Friday, July 3, 2015

The Quiet Revolution

                                                                       He is one.
                                                                   His missus isn't.

In my professional life I often come across (and try to avoid), a certain type of woman. I mentioned the type in my blog last week.

                                                    A fast one.

She will have a normal name, spelled oddly;  Ghilleyan  ( or Gillian as most folk would say it ) and will live in the West End of Glasgow paying a fortune for a  cupboard with a bed in it and no where to park.  She will eat her artisan bread with the gluten removed.  She will have children from various men and all the children will be called very strange  names, like Parsnip, Cloud, Herbgarden.  Ghilleyan will have long hair, wear dirndl skirts and smell vaguely of garlic. And BO. Everything will be porn – adverts, deodorant, high heels, interest rates. She will rebel against the global rape of the earth’s riches  and the internal combustion engine by riding a bike – apart from when it rains and she will ask for a lift from her neighbour who drives a five series Beamer. She will hunt out rare diseases and allergies for her children to have – the latest favourite is being allergic to WiFi. She will rebel against anything that smells of the establishment except living on social assistance as supporting herself and her family would entail getting a job and that would be an infringement of her human rights (and might involve her getting out her bed early). Or at all.

                                                         A blue eyed one...

Weirdly, she will be an animal lover and would dearly like to have a puppy for little Parsnip, Cloud, Herbgarten to learn about death (that’s a direct quote!) but refuses to keep an animal in captivity. She does not agree with charity as that is a product of capitalism.
                                            One who had an earful---or a mouthful...

Any normal conversation becomes has a political agenda making her exhausting to talk to.  She will have no sense of humour.
The children will have long hair and will not be allowed to be gender specific. They will be home schooled. By the time Parsnip is 17, he will cut his hair, go to school, eat Big Macs and become an accountant. He will never invite his mother to parents night. He will have a five series Beamer but not allow his mum in it because of the smell.

                                                    A quirky one..

I am jesting a little, but I can tick those boxes above for lots of people I know. (And avoid) The other thing she will be is a VEGAN!

                                                       The power one

So last week I was wittering on about Beyonce and her  veganism  and the V word versus  the ‘plant based whole grain diet’ phrase.
And I have come across another; The Power Vegan.

So can you be a normal vegan? Or do you need to be weird?  I mean can I be vegan and normal or is the whole thing too hard - will I go peculiar and even more odd. More quirky.
My thirty day vegan trial, day nine is going well.  So far so good. I still have some friends.
I have a new friend, called vegan womble.
Let me explain in case you ever need her.

Last week we had the return match of the Glasgow crime writers versus the Edinburgh crime writers. We won 357 to 355 so the west was best .... as it always is. We had travelled over to Edinburgh early.  I had a peanut butter sandwich in my bag just in case. Looking for a coffee and munchie, we walked about in search of a  baked potato, then outside Pret a Monkey ( as I call it)  coffee aroma wafting out the door, it  started to rain properly, real heavy bouncing rain, like Glasgow.  I got out the phone and got the vegan womble on the net. Pret A Monkey I said, pronouncing it properly and she came back with the sandwich to buy, the coffee to drink, the soup to have, the crisps to nibble  there was loads
 I love the vegan womble.

She has sourced lots of vegan chocolate – that dark stuff sprinkled with chilli !! In the supermarket half a mile from my front door.

                                                              The Cheery One ( see what I did there?)

 Vegan womble also tells me that the jam doughnuts in my lovely supermarket are vegan.  Diet coke is also but Irn Bru is not as the orange colouring is rumoured to be an extract from cow excrement. I’ve tried to check that with them!

This is not the vegan womble, this is a bog standard womble.

The vegan womble even photographs the items on the supermarket shelf to make them easy to find. I also noticed, while researching this blog that the UK is very strict about food labelling- all ingredients must be on the wrapper by law, and anything that can cause allergies must be in bold, so it makes it very easy.

                                                            A Canadian one.

I also am refusing to shop in specialist shops, I plan to be a mainstream vegan and so far so good.  The vegan womble consists of the vegan listings provided by  supermarkets (except Asda Walmart I think ) fast food outlets. You name it,  the womble has it covered.  While most of the outlets have offered their lists to the womble, some items have been legally challenged – mostly for religious  reasons obviously -   some hash browns are  vegan but they are coloured with  beef extract so not really vegan at all.

I have had friends for years who either forget I’m veggie or have never noticed. And I’ve been veggie for over 30 years so I  don’t think I bang on about it too much…..but going vegan…oh my goodness…..I am now responsible  for most of the evil in the world.

