Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Purpose Progress Report

Flipping the coin on Marilyn's scary things, here is one from my former life on the other side of the question: a funny thing from my past..

During my years as a corporate training consultant, I often taught technical writing to researchers and engineers.  In those days--perhaps still--my students were required to write monthly progress reports for their bosses.  Most of my students  dreaded writing anything, but especially those period reviews of what they had accomplished.  Just to lighten their mood, if not their burden, I wrote an all-pupose report  that they could hand in on any month, on any project, whether they were biochemists, metallurgists, or structural engineers.  The composition I gave them was full of all the writing mistakes their bosses were used to encountering: passive voice, vagueness, unnecessary words, run-on sentences, and dangling participles.

Here it is.  I hope it gives you a laugh.  Or something to hand to your boss.  It is the end of the month after all.

For the Month of ___________

To: _________________________


During the interim period, considerable  progress has been made in the preliminary work directed toward the establishment of initial activities.  The background information has been surveyed and the functional structure of the component parts has been clarified.

Considerale difficulty has been encountered in the selection of optimum materials and experimental methods, but this problem is being attacked vigorously, and we expect that the development phase will proceed at a satisfactory rate.  In order to prevent unnecessary duplication of previous efforts in the same field, it was necessary to establish a survey team which has conducted an extensive tour through various facilities in the immediate vicinity.

The committee held its regular meeting and considered important policy matters pertaining to the overall organization levels and staff responsibilities that develop on the personnel associated with specific assignments resulting from the broad functional specifications.  It is believed that the rate of progress will continue to accelerate.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scary Things in my Past

Marilyn Meredith rejoins us today as part of a blog tour for the latest in her award-winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, SPIRIT SHAPES, where ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house and deputy Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits. The author of over thirty published novels, Marilyn draws inspiration from her home town of Bear Creek and its environs in the southern Sierras, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, and the Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

Whether or not scary things that happened to me along the way have influenced my writing, I’m not sure—but I have a hunch they may have.

When I was a young teen I did a lot of babysitting for the family up the street. The dad was a police officer and he told me where he kept his gun and that I should use it if need be. (Can’t imagine any law enforcement officer doing this today.) One time while I was babysitting, someone tried to get in the front door. I got the gun, and hollered, “I have a gun and I’ll shoot.”

Then I called my dad. Of course by the time he got dressed and came to the house, there was no one around. What the policeman said when he got home, I can’t remember. (This was long before 9-1-1.)

My folks were at the evening service at church and I got a ride home. I went into the house and straight to the bathroom. I left the door open and was looking in the mirror and saw someone run by. I followed, stomping my feet and yelling, “I’m coming after you.” My weapon this time, a hair brush. Whoever it was ran out the back door, the same way they got in. Now this is really dumb—I sat out on the front porch until my folks came home.

Once as a teen, I was riding on the street car and while looking out the window, saw a dead body on the sidewalk and someone hosing off the blood. What happened, I’ll never know.

One New Year’s Eve, when hubby was overseas, I had all the neighborhood kids over so their parents could go out. Since I had five of my own it was quite a group. Everyone was in the living room except my youngest who was in bed in my room with the sliding glass door. We were all playing a game, when my little boy came out and said, “There’s a man in my bedroom.”

I grabbed a baseball bat and started hollering, “I’m coming to get you!” I got there in time to see a leg exiting through the open door.

This one was only scary at first—then funny. I came home from a college class to find the three kids who were still at home huddled together in the living room. I asked what was wrong, the answer, “Someone is in your bedroom.” Sure enough when I tried the door it was locked. It had a drop down latch and the only way to lock or unlock it was from the inside of the room. I called the police. When the officer arrived, he tried the door, shouted, etc. Then said, all he could do was kick the door in. I knew hubby wouldn’t be pleased. Had an idea. Went outside and looked through a slim crack of the curtain. Oh, my, the answer was clear. There was the cat on the dresser, batting at the lock. I showed the officer. He said, “I better knock the door in anyway, how else will you get in?” I told him my husband would figure it out. And he did. He took the hinges off the door, the cat ran out, then he put the door back as it should be.

Because I’ve been around for a long time, there have been many such occasions. Now, if someone tried to get in probably neither hubby nor I would hear them. Fortunately, our grown son lives on the property—we’ll let him worry about intruders. Oh, and we do still have cats, but no door with drop-down latches.

© 2013 Marilyn Meredith
Click here to buy: Spirit Shapes


The person who comments on the most blogs on Marilyn Meredith's blog tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Tomorrow she’ll be visiting here:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

And Another One Rides the Bus

Join me once again for a ride home from work…

Angela got on the bus as she did on most Thursday nights. She was usually pretty lively and fueled by whatever she’d had to drink that night. Sometimes she would sit across the aisle from me. Eventually she would lean toward me.

“I’ve just had a cocktail.” She would say the last word with such crispness that she seemed to snap it in two.

I would smile and she would confide. I remember little about her except that she worked at a hair salon.

This particular night she said nothing when she got on the bus and did not make eye contact. I greeted her and she nodded her head. Our bus driver, Bradley, a very voluble guy, didn’t notice anything as he was in the midst of a story about his life.

If something newsworthy happened—I remember a discussion about Columbine—he would offer opinions about that. However, Bradley’s favorite topics were himself and his apartment. He talked about decor, china patterns, carpets and drapes.

I am counterdomestic. Show me a swatch of material or a wallpaper sample and my eyes glaze over. The word armoire makes me sleepy. Etagere? I snore.

