Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Launch of A Deadly Covenant

 Michael & Stanley - Thursday

Finally, we’ve reached September 1. Today, A Deadly Covenant is out in the world!

There’s quite a story behind this one. Stan had the idea of a Bushman skeleton being unearthed (by accident) and Kubu investigating, and more skeletons turning up, not necessarily Bushman skeletons. It seemed an intriguing premise.

Drotsky's cabins near Shakawe
where Kubu and Ian stay during the investigation

In terms of location, we’d been keen for a long time to set something in northwest Botswana. Shakawe is the town where the Kavango River from Angola flows from Namibia into Botswana. We experienced “bird overload” there once—so many water birds crowding the drying pools to get the trapped fish that we didn’t know where to look first. 

After that the river makes its way deeper into the Kalahari and then floods the Okavango Delta, creating one of the most amazing wildlife areas of the world. But the Okavango needs those annual floods. What would happen, we wondered, if it was an irrigation project that unearthed the first skeleton, perhaps a pipeline trench to take water from the river? A host of political and corruption issues presented themselves.

That was about what we knew when we started writing the book. We’ve always been “pantsers”— writing by the seats of our pants and wondering (sometimes with fear, occasionally with terror) where it was all going to go.

So Kubu, still a new detective in the Botswana CID, but with the success of solving the diamond heist case of Facets of Death under his belt, was sent out to Shakawe to help the pathologist, Ian Macgregor, get to the bottom of the mysterious skeleton. They get more than they bargained for. Eventually Ian finds nine skeletons, all of Bushmen, some of women and children, and all have been murdered—shot or bludgeoned to death. A Bushman massacre. And no one they ask in Shakawe is willing to admit to any knowledge of what happened.

At that point Selelo, a Bushman, appears from nowhere at the site of the massacre, dances to his ancestors in the sky, and then collapses. The next day he disappears. Next, an elderly man is murdered at his home. The local police think it’s a robbery gone wrong and blame the mysterious Bushman, but Kubu thinks otherwise. So does a strange woman who believes that a powerful river spirit, Mami Wata, is angry about the water project designed to “steal” her water.

Mami Wata

As his time away from Gaborone drags on, Kubu is missing Joy and agonizing over where their relationship is going. We love this quote from Lavender Magazine about A Deadly Covenant that encapsulates how the young Kubu feels:

Kubu, despite personal insecurities concerning love and social skills, sets his keen mind to work, absorbs, solves – gains confidence in handling police procedure, single-malt whiskey, and love.

Kubu’s boss, Assistant Superintendent Jacob Mabaku is sent to join Kubu and Ian amid rumors of corruption around the water project and the build-up of international anger over the Bushman killings.  Then another death occurs…

At that point we knew more or less what was happening and had a pile of cut scenes to show where the dead ends had occurred. But the conclusion itself seemed out of our grasp. What would happen to Selelo? How was the village chief, Kgosi Rantao, involved if he was involved? Who was lying and who (if anyone) was telling the truth? And how were Kubu, Ian, and Mabaku going to make head or tail of all this?

Well, eventually they did. We breathed a sigh of relief.

We hope you enjoy A Deadly Covenant and that, if you can, you’ll come to one of the events to hear more about the book and about Bushman culture.

Here's the September schedule:

Wednesday, 7. 4:30 – 5:30 pm 

Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour at Valley Bookstore

The Zephyr Theatre, 601 N Main St, StillwaterMN 55082

Call 651.430.3385 for reservations.

If you're attending Bouchercon, don't miss Stan's dream panel with Alexander McCall Smith, Jo Nesbo, and Caro Ramsay!

Friday, 9, 1:45 – 2:30 pm


The Mystery of Multiple Points of View and Multiple Timelines (Writers use dual perspectives/multiple narrators and alternating timelines to tell their stories.)

Marty Ambrose; Mary R. Davidsaver; B.A. Shapiro; Julie Carrick Dalton; Stanley Trollip (Moderator)

Saturday, 10, 11:30 -12:15 pm 


Under the Sun or Below Zero (You’ve heard of “setting as a character.” Well … what about the weather?  These authors’ works represent a dichotomy of climates where rising temps or bone-chilling cold are just as effective as any villain.)

Alexander McCall Smith; Stan Trollip (Michael Stanley); Catriona McPherson; Jo Nesbø ; Matthew Goldman (Moderator); Caro Ramsay

If you're attending the International Agatha Christie Festival, join us for Agatha in Africa.

