Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts

22 June 2019

Ten Minutes of Comedy at the Arthur Ellis Awards Gala (and they even let me stay on stage...)

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)


The Crime Writers of Canada went loco, and asked me to emcee the Arthur Ellis Awards this year.  Somehow they learned I might have done standup in the past.  Or maybe not, because they even paid me.  It may be more than my royalties this quarter.

I dug back into my Sleuthsayer files to decide what might appeal to a hardened (read soused) group of crime writers en mass, with an open bar.  This is what resulted, and I’m happy to say the applause was generous.  You may remember some of this. 



Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, May 23, 2019, 9PM



Hello!  Mike said I could do a few minutes of comedy this evening as long as I apologized in advance.



My name is Melodie Campbell, and it’s my pleasure to welcome here tonight crime writers, friends and family of crime writers, sponsors, agents, and any publishers still left out there.



Tonight is that special night when the crime writing community in Canada meets to do that one thing we look forward to all year:  which is get together and bitch about the industry.



Many of you knew my late husband Dave.  He was a great supporter of my writing, and of our crime community in general.  But many times, he could be seen wandering through the house, shaking his head and muttering “Never Marry a crime writer.”



I’ve decided, here tonight, to list the reasons why.



Everybody knows they shouldn’t marry a crime writer.  Mothers the world over have made that obvious: “For Gawd Sake, never marry a marauding barbarian, a sex pervert, or a crime writer.” (Or a politician, but that is my own personal bias.  Ignore me.)



But for some reason, lots of innocent, unsuspecting people marry authors every year.  Obviously, they don’t know about the “Zone.”  (More obviously, they didn’t have the right mothers.)



Never mind: I’m here to help.



I think it pays to understand that crime writers aren’t normal humans: they write about people who don’t exist and things that never happened.  Their brains work differently.  They have different needs.  And in some cases, they live on different planets (at least, my characters do, which is kind of the same thing.)



Thing is, authors are sensitive creatures.  This can be attractive to some humans who think that they can ‘help’ poor writer-beings (in the way that one might rescue a stray dog.)  True, we are easy to feed and grateful for attention.  We respond well to praise.  And we can be adorable.  So there are many reasons you might wish to marry a crime writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:



The basics: 



1  Crime Writers are hoarders.  Your house will be filled with books.  And more books.  It will be a shrine to books.  The lost library of Alexandria will pale in comparison.



2  Crime Writers are addicts.  We mainline coffee.  We’ve also been known to drink other beverages in copious quantities, especially when together with other writers in places called ‘bars.’ 



3  Authors are weird.  Crime Writers are particularly weird (as weird as horror writers.) You will hear all sorts of gruesome research details at the dinner table.  When your parents are there.  Maybe even with your parents in mind.



4  Crime Writers are deaf.  We can’t hear you when we are in our offices, pounding away at keyboards. Even if you come in the room.  Even if you yell in our ears.



5  Crime Writers are single-minded.  We think that spending perfectly good vacation money to go to conferences like Bouchercon is a really good idea.  Especially if there are other writers there with whom to drink beverages.



 And here are some worse reasons why you shouldn’t marry a crime writer:



6  It may occasionally seem that we’d rather spend time with our characters than our family or friends. 



7  We rarely sleep through the night.  (It’s hard to sleep when you’re typing.  Also, all that coffee...)



8  Our Google Search history is a thing of nightmares.  (Don’t look.  No really – don’t.  And I’m not just talking about ways to avoid taxes… although if anyone knows a really fool-proof scheme, please email me.)



And the really bad reasons:



9  If we could have affairs with our beloved protagonists, we probably would. (No!  Did I say that out loud?)



10  And lastly, We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.



RE that last one:  If you are married to a crime writer, don’t worry over-much.  Usually crime writers do not kill the hand that feeds them.  Most likely, we are way too focused on figuring out ways to kill our agents, editors, and particularly, reviewers. 

Finally, it seems appropriate to finish with the first joke I ever sold, way back in the 1990s:

Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive.  The rest of us just drink.

Melodie Campbell can be found with a bottle of Southern Comfort in the True North.  You can follow her inane humour at www.melodiecampbell.com



02 May 2017

The Good and Bad of Societal Family Expectations

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

"So, are you married yet?"

