Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

25 September 2020

Wooden-legged Playboy Bequeaths America a Cherished Ideal


Hey, did you all have a rockin’ Constitution Day last Thursday? A great American day off, complete with outdoor grilling, parades, flags, and late-night fireworks? Yeah, me neither. And not because of the pandemic.

Constitution Day (Sept. 17th) is the federal holiday Americans don’t know. Two hundred thirty-three years ago, 74 men were invited to Philadelphia to consider replacing the weak Articles of Confederation that was proving disastrous for the new American states. The nation was bankrupt and had no treasury or military to speak of. Despite this, citizens were deeply suspicious of a plan to hammer out a new system of government. Only 55 men answered the call. After nearly four months of debate, only 40 (39 representatives and the convention’s president George Washington) signed the resulting document on September 17, 1787, and embarked on a campaign for ratification.

It’s sort of like the story of the Declaration of Independence, only more forgettable. The Fourth of July has everything going for it. A rag-tag band of rebels overthrew a king! In contrast, the Seventeenth of September presages an ugly, querulous slog to durable nationhood. Americans argued about the Constitution in 1787. And they argue about it today.

Jefferson fatuously declared that the men of the Constitutional Convention were “an assembly of demigods.” Yeah—they weren’t. But sometimes imperfect people can conceive a more perfect union. Let’s take, for example, my favorite Constitution signer, Gouverneur Morris.

Gouverneur Morris
(Courtesy Library of Congress)

He hailed from a rich New York family whose family seat was located at Morrisania in the Bronx. Six feet tall, Morris was witty, fit, and imposing, and once served as a body double as the French sculptor Houdon shaped marble into the form of George Washington. There’s just one limb Houdon had to dream up out of his own imagination: Washington’s left leg.

You see, in his twenties Gouverneur Morris lost his left leg in a carriage accident. He wore a wooden prosthesis for the rest of his life. (The New-York Historical Society preserves the pegleg in a glass case next to FDR’s leg brace.) A rumor at the time held that Morris had really lost his leg while leaping out of a window to escape an angry husband.

Morris’s bedroom exploits are legendary. In his diaries, Morris recounted steamy encounters with numerous women in passageways, carriages, even a Parisian convent. He did not discriminate. He dallied with young and old, married or single. He once hooked up with a pair of sisters. He did it in the Louvre, which then served as an apartment complex for nobles. The author of the best Morris biography, Richard Brookhiser, reveals that the language in Morris’s diaries are loaded with euphemisms.
“They performed ‘the rites’; he conferred ‘the joy’; they did ‘the needful.’ They ‘sacrificed to the Cyprian Queen [Venus]’; they ‘performed the first commandment given to Adam, [i.e., be fruitful and multiply] or at least we used the means.’ Over and over, Morris boasted, like a teenager (or at least, like a teenager who knows Latin), that he was suaviter in modo, fortiter in re—gentle in manner, resolute in the deed.”
At one point Morris exclaims of a woman: “What fine materials for seduction!” In another passage, he writes that he and his partner “brightened the chain together.” (Brookhiser explains that one brightens a chain by, ahem, rubbing it.) After spying Dolley Madison in a low-cut dress, Morris wonders if she is “amenable to seduction.” Yes, Dolley was happily married, but Morris dismissed fellow signer James Madison, architect of the U.S.’s three branches of government, as “shriveled.”

So that’s the hormonal side of the man. Like a peripatetic Zelig, he also popped up at key moments in history and used his brains to set things to rights. During the American Revolution, he traveled to Valley Forge to check on Washington’s troops, was gob-smacked at what he found, and lost no time describing to Congress the “naked, starving condition” of their army. He developed the U.S.’s decimal-based monetary system, employing the word “cent” to replace the British “penny.” Living abroad after the war, he bore witness to the horrors of the French Revolution and lent money without expectation of repayment to nobles fleeing their homeland. He was at Alexander Hamilton’s bedside when the man died of the bullet lodged near his spine, and later delivered Hamilton’s eulogy. Pressed into service for his hometown, Morris laid out a scrupulously logical street plan for New York City, which satisfied his apparent love of precision and mathematical order, and playfully mocked the European design of Washington, DC.

