Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Story

One generation learns from another. Children copy the actions of their parents more often than they obey arbitrarily spoken rules. Stories are passed down in families. This is one of those tales. Amanda Horn, now a successful engineer, shares a story of sacrifice and love while growing up with very little money.

Jackie King and Amanda Horn (L to R)

A true story told to Jackie King by Amanda Horn

When I was eleven we didn’t have any money at all to spare. Mama was paying off doctor and laboratory bills that had stacked up from some medical tests I’d needed earlier that year when the doctors thought I might have leukemia. So when she told Bubba and me we couldn’t have Christmas that year, we weren’t even surprised. Bubba was my uncle who was living with us. He was just a couple of years older than I was, and like a brother.

Bubba and I weren’t too concerned about not getting gifts, we hadn’t expected any. Mostly we felt sorry for Mama, who worked long hours as a waitress to pay our bills. But we were excited about Christmas all the same. Our thoughts were filled with our own plans for buying a special present for Mama, something beautiful and wonderful that would make her smile again. We knew just what to buy—a matched blue silk-like gown and robe set that just matched her eyes.

Times had been really hard for us since Mama and Daddy got divorced. I loved both of my parents, but Mama was the one who took the daily care of me. She tended me when I was sick and listened to my troubles when I was sad. Because of her closeness to me, she was the one I spent most of my time worrying about. Daddy had remarried and had another family to take care of him. I felt as if Mama was the one who needed a really nice gift.

It was 1977 and Bubba and I had been making some money by babysitting and doing yard work for the neighbors. We stashed every penny we earned in an old jelly jar and kept it hidden under the bed. Finally we earned and saved $22.79, the exact amount needed to buy Mama’s gift. We bought the lovely blue gown and robe. We wrapped our treasure in some bright yellow tissue paper left over from my birthday, and then we were ready for Christmas Day.

“There isn’t any money for a fancy dinner with a turkey and all of the trimmings,” Mama said. I could tell it really hurt her to admit we wouldn’t have what everyone else in town would have. I wanted to say something to make her feel better, but didn’t know what that might be. I just sat and watched her swallow hard before she spoke again.

“So what would you kids like for Christmas dinner? I’ll fix you anything you want that I can afford to buy.”

This was a no-brainer for me.

“Bacon and tomato sandwiches and Pepsi!” I shouted, and Bubba, who was always good natured and happy to go along with my ideas, agreed. And that was what we had. After stuffing ourselves with our favorite food, Bubba and I told Mama that we thought that was the best Christmas dinner ever. Then we took her present from under the bed where we had hidden this treasure and handed it to her.

Mama started crying.

“Don’t cry, Mama,” I begged. Bubba said, “We wanted to make you happy, not sad.”

“But I couldn’t buy one thing for y’all,” Mama said, wiping away her tears with the hem of a dish towel she had tied around her waist for an apron. “And you’ve spent all this money on me.”

Bubba and I kept hugging Mama and begging her to be happy because we were. Finally she wiped away her tears and laughed.

“I am happy,” Mama said. “I’m the luckiest woman in the world and am so proud of the two of you.” She touched the soft silken fabric of her gift to her cheek. And I love my beautiful gown and robe.”

Then Mama made us a promise.

“Do you two remember the story about when your grandpa told me and my brothers and sisters that Santa couldn’t come until spring?”

I nodded and so did Bubba. That was one of our favorite stories.

“Well, I promise you that we’ll have Christmas in July to make up for this disappointment.”
The next July Bubba and I came home one day and Mama had a Christmas tree in the living room—completely decorated and with lights twinkling. Brightly colored packages were piled under the tree with our names on them. And, best of all, we could smell turkey roasting in the oven.

“I promised you we’d have Christmas in July,” Mama said. “It’s sad when Santa can’t come in December, but in our family he always manages to come—even when he’s seven months late.