Those five words from an old friend's husband set my teeth on edge more than a decade ago, when I was in my early thirties. They still bother me. Not because they make me feel like a bit of a failure in such an important aspect of life (as they did then), but because they represent what still seems to be a ridiculous societal expectation. You grow up, you get married. And if you don't, you're incomplete; there must be something wrong with you.

Indeed, my own mother had this perspective. To her dying day, she believed I was unhappy. I had to be, she reasoned, because I wasn't married. Nothing I said or did to show I was happy by myself made any difference. To her, a woman couldn't be happy if she doesn't have a husband.

Well, on behalf of all my single friends, I say poppycock. (If you know me at all, you know I actually used an expletive instead of poppycock. But I wrote poppycock because this is a family blog. (Did you see what I did there?))

In fact, I'll wager that not having a husband has been good for me, at least creatively. Imagine how much less writing I would get done if I had a husband and children to care for and spend time with. I can barely manage giving my dog enough attention.

Of course, it's possible that having a husband and children would inspire more stories. Thinking back to old boyfriends, there was the one who liked to interrupt me; the one who spent money like he made it in the basement; the one who liked to blame the victim. Yes, being stuck in close quarters with any of them could have inspired a lot of murder mysteries. Or at least murders. Sure, then I'd go to prison, but think of all the writing time I'd have.

Not that I need a husband to come up with murder stories. I have parents, two brothers, and a sister, so I've got more than enough history to delve for creative inspiration. Indeed I've written a large number of stories involving killing or maiming members of your family. My sister has accused me  several times of creating sister characters with her in mind and has said that she doesn't want to get on my bad side. (Too late! Kidding! Maybe.)

And family can also have a broad definition. I'm sure many people have friends they aren't related to but whom they think of as family. And when you care about someone so much, they can end up inspiring ire (either because of something they did or something done to them). Indeed in my newest short story, "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?," from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, my main character, Myra, thinks of her boss of forty years, Douglas, as her little brother. And when pushed, she decides that it's time she teaches her little brother a lesson in humility. It's the family thing to do, to help make him a better person.

So, am I married yet? Nope. But that doesn't matter. I have more than enough friends and family to inspire my writing. Maybe I'll go kill off another one today. On paper, of course.

15 September 2016

Kirk O'Field, or How To Blow Up a King

by Eve Fisher

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  How you view her depends on if you see her as a romantic, beautiful young woman who had the tragic luck to be rebelled against by her own subjects and executed by the jealous, paranoid Elizabeth I; or if you see her as a beautiful young woman who was stupid enough to marry an unvetted idiot, then marry that idiot's murderer and then flee to England rather than France.  Guess which school of thought I belong to?

FrancoisII.jpg
Francis - looks a
bit sulky, doesn't he?
Mary at 13
Mary, Queen of Scots spent very little time in Scotland until she was 18.  She was shipped over to France at the age of 5 to marry Francis, heir to the French throne.  Her father in law, Henry II, and her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, both found her charming.  Her fiance/husband, probably not so much:  For one thing, Mary was at least 5'11" tall, beautiful, healthy, active, and eloquent, while Francis was "abnormally short", stuttered, and always ailing.  They married in 1558.  (The marriage was probably never consummated, but the debate continues.)  The next year, Henry II died in a jousting accident when a lance splintered and a splinter went up into his helmet and into his eye.

NOTE:  This was foretold by Nostradamus in the following memorable quatrain which is the source for all of Nostradamus' future fame and reputation:
"The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death." 
Anyway, Francis was 15 when he became king.  He immediately turned the management of France over to his mother, Catherine, who turned it over to the House of Guise, who promptly ran amok on power.  Barely 2 years later, he died, of anything from meningitis to an ear infection.

And Mary, Dowager Queen in a kingdom that already had one of those (Catherine de Medici was no shrinking violet), was out - sent back to Scotland, which she barely remembered.  And promptly disliked.  Compared to France, Scotland was crude, rough, cold, and besides she was practically met at the boat by John Knox, ultra-Presbyterian, whose whole attitude towards "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" was summed up in his pamphlet of the same name.  (He walked back on this to Elizabeth I, when he realized she was the only Protestant ruler around, explaining that he really didn't include her. She was not amused.)

