriters and a desk.

THE BEAST

My mother presented me with my first typewriter when I was attending sixth grade at Sherman Elementary in Tacoma, Washington. I don’t know where she found the hulking black beast (it may have been an Underwood) that dominated my tiny desk from the moment it arrived, but on it I taught myself to type by hunting and pecking at the keys.

Though I did not know then that I wanted to be a writer, I was the only sixth-grader in my school typing his homework assignments, and I continued using the hulking black beast as its mechanical parts degenerated to the point where I had to type by striking the keys with the ball-peen side of a ball-peen hammer.

 On it, I typed my first short story, “The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks.” This is the story I showed my mother when I told her I wanted to be a writer.

THE PORTABLE

The beast did not travel with us when we left Tacoma and moved to Ft. Bragg, California, partway through ninth grade. That Christmas my mother gave me my second typewriter, a small blue portable (it may have been a Smith-Corona) that bounced across my desk when I typed because I still pounded typewriter keys as if I were assaulting the hulking black beast of my youth.

On it, I wrote “The Magic Stone,” which became my first professional short story sale. A children’s fantasy, elements of “The Magic Stone” were taken directly from an experience I shared with my mother when I was in grade school.

THE SELECTRIC

After my mother’s death, I returned to Tacoma to live with my grandparents, and later moved to Glen Carbon, Illinois, to attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I dropped out during the first quarter of my second year and moved to Collinsville, Illinois. In early 1978, my stepfather and I settled the medical malpractice suit filed following my mother’s death, and I used some of the money I received to purchase two filing cabinets I still use, the desk at which I sit as I write this, and a blue, wide-carriage, IBM Correcting Selectric II.

On it, I wrote “City Desk,” which became my second professional short story sale and first mystery. I wrote a great many other stories on the Selectric before I replaced it with a DOS-based personal computer running WordStar. During the years since, I’ve owned and used many PCs and Macintoshes, and now use Microsoft Word rather than WordStar.

THE DESK
Ellie, Michael's frequent writing companion, under the desk.

Though I still own the Selectric, it no longer functions properly and sits on a shelf in the closet. The desk I purchased with money from the malpractice suit—a black steel office desk with a faux wood-grain top and a secretarial arm—has traveled with me through several residences in Illinois, two in Mississippi, and two in Texas, and I have written all or part of every story since 1978 while sitting at this desk.

THE RESULT

My mother did not live to see the writer I’ve become—and I’ve written a few things I never would have shown her if she had!—but she’s been with me for the entire journey. Her literal heart may have failed her, but her figurative heart—her soul—remains.

17 May 2017

Family


  Family Fortnight +   Following the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you another article in a series about mystery writers’ view on families. Here’s Fran’s take on the family of her original character, Callie Parrish. Settle back and enjoy!

by Callie Parrish

When Leigh Lundin invited Fran Rizer to participate in Sleuth-sayers' celebration of families, she encouraged her older son, who is in law enforcement, to write the blog. He has a great fiction voice and has been published, but he declined. She consulted her younger son, who after teaching in Japan for years, returned state-side and now works in a nationally acclaimed library. He specializes in children's literature. Turned down again, Rizer asked her teenaged grandson. He replied, "Aw, G-Mama, just use the essay I did before."

What to do? Rizer considered writing about a true crime family like Ma Barker's brood, the James brothers, or any one of numerous others she Googled. In the end, she got busy, and like she's done most of the time since 2007 when the first of eight cozyesque mysteries about me was published, she shoved the writing off on me.

I'm Callie Parrish. After graduating from USC in Columbia, South Carolina, I married and was teaching kindergarten when my then husband did what he did that made me divorce him. He is NO longer part of my family. Robert Frost wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." I came home to St. Mary, on the coast of South Carolina, where I was raised. (I know "reared" is the correct word, but we southerners don't always speak proper English.) Didn't take long living with my redneck father and most of my five older brothers, who also move back home between relationships and jobs, to convince me to get my own place.

My mother died giving birth to me, which is why I'm called Callie. Daddy got drunk, really drunk, after my mother died. When he filled out the papers, he tried to think feminine, which he equated to pink. He couldn't think of anything that color except the stuff folks put on poison oak rash. He named me Calamine Lotion Parrish, which is bad enough. Thank heaven he didn't think of Pepto Bismol.

Role playing at a book signing--left to right: Callie Parrish,
Fran Rizer, Jane Baker.
After my divorce, I realized I was tired of five-year-olds who wouldn't lie still for naptime. Back home, I used the SC Cosmetologist License I earned in high school voc ed to work at Middleton's Mortuary as a cosmetician (Funeraleze for cosmetologist). I like my work because my clients don't get up and run around, nor need to tee tee every five minutes.

