12 March 2013

Gone South (Again) -- Play Ball!


Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida --  Spring Training Home to the Washington Nationals
by Dale C. Andrews

    One of the things about posting articles for over one and a half years on SleuthSayers is that my annual habits begin to reveal themselves.  Nowhere is this more evident than during the winter months.  As I have written before, my wife and I, as we approached retirement, most looked forward to escaping the east coast during the months of January and February.  We are blessed with the fact that our elder adult son lives with us and his slightly younger brother lives close by, so there is no problem each winter with leaving the cats and the house behind along with the weather. 

    This year, like last year, we escaped for ten days in the Caribbean in January, and were under sail on the Island Windjammer ship Sagitta when my birthday rolled around.  Then we were back in the District of Columbia or two weeks before leaving for the Gulf Shores of Alabama, where we encamped for 5 weeks in a condo overlooking the beach and the Gulf.  We have spent most of a short twelve days back in the D.C, survived a final winter snow false alarm, and are now poised, once again, on the brink of our final winter trip – to watch the Washington Nationals in Spring Training in Viera, Florida.
Our Smart Car exits the Autotrain (to general laughter)

    As great as the prior winter escapes were, in many ways this one is my favorite.  Instead of driving our larger “road car” south, as we did when we travelled to and from the Gulf Shore, on this trip we drive our convertible two-seater Smart car the 20 miles to Lorton, Virginia, and then board the Autotrain for an overnight trip to Sanford, Florida, about 50 miles from the cottage we rent across the street from the beach at Cocoa Beach, Florida.  We will be there for one week, then catch a few days in Orlando re-acquainting ourselves with “the Mouse,” and head back to D.C. at the end of March, hoping to have finessed our way through winter once again.

Our rental cottage at Cocoa Beach
    But while the Autotrain and Cocoa Beach are terrific, what I truly love about this trip is its underlying theme:  the return of baseball, and the boys of summer.  It is difficult to understand what it is like to be a Washington, D.C. baseball fan without having lived through the last 40 years here.  Those years included a 33 year stretch without any baseball at all.  Remember that we lost the Senators twice:  First to Minneapolis, then to Texas.  In the intervening years there were repeated attempts to lure the nation’s pastime back to D.C. – one year it became so liklely that the San Diego Padres would relocate here that baseball cards were issued for that team, re-named the Nationals – but all of the previous attempts ultimately failed, generally as a result of a veto by Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who persisted for decades in the smug belief that if he held us captive long enough Washington D.C. fans would embrace the Orioles as their own.  Sorry.  We didn’t.  There are some things that even hostages will not do.   

    All of this is background to explain how our household, and much of Washington, has embraced the return of baseball to the Nation’s capitol.  As Laura Ingalls Wilder observed, joy is always best when it follows sorrow.  Our thirst was quenched following a very long drought. 

    Last year in an analogous post I recounted some recommended readings that embrace the national pastime and that are great preparation, read in early spring, for what is to come with the boys of summer.  This year I thought I would add at least two more gems to the list, each by well-known authors who also apparently can’t get baseball out of their minds this time of year. 

    First up, Stephen King.  King is a long-time victim of baseball fever.  His 2004 non-fiction volume Faithful is based on his correspondence with fellow novelist and co-author Stewart O’Nan, both rabid Red Sox fans, throughout the course of the 2004 season and ending with Boston’s trip to the world series.  King has also penned two short works inspired by baseball, 2010’s Blockade Billy, about a mythical 1957 catcher who, for reasons best told by King, has been erased completely from baseball history, and 2012’s A Face in the Crowd, also co-written with O’Nan, a long short story recounting what happens to a baseball fan who begins to see long-departed acquaintances from his past seated around him at the ballpark.  But while each of these works can serve to establish King’s baseball credentials, to my mind his finest baseball-related work is the 1999 novel The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, the story of a girl lost in the woods who is counseled, in her imagination, by Gordon, the real-life Boston closer from the 1990s, and is ultimately inspired to “close” the novel as Gordon would have a game.  A great read for spring.

    Batting second, John Grisham.  Long before attending law school Grisham dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals and to this day he is a big supporter of little league teams in Mississippi and Virginia.  His non-legal 2001 quasi-autobiographical novel A Painted House features a narration punctuated by family gatherings around the radio to listen to Harry Caray’s play-by-play of St. Louis Cardinal games.  (Yep, that’s where Caray was, paired with Jack Buck, prior to his Chicago days.)  Even though baseball is only a supporting character in A Painted House, the novel is a fine spring read.  But Grisham truly excels with his 2012 novel Calico Joe, inspired by the real-life story of Ray Chapman, the only ball player ever killed by a pitch.  For a National’s fan like myself the novel proved prescient soon after it was released when, in the summer of 2012 rookie Bryce Harper, the team’s boy wonder, and the closest thing we have to Calico Joe, was beaned on purpose by Philly pitcher Cole Hamel for no reason except that Harper was new, young, eager and poised for greatness.  Like the pitcher antagonist in Calico Joe, Hamels self-servingly defended his action as nothing more than a lesson in “old school” baseball.  Former Phillies pitcher Curt Shilling (and, one would suspect, Grisham, as well) had a better word for it – “stupid.”  That lesson is learned in Calico Joe – another great read as we await opening day.

    Time to pack.  I am off to Florida.  Play ball!

(Next week acclaimed mystery writer Terence Faherty joins SleuthSayers, alternating Tuesdays with me.  Terry’s accomplishments – including authorship of both the Owen Keane and Scott Elliot series of mysteries and numerous awards—leave my own scant efforts in a pale cloud of literary dust.  But at least we have this:  Terry and I both love a good pastiche, as anyone who has read Terry's recent  short story A Scandal in Bohemia (EQMM, February 2013) knows full well.  And this we also share:  an understanding that the rules of constrained writing, once mastered, can also be bent.  This extends not just to plot, such as in Terry's re-imagined telling of Conan Doyle’s Bohemian Scandal, but to writing styles as well.  I noted in my last blog Churchill’s admonition that ending a sentence in a preposition was something “up with which he would not put.”  And here is Holmes dismissing the sanctity of the rule in Terry’s Bohemian pastiche: 
The wording of your note is out of character with a true free spirit.  “A matter up with which he can no longer put,” indeed.  Only someone sitting on a particularly rigid stick would go to such lengths to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.”
I am certain we are all looking forward to welcoming Terry to the SleuthSayers ranks!)

11 March 2013

Research and Location


Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

In a weird sense this is extra to Dix's blog on daydreaming. The topic of research has been on my mind for a couple of days and after reading about daydreaming and play acting I realized it more or less fit in the same category.

