Thursday, November 29, 2012

Miracle on 44th Street?

No, even though it is almost December and trees are lit up all over Manhattan, this post is not about a little girl and a Santa-impersonator.  Even though I am a crime writer, I would not want to know about the sort of crime story that could lead could lead to.

This is about a mysterious sighting last evening.  At a few minutes before six, I had just turned the corner from Fifth Avenue onto Forty-fourth Street when I saw this:

Plenty of people were rushing past, east to Grand Central Station or west to the Theater District, but it was obvious that none of them had any connection whatsoever with the crutches abandoned there.

I walked another three steps and then I thought: I have just witnessed evidence of a miracle.  I could picture the former owner dropping them, taking a few steps and saying, "I can walk!"

(Fans of Downton Abbey will see Matthew Crawley recovering from his WWI injuries.)

After whipping out my phone and taking this picture, continuing on my way to dinner, I began my typical crime writer's fantasizing about what those abandoned instruments might mean if they were in a murder mystery.

Here's the challenge, mystery writers and readers out there: if it were your story in which this scene appeared, what would it mean to the solving the crime?  Please write us a scenario.

Annamaria Alfieri 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Better Late Than Never: Dancer In The Flames

I met Stephen Solomita at an MWA dinner 20-plus years ago. I struck up a conversation, having read his first novel, A Twist of the Knife, with the inimitable NYPD Det. Sgt. Stanley Moodrow. Steve had driven taxicabs on the streets of NYC that he described so lovingly. Then I discovered that we were neighbors in Stuyvesant Town, the middle-class project bordering East 14th Street, First Avenue to the East River, to E. 23rd St. We kept talking and I kept reading his books: 21 novels under the Solomita name and David Cray pseudonym. As he says, “I’ve written a series, stand alones, buddy books and three out of my last four books have had three distinct protagonists per book.” I don’t know any writer the equal of Solomita in creating so many memorable characters to drive his novels. You can’t go wrong by starting with A Twist of the Knife, KeepLock, Bad Lawyer or his newest, Dancer In the Flames, whose genesis he describes next.

— Robert Knightly

For the most part, I write by the seat of my pants. An idea emerges from the inner depths, usually limited to a premise and couple of major characters, and off I go. Mostly, it works out. When it doesn’t, I discard the material, no matter how far along I’ve come. In fact, in order to avoid the near occasions of sin, I delete the files and recycle the hard copy.

Dancer in the Flames (to be published later this year in the U.K. and early next year in the U.S.) found its way into print by a more circuitous route. The work began more than ten years ago as a short story. A New York City detective, Boots Littlewood, interrogates a bookie in the death of the bookie’s sister as they watch the end of a Yankee-Red Sox baseball game in the bookie’s living room. The detective is a fanatical Yankees fan who bets on the games. The bookie, Frankie Drago, who takes his bets, has been a friend since high school.

I never made any great attempt to publish the story and it sat in a drawer for many months while I worked on another project. But it never entirely vanished. Boot’s quirkiness continued to appeal, even months later. Though utterly absorbed in the close, back-and-forth game – The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are ancient enemies – Boots remains a professional. The game’s tension becomes a weapon he uses to ratchet up the pressure on the hopelessly outmatched Frankie Drago.

Eventually, I returned to the short story and added several chapters. Enough to form the beginnings of a novel, enough to be certain that something was missing. I might have chucked the whole project at that point, but I remained intrigued by my detective. Boots is a model of inconsistency. A detective third grade who labors in an obscure precinct, he believes only that, on this little patch of ground, he might be able to improve the lives of his friends and neighbors. At the same time, he protects the bookie who takes his bets. Yet even here, he’s inconsistent. Boots is willing to overlook Frankie’s bookmaking activities, because it’s in his interests to do so, but he won’t overlook a homicide. The dead must be avenged.

For a second time, Boots and his adventures went into a drawer and I continued on to other projects. Then, perhaps a year later, I happened to watch an American skier named Pikabo Street race in the 2002 Olympics. Specifically, I watched her fly down a nearly vertical slope on a pair of sticks at 70 miles, or 122.6 kilometers, per hour. A gold medal winner in the 1998 Olympics, Ms. Street finished 16th in the 2002 downhill. That’s because she’d torn a ligament and snapped her left femur in two when she came off those sticks in a prior competition.

