Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year Brings New Opportunities

By Mark W. Danielson
Happy New Year! What’s not to like? Optimists put 2010 behind them and look forward to new opportunities. Pessimists grumble about politics and taxes. Call me an optimist; I always look forward to new beginnings, and 2011 looks promising. Two of my older books should be out on Kindle. With any luck, I’ll have a new book published. Attending the San Francisco Writer’s Conference will be a new experience. And transferring two books from my head into computer documents is my goal. Still, I won’t fret if none of these things happen because we also plan to move back to Texas. The move means new opportunities and more people to meet. All we need to do is sell our Colorado property.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my share of grumbling, and 2010 provided plenty of opportunities for that. Forget the politics, my personal computer issues led to buying a new one, and along with it came an operating system that wasn’t compatible with my existing printer. Then the new printer had its own quirks. And while I’ve preached about backing up documents, I still don’t always do it. Recently, the new Word program sent a final document to the planet Beakabah instead of my hard drive. That’s right – lost in space. Too bad I didn’t save it to my flash drive before closing it out. Once my ranting was over, I found an earlier version of the document and made the changes as best I could recall. I can’t say the final version is better than the one I lost, but it certainly wasn’t any worse. Needless to say, I saved the replacement document in several forms. Lesson learned – until the next time.

It’s still too early to worry about taxes and I can’t seem to have any impact on ending the war in the Middle East, but I do remain optimistic. Each year flies by and puts me closer to my mandatory retirement from airline flying, but retirement also means I can concentrate on my writing, painting, and other fun things. And along the way, I’ll find more inspiration for writing books and magazine articles. So, welcome January – you’ve given me a new year to celebrate, and along with it, the motivation to create. A positive attitude allows me to better enjoy the wintry months ahead. Before I know it, leaves will spread and flowers will blossom. Birds will chirp outside my window, and if I’m lucky, my new computer/printer combo will work like they’re supposed to.

Happy Musings everyone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Forbes Magazine, here I come.

by Bill Kirton

I want to continue the theme of my last posting (about Susan Boyle), but with a twist because, not long ago, a couple of titles for possible TV shows came into my head and I realised I was being led by a greater power to duplicate the career path of Simon Cowell. For any of you unfamiliar with this colossus, he’s the creator of many varied TV reality shows which have been franchised world wide and which work on the premise that people will do more or less anything and submit themselves to the grossest humiliations simply to be on TV and get their 70-odd seconds of being a celebrity.

Anyway, Simon Cowell is immensely, obscenely, unforgivably rich – which was apparently his stated ambition when interviewed near the start of his career. And the good news is that, thanks to my late night Damascene event, I’ll soon be up there with him, gate crashing the pages of Forbes Magazine. Why? Because of ...

That was the first title that swam into my brain and the idea is so simple I’m surprised Simon hasn’t already copyrighted it. On stage, the presenter introduces a guest. Hidden from presenter and guest are three individuals sitting on stools (or perhaps in beds or wheelchairs – the reason for this alternative will become obvious as I outline the nature of the game). If the guest is female, these three are males and vice versa.

The guest is gorgeous, intelligent, sexy, desirable etc., etc. The hidden individuals are the opposite. They’re ugly, misshapen, have the intelligence of earthworms and no discernible value in any area of human endeavour. All they have to do is answer the guest’s questions and then, on the basis of the intelligibility of their answers, the closeness of their vocal responses to ‘normal’ or whatever other criteria the guest wishes to apply, he/she selects one of them, the screen rolls back and the two are properly introduced and given the wherewithal to go on a ‘Kind Date’.

They return the following week to give their separate accounts of the evening spent together. The guest’s tale will be one of disgust, embarrassment, superiority and a confirmation of his/her determination never to frequent the lower orders again. His/her date’s tale will be one of shattered dreams, humiliation and a confirmation that he/she has no place in decent society. It’s entertainment which fits perfectly into contemporary social mores.

(I accept that this is rather close to a title already copyrighted by Simon but I think even he will accept that the format is just different enough from his own to carry it off.)

At first, it’s a straight copy of the original. Contestants will audition at various centres around the country in the hope of being selected to feature in the actual shows. The ones who succeed will duly appear on stage before a huge audience and a panel of celebrity judges drawn from a short list of tone-deaf singers, middle-aged show-business men and young women with lots of make up, long hair extensions and big breasts. And me.

Each contestant will come on stage and describe him or herself and his/her achievements (if any). They won’t be required to sing or dance or demonstrate talent of any sort. This is a show about them, not their foolish, irrelevant attempts to be entertaining.

When they’ve finished their little self-portrait, the judges will take turns to comment on their character and (lack of) personality but there’s a twist. The one voted off each week will be the one who is potentially the most interesting or deserving one. Given the exhaustive elimination procedures which have preceded their selection this will make judging difficult because the contestants really will be the dregs, but that’s how we’ll earn the vast fees we’ll be paid.

The final show will consist of a face-off between the three contestants who really have nothing at all to offer. All charisma will have been discarded at the audition stage and any vestiges of personality will have been identified and ruthlessly expunged by the judges, who will then have their final say. It will be left to me, as the game’s inventor and the richest person on the panel, to step onto the stage, announce the winner and tell him or her why he/she should never have been born. And that will be the year’s Ex-Factor.

There are other formats in the pipeline – Britain’s got Malevolence and Big Stepfather are just two of them – and as soon as the viewing public experience the new depths which TV can plumb, I’m certain they’ll be clamouring for more. Truly Britons will once more be able to echo Wordsworth’s:

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010


As you all wake up to December 25, I hope special warmth comes into all of your hearts. May this season guide you to your muses or to whatever space your heart takes you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

By Captain Mark W. Danielson (FedEx)

