Fear in Writing: April 2010

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, April 30, 2010

Pics and Posts

Sorry, all!  I didn't actually mean to take the day off from blogging today.  It just got away from me!  Princess Natalie and I ran errands all morning while Sir Jake was at school...Then it was naptime and quiet time and I lay down on the couch...well, you can guess what happened next. :)

So here's a little something--some inspiration for the romantic in us all....
Fay Wray and Gary Cooper in One Sunday Afternoon (1928)

And for the independent thinker we all strive to be...
Katharine Hepburn, as Rosalind in 'As You Like It' (1950)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The last few days have been dark ones for me, I'm afraid.  You see, I haven't been able to really use my hands.

As many of you know, I have fibromyalgia.  But it has been but a nuisance until this week.  Monday, the pain hit with a vengeance and kept me from commenting, writing, driving, caring for my kids, etc.

Today, the pain has waned enough for me to type of it.  So I ask you, have you ever created a character with a physical flaw?  Something that keeps him or her from doing something they love?  Maybe it is a writer who cannot write, a blind pianist, a deaf standup comedian--those are very literal interpretations.  But perhaps something deeper, more subtle...Depression keeping a protagonist in bed at that crucial moment, fear of heights forbidding a character from saving their own daughter's life.

What do you think of physical flaws in writing?

Because I wasn't able to type yesterday, I couldn't promote T.H.E. Hill's guest blog.  If you haven't already, read his very interesting post about Monterey Marys and their role in espionage.  His book, Voices Under Berlin, is now available.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who is Monterey Mary? by Author T.H.E. Hill

For the first time in the history of Southern City Mysteries, I am turning this blog over to an author I don't know.  That being said, T.H.E. Hill is the new author of Voices Under Berlin, and he is highly intriguing.  Without further ado, take it away, Hill!

Who is Monterey Mary?

For "civilian" book shoppers browsing titles, the first apparent mystery in Voices Under Berlin is in the subtitle: The Tale of a Monterey Mary. "Civilians" generally have no idea what a Monterey Mary is. This mystery, however, does not remain unresolved for long if you pick up the novel and look in the glossary at the front of the book. A Monterey Mary is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute, in Monterey, California. In other words, a military linguist.

I added the glossary when manuscript readers, who were never in the military, or had never known someone in the military, kept asking questions about the jargon as they went along. They were not members of the audience for whom I had originally written Voices Under Berlin, but they liked the tale, so I was pleased to add the glossary as a helping hand to this class of readers, after which the comments from "civilian" test readers became even more positive. You can't please everybody though. One reader expressed her displeasure at having her intelligence insulted by the inclusion of the glossary, as if she didn't know what the jargon meant. My apologies, but not everyone who reads Voices Under Berlin is familiar with the jargon, and the glossary was added for those who don't know it.

Though the explanation "military linguist" may seem a bit thin, that is only a stepping stone to the novel, which is where the detailed explanation of what a Monterey Mary does is to be found.

Voices Under Berlin is ostensibly about the pre-wall Berlin Spy Tunnel that the CIA dug to tap three Russian underground telecommunications cables in the mid-1950s. It became infamous, when it was discovered by the Soviets, 54 years ago during the night of 21-22 April 1956. The Time Magazine article (7 May 1956) about the discovery was entitled "BERLIN: Wonderful Tunnel." In the article the tunnel is described by a German journalist as "the best publicity the U.S. has had in Berlin for a long time." At the time it was indeed an astounding feat of engineering.

• You can learn more about the Berlin Spy Tunnel at the on-line Cold War Museum.

The yarn in the novel is told from both ends of the tunnel. One end is the story of the Americans who worked the tunnel. The main character, Kevin, is the Monterey Mary who has to transcribe the Russian conversations that are coming off the cable tap. This part of the story is about the fight of the tunnel rats for a sense of purpose against boredom and against the enemy both within and without. Reviewers have compared the novel to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H*, and Hans Helmut Kirst's Zero Eight Fifteen, perhaps better known in America as The Revolt of Gunner Asch.

The other end of the tunnel is the story of the Russians whose telephone calls the Americans are intercepting. Their side of the tale is told in the unnarrated transcripts of their calls. They are the voices under Berlin. This part of the novel has been compared to Henrik Ibsen’s "play for voices," Peer Gynt, which is usually considered very hard to stage due to its accent on the aural, rather than on the visual. This unusual approach to literature is intended to help the reader understand the ear-centric worldview of the people who had to transcribe the Russians’ conversations. The result is a new type of spy novel, as unique as Berlin herself.