Not being the brightest star in anyone’s firmament, it only then occurred to me that women participate in all of those danger-junkie activities we generally associate with men, from extreme snowboarding to assaults on Annapurna. But what moved them? I didn’t think they were very much like the women I knew, any more than I was like the men who engage in similar pursuits. Not only couldn’t I imagine myself emulating Pikabo Street, I couldn’t imagine myself standing at the top of the slope without becoming dizzy. For me, making an illegal left turn at five o’clock on a Sunday morning is as risky as it gets.

Male or female, these adrenaline junkies weren’t primarily inspired by money. Of this I was sure. Too many amateurs and too many pursuits, like rock climbing, without a monetary payoff. No, what these risky pursuits had in common was risk. Not the simulated risk associated with roller coasters, but a real possibility that you won’t come through in one piece, or at all. How many times can you challenge fate before you end up in a wheel chair with a ventilator tube protruding from a hole in your throat? Or in a closed coffin?

Being a mystery author, it didn’t take long before I put my risk-taking woman in a police uniform. I wrote six short stories about a cop named Jill Kelly. Dubbed Crazy Jill by her admiring colleagues, she works the streets of a small, fictional city. Two of these stories were published, the first in a defunct online magazine and the second in the anthology Queens Noir, which is still in print. A third story, Crazy Jill Fights Her Duel, recounts the incident that led her peers to pronounce her crazy. It’s available on my website,

Jill Kelly possesses a finely-honed skill, like most thrill seekers. A veteran of shooting competitions, including fast draw contests, she only missed qualifying for the Olympics by a hair. She takes this skill to the mean streets in search of the very confrontations most cops dread. When the shooting begins, unlike her panicked colleagues, Jill remains calm, focused and deadly. While others dive for cover, she runs toward the threat, only waiting for the shooter to show himself.

I don’t know why it took me so long to put Crazy Jill and Boots Littlewood together, but when I finally did, Dancer in the Flames wrote itself. Conservative Boots, who still lives in his childhood home, a two-family house owned by his father, and who regularly attends services at a local parish church. Crazy Jill Kelly, who’s tied only to the moment, and who tells Boots, “As far as I’m concerned, the examined life’s not worth living.” These two are thrown together by the powers that be, including Jill’s uncle, the NYPD’s Chief of Detectives. Whether either will survive is an open question.

Steven Solomita

Stephen Solomita has been writing novels for so long now that he has difficulty remembering a life before he began pounding a keyboard. He has vague memories of growing up in Bayside, a community located at the outermost reaches of New York City in the borough of Queens. His published works are legion.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Thanksgiving: Two Icons of American Culture

I am grateful for (among many other things):


What I did yesterday instead of writing a blog.



Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, November 18, 2012

DeMille's PANTHER Knocks It out of the Park

Imagine a scene near the temple ruins not far from Marib in Yemen. Bulus ibn al-Darwish (his Al Qaeda nom de guerre is al-Numair – The Panther) wearing a ceremonial jambiyah, the curved dagger of Yemen – butchers a bunch of Belgian tourists.

He yells at the bodies, "You have learned that in Yemen death comes!"

Fade to NYC, where smart-mouth John Corey, ex-NYPD, currently on New York's Anti-Terrorist Task Force, takes center stage.

And his mouth does not stop for 625 tense pages!

Remember that curved dagger…

John and his FBI wife Kate are assigned to Yemen, to hunt down the bad guys who bombed the USS Cole in 2000. John knows that everyone who journeys to Yemen doesn't come back!

John and Kate arrive in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. We can smell the danger…

They are met by another spook, a guy we've met before, the hero of The General's Daughter and Up Country, Paul Brenner, now with the Diplomatic Security Service. Paul is one of the few good guys in this tale, in a desert filled with black hats in every cave, on every camel.

The author and I both revel in writing about psychopathic villains who are bigger than life. The Panther has traits we've met in other DeMille thrillers – the killer in The General's Daughter, the sadistic cop in Spencerville, the slimeball vintner in Plum Island, the mass murderer in The Lion's Game and The Lion, the weird oil tycoon in Wild Fire. Even that likable Mafia guy in The Gold Coast.

My theory is that John Corey existed way before his appearance in Plum Island. I saw shades of Corey in other books: as Keith Landry in Spencerville. And John Sutter of The Gold Coast was a John Corey type, in some ways. And Paul Brenner in his earlier roles could have been a twin of John Corey.

None of these appearances detract from the current power of Corey and his ability to keep on center stage for six major novels!

I see him as a kind of Everyman, who began early in the author's career, a man who has a smart mouth habit, yet has a lot of depth and compassion – and even a tender side - and wears very well – for years and years and book after book after book.