Okay, so that's my immediate family--Daddy and five brothers, but to me, my family is much bigger. My bosses, Odell and Otis Middleton, are no longer identical as they were at birth. When they began losing hair, Otis got hair plugs; Odell shaved his head. Otis is a vegetarian who put a tanning bed in the prep room at the funeral home
--not for the dearly departed, but for his personal use. Odell is addicted to barbecue and weighs about forty pounds more than his twin. They treat me so well that I consider them family, also.

Jane Baker has been my best friend since ninth grade when she came back to St. Mary from boarding school. Some folks say Jane is visually challenged, but I call a spade a flippin' shovel. Jane is blind. She works as Roxanne, whom Jane describes as a "phone fantasy actress." What this means is she spends her nights on a 900 line to support herself without depending on anyone for transportation to and from a job. My other best friend, a gorgeous Gullah lady named Rizzie Profit, owns G-Three, which stands for Gastric Gullah Grill. Rizzie has a teenaged brother named Tyrone. I count Jane, Rizzie, Ty, and even Roxanne, as family, too.

To be truthful, and I try to be (most of the time), I used to be a little green-eyed about Jane and Rizzie. Both are better endowed than I am. Inflatable bras and padded fanny panties solve that problem for me.

I don't have any children (yet), but I do have a fur-baby, if you can call any animal his size a baby. That's him with me in my author photo above. When my brother's girlfriend gave me a puppy, I had no idea how large Great Dane dogs grow. Like Topsy, Big Boy just grew and grew and grew. He's an important part of my family, and it terrifies me when he's kidnapped in Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL OF POSIES, scheduled for publication in September, 2017.

Thank you for letting me introduce you to the most important people in my life. I consider all of them family. To paraphrase my favorite quotation about families: "Family are the people who love you when you're least lovable." The people I've told you about have definitely shown me love over the years, frequently when I probably didn't deserve it.

My employers are Otis and Odell Middleton, but Fran Rizer bosses all of us around. She told me to close with this true anecdote.

An adopted child asked his mother, "Do you love my sister more than me? She's your biological child, and blood is thicker than water."

The mom replied, "I love you both, and love is thicker than blood."

Fran Rizer with two friends who are like family to her.
Left is Richard D. Laudenslager, her collaborator on
SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS. Right is Gene
Holdway, her "partner in rhyme," with whom she
co-writes music. No, Rizer is not a "little person."
Her writing partners are both over six feet, three.

Until we meet again, take care of … YOU!



In addition to the Callie Parrish mystery series, Rizer's published works include KUDZU RIVER (a southern serial killer thriller), SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS (a collection of haunting tales in collaboration with Richard D. Laudenslager), and THE HORROR OF JULIE BATES.



PS - Happy birthday today, Rick.

15 May 2017

The Ties That Bind


  Family Fortnight +   Today, the 15th of May, marks the International Day of Families. For the past two weeks, our mystery writers have written of kith and kin, of loved ones and dear ones, and we have more articles to go plus some follow-ups. We’re happy to invite David and daughter to celebrate this world holiday. Settle back and enjoy!

by David Dean and Bridgid Dean

Today is International Family Day, an occasion that I was unaware of until Leigh Lundin made me so. He also asked if I would consider writing an article on the subject. Being an internationally recognized expert on the subject of families, this was agreeable to me.

Most of us have families, whether through blood, adoption, or, in some cases, through convenient, and hopefully beneficial, social arrangements. I wouldn't be going out on a limb if I also added that most of us have, or have had, conflicting feelings about these same families. It's safe to say that much of the stress, anguish, and worry we experience in our lives comes as a result of these unruly, and often ungovernable, social units. Growing up we can hardly contain our exuberance when thinking of that blessed day when we, too, will be adults like our awful parents… and free! Then, for reasons both unclear and diabolical, we finally do leave home, find a mate, produce children, and become truly awful parents ourselves. Maybe not every moment of every day (we do have to sleep after all), but in the invisible yet meticulously maintained ledger of infractions kept by all children, we are judged sadly lacking in all the important categories. Clearly, the only thing learned from our own awful parents was to reproduce their sad failings. And then there's adolescence…

When children enter into this infernal stage the very gates of family hell swing wide emitting foul odors and spewing forth imps and devils, artfully, and awfully, disguised as your own issue. Entering into this dark region slays and tramples all remaining hopes but one– that someday, and God willing, someday soon, those children of the damned will also be visited with adulthood and leave the family manse… if it still stands!

And yet, for reasons that are mostly unreasonable, we find ourselves dreading that day, as well, and saddened when it finally does happen; comically nostalgic for the days we were a young family. Even those children turned adults, having now tasted the dubious freedoms they once longed for, purr like contented kittens during visits home. It has even been remarked by my children that their mother and I have grown more intelligent and reasonable with the years, a possibility none of them had foreseen.

