Thursday, April 25, 2019

Oh God!

Stanley - Thursday

Oh God! There are still eighteen months to go to the next US elections.

Some people think that the give and take, thrust and parry, of the run up to the nominations is essential for the voters to see how people function under pressure. I understand the argument, but just look at the results. It's bad enough listening to all the rhetoric from the candidates, but other issues bother me perhaps even more.

A hot issue in the 2018 congressional elections was healthcare. The Democrats did pretty well pushing hard on the need for good healthcare and the erosion of the same under the Republicans. To a large extent this resulted in the House switching from being Republican-controlled to being Democratic-controlled.

As you would expect, healthcare is still the prominent issue, with Democratic candidates ranging from supporting free universal care to improved overall coverage with no exemptions for pre-existing conditions. Any suggestion of universal coverage is immediately met with the SOCIALISM defence by the Republicans. For reasons I don't understand, the word SOCIALISM conjures up in many Americans' minds images of faceless bureaucrats and large concrete structures. For them, SOCIALISM is anathema to the American way - despite there already being huge, popular, socialist programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare is a national, premium-free insurance program for people over 65 and for people under 65 with certain disabilities. It can still be costly to be sick even if you have Medicare, and people who can afford it buy supplemental coverage. Medicaid is insurance for people with little or no income and few assets. It is a joint federal/state program that varies enormously from state to state in terms of coverage.

Now these programs are under attack from Republicans - in my mind partly to help reduce the deficit they incurred with their latest tax plan, partly because they are SOCIALIST, and partly....

What depresses me about the healthcare debate is how many people acknowledge that it would be nice to have a system like those in Northern Europe, but feel the USA couldn't get it to work. The country is too big, they say. It is too diverse. I understand that size and diversity would make universal coverage more difficult, but it is a new phenomenon to hear Americans say their country can't accomplish something it sets its mind to.

The Nordic countries, for example, believe it is in the national interest to have a healthy, educated population, even if it means higher taxes. Many Republicans disagree. I have friends, Republican friends, who don't want their taxes helping ne'er-do-well, down-and-out malingerers (sub-text: Blacks).

The USA spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, yet the outcomes are generally not as good. In both infant mortality and under-5 mortality, for example, the USA is lower that thirtieth in country ranking. Every European country is better. Damn SOCIALISTS!

It is also estimated that about 1 million Americans file for bankruptcy every year because of medical bills! And bankruptcy stays on your record for 10 years, I think, adversely affecting all sorts of other aspects of your life.

The second issue that depresses me about the US elections is the amount of money spent on them. In 2016, over $6.5 BILLION was spent with nearly $2.4 BILLION being on the presidential race alone. In the 2018 congressional races, over $5.7 BILLION was spent. God knows what it will be by November 3, 2020.

It boggles the mind. It sickens me.

The third aspect of the elections that makes me sizzle are the attack ads. Rather than addressing issues of policy, many candidates spend their time attacking their opponents, often snipping comments out of context to show bad the other is. I hope that the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination will stick to their positions and not sink into using personal attacks or scurrilous innuendo. Stick to the high road, I say.

I think I'm going to throw away my TV remote until November 4, 2020. And I hope Bose will develop some politician-cancelling headphones.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Pink Moment

by Sujata Massey

My baby cherry tree!

These days, pink is everywhere. Millennial Pink is the official name of the soft hue that now colors chairs from Target, rose-gold phones from Apple, and yes, pink clothing for both genders. Why this soft shade now? Is it because treatment of people has become so hard? Pink is a color of childhood, whether you call it blush, petal, nude or cherry.

Cherry is a pink that simply gives me joy. The Baltimore-Washington area has a long, mild spring, and the crowning glory of our area from March through April are the cherry trees, which bloom in waves, depending on their age and variety. I grew up in snowy Minnesota reading Japanese fairytales with cherry blossom themes and books about dolls from Japan such as Rumer Godden’s 1961 delight, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Did that set me on  a lifetime love of sakura trees?

One of the old-friend cherries nearing end of bloom

My street in North Baltimore has some very large, sprawling flowering cherry trees that might be older than the 40 years I’ve been told is the average cherry tree lifespan. But how old are they?

Sakura trees were brought into the United States by an American food explorer working for the US Department of Agriculture called David Fairchild. Mr. Fairchild first shipped them from Japan to his garden in Chevy Chase, MD in 1902. 

