Monday, December 31, 2007

Thoughts on the New Year

"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights."

~Hamilton Wright Mabie

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."

~Mark Twain

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective."

~G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Speaking of Old . . .

I don't know why I suggested that my idol Mary Tyler Moore was old, because today is my birthday, and I am not exactly a spring chicken, nor am I as glamorous as MTM, which is why I chose this symbolic "moving down the road" picture which I took last spring. It seems like an appropriate visual for a December birthday.

My sons have chosen to spend the day fighting, so like any survivor, I am trying to stick to lowland ditches and the occasional lean-to in order to avoid being drawn into the fray. :)

But my mom and sister rescued me at one point and took me out to lunch, and that was a nice distraction for us all. People with boys will understand that Christmas vacation is about two weeks too long . . .

But happy birthday to me anyway.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Want to Feel Old?

The beautiful and talented Mary Tyler Moore turns seventy-one today. How did that happen?

Gosh, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was snug in my childhood living room, watching the double feature of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, which at the time was the best stuff on tv (and still is, if you watch the re-runs).

And it doesn't seem long before that I was watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, where a doe-eyed Mary was eternally sweet and supportive and slender as a teen in her 1950s fashions. I did prefer her as the 1970s Mary, though, the Mary who got her own job and her own apartment and threw her hat right up into the air to show how happy she was with that state of affairs.

There are some stars who just never grow old in my mind, and MTM is one of those--sort of eternally youthful but with the wisdom and grace of age.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Disposing of Ourselves

As mystery readers and writers, we spend some time thinking about how to dispose of bodies, those convenient plot devices that really have very little to do with actual death and very much to do with puzzles.

We've had a death in the family, and we've spent some time verifying the desires of my mother-in-law in regard to her burial. She requested cremation, and it was decided that her ashes would be placed near her parents' graves.

However, as we made these arrangements we all got to talking, naturally, about what we ourselves will want when that time comes--when we move forward into the ultimate mystery. We discussed how we wanted to dispose of ourselves.

My husband has a sort of glorious vision of being launched into outer space. Who knows--maybe there's a company somewhere that will actually do that for people. Or he might change his mind as time goes on.

His sister heard of a place that will put one's ashes inside a sphere and drop it into the ocean where new coral reefs are being formed. She would like that.

My father says he would like his ashes sprinkled in the Michigan woods. I lean toward that myself. I am not particularly fond of airplane travel or of sea travel, and I think my ashes should be just as earthbound as my mortal frame has been.

Talking about this is almost a necessity when someone has died; it allows us to ally ourselves with that person, to admit that we will all share the same fate. But it also admits a slightly more positive view of death--a way to imagine something spectacular or beautiful to offset what is unfamiliar or frightening.

This Christmas had its special joys, just like Christmases past, but they were somehow more beautiful because of their fragility, and because of the recent reminder of that great unknown beyond momentary life.

The picture above was created when I snapped a shot of my parents' Christmas tree. Somehow it's all out of focus and you can't see the actual ornaments I was trying to capture--but it's almost more beautiful this way. The particular magic of life is the potential of another life beyond it, one that is now out of focus but which may one day become clear.

And in thinking about that moment when we might cross the bar, we are trying to bring that potential beauty into focus.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From A Child's Christmas in Wales

From A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas

“Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like pure and grandfather moss, minutely white ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb numb thunderstorm of white torn Christmas cards.

‘Were there postmen then too?’

‘With sprinkling eyes and wind cherried noses, on spread frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was the ringing of bells.’

‘You mean the postman went rat-a-tat tat and the doors rang?’

‘I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Very Best To You

Back in high school I learned a Christmas song that pretty much sums up everything one could say as a seasonal wish:

Have a very happy holiday
May your home be filled with happiness;
May your Christmas be a jolly day
For every one you love and bless--
May your troubles all be tiny ones,
And your faults be not worth mentioning--
May your new year be the very best it possibly could be!

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Mystery of Loss

We heard yesterday that my husband's mother had died, after years of suffering with Alzheimer's Disease. It would be inappropriate to say she "battled" the illness, because any weapons one might use against that gradual decline are taken from the beginning, along with memory and the particular dignity that memory brings.