Recipe for Bacon and Tomato Sandwiches for Three
Six slices of bread (whatever kind you like best)
Nine slices of cooked bacon
Two tomatoes, sliced
Three slices of Swiss or other cheese (optional)
Three tablespoons of mayonnaise
Spread mayonnaise on bread. Add bacon, tomatoes and cheese. Melt butter in a hot skillet and grill sandwiches until a golden brown. Serve hot.

Christmas in July was first published in DEVOTED TO COOKING, Inspiration for the Aspiring Chef in Everyone.
Stories From the Heart

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Around the World

by Jean Henry Mead

While researching Christmas customs around the world, I discovered that the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.

In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.

In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.

Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.

Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with  beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.

Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.

House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.

Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.

During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.

Christmas customs in this country are too numerous to list, and I'd like to wish all our blog visitors a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, no matter where you happen to live, or how you plan to celebrate the holiday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Solstice and Merry Yule

by Carola
 Just in time for the holidays, my Christmas mystery, Mistletoe and Murder, is out in Audio. At last. I've written about my experience with an audio publisher here:

 It's set at Cotehele, an isolated 15th century fortified manor house in Cornwall. I've also blogged about Cotehele, its history, its legends, and its ghosts, here:
The original cover used a photo of the "new" Victorian wing of the house:
Not very Christmassy! but subsequent editions made up for it:
US paperback
UK paperback

Polish edition!   

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 11, 2015


By June Shaw

With so much violence in the world now, are people looking for even more in their books?

More and more, individuals are voicing their opinions about that, and many of them are saying no, they are not.

For most of my life, I've felt that way. I imagine that's why I normally look for things that make me laugh--or at least grin a lot.

That's probably the case for the reason I've written a humorous mystery series. Readers often tell me they enjoy hanging around with my main character and want her as their best friend. Of course I feel the same way about her. Some readers ask if she is me, but my answer is, "No. She is the person I want to become." (Of course her hunky dude who keeps opening Cajun restaurants keeps many others reading.)

I've also wrote a humorous book with my youngest grandchild called HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR PET GHOST. And readers tell me the books about my mom called NORA 102 1/2: A LESSON ON AGING WELL is wonderfully inspiring and in many places extra funny.

And then there are others I've done. The most recent is a HUNGER GAMES-type story called JUST ONE FRIEND. And I have a suspense thriller APPROACHING MENACE.

I imagine it all depends on what mood you're in when you read or write a book and whether you want your escapism to seem realistic or not. Thank goodness we are all different and so are our interests.

What type books do you like to read?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bestselling Author Lois Winston Speaks on Promotion

Thinking Outside the Promo Box

By Lois Winston

I belong to quite a few author loops. Every day authors on these loops beseech their fellow members to “like,” “follow,” “retweet,” “pin,” “vote for,” or “Thunderclap” for one of their books. I don’t believe this really helps authors sell books. An announcement about a new release is fine, but to me, most other social media postings about our books are like preaching to the choir.

For example, the people who follow you on Facebook are mostly your family and friends or readers who are already fans of your writing. They’re going to buy your books anyway (unless they’re the sort of family and friends who expect you to give them free copies whenever you have a new release.) You don’t have to hard sell these people. As for sites like Twitter, I’m convinced most people only follow you because they want you to follow them. If you don’t, they quickly un-follow you. These people rarely read your pithy 140 character posts any more than you read theirs. Social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, is often nothing more than a competition to see who can claim the most followers—followers who for the most part won’t buy your books. Social media might work for Taylor Swift, who has more followers than anyone, but it doesn’t do much for the average midlist or indie author.

So how do authors find new readers? Independent publicists? Forget it. Most are snake oil salesmen who cost a fortune and guarantee nothing. Giveaways? Another waste of money. Thousands of people troll the Internet daily for contests to enter. They’re only interested is that Amazon gift card you’re waving as a carrot. They won’t buy your book whether they win or not. If they have to sign up for your newsletter to enter, they’ll unsubscribe the moment someone else wins.