And of course, everyone wanted her to marry again, fast, because she was only 18, and Scotland needed an heir to beat back the English.  Preferably Scots.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.jpgInstead, over the border came a young, handsome, TALL young man, of both English and Scots noble blood, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, Lord Darnley.  Six foot three inches, TALLER than Mary, one of her nobles described the meeting:  "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen."  They were married in 3 months.  She got pregnant almost immediately.  Great rejoicing.

Except that she had married an arrogant, vain, power-hungry man who had no intention of "just" being King Consort - he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, i.e., to be KING, with Mary as his subordinate queen.  She refused.  Darnley was also not the most cultured of men, and she spent more and more time with her secretary and lute-player, David Rizzio.  Now the Scots lairds all already hated Rizzio (Catholic, Italian, plays a lute, what's not to hate?), and since she was spending so much time with him rather than her husband, rumors flew that she was pregnant by him.  (And stuck for a very long time:  Years later, when one man called Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, "the Scottish Solomon", another quipped, "Aye, for he is the son of David".)

Anyway, Darnley joined in the hatred, and joined with the lairds to murder him.  And they did:  lairds and King came storming into Mary's supper chamber and stabbed him 56 times in front of her.  I have to hand it to her:  she was tough.  She was 7 months pregnant, and didn't miscarry.  She managed to, after the murder, to persuade Darnley that the lairds would murder him next, and got him to help her escape.  They fled on horseback, and again, she didn't miscarry.  Some of the lairds fled to England, which did them little good.  (Elizabeth I wasn't thrilled by lords rebelling against their queen.)  Mary had a bonny baby boy, for which all rejoiced.  

So, everyone was great, everything was fine - except that Darnley had developed a bad case of the pox.  Arguments still abound whether it was smallpox or syphilis, but at the time, it was assumed to be syphilis.  (He'd never been known for his faithfulness or sobriety.)

And four months after the birth of James, Mary and her lairds held a meeting to discuss the "problem of Darnley".  Divorce was discussed, but somewhere - and, hopefully, when Mary was not in the room, the nobles agreed that :"It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth ... that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; ... that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend."[114]

Darnley wasn't entirely stupid - he went to stay on his father's estates in Glasgow, but in January, Mary persuaded him to come back to Edinburgh.  (The rumor was that she promised to bed him again.)  He was staying in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at Kirk o'Field. Mary visited him daily.  On the night of February 9, 1567, Mary visited him and then went to a wedding at the palace.  In the late night/early morning hours, a massive explosion blew up the house - later it was proved that the basement had been packed full of gunpowder, and not by accident.  However, Darnley managed to get out before the explosion:  he was found dead in the garden.  There were no marks of violence on the body, or so they said.  (We have no autopsy or photographs, of course.)  It was assumed, however, that he was smothered to death:  and that Mary had ordered it.  And that an old friend and strong ally, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was deeply involved.

Elizabeth I wrote her:  "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not ... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought."[124]
NOTE:  And indeed she did not:  when Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley, was suspect of murdering his wife, Amy - who'd fallen down a flight of stairs while he was at court, breaking her neck - Elizabeth sent him away from the court, and ordered a trial.  He was acquitted, and Elizabeth did receive him at court again.  But she never married him, and never would.  In fact, at one point she offered Mary a signed document, guaranteeing her succession to the English throne, if Mary would marry Robert Dudley, which was pretty insulting.  Mary married Darnley almost immediately afterwards.  

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, c 1535 - 1578. Third husband of Mary Queen of Scots - Google Art Project.jpg
Lord Bothwell
But, back to the murder.  Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded Bothwell be put on trial.  He was, on April 12, 1567.  Seven hours later, he was acquitted.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  12 days later, Mary was "abducted" by Lord Bothwell, and taken to Dunbar Castle.  Was she raped, or did she consent?  (I confess, that I have always wondered why, if he did rape her, she didn't have him executed. I mean, fine, agree to marry him, go with him back to Edinburgh, and then call in the palace guards.  By God that's what Elizabeth I would have done...) Either way, something happened, because they returned to Edinburgh and she married him on May 15.  (And she had a miscarriage in July that was far enough along so that they knew there were twins.)