To learn where you characters are going to be located in your book. How much or how little do you research? For my first book, Austin City Blue, I visited the Austin Public Library's History Center. I read all the wonderful stories and newspaper clips that told of murder and mayhem in Austin in the beginning days of recorded records. I was mainly interested in the records of the police department. I used a little historical paragraph before each chapter. It wasn't a clue but I tried to make it relate to something that was going on in each chapter.

For instance, prior to Chapter Five I wrote:
             In May 1904, the police chief announced compliance with a city-ordinance requiring new uniforms for his force. The ordinance stated: "the dress of the patrolmen shall consist of a navy blue, indigo dyed sack coat with short rolling collar, to fasten at the neck and to reach half-way between the articulation of the hip joint and the knee, with four buttons on the front. The pantaloons have to have a white cord in the seam. The cap to be navy blue cloth with a light metal wreath in front." The chief instead ordered felt hats and requested helmets for foot police, making them look like "real city policemen." The police clerk refused to wear his uniform-- blue trousers, yellow coat, and green cap--saying it made him look like an organ-grinder's monkey.

The chapter briefly mentions wearing the dress blues and/or dressing plain clothes in homicide.

Towards the end of the book, I wanted a neighborhood in a specific area that looked a bit seedy but not totally undone. I got in my car and drove around and found exactly what I wanted. It was a neighborhood filled with double-wide and single-wide trailers but not really considered a trailer park. The manufactured homes in the front part of the neighborhood were well kept and tidy, with nice lawns, gazebos, flower gardens and white picket fences. As I drove back into the neighborhood there were unkept yards, a car upon blocks in a driveway. Peeling paint on the houses, children's toys scattered and looking abandon. It was exactly what I needed and I used it in the book.

For Dark Blue Death, I used information I had learned from some classes I took that were presented by the Austin Police Academy. It was called the Austin Citizen's Police Academy program and mainly used for teaching neighborhood watch programs all about the various police divisions. Fraud, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Victims Service, SWAT, etc., and was a 10 week, 3 and a half hour class session. Each division sent a department head to talk to us and explain what their units did. It was very informative and I met several officers that I later could contact and pick their brains more.

I also drove around Austin and took photographs of a location or a building I wanted to specifically mention. I went inside buildings to the 3rd or 10th or 14 floor to see exactly what a person might see from the windows of that building. Of course, I didn't use all the information I learned. Sometimes my book location changed and I didn't need a particular view or interior decoration.

A writer doesn't always write about the town they live in or even a place they've ever been inside of and sometimes just have to use their imagination. Once I wrote a short story about President Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant inside the White House. I did a Google search and found pictures of the WH along with some floor plans. I managed to have the story take place in two or three different rooms and felt I did make it sound like the WH in President Grant and Julia Dent Grant's tenure there.

To me it's always fun to research and locate where I'm writing about. Someone several years ago, and I think it was Mary Higgins Clark, told of buying local newspapers of the town you're writing about even if you lived there four or five years ago. You are more likely to get the essence of the town and the people there. And if you're writing in the past, look up newspapers from that era and you'll discover the prices from the ads, what people wore, what entertainment people attended and a myraid of intriguing things.

Like the old real estate sales slogan: Location, Location, Location. Your book or story will definitely sound more authentic if you Research, Research, Research.

10 March 2013

The Dean of SleuthSayers


David Dean
Chief David Dean
by Leigh Lundin

When I began David Dean's The Thirteenth Child, I didn't know what to expect. I'd admired the Baroque cover art and read David's article of a semi-feral child who haunted his neighborhood, but all I'd heard were rumors that it wasn't really a paranormal novel, which sort of hints at paranormal elements, doesn't it? I mean if someone says Mr. Soprag isn't really an alcoholic, you'd think umm… But when Fran and David say it, I believe them.

Besides, I know David Dean is a good writer from his stories in Ellery Queen. Thus with curiosity, I delved into the 226 page novel and I began to understand those not-really-paranormal rumors. I shy away from analogies with other writers, but the novel bears comparison with the best and most intimate of Stephen King. I won't give away anything more because I want you to discover what it's all about like I did.

The two main protagonists, Police Chief Nick Catesby and the town egghead/drunk Preston Howard, find themselves dealing with a child abductor. To clarify, the Police Chief tries to find the abductor and Preston is trying not to be taken for the perpetrator and not succeeding very well. To further confuse the situation, Chief Catesby tangles with office politics and becomes caught up in a relationship with Preston's daughter, Fanny.

She's a sweetly fetching daughter, and here the author paints an appealing picture of the girl next door– kind, intelligent, patient, generous, and unfortunately long-suffering when it comes to her father. One of the wonderful lines from the novel is that she doesn't stop forgiving because she can't stop loving. She's someone we want to know, the woman who cushions the hard edges of society and life.

Thirteenth Child
And finally, the author gives us not one, not two, but three people we love to hate: two cruelly vicious teenage boys and a backstabbing police captain who attempts to exploit the situation. I like to think the boys might learn a lesson, but I doubt Captain Weller ever will, despite a well-deserved comeuppance. (I identify with this because the dynamic between Chief Catesby and Captain Weller is surprisingly similar to a situation in some of my own work.)

The author enhances the texture of the plot with an underlying fabric of history, making the plot a richer experience. Dean sets scenes well– we see and feel the woods, an abandoned rail line, the inside of a church, the room where Preston lives, and a mouldering burial crypt. The author adeptly builds an atmosphere of menace.

At one point, the peril from two teen boys feels more immediately deadly than the perpetrator. The story perfectly captures the essence of young bullies. The reader has no doubt any of the three will kill, but the perpetrator is what he is, albeit with a scheme of his own, while the teen boys choose to be cruel.

The author, a Jersey Shore police chief, gives the reader confidence he knows the policing side of the case, and he manages it subtly without drowning us in procedural details. All in all, he creates a town we'd love to live in, at least when Chief Catesby is on duty and David Dean is there to tell the story.

If you like classic Stephen King, you'll love David Dean's The Thirteenth Child. It's murderously good.

09 March 2013

Cellphonismo


by Elizabeth Zelvin

What is cellphonismo? In my personal lexicon, it’s addiction to the narcissistic and compulsive use of cell phones in public. In New York City, cellphonistas are everywhere.

Here’s a typical incident.

I’m running along the road that winds through Central Park. One of the horse-drawn hansom cabs that only tourists ride in is clopping along beside me. Those tired old carriage horses clop faster than I run, but that’s another story. For the moment, I’m more or less keeping pace. In the cab is a tourist couple, and on the seats facing them are their daughters, or perhaps a daughter and a friend, girls of about thirteen.

“That’s Strawberry Fields on your right,” the driver says.