What I’ve found to be extremely successful is teaming up with other authors to produce boxed sets, anthologies, and cookbooks. These group efforts are not about making money. Most of the books sell for 99 cents. Divide that between the ten or twelve authors participating, and each author makes pennies per sale. The goal is to broaden our audience. When this happens, and it does, the end result is an increase in sales of our other books.

 We'd Rather Be Writing

Last year I had an idea for a cookbook featuring my fellow authors. The result was Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing. My hope was that people who bought the book for the yummy recipes would be introduced to authors new to them, thus gaining new readers for my fellow authors and me. I donated a portion of the profits from the sale of the book to my local food bank. When the book became an Amazon bestseller, many of the participating authors suggested a follow-up cookbook. After giving it some thought, I came up with:

Have you ever wished you could find more time to do the things you want to do, rather than just doing the things you have to do? Most authors juggle day jobs and family responsibilities along with their writing. Because they need to find time to write, they look for ways to save time in other aspects of their lives.

Cooking often takes up a huge chunk of time. The cookbook contains easy, nutritious main course recipes. All of the recipes require a minimum of prep time, freeing you up to spend your time elsewhere.

The authors who contributed to this book are a rather creative and resourceful bunch when it comes to carving out time from their busy lives. So in addition to timesaving recipes, the cookbook features timesaving and organizational tips for other aspects of your life, including a section on writing tips.

A bio with website links is included for each of the authors who contributed to the cookbook. Anyone buying the cookbook for the quick and easy recipes will have a chance to learn about these authors. Hopefully, they’ll click on the links and maybe buy some books.

The ebook version of the cookbook is only 99 cents. There’s also a print version available, and once again, I’m donating a percentage of the profit to charity, this time to No Kid Hungry

Buy Links:




 Collection of 13 Cozy Mystery Holiday Stories
13 Cozy Mystery Holiday Stories
A second promotional project I’ve been involved in recently is Happy Homicides, a collection of thirteen cozy mystery holiday stories by thirteen authors, all bundled into one ebook. When the holidays get you too frazzled, relax with a bit of murder and assorted mayhem. Along the way you just might discover a new favorite author or two—or thirteen.

Happy Homicides is also being offered for the incredibly low price of only 99 cents and includes a bonus downloadable file crammed with recipes, craft tips, projects, and more.

Buy Links:



I’ve found these group promotional efforts have resulted in far more sales of my books than I’ve ever seen from social media, independent publicists, or tchotchkes. Now of course, if I could get Taylor Swift to tout my books on her Twitter and Instagram accounts, I might think differently about book promo on social media. Hey Taylor, if you’re reading this, check out my website at

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Tsu at, on Pinterest at, and onTwitter at Sign up for her newsletter at

Thanks, Lois, for these great promo tips!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Story and a Pecan Pie Recipe

In honor of Thanksgiving Day, I'm bypassing Murder and Mayhem and presenting a gentle story and sharing a pumpkin pie recipe. 

May everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving with someone they love!

Thanksgiving is the perfect time for reminiscing, and for telling family stories around the table. These generational memories are often centered around cooking and good food, and these special tales of family history should be treasured and never forgotten.

 by Jacqueline King and Jennifer King Sohl
True Family Stories

This Thanksgiving story was included in DEVOTED TO COOKING, Inspiration for the Aspiring Chef in Everyone.  Written by Jacqueline King and Jennifer Sohl. Available in print or ebook download.

Memories of Papa Peeling Pecans for the Grandkids

“We called our grandfather, Papa,” June Butts, now a grandmother herself, said. “Back in those days different generations of the family lived in the same house, and it was wonderful to grow up with an older person who had the time to tell stories and to teach us kids about the generations past. I think maybe that’s one reason why families were closer back then.”

The comely woman smiled and the faraway look that came into her blue eyes told me she had transported herself back to South Texas and a simpler life sometime in the 1950’s.

“We had a pecan tree and Papa peeled pecans for the kids. We’d sit in a circle at his feet, listen to his tales, and eat the perfectly shelled and halved nuts as he passed them around.”