His fans love him and accept him as he is – and want to move with him into his future.

I'd like to see a woman take a stronger role in John's life – perhaps a female villain!

Maybe another place on the planet that has the same authenticity of upstate New York, Long Island, Ohio.

American readers are devoted and loyal to their home turfs. Could the gold coast move to the gulf coast? Could John and Kate get assigned to a small town in Texas?

The sites of Yemen and Vietnam were very authentic and carefully researched. But the home turf hits the reader in the gut.

As I came to Page 625, and slowly closed The Panther, very satisfied with the just ending (and you will be too!) I felt, that as exciting and nail-biting as this book is, the prize still goes to the author for his finale that has no equal – in Night Fall!

His finest literary hour in all 17 novels!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

P.S. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave us a comment…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sandy Blasted, a Photo Essay

Whole Foods in Union Square was packed with people as Sandy approached.

After the storm barreled through, the streets of
blacked-out Lower Manhattan were deserted,
All stores, restaurants, etc. were closed.

Above 42nd Street, where the lights did not go out,
it was business as usual.  A refugee from downtown
could eat a gorgeous meal, if she was willing to walk
three and half miles each way to get to it.

Power companies from all along the Eastern seaboard sent their employees
to help New York get its citizens back into the 21st Century.  The visiting
 workers marshaled in Union Square.

The National Guard came to help, too.  All along Park Avenue, one could
see military vehicles, many painted in desert camouflage and guardsmen in

Though the power was off for almost a full week, five hours after it
 came back on, the first store to open in our area  was the venerable
 and  incomparable Strand Bookstore--at 9 AM on a Sunday morning.

With the Sanitation Department stretched to its limit trying to clean up in
 devastated neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten island, the city
stopped picking up recyclables until further notice.  As of November 15th, they are still piling up. 
By Tuesday, November 13th, life was so back to normal, that four stalwart
mystery writers along with their moderator were able to present a panel
at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library.  Let to Right:
Julia Pomeroy, Jon McGoran, Lucy Burdette, Dirk Robertson, and your reporter.
 Annamaria Alfieri

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Day Job

Today we give you Alan Gordon whose books have made be laugh out loud and kept me riveted with their suspense.  Alan is a fellow historical mystery writer who is kind as well as immensely entertaining. He is the author of several mysteries the first of which is based on the characters from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.   He lives in New York City and is a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.  Here he is to tell you about the balance between his two lives.

Annamaria Alfieri

 There are writers who make a full-time living from writing. Then there are the rest of us. There are those who grab temp jobs and wait on tables and tend bar so that they can devote as much free time as possible to the next great work, and there are those of us who have a full-time career and write on the side.

I am a public defender with the Legal Aid Society in New York City. I’ve been doing it since 1984. And I write on the side. My first published story came out in 1991, my first mystery novel in 1999. I’m now up to eight published mystery novels and fifteen published stories scattered across different genres. [Then there are the musicals, but that’s another story entirely.]

Now, my output is dwarfed by quite a few people, but those people don’t handle seven to eight hundred criminal cases every year. And the question I most often get from my two worlds is how do I manage to do both? Followed up by, are you crazy? 

I would like to answer the questions in reverse order. Yes to the second. Writing is a compulsion. An addiction. It triggers endorphins and puts me into my happy place. When I approach the end of writing a novel, I tend to slow down, reluctant to leave the world I have created, to let go of the characters running around inside my head, doing such interesting and occasionally homicidal things to each other. When I have finished a project, I invariably experience something akin to post-partum depression, which can be cured by launching into the next project.

As for the how -- this is where the compulsiveness comes in handy. I try to write every day. The time of day has varied, usually according to my son’s sleeping and school hours. When he was small, I would write around nine at night. There was a sweet time when he was three when he insisted on going to sleep on the living room sofa while I typed away at my computer desk. I would pause when his breathing became regular and carry him to his bed, then come back and write until I was too tired. When he got older, he had to be out the door before 7:30 in the morning, and I had that hour to myself. In an hour, I could get two pages written. And nine months later, a book was born.

The day job is also conducive to research. Courts are inefficient. You spend hours sitting and waiting for a case to be called. While the hubbub does not let me get into a creative zone, it doesn’t prevent me from bringing along a book to read [say, a history of the vertical water-wheel, and yes, I own one], and a notebook to record facts, thoughts, and inspirations.

