Friday, June 29, 2012

Going Crazy with the Mad Protagonist

The WIP has reached that place called by Blake Snyder the Dark Night of the Soul, which (according to my reading of Save the Cat) should show up on page 205 or so of a three hundred page novel. What this means for Carina Nebula, the valiant escapee from the psychiatric hospital who has come back to Housel's Creek to clear her name and destroy her evil brother, is that she has to get sick again.


Depressing. But that's the whole idea, right? I've been researching various kinds of crazy, and talking to my psychiatric social worker friend, but the only way to get something credible on paper is from the inside.

One of the things the writers don't usually tell you is that they play all the characters in their books, even the nastiest characters, even the sickest. Another is that the best comedy is separated from horror by the merest hair. So I've got to write this chapter now, and it's going to make me a little strange. When I finish, though, I'll have something killingly funny.

Or maybe just killing.

I'll get back to you next week. I think.

Kate Gallison

*Photo by Melanie Orenius,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Crime without a Name

Eight of the Ten Commandments enjoin us not to do certain things: make graven images, covet our neighbors goods, steal, kill.  We have names for the sins of breaking those eight: idolatry, murder, theft, adultery. Deadly sins--envy, slander.  Strictly speaking, only some of these taboos are universal enough to make it into the legal definition of a crime here in the USA.  (Some are proscribed by law in other societies, but not since the Salem witch trials have we had to pay with our lives for blasphemy.  I am glad of that!)

There are two positive Commandments:  they instruct us to take specific actions.  But the transgressions against those two don't, as far as I know, have names.  For now I will leave the fourth Commandment alone.  Keeping holy the Lords Day is not my issue today.  I want to talk about the fifth: Honor thy father and thy mother.   

Over the past few years, I have encountered criminal behavior on the part of children in this regard.  Well, maybe not actionable by a District Attorney, but in the figurative sense.  The behavior of these people is BAD.

We are not talking here about adolescents.  We all know what they are likely to do—at least in our culture.  Most of the guff teenagers dish out is expected; if we are honest, we did it ourselves.  I know I did.  Puberty is a period of temporary insanity.  But “temporary” is supposed to be the operant word here.

These criminals of which I speak are not of that age group.  They are in their thirties and forties, one approaching fifty.  They are not mentally impaired, the victims of child abuse, or uneducated.  One is a physician.  Another a business executive.  Another a social worker!!

These are people whose parents raised them with care and affection—gave them lovely homes, educated them, went to their school events and tennis matches, paid their tuition, in one case through medical school.  Some of them were supported and are still being supported into their adult lives.  Need your child taken care of after school?  Grandmother will do it.  Take your dog to the vet?  Sure.  Then, suddenly, they cut their parents off completely—will not speak to them, will not see them, will not let them see their grandchildren.  They don’t send a Christmas card.  Or visit them when they are sick.

One set of parents, getting on years, have taken the precaution of finding  a lawyer who will act as power of attorney for them if one of them should die and the other find him or herself with no one to look after their interests.  Another pair have left their home and moved to a faraway state in the hopes of lessening the acute pain they feel over being eliminated from their child’s life.  It isn’t working.  They weep still.

The three guilty offspring that I have known since childhood are not the only transgressors.   An acquaintance has a daughter who takes her mother’s money to support herself but will communicate with her only through an attorney.  A lawyer friend told me of a client who has had a stroke and can no longer pay his adult child’s bills.  She abandoned him.  I wonder if she will show up when the will is read.

Crime writers understand that criminals do not see themselves as bad.  Evil doers can rationalize even their most brutal behavior.  Undoubtedly these little snots all think they have reasons to despise their progenitors.

The Fifth Commandment does not, however, give them any leeway.  Honor thy father and thy mother, it says.  There is no phrase following letting you off the hook if you think your mother didn’t bake you brownies or your father never took you fishing.  There are NO ifs.  Honor them.  Period.

A possible name for this crime is Serpent’s Tooth Syndrome.  Whatever we call it is a crying shame, and I have a strong feeling it is not limited to my broken-hearted friends.

“How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!” 

Annamaria Alfieri 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moving With Books

Don’t. Leave them behind. Sell them. Give them away. But don’t move with them. Especially don’t ask your friends and relatives to help you move them. That is, if you want to continue to have friends and relatives. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life as a hermit. (Of course, you could get a lot of reading done.)

