Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Envy is Powerful

My son recently captured this photo of our cats envying the dog, who gets to roam outside. It got me thinking of envy as a motive.

I think the dog had better watch his back. :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Paging Miss Peanut

The lovely and talented Bill Cameron has, in a fit of playfulness, "tagged" me to play a blog game in which I must tell my readers six random things about myself and then tag six other people. How nice that he is including me, a staid English teacher, in his shenanigans. First of all, I don't know six other people, but I'll do my best.

I present you with my random things, if you are still reading this. :)

ONE: At the tender age of six, I was presented with the crown of Kiwanis Peanut Day's MISS PEANUT. As I recall, the competition was stringent, but as you can see above, in a photo where I am receiving my vast cash award, I was a strikingly beautiful child with a penchant for micro-minis. This was before the craziness of child pageants, and I felt no pressure to be anything but my plain little self, with a minimal hairdo and mother-cut bangs. The day itself was a whirlwind which included me and my two runners-up (one of whom was my sister), sitting on a float and tossing peanuts to the proles who lined the roadway. We may even have processed down more than one street. It was chaos, my friend. And I even got a tiara to wear, and a sash that said "Little Miss Peanut." It was a moment for the ages.

TWO: Since you may not know it from my photo, I am short. I used to soar to a majestic 5 foot 2, but a recent trip to the doctor has revealed the horror of shrinkage--I am now 5 foot 1. Now I can't even sing that song anymore "Oh what those five foot could do, has anybody seen my girl?" No one has written a song about 5 foot one.

THREE: I love music, and I love to sing. Where are you going? No, stay. We can sing some Broadway tunes together.

The love of music came to me from my German (and very musical) mother, as well as from my Hungarian grandmother, who liked to sing and dance the Czardas in her kitchen, accompanying herself with pans she banged together. She used to sing a song about a wooden spoon in Hungarian: it was called Fa Kanal, but when you said it out loud it sounded too much like some vague swear, so we discouraged her. Translated, it meant: "Oh, wooden spoon, wooden fork, wooden knife--my lover has left me, and now I am filled with sorrow." But it had a catchy tune.

FOUR: My husband and I met on a blind date--at a FORMAL DANCE. I have photos of our awkward meeting. Jeff attempted to lessen the awkwardness by showing up half-inebriated.

: My worst teacher moment: when I was twenty-something, the janitor threw all of my carefully-graded research papers AWAY before I could return them to the students. I ended up wading through a dumpster IN THE RAIN, hunting for the papers, and while I was in there, the garbage truck pulled up and I started crying.

SIX: I do an amazing iguana impression, and when I make it at lizards in a pet store, they respond to me.

Oh, and now I'm supposed to post the rules of this blog tag game, for those three people who made it to the bottom of this post:

Now I have to tag six people, and then post the Rules. Because them's the rules.

So I hearby tag:
Eric and Mary

The rules are as follows:

Link to the person that tagged you - ie me.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about yourself in a blog post.
Tag six people.
Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their post.
Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.

Good Luck!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

And the Winners Are!

The lucky readers who will get a free copy of Robert Fate's HIGH PLAINS REDEMPTION are:

Ken Lewis
Kaye Barley
Don Anderson
Anita Beery
Margit Curtright

Congratulations and Happy Reading to ye all. :)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thirteen: The Beginning of the Saga

Here the subject of our story endures an affectionate hug from his ever-optimistic little brother as they watch a flag ceremony.

My son is thirteen. I’ve never had to deal with thirteen except as a thirteen-year-old, so this is new to me: I must address thirteen from the position of authority. I must try to understand it as a person who hasn’t been that age in thirty years.

I have vague memories of it: my perception is that I was generally likeable, but that I was moody, often sarcastic, and sometimes surly. Added to that, I know I was incredibly sensitive, and sometimes if my parents looked at me the wrong way I would burst into tears. I spent long periods of time petting my cat or writing in my journal. It’s not an age I would go back to, given the chance.

But a thirteen-year-old boy is rather a different creature. If my son is any indication, this gender enjoys thirteen as a puppy enjoys a good romp around the yard—usually at the expense of the sanity, or cheerfulness, of others.