When in his teens, Morris knocked over a kettle of boiling water and scalded off most of the flesh from his right arm. The nerves were most likely damaged, and the limb remained scarred and impaired for the rest of his life. Considering his double blow—the loss of a leg and the disfiguring of his arm—one would expect Morris to be a bitter man. On the contrary, he was generally happy and took pains to write letters consoling friends and acquaintances in their times of need. And while his father, mother and family all owned slaves, he held no enslaved persons of his own, and in one of the 173 speeches he made at the Constitutional Convention (the most of any signer) he railed against the institution, calling it a “curse of heaven.” Late in life, the old bachelor shocked his family by marrying a woman twenty-two years his junior who had been implicated in the murder of her illegitimate child by another man, her adulterous brother-in-law.

Morris was indeed colorful, but why bore you with his exploits? History is filled with the deeds of dead white men. We certainly don’t need more of them, even if they are accomplished, wooden-legged scoundrels.

If you must know, my thoughts fly to Morris because of one paragraph he wrote. One single graf. He’s remembered as the “penman” of the Constitution, and for translating passages in the founding document from dreadful legalese to normal English. In a famous example, he cut 61 words down to 36. The original preamble read, We the people of the states of … and proceeded to name each of the states in attendance at the Constitutional Convention. Morris retooled the first paragraph, throwing in a few of his own masterful touches:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
His stylistic choices are significant. During the debates, Morris had insisted that the president should be chosen not by Congress but by the citizenry. (The Electoral College is the vestigial compromise the framers made on that point.) Nevertheless, Morris arguably exacted his revenge. In one stroke, he wrenched the power of government from the states and bestowed it upon the people.

When the document flew to those states for ratification, the Virginian Patrick Henry—who declined to attend the Constitutional Convention, famously saying that he smelled a rat—pounced on the three words Brookhiser dubs Gouverneur Morris’s “greatest legacy.”

“What right had they to say ‘We, the People’?” Patrick Henry demanded.

Sigh. Nothing changes.

* * *


See you all in three weeks! If you can forgive a little BSP, I hope you’ll check out the trailer my wife created for our own book about the Constitution signers. I append the video here more for its cheerful animation and comedy than anything else. We were just learning how to use the software back then, and wanted it to sound like a modern-day political ad.

And yes, while I am the perpetrator of two books on the signers of two U.S. founding documents, I’d be the first to admit that they are works of political humor and wiseassery. For a serious look at Morris’s life, see historian Richard Brookhiser’s Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution (Free Press, 2003).

07 November 2017

Great Gifts for Readers and Writers


This is my last column before the madness that is the Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and any other holiday I'm leaving out) shopping season begins on the day after we eat the bird. Yes, some of you may start your shopping on the very day we eat the bird, but I'm a traditionalist. No holiday shopping until the day after Thanksgiving--unless we're talking about books. Then you can shop any time. In bed. While you're at Grandma's. Take a quick run to Barnes and Noble while you're supposed to be grocery shopping. There's always room for more books. And more and more. Not that I have a problem or anything. Nope. Not me.
So, given that I don't have a problem, I thought this would be the perfect time to suggest gifts for readers and writers. You know, people like me (and you, I bet) who don't have a problem with coveting books or writing them, no matter how much they try to quit--wait. What? Quit? Who would want to quit? But I digress. These suggestions are not going to be books themselves. No, that would be silly. Of course the readers in your life want books. And the writers in your life want to write and sell them. You know that. But what you don't know is there are things that go along with books, things the readers and writers on your shopping list secretly want.

What are these wondrous items? Come on. I'll show you.

First we'll start with gifts for readers

Love Beacon

You think this is a book bag, right? It is, but it's so much more.

We'll start with its function as a bag. Every reader needs a book bag. Something to take with her to the library or when she's out and about. It shouldn't be too small because she might finish the book she's reading and need another one. She shouldn't be caught without options. So she'll need to carry several books with her wherever she goes. So make that bag sturdy.

But sturdiness is only one important quality of the bag. It should say something. Does your reader love sci fi? Make sure your bag shows it. Or does your reader coo at cozy mysteries? Let the bag share that with the world. Or, if your reader has eclectic taste, you can simply use the bag to proclaim that its owner loves books. But the bag should make a statement because a book bag can do more than carry books. A book bag can help readers find each other. So keep that in mind when shopping. With a book bag, you're not just giving a tote, you're giving a love beacon--a signal someone can send to the world that she is a reader. And maybe, just maybe, another reader will see the beacon and respond. What better thing to bond over than books?

