Monday, October 21, 2019

The Truth About Lying

Annamaria on Monday

If you have not heard me holding forth about something I learned from listening to RadioLab, you and I have not had enough conversation lately.  Insights from listening to RadioLab come to my lips very often.  In my opinion, it is the best radio program in the universe—a combination of entertainment and information unparalleled in anything else I experience on a regular basis.

With all the talk--world wide, I believe--about lying for political gain, I think it's time to look into lying, from a scientific perspective.  

The Radio Lab episode I have in mind today, is one called “People Who Lie.”  It analyzes why people lie and reveals why some people are so much better at it than others.  Here is a link a podcast where you can hear the whole story:

To summarize, what neurologists have discovered is that, in addition to little gray cells made famous by Hercule Poirot, we all also have white matter in our brains.  The white matter provides the pathways between one part of the brain and another.  What happens when people lie on the spur of the moment is that several disparate parts of the brain light up and put together a story to tell instead of the truth.!  And voila’!  “My baby brother vomited on my homework.”

Good liars, it turns out, have a lot more white matter than the less skillful fibbers on the planet.   The extra white stuff allows stored images in their brains to link together more often, more creatively, and a lot faster.

As soon as I heard this, I wondered if anyone has ever looked at the brains of fiction writers to see if we have more than the usual supply of white matter.  I would not be at all surprised if we do.  I have heard that in Philadelphia there is a group of writers called The Liars Club.  Makes sense to me.  And there seems to be a scientific explanation for it.

My musings here about how I make up a story are VERY current for me right now.  I am within about three thousand words of the end of my WIP.  And my brain is producing all kinds of unedited twists and runs in the story.  Here’s what my little gray cells think my white matter is doing.

With no outline or serious game plan, I draft my stories fast and furiously.  I set myself a word count goal for each day, every day, and I don’t stop for the day until I have reached it.  I force myself past the mental demons who laugh at the dreck I am producing, and I power along despite my fears of gross plot inconsistencies and jejune character motivations.   I tell myself, that it does not have to be good, it just has to be there.  Then, making it better and better will become the job.

Right now, with a fair amount of frequency, facts, images, connections show up in the story that come across as quite apt.   Yet I have no recollection of producing them in order to call on them now.  How could they have gotten there with little or no effort on my part?  All I can think is that they happened and then ran down my arms and out my fingertips onto the keyboard, practically unnoticed at the time.  The white matter did it.

My prejudice is that the best art is like watching Fred Astaire dancing.  It looks effortless.  Almost nothing I ever do is effortless.  But every once in while, there is a precious moment when the little gray cells and the little white cells cooperate and surprise me.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Story of Marengo—Napoléon’s Horse

Zoë Sharp

Recently on the news there have been a lot of pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, mounted on an eye-catching white horse, riding through snow up the sacred Mount Paektu, the highest mountain in the country.

Kim Jung-un and grey horse on sacred mountain
It struck me when I saw those pictures that there was something vaguely familiar about them. It didn’t take long to recall why. Back when I was a horse-mad small child (and indeed, a horse mad NOT-so-small child) I had a wonderful book about famous horses through history. One of them was a small grey Arabian stallion, Marengo, who belonged to the Emperor Napoléon I of France.

Bonaparte crossing the Great St Bernard pass in the Alps,
painted by Jacques-Louis David
Napoléon apparently once told an artist who inquired how he’d like to be portrayed, “Paint me calm, on a spirited horse.”

It is said that the Emperor owned 130-150 horses during his career, but the most famous of these is probably Marengo.

Napoléon Bonaparte was noted for liking small, agile horses although it is said that he was not a particularly skilled horseman. He was raised modestly on the island of Corsica, and did not learn to ride until beginning his military career. He had joined the artillery and was serving as an officer when Revolution broke out in France in 1789. Capitalising on the opportunities provided by the Revolution, he climbed the ranks very rapidly—he was a general by the time he was twenty-four.

Marengo was small for a war horse—only 14.1 h.h. (1.45m). He was apparently bred at the El Naseri stud and was imported into France from Co Cork in Ireland before being acquired by Bonaparte as a six-year-old in 1799.

Arab horses are noted for their stamina, speed and courageous nature. Marengo was no exception. He carried Bonaparte safely through numerous battles, including Marengo in Italy in 1800—Bonaparte named the horse after his victory here.