I met my sons coming out of school today. It was their walkathon day, and all of the students had been issued brand new, sparkling white T-shirts which I was hoping would last a few months as gym shirt replacements. The current gym shirts are an unpleasant gray and speckled with mysterious stains.

My nine-year-old ran up, a bit sweaty but still sparkling white and smiling. He had run 20 laps and was proud of himself. I waited another five minutes for my older son to saunter up; his shirt had yellow things on it. “What is that?” I yelled.

He looked down at himself. “Uh—either paint or mustard. I also sketched in some scenes in ball point pen.”

Sure enough, I saw upon closer, angrier examination that he had defaced his brand new shirt, most probably to amuse others. “Why?” I wailed.

“I was bored,” he said, as though this made it acceptable.

In the car he reminded me that there was a dance tonight.

“Okay,” I said. “You’d better take a shower.”

“I don’t need to. I’ll just use some deodorant.”

Ick. “You’re taking a shower,” I insisted.

He retreated into one of his favorite languages: a high pitched shrieking that sounds a bit like a dial-up internet connection or an alien from science fiction. He thinks it’s funny.

“Stop it,” I said. “Stop it, or I’m calling dad.” I so quickly resorted to this defense that I could feel his disdain as he smirked out the window.

He then looked into his backpack, found an old piece of string cheese, and flung it at his brother, who sat innocently in the back seat.

“Hey!” yelled Graham.

“Ian, that’s one,” I said, reverting to the counting method we used when they were toddlers.

But thirteen-year-olds are in a different universe—one that doesn’t really acknowledge numbers as specific warnings, and most certainly doesn’t contemplate consequences. Thirteen just is.

At home he stepped out of the car, only to be attacked by the nine-year-old who hadn’t forgotten the string cheese incident.

They grappled for a while in our driveway while I checked to see if any neighbors were watching. As they strangled each other, they told me in angry bursts why the other was to blame. I sighed and picked up the little potted hyacinth that I bought at school. It smelled lovely. I knew that neither of my boys would appreciate this the way they did when they were little, so I didn’t bother to share.

“Who wants to plant this with me?” I asked as they marched, eyeing each other warily, toward the door.

“No one,” said my eldest in his shrieking alien voice.

“No one likes it when you talk that way,” his little brother asserted.

“I do,” said Ian, smiling serenely.

Now he sits in the living room, enjoying some Friday television. He plans to dress as a Miami Vice guy at the dance tonight. He feels it will make him cool and distinctive. Perhaps it will.

But if he doesn’t take a shower, I plan to hose him down.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Robert Fate Explains Some Things

Hello, Bob! Did you play the Shakespeare game? See the post below this one. If so, what’s your favorite insult?
Resign not thy day gig, thou loggerheaded dizzy-eyed scut.

Pretty good! Did you have a favorite insult BEFORE the Shakespearean one? I collect them.
You addle-brained, egg-sucking ferret.

Also good. I understand you’ve been working on a fourth book. Are you craving a vacation, or are you still writing happily?
Book four is coming along quite nicely, thanks. I would like more time to write, not less. It will be another cozy with a few brutal murders, and I’m calling it Baby Shark’s Jugglers at the Border.

If you did take a vacation in the proverbial “away from it all,” where would that away be?
Villa del Sol, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Beach. Sun. Ocean. Solitude. Books. We arrive at the airport and a bus takes our fellow planeload of vacationers to the big hotels in Ixtapa. A taxi takes us to a small hotel on the beach in Zihuatanejo. We have taken our daughter Jenny there since she was six months old, 1 ½, 2 ½, 3 ½, 4 ½, etc. We have vacationed other places, but never with the same satisfaction as we have felt for our summers in Zihuatanejo.

You make it sound quite appealing. As a Californian, you must appreciate how nervous we Midwesterners were with our recent earthquake. Do West Coasters think we’re a bunch of babies?
Earthquakes are every day occurrences here, so everyone has a story. In January 1994, when Jenny had just turned six, the earthquake that was later called the Northridge Quake occurred. It was early morning. We were still in bed. The quake was strong enough to give our house a hard shake. Four of our neighbors had their chimneys shaken off their houses. We have three sets of clear glass double doors that make up the north wall of our living room. All were closed and locked. All were opened wide by the twisting the quake gave our house.