President Taft’s wife, Nellie, took to heart his idea of beautifying Washington with cherry trees. It was also a difficult time in the country, when there was popular agitation over immigration of Asians. This idea was a variation of an olive branch. Could Americans see something good about Japan?

Mr. Fairchild was tasked with brokering a deal for cherry trees in the nation's capital with the Mayor of Tokyo, who then offered them free. The first cherry trees were shipped to Washington DC in 1909; however, their roots were found to be heavily infested with insects that could have wreaked havoc across many agricultural species in the United States. These trees were burned in 1910. The Japanese who heard about it were not angry—they were sorry to have sent a defective gift and insisted on sending more. In 1912, healthy trees were planted in Washington and celebrated ever since.

I have been to the Tidal Basin to admire this sweep of cherries and see the excitement of Washington DC’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival. I’ve also seen the blossoms celebrated this year in Vancouver, Canada. Cherry blossoms create a kind of worldwide party where we all stop and pay attention to nature. And in the 1990s when I lived near Yokohama, I've participated in Hanami parties, enjoying not just the trees but the special decorations throughout Japan and cherry-themed foods that go with the fleeting blooms.

Cherry blossom fans in downtown Vancouver

Entering their second century of life in the United States, the cherry blossom tree is no longer a fragile, exotic beauty. The City of Baltimore’s tree program donates all kinds of trees to neighborhoods where residents want them; not just cherry, but serviceberry, redbud, and others that are beautiful, yet support native insects. My street had suffered the death of several aged giant cherry trees, so an enterprising neighbor put together a plea for more cherries to go on any street in our neighborhood five years ago.

The green-leafed cherry in background is one of our grand dames

One early spring day, trained gardeners planted four seven-foot-tall trunks with bare limbs in front of my house. I bought water-bags and tucked them around the young trees ,so they would have a slow release of water all the time during our hot summers. Now the trees are approaching 30 feet high and don’t need their waterbags, except in extremely prolonged heat waves. They flower several weeks after the street’s grand dame cherries, so we are fully blooming two weeks long.

I am grateful to our block’s seven new children, and four senior citizens, for showering me in pink every spring regardless of politics and fashion.  

Monday, April 22, 2019

Tribal Archetypes as Characters in a Mystery

Annamaria on Monday

Let me begin with a disclaimer:  I don't think I could ever write a story that I would want to read by following a formula.  But, that said, my stories pretty much always wind up with three people who play archetypal roles and who must cooperate and communicate if the mystery is going to be solved.   No teamwork = no solution.  Keeping secrets means screwing things up and delaying the process, which in storytelling can be a good thing.  Somehow in my novels, I always wind up with characters who assume the three tribal roles: The King, the Priest, and the Warrior.

In my old day job as a management trainer and consultant, these archetypes were an interesting way to analyze and figure out what might be going wrong in the leadership/management of an organization.  The roles have nothing to do with the person’s actual job title or position in society.  They are defined by how the people behave in the context of their tribe.  Here’s a way to think about them in real life and in mystery stories:
  • ·         The King is the person who defines the goals, who gives the group its vision of itself and helps it rise above its self-imposed limits.  Kings can do this with words, like “I have a dream…”  Mostly they do it by example.  And image.  The King doesn’t have to be charismatic, although that helps.   She does have to see beneath her followers’ surfaces and beyond their horizons.  He has to know their potential and declare it to them.  Spur them on.  Unleash their power.   Good Kings harness people’s idealism.  Bad ones tap into their fears and selfishness.  In mystery stories, the King is usually the character charged with or motivated to get to the bottom of the crime.  Often, he has others around him who are not so gung-ho but whose cooperation he needs.
  • ·         The Priest is the one who defines right and wrong, who tells anecdotes that remind people of who they are and how to judge what they do.  She asks the challenging questions and tells the old war stories—happy ones that define right behavior, and sad ones that warn against mistakes.  Many good mysteries have detectives—amateur or otherwise—who can easily go astray and want to break the rules to find and punish the evildoer.  This kind of character needs someone to keep him from straying too far from the straight and narrow.  In police procedurals, the Priest is hardly ever the detective’s boss.   More likely, it’s his or her sister or son.