So how did we weather the tumultuous years that we now look back so fondly to? There were two methods employed to save us from the lengthy prisons terms we all contemplated from time to time. The first was a dog. Not just any dog, but a Welsh Corgi. We are a Celtic-derived family and therefore must have a Celtic canine. Silke, as she came to be called, fit right in, being both untrainable and demanding. She was just as uncompromising as the rest of us, only probably smarter. Yet, the kids adored her, and their mother and I were roped in as well.

Corgi
In a very Celtic way Silke became our sin-eater. No matter how badly we behaved toward one another, she was always available to be stroked and petted, somehow soothing and calming us in the process of tending to her unending need for affection. By being so needy and demanding, she drew us out of our own selfishness. And because she was inadvertently comical and endearing, she was a subject we could always talk about. Silke was a movable conflict-free zone.

But it is the second method--reading, that is more germane to this blog site. The family I grew up in did not often indulge in the written word. My parents were not well educated and, having grown up working, had never had the leisure time for recreational reading. It was my good fortune, and through their hard work, that I was provided with that very luxury– a gift beyond rubies. Not that they encouraged me to read, but seeing that I had a knack for it, they did not oppose it. In fact, when they observed that I was becoming a voracious reader of stories, novels, newspapers, and comic books, they were mildly amused, if somewhat cautious, being unsure of the results of such indiscriminate mental activity.

At greater family gatherings it was sometimes pointed out with a certain pride that I read a lot of books. My relatives' reaction to such an announcement ran the gamut from mild astonishment as to why anyone would do such a thing, to concern for my mental health and spiritual well-being. Still, I pressed on, and many years later looked about me one day to find that all of my own progeny had picked up books from somewhere and were reading them. It must have been the silence and unaccustomed peacefulness of my suddenly unfamiliar surroundings that tipped me off. I had failed to notice the start of this phenomenon and was, like my relatives before me, mildly astonished at the development. Could it be that my children and I shared some common thread beside DNA, I asked myself. Was it possible?

Like an animal trainer that's been bitten and mauled, I proceeded with caution, gently inquiring as to the subjects of their readings, while sliding books of my own choosing through the bars of their theoretical cages. Mostly, after a sniff or two, these were rejected– though not with snarls or bared fangs, just shifted back to me without comment. I was encouraged and found that with patience and literary forbearance we soon began to use the spoken word to discuss authors and stories, even progressing to the ideas and inspirations that might have motivated them. And all of this without heated argument or emotional eruptions! I questioned my own sanity. Could this really be happening? My wife assured me that it was all real.

Julian and J. Joyce in Dublin
Oh, how I wish I could say that the Dean household's serenity was nevermore disturbed by a voice raised in anger, or shrill with indignation. Alas for all you hopeful young parents out there, it cannot be done. We devolved on more occasions than I would willingly recall… but now there were bright oases that we arrived at from time to time in our family journey, like restful, green isles scattered across a turbulent, grey sea. Just when it seemed that my mutinous crew would finally toss me overboard, we would wash up onto a wide, warm beach and peace be restored with the opening of a book.

Many years later, I still discuss stories, books, and writers with my adult children. And it's rare I come away from visits to their homes without a book selected from their shelves.

Our son, Julian, is turning his love of reading into a profession, having just been accepted into Notre Dame University's PH.d program for literature. He will be specializing in Irish works. It seems Ireland has produced some decent authors over the years. Who knew?

My eldest girl, Tanya, still waxes nostalgic over our reading of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when she was but a child.

Her sister, Bridgid, not only retained her appetite for literature, but has become a writer, as well, having produced her first novella, The Girl In The Forest. (You'll hear from her in just a moment.)

So here you have it, on this International Family Day, all of my wisdom and experience contained in these two exhortations: Get a pet and scatter books about like landmines! It worked for us and could for you.



Bridgid’s View of Things

While it is hard to argue with the notion that my parents have grown more reasonable over the years since we've left home (probably because they didn't have us kids around, irritating them to distraction!) I would like to point out that I always thought they were intelligent. This point was particularly impressed upon me when, at the age of eight, I heard that my dad was going to have a story published for the first time.

My sister was already in college and my brother was only five, but I was at home and just old enough to be in the midst of really discovering reading for myself. I recall eight as the age when the books no longer had pictures, becoming, instead, thin novels with exciting covers, full of amazing plot twists. They were peopled with characters that made you wonder who you might one day be, what you might do in those unfathomable years ahead. I was probably in the midst of devouring yet another John Bellairs book when I heard the news of the my dad's first story being published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magzine. And, as though someone had opened a window in the house, a fresh breeze scented with possibility wafted through, rifling the pages of my book.