If you insist on moving with books, do it yourself. The whole operation — packing the boxes, loading the boxes in the van, unloading the boxes from the van, unpacking the boxes, putting the books on the shelves. That is the only safe way to avoid being shunned, dropped, avoided, sued for back injuries, etc.

Recently we closed up our New York apartment and moved all our stuff to Philadelphia. I don’t know how we managed to crowd so much stuff into two rooms. Of course, the “stuff” was mostly MY books. Five bookcases full. I put a lot down in the Laundry Room for anyone to take. But that didn’t even make a dent in the amount. We still have to make one more car trip back to New York to collect the BIG books — the ones that wouldn’t fit in the boxes.

Now the Philadelphia house resembles a book warehouse, because it was full of books before we moved the new ones in. I can barely squeeze between the boxes to reach our bed. And I don’t know how much longer I can sleep with a box of books for a pillow. It will take us weeks to unpack and get things back to normal. Normal? What’s that? Oh, yeah, taking books out of the library and then returning them.

I could open a used bookstore tomorrow, if I so desired. The trouble is — I’d rather read than sell them. My fate is sealed. I’m an incurable bookaholic.

Future generations won’t have this problem. When they move, they’ll just tuck their Kindle or Nook or Whatever, under their arm and their library will be ready to go on moving day. They won’t even have to dust their precious volumes.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, June 24, 2012


We had the first of the scorcher days of August a bit early this past week, so at midnight as I sat at my computer in my work alcove on the top floor of my historic rowhouse where the bedrooms are, I couldn’t escape a chill, hearing faint scratching outside the screened window that looks out over the garden. I have a non-working clock hung on the wall in front of me whose face depicts Edgar Allen Poe at HIS desk, quill pen in hand, as a bird (raven, I presume) swoops down at his head. Me, I don’t fear ravens, it’s the bats I keep a weather eye out for.

Since moving into this homestead in Downtown Albany four years ago, I have single-handedly captured and expelled nine bats. They come on sweltering nights, and never before midnight, I swear. I hear the scratching for not quite a full minute, then feel the air disturbed by his passage above my head as I sit at my desk composing. I say “his” but don’t really know bat sex. It’s always just one bat; and he always takes the same flight path: from the corner by the window straight down the darkened hallway to its end by the bedroom door, which, as fate would have it, is always closed, for the sake of a/c in summer and heat in winter. A woman friend wasn’t so lucky, two bats entered her bedroom and did aerial loops till she was awakened by the flapping of their wings. She couldn’t tell the medicos with certainty that she had not been bitten so she underwent a series of rabie shots. Scary? You bet, but I’m not (so long as they stay out of our bedroom).

I have not been hesitant to speak of my prowess in capturing bats; in fact, one neighbor consulted me on my technique. I’m a dustmop man, I explained, knock ‘em down then throw a towel over the stunned creature, then fling him out the window or the front door, easiey-peasey. Lucky thing, the bat is more afraid of me than vice versa. He’s one remarkable bird (he’s a bird, right?); his sonar prolongs our match for some minutes till I can tire him, then fell him. He’ll fly right at my face, then veer away before collision (I don’t think he’s aiming) He never makes a sound. Except for once, early on, when I was a novice at this, and having felled him, but without towel, I held him fast to the floor with the handle of the mop, hearing tiny squeaks as he died. That was my first bat, and out-of-character since I discovered him on our mid- or parlor floor. I thought he was a swallow till he alighted on the ceiling and hung upside down from a cornice.

After the ninth bat last year, I threw in the towel and called in the pros, Bat Control of Greater New York. Two young fellows showed up with ladders and rock-climbing gear. First, they plugged up all the holes in the attic, then rappelled down the back of the house to check for entry points, finally setting a trap in the attic that let out any bat inside while barring reentry. Apparently, bats in the attic were suffering like us from the insufferable heat, and dropped down to my cooler work space; bats can fold themselves up to get through the smallest openings. On occasion, the bat would be taken out by the oscillating ceiling fan over my desk.

August is Bat Month in my house. As I compose in the dark of night in my alcove, I’ll think of Fearless Poe in my clock, but retire before midnight, just to be on the safe side.

Robert Knightly

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Marshall House

The Marshall House
What I do on weekends is serve as a docent at the Marshall House, which is the childhood home of James Wilson Marshall, the first person to discover gold in California. The house is a museum now. People stop in, tourists and locals too, between one and four on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. When they show up I say, "Welcome to the Marshall House," and spin stories about Mr. Marshall, the gold rush, the house, which was used as a convent for many years by St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, and the valiant Mrs. Alice Narducci, who saved it from destruction when the church had no more use for it.