Bradley, enraptured by the vision of domestic comfort he was painting, failed to notice that his audience was silent. Even I, who have turned “Ummm” into a sound rich in meaning and nuance, felt unable to rise to the occasion.

I glanced at Angela. She looked enraged. As we were getting to her stop, Angela got shakily to her feet.

“BRADLEY!” she yelled. You talk about your rugs and your drapes and your china pattern and your Waterford crystal. You know somethin’? Nobody gives a [insert the expletive of your choice]”

Say amen, somebody!

I looked at Bradley. His eyes were wide and his face was as red as if he’d been slapped. Angela was already down the bus stairs and walking down the street.

Bradley’s features were crumpled up. He was shaking a little and his eyes were wet.

I am a firm believer that people piloting vehicles on the White Horse Pike should be in a state of focused serenity.

“Oh, Bradley. She was drunk,” I said. “When you see her next week she won’t remember it.”

He looked slightly calmer.

“She certainly didn’t mean it.” I lied in my warmest and most sincere voice.

He brightened, sniffed, and returned to being capable of driving safely.

The next Thursday Angela practically bounced onto the bus. We greeted each other. She had had a cocktail (or two).

Bradley said nothing. Angela and I chatted for a few minutes. Then Angela leaned toward Bradley.

“What’s the matter, Bradley? Cat got your tongue? What happened about those drapes you were gonna buy?”

© 2013 Stephanie Patterson

Friday, October 25, 2013

And Madly Play With my Forefathers' Bones

What is it about the ancestor thing that people find so seductive?

When I was a snotty teenager and still knew everything, I would have said that people who make a big deal out of their ancestors do it because they have no accomplishments of their own to gloat over. Now that I'm in my golden years, more or less, it seems to me that people who look deeply into their family trees are doing what most of us do all the time, which is to try to make sense out of the world we're in and try to find their own connection to it. Looking backward is one way of doing this.

As I've probably told you, I took out an international membership in a few months ago in order to track down the Canadians. That's everybody, actually. A hundred and fifty years ago every one of my then living forebears was in Canada. is a good place to start looking for people back that far, after you talk to your relatives and get some names and places, because they have searchable census records all the way up to 1940 for the U.S. and Canada. I find it easier to sit in my office with a cup of coffee at my elbow than to visit foreign churches for their records and go wading through tick-infested graveyards, the way serious genealogists do. Instead I sit here and collect pretty stories.

The census records are fascinating. They will show you the records themselves, written in the (sometimes nearly illegible) hand of the very census taker who stood on the doorstep and talked to your great-great-grandfather in Dumfries, New Brunswick, Canada, with all your little collateral relations peeking around his knees. It is startling to note that the old boy changed the way he spelled his name every ten years, as well as his country of origin. Welsh? Irish? Makes you wonder.

For the stories of the famous, I have to search the wide internet and read books rather than take on faith anything I get from People on my mother's side were famous. You know about the witch, right? Not a witch, a sweet old lady caught up in the unpleasantness in Salem. There were other famous people in that line. My mother's father's folks settled Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the days when everybody had ten or more children, so I have all these distant cousins keeping their names alive. Major Samuel Eelles. I understand there's a whole society of his descendants, with regular meetings and everything. I could join, I guess. What is he famous for? He is said to have assisted in the escape from England of two of the regicide judges who signed the warrant to chop off the head of King Charles I, when Charles II came to power.

Was that a good deed or a bad deed? Depends which side you're on. Passions ran very high in those days. And speaking of judging people, one of the things I've encountered on comes from some distant cousin in Texas who insists on branding every person who went to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, in 1760 with a big label: "NOT A PATRIOT." That's because they resettled themselves before 1776, I guess, and so balked this person's desire to become a Son of the American Revolution. But how can he say they weren't patriots? They might have been Canadian patriots. I wonder if this guy is part of the movement for Texan secession. That makes him not a patriot, either.

And so it goes. Am I any more comfortable in my skin for having discovered who I inherited it from? Couldn't say. I have found out, however, that I'm not necessarily descended from the Viking kings of Denmark, which is too bad, since I greatly enjoyed my fleeting association with them. I'll keep you posted if I find any more good stories.

© 2013 Kate Gallison

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chanson d'Automne de TV (or The Autumn of My Discontent)*

On the night table: Ransom River (Meg Gardiner); In the BluRay: Homeland, Season 2

Every autumn, I succumb to the lure of the new network TV season. It’s TV Season(al) Affect Disorder, a flashback to my childhood when there was nothing but network TV, and the new season filled me with Christmas-like excitement. Everything on TV was magical to me then. Yes, I was an undemanding child. I could play for hours with one box of plastic bricks, never complaining that there weren't enough to finish building anything. (Can I blame Legos for all my unfinished home projects?)

But this TV season, I was temporarily diverted — like a bird is diverted by a big pane of glass — by the government shutdown and members of Congress whose idea of responsible rule is apparently “I’ll hold my breath till the country passes out.”

A sign outside Sapore in Washington DC (credit: Outside the Beltway). 
Finally, even the most finance-training-lite members of Congress seemed to realize that Federal borrowing and the home budget do have one thing in common: If you don’t pay your bills on time, it can be very, very bad for your credit rating and the interest rate you’ll have to pay, which increases the money you spend with nothing to show for it.

All this made me late this year in sampling the new network TV season (via the DVR). I blame Congress for that, and for getting me so riled up that my sampling turned into a venting. 

