You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Monday Dialogue with Guests’ category.
Whenever I mention mermaids, I notice the emergence of Duchenne smiles on the faces of all the men in my circle.
What is a Duchenne smile?
Very simply, it is a smile that is characterized by the raising of the lip corners which in turn raise the cheeks and form crow’s feet around the eyes. French physician Guillaume Duchenne first recognized this smile while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid 19th century. According to Duchenne, that distinctive smile is associated with a strong positive emotion.
My conclusion—21st century men are still intrigued by those Sirens of Greek mythology, preferring to focus on their physical beauty and enchanting songs. I imagine that male minds can easily conjure up images of wavy auburn tresses, mesmerizing green eyes and a curvaceous body. Very few men recall the less-than-enchanting stories about mermaids distracting people from their work and causing them to walk off decks or run their ships aground. Or even worse, squeezing the life out of men and drowning them out of spite.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus went to great lengths to avoid being seduced by the hypnotic music of the Sirens. He ordered his men to stuff balls of wax into their ears while approaching the Sirens’ island off the coast of Greece. And he tied himself to the ship’s mast so he would not be able to jump off, swim to shore or do anything that would endanger his own life or that of the crewmen. According to Greek legend, Odysseus is the only man in the world who actually heard the Sirens sing and lived to tell about it.
It is not surprising that women considered Sirens (mermaids) serious rivals for the affections of their partners and feared they would transform their men into mermen. But rejecting or injuring a mermaid could bring misfortune to the man and possibly the entire coastline.
The Sirens featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, however, bear no resemblance to their predecessors. In fact, many mermaid enthusiasts were shocked by these scaly and hideous creatures, considering this break in the traditional beauty of the Sirens almost blasphemous.
I was amused by the “mermaid” sighting in George Clooney’s 2001 film, Oh Brother Where Art Thou. A loose take on Homer’s Odyssey, Clooney plays Everitt Ulysses McGill, one of three inmates on a prison chain gang who escape in search of a $1.2 million treasure. While on their quest, they encounter three quasi-mermaids doing their wash while singing with a delightful country and western vibe.
In Between Land and Sea, I introduce a different kind of mermaid, one not so young and not so beautiful. But one that will appeal to a broad demographic of women, offering hope and inspiration to anyone who has been dumped, deceived or demoted.
My advice to the men with Duchenne smiles…
Why not pick up a copy of Between Land and Sea for the woman in your life and sneak a peek?
After giving up her tail for an international banker, Isabella of the Mediterranean kingdom is aged beyond recognition. The horrified banker abandons her on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England, leaving her to face a difficult human journey as a plain and practically destitute fifty-three-year-old woman.
With the help of a magic tablet and online mermaid support, Isabella evolves into the persona of Barbara Davies. Along the way, she encounters a cast of unforgettable characters, among them former mermaids, supportive and not-so-supportive women, deserving and undeserving men, and several New Agers.
My debut novel, Between Land and Sea, a paranormal romance about a middle-aged mermaid, has just been released by Soul Mate Publishing.
I live and write in Guelph, Ontario.
Where to find Joanne…
At the center of New York’s intellectual life in the in the 1920’s and early 30’s, Dorothy Parker was regaled as the wittiest woman in America. She was not yet twenty-seven. An indisputable Dame of Dialogue, every bright saying of the day was attributed to her. Cracking wise on any and all subjects, as a theater critic her reviews could be biting. Underwhelmed with Katharine Hepburn’s run in a play, she quipped that Hepburn’s performance “ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.” Always clever and often bawdy, when asked to use horticulture in a sentence she offered, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” She knew everyone who was anyone in New York, and everyone wanted to know her.
Her bright, sharp, and funny writing belied her early life. Her mother died when Parker was an infant and she was terrified of her father, exacting, aloof and demanding. He took a second wife whose idea of mothering consisted of having Dorothy walk around for hours with a book on her head to maintain good posture. Could that have been why she ended up so bookish? Petite, soft of voice, and with excellent manners drummed into her by her hated stepmother, whom she called “the housekeeper,” she was “fired” from Catholic school after she referred to the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion.”