On days when nobody stops in I go mad with boredom.

The Parlor
"I'm glad you came by," I said to a young girl and her father on Sunday. "I was going mad with boredom." In fact I had gone so far as to boot up the Historical Society computer and play a couple of games of spider solitaire. Before that I swept the plaster crumbs out of the hall where the water is getting in through the bricks and rotting it out, and before that I read some of the Historical Society's books on local history, and before that I took a picture of the parlor.

As they were getting ready to leave the girl said, "You're English, aren't you?"

"Nope. I'm American. I was born in Philadelphia."

"But you speak as if you were English. 'Mad with boredom.'"

"Ah. That. I'm a writer," I said.

It seems to explain a lot when I tell people I'm a writer. I can get away with all kinds of things.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

“We will fight them…”

This is another story from the Pink Collar Wars, the fight for women’s job equality in the 1960’s and 70’s.  It is also a tribute to Doris Travis, my absolute favorite ally in that effort.  Doris turned 80 earlier this year.  We have been friends for more than half of her life, but when we met, everyone around us predicted that we would never get along.

Doris on the 25th anniversary of her
coming to New York
It was 1969.  I was a junior officer in the Personnel Department of the Bankers Trust Company—a prestigious Wall Street bank.  Fresh from helping to institute the bank’s affirmative action program for minorities, I focused my statistical analyses on the position of women.  The picture that emerged was abysmal: if one drew a line at a salary of $15,000 per year, 85% of the women in the bank were below the line and 85% of the men were above it—many men substantially so.  The closer one looked, the uglier the picture became.  I vowed to use the strategy that my colleagues and I had recently employed with our efforts on behalf of minorities.  That meant beginning with a pitch to the Chairman of the Board.

The Bankers
Trust building
at 16 Wall St.
My higher ups in what would now be called Human Resources were not at all supportive, but they were unwilling to openly oppose the idea.  Instead, they decided to throw me to the lions.  The lioness they had in mind was Doris Travis. HA!  Little did they know!

They told me I would have to make my own appointment with the Chairman and to do that I had to begin with Miss Travis, the Chairman’s administrative assistant.  “She will not be sympathetic,” the department head said.  “She’s no bra burner;” my boss actually smirked.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, I thought.  The WWII image turned out to the prophetic.

Not without some trepidation, I dialed her extension.  A woman with an elegant, clipped British accent answered and to my glee gave me no nonsense and an appointment within a few days.  My management raised their eyebrows and must have thought I would return headless.

On the appointed day, I dressed in my most feminine business outfit—a flower-print number with a lot of pink—playing against type and presented myself to Doris Travis ten minutes before my scheduled appointment.

I found a tall, lovely woman with a beautiful smile.  “I am so glad someone is FINALLY addressing this important issue,” she said.  She was all business: making sure I had everything I needed, cluing me in on how best to approach my subject.  A couple of minutes to zero hour, she took me into the women’s room.  “What else can I do to be helpful?” she asked.  “Do you have a handkerchief?”

When she was sure I was all set, she put on a wonderful imitation of Winston Churchill: “We will fight them in branches, we will fight them in Trust Department…”

What a woman!  What a comrade in arms!
I later learned that Doris is Jewish and had endured the terror of growing up in London during the Blitz.  She came through that misery full of spirit and wit and with a delightful sense of fun.  We have been close friends since we met.

And in those banking battles we fought side by side—WE WON!

Annamaria Alfieri 


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sherlock Birthday Party: Pictures

Here are some photos from the Sherlock Holmes party I described in my post of the week before last.


Preparing the clues: Diana Dander, Sarah Sahara, and Farmer Fred.

Detective team led by Sherlock puzzling over clues.

Lots of crime tape for decorations.

Africa! The game's afoot!

Many of the kids said it was the "best party they had ever been to!"
Robin Hathaway

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Literary J.T. Pudding

Inspiration for this title came from two places:

  1. While reading a terrific thriller by J.T. Ellison called A Deeper Darkness
  2. After reading about the many delicious recipes and meals described by the charming Jungle Red bloggers.

The weather outside was climbing to the mid-80s. In the middle of a critical juncture of my WIP, Smoke Screen, I needed a quick, nutritious bite to eat.