My mother-in-law had early onset Alzheimer's; she was only in her early sixties when she began to show signs of forgetfulness, of repeating herself, of putting things in odd places, or losing things entirely. But she had always been smart, a sharp mind, and she found all sorts of elaborate ways to "cover" for the fact that she would forget things--even, sometimes, her children's names. She was a happy person who loved to laugh, who loved babies, particularly her three grandchildren. The cruelest trick of this disease was that it convinced her, eventually, that she did not know them when they came to see her: she, who had loved them so passionately all their lives, would look at them quizzically and say, "These little boys think I'm their grandmother."

Alzheimer's is the thief who takes everything: one's disposition, one's memory, one's sense of self. At the end, it even takes one's awareness of her own existence. In this case, it was life that was cruel and death which was a mercy. Even the evils of cancer might allow one the luxury of goodbyes at death. Alzheimer's makes a person drift away day by day, year by year, until nothing of them is left but the frail shell that breathes delicately in the bed.

At that moment of death, then, that moment when the soul is freed from the cage of the body, from the useless mind, there is a certain beauty. But for the family, there is that rush of grief that has been held suspended in a five-year death. Grief for loss, anger at what was endured.

And then the memories, cobwebbed, come drifting down. They are exquisitely painful, but someday they will be beautiful, comforting. And they are the only revenge: that her memory was taken, but ours was not. We will remember her.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Cookies and Holiday Exhaustion

My son reminded me when I got home today that he needed thirty gingerbread men cookies for his birthday treat the following day--the last day before Christmas (his birthday is the 23rd). "Oh, wow, I forgot about that," I said. "Would they settle for chocolate chip?"

He drooped. "It's sort of a tradition." This was true. I've been making them for him since he was a little tike.

"Okay," I said, feeling sentimental. So off to the store I went, only to find that two different stores didn't have the dough-in-a-tube that I was counting on. I looked for a box mix. No going. Apparently no one who worked there had ever heard of gingerbread--and this was a giant store! I called Ian at home and told him to find me the from-scratch recipe and read me the ingredients. He did so, and I packed them all into the cart, until I got to "Molasses." There was none on the shelf. A trip to the service desk, a page to the grocery department, and I was told that they were out of molasses. Of course.

I finally did find a box mix and dragged back home to start making it. While I was rolling the dough, I heard sounds of a typical boy argument: one taunting, one reacting. Then I heard a little voice: "Mom! Ian's being a jerk right by Christmas!"

"Stop it," I said. Cookies in the oven and more rolling. Finally I had a batch cooled and ready to write names on. I held my frosting tube ready, prepared to make fat letters on each tiny man. "Ian," I said. "Start reading me names." Ian floated in with his class list.

"Okay. The first one is Stephanie."

"You're joking," I said.

"You can call her Steph," he offered. It ended up looking more like Step, but how could they complain? I was attempting to validate their identities in frosting. They'd cut me some slack, right?

"There. Next?"


I sighed. They were all like that. His classmates have the longest names in the world, and apparently they actually call each other by these formal monikers like Mary Katherine and Benjamin. I did the best I could with each cookie while my nine-year-old continually crept in to steal dough. Soon, I knew, he would tell me he had a stomach ache.

Finally the cookies were labeled, packed, and carefully stowed away until tomorrow's delivery. I had earned my mother's stripes for another year. But I was strangely exhausted; making cookies is not an arduous task, but one would think I'd just run a marathon.

The good news is that after tomorrow I'll be on a holiday break. Sure, I'll have to bring papers and journals and projects home with me, unwelcome as they might be in my holiday relaxation plans. But there should be plenty of put-up-your-feet-and-read time, and no "Mom I need this tomorrow" emergencies for a blessed two weeks.

On the other hand, there will be fighting--lots of fighting. So I'll have to polish off my referee shirt and accept the idea: there's no vacation from being a mom--not even at Christmas. :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mysterious Phenomena

My dad, who gets all sorts of cool e-mail from sources unknown, forwarded me some pictures of a recent freak of nature on the Sydney coast: foam, light as the froth on your cappucino, formed by churning water and a combination of salt and impurities in its depths, created an interesting dilemma for those who wanted to swim or surf.