“Peeled pecans?” I asked, trying to imagine how such a feat might be possible. “How could he peel pecans?”

It was Thanksgiving Day and I had been invited to join June’s family for a traditional dinner of turkey, dressing and all of the trimmings. We were sitting around the table drinking coffee and savoring that mellow, sated satisfaction that fills a group of friends during happy times.

“With his pocket knife,” June said.

“His pocket knife?” I asked. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not!” June’s robust laugh was typical of a woman who was Texas born and bred. “He peeled those pecans just the same way you’d peel an orange. He’d slice off the top and the bottom, cut slits around the nuts and then just peel off the hulls. Those pecans came out in perfect halves and he’d hand them to us kids.”

“That must have been one sharp knife,” I said, wondering how he kept from cutting off his fingers.

“That it was,” June said. “And he could peel those nuts really fast. Sometimes he’d peel enough for Mama to make us some pies.” She sighed with remembered pleasure. “Mmm—mmm—mmm, those pies were good! We never had much money, but we had happy times, anyway. God was always good to my family.”

“I’ll bet you learned to cook from your own mother,” I said.

“Sure did. Mama and Daddy had eleven kids, and I was helping stir up dinner as soon as I could hold a spoon and stand on a stool to reach the table.”

It happened that we were drinking Texas Pecan flavored coffee. I took a sip of the hot brew and savored the rich flavor. Pecans, family and holidays equal pure pleasure, I thought. Everyone sitting at the table owned their own cell phones and computers, but some things never change. The memory of “peeled pecans,” outranked any of the electronic pleasures available to the diners.

Only the delicious food that we shared stayed the same.

Loretta Carson’s Pecan Pie
1 Scant cup sugar
1 cup dark Karo Syrup
3 eggs
3 Tablespoons melted butter or margarine
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans

Beat eggs and sugar until blended. Add Karo syrup and mix well, then add melted butter, salt, vanilla and pecans. Mix well and pour into 9 inch unbaked pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Turn heat down to 325 degrees and bake for 35 minutes. (Center will be set.)

Happy Thanksgiving to All,

Jackie King

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stuck in the genre with you

I know this blog’s called Murderous Musings and I’m also aware that sometimes my own musings here aren’t very murderous. But that’s because (like many of my colleagues, I suspect), the genre thing sometimes feels restrictive. At the same time, I know full well that publishers (and probably readers) prefer us to stay within the genre they associate with us.

When my historical novel, The Figurehead, was published, it was well received but, as well as being crime-based, it flirted with the romance genre, and some readers and reviewers commented on the fact. In a different way, The Sparrow Conundrum was also a departure, being a satirical novel on the spy genre which was all black humour and near-farcical situations. It’s crime-related but my main aim in writing it was to make readers laugh.

I’ve been told I should think of using a pseudonym but if that’s the case there’d be three of me already – the police procedural guy, the historical guy, and the funny man.

On the other hand, if a reader spends $X or £X on a book of mine because he/she enjoyed a previous one, I’ll be disappointing them if it’s totally different. But on the other other hand, should writers be condemned to keep on producing the same book over and over?

My plan is to write just one more in my procedural series, featuring Jack Carston. So far there are five books and he’s been changing through them. I anticipate that the final one will actually end with him leaving the police force. I had no overall plan when I wrote the first, but as the books appeared, I began to sense the bleakness accumulating underneath the killings and suspected that an empathetic person (such as Carston) might be seriously affected by having to deal with constant examples of man’s inhumanity to man (and especially woman). Carston’s at the stage where the satisfactions of solving mysteries are being outweighed by the cruelties he’s witnessed.

I’m not suggesting that I’ll stop writing crime altogether. The sequel to The Figurehead is well advanced, and the romance element is even stronger, but it’s still about a crime. And I’ve already sketched out some scenes for the sequel to The Sparrow Conundrum because that’ll be great fun to write.