                                                                  A curvaceous one

 The slightly weird aggression that vegetarians are faced with, the  ‘so you don’t think that vegetables have feelings too?’  or ‘what would happen to all the cows if we didn’t eat them?’, this  becomes fully fledged madness when the word ‘vegan’ is mentioned…. Oh you will die, never seen a healthy vegan, are you some kind of religious nutter, you keep your pointy ears well hidden (ok she misheard me.)

Here are some people the internet says are vegan.. or follow the PBWG diet. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Ozzy Osbourne, Kate Bush, Brian Adam,  Pamela Anderson,  Sara Pascoe , Alan Cunningham, Ted Danson, Ellen Degeneres, Mike Tyson,  Brad Pitt.

                                              The Crisp people produce their vegan list.

The Uk has the third highest % of veggies in Europe. 20%  of 18-25 yr olds in the Uk are now Veggie. About 2 million people overall and  vegan population is about 350 000. And growing.

Like my waistline!!

The dangers of veganism....
Caro 03 07 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Read to Rise

With all the bad news circulating around Greece - and most other countries you'd care to name - it seems to be the moment to share something positive that's happening in South Africa.  And it's a topic that is close to our hearts as readers, and probably even closer to our hearts as writers.

Despite good will and some sterling efforts, South Africa's public education system remains in the doldrums.  South Africa fares particularly badly in international comparisons rating primary education, and that's a big concern because those years are so critical.  There are a variety of reasons for this, including instruction in English (a second or third language), inequality between schools, and teacher apathy.

It's easy to point at the government and moan that they're doing a bad job.  Much more valuable to actually try to do something about it.

Athol Williams reading with kids at a school in Mitchells Plain
Athol Williams is a philosopher and published poet (under the name AE Ballakisten) and a big enthusiast of the importance of books and reading.  He teamed up with Taryn Lock to see what opportunities kids at primary school had to read books - either for knowledge or for pleasure.  What they discovered was that, apart from the standard books that are issued for the formal curriculum, in a large segment of the schools the answer was nothing.  The kids don't have - and can't afford - any books of their own, and the same applies to their parents so there are no books at home. In most cases, the schools have no libraries.  Few of these children have parents who have the time (or inclination) to take their kids to a public library, and even if there is a library in walking distance, it would be too dangerous for a child to walk there alone.  And these are not kids who have smart phones or access to the internet at home (or even unrestricted at school). Children at that age should be reading 40 books a year, but in the disadvantaged communities it's good if they read one or two.

Taryn at Cascade Primary School
So last year they started an initiative called Read to Rise. Basically the idea was to try to get the kids to enjoy reading and to appreciate that there are things you can get from books that you won't get anywhere else.  Their initiative has three main features.  In the first place, they arranged for every child to have their own book.  To avoid royalties and other difficulties for the schools, Athol wrote the book and Taryn illustrated it.  I haven't actually seen Oaky and the Sun, but it sounds like fun and the kids seem to love it.  They are thrilled to be able to write their names in the book and sometimes ask if it is really okay to write in the book and if they can really keep the book.  Then volunteers spend time with the class reading with them and generally motivating that reading is fun, and that it opens new worlds for you.  The third feature - perhaps the best of all - is that Read to Rise arranges for the class to have their own minilibrary.  They bring a multicolored shelf and install it, fill it with books, and let the kids loose on it.

Doesn't look like these kids are giving up their books any time soon!
Importantly, the school system has embraced the initiative.  Funding is provided by corporate donors, but also by ordinary people who are not only willing to give money, but also willing to give their time and enthusiasm for reading and books.

So keep writing out there! After all, we have a new generation of readers developing.

Michael - Thursday.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's all books - ALA, Soho Crime and wait, Pride weekend

This weekend it's been crazy with Soho my publisher visiting and old pals Tim Hallinan, Lisa Brackman and a dinner hosted chez nous for 14 - the Soho publishing team and authors. We loved it.
On top of it's the American Library Association in town and Pride weekend.

So I'm throwing up some pics!
 I'm with Laurie R. King at the Sisters in Crime booth
 Our Tim Hallinan and publisher Bronwen Hruska
 Mette Harrison and Ruth and Shannon who write YA with Meredith publicist extraordinair
 Kwei Quaterly and Paul the marketing guru
 Our Tim again giving a nod to the chef, my husband, chez nous
 even more of the Crime Line
 Super cool poster!
 More Soho Crime
 Our Tim again and our Bronwen talking about her authors
 Juliet talking about her authors
The table.
The Table
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, June 29, 2015

Computers as Unreliable Witnesses and Other Musings

What my desk looks like this week

The randomness of my thinking today has to do with what I have been up to.  This past Friday, I began in earnest to research a new novel, set in a brand new place, with brand new people.

