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

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

07 May 2017

Meet the Mendozas: A Family of Cultural Relativists in An Age of Absolutism


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

Diego Mendoza, a nice Jewish boy from Seville, was born knocking on the inside of my head one night, demanding that I tell his story: he sailed with Columbus on the voyage of discovery on the very day in 1492 that the Jews were expelled from Spain. Why did Columbus take him on? (I have my reasons for not believing the theory that Columbus himself was Jewish.) Diego's dad was shipwrecked with Columbus off the coast of Portugal in their youth (the shipwreck is historical fact), and he'd remained a friend of the family. Young Columbus also had a crush on Diego's mother, though that didn't come out till Journey of Strangers, the second novel, as a piece of ancient family history.

So Diego had a father, did he? Diego escaped to what turned out to be "the Indies." Where did the rest of the family go? In "The Green Cross," the first of two Diego stories about the first voyage that appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, I sent Diego's "parents and sisters" to Italy, where many Spanish Jews fled at the beginning of the Sephardic diaspora. Diego sprang to such vivid life that I decided he deserved a novel, which presented new challenges.

I needed women characters, so I created Diego's sister Rachel, a spirited and endearing girl of 13 who had been sent away to a convent school in Barcelona for safety's sake and left behind due to the ruthless speed of the expulsion. Her only protector was an aunt, Doña Marina Mendes y Torres, a true converso rather than a marrano who secretly practiced Judaism. I intended Doña Marina to be stern and forbidding, but the lady surprised me, eventually becoming a staunch protector to her niece and nephew and putting up with a fair amount of discomfort and shenanigans. The first half of Voyage of Strangers takes place in Spain, where Columbus is received at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella and charged with outfitting a fleet for the second voyage. Rachel is burning to go along, and in the end, Diego and Columbus combined fail to stop her.

In the second half of Voyage of Strangers, Diego and Rachel meet and fall in love with the gentle, generous Taino, the indigenous population of Quisqueya (Hispaniola) and are powerless to prevent its destruction by the Spaniards. We get to know more about their parents and their upbringing via the principles instilled in them, which allow them to embrace a culture very different from their own. As Jews, they have always been outsiders in the Christian mainstream culture of Europe. This has made cultural relativism their natural point of view. For example, the Taino teach Diego and Rachel batey, a game not unlike soccer.
We both became skilled at batey. In such perilous times, one might think that sport would be abandoned. But batey was a religious observance, the game a ceremony like the Christian Mass or, in Judaism, carrying the Torah. In troubled times, spiritual practice is a necessity. My father had told me so, and the Taino understood this as well.
Both Papa and Mama Mendoza are revealed as counselors whose wisdom their children cling to in difficult situations, since they are far from home and have no one to rely on but each other. In one historically accurate scene, Diego and Rachel are forced to listen to the sounds of a young Taino girl being beaten and raped by a childhood friend of Columbus. The man himself wrote an account of it when he returned to Europe. The story survived because historians quoted it as a comical anecdote as late as 1942. That's right: Samuel Eliot Morison, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Columbus, thought the rape of an Indian maiden, with a beating to make her compliant, was funny.
“Diego!” Rachel cried. “What is he doing to her?”

I took her hand and pulled her down beside me on a coil of rope.

“Do you know what is meant to happen between a man and a woman?”

“Yes,” she said. “Elvira told me.”

“What did she tell you?” I asked. Our eldest sister loved to hoard information and spring it on us at the moment when it would most devastate or embarrass us, and she did not always pause to verify her facts.

“She said a man and a woman do the same as when a bull is set to a cow, so she will bear a calf and furnish milk. And that is how human folk make a baby.”

“And what do you think of that?” I asked. I expected her to say that she found it hard to believe of our parents, who both had a full measure of dignity.

“I know it is true,” she said, “for I asked Mama. She said there is pleasure in it too, when it is done correctly.”

Papa had said the same. I would not admit to Rachel that I had had no opportunity yet to investigate the matter for myself. So I simply nodded, hoping my little sister thought me wiser than I was.

“Mama told me about rape too,” Rachel said. “That is what Cuneo is doing, is it not?”