The other lawyers have come to tolerate these eccentricities, and respect, even envy, what I do. Scratch a lawyer, and you’ll often find a writer wannabe. [Actually, scratch a lawyer and he’ll sue your ass, so don’t do it.] There are a surprising number of lawyer/mystery authors. Most of them write about heroic mystery-solving lawyers.

I don’t write about lawyers, for the most part, and this is why I am able to do both. Writing, for me, is as much of an escape from the stresses of my daily life as reading is. As long as I have that happy, endorphin-ridden part of my brain to escape to, I can greet the dreck of the day job with equanimity. And the day job, which has its own spiritual rewards, also subsidizes the writing career. Each part of my life is unbalanced by itself, but together, they produce balance. A precarious balance, but balance nonetheless.

Would I quit the day job if the writing income suddenly took off? I honestly don’t know. My second published mystery, Jester Leaps In, was written during my only sabbatical from Legal Aid, which coincided with my wife going back to full-time work. I wrote six hours a day, picked up my son at the school bus stop, coached his Little League team, and finished the book in four months. It was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. But I missed the camaraderie of my colleagues and the daily challenges of criminal law. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Crime Writers!

It's been two years since we came together to produce these pages. We've learned a lot, we've revealed a lot, and now it's time to congratulate ourselves – Champagne, please! – and also to pull up our socks and get serious.

The Crime Writers' Chronicle is going to sharpen its focus now. We're all about crime writing and the crime writer's life, so you'll see more book reviews, more interviews and guest posts of people in the business, more travelogues (if any of us manage to get away), and more photo essays. I promise to stop posting about clothes and shoes.

It's a new era! Onward and upward! Watch this space. Let us know if you have requests.

Kate Gallison

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Helpless!! Or, The Price of a New Knee

On September 10, a Wednesday, I reported to St. Peter’s Hospital here in Albany for surgery to replace my right knee that had gotten very tired after 70 years of faithful service and was demanding to be put down. I remember feeling not much anxiety over the prospect, probably because I approach anxiety-producing events in my work life as a criminal lawyer by focusing, like an old horse wearing blinders, on just showing up on time, be it at Court or a hospital’s cutting room. Three hours later I woke up in a hospital bed, an IV tube taped to the back of my hand. What did I feel? Nothing, that I can remember, probably owing to the Oxycontin in the IV.

At times like this (flat on my back in a hospital bed) I immediately remark on whether I have company, other suite mates. This is a hangover from my years as a New York City Patrolman, I’ve no doubt, like in restaurants having to sit facing the front door. There were three of us. The fellow nearest the door (I assume a male although I never did see his corpus) was continually out of sight, enshrouded by those movable curtains around the bed. But we could hear him moaning until the day he was no more, curtains pulled back revealing a freshly made bed. Whether he had a miraculous recovery or moaned his last, I don’t know, never asked, in the conviction that too much knowledge can be bad for you. The other half of “we” was the old white guy in the bed across from mine, with a wife visiting daily. He looked like my picture of an Upstate farmer: a weather-lined face, big hands and ropey-muscled build. I don’t remember what he was in for, if I ever knew. What I do remember is our mutual hallucination.

It all started when I hobbled and careened off furniture this night to get to the bathroom. It had been the equivalent of receiving a Great Mitzvah from above to be able to get to the bathroom rather than have to pee in a bottle. I don’t know about you but the thought of being immobile in a hospital bed scares the beJesus out of me. This night, I made it to the bathroom eventually, but later started to slide down the wall behind me as I stood at the sink to wash my hands. The ultimate danger--- the height of ingratitude, I’d been warned by staff — would be to flop down on my spanking new knee. But collapse in a slow-motion slide to the floor on my ass couldn’t be that big a deal, I reasoned. Luckily, I could reach the ripcord on the wall next to the bowl and summoned help. Two big guys came pretty quick and hoisted me to my feet and shepherded me back to bed. Naturally, this event caused a lot of drama that attracted a crowd to our room.

The next day, my roommate shared with me, sotto voce, his take on what had transpired the night before. A big man with a gun had taken a shot at me while I lay on the bathroom floor, he informed me excitedly. I pondered that briefly before responding that the bullet had missed. As he was still tethered to his Oxycontin drip, I saw no point in appearing a know-it-all. Interestingly, about a month later when we were both home, he called me (we had exchanged numbers in that flowering of the bond that often forms between guys in miserable straits) and repeated the gunman story, adding the detail that I lay bleeding on the bathroom floor when the shot was fired. This time I did suggest that the source of his visions might be the Oxy drip. He sounded unconvinced so I let it go, appreciating how we all like to hold on to a good story. As for me, no visual hallucinations from Oxy. I merely knew and was tortured by the fact that I was both the Prosecutor and Defense Lawyer in a case where somebody’s life hung in the balance and I couldn’t prepare for trial the next day because I couldn’t stop watching reruns of Law & Order on my rented TV. As soon as I got off the Oxy, I got off the case.