This was also the year in school when we first had to keep a journal as an assignment, writing for some designated period of each day. It soon became apparent that I loved to write; my classmates would gladly close their notebooks once they had completed the minimum requirement but I kept going, filling page after page, stopping only when the teacher said we had to move on to something else. Later in the year, while talking about occupations, my teacher said she could see me becoming a writer. Right then and there I decided that that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Quite thoughtfully, my dad had just begun proving that this was an achievable goal for readers like us.

As my dad mentioned, books were always present in our house. Book shelves were stocked like bomber pantries, the library was visited twice a week, and favorite books were passed between us like sacred gifts. My sister's gift of the Hobbit, decades later, still sits on my shelf, read many times. From my dad I got Graham Greene, from my mother, Jane Austen. To my brother I bequeathed Anne Rice, though he might not care to admit it to his fellow doctoral students.

Happy International Family Day
Even when distance or time kept us from discussing a book that we had shared, the act of sharing it always felt significant. My older sister is the fantasy reader amongst us, with the Hobbit she offered me a doorway into a world to which I had not yet entered, but one that I knew was very significant to her.

Books felt, sometimes, like keys in this way. Keys to the inner worlds of our family members, keys to what they loved, and a means of sharing in it. Books have provided a common ground, a shared interest, and, at times, something else to argue about. What could be more significant?

Well… okay. Maybe a Corgi.

14 May 2017

Opposites Attract


  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the sixteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy this Mother’s Day article!

by Leigh Lundin

My parents were complete opposites. Dad was tall and enormously strong at 6’4 and 240 pounds. Legend said he once lifted a tractor off a man. On the way into the city for my world debut, their car slid off an icy Iowa country road. Dad shouldered the car back onto the track, and they continued to the hospital.

Mom weighed a hundred pounds and topped a shade over five feet. Even so, she could be ferocious. Dad was easy-going; Mom was anything but. The word ‘feisty’ was one of the milder applicable adjectives.

Dad was slow-talking and patient. Mom wasn’t. She could fit a couple of paragraphs in between any two words of his. As for patience, I think she ripped that page out of the dictionary.

Animals, children, and women of all sorts loved Dad. Mom could stare down lions and tigers.

Dad farmed and was gifted at mechanics, but unexpectedly, he was a self-taught polymath. It’s difficult to discuss his range of interests, because they included pretty much everything– math, science, psychology, philosophy, literature, art, poetry, and world events. On Sundays, he’d listen to opera on the radio followed by baseball. He was a google before Google– it seemed impossible to name a subject he either didn’t know or know where to find it.

Each year, my mother purchased a Playboy subscription for my father. She often pointed out pretty women on the street. When her friends questioned her sanity, she said she liked that her husband appreciated beautiful women and preferred her most of all.

In these days of parental hysteria, if little Johnny or Jane sees a bare boob or bottom, the child’s life is considered ruined. This seems so alien to the way I was raised given not only my parents, but my artist Aunt Rae. Nudity in art hung on walls and appeared in books all around us. We weren’t actually proffered Playboy, but being kids, we discovered where they were kept and we caught up on the ‘articles’ from time to time. We learned the lesson that sex was natural and part of a loving environment. When I moved to New York, many residents appeared repressed to me. Bear in mind that New York then had restrictions on selling of condoms and even discussions of birth control.

Swelter Smelter

Dad slept two to four hours a night. Mom could sleep twelve and take an afternoon nap. My father owned pajamas, but apparently never wore them. My mother would appear in the late morning swathed in his oversized PJs, a fuzzy towel pinned around her neck, an ancient green cardigan buttoned over that, boy’s argyle socks… and that’s merely the part we could see. If Dad slept nude, Mom covered up for an Arctic winter.

Once a year, Mother made an exception when Dad’s mother visited. My mom and grandmother loved each other, but they also loved to annoy each other. During her mother-in-law’s visits, Mom wore short-shorts and a halter top, clearly hoping to needle Granny. How Mom survived those freezing 98° temperatures, no one knows.

Mom’s broken thermostat and susceptibility to chills carried over into the car. On a summer day with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning, we kids gasped for oxygen. If we dared roll down the window a crack, Mom would say, “There’s a draft… I can feel it.” Dad typically responded with a dry admonition. “Boys, it’s only 98° and your mother’s chilled. If your flesh isn’t melting, roll up the window.”

Supercharged Action Heroine

Dad usually drove an old truck or car that interested him at the time, but he made sure Mom had a nice car. He bought Mom a Packard with a supercharged V-8 and the acceleration of a Lear Jet.

Mom sat on a cushion to peer over the hood. To a casual observer unable to see a driver, the Packard must have looked like it drove itself.