Another part of the forest

The second of my British East Africa series, The Idol of Mombasa (Tolliver2), is sold and awaiting a pub date—sometime next year.  I have a decent second draft of The Blasphemer, Tolliver3, which I have put aside until I of M is finalized.  So I have picked up a new story that has been haunting my imagination for about a year now.

Because I write historicals, getting the time, place, and characters sufficiently vivid in my mind takes a lot of research, something some writers find daunting or boring or both.  Not so I.   Once I have amassed some source materials, either at home or on my special, privileged shelf at the splendid New York Public Library, I dive in and before I know it a torrent of story ideas is pouring into my head.  It’s an exciting period for me.  But it has its drawbacks.  I tend to lose track of time and to neglect my everyday to-do list.  I work with such abandon that when I pick up my head, I find it’s getting dark when it feels like it must be 11 AM.

With this going on for the past few days, I have been too immersed to study up and write any of the blog topics I have had in mind to post here.  Hence these ramblings.

I live right under the "8" in "8th Street"

This morning I tried to leave off the creation compulsion for a few hours and go to visit David.  I got the car out of the garage and started for the Lincoln Tunnel at about 9:30.  As I approached Fifth Avenue along East Ninth Street, I saw a purple line painted down the center.  Yikes!  The Gay Pride Parade.  I had forgotten it would be today.  We have so much to celebrate this week after the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality.  This year, the annual ritual, which started out as a protest of inequality, was bound to be even grander than usual.  As in past years, the march was to start at noon, come south, and spill onto my local streets.  The revels, I knew from experience, would go on until the wee hours of tomorrow morning.  Even if I could find a way west to New Jersey this morning, I would not be able to drive home until well after midnight. 

This year's NYC Grand Marshalls

Huzzah!  Hooray!  But not a place to pass through with a car!

At any rate, my way across Fifth Avenue was already blocked by police barricades.   I took the car back to the garage and came home.

 Other than that one attempt to escape the vise grip of the new story, about the only things I have done in the past four days were to “attend” a one-hour webinar about book marketing and to post once in while on Facebook, which gave me the illusion of being in someway still connected to real friends.  As opposed to my whole new set of fictional ones.  Here is where the computer as an unreliable eyewitness comes into this stream of unconsciousness.

On Thursday, which is TBT (Throw-back Thursday) on Facebook, I posted a few photos from a trip David and I took to Malta in 2010.  Now you likely have read in posts here on MIE that although eyewitness accounts are given great weight by jurors, such reports are in point of fact very unreliable.   People can make mistakes.  You might have thought computers would be more likely to know spew out facts.  That is where you would be wrong.

Tell me.  Are these two pictures of the same person?

The top photo is David on a ferry between two Maltese islands.  The second one is my friend and fellow mystery writer Jeff Markowitz.  The main thing these two men have ever had in common is a hilarious wit.  Not something that shows in a photo.  But Facebook’s algorithm labeled my photo of David as one of Jeff.  And Facebook told the world that in 2010, I had traveled to Malta with Jeff Markowitz.   No matter how hard I try, I cannot convince Facebook to retract its false testimony.

Carol Markowitz, Jeff’s darling wife, being a reliable human eyewitness, can look at a picture of my husband and recognize that he is not her husband.  Thanks to that, no marriages have been ruined in this process.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Life, Death, and 47 Ronin

One of the most familiar, and beloved, stories in Japan involves the heroic sacrifice--and suicide--of forty-seven loyal samurai.

The fictitious account, most commonly titled Chūshingura (忠臣蔵) has been produced as a written work, and in numerous manga, films, and plays. One reason it resonates so deeply with the Japanese people is that the story is based on real events.

The Ako Incident, on a signpost at Sengakuji

The "Ako Incident" took place in 1701-1703. The version that takes less than two years to tell goes something like this: 

In 1701, Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi ordered Asano Takuminokami, Lord of Ako, to entertain the imperial envoys visiting Edo (now Tokyo), following the directions of an official advisor, Kira Kozukenosuke. However, Kira disliked Asano and caused him to disgrace himself in public.

In response to the insult, Asano drew his sword inside the corridors of Edo Castle (a forbidden act) and attacked, injuring Kira (but, sadly, failing to kill him). Asano was ordered to commit seppuku (death by self-disembowelment) immediately--with no investigation or chance to explain--while Kira escaped without punishment even though, by law, he should have shared Asano's fate. Asano's estate was confiscated and his family shamed.

Asano's retainers requested an investigation of the events, but the request was denied. They lost their honor along with their lord and became ronin, masterless samurai--the most shameful position a man of noble rank could hold. 

