Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Brother on CNN

I'm very proud of my brother, Chris, who works for Delphi Electronics in Kokomo, Indiana, and recently chatted with Anderson Cooper on CNN about the car industry and his own personal business, GREEN SOLUTIONS.

You can view his interview here.

A Woman and Her Dog

Kaye Barley (who has been interviewed on this blog--see link at right) has a cute post at Coffee with a Canine today. If you like dogs, coffee, or both, this is a fun new blog by Marshal Zeringue that you might enjoy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Death of a Duchess

One of my favorite mysteries is captured in Robert Browning's chilling poem "My Last Duchess." You can read the poem here. In this famous work, Browning alludes to the historical Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara. It is hinted that the Duke, who speaks well of himself but not so well of the "last Duchess," who has died mysteriously and whose portrait hangs upon his wall, may have in fact killed her, which raises the question of whether Browning thought Ferrara killed his first wife, as well.

Alfonso's first wife was Lucretia de Medici, who died mysteriously within two years of the Duke's ascension to the throne. Poor Lucretia's death, though suspicious, was never linked to the Duke, and it was left to history, and poets like Browning, to surmise about her fate.

Browning's Duke is controlling and suspicious, and he hints that his first wife was unfaithful to him, which provides a likely motive for her murder. However, the most chilling part of the poem is that the Duchess cannot now speak, nor perhaps could ever speak, on her own behalf, and remains only as a painting over which the Duke has utter control.

Art link here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Life I Love You--All is Groovy!

I heard this line today in one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, and it helped to put things in perspective. I am one of those people who can get caught in the rut of focusing on the negative: bills, broken lawnmower, deaths of seventies icons which suddenly remind me that I am not young. I could spend all day listing things that bum me out. And some days, I do.

But Paul Simon has reminded me that there are lots of things to love about life, and I'd better start acknowledging those if I want to reclaim the groovy feeling that was once much easier to come by.

Here are five just off the top of my head:

My sons, whose summer-blond hair makes them even handsomer than they were before.

The cooler air which is relieving a parched Chicago this evening.

The books (hopefully lots of them) that I'll read this summer.

The green, green grass in my back yard (and because of my broken lawnmower, it's really long and lush. Thanks to you, too, torrential rains!)

The writing project that is by turns enraging and inspiring me.

What's groovy in your world?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chicago Cop's Sentence Raises Questions of Justice

You may have already seen the video of the off-duty Chicago police officer who attacked a woman half his size because she, a bartender, refused to serve him any more drinks. It's certainly a well-known bit of tape here in Chicago.

Yesterday the attacker, Anthony Abbate, was sentenced to two years probation and anger management classes. He will receive no jail time.

The verdict has shocked many people, including me, but apparently it doesn't surprise those who have knowledge of the law. You can read their assessment here.

In my estimation, the verdict sends a terrible message, not only to abused women who are afraid to leave their abusers, but to abusers themselves. Isn't a judge allowed to give some token jail time, even thirty days, so that something of significance is communicated to those who would hurt those weaker than themselves?

Shouldn't more of a strict sentence be imposed upon a police officer who has sworn to protect the public?

In light of videotaped evidence of this man's contemptible actions, I am (for once) at a loss for words.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pelham 123 and Its Predecessor

I saw The Taking of Pelham 123 today; I am a fan of the original 1974 movie (although I have never read the Morton Freedgood novel upon which THAT movie was based).

I admired the performances of Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro. They provided a great deal of believable characterization and intensity that gave the movie its suspenseful moments. I'm not convinced that the movie was an improvement on the original, and I think the problem that Hollywood sometimes has with this sort of re-make is that they feel they must throw all sorts of modernizations at an already good story. Weird camera angles, freeze frames, lots of loud annoying music in a downright distracting soundtrack.

I would love for a director to rediscover silence and its dramatic possibilities.

Still, it was an exciting movie, and if you don't mind an endless stream of F words and lots of blood, I'd recommend it.

However, I'm asking whoever is out there in Hollywoodland to consider removing these cliches from all future movies:

--unnecessary car crashes
--chase scenes in which no one can tell who is chasing, who is being chased, and who is in between
--dialogue that implies everyone in the world is profane
--the line "We've got company," used in any context
--casting women who look twenty to play the parts of women who are supposed to be forty-something

Okay, that's my mixed review of this summer remake. If you're a fan of any of the main characters, I think you'll like their performances in this suspenseful tale.