And this posting sums up two opposing functions of blogging. Here, I’ve expressed my misgivings about being stuck in a genre but I’ve also warned readers what to expect by spelling out what each new title will deliver. At the same time I’ve, perhaps foolishly, articulated in public my plans for future books. Whenever that happens, the written word becomes a fixed, irretrievable truth. Which means I seem to have committed myself to writing the damn things.

On the other hand (again), I could have a Damascene moment and leap to an entirely different genre – something like ‘The Wordless Novel’. I could manage that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


by Jackie King

“Should cozy mysteries deal with serious themes?”

This question recently appeared on a LISTSERV for writers and readers. The answers received were of great interest to me, because my character Grace Cassidy, often finds herself dealing with this sort of dilemma.

Most of those who responded to this query advocated that with the rapid changes happening in our world, problems faced by cozy characters will naturally turn grittier. 

For years we've dealt with murder, and that's pretty darned serious. The trick is to keep graphic blood, gore and blatant sex off the page. Everything else, even dark subjects, is now happening to our readers and need to be discussed.

The writing style, however, must still stay upbeat. Accomplishing this challenges a writer's skill. I think cozy writers are up to this task. I certainly intend to try. 

One technique to keep our books cozy, is to include humor. I'm not talking about slapstick or gallows humor. At least not usually. I'm talking about the kind of humor that gets the ordinary person through life with some kind of sanity intact.  Myself, I prefer the tongue-in-cheek kind.

My Bed and Breakfast cozy mystery series features Grace Cassidy, an inn-sitter, and is written with a touch. My character has been involved in divorce, neglected children,   teen pregnancy and more. Learning to live through life-changing experiences in the cyber age, and still keep a positive attitude, describes my heroine's life.
Book 3
THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE, book three, introduces Slick Webster, a handsome biracial man approaching his 21st birthday. His past memories involve seeing his mother die from a drug overdose and his early struggles in foster care.

My main character Grace continues standing strong while learning hurtful things about her parent's past without blinking. She vows to never again turn a blind eye to the elephant in the living room. No more sweeping family secrets under the rug.

Through all of these problems,  Grace and her quirky sidekick Theodora Westmacott, take joy in decorating a new Bed and Breakfast using someone else's money, driving around in a Rolls Royce, and witty conversation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thin slicing our characters

by Bill Kirton

Your first glimpse conditions
your opinion of her...
I’ve just read an article about ‘thin-slicing’. Apparently that’s what we do nearly all the time. We base our judgements and decisions on split second observations of thin slices of behaviour. And, surprisingly perhaps, we’re usually right. The easy examples are of sportspeople behaving almost instinctively as they pass the ball, shoot for the hoop or whatever. But the most interesting for writers is that we apparently form an impression of people we meet within the first few seconds and then just notice things which confirm that impression.

So the laborious presentations that people have prepared for situations such as interviews or wanting to impress the future in-laws seem to be a waste of time. The first handshake, eye contact, hairstyle choice, colour of jacket or God knows what else has already made up the mind of the person you’re meeting.

I wonder whether we also ‘thin-slice’ the characters we ‘meet’ in books. Is the initial impression so crucial? Or does the leisurely process of an unfolding narrative change the nature of our perceptions? We don’t, after all, have the direct, instinctive signals of body language to help us and anyway we know we’re collaborating in a fiction. Then again, if we’re assessing a real person in the real world, then just looking for evidence to prove we’re right, aren’t we just moulding reality to our own ongoing fiction?

And, from the writer’s point of view, does it
... then she starts on the vodka.
mean that we should make sure that the way we choose to introduce a character puts his/her essence right up front and leaves little room for misinterpretation? If that’s the case, it seems to me that the best way to achieve it is through letting the character speak for him/herself. The moment we start describing their hair, eyes, clothes, bulk, etc. we’re offering archetypes. However much we then refine them to the specifics of that individual, the risk is that the reader’s already decided that he’s seeing a fat slob or a peacock. Let them speak for themselves, condemn or ingratiate themselves out of their own mouths.

