Friday, December 30, 2011

Japanese New Year's Celebration Season

by Jean Henry Mead

Among New Year's celebrations around the world, the Japanese shōgatsu is one of the longest in duration. The New Year is celebrated on January 1, but the holiday continues well into January. Just as we prepare for Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Japanese take their holiday preparations seriously, especially New Year's Eve, which is known as Omisoka.

Buddhist temples around the country ring their bells a total of 108 times on New Year’s Eve to symbolize the 108 human sins and to rid themselves of the 108 worldly desires. A major attraction is “The Watched Night Bell” in Tokyo, which is reminiscent of the Times Square ball drop. The Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid them of their sins of the previous year. After the bells stop ringing, they celebrate and feast on soba noodles.

The New Year season is also celebrated with a special selection of food called osechirvori, or osechi, which consists of boiled seaweed, fish cakes, chesnuts, sweet potatoes, burdock roots and sweetened black soybeans. Another popular dish is ozoni, a mocha rice cake, which is often eaten with sushi and later a seven herb rice soup that is prepared on Jimijitsu, the seventh day of January.

Japanese post offices are their busiest during the end of December and beginning of January, due to the country’s custom of sending postcards called nengjo. Like our oun custom of sending Christmas cards, the postcards are delivered on New Year’s Day. However, the cards are not sent if someone in the family has died during the year. Instead, a simple postcard called mochyyn hgaski is sent to friends and relatives.

Children are customarily given money on New Year’s Day, which is handed out in small decorated envelopes called pochibukuro, which are similar to the Chinese red envelopes and the Scottish handsel. The custom, called otoshidama, began during the Edo period when large stores and wealthy families gave children small bags of mochi, a boiled, sticky rice cake topped with a a slice of Mandarin orange. The amount of money they receive depends on the child’s age but has been known to exceed $120 U.S.

The custom of giving mochi is a dangerous one because it has caused a number of chocking deaths, especially in the elderly. The death toll from eating mochi is reported annually in newspapers following the New Year, yet the custom continues.

Games are also part of the New Year’s celebration, including kite flying, or hanetsuki, and a game called sugoaroku, fukunwarai, which resembles our “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” using paper facial parts to tack blindfolded to a wall. Other entertainment includes TV programming, which pits members of two teams of popular music artists against each other.

Another Japanese New Year's tradition is poetry, including haiku, a 17 syllable verse, as well as renga, or linked poetry. Some haiku celebrates a number of “firsts” for the New Year, including the first sunrise, first laughter and first dream. And before sunrise on January 1, people often climb a mountain or drive to the coast to watch the first sunrise of the new year while others visit a shrine after midnight.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is played throughout Japan during the New Year’s season, often accompanied by a chorus. The symphony was introduced by German prisoners of war during World War 1, and was first played by the renowned NHK Symphony Orchestra in 1925. The Imperial government encouraged performances of the symphony during the Second World War, especially on New Year’s Eve, to promote Japanese nationalism because, at that time, Germany was an ally. The symphony became a tradition after the war and continues to this day.

No matter how you plan to celebrate the New Year, I hope that 2012 is the happiest and most successful ever!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spell Check Can't Save You

By Mark W. Danielson

Ever find a typo in a published book? Most people have, and if it’s in your book, you’re mortified. How does it happen? Simple -- computers have made writing so easy that we get lazy. We are so used to reading and writing at the speed of technology that we tend to miss things. The up side is we can type at our thought’s pace. The down side it errors are easily induced.

If you’re like most authors, you use Spell Check and Grammar Check to proof your work. But what happens if your words are spelled correctly and are grammatically correct, but the wrong one was used? Then there’s a good chance it may come out something like this:

“What do you mean he’s dead?” she screamed. “He said he was heeled!” After saying that, she collapsed over his body and wrapped her arm around his waste, feeling the last of its warmth.

The doctor tried consoling her, but she pushed him away. Her actions shouldn’t have phased him, but instead they peeked his interest. “Wear were you when this happened?”

“In bed, of course. He swore he was fine, that the stitches wouldn’t rip, that it was okay to make love. But soon he screamed in pain. I wanted to poor him some water, but he declined. When he winced again, I called 911 and told them their wasn’t a second to lose. Oh, God, what will I do without him?”

“I’m not sure, but you need to weight outside. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Without claiming this to be great dialogue, it does provide an example of ate dictionary words that sound the same, but are not the intended word. Subconsciously, it’s easy to induce errors, and while most are easily discovered, others sneak in like ants. As you can see, the wrong word can create entirely different images from those intended.