You might recall that last spring I was searching for a replacement for Smash on my list of mindless-pleasure diversions after a hard day at the computer. In addition to losing Smash, this past summer, Burn Notice ended its run, and I've tired of Covert Affairs. They just kept putting the heroine into tight red dresses and sending her out undercover to blend in.

So I thought I’d give a try to two new network shows that sounded like fun. The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

I chose The Blacklist because I have an abiding affection for James Spader and a weakness for criminal-helps-catch-the-criminal stories (Hall of Fame: Silence of the Lambs & To Catch a Thief).

I’m not sure how I feel now that The Blacklist is apparently the #1 new drama on network TV (okay, it has a short list of competitors). On the one hand, I’m always glad when James Spader is getting steady work, and he's making a fine meal of the role. On the other, the pilot and episodes since have been, well, disappointing. I have some standards, even for my mindless-pleasure diversions. Ten minutes into the pilot, I knew the ‘twist’ that would eventually reveal itself in a later episode. The situations were preposterous yet predictable, and the violence gratuitous and gruesome. 

Now, understand that I have been known to enjoy preposterous — I watched Burn Notice, for heaven’s sake, in which no matter what manner of explosions and gunfire occurred, Miami police never showed up, and Fiona always had a nice chunk of C-4 in her handbag. But that show lived in a well established alternative universe, and had a large dose of tongue-in-cheek.

The Blacklist will have a way to go to earn that license. In its pilot, for example, terrorists kidnapped a little girl (this is how you knew they were really bad men). She was being transported under protection, and the FBI had been warned to watch for a diversion. But when coverall-clad workmen suddenly step out to stop only their cars on a bridge, no one gets suspicious and so, while any viewer who isn't comatose knows what’s about to happen, the FBI is startled by a hail of bullets. The bad guys snatch the girl and rappel down with her to speedboats for escape. Yes, they proceed downriver in the open. Lucky for the bad guys, it doesn't occur to the FBI survivors to summon, uh, helicopters that could, well, fly over the river and maybe find out where they’re going or, you know, intercept them.

But mostly my vent is about the heroine. The creators and writers have given her two of the most relentlessly recurring and annoying features of TV law enforcement females. One, she's too young for her resume, part of which was leading an FBI profile team; and two, she seems to have never dealt with a dangerous criminal before, despite her pedigree, because she's completely flustered just talking to Spader’s character. This is how TV (and movies) like to show women are 'vulnerable': they make them look incompetent.

But what really set me off was that the character self-describes as a b***h, then never shows one hint of it, not in the pilot, nor in the two successive episodes I watched. No biting sarcasm to a colleague, no unprovoked temper flare-up, not even a good story from her past about her having been impossible to deal with. When did just being a woman with a job become synonymous with b***h? I could go on (and on) about what the writers/director did to the Helen Hunt character in What Women Want, who is billed as legendarily tough, and turns out to be, well, the kind of boss I’d run through a wall for. And then there’s the Julie of Julie & Julia, who’s described by herself and a friend as a b***h, and yet is so sweet, my insulin balance tipped.

Enough of that. On to the next.

I picked S.H.I.E.L.D. because it was created by Joss Whedon (cue the Firefly theme) and stars the always reliable Clark Gregg, reprising his role in The Avengers film (yeah, I know he got killed in that, but he’s, well, back). Alas, in its pilot, S.H.I.E.L.D. was going for snappy chatter, and no one but Gregg could deliver it. Though, to be fair, the chatter wasn't all that snappy to begin with. The pilot’s plot revolved around a man who’d been given super strength by villains and was about to (literally) explode from rage-inducing side effects. A bunch of white people saved a black man from his fury. Too much accidental (God, I hope it was accidental) subtext there for me.

Successive episodes, however, have shown improvement. They seem to have given up on expecting the whole cast to deliver clever chat, relying mostly on a couple of tech geeks to talk fast with British accents, with uneven but promising results. And the writers have begun to acknowledge with robot jokes that the actor cast as the young hero is a bit stiff. And they ramped up Ming-Na Wen's role, a big plus. So, despite my vent, I'm sticking awhile with S.H.I.E.L.D. 

But before I finish today, can I have a general vent about those promos that run across the bottom, and sometimes way up into, the screen while I'm immersed in a story? (The worst is BBC America!) Are TV marketers congratulating themselves on being ‘hip’ with young people while they’re giving viewers more reason to stampede away from broadcast TV?

And while I’m at it — I swear I’m almost done — let me slip in an October grammar vent. Major League Baseball & baseball TV: Could you please use part of the off-season to teach the boys in the booth to conjugate the verbs “to go” and “to come”. It is not “He should have went home with that throw” nor is it “He should have came in on that fly ball.”

That’s it. Thanks. I feel better now. I’m done with my mauvais vent.**

I’m going out to breathe some autumn air. Deeply. 

Then go watch an episode of Person of Interest. Though I’m wondering why Mr. Finch, Mr. Reese and The Machine didn't see a lethal Congress coming and do something about it.

* Two classical references. This makes me feel educated (rather than, say, pretentious). Chanson d'Automne is a moving poem about painful memory by Paul Verlaine, which defies English translation, in my humble but perfectly correct opinion, because you can't replicate the repetition of the vowel sounds, which suggest moaning. The opening line in Shakespeare's Richard III is "Now is the winter of our discontent..."
** Bonus. An opportunity to quote Verlaine and make a questionable pun.