Thursday, 15, 12:30 – 1:00 pm (UK time) 

Virtual event at the International Agatha Christie Festival

Agatha in Africa

Michael, Stanley and Zimbabwe author Bryony Rheam discuss Agatha Christie’s trip to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia and its connection with her mystery thriller The Man in the Brown Suit.


Saturday 17, 1:00 pm 

Nokomis Library event

5100 S 34th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55417 Phone: 612-543-6800


Wednesday 21, 6:00 pm 

Thomas St. Angelo Public Library of Cumberland event

1305 2nd Ave, Cumberland, WI 54829. Phone: 715-822-2767


Thursday 22, 6:30 pm 

Spooner Library event

421 High St, Spooner, WI 54801 Phone. 715-635-2792


Saturday 24, 1200

The Bookstore at Fitger’s

600 East Superior Street, Duluth MN 55802

Tuesday, 27, 6:00 pm (In person and virtual)

Official launch of A Deadly Covenant at Once Upon A Crime

604 W. 26th Street, MinneapolisMN 5540 Phone: 612.870.3785 


With Mary Ann Grossman

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Why Does The Plumber Step On my Bathmat? And Other Existential Questions


I’ve learned to put the mat away (Image: Shutterstock) 

The other existential questions

  1. How do my keys disappear just when I’m in a hurry to leave home? Oh, there they are. Thank you, Rover.
  2. Why does toast always fall on the buttered side?
  3. Why does my phone never ring except when I leave it in another room?
  4. Why can I never get the Captcha thingy right the first time?

  5. For the love of God, who invented the Captcha where you have to select chimneys/cars/motorcycles/traffic lights/tractors/mountains?

  6. Why does the neighbor's dog start to bark incessantly just as I drift off to sleep?
  7. How is it I'm penalized for a credit card payment one day late, but a refund takes 7-10 days?
  8. Why does my computer crash just when I finish the first draft?

  9. Why is Facebook such a hot mess?
  10. Why does New York have so many fire hydrants that you can't park?
  11. Why do I forget the name of a well-known actor the instant I need to remember it?
Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins /

12. Why do white people tan? It's too late for that.
13. Why do drivers tailgate in jammed traffic? No one's going anywhere.
14. Why do people say about rain, "Wow, it's really coming down!"? What was the alternative?
15. Why do Los Angelenos use, "Traffic was really bad today" as an excuse for being late?

I know there are many, many more. What are some of yours? I'd love to hear.

*The Body In The Well Beside Me continues next week.*


Piglets In Baskets

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

May riches flow into your life 'like water into a pig's cage'!

Some of my 'piglets in baskets' preparing to be hung up. (Don't worry, the biscuits are safely encased in plastic).

The Midautumn Festival, popularly known around here as the Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival is coming soon. There's going to be a neighbourhood party and these are some of the biscuits I'll be putting up for the kids to find while walking around with their lanterns.

I remember these from when I was a kid. We called them 'Jue Zai Beng' courtesy of our Cantonese amah. I've also heard them called piggy biscuits, mooncake biscuits and doll biscuits. 

This is a much posher example from the Kee Wah bakery--originally in Hong Kong, they're now in Singapore and, I've heard, Los Angeles. No, I'm not connected with or advertising for them, but I love the details on their woven bamboo baskets. I would get them for the baskets alone!

Piglet biscuits are made of the dough used to form the outer layer of mooncakes, so it makes sense that they only appear when mooncakes are available. I believe they originated with the dough balls put into the oven to test the temperature. And since they're just baked dough with no costly fillings of lotus paste or salted egg yolks, they were given to children to distract them from the more expensive mooncakes being saved for the festival itself.

The cages are meant to look like the woven bamboo cages pigs were transported to market in. 

Btw those pig cages come with their own horrible history; if you've ever watched Chinese dramas, you'll have seen these cages used to punish adulterous women... apparently during the Ming and Qing dynasties, women caught in adultery were tied up in pig cages, weighed down with chains and thrown into the river. On television, this gave her time to escape or be rescued, but in real life it must have been a torturous death.

These were illegal executions, mainly carried out in poor farming communities. And the pig-cage drowning was only applicable to married and engaged women. If you were unmarried or a widow, you wouldn't be caged and drowned. This suggests it was less a matter of the woman's morality and more concern about the parentage of a child who might inherit the family farm.