But incorrect words can also be the result of typos or mistakes, and Spell and Grammar Checks probably won’t save you on these. One book I recently finished contained several such errors. In one case, the character is firmly gripping another’s hand demanding he “Sweat it!” Certainly, the intended word was “Swear”, but the error remained. Bummer. The next mistake in this book involved naming the wrong President. The timing and all previous references were of Nixon and Johnson and the author certainly meant to name Nixon, but instead Reagan appeared on the printed page. As Rick Perry would say, Oops.

Writing is easy, but creating an error-free novel seems next to impossible. The solution? Once everything is finalized, find yourself a good proof reader who has never seen your work before. Then, and only then, do you have a chance at submitting an error-free manuscript. Happy hunting.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The season of cheer?

OK, for the purposes of this aside on the festivities, let’s leave kids out of the equation. Christmas for them is different. Never mind that the Star of Bethlehem doesn’t move nearly as fast as the flashes from their magnums as they play the kindergarten equivalent of Grand Theft Auto – there are sparkly things everywhere, a huge tree is suddenly growing and twinkling inside the house and the fat guy with the red gear is on his way. My cynicism about it all is barely disguised but I genuinely am happy that it makes kids happy.

But this isn’t about the kids’ Christmas (or the Christmas for genuine believers, which, again, I acknowledge is something different and something special). This is about Christmas for heathens such as me and even those heathens who still pay lip-service to the notion that it’s somehow connected with a religious faith.

I used to get angry about the whole thing – all the enforced jollity, the contagion of Santa’s ‘Ho-ho-ho’. I found it sad that people were nice to one another just because it was Christmas and couldn’t see that it would be good to be like that right through the year. Why not be happy, caring and ho-ho-ho-ish because it’s Tuesday or October or late afternoon? I didn’t like the profits made from crap goods that wouldn’t even last until bedtime. I couldn’t see the point of sending a card to someone ‘because they’d sent one to you’. I was the guy wandering amongst all the ever-so-jolly adverts, listening to Bing Crosby, George Michael, Wizzard and Slade belting out their singalongs in all the shops and muttering ‘Bah humbug’ at every opportunity. I was the pre-ghosts Scrooge minus his miserliness.

Then, lo, it came to pass (several years ago, actually) that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised what I’d known all along – that’s it’s the festival of Godot. Waiting for Godot is about all sorts of things. It’s bleak and yet very funny, it’s simultaneously theatrical and anti-theatrical, and it sums up marvellously how we live our lives. I want everyone who reads this to have a wonderful happy time, so I won’t stress (well, not much, anyway) the essential self-deception of waiting for something which never happens, but that’s what Christmas is. The anticipation begins earlier and earlier each year – and that’s marvellous, because there’s a feeling of direction, purpose, a reason to do particular things. The excitement and magic is a daily experience, through late October, November, December.

The mistake is to assume it’s building up TO something. It’s not. Nothing could match the build-up, so Christmas Day arrives, then goes. And almost at once the newspapers start including supplements about summer holidays. Philip Larkin’s poem Next, Please is a powerful evocation of our Waiting for Godot lives and, although it’s not about Christmas, it encapsulates the season. I’m not going to quote it because its truth (for an unbeliever) may seem uncomfortable (and for a believer, it’s just plain wrong).

And no, I’m not just being a miserable old bugger. I’m having a good time. I like the excitement, the gaudiness, the superficial impression that everything’s OK really. I love the wonder in the faces of the younger kids and the naked, smiling acquisitiveness of the older kids who’ve learned how to work the system. And I actually think it’s a shame that, in the USA, for some reason, the bluff, complex cheer of the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’ has been replaced by the bland ‘Happy Holidays’.

But I really, really do want everyone (of all faiths or none) to have a great time. So please do.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Geezer-lit Mysteries

This is my first posting as a new member of Murderous Musings, so let me introduce myself. I’m Mike Befeler, and I write the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series, which includes Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living with Your Kids Is Murder and Senior Moments Are Murder. The fourth book in the series is under contract with my publisher and will appear December, 2012, and is titled, Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder. I’m always interested in what readers think of the word “geezer.” I’ve had debates with some fellow authors who don’t like the word, but I use it in an affectionate not derogatory fashion because I’m a geezer-in-training. My protagonist is in his mid-eighties with short-term memory loss, has a good sense of humor and can laugh at his predicament. He may have this adversity of old age but is still an active and contributing citizen. So my advice to everyone is to embrace your inner geezer. Thanks to Mark Danielson and Chester Campbell for inviting me to join this blog.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Wish