Considering time and weather, and stirring in the fact that I'm a lady who avoids HARD CORE COOKING whenever possible, I checked the fridge and pulled out this assortment:

A dab of left-over cold oatmeal with apples, made from one of those little paper packets.
Pristine container of ricotta.
Unblemished, picture-perfect banana.

Added vanilla extract, cinnamon, powdered ginger, and one lone Splenda.

Mixed sloppily with a sterling silver spoon.

Since J.T's new book lay beside the dish and me on the table, I thought it would be fun to dedicate the dish to my fellow thriller writer from Nashville, Tennessee.

J.T. and I have roots in Tennessee; she resides in Nashville and I lived in Sewanee for ten years and my maternal kinfolk all came from Knoxville. (And everyone knows how those Southern roots are!)

If that wasn't enough to bond, she and I both graduated from a college in Lynchburg, Virginia called Randolph-Macon.

I've been following this writer's progress since her first book came out.

I realized soon that she has "the gift."

She keeps my nose in the book long past bedtime.

Can we give a writer louder praise!!!

So, dear friends, try the J.T. Pudding.

And run, don't meander, to your corner bookshop to get your copy of A Deeper Darkness!!!

P.S. Although I've never met her, I naturally like J.T. Ellison – you see, one of my best friends at the above-named college was also named J.T., who became a Chemistry Professor at our college, then served for many years as Dean at Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

T.J. ( not J.T. ) Straw

Friday, June 15, 2012

Don't call me, I'll call you

My telephone rang this afternoon, and when I picked it up a woman with a thick East Indian accent identified herself by name, called me by name and asked me if I were the person with the computer. "Which computer?" I said. We have a few of them in the house, most cobbled together out of discarded parts. Harold runs Unix on one of those, just to see what might happen. Another one is his normal workaday desktop, where he can often be found putting texts into HTML or playing spider solitaire.

I do my writing and Facebooking on a MacBook, the replacement for the one I spilled a glass of water on a couple of years ago. Son John is visiting, and he has a tiny little pink laptop, which he painted over with a fierce death's head to keep it from looking effeminate.

"The one running Windows 7," the woman said.

Ah. She meant the new Dell tower I bought last week to make movies on. Seven years ago I fixed myself up with a nice Dell, big monitor, good sound, and a copy of Pinnacle editing software. I made two book trailers with it, among other things, and I found that film editing is a truly engrossing occupation, more fun in its way than writing. But the motherboard died, worked to death, no doubt, and I bought a replacement for it, with a slightly hotter Intel processor and Windows 7. So I told her, "That would be me."

"I'm calling to say that a virus has entered your computer and very destructive malware is downloading right now."

"Mercy me. How terrible. Why, that's just shocking."

Oblivious to the heavy sarcasm in my voice, because she was, after all, of another culture, and it's hard to read sarcasm in people of other cultures, she went on:

"Yes, and it must be fixed right away. Please go to your computer right now and follow my instructions."

"Not a chance," I said. "Have a nice day," and I hung up on her. How did she get my name and number? I'm guessing there's a guy in the Dell mailroom making a little money on the side by selling the names and numbers of potential goats to scammers in Calcutta. Harold, sitting at his own computer, looked the scenario up on the internet and confirmed that it was a known scam.

I'm not even mad at her, mostly because I saw her coming a mile off and that makes me feel unusually smart. Also because I entertained myself for the rest of the day by thinking up smart remarks I might have made to her. Rudeness can be really delicious for a person who has tried to be polite all her life.

I may be turning into one of those old ladies who enjoys being rude. I expect to have a lot of fun.

Kate Gallison

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sounds That Once Set My Heart Racing…

…now set my teeth grinding. For example:

The Ice Cream Cart Jingle
When I was a child and heard that tune, I would rush out with my nickel or dime full of anticipation. Today, that repetitive melody sends me rushing to shut the windows and a desire to hire a sniper to pick off the driver.

Fire Engine Sirens…
…used to send me racing to the window to see if there was smoke on our street. If there was, I would run out to join in the excitement. Now I plug up my ears until the noise dies away and I can go about my business.

A Telephone Ringing…
…once had me tearing to the phone to answer it. Maybe it was a girlfriend, or even--a BOYFRIEND! Now the sound merely irritates me. I know it will be either a telemarketer or someone asking for a donation to some cause I have no interest in, or, worse yet, someone doing a survey.