She was the only female at the fabled Algonquin Round Table—a table at the hotel reserved for the literary gurus of New York—Robert Benchley and Harold Ross among the regulars, drawn together by their genuine admiration for each other and a passion for the English language. Taste makers all, their clever repartee around the table was followed by late night reveling at one or another’s apartments—not Parker’s, she hardly ever had anyone over, her place spare but unkempt (she had dogs but never trained them).
At first glance shy and retiring, she gave off an innocent and almost helpless aura, but Parker was anything but. She smoked, worked for a living and went to the theater unchaperoned, A New Woman of the 1920’s, she dominated every room she walked into. Enjoying her fame on the one hand, she disparaged and mocked it on the other. The seeming epitome of the carefree good-time twenties, her wit masked an underlying sadness about love and life in general. She attempted suicide twice. “Coda” typifies some of her melancholy, masked by wit.
There’s little in taking or giving,
There’s little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living,
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top.
For art is form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of throwing the battle—
Would you kindly direct me to hell?
Popular among men, having no female confidants—one friend said she had the mind of a man imprisoned in a woman’s body—she was perceived as different from other women. Her attitude toward children was one that most twentieth-century women could not imagine; she claimed she didn’t want a child. And yet, true to the contradictions in her life, she yearned for children, masking that yearning in sharp-tongued jibes against those who had them, and the little ones themselves, so people would not think of her as sentimental.
As an author—two volumes of short stories and three of poetry—Parker’s output was small but her influence on the literary world was enormous. In 1929 she won the prestigious
O. Henry prize for her short story “Big Blonde”, establishing her as a serious prose artist and spearheading a new kind of writing. Her language, spare and direct, her characters think and speak in the way real people of their time and class.
A party girl of the 1920’s, “Big Blonde’s” Hazel Morse presents a sad and biting view of a woman’s life in an era often considered both fun and liberating for women. But Morse doesn’t appear to be liberated or having fun. Rendered as both tragic and pathetic, she builds her life around her looks and being a “good sport,” to endear herself to men. Did Parker see herself as tragic and pathetic? Though their intellects and life-styles were worlds apart, there are strong parallels between them. Their public happy-go-lucky personae masked their private sadness, their brief, disillusioning marriages, a string of unsatisfying love affairs and their attempted suicides. We can only imagine what finally happened to Hazel Morse, but Dorothy Parker died when she was seventy-three, alone, in a hotel, of a heart attack.
Rather than imagining, I drew on my own life when I wrote the short story “Keria”* soon after my mother died, bringing back my family history and my father’s working life in the needle trades. And it occurs to me now, that though my life and Parker’s are also worlds apart, we too have something in common. Both our fathers worked in the garment industry, hers as a manufacturer, mine, as a pattern maker/dress designer. Like me, Parker drew from personal recollection when she wrote that Hazel worked in a “dress establishment,” as I did in “Keria,” having my father knowing “more about a dress than a dress knew,” coming alive after mourning for my mother by talking, dresses, on the phone with a colleague. Making me think further, that one way or another, we Dames all have something in common.
*Keria is a Hebrew word referring to the ancient rite of tearing one’s clothing in an expression of grief and anger at the loss of a loved one.
Alterations is a short story collection about little girls and adolescents, a teenager, a father, a son, grown women, characters from different types of families and mindsets, their loving and sometimes mysterious bonds, who are altered by their circumstances as they make their way through life.
Alterations is available in eBook and trade paperback from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Pl.ush/dp/1938758153/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
From Barnes & Noble in eBook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alterations-rita-plush/1115410411?ean=2940016704166
Visit www.ritaplush.com for more information about Rita.
For all the Dames out there who, besides reading Lily Steps Out, would like to listen to the novel, leave a comment, I’ll pick a winner and send you instructions for a free audio.