Book Light

You might have bought a book light decades ago and realized they weren't made well. You might have even had a store clerk at a Waldenbooks discourage you from buying a book light back in the eighties because of their poor quality. (Nope. That wasn't me. No siree.) But today's book lights have come of age. Not only do they work well, but they're lightweight and pretty. Oh so pretty. Doesn't the reader on your list deserve a sturdy way to read in bed without the lamp on. (And to that point, doesn't the reader's mate deserve a way for the reader to read in bed without the lamp on?) So buy a book light. It's a gift for two, all in one.

Go for the Gold

Book bags and book lights are nice, you're thinking. But you want to show the reader in your life just how much you love her. Isn't there something nicer (read: pricier) you can buy? But of course. First, there's an e-reader. Yes, most people who would like a e-reader already have them, but I'd be remiss without mentioning them. When wrists get weak, e-readers can be easier to hold than books. And when eyes get tired, e-readers let you increase the type size, which can be nice too. And if you want a book and have an e-reader, you can click and have that book at your disposal in mere seconds, which is a pretty nifty thing indeed.

But, Barb, you're saying. I don't want to give an e-reader. I want to truly show the love of my life that I get her, right down to her introverted little toes. What can I buy that will show her I understand her completely? (Besides, of course, a vacation for her alone with her books.)

Well, okay. Get out your wallet. Besides a gift card for books, the best thing you can buy a reader is a ... bookshelf. Or two. Or two dozen. More and more and more. There are small bookshelves to go into niches in your bedroom. There are large bookshelves to cover walls in your study. And then, there's the granddaddy gift of them all.

Built-ins.

Nothing says love like a built-in bookshelf. Be still my page-turning heart.


 Gifts for Writers

 The Anti-Welcome Mat

We all know the standard ways people indicate they don't want others knocking on their doors. The Beware Dog sign. The doormat beseeching you to Go Away. The sock on the handle of a dorm room door, indicating that ... well, you know.

Writers need something like this too. All too often, a person toiling at home (especially someone who spends his days making up conversations for imaginary people) is viewed as interruptible.

"Mom, where are the cookies?"

"Have you checked the jar?"  Grumble, grumble.

"Dad, can you drive me to my friend's house?"

"What, your legs don't work?" Even more grumbling.

"Honey, the house is on fire."

"I swear, if I get interrupted one more time I--oh, wait. That's an interruption I'm okay with."

Let's hope that house fires are few and far between. For those other times, your writer needs a way to nicely tell the member of his family to Go Away. So here we have it, a simple sign the writer can hang on his office door. Interrupt thereafter at your peril.

Page Holder

Until you've tried to type in edits, hunching forward to look down at a page on your desk then looking back up to your screen, then hunching forward again to find your place, then straightening up to type the next edits in before hunching once more, over and over and over, you haven't typed in edits first done on paper. Yes, some authors might do all their editing on the computer, but many people edit and proofread the old-fashioned way. I'm one of them. Reading off screen enables me to spot errors I believe I'd otherwise miss. And that's great, until it's time to type in the changes.

That's where a Page Holder comes in. It allows you to have your pages standing upright, so you can sit in the same position, with your eyes on the pages and your fingers on the keys, typing away. And when you need to look to the screen, it's so much easier moments later to simply scan to the left to find your place again on the paper page. This may seem like something silly or unnecessary, but oh my goodness, the writer in your life needs it. Since I got mine a few months ago, typing in edits goes So Much Faster. And, even more exciting, I don't have to worry any more about actually becoming a hunchback, which might be good for fiction set at Notre Dame, but in real life, not so much.

An editor

Every writer needs an editor. You never know when you might be telling too much instead of showing, or writing stilted dialogue, or not recognizing a plot hole so big Big Foot could fit through it. That's why it's always good to get a second pair of eyes, especially someone who specializes in this type of work.

Some authors rely on critique groups, and they can be great. But sometimes an author needs a professional. A freelance editor. This can be especially true for authors trying to sell a first manuscript and authors planning to self-publish. But freelance editors can be pricey, so if you love an author, perhaps the best present you can give is the gift of an editor's time.
I know all about this--it's how I make my living. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to help an author reach his potential, to see a writer sell the story she toiled over, to witness a smile when an author's book lands on a bookstore shelf. So if you have a writer in the family, consider helping him or her splurge on an editor. But be sure to do it after you eat the bird. Holiday shopping can wait. We do have traditions to follow, after all.

So, do you have a great gift you can recommend for the reader or writer in your life? Please share in the comments. And happy early Thanksgiving!