For such a tiny thing, Mom had a lead foot. Her gas pedal had only two positions– off and full on. One of my grade school classmates described a Sunday morning when we met at a highway crossroads. Both vehicles politely stopped at the stop signs and then Mom rocketed off. Roger claimed that by the time their family reached the town limits, we were sitting in church singing hymns.

Mom versus Chuck Berry

Two branches of a local Everhart family turned out wildly divergent. One exhibited a wicked sense of humor, the other had no humor gene at all. Naturally this latter bullying branch, Lloyd, Floyd, and Lester, rode our school bus and made life miserable for the rest of us. Actually Lloyd wasn’t bad, but the other two had the girth and temperament of constipated Cape buffalo. Flexing arms the size of 55-gallon drums, they boyishly liked to stress-test the reflexes of kids three, four, five years younger. As long as they didn't get blood or body parts on the seats, our school bus driver was content to ignore their playful antics.

Slight relief came about when Floyd reached high school age and bought an old Studebaker junker. He souped up the engine and from there on out, terrified citizens on the highway instead of us kids on the bus.

Studebaker versus the Packard
1951 Studebaker Commander 1958 Studebaker Packard Hawk

One fine day on a ride with Mom, she swept up on the bumper of Everhart, who wasn't used to seeing anything arrive in his rear-view mirror. About now you can start humming Maybellene.
As we was motivatin’ over the hill,
Everhart was whuppin’ a Coup de Ville.
His Studebaker a-rollin’ out of the gate,
But nothin’ outrun Mom’s Packard V-8.
Mom swung out to pass him, again not something bully boy Everhart was used to seeing. He leaned forward and gripped the wheel.
His Studebaker doin’ about ninety-five,
She's bumper to bumper, rollin’ side by side.
He punched the accelerator. The barrels of his carburetor opened, gulping raw gasoline into the cylinders. The gutted mufflers roared flaming unburned fuel.
Next thing I saw that Studebaker grill
Doin’ a hundred and ten gallopin’ over that hill.
Off hill curve, a downhill stretch,
We and that Studebaker neck and neck.
Realizing she wasn't passing as expected, Mom goosed the accelerator. Thrown back in our seats, my brother and I, mouths agape in horror, were petrified– NO ONE messed with an angry Everhart. Seeing he was losing ground, he plunged his pedal to the floor. He was determined no broad was going to pull ahead of him.
The Studebaker pulled up door to door,
Struggling and straining, it wouldn't do no more.
The sky clouded over and it started to rain.
Mom tooted her horn from the passin’ lane.
Still in the left side of the road, Mom glanced over and said, "What is that boy doing?" She floored it. The supercharger clutch engaged. Its rotors whined as it spun up, pressurizing air, vaporizing fuel, taching 6000… 7000 RPM.
The motor wound up, the shift went down
And that’s when we heard that highway sound.
The Studebaker lookin’ like it’s sittin’ still
She passed Everhart at the top of the hill.
Everhart faded to a dim speck on the horizon. Uh-oh.

My brother and I, half the size of Everhart, fully expected him to corner us and beat us to death with a rusty tire iron. We hadn’t, however, counted on his embarrassment. Everhart was so mortified, so humiliated to be out-raced by our tiny mother, he avoided us, turning away whenever he saw us coming.

Gossip of the escapade reached my father. He quietly removed the belt from the supercharger, claiming its bearings had overheated. Mom noticed something amiss and complained its get-up-and-go had got up and gone.

Just another day in the life of my family. With characters like my parents, how could anyone not expect me to write?

12 May 2017

Two Writers—And a Third in the Making?


  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the fourteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by Art Taylor

Earlier in our Family Fortnight series, Brian Thornton asked his wife Robyn to contribute a post about being married to a writer—a terrific and insightful essay all around, ending with Robyn inspired to start writing herself. I'd already planned on getting my wife, Tara Laskowski, involved in my post, but in our case, Tara and I are both long-time writers—which at times may seem double trouble (more on that below!) and at other times may give us at least glimpses into what the other person is going through, whether that's a burst of creative energy (needing time for ideas to play out, for the imagination to indulge itself) or a stroke of self-doubt (needing support and encouragement).

Art and Tara at Malice Domestic, April 2016
Tara and I first met at George Mason University, where we were both working toward our MFAs in creative writing. We were in fiction workshops together, sharing and commenting on our respective stories, and it was our mutual admiration for one another's work that led first to friendship and then to more. Since graduation, we have both been very fortunate with the generous attention our writing has received, especially in more recent years—and even recent days. Since my last post here at SleuthSayers, my story "Parallel Play" won the Agatha Award for Best Short Story, and in recent weeks, Tara's collection Bystanders won the Balcones Fiction Prize and her story "The Jar" was named by Wigleaf among the top 50 flash fiction stories of 2016. We're grateful on all counts, of course, but while friends and acquaintances have sometimes complimented us how how easily we seem to navigate being writers alongside managing day jobs and raising our son Dash, the truth is that behind the scenes... well, let's get straight to the interview.