The Thump of the Mail Hitting the Floor of the Vestibule…
…would bring me panting to see if that boy I met at summer camp had finally written to me. Or, when I was younger, if Grandma had sent a present or a card with a dollar bill enclosed. Today I know the mail will be nothing but bills, advertisements, and catalogs selling wart-removal ointment, back braces, and lotions to prevent receding hair.

The Clink and Clank of Pots and Pans in the Kitchen…
…once signaled my grandmother was baking cookies or my mother was preparing a delicious dinner. Now it’s probably the cat threading her way through the pots on the stove looking for a stray morsel or my husband making a pot of fresh coffee.

A Shrill Whistle…
…from a boy wearing a Phillies baseball cap and had a chip out of his front tooth, would send me careening onto the sidewalk to play stick ball, roller skate, or dig fox holes in the back woods. Today that same whistle would send me to the sidewalk again, to see how that cute guy turned out.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lying Defendants and their Lawyers

In the Albany County Criminal Court the other day, a drama played out that essentially justified Shakespeare’s advice: Kill All the Lawyers. It was the sentencing of a defendant who had been convicted after a jury trial of raping and sodomizing a young woman he’d picked up in a bar. She woke up later, covered in her own blood, in a bathroom in his house, with a fragmented memory of the night. The jury didn’t buy his story of a consensual sexual encounter (confirming my faith generally in the good sense of juries). The judge sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison and 15 years of post-release supervision (parole, in effect).

What caught my attention here – as a lawyer who has tried many felony cases to juries, but never a sexual assault – was how the defense lawyer conducted himself in characterizing the female victim. CONSENT is the usual defense in this type of date-rape case – a claim so routine and clich├ęd that I would be shamed to stoop to dwell on it, to espouse it to a jury except in the rarest of circumstances. (Attack the Victim, in the parlance of the trade). But the defense lawyer in this case had no such qualms. In his opening statement to the jury he promised: “The evidence is going to show that the sex was not just consensual – she wanted it. She asked for it. She was awake for it. She encouraged it. She moaned for it.” For Chrissakes! The lawyer continued in this vein during his cross-examination of the woman.

Interviewed outside the courtroom after the sentencing, she spoke plainly: “I will never forget the sickness I felt in my stomach as he asked me about an invented sexual encounter with the rapist sitting at the defense table,” she said. “The sickness I felt then was similar to how horribly violated I felt the night I was attacked. It was disgusting.”

The Judge’s take on the Consent Defense? “I’m in my mid-60s,” he said in pronouncing sentence. “Other than reading the Marquis de Sade in college, I don’t recall ever hearing of injuries of this type being caused by consensual sex. That was not consensual sex!”

The lawyer responded that his oath requires that he defend his client zealously.

Yeah, right. Makes me think about switching sides.

Robert Knightly

Friday, June 8, 2012

Still Putting Off the WIP, Creatively

Last week when I boasted to you all about my new landless gardening efforts I wanted to show you the actual garden. Alas! my old camera, one of those flat little guys you can put in your back pocket, was malfunctioning. My phone, while it does take pictures, won't email them, but sends them only to other phones. And so I was reduced to stealing images from other people's sites for my container garden piece.

What I took away from this experience was that we needed a new camera.

Being a child of the twenty-first century (or an old lady of the twenty-first century) I went at once to the internet to see what we would like that we could afford. Hurrah! Amazon was offering a Canon PowerShot SX130IS for $159.00, which came to $200 after adding a 32 gigabite flash memory card, an eight-pack of rechargeable nickel-cadmium AA batteries, and a case. (I should also get a lens cap, I think.) This was exactly what I made on Tuesday by working at the polls from 5:15 in the morning until 8:15 at night; as soon as I get the money from the county I'll turn it over to Amazon. But I have the wonderful camera in hand and now I'm in business.

First I took some pictures of my actual container garden.

Then Harold and I went downtown for a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. We stopped in Karen's, AKA Ennis's, on Union Street. The day was so fine that she had the door propped open, inviting the breezes. As we were sitting there a dragonfly the size of a small helicopter came in, buzzed around, and flew back into the window, where it got stuck. The creature had a wingspan of seven or eight inches, too big for that maneuver one does with the paper cup and the cardboard to save it and let it out.

All I could think to do was to take a movie of it with the camera. I would show you how amazing the telephoto lens is (of course I used the long lens. What, you thought I would get close to a terrifying bug?) but it turns out that the camera consumes so much battery life that the batteries die before you can finish uploading a movie to YouTube. So you'll just have to imagine a fantastic movie featuring a huge bug. In case I want to do that again I'm getting a power cord for the camera. It clearly needs a power cord for downloading and uploading.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get back to work on my book.