15 September 2015

Nothing Like Holidays to Prompt Joy ... and Murder


Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  (Happy new year to my Jewish readers!) So it seems a perfect day to consider how often crime stories are set during holidays.
82 days until Hanukkah begins!
Crime on holidays? Particularly religious holidays? How blasphemous, some of you may be thinking. But the rest of you, admit it, you're thinking that holidays involve family, and family members not only know each other's buttons, but they love to push them. Of course there's crime during the holidays.

But how much crime? If you follow Janet Rudolph's Mystery Fanfare blog, www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com, you'll have an inkling. Janet loves holidays, and on every one, she posts a list of mystery books/stories she knows about that are set on that day. But reading these  lists piecemeal won't give you the full picture. That's why I've reviewed all her lists from the past year (you're welcome!) and learned that the most dangerous holiday is ...

Drum roll ...
Christmas! Yes, the culmination of the season of joy is the most crime-ridden day of the year, at least according to mystery-fiction writers. Last year Janet listed nearly 600 novels with Christmas crime. That's enough to make Santa go on strike.

What was the next most-dangerous holiday? Take a guess. It's kind of tricky. Ha! It's ... Halloween. The holiday of ghosts and goblins and children begging for candy is perfect for moody, scary stories. Janet's list last year had nearly 200 Halloween mysteries.
Far fewer mysteries have been set on today's holiday, Rosh Hashanah, but there are some. My Macavity Award-winning story "The Lord is my Shamus" references both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), thought it's not set on either of these holidays. Last year Janet's blog listed eight novels and two short-story anthologies set during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between (the Days of Awe). I'll be heading over to her blog today to see if she's added any new books or stories to the list this year.

I've always been a fan of holidays myself. It's fun to dress up in costumes or to torture my dogs by dressing them up. (Check out the photos on the side.) I've written a number of short stories set during holidays, too, with Thanksgiving and Christmas being used most often (four stories each). (My website, www.barbgoffman.com, has a complete list of my published stories.) It's really a no-brainer: family in close quarters with lots of food and drink? Call the cops, baby, 'cause you know what's coming.

Indeed, knowing how ripe holidays can be for inducing murderous thoughts, a few years ago, authors Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and I decided that it would be fun to make holidays the theme for the seventh volume of the Chesapeake Crimes series (which we edit). We envisioned an anthology with short stories set on the standard big holidays, but we also hoped for stories set ones used less often in crime fiction. Our authors came through. The resulting book, Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, has stories set on Groundhog Day (my story), Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and (out of chronological order), Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrr. Author Cathy Wiley gets mad props for coming up with a story set on this fabulous holiday, which occurs annually on September 19th. That's this Saturday, folks.

And in honor of this holiday, on this Saturday afternoon, five authors with stories in Homicidal Holidays--Donna Andrews, Clyde Linsley, Shari Randall, Cathy Wiley, and I--are scheduled to appear on a panel at Kingstowne Library in Alexandria, Virginia, to talk about using holidays in crime stories. The free event is open to the public. If you're in the Washington, DC, area, we hope you'll attend. You can get more details and register here: http://tinyurl.com/oh2h2kv. (The link will take you to the Fairfax County library website. The link was super long, so I shortened it.)

Cathy Wiley at our launch party.
We've had good luck with this book. My Groundhog Day story, "The Shadow Knows," is a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity awards, and it was a finalist for the Agatha Award in the spring. (You can read it here: www.barbgoffman.com/The_Shadow_Knows.html). Our own Art Taylor also has an Agatha Award-nominated story in the book ("Premonition," a Halloween story), and Cathy Wiley's pirate story ("Dead Men Tell No Tales") was up for a Derringer Award last spring.

So if you like holidays--and who doesn't?--I hope you'll attend this Saturday's panel to learn about using holidays in mysteries. It will be fun for readers and writers. And word has it that Cathy Wiley will be dressed as a pirate. Shiver me timbers, you can't get more fun than that.

Do you like reading mysteries set on holidays? If so, which is your favorite and why?

21 June 2013

No. 1197


It came in the mail.
Writers generally look forward to the mail arriving. Not the bills and junk mail, but the contracts and checks a writer gets for creating work good enough to be put up in print. And sure, we get a little ambivalent, with both hopes and fears, upon receiving those first envelopes from an agent, or editor since they could be a positive or a negative. They could be a glorious validation of our creative genius (also called an acceptance) or the dreaded rejection (what do they know?).

This particular piece of mail I got last month could be called an acceptance of sorts, but not one I was looking for at the time. Can't say I was too surprised to get it though because it's happened twice before in the ten years since we moved here. But why now? After all, we had a trip planned with non-refundable airline tickets, and as everyone knows, airlines recently raised their prices for a customer to change the dates on their tickets.