Art Taylor: We talk sometimes about navigating our various day-to-day roles and responsibilities, but too often that “navigation” seems more like steering a foundering ship through tempest-tossed seas. (This sentence is, of course, the most creative writing I’ve done in a while.) Can you give folks a glimpse into our writing processes? How do we accomplish things as two writers in the same household, parenting a five-year-old and more? 
Tara Laskowski: I don’t know. How do we? Do we actually accomplish anything? Sometimes I feel like we are super-hero bad-asses. Other times I feel like we are fumbling and failing. I suppose that’s part of your tempest sea, right? The up-and-down motion of the waves. Sadly, I get really seasick, so this isn’t boding well for me…

Ok, writing process. Well, you have the summer and winter breaks in between classes to do massive crunch time writing since the academic year provides a challenge. I have a 40-minute train ride to and from work each day to try to fit in my work. I guess that’s how we’ve been managing it, with a few luxurious-seeming writing retreats and an occasional “I need an hour to do this thing” on the weekend request. It all feels very piecemeal at times, but it seems to be working for us, right now anyway.
Earlier this week here at SleuthSayers, Melissa Yi wrote about her children telling her, “Mom. You don’t spend enough time with us” and “You’re always on your computer.” Do you get those questions or feel that pressure as well? And if so, how do you deal with that—by which I mean both deal with the question and deal with it internally, emotionally, etc.?
Oh yes. That is a horrible guilt. Every time I pick up my phone to check something with Dash in the room, I hear the "Cats in the Cradle" song start playing in my head. That is a constant struggle. So much of what we do is device-related. It's not even just writing—although I often suffer from "novel head" where I'm working on a scene or thinking about a character while going about my normal daily life. If I have a second, I usually am reminded of something I need to put on our grocery list (which is on my phone) or someone I need to email back. Or we're talking and we can't remember who wrote that song or what the weather is going to be like the next day. The worst thing Dash ever utters to either of us is "Come play with me!" when we're doing something on our phone or computer. I think we try with varying degrees of success to put the phone away, but it's definitely not something that either of us has figured out how to conquer. Would you agree?
I would—and you’re right that it’s not just writing but everything. I still remember a small epiphany back during those first couple of years, when I was teaching online classes and evening classes so I could take care of Dash during the day. I had ended up in a middle of a tense series of emails with a student complaining about a grade, and I felt this urgency to keep responding. Even though Dash and I were out at a playground and Dash was pulling at me to pay attention to him, I kept peck, peck, pecking at my phone and—and suddenly I realized that the email could wait and that in the long-run this student wasn’t going to remember me or the class, but that the little boy in front of me…. well, short-term, long-run, he was the one who meant the most. I put the phone away, and these days I put it away each evening until after Dash is in bed, just to keep my attention centered.

Shift in focus now. The year that Dash was born, I read a story—a Derringer Award finalist—that was about the abduction and then return of a child, and even though references to abuse were only hinted at instead of explicitly depicted, the story was nearly crippling to read. And yet, not long after that, I wrote a story myself that was about a child in peril and a parent’s determination to protect her son and about the anxieties of parenting in general. How has your own writing or your reading changed since Dash was born?

I am a huge horror fan. Before Dash, I’d watch pretty much any horror movie, even the torture porn (though it was never my favorite). After Dash, that changed dramatically. I still love the genre, but I can’t read or watch anything that involves kids or even something very domestic (think Funny Games). I trend more toward the supernatural scares now, I guess. Part of it is just some parental instinct, I think—you can’t help but project yourself on the things you watch/read, and you certainly cannot bear to think of your child being in harm’s way. But more than that, I’ve realized how senseless some of the kid stuff is in horror. It either seems like a cheap device to get an emotional reaction out of the consumer, or it is just badly done.

I’ve also found that I write more about kids now that I have one. I was always hesitant to put children characters in my writing because I didn’t think I knew them well enough—knew how they thought, acted, etc. (See my above gripe about this being badly done.) But now that so much of my life is interacting with these little people, I feel like I have a slightly (slightly!) better understanding of how they work. And that is: they never want to brush their teeth, they never want to put on their shoes, they never want to take a bath, they never want to get out of the bath, they never want to go to sleep, they never want to get up in the morning. So they are, basically, just like me.
Dash at his first writing conference:
Bay to Ocean, Maryland, March 2016
I can’t recall if it was after I'd been away at Malice Domestic one year or after Bouchercon, but I do remember the evening that we caught Dash sitting up in bed, his stuffed animals arranged in a semi-circle in front of them, and each of them with a book tucked next to them. “We’re at a conference,” he told us, when we asked what he was doing.