’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the hub,
the sorters were sorting, not one single flub.
They stuffed boxes in demis, all loaded with care,
in hopes that their pilots would soon fly them there.
The presents were nestled all snug in their cases,
while loaders slid them to all the right places.
Then my first officer walked with me to his side,
climbed the stairs to prepare for a long winter flight.
When out on the ramp I heard such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what’s the matter.
Away to the door I flew like a flash,
looked out just in time to see the near crash.
The moon on the breast of new-fallen snow,
gave the luster of mid-day to the objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
a pilot from management not wearing flight gear.
With little old eyes, so nervous and quick,
I knew in a moment someone must have been sick.
More rapid than eagles, more pilots came.
But not enough pilots, he called us by name.
Now Dusty, now Scooter, now Gator and Oddie!
On Blazer, on Bear, on Trapper, and Hoggie!
To the top of your stairs, to the flight decks you all,
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
Regardless of obstacles, we took to the sky.
From snow-covered runways, those cargo planes flew,
with cabins full of toys, and St Nicholas, too.
And then with a twinkling, my wheels soon touched down.
A few more minutes and we’ll be on the ground.
Soon a flurry of loaders converged on the plane.
And fuelers and mechanics all doing the same.
While bundles of toys rode their way down,
several safety observers all stood around.
Workers’ cheeks were like roses,
their noses like cherries.
Many in Santa hats, nearly all seemed quite merry.
Some beards were all white and covered in snow,
but no one complained, only hours to go.
One had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when she laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
She was chubby and plump, a right jolly old gal,
I smiled when I saw her, in spite of myself.
A wink of her eye and a twist of her hand,
her bus door opened, I had nothing to dread.
She spoke not a word, but took us straight to the door.
As soon as we’re off, she went back to get more.
In three hours we were back in our seats,
the process done over, we’re not done with our feat.
Hundreds of planes soon took to the air,
all sure to deliver their boxes with care.
Through our smart phones, the chief pilot said,
another sort down, now go find your beds.

Merry Christmas from all who deliver your presents.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis, Meet Me At The Fair

By Shane Cashion

I really enjoyed reading Susan’s post yesterday. She made Nantucket sound like the perfect place to spend Christmas, and a definite must visit for me and my family. While my own hometown of St. Louis, Missouri may not be as outwardly appealing as Nantucket, it’s certainly not without its charms, and, at present, is on an exciting uptick.

Last year, CQ Press ranked St. Louis the second most dangerous city in America. To say that we were embarrassed and disappointed would be a gross understatement. For twelve long months we had to live with this humiliating designation. Everyone knew. My cop friends told me that they’d see people brazenly walking around downtown at all hours of the night, showing off, like they were at Disney World. It was shameful.

Thankfully, this year, we rallied by committing 2,070 violent crimes and 12,074 property crimes for every 100,000 residents. That was enough for us to reclaim the top spot over other more popular destinations like Camden, New Jersey (last year’s champion and our most bitter rival); Gary, Indiana; Compton, California; and Detroit, Michigan. Now, I can once again wear my Brave Enough to Live in America’s Most Dangerous City T-shirt with pride.

What’s strange is that I don’t personally know anyone who contributed to our victory. For the most part, all of the fun occurred on the north side, which is entirely avoidable, unless of course you’re out shopping for a hit man, or a switchblade, or a stripped car, or maybe an unregistered gun for a desperate friend. Nevertheless, thanks to the considerable sacrifice made by our neighbors to the north, the entire city gets to boast of our victory. I think I speak for all of us in expressing my deepest gratitude.

Crime isn’t the only place we’re dominating. According to Men’s Health magazine, we also have the worst teeth in America, beating out such orthodontically challenged places as Jackson, Mississippi; Newark, New Jersey; and New Orleans, Louisiana. I guess I never really noticed all the bad choppers talking to me, but now that we’ve been officially declared the cavity capital of the country, I pay more attention and do in fact see tons of yucky mouths at Starbucks, the grocery store, work, court, just about everywhere really. In some strange way, it’s gratifying knowing that I’m unlikely to see worse teeth anywhere else in the country. To be honest, we St. Louisans just aren’t that bothered by yellow teeth or broken smiles or even putrid breath. In this way, we’re less superficial than people in other places I’ve traveled and lived.

To round out our obvious appeal as a budding tourist destination, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we rank second in the nation for the highest rate of Chlamydia. For those not up on their STDs, Chlamydia is the most common STD of all, so this is big news! If you want your city to get noticed, this is definitely the STD to focus on.

I suspect the foregoing information might come as a surprise to some followers of this Blog. Outside of catching the Cardinals on TV, or taking a quick peek at the Arch from 30,000 feet, St. Louis isn’t a place heavy on peoples’ minds; although, it hasn’t always been this way. At the turn of the 20th Century, we were the fourth largest city in the country, and quite relevant. We even hosted the World’s Fair in 1904. I’d like to think that these recent statistics are only going to help us recapture some of our former glory. So if you’re looking for a carefree, adventurous vacation and you’re tired of the beach, or Paris, or Aspen, or San Francisco, I invite you to leave your curlers and tooth brushes at home and meet me in St. Louis. You’ll like what you see. I guarantee it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas on Nantucket

Greetings from Cape Cod MA, where we're expecting our first significant snowfall tonight. Sigh. I knew we should have bought a house with an attached garage. But we're hardy New Englanders, used to scraping off windshields and chipping frozen door locks. Can't wait! (Not.)

Christmas is only six days away, and we New Englanders really know how to celebrate the season. Cape Cod is magical this time of year -- well, it's magical every time of year in different ways -- but those folks on the blessed isle of Nantucket -- a hop, skip, and a fast ferry or plane ride across the water -- really know how to celebrate the season. And that's why I decided to set Marriage Can Be Murder, the third in my Baby Boomer mystery series on Nantucket during the first weekend of December, which is Christmas Stroll weekend. Naturally, I had to visit the island during Stroll weekend to get the full flavor of the event.

For those of you who've never visited Nantucket, let me give you a little background info. Nantucket is a small island off the coast of Cape Cod, which back in the 18th and 19th centuries was one of the whaling capitals of the country. Ship captains would set out with their crews to catch the mighty beasts -- remember Moby Dick? -- and sometimes would be at sea for over a year. Their families had to be a very self-sufficient bunch, although the wives, according to local lore, spent a lot of time on the roofs of their houses gazing out at sea . Hence, the term widows' walk, and many Nantucket homes have them to this day.

The island is quaint and beautiful, and has a small year-round population which swells to welcome hordes of tourists in the summer months. Beautiful, expensive shops like Lilly Pulitzer and Ralph Lauren, trendy restaurants, charming bed and breakfasts, wonderful beaches. Because Nantucket is an island, everything has to be shipped in, so prices are more expensive than on the mainland. Although Christmas Stroll traditionally runs from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, the first weekend in December is the biggest celebration. Decorated trees are in front of all the shops, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, and Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive on a Coast Guard cutter to the cheers of local school children. When twilight comes, everyone (who isn't shopping or imbibing) gathers in front of the local bank at the top of Main St. for caroling.

It's an atmosphere I hope to recreate in the next book.

Hmm. Now where will I hide the body?