  • ·         The Warrior is impatient for action and gives the group its sense of urgency.  He is the brave soul willing to go out and wrest victory from the jaws of defeat.  She is not afraid to make a mistake.   Many mystery novels give us a younger sidekick who is the warrior, but who can easily turn into a loose cannon.
       In many mystery novels, we get a loner detective, alienated from the world, perhaps despised by his fellows at work and plagued with a dysfunctional family or none or all.  He (almost all these characters are men) must embody all the tribal roles or the story has to do without what the missing ones would add.  That this hero has to be everybody at once would make him hard to accept as an ordinary human.  Therefore, he must have a huge flaw to prove to us that is he is a person not a super hero.  Usually, his creator solves this problem by making him a drunk.   I have no capacity at all to imagine what it would be like to live in such a person’s skin.  So I have to give my characters other people to work with.

When I was writing City of Silver and Invisible Country, three characters in each story fell into the archetypal roles without my really knowing what I was doing.  In retrospect I can see them for what they are.  The King is an Abbess in City of Silver, and the pastor in Invisible Country actually fulfills the role of the King.  Strangely enough, though both stories have characters who are priests, neither man fulfills the role of Priest.  In one the Priest archetype is a nun and in the other the Priest is a shy village woman.  In both those books, the Warrior is a young woman.  

In the mystery plot of Blood Tango, the detective is the King, the dressmaker—a woman in her forties—is the Warrior, and the dressmaker’s father—a man in his seventies—is the Priest.   The subplot deals with the political turmoil of Buenos Aires in 1945.  In that story Juan Perón is the King.  Evita, his mistress, soon to be his wife, is the Warrior.  They do not have a Priest.  If you ask me, they could have used one.

In my Africa Series, the series characters sometimes switch around the roles.  But for the most part, Justin Tolliver is the King.  In the white male-dominated world of early Twentieth Century Colonial Africa, he is the one who automatically will be deferred to by the population around them.  Vera McIntosh Tolliver is definitely the warrior.  She's the one who jumps into the breech, takes chances,  works her hunches.  Kwai Libazo is the priest.  He has an African's understanding of the place and its people and an instinct and reverence for what is right, what is humane.

As I said, I don't plan these things consciously when I am drafting.  But the stories seem to fall into my head this way.  When I am in rewrite mode, I sometimes see that my characters are at sixes and sevens with one another.  And when I analyze why, I find that someone has stepped out of their role, and the others  feel either let down or as if their territory has been invaded.  And I understand why.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Zoë Sharp

I’ve been thinking a good deal about book covers lately. Probably more than is good for me, if I’m honest. That old saying about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t hold much water when it comes to potential readers making a quick decision on whether to pick up your book or not.

One of the things that keeps coming up in the research I’ve been doing is that you should be able to identify the genre immediately. OK, some covers helpfully have ‘a thriller’ written on them. Some of mine simply say ‘a novel’ although I’m not sure if anyone would mistake them for self-help or a travel guide.

Whether your book cover has an illustration or a photograph, which colours predominate, which fonts and how large they feature, are all interesting subjects for study.

With this in mind I decided to put together a selection of covers from my fellow Murder Is Everywhere blogmates’ work and see what you thought of them.

First up is Annamaria Alfieri, who writes historical mystery novels set both in Africa and in South America.

I have to confess that BLOOD TANGO is one of my favourites. That dashing title and single splash of red on the figure is very evocative. For THE IDOL OF MOMBASA you can tell the era from the typeface and the colourway, never mind the style of dress. Although in different styles, both covers feature a border that looks more like a frame.

Cara Black is the author of the mystery series featuring private detective Aimée Leduc. Each novel is set in a different area of Paris.

The cover designs are consistent and stylish right the way across the series, although it might be hard for someone new to Cara’s work to pin down the era in which they’re set.

The two covers I’ve picked from Leye Adenle’s novels show the breadth of his writing.

EASY MOTION TOURIST is a fast-paced thriller with in-your-face contrasting colours. THE BEAUTIFUL SIDE OF THE MOON has a more fantasy edge. The book is described as ‘drawing on age-old African story-telling traditions, modern sci-fi, and contemporary thriller writing.’

Like Annamaria, Sujata Massey sets her novels on two very distinct and different continents—in this case, India and Japan.

Her Indian series features attorney, Perveen Mistry, and the books are set in 1920s’ Bombay. The covers are illustrations rather than photographs, rich in colour. Her contemporary Japanese series features English teacher and antiques buyer, Rei Shimura. The cover designs for this series have changed quite a bit from book to book. THE KIZUNA COAST is the latest to be published.