Nobody was happy with the marriage other than (perhaps) Mary and Bothwell.  Everyone was shocked that she had married the man accused and tried of murdering her husband.  Twenty-six Scots peers raised a rebellion against them, and by June 15, Mary was their prisoner.   On July 24, she was forced to abdicated in favor of her son, James, who was 1 year old.  Bothwell was driven into exile. (He fled to Denmark, where he died, insane, in 1578.)

Mary had a knack for persuasion, though: She managed to get the brother of the owner of Loch Leven Castle (where she was imprisoned) to help her escape on May 2, 1568.  She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, but lost to the forces of the Earl of Moray.  She fled south, and crossed the Solway Firth into England in a fishing boat.  On May 18, she was in "protective custody" at Carlisle Castle.

A really good question is why she didn't try to get to France.  France and Scotland had always had a strong alliance against the English.  The House of Guise was still powerful, and would have helped her one way or another. If nothing else, she would have been a valuable dynastic pawn.  But she somehow thought that Elizabeth would help her get back her throne, which (imho) is ultimate proof of how stupid she was.  After all, Elizabeth I's position as Queen of England was infinitely safer with an infant King of Scotland than with this loose romantic cannon, still reeking of strong scandal.  Mary spent the rest of her life in England, a prisoner, plotting to regain her throne and, eventually, plotting to have Elizabeth I dethroned and murdered.  After a trial, that was more or less rigged, she was convicted.  And on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded...

Elizabeth I never had any children.  James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth's death in 1603.  It's almost impossible to know what James really thought about his mother, but two points leap out at me:  
(1) James never tried to get his mother released, never wrote to her, and never spoke of her to anyone during the years before her death.  
(2) After he became King of England, it took him 9 years (in 1612) to have her body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire to Westminster Abbey in London.  
Make of that what you will.  




06 September 2015

Atticus?

by Dale C. Andrews
 "But that's another story." 
                       Rudyard Kipling 
                       Soldiers Three, The Story of the Gadsbys, 
                             In Black and White (1888)
"[T]his very minute, a political philosophy foreign to it is being pressed on the South, and the South's not ready for it . . . ."
                        Harper Lee
                        Go Set a Watchman (2015)
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed."
                        Opinion of the Court in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
                        per Justice Kennedy

       Last January as I drove south to Gulf Shores, Alabama, intent on leap-frogging February in Washington, D.C., I passed within scant miles of Monroeville, Alabama. And as I did so my mind wandered to Harper Lee, living there still in the town that was the model for Maycomb, Alabama, the setting in which her classic To Kill a Mockingbird is framed. And as we always do at that point in our drive, my wife and I reflected (as have many others) on the fact that for more than fifty years this Pulitzer Prize winning classic stood as the sole literary contribution of Harper Lee.

     How strange it was, then, several days later, to hear that there would be another; that a second volume, Go Set a Watchman, existed and would be published in July.
   
       News of Harper Lee’s second book set off a firestorm that would have been hard for anyone to ignore. Article after article questioned whether Lee, 88 years old, suffering the after effects of a stroke and confined to an assisted living facility, could have credibly made the decision to publish Go Set a Watchman after steadfastly asserting for over 50 years that there would never be another book. Predictably, since publication this summer, Go Set a Watchman has held the pole position on all of the bestseller lists. But, if anything, the debate surrounding the book has only increased. 

       Amidst all of this controversy it is interesting, however, to take a step back; to set aside the speculations concerning the book’s origin, Harper Lee’s present circumstances, and her earlier views as to whether it should be published, and instead examine the book itself and its place as a companion piece to To Kill a Mockingbird

       Many of those who dismiss Go Set a Watchman argue that the book is nothing more than a first and very rough draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I suspect that at least some of those critics have not in fact read Watchman. Whatever its other shortcomings may be, it is hardly a rough draft.  The book revolves around the characters we know from Mockingbird -- met, again, 20 years later -- but is a completely different story. In fact, one of the strangest aspects of Watchman is that it is not a first draft of Mockingbird -- the book presents as a sequel although it was in fact written before To Kill a Mockingbird. The characters in each either appear or are referenced in the other, and with one exception that I could find, the events in each book are entirely consistent with the events in the other. (I will leave it to readers to find that sole inconsistency, which could have been remedied by editing one paragraph in Watchman. A separate mystery is why that edit was not made.) 