Just when you thought you'd seen everything Nature had to offer . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Poisons

In doing some research on the Christmas Rose, I have found that the entire plant is extremely toxic, despite its beauty and its availability as a seasonal decoration. This would make an interesting plot point in a holiday mystery, I suppose.

Paradoxically, this same flower, in my dictionary of flower symbols, stands for "relief from anxiety." Is this because poison relieves us of our anxiety by killing us? Or is it perhaps simply that looking at something beautiful can lessen our anxious thoughts?

In any case, I've never run across this particular flower, but botanists on the Cornell website warn that one should be careful in placing it near cats, dogs, or children, who can be the more "playful" members of our family--that is, the ones in danger of eating a plant. :)

I guess I'll stick with the pointsettia--oh, wait . . . that's poisonous, too.

Plastic flowers it shall be!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Midwestern Maelstrom

It doesn't seem that long since I was posting about last year's snows (ou sont les neiges d'antan?), yet here we are again, watching the white flakes come hurtling from the sky. Last night all I could see to photograph were the darkness and the droplets coming down. The only things visible were our brave little Christmas lights.
Today, though, we are left with sun and at least two feet of snow, which I just attempted to shovel. Now I know why people are stricken with heart attacks when shoveling stuff like this. It's heavy, cement-like, and I was exerting myself as much as a hay-baler out there.

Still, this is my Midwestern weather, and I love it. That's the paradox of life around here. :)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Karen Harper Chats About History, Mystery, and the Lonely Act of Writing

Karen Harper is a bestselling author in a variety of genres, including historical mysteries. She consented to a quick Q and A during this busy holiday season.

Thanks for chatting with me, Karen, and Merry Christmas. You write all sorts of things: mysteries, romances, historical novels. Do you have a favorite genre?
I have written mysteries, suspense, romance and historical novels. I love the variety of writing in all those genres. I've been having great fun with romantic suspense the last ten years; my first love, which I have returned to recently, is historical novels. Two of my very early historicals have recently been rereleased: THE LAST BOLEYN and THE FIRST PRINCESS OF WALES, some of my "emotional favorites." Settings are very important to me and Tudor or Medieval are my favorite eras. I also have favorite contemporary settings: SW Florida, where I live part of the year; Amish Ohio; and Appalachia. I have written more than one book set in these places.

You have taught both high school and college English. Do you write full time now? If so, do you ever miss teaching?
I do miss some aspects of teaching, since I've been writing full-time for almost twenty-two years. I miss high school and college age kids--knowing "what's happening." I miss the act of teaching, and having colleagues, since writing can be lonely and I don't see my author friends daily. However, there is so much more freedom in what I do now. I don't miss a daily commute, lesson plans, etc.

I must say that does sound attractive. You’ve written more than twenty books; that’s a lot! Do you write quickly? How long does it take you to write a novel?
I have written forty-four novels since 1982. I can usually write a book in 4-5 months, if I have all the research and planning done before I begin. However, getting ready to write a book can take years of thinking and planning and reading.

Your biography says that you love the British Isles, where your “Scottish and English roots run deep.” How far have you traced your ancestry?
My husband and I have traced our Scottish ancestry through the usual hard work, but also by going to Scotland and visiting places to do the research. That is more fun than fun. My Scottish family are Bentons (clan Forbes) from near Aberdeen; the Harpers are Buchanens from near Stirling. My husband plays the bagpipes, and I did Scottish Highland dancing for years, so we really got into the culture.

That is wonderful! You taught at Ohio State University. Are you a native Ohioan?

I am a native Ohioan, born in Toledo, did undergrad work in English at Ohio University in Athens; grad work at Ohio State in Columbus. I met my husband in Columbus and have lived there for thirty-five years. We spend some time in Florida each year, so I consider that a second home.

Do you ever find time to read? If so, what are you reading now?
I binge read between my own research books and writing. I am just about to begin JANE BOLEYN: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford. This is the woman who married George Boleyn, brother to Anne. I do read a great variety of things.