To begin a work that involves this, I think a writer needs to have a solid grasp on her sense of relationship. Without others in my life to challenge, push and inspire me simply by being their natural selves, I’d have nothing to offer as a writer. Maybe I should scratch that term. Writer. Perhaps it’s best someone who writes should act more as a storyteller when writing about people they know.
Across all genres it’s crucial to recognize that writing a character well is predicated upon knowing character through comparison. It’s a no-brainer in nonfiction, I argue. In poetry it’s the same scenario, that seeing a study as target for creation is based on how one understands someone else versus how she understands herself. This applies in fiction, too. Even in paranormal horror, dystopian literature, YA, children’s books, acknowledging differences and similarities connecting creator and created is how the relationship between reader and story takes hold. It has to come from the author first. Call it purity, if you will.
To make this clearer I have to use myself as example. I write fiction, memoir/personal essay and poetry. My debut novel is first-person. My second novel (currently with publishers) is third-person. My poetry collection is conversational and embraces the elements of a certain style of living. My second poetry collection speaks more to the exploration of human experience beyond what goes on in just my head. And the nonfiction book I’m writing now is just me, “speaking” casually as I’m doing now. Throughout them all, I’m involving someone if not a group of someones I know. They’re almost always aware of it.
Are you ever challenged by a person to write about them? It’s happened to me excessively. Sometimes people request an homage, while other times people say, “I better watch myself around you. You’ll write about me.” The academic response? Duh. For me most often it’s followed by the thought, “So stop being an ass.” Or don’t stop. If you’re a brilliant addition to what I’m writing, be yourself and I’ll be truthful. And I’ll be kind about how I apply that truth. That’s most important. Kindness in application. Truth is what it is on its own.
There’ve been instances where I’ve changed names in all my work. Not because what I was writing was offensive or set to embarrass someone, but rather, it was because we just didn’t get along well enough for me to ask if I could leave their names as is. As writers, most of us are broke and can’t sue, but you never know who’s got a trust fund and wants to own your happiness if not that and your royalties. And I write about everyone around me because I’m in a constant state of fascination, watching others do things my life direction and schedule don’t allow. But consideration is necessary.
I’ll use my mother and my husband to explain further. I’ve been writing at a somewhat professional level for ten years. Across this time my mother has asked what is now the age-old question, “When are you ever gonna write something about your ol’ Mom?” The thing is, I have and I do. She knows this. Yet she wants her image presented through her lens but my fingertips, so she’s in perpetual disagreement with me when she reads my poems and fiction. I think she’ll love the nonfiction book, because I write of her as a challenging person to have been raised by but also I respect and love her for her sacrifices and the unfazed, unknowable love a mother has for her child. So there’s a deep affection and fondness behind what I write when I write her. Because it’s mutual, that love and how unpredictably it expresses itself. As for my husband, he reads everything I write, usually by force. He dislikes half, but I don’t write for him. He knows this. Sometimes he’ll tell me, after reading a story or a poem, that he didn’t really say something a certain way, or I presented an incorrect tone when telling of one of our interactions. Other times he wakes me up to say, “It was beautiful, baby. I loved it.”
Point is it’s all a gamble. But to know where you stand with your work and those it represents, you have to be honest. Nothing matters more beyond this.
Damon Ferrell Marbut is a novelist and poet living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is author of the acclaimed coming-of-age novel, Awake in the Mad World and the collection of poems, Little Human Accidents released through Bareback Press in Canada. Connect with him at www.damonferrellmarbut.com and http://www.facebook.com/DamonFMarbut
It’s November, so I thought I’d give you a shot of summer to tide you over for just a little while.
I’m going to write about how to jazz up your photographs of flowers. Don’t worry, though: this isn’t going to be about f-stops and apertures and film speed. (Film? What’s that?)
Instead, it’ll be for all the point-and-shoot photographers out there, people like me with camera phones.