Christmas is upon us. Glory to God in the highest. Peace on Earth is my Christmas wish to everyone, regardless of their religion. Over the past two weeks I have traveled halfway around the world and back and have seen frantic shoppers everywhere trying to make last minute preparations for their family celebrations. As the hours fly by, it's easy to forget the significance of this holiday. The birth of Christianity. The Son of God, delivered to us. I'm not the most religious person on the planet, but the principles that came with Christ's birth apply to everyone in everyday life, not just at Christmas. If we learn to respect one another, to accept each other with all of our faults and differences, then peace on Earth is possible. During this holiday season, take a moment to tell everyone you know how much they mean to you, and enjoy the blessings that have been sent your way. I speak for all of us on the Musings staff when I say, have a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011--What a year!

by Carola Dunn

So much has happened in my life in the past year, not just in the world of books, but I'll stick to that world here.

My 20th Daisy Dalrymple Mystery, Anthem for Doomed Youth, came out in the spring, in both the US and the UK, and later in large print.


Large print
First 6 are mine

My UK publisher set up signings for me at Heffers, the Cambridge University bookstore, and Hatchard's, the 200+ year-old book shop in London. That shop had been there for nearly 20 years already at the beginning of the Regency, the period I used to write about. It makes an appearance in at least one of my books. Believe me that was a thrill, especially when my UK editor sent me a photo of my books featured in their window.

The 19th Daisy mystery, Sheer Folly, came out in paperback.


Two of my Regencies came out in large print.
large print
original paperback

[I can't get them all to go on the same line!]

Large print

And all my Regencies, which have been available as e-books for years, at last made their appearance on Amazon, for Kindle. Considering how long ago I wrote them, sales have been amazing.

What a year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh, Danny Boy

by Jaden Terrell

In 2004, my father-in-law, Dan Hicks, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's a disease sometimes called "the long, slow goodbye." It's a thief, and a cruel one at that, stealing memories, independence, and even the ability to carry on a conversation. It makes children of grown men and women, turns spouses and children into caretakers. What it cannot do is vanquish love.

Dan was a quiet man. It's a trait shared by both his sons, who bide their time until exactly the right moment, then say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. None of them have ever been much for small talk.

Case in point: Mike and I were once in a grocery store buying chips and soda for a get-together at our house. The man behind us said to Mike, "Are you guys having a party?"

There was a long silence. I smiled at the man and looked at Mike, not wanting to be one of those pushy wives who answer for their spouses. More silence. The man shifted uncomfortably, gave me an embarrassed smile. Finally, I answered the question and we had a brief conversation. As Mike and I were walking back to our car, I said, "What do you do when I'm not here?"

He said, "What do you mean?"

"That man. He asked you if you were having a party."

"Oh that." He shrugged. "He didn't really want to know."

Over the years, Thelma, my sister-in-law Nikki, and I would shake our heads over it. "Those Hicks men," we would say, and laugh. They were three of a kind: men of few words, but also strong men of dignity and kindness. Men who would come out in a thunderstorm to fix your flat tire, who dropped you off at the door when the weather was bad, even though they knew you wouldn't melt and wouldn't have minded walking across the parking lot in the rain.

Dan's quietness helped him cover for his diminishing intellect. Those first few years, he could follow a conversation fairly well, inserting an occasional apt comment, even making the occasional joke. As the disease progressed, his jokes became simpler.

"How are you?" I would ask.

"Still here," he would say, with his old smile. It was an answer with layers of meaning. Still here. Still alive. Still me.

A few years ago, Thelma bought him a powderpuff Chinese Crested puppy. Dan fell in love with the pup and named it after himself and after his favorite song: Danny Boy. The family had begin a tradition of meeting weekly at a nearby Sir Pizza, and Dan would fret, "Do you think my little puppy is going be all right? . . . We'd better get back home and take care of my little puppy."

Always a man of few words, those words became fewer and fewer. Still, he would reach across and straighten Thelma's collar or pluck at a stray thread. Those Hicks men. Always taking care of the ones they love. Even when he could not remember her name, he remembered her.

She kept him at home and cared for him as he became less and less her partner and more and more her child. His daughter, Rene, says it was Dan's gentle nature that made that possible. Yes, he was stubborn (those Hicks men!), but his easygoing nature made him easier to care for. But I also think his love for Thelma carried him. She was his anchor and his lifeline. When he didn't remember himself, he remembered her.

It was hard to watch him slip away. It was just as hard to watch Thelma lose her best friend and life mate, little by little and inch by inch. When they married, she was sixteen and he was nineteen. Her older sister, Lucille, signed the papers allowing her to marry, and for fifty-three years, they loved each other. Raised three children. Loved four grandchildren. Welcomed their children's spouses as if we were their own.