I’ve overheard many a hansom cab driver, and lately the muscular youths who pedal bicyclesque pedicabs too, give their spiels, and they almost never mention anyone but John Lennon—the Dakota, where he lived and in front of which he was shot to death, and Strawberry Fields, the memorial garden across the street in the park—and Simon and Garfunkel, whose concert on the Great Lawn drew half a million people. I was there, but to me, this is not history. I went to PS 164 in Queens with Simon and Garfunkel, and a high school classmate of mine was the lawyer who defended Lennon’s killer. Somebody had to do it, and it was a high profile case. But I digress.

Do today’s thirteen-year-olds know who Lennon and Simon and Garfunkel are? Or is that old-people stuff, like email? Anyhow, these two very young women didn’t even look up. Their heads were bent and their thumbs flying, texting their friends in Oshkosh or Peoria or wherever they were from.

I couldn’t stand it. I called out to the parents, who no doubt had paid a fortune in plane fare, hotel, restaurant meals, the carriage ride, and Broadway shows on this vacation for four, “You should have left the girls home! They’re on their cell phones!” Then I yelled to the girls, “Wake up! You’re in New York!” At that, they looked up, smiled vaguely—and hunched over their little screens again. If I had wanted to give them a real New York experience, I would have modified “cell phones” with the F word. But I refrained.

I know it’s an addiction. I’m a professional addiction specialist. I know addicts are in the grip of a compulsion and oblivious to the needs of others. But it still makes me nuts to see couples walking down the street, each relating to whoever’s talking in his or her ear rather than to each other. I’m still outraged when I see moms and dads ignoring their toddlers— even while they’re crossing the street—to text or take a call. And I’m always tempted to put my fingers in my ears and start singing “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” very loudly in the bus to drown out the intimate conversations these oblivious jerks make their fellow riders privy to: medical details, investment advice, marital breakdown. Cellphonistas have no boundaries. And in my experience, they seldom listen. Somehow it’s never the guy on the other end doing the talking.

I do have a modest proposal. It’s not quite up to the standard of Jonathan Swift’s 1729 suggestion that the impoverished Irish solve the dual problems of famine and excessive childbirth by eating their babies. But how about making the cellphonistas ride in the back of the bus?

08 March 2013

Daydream Believer ... at Play


by Dixon Hill

The Children's Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Supposedly the largest children's museum in the world.
Today’s post was inspired by Louis Willis’s post, last week, concerning character development and the impact it has on a writer’s sanity.

When I responded to Louis’s post, in the comments section, I’m afraid I have to admit . . . I wasn’t completely honest in my response. A sin of omission, in fact.

I wrote that I agreed largely with comments written by two other Sleuth Sayers (Elizabeth and Fran), tempered by a comment from a third (RT). The gist being:

(1) My writing seems to function best when plot grows organically, through character interaction.

(2) When characters refuse to drive the plotline where I desire, I tend to let the characters carry the day -- unless this pushes the plot into dimensions unfit for the story as I’ve come to perceive it.

(3) If things get too far out of control, I try to plant something farther forward in the narrative, which I hope will lead one of the characters to alter behavior in a way designed to organically correct the plot growth in the desired direction.

Now, all of the above is true. And, this may sound quite scientific and high-brow. But the truth is: It’s not.

Day Dream Believer

Last school year, I voluntarily assisted my son’s teacher, by helping to administer Accelerated Reader Tests to kids in my son’s class, when they used the Computer Lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Quen had a very nice teacher, that year. It was her first year with her own classroom. She was young, energetic, bright-eyed and excited to en-flame young minds with a desire to learn.

Which is why it caught me by surprise, one day, to hear her single-out a student while bringing the kids into the Computer Lab, by calling: “Okay, where’s my daydreamer? Where’s (whatever his name was), who’s always daydreaming? Huh?” When the kid presented himself, she sat him in the corner with a workbook, saying, “You sit there, where I can make sure you’re working. No daydreaming allowed here. You’ll never get ahead by daydreaming!”

Now, I understand kids need to pay attention in class. And, I know they need to get their school work done. But, the look on that kid’s face …

Like all his dreams had just been shattered!

I understand the importance of not undermining the authority of a leader or teacher, so I sat on my tongue. But, my heart really went out to that kid. I wanted to go over and put an arm around him and say: “Cheer up, buddy. They gave me trouble for daydreaming, too, when I was in school. But, now I make money that way. I turn my daydreams into written stories that I sell to magazines. And, now I’m even working to turn one of my stories into a book. So, don’t let it get you down.”

You see, what I wrote in the comments section of Louis’s post, was really only the first part of my TRUE ANSWER to his question.

The second part of my TRUE ANSWER is: “I daydream.”

And, this is largely what I meant, when I wrote that I agreed with Fran’s statement: “...I generally need to let [characters] float around in my mind for several days to become real enough to me for their representation to seem right in the writing.”  I've never met Fran in the flesh, and I can't be sure exactly what she meant, but as for me: I daydream those characters into life.  That's how I get to know them.  And, sometimes my daydreams get a bit carried away.

In his post, Louis also asked some questions, which invoked a comparison of the methods writers might use to achieve character development or expression, against methods an actor might use to achieve the same ends. He wrote (italics added for emphasis): "Actors take what the playwright or screen writer has written and make the character their own, becoming the character. You fictionists, on the other hand, have to create several characters in one story, sometimes in paragraph or even one sentence. I was just wondering if you become each character in order to create him or her, to give them personalities, including the various emotions each must have to be believable."  

Yeah, see, I do that “letting them float around in my mind” thing by daydreaming. But, sometimes … (lean closer, because I have to whisper this) …

Sometimes I do it by pretending I’m the people I’m daydreaming about.

At Play

This admission about pretending is really rather embarrassing for an adult, of course. I mean, it’s bad enough that I’m a grown-up daydreamer, without having to admit that I also sometimes “play” out what I’m daydreaming.  But, that's really the third part of my TRUE ANSWER to Louis's post:  "I play!"

On the other hand, this is really very similar to what I believe Louis meant when he spoke about actors becoming their characters. And, I learned to do this when I took on-camera acting classes at an academy downtown, when I was in high school.

There, for instance, I was taught to work up the emotions called for by a certain character in a certain situation, then to fix that expression -- the one that had been naturally called-up by the emotion in question -- on my face, and to study it in the mirror, looking to see which of my muscles were doing what, if some of my teeth were showing (and how and where they showed), etc. I was then supposed to back up and examine my body, my stance, and what was going on there.

I’m probably not a very good actor. However, I find myself doing the same thing when I’m working on a character, and jotting down notes about what his face might look like, or how his eyes might be squinted, his teeth showing only in the back lip-pocket below his jaw line as he snarls. And, I think these are useful details.

I also learned to do something similar in the army, but there they called it “conducting a rehearsal” or “dry-run practicing.” The army runs rehearsals for every operation it conducts, or at least tries to. When practiced on a grand scale, these rehearsals are called “maneuvers.” On a small scale, they may be called “rehearsal of actions on the objective,” or “practice moving through a denied area,” etc. But, they can also be practiced on an individual basis.