Copyright 2013 Sheila York

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crime Writer in Washington

This past weekend, I got a four-day pass out of computer hell and went to the nation's capital just in time to greet the re-opening of the government.  Planned events included dinner with a friend of a friend, a ball at the Italian Embassy, a two-day sojourn at the home of a dear college classmate, and a book presentation to the members of two book clubs.

I booked a hotel that I thought would be near the embassy.  It turned out to be in Chinatown:

When I arrived the place smelled like hotdogs.  I would have preferred the aroma fried dumplings and soy sauce.

I went out for a coffee in the afternoon and found some things of interest in the area around the hotel:

As it turned out the hotel was comfortable enough and the eau de Hotdog was soon replaced with the scent of Fabreeze.

Dinner on Thursday was at the Cafe Milano, which bills itself as frequented by important politicians, government staff members, and lobbyists.  My dinner hosts turned out to be two of the most gracious people I have ever met.  City Councilman, and mayoral candidate Jack Evans and his wife Michele.  Lovely does not begin to describe how very nice she is.

I was invited to the ball at the embassy because I had made a donation to the CAG, Citizens Association of Georgetown--which involves itself in historic preservation, a cause I support.

I had never been to an embassy party before.  I expected the surroundings to be elegant in the extreme.  I thought the building itself would look like this (the former Italian Embassy):

Instead the new building looks like this:

I KNOW I reveal my lack of sophistication when I say that the new building looks more prison-like than embassy-like to me.

The guests at the party made up for the lack of swankiness in our surroundings.  The food was wonderful; the Italians haven't changed in that respect.  While there, I got to speak briefly to a heroine of my youth as a fighter for women's rights--Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is now the member of the US Congress representing Washington.  I had invited my friend Judy Lobbin to go with me to the event.  She and I also had a wonderful conversation with the Ambassador from the Netherlands.
Eleanor Holmes Norton addressing the crowd

Jack Evans, second from left.  Eleanor Holmes Norton, next to Jack.

Here is how Judy and I looked when we returned to Chinatown after the ball was over.

I spent the next two days at the home Judy and her husband Fred, where they hosted about twenty book lovers and I presented Blood Tango.

When I arrived home on Monday, computer hell still awaited me, but the respite had restored my patience.  I will soldier on, running from old machine to new in pursuit of progress on the techno-front.

© 2013 Annamaria Alfieri


Sunday, October 20, 2013


He came from immigrants of Kiev and Romania, dropped out of Santa Monica City College due to bad grades. Had planned to study medicine or become a jazz pianist.

Years later, he is known as a true American icon of film, television and theater.

He won two Oscars, six Golden Globes and received a Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2012.

We know him today as one of the most beloved, admired, famous and versatile actors of our time!

His Bio in 2013 reads like a Smithsonian History of American Film and Theater!

He finally made his debut as a director last year—and whenever his name appears in print or in lights people smile and say, " He's one of our Real American Heroes!"

His Aunt Pearl once told him, "You can't be an actor—you are not good-looking enough!"

By now, have you guessed his name?

Take a little walk back in time with us at Crime Writer's Chronicle and share a little piece I wrote for our July 24, 2011 blog.

The setting was idyllic. Outdoors near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Mountains, clouds, pure clean fragrant air, open cabins, good food, great atmosphere, terrific comrades, wonderful teachers!

The Perry-Mansfield School of the Dance and Theatre, the gold star of Dance-Drama summer training.

We were taught by stars - Daniel Nagrin, Helen Tamiris, Harriette Anne Gray, the best in the field.

We ate, drank, talked dance and theater 25 hours a day!

We bonded. Made instant best friends.

When the session was over, I joined in the drive east with my friend Ginny, who was to become a world celebrity at PBS, as series producer of the famous Adams Chronicles, who would also receive the highest TV honors worldwide for this work.

Ginny also shared her car with two fellow students.

Larry, a handsome, young blond god, a charmer who saught a great future on Broadway. He brought a friend, a nice but quiet young fellow, not terribly gifted, who'd spent the summer sweeping the floors of the theater and filling in for the more handsome, talented actors.

We all felt kind of sorry for him. But he was on his way to the bright lights too. Maybe he'd get to sweep the great floors on Broadway, while Larry shone on stage.

We shared motel quarters, ladies on one side, gents on the other.

All very modest and proper.

At Omaha we parted ways, the others headed for New York, I to my home on a Tennessee mountain, back to teach college prep students modern dance.

Ginny and I were sure we'd soon see Larry's name in huge lights.

Time passed…

A few years later, I saw an ad for a hot new film. Everyone was raving about it, coast to coast! And its leading man.

It was called THE GRADUATE.

His picture looked familiar. My companion from the trip east.

He'd said his name was Dusty.

As they say, the rest is history.

Can you ever tell a book by its cover?

P.S. Larry WHO?

© 2013 Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Opposite of a Crime Novel

Sometimes all I want to read is something soothing, populated with charming characters, witty and clever without being mean, written in beautiful English, ending happily, completely unrelated to the odious problems of the modern day. Crime novels don't fill this need. The good ones are all about dreadful unpleasantness. Murder is always dreadfully unpleasant. The phrase "cozy murder mystery" is an oxymoron. Furthermore the very best crime novels are all about modern problems. I detest modern problems. I want comfort.

For that sort of read, give me a Regency by Georgette Heyer every time.