After the Chinese Revolution, the government reformed the sexual double standards--once the blame for adultery was shared between both genders, this vigilante prosecution of women decreased dramatically. 

Now the piggy baskets are seen as a nostalgic throwback to the old days and our childhoods. Well, I'd rather live with a white-washed past than in a black present.

The other thing we'll be celebrating here is Singapore has finally decided that that 377A, the colonial relic criminalising sex between men, will go. 

Remember how, after Britain legalised consensual homosexual acts in 1967, the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher whipped up homophobia with their ‘family values’ campaign? It was a terrible time of discrimination in housing, employment and services and you could be convicted for ‘Gross Indecency’ for smiling at another man in the street. 

It took Britain 47 years to move into some kind of genuine acceptance. Can we learn from them and not take as long? 

I'd love to look back on the early days of this repeal with as much celebratory nostalgia (misplaced or not) as we (vegetarians included) hang up piglet baskets to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Thanks for reading this and again, may riches flow into your life like water into a pig's cage!

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Gods Will Be Back...So Will We.


This is a rerun of one of my most viewed posts of all time. I wrote it over a decade ago--yes, I'm that old--and as Barbara and I wind down our time in Greece I thought it appropriate to reach back for this old chestnut, for like the gods, we will be back. The fact I'm absolutely overwhelmed at the moment with time draining commitments and obligations has absolutely nothing to do with this posting. If asked to swear to that last statement, I can honestly say, "So, help me gods."
I long for the day when the mention of Greece will once again first bring to mind ancient gods, epic tales, and a land and sea infused at every inch with the seminal essence of western civilization.   Someday that will happen, for financial crises are transient and gods are immortal, though not eternal—after all, they do need nectar and ambrosia to sustain them.

Ahh, yes, the good old days of true Greek gods quick and strong, knowing all things, capable of miraculous achievements.

It’s been a long while since I’ve read up on the ancient gods, and I must admit to often getting them mixed up, but I’ve just learned that my confusion puts me in illustrious company. 

Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)
According to Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology, even Socrates was confused by the varying number of seemingly same gods (one Aphrodite or two?) and multiple names for one god (Zeus in summer was called Zeus Meilichios, the friendly god, and in winter Zeus Maemaktes, the angry god).

Aphrodite (Bouguereau 1879)
Some think that’s attributable to disparate early Greek tribes who even after coalescing as a single race kept the original names for their separate gods despite obvious similarities to each other (Dione, Hera, Gaea, and Demeter). 
Hera with Zeus

But call them what you wish, the essential purpose of the Greek gods was the same: their existence and interactions explained to mortals the natural order of things, e.g., the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, storms, waves, and on and on as needed.  

What made Greek gods so significant was that the essentially human form of the Twelve Olympian Deities of Mount Olympus and of the lesser gods living in other environs gave to those who worshipped them the sense that their deities could understand and relate to a mortal’s needs and fears. 

The mythological explanations offered by the carryings on of the gods largely centered upon the three supreme rulers of the world: Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus. 

The first to rule was Uranos.  He represented the heavens and, as the husband of Earth, brought forth life and everything on our planet. 
Uranos with Earth

His son, Kronos, ruled next as god of the harvest, ripening and maturing the forms of life brought forth by his father. 
Kronos and Rhea

And, lastly, ruled Zeus, bringing order and wisdom to the universe. 
Zeus overthrows Kronos (Van Haarlem 1588)

I think it’s safe to say that Zeus hasn’t been around for a while.  Or has he? 

Whatever, all of this impresses me, as it should every writer, artist, and musician who freely borrows from the tales of the gods in their own creations, albeit sometimes consciously oblivious to the source of their inspiration.  So much of what we think unique to modern culture is simply a new way of retelling of what ancient Greeks witnessed in their deities. 

I wish I had time now to say more.  But there will be later.  One must always make time for the gods. 


Friday, August 26, 2022

Please destroy once read


  •          Print length ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  •          Best Sellers Rank: 52 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)

  • This is a blog that’s going to tell you absolutely nothing because I’m not allowed to say anything about it at all as I’ve been sworn to secrecy.  The first thing was, or really the first thing is, is that I’m No 1 in the Scandinavian Kindle crime charts. I don’t know if that means I’m being read a lot in Scandinavia or if those lovely folks at Amazon think that Scotland is part of Scandinavia. But, either way I know have a number 1 best seller ticket. In keeping with the secret spy nature of this blog I think Stan the man might know what is going on here. The rest of you will have to wait till Bouchercon.

