Sunday, March 31, 2019

Out of my Gourd in Yoro

--Susan, every other Sunday

Last weekend, I pushed over the 90-summit threshold with climbs in Mie and Gifu Prefectures. Sunday's climbs took me to the little town of Yōrō, which is famous for four things:

Yōrō Falls (a 30-meter bridal-veil style fall that ranks among Japan's "100 Best Waterfalls") and its attendant spring, whose water apparently cures all ailments. (I drank some. I'll let you know.)

Mt. Yōrō (the reason for my visit)

A series of local amusement parks: "Yōrō Land," "Children's World," and "The Site of Reversible Destiny." (I'll be going back for the latter, which is apparently designed to help visitors 'encounter the unexpected'.)

And . . . gourds - which actually relate to item number 1.

Gourds hanging from the rail station platform in Yōrō. Because gourds.

According to legend, many centuries ago, a woodcutter discovered a spring in the mountains of Yōrō that ran with sake instead of water. He filled a gourd with the liquid and took it home to his aging father. When the father drank the miraculous sake-water from the gourd, he was instantly rejuvenated and all his ailments were cured. Since that time, the water--and the gourds--of Yōrō have been famous.

After climbing Mt. Yōrō (and two neighboring peaks) and visiting the famous falls, I stopped in a local omiyage shop to buy a souvenir and presents for my family. I settled on Yōrō cider (made with the famous water) for my family, and a tiny gourd carved into the shape of an ibis (the Japanese crested ibis, or toki, went extinct but has been re-introduced, using birds from China) for myself.

Because I bought so many items, the shopkeeper gave me a free admission ticket to the "Yōrō Gourd Lantern Museum (Only In Yōrō!)" which happened to be located right next door.

Since I'd finished my climb ahead of schedule, and I have a personal rule that requires me to follow as many rabbit trails as possible when I'm traveling, I headed through the gourded curtain (literally a bead curtain strung with tiny hollow gourds instead of beads) and into the museum.

Holy cow.

Part of the amazing collection at the Yōrō gourd lantern museum.

The one-room museum held a large assortment of illuminated gourds adorned with unbelievably intricate, detailed patterns.

It was hard to believe these were gourds...

The work was flawless - and amazingly detailed.

Carved from a gourd. Unbelievable.

The curator--who was also the carver--explained a little about the history of gourds in Yōrō, and also told me that his wife designs the patterns, while he does the intricate needlework required to create the designs.


He also pointed out the way that the lanterns are carved to cast specific shadows on the wall.

Yep, that's a gourd.

One of my favorite lanterns featured hotaru - fireflies - a symbol of summer here in Japan.

The hotaru lantern. Note the walls...

But for the shopkeeper offering me an admission ticket, I might not have noticed the little museum--and would have missed this lovely art. I also learned that the museum's curator made my little toki gourd, which makes it even more special.

My toki gourd, at home on my desk.

The adventure was just one more reminder that taking the road less traveled - and taking advantage of unexpected opportunities - often leads to the best, and most memorable, experiences of all.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

I'm at Left Coast Crime, So All You're Getting are Photos


Yes, whenever a conference comes up, and one--[notice this subtle attempt to hide behind an anonymous pronoun substitute]--has failed to post a blog in advance of events getting underway, the  bees to honey draw of we solitary writers seeing so many friends and colleagues in one place inevitably leads one to wondering where all the time once thought available for writing one's blog vanished, thereby forcing one to fall back on posting photos, and long, guilt ridden run-on mea culpa sentences.

In this instance it's even more shameful, for I took so very few photos that I had to beg she-who-yee-all-know for shots from her stash. As always, she came though  Thank you BZ.

Well, without further ado...and so that I might get to the panel I'm supposed to are photos of our trip up from Seattle, stopping overnight in La Conner, Washington before ending up in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can tell how much fun we're having by how few photos are of the events. Too busy to to speak.

La Conner

Vancouver Streets

Vancouver Harbor

Off Across the Water

Totems of Stanley Park

Photographer made to pose against her will

Photographee unabashedly posing

Some shots of actual humans at Left Coast Crime

Our very own Sujata among nominees for Lefty Historical Award

Yes, that's Annamaria and Lisa Brackmann ignoring my request that they face the camera

Tim Hallinan smiling along with other Lefty Humorous Award Nominees

The fabled Quilt of LCC, guarded Daze and Knights

The books that finally arrived to calm my rattled nerves.
 The conference is and continues to be a blast. Now on to my 6-week book tour.  Hope to see you along the trail.