Newsday said of your book The Tidal Poole, “Elizabethan history has never been this appealing.” How do you make history so appealing?
I strive to make history appealing by pulling the reader into the lives of the characters. One of my favorite compliments goes something like this: "I used to hate history, but when I read your books, I find it really intriguing."

You’re a bestselling writer. What was your reaction the first time one of your books hit the bestseller list? How did you find out?
I have been fortunate to make both the USA TODAY and the NY Times lists. When I made the Times list I was on a book tour in Seattle and came in to the hotel room to find a message from my agent. I must have replayed that about 10 times before I could believe it. I had no one to celebrate with, so I started calling people, my husband, my mother. The next day, my author friend Susan Wiggs, who lives out there, took the ferry over to the mainland and we celebrated with lunch and a lot of laughter.

Do you have any favorite hobbies, aside from writing?
Hobbies aside from writing: I grow African violets and help to "grow" and babysit my 8-year-old grandson, who--thank heavens--loves to read and has a great imagination. He has advised me to write a book about dinosaurs and make the T-Rex the star. I used to do a lot of needlepoint, but that has gone by the way in a time crunch.

You and I were chatting about some of the great mystery and suspense writers from the 50s and 60s. Who were some of your favorites, and how did they influence you?
My favorite and most influential writers from the 60s were Jan Wescott, Jan Cox Speas, and Anya Seton. These brilliant women are long dead, but their books still hold the test of time--beautiful blends of romance and history. Of course, the Jean Plaidy books are in this category also. (My first passion, as with many American girls, was Nancy Drew.)

Will you be attending any writers’ conferences this year?

I love to attend writers conferences to see friends and editors, to teach, and to learn. In 2008, I'm going to the Romance Writers national conference in San Francisco and to SleuthFest in South Florida, a Mystery Writers of American gathering. Last year I attended ThrillerFest in NYC and Malice Domestic in Washington D.C.

Are you working on a book now?

I am currently between books. Actually, I just handed in (which in this day and age means e-mailed) a romantic suspense to my editor at Mira Books, THE HIDING PLACE, which will be out in Nov. '08, 9 months after BELOW THE SURFACE, which is out Feb. '08. Beginning in January, I will begin another suspense for Mira. Meanwhile, I am hatching an idea for another Tudor-era historical novel. I recently sold MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE to Penguin/Putnam, the story of the true love of William Shakespeare's life. It won't be out until Jan. of 2009, however.

What are your plans for the holidays?
My plans for the holidays are to be with our two daughters and their families on Christmas Eve, then with our son and his wife who live in St. Augustine, FL shortly after. We have already celebrated with my 86 years old mother, who lives about 3 hours from here; she will be with my brother and his family on Christmas. It's a busy, but blessed season of the year.

How can readers find out more about you and your books?
Readers can find out more about me and my books at my website or by visiting or Crown books. There are links to these publishers' sites on my website.

Happy reading to everyone.

Thanks, Karen!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Coming Soon

Coming Soon To This Blog:

--An interview with mystery writer Karen Harper.

--More of my patented "nostalgic story" entries.

--Deconstructing the holidays through the lens of mystery.

--A holiday surprise.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Nine-Year-Old Re-Vamps WHITE CHRISTMAS

My son made me a generous pledge, in the spirit of Christmas: that he would watch any movie with me that I might choose, even if it was a movie he didn't like. This offer would last, he assured me, all through Christmas break. This is quite a sacrifice if you take into account how boring both of my boys find my movie choices.

He started off by joining me in the viewing of one of my holiday favorites, White Christmas. (Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen). He watched intently enough, asking "Who is this guy? Is he a main character? Will we see him again?"

Then, when Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye's characters) were packing to take a train to New York but also maintaining a snappy patter, Graham furrowed his brows. "Why do they keep throwing things to each other?" he asked.

"They're packing," I said. But he was right: they were doing a lot of throwing.

And the dancing was problematic: little boys aren't thrilled with the dancing--at least not this little boy.

"Why is she taking such giant steps?" he asked during the "Mandy" number.

"It's part of the dance."

"It isn't a good part," he said.

Later still, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen had a wonderful romantic dance to the song "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing." Vera's lovely ethereal dress flipped and floated, and she and Kaye seemed to defy gravity before he dipped her, her blonde hair floating downward, in a romantic embrace near the moonlit water.