Caro Ramsay has been writing the Anderson and Costello police procedurals for a while now, and RAT RUN is one of that series. With the bold san serif type, shadowy figure and the axe—not to mention the names of the continuing characters on the cover—readers won’t be in much doubt about the genre.

For her next novel, however, Caro has written a standalone, MOSAIC, which has an intriguing, atmospheric cover and great font for the title.

Michael Sears and Stan Trollip—better known collectively as Michael Stanley—also write a police procedural series and have just penned a standalone.

The Detective Kubu series is set in Africa. The bold colours, cover style and typeface of DYING TO LIVE make it somehow obvious that these books are not set in Detroit or Manchester.

They have also written a standalone featuring investigative journalist Crystal Nguyen, which is called SHOOT THE BASTARDS in the US and DEAD OF NIGHT in the UK and South Africa. The covers for both editions are very different from their Kubu books, with hot orange and yellows, sans serif font, and a female figure.

Jeffrey Siger sets his crime thrillers featuring Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis in Greece.

The book covers have a strong series identity, with very bold typeface to ensure the reader doesn’t mistake the beautiful scenery in the photographs for some less hard-boiled fare. THE MYKONOS MOB is the latest in the series, although it’s not the first time Jeff has used this location for one of his storylines.

Japan is also the setting for the books by Susan Spann. These feature master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo and are set in the mid-1500s.

The cover designs confused me a little, as the first three and the sixth one, CLAWS OF THE CAT, are red typeface on black, with a series of striking images to ring the changes. However, the other two, including BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, are quite different so that I initially thought there were two different series running side-by-side.

That only leaves yours truly. The cover designs for my Charlie Fox series have been many and varied. Here’s a taste of the different ones just for the first novel, KILLER INSTINCT. And I’m in the midst of planning a redesign as we speak…

So, for you, what’s the most important thing about the covers for your own work, or those you like to read? What attracts you and what puts you off?

This week’s Word of the Week is momentarily, which is one of those words with different meanings depending on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on at the time. In the UK, it means for a very short time. If you pause momentarily, you do so only briefly. If the captain of the US flight you’re on announces that you’ll be landing momentarily, he or she means soon, not a quick touch-and-go bounce on the runway.

May 2
NOIR AT THE BAR NEWCASTLE—the Town Wall pub, Pink Lane, Newcastle NE1 5HX
Doors open 19:00
Organised by the inimitable Vic Watson, the line-up is Neil BroadfootMik BrownAshley ErwinDerek FarrellJónína LeósdóttirGytha LodgeJudith O’ReillyZoë SharpLilja Sigurðardóttir, plus a wildcard chosen on the night.

May 9-12
Friday, May 10, 13:40-14:30 Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live Candy DenmanPaul GitshamCara HunterAmanda RobsonZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)
Saturday, May 11, 11:20-12:10 Ten Year Stretch: The CrimeFest Short Story Anthology Peter GuttridgeCaro RamsayZoë SharpMichael Stanley (Stan Trollip), Kate Ellis (Participating Moderator)
Sunday, May 12, 09:30-10:20 The Indie Alternative Beate BoekerStephen CollierBarry FaulknerLynn FlorkiewiczZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)

June 7
Meet the Author—Thornton Library, Victoria Road East, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire FY5 3SZ
Friday, June 07, 10:30-11:30

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and Kalo Paska


Last night (Friday) was the first Passover Seder.  Tomorrow is Easter in Western Christianity, Tuesday is my grandson’s birthday, and next Sunday is Orthodox (Greek) Easter. So this post shall be an historical one, though as I'm only halfway through my book tour it could very well have degenerated into an hysterical one.

Passover or Pesach always takes place around the same time as Easter or Paska because the holiday of Passover, commemorating God’s liberation of the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt, was the occasion for the Last Supper.  In fact, before the year 325 Easter was calculated upon the lunar-based Hebrew calendar and all one had to do to determine the date for Easter was to “ask a Jew in your community” when Passover was celebrated.

All that changed in 325 when the First Ecumenical Synod calculated the exact date of Easter from the more modern cycles of the sun-based Julian calendar.  That became Christianity’s generally accepted method for calculating the date of Easter and continued to be so for more than five hundred years after the Great Schism of 1052 separated the Church of the West to Rome and the Church of the East to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced what is known as the Gregorian calendar for the express purpose of correctly calculating Easter, something the Julian calendar was not believed to have achieved.  Today, the Gregorian calendar is the world’s officially accepted civil calendar (except in Greece’s 1500 year-old monastic community of Mount Athos—see Prey on Patmos), but there still is not agreement among the Christian world over whether it correctly fixes the date of Easter. 

