Friday, August 29, 2014

The leaves are falling. . .

I found another notepad with my dad's name on it just yesterday. He must have had hundreds, all "gifts" from charities he supported. (And he supported a ton of them.) I use them for jotting down phone numbers from the message option on the phone, just as he did. After he passed on, I threw away bags full of these pads, until some gained a reprieve. They're still useful to me, but I wonder how he could have possibly used them all in his lifetime. He loved little 3 x 5 cards, tucked in his front pocket on his shirt (all his shirts had to have this pocket or they were returned immediately), and small notepads he could use for reminders. Once, I gave him a small notebook to use beside his computer, handy for jotting down things he wanted to remember, including passwords, but he found it difficult to remember to use it. Once again, the 3 x 5 cards came to the rescue.

I discovered my older daughter was doing the same thing. Tucked in a slot in her bedroom desk is a tidy pile of 3 x 5 cards, covered with passwords and reminders. Seems the 3 x 5 card gene has skipped a generation. I, however, hoard notebooks. Rows of them. All filled with pages I figure I'll  need to re-read someday. One even holds passwords. So there.

Leaves are falling, much to my disgust. Autumn simply has to hold off a while longer. We're just not ready to rake and pull on sweatshirts. Once, though, autumn was the highlight of my year.  When I was a girl in Kansas, Fall meant the beginning of the fox hunting season, my big thrill. Since there weren't a lot of foxes where I lived, the hunt would put out a drag, or scent, for the hounds to follow, which meant a fun ride at full tilt. I was never prouder than when I was awarded my "FLH" buttons to sew onto my jacket. My little roan half-quarterhorse, half-thoroughbred, normally a well-behaved mare, would thunder over logs and leap streams as if she were seventeen hands instead of fifteen. Once, I almost passed the Master of hunt, when she got the bit in her teeth and decided she was going to lead this parade. I ended up jerking her in circles to try to slow down our certain expulsion from the hunt.  She hippity-hopped and she bucked and I almost went over her head, until she calmed down. Thank goodness. That day was more fun than I'd ever had.

The writing is coming. Bathroom renovation is almost complete, so the sound of workers' radios and drills and hammers and whatall is just about silenced. A few more bits to go, a re-do by the plumber of the hot and cold handle in the shower, and we've survived the bathroom re-do from hell.  I don't think I'll ever do this again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Strong Greaved Achilles and helmet-haired McDonnell

I'm re-reading the Lattimore translation of the Illiad - and it's wonderful. When I read it in school, it was work. Now, I'm caught up in the language, the imagery, the violence.  Still a heck of a read. It's a textbook of how to make characters come alive. Use a tag with a name - like strong-greaved Achilles- and keep it going until you can't think of the character or see his name without the extra descriptor. The descriptor gives a visual image that is many instances is almost cinematic.

A friend recommended TYRANT on FX. We could only start with the fourth episode, but boy howdy. Nothing like it on TV that I know of. I'm going to have to hunt down the first three, but I have an idea what's happened so far. RAY DONOVAN is going slowly - I don't have much time for TV, but Season 1 is so original, I wish I'd written the character.

I miss comedies of the old days, like The Dick Van Dyke Show. Network TV then hired the best writers. I've always thought comedy is harder to write than anything else in the world.  I'm beginning to believe only tortured souls can write truly great comedy. Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams, RIP.  I find writing humor to be nothing but torture. Sometimes I can catch a quirky phrase that sounds at least amusing, but that's as far as my talent goes.

Our former governor continues to deny any wrong doing in his acceptance of money and gifts from a corporate bigwig. The whole story is so sordid and embarrassing, I don't know how he can get on the stand to testify. I'd have accepted a plea deal for a hundred years in prison, if it would have spared my children and wife this public humiliation. I can't imagine how his wife has retained her sanity, unless she really is crazy already. Totally possible.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paring down

I just re-read HUNTING BADGER by Tony Hillerman. I remember the first time through, I was shocked at the large print and short page count. As I do with Hillerman, I read for story. This time, though, I read it for technique.

What I discovered made me rethink my own craft. Hillerman has distilled each scene, each conversation, down to its essence. There's no fluff, no "pretties" to distract from the story.  Yet each character retains his/her distinctive voice. Jim Chee never sounds like Leaphorn.  I found I really liked it, because the story is fairly complicated for such a short word count. Personally, I'm really fond of all my digressions and side stories, but none of them are that spectacular that they can't be eliminated. Any distractions need to be central to the mystery, or they're history.

I miss these masters of mystery, Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis. At least we have their bibliography, and they'll never go out of print.

Friday, August 08, 2014


Since I'm playing with another Tal Jefferson book idea, I needed to refresh my memory on its locale. Hitting the Web, I pulled up pictures of the real town on which I based Wynnton, and looked around, courtesy of Google. (Personally, I hate the fact Google has my house in its data base.) I couldn't believe how the streets I thought I knew well have changed over these past years.