Some reports claim the pair would go on through Austerlitz in Moravia, Jena-Auerstedt in Prussia, Wagram in Austria and finally to Waterloo, although whether Bonaparte rode the same horse throughout this time, or a series of horses, is unclear. After all, by the time of Waterloo in 1815, the original Marengo would have been twenty-two—a good age for a horse in a far more sedentary occupation.

By this time, though, the sight of a spirited grey Arab horse, ridden by the figure in the bicorn hat and plain grey overcoat, had become part of Bonaparte’s legend. Although the village of Spinetta Marengo in northern Italy was already well-known for producing cloth in a dark brown colour with white speckles, after the battle it became synonymous with a grey or black fabric shot through with white or pale grey thread, as popularised by Bonaparte.

After his defeat at Waterloo, Bonaparte was forced to leave the wounded Marengo behind and escape by carriage. It was reported that the horse was found by Lt Henry Petre, 11th Baron Petre, who recognised the emperor’s saddlery and the imperial brand on the horse’s flank of an N topped by a crown.

Petre nursed the horse back to health and shipped him to London. When his career as a spoil of war was over, Petre sold the stallion to William Angerstein, a wealthy Grenadier Guards officer.

Angerstein put the horse unsuccessfully to stud, then retired him. Marengo finally died in 1832, when the original horse would have been thirty-eight. Angerstein then had his skeleton reconstructed by surgeons and it is now on display at the National Army Museum. The horse’s two front hooves were retained, however, and turned into ornamental snuff boxes. Another was used as an inkwell. His skin was put aside to be stuffed but was apparently lost.

This week’s Word of the Week is donnybrook, which comes from the annual Fair held in Donnybrook, which was then a suburb of Dublin. The Fair was noted for the consumption of alcohol and the number of both fights and hasty marriages that took place during it. In the end, the Donnybrook Fair was abolished in 1855. The name for a general ruckus remains.

Upcoming Events
Not long until Furness LitFest next month. (Wow, is Christmas creeping up on us, or what?) Helen Phifer and I will be taking part in Thriller Writers Talk With Margaret Martindale, starting 9:30 am on Sat, Nov 02 at the Dalton Community Centre on Nelson Street in Dalton-in-Furness. Tickets available from the website.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What Times Are These?

Keith Haring, "Untitled"


I’ve been back in the US for less than a week and the primary question I’m asked after the initial good cheer questions runs along the line of, “So, how’s Europe doing these days?”

As if I know.  Neither Boris nor Jean-Claude are confiding in me at the moment, and Vladimir is too busy giving riding lessons to his new buddy, Kim Jong Un, to call me with his plans. 

Which leaves me to random anecdotal moments, and bits and snatches of conversations as the possible realm for yielding any more intelligence than is available to the general public via the media.

That said, I just read this piece in Greece’s Ekathimerini—Athens’ paper of record—expressing a position that, even if not accurate, plays precisely into the concerns I’ve heard expressed by many. The article was also republished in the US’ largest circulation Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald.

The article begins with this headline: “US will ‘abandon’ Greece as it did with the Kurds, Russia’s EU ambassador warns.”

Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov has criticized a defense deal signed between Athens and Washington, while warning that the US might “abandon” Greece, as it did with the Kurds in Syria.

In an interview with TASS news agency on the sidelines of a conference on Rhodes island Tuesday, Chizhov said Greece was “wrong” to sign the revised defense deal with the US.

“You need to ask the Greek side why they made such a decision. But I do not rule out the possibility that they did so amid tensions between the US and Turkey. However, this does not mean that this decision is well weighed for the future,” Chizhov said.

Turning to Turkey’s military offensive in northeast Syria, the Russian envoy added: “We had warned the Kurds that the Americans will abandon them. And here, in Rhodes, I can personally warn the Greeks about it, that they will have the same fate as the Kurds.”

As for what the future will bring, I think the players are fixed, it’s just the plot lines that are left to play out.

Ahh, and to think but I week ago I was here.

In Tuscany. :(

To better times.


My Upcoming Events

Saturday, November 2, 4:00-5:00 PM
Dallas, TX
BOUCHERCON–Hyatt Regency Dallas
Moderating, “If I Could Turn Back Time,” with Joe Clifford, Laura McHugh, Hannah McKinnon, Lissa Marie Redmond, and Scott Von Doviak

Sunday, November 3, 8:30-9:30 AM
Dallas, TX
BOUCHERCON –Hyatt Regency Dallas
Panelist, “Detectives Overseas” with Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, and Stanley Trollip, moderated by Nancy Tingley

Friday, October 18, 2019

Two Blokes, Four Blokes and the Exploding Nun.