"Wouldn't it be funny if he threw her into the pool?" Graham asked.

Now I was the one frowning. "That wouldn't be romantic, Graham."

"It would be better, though."

Maybe he's right. I like White Christmas for many reasons, but several of them are related to nostalgia. As a modern movie, it wouldn't last long unless there was a kidnapping or a bikini scene or a car chase.

Or if someone threw Vera Ellen into a pool.

In any case, by the end of the movie he had practically lost interest. "So that's it?" he said. "He ends up with the girl?"

"And it snows. And they made the general happy."

"Yeah, okay," said my son. I wonder if he's re-thinking his former generosity. But too late now. A gift is a gift, and I'm not returning it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Parties Have Started

I enjoyed a lovely Christmas celebration today with many of the members of MWA Midwest at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore.

For more on this auspicious event, check out Poe's Deadly Daughters today.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Devil Reinterpreted

Since I've been telling some nostalgic stories, I'll tell another that will lead into some literary recommendations.

When my older son was about five, he saw some tv commercial which comically depicted a stereotypical devil waiting in line for food. He said "Who's that?"

"That's the devil," I answered.

"Who does he fight?" asked my super-hero oriented son.

"Um, he doesn't really fight anyone. He supposedly lives in a place called hell, and they say if you are mean and bad during your life you have to go live with the devil in hell."

"And then who does he fight?" he asked.

Obviously kids aren't being raised with much fear of the devil these days, although I did occasionally stoop to a "liars go to hell" sermon when I thought the boys were dishonest. It was only half-hearted, though, because I have a very uncertain notion of the devil. But that's not for lack of reading about him.

Three of my favorite novels which offer an interpretation of the devil are Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (which is dominated by a theme of good versus evil), C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, which suggests that there are many demons in hell and that Screwtape, a "senior demon," wrote a series of letters to advise a younger one. Then there's Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, which contains all sorts of bitterly ironic definitions.

Maybe once my sons start reading this in school they'll add to their understanding of the devil's history; even in the Catholic schools they don't put much emphasis on Lucifer these days.

C.S. Lewis, though, did believe in the existence of demons and the notion of evil, and he was disturbed by the idea that people would popularized or parody the devil as a way of ignoring a real threat.

Art link here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Snows Have Started

This is my parents' back yard; my dad sent the image to me the other day, when the first of the Midwest winter storms hit, December 1st on the dot, as though Mother Nature were following our calendar. Everything was transformed; all of the trees were cloaked in magical white.

Here at home, the boys went bravely out into the snow without the proper clothing; I couldn't find the snow pants, which at some point I had put into a box and carefully labeled. Box and pants are AWOL, gone into that Bermuda Triangle that is my attic. But I wanted to show you this picture which captures the major distinction between children and adults: my son, taking a snowball square in the face, and laughing.

I think there was a time, in the distant past, when I might have laughed about snow in the face, cold water dripping down under my clothes and onto my bare neck and chest--but those days are gone. Still, it's amusing to see somone love snow so much, love winter so much, when all I can think about is the driving, and wondering how hazardous it will be. Where did the child in me go? Is she, too, in my attic? Perhaps I'll make it my goal, this Christmas, to reclaim her before I forget who she is.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas comes tonight. My boys are too old for him, really, but he kindly fills their boots anyway (and those are some jumbo boots these days).

He is the spirit of generosity that heralds the holidays, and he is a part of my tradition. My German mother ushered him into our lives, and we always woke to boots full of big brown walnuts and huge red apples, as well as little German chocolates and tiny gifties. In thirty years St. Nick hasn't changed all that much, although some of the wee toys are quite techno and modern.

Speaking of holidays, I believe my friend BILL CAMERON has some holiday give-aways going on. Check him out and win a free Christmas present.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Defending the Dumb

I read a poem once which addressed that great mystery of why some living creatures are given a voice and some are not. Added to that, we were discussing insects in class the other day and the majority of students attested that bugs and spiders gave them "the creeps," and that they killed them instantly. But one girl insisted that no insects should be killed, and that she had a "bug vacuum" which gently pulled in the creatures so that she could safely deposit them outside.