Guess I could have asked for a postponement, but the letter said it would only take a day or two of my time. Okay, there was a four-day window before flight time, so I took a chance. If circumstances looked bad after I got there, then I could always request a postponement at that time and ask for a later date when my schedule seemed to be more open. In any case, I know they really don't want me. None of them have in the past, even though it has been my desire to participate.

You see, once again my name has come up and I have been summoned for jury duty. My juror number is 1197 and I am supposed to appear in county court at 8:30 AM on a specified day. A lot of instructions are listed in the letter, plus there is a questionnaire form I am supposed to fill out and bring with me. The first part of the form is all background on me. I've known me for a long time, so that part's easy. Next, I check the box for Post Grad and then the NO box for Previous Jury Service.

Now I come to all the little check boxes concerning other background about me, the part which has always gotten me bounced from a jury panel in the past. I check YES for Have You Ever Been Involved In A Court Proceeding Other Than Jury Service. This is quickly followed by checks in the box for The Case Was Civil, also one in the Criminal box, again for I Was A Party To The Case and for I Was A Witness To A Case. Seems my 25 years in law enforcement tends to mean one lawyer or the other in a pending trial has concerns about me sitting on their jury panel. But, according to the rules, no occupation is automatically excused from jury duty. Thus, I am required to go through the motions.

So, the night before, as instructed in the summons, I call the designated telephone number after 5:30 PM. The taped message says numbers 601 through 1,000 must report on the following morning for jury service. Numbers 1,001 through 1,250 are on standby, must be prepared to respond at an hour's notice and are required to call the designated telephone number again at Noon on the following day to see if they are needed then. Okay, looks like No. 1197 has got a second chance with the standbys. I sleep well that night. Comes Noon, the taped message now says the standby group does not need to report, our service obligation as jurors has been fulfilled.

Ah yes, rejected again.

Now, we all know people called for jury duty often make jokes about trying to get out of jury service, some of them serious about their trying or their success. I have even laughed about some of the ploys people used or claimed to have used to get off jury duty. In fact, I found one set of circumstances so bizarre that I used it in a short story ("Independence Day") about one of my Holiday Burglars who ended up on a jury panel for a fellow burglar. In short, it seems a real-life potential female juror raised her hand when the judge asked if there was any reason why any of  the potential jurors in front of him should not serve on a jury.

"Yes ma'am," inquired the judge upon seeing her hand.
"I'm not feeling well," was her reply.
"Not feeling well? What is the problem?"
"I think it's the medicine my doctor is giving me for my cocaine addiction."
"Ma'am, you are excused."

Okay, becoming a juror can be an inconvenience. And, okay, people can joke about different ways to get off jury duty. But, I am pretty sure those same people would quickly be screaming about THEIR RIGHTS if the peer jury system was somehow abolished. So, if a little of my time being spent as a juror is one of the requirements for me to live in a free society, then I'm willing to to have the inconvenience of being called. I know that if I were innocent of an accused crime, I would want some jurors who were fair-minded and interested in true justice, not someone who is aggravated about being summoned and is trying to get out of their duty.

Now on the other hand…

14 June 2012

Summertime and the Living is Killing Me



It isn't even officially summer yet and I'm dying from the heat. Not literally, but it seems likely I could succumb any moment. The heat index has soared into the 90's already where I live and people are getting cranky. It isn't pretty.


It's a fact that more crimes are connected to heat than any other weather -- while suicides occur more with rainy seasons. Personally, I like a rainy night (and day), so I don't understand that part, but my address doesn't get that much rain.


Crime rates interest me. Is there a reason for spikes and times of lower criminal activities due to a high thermostat rating? According to many experts, crime rates are higher in the Southern states where the temps rise higher and higher like notes in Mariah Carey song that don't seem possible.


Human behavior is studied, incarcerated prisoners are interviewed and police officers are questioned for their take on the dilemma in search for answers. If only we could encase the Earth beneath a huge glass globe like Superman's Metropolis and regulate the weather. I think it would be a great discovery if someone could figure out how to do this. Imagine the possibilities. No more worrying about global warming.


In the meantime, we can only spend so much time near a pool, lake or ocean to cool down. Too much sun is another problem with situating ourselves at some sort of water park for the duration of the too-hot-to-breathe weather. If you've ever had a bad sunburn, you understand the grouchiness that accompanies that scenario, too. Are there no answers?


I think I may have this one solved.