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gone with the Wind - Confederates in Brazil

Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know…
Stephen Foster
One day, a couple of years ago, I was in an office in São Paulo chatting to a friend in English. A lady I didn’t know came up to us and joined in the conversation. She spoke with the dulcet tones of the American South, and I asked her where she was from.

“I was born here,” she said, meaning Brazil.

“Okay. Your parents, then?”
“Here.  And my grandparents too.”

And then she told me the story of the Brazilian Confederates, which, Dear Reader, I’m now going to pass on to you:
After the War Between the States many families from the old south were left landless and destitute. They hated living under a conquering army of Yankees. They were looking for a way out.
Dom Pedro II, the progressive Brazilian emperor of the time, offered it. He was interested in developing the cultivation of cotton, and he gave tremendous incentives to people who knew how to do it. Land could be financed at twenty-two cents an acre. Passage cost no more than thirty Yankee dollars.
Scads of people from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas took him up on his offer.
Many of them settled in the State of São Paulo in the towns of Americana and Santa Barbara D’Oeste. The name of the former is derived from the Portuguese for “Village of the Americans” and the latter is sometimes called the Norris colony, after Colonel William Norris, a former senator from Alabama and one of the founders. (He's the gentleman in the old photo above.)

If you’re a Civil War buff, and would like to experience a vestige of the Old South, I suggest you go to Santa Barbara on the second Sunday in April. That’s when they hold a yearly party on the grounds of the cemetery.
Yeah, that’s right, the cemetery, the one where all of those old confederates are buried.
You can eat southern fried chicken, vinegar pie, chess pie and biscuits. Banjos are played. Confederate songs are sung. The women dress in pink and blue and wear matching ribbons in their hair. Near the Presbyterian Church, the first non-Catholic church ever built in Brazil, there’s square dancing for the young folks.

The men of all ages get drunk and replay the war, looking at first as if they’re celebrating a victory. But at the end of the performance the bearded actor, playing Gen. Robert E. Lee, falls down as if mortally wounded, a Confederate battle flag wrapped around him.

And you might well get to meet someone like Becky Jones, a member of the Association of Confederates, a group that’s three-hundred members strong. Becky learned her English from her parents. They learned it from their parents. And so on. Prompted, she’ll tell you that (even) Damnyankees are welcome to the party, but they have to expect to be received differently than someone from the South. She might tell you, too, about her grandmother, Mrs. MacKnight-Jones, who survived well into her nineties. Grandma learned from her parents never to call Abraham Lincoln by his name. In their household he was only referred to as "that man." And the family tradition goes on until this very day.

Leighton - Saturday

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ninja Novelist

By Jaden Terrell

Okay, I admit it. I'm a fool for Ninja Warrior in all its incarnations. Tonight, it was American Ninja Warrior, in which athletes from all across the U.S. compete for a chance to go to Japan and compete in the "real" Ninja Warrior competition.

For those of you who don't know, the Ninja Warrior competition features a series of timed obstacle courses. With each successive stage, the course gets harder. To date, after ten years of competitions and over 2400 individual attempts, only three people have ever completed all four stages of the competition. The first stage, consisting of such obstacles as the Barrel Climb, the Rolling Log, the Warped Wall, the Jump Hang, and the Rope Climb, typically eliminates 85 to 90 of the 100 competitors, some of whom are comedians and other entertainers, but many of whom are serious athletes. A fun time is had by all, but only the most serious--and well-prepared--competitors make it to the more difficult second stage, which includes the Spider Walk (navigating a floorless corridor by "walking" with a hand and a foot on each wall). A competitor who makes it through all four stages has swung on ropes, made his way along a ledge supported only by his fingertips, dodged moving walls, jumped over pits, scaled walls, and much more. No one wins a Ninja Warrior competition by luck.

Winning means you've trained hard, probably failed many times, then gotten back up and tried again. Competitor after competitor fails spectacularly, only to return six months later for the next competition. They train for hours every day; they build courses in their back yards. Some, after trying for years to get past the first stage, finally make it to the second. Some never will.

Naturally, as I watched the competition tonight, I thought about what those of us pursuing a writing career can learn from the Ninja Warriors. We Ninja Novelists have different obstacles, but like the Ninja Warrior Course, they can be divided into four basic stages.

First Stage: First Draft

Second Stage: Editing and Revision

Third Stage: Market Research and Submission

Fourth Stage: Publication, Promotion, and Wild Success on a Par with Stephen King and James Patterson

Just as most Ninja Warriors are eliminated by the first stage, many people who begin novels never finish them. They are like the Ninja Warrior who falls off the Rolling Log or collapses in an exhausted heap at the Warped Wall. The writer who revises and polishes but never queries an agent or publisher is like the Warrior who makes it through level one only to give up at the Spider Walk. Many who make it as far as Stage Four will still never attain the highest levels of success.

Ninja Novelists, like Ninja Warriors, know that success isn't necessarily making it to the top. It's moving forward. Being a better writer than you were yesterday. Introducing a new reader to your work. Doing something to be a step farther along your desired path than you were before. It's scrapping 50,000 words of your novel and starting again with the scraps you have left, just because you know the book will be better for it. Ninja Novelists know that it all comes down to this:

And above all, enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crime Is Everywhere

By Carola Dunn

I wrote Regencies for many years before I started writing mysteries. However, when someone asked why I'd switched from romance to mystery, I realized I'd actually been preparing for the switch for years. Many of my Regencies had elements of mystery—or at least crime fiction.

The very first book I ever wrote, Toblethorpe Manor (aka A Girl with No Name), has a mystery in it. You've guessed it, of course: What is her name? She suffers from that old plot device, amnesia.

The next three books included a kidnapping and an attempted murder-suicide in The Miser's Sister, and three attempted murders in Angel. I went on from there to spies, smugglers, battle, adventure, even a heroine rescued from a notorious Russian prison!

What reminded me of the subject is the appearance in large print of another Regency with three attempted murders. (Why three again, I wonder? Perhaps a feeling that after three attempts, either the fourth will succeed or it's about time someone worked out whodunnit!) This is Captain Ingram's Inheritance, and someone doesn't want him enjoying his inheritance. It's the third of a trilogy. The first, Miss Jacobson's Journey, is about smuggling gold across enemy France to Wellington in Spain. The second, Lord Roworth's Reward, is about the Battle of Quatre Bras. Anyone expecting a Regency romance to be a comedy of manners would get a surprise with these three. They're now all out in large print (librarians, please note!) as well as various e-book formats ( The large print covers are nothing whatsoever to do with the stories, so I'll show you the e-book covers, which are great, much better than the original hc from one publisher and two pbs from a different publisher (and that's another story, not to mention that I could go on about cover art for hours).