There is one other thing of paramount importance to the hospitalized: Bowel Movements. Indelicate to bring up, perhaps, but the staff inform you that you can’t go home until you have one. Apparently, the anesthetic they pump you full of in the OR puts everything on hold. On the fourth day of my lying-in, I lost all inhibitions and asked the nurse for help. Actually, in my Post-Op state, I dispassionately noted, I had no inhibitions: couldn’t care less if whosis saw my whatsis, or whatever. The nurse performed heroically, and soon after delivering, I was out the door.

Robert Knightly

Friday, November 9, 2012

More Advice from Grandma Kate

…Unsolicited advice, too, I might add. But if you're sick of hearing about the weather right now you can come back and read this later, in the spring, maybe, when the birds are sweetly singing, the flowers blooming, the last hurricane a distant, ugly memory and the next one a cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man's hand. Just do one thing before you tune out. Make a list of the things you wished you had when things were darkest. Then go out and get them as soon as the stores restock.

Because we're going to get hit again, one way or the other. That's life. That's the grandma part of this advice. Most people are younger than I am, it occurs to me, and haven't been around long enough to realize that serious grief and privation can strike anyone at any time.

What can't you stand to be without? I'm thinking, clean water, good books, a flashlight and lots of batteries, a bathtub full of water and a bucket to flush the toilet if you have no tap water, wooly blankets and comforters in cold weather, and if you can manage it a nice warm bedfellow. You will have your own list, of course, but surely these things will be on it.

Everybody goes out the day before a storm and gets milk and toilet paper, they say, but you and I keep a backlog of toilet paper on hand anyway, right? Who waits until there's half a roll in the house before buying more? and the milk you stock will go sour without refrigeration. Unless it's shelf milk.

What I missed the most sorely besides light and heat was the gizmo I bought in Mississippi to plug into the USB port and connect my MacBook to the internet via 3G. I seem to have lost the @#$%^ thing. The first few days we were without power I went through every drawer and hidey hole in the house, flashlight in hand, looking for it. I was amazed at the things I found! But the gizmo was not one of them.

So make your own list, for future reference. An airline ticket to Bimini would be useful. A big generator. A generator big enough to save our bacon looks like it would cost five grand or so, and that's before the electrician gets paid to install it. I told Harold we could get one when I had a best-seller. You can help there. Buy a copy of Monkeystorm when it comes out, whenever that is, and you can come over to my house when there's a storm after the generator is installed. We'll all sit around the hot radiator having Vienna sausages and shelf milk.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Last March, Robin Hathaway urged everybody to sign up for NoirCon, the conference for writers of noir mysteries and their fans. Tomorrow is the first day of the conference – this is Noircon weekend – and in honor of that, we're reposting her thoughts on the festivities – Kate Gallison

It’s a chilly, rainy day here in Philadelphia, a fitting day to contemplate the Noir genre. Noir is not everyone’s cup of tea. But then, cups of tea are for the cozy readers. Noir is for the straight Scotch at one gulp readers. I have tried to write Noir novels, to no avail. The last time I tried, a reviewer wrote, “Hathaway’s latest novel can be safely read by your teenage niece or the country vicar.” Since then, I’ve given up on writing Noir, but that doesn’t prevent me from reading it and enjoying it, or — from attending Noir conventions, such as NoirCon 2012 in Philadelphia, November 8th to 11th.

Deen Kogan and Lou Boxer are a great team that always put on a wonderful show. I’ve been to two of their productions, and there was never a dull moment. This year, Lawrence Block is the winner of the “David Goodis Award.” Goodis is one of our best Noir writers, from the 1940s and 50s. Library of America has just published a collection of his works.

At the last NoirCon, many of us tried to define, “Noir.” We said things like, “Well, er, it’s about losers with, er, no futures, stumbling into criminal activities, uh, making poor life choices, er, leading to self-destruction, uh….” Others claimed it was the setting that distinguishes noir novels. They are more atmospheric than other crime novels, set in gloomy night clubs featuring used-up torch singers surrounded by swirling smoke, or abandoned warehouses, or third-rate motels. After many attempts, we settled for the French translation of Noir, which is simply — black.