Whatever the truth of it all, it just adds to the fascinating complexity of the reading (and writing) experience.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Customs Around the World

by Jean Henry Mead

Halloween isn't just an American holiday. It originated in Ireland, where it was originally known as Oiche Shamhna or Samhain Night. The end of summer's Agricultural Fire Festival was held for the deceased who were said to revisit the earth on that night. So the practice of building large community bonfires was enacted to ward off evil spirits. The name Hallowe’en evolved from All Hallow’s Eve, and the holiday was imported from Ireland during the 19th century. Halloween spread to other countries, including Puerto Rico, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada as well as the rest of the British Isles.

In 837, Pope Gregory decreed that All Hallows, or All Saints Day, previously known as Feast of Lemures, would be held every year on November 1, in the name of the Western Catholic Church. Previously celebrated on May 13 in other countries, it coincided with the Irish Samhain. During the 9th century, the two holidays were celebrated on the same day because the Church decided that the religious holiday would start at sunset the previous night, according to the Florentine calendar. All Saints Day was celebrated in northern European countries, and was a day of religious festivities. Until 1970, it was also a day of fasting.

The jack-o-lantern originated in Europe and was carved from turnips and rutabagas. Small candles were inserted in the hollow vegetables and they were used as lanterns. Because the human head was believed to contain the spirit, the Celts carved the vegetables to represent heads to ward off evil spirits. According to Irish legend, a hard-drinking farmer named Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree, where he was temporarily trapped. Farmer Jack then carved a cross in the tree, which condemned the devil to wander the earth at night with a candle inside a hollow turnip.

Carved pumpkins are a North American custom, originating with the fall harvest, and known to have preceded the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49. Carved pumpkins, or jack-o-lanterns, were not associated with Halloween in this country until the mid 19th century.

In Scotland, the embers of huge bonfires built in the villages were taken home to form circles. A stone for each family member was then placed inside the circle. The Scots believed that if one of the stones was displaced or broken by the following morning, the person it represented was doomed to die within a year. Northern residents of Wales built bonfires called Coel Coeth in every village. Members of each household would throw white stones into the ashes bearing their names. If any stone was missing the following morning, that person was destined to die before the following Halloween.

The village of Fortingall in Perthshire held a festival of fire, or Samhnag. Every Halloweeen they danced around the fire in both directions. As the fire burned low, young boys grabbed embers from the flames and raced around the field, tossing them in the air and then dancing around them. Later, they would have a jumping contest over the collected embers. When finished, they returned home to bob for apples. They also practiced divination, the art of foretelling the future or interpreting omens.

Halloween wasn’t celebrated in Mexico until around 1960. Our southern neighbors have followed our customs of costuming their children and allowing them to visit neighborhood homes, seeking candy. When they knock or ring the bell, the children say, "¡Noche de Brujas, Halloween!" which means "Witches' Night, Halloween!" Young people have Halloween parties and the holiday lasts for three days prior to All Saint’s Day, which is also the start of the two-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

In the Netherlands, Halloween has become popular since the early 1990s. Children dress up for parades and parties, but trick-or-treating is rare because the holiday is so close to St. Martin’s Day. St. Martin’s is the day when Dutch children ring doorbells and sing a song dedicated to the saint, in exchange for small treats.

Romanians, regardless of age, party and parade in costumes not unlike North Americans, but the holiday focuses on Dracula. In the town of Sighisoara, where countless witch trials were once held, parties are held in the spirit of Dracula. Actors also reenact the witch trails on Halloween.
Some South American countries, influenced by American pop culture, celebrate Halloween, which has caused consternation among a number of Christian groups, who deplore the lack of attention to the more spiritual aspects of All Hallows Eve. But businesses profit from the sales of costumes and candy, so the holiday has been allowed to remain a favorite of young people. The same is true in Japan, Spain and Germany, among other countries.