My The Mykonos Mob book tour events:

Tuesday, April 2, 7:00 PM
Seattle, WA
THIRD PLACE BOOKS (Lake Forest Park)
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, April 4, 7 PM
Berkeley, CA
Author Speaking and Discussion

Saturday, April 6, 3:00 PM
San Francisco, CA
BOOK PASSAGE (Ferry Building-Embarcadero)
Author Speaking and Signing

Sunday, April 7, 3:00 PM
Orange, CA
BOOK CARNIVAL              
Author Speaking and Signing

Wednesday, April 10, 7 PM
Pasadena, CA
VROMAN’S (East Colorado)
Author Speaking and Signing

Friday, April 12, 7 PM
Dallas, TX
Interabang (Preston Oaks)
Author Speaking and Signing

Monday, April 15, 2:00 PM
Fountain Hills, AZ
Fountain Hills Community Center
Fountain Hills Friends of the Library Author Event

Tuesday, April 16, 7:00 PM
Scottsdale, AZ
Author Speaking and Signing

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, March 29, 2019

All in the genes.

I imagine a life as a writer as  rather languid and wistful, strolling through fields of daffodils in the sunshine, with my fountain pen and a lovely hand pressed notebook, the next Sunday times best seller appearing by magic on the screen when I get home. At some point in this, there will be a dog of some kind, frolicking.

And last Saturday was exactly like that. Not.

 I had always known it was going to be, what is known in writing circles as a cluster..k. So I wasn’t surprised.
We started off with work. Buttocks, needles, sore backs, painful arms. They started digging the pavement up outside my window halfway through the morning with the pneumatic drill right at the door.   Most of my patients were lying with the pillow over their heads, hands up round their ears.

I had got up very early to pack the car with three changes of clothes and the pantomine horse as the Scottish Association of Writers  were holding their annual conference that weekend and had asked us ( the gang ) to perform ‘sleuthing’ as their after dinner entertainment. That was to be about 10 pm, and we would get home about 1 am.

 After work and before the show, I was chairing an event that had me more than a  little concerned. Mostly because the organiser had said, ‘I think we should be a little concerned about this’ at a previous event.  I have been known to take a hint.
You might be wondering why the Scottish association of writers was holding its conference while Aye Write was on. It’s a bit like holding the Scottish cycling distance road racing championships while the tour de France is on but some folk make life tough for themselves.

We left work on time, and dashed up to Glasgow to the Mitchell theatre.  I felt I was as well prepared as I could be. The event was called ‘Inside the DNA of a crime writer’, and Mark Billingham had agreed to have his DNA tested and we were going to talk through the results with Professor Robert Plomin, the Chicago born psychologist who was going to analyse them.  I was a little concerned about the matter of confidentiality,  I knew Robert would be totally on the ball on this,  but there was still that nagging doubt in the back of my mind about a rogue question from the audience. And then, there was the small matter  that I  ‘sort of’ understood the book. Bob has studied many twins that has been separated at birth ( studied the previous studies of them ) and adopted kids and their birth parents (to remove the notion that nurture matters - it does, but not as much as the nature. Your DNA rules the way you are. And that is the bottom line!)

I go into the green room,  do my thing. Mark bounces in. We chat. He hasn't seen the analysis of his DNA as Bob has that. (We thought).  The only thing he knew was that he had the genetic ability to smell coriander.

Then Bob the Professor walked in and asked Mark if he had seen the DNA analysis. He asked it in a way that said ‘Because I haven’t’.

 I got a sinking feeling.

Nobody had the DNA. It was supposed to have been passed from A to B but that had gone a bit tits up. We needed a lap top quick, there wasn’t one in the green room.

 I went out to find one. One of the runners was outside, quietly panicking that her author had gone to the loo and not come back ( it’s a very long way in the Mitchell library, an old building of tunnels and marbled floors and  old creaking doors, musty corridors that go nowhere.)  I offered to go and find her lost writer if she went off to find me a laptop.

Ten minutes later we have a DNA preliminary result on the screen. But due to the laws about such things, there is a 48 hour time delay to make sure that you are not doing this when you are drunk. Do you wish to see your ancestry? If so, click the prompt you will be given in 24 hours time. Then again, do you want to see your medical susceptibility? You need to click on the prompt you will see in 48 hours. You can see why, some forms of dementia have a high genetic carrier. You might want to prepare yourself.