It is Cloak-and-dagger with headphones.
A pair of "antique" military headphones of the type used for operations like the Berlin spy tunnel.

The real mystery of Voices Under Berlin is the question of which of the Americans assigned to the tunnel project is the target of a "honey pot," sex for secrets operation being run by the KGB. Is it Kevin, the Monterey Mary who transcribes the tapes coming off the tap? Is it Blackie, whose nickname takes a whole chapter to explain? Or is it Lieutenant Sherlock, the martinet who has so little common sense that he only manages to escape the disasters that dog his steps by sheer luck. Corporal Neumann, the eternal new man on site who never ever quite gets the hang of how things really work has a German girlfriend too. Could it be him? Or could it be Fast Eddie, the married sergeant, whose wife works at the PX Theater. Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker, the "master scrounger" is single. That makes him suspect too. The nameless Chief of Base is hardly worth considering. He has said that anybody with a German girlfriend will be reassigned so fast that his stomach will have to take the next plane to catch up with him.

Little hints emerge from the transcription of the intercept tapes, but they never contain enough information to positively identify the target of the "honey pot" operation until the very end of the book. Telling you who it was would spoil the book for those who have not read it yet, so you will have to buy a copy to find out who done it.

About the Author:
T.H.E. Hill, the author of Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary, served with the U.S. Army Security Agency at Field Station Berlin in the mid-1970s, after a tour at Herzo Base in the late 1960s. He is a three-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute (DLIWC) in Monterey, California, the alumni of which are called "Monterey Marys". The Army taught him to speak Russian, Polish, and Czech; three tours in Germany taught him to speak German, and his wife taught him to speak Dutch. He has been a writer his entire adult life, but now retired from Federal Service, he writes what he wants, instead of the things that others tasked him to write while he was still working.
You can learn more about T.H.E. Hill and his books at: http://www.voicesunderberlin.com/.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do you have a Gate in your Drawer?

We just removed the baby gates from the top and bottom of our stairs.  It was a big deal to the kids.  For my son, there had been a gate on one part of the stairs for his entire four years of life.  For my daughter, there had been a gate on both ends of the stairs for her entire memory--the past year, basically.  But now they are gone.

When my son first saw the screws lying on the stairs, and the gate leaning against the wall, he tried to lift the heavy, metal frame and screw it back in place.  It was quite comical and a doomed task from the start.  He thought it just needed fixing and his dad just needed a little help.  We told him no, the gates were coming down permanently.  It was time.

The next morning both kids stood at the top of the stairs in astonishment.  The gates were really gone!

"Where's the gate?" my two-year-old asked.

"Daddy took it to work.  He needs it there," my son said with authority.  Sure, that made sense.

These symbols of security had been removed from their lives, and the transition wasn't easy.  It was harder than changing my son from a crib to a double bed, getting rid of the pacifier, losing the afternoon nap.  They continue--five days into the mysterious gate disapperance--to ask, "Where's the gate, Mommy?"

And so I realize, our first manuscript is a little like this gate.  It becomes our security, always there to fall back on.  Like my son, we try to fix it, even though it is large and unweildy.  We go at it from every angle, refusing to give up on its viability.

Eventually, we must admit we don't need that old MS anymore.  We have grown beyond it.  We have created better work since it and will create better work because of it.  Maybe you shouldn't chuck it like my husband and I did with the baby gates, but perhaps there is a deeper hole than your reachable desk drawer.  That is usable space, after all.

Do you have a security MS?

Tomorrow, author T.H.E. Hill will be here with his book, Voices Under Berlin. And today's the last day to vote in the poll! Let your voice be heard...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Author Alan Orloff, Diamonds for the Dead

Fellow blogger and debut author Alan Orloff joins Southern City Mysteries today, to talk about his novel Diamonds for the Dead. He gave me a brief bio that I now share with you...Before Alan stepped off the corporate merry-go-round, he had an eclectic (some might say disjointed) career. As an engineer, he worked on nuclear submarines, supervised assembly workers in factories, facilitated technology transfer from the Star Wars program, and learned to stack washing machines three high in a warehouse with a forklift. He even started his own recycling and waste reduction newsletter business. Now he writes fiction.