At 2 AM on December 16, just four days before his 73rd birthday, Dan passed away. His daughter, Rene, gave the eulogy. It was a brave and loving thing to do, and I admire her for it. She painted a picture of a loving father who taught his children to swim and to love roller coasters, whose quiet humor blessed their lives, whose pride in his service in the Marine Corps inspired one son and whose love of hiking and photography inspired another.

I once read a quote in a Jewish prayer book. It said that every act of kindness contributes to the goodness in the world and that these acts of kindness live on forever, long after those who committed them are gone. It was about acts of goodness done by common men and women, whose names will never be in history books but whose lives touch other lives like ripples in a pond.

Dan Hicks, you made the world a better place. And now...the pipes, the pipes are calling.

You will be missed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Brazil's Wetlands - The Pantanal

by Leighton Gage

Four times the size of England, one-third the size of France, almost forty times the size of the Everglades, it is, by far, the largest wetland region on the face of the earth.
It's called the Pantanal.

Mostly it's in Brazil, but it also stretches into Paraguay and Bolivia.
In all, it covers a total area of more than 75,000 square miles.

The name comes from the Portuguese pantano, meaning swamp or marsh, an apt description, because eighty percent of the region is submerged during the rainy season.

More than 400 kinds of fish swim in the rivers and and clearwater lakes of the Pantanal.

More than 480 kinds of reptiles slither in its mud,

Some of them are anacondas that like to feed upon crocodiles.

Tapirs can be found there...

...and anteaters;


and coatis;

great otters,

many varieties of monkeys,

rare, maned wolves,

jaguars, and a lovely little creature we call...

the Jaguatirica, a pixie bobcat that looks like a cat...but is most definitely not. Cute aren't they? So cute that some people have tried to domesticate them - without success and with lots of bites and scratches to show for their trouble.  
In all, there are more than 300 species of mammals in the Pantanal...

and more than 1,000 species of birds...

including 15 different kinds of parrots.

The fauna, too is impressive. There are more than 1,700 varieties of flowering plants.

How many more varieties of animals?  How many more varieties of plants?
Nobody knows.
The Pantanal is a mother lode of unrecorded wildlife.

And it isn't only the variety that's impressive. The numbers are, too. Current estimates are that the region contains more than ten millioncaimans.

Readers from Europe and the United States sometimes question my reasons for living in a country that has more than its fair share of criminality and violence.

One reason, among many, is the Pantanal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Short Stories by Earl Staggs

by Jean Henry Mead

Earl Staggs certainly knows his stuff when it comes to short story writing. His collection is not only entertaining, it grabs you and doesn’t let go until you reach the conclusion and take a peek at the next story. It’s like the former Lay’s potato chips commercial. You can’t just read one of Earl’s stories at one sitting. You’re compelled to read just one more and then another. They run the gambit of humor to crime and I especially enjoyed one of Earl’s well-drawn characters, Sheriff Molly, who outwits crooks and lays down the law in her own methodical way.

My favorite of the Sheriff Molly stories is when she encounters Henry Lee, a naked young man standing on the roof of a two-story building, posed to jump to his death. Convincing him that he will only break his legs if he jumps, she manages to talk him down after learning what prompted him to disrobe and contemplate suicide. The author writes convincingly with humor and acquired southern charm which will keep you smiling.

If you’re looking for a great read, I highly recommend the award-winning author’s fictional adventures into the realm of mystery, where good always triumps over evil or at least takes a good run at it. I like Earl’s characters, which he brings to life with just enough description to make them believable. And the plots and settings are varied enough to keep you turning pages.

Short Stories by Earl Staggs will make a great Christmas gift for busy people who have little time to read, although once they start, they’ll make time to continue reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Most Dreaded Word

By Mark W. Danielson

It’s funny how certain things cross your mind. Sometimes they are pleasant. Other times, not as much. Perhaps it was because I was flying to Guadalajara where drug lords had just delivered another message by dumping twenty-three bodies around the city that got me onto this subject. Or maybe it was the news story of a light plane crash that killed six people, three of whom were children. Whatever the reason, it got me thinking about the word was and how it plays into stories. In a narrative story, it is essential. When used to describe people, it means death.

The last thing I want is for my loved ones to read I was a good writer, or I was a good pilot because both are used in the past tense. Words written post-mortem describing what was once my life. When you think in these terms, this word becomes rather sobering.

The 2011 holiday season kicked off with a vengeance, first, with a woman pepper-spraying WalMart customers on Black Friday, and then with news of more fights in stores. Such events not only reflect poorly on our society, they lead to neighbors saying, “I have no idea what happened. He/she was such a nice person.” Although no one died in these acts of stupidity, the lives of the guilty parties were changed forever.