And then there was the time he tried to explain to his preschool teachers that he’d been at a book launch over the weekend, and he got frustrated when they didn’t understand the phrase. (“You bought a book and then had lunch?”) How do you think it impacts Dash’s life to have two writers as parents?
I think Dash will either completely embrace reading and writing as his life or he will rebel against us and do something completely, utterly different. I do not care. I mean, I care a little; obviously I’d like for him to be a lit geek. But as long as he has a passion for learning and creativity in whatever form that takes—computers, math, fine arts, dancing, video game design, dinosaurs, baseball—I’m cool with it. I hope that in seeing how passionate we are about our craft, Dash will understand the importance of keeping at something even when it’s difficult, even when you fail sometimes. That’s all I ask.

11 May 2017

Who's your family?


  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the thirteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

May 15th is the International Day of the Family, which will undoubtedly be celebrated by many people pretending they're going to get Norman Rockwell, but knowing it'll be more twisted:

Call me cynical, but I've been around. More as an observer than as a participant, because, as many of you know by now, I was an adopted child. As I've said before, I arrived here back in 1957, a mystified 2½-year-old, with a bad cold, a TWA flight bag (which I still have), and a charm against the evil eye pinned to my dress. But I finally made it, and I became Charlie and Elaine's daughter.

Now it wasn't always sweetness and light in our house – there were a few alcohol issues, for one thing – but I don't think it's sweetness and light at any house except on the Hallmark channel. But I can assure you that I was their daughter, and they were my parents, legally, emotionally, really. Which was surprisingly hard to get across to a lot of people.

Some standard stupid comments and/or questions:
Me, in the Athens orphanage
  • "Shame your parents couldn't have children of their own." (Uh, they did. Me.)
  • "Don't you wonder who your real parents were?" (Uh, biologically, yes - I need to know who to blame for the thalassemia and the arthritis. But I know who my REAL parents were: they were the people who raised me, fed me, housed me, clothed me, loved me, and generally put up with me for all those years.)
  • "Do you ever wish you had a real family?" (See answer to above. I do at times wish we had been a LARGER family - I had no brothers or sisters, and only one uncle, who we rarely saw. It would have been nice to have a few more people to talk to or at least someone else to take the heat…)
  • "Have you ever thought of finding your biological parents?" (Yeah, especially when I was a teenager and trying to hurt my real parents, as in, somewhere I'm a PRINCESS, dammit! Or Aristotle Onassis' illegitimate daughter, and when I get the money, I'm going to do ANYTHING I WANT!!!! Sigh. Teenagers.)  
Actually, I did try, years after my parents died, to "discover my roots" and it didn't end well. Far from it. The story was one of illegitimacy and shame and abandonment and the hope that I would vanish forever. So I did. But it still hurt. As a contrast to all those TV shows and articles about adoptees hunting down their biological parents so "they can find out who they are." Listen, if you need someone else to tell you who you are, what you really need is therapy, not more relatives in the mix.

Speaking of finding out who you are, years ago, I was at the great tribal family reunion back in my grandmother's home town. BTW, it's my personal theory that family reunions are what gave Peter (or whoever translated 1 Peter 2:9 back in King James' time) the idea of calling us "a peculiar people". Anyway, various members of the tribe were acting like complete lunatics, and I realized, in a flash of insight: "I don't have to be like these people. this is not my gene pool." It was an extremely liberating experience, because at that moment I realized that I could be anyone and anything I wanted to be. I didn't have to find myself, I could become myself. There were no pre-set patterns. And that's very important.

Because sometimes not being adopted gets in the way. In small towns, you hear all the time, "Well, they can't help it, they're just like their father/mother/whoever", or "what can you expect, with that family?" Small towns never forget, and they always bring it up (whatever it is), and this is another reason why young people move to big cities. It's the equivalent of getting themselves adopted.

Another advantage is that, in the immortal words of Chance the Gardener, "I get to watch." I watch as people tell me that their family is everything to them. Sometimes this is true, and they have a wonderful family straight out of the Waltons. Other times, however, I see people giving up friends, education, opportunities, careers, even love, all for the sake of not rocking the boat, or (gasp! the horror!) being different from the rest of the tribe. I watch as people somehow manage to live in the same house with people they never speak to.
  • NOTE: I was working for a lawyer in Tennessee, when a woman came in to talk about the situation at home. She was afraid that her mother, a widow, was giving all her money to the ne'er-do-well youngest, and she didn't know what to do about it. I asked where her mother lived, and she said, "With me." I asked, "Well, why don't you talk to her about it?" "Oh, I couldn't do that." Jeez, Louise...
This is why I think another advantage of being adopted is that I've learned that whoever loves you is your family. Blood is irrelevant. Friends can indeed "stick closer than a brother".