Everybody I know loves flowers, and it’s always tempting to take pictures of them. Most of my own flower shots were disappointing, though.
I took most of my flower photos standing, shooting from a distance.
Pretty, but basically boring, like this photo of lavender in my back yard.
So what happens if I change my angle?
Get down in the weeds next to the flowers and shoot from there?
Or if I shoot from directly above?
Much more interesting things happen.
Here’s a shot of the same lavender; it almost looks like it’s in 3D.
Here’s another shot, a different angle on a newly-budded pink geranium.
Check out the light – much more interesting than shooting down at the flowers, isn’t it?
The petals almost seem to glow.
Light is always an issue in photographs, especially with flower photographs.
Overcast or indirect light is much softer than direct sunlight. Check out these two photographs: (#4 & #5)
The first was taken in harsh, direct sunlight, the second in softer light from an overcast sky. Sometimes you have no choice in light selection, but if you must photograph flowers in direct sunlight, go for the “magic hours,” the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The angle of the light is longer, the light softer and somehow richer.
Or this shot of a white-lined sphinx moth sipping whatever it is they sip from petunias. I got this shot just after dusk with a flash.
Or this shot of a pink petunia after a sun shower. The water adds interest to a very basic photograph and the glints of light off the drops add depth to the shot.
You can take a series of photos of your flowers, following them from bud to full flower and past.
The plant’s cycle is so much more interesting than a single shot of this sunflower in bloom.
(Photos 10, 12 and 12a)
Background, in most photos, is important.
For flowers, try to find a background that showcases your blooms.
It’s best if it’s not busy. If it is, it competes with the flower for the attention of the viewer.
All in all, closer is, I think, better than farther away, especially because flowers are so delicate, have so many intricate parts.
So, to summarize, here are a few “rules” I’d suggest for better photographs of flowers:
1) Indirect light is best, but the “magic hours” are a close second.
2) Close-ups are usually better than shots taken from farther away.
3) Vary your angle. Get down!
4) Choose the simplest background for a greater focus on your flower.
5) For additional interest, try to include something BESIDES the flower.
When the first flowers bloom next spring, I hope you’ll use some of these tips to help your own photographs. Until then, have a great winter!
Karen E. Hall, environmental engineer, amateur photographer and writer, is the author of two Hannah Morrison mysteries, Unreasonable Risk (http://tinyurl.com/lqrxxht) and Through Dark Spaces (http://tinyurl.com/6sm8eyv). She writes about environmental issues—and women working in what are traditionally male occupations. Her next Hannah Morrison mystery will be set in the wild west of the Bakken Oil Fields of northwestern North Dakota. You can find out more about Karen at her website: http://www.karenehall.com.
For most of my life I’ve been a master procrastinator. I always thought my gift for magnificent starts, and nothing finished, meant that I possessed an inadequate muse.
I thought my muse was flighty, a little bit fickle, bouncing from idea to idea with a curiosity bump that would do a cat proud. I was wrong. I have a powerful muse; firing ideas at me at such velocity I think I should wear a mental baseball mitt.
In order to get in touch with my muse, and perhaps increase my control of it, I named it Victor. Why, you might ask? Because he revealed himself to me in a dream; and he looked very much like a young Victor Petrenko, the figure skater. I don’t argue with the muse.
Controlling a muse feels very much like getting on a bucking bronco. Screw your hat on tight, grip as hard as you can, and hang on for the ride.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was serving not one muse; but two. To complicate matters even more, the second muse doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my thirty-three year old son, Joshua.
Josh was born with cerebral palsy. He’s non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and incredibly bright. He possesses more drive, determination, and creativity than I ever dreamed of. I discovered his love of art by accident.
For a lot of reasons, my husband and I decided to home school Josh when he was in his early teens. I also decided to take a watercolor art class in an attempt to relieve stress. Josh would watch me paint, and one day he got angry.