I don’t recall which book it was, but I do recall reading a James Bond story in which Bond is in his hotel room preparing to go into a dangerous situation. After dressing -- with his weapon in a shoulder holster, I believe -- he drops the magazine out and clears the chamber to be sure it’s unloaded. Then, he practices drawing the weapon and shooting himself in the mirror several times, altering his stance and grip until he’s sure he can draw and fire it the way he wants to -- at the target he intends.

When I went through SOT school in the army, I was surprised to discover that this is actually an accepted method of improving one’s marksmanship when conducting a quick-draw. And, I’ve done it several times since then -- in groups, and on my own -- working to simultaneously get my draw-time down and my shot-group focused.

No, I don’t jump around my office or living room, pretending I’m in a gunfight, or engaged in hand-to-hand combat, every day. But, I do find it useful sometimes, particularly when I’m not sure a fight scene in my mind makes sense. At these times, I’m likely to practice my hand-to-hand as if I’m in the situation I’ve dreamed up for the story. And, I try to see what “feels right.”

All of this, of course, is very much like “playing.” It’s very similar to what a child does when s/he plays. At the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, I learned that children learn by playing. And, as a writer, I continue to learn by playing. Just as I did when studying acting, and as I did when conducting rehearsals in the army. It’s all a form of play-learning. And, I find it invaluable.

Though, it’s a bit embarrassing when my wife comes through the door, just as I kia! loudly while front-snap-kicking some invisible foe. Or, when I’m riding down the street in our car, and my wife suddenly asks, “Oh, my God. Who are you now? And who are you talking to?” because I’ve been sitting there silently mouthing words and moving my hands.

So, today's question is: 

Anybody else out there find themselves acting out scenes from their stuff? (And, remember: you can always turn off your recognition with Google to post anonymously. lol) 

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

07 March 2013

Music Notes


by Fran Rizer   

My thirteen-year-old grandson Aeden has been reading a book entitled Awesome about little things that create awesome moments, including such events as surprise doughnuts for breakfast and rain stopping right before the ball game.  One of Aeden’s awesome times was taking his guitar to school and playing a song for his girlfriend. This led to his teacher arranging for him to perform at one of the local nursing homes.
          Aside from the usual awesome moments in most everyone’s life like the births of children and grandchildren, weddings (and divorces for some of us), I discovered that a lot of my awesome times have related to music.  Trust me, I’ll relate this blog to mysteries and writing before I finish.  I’m headed there.

            These are some awesome musical moments in my life, not necessarily in order of importance nor in chronological order.

Young Johnny Cash 
1.     When?  Two AM

Where?  I’m reading in bed

What?  My then twelve-year-old younger son comes into my room holding one of those cheap, ten-minute cassette tapes we recorded song demos on before CDs.  I also sometimes recorded songs I really liked from the radio on them.  My son, who was definitely not a country music fan at the time, hands the unlabeled cassette to me and says, “You need to get rid of everyone who’s recording your demos and get this guy to sing them all.  He’s great!”  My son had “discovered” Johnny Cash.  BTW, the first time I saw Johnny Cash perform live was when my dad took me to see him before I was ten.  His opening act was the then unknown Elvis Presley.


Tina Turner, at 70 years old
2.     When?  Six PM

Where?  I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner

What?  My older son, a young teenager at the time, runs into the kitchen.  “Quick Mama, come quick.  Remember when I asked you to name your favorite female singer when you were growing up and you said Tina Turner.  A new singer is using her name.”  Into the den we go where I see Tina Turner on MTV singing her latest release, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” 

            “That’s the same woman as the one I used to go see when I was a teenager,” I tell him. He didn't believe it until I took him to see Tina in Columbia and she did "Proud Mary."  His first three concerts were Tina and Bob Seger with me and Led Zeplin with his friends. 


3.     When?  Years before, when I was twelve (but I looked sixteen)

Where?  A Big Boy restaurant in Hyattsville, Maryland
Young Bobby Rydell
What?  This cute boy, about sixteen, comes over to where my  
cousin Melanie and I are eating hamburgers.  He starts talking and gives us two passes to a sock hop that night. (That shows how long ago it was. Have you even heard of sock hops?)  Cute Boy tells us he’s performing that night.  Oh, yeah, like I believe that.
Mel and I go to the sock hop. Sure enough, Cute Boy is on stage.
Introduced as Bobby Rydell, he sits with us after his set, and dances with me—first boy I ever danced with.  He was about sixteen so if you’re good in math (heck!even if you’re sorry in math) you can figure my age, but hold on.  This story gets better.
The main act comes on stage and it’s Ray Charles!  He introduces a song that, “is new.  We're cutting it next week."  I saw and heard Ray Charles do "What'd I Say?" before it was recorded.
 
The only thing better than a live performance
 by Ray Charles was to have my son
playing saxophone with him.  

4.     When?  Years and years later when my younger son is twenty years old and attending Furman University on a music scholarship. 

Where?  Concert hall in Spartanburg, SC

What?  Younger son is on stage playing first chair tenor sax with Ray Charles and a full orchestra.  He's been told by "that music director who must have come straight from Las Vegas or New York because he ticked off the first chair tenor saxophonist who walked out of rehearsal, and now I’m first chair” that he will play an improvised solo in one of the songs.  That night my son nailed that saxophone improv.  On the way home, he says, “Did it sound okay? I’d never heard that song before.”

It was “I Got a Woman.”  I felt soooooo old.


5.     When?  After my divorce, before sons were grown

Where?   A nightclub in Myrtle Beach, SC

What?  The first time I dance to a song I wrote played by a band  I'm not associated with.


6.     When?  A couple of years later, five AM

Where?  Home, in bed

            What?  Randall Hylton, a superb performer who wrote over two hundred songs recorded by major country and bluegrass entertainers, calls to say, “Thank you” for the article about him that I’d had published in Bluegrass Unlimited and asks me if I’d like to write his press releases and design his promo material.  Out of that grows a friendship and working relationship that results in Randall, who penned so many great songs, telling me that my words “stand up and walk.  You should write a book.”  I did, and then I wrote another one Hey Diddle, Diddle, THE CORPSE & THE FIDDLE which was dedicated to Randall as well as having a character who imitates him in the book.  


7.     When?  Many trips

Where?  Star Recording Studio, Miller’s Creek, North Carolina

What?  Gene Holdway records the Waiting at the Station  CD of original bluegrass gospel
Gene and I wrote together. Then, this year, Gene releases Train Whistle which has six songs I wrote or co-wrote.