I just finished reading Sprig Muslin, in my opinion one of her best. Dizzy young beauties, handsome gentlemen, officious clergymen, detestable aunts, pompous grandsires, bizarre intrigues, it has everything. I got it out of the Lambertville Free Public Library along with a couple of Heyer's other Regencies when I felt a fit coming on of needing to be comforted. Politics can be almost as unpleasant as murder, and you know as well as I do what the last couple of weeks have been like. The cover is red-orange buckram, that sturdy stuff that they re-bind library books with after they have passed through many loving hands.

After I read the book I sat stroking the buckram cover for a minute or two and then I popped it open looked inside the back cover. The slip of paper that says Date Due has date stamps going all the way back to April 1969. Ladies (I'm pretty sure most of us are ladies) have been entertaining themselves and comforting themselves with this book ever since 1969. Maybe even before that, since the copyright date is 1956. Maybe it was rebound in 1969.

I took the card out of the pocket in the back. These cards are no longer used by the library, since they keep all the circulation information on the computer nowadays. When they were used, the name of the person who took the book out was written in the box next to the date stamp. The last date stamp on the card was February 3, 2004.

The name in the box was mine. I must have read this book before, the last time I had a Regency fit. But, you know, I don't remember reading any of this book before. When I read it today it was perfectly new and fresh to me.

Maybe I ought to worry about that.

Kate Gallison

Monday, October 14, 2013

Encounter with a Bat

I had nine bats to my credit with only one fatality when #10 dropped down from the attic (their routine point-of-entry) to the darkened hallway outside the bedrooms, to give me my come-uppance.

August heat brings the bats down from the attic, which must be an oven. Obviously, they prefer the cold of the caves that they seek out to hibernate in (the only thing I knew about bats till they started to visit us). Apparently, my attic will do in a pinch. We’re in a row house built by an Albany oil baron in 1871; there are nine in a row on tree-lined Elm Street. We moved in six years ago and didn’t see our first bat till three years ago. They never come earlier than midnight (I swear). First, a scratching noise as they squeeze their elastic bodies through the smallest of openings. That’s in the tiny corner formed by a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with the wall; adjacent is a big window that looks out on the yard, always open except in the dead of winter because Bridget spends a good part of her cat life stretched out full length on the sill taking the sun, when not peering into the night darkness (at what she sees and I don’t). I’m told that the local cats stalk and kill bats, but not our Bridget. At the first flap of wings, she flattens belly-to-the-carpet and flees down the stairs to the safety of the middle parlor floor.

She’s one smart cat because the bat just flies the length of the bedroom hallway and back again, swerving away from my head before collision as I pursue it wielding a long-handled dust mop to knock him out of the air, then throw a bath towel over him, scoop him up and out the window into the night. (Don’t think for a minute that I’m knowledgeable about bat gender: I think of him as a him because of the chestiness displayed in invading my castle at night like a common cat burglar.)

It’s not as hard to bring him down as it used to be. Of late, the bat, once descended, almost immediately runs into the four-and-a-half-foot span of the oscillating ceiling fan over my head as I sit at the computer writing. In fact, if I don’t hear the scratching that announces his visit, I will the thud as he runs into the fan’s blades, then again on his return flight. I don’t see him at first because I work with the lights off, by the illumination of the computer screen. This is new behavior on my bats’ part; in past years, they always avoided the whirring fan blades, owing to their marvelous sonar. And I would chase them up and back in the hallway, into the guest room if the door was open and, occasionally, down the stairs and around the parlor and basement floors till they tired enough that I could connect with the dust mop. It was never a sure thing who would tire first, me or the bat. But, of late, they appear to be flying blind. Are they sick or just youngsters on their maiden flights?

Amazingly, Bat #10, my nemesis, is only stunned by the fan’s blades. But I have a problem: I’m unprepared, lacking an essential tool, a large bath towel. As the bat crawls under the radiator under the windowsill, I rush into the bathroom and grab the hand towel hanging from the ring above the sink. Reaching for him under the radiator, I immediately withdraw my hand as I feel the touch of a fang on the inside of the ring finger of that hand. I persevere, rooting him out with the long handle of a backscratcher, scooping him up gingerly in the hand towel and out the window. I wash the finger with soap and water and pour rubbing alcohol on the area although I can’t detect that the skin is broken.

Before I tossed him out into the night, it occurred to me that I should hold onto him for testing for rabies by the Albany Health Department, but that seemed beyond me just then. Although they can test a dead bat as easily as a live one—so long as the head is intact--I don’t intentionally kill bats. Besides, it felt more like a friendly nuzzle than a serious bite.

Funny thing occurs to me: after I evict them, I never look to see where they go. In the early days, I’d toss them out still wrapped in the towel, then collect the empty towel in the morning. I’ve perfected the technique: now I just shake them out like a housewife airing the bed linen.

Next morning, my doctor insisted I go to St. Peter’s ER to hear that they can’t tell if the bat fang pierced my finger so they recommend a series of rabies shots, to be on the safe side. That’s because once infected, there’s no cure; once the disease reaches the central nervous system, death occurs within days. I’m told that if a bat is at large in a bedroom, for instance, while its occupants are asleep and consequently can’t be sure they haven’t been bitten or come in contact with bat saliva, the shots are recommended. The resident listens to my story, then tells me he has to talk to the County Health Department to get their guidance.

I’m waiting now going on three hours. Will I consent to undergo the vaccinations? I’m of two minds since Bat Control of Greater New York—the young man who rappelled down the back of my house from attic to the second floor three years ago to bat-proof the brick face—told me that upstate bats are rarely rabid. My ponderings are cut short when the resident reports back that Health said I don’t require shots. Go home. Hooray!