Every day, the papers are riddled with obituaries that use was to describe people. Whether they died in combat, automobile crashes, or from cancer is a moot point because dead is dead, and now the most dreaded word is printed in their honor. Please keep this in mind as you travel to visit your loved ones. Don’t drink or text while driving. Always be aware of your surroundings so that you and everyone else can enjoy a safe and happy holiday season. Above all, have a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writers' identities

I wrote this before reading June's posting last Saturday so it's serendipitous that it turns out to be my extended answer to the question she posed. First, though - Cliché alert – ‘No two writers are the same’. OK, good to get that out of my system, but there’s more because I also think that ‘No ONE writer is the same’. Here’s what I mean.

We all know the publishing business has changed significantly and increasingly quickly over the past five years or so. When I started writing novels as opposed to plays, you polished your MS, printed out a copy (not cheap if it ran to 300-odd pages) and sent it out to agents and/or publishers. Postage wasn’t cheap either, (you also had to cover the costs for its return if they didn’t like it). Then, through the (sometimes) months you waited for them to reply, you got on with the next novel. Meantime, you also had your day job and you were a husband, wife, lover, significant other, hermit, father, mother, son, daughter, outcast, or whatever other roles your social situation imposed on you. See what I mean? There were (and are) several people inhabiting your body. But, back then, the writer bit was just that – you wrote, sent your stuff away, waited patiently but eagerly for a reply, got rejected and did it all again.

Today, though, even that writing bit has fragmented. Being a writer doesn’t just involve the one role. There’s still the writing (the best bit), but there’s also:
  • the PR person, desperately trying to create and project a cuddly profile;
  • the fish out of water, trying to learn and apply marketing techniques;
  • the social networker, scrolling through tweets and Facebook comments with all the other writers;
  • the blogger, trying to sell books;
  • the prostitute, willing to do just about anything to be published or nudged higher up the sales lists;
  • the reviewer;
  • and, mostly, the unrecognised genius, whose blockbuster novel will change the course of humanity but lies misunderstood in the depths of a computer.
I exaggerate, of course, but only on the basis of fairly common experiences shared by many.

But why am I saying stuff you all know anyway? Because what I’m really doing (with very little subtlety) is boast. I’ve already sent out a few tweets and FB comments saying how wonderful I am, and this is another because yet another ‘self’ has been added to my list. I am now … (discreet but still quite loud fanfare) … an ‘award-winning author’. My publisher, Diane Nelson of Pfoxmoor Publishing, submitted two of my books to the 2011 Forward National Literature Awards. The Sparrow Conundrum was the winner in the ‘Humor’ category, and The Darkness came second in the ‘Mystery’ category. OK, trumpet blown, so what?

First, the news made me behave like a six year old on Christmas Eve. And yet, objectively, I’m not comfortable with the idea of ‘competitive literature’. Even though I know there are terrible novels out there as well as terrific ones, I applaud anyone who’s had the stamina and the commitment to actually write one and see it through to the end. But if I deny that it’s a competitive business, where do sales figures fit in? In the end, being able to add that little ‘award-winning’ tag to me and two of my books theoretically gives me a wee marketing edge. I say ‘theoretically’ because I don’t yet know whether that’ll be the case and, anyway, it’ll be up to me (the sloth) to make it happen.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it opens up another tricky area when it comes to the various ‘selves’ I was speaking of. My two awards were for very different books. The Sparrow Conundrum is a spoof ; its sole purpose is to make readers laugh. The Darkness, on the other hand, is a stark revenge/vigilante story with a pretty chilling resolution. It's still got jokes but its intentions are darker. So what does that make me? A funny man or a scary man? And what about the other stuff, the police procedurals, the historical, the non-fiction and the kids’ books? Multiplying your ‘selves’ can be counter-productive.

Readers, naturally enough, like to know what to expect when they buy a book. If they’ve enjoyed your gore-saturated slasher mystery, they’ll probably feel cheated if your follow-up is a light-hearted romantic romp through the tulips. In a way, then, they impose an identity on you – and they have every right to do so. But what happens if it’s not you but the characters in the follow-up who decide that they’ve gone off the idea of being serial killers and instead want to fall in love and skip through a field outside Amsterdam?

As I keep saying, ‘Hell is other people’ but it’s also readers and our characters.

On the other hand, to end on another cliché, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Tooth Is Killing...You

by Ben Small

Why do serious toothaches always seem to strike when no dentist is available?