ME: You base your book around the Jewish culture in Reston, Virginia. Why was it important to you to include religion in your debut novel?

AO: I didn’t actually set out to write a book with a Jewish background (in fact, writing about anything religious was probably the farthest thing from my mind). The germ of the story came not from an incident, but from a person. One of the characters in the book, Kassian, is (very) loosely based on someone from my childhood. When I was just a lad, my family would gather together for the Jewish holidays at my grandmother’s apartment, and she would often invite a relative to join us. I didn’t exactly know how he was related to us, but we called him “cousin.” He was a diminutive man, well-dressed, quite polite, and impeccably groomed. He also smelled heavily of aftershave. It wasn’t until years later that I learned it wasn’t aftershave I was smelling; it was something a lot more potent (of the 100-proof variety). So given this association, I guessed it just seemed natural to have the characters be Jewish, and have the action set against some Jewish cultural background. In my mind, though, I set out to write a suspenseful, page-turning mystery, and that’s how I view it—the “Jewishness” adds some interesting depth.

ME: Another major theme in Diamonds for the Dead is family, both alienation from and devotion to ones elders. How does this fit into your own life? Do you have elderly parents you take care of or are expected to?

AO: I’ve always respected my elders, and I’ve never felt alienated from the elder members of my family. But you’re right, in the book, Josh (the protagonist) had drifted away from his now-deceased father. When Josh comes home to bury him, he discovers all sorts of secrets his father kept. I guess that’s part of what makes the story interesting—learning how Josh deals with his discoveries, especially seeing how he infers qualities about his father through these secrets.

ME: I get that many people are moved to write, but why were you moved to write murder mystery? What is the fascination?

AO: I read a lot of crime fiction, so I guess it seemed natural to write crime fiction. Plus it’s better to write about crimes than commit them (at least that’s what my parole officer tells me).

ME: What is next for you? Are you working on your second book already? Third?

AO: The first book in my Channing Hayes series will be released next Spring (2011). Called KILLER ROUTINE, it’s about a stand-up comic with a tragic past. I’m working on the sequel to that one now (due out in Spring 2012). Back to your first question, religion isn’t even mentioned in this series, unless you consider stand-up comedy a religion.

ME: Anything else you'd like to tell the readers?

AO: Part of the publishing “game” includes promotion, and part of promotion includes blogging and reading others’ blogs. It’s been very rewarding to get to know so many great bloggers and blog readers in cyberspace (like yourself), and for that, I’m grateful!

Thanks for hosting me on your blog today, Michele—I appreciate it. And I also appreciate that you made DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD your April Challenge book; that’s very cool! For more info, visit http://www.alanorloff.com/

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

What a week!  I actually made it quite a ways around the blogworld.  If I didn't stop by your domain, I apologize.  But here are some great stops on my adventures--ones I think are worth sharing...

1. B. Miller addresses her murder victim in Plotting a Murder.

2. From the belly of the beast--Yrsa Sigurdardottir talks about local ramifications of the Icelandic volcano eruption.

3. For anyone who has ever let a book carry them away, this post by author Timothy Hallinan is for you.  (Hallinan is the author of 'A Nail Through the Heart,' about which I posted last week, and which I highly recommend.)

4. Alex J. Cavanaugh takes on 'Q'...and you have to see what he came up with!

5. Literary Pub Crawl--a great idea and a looooong list for you globetrotters!  Also, this is a new-to-me blog: Neth Space.

6.  Steph the Bookworm reviews a book that wouldn't usually interest me, but has me drooling over its complicated prettiness.  Check out her take on Beautiful People.

7. Lee Lofland with more invaluable knowledge: CSI Terminology.  Click for great pics and interesting/surprising terms.

8. Ok, couldn't help it, here's another one from Lee: how to properly write a crime scene.

9.  It is always brave when a writer shares a piece of his or her work.  And we all need support and criticism when we do!  For Jen Daiker's bravery, click here.

10.  An author who overcame disability and heartbreak to write an international crime novel--Andrew Parker guest blogs at Mason Canyon's Thoughts in Progress.

11. Cathy of Kittling Books reviews a haunting tale...with a great cover!  Check it out.

12.  Also from Cathy, What Nightmare Are You?  I can tell you which one I usually have (definitely forgetting a part of my clothes!), but which one did the quiz say?
You Are Falling

Sometimes things in your life feel completely out of control. You get overwhelmed.
Like everyone else you have a fear of failure... just like falling in a nightmare.
You may need more balance in your life. Take time to take care of yourself.
And learn to go with the flow a little bit more. Falling can feel exciting if you let it!