The houses I am using are no longer residences. What was once a very neighborly street is now all business in these old, lovely homes. Pickup trucks park in the side yard. Large signs by the driveway announce the business name and address. Houses once painted a brilliant white to ward off the summer sun are now tans and beiges, reds and blues.

I remember all those neighbors so clearly. Mrs. DeShazo with her curved spine, club foot, and tiny stature, always impeccably dressed, wearing lipstick, and the sweetest woman on earth. Mrs. Smith, worrying about her husband's arthritis. Mrs. Ritchie, her house filled with luminous art painted by her Spanish son-in-law. Mrs. Amos, housing her granddaughter and her son, wealthy as Croesus but not flaunting it a bit.  Visiting each other was a ritual not to be missed. Front porch swings on hot summer nights, lemonade in the garden, a tuna stuffed tomato for lunch with all the neighbor ladies happy to attend a hastily arranged party. I know they are no longer with us in person, but they will always live in my memories. Their white houses with huge old shade trees, now cut down for parking areas, will survive in my mind as well.

The owners may change, but the stories these women told, their personalities, their faces, are with me still.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Where have the readers gone?

I read some horrifying statistics today. I'm generalizing here, but the article said that only one-third of high school graduates pick up a book after graduation, for the rest of their lives. College grads were even worse! Something like twenty-eight per cent deign to read a book after receiving their sheepskins.  There was a further breakdown, but oh my stars, did I feel discouraged. With so few young people reading, the publishing market is bound to cater to those sacred few. I just didn't see the trend as clearly as I do now. The aisles between YA books always have more people than any other section, even the ones with cookbooks and devotionals, so mercy me, I hope those few stay faithful to the printed word.

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Cliché, yes, indubitably. I can't imagine a life without books in some form or another. So I feel sorry for those who never want to go near a novel again for as long as they live. Then again, who am I to judge? There's certainly great storytelling on the TV (I just started in on RAY DONOVAN on cable), but some of the best TV drama comes from novels. LONGMIRE, anyone?

I'm mailing copies of OUTLANDER to friends who are too young for its first iteration in 1991. I know they'll be caught up in the series now airing on Showtime (I think), and will want to see what's been left out in the necessarily truncated TV version.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Cup of Cold Water

We were having dinner the other night at a Chinese restaurant we've frequented for over thirty years.  No kidding. It's not in the best part of town, but the food is great and the place holds great sentiment for us. Our first date. Last Saturday, we were out with family, enjoying ourselves, when a thin black man came into the restaurant.

The day had been a hot one. He asked the hostess for a cup of water. I heard her, across the room, tell him they had no cups to go. He stood there, looking forlorn, as she tried to get him to leave, asking again for a cup of water.  I glanced at our large table, filled with food, and lost it.

Loudly, I shouted across the room that I'd pay for the water. Once more, she insisted they had no cups. I glanced at the bar and asked of they had bottled water. They did. Again, I said I'd pay for it. A bottle of water was produced, and the man turned to thank me. I nodded.

My Beloved pointed out they probably, given the economics of the area, have people asking for water all day long. Maybe. But when we, as a society, refuse people water, we deserve what we get. And it won't be good.

I won't be back to that old favorite restaurant, ever again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Books from our childhood

I read an interesting analysis of the Narnia books by someone who reread them as an adult, comparing her contemporary reaction with her youthful memories of the books. Though the rereading was colored by her rosy feelings from years before, she couldn't overlook the sexism and other issues she found as an adult. I felt sorry for her. Something wonderful was now tainted.

 Though I'm often nostalgic, I wouldn't relive the past for a zillion wonderful reviews. Memories, though, are mine, therefore hands off to everyone else. Yet I've been tempted to pull out old favorites and give them another look, wondering if my young eyes were wrong the first time they read the words on a page.  Miss Flora McFlimsy has never failed to charm me, no matter how old I am. Rumer Godden's Mouse House swims in the same magic.  But these are books for young children, not the books I gobbled up as I became a voracious reader.

My mother insisted on summer reading lists (before schools required them), so I was fed a delicious diet of Newbery Award winners.  I cannot praise my mother enough for insisting I read quality books.  Behind her back, with my allowance savings, I indulged in the secret delight of Nancy Drew books, purchased at the post exchange on outings with my father.  I can still see my mother rolling her eyes and sighing when I fell under the thrall of the dauntless girl detective in her powder blue convertible. (It was a convertible, wasn't it?)

I'd never reread those Nancy Drews, but I have kept my stash of Newberys. Hittie, Her First One Hundred Years. Roller Skates. Caddie Woodlawn.  Oh my, the memories. The interesting thing is, I can see how these books shaped me as a writer. The thrill of the clue in the old clock, the independent girl sleuth, and the veritable plethora of wonderful writing that comprised the award-winning books gave me a firm foundation as a mystery writer. I don't need to reread them to see if I was hoodwinked as a child reader.

I wasn't. To all those wonderful writers, I am eternally grateful.