Image here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Crime Writer Robert Wilson on Seville's Beauty, Africa's Power, and London's Vast Unknown

Robert Wilson is the author of four crime noir novels set in South Africa featuring Bruce Medway; two thrillers set in Portugal during the second world war; and a series of four crime novels set in Seville featuring the detective Javier Falcón. He was kind enough to answer these questions after I read and liked his books.

Your novel THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD is the fourth and last in the Javier Falcón series. Is it difficult to say goodbye to a character that you’ve gotten to know so intimately?

As you now know from The Blind Man of Seville Javier was not in a good mental state when I first met him. He was divorced, struggling with his father’s death, tending towards the introspective and not getting on well with his homicide squad. He also had this terrible sense of being on the edge of a great abyss, something in his mind that he knew but did not know, a feeling that a monstrous revelation was about to surface and break him as a human being. By the time he finishes his four book journey I believe that he is in a much better place. He has been dismantled, put back together, re-equipped and revived. So I leave him with no sadness on my part, but with a feeling of a job well done. It had always been important to me, in a reversal of the normal series character, that my protagonist would change. And he does, for the better.

Your biography reveals that you are an extremely well-traveled man, and as a result, you say that “I realised that there were other ways of thinking and doing things that were just as valid as my own.” Does this objectivity affect the way that you create characters?

That realization was just one of many steps on the road through adulthood towards growing up (I’ll get there, but only in the end). On that occasion, in Africa, it was revealed to me that the Western way of doing things wasn’t necessarily the right or the best way and I would have to change in order to survive. Changing, even at the age of 30, which I was then, is hard. In terms of my ability to create characters I couldn’t say that there was any one particular incident that led me to start looking at people beyond the surface of what they want to present. It was probably an accumulation of life (and death) experiences that contributed to the unsettling of my equilibrium. I have a tendency, possibly unnerving, of trying to get past the looks, humour, status, vanity, aggression/defence and general deception to the real person beneath. Given that humans understand the nature of deception from an early age this can be quite a task, but it’s what fascinates me in both life and my work. I’m very conscious, even in the most apparently innocuous piece of dialogue, of how the real person is operating underneath the character’s skin.

At one point you traveled around America on a Greyhound bus. Did you like America? What was your most memorable moment?

Greyhound bus stations tend to be in the less savoury areas of cities’ downtown so I could be forgiven for having a somewhat jaded view of America as a result, but I didn’t and I don’t. I was blown away by the sheer energy of New York. This was the late seventies and it seemed even more driven, aggressive and dangerous than it is now. I went up the WTC and looked out over the roaring metropolis to the lung of Central Park and could not help but be impressed. It was fascinating after a twenty-four year gap to go back in 2001, six weeks after 9/11, to find that terrible gap in the landscape and New Yorkers changed: their ambitious ruthlessness pried open to reveal the heart beating within.

I’m always interested in the naming of a detective, and yours, Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, has the name of a bird of prey. In your latest novel you describe Falcón and his friend as “alive as hunting hawks.” Is a predator an apt metaphor for a homicide detective?
I chose the name because the intention of the books was to be all about ‘seeing’. That is: discovering the capacity to distinguish between the appearance and reality of both people and situations. The initial irony is that, of course, Falcón, and many of the other characters do not see things at all clearly. By the time he reaches the last book Falcón is as perceptive as he’ll ever be, and his friend, Yacoub, given his situation as a spy, perhaps even more so. A homicide detective is always trying to see the reality of things beyond the endless deception that is put before him. In Spanish the word for ‘falcon’ is in fact ‘halcón’, so the one audience that might miss the significance of this metaphor is the Spanish themselves.

Falcón solves homicides in Seville, Spain. What made you set your mysteries here?

Seville is recognized in both Spain and the wider world as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It also has a population who are, even by Spanish standards, uniquely friendly, inviting, passionate, animated and exuberant. When you first go there you could be forgiven for thinking that the Sevillanos had cracked the problem of being human. They live in a wonderful city, eat magnificent food and drink wonderful wine, have great music and dance and seem to be very happy. Only once you scratch the surface do you see that it is no different to any other city, that they have the same problems of social inequality, drugs, crime, racism etc. This struck me as the perfect place to examine what I consider to be the underlying theme of all crime fiction: appearance and reality.