13. Elizabeth talks about mood...and you know here posts--it's a great one!

14. Helen shares words of advice from an Agent.

15.  New-to-me blog and another SciFi guy for you fantasy readers: JL Stratton of True Life and Fiction...Plus, the link will take you to an interesting post on suspending disbelief.

16. Love British mysteries?  Well so does Elizabeth Frengel.  Stop by Miss Lemon's Mysteries for some great reads.

17. Anna Karenina for kids.  I'm not joking.  (And it's a great new-to-me site.)

Weird, but comments didn't work when this posted at 5am, so this is a repost.  Hope you don't have any trouble this time.  And don't forget to vote in the poll if you haven't already.  It ends Wednesday!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

No-Post Saturday

No posts on Saturdays.
This is my day off.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crime Fiction for Green

It's not for the faint of heart...and it involves money.

Intrigued?  It's a writing competition, and the prize is GREEN!  And I don't mean the type of green you planted yesterday on behalf of the Earth.  I mean good 'ol, fill up your pockets dough.

Don't care about making bucks?  Okay...How about just winning a contest and going up against the judging minds of Aldo Calcagno, John McFetridge, Steve Weddle, and Stacia J.N. Decker?

The rules (amid some heard-hitting language, as a warning to all queazies) are posted on Paul D. Brazill's blog, which you can reach here.  But the host is emerging author Jason Duke (see interesting interview with Duke here).

If you have a great piece of crime fiction and want an extra $100, check out this contest.  If you don't, uh...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Earth Beneath Our Feet

"Remember, we did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrowed it from our children."

I saw this quote today on Coffee Rings Everywhere, run by the crazy-busy hobbyist-mother Not Enough Hours.  I looked it up, and it is actually an Ancient Native American Proverb.
I knew, of course, that today was Earth Day.  I have seen the small festivals planned for this evening, and decided against them in favor of planting a vegetable garden with my children in our own backyard.  I mean, we can celebrate with non-biodegradable balloons, or we can grow our own food and replenish the earth.  Hmmm...
I have seen many Earth Day posts today.  Each time I read one, a bit more guilt set in.  Why didn't I post about Earth Day today? I asked myself.  But, I already posted today.  And I did the Carbon Neutral Blog last week, so I brushed the questions aside.
And then I saw NEH's post.  And that quote.  And I realized--today really is important.  We spent all weekend planting flowers and tending our yard.  On Tuesday I shopped at Whole Foods and took out the recycling.  Wednesday, we made our own strawberry yogurt, popsicles, and pie.
There is a lot I can say about becoming self-sustaining.  There is a lot I can do to decrease my footprint on this Earth.  We are paying for all of the industrial mistakes of our ancestors, and our children will pay for ours.  So let's make them as few as possible, and fix the ones we can.
Start small.  Start with your own life.  Maybe you don't have space to plant a garden, but surely you can fill a recycling bin once a week.  Go from there.  Do you drink coffee?  Buy bamboo filters instead of paper--bamboo is a renewable resource, and they are maybe 50 cents more expensive.
What do you do to make your footprint smaller?  What do you plan to do next to help the Earth?

Today's original post is just below.  Feel free to check it out and comment, as I will be responding to those comments as well!

Internal Conflict, Two Ways

A blogfest for writers...and I mean really for writers.  This won't just help you write a scene, it will help you delve into your character!  And let me also say: I have never done a blogfest before.  I have been highly jealous of those who have participated in them, often wishing I had known in about them or taken the time to do the ones I did know about.  So here is my chance.  Come May 12th, you will get a piece of writing from me, and a connection to a larger world of writing, via The Alliterative Allomoprh (aka Jessica C. Bell).
blog buttonsmall
To sign up for the Internal Conflict Blogfest, click here.
To check out author Jessica Bell's website, click here.
To see a totally random link and just to keep you on your toes, click here. : P

Also, you will notice a poll in the top righthand column of my blog.  I don't usually do polls, but this is a rather important one.  I am considering allowing ads in very discreet places of this blog.  But I don't want to offend anyone or discourage viewership.  This blog is, above all else, about writing and art.  That being said, I put a lot of work into Southern City Mysteries.  To get a little something monetary back would be good, no?