I had never heard of a bug vacuum, but it did make me wonder again about that great cosmic question: in killing a bug, am I taking a life I was not supposed to take? If one of the commandments forbids killing, does that include bugs?

In honor of this theme, I present a poem by Christina Rossetti, who was born on this day in 1830. Rossetti, I fear, would be an advocate for the bugs.

A Word For The Dumb

"Pity the sorrows of a poor old Dog
Who wags his tail a-begging in his need:
Despise not even the sorrows of a Frog,
God’s creature too, and that’s enough to plead:
Spare Puss who trusts us purring on our hearth:
Spare Bunny once so frisky and so free:
Spare all the harmless tenants of the earth:
Spare, and be spared:—or who shall plead for thee?"

--Christina Rossetti

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Sans Pants

One of the reasons I write child characters into my mysteries is that my sons give me so much material, it would be a shame not to write about it. Because the holidays have made me nostalgic, I'll share one with you now, in what I am calling CHRISTMAS ANECDOTE NUMBER ONE. :)

When my youngest son was about two or three, he was quite vocal and didn't even really speak in "baby talk," but in sophisticated sentences. However, he didn't always know the proper word for things, and he called Santa Claus "Christmas."

One day we were at a restaurant with a sort of French decor, and on one wall was a large painting of a Harlequin-like figure with a red hat, a tunic, and tights. Graham looked up from some rather aggressive coloring of his children's menu and said, "Look, Mom! It's Christmas without pants!"

I know that's how I like to spend Christmas, especially after a big meal. :)

(art link here).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Cozy Chat With Diana Vickery

Diana Vickery is a Chicago-area writer who created the popular Cozy Library.

Diana, you created the Cozy Library Site, and you describe it as “a place for readers to connect with authors they might not have read ... and to learn more about their favorite authors.” What made you want to do this? Did you feel that people didn’t have enough reading options?
Readers have lots of options – that’s the problem. There are so many books to sort through and that’s where the Cozy Library, I believe, can help.

I spent much of my professional life as a writer. My last job before retirement was writing and editing two monthly internal newsletters for a Fortune 500 company. The Cozy Library was my way to continue writing (which I love) once I decided my days of working for pay were over. I asked myself, “What do I want to write about now that I can choose?”

At that time, I had been writing reviews for Mystery News for about four years and really enjoying it. I thought maybe I could just do more of that type of writing in retirement. Although I have always read both cozy and non-cozy books, my favorites are of the feel-good variety, so that’s why I decided on the cozy niche – fiction, non-fiction and mystery. I also discovered that many reviewers won’t touch anything that’s cozy – too lightweight in their view, I guess -- so, as a consequence, they’re reviewed less than harder-edged books. I’d like to help remedy that.

Has there been a large response to the Cozy Library?
I’ve got nothing to compare the statistics with, but I believe that having an average of 250-350 daily visitors is pretty good, especially considering I haven’t done much PR for the site. My website guru, Kim Washetas of Scout Computer Resources, Inc., is very impressed with the visitor loyalty. According to the statistics her company subscribes to, Cozy Library visitors are incredibly loyal – many visiting multiple days each month and spending considerable time viewing different pages. (She’s going to be writing an article for the next issue of Cozy Times newsletter about that very topic.)

What I really love is hearing from readers. They write with suggestions for new authors to include on the site (Deborah Grabien comes to mind) or with their thanks for the site’s helping locate a new author they love. One woman wrote that she was going through a tough patch and a book she found on the site was just what she needed to help her through it. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I’ve also received a great response from authors. Even before the site was live, the authors I contacted were extremely generous with their time, support and advice. Among the early cheerleaders were Gail R. Fraser, Joan Medlicott and Susan Wittig Albert (one mention on her blog generated 250 new subscribers to the Cozy Times). Elaine Viets helped spread the word about the Cozy Library among her fellow authors and Katherine Hall Page regularly expresses her appreciation of the Cozy Times newsletter. I almost hate to start mentioning names because many more authors have been so wonderful and I hate to miss anyone!