Kate Gallison

Monday, June 4, 2012

Knowing Thyself at Nine

My grandson, Luke, was nine last month. His mother asked him what theme he would like for his birthday party. He quickly said, “Sherlock Holmes.” (I like to think I had some influence there.)

“Fine,” said his mother, and promptly found him a pipe and a magnifying glass. But I provided the topper. I remembered a Deerstalker hat from some long ago Halloween, and after a brief search I found it on the floor of a closet. A bit dusty and moth-eaten but I brushed it off and sent it to Virginia via priority mail.

According to my sources, Luke put the hat on his head the minute it arrived and wore it until bedtime. When his mother insisted he take it off until the next day, Luke said, “It fits me perfectly.”

At that point, his father came in the room and said, “I thought it was a little big.”

“No, no. I don’t mean the size! I mean my personality.”

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guys Who Do Lunch . . .

By Thelma Straw

Recently POTUS invited Mike to copter down to Foggy Bottom for a cozy a deux at the 1600 Mansion. No mention has leaked as to what the menu was, but I'll eat my hat if the main course was not broiled F.P. (Future Plans)

On both sides.

This wasn't Bam-Bam's first attempt to woo Mike. There have been those cozy golfs a deux on the Vineyard.

But the setting IS cozier in the Residence. And N-6 draws nigh. . .

Unnamed sources told us the date of this lunch did not appear on the public schedule of either guy. That in itself is a loud signal. For both the West Wing and City Hall to Purposely and Studiously ignore such an event between these principals makes the little grey cells jiggle.

Takes two to tango big ideas.

What were they up to? Two of the most Humongous Brain Banks on the planet!

o A new cabinet post on Immigration? Starvation?
o National sheriff of calories and ratings?
o Liaison between the continental US and Putinistan?

Or maybe the topics were more mundane.

o How to win over Diane Taylor's vote
o Dealing with Daughterly Dating
o A job rec if N-6 fizzles
o Did Mike reallyreally tell Rupert Bam was an Arrogant SOB?
o What's the slam dunk way to become a billionaire

The mind boggles.

Maybe POTUS wants to stay in good with Mike in case His Honor decides to run for the WH after he vacates GM.

Or maybe POTUS wants to emulate HRC and run in NY after his second term.

Anything could happen.

Stay tuned...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Yardless Gardening

I plunged into a new craze this week after seeing a lady on TV explaining how to do container gardening. I can do that, I said to myself. Even I, although I have not a square inch of dirt to work with nor any plot of ground to call my own. I can put big flower pots on the sidewalk in front of the house. They can be as artistic as I like. Then I can stuff them with potting soil and growing plants, in the hope that as the summer progresses I won't kill them.

This being Lambertville, I had my secret sources for the various elements of this project. It began with a glorious Mandevilla that I picked up at the Giant Foods in New Hope. It had a small trellis in its plastic pot, but it was begging to be put in a handsome container and trained up a string onto the porch. So off I went to the Homestead Market on North Main Street. There I found some pretty pots glazed in various colors, quite inexpensive at thirty or forty dollars apiece. (The TV lady said they would cost about a hundred.) So I bought three. Having dragged them home, I went across the river to New Hope and wandered around the Living Earth at 234 West Bridge Street, looking for company for the Mandevilla, falling in love with one plant after another.

They had some gorgeous things there. I saw a long table of handsome plants with a sign on it promising that the deer wouldn't eat them. Not a problem for us, but folks on the outskirts of town have trouble with deer. I saw all kinds of beautiful flowers I'd never heard of, plants with pale green foliage and feathery pink spikes, plants with bright round blossoms in impossibly bright colors, plants in the sunlight, plants in the shade. Then I saw a healthy rosemary bush a foot and a half high, pungent with sticky resin. Suddenly I realized that I'd loved it all my life. And if rosemary, why not lavender? And creeping thyme. I didn't have to make a gaudy garden to impress the TV lady, in the unlikely event that she ever came through Lambertville and eyeballed my containers. I could fill my garden with things I've loved forever. It turned out to be one of those moments when you remember who you really are.

You may ask, what does all this have to do with crime writing? Here's what. After your pencils are all sharpened, your software updated, your itchy places scratched, and the lighting in your office adjusted just so, gardening is an elegant way to put off writing.

Kate Gallison