When we were waked by the rattle of the house and all its contents dancing about, our German shepherd headed for the bathtub where he always went during those things, and Fern and I leaped from our bed, each to a side, rushed out of our bedroom, down the hall, and into Jenny’s room. “She’s not here,” Fern cried out. “What? What are you saying?” I shouted.. “I’m here,” Jenny said rather sheepishly from our room. She had gotten between us during the night. We were all laughing before the house was finished creaking.

After checking on a couple of our older neighbors, we built a fire in the fireplace, fixed breakfast, and got our day started. When Fern and I are in different parts of the city, we telephone each other DURING the quake. AFTER the quake, the lines are jammed with calls.

Rock through a few more, Julia, and you’ll get the fatalistic hang of it.

Well, I'm hoping not to get that used to it, but okay.

Baby Shark is being made into a film, and on DorothyL there has been much talk of who should be cast in the roles. Did any of the ideas jump out at you? Do you want to play one of the roles yourself?

It is certain that the actress (or is that actor now?) that is cast in the role of Kristin Van Dijk will forever be the Kristin readers see in their mind’s eye. I have no idea who that will be, but assume it will be a woman in her mid to late twenties who can play from seventeen to nineteen. I know he is not the same size as Otis is written, but I sometimes think of Sam Elliot in that role. Henry will be an interesting character to cast, honest, savvy.

A role for me? Maybe one of the old geezers, especially the one who’s not too swift..

I tried to quiz people about your Baby Shark books to let them win a free one, but it sent them scurrying away. Is there an easier way for them to claim a free book?
Scared them away, did we? Well, howzabout this? Any of your readers that are interested in receiving a copy of High Plains Redemption should let you know. You put their names in a fedora, draw out five, and let me know their addresses. That should take care of the scaredicats.

Thank you, Julia, for the opportunity to chat. It’s always a pleasure to visit with you. Plus, it does my reputation a world of good to hang out for a while someplace so classy. Who knows? Maybe somebody will get the wrong idea about me – that couldn’t be bad.

Thanks, Robert.

Okay, readers, you heard him. I will choose between several fedoras, and you can contact me for a FREE BOOK!!!! What a great world. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shakespearean Fun

This is the day generally agreed to be the birthday of famed playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and, as I mentioned in a previous post, he would be 444 years old today. Having read, studied and taught many of the works of Shakespeare, I can honestly say that his birthday has become important to me; it is a date I rarely forget.

In his honor, and in honor of his particular facility with language, I offer this game which will allow you to insult your enemies in Shakespearean style.

Try it at Pete Levin's Shakespearian Insults page, and let me know your favorite hand-picked insult.

Here is mine: "Lead apes in hell, thou goatish, onion-eyed jolthead!"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Fate Has in Store

Robert Fate has written a great new mystery, pictured here. I am lucky enough to have received five of those books, and I'd like to share the wealth.

For those of you who loved the first two in the Baby Shark series, you might enjoy this little Baby Shark quiz! Send me the answers (all or as many as you can get)and you can win the signed book Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption (which is not officially in bookstores until May).

I highly recommend the novel--I've read and enjoyed all three of Fate's mysteries.

Give it a try! (You can e me at

Q - What is the name of the restaurant where Otis and
Kristin always order mesquite grilled porterhouse

Q - What is the name of Kristin's beautician?

Q - In Baby Shark, what language is spoken by
Scarecrow's girlfriend, Peggy?

Q - In Baby Shark, what is the name of the pool hall
across the street from Wilma's Cafe?

Q - What kind of hat does Otis wear?

Q - In Beaumont Blues, what is Virginia's real name?

Q - What breed of dog is Jim?

Q- How much weight did Kristin gain between books one and two?

Good luck, Baby Shark fans. I'll post the winners soon.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Guns and Grammar

Here's a real life mystery based on real-life violence. The growing trend of school shootings is raising a rather odd debate, one that would have seemed laughable twenty years ago: should teachers be allowed to carry guns?