Indeed, as recently as 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a method of using modern scientific knowledge for precisely calculating Easter and replacing divergent practices.  It was not adopted.

As for how Passover fits into all this, Julian calendar Easter always falls on a Sunday after the first day of the eight-day Passover holiday and generally within those eight days, though at times more than a month later.  Western Easter, relying on the Gregorian calendar, also generally falls within Passover’s eight days, though three times in every nineteen-year period it falls a month before Passover.

Yes, that’s why Easter is considered a moveable feast, as opposed to Christmas that always occurs on the same date.

I guess you could say that, of all these celebratory springtime occasions, the only certainty is that my grandson’s birthday always falls on April 23rd. :)

Happy Birthday, Azi.

And a Happy Easter, Kalo Paska, and Zissen Pesach to all. 


My Upcoming Book Events:

Wednesday, April 24, 6:30 PM
Houston, TX
Author Speaking and Signing

Friday, April 26, 7:00 PM
Denver, CO
Author Speaking and Signing

Monday, April 29, 7:00 PM
Pittsburgh, PA
Author Speaking and Signing

Wednesday, May 1, 6:30 PM
New York, NY
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, May 2, 7:00 PM
Naperville, IL
Author Speaking and Signing

Friday, May 3, 7:00 PM
Chicago, IL (Forest Park)
Author Speaking and Signing

Saturday, May 4, 2 PM
Milwaukee, WI
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday May 9, 5:00 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Nobody Would Believe it if You Wrote it: Fake News, Post-Truth and Changing Words,” with Fiona Erskine, William Shaw, Gilly Macmillan, moderated by Paul E. Hardisty

Friday, May 10, 5:10 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Sunshine Noir,” with Paul Hardisty,  Barbara Nadel, Robert Wilson, moderated by Michael Stanley

October 31-November 3
BOUCHERCON 2019---Hyatt Regency Dallas
Panel Schedule Yet to be Announced

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Road More Travelled

At the moment of typing this, I am at the top of a Glen,  heading down towards the sea. I was looking for a setting for my new book. and I wanted an old oak forest, a really ancient forest  where the bark has been nibbled by many generations of deer.
 And by the snaggle toothed haggis.

 This blog was supposed to be about the Falls Of Lora, but there was an incident with a dog, slippy seaweed, a sea loch and a memory card. Let's just leave that  there.  

So where is here....

Here is definitely along this way,  many, many miles of single track road, with passing places worn out with traffic. Lots of traffic.
So where am I? 

I bet all of you have seen this place, witnessed its beauty on a big screen.
 A very big screen on a very big budget?
 Any ideas yet?

I will give you some clues.

The young haggis around here eat broccoli.
 The haggis cubs, in plural when living in familial  herds are called Cubbys.

We saw this tent but didn't want to spy on them.
 The sky was so heavy, even though the sun was shining, it looked like it mighty fall at any moment.

the rocks are interesting here,  craigs jut out from the already bare out crops. Sorry, did I say craigs, I meant crags, no bare Craigs here....
Water fall, not sky fall so we are ok at the moment.

And yes, intrepid Scottish blogger goes where no film crew has gone before.

So famous, they blocked it off to stop people looking.
I can't say how stupid it looks, a fence in the middle of no where.

Snow peaked mountains through the fir trees. There will be a skier with a parachute along in a minute, delicately raising one eyebrow  sardonically as he looks across Rannoch Moore, sorry Moor.

Oh Deer. It was unfazed by the car, a little shaken maybe but not stirred. 

worthy of panoramic widescreen

 peaceful until folk start blowing things up.

 the snaggle toothed haggis emerging from the loch, this is the golden eyed, snaggle toothed haggis, 

 No it can't be, wrong film.

This is a clear picture of Nessie ( in the wrong loch but her Sat Nav might have been faulty ).
We stayed here for a while, in contemplative silence, after all, you only live once... or twice.

                                        There has been rumours that they are bringing back haggis hunting in the Glen. I'd rather live and let live,
These huge fissures in the rocks were caused by volcanic activity, huge thunderballs.
 there a post box here in fact, the Royal Mail will get through, on Her Majesty's Service.

I sat here and wrote a few letters  with my fountain pen on  really good paper.
It was Basildon Bond.

Well to me, despite the fence it looks as though it  is still standing.