It began so innocently, a bit of grit on my tongue. Probing with a pinky, I pulled out a bit of something that looked like metal. I'd gone shooting that day and wondered if somehow I'd injected a piece of torn cartridge. But I'd been shooting rifles, not pistols, and all my rifle cartridges are made of brass. Besides, I hadn't felt anything, and torn cartridges are rare, a sign of catastrophic failure -- the kind that kills people. There'd been no pool of blood in the dirt.

That was Thursday. Friday, about Noon, my tongue found a new edge on a molar. As it rolled over its ivory neighbors, savoring last vestiges of double cheeseburger, my tongue caught a snag.

Had I lost a filling? Goodness, I've only had three and all are over fifty years old. I'd forgotten I had them.

I found a magnifying mirror and opened my mouth. Perfect pearlies on the upper, the Grand Canyon on a lower.

Uh oh.

But no pain whatsoever. Nada.

So I'd worry about it later. My toofers are so good, I haven't seen a dentist in years, two states away. Gum disease? Not me. Why have a dentist when I can do whitening myself? Indeed, the only dentist I know these days is my brother in law, who's actually a periodontist, and he's three thousand miles away. He once opened my mouth, hopeful of a windfall, then closed it again with a frustrated obscenity, telling me to go away.

So I blew it off, figured I'd worry about it sometime next week...or month. What harm could it do? To my knowledge, I hadn't swallowed any of that metal. Besides, I had more important things to do. Indiana was playing arch-rival and No.1 ranked Kentucky the next day. Why worry about teeth? Kentuckians don't have any.

So, at 4 P.M. on Friday, the pain began, at first subtle as I sipped some cold pop. But then it grew. In an hour, I'd transformed from a genial giant to a raging Cujo. The pain moved from my tooth, now raised by swelling underneath, to my head. Even my eyes hurt. And a lump stood out on the side of my face.

A friend called, to make sure the game's invite was still on. I growled at him, said he'd best wear Kevlar.

Frantically, I pulled out the yellow pages, turned to the Ds. Scanned ad after ad. Discovered dentists don't work on Saturdays. Heck, most didn't work on Fridays.

I called my doctor, desperate for a pain-killer. Maybe Demerol, something strong. He'd closed up for the weekend.

Then I remembered I had some Hydrocodone somewhere. I went searching, pulling out drawers, overturning furniture like the FBI conducting a search warrant on a serial killer's residence. I found the container under a chair, covered in dust-bunnies. Two pills left, I guzzled them without water, because water's cold and cold was my enemy. Hell, even breathing sent cold shock waves through my jaw, eyes  and head.

That damn tooth.

I eyed my Culver saber, wondered if I could wedge it under my tooth and pop it out. Decided to defer. Too much collateral damage for first choice.

How could I last until Monday, when I could make an appointment? And could I get an appointment? I don't know any dentists in Tucson.

So I called a friend, asked him for the name of his dentist. Asked what he thought it would cost me to bribe that guy to come in NOW.  He gave me the name and number, then asked me how much money I have.

I snapped at him, warned him, too, to wear Kevlar.

You don't piss off Cujo.

I called the dentist, and surprise! his recorded message offered an emergency number. I dialed it. Actually got him on the phone.

About then, the Hydrocodone hit, like a blast-wave of ahhhhh. Yeah, I still felt the pain, but I no longer cared. I could cut off my arm and wave it around laughing.

Slurring my words now, I told the dentist my problem. He asked a few questions, to ensure, I guess, that I wasn't just some drunk pulling a tease, then told me he'd take care of me right away...on Monday.


I had no more painkillers. How would I last that long? Hell, by Monday, I'd be on a tower somewhere, shooting at anything that moved. Or I'd have turned to that saber after all.

He said my biggest worry was infection, that he'd prescribe some antibiotics.

I corrected him. No, my biggest problem was the pain.
Do not forget the pain.

The dentist laughed. He actually laughed. I wondered how funny he'd find my AR-15 stuck in his mouth.

He told me he was skiing in Colorado, wouldn't be back until Monday. I think I offered to charter a jet, but I'm not sure. The Hydrocodone, remember.

He told me I likely had both an exposed root and an infection. He said the antibiotic would handle the infection, and that I could buy some temporary filling material at the pharmacy that would cover the root. The pain would magically disappear. He'd see me Monday.

While I can't exactly remember, I think I said something about his mother around then. Temporary filling? Yeah, sure, that'll work. Y'or momma!

But it did work. And the pain disappeared, sparing the lives of many. And the Hoosiers beat No. 1 Kentucky, no teeth and all.

Cujo is at rest.

Now all I gotta worry about is how much that mother insult will cost me...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Humorous Mysteries

I love humorous mysteries. Of course that's why I chose to write some.