This question has been pondered by various lawmakers over the last few years, and what's interesting to me is that the response is not an overwhelming "no." For example, one recent story on NPR highlighted this college English professor's willingness to carry arms in his classroom.

As a teacher myself, I must tell you that I think about school shootings almost every day. I wonder, in fleeting moments when I hear an odd sound or an unusual banging noise, what my best first move would be: should I run to lock the door? Should I beckon students to the back of the room? Push out a screen and have them start climbing slowly out a window? Would I be able to maintain the necessary silence, or would panicked screaming give us all away to some miscreant storming down the hall?

Most of all, I wonder: will I have the courage to stand up to him for the sake of my students? Never mind the fact that I would die in vain, since after killing me he could certainly start killing them, as previous assassins have shown.

But I think what bothers me and many other Americans is that we are tired of the "sitting duck" scenario. We are tired of the notion that young people can't be safe when they are trying to learn; that in the back of their minds, they must fear assailants with the physical vigilence of soldiers even as they try to metaphorically navigate their way through challenging texts.

So a part of me, a part in the realm of fantasy only, would like to imagine myself as not a sitting duck. That, if confronted by some tragic creature who sees violence against the innocent as the only way of leaving the world, I could say, "No--this will not happen today!" I could pull out a handgun from my drawer full of novels and tell the students to stay back, as though we were in a John Wayne movie and I was that flawed veteran of life that ol' Duke always used to play--and I could give us all at least a fighting chance.

But here's the reality: I'm not John Wayne. And students don't want to feel that frisson of horror that would certainly shiver down their spines if their teacher opened a drawer to find them a pencil and they saw the gleam of metal--that unmistakable image of violence and authority that has never had a place in the classroom, and for a reason.

Across the hall from me is an English teacher who has been at the school for more than thirty years. She is meticulous in every respect. Each morning she writes an inspirational quote on the board with perfect handwriting, then sits at her desk to study the day's crossword puzzle before her students begin to flow in. She is small and petite, eloquent and ladylike. She has traveled all over the world. She is seventy years old, but has walked the Chicago Marathon for many years. She is strong in spirit and in body. Her students love her. This is her identity. If she were to strap on a shoulder holster for the remainder of her career, it would be jarring for us all--but it would also suggest that we have given in. We teachers would be sending the message that we have acknowledged the violence of our society, the likelihood of gunfire, and the need to answer in kind.

I don't want to be a sitting duck, nor do I want our children to feel helpless in their desks. I realize that airplanes have resorted to Air Marshals, but how many of them are there? Are they really present? Has that solution been feasible?

If it becomes necessary to put an armed security guard at the entrance door to every school (while locking all other doors), then I guess that's the way it will have to be. But to ask teachers to carry those guns means they will have to bring that symbol of violence to their podium, and then students will have to decide if that increases their feelings of security or gives them a heightened sense of fear.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Creativity Catalyst

Did you love kaleidoscopes when you were a child? Do you still love them? There's something magical about their colorful symmetry.

Well, you might want to play this game. It seems a nice Friday activity, and a possible boost to those creative parts of the brain.

Have fun!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Noodle Parallel

An odd metaphor? Perhaps. And yet I see a link between writing and eating noodles, especially the idea of trying to master the chopsticks. Trying to get those slippery noodles between those two pieces of wood--well, that's trying to wrestle your plot into shape. And then there's the other struggle--that long string of noodles that you can't bite off without looking rude. I see that as a lovely analogy for revision. Where to cut it off? Too much? Too little? How to decide? There's a lot of pressure here; people are watching, after all.

And of course they say that when you eat stir-fry food you end up being hungry again in what seems like just a few minutes. When I struggle through a mystery I think, okay, that's IT. I'm finished. And yet it's not too much later that I find myself jotting notes for a new idea, because I'm not truly FULL. I have to keep writing.