According to one of the characters from organized crime intelligence, Spaniards are “the biggest users of prostitutes and cocaine of any country in Europe.” Why is that? Did this research surprise you, or was it one of the reasons that you made Spain your setting?

The Spanish are great believers in partying. They love night life. It’s not unusual to find ordinary Spanish families starting to eat their dinner with their children at midnight. Young people then go on to clubs and dance the night away and quite often go straight to work from the club the next day. This is, obviously, exhausting and they use drugs, most notably cocaine, to keep them going. Researchers have now found that almost all banknotes have traces of cocaine on them and that even the air in Madrid and Barcelona contains cocaine, amphetamines and other opiates. Inevitably sex becomes part of the mix and has enormous appeal to what has always been, although less obviously now, a macho society.

You have some strikingly existential scenes in your fiction. Falcón struggles with feelings of emptiness and loneliness, and at one point feels “an overwhelming sense of loss and pointlessness.” Another character, on a ship in the dark, giggles at “the hidden absurdity in everyday life." Do you think these feelings are part of the reality of working homicide (or working in some form of law enforcement)? Or are they feelings that every human being must face at some point?

Because homicide detectives and spies are dealing with life and death situations on a regular basis I think there is a tendency to be reflective in this particular way. However, I don’t think it’s exclusive to these professions and most humans are certainly introspective when it comes to thinking about serious illness and death. They have a way of putting one’s everyday life into perspective. And who hasn’t had that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness after a huge and engrossing project has been finished? I know I get it after every book goes off to my publishers.

When you and your wife fell in love, your biography says, the two of you also fell in love with Africa. What was it about this continent that attracted you both?

Once you’ve been to Africa and spent time there you never get it out of your system. There’s a part of you that always remains there. Perhaps it’s because Africa was where we all came from in the beginning, the original Garden of Eden, that the land exerts such an extraordinary power over you.

And the people, especially the ordinary folk trying to live their lives, are truly inspiring. They are so tough and yet they handle the ordeal of life with such equanimity and humour one feels embarrassed by one’s comparatively pampered lifestyle.

You are passionate about American Literature. Do you have a favorite American writer?

In terms of crime writing I admire Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. On the literary side of things one of my all time favorite books, as it is of many other readers, is The Great Gatsby.

You have written four noir crime novels set in West Africa (with detective Bruce Medway); two thrillers set in WWII Portugal; and now the Falcón novels, set in present-day Spain. Would you have become a successful writer, do you think, if you had not traveled so extensively?

I would have just written different books and success is not in my hands.

Your website shows a beautiful picture of your study in Alentejo, near Lisbon. You write that “In 1992 we moved in and taught ourselves how to live on very, very little.” All of your choices, it seems, involved sacrificing one thing (like a regular job or paycheck) for another: travel, an amazing view, a career you love. Do you think that the best things come out of sacrifice?
There was never any question of sacrifice. All we did was to concentrate on how we wanted to live and the best way to achieve it.

When you write a series, do you know in book one some of the things that will happen in books three or four, or do you allow yourself to be surprised along the way?

I never know the detail, all I know is the general shape of things and the way my main character is going to develop. Surprise is an important factor in this sort of writing and if I’m surprised by what happens (and I frequently am) then it’s pretty sure that the reader is going to be spun around, too.

In your first Falcon book, THE BLIND MAN OF SEVILLE, Falcon discovers a gruesome crime: a man has been tied to a chair and forced to watch something on his television. His eyelids have been cut off so that he cannot avoid the images. These are shocking, unforgettable details. How do your fictional crimes occur to you? Do you base them on things you read in your research, or are they simply the products of your fertile imagination?

The image of the eyelids being removed to force someone to see came to me in a sudden horrible flash while I was finishing my spy novel/love story The Company of Strangers. It struck me as a potent opening image for a book about ‘sight’ and its failures in human nature. I am quite often accused of despicable violence, but if you reread the opening scenes of The Blind Man of Seville you will find nothing in the slightest bit graphic on the page. The reader has no idea what is happening or what is about to happen to the man tied to a chair, who is engaged in a titanic struggle not to watch something on a TV screen. We make the same discovery as Falcón when, later, he finds the body with what appears to be petals on his shirt front. It is profoundly shocking and the reader’s own imagination does all the work, not my writing. I merely plant the seeds and, of course, the real horror, which is: what could possibly have been on the TV screen? What could be so terrible?

How many languages can you speak?