Ironically, despite all the gloom and doom, I’ve never been to a conference where there was more laughter than NoirCon. So, if you’re looking for a really good time, in a dark and depressing atmosphere, sign up for NoirCon 2012.

I’ll be there — laughing.

Robin Hathaway

Monday, November 5, 2012

Secrets of the ideal urban pets revealed: Box Turtles.

Today I introduce my dear friend Tom Murphy, a prince of man and a wonderful writer.  When I asked him for a bio to go with this post, he sent the following:

"Tom has published seven novels, five of them mysteries."

I will respect his modesty by leaving it at that, but I will wax poetic about what a lovely human being and splendid friend he is, if you but ask.

 Here is his report on Box Turtles, an adventure I have had the privilege of sharing with him.

Annmaria Alfieri

They're beautiful, a bit mysterious and filled with ancient wisdom.  They never bark, you don't have to clean up after them and they have been known to live for 150 years.  No wonder people in many cultures, for uncountable years, have been fascinated by turtles.

I grew up in a very rural part of Connecticut with a farm across the street and a tempting selection of ponds and streams.  From early childhood, I was captivated by reptiles, fish and amphibians.  Garter snakes to scare my sister.  Frogs which I raised from small black dots encased in clear frog-jelly clinging to weeds at the edge of ponds.  Submerged in water, those little dots ate the jelly, slowly grew tails and lo! tadpoles.  Which in turn became frogs.  But best of all were turtles, box turtles especially.

Maybe it's the clever engineering.  Box turtles have evolved a hinge toward the front of their bottom shell.  When threatened, they quickly withdraw their head and all four paws; this hinge snaps shut and they are very secure from predators like raccoons.

Maybe it's the slow, ponderous way they move, or their beautiful orange and black scales, or the calm expression on their wrinkled faces.  For whatever reason, turtles
– like owls – have long fascinated people in many cultures, in many parts of the world.  In African folklore, turtles are the cleverest animal.  In China the tortoise is one of the Four Fabulous Animals which govern the four points of the compass. They appear rarely in Egyptian art,  but Greeks and Romans were captivated.  The next time you're in the Louvre, take a look at the Aphrodite Ourania, a lovely, lightly clad marble woman whose bare left foot rests on a turtle.  In Japan turtles are symbolic of long life and often appear on scrolls, in sculpture and pottery. 

By the time fate turned me into a writer living in Brooklyn Heights, my love of turtles hadn't diminished.  I even have a small garden quite suitable for turtles, half river pebbles and half greenery, with a small pool for refreshment.  But no turtle.  Luckily, I knew mystery writer Patricia King (AKA Annamaria Alfieri) and her husband David Clark.

The King/Clarks owned a beautiful country house in Putnam County, complete with woodlands and swimming pool.  One day Pat's father Sam discovered a lovely box turtle in that pool and rescued it, naming it (her) Clementine after the girl in the song "My Darling Clementine".  (The girl in the song fell into the Foaming Brine and drowned, alas.)

Clementine Turtle spent some time in the King/Clark garden in Waverly Place, but that garden wasn't green enough.  Pat remembered my enthusiasm for turtles, and before long Clemmie (as her friends call her) was installed in Brooklyn Heights.  This was September 13, 1989. ( I have the official adoption papers: you can't sell box turtles in New York State.)

The first thing I learned about  Clemmie is, she's an escape artist.  Twice she found her way into my neighbors' garden.  I quarantined her indoors until I could have my fence lined with steel mesh running six inches underground.  She seemed happy in the garden.  I made steps to help her climb from the pebbled surface of the garden up the two-brick wall that defines the green part.

As the weather grew colder, I wondered how Clemmie would survive the winter.  Box turtles hibernate.  They dig in when the weather gets really cold, in Clemmie's case, around Thanksgiving, and spend the next six months in a reptilian coma, coming up around Easter.  I attach no religious significance to this, but it's happened every year for 18 years.  Up comes a very dusty Clementine.  I give her a warm shower and she's set for the season.

Eventually Turtle Love came to Brooklyn Heights.  I doubt that reptiles feel affection.  Nevertheless, I wondered whether Clemmie might be lonely, and asked Pat and David to look for a boyfriend.  It isn't easy to tell the sex of a turtle.  Even vets have trouble.  The prime indicator seems to be the color of the pupils in their eyes.  Orange allegedly means male.