But I don't know...Is this artistic compromise?  That's why I am asking you before I make a decision.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Raising your children, Raising your book

If you have children, you'll know that there are sooooooooo (I repeat, sooooooooooooo) many things to keep track of in raising them.

Minimum time in front of the TV.  Proper fruits and vegetables.  Milk and juice and water intake monitored.  Teaching--money, time, numbers, letters, reading, writing, using scissors.  Personal hygene--bathe themselves, brush their own teeth, POTTY TRAINING!  Then add in the nurturing aspects--time together as a family, one-on-one time with each child, plenty of reading, telling stories, playing outside, learning about the environment, taking care of others.

And if you are a writer, then you'll know that creating and growing a book can be very similar.  Creating characters means taking care of them.  Creating a storyline means seeing it through to completion.  Think of all the things you have to keep up with...
Plot twists.  Character development.  Setting details. Clues sprinkled here and there.  Character emotions. Where you're going.  Where you've been.  The truth.  The lies.  The proper mixes of crime and honesty.  The right combo of dark and light.

So, how do you keep up with it all?  What tricks or programs do you use to keep yourself, and your creation, on track?  I am specifically asking about writing, but if you have tips on child-rearing, I'm open to those as well.  : )

This post was originally published on Tuesday, but a writer's realization that she was about to miss a very important date in history forced its retraction.  So, if you are experiencing deja vu, do not fear, it's not just you!  See yesterday's post for the important replacement.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Birth of the Detective Story

Today is the day it all began for us crime writers.

Today, in 1841, the world's first detective story appeared in print.

The story is one you have most likely read (or should at least lie and say you have, as there is really no excuse)--The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Think about all you know of detective fiction...The thinking detectives of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Louise Penny.  The character-driven plots of James Lee Burke.  The non-professional crimesolvers in almost every other mystery book of today.

All of these stem from Poe's creation--Dupin and Rue Morgue.

I often talk of remembering our writing heritage.  Today is a day for that.  I challenge you to find a copy of this piece of fiction and read it again.  (Read it for free on the Poe Museum website here.)  Think about Poe's intention--introducing 'ratiocination' into the thought processes of the day.  He also emphasized the importance of reading and writing through Dupin's utilization of newspaper accounts in solving the crime.  These were modern ideas in 1841.

As I said in my recent post on books, I just finished The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower. In that book, I learned a lot about Poe's process for placing works in publication. It wasn't a pretty process for the genius, and I highly recommend the book for those interested in learning more about Poe, the crime that helped change New York City's police force, and how to write compelling true crime.

How do you incorporate these ideas in your writing?  Knowing that the armchair detective and using newspapers and other written sources in crimesolving comes from Poe, does that make you appreciate him more?  Will it make you read his stories again, this time with a closer eye to structure?

If you saw a flash of another article in your sidebar or on this site, you aren't crazy.  I originally wrote a different post for today, and then realized the event about which you just read could not go unnoticed on a crime writer's blog.  Check back tomorrow for the original post, Raising a child, Raising a book.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I see the future, and it's Digital

This post is influenced by Helen, who looks into the future here.

I don't own a Nook or and iPad (though I saw two iPads just this morning at Starbucks) or even a Kindle, but I see it as the future and I am coming around. As for marketing, it is incredibly nice and easy to get the word out via digital media. With streaming video, blogs, Twitter, etc., PR can be done from an author's home, or favorite coffee shop! We should embrace this aspect.

But we also should not forget from whence we came.  I have touched on this subject before in TravelBlog, where I took you on a tour of my then-blog layout, and explained the purpose of my 'Today in Literary History' section.  Here is what I said then, and still believe:
You'll find this just above the latest post, taking prominence beneath the banner. I believe we are formed by those who came before us, be it Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen or James Patterson. This connection with history is important, so I strive to etch a bit of the past into your daily blog-hopping.
So embrace the future.  Go digital and electronic and paperless to your heart's content.  But don't forget Guttenburg and Dante and Hans Christian Anderson.  The pen and the paper will always be the greatest connection a writer can have with their work.

FYI: I will no longer be posting on Saturdays.  It's my family day and the posts I put up those days aren't worth much anyway.  So, taking Sat. off!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1. New-to-me blog of a friend: Olivethebeach.  As a lover of art, I must say Rachel's quilts and other sewing projects are beautiful.  What is even more beautiful?  She uses the profit to support charities!  Talk about giving back.  I recommend you spend some time on this site.