None fluently. I went to a French school when I was six years old and was fluent then. I used it in Africa because a lot of countries are francaphone. Now I understand almost everything but I’m a little rusty in speaking it. My German was pretty good when I went on a student exchange to Hamburg at the age of sixteen. I spoke presentable beginner’s Greek when I worked on Crete for a year. I taught myself Spanish when I cycled around Spain in 1984 and I learnt Portuguese when I renovated my house, here, in Portugal in 1992. So, bits of five , but I wouldn’t want to bank on getting into university on the strength of any of them.

You have lived in many countries. Do you have therefore have many national loyalties, or do you feel primarily a citizen of one place?

I feel completely English and I’m proud to speak and write in that language because I believe it is one of the most expressive, lively and growing languages, accommodating all sorts of nationalities’ contributions. However, because I haven’t been drinking in so much popular culture from England in the last twenty years, I can sometimes feel like a tourist in my own country.

What are you writing now?

There you are. I’m working on a novel based in London. I lived in London for ten years between 1981 – 1991. It’s a great city but Londoners have a way of only knowing a certain part of their city: where they live, where they work, where they meet their friends. It’s interesting to go to London and discover the vast unknown.

I ask this often, but I have to ask it of you, because you’ve been so many amazing places: what’s the most beautiful place in the world?

Too difficult to answer. Would it be the lakes of Band-i-Amir and the vast stone Buddhas of Bamyian in Afghanistan? Or perhaps my first and only sight of the Himalayas in Nepal after the monsoon clouds lifted? Or possibly the magnificent emptiness of the Sahara desert? Or was it the highlands of Kenya? The rolling hills and cork oaks of the Alentejo in Portugal? Or, actually, was it outside my back door in the Cotswolds in England all the time?

What a beautiful answer.

You survived a near-death experience after a car crash when you were a young man. Did this alter the way you viewed the world? The way you viewed yourself?

Up until that moment, aged nineteen, I had been the invincible adolescent. I was a good rugby player and had already played first class games at a professional level, I had just earned some money and was about to embark on a trip to Australia and in the fall I was going to take a place reading English at Oxford University. The world seemed to be at my feet until the driver of that car hit a concrete lamp post and I, the passenger, ended up in hospital for three months with my hip dislocated, pelvis smashed and a couple of hundred sutures in my face. I saw some terrible things on that public ward: a man being told he had a tumour on his upper arm and they were going to have to amputate, seeing him go down to the theatre and coming back without it. We had some great laughs, too. I went through a crash course on growing up: schoolboy to adult in three months. I learnt that I wasn’t invincible, that there are bad times and you have to find a way of getting through them intact and that people are extraordinary in lots of different ways.

Robert Wilson's website is located here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

For My Father, and All Fathers

A Happy Father's Day to all fathers, especially my own dear Dad.

Even after about thirteen years of retirement, my dad is going strong. He and my mom just hosted a party for the five graduates in our family. He keeps in touch with all of his children via phone and e-mail, and when he's not helping one of us in some way (he is the handiest man I've ever met), he and my mother are volunteering their time at the local hospital and visiting shut-ins in their own parish.

I am proud to call my father a lifetime role model.

I borrow a quote from John Gregory Brown: "There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself."

Happy Father's Day to all of you undersung heroes!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Past and Everlasting Regret

Something about summer and my driving need to accomplish a million things has me thinking of a line from a Tennessee Williams play today. In The Glass Menagerie, fading southern belle Amanda Wingfield tries to give her son a sense of urgency with this line: "You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!"

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Books, And Time to Read Them

I was thrilled yesterday to receive a copy of Robert Fate's fourth Baby Shark book, Baby Shark's Jugglers at the Border. The arrival of summer means I actually have time to read books (for a short while), and it's great when one of them simply arrives on the doorstep.

As if I didn't have enough fodder for good reading, I am told that I am about to receive a copy of Juliet Blackwell's first witchcraft mystery, called Secondhand Spirits. I'm very excited about reading this one, as well. According to its publicity material, this book "features Lily Ivory, a witch who opens a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco."

It also sounds very fun, and the cover is cute, too.