    As you all are quite sensible people, you may already know about the Amazon sale tracker, where you put the position of your book in the Amazon charts, and  the wee app tells you how many copies a day you’re selling. It's interesting that when the book was put out as a free download for four days, it downloaded 6000 or 7000 copies per day. When it goes up to 99p it still downloaded a lot. And it can sit at 99p for a week and even when it goes up to £2.99 it still downloads in its thousands. And thinking about that 99p in fiscal terms- Amazon obviously take a bit of that, and then the Kindle publisher takes a bit of that, then my publisher takes a bit of that, then my agent takes 15% of what’s left. But to quote James Patterson "the units that I’m shifting at the moment", well lets just say it brings a warm tear to a typically thrifty Scottish soul.

    On other news that I can’t tell you about things are shuffling around in the universe. When you get to my age you notice that people around you are starting to retire, so a trip to London has been arranged with a few meetings here. This is to ensure that anybody's future career doesn’t depend on someone that they'd email quite happily, but not somebody you'd want to meet face to face. You know the sort of person, the type that makes you hide in the toilet. I have had the 'thing' of people high up in publishing, (private school, twin set and pearls, spends three hours at lunch and a hard days work would kill them,) give me a virtual pat on the head and say ‘Oh you’re Scottish, how quaint’.

    I asked the person setting up the meetings to ask these prospective peeps one question, and that was, 'Do you like dogs?' I know there are exceptions – Hitler and Myra Hindlay being two. But, generally people who like dogs are good eggs in my experience. And even if we’re fighting over the title of the book we can always make up again admiring pictures of various pooches on the phone.

    So, the winner is the one who immediately responded with a picture of her blonde shaggy dog of indeterminate breed that looked like a Danish chocolate shortcake in but dipped in mud rather than  chocolate.

  • I suspect this person, like me, will have an untidy car covered in dog hair and mud. I also suspect we might get on well.

  • Say nothing to anybody about this blog as it's top secret. Apart from you obviously, you are allowed to know..... but only you....


  • Me, at a secret location.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Zulu king is crowned

 Stanley - Thursday

A year ago last March, King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation died after spending just over fifty years on the throne. He was well respected, not only in his own right, but also as a descendent of the great King Cetshwayo kaMpande, who defeated the British forces at Isandhlwana in 1879.

King Goodwill Zwelithini in ceremonial attire

The king's "Amabutho" warriors in traditional leopard skin regalia

Last Saturday, the new king, Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, was crowned with great pomp and ceremony and not a little controversy.

It is hardly surprising that there were other contenders to the throne since Goodwill had six wives and twenty-eight children. In terms of hierarchy, Goodwill's third wife, the late Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, was on top of the pecking order since she also hailed from royalty. Her father was the late King Sobhuza II of Eswatini (Swaziland to those who struggle to keep up with the ever-changing map of Africa) and her brother, King Mswati III, is the reigning king of Eswatini.

Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu

When King Goodwill Zwelithini died, Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu was appointed regent for the three months of mourning, after which the next king would be chosen. However, she died only a month later midst allegations of poisoning.

The battle for the throne has been raging for the past year, with several of King Misuzulu's brothers and half brothers claiming the throne. 

Last November, for example, the king's first-born son, Prince Lethukuthula, died in mysterious circumstances. The police believe his death to be a homicide.

However, in March this year, President Ramaphosa of South Africa formally recognised Misuzulu as the rightful heir to the throne. 

One brother immediately challenged this in court, but this was dismissed.

Then, just a week before Misuzulu's traditional coronation, a small group within the royal family announced that another one of Misuzulu's half-brothers was the new king. That went nowhere.

Then three of Misuzulu's brothers announced that another brother should be the king because he had had the closest relationship with the late king. A no go also.

And finally, on the day of the coronation, two of Misuzulu's half-sisters file a motion in court to halt the coronation because they claimed that Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu's will had been forged. Not successful.

Apparently part of the original marriage contract beween Goodwill Zwelithini and Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu stipulated that her first born would be the heir to the throne. Her will also stipulated that this agreement be honoured.