 Two mates had a book launch in Glasgow last night.
Messers Gordon Brown who I am sure some of you know, and Neil Broadfoot who you  will come across if you are an aficionado of  crime thrillers.

They were interviewing each other, which can get a bit, I'll pat you on the back if you will pat me on the back. How  many ways can we say that  we think our books are wonderful?

This event had no possibility of falling into that  trap as they had left little bits of paper on each table so we could write questions that  we wanted to ask. Big mistake when  the cast of Carry On Sleuthing is in the audience and the cast of four blokes.

  I'm sure the Murder is Everywhere Blogsphere know about the play that  we do called Carry On Sleuthing. Neil and Craig have been known to help  out when we needed extra legs.
 I think that  has resulted in both of them seeking medical help. Sleuthing is dangerous and few folk realise the peril that  we actors risk when we walk on stage  with a sleuthing script in our hands. In fact, I don't know why we have that  script as we tend to make it up as we go along.

Neil and Craig are part of the 'Four Blokes in Search Of A Plot' crew.
I have blogged about these guys before also - you may recall the pictures of four guys sitting on stage  and one has a laptop and a tea cosy on his head.
 You can only type while you are wearing the Tea Cosy Of Inspiration.

Each bloke types for five minutes  using an idea shouted out from the audience. Then the audience select the next writer, and on it goes. They have to pick up where the last one left off.
 I have seen them write a plan for a good thriller with the starting point of Stuart McBride and  a potato peeler .

Every time Mark Leggat gets the laptop, a nun seems to explode.
He's like that.

Craig was launching Highest Lives.
The premise of this series is fascinating. A man who has had some interference from a government agency and when he gets stressed, people die.  If he gets upset, folk around him will start attacking each other.  We have seen that in the Four Blokes audience so maybe that  is where he got the idea.

He did actually get the idea in a  quiet pub in Glasgow when he and his mate were having a  drink. The other folk in the bar were a pair of brothers and a single bloke in the corner reading a book.  The brothers started fighting, the police were called as the furniture started flying.  They got flung out.
 The man in the corner carried on reading his book as though nothing had happened.

Was that man, reading something that really upset  him and did he, in some way, make the other two attack each other?
Was he reading the Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson?
That's a very short book.

Or I do wonder....if the reader of the book in the pub was deaf.

I interviewed Neil about this book for Aye Write last year.
I think it goes under the genre of a pacy thriller.  As with all good lead characters, there's more to Connor than meets the eye. It's hinted at, now and again but Neil said that as the series goes on, so Connor's past will reveal itself.

This night was to celebrate the launch of No Place To Die where Neil  kills many guests staying at a small hotel  in Stirling over a period of  48 hours.
And Connor  has to get in there and sort the situation out before more deaths occur.

Neil starts writing the first line and keeps going until he gets to the end. He has no idea what is going  on in his books until he has finished them. 

I wonder if he's ever tempted to write 'Connor managed to fling himself on top of the little puppy, saving it from the blastwave of the exploding nun.'

I am not the greatest plotter in the world but I do know the ending, the characters will decide how I get there.

Caro Ramsay  18 October 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Quinta de la Rosa

Michael - Thursday

Pat and I are travelling around Spain and Portugal. We started with a hectic drive from Madrid to Portugal, following ridiculously long flights from Brisbane and Johannesburg respectively. The next day we needed something relaxing, and a visit to Quinta de la Rosa on the beautiful Douro River fit the bill. The Quinta is across the river from the charming wine town of  Pinhão, a few hours upstream from Porto.

The Douro from Pinhão
Quinta de la Rosa

View from the terrace of the Quinta
View of the town from the Quinta

A quinta is a country house or mansion in Portugal, and in particular a wine growing estate. Quinta de la Rosa came into the family of the current owners at the start of the twentieth century when the current owner's grandmother received it as a christening present in 1906. Nice to have grandmothers like that.

Contemplating a birthday present perhaps?

The Quinta makes some superb wines as well as noteworthy ports. After a cellar tour, they do an excellent lunch with a view of the river. We were there on the last day of the harvest and saw the large concrete vats filled with grapes waiting to receive a good foot stamping in the evening.

The terraced 'Inferno' vineyard
The best wines comes from the Inferno vineyard. It received that nickname from the grape harvesters who had to pick at the bottom of the hill and then climb the ancient terraces to the top carrying up to 150 pounds of grapes in baskets on their backs.