Although ordered to disband (ronin were not allowed to travel in bands) Asano's retainers reassembled on December 14, 1702, under the leadership of Oishi Kuranosuke, Asano's former captain. They attacked Kira's residence and killed him to avenge the insult done to their master. 

18th century woodblock print of Chushingura

The 47 ronin marched to Sengakuji (Sengaku Temple) in Edo and presented Kira's head to Asano's grave. Immediately thereafter, they turned themselves in to the shogun to face justice.

On February 4, 1703, the 47 samurai were sentenced to commit seppuku--and did so en masse. Afterward, they were buried at Sengakuji, within meters of the lord whose honor they redeemed.

The gate to Sengakuji, as seen from the yard.

Today, Sengakuji (and its graveyard) remain a major site of pilgrimage for Japanese people (and some Westerners, present company included) who go to show respect for the 47 ronin and, often, to burn incense on their graves.

The temple itself is small, and lies in the heart of a modern Tokyo neighborhood. Unless you know what you're looking at, you could easily walk right by.

Front entrance to Sengakuji, from the road.

Inside, however, the buildings and courtyard seem frozen in time, a fitting testament to the samurai age and to the honorable men who rest there.

It rained the day we visited. Somehow, this seemed fitting.

I did not photograph the graves, from respect for the dead and for the living mourners who were there and leaving incense during my visit. Also, this was one of the only places in Japan that actually brought this crusty curmudgeon to actual tears. Chushingura was one of my first exposures to the historical samurai culture, and I feel a great respect for the noble men who held the honor of their lord in such regard.

Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friend.

Oishi Kuranosuke, man of honor.

Rest in peace, men of Ako. You served your master, your country, and history well.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Greece's Fate

My head is spinning. I mean as in The Exorcist big time head spinning.

Anxiety over what will happen to their country is front and center on every Greek’s mind.  It’s been that way for quite some time, though only reluctantly verbalized.  A sense of fait accompli, nationalism, denial, or some other coping device may have contributed to hesitancy at expressing such thoughts to outsiders, but that’s no longer the case; many now openly share their doubts, concerns, and fears. 

Just this week The New York Times published a photo essay with quotes from residents of Hydra, an island close by Athens.  I found it sad, but accurate.  Few see a happy ending anytime soon, only a choice between bad and worse. 

As I said, sad.

I saw a quote in another NY Times article a few days back attributed to the head of a European think tank commenting on the EU’s attitude toward Greece:  “‘If it were not for the geopolitical context,’ Mr. Lafond said, ‘they would have let them leave long ago.’”

Sadly, I think he’s right.  And in that rests what is emerging as the most likely scenario for Greece.

It seems that every political pundit, economist, journalist, TV commentator, and blogger has hit the keyboards with prognostications and predictions on where Greece is headed and its implications to the world.  I bet folks are playing the odds in Vegas on the outcome—they certainly are on the Athens stock market in a manner generating such wild swings with every pronouncement on the subject by a government minister that were it a US market, the SEC would be up to its eyeballs in investigations.

But that’s a subject for another time.

So, what do I see as the likely outcome?

Well, for a while I saw a contender for the title of “most likely scenario” being Greece’s Prime Minister announcing he’d fought the good fight against the western hordes, but in order to save his country he reluctantly had no choice but to accept the “odious” terms and give in to the demanded reforms. It would involve him charging forward on a white stallion away from his far left party roots to emerge as the leader of a new centrist government. 

But that fairy tale seems over. It would require the Prime Minister to ostracize the extremists in his party and he’s shown no willingness to do so. 

Which brings me to where I see things headed….

Assuming this grand kabuki theater of under-a-deadline negotiations continues to drag on…and that seems likely with further talks adjourned until today…I think we’ll see the West throwing up its hands and adopting an approach that keeps a lid on things, doing only what’s minimally necessary to protect its geopolitical interests.

In other words, keep the patient on life support.  Give Greece what it needs not to default on its interest payments, allow the Greek government to claim victory for domestic purposes, and let the new government’s policies run their course on the people who elected it.  If the West truly believes that its proposals are better for Greece in the long run than the Greek government’s approach, that’s the West’s smartest play, for it allows Greece to fail to emerge from crisis by reason of its own choices, serving as a stark warning to any EU member state that might otherwise be tempted to consider adopting Greece’s policies and negotiating tactics.

It’s not a pleasant outcome, and one I pray doesn’t happen, but it’s how I’m seeing things today.  Or at least this morning, in sunny beautiful Greece—where tourists are, and will undoubtedly remain, blissfully unaware of all of this.

By the way, to end on a lighter note, does the world know that obviously separated-at-birth siblings, IMF Chair Christine Lagarde and Greece Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis,

have a sister?