Well, off to read now. What are you reading?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Revisiting Amelia

According the New York Times, on this day in 1928, "Aviator Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean as she completed a flight from Newfoundland to Wales in about 21 hours." In honor of this achievement, and in preparation for the upcoming movie about Earhart starring Hillary Swank, I am re-running an essay I wrote about Earhart two summers ago. I called it "How We Failed Amelia." And here it is:

I've always been fascinated by the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. As mysteries go, it's certainly in my top ten of the interesting and unsolved, and I've always rather romantically connected it to the notion of the Bermuda triangle (which has been thoroughly debunked).

Friday I was listening to The Story with Dick Gordon, a show on NPR that I greatly enjoy, and he was discussing Earhart and the fact that she may, in fact, have survived her plane trouble, landed the plane, and sent distress calls, and that one fifteen-year-old girl, way back in 1937, recorded the distress signals that she heard that day on her father's short-wave radio.

The girl, Betty Klenck Brown, is now in her eighties. In an interview with Dick Gordon, she said that she recognized the voice of Amelia Earhart that day. Earhart had already been missing for a couple of days, and Brown knew that. Because Earhart was a celebrity and a hero to women and men alike, much of America knew the sound of her voice from recorded interviews. Therefore, Betty knew that the distress calls were real and important, and for three hours she wrote down everything that she heard.

Her father eventually came home and heard a bit, too, and he went to the Coast Guard (they lived in Florida) with the information (although NOT with Betty's notebook, which I find regrettable) and was told that everything was being handled and his input was not needed.

Betty was not believed, and I suppose as a young woman in 1937, she didn't have a lot of resources to tap in an effort to help Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan (who Betty describes as being "out of his head.")

Ultimately Betty's notebook, with its valuable information, simply became her burden, because no one wanted it and no one believed her. (You can view the notebook, Earhart's route, pictures of Betty and a film of Earhart's last takeoff at The Story).

What bothers me the most about this story is that anyone in charge would discount what seemed like such valid information, and that they wouldn't at least ask to see the notebook, which could have told them the frequency on which Earhart was broadcasting. In other words, based on hearing this story, I think that Amelia Earhart heroically landed her plane when it developed problems, radioed for help over several days, and never received it, and probably died on a small island in the South Pacific.

I love knowing the solution to a mystery, but this one is not satisfying, and my obsessive mind keeps thinking about what would have happened, what could have happened, if people had merely opened their minds to the possibilities.

Today the police, the FBI, the coast guard, often turn to the public and ask for help in solving crimes and disappearances. They set up tip lines and offer rewards. I wonder why this couldn't have been the case with Amelia Earhart, and why no one thought that one girl's precious notebook was worth examining.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Setting, Suspense, and Reading Satisfaction

Some kind soul at Houghton Mifflin sent me a copy of THE CROSSING PLACES by Elly Griffiths. This was such a compelling read that I stayed up late for three nights trying to squeeze in more chapters . . . and that's my favorite kind of book.

The amateur sleuth here is English archeologist Ruth Galloway, an almost-forty, likable loner who lives in a small house on the Saltmarsh, a remote area of England where Ruth is not unlikely to find the occasional treasure from the Iron Age, preserved in the marsh for thousands of years. It's a perfect location for Ruth, who loves history and the thought of ancient worlds.

Ruth is drawn into a mystery when bones are found in the marsh and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks Ruth to look at them in hopes that she can determine if the victim died in the Iron Age or in the present day. If it is the latter, Nelson will have to investigate a murder. Nelson also wonders if the bones could belong to a little girl who went missing ten years before.

Ruth Galloway rises to the occasion and finds herself fascinated, not only by the bones, but by the process of the police investigation, and even by the Chief Inspector himself. Slowly but inexorably she becomes a part of the investigation until she is surprised to find that her life is in danger and that suddenly her lovely marshland home feels alive with anonymous threats.

Griffiths' Saltmarsh (a fictional location) is just as gray and moody as Conan Doyle's marshy Dartmoor setting in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and in both cases the setting is crucial to the mystery.

What is special about Griffiths' setting, though, is that the marsh, described as "not quite earth, not quite sea," is the perfect metaphor for the transience of life--something Ruth understands better than most, because her profession requires her to ponder that reality every day.

Ruth Galloway is a strong, funny, and wise character who will earn many readers for what I hope will be a Saltmarsh series.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Magic of a New Day

"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning."

--J.B. Priestley

"Nothing is worth more than this day."


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Five Future Success Stories

My son and four of my nieces and nephews graduated this year, one from high school and four from grade school. We celebrated them today at a big family gathering (my brother's arm is also protruding into this photo; we jostled for pictures like the family paparazzi).