Anyway, to some extent the dust has settled, and I'm pleased to report that Misuzulu is now King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini and will be formally crowned in September. 

The new king

Last week's ceremony was the traditional investiture where thousands of people gathered at KwaKhangelamankengane Palace. There he invoked the ancestors before being announced as the new king to both the living and the dead.




King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini will be forty-eight next month. He was educated in South Africa, then Jacksonville University in the United States. He is married with two wives and three sons. 

Long live the king.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

How I Edit

 Sujata Massey

The longer I spend as a writer, the more the profession teaches me. It’s only recently that I’ve figured out that the more important part of building my novels happens when I'm editing them.

That’s not to say I want rather be an editor, rather than a creative writer. No! That task is reserved for sainted, detail-oriented people with steel-trap memories. However, when writers go through the line-editing that's part of a book's pre-publishing cycle, they have to look at their work objectively and make changes. Some people might prefer to race through the process and only address the editor's queries. I was like this a quarter century ago. 

What I’ve learned about my process these days is that as a tremendous amount of story-building occurs for me in the fourth and fifth and sixth drafts of a book. This story-building takes time, meaning my edit of the editor’s edit usually takes three to four months. In that time, I create many extra pages—sometimes a new chapter, sometimes a collection of new scenes. At the same time, I go all out to recognize paragraphs or even sentences that are non-essential.  


I think editing is more enjoyable than writing a first draft, but it's a tense time for me. Knowing that the words I choose to let stand--or to alter--are actually going to be published makes me doubt them. Adding to the stress are my troubles with focus, a side effect of two conditions I have: Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

While these illnesses are well managed, I still am dealing with brain fog. In my personal experience, it means that I have difficulty staying focused on writing, especially if I have to make a literary fix that forces me to rely on my memory of events taking place in the manuscript. It could be as subtle as making sure I don't introduce a character's name several chapters after he's appeared--yes, truly--or forgetting a character's car or street address. Thank goodness for the ‘word search’ magnifying glass at the top of my computer screen. I also find myself leafing through earlier books in the series for facts about cars, streets, and eye color.

Some writers have series bibles where all these facts are kept handy. Those are the writers with good enough memories, and organization, to spend time on such a project. Will I do it someday? Hmm. 


Another punishing aspect of editing is dealing with a manuscript in Track Changes format, which is par for the course in publishing these days. It’s vital that the first editing go-round is done with track changes on--but oh, the horror of red, green, blue and black words cluttering up the page and scrambling my brain's ability to follow. But on a later editing pass, I find that turning off the track changes format helps me read with enjoyment and understanding and actually see where the real errors are.  


Here are a few more favorite lessons that have come to me during a quarter century of editing my own work. 

Seize the morning. When I briefly had a job in university public relations, I once phoned the late novelist and writing professor, John Barth, around ten in the morning. He answered the phone, but the first words out of his mouth were a grumpy, “I always write in the morning.” Since then, I’ve realized most of my writing colleagues, whether or not they have day jobs, write during the morning and do something physical in the afternoon. Our brain is supposed to be sharper in the mid to late morning due to a rise in body temperature and high cortisol level ( but there are some advantages for early evening work, too).

Interestingly, I'm a pretty early riser--usually naturally awake between 5 and 6:30 a.m. However, I can't bring myself to face my editing work until after my coffee, my breakfast, dog walking and tidying up my room. Throw in washing my face and doing a little yoga, and two hours have already passed. However, I now get that I was aiming to reach peak performance time, which starts for me around 9 a.m. 


Intention setting, journaling, and prayer. There's no one-size-fits-all remedy every morning. I've come to cherish spending time each morning with my journal--I've picked up the Morning Pages habit taught by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way. In the journal, or in my daily planner, I also write down how I intend to feel  when editing. I might aspire to approach my pages with curiosity, or to work with a light touch. I sometimes scribble: I am confident this book is going the right way. Sometimes I just think about bringing in noises, smells, the sights and other environmental details. It's always different; because a book needs so many varying elements and qualities. At the end of this intention setting, I close my eyes and silently pray that I will be able to accomplish the small goal. 


Chores are Toast! Seriously--there's no need to make much more than toast when you are writing. Believe in your heart that most housework, gardening, get-togethers and errands are an option, rather than a duty. When I’m deep in an edit, I only do car errands, including groceries, once a week. I ask family members to do more of the things they might expect me to do, and if they don't do it the way I would, no big deal. I don't outsource everything--I still do feed myself, even if it's leftovers or even potato chips. 