The Monroeville, Alabama court house
       Stand back, then, and think how unlikely this is. From all reports Watchman was a rejected manuscript. Lee was, in effect, told that parts of the book were good, that the setting had promise, but that she needed to go back to the drawing board. All writers -- certainly all of us here at SleuthSayers, I suspect -- have received such advice. A “netherland” sort of letter, half way between acceptance and rejection. Invariably what the writer does in response to such a letter is to rip apart the story or novel, re-think the premise, keep what is usable and substitute new approaches for what is not. And equally invariably the final story or novel, if and when ultimately published, bears a resemblance to the first work that is no more, nor less, than that between a true first and second draft of the same story. 

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
       But that is not what Harper Lee did with Go Set a Watchman. Instead she set the first book aside, in its entirety, and fashioned a new narrative focusing on the same characters twenty years earlier. So positioned, Watchman becomes not the introduction of Scout and Atticus, but rather a reunion; a look at what happened to each.  And this fact forms the backbone for much of the published criticism of Go Set a Watchman: in the view of some the paragon that was Atticus Finch in Mockingbird is irreconcilable with the Atticus of Watchman, who in some respects displays feet of clay. 

       So: is this a legitimate complaint? Is the character of Atticus in Mockingbird so different from his portrayal in Watchman as to be unrecognizable as well as disappointing? I don't believe that this question can be answered solely by comparing the texts of each volume. Rather, it requires a recognition of the historical context of 1936 Alabama, where Mockingbird is set, and the Alabama of 1956, where we find 72 year old Atticus struggling with the then-recent decision of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, which once and for all overturned the previous standard of “separate but equal” in favor of constitutionally mandated desegregation. 

       One of the easiest ways to gauge a fictional character’s believability is to ask ourselves, as readers, whether we know someone who, in like circumstances, would behave the same way. And specifically (in the context of Atticus) is the 1936 paragon of racial sensitivity portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird a believable early version of the 1956 Atticus, who displays some trepidations concerning the effects of the then accelerating march of desegregation brought on by the Supreme Court’s decision? My answer to this is a somewhat sad “yes.” 

       Most of the time social change and awakening moves at glacial speed, requiring slowly evolving adjustments in standards. Other times, for whatever reason, the speed of change can accelerate like a bonfire, however, plowing through existing societal mores and leaving new ones in the furrows. And at times the catalyst for such accelerating change can be a Supreme Court decision, such as Brown v. Board of Education, that overnight alters the rules for all.  For some, including Atticus, those times may present their own difficulties.

       The challenge that faced Atticus is one that history often serves up.  The most recent example of such an accelerating societal change is the wave of growing public acceptance for gay marriage in our country. According to the Gallup organization, in 1996 27 percent believed there should be a constitutional recognition of the rights of gay couples to marry.  By last spring the number favoring such unions was 60 percent -- an astoundingly fast social turnabout. And, like the cry for civil rights reform in the 1950s, this issue gained a catalyst this summer when the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges found a constitutional right for all to marry.

       To many (and count me in) the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing a constitutional foundation for the right of gays to marry was overdue and welcome. And, like its decision fifty years earlier in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court's gay rights decision required immediate changes in a context where matters were previously evolving at a more languid pace.  Most of us rode that accelerating wave of social change with pleasure. Certainly I did -- I’ll be helping to officiate at my son Colin’s wedding to his fiance Kyle next week. But for others the rapid evolution in public opinion, and the catalyst of the Supreme Court's recognition of a constitutional right, proved to be a challenge.

     Other historical examples of the reticence of some to accept social change abound. And, for me (as was also the case for Scout), some of these examples hit pretty close to home.  My maternal grandmother, a gentle and intelligent woman, in the 1950s would not eat in a restaurant if food had been prepared by a black person. My mother -- a liberal bordering on socialist -- by contrast would have none of this, and her social views (just like those of Scout) evolved rapidly as she distanced herself from the views of her mother.  But not so her younger sister, my aunt, who for the rest of her life embraced the bigoted views of her mother when it came to restaurants. 