“Yes, but—Mama told you?”

“She knew it was a danger, sending me to Barcelona when things were getting worse,” Rachel said, “and none knew what the King and Queen would do about the Jews. She said I must have this knowledge so that if I were taken, at least I would not be taken by surprise.”
For Journey of Strangers, I had to do some serious research on the Sephardic diaspora so I could address the issue of what had become of the rest of the Mendoza family. I quickly found out that the Mendoza family could not have stayed in Firenze (Florence), where I had so blithely put them, under the protection of Lorenzo di Medici. First, Lorenzo died in January 1492. Second, his successor, along with the Jews who had sought refuge there, fled the city in November 1494, when King Charles VIII conquered it. Many of them ended up in Istanbul, where Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II welcomed them, although the famous one-liner, still quoted– "You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler, he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!" –was made up by a writer, who else, in 1523. So the Mendozas settled in Istanbul, and I got to develop the characters of Papa and Mama, along with older sisters Elvira and Susanna and their fianćes, later husbands, and in-laws.

The complex rules governing the lives of Jews in Istanbul in the late 1490s; the trauma of their travels; the pressure on the Jewish community to marry their children young and have them reproduce as many Jews as possible--very much like the situation of Jews after the Holocaust--all of these challenge Papa and Mama Mendoza to show what stuff they're made of. Into this situation come their long-lost children, who have befriended naked Taino and helped Moorish slaves escape. Their best friend is Hutia, a lone Taino survivor, and Rachel is determined to marry him. They've been running around the Caribbean half-naked and fighting their way through Europe living by their wits. How are you going to box them into a nice Jewish marriage and a job in Papa's business?

Rachel, with Mama's help, finds herself a job as a personal shopper to the ladies of the Sultan's harem. Diego goes into partnership with a Muslim ship's captain and former pirate. The plot thickens as Hutia must decide whether conversion to Judaism or to Islam is more likely to win him Rachel's hand in marriage. No spoilers. Read the books! Both are available as trade paperbacks and e-books. Instead, I'll give you the final lines of the homecoming scene (the end of Chapter 23 in Journey of Strangers, when Diego, Rachel, and Hutia finally arrive in Istanbul). I confess that I cried not only the first three times I read it over, but also while I was writing it.
Someone must be coming to the door. It swung open. A young man I did not recognize, wearing a tallit, peered out at us, squinting as if nearsighted.

“Yes?”

Then I heard my sister Elvira’s voice call out, “Akiva? Who is it?”

A girl with a mop of hair as unruly as Rachel’s came flying out of an inner room, shrieking, “It’s them! It’s them!”

My sister Susanna flung herself upon me, arms tight around my neck and legs clinging to my waist.

“Mama! Papa! Come quickly! Diego and Rachel have come home!”

And then Rachel was sobbing in Mama’s arms, and Papa was lifting Susanna down so he could hug me himself, his beard wet with tears as it brushed against my cheek, or maybe the tears were mine.

“My boy, my boy!” Papa said. “Baruch Ha’shem! Thank God you’re home!”
After I'd finished writing Journey, I realized that not only did Papa and Mama Mendoza represent an idealized version of my own parents and a blueprint for the aspects of family that I would have liked and hadn't had, but they also reminded me of the March parents in Little Women, who in turn were Louisa May Alcott's idealized portrait of her own parents, the high-minded but impractical philosopher Bronson Alcott and her beloved mother, immortalized as the March sisters' Marmee. Wise, kind, ethical, loving, principled without being the slightest bit dogmatic, fiercely loyal to family, flexible, open-minded on a deeply intelligent level, and utterly reliable. Cultural relativists. Who wouldn't want such parents? My own being long gone, I'd go home with them in a flash.

Elizabeth Zelvin, a once and forever SleuthSayer, is the author of the historical novels Voyage of Strangers and Journey of Strangers, the Bruce Kohler mystery series beginning with Death Will Get You Sober, and numerous short stories. Her stories have been nominated twice for the Derringer Award and three times for the Agatha Award.