When I looked at him I saw him looking at my paper, then he looked at his fist, then back at my paper. He was telling me, as well as he could, he wanted to paint. I set him up with paper and paint and thought he’d be happy to finger paint.
I was wrong. He threw a major tantrum complete with a lot of leg kicking and guttural vocalization. Slowly, he looked at his hand, then my paintbrush, then back at his hand. I understood then that he wanted to paint pictures, not play with paint. An artist muse was making itself heard.
From that moment on, I started to serve two muses creating a whole new set of problems. Before, I had a writing muse that loved new ideas, interesting characters, plots that excited and energized me.
Josh possessed a drive to paint. I could feel an intense want-to pour from him. When I would write, I could feel his eyes boring into me; willing me to get done so he could have his turn.
When I helped Josh work on his artwork, I could feel Victor, my writing muse, nagging at me; throwing ideas at me, tempting me with new scenes, new ideas. The constant pull never leaves me.
I struggle every day to keep work time fair. I need to write. The need eats at me, nibbling with unceasing vigor. It’s a strong enough emotion to be uncomfortable.
Josh’s need to paint never leaves him. His paintings hang on our walls; they are strewn around the living room in various stages of completion. His flowers light up my walls like an unending reminder of summer blooms.
His newer works, a mix of abstract and impressionism, exude power. They draw my eyes and follow me wherever I move; a silent reminder that an art muse is in the room.
In order to get my writing time, I get up at 5:30 in the morning. Josh doesn’t usually get up until 9am which gives me a reliable three and a half hours a day that belong to me. If I’m good, and use the time for writing, Victor can usually be controlled. He cooperates with the rest of my day.
In the afternoon, Josh gets his time. In all, on a good week, he can get about fifteen hours of painting time. But life seldom goes as planned. Life interrupts. And when that happens, Josh and I scramble to keep up with our muses.
When deadlines loom, either a writing deadline, or an art show, we resort to the kitchen timer. I set it for the full hour and we trade off; one hour for him, one hour for me. Sometimes, that’s the only way I can keep it fair.
It’s not comfortable serving two muses. It’s like having an unbearable itch that you can never scratch. But it’s also exciting, energizing, and wonderful. When I see a new painting come from the brush of my son, I feel as much pride as I do when I have a new book go live.
I don’t argue with the muse. And I certainly don’t go up against two of them. I just hang on for the ride. Visit my website at http://www.clroth.com/
They tell me I have more than a little horse blood running through my veins and it no doubt started when Santa delivered Herbie on Christmas. If I moved forward and back in the saddle, much like on a real horse, Herbie would move down the road at a child-safe speed.
Eventually I grew up and joined the ranks of the thirteen million adults in the US that the American Horse Council’s survey said considers themselves to be “horse people.”
Make note of this, writers. If you catch the attention of this large group, you stand to make some serious hay. Just because you’ve never sat on a horse, don’t walk away from this group of avid readers.
Sure, I can see you shying away from a topic you may know little about. Many writers’ sole experience with horses has been confined to merry go rounds.
It’s a fact that horse people are avid readers. They have to get down off that horse sometime and after the stall is mucked out and the tack cleaned, they’re usually too tired to do much else. Curling up with a good book is most enticing.
We all know there’s lots of good books out there to chose from. But for the thirteen million horse people, it’s a plus if that book has a horse or two trotting through it.
But you hardly know a mane from a tail, you say. Not to worry. I can guarantee that when horse folks are not actually on their horses, they’ll spend hours “talking horse” to anyone who will listen. Ask around, most likely there’s a stable in your neck of the woods. Perhaps a place that specializes in lessons. Or a stable that specializes in training young horses.
Hang out for a while. Observe what characteristics play a major role in those who have invited horses into their lives. Soak up the ambiance of a stable full of well-kept horses and the people who adore them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out the names for all the straps attached to a horse. Learn the lingo of how horse people talk among themselves about their horses.