Does my noodle comparison work? You tell me, or give me your best analogy for writing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Ideal Scenario

Were I to create my own British detective, she would be based upon this lovely woman, Emma Thompson, and of course I would cast Thompson in the lead, were this hypothetical mystery series ever to become a big hit. :)

Emma Thompson won my heart long ago, when she made this Oscar speech:

In dedicating her award to women and their potential, Thompson not only earned my devotion, but made an important statement to Hollywood. Women still struggle, of course, to find roles that are as good, as powerful, as those written for men. Thompson herself has played many memorable roles, and she wrote some, as well, in her Oscar-winning script for Sense and Sensibility.

Today Emma Thompson, born in 1959, celebrates a birthday. I hope she's spending time with family and friends, and that while she contemplates those birthday candles she is dreaming of the great roles still to come.

Maybe one of them will be that awesome British detective.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This One Day

"Each today, well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life."

-- Sanskrit poem

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How Well-Read Are You?

A section in the Literature Lover's Book of Lists reveals a compilation of books and short stories that are required reading by colleges and universities across the U.S. Take a gander and see how many you've read!

You might think that as an English teacher I have an unfair advantage in this exercise, but there are actually quite a few here that I was never asked to read (and did not take up on my own). My total: 21 out of 44.

Pride and Prejudice
(Jane Austen)
Go Tell It On the Mountain (James Baldwin)
Humboldt's Gift (Saul Bellow)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
The Stranger (Albert Camus)
Don Quixote (Miguel De Cervantes)
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)
Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
Adam Bede (George Eliot)
Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
The Unvanquished (William Faulkner)
Joseph Andrews (Henry Fielding)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (John Fowles)
Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
The Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy)
The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The Portrait of a Lady (Henry James)
Dubliners (James Joyce)
The Trial (Franz Kafka)
Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis)
The Magic Barrel (Bernard Malamud)
Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
1984 (George Orwell)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)
The Tell-Tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe)
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
The Red and the Black (Stendhal)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift)
Vanity Fair (William Thackeray)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
Native Son (Richard Wright)

Am I troubled by the lack of diversity in this list? Of course. For a start, I can't imagine how Edith Wharton and Charlotte Bronte were left off. But that's for another post . . .

How did you fare in the college-bound reading?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fateful Numbers?

I recently had an odd experience with numbers. Tell me: is this a fateful encounter?

I was chatting with my students about the fact that it's almost Shakespeare's birthday. I did a little math to find out how old he would be this year--and the answer was 444. I found this interesting, because before we had children, my husband and I lived at that address--444 Washington. I didn't think much of it until a few nights later, when I couldn't sleep all night long, and at one point looked up to see what time it was, and--you guessed it--it was 4:44.

The next day I told my husband of this odd occurrence, and jokingly said that we should play the number in Little Lotto (which is the Illinois three-number lottery game). We didn't, mostly because we're lazy and we're not in the habit of playing the lottery.

So time went by, and then my husband sent me an e-mail, saying that he'd gone online to check, just out of curiosity, and found that the number 444 had won the Little Lotto about two weeks before.

So tell me, numbers people. Is this just a normal coincidence, or did I miss a giant gift of Fate?

(I took this cool photo in the Michigan woods).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mysterious India Part Two: The Taj Mahal

“The Taj truly is… a poem... It is not only a pure architectural type, but also a creation, which satisfies the imagination, because its characteristic is Beauty. Did you ever build a Castle in the Air? Here is one, brought down to earth, and fixed for the wonder of ages; yet so light it seems, so airy, and when seen from a distance, so like a fabric of mist and sunbeams, with its great dome soaring up, a silvery bubble, about to burst in the sun, that, even after you have touched it, and climbed to its summit, you almost doubt its reality.”
--Bayard Taylor, journalist and novelist, after his visit to the Taj Mahal in 1850.

With Taylor's beautiful words and Gloria Feit's beautiful photographs, I offer this tribute to the Taj Mahal, one of India's most famous sights and an architectural wonder. Gloria, who has traveled extensively, still admitted that the Taj Mahal took her breath away, and those who know it claim that photos cannot capture its majesty.

She also pointed out that as the light changed, so too did the mood of this wonderful palace; and, as she and Ted noted, everything is perfectly symmetrical, even the reflected image of the Taj.