I had a lot of fun writing Regencies. As well as various kinds of crime, I wrote one time travel, three retold fairy-tale novellas (magic and all), one based on The Frog Prince (a non fantasy version), and a ghost story. And best of all, over thirty years after I wrote the first, they're still earning!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Real' TV

by Bill Kirton

Shane’s recent blog about TV made me realise how little of it I watch nowadays and set me thinking about why there’d been such a change. And I think one of the reasons is the preponderance of ‘reality’ TV shows. I think it maybe started with Big Brother. I watched tiny bits of the first ever series in the UK and remember nothing of it. I do, however, remember channel hopping when the third or fourth series was on and coming across what I thought was a hilarious spoof version of it. The characters were so inane, their conversations so dull, so lacking in any redeeming features, so devoid of interest that I was lost in admiration of the writers. (You know where this is going, don’t you?) The problem was that the sketch/skit went on too long and, after a few minutes, I realised that this wasn’t a spoof; it was the actual thing.

OK, that’s not a crime. The inmates weren’t chosen for the contributions they might make to the sum of human knowledge, but the thought that people were sitting watching this night after night, finding these people more ‘real’ than those in the world around them was depressing. Then along came Susan Boyle.

By then, I was already watching very little TV, and certainly not the stuff generated by cynical exploiters of ‘ordinary’ people, so I hadn’t heard of her until a visiting American friend ( a good, sensitive, intelligent, caring friend) described watching her on TV in the USA. She was careful to set the scene, talked of Ms Boyle’s dress, bad hair, whiskers, and how she seemed generally to be an embarrassment to the human race. Then came the revelation of her voice, and she became an angel.

So, encouraged by the friend, I duly watched her performance on YouTube – and it was very, very depressing. Not because of her. To me, she sounded fine, far better and more powerful vocally than most of those who churn out regular hits. No, I was appalled by the audience’s and the judges’ reactions to the way she looked and to how they reacted to her apparently gauche attempts to inject some personality into her presence. (I say ‘apparently’ because Ms Boyle obviously knew she had helluva voice and that the people in the audience making faces at her and conveying their confident superiority over her to one another would soon be silenced. In her way, she was as manipulative as Cowell and the rest – and good for her. Her ‘manipulation’ was without malice.)

So, in the end, she triumphed. In fact, she triumphed rather too quickly for comfort. No sooner had she belted out the first couple of notes than the audience was baying its approval and the judges were doing their ‘gosh, what a lovely surprise’ faces. She was immediately ‘forgiven’ for being so physically repulsive (or whatever their previous sneering at her implied).

I don’t think she’s repulsive. Of course she isn’t – but the whole Susan Boyle phenomenon hasn’t arisen from the fact that she has that voice, but from the implied gap between it and her unprepossessing appearance. If she’d slapped on some make-up, bought a new dress and played herself as the shy, quiet individual she is, she’d probably still have got their votes, but it wouldn’t have been good television. So the producers had to contrive the Quasimodo effect.

But why is that so depressing? Well, watch the clip and pause it before she starts to sing. Look at the carefully chosen images of the reactions of everyone else there. Without exception, there’s total scorn for this person standing before them, a preening, sneering rejection of her, a reduction of her to a figure of fun – based on what? On the fact that she has no dress sense, that she apes the confidence of all the other wannabes who strut across our screens, that she’s a middle-aged virgin from a small Scottish town.

I really do hope that she was canny enough to have chosen to project this image of herself deliberately. I want to believe that Susan Boyle manipulated Simon Cowell. But even if that’s true, the initial images of the baying, self-satisfied citizens so devoid of compassion confirm that her victory is a small one and that we’re losing more and more of our humanity. Those few minutes made Susan Boyle a winner, but the few seconds of pre-voice reactions and the patronising nonsense the judges poured over her afterwards took any meaning out of her victory.

The glut of reality TV shows seem designed to highlight the worst aspects of our attitudes to one another and I find it hard to think of that as entertainment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hydrostatic Shock

by Ben Small

Could a small caliber bullet, fired by your protagonist or bad guy, and striking a victim in the chest or even liver, kidney or speen, cause immediate brain death?

You betcha. It's called hydrostatic shock.

I thought about following my handgun tips blog article with one about rifle tips, but quickly realized the subject is much too complicated for blog treatment, so instead, I decided to focus smaller: on the .22-250 round, a relatively recent vintage (1965) cartridge that provides some interesting dynamics for shooters and crime writers alike.

When most folks consider a .22 cartridge, they think of either the tiny rimfire .22 Long Rifle (.22LR) or the NATO standard .556x45mm (.223 Commercial) round, vastly differing cartridges. The .22-250, a centerfire round, is similar to but faster than the NATO round, the one fired by our soldiers' M-16s. While the bullet weighs about the same as the .22 LR bullet, that's where the similarity ends. (The term "rimfire" means the primer is on the outside of the cartridge bottom, along its circumferential rim; "centerfire" means the primer is in the center.) Rimfire cartridges use different powders than centerfires, and are much less efficient, because not all the powder will fire. The firing pin strikes only one spot on the outer edge of the cartridge.

Think about it. High school physics...

Generally, rimfire cartridges are reserved for plinking or small game. They're not very effective beyond a hundred yards, and at that distance, one can shoot and watch and wait for the bullet to hit something. In other words, it's a slow round. And guns firing a .22LR bullet often are ammo-sensitive. Feed problems and jams are common.

But heck, the .22LR cartridge was developed in 1871. An old-timer. Give it a break.

Most hunting cartridges are centerfire. Feed problems aren't usually experienced, and the rounds are more powerful, as one can mix and match bullet, brass, primer and powder to the twist rate of a rifle barrel's lands and grooves. Bullets spin in gun barrels. The twist rate is expressed in the number of inches required to turn the bullet once. Faster twist rates, like one in twelve, are reserved for light bullets; heavier bullets require a slower twist rate to stablilize. Twist a round too fast, it will disintegrate; too slow it will wobble.

.22 Rimfire Cartridges
.22-250 dimensions in inches

.22 LR dimensions in inches
The pictures and dimensions above contrast some of the differences between the .22LR and the .22-250. While the pictures are not on the exact same scale, they're close to actual size, and one shows a centerfire primer, which of course is struck by the rifle's firing pin, distributing flame to fuel evenly.

The speed of sound is 1126 feet per second, about 768 miles per hour.

Fast, huh?