These young people have bright futures mapped out for themselves, and it's nice to see them here at the starting line, fresh-faced and optimistic.

It also makes me think a lot about the passage of time, which made me reflect on certain songs today at PDD.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Revealing Dialogue

My sons lost their computer privileges for today because of their shenanigans yesterday.

Now, they've finally gotten around to doing the chore list I made (it's three o'clock). They're getting into work mode and warming up to the idea of self-discipline.

My youngest presented me with an opportunity: "Mom, what if I did the very hardest chores in the house? Could I earn back computer?"


"Why not? I'm offering to do the hardest chores!" (By the way, he didn't mention what these herculean tasks might be).

"Because if you take your consequences and learn from them, it will build character. If you just whine about them and assume you have a get-out-of-jail free card, you'll grow up to be that kind of person."

He looked at me for a moment. "I'm talking about the hardest chores."

I admire both of my sons for their tenacity, although at this stage in life it's just determination to get what they want. Then again, maybe that's how adults are, too.

I continue to learn from my children, nature's little mirrors.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Anne Frank: 80 Years

Today marks the birth date of Anne Frank, the young German-Jewish girl who hid for two years from the Nazis in a room above her father's office in Amsterdam. Anne was born in 1929. During her time in hiding, she kept a world-famous diary that chronicled her hopes and fears, as well as her daily habits. The basic mystery at the root of Anne's diary notations was reflected in her disbelief of what was happening to Germany, to humanity.

Despite her fears and sadness, Anne Frank clung to hope, a tendency even she herself did not fully understand:

"It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more." (July 15, 1944)

As the world knows, Anne and her family were betrayed and arrested, and nine months later, at the age of fifteen, Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen.

A wonderful website is devoted to Anne at www.annefrank.com


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Intrepid Bob Morris

Bob Morris has an entertaining yet horrifying post at his blog today. Mr. Morris, author of Bahamarama, Jamaica Me Dead, Bermuda Schwartz and, most recently, The Deadly Silver Rain, is still recovering from an accident with a dumb waiter that involved the near-severing of his hand. It's true--I saw it on his Facebook page. :)

Now he tells a tale of a man, a fish, and the relentless elements.

Photo link here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It Seemed Like a Small Job . . .

I decided to re-paint several rooms in my house this summer. Today I'm working on the bathroom. It's such a small room, I thought to myself. How hard could it be?

Well, it's not difficult, but it is a veritable quagmire in that one job keeps leading to another. I want to paint some of the shelves, which means I have to actually go through the ten years of accumulated junk on those shelves. I'm picking through the rubble like an archeologist instead of getting some valuable brush work done.

Still, the end result will make it all worthwhile--I hope. :)

Picture link here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Compelling Reading

I just finished reading THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD by Robert Wilson. What a compelling read. This mystery is the fourth and last in the Javier Falcon series, and now I've gone back to read THE BLIND MAN OF SEVILLE, the first book. Wilson's storylines are complex with worldwide intrigues that make Falcon's life as a homicide detective seem utterly oppressed by violence and crime. As usual, I've fallen a little bit in love with the main character, who possesses equal shares of nobility and humility.

Robert Wilson has agreed to take part in an interview, so be looking for that later in June. Meanwhile, I recommend these fast-moving but complicated mysteries.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Schizophrenic Conversations

The computer is the surest way to fragment the output of one's mind. Today, while sending e-mail missives to my job and occasionally remembering other e-mails I had to send to people regarding my son's imminent high school career, I posted blogs at Inkspot and Poe's Deadly Daughters--one regarding robots and their place in our future, and one about my weekend road trip.

If I go to Facebook or Crimespot, I'll continue conversations that I started there.

So are all of these conversations beneficial, or do they merely contribute to the growing problem (some theorists say) of people who think about many things shallowly to the detriment of their ability to think about one thing deeply?

Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Summer Joys, Summer Tasks

Suddenly summer is here; now that the last meetings and end-of-year parties have been attended, I have awakened to all that is summer joy. However, being me, I have made a chore list as long as summer itself which includes cleaning, painting, de-junking, wallpapering, weeding, and book-keeping. That part is kind of a bummer, especially the item on the list that says "Take everyone to dentist." My family members are all dentist-chair cowards, and that does not improve with age.