I’m at work when Health calls me that afternoon: Ooops! Go back to the ER for shots. I say no, thanks; that bat looked okay to me. A week later, I consult Google and read this description of a rabies infection: In the early stages, malaise, headache and fever, progressing to acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, depression and hydrophobia; finally, periods of mania and lethargy, eventually leading to coma and death. I decide I didn’t know the bat all that well.

Back in the ER, as the doctor is poised to inject the immunoglobulin vaccine at the site of the bite—the inside of my right ring finger—I ask, in a wee small voice: Doesn’t hurt a lot, right? She just smiles and sticks me a dozen times under, on top, and at the base of my poor finger. My wife Rose is present, holding my good hand, so I do not cry out nor do I swoon. Then, an injection in the muscle of each arm and in both thighs, and I’m done. The nurse pronounces me a brave boy and Rose drives me home.

Over the next 14 days, I get one shot in the arm on three occasions at the local Health Department (easypeasee). Where you sign in, the women clerks have a life-like hawk-sized bat suspended from the low ceiling. Really sets the tone. August is still young so I get two more visiting bats. No drama, except #12 alights on my First Edition of “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn’s history of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950’s. When I remove and liberate the bat, I notice that he has left behind a half-inch, elliptical stain on the dust jacket. I’m still pondering its meaning.

© 2013 Robert Knightly

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Bus Story

I don’t drive so I never travel alone. I always share my commuting time with the masses that make up mass transportation or a cab driver.

This is a tale from a time of my most storied commutes. In the late 1990s I worked at a Family Service organization in Absecon, New Jersey. I traveled from my home in Lindenwold on a very comfy bus. The commute was a little over an hour each way and it allowed me plenty of time to read. The ride to work deposited me right in front of my office. I caught a ride home on the other side of the White Horse Pike right in front of a Wawa.

My fellow travelers were a colorful assortment of people who could talk of owning cars as other people might talk about winning the lottery. The bus drivers were all very friendly and looked out for me. They frequently offered help with my bags or my cane, but I was adept at getting on and off the bus.

One evening one of the drivers asked me what I did for a living.

“Oh, I’m a counselor at the agency across the street,” I said.

He laughed. “Oh, the folks on the bus would love to know that. I could drum up some business.”

“Please don’t. If anyone asks what I do tell them I’m a cocktail waitress.”

A few weeks later one of the regulars boarded the bus. She was, as always, drunk.

We traveled a few minutes longer. I was deep into Barchester Towers and not really paying attention to the people around me. Then I heard a voice say, “Let me help you with that.”

The bus had stopped in front of a supermarket and a woman with many bags of groceries was trying to get herself and them onto the bus. The inebriated female passenger was offering the help. She managed to get each and every bag on the bus, but she dropped each of them noisily as she did so.

“Gee, I hope that didn’t have eggs in it.” she would call out cheerily.

I had quit reading due to the ruckus and the bus driver wanted to chat about something other than the grocery delivery. Next to the grocery store was a 24 hour adult book store. Long gone were the days when I thought these were places where insomniacs could pick up the complete works of Emmanuel Kant.

The bus driver began to read from the sign.

“Nude Dancing, Lap Dancing, B and D.” He gave me a puzzled look. “I wonder what B and D is?”

“Bondage and Domination,” I said in a voice that brooked no argument.

“Wow! How does somebody like you know something like that?” he asked.

I smiled and returned to the world of Anthony Trollope.

© 2013 Stephanie Patterson

Friday, October 11, 2013

Finishing The Unfinished Dance

Last night I saw The Unfinished Dance again after an interval of more than sixty years, thanks to Turner Classic Movies. I find that the films my friends and I loved when we were children are not highly regarded in the modern day, are not produced on DVD, are, in fact, forgotten. That Lady in Ermine, for example, the movie that first introduced me to the bittersweet joys of sex.

Movie sex
 Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Betty Grable in period costume, floating up the castle stairs (literally floating, it was a dream sequence). Betty Grable in a blue velvet cloak with a silk-lined hood trimmed in white fur, returning at last to the Hungarian officer whose heart she had broken. How I wanted that cloak! How I wanted a fur-trimmed hood! Betty Grable, my word, even spell-check has forgotten her, and is underlining her name in red.

The Unfinished Dance, for those of you who weren't impressionable little girls in 1947, was a ballet flick starring Margaret O'Brien, at that time my favorite movie star. She got top billing. Cyd Charisse played the ballerina she worshipped, and Karin Booth (who?) was the classy dancer whose career little Margaret O'Brien ruined when she pulled the lever to open the trap door during Swan Lake, causing her idol's rival to fall and injure her spine in some unspecified way. Her injuries didn't keep her from walking, or indeed from dancing beautifully for about a minute and a half, after which she would collapse attractively on the stage in a half-swoon. She was finished as a dancer, though. Cyd Charisse's character triumphantly took all her parts.

Watching that movie again, it was clear to me why we loved it, and why it inspired me to give up tap and take up ballet dancing, even though I was clumsy and the toe shoes made my feet hurt. It was full of delectable little girls, just like us except that they could dance on point. Elinor Donahue was in it. Remember her? The teenager in Father Knows Best? She played Margaret O'Brien's best friend, dancing beautifully, completely charming. We wanted to be her. We wanted to be Margaret O'Brien. We wanted to have those girls for friends. We went home and whined at our mothers until we all got toe shoes.