Well, not so fast in a bullet round.  A .22 LR slogs out of a rifle's muzzle between 900-1100 feet per second and packs about 60-90 foot pounds of energy at a hundred yards. The .22-250, at similar bullet weights -- the weight of the bullet alone, not its cartridge -- leaves a rifle barrel at 3500-4200 feet per second, packing 980-1200 foot pounds of energy at the same distance.

Whoosh! More than three times the speed of sound.

And look at the energy differential. Whamo!

Which brings me back to Hydrostatic Shock, admittedly an oxymoron. If something is "static," it's in a lack of shock state. It would be more accurate to call this effect "hydraulic shock," but the term has been with us since World War II, when the effect was first studied.

What is the Hyrostatic Shock Effect? Simply put, the sudden pressure wave within a body caused by a speeding bullet, a pulse dynamic enough to cause a pressure surge through all nearby organs and vessels. Impact damage. Immediate. Like the fake flying-backward-from-a-gun-blast routine you see in movies. While such nonsense may fly in Hollywood, the real pressure surge, the real energy, is felt within the body, to soft organs, vessels and tissues, not upon the body. The faster the bullet, the more "hydrostatic shock" experienced by the victim.

Yes, speed kills.

Some vessels will surge, some will drain. If the brain doesn't die from exploding, it's starved within seconds.

Either way, you're dead. Just ask the FBI, who lost a bank robbery gun battle in the 80s, the gun fight which led to the development of the .40 S&W handgun cartridge. An agent struck in the neck by a robber's rifle cartridge died from Hydrostatic Shock.

A wildcatter developed the .22-250 round, somebody experimenting with bullet weights, powder and casings, to achieve faster, flatter-trajectory rounds. And this wildcatter scored. The .22-250 round is one of the fastest, most accurate commercial rounds available, even at distance.

A comparative example may be helpful. Yesterday at the range, I fired my scoped Savage Model 12 in .22-250. Brand new rifle, and I had to break in the barrel, a process of firing a round then cleaning the barrel, practiced over and over again. After I zeroed the rifle at one hundred yards, a friend and I shot at two hundred yards, a distance at which I couldn't even see the target bull scope-unassisted. He fired a scoped .22 LR lever action rifle. To reach paper at that distance, my friend had to point his rifle's muzzle into the air, and none of his shots -- he's a better shooter than me -- struck any part of the bullseye.  Meanwhile, I put shot after shot into the bull's ten ring center, some bullets passing through the same hole. Indeed, in one five shot group, I had three ragged-holes joined together. Sub-Minute of Angle.

Again, at two hundred yards. Three ragged holes -- joined. 

Granted, with a bullet weight ranging only between about 35-40 grains, wind comes into play. But the trajectory of the .22-250 is so flat and the bullet so fast, it punches through the wind, being thrown off trajectory only when its energy flags. We're talking long distance, here. Like eight hundred yards.

Pack this speedster with a synthetic-tip or other expanding bullet, and you can imagine the trauma a smacked organ experiences. If blood-rich, the pressure wave will flood or drain the brain. While the victim might die slowly from blood-loss, anyway, Hydrostatic Shock may cause death within a moment.

Google .22-250 and you'll find references to Hydrostatic Shock. You'll also find a video of a prairie dog hit by this round.

The prairie didn't fare so well. Sorry.

And just try to identify the bullet. Try to find it. The bullet either disintegrates within the human body, or it passes through, continuing on its run.

The .22-250 is usually considered a varmint round, suitable for long range prairie dog, rabbit and coyote hunting. But this round has killed deer, large ones.


Hydrostatic Shock. The deer's brain explodes.

Imagine the fun a writer can have...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Preparing for Murder

by June Shaw

As we prepare for what many believe is the best holiday of the year, lots of us are also preparing for murder.

Preparing to create our next murder mystery, that is.

So many questions come into play when we are planning our stories, whether we make a long outline or basically wing it as our story comes into play:

Why will readers care about our main character?
Who will die?
Why will the victim be important?
Who will murder that victim?
By what method?
Where is this taking place?
Who else appears to be guilty?
What makes them appear guilty?
What red herrings will we throw in?
Do other murders take place?
If so, we'll ask most of the same questions as above.
How and where will the story twist?
What will happen in the showdown--the climax?
How will our story end?

Actually, once we've decided on answers to that small batch of questions, we basically have our story. It seems fairly easy.

Oh, one more question: What will we call this mystery?

Do you consider any other questions when you're planning a murder? Or when you're reading one?

Happy plotting.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Matter of Meter

By Jonathan E. Quist

One of the things I admire about great writing, whether prose or poetry, is the transcendence of the language into something much more than the communication of ideas. Under the pen of a master, the words of the English language can take on musical qualities that influence the way we read, hear or speak them. At the will of the writer, the words can trip from our tongues or stick in our throats.

I don’t claim to be a great scholar of any literary genre – my formal studies of literature and writing ended in high school – and my background in poetry is perhaps the weakest, but a well-composed poem can also excite me more than any other literary form. Many poems I learned in grammar school are still bouncing around in my head, largely due to their musical nature. In fact, I have set several to music, if only for my own amusement.

A strange dichotomy arises, when form surpasses content. I have always loved the contrapuntal music of J.S. Bach, particularly his fugues, which are at once aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating. Some poetry strikes me the same way, with complex rhyme schemes, and above all, meter – the rhythmic content of the poem. While trying to keep on top of the music my kids’ peers listened to, I became acquainted with rap and hip-hop. If you can ignore profanity – and I sometimes can – American rap music has produced some incredible poetry. Marshall Mathers, known to the world as Eminem, writes incredibly sophisticated poetry in his lyrics, with driving alliteration, multi-leveled rhyme schemes working both within and across individual lines. This has resulted in some songs which, in my opinion, are vile, vulgar exhortations of violence against women, but also stunningly beautiful as a work of poetry, rivaling the virtuosity of Bach's fuges, and making the English language dance, if only a pole dance. I found myself listening on the radio, mentally filling in the f-words that were bleeped out, because the artistry of the lyrics suffered without them. (In all fairness, I have not heard or read anything he has done in the past ten years – I don’t know whether his lyrics are still so offensive, or his poetry still so compelling.)

The other side of the coin is poetry that is not particularly offensive, but not particularly good. And that is what’s on my mind today. We’re in the holiday season, and the passing of the Thanksgiving holiday (or, this year, Halloween), seems to put the poetry police on furlough, and the hacks appear in the belief that the suspension of their poetic license has been lifted without restriction. I speak mostly of advertisers, though there are plenty of amateurs who leap on to the pile each year.