I am suggesting the public take a mandatory break during the heat of the day. If it were a national proclamation, it'd be like a daily mini-vacation without having to pay anything extra for gasoline although snacks might corrupt the budget a little. If doing this cut down on crime, think of the money law enforcement could save. In that case, the government could afford to pay us (or provide a nice tax break or something) to stop and rest while it's scorching outside. I'm sure some would use the time to take a siesta, do another load of laundry or write one more chapter on that Great American Novel. But for those who wouldn't be interested in any of that, how about just sitting down and spending some time reading.


That suggestion comes with an interesting caveat: I'd want everyone to choose a (gasp!) mystery which probably includes a crime.

21 December 2011

Happy Holidays



by Robert Lopresti

That title is not yet another blow in the war against Christmas (which seems, oddly enough, to be doing just fine in spite of all the worriers).  Instead I want to think about tying books or stories to specific holidays.  I believe I tried it exactly once, with a story tied to the British custom of telling ghost stories around Christmas Eve.  Alas, that story remains in my ever-increasing pile of stories waiting for a good home.

Is a holiday story more or less marketable than any other kind?  Beats me.  On the one hand, you may be reducing your odds to, say, one issue out of twelve for the year.  On the other hand, the editor might really want something thematic for that issue.  Certainly Christmas is the obvious one, since we as a nation seem to obsess about Noel for a longer period every year.  (In a short story called "The Black Whatever" James Powell suggested this was part of a conspiracy by Santa Claus... that was yet another Christmas story, of course.)

I suppose the person who should be writing about this subject is our own R.T. Lawton, since he write a series of stories about a couple of very dumb criminals who specialize in holiday burglaries (the latest was titled "Labor Day.")

Maybe my problem with all this is that the holidays that mean the most to me tend to fail to show up on the pre-printed calendars.  For example, I always enthusiastically celebrate Bike To Work And School Day, which you may not have heard of, but it's a big deal among my friends, and my wife .helped start it.

Which brings me to the actual subject of this piece (and about time).  You see, we are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this week.  You won't find that on anyone's calendar but ours, and I am pleased to report there are no crime stories associated with it.

So that's what I will be celebrating.  Oh, and Chanukah, too; we're multi-tasking.  As for the rest of you, I hope your days are merry, happy, bright, and joyful.

01 December 2011

'tis the Season


by Deborah Elliott-Upton

'tis the season of stress. The news is filled with greedy shoppers elbowing their way to do hand-to-hand combat for the toy everyone wants this year. Prepared to get the best deal means being armed with pepper spray and perhaps trampling a grandpa in your way. Students are in a frenzy trying to finish up reports and finals before being released for the holidays. Moms are preparing for a return of the kids being home 24/7 with nothing to do but finds new ways to irritate their siblings. Writers are pretty much the same all year with the stress of finding a new twist on crimes as old as mankind.
As I sit safely in my home with little of my own shopping done and a manuscript half-formed in my mind, my thoughts wander to ruthless criminals preparing for their busiest season, too. Unlocked doors have a bounty of gifts under a tree just for the taking. Each burglar's booty will be a surprise present for someone. Identity theft is on the rise and cyberspace is the New Frontier. Every vehicle on the road is ripe for a carjacking experience to spice up the Family Newsletter this year.
Crime is never out of season and mystery writers seem to know that as much as a voracious readership. Mysteries hold a perpetual spot on my personal Want List. Fortunately, I'm not alone.
How many mystery books will be sold this season? With the popularity of e-readers, probably more novels will be downloaded than ever.
A few years ago, I was involved in an anthology of holiday crime stories to benefit Toys for Tots. THE GIFT OF MURDER was the brainchild of Tony Burton of Wolfmont Press. Edited by John M. Floyd, the anthology was a collection of stories by authors you just might recognize: J. F. Benedetto, Stefanie Lazar, Stephen D. Rogers, Anita Page, Randy Rawls, Earl Skaggs, Peg Herring, Bill Crider, Carolyn J. Rose, Elizabeth Zelvin, Barb Goffman, Austin S. Camacho, Sandra Seamans, Steve Shrott, Gail Farrelly, Hershel Cozine, Kris neri, Marian Allen and me. Though we shared the same theme of holiday crimes, the stories -- like the authors -- are vastly different.
My contribution was deemed "disturbing" by one reviewer which made me smile. My intention was to pen a more naughty than nice story this time around.
As for now, I am content to concoct a murder or two, an arson case and maybe a posioning. It really releives my stress.