        The fact that some come up short when confronted with social evolution is not limited to racial matters and the civil rights movement.  It is (sadly) true as a general matter that other forms of bigotry can be equally difficult for some to shed, particularly in a hurry.  History is replete with examples of religious intolerance, and again, these examples were not unfamiliar in my own family. My maternal grandfather, my mother’s father, spent much of 1960 asserting to anyone who would listen that if John F. Kennedy won the presidency the Pope would become the true president of the United States. I remember these harangues, and can attest that he did not mean this figuratively. He meant it literally. He viewed the entire campaign by John F. Kennedy as an orchestrated conspiracy by the Catholic church. 

       These folks, my grandparents, who otherwise displayed admirable traits, were caught with their own feet of clay when the world around them started to move at a speed to which they could no longer readily adjust. They had never contemplated that they would have to face a changed world. Not unlike the virtuous Atticus of 1936 -- the Atticus we know and love from Mockingbird -- who found himself hard pressed to adjust to the changes facing the south in 1956 after the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education decreed that separate really was not equal.   Even the Atticus who captivated us with his 1936 defense of a black man unjustly accused in Mockingbird could not bring himself in 1956 to support voting rights and open schools in Watchman.  

       So before dismissing as inconsistent these disappointing aspects of the Atticus in Watchman, readers should perhaps be guided by the admonition of British novelist L. P. Hartley: "the past is a foreign country." It is difficult to imagine or remember 1956 from the vantage point of 2015. Things move at a different pace in different times.   Is the 1956 Atticus disappointing?  Clearly, yes.  But is he inconsistent with the Atticus of Mockingbird?  A harder question.

       Sociologists Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton each analyzed the effect of rapid social change -- situations where cultural goals become out of sync with social structure.  Those circumstances, they concluded, can result in a condition they labeled “anomie,” a state of normlessness. The term encompasses social instability that results when the established order of things begins to topple.   Anomie is, almost certainly, a good description of what my grandfather experienced when confronted with the reality of a Catholic president.  It is also what a shrinking minority experience when confronting the Supreme Court's recent gay rights decision.  That must have been how it felt to some in Monroeville, Alabama in 1956, views carried forward in Harper Lee’s depiction of Maycomb.  And this is certainly consistent with the reactions of some in Alabama to the gay rights decision.

       The Washington Post reported the following in "The Fix" on September 3 concerning how far Alabama may go to side-step the Court's decision:
Right now, Alabama is busy charting new territory in the effort to resist legal same-sex marriage. This month, a state legislative committee voted for a measure that, should it reach and pass the full state Senate, could eliminate [all] state-issued marriage licenses.
George Wallace blocking the door at the
University of Alabama (AP Photo)
       Alabama's reactions to the civil rights movement, and now the gay rights decision, is also consistent with Merton's refinement to anomie, specifically, his notion of “strain theory” -- for purposes relevant here, the observable phenomenon that there are times when the requirements of society -- particularly new and unfamiliar requirements -- cannot easily be reconciled with existing social structure.

       More specifically, the issue facing Atticus was what to do with a Supreme Court decision overturning what had been an established "separate but equal" guidepost embedded in the social structure of his south.   Atticus's resistance to change in these circumstances, his choice of comfortable and long-standing local social structure over newly-imposed national cultural norms, is disappointing, but it is consistent with the reactions of others in like circumstances. As noted in Perspective on Deviance and Social Control, with “[t]he country . . . undergoing enormous changes as the civil rights movement took hold” the societal effect was predictable. “With norms and expectations unclear for a large segment of society, anomie theory leads us to expect high rates of deviance.”  And that is what our old friend Atticus did.  Unable to reconcile an end to "separate but equal" with the structural requirements of his community he deviated -- he chose the latter.  He rejected the change that society had to undergo, the enlightened path we all needed to follow, and instead chose resistance.

       All of this, then, is is far from saying that Atticus's response, as depicted by Harper Lee, was correct or even admirable.  In fact, his reaction to the Supreme Court's decision, as a moral as well as a legal matter, is deplorable.  So, too, the reaction of that Kentucky clerk -- who this week argued that her religious beliefs insulated her from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples notwithstanding the Supreme Court's prior decision that there is a constitutional right for all to marry. Her response, the response of those legislators in Alabama who cry not me; not in my community, and the response of Atticus, are all infuriating and wrong.  That is the point that Scout makes when she confronts her father in Watchman.  And that is the point that Harper Lee makes as she tells her story.