Liz is currently editing the fourth Murder New York Style anthology for the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find her on Amazon's Elizabeth Zelvin page, on her website at elizabethzelvin.com, and on Facebook as Elizabeth Zelvin.

06 May 2017

Two out of Fifteen–So Far


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

I've enjoyed reading, over the past week, about the families of my fellow SleuthSayers, and especially about the talent (and love of) writing that exists among their family members.

As for my own crew, here's some background. Our immediate family has now grown to 15, not counting my mother, and it's a number that doesn't sound all that big until we all get together (usually every June for a summer outing and every Christmas for a one-to-two-week gathering at our home in Mississippi). Then it's quickly obvious how much larger and younger and louder our group has become.


For anyone who's interested, my wife Carolyn and I have three grown kids and seven blue-eyed grandchildren. Our son Michael is a chemical engineer with DuPont in Parkersburg, West Virginia; he and his wife Jennifer (also a chem. e. and currently a stay-at-home mom) have three children: Lily (11), Anna (9), and Gabriel (6). David, our second son, is a physician at St. Dominic's Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi; he and his wife Jamie (also a doctor, and currently a stay-at-home mother and aerobics instructor) have two kids: Charlie (9) and Susannah (7). Karen, our youngest child, is also a stay-at-home mom, and a former music teacher at a local elementary school; she and her husband Collin Berger (a computer technician) live in Pearl, Mississippi, and have two kiddos: Richard (4) and Julia (1). My wife and I feel extremely fortunate that we have two of our three children and four of our seven grandkids living nearby and that we're able to have all fifteen of our family together at least twice a year. (We're also thankful for FaceTime--as we used to be for Skype.)

I'm always reminded, any time I think of family, of two old sayings. One is "The offspring done sprung higher than them they sprung off of" (which in my case is certainly true) and the other is "By the time the rich man has enough money to afford children, the fool has enough kids to support him." I especially like that second one. Now, if they'll only support me . . .

As for writers and writing--so far, although several of our brood have done some technical and professional writing, only one (besides me) has shown much interest in creating fiction. That's our granddaughter Susannah--on the left in the photo below, taken last Christmas--who'll be eight years old next month. She's an avid reader, especially of series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and likes to write fantasy stories and tales that involve animals of any kind. (Her people-doctor parents already suspect that they might be raising a veterinarian.) Currently Susannah is collaborating with a school friend, and together they've written several stories that I think have turned out really well. At that age I was probably still trying to learn how to tie my shoes.


So that's it, for the Floyds. One final point: although not many of us are writers, I'm very pleased to say that all of us--even my mom, who's 90--are readers.

That's the important thing. Right?

05 May 2017

First Signing like a First Kiss


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


Like a first kiss - there has been nothing as good as my first signing. GRIM REAPER was released in 1988, and a local bookstore (back when local bookstores carried my books) had a signing for me. My publisher, Zebra Books coughed up some money (money I later discovered came out of my royalties) and I brought food and drink. My father brought beer of course.

We hoped to sell 30 books and the bookstore (part of a small chain) had 300 shipped in. The big surprise came quickly. A lot of my friends and my family showed up. I come from a big family - my father was one of 12 and my mother was one of 12. At that time, I had 95 first cousins and most of them had kids.


My brother is the tall one in this picture. The one non-family member is the third from the right. She was a retired nun. She was the principal at my grammar school, Our Lady of The Holy Rosary. She sent a note after reading the book, wondering who taught me to curse like that. I blamed it on the Christian Brothers at Archbishop Rummel (where I went to high school). Gotta love a Catholic education. I spent two years at a Jesuit university.


These are some of my aunts, a cousin and one of my sisters. They got all dressed up for this. My Aunt Earline (in red) lived to be 99. My Aunt Bess (second from the right) got married again when she was 80 years old.


My 2-year old son pitched in.

Well, we ran out of books. Sold 300 paperbacks. Never happened again, although my family continued to come to my signings through the 1990s. They don't come anymore. My books are too hardboiled and they haven't given the historicals a chance. You can only read so many curse words, I guess. Such is life.

But I'll always remember that first kiss.

PS: I did not write the promo on the flyer. Vendetta of blood?

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