So all we had was five facts. Mark is all northern European, which surprised nobody except Robert a little as all Americans are a mixture. Few northern Europeans of Mark’s age are.  Robert did say that a very high percentage of white Americans have ‘black’ DNA in them, relating back from the days of slavery.  We knew that Mark was 4% Neanderthal, could smell coriander and asparagus.  And that he had a propensity for obesity, and a slight carrier for macular degeneration.

Serious stuff, but the professor took his audience through it all, slowly and steadily with an expertise one would expect from world renowned researcher.

We started off by talking about the film triplets.

And the horror story behind that.

It was a very thought provoking event, esp. when the question was asked about the DNA of a serial killer. Is that there in the genes? In that pin prick of blood taken at a day old? And if we know that, what, as a society do we do about it. What we do with that child?   

After an hour of that, it was book signing, goodbyes and thank yous,   then away in the car to the hotel where I was painting on my hairy wart and telling rude jokes to a very drunk audience.

I didn’t get much sleep that night.


It’s an interesting life.

Caro Ramsay  29 03 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019


Stanley - Thursday

All writers are asked at one time or another (actually many times) where their ideas come from. My answer is that there are ideas everywhere, often too many. The trick is to find one with legs, that will sustain a whole novel, that will keep the reader (and the writer) interested from beginning to end.

Here's a story about one that got away; one that intrigued us, but we eventually discarded it. However, a recent event has brought it back into my mind. Does it have the required legs? I don't know, but my mind is whirring away.

A few years ago, Michael and I were brainstorming plot and backstory ideas for an upcoming Detective Kubu mystery. Obviously, because Kubu lives in Botswana and works for the Botswana Police Service Criminal Investigation Department, the ideas had to be pertinent to Botswana.

One of us, I don't remember who, stumbled upon a newspaper report of something that happened in 1999, quite a few years before we started the series. An Air Botswana pilot, who had been grounded because he was unable to pass his physical examination, became increasingly frustrated by his situation and decided to end his life. He did so in a way that apparently made sense to him. He stole one of Air Botswana's ATR-42 turboprop passenger planes off the apron at the Sir Seretse Khama airport in Gaborone, then flew it round for a couple of hours, buzzing the buildings and making threats to crash into the airport terminal.

1999 suicide aftermath
He also demanded to speak to the country's vice-president, Ian Khama. While officials desperately cleared the buildings, the defence force's General Tobogo Masire tried to talk the man down. Without success. Just as the pilot was about to be put through to Ian Khama, the plane ran out of fuel.

When he was told again that there were people in the terminal, the pilot decided to wreak the greatest damage he could and crashed his plane into the remaining Air Botswana's planes that were on the apron. The man died and was the only casualty. Air Botswana lost all but one of its fleet.

It's not difficult to create myriad stories from this incident. What if it wasn't suicide? What if there was a second body in the plane? What if...?  What if...? 

We eventually shelved the idea because we thought that it would be very insensitive to the family of the pilot, even though it was a decade later.

Last week, a South African born pilot who had lived in Botswana with his wife for 10 years deliberately crashed A Beechcraft 200 into the terminal at Matsieng Aerodrome just north of Gaborone. Although there are conflicting reports, it appears that his wife was attending a stork party at the airport. The man showed up uninvited and there was an altercation between him and his wife. He left, reportedly under the influence of alcohol, and drove to Sir Seretse Khama airport less than an hour away. There he stole the Beechcraft, which was on standby for medical alerts, flew it to Matsieng, and executed several low passes.

From the cockpit, he called a friend at the airport asking if his wife was there. The friend fortunately sensed that the man may try to do harm and shouted for everyone to evacuate. Minutes later the Beechcraft flew into the terminal. The pilot was the only fatality, but there was extensive property damage.

Again my mind is spinning. There are so many plot possibilities. However this time, my thoughts seem to be revolving around the sadness that surrounds any event when someone feels it necessary to takes his or her own life. What was going on in the relationship with his wife? What was going on in their heads? Were there any external pressures? Maybe other people involved? Maybe it's not even a detective story.

Will these ideas make it into a book? I don't know right now. But I'm intrigued.

Upcoming Events

A lot of familiar names in the panels below. Very lekker!

Crimefest, Bristol, England

17:10 – 18:00
Sunshine Noir
* Paul Hardisty
* Barbara Nadel
* Jeffrey Siger 
* Robert Wilson 
Participating Moderator: Stan Trollip

11:20 – 12:10
10 Year Stretch: The CrimeFest Anthology
* Peter Guttridge 
* Caro Ramsay
* Zoë Sharp 
* Michael Stanley (aka Stanley Trollip)
Participating Moderator: Kate Ellis