       Viewing all of this from today’s vantage point, where the justice and inevitability of the Supreme Court's decision overruling "separate but equal" is apparent, we can be taken aback by Atticus’s reticence to ride the wave, to embrace the immediate need for change.  I am still taken aback by my grandmother's inability to shed her racial intolerance, and by my grandfather's inability to overcome his religious intolerance of Catholics.  And as I approach my younger son Colin’s impending wedding to Kyle, his soul mate of the last five years, I am similarly taken aback by those, such as the legislators in Alabama and that Kentucky clerk, who attempt to repudiate the Supreme Court's decision finding a constitutional right of all to marry.  

       A lot of this is about family.  And that is what To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman are also about.  Atticus was drawn from Harper Lee's own father, and doubtless she made the character real by importing the good as well as the flawed.  At the simplest level Mockingbird focuses on the good, and Messenger tries to comprehend the flawed.  I hope, and I would bet, that Harper Lee believes that the good in Atticus, evident in both books, is likely more than sufficient to ensure that (unlike my mother's sister and that Kentucky clerk) eventually he would have found himself standing with the rest of us.  That is actually a fairly low bar to clear -- recall that before his death even George Wallace eventually decried his earlier impassioned support for segregation.

       So, is the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman a believable fictional character? Does his conflict with his daughter concerning the changes wrought in the 1950s ring true? And is his portrayal in the context of 1956 Alabama understandable and consistent with the 1938 Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird? It seems to me the answer to each of those questions is “yes.”

       A disappointed “yes,” but still a “yes.”

28 March 2015

Never Marry a Crime Writer

by Melodie Campbell  (they let me off my leash again...)

Everybody knows they shouldn’t marry a writer.  Mothers the world over have made that obvious: “For Gawd Sake, never marry a marauding barbarian, a sex pervert, or a writer.” (Or a politician, but that is my own personal bias.  Ignore me.)

But for some reason, lots of innocent, unsuspecting people marry writers every year.  Obviously, they don’t know about the (gasp!) “Zone.”  (More obviously, they didn’t have the right mothers.)

Never mind: I’m here to help.

I think it pays to understand that writers aren’t normal humans: they write about people who don’t exist and things that never happened.  Their brains work differently.  They have different needs.  And in some cases, they live on different planets (at least, my characters do, which is kind of the same thing.)

Thing is, writers are sensitive creatures.  This can be attractive to some humans who think that they can ‘help’ poor writer-beings (in the way that one might rescue a stray dog.)  True, we are easy to feed and grateful for attention.  We respond well to praise.  And we can be adorable.  So there are many reasons you might wish to marry a writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:

The basics: 

1.  Writers are hoarders.  Your house will be filled with books.  And more books.  It will be a shrine to books.  The lost library of Alexandria will pale in comparison.

2.  Writers are addicts.  We mainline coffee.  We’ve also been known to drink other beverages in copious quantities, especially when together with other writers in places called ‘bars.’ 

3.  Writers are weird.  Crime Writers are particularly weird (as weird as horror writers.) You will hear all sorts of gruesome research details at the dinner table.  When your parents are there.  Maybe even with your parents in mind.

4.  Writers are deaf.  We can’t hear you when we are in our offices, pounding away at keyboards. Even if you come in the room.  Even if you yell in our ears.

5.  Writers are single-minded.  We think that spending perfectly good vacation money to go to crime writing conferences like Bouchercon is a really good idea.  Especially if there are other writers there with whom to drink beverages.

The bad ones:

6.  It may occasionally seem that we’d rather spend time with our characters than our family or friends.  (See 9 below.)

7.  We rarely sleep through the night.  (It’s hard to sleep when you’re typing.  Also, all that coffee...)

8.  Our Google Search history is a thing of nightmares.  (Don’t look.  No really – don’t.  And I’m not just talking about ways to avoid taxes… although if anyone knows a really fool-proof scheme, please email me.)