Word to the wise: The very essence of parody is coming as close as you can to the original, and changing as little as possible to achieve your result. If you are trying for humorous effect, that is the rule you must follow – unless you have good reason to break it, and the skill to do so.

Homework for the unbelievers: Compare the original, uncut film version of Frankenstein with Mel Brook’s production of Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein. (You’ll have to dig for Frankenstein – the censored version originally released to U.S. theaters is missing some key scenes.) Young Frankenstein is laugh-out-loud funny, yet remains a moving adaptation of Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale.

So, if you want to sell the public a new TV set, using “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as your holiday-themed hook, do not, under any circumstances, replace

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year!


We wish you all Happy Holidays

With our fifty-six inch LED HD TV with automatic commercial skip!

Sorry, it just doesn’t work, and it’s abusive and insulting to the union musicians you hired to record the jingle. Even ignoring rhyming issues (and I’m willing to concede those, for expediency), the meter is just all wrong. Try instead:

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

With our 3-D TV!


We wish you a Happy Bowl Game

On our LED screen!

Or even:

We wish you a brand-new big screen

(It’s got 1080-P!)

To paraphrase Johnny Cochran, “If your verse doesn’t fit, it must be re-writ!”
My expectations of the advertising industry in this season have been so lowered over the years, I just tune them out. The thing that still sets me off more than any other are bad rewrites of the Reverend Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. (There is some debate regarding the authorship of this poem; the Wikipedia entry for Moore provides some background.) The poem is written in anapaestic tetrameter – four groups of three syllables, with the stress on the third of each group:

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

So to the parodist, your challenge is not only to get twelve syllables, but to put the stressed syllables in the correct place. I confess, in my first attempt (an engineer’s twist on the original, which pre-dates web browsers and is therefore too obsolete to post, so don’t ask), I broke the meter several times. (I also had the audacity to rhyme “stanza” with “panzer”. Don’t ask.) Trust me, these metrical flaws stand out like a sore thumbs, and if you expect the listener or reader to forgive you, the rest had better be pretty darned good. Most versions I encounter aren’t.

It doesn’t help that Moore doesn’t strictly follow the meter – the initial anapest is often replaced with an iamb, dropping the first syllable of the line, as early as the third line of the poem. In most cases, the rhyming line follows suit; in some, it does not:

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a luster of midday to objects below,

But even if you’re trying to follow Moore’s version exactly and keep the variations in the same place, it’s still not rocket science. Make your words work for you. If one doesn’t fit, throw it out, and choose a different word. Above all, if you believe that your idea for a humorous parody is good enough to spend time on it, then commit to it, and give it the effort it deserves. And, as the saying goes, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. If you can’t make an idea work in a sentence, take it out, and use another idea in its place. With a little hard work, you can produce something to be proud of. But if you’re not willing to put in the work, don’t assume your coworkers at the holiday party are laughing with you, as you read your clever verse.

And above all, if you haven’t taken the time to get it right, don’t ask me to read it, or I’ll blog about it next year…

Some poems that have remained firmly embedded in my memory since childhood:

The Table and the Chair”, by Edward Lear

Skipper Ireson’s Ride”, by John Greanleaf Whittier

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Jabberwocky”, by Lewis Carrol

The Charge of the Light Brigade”, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Day to Remember

By Mark W. Danielson

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. A day that lives in infamy. The day that launched us into World War II. Ask anyone old enough to remember and they will tell you exactly where they were the day thousands died and others were severely burned and injured. Heroes kept on fighting. The survivors kept living.

For those of us too young to know, it’s hard to imagine the fright they experienced on that peaceful Sunday morning as waves clapped at sandy beaches, palms swayed under a sapphire sky, residents prepared for church, and soldiers and airmen sat idle. And then the sky buzzed with hundreds of bombers. Reality didn’t sink in until after the first bombs fell. Within seconds, Satan’s hand had blocked the sun and the sky was on fire. People ran for cover. Then more bombs fell and chaos ensued. The unprovoked attack is the reason we still remember Pearl Harbor today. Lest we forget.

Our toll in the Pacific was greater than the ocean itself. This war was won by sheer determination, one island a time. Luck was on our side at Midway. Even more so when master planner Yamamoto’s Betty bomber was intercepted and shot down by P-38 fighters in the Solomon Islands.

Countless books have been written on the war in the Pacific, but none better than James Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys. Both of these books take the reader into the Pacific theater from the vantage of a few brave men. The fact that George H. Bush is in Flyboys is more coincidence than intentional, for it was his airmen, captured on Chi Chi Jima, that form the basis of this story. Photos of these men give the book heart. Living their horror gives their story meaning.

If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to reflect on those who served during World War II, particularly those who gave their lives at Pearl. Thank these veterans for their service, and never forget that their sacrifices are what allow us to post messages like this one.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

10 Most Famous Female Criminals

By Chester Campbell

As mystery writers, it seems that we mostly concentrate on the males of the species for our bad guys. According to those who study the subject, however, some of the most horrific crimes have been committed by women. The website Criminal Justice Degrees Guide has provided us a rundown on the Top 10 bad gals. Here they are:

1. Lizzie Borden: Lizzie Borden was the top suspect in the gruesome 1892 murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. On August 4, 1892, Lizzie found her dead father slumped on a couch and bloodied from multiple crushing blows to his skull and his left eyeball split in half. The Borden’s maid, Bridget Sullivan, was lying down in her room when the murders occurred and was called down by Lizzie when she discovered her father’s body. Her stepmother, Abby Borden, was found dead in the guest bedroom from similar hatchet blows to the head. Lizzie was arrested and taken to jail following the murders. During her murder trial, Lizzie’s stories were inconsistent and suspicious, and much of the incriminating evidence was overlooked. Despite the fact that police found a hatchet with a broken handle in the basement, and knew that Lizzie had attempted to buy prussic acid and even burned one of her dresses days after the murders, Lizzie was acquitted. The maid even provided key testimony at the trials, claiming that Lizzie never mourned the loss of her parents. However, no one else was ever arrested or tried for the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden.

2. Bonnie Parker: Bonnie Parker was an accomplice to Clyde Barrow during the duo’s spree of robberies in the south and central United States during the Great Depression. During this "public enemy era," Bonnie, Clyde and their accomplices garnered national attention for numerous robberies, murders and their ability to escape police on every occasion. Although Bonnie rode with the Barrow gang for 4 straight years and was often depicted as a cigar-smoking and gun-wielding killer, there is no record that she ever shot a gun or killed anyone. After many attempts to stop the outlaws, police finally succeeded with a carefully planned ambush, in which Bonnie and Clyde were shot and killed on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1934.