There are lots of good stories in the makings at the other end of the equine spectrum as well. Volunteer at a therapeutic riding center. Stop in at a horse rescue. Dozens of potential stories…or background for stories are there for the taking.
I’ve amassed a sizeable file of horse-related stories. But one true-life story still gives me goose bumps.For my thirteenth birthday, I was given a horse that had been an Army Calvary horse. His brand on his neck was 1248. When I married fifteen years later, my husband was a horse trainer and judge. When I handled paper work for the horse show association, I had to write in his horse show number….1248.
Horses are not key characters in my novels set in the horse world. Rather they are the setting that adds richness to the story. Instead of being set in a teeming city or wild sea, mine settings are horse farm. Released two months ago, is my latest, Blood Hoax, a page-turning mystery with as many surprising twists as a country road.
www.PattiBrooksBooks.com Horse Powered Mysteries For the Read of Your Life.
Need some help to introduce horses in your next work? Let me know and perhaps I can get you started in the right direction.
When I decided to follow my dream and write mysteries I went with the old adage of write what you know and love. Kids and husband is fine in real life but downright boring in books so instead I went with my job and favorite vacation spot.
I adore Savannah, Georgia, and I work in an upscale consignment shop. That’s how the series Consignment Shop mysteries got started.
Consignment shopping is the fun of wearing designer clothes on the cheap. I could never afford a Coach handbag or an Armani jacket but I do love the expensive look and great quality. Most of all I love bragging to my friends how much I paid! The conversation goes something like, “Oh, isn’t that a great Kate Spade purse.” And my reply is, “I got it at the Snooty Fox for forty bucks!” instead of the usual three-hundred and fifty!
For years I shopped consignment stores then decided I needed to work at the Snooty Fox since I was there all the time looking for deals. My kids were some of the best-dressed on campus and I did it for K-Mart prices.
Don’t you love the name Snooty Fox! The Snoot is an upscale consignment shop. How many times have you bought something, wore it once, decided it wasn’t your color or didn’t fit the way you liked and you were stuck with it? Well, that’s where the Snooty Fox comes in. You can sell your green plaid jacket that you just had to have but then decided you hated at the Snoot. There is a customer out there who will love that jacket and pay you good money for it.
How this works is that you open an account and hand over your clothes. The Snoot chooses which clothes they will take…it’s called Snooty for a reason, we only take the good stuff. The clothes must be cleaned, pressed, on a hanger, gently worn, in very good condition, and within a two-year style period. The price is a third to a fourth of retail and you get half of that when the item sells. Not a bad deal for something hanging in the back of your closet that you’re never going to wear again!
Consignment shopping is a lot like solving a mystery. It’s all about the hunt for the perfect scarf, skirt or shoes. I think that’s why the Consignment Shop mysteries seemed like a perfect fit. The hunt is on!
I’m always amazed at where someone’s hobby or special interest leads them. I have a friend who loves to paint and is now doing murals on nursery room walls. Another friend loves to dance, took lessons and met her future husband at an Anther Murray studio? My neighbor loves to talk and give advice and is now a deacon at church and listens to everyone’s problems.
My cousin is neat-freak…a gene I didn’t inherit. Her place is eat-off-the-floor clean and she turned that obsession into a maid service.
So what about you and your hobbies or special interests? Did you meet a best friend doing your hobby? Your mate at a painting class? Visit a new place? Get an award for perfecting your hobby or even teach a class on it?
Hobbies enriched our lives and often take us to different places in our lives we never expected…like a murder mystery series. Who would have thought!
I’ll give away two Killer in Crinoline totes from the answers. Happy Reading.
On an Australian trip a few years ago, my wife and I went to see Uluru, generally recognized as the largest “rock” on the planet. It is difficult not to be impressed by this huge chunk of sandstone. It rises 1,142 feet above the flat, desert-like area around it. It boasts a circumference of 5.8 miles.