With the eye of a grownup, and many years of life experience and moviegoing experience under my belt, I see this flick quite differently. I compare it to other ballet flicks, better ones, The Red Shoes, Billy Elliot. First of all there seem to be no male dancers in The Unfinished Dance, only women and little girls. All the men are stock characters, the stagehands, the publicity agent, the impresario, even Danny Thomas, the eccentric foreign almost-uncle who takes care of the orphaned Margaret O'Brien. Nowadays some of us would view their relationship with deep suspicion, I'm sorry to say. But in the old days everything was brighter.

Including Miss Booth's lipstick. All the makeup in that movie was slathered on with a trowel. We see Karin Booth lying on her fainting couch, half dead, and you could read a newspaper by the gleam of her cherry-red lip gloss. Curiously, her hair was red in some scenes and brown in others. Ah, Technicolor.

IMDB says that The Unfinished Dance has been available as a Warner Home Video since 2011. Who knew? Maybe I should get it! But, no. Some movies you only want to see once every five or six decades.

© 2013 Kate Gallison

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The 1st Baron of Tweedsmuir

John Buchan is haunting me.  I would say he was stalking me, but he has been dead for over sixty years.

Here are the facts of our relationship, if you can call it that.

I knew one of John’s stories long before I knew his name.  That one is The Thirty-Nine Steps, famous for having been turned into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.  I didn’t learn his name until, in the course my research into the Protectorate of British East Africa, I came across a word I did not know: “greenmantlish.”  It was used to describe an anecdote in a memoir, published in 1929 by a Brit who had been a policeman in Nairobi in 1908.  

When I looked up the word, I found that Google had never heard of it—a fact amazing in itself since most of the terms I google get hundreds of the thousands of hits in a few seconds.  “Greemantle,” without the “ish” yielded about 216,00o hits in .34 seconds.  The first was a Wikipedia entry that featured the name of Richard Hannay.  I recognized that moniker right away.  “Greenmantle” was the sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps and second in a series of five novels with Hannay as the main character.

Hannay had been on my mind, because during the previous year I had watched the Hitchcock film and a BBC miniseries based on The Thirty-Nine Steps.  I was boning up on the story in preparation for seeing a brilliant Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival staging of a hilarious play based on the same story, but more a spoof of Hitch’s film than Buchan’s novel.

Then, once again in the midst of my research into British East Africa, I came upon the old chap again, this time in relation to books he had written about World War I in Africa.  (The characters in my upcoming series will have to endure that debacle as time goes on.)

Once John Buchan turned up for the third time, I figured I’d better find out more about him.  Here’s a prĂ©cis of what I have learned:

John Buchan, 1st Baron of Tweedsmuir PC GCMG GCVO CH was born in 1875, the son of Scot’s clergyman.  He studied at Brasenose College Oxford, took a degree in law, but never practiced at the bar.  He became instead a novelist, historian, Member of Parliament, and eventually became Governor General of Canada.  He began his diplomatic service in Southern Africa.  During his long political career he supported free trade, women’s suffrage, national insurance, and curtailing the powers of the House of Lords.  Between 1896 and 1940 (the year he died), he wrote thirty-five novels (mostly adventure stories, mysteries, and thrillers) and fifty-two works of non-fiction, averaging two books a year while keeping his day job!  HOT STUFF!

© 2013 Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Toast to Spellcheck

The Lawyerly Death Al Dente…

This gifted lady comes back to visit us—she last stopped by with Bob K. September 30, 2012. An attorney at law who specializes in civil litigation in Montana, she also writes dee-lightful fiction like
Death Al Dente, a new series in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and a new novel to come out in May, 2014, Crime Rib. Our good friend Hank P. Ryan says of Leslie's Al Dente, "…A tempting concoction of food, fun and fatalities."

She is also working on
Spiced to Death for the Seattle spice Shop Mysteries. Wow! Such energy and talent!

Another reviewer wrote of
Al Dente… "a novel strong enough to stand beyond the confines of its genre…"

I admire Leslie as a writer, a lawyer, a very generous giving member of MWA and SinC…but she has a permanent place of honor in my life for something else very precious. After the death of my beloved red Persian, Miss Priss, she sent me her story "Hail to the Queen", about the advent and passing of her orange tabby, Autumn… who died peacefully at the age of 17… " She returned deliberately… to a place where life and death often meet…"

Leslie, I hope one day to do a children's book on Miss Priss and I will place your name in the dedication.

Welcome again to the abode of Crime Writers' Chronicle…

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Shakespeare spelled his name at least six ways. In his journal of the famous expedition, Capt William Clark spelled mosquitos 23 ways.

After copyediting Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, I sympathize. (If I were British, I would sympathise. Especially after all the debate with my editor and copy editor over whether it was Food Lover’s or Lovers’.)

Is drugstore one word or two? (One.) How do you spell kaleidoscope? (Word Perfect told me when I got it wrong, but could I trust its correction? Yes, as it turns out.)

Spell Check thinks bee-line has a hyphen in it. My copy editor (two words) disagrees. She wins!

Macintosh is the Apple computer. McIntosh is the apple tree in my protagonist Erin’s family orchard, the tree her father built a treehouse around using stilts. She still goes there occasionally, alone or with her five-year-old nephew, Landon. Or perhaps she goes to a tree house. I work in Word Perfect and convert to Word to submit to my editor; the two programs disagree.

(They also disagree over whether kidnaped should have one p or two; I go with one.)

Erin and I are foodies. Spell Check is not. It even puts one of those infuriating red squiggles under foodie–and tapenade, gnocchi, crostini, bruschetta, and Pellegrino. The darned thing couldn’t even spell pesto or fettucine, let alone prosciutto. And Caprese salad? Really?