8.     When? Before Gene or Randall
Where? Columbia, SC

What? First time my group, Frantastix, performs live


     9.    When? After Frantastix 
Where?  Nashville, TN
What?  Sammy B’s (I understand it’s closed now)

Hanging out with the publisher of one of my songs.  (Harlan Howard took one of


Mickey Newberry (wrote "What Condition My
Condition Was In" and put together "American Trilogy" for
Elvis.  I had dinner with him when he came to speak about
 song-writing in Columbia.), Randy Owen, Dewayne Blackwell,
 and David Frizzell 
mine, too, but by then, he was too old to hang out. We never got a cut on the song, but it sure was exciting when he called me.)  I’m drinking O’Doul’s and on this day the real music people are drinking tequila. (No, Liz, I don’t have a problem with alcohol, but my diabetes does.)  We’re joined by several songwriters including the adorable white-haired Dewayne Blackwell who wrote “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino” and “Friends in Low Places.”  A totally delightful afternoon during which I tell the story of my son performing with Ray Charles because the songwriter mentioned that he’d always wanted to see Ray Charles perform live but never had.  I also learn that the man who co-wrote the Garth Brooks hit also wrote "Mr. Blue" and the old rock song “Little Red Riding Hood, You Sure Are Lookin’ Good.”  Later, it gave me pleasure every time I heard that song used in the car commercial because I knew that fine fellow was making money.  I get that same feeling now when I see the car commercial with Johnny Cash singing “That Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog.”


10.  When?  Before any of the above
       Where?  Nashville
       What?  Many trips with my parents as a child as guests of Hank Snow ("I'm Moving On") at the Ryman Auditorium,  including the night they introduced a first time singer named Loretta Lynn.
            The list of memorable awesome moments goes on and on.  There are equal numbers of awesome writing moments, including holding that first published book in my hands like it was made of gold and some unique book signings I’ll describe another time, but I promised to wrap these music notes around to writing.  I’ve made up my mind.  I’m going to Killer Nashville in 2013…might make it to Albany also, but definitely Nashville.  Hope to see you there.

06 March 2013

Portrait of a man who never lived


by Robert Lopresti

A few months ago I wrote a piece here about Rex Stout's most famous characters and I included wonderful illustrations of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.  I have since discovered that they are both the work of professional portraitist Kevin Gordon.

I have been in touch with Kevin and thought you might enjoy some of what he had to say.  Before he gets to talk I wanted to mention that he is a second generation portraitist (ain't that cool?) and the author/illustrator of many books. 

All right.  With no further ado:



Since painting people is my profession, as you've apparently seen from my website, I always thought it would be fun to paint Mr. Wolfe. But, all I had was my own mind's-eye version and I'm used to flesh-and-blood models.

So I corralled a fellow who had the requisite bulk, posed him with the required props and painted away. The face is strictly my own invention, since he didn't actually LOOK like Wolfe to me. But he was game, and I probably saved his life, since being told you resemble Nero Wolfe comes with a certain stigma and he lost about 90 pounds since he posed for me.

The original hangs on my dining room wall, glowering at my wife and I as we enjoy her Fritz-quality meals, until it finds a more appropriate and profitable (at least for me) home.

Both Tim Hutton and Bill Smitrovich (who played Archie and Cramer respectively on the A&E series) have the prints on their walls, as does Rex Stout's daughter Rebecca...

With Kevin's permission  I am including another of his works whose subject you may find familiar.

It's a very small oil painted as a trade for two Arthur Conan Doyle letters, one of my prized possessions. I did a little pencil drawing of Conan Doyle which is framed with the letters. Never being able to meet him, having that drawing of Conan Doyle framed with the pages that he held in his own hands is the next best thing.

I read my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was ten. I remember it clearly. It was an assignment for English class; “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”. I was hooked and then delighted to find out there were fifty-six more stories and four whole novels.  I read every one in order and then I read them again. Imagine my excitement when I found out they actually made movies about Holmes. Wow! Of course they were the Basil Rathbone features, so except for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, the others were a little disappointing having been set in “modern” times, especially with Rathbone’s inexplicable upswept hairdo.  A thorough examination of Conan Doyle’s life followed and I’ve been a devoted Sherlockian ever since, having made the pilgrimage to Baker Street several times.

As for Rex Stout, the first story I read was in 1990. It was “Christmas Party”, in an anthology called Murder for Christmas and I got the same feeling I had as a ten year old with Holmes. I decided I’d better find out how it all started and began reading the Nero Wolfe stories in order. With Fer de Lance, I was off and running and read all the stories in order, which wasn’t as easy as with Holmes because there was no single volume which contained all the tales. Surely, I thought characters and stories as wonderful as these must have sparked some sort of fan club, like the Baker Street Irregulars, and that’s when I found the Wolfe Pack, and through the Pack, the Stout family. I spent a delightful afternoon at High Meadow with Barbara Stout and Liz Maroc and later with Rebecca Stout Bradbury. (Stout's daughters and (Liz) a granddaughter.)  Eating lunch at the same dining room table at which Rex Stout regaled his family with the witticisms that Archie had uttered that day, and then sitting at the desk upstairs where Stout actually created them was certainly a thrill for a ten-year-old middle-aged man.

I asked Kevin how he paints a person who doesn't actually exist.

Of course, painting a person I see only in my head poses a different problem than painting the chairman or president that’s sitting in front of me.  With Wolfe, it was more of a feeling that I tried to convey rather than his precise features. I suppose I could have used a photo of Orson Welles or someone like that, but I wanted Wolfe to be unrecognizable as anyone but Wolfe. That’s where an artist’s imagination and knowledge of the human face come in handy. The representation is how I feel about Wolfe. In all honesty, it’s still not exactly how I picture him, but it’s close enough.

As for the little head I did of Holmes that’s on my website, I used the photo of Sidney Paget’s brother Walter as my reference, because I felt that if Walter was a good enough model for Paget, he was good enough for me. I also find it interesting that Conan Doyle thought that Paget’s illustrations made Holmes too handsome and that in his own mind’s eye, Conan Doyle saw Holmes as rather ugly and that he resembled what he quaintly called a “red Indian”.

The question has also come up how I know when I’m done painting a picture, I agree with Leonardo Da Vinci who said “A painting is never finished, only abandoned.” An artist friend of mine put it this way: “It takes two people to paint a picture; one to do the painting and a second one to hit the first one over the head and make him stop.”


I guess Kevin paints real people for a living and fictional ones for fun.  He certainly does them both well.