Besides its sheer size, in itself enough to make you just stand and stare with mouth open, another attraction is it changing colors. While basically dull, red sandstone, during the course of a day it will appear to change color, most notably becoming a glowing red at sunrise and sunset. Also unusual is its homogeneity and lack of jointing and parting. Thus, one sees no trees, bushes or anything growing on the huge expanse.
It is possible to climb to the top of Uluru, although it is a steep and difficult climb. However, Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people who claim ownership of the area, and while they do allow people to climb to the top, they also make it clear that they would rather people did not. We did not make the climb.
Although it is 280 miles from the nearest city, it has become a tourist attraction and a small community called Yulara has grown up about eleven miles by road from Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it is also known. There are hotels, restaurants and an airport, with a population around three thousand.
We chose not to stay in Yulara but rented a car and drove to Curtin Springs Cattle Station, about sixty miles to the north east. For us, this was a lucky move. We arrived there and had the impression we had stepped into the bar scene of Crocodile Dundee. The people were as rough, genuine, and fun loving as Dundee and his mates. We were told that Curtin Springs was one of the smaller cattle stations in the Red Center—only 1.3 million acres. We stayed there several nights and before we left, we were invited to the owners’ home to view photographs dating back to their first arrival at Curtin Springs.
We learned much about the Red Center of Australia, the methods of raising cattle there (different from in Texas), and Australia’s wild camel problem. Estimates of the number of camels in this area now range to somewhat over one million. You could see herds of feral camels roaming across the land and walking through fences. The camel was introduced to the area many years ago in the hope that they would provide excellent transportation across this barren land. Eventually, that was abandoned and the remaining camels turned out to run free. They have increased and multiplied and now pose a real problem to ranchers and other inhabitants of the area. Naturally we took a camel ride, but not on a wild camel.
We enjoyed all of Australia, but the Red Center and Uluru were certainly special. And our time there gave me an opportunity to work on a writing project.
Before leaving Texas for our trip “Down Under,” I had read an old Texas folktale. I wondered how a folktale could affect the lives of people today. While my wife and I explored the Red Center, I began piecing together a plot for a suspense tale that could grow out of that folktale. A Ton of Gold slowly took shape. For young Crystal Moore, a long-forgotten folktale, plus greed, brings murder, arson, and kidnapping into her life. At the same time, a man from the past who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally has come back. This time, he can wreck her career. She will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, a street-wise friend, and a 76 year-old grandmother.
A Ton of Gold, Oak Tree Press, 2013
A Ton of Gold on Amazon http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ
Callan’s website: http://www.jamesrcallan.com
Callan’s blog: http://www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Callan’s Author Page on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
The Mystery and Crime Weekend at St Hilda’s College in Oxford had its twentieth meeting this August, making it the longest running crime conference in the UK. This year’s theme was: “From Here to Eternity: The Present and Future of Crime Fiction.”
The brainchild of author Kate Charles and St Hilda’s own Eileen Roberts, the two women work all year long to bring about a comprehensive and enjoyable program with talented speakers and delicious meals. Despite not advertising or having a website, word-of-mouth from attendees has kept the program running each summer, and this year I was fortunate to travel back to Oxford, a place I love so dearly I set my first mystery amidst its glowing golden spires and ancient buildings.
St Hilda’s (that’s not a typo; the Brits don’t use a period after the “saint” abbreviation) was a women’s college until 2008, one of the smaller colleges that make up the federation that comprises Oxford University. Situated on the River Cherwell, the tower of Magdalen College is visible through the trees and rings the hours, accompanying punters on the river, their long poles pushing the flat punts quietly through the water.
Events kicked off Friday night with a champagne reception on the lawn, where I found I was one of thirty Americans out of the one-hundred-and-thirteen participants. Eighteen of us were authors, with twelve alumni, including Past Principal Lady English attending, but most were mystery readers and enthusiasts, with many repeaters. My Massachusetts flatmate, Dorothy Halmsted, had flown over for the fifteenth time.