Why wouldn't anyone like to read or write something that makes them smile? Or laugh? Why would anyone want to be serious all the time?

I've heard agents and authors of highly successful humorous romances say those are out now. Readers don't want them.

Of course that's not true. The latest book written by Robin Wells,an extremely successful author of funny romances from my writers' group in New Orleans, was just a finalist for the Rita for Best Romance of the Year.

Many leaders in the mystery genre say serious work is more highly rated. Of course maybe they've stood in lines around the block to have Janet Evanovitch sign her latest work for them?

The romantic comedies of long ago (like when I was a teen)were loved by people of all sexes and ages. I don't believe everyone's taste has changed. There is, of course, lots and lots of serious crime everywhere. Just turn on the TV. Open a newspaper. Check your computer screen.

In the meantime, I believe that at least for a while, I will keep writing work that makes me smile or even chuckle. That's fun, which I enjoy.

Do you like any humor in books you read?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wyoming Firsts

by Jean Henry Mead

I recently edited an unusual book, Wyoming Historical Trivia by J. J. Hammond, which contains some interesting, disturbing and amusing facts about Wyoming, including the state's many "firsts".

Which state first gave women the right to vote?

A bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote was signed into law by John Campbell, first territorial governor or December 10, 1869, but it was a Utah woman who cast the first vote on February 14, 1870. The Utah Territorial Legislature had passed its suffrage law four days earlier. Wyoming women didn’t vote until August of that year, but they, unlike Utah women, were allowed to hold public office.

Who was this nation’s first woman bailiff?

Mary Atkinson of Albany County, Wyoming, was appointed to her job in 1870, as was Esther Hobart Morris, this nation’s first woman justice of the peace.

When did the first all-women jury serve?

They were sworn in on March 7, 1870, in the town of Laramie, Wyoming.

Which Wyoming town was governed entirely by women?

Jackson was governed from 1920-1921 entirely by women. Grace Miller was elected mayor and Rose Crabtree defeated her husband, Henry, the former mayor, for a city council seat. The all-women council also approved the election of Pearl Williams as town marshal and Edna Huff as the Jackson health officer, among others.

Who was Wyoming’s first woman doctor?

Lillian Heath Nelson was one of three doctors in 1881 to perform an autopsy on outlaw George Manuse, aka “Big Nose George” Parrott. The autopsy was performed by removing the top of the outlaw’s skull to determine any criminal abnormalities. None apparently was found. Nelson reportedly dressed like a man and wore pistols strapped to her hips while studying obstetrics with a Wyoming doctor. (I’m not making this up.)

Who had shoes made from Big Nose George’s hide?

Dr. J. E. Osborne, who performed the outlaw’s autopsy, had shoes and a medical bag crafted from” Big Nose” George’s hide. The doctor, who became Wyoming’s governor (1893-95) is said to have worn the shoes while holding office. The shoes and George’s skull are on display at the Carbon County Museum. (I believe that’s another first, and hopefully the only time it happened.)

There are many other firsts: Yellowstone Park was the first nationally designated park, Devil’s Tower the first national monument, and the nation’s first ranger station was established 30 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, in 1903 in the Shoshone National Forest. Also, the first library system was established in Laramie County in 1886.

And last but certainly not least, the first woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, was elected in 1925 and was later appointed by FDR to head the U.S. Mint, a position she held until 1953.

Wyoming Historical Trivia is on sale for 99 cents on Kindle and Nook and will be available in print before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing characters from one series into another...?

by Carola

I'm writing about lifeboats at present--a rescue from a cave. Both these types of boat are involved.
D-class inflatable inshore boat

I've had a lot of discussion on Facebook and on my website as to whether it's kosher to name the three lifeboats in my Cornish series mystery after characters in my Daisy Dalrymple series: the Daisy D., the Belinda, and the Lucy. These people, from the 1920s setting, would be in their 50s/70s by the time of the Cornish series.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute is a volunteer organisation. RNLI boats are usually named after the donor(s) or fundraisers of the donations that paid for them. Daisy, her friend Lucy, and her stepdaughter, Belinda, could well have done this.

This is the actual Padstow lifeboat at the time of my story, now retired to Land's End.

The Oakley class--this is a 37'; Padstow actually had a 44', as pictured above.
Lots of readers liked the idea of a nod to the Daisy series. A few didn't like it, but those few had very strong opinions on the subject.

What do you think? Is it a mistake to intrude one series on another, in such a minor way? Maybe next I'll have an older Daisy turn up in Cornwall and meet Eleanor...