05 March 2013

No Goodbyes


by David Dean

Before I go on with my last regularly scheduled posting, I have the honor of introducing the gentleman that will be stepping into the Tuesday time slot in my stead--Terence Faherty.  Actually, unlike the entirely necessary intro to my first posting, Terry probably has no need of one.  He is a winner of two Shamus Awards and a Macavity, as well as a nominee several times over for the Edgar and Anthony Awards.  All this by way of being the author  of two long standing and popular series featuring seminarian-turned-sleuth, Owen Keane, and Hollywood detective, Scott Elliot.  His short stories appear regularly in all the best mystery and suspense magazines.  Terry is prolific, talented, distinguished-looking, and shares many other traits with me, as well.  I'm looking forward to reading his postings and want to offer him a warm welcome to our little family.  I think he's gonna fit right in.  Oh, did I mention that he's a leading authority on the late, great actor Basil Rathbone?  Well, he is...but I'll let him explain about all that.  Look for Terry's first post two weeks from now.

I may have mentioned in my last posting that I'm determined to attempt another piece of long fiction--I call such things, "novels".  In fact, it was the august opinions of SleuthSayers' readers and contributors that helped me to decide which storyline to pursue.  As I am a simple man, not much given to multi-tasking, I feel the need to clear the deck in order to do so.  In other words, this will be my last posting for the foreseeable future.

My time with SleuthSayers has been truly wonderful.  I have enjoyed contributing my thoughts every two weeks, and greatly appreciate the kind consideration that each of you have given them.  Beyond the obvious breadth of knowledge exhibited daily by my fellow writers, I think a wonderful tolerance and greatness of mind has been a cornerstone of our site.  It has been a privilege to be amongst your numbers.

It would be wrong of me to slip away without acknowledging a few of you specifically, beginning with our mentor and leader, Leigh Lundin.  Have you ever dealt with a kinder, more passionately concerned man?  His guidance has been invaluable, his heart as big as the Stetson he wears so jauntily in his photo.  Leigh, you're the best.

There is also the erudite and always interesting, Rob Lopresti.  It was Rob that reached out to me years ago to do a guest blog on the, now legendary, Criminal Brief site.  There are few people better versed in the field of short mystery fiction than Rob, and he's a damn fine practitioner of the art, too.  It seems he intends to expand his literary horizon by entering the novel writing biz, as well.  Did I mention that he is also versatile?--librarian, critic, writer, blogger, musician, and probably other talents that I have yet to learn of.  He has also been a gentle guiding hand for me from time to time. 

My thanks also to the warm and wise, Fran Rizer.  She has been both an advisor and unstinting supporter to me, and her long-distance friendship has been a welcome surprise and an invaluable benefit to my membership here.  I've also become a great fan of her funny, sassy, vulnerable, and altogether intriguing literary character, Callie Parrish.  Fran has much to be proud of in her series.

John Floyd, through the magic of the internet, has come to feel like a personal friend rather than a virtual one.  His warmth and kindliness have touched me on several occasions via unexpected email messages.  He is a true gentleman, as well as a dauntingly talented and prolific writer.   

But as I said in the beginning, I have been in good company with all of you, and benefited from the relationship no end.  As the title of this blog states, there will be no goodbyes--I intend to read SleuthSayers daily and offer my usual array of pithy, sage comments.  If not altogether barred from doing so, I might even write a guest blog from time to time.  I can already envision the topic for my first: Why is it so difficult for me to write another novel? Or possibly, Why in God's name did I ever begin another novel? Or finally: Why won't anybody buy this damn novel that I've written?

Thanks everyone and God bless.

04 March 2013

Green Grits, Anyone?


by Fran Rizer


Two days ago, March 2, 2013, was the anniversary of the birth of someone who inspired me tremendously in my writing efforts--someone who has played a varying role throughout my life.

Dr. Seuss sold millions of books and won many
notable awards for his art as well as his writing.
Theodor Seuss Greiss was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1904, to a successful brewmaster, Theodor Robert Greiss, and his wife Henrietta Seuss Greiss.  The young boy became famous as Dr. Seuss.

I've always loved disguises and costumes.  When I taught secondary English, I used to dress up as Lady Macbeth and deliver the "Out, out cursed spot," passage to interest my students in beginning the study of Macbeth. Seuss's work provides many opportunities for costumes.

Some might think that Dr. Seuss's material is too young for fifth graders, but they loved it, and we explored all kinds of books and poetry including Shel Silverstein and Edgar Alan Poe. Seuss's work also served as inspiration for writing and illustrating the students' own books.  The class wrote and illustrated  a group project called The White Haired Man with the same meter and rhyme scheme as Green Eggs and Ham.

When I demoted myself from secondary English to teaching fifth grade, we made a big deal out of March second each year.  I'd wear my Cat in the Hat costume and my students would make and wear costumes for other characters.  A baker friend and I made a gigantic four tier birthday cake styled like a wedding cake decorated with Seuss characters.  My students hosted every other class in the building to our room by scheduled invitation.  While there, the younger students celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday by eating cake, drinking juice, and listening to my fifth-graders read Dr. Seuss books to them at reading centers around the room.

We also did a following directions lesson on St. Patrick's Day that involved preparing and eating green foods.  We drank green Kool Aid and ate green deviled eggs and ham, green peas, green beans, asparagus, green spinach (a little Popeye strength), and other green foods the parents provided, along with cooking instructions, for the children to prepare.  Since I lived and taught in the South, we also had green grits, but the students' favorite green food each year was green Rice Krispy Treats.  We read Green Eggs and Ham at that lunch.  Our math lesson that afternoon concentrated on converting measurements we'd used that morning into metric.

The biography of Dr. Seuss is repeated many times in different places on the Internet, so I won't inflict that on you.  Google it if you want to know how he was kicked off the magazine staff at Dartmouth College for drinking in his dorm room (it wasn't green Kool Aid either), quit future studies at Oxford University and returned stateside with his recently married wife Helen; and became a cartoonist, then an advertising director for Standard Oil for fifteen years. 

You'll also read that he and Helen bought and moved into an old observation tower in La Jolla, California, where he wrote for a minimum of eight hours a day.  A major turning point in his writing career came when he was asked by Houghton Mifflin and Random House to write a children's book with a limited vocabulary of 220 words.  Seuss's The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957, and the rest is history.

At my retirement luncheon, the school presented me with a fancy desk clock and a book.  The book is Dr. Seuss's You're Only Old Once which is one of his few books not written for children.

I've enjoyed reading Seuss to my sons, grandson, and students through the years, but the event that makes me so fond of him happened on my last day of teaching.  Kim, a delightful ten-year-old approached me just before the school buses rolled.

"Ms.Rizer," she said, "didn't you say you're going to write a book now that you're retiring?"

"Yes, Kim."

"Well, don't get discouraged if it takes a while to get it published.  Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected twenty-seven times before it was published in 1937."

"Have you been watching ETV?" I asked.

"No, I saw that on MTV." 