2.  Do you have je ne sais quoi?  Summer asks the question, which literally means "I don't know what," but more often signifies an intangible, distinctive quality.

3.  Ann, the Piedmont Writer, struggles with her MS.  Click over and give your opinion!  I bet you'll get hooked on the story while you're there.

4.  If you love a good adventure, read Cathy's Bloody Basin Trail post over at Kittling Books.  The imagery she leaves you with is fantastic!  And here's my speal on Arizona: If there is a state to explore, it is Arizona. From the cool pines and skiing (yes, skiing!) in Flagstaff, the red rocks and spiritual paths in Sedona, to the copper mines and Wild West history in Bisbee/Tombstone, this state will amaze you at every pass.

5. Diane introduces a new-to-me author with a fantastic-sounding book: Robert Elmer.  At least go look at the cover.

6. DL talks about Black Ice--what can you do to keep it out of your writing?  We well-though-out article and a great thing to think about.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Books and books and books...and books

And now for something completely different...

As you know, I don't do reviews.  But I thought I'd clue you in on a few of the books I have read lately.  There will be no negative comments in this post.  That doesn't mean all of these works deserve the Critics Choice Award.  They just are what they are, and good reads for different reasons.

Just finished The Beautiful Cigar Girl.  I discovered this book through a (now debunked) report posted on The Hollywood Spy, claiming Joaquin Phoenix would play Edgar A. Poe in the movie version.  The mention of Poe sent my nerves tingling and I immediately picked up this book.  It didn't disappoint.
Let me be clear, I am not one for nonfiction.  However, this tightly woven twining of Poe, the murdered Rogers, and New York City in the early 19th century is scintillating.

Another recent finish--Diamonds for the Dead.  Blogger and author Alan Orloff will be a guest on this blog in a few weeks, so I won't share too many secrets now, except to say it was an entertaining read, with an interesting look at father-son dynamics and the American Jewish community.

I also read A Reliable Wife last month.  At first I was a little disappointed in the plot--I felt like I'd seen it before.  Then...I got wrapped up in Goolrick's writing style.  Sharp, image-forming, even shocking at times--he has a definite style all his own.  And I loved it.

Earlier in March, I read Mark Mills' The Savage Garden.  I was smitten with his intricate overlay of murder, Italy in the 1950s, young academics, and a savage family with a secret garden.  So, I read his other work, Amagansett.  Equally beautiful in imagery and plot structure.  In this book, Mills takes on post-WWII life in the Hamptons--from the locals' perspective.  Add in a touch of murder, dangerous seas, and some hyper-wealthy characters, and you have a literary tale worthy of Dickens and Melville.

So that is what I have been reading lately.  Right now, I am caught up in the dirty world of Timothy Hallinan's Bangkok, in his book, A Nail Through the Heart.  There are several things I love about this book, one of which is entirely structural: Hallinan uses a catching phrase from each chapter as the title of that chapter.  Then there is the intriguing plot, the likable protagonist, the kids you want to save, and the consuming array of crime in Thailand.  Read it.  I certainly will be diving in to his other works.

What are you reading?  What have you recently finished?  Any recommendations?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

1920s Me

I don't really have anything to say today.  So here's a fun quiz...

What's your 1920s name?
Mine is...
Dixie Madeleine
You're the Bee's Knees

Try it with your first name, you first and last, and then add middle--you'll get all sorts of different names.
What's your 1920s name?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Childhood Favorite Comes Back to Scare

I read a book to my son last night that I had read as a child.  It was Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall.

The book--or one character, really--scared my son to shaking!  If you haven't read it (or it's just been a really long time), the premise is this (from Amazon):
The kids in Room 207 take advantage of their teacher's good nature until she disappears and they are faced with a substitute.
And that subsitute is one Viola Swamp.  I thought about putting her picture on this post, but, honestly, she scares me, too!  The cartoon is dark, menacing, ugly...everything you want in a witch!  But, if you want to see her for yourself, click here.
I remembered the books (there are actually three in the series, and we have two of them) as great children's tales about misbehaving in school.  That's not how my son saw it.  He said he liked the books "except for viola swamp--she's scary."

The scariness of the antagonist actually takes away from the plot for its audience!  Now, I know this book has pleased generations, even making it to DVD and the stage.  But in our house, she is now banned.  I agree with my son--she's too scary!