It took a few years, but eventually Pat and David discovered a male and were kind enough to give him to me.  Inevitably, Clementine's consort must be named Winston.  Did they hit it off?  Consider the following.

Winston and his Offspring
One evening in mid-June, 1990 some friends came for dinner and we were having drinks in the garden.  What should we find but Clementine, against the western fence, perched over a surprisingly deep hole she had dug, gazing upward in a trance of incipient motherhood.  I'd seen enough nature films to know what that meant.  We were transfixed and apprehensive lest we frighten her.  Not a chance.  Clemmie was in another zone, quite oblivious.

We watched for nearly an hour and then: Plop! Plop! Plop!  Three white eggs the size of large olives dropped into the hole.  By this time the sun had set and it was time for dinner.  Three hours later we were back in the garden with flashlights.  No Clemmie.  No hole.  If we hadn't known, we never would have guessed.  Miraculous.  And three months later came Miracle #2.

On a rainy Friday morning in early September I was in my kitchen drinking coffee and gazing idly out at the pebbled part of the garden.  And one of the pebbles moved.  Then another.  Wondering if I'd finalIy slipped my tether, I quickly got binoculars,  Two tiny, maybe 1-1/2" turtles were making their way across the pebbles.  To them, an obstacle course comparable to the Rocky Mountains to westering Mormons.  The babies were lovely, a rich beige color with no markings as yet.

Baby's First Restaurant Meal
Out I went, gently put them into a shallow bowl (their shells still quite soft). and came to a hard decision.  I'm not set up to become a turtle breeder.  That requires a large indoor terrarium and more maintenance than I could offer. I took some pictures and did what would happen in nature: put them up in the green part of the garden.  I haven't seen them since.

It's possible they're out there still, though I doubt it.  To this day, every time I'm in the garden, I watch very carefully where I put my feet, fearing to squash an adolescent turtle.

Meanwhile, Clementine and Winston prevail, and the garden has acquired yet another turtle in the form of a lovely, bigger-than-life-size concrete turtle fountain, a gift from Pat and David last fall.  I can hear it merrily gurgling as I write.
The Turtle Fountain

Tom Murphy


Sunday, November 4, 2012

One Nation… with Liberty and Justice for All…

Day after tomorrow our votes will decide the direction of our beloved land for decades to come.

Maybe a whole century!

Not the opposing sides of Good and Evil, but radically different world paths.

The next trail in the forest of history will be blazed by you and me.

Every wall of Congress will echo our decisions.

We are a nation of trailblazers, explorers, immigrants.

Our bones and blood carry the indelible marks of every country on the planet - from the Bering Sea to the Azores.

Lady Liberty lights the way, a symbol of all parties, all races, all Americans.

We look - and find- our own faces in the crowds on Ellis Island.

I've invited our colleague from MWA and SinC, Margaret Mendel, to share her photographic essay, Ellis Island.

A picture really IS worth a thousand words!

– Thelma Straw

Ellis Island

I’ve lived in NYC for almost 35 years and would you believe that I’ve never visited the Statue of Liberty or set foot on Ellis Island. I don’t know how many New Yorkers haven’t visited these tourist sites but I figured it was about time that I checked them out. So, the other day a friend of mine and I took a subway to the end of Manhattan to ride the ferry to see what they were like.

It was a cloudy day with a hint of fall in the air and the view from the shore line is really quite spectacular. And though it was clear where Lady Liberty stood, Ellis Island was not so easy to figure out.

Because we were quickly escorted into a line to board the ferry I didn’t get a chance to see who had created this sculpture dockside, but it clearly had been a memorial for more than one drowned soul. It was a very powerful scene.

I got a good look at the Lady as we neared the Statue of Liberty. I know that she stands with a powerful pose and that she is recognized around the world, but I’ve never really gotten a good look at her face so close-up. She is not a beauty by today’s standards but she is certainly the depiction of a powerful woman. Everything about her is formidable. She is the figure of a mature woman with a strong straight nose, eyes that glare down at the viewer with her potent mighty raised arm holding the lighted torch power. I like her even more now that I’ve seen her up so close.

The sky turned dark and storm clouds began to gather as we neared Ellis Island, an omious background for this place that had 8 million immigrants pass through its doors between 1892 and 1952.

Here is a view of Manhattan from the reception area on the second floor of Ellis Island. Though this place was officially closed in 1954 it didn’t become a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument until 1965. And then in 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court found that most of the island to be part of New Jersey.