A couple other views of India: these little monkeys on the roadside particularly delighted Gloria, especially the tiny baby held by the mother monkey on the far left. This, too, reminds me of a line from The Far Pavilions, the book I referenced in yesterday's post:

"The stillness of the morning lent clarity to a distant crackle of firing and the voices of men shouting under the walls of Delhi. Presently these too ceased or were absorbed into the work-a-day sounds of the awaking city and the normal noises of an Indian morning: the creak of a well-wheel, partridges calling out on the plains and sarus cranes by the river; the harsh cry of a peacock from the standing crops, and the chatter and chirrup of tree rats, saht-bai and weaver birds. A troop of brown monkeys settled in the branches of the peepul tree, and a faint breeze off the river stirred the tall elephant grass and made a dry, monotonous rustling . . ."
--from M.M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions

Thanks again to Gloria and Ted for sharing these beautiful photos of a magical and mysterious place.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Mystery and Grandeur of India: Part One

It's no surprise that so many mysteries are set in India. One of the first books that made me fall in love with this setting was M.M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions, which contains beautiful descriptions of India, like this one, where the hero as a child is protected by his guardian, Sita, who calls him Ash-Baba.

She comforts him with tales of a place they will one day go, when they no longer need to run, and "the valley among the mountains where they would one day live in a flat-roofed house among the fruit trees, and keep a goat and a cow, a puppy and a kitten . . .

'And the donkey,' said Ash drowsily. 'We must take the donkey.'

'Assuredly we will take the donkey, he shall help us carry water jars from the river; and wood for our fire, for when night falls it is cool in the high valleys--cool and pleasant, and the wind that blows from the forests smells of pine-cones and snow and makes a sound that says Hush--Hush--Hush . . ."

Descriptions like that can make you fall in love with a place you've never seen.

Now, thanks to an e-mail chat with Gloria Feit, who posts wonderful mystery reviews on DorothyL along with her husband, Ted, I have been able to take a vicarious trip to India, because the Feits recently visited that fascinating country and shared their photos. In addition, Gloria provided her observations with me and said that I, in turn, could share them with you here.

Gloria noted that "the overwhelming feeling with which you return is how--not dirty, but dusty, everything is. Whether in the cities [Bombay - now Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur or wherever] most of the roads and streets are unpaved. You find yourself sharing the road, or the city streets, variously with the cows that are everywhere, goats, wild pigs, elephants, camels, and wild-driving vehicles. Hair-raising at times, unnerving at others."

Gloria also wrote of the sad fact of poverty, but worse yet the eventual tendency to overlook it (similar to the reporter from CNN who once wrote of the horror of street executions in the Middle East, but the worse reality of growing immune to them). In any case, Gloria pointed out, the begging becomes ubiquitous. However, she visited one well-to-do family and there were beggars just outside his home.

The man's response surprised her: "When one of our group queried the homeowner about this, being several yards away from his comfortable home, he said that since the land had become so valuable [as in most of the rest of the world], these farmers had received a small fortune for the bulk of their property, but still led the existence they were used to: children in rags, still begging for money or food."

Gloria also noted that their visit was both exhausting and unforgettable, and that the Taj Mahal literally took her breath away.

So tomorrow's blog will focus on: The Taj Mahal.

Thanks so much, Gloria!

(Photos: Top: taken from their boat, returning from the Palace. Picture two: The Feits identify these fellows as a common sight on the roadside. Picture three: A street scene in Jodphur. Picture four: Gateway to India at left; Taj hotel at right. Picture five: here is the elephant right before they "boarded" for their journey to Amber Fort.)

monkey five

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Coming Soon . . .

Mystery reader and reviewer extraordinaire Gloria Feit was kind enough to share her thoughts about a recent trip to India; even more thrilling was that she shared some spectacular photos, as well!

As a teaser, here's Gloria herself, posing in back of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.

Many a fine mystery has been set in India, and Gloria's words and pictures make me realize why this exotic, mysterious location would be the perfect setting for any crime fiction.

More tomorrow! Thanks, Gloria!