Paget Holmes Yellow Face child.jpgFinally, I'd like to submit to you what is often described as Arthur Conan Doyle's most sentimental piece, and an old favorite of mine: "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Grant Munro's wife, Effie, has been begging money from him and begging him to not ask why. Mr. Munro fears that his wife's first husband, presumed dead in America from yellow fever, did not die, and is now blackmailing her for being a bigamist. He has followed her to an obscure cottage, where a creature with a livid inhuman face stared out the window. Holmes, Watson, and Mr. Munro go to the cottage and force their way in. The creature is a little girl in a mask, who, unmasked, proves to be Effie's daughter by her [truly] deceased husband, John Hebron, who was "of African descent". Effie explains everything, saying that she was, and still is, afraid that Mr. Munro would never accept a black child in his home.
It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the silence, and when his answer came it was one of which I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.
“We can talk it over more comfortably at home,” said he. “I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being.”
What can I say? I tear up a little every time I read that. God bless you, Mother and Daddy, and thank you for being better than you ever knew.

09 May 2017

The most important thing in the world


  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the eleventh in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by Melissa Yi

“Mom. You don’t spend enough time with us.”

“I finished the Wimpy Kid book and read most of Big Nate to you!” I told my grade one daughter, Anastasia, and my grade five son, Max, in turn. He likes Wimpy Kid too, but he’s finished them already.

“You’re always on your computer.”

“Right. Right. When I’m done, I’ll play with you.”

“But you’re never done!”

This is true. And yet, somehow we manage, much like Melodie Campbell pointed out. Still, there’s a reason that I grabbed Ayelet Waldeman’s book, Bad Mother, and ripped through it. I’d already enjoyed her Mommy Track mysteries, long before I had kids.



On the other hand, there’s this:

Anastasia: I wrote a book!

Me: Wow, that’s really good. I like the first three pages.

Anastasia: Now, you draw one page, Mommy.

Me: Oh, okay. I see it’s all blond girls. Let me draw one with brown skin.

Anastasia: I don’t like people with brown skin.

Me: But that’s us! That means you don’t like us. Clearly, we need to hang around with more brown people. [I draw a brown girl anyway.]

Max: Do you want to sell your book?

Anastasia: Okay.

Max: I’ll give you 24 cents.

Anastasia: Okay.


Mixed feelings. On one hand, my kids have learned to make, sell, and buy books. On the other hand, I obviously have to work on race relations and self-love.



“That character is obviously Max,” said my husband, after reading about Kevin. “He takes off his pants and squashes your blanket? No contest.”

“That’s me,” said Max.

But actually, I started writing Hope’s little brother after I graduated from residency, years before I had him. It’s scary how long I’ve take to write these books, since now Max is older than Kevin, who’s turning nine. But he has definitely been incorporated into Kevin. When I was working with Kobo on a promotional campaign, the creative guy said, “I don’t know what eight-year-old boys like,” and I said, “I’ve got you covered.”

“Where’s me?” said Anastasia.

“She doesn’t have a little sister or cousin in this series. Maybe later,” I said.

She nodded. She’s good about stuff like that.



So family and writing has a variable relationship for me. Family cuts into my time, but also inspires my writing and makes my life so much richer and more vibrant.

John Wooden says, “The most important thing in the world is family and love.”

I feel torn about this. For sure, without my family, I could have medical and writing success, and I, personally, would feel empty.

On the other hand, I truly need a room, time, and mental space of my own in order to create.

How do we balance this?




In other news, Human Remains debuted April 25 th and hit the Kobo top ten, plus I made some inroads on Amazon. Celebrate with a free copy at https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/human-remains-5 with the promo code HRemains!

If you don’t know how to use a promo code on Kobo, I made a page here: http://melissayuaninnes.com/how-to-use-a-kobo-promo-code/.

Please note that the code HRemains does not work on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon UK, Amazon international, iTunes, iTunes Canada, B&N, or Google Play, but it’s only 99 cents on all platforms today.

Speaking of human remains, here’s a photo from my Montreal launch at Librairie Bertrand. Someone asked, “How many people here are doctors?”

I said, “Half. Hey, why don’t we get the civilians to lie on the floor and the doctors can pretend to resuscitate them?”

They thought I was nuts, but they’re my friends, so…

Aren’t they awesome?
Dr. Chryssi Paraskevopoulos with author Day's Lee, who interviewed me here;
Dr. Ted Wein with author Su J. Sokol; Dr. Melissa Yi with artist Jessica Sarrazin.
Not pictured: Dr. Rob Adams and reader Maria, and artist Jason Jason de Graaf