What a terrific response. How long have you been a book lover?
According to my mom’s notes in my baby book, I was a book lover before I reached my second birthday. (I’m attaching the relevant page.) By the time I was twelve, I had devoured every book in the bookmobile and was chomping at the bit to move upstairs into the adult section of the library in downtown Aurora, Illinois. My pleasure reading abated while I was in high school and college (although I read everything James Michener and John Hersey wrote back then). I started regularly reading fiction and mysteries in 1976 and haven’t stopped since. I estimate I’ve read 2-3 thousand of them. (If you’re wondering, I DO have a life outside books, too. I read pretty fast – although I don’t consider myself a speed reader because I read every word and seldom skim.)

That is impressive, though. On your site you link to a variety of blogs, and you cite the staggering statistic that there are more than 50 million blogs online. Wow! Are you surprised that so many people want to express themselves in blogular form?
Throughout history humans have had a burning desire to express themselves – I believe it’s a way of living on forever. That desire is demonstrated by cave paintings, diaries, journals, personal essays, etc. Blogs are just the latest thing. My degrees are in journalism and I’m quite disappointed in the quality of corporate-owned mass media today. But blogs are one way to carry on the true duty of journalism: “to print the news and raise hell” as Wilbur F. Storey said. Granted, many blogs have quite small audiences but more and more are generating huge followings and making a difference.

What are you reading now?
I just finished Lye in Wait, a fun cozy mystery by a new author, Cricket McRae. I’m also reading Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub for my non-fiction readers’ group. I’ve just started Waltzing at the Piggly Wiggly by Robert Dalby. It’s the first in a new fiction series set in Second Creek, Mississippi – which is like Mitford on caffeine.

What a great description!

You have a link on your site called the “Holiday Page” in which you reference articles, recipes, and gift ideas. It’s terrific! Do you always think of new things to add to the library?

The Cozy Library is very personal – I put things on the site that I find interesting or entertaining. It’s not like I need to base my content decisions on whether I can make a profit – or that I need to run it by a committee to get someone’s approval. I just need to please me. (That sounds pretty decadent, doesn’t it?)

Yes, but wonderful. You are sponsoring a big event next year at your local library. What’s it all about?
When I started my site in Feb 2006, Debbie, the librarian who plans author visits, said, “We’re going to throw you a party to launch it.” So, she planned the Cozy Library Extravaganza for October that year. I invited authors featured in the Cozy Library to participate – and five of them did: Charlene Ann Baumbich, Rhys Bowen, Sharon Fiffer, Suzanne Strempek Shea and Denise Swanson. Dozens more sent materials for us to pass out at the event and an independent bookstore brought in the five authors’ books to sell. Debbie is planning another event for October 2008 – and we’re certain to have at least five authors attending. I can’t say who right now because not all the commitments are firm. It’s quite appropriate that the event is at a library because public libraries all over the country are great referrers to the Cozy Library site – many have a link to it on their sites.

You have retired, but you strike me as a very busy person. How much time do you devote to library things, both Cozy and otherwise?
If I count the hours spent reading books for review, I’d have to say I average 2-3 hours per day. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a life outside books. My husband and I sail on Lake Michigan and are getting more and more into genealogy. We love to hike nearby trails and do some traveling. Since my husband retired this summer, I spend less time on the site. With more than 500 pages of content, I can rest on my laurels, right?

What are some of your holiday traditions? Do you drive to downtown Chicago to see the lights?

We’re not big on holiday celebrations. Some years we don’t even put up a Christmas tree. But I do love Christmas media – I collect Christmas books, movies and music. My family has one traditional holiday dish, a French-Canadian recipe my mother learned from her mother. It’s called “creton,” a cold pork pate we spread on doughy white bread (Rainbo was the childhood choice), put on a little salt and pepper, and eat open-faced with a side of Jay’s Potato Chips. The recipe is published in the current issue of Ancestry’s online magazine here.

There’s a picture of you at age eight on the CL site. You look quite mischievous. Is this a word that describes you?

I don’t recall ever being called mischievous to my face, but I wouldn’t disagree.

What’s happening with you and Cozy Library in the coming year?
I won’t make any predictions about the Cozy Library – but whatever happens, I guarantee it will be cozy!

Thanks very much for chatting, Diana. Have a great New Year.