Graffiti is also a part of the artifacts left behind by the immigrants that passed through the doors of this place. After the closing of Ellis Island the building began revealing what lay beneath the decades of paint that had been brushed across the walls. During the 1980s restoration, conservators salvaged and preserved much of the graffiti.

A long string of vintage luggage greets the visitors when they walk through the front doors.

This is a view of visitors waiting to get back on the boat and head home to Manhattan. But if they were dressed in clothing from another era they could just as well have been immigrants waiting to embark on journey into a new life in a new land.

The dark clouds began to gather over Manhattan as we left Ellis Island. The water was a bit choppy but not that uncomfortable.

This is probably my favorite photo of the day. We had just pulled out of the Statue of Liberty Island dock. The boat made a wide turn and then as we headed south toward Ellis Island I got a view of what an immigrant must have seen before they landed on Ellis Island. Of course, there were far fewer buildings in Manhattan and certainly no World Trade building, but it must have been thrilling to see this for the first time.

Margaret Mendel

Margaret Mendel is an award-winning writer who has published stories in many journals, including, Global City Review, Bartleby Snopes, One Real Story and the SinC Anthology, "Murder, New York Style."

A former board member of MWA-NY and SinC, she writes food columns, news articles and is on the staff of Kings River Life Magazine.

With an MA in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence, her photography appears in many places. her laptop and Nikon go with her all over the world.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane of August 1944 Redux

Here's Robin Hathaway's post from August of last year, where she reminisces about the Great Storm that hit Stone Harbor, carrying away their boardwalk, which was never replaced. I thought you might find it edifying this week – Kate Gallison


Memories of a Hurricane Past
Stone Harbor, New Jersey, August, 1944.

The day began overcast and muggy. As the day wore on the air became more clammy and clingy and there was an eerie stillness. No leaf, flag, or skirt stirred. My brother and I were restless and excited. Our father was nervous, listening closely to the warnings on the radio. Our mother was oblivious, napping on the sofa.

Around four o’clock the sky took on a yellow stain. A little later, the wind and rain began. Our house was only a block and a half from the ocean. My brother and I took up our post on the stair landing, where there was a window from which we could see the boardwalk and the ocean. As we gleefully watched the storm gather strength our father banged doors and windows shut, and our mother slept peacefully on.

Suddenly, as we watched, the little pavilion on the boardwalk, with its bright green roof, was tossed in the air, as if part of a toy village, and disappeared. About this time, our father decided to evacuate us and return to Philadelphia. “Everyone put on your rain gear and grab your most precious possession,” he ordered. “We’re leaving.”

At this point the lights went out and my mother woke up. “What’s going on?” she asked, innocently. Immediately taking in the situation, she said, “John, don’t you think it’s a little late for that?”

But my father persisted and I found myself in my bedroom facing a difficult decision. On top of the bed lay my violin, newly purchased for the pursuit of a musical career. Under the bed was a pair of fuzzy, bunny, bedroom slippers. After a few seconds, I grabbed the slippers.

Finally gathered on the front porch, clutching our personal treasures, we watched the rushing torrent that had once been 86th Street. Although the water was over the hubcaps of our car, my father, led us bravely down the steps toward it. Just then a police car appeared, churning water right and left. The officer rolled down his window and waved us back. “Stay where you are,” he said. “Your house is on the highest point of land.” {Not all that reassuring since everyone knows, the Jersey Shore is flat.) He churned onward.

Back we trooped into the darkening house, to sit in gloom at the kitchen table eating cold cuts and sipping lemonade. (I think my parents had something stronger.)

Two hours later, the sun burst out in the form of a radiant sunset. The winds died down, the rivers receded, and the streets reappeared. It was one of the most tranquil evenings I can remember. Eagerly, my brother and I set out to see the damage. A strange scene met our eyes. The boardwalk that had stretched the length of the beach for almost a hundred years had vanished. All that remained were the pilings that looked as if they had been measured and sawed off at the exact same height by an unseen hand. At regular intervals along the sand, were neat piles of seashells – exotic conchs that had never graced the Jersey Shore before. An apartment house, a longtime fixture on the boardwalk, had been stripped of its seaward wall, and looked like the back of a giant doll’s house – all its rooms visible with their furnishings tumbled about.

Belatedly realizing that we might be in danger – of exposed electric wires, gaping chasms, etc., – our parents appeared and dragged us home. When I entered my room, the first thing I saw was my violin. Still snug in its case on the bed – a sad reminder of a musical career – lost forever.

Robin Hathaway