Fact-check while you edit. My novels are set in 1920s India about a field that I never studied (law). This means that it’s essential that I run the details of history, law, and culture by different experts before signing off that a book is ready to go. I do most of this fact-checking during the line-edit. Why so late? My novel evolves so much during an edit, that I would rather have it close to what would be printed before troubling my experts—because I try only to trouble them once per book I don't want to waste their time. 


Remember, editing and travel don’t mix. These are fighting words for a blogpost appearing at a site called Murder Is Everywhere. However, I’ve found that being in another place--especially if it's beautiful--does not inspire a desire to hide myself way to write or edit. Morning is my happy mind time, and when I’m traveling, I want to spend these precious hours on walks or pool or breakfast. After feeling frustrated when away from home this summer, I'm now going to avoid making any travel commitments for dates that might occur before an edit’s finished. Of course, this is vastly inconvenient for your travel companions. But if they love you, they will already understand you march to the beat of a drummer in a totally weird time zone.


Set an End Time. I mean a daily ending time, because we can only manage what happens in a day—and still there are surprises.  If I start work at nine, I look at the clock and tell myself that I will be through with writing work by three—and yes, that will allow for lunch break, dog walking, and maybe another small activity. Of course, the timetable can be a lot shorter—as short as an hour, even. Everybody’s life has different demands. However, when I know I've fulfilled an obligation to work until a certain time, it gives me a feeling of completion--and confidence that the project is going well. 


When There Are No Words. When absolutely no words are coming from brain to page, I have learned its OK to walk away, even if I've only been at it for 45 minutes. Very likely I'll be back with more energy in a few hours.  Sometimes, the feeling of burnout from editing is so extreme that I have to take a full day, or even a weekend off. I consider these breaks the equivalent of respite care. At such times, I allow myself sleep, even in the daytime, and activities that are supremely relaxing. Because I don't know what really will work to change my mindset, I pack my weekend with a variety of escape activities. For instance: one exercise walk, plus half an hour in the pool. A phone call to a friend, and three reading a good book from start to finish. I might bake a cake or put on a 90s funk playlist and dance for a while. The only stuff I stay away from are screens--phone screens, laptop screens, iPads, and TVs. The point is to detach from screens.

These insights  feel very fresh. Three days ago, I turned in the line-edit of my fourth Perveen Mistry novel. Although I'm very excited about this book, for most of the last four months it felt like a monster was living inside my laptop, taking the fun and freedom out of my life. I thought the book controlled me; but it turns out, that by taking care of myself, I got back the control. 


So what's next? I'm using my high-cortisol morning hours in the garden, ripping through weeds and planting new perennials in the bare spots. In the afternoon, I have cold coffee over ice cream. I am thinking of watching a very cozy British gardening show and baking a cake, and of meeting two friends to see Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris followed by a ladylike restaurant dinner.

Above all, I won't make myself feel pressured to do fiction work of any sort for a few days. I am steadfast about recognizing that finished a long task and don't have it hanging over me anymore. I remind myself that the life of a professional writer is an endless circle of creating, editing, and dreaming. Each stage has its glories and terrors—and it will always pass. 

Sujata will interview Ramona Emerson about her debut mystery, Shutter, on Saturday Aug 27, 2022, at an in-person book signing at Politics and Prose in Washington DC at 3 p.m. EDT. The event can also be live-streamed; details at the bookstore's website.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Importance of Good News

Annamaria on Monday

It's August.  It's been boiling hot.  But, for lucky me, these times have been also replete with lovely opportunities to spend time with friends, to enjoy outdoor theater, and to drive back roads through green places.  Mellow is the lovely word that describes my past few weeks. 

I want to hang on to that.  My blog today speaks to that end.

In the past few days, while keeping more or less minimal track of the news, I heard a piece by a journalist that I want to share with you.

His name is David Bornstein and he is the Founder of The Solutions Journalism Network.  Here is what he had to say on this past weeks' aptly named "Brief But Spectacular" episode on PBS News.  What he offers is a clear, compelling rationale for why journalists should cover, not only the horrors of life, but also efforts that people are making that solve problems.  Please take the next less than four minutes needed to hear what he has to say:

You can learn more about his organization here.