All photos courtesy of RNLI

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Research in Depth

By Chester Campbell

I suppose I've become lazy the past few years while I continued to write PI mysteries set around Nashville. They haven't required much research as I'm writing about a city I've known intimately for most of my life. If I need to refresh my memory on something, all it takes is a little drive-by "research." I've also chosen subjects I'm familiar with that needed little more than Googling.

It wasn't always like this. When I started writing mystery novels in earnest, after retiring in 1989, I chose the subgenre I'd read avidly since the end of World War II, the spy story. I wrote a trilogy of international thrillers set at the end of the Cold War. They feature a disgraced former FBI agent who gets involved in espionage. None of the three sold, far a variety of reasons (I had a different agent for each of them). I've been revising them lately with an eye to putting them up as ebooks.

During this process, I've been fascinated at recalling the amount of research I did on these books. I had read extensively about the CIA and the KGB, and I bought several newer books for background. One major challenge was the variety of locations around the globe. I spent a lot of time at the library going over travel books and memoirs by people who had lived in the areas.

Locations my characters visited in the first two books included Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. At the time I wrote the stories, I had never been to Israel. Having toured the country and seen Tel Aviv in 1998, I was quite pleased at how well I had described the setting. I only made a few tweaks based on firsthand knowledge.

I toured the Southeast Asian locations in 1987 when my wife and I joined our younger son (then with Army Special Forces) and his wife on a 30-day junket that included Korea, Okinawa, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Of course, I had also spent a year in Seoul at Fifth Air Force Headquarters in 1952-3 during the Korean War. I did additional reading on the areas while researching my spy stories.

Most of the U.S. cities in the books were ones I was familiar with. One fictional location I created was a small island off the Florida Gulf Coast. I visited the area and consulted with seamen at the Apalachicola, Florida Coast Guard Station to keep things realistic.

The last book in the trilogy has the most areas I've never seen. It includes a remote corner of Iran, parts of Ukraine, and Minsk, Belarus. It is set in the early nineties, and I did extensive research on conditions in the areas.  I also used parts of Mexico, some of which I had visited. The stories include many technical details that I researched extensively, much of it in cooperation with my "technical adviser," brother Jim, an electrical engineer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ho Ho Ho! Holiday Book Signings

by Susan Santangelo

There have been lots of posts recently on other blog sites about the best ways for authors to market their books. In-person signings vs. the Internet. Facebook vs. Twitter. Websites. On-line contests and giveaways. Gosh -- it seems that if we did all of this every day, there'd be no time to write the next book. And isn't that what it's all about really -- writing books?

I admit that I get a kick out of doing book signings. Especially if people come and buy, which is always an iffy proposition. I've done lots of signings on Cape Cod where friends have come to support me, but they've already bought/read the books. For the next few weeks, Cape Cod is a happening place, with holiday strolls, special events, even a parade or two. I'll be at some of them, of course. Gotta take advantage of the crowds before we all settle down for a long winter's nap after New Year's. I'm even doing a two-day signing at the big Providence R.I. dog show next weekend, because I have two dogs in my books.

And then, I promised myself, I'd really tackle and finish the first draft (at the very least!) of book 3. Because at every in-person book event I've done recently, lots of people ask me -- how's that third book coming??

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New Jerusalem

by Leighton Gage

Pictured above, is one of the seven gates to New Jerusalem.

All of them constructed out of stone.
As are the walls that connect them.
Looks like a city in the Holy Land, doesn’t it?
In fact, Nova Jerusalem (as it's rendered in Portuguese), is the world’s largest open-air theater.

It consists of an area of over 100,000 square meters, surrounded by 3,500 meters of walls and 70 towers, all constructed to duplicate the walls and towers of Jerusalem at the time Christ was crucified. 
It’s a bit smaller in scale, only about one-third of the size of the original, but it’s still pretty impressive.

The theatre stands  some 180 km due west of Recife, the capital of the Brazilian State of Pernambuco.
And Recife, my friends, is about 1,900 km to the North of Rio de Janeiro, which really puts this New Jerusalem off the beaten track.

But each year, during Holy Week, thousands of people gather there to witness Brazil’s most famous Passion play.

And each night, beginning at six pm, about 8,000 spectators spend two hours walking a four kilometer path within the walls.

The path takes them past nine permanent stages.

At each stage, they witness 60 key actors, and as many as 500 extras, act out the key incidents in the last week of the life of Jesus.

Including his crucifixion...

...and resurrection.

It's all presented with digital sound and spectacular lighting effects.
And some of Brazil's most famous actors have roles

If you’ve been to Greece for Easter, visited Seville during the Semana Santa, and caught the passion play in Oberammergau in 2010 (they only do that one every ten years) you might consider making New Jerusalem the next one on your list.