(photo: Ted Feit)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2008

On April's Storms and Cruelty

"APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers. . ."

So wrote T.S. Eliot at the beginning of The Wasteland. So far April has been not cruel, but wonderful, bringing sun and forgotten warmth to this part of the globe. But I know that those legendary April showers are coming, as cold front meets warm front in something akin to the Battle of the Titans. And every year at this time we start to get tornado warnings.

But that's not really April's fault. My mother, when we were young and wanted curlers in our hair (the old scratchy kind that made it impossible to sleep comfortably), would say "Eitle keit muss pain leiden," or "Vanity must suffer."

I equate that with the beauty of April, for which both it and we must pay the consequences--those tempests that bring calm days and fragrant blossoms. So my contention is that April is a month not so much cruel as lovely, and a bit proud of that loveliness.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On Loveliness, Memories and Salvation

"You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved since childhood, is perhaps the best education of all. If a man carries many such memories into life with him, he is saved for the rest of his days. And even if only one good memory is left in our hearts, it may also be the instrument of our salvation one day."

--Fyodor Dostoevsky


"Into my heart's treasury
I slipped a coin
That time cannot take
Nor a thief purloin.

Oh better than the minting
of a gold-crowned king
Is the safe-kept memory
Of a lovely thing."

--Sara Teasdale

Friday, April 04, 2008

Life's Plain, Common Work

"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."

--Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, April 03, 2008

If I Have Made a Farthing . . .

Happy Literary Birthday to the great Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving was born on this day in 1783, and was named after General George Washington, whom his parents particularly admired.

My favorite work by Irving is a story called "The Devil and Tom Walker." While it has the same folk tale tone as his other famous works, it delves more deeply into the notion of human corruption; Tom sells his soul for the sake of greed. When he famously says "The Devil take me if I have made a farthing," the Devil does.

As a morality tale, it's entirely satisfying.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If I Have Made a Farthing . . .

Happy Literary Birthday to the great Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving was born on this day in 1873, and was named after General George Washington, whom his parents particularly admired.

My favorite work by Irving is a story called "The Devil and Tom Walker." While it has the same folk tale tone as his other famous works, it delves more deeply into the notion of human corruption; Tom sells his soul for the sake of greed. When he famously says "The Devil take me if I have made a farthing," the Devil does.

As a morality tale, it's entirely satisfying.

The Mystery of Talent

Today is the birthday of the wonderful Emmylou Harris, whose ethereal voice has brought me joy for many years.

I had the pleasure of watching her in concert two years ago, and I was impressed by her talent with both vocals and guitar, and her onstage work ethic--she sang well and long, and treated us to one of the finest concerts we'd ever seen. One of my favorite songs is Emmy's version of Nanci Griffith's "Gulf Coast Highway," which Emmy originally sang with Willie Nelson, but it can be viewed here in a performance with Dave Mathews:

The thing about Emmylou's voice is that it captures something about the mystery and sadness of the human experience, and yet it offers continual hope with its lonely, beautiful, hill-girl sound.

And who can resist those beautiful lyrics: "When she dies, she says she'll catch some blackbird's wing, and she will fly away to heaven, come some sweet blue bonnet spring."

She enhances everything she sings, and her voice is one of the true representative voices of our time.

Happy Birthday, Emmylou!

(image link here)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April and Its Fools

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

"The first of April, some do say
Is set apart for All Fool's Day;
But why the people call it so
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment."
--Poor Robin's Almanac (1790)

According to the website All Fools Day, the origins of the April Fool and the pranks associated with the day are not entirely certain, although there seems to be a link to spring, the vernal equinox, and the capricious weather that Mother Nature "fools" us with at this time. The website adds that "In many cultures, tradition dictates that the pranking period must expire at noon on April 1 and any jokes attempted after that hour will bring back luck to the perpetrator. In addition, any who fail to respond with a good humor to tricks played upon them are said to attract bad luck unto themselves. Such victims are, however, entitled to "turn the tables" after the hour of noon with the retort: 'April Fool's gone past...and you're the biggest fool at last!'"

Or perhaps the biggest fool all along. As Mark Twain put it: "The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year."