Her bus number was called over the intercom, and away she went,  I looked it up.  Kim was correct.  Dr. Seuss's first book, And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected twenty-seven times before being accepted by Vanguard Press.  I use this fact in my book talks when I remind potential writers that music executives told Elvis Presley to go back to driving a truck in Memphis when he went to Nashville and that several American recording labels turned down the Beatles before they made it to "the reeely big shew."  These facts fit with my theory that talent and craft skills are important, but possibly the most important characteristic for success is perseverance.
My disappointment in
Dr. Seuss almost
brought tears.

When I looked up Dr. Seuss to obtain illustrations for this blog, I read something about him that disappointed me tremendously. Be the first to guess what it is in Comments and I'll send you a free copy of my next Callie book, Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD when it's released in April.

Aside from the above-cited fact, I tip my red and white striped hat to Theodor Seuss Greiss!

Until we meet again, take care of … you! 

03 March 2013

Professional Tips: To Be or Not


by Leigh Lundin

G. Perec: A Void
Dale Andrews' recent article on Constrained Writing sent me on tangential research of the topic. My peripatetic perambulations landed me on a page about É, E′, or English′, also called E-Prime. Curious, I perused Elaine Johnson's article and expanded my research to others.

Proponents of constrained writing argue it improves one's writing. In the long term I agree, but readers must note a huge caveat: An audience should view lipograms and other forms of constrained writing as exercises. Such exercises ought to improve writing that follows, because history will remember few examples of non-poetic constrained writing as masterpieces, Gravity's Rainbow notwithstanding. But, gather 'round, lads and lassies, and hear me out.

Thé Primé of Miss Jéan Brodié

É, a kind of constrained writing, proposes immediate improvement, which other subsets of constrained writing cannot offer. E-Prime adherents wish to restrict, even remove forms of 'to be' from general usage. That is to say, the impetus of É is to shun sentences exactly like this one. In other words, E-Primers avoid the use of is, was, be, been, am, are, etc. Most further advocate avoiding contractions of these forms: I'm, you're, he's… some that are ambiguous in tense. (Does you're imply 'you are' or 'you were'? Does he's imply 'he is' or 'he was'?)

That struck me as a similar goal of professional writers, to use active voice and action verbs wherever possible. Could we improve our writing by listening to academics, forming a discipline of Not to Be??

Ésay Comé, Ésay Go


At first blush, the professors' results didn't appear promising. I persisted, reading Korzybski and Kellogg and Kenyon, yet 8 out of 10 papers came off as linguistically technical or the writing gagged the reader with run-on verbosity and excessively dense pluperfection. Still, I thought the idea merited further attention.

I like to think I'd already progressed well in weaning myself off the teat of 'isism' but in fact, is, was, and their weakish siblings prove addictive. You may notice that other than the deliberate sentence in the second paragraph, I'm trying to avoid 'be' words, but does the pluperfect "I'm" in this sentence violate the letter of the É law? I still don't know.
Spiderman 3
© Marvel, Stan Lee

Écad, Égad

David Bourland argues that changing our language can change our thinking. This sounds like a corollary of one of the sayings from my father: "If you can control the language of people, you can control people." I don't recall whether he was referring to Fox News at the time, but he often made non-intuitive statements that would later prove accurate. Bourland goes on to make the case for É.

Éfficient, Élegant, Égalitarian

In particular, most advocates of É point out it virtually eliminates passive voice. They maintain É forces a writer to take responsibility for not only one's own actions, but the actions of others– characters in the case of novelists. Saying "John was hit by a baseball" doesn't suffice. An É author must state who hit John with a baseball.

Robert Anton Wilson
suggests the word 'is' makes it easy for politicians and advertisers to toy with the public through misleading prose:
  • "Guinness is good for you." In what way?
  • "A diamond is forever." Forever what?
  • "Coke is it." Huh?
Ken Starr's grilling of Bill Clinton contained many embarrassing moments on both sides, but I remember one particular huh moment from the President: "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is." Had the parties studied É, they could have avoided that episode– or not.

Ralph E. Kenyon Jr. goes on to discuss 'cheating' (my term, not his). By example, he says the sentence "I found the movie more rewarding than the novel" is an abuse of É using simple substitution: "I found the movie (to be) more rewarding than (I found) the novel (to be)." He suggests "I liked the movie better than I liked the novel." Mmm… I half agree.

Émerging, Énlivening


Many of the É proponents throw themselves wholehearted into using É in their daily work. Fine, but some seem to forget active voice and action verbs form only a part of good writing. And, like religion and politics, absolutes can prove undesirable. Sometimes we want to use passive voice. In rare instances, 'is' or 'was' might be the perfect word.

But overall, if we treat E-prime as an exercise, we can learn something from these linguistic professionals. Don't get bogged down by their graphs, trees, or the dense and dormant prose: simply word sentences to avoid forms of 'to be'. One writer says he 'E-prunes' in moderation, rather than E-primes.

Looking back, I'm amazed how many examples of is, was, were, etc crept into writing this article. Knowing I should attempt to set an example, I've edited most of the offending sentences. You don't have the privilege (or burden) of seeing the original, but yes, reworking those sentences helped.

Try it with your work and let us know your results.

Thé Énd

02 March 2013

A Matter of Conscience


by Herschel Cozine
NOTE: I am once again pleased to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. He's been writing and publishing fiction for many years, and--as some of you might already know--his book The Humpty Dumpty Tragedy has been nominated by Long and Short Reviews for Best Book of 2012. He's pretty darn good at nonfiction as well: when he showed the following column to me, I found it fascinating--I think you will also. (Herschel, thanks once more for making a guest appearance. Readers, I'll be back in two weeks.) — John Floyd

Recently Eve Fisher posted a column concerning the actions of a fire department in South Dakota. It seems they responded to a fire on the property of an individual who had threatened to shoot anyone who came on his land. Needless to say, he was not well-liked. There was some speculation that the failure of the fire department to save his house was due to animosity rather than fear for their own safety. If it was the former (payback), the fire department behaved irresponsibly and should be reprimanded.

Personal animosity should never be an excuse for failure to do one's duty. I am supposing that the individual, other than being a rednecked, antisocial, and generally unlikable person, was law-abiding and was entitled to the same protection under the law as anyone. Society cannot pick and choose who to serve when it comes to safety or the law.

But there was a time in my life when I and everyone in town felt that this was not the case.

The fire department of my youth behaved similarly, but we all supported their action (or inaction, as the case may be). Were we wrong? Read on, and decide for yourselves.

I was born in a small town on Long Island, and spent the first twelve years of my life there. It was an idyllic life for a child. The town, known as Yaphank, had a population of about 300, and had no amenities other than a grade school, a grocery store, two gas stations, and a post office. No high school, no beauty parlor or barber shop, no movie theater. No pool hall or bowling alley. In spite of the lack of these services and conveniences, we were never bored. There were two lakes in town which we used for swimming, boating, and fishing in the summer and skating in the winter. The townspeople held several "clam bakes" using the grade school grounds. We had weekly card parties where the adults played pinochle while the kids played bunco. All this took place during the Depression. We had no money for entertainment even if it had been available to us. In spite of this, all in all, in my preteen years, life was good.