As for Pinhão, the most fascinating thing for me was the azulejo-tiled story of the Douro at the railway station. Azulejo tile work originated with the Arabic culture of Iberia and was later adopted by the Portuguese.  These beautifully hand-painted tiles are featured all over the country. The station at Porto has large murals of wars and panoramic scenes covering whole walls. As befits its more modest size, the Pinhão station has smaller scenes, but they depict the whole structure and life of the area. Delightful.

Grape pickers heading up to the winery
Barges on the river

Traditional dress
Traditional Portuguese sailing boat on the Douro
Oxen crossing

Railway bridge


Terraces. Some date back to Roman times

The Douro is delightful and relatively unspoiled. It should be on any wine enthusiasts bucket list. Or at the very least on their tasting list. 


Tuesday, October 29: 6:30 pm Murder by the Book, Houston, Texas. Michael joins Yrsa Sigurdardottir for a discussion and signing.

We’ll be at BOUCHERCON in Dallas at the end of the month. It looks like an exciting meeting and we’re looking forward to these panels!

Thursday, October 31:

11:00 – 12:00 PanelThe Novel Stands Alone
  Kendra Elliot, JT Ellison, LS Hawker, Stanley Trollip, Sheri Lewis Wohl
  Participating Moderator: Laura Benedict

Sunday, November 3:

8:30 – 9:30 Panel: Detectives Overseas
  Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, Jeffrey Siger
  Moderator: Nancy Tingley

After Bouchercon we’re on tour. Please join us somewhere if you can!

Tuesday, November 5: 7:00 pm Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona, with Solari Gentill and Tim Maleeny

Wednesday, November 6: 4:30 pm Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour, Stillwater, Minnesota. Contact Valley Booksellers at (651) 430-3385 for tickets

Saturday, November 9: 10:00 Private book club event

Saturday, November 9: 1:00 pm Barnes and Noble, HarMar, St Paul, Minnesota

Tuesday, November 12: 7:00 pm Mystery to Me, Madison, Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 13: 7:00 pm Centuries and Sleuths, Forest Park, Illinois

Saturday, November 16: 10:00 Nokomis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monday, November 18: 7:00 pm Barnes and Noble, Galleria, Minneapolis, Minnesota. More details to follow.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Lesson From a Master

Annamaria on Monday

It has always been my goal to write vividly.  I imagine the inside of the reader's forehead as a movie screen onto which I - too seldom successfully - try to project a moving image of the story I seek to tell. The gods I look to to show me how this might be done are almost always masters of fiction who never in their lives saw a film projected on a screen.  I speak of the authors whose books we call 'the classics."  I read them and read them, wielding mental screwdrivers and wrenches, taking their prose apart, trying to figure out how they do it.

This week my model is the astonishing Charles Dickens.  This afternoon, as I read Chapter 10 of Oliver Twist, I saw the action of Dickens' story so vividly, it became a perfect example of what I wish I could do.  The scene is tumult, moving, speeding, noisy, as irresistible to us as  the chase Dickens describes is to his butcher, his baker, his milkman...

Here it is.  See it - projected on your imagination for yourself:

They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the open square in Clerkenwell, which is yet called, by some strange perversion of terms, 'The Green': when the Dodger made a sudden stop; and, laying his finger on his lip, drew his companions back again, with the greatest caution and circumspection.
'What's the matter?' demanded Oliver.
'Hush!' replied the Dodger. 'Do you see that old cove at the book-stall?'
'The old gentleman over the way?' said Oliver. 'Yes, I see him.'
'He'll do,' said the Dodger.
'A prime plant,' observed Master Charley Bates.
Oliver looked from one to the other, with the greatest surprise; but he was not permitted to make any inquiries; for the two boys walked stealthily across the road, and slunk close behind the old gentleman towards whom his attention had been directed. Oliver walked a few paces after them; and, not knowing whether to advance or retire, stood looking on in silent amazement.
The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading away, as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair, in his own study. It is very possible that he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his abstraction, that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor the boys, nor, in short, anything but the book itself: which he was reading straight through: turning over the leaf when he got to the bottom of a page, beginning at the top line of the next one, and going regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.
What was Oliver's horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both running away round the corner at full speed!
In an instant the whole mystery of the hankerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy's mind.
He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground.
This was all done in a minute's space. In the very instant when Oliver began to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the boy scudding away at such a rapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the depredator; and shouting 'Stop thief!' with all his might, made off after him, book in hand.
But the old gentleman was not the only person who raised the hue-and-cry. The Dodger and Master Bates, unwilling to attract public attention by running down the open street, had merely retired into the very first doorway round the corner. They no sooner heard the cry, and saw Oliver running, than, guessing exactly how the matter stood, they issued forth with great promptitude; and, shouting 'Stop thief!' too, joined in the pursuit like good citizens.
Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature. If he had been, perhaps he would have been prepared for this. Not being prepared, however, it alarmed him the more; so away he went like the wind, with the old gentleman and the two boys roaring and shouting behind him.
'Stop thief! Stop thief!' There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman leaves his counter, and the car-man his waggon; the butcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his pail; the errand-boy his parcels; the school-boy his marbles; the paviour his pickaxe; the child his battledore. Away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing, yelling, screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, and courts, re-echo with the sound.
'Stop thief! Stop thief!' The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through the mud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the windows, out run the people, onward bear the mob, a whole audience desert Punch in the very thickest of the plot, and, joining the rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry, 'Stop thief! Stop thief!'
'Stop thief! Stop thief!' There is a passion FOR hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched breathless child, panting with exhaustion; terror in his looks; agony in his eyes; large drops of perspiration streaming down his face; strains every nerve to make head upon his pursuers; and as they follow on his track, and gain upon him every instant, they hail his decreasing strength with joy. 'Stop thief!' Ay, stop him for God's sake, were it only in mercy!
Stopped at last! A clever blow. He is down upon the pavement; and the crowd eagerly gather round him: each new comer, jostling and struggling with the others to catch a glimpse. 'Stand aside!' 'Give him a little air!' 'Nonsense! he don't deserve it.' 'Where's the gentleman?' 'Here his is, coming down the street.' 'Make room there for the gentleman!' 'Is this the boy, sir!' 'Yes.'
Oliver lay, covered with mud and dust, and bleeding from the mouth, looking wildly round upon the heap of faces that surrounded him, when the old gentleman was officiously dragged and pushed into the circle by the foremost of the pursuers.
'Yes,' said the gentleman, 'I am afraid it is the boy.'

I am within about 5000 words of the end of my WIP.  Disaster after disaster has befallen my poor characters and now their pace is, of necessity in their world, frantic.  I am daunted by the scene above.  I did not intentionally seek it out at this moment.  I know I will never be able to match its perfection.  But at least I will do what I can; with vivid touches, with motion!!  Motion, it seems to be is what is called for.  I am going to spend the next few days as breathless as I can.

(Aside:  I ordinarily look for lots of pictures to breakup and enliven my posts.  Once I turned this offering over to Charles Dickens, I knew that you wouldn't need pictures other than ones his words paint.)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Substituting for Susan on Sunday

Annamaria apologizes:

Actually, there is NO substitute for Susan!  She is 100% sui generis.  Spectacularly so.  She would be here today if she could, but she cannot post this week.  You may already understand why.  If you have been hiding out from the news (and who would blame you?), you may not have heard that the worst typhoon in SIX DECADES hit Tokyo over Friday/Saturday.  Susan is safe.  Here are the reports, she sent to us, her blogmates.  I am including some pictures from my trip of a lifetime with her one year ago:

...some of you may have seen the news that a category five typhoon just hit Tokyo. I am not in Tokyo this weekend. Instead, I am in the hinterlands. I was planning to hike, and ended up stuck in the teeth of the typhoon. Fortunately, it has now passed over and my phone does have service. Negatively, I cannot get to the blog to post (see: typhoon). There is flooding and landslides and all kinds of disaster around me but the hotel is warm and dry and I am safe.

To add to the report: everyone I know in Tokyo is safe, though the rain is torrential.

Out here in Hachioji (2.5 hours northwest of central Tokyo) there are evacuation, landslide, and flooding conditions. The rivers are bursting their banks, though thankfully the rain has stopped now and the storm has passed  

   Government alerts have been going off every five minutes, Which makes for some hilarity when you’re on the bus with 20 other people being evacuated from the train station after service stops and everyone’s phone starts jangling simultaneously with the emergency alert signal. Yep. Thanks. We figured it out  

Curiously, JR East ( the rail Company) not only refused to charge us and refunded everyone’s train tickets for the interrupted portion of our travel, But arranged free buses to take us an hour away to one of two safe cities (individual’s choice) where there were hotels available. I am highly impressed. this is particularly true because I was the only non-Japanese person on the train, meaning this is standard operating procedure and not simply something they did for tourists. 

The images coming out of Japan are startling. I don’t know how many are reaching the west, but the country is prepared and seems to be doing as well as possible in terms of preparation and response. 

All safe here. Have fun at Bouchercon!