An elegant three-course dinner was served in the main dining hall, watched over by paintings of former St Hilda’s Principals. Our after-dinner speaker, the jovial Dr. Bernard Knight, served as Wales’ Chief Home Office Pathologist and is also a lawyer, but known by this audience best for his Crowner John series, set in medieval times, and the 1950’s Richard Pryer forensic series. Dr. Knight’s talk, “A Pathologist’s View of his Fictional Colleagues” had us laughing and started the weekend off on a humorous bent, as he described what authors write in crime novels and what audiences see on television is often far from the reality in a pathology lab.
Saturday was the full day of talks, with the format of two speakers and a question and answer period to both, followed by tea or lunch, all very civilized and very accessible, as the balconied Jacqueline du Pre Music Building is small and creates a feeling of intimacy. Natasha Cooper, author of three different crime series, served as conference moderator and aptly kept questions and pacing flowing between those cups of tea in the Senior Common Room.
The day saw presentations from such crime luminaries as Frances Fyfield, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Martin Edwards, Andrew Taylor, Tom Harper and Penelope Evans, all well presented and enjoyed. Topics ranged from crime and philosophy, and what Aristotle would think of modern crime novels, to the relationship between the Golden Age mysteries and today’s crime novels. The talk by P D James received rousing applause and a standing ovation, a tribute to the 93-yr old Baroness and Queen of Mystery, frail in body but robust and engaging in mind. James spoke of the way crime novels have evolved from the days of Dorothy Sayer, Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie to the models in practice now, and how they are richer for this evolution. We met in 2000 when I interviewed her and have maintained an email correspondence in the ensuing years. This reunion was much anticipated but bittersweet due to her age.
A planned signing session for the authors before that night’s dinner had left me in a quandary. I already owned books by most of these authors, some in multiples, yet I couldn’t bring those across the pond for signing. It was the Baroness herself who gave me the solution in one of our emails before my trip: she suggested I make up labels for autographs that I could simply paste into the front of my books when I returned home. I found myself giving sheets of these to other Americans in the same position.
Saturday’s dinner was equally lavish with the speakers sitting amongst us at our tables. The after-dinner speaker this night was Priscilla Masters, author of two series with female protagonists, who described the crime-based cast of the show Strictly Come Dancing, the UK version of Dancing With the Stars. Populated by dancers such as Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s characters, she speculated on partners and the dances they would perform. The image of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot doing a fiery tango provided a lively counterpoint to our final dinner together.
Sunday’s session gave participants free time to browse the town or the bookshop in the lobby of the du Pre building, which featured new and used books as well as hardcovers and paperbacks of the speaker’s books. The conference lecture by Guest of Honour Jill Paton Walsh was titled “From Daniel to Dr Who via Aristotle,” an engrossing look at themes in crime novels. Walsh spoke passionately about writing and the reasons authors feel compelled to pursue what is often not a monetary success. Despite being a highly regarded children’s novelist and literary author, she is perhaps most recognized for finishing the last work of Sayer’s Wimsey/Vane novels and writing two subsequent volumes. My favorite part of her talk described “the novel she was meant to write,” Knowledge of Angels. Unable to find a publisher in the UK in spite of her history, she brought the novel out herself. It was subsequently shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
After our final luncheon meal, a panel discussion on the future of crime fiction closed the conference, moderated by crime reviewer Ayo Onatade and attended by bookseller Richard Reynolds, agent Broo Doherty and editor Ruth Tross. And of course, the real final event: that last cup of tea.
Due to its small size, a comfortable feeling between participants easily springs up. New friendships are made and continuing ones renewed. The sense of history in Oxford pervades the entire conference, and the accessibility to the authors is unparalleled. This may have been my first time at St Hilda’s but I sincerely hope it won’t be my last.
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England and featuring an American writer. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford; The Green Remains in Cumbria. The Scarlet Wench will be published in Spring 2014. She also writes crime book reviews at Auntie M Writes, www.auntiemwrites.com.