And here:

The steps he suggests are not pie in the sky.  Helping people learn about improvements and solutions will make the difference between HOPE and HOPELESSNESS, to my way of thinking, ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

From Frogs to a Three-Legged Stool

Traditional Housewarming Gifts from Around the World

Zoë Sharp


When I discovered that my fellow Murder Is Everywhere blogger, Susan Spann, moved into a new house last week, it started me thinking about new homes in general, and housewarming gifts in particular.


Some of the traditions for welcoming someone to their new home seem fairly universal. Others are far more specific to different countries or regions. 

General Welcome Gifts

A broom, to help sweep away evil, or perhaps simply so that your home will always be clean.


A coin, for good fortune. (In some countries, such as the Philippines, scattering coins into the living room is thought to bring riches into the home.)


A candle, so the house will always be lit. Some traditions place emphasis on the lighting of a candle in the new home to dispel evil spirits and banish darkness.


Wood, for peace and stability.


A houseplant, to symbolise life.


Olive oil, which is either so your lamps will always be full and therefore your home will always have light, or to bless the occupants with well-being and health.


It’s also traditional to give bread, so the house will never know hunger.

Salt, to bring luxury and flavour to life. (In Poland, it’s traditional for both sets of parents of a newly married couple to give them bread and salt on the doorstep of their new home.)


Honey, or sugar, for sweetness.


And wine, standing for hope, good cheer, and a lack of thirst.

Other Foods and Plants

In India, boiling milk and rice together is believed to bring long life and prosperity to the new home. If the new homeowners are hoping to have children, however, uncooked rice has been given since ancient times to symbolise fertility and an abundance of love.


To the Greeks, the pomegranate has been sacred for many centuries and has come to represent fertility, abundance, and wealth. Even better than the fruit would be a pomegranate plant—climate permitting—so the homeowner can enjoy a future supply of pomegranates.

In Germany, the oak tree has traditionally been held in high esteem, so acorns were often placed on windowsills to ward off evil spirits.


In the UK, the Tree of Life is said to have particular meaning, as a reminder of the connectedness of all things, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. Not that people often gift entire trees, but a plaque, or trivet—like the one below from Shared Earth—would satisfy both a gift of the tree and of wood.


I’m informed that, in Scotland, the frog is considered a traditional good luck symbol. And in China, money frogs or toads—holding a coin in their mouths—are placed near the entrance to the house, or in an elevated place in the southeast corner of a room, which is considered the wealth corner. To activate your good luck, tie a red ribbon around your chosen amphibian’s neck as well as placing the coin in its mouth.


Because cows are considered sacred in India, a common housewarming tradition is to walk a cow around the outside of the house.

Whereas, in Russia, allowing a cat to be the first to cross the threshold is believed by many to bring good luck to the new home. Apparently, one of Russia’s banks used to hire out the services of a cat for a couple of hours to anyone who took out a mortgage with them. If you are already staff to your own cat, however, that would probably be a lot easier.

In Germany, roosters are thought to have the gift of warding off evil and warning away trespassers, although a symbolic rooster may be more acceptable to your neighbours these days.


Other Objects

Throughout Asia, the ringing of a bell inside a new house is traditional, to clear the rooms of any remaining bad luck or dying Chi, and bring new energy into the home.

Anything in red is considered lucky in China, and gifts of money often come in red envelopes. Gold is also considered lucky, as is anything that comes in a pair, such as earrings, or gloves. And if the gifts also have representations of oysters or dragons, so much the better.


In Kenya, a three-legged stool is a traditional housewarming gift, and one was given to Barack Obama by Kenyan family members when he took office for the first time as US president.

In France, a traditional part of celebrating a new house is the changing of the chimney hook, known as pendaison de crémaillère. The chimney hook hangs in the open fireplace, and was used to suspend a cooking pot over the fire. Changing the hook signified the start of the thank-you meal to those who had helped the new homeowners.

I’m sure I have missed out plenty of traditions, so please do let me know more!


This week’s Word of the Week is myrmidons, from the Greek myrmidones, a follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly. According to Greek legend, the Myrmidons were fierce warriors who fought under Achilles in the Trojan Wars. Originally from the island of Aegina, they were created from a colony of ants (murmekes) to repopulate the island after a plague had killed nearly all of its inhabitants.