Spell Check and I disagree on how to spell vinaigrette. Its helpful suggestion in response to my version? Vinegarweed. O-kay.

And all this foodie talk doesn’t even make Spell Check hungry, darn it!

Erin runs Glacier Mercantile, aka The Merc, a specialty local foods market located in her family’s hundred-year-old building, the original grocery in the lakeside Montana community of Jewel Bay. Next door is Red’s Bar, run by the formerly red-headed Ned Redaway, often called Old Ned, and his son Ted. Ted and Erin have known each other since kindergarten and he knows how to get under her skin but good. She thinks of that as getting her Jell-O up. We’d had a lovely discussion over whether the past perfect tense should be spelled Jell-Od or Jell-Oed. I resolved it in favor of peeved. When in doubt, revise.

The biggest challenge was Hank the Cowdog, Head of Ranch Security, and hero of a series of books written by John R. Erickson. Landon has been reading the books—well, his parents and occasionally Auntie Erin have been reading them to him. So naturally, when she decides to investigate, she wonders what the cow dog would do. Most dictionaries and dog books spell it two words. I’ve belonged to Border collies, and I do what they tell me to do, which is to make it two words. But the famed detective’s own publisher had used one word. Oh, what to do?

That seemed like a one-time problem, until I wrote the second installment, tentatively titled Crime Rib and scheduled for release July 1, 2014. Erin finds a copy of the children’s classic, Goodnight Moon, in the murder victim’s things. Normally we write “good night,” but Margaret Wise Brown and her publisher chose otherwise. (The book first appeared in 1947; spelling conventions may have changed.) So, it’s “good night” in dialogue, and Goodnight when referring to the book.

And how do you spell sixty-fivish? Five-ish?

Then there are the words you can never remember how to spell that Spellcheck doesn’t know. Tattood or tattooed? Embarassed or embarrassed? (The latter in both examples.)

After the first draft was completed, I realized I didn’t want to write a secondary character with the name of a major mystery writer. So I changed Ian Rankin to Ian Randall—and am very glad I didn't hit "replace all." Crankiness would have become crandalless, which would have made me really cranky!

What about words you make up? Frufalla, a variation of Turkish delight made by that vision in pink, Miss Candy Divine. The Merc’s former manager, Claudette Randall, ran off to Vegas with Dean Vincent, the local chiropractor and Elvis impersonator (he prefers “tribute artist”), who is studying for a Ph.E., a doctorate in Elvisology.

Put a squiggly line under that, Mr. Spell Check—SpellCheck, Spellcheck, SpelCzek—at your peril.

© 2013 Leslie Budewitz

Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, debuted from Berkley Prime Crime in August, and is already a national bestseller. The town of Jewel Bay, Montana—known as the Food Lovers’ Village—is obsessed with homegrown and homemade Montana fare. So when Erin Murphy takes over her family’s century-old general store, she turns it into a boutique market filled with local delicacies. But Erin’s freshly booming business might go rotten when a former employee turns up dead…

Leslie is also a lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books) won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Leslie’s second series, The Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, will debut in early 2015. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a doctor of natural medicine and singer-songwriter, and their cat Ruff, an avid birdwatcher. Visit her online at http://> or on Facebook at

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Mob of Russians

During the three years that we have been running the Crimewriters' Chronicle blog I have been puzzled, off and on, by a curious statistic. Russians are watching us. Why Russians?

You may ask, how do I know? I know because Blogger offers statistics to the blog administrators. The chart for today is in Figure 1. Look at that. 38 Russians looked in on our blog today. What is it, do you suppose, that they find so fascinating? Not that we don't offer our readers a thrill a minute, but hey, this blog is in English. Show yourselves, Russians! Leave us a comment! Who the hell are you and why are you reading this blog?

As you can see, every now and then I tear myself away from the absorbing work of writing to do geek stuff, like checking on Blogger statistics (not that I can find any useful meaning in them, but it gives me the illusion that I'm on top of things). Always I find the Russians, patiently piling up their pageviews. Then last week I stumbled upon something really strange. I've been quite unable to get to the bottom of it, since Blogger doesn't offer a phone number for support.

It's this: Somebody copied our entire blog from the beginning of 2012 to the week before last, pictures and all (even the pictures I stole! surely this is actionable), and reposted it on another blog called Louise Yvette. The layout is different, but it's our content, with no opportunity to leave comments and no dates on the posts.

Naturally the first people I suspected were those Russians who pay so much attention to a foreign blog that has no relevance to their lives. Russian spambots, I said. Spambots that copy your content and use it to inflate the search engine statistics of the entities whose many links they put at the bottom of your stolen posts.

Thelma suggested that it was Putin himself, looking in on us to further some devious anti-American plot. I would argue that it's the NSA, cleverly bouncing their signals from a secret installation in Moscow. But probably it's neither. Anyway if I start down that road I could wind up like the crazy library cataloger Harold used to know who wore a hat made out of tinfoil to keep the government from reading her thoughts. Hmm. Might not be a bad idea at that. I'll have to try it. Perhaps it will scare people into refraining from ripping off my posts.

Or maybe a simple declaration of my copyright will be enough to do the job.

© 2013 Kate Gallison

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Annamaria's Bouchercon Interview

Here's part one of the interview with Annamaria that was filmed at Bouchercon this year in Allbany, where she talks about the trip that inspired her to write City of Silver.