Added to all my tasks I have listed some things that I hope to accomplish in the leisure category: seeing some summer movies, reading some good books, and writing some good books of my own--or at least one, maybe. :)

Today I started on a big project that has been awaiting me: the cleaning of my sons' activity room. They made it so messy that they both felt entirely flummoxed about where to begin: the mounds of clothing? the giant stacks of action guys? the school supplies scattered here and there and dusted over with bits of cat hair?

Enter mother, determined and slightly insane. I've decided that it's a two-day job, but today's tasks have made it look far more habitable. My oldest son is cleaning out a basement room to make it his teen hangout, and so he and I were equally obsessive today in our quest to make something yucky look attractive.

There will be much of this in my summer, but I know that at the end of my two months' freedom I will have many concrete things to show for it, and perhaps even some stolen relaxation time.

What are your plans for summer?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Road Trips and Mysteries

We're taking a road trip today in the new Kia to attend my niece's graduation. We'll be in the car about eight hours round trip, so I got some books on tape from my library. I have Jonathan Gash's GOLD BY GEMINI; Robert B. Parker's WIDOW'S WALK; and Raymond Chandler's TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS (read by Elliott Gould). I didn't mean to only grab books by men, but my library didn't have a vast selection.

I'll have three teenage boys in the car with me (pray for me), so IF they let me listen to a book on tape without drowning it out with their yelling, they might just enjoy a hard-boiled kind of story.

In the meantime, I need to go do a bunch of squats so that my legs are prepared for hours of sitting. :)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wilde on The Simple Things

"I adore simple pleasures.
They are the last refuge of the complex."

--Oscar Wilde

Hating Photos of Ourselves

I remember that once, back when I was sixteen and weighed about a hundred and ten pounds, I looked in a high school yearbook at a picture of myself, and all I could see were my thighs. I thought they were huge. I couldn't really appreciate any other part of the picture. Now I look back and say, "What I wouldn't give for that body to go with my more mature mind."

But of course one's disapproval of one's self remains with time. We just took graduation pictures with my son, and when we looked at the photos my husband and I both spent a minute or two running ourselves down. "My hair looks like a fright wig," I said in dismay.

"I need to lose thirty pounds," he said, hurt by the betrayal of the photograph.

Neither of us were able to look at that picture and simply embrace our reflections. I have never been able to--and perhaps I never will.

Do we only like pictures of ourselves in retrospect? Will I say at 60 that I should have appreciated myself at 40, just as at 40 I feel that way about 20?

The key, I know, is to love our images as they are, but I'm not there yet. Perhaps after a summer of Weight Watchers . . . :)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Gowned for Graduation

Happy Graduation to my son Ian. How quickly those eight years seem to have passed, looking back. Now: onward and upward!

Milestones and Rainstorms

My oldest son graduates from 8th grade this evening. It's the first graduation of one of my children, unless you count the very cute kindergarten graduations which involved little children wearing paper hats and parents taking LOTS of pictures.

I'm not really a weeper, but I do wonder if I'll get teary-eyed when they read his full three names. Somehow that seems so significant, that public reading of the name on the birth certificate, that it might be the thing that gets me.

In the meantime, our graduate-to-be and his father have taken the car and gone to a movie, so I went to pick up my younger son at school holding an umbrella (it looked like rain) and a beagle attached to a leash.

Naturally, the rain came before my son even came out of school, and it was one of those rains that sprays right under the umbrella, rendering it useless. So we walked into the onslaught, my son enjoying the novelty of being soaked, the dog and I not enjoying it at all. Graham had emerged with a returned project--a pizza box decorated for a state of the union, and we didn't want it to get wet, so the pizza box got most of the benefit of the umbrella.

I wish I had taken a picture of my dog when we got home. There never was such a sad, sorry creature. :)

I will indulge in at least one full minute of making my dry family members feel guilty.

Top Summertime Songs

In honor of a new June, I recommend that you listen to one or all of these songs that will get you primed for summer.

1. Summertime Dream by Gordon Lightfoot

2. Boys of Summer by Don Henley

3. Summer in the City by The Lovin Spoonful

4. Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys

5. Who's That Girl by Eurythmics

6. Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles

7. Good Day Sunshine by the Beatles

8. Banana Republic by Jimmy Buffett

9. Our Last Summer by Abba

10. Soak Up the Sun by Sheryl Crow

Okay--these were pretty randomly selected and I could probably put 100 others here. What's the best song to get you in the mood for summer?