3. Mary Ann Cotton: Mary Ann Cotton was an English serial killer during the 19th century, who was suspected of killing about 20 people by arsenic poisoning. Cotton took no mercy on her victims, killing her husbands, mother, friend and even her own children. The murder spree began when she married her first husband, William Mowbray. The couple had five children and quickly lost four of them to gastric fever and stomach pains. They had, and lost, three more children, and Mary Ann became a widow after her husband died of an intestinal disorder in 1865. Mary Ann collected his insurance and moved on to her next husband. Mary Ann continued the pattern of marry husband, give birth to child, child dies, then husband dies and she collects the insurance money. By the time she met her fourth and last husband, Frederick Cotton, Mary Ann had lost her mother, friend, three husbands and 11 children all to stomach fevers. After Frederick’s sudden death and the death of the last surviving Cotton boy, Charles Edward, the coroner became suspicious of the cause of death and Mary Ann’s role in the fatalities she had witnessed through the years. When Charles’ body tested positive for arsenic, Mary Ann was arrested and later found guilty for the murders and was hanged.

4. Aileen Wuornos: Aileen Wuornos was a serial killer and prostitute who killed seven men in Florida from 1989 to 1990. Wuornos had a rocky upbringing that led her into prostitution at a young age. It was then when she began having trouble with the law, including DUI, disorderly conduct, assault, armed robbery and theft charges. Around 1986, Wuornos met Tyria Moore, a hotel maid, and the two began an intimate relationship together. Wuornos supported them with her prostitution earnings, but the payments were not sufficient enough. They decided that in order to make more money, Wuornos would have to rob her customers and shoot them. The first victim, Richard Mallory, a convicted rapist, who Wuornos claimed to have killed in self-defense, was found dead along a dirt road in Volusia County, Florida. He had been shot three times with a .22 caliber weapon and wrapped in a rubber-backed carpet runner. Another naked male body was found in Florida woods with similar gun shots that appeared to be made with a .22. Over the course of one year, five other male bodies were found throughout Florida. Witness descriptions of the two women seen driving the victims’ cars and Wuornos’ fingerprints on victims’ belongings pinned her as the murderer. Wuornos was arrested and claimed self-defense in the killings of all seven men, but her inconsistent stories and varied confessions led her to receive six death sentences. She was executed by lethal injection on Oct. 9, 2002.

5. Genene Jones: Genene Jones is a serial killer who killed somewhere between 11 and 46 infants and children while working as a pediatric nurse in San Antonio and Kerrville, Texas. Jones injected children with digoxin, heparin and succinylcholine that caused heart paralysis, breathing complications and often led to death. Her intention was to put children in an emergency state and revive them to receive praise and attention from parents, doctors and the public. However, many children like Chelsea McClellan did not survive the attacks, and their deaths were labeled as SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome. When suspicion rose about the eight children who developed emergency respiratory problems at the pediatric intensive-care unit in Kerrville, and an inordinate number of child deaths at Jones’ previous job at Bexar County Hospital, investigation ensued. Chelsea McClellan’s body was exhumed and the coroner found succinylcholine in her tissues. Although the evidence was compelling, no one had actually seen Jones inject Chelsea or her other victims. After several organized hearings, the Kerr County grand jury found Jones guilty of one count of murder and several charges for injury to seven children. She was sentenced to 99 years in prison and will receive automatic parole in 2017.

6. Andrea Yates: Andrea Yates is responsible for killing her five children on June 20, 2001 by drowning them in the bathtub at her house. Yates had been suffering with a severe case of postpartum depression and psychosis. Andrea and her husband, Rusty Yates, had five children between 1994 and 2000, but it was only after the birth of Luke, her fourth son, that Andrea showed signs of depression. She became suicidal and tried to kill herself on many occasions. After being admitted to the hospital, Yates was prescribed a mixture of antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs, including Haldol. Although her condition improved, she did experience a nervous breakdown and two suicide attempts a month later. Yates was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and, ignoring her psychiatrist’s advice to stop trying to have more children, she gave birth to her sixth child, Mary. When Andrea’s father died in 2001, she fell into a severely depressed state by not talking, mutilating herself, reading the Bible loyally and neglecting to feed Mary. Yates was hospitalized again and the doctor informed Rusty that she must be supervised around the clock at home. On June 20, 2001, Rusty did not follow the doctor’s orders and left Andrea alone with their children when he left for work. Within the one-hour span of Rusty leaving and Andrea’s mother’s arrival to the house, Andrea drowned all five of her children one by one. Yates was originally convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole after 40 years, but it was later overturned when a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity. Yates currently resides at a low security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.

7. Countess Elizabeth Bathory: Elizabeth Bathory was a countess from Hungary, who belonged to the renowned Bathory family. But she is most infamously remembered as a serial killer who tortured and killed hundreds of girls and young women in her castle. As legend has it, Bathory bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth. One witness claimed that the "Blood Countess" and her four accomplices killed more than 600 women, but they were only convicted of 80 deaths. Bathory was sentenced to imprisonment in the Cachtice Castle, where she stayed until she died in 1614.

8. Karla Homolka: Karla Homolka and her husband Paul Bernardo were a team of torturers, rapists and murderers. They raped and murdered two Ontario teenage girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as Homolka’s younger sister, Tammy, between 1991 and 1992. In an effort to please Paul and keep him around, Karla agreed to engage in the gruesome acts and even videotape the rape-murders. Police began questioning Karla and Paul in connection with the Scarborough Rapist investigation and tested DNA samples provided by Bernardo. When the test results came back matching Bernardo’s DNA with that of the Scarborough Rapist and he was placed under 24-hour surveillance. Even though Homolka was arrested, she managed to get a lighter sentence of 12 years in prison because she claimed that she was forced by her husband to participate in the heinous crimes.

9. Susan Smith: Susan Smith murdered her two young sons by rolling her car into John D. Long Lake in South Carolina with her children inside on Oct. 25, 1994. Smith told police that she had been carjacked by a black man who drove away with her kids in the back. A nationwide search for Smith’s 1990 Mazda Protege and highly publicized rescue efforts to find her sons came to a halt just nine days after the incident, when Smith confessed to rolling her car into the lake with her kids inside. Smith claimed that she had mental health issues that impaired her judgment, but her alleged motives for the murders contradicted her defense. Smith disposed of her children so that she could mend a broken relationship with a wealthy local man who didn’t want to be with a woman who had children. Smith was charged with two counts of murder and is serving a minimum of 30 years in prison.