Then the Nazis came to town. After purchasing a house and grounds less than a quarter of a mile from the house I lived in, they took over the town. Masquerading as a summer retreat for German youth, they were committed to the Nazi philosophy and (we learned later) dedicated to taking over the United States. They frequently marched down Main Street, which was in fact the only street, holding aloft the hated Swastika and forcing traffic to stop for them. They also took over the lake, bullying those of us who were too young and too timid to resist. They were superior, arrogant, and hated.

Sundays saw the arrival of Nazi adults from New York City and surrounding areas. They held noisy and unwelcome rallies where anti-Semitic speeches were given and Hitler was extolled to loud applause.

I had no concept of the significance of these people, or why they were in town. I only knew that my parents, particularly my father who was a WWI veteran, hated them and did whatever they could to make life miserable for them. (I could write a book on that subject.) A few of the year-round residents of the Bund Camp (known as German Gardens) had children who attended school with us. I became friends with one of them who, like me, had no political or philosophical agenda. We were two boys who enjoyed playing marbles, baseball, and the like. Incidentally, unlike most of the Bund Camp residents, his family was loyal to America and remained in this country when the war broke out.

The hostility between the townspeople and Camp Siegfried, as the compound was called, often resulted in confrontations that required police intervention. Yaphank's police department consisted of a sheriff and a part-time deputy. The sheriff was as antagonistic to the Nazis as the rest of us were, so disputes were almost always settled in our favor. In the rare instances when fines and punishment were imposed on the townspeople, they were minimal and seldom enforced.

Whenever a fire broke out in Camp Siegfried or German Gardens, the fire department had difficulty getting there in a timely manner, and to the best of my knowledge never extinguished a fire in time to save whatever structure was ablaze (usually a house). It was of course a volunteer unit, and all of the firefighters were residents of Yaphank, and extremely opposed to the Nazi presence. There is no question that the animosity toward the camp's inhabitants influenced their actions.

I believe, in light of the circumstances, that it is entirely understandable why the fire department behaved as it did in those days. Failure to respond quickly to fires in the camp was simply an extension of the behavior of the townspeople toward Camp Siegfried and the German Gardens. Any means that could be used to get those people out of our town was considered fair. They weren't welcome, they weren't friendly to our way of life, and in fact they were often spying for Hitler. We were not yet at war, so we could not legally evict them--but we saw them as the enemy and acted accordingly. Of course, at the time we were not aware of the atrocities being committed by the Nazi regime in Germany. But the repugnance of their beliefs and actions, particularly after 1939 when the war in Europe started, was reason enough for us to behave the way we did. Harrassment, vandalism, and dereliction of duty by the police and fire deparment. These were our weapons.

But in fact, these people were not breaking any laws. They were in this country legally, and were entitled to equal protection under the law. Still, I cannot criticize the actions of the fire department, the police, or the citizens of Yaphank. Feelings about this are too ingrained in me to believe any other way. Am I wrong to feel the way I do?

This article will give you a lot of information concerning camp Siegfried and its leaders: german/american/bund

As a footnote, on December 8, 1941, the Camp ceased to exist. German Gardens was decimated when the feds descended on the settlement and deported a large number of its inhabitants. A few, like my friend's family, remained.

01 March 2013

Lost


by R.T. Lawton

One month ago today, I lost my greatest fan, Bernadean G. Carlson. She was my mother-in-law, an excellent teacher of children and a great lady. Turned out she also liked my short stories and seemed pleased to have a writer in the family, especially since she was such an avid reader. I married her oldest daughter thirty-two years ago, but I'm pretty sure that's not why Bernie enjoyed my writing. She and I discussed books and writing almost every time we got together.

As a fifth grade teacher, Bernie got copies of my 22 children's stories as they came out in Recess and Time Out, statewide publications for 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students, over a period of years, about 4 or 5 a year. Of course it may have been a personal bias (she was closely acquainted with the author) because her classes always read and discussed those stories in the class room. Once, I even received a batch of handwritten letters in the mail from one of her classes. They were writing to say thanks and to talk about their feelings on one of those stories. I just hope they weren't writing to me merely so they could get a good grade.

Can't say that Bernie was overjoyed with my day time job, but she soon saw how some of those experiences came out in my mystery stories. She even gave me permission, one time when we came to town for a visit, so a local bookie could come out to her house where I could interview him in her dining room without all his pals seeing him out in public with a federal law enforcement officer. Otherwise, the circumstances would definitely have ruined his reputation. The information I received that afternoon about the inner workings of a nationwide gambling organization became fodder for a short story series. If it hadn't been for the fact that this interview was for the creation of stories, she'd have been mortified to have a criminal in her home. But, since I had a gun, the bookie appeared to be no more than a good boy put on the wrong path by a down-turning economy and she would be out shopping during that time, it would be okay, just this once.

Bernie had her favorite characters in my four AHMM series and would frequently ask what Theodore in the Twin Brothers Bail Bonds and the Little Nogai Boy in the Armenian series were up to next. She took great pleasure in hearing how that little boy got his own story as requested by the editor in Manhattan while her daughter and I had breakfast with that same editor. Naturally, I sent Bernie a personalized copy of each story as it got published in AHMM, and she proudly showed these publications to friends and other relatives.

Some of you may remember about this time last year when I ran a contest on the blog site for the best breakfast recipe. That was one of the times when my wife Kiti was back in eastern South Dakota taking care of her mother for a few weeks while I stayed home in Colorado and took care of two of our grandsons. Testing those recipes took a full week. Every morning, the boys got served a different recipe for breakfast before I drove them over to their local elementary school for classes. At the table, each boy had his own score card where they rated that morning's dish in several different categories on a scale from 1 to 10. These rating sessions often became loud and lively as the boys compared notes and numbers. In the end, we had to have two winners to keep peace in the family. Telling of these shenanigans helped buoy the spirits of Mom while she was undergoing recovery from the chemo and radiation treatments for her cancer. It also helped to lighten Kiti's burden too. I thanked you guys then and I thank you again now.

But, like I said in the beginning, I lost my greatest fan. The medical treatments were too harsh and had to be discontinued. She ended up in a nursing home, unable to remain in her own house. It took a year more, but Bernadean G. Carlson finally passed over at 11 PM on Friday, February 1st, in the arms of her two daughters. Bernie will be greatly missed by all on this end, and there will be a very large gap in my very small fan base.

Sad to say, but Eve Fisher lost a fan too. Bernie very much enjoyed Eve's AHMM stories set in small town South Dakota. It was like those stories were set just down the road from Mom's house.

Well, time to go.

Rest easy, Mom.