So my question today is this: how do you find balance?  How do you make your antagonist someone readers can understand and feel for, but still fear?  Is that important to you?

Alternately, here is another set of questions: Have you ever had a childhood favorite come back to bite you?  Did it surprise you when you read it as an adult, leave you wondering why it was a favorite back then?

Oh, and we have two Viola Swamp books if anyone wants them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maintaining Consistent Creativity

A friend of mine began following my blog on Monday, and I, of course, clicked over to her blog.  She is an artist--quilting, dancing, you-name-it.  But while on her blog, I noticed a particularly good question:
What are your ideas about consistent creativity?

I actually read it this way: What do you need for consistent creativity?

We could all say inspiration, just as Rachel's post inspired this one.  But sometimes we have to search for inspiration, within ourselves or our surroundings.  So what do you need to find that inspiration?

I'll tell you my answer right now, and it is the same one I wrote on Rachel's blog: BREATHING. 

Sounds strange, right?  You have to remember I have chronic pain and suffer from anxiety/depression on occasion.  A lot of things can becoming overwhelming to me really quickly.  So, to calm the world and regain a sense of calm, I breathe.  Then, my children are more precious, each leaf is brighter on the trees, the sound of the birds is there again over the din of life--and these are the things that inspire me to be creative.

So, what do you need for consistent creativity?

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Appropriate Literature, Part Three

In keeping with the idea of what is appropriate in literature, I point you to Friday's "This Day in Literary History" blip:

April 9, 1859: A 23-year-old Missouri man named Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) receives his steamboat pilot's license.

We all know who Twain was, and have heard many flippant quotes from the man.  Today I ask you, what does the content of Twain's work make you feel?  Does it royally piss you off that black people were treated with such disrespect, even by children?  Does it make you think "classic" literature should be redefined?  Are you okay with these significant works of art continuing to be read and taught in our classrooms, despite their portrayal of prejudice and slavery?

For a starting point, here is my belief: Twain was a fantastic writer and a significant person in American history.  As much as we would like to, we cannot erase the past--how we treated African-Americans, the harshness of the 19th century, etc.  We can control how we teach these works.  We can teach the brilliance of Twain's style, but point out the problems with the way he treated blacks, in conjunction with a little history of the period.  We can also teach Twain's work alongside his contemporary, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose famous anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin contributed to the American Civil War.

But what do you think?

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Green Your Blog

Instead of the Sunday Foreign Post Roundup today, I am posting something a little different.  During the past year, I have tried to live more "green."  We buy green friendly cleaning products and use steel water thermoses, as opposed to plastic bottles.  We recycle everything we can and turn off every light when it's not in use.  We even remember to unplug our chargers and baby monitors when we don't need them.  And my son went to a green camp last summer at the local children's museum.  He knows all about water conservation!

I do not claim to be perfect, but I seize every (easy) opportunity I can.  This one seems easy.  Summer at ...and this time concentrate!  posted about Green in her "G" post on Thursday.  I decided to participate and pass it along...I hope you will, too!

The following text is taken directly from the 'My Blog is Carbon Neutral' website.

How much carbon dioxide does your blog create?
According to a study by Alexander Wissner-Gross, PhD, physicist at Harvard University and environmental activist, an average website causes about 0.02g (0,0008oz.) of carbon dioxide for each visit. Assuming an average blog gets 15,000 visits a month, it has yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 3,6kg (8lb.). This can mainly be tracked back to the immense energy usage from (mainframe) computers, servers, and their cooling systems.
As demonstrated in the above calculation, the atmosphere can be relieved by an average of 5kg (11lb.) carbon dioxide every year by planting one tree. An average blog causes 3.6kg (8lb.) of carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently, a tree neutralises the carbon dioxide emissions of a blog. Since a tree lives for an average of 50 years, carbon dioxide emissions of your blog can be completely neutralised for this time period.

Here’s how you can participate!

Just write a short blog post about our programme “My blog is carbon neutral” and include one of the buttons below on your site (ideally in the sidebar). Send the link to your blog to CO2-neutral@kaufda.de and we plant a tree for you, neutralising the carbon dioxide emissions of your blog. The trees will be planted in the spring of 2010 by the Arbor Day Foundation. For more information about how and where the trees are planted, see the news section.

Just a few easy steps to make it green:
1. Write a blog post about the initiative + insert your favourite button.
2. E-mail the link to your post to CO2-neutral@kaufda.de
3. We plant a tree for your blog in Plumas’!
carbon neutral coupons with kaufDA.de 
Get your button here.
Every little bit counts.  We can all do a little, can't we?