10. Diane Downs: Diane Downs is infamously known for shooting her three children, killing one, in order to keep her lover who didn’t want kids. Downs told police a fabricated story that a stranger had tried to carjack her, shot her in the arm and shot her three kids near Springfield, Oregon. She then drove to the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital with her children in the back. Her second child, Cheryl, was already dead when they arrived. Downs had been shot in her left forearm, which was later determined to be a self-inflicted wound used to support her carjacking story. Downs rehashed the events to police and was recorded on camera laughing as she described the traumatic details. Her calm behavior and mannerisms made police very suspicious of Downs’ role in the shooting and murder of her 7-year-old daughter. When police discovered that Downs was involved with Robert Knickerbocker, an Arizona man who did not want children in his life, all signs pointed to Downs as the murderer. Prosecutors strongly believed that Downs attempted to kill all three kids so she could continue her affair with Knickerbocker, but it wasn’t until her oldest daughter, Christie, gave a key testimony that it was in fact her mother who shot her and her sisters that the case came to rest. Downs was found guilty on all charges and was sentenced to life in prison, plus 50 years, on June 17, 1984.

(List copyright 2010 CriminalJusticeDegreesGuide.Com, used by permission)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jeff Bridges and Larry McMurtry by Shane Cashion

Jeff Bridges is fast becoming a favorite of mine. Even though he’s been around forever, I never really gave him much thought until recently seeing him in Crazy Heart. I loved his performance, and am excited to see him in his new movie: True Grit. For those old enough to remember, it’s the Coen Brothers’ remake of the western starring John Wayne. Jeff Bridges is recreating John Wayne’s role as Rooster Cogburn.

The only reason I’m aware of the original movie is because of my crazy uncle George. For much of his adult life he lived in my grandma’s basement. When I was a kid, I used to spend Saturday nights at her house. Uncle George would make us Chef Boyardee pizza while we watched John Wayne movies. The westerns and war movies were always his favorites. Looking back, he even kind of looked like The Duke with his sandy blond hair, broad shoulders, and considerable stature, which was peculiar considering the rest of my family’s stumpy with dark hair.

To keep me entertained, he’d arm me with various weapons he brought back from Vietnam and make me march from one end of the basement to the other while he sang: From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country’s battles… When the marching got old, we’d pretend the basement was an island in the South Pacific and we were hunting “gooks.” I can’t tell you how many pillows I stabbed with my Marine Corp issued bayonet. I was seven-years-old.

With uncle George home, Saturday night’s were never boring, and somewhat educational. I learned a lot about John Wayne, and knives, and guns, and discipline, and faraway places. I also learned that war changed people in ways different from college. It’s been a decade since uncle George died of cancer. Whenever I see a John Wayne movie on TV, I tune in for a bit and think of my uncle with fondness and sadness. If he were alive today, I’m sure he’d pass on seeing the remake of True Grit. He’d say, “John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn,” and leave it at that.

I also read that Jeff Bridges is teaming up with Peter Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry to reprise his role as eccentric west Texas oil man, Duane Moore, in a sequel to The Last Picture Show. Larry McMurtry has long been my favorite author, and in my humble opinion, The Duane Moore series, of which The Last Picture Show is the first of five installments, is among his best work:

The Last Picture Show (1966)
Texasville (1987)
Duane’s Depressed (1999)
When The Light Goes (2007)
Rhino Ranch (2009)

Texasville and Duane’s Depressed were written in that fifteen year period when McMurtry was at the top of his craft. It was then that he also wrote the Lonesome Dove series:

Lonesome Dove (1985)
Streets of Laredo (1993)
Dead Man’s Walk (1995)
Commanche Moon (1997)

McMurtry’s later books, of which he’s written more than a dozen, including the last two in the Duane Moore series, are far more pedestrian. Unlike McMurtry, Bridges seems to be at the peak of his career, having won an Oscar earlier this year. We’ll have to see if he can keep it going in True Grit and the sequel to The Last Picture Show. Hopefully, McMurtry can find his former genius in writing the screenplay to the latter and give us a movie worthy of his wonderful books.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Entertaining -- The Easy Way

Greetings from chilly Cape Cod MA. My faithful co-blogger Lucy is under the weather, and we're hoping she'll be well in time for Santa to arrive and give her the case of Milk Bone dog biscuits she's been begging for. But she has given me permission to blog on my own -- just this once -- as long as I focus on food, her favorite subject. So here goes.

I'm not one of the cozy writers who sprinkles recipes throughout her books, mainly because I'm not the world's greatest cook. But in my first Baby Boomer mystery, Retirement Can Be Murder, I couldn't resist putting one in. It seemed to work well into the plot, plus it's the easiest one I've ever found. It was given to me by an elderly family member who, sadly, is no longer with us. With the holidays closing in fast, which usually means expected and -- alas --unexpected company, in the spirit of the season, I'm going to share it with you. It's for -- drum roll please -- ice cream bread. Yes, you read that right. Ice cream bread. Not ice cream cake. Not ice cream soda, sundae, cone, or anything else that sounds remotely familiar. And it's as easy as (forgive me for this, but I couldn't resist) pie.

Here's the recipe: one pint of ice cream, softened. Your flavor choice, but butter pecan works really well. Be sure to use REAL ice cream. None of that low-fat stuff. The second ingredient is one and a half cups of self-rising flour. The self-rising part is VERY important. Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl. I usually add the flour to the ice cream a little at a time so it doesn't get lumpy. Be sure it is mixed throughly. Then spoon the batter into a greased and floured 8x4 inch loaf pan. Bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. That's it! This two-ingredient bread is good any time of day. It can be served as a dessert (topped with more ice cream, whipped cream, or other sauce), or toasted and served with cream cheese for breakfast or a snack. Be sure to wrap the bread tightly after it's cooled if you're not going to serve it right away as it dries out quickly.

I've gotten lots of e-mails from readers who've tried this recipe and have been amazed at how good it is. Our local daily paper here on Cape Cod heard about the recipe, contacted me, and is starting a contest this week to pick the recipe for my second book. This one should be an appetizer or hors' d'oeuvres, to fit into the the plot. The contest ends December 31. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Hmm. It just occurred to me that I may have to taste all the entries personally to pick the winner. Oh, well. As long as I don't have to actually make them!