And the really bad ones:

9.  If we could have affairs with our beloved protagonists, we probably would. (No!  Did I say that out loud?)

10.  We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.

RE that last one:  If you are married to a writer, don’t worry over-much.  Usually writers do not kill the hand that feeds them.  Mostly, we are way too focused on figuring out ways to kill our agents, editors, and particularly, reviewers.


Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like The Artful Goddaughter, book 3 in the award-winning series about a reluctant mob goddaughter.  Please don't be reluctant to check them out.

15 November 2011

Greetings From The Jersey Shore

by David Dean
Jersey ShoreThe title of this posting should give you a clue as to where I live, though I fear it may also induce acute nausea in those of you who have been exposed to the reality television version of this area.  It can get bad here during the heady summer months, but perhaps not that bad.  In any event, there are those of us who find the Shore (not beach or coast or seaside) a very fine place to live.  It also gave me a career, after the army, of rounding up and knuckling down on the hi-jinks and high spirits of such as the "Jersey Shore" crowd when they crossed the line.  This could be satisfying.
I didn't start out to be policeman; it just worked out that way.  In fact, I'm not even from the Garden State, but from that very close relative somewhat to the south, Georgia.  However, the die was cast when I met and married my own Jersey Girl, who could not be less like... Pookie, is it?  Honestly...Pookie?  I ask ya?  Had that unlikely scenario occurred; instead of writing this today I would probably be serving a very long sentence in a very small room.  However, I struck lucky, and Robin and I have been together for most of our lives.  But it was she that got me here.

For nearly seven years I dragged her and the kids across the states and over to Europe as part of my stint in the army.  For those of you who have spent any time in the military with a family, you'll know what I mean when I say it was hard...very hard.  So with the kids still young we made the decision to get out and I further agreed to her wish to be close to her parents.  It seemed the least I could do. 

But even that I couldn't quite get right--I couldn't find work in the area where her parents lived and we were fast running out of money!  A friend of mine who lived  in South Jersey (the natives make a very big deal about the distinction between north and south here) called me and invited me to visit and look for work at the 'Shore'.  I did, and walked into a job as a cop.  I say walked in, but in reality I competed against a pool of several hundred (mostly locals) and came out as one of two who were sent on to the Police Academy.  It was a miracle--the last of my army paychecks had just run out and we were saved!  And it was more of a miracle than I even realized at the time.  I found I loved police work and that I had somehow landed in just the right place for me and my family.  We even bought a house (a very tiny house, but a house); life was getting good.

The police profession treated me well, and Robin went on to get a full time position as a kindergarten teacher, where she still is.  To this day I have little kids run up to me, point, and say, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Like that's some big deal.  Before my retirement I would point at my badge and answer, "Oh yeah, well I'm also the police chief around here!"  This usually elicited a second and more emphatic exclamation of, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Alright already...I get it...don't you have parents?

Somewhere along the road I was taking some college courses and found myself in an arts appreciation class (mandatory, don't you know) and my final project was to produce a work of art.  "Art?" says I.  "I can't draw."  "What can you do?" says the professor with a small challenging smile.  He had seen my kind before.  "Uh..." thinking hard...thinking very hard.  "Maybe I could write something," I offer.  His expression shifted over to one of subtle doubt.  "Okay," says he.  I did, and produced my first story.  Not surprisingly, it was about a patrolman at the Jersey Shore, and in this tale, one attempting to apprehend a particularly violent burglar.  I drew the details from a case I had worked.  The prof liked it and said I should submit it to a magazine, which I did, and "The See-Through Man" (1990) became my first published story with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and also the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with that august publication...except for the fact that sometimes my stories are turned down.  I don't like to say 'rejected' because that sounds so unsatisfyingBut I don't want to dwell on that here...maybe later...in a more tearful posting (bring hankies).

So now I am retired, and find myself joining the assembled company of SleuthSayers and friends.  Some of the staff writers here I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting through Criminal Brief; others I have met while out and about in our small world.  I hope to provide some useful service by my scribblings, if only to amuse you ("What...I amuse you?") or at the very least, not to embarrass myself or others.  But if I don't manage it, just turn the page (figuratively in this case) and move on, as this is the judgement and sentencing that all writers must bear if they fail to keep up their end of the bargain.



So with that, "I'll catch youse later (as they say around here)."