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Plato and Art (folo to yesterday's post)

We'll start with Plato today.

For the ancient Greek philosopher, art and the Forms (Beauty, Justice, the Circle) are perfect Ideals, more real than even physical objects.  "The world of the Forms is rational and unchanging; the world of physical appearances is changeable and irrational" (Plato).

Understanding this basic concept is essential to understanding Plato's views on art.  According to his dialogue in The Republic, Plato believed that, "since art imitates physical things, which in turn imitate the Forms, art is always a copy of a copy, and leads us even further from truth" (Plato).  In the philosopher's other theory, found in both Ion and Symposium, he states "the artist, perhaps by divine inspiration, makes a better copy of the True than may be found in ordinary experience. Thus the artist is a kind of prophet" (Plato).

Think of it in terms--literally, in terms.  The word 'music' derives from the Greek 'Muse'--demigods who inspired artists.  'Genius' is similar--one's personal inspiration of guiding spirit.

But...the theory falls apart when you begin to talk about abstract art.  Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, etc.  (One could argue that the emphasis of AE artists on the inspiration by instantaneous, subconscious creation [surrealism] as well as the admittedly anarchic nature of the product, is another way of inspiration by Form--though Forms as Ideas, not as the more specific Beauty, Justice, etc.)  Plato believed music imitated natural sounds.  Similarly, he believed in art imitating life, nature.  Is it impossible to stretch the theory for the modern world, to encompass war, machinery, and nihilism?

So...based on the theory that Art is a copy of a copy, imitation of the Forms or Ideas, do you still believe the same as you did after yesterday's post?  Do the subjects you would or would not take on have a different meaning?  Does crime as a subject for art make it more real?  Are we advertising and creating an atmosphere for rape and murder by placing these as the subjects of our Art?

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crime in Literature

Celebrity Apprentice.  The Biggest Loser.  Law&Order SVU.

Is anything off limits?

How about in writing?  Are there any crimes you won't write about?  Will you include child abuse, child murder, elder abuse, dog fights, or torture in your writing?

Is there anything you won't read?  Any of the subjects above?  If so, why?  Do certain subjects just bother you?  Or do you think there are some crimes that should just be left untouched in literature?

Is art supposed to reflect life in every way?  (I am not saying realtiy TV shows are art!)

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trips, Sickies, and an Outline

Hello, all!  It has been a long week of travel for this writer, and I'm afraid the end of the day came too quickly and brough too much exhaustion for me to log on.  I should have posted something about taking a break, but I had the best of intentions--even had posts waiting to be published.  However, I am back...I think...My daughter awoke with a high fever and other symptoms this morning that are keeping me beside her on the couch today.

In addition, I was traveling between NC and TN with my two children.  Wonderful though they are, traveling is long and involved.  Then there are the (fabulous but...) seemingly endless activities vacation entails.  Luckily, I had my sister, my parents, and my in-laws to help in Nashville.

Furthermore...my father was in the hospital on Easter.  It turned out to be a bad case of vertigo, but the scare of stroke was there, and it made for an emotional and busy holiday.  My parents have been throwing a huge Easter party since I was a child in Houston--so 1985 or so.  We continue to add new generations to the egg hunt and festivities, so it grows and grows!  This year, my sister and I took on the mantle of responsibility, since my mother was at the ER with my father.  Were ready?  No, but we did it and our wonderful guests/friends helped.

And now I am back in Raleigh with a sick child--oh!  Natalie turned 2 on Friday!  So I also threw a birthday party for my baby girl.  Princess-themed and full of pink.  Ariel Barbie;  floral, canopied baby bed; My Little Ponies--with accessories; and, of course, hair bows and more hair bows!

So, it with this exhausting but wonderful week behind me that I return to you.  I missed you guys!  Hopefully, my children will allow me the time to make the blog rounds today...We'll see.

I nearly forgot!  A complete book outline came to me while I was in Nashville.  Remember my great-grandmother?  Well, I wasn't going to delve into that subject, but it was mentioned to me that my aunt read the "Irreverence" post, as well as Dez's comment about taking it on as an MS...And it sort of sparked something in my brain.  Next thing I new, a complete outline was lying before me on paper!  And here's the kicker: I don't outline!  So, here goes...!!
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