Periodic Stories

Last week I uploaded the 12th entry in the Periodic Table Mysteries: The Magnesium Murder, a novella.

In THE MAGNESIUM MURDER, freelance embalmer Anastasia Brent is called to help solve the murder of a bride-to-be. Mortician Frank Galigani of Revere Massachusetts makes a brief appearance! Now available in digital form at: Amazon.com

Here’s a link to the latest 4 stories in the series (following 8 novels, from Hydrogen to Oxygen).

Science in the news

November 9 – a great day in science?

Well, not earth shattering, but notable.

Element 110 was born on 11/9/1994: DARMSTADTIUM, detected in Darmstadt, Germany, and named in 2003. Symbol Ds.

Perhaps more exciting, it’s the anniversary of Carl Sagan’s birth in 1934. Have some cake.

Quote of the week, from Sagan:

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

(Let’s think about that for a minute.)

Great Women in Science

I’m preparing for a class on Saturday, November 4 — “Great Women in Science.”*

Where to start? If I had time, I’d pop in a video of the movie “Hidden Figures” and go from there. Or maybe I’d hand out copies of my screenplay on Marie Curie’s life. (Digression – options are available if anyone has a production company. (smile))

A great resource is Rachel Ignotofsky’s WOMEN IN SCIENCE: 50 FEARLESS PIONEERS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD.

My challenge is to choose 8 or 10, to fit into a 3-hour discussion that will include such exciting information as Percent of Physics Masters and Doctorates Earned by Women.

I think I’ll start with an actress: Hedy Lamar. Lamarr was also an engineer, with a patent on technology that’s the foundation for today’s advanced wireless networks.

She set a high bar for herself:  Jack Kennedy always said to me, Hedy, get involved. That’s the secret of life. Try everything. Join everything. Meet everybody.

Who’s your favorite woman scientist? Send me your vote before Saturday morning and I’ll add to my class.

*Details on my website www.minichino.com . If you’re in the SF Bay Area, stop by!

Why a Parrot?

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for the answer to that question!

My guest today is bestselling author LOIS WINSTON. Among other credits, she’s the brains & marketing brawn behind 2 boxed sets that I’m happy to be part of: SLEUTHING WOMEN, 10 first in series mysteries, and SLEUTHING WOMEN II, 10 mystery novellas.

WELCOME, LOIS!

Book 6 in Lois Winston's Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries

“Why a Duck?” is a famous Marx Brothers routine from their 1929 movie Cocoanuts. Some readers who have read my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries have wondered, why a parrot, especially a Shakespeare-quoting one. To them I answer, “Why not?”

I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. I want my readers to laugh while trying to figure out whodunit. For that reason I have populated my books with a variety of comical characters. For instance, Anastasia’s mother and mother-in-law both live with her. Her mother is a former social secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She claims to descend from Russian nobility. Her mother-in-law is a card-carrying communist and leader of the Daughters of the October Revolution. The two women are forced to share a bedroom. Conflicts abound.

But why stop with human absurdist humor? Why not toss in a few furry and feathered housemates? So Anastasia’s mother-in-law comes with Manifesto, the dog (named for the communist treatise), and her mother has a cat named Catherine the Great. The two animals get along as well as their human mistresses.

Did I stop there? Of course not! Overseeing the constant household shenanigans is Ralph, an African Grey parrot with an uncanny knack for squawking situation-appropriate quotes from the Bard. Ralph popped into my head one day as I was fleshing out Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series. I had recently seen a news story about a parrot with a huge vocabulary. The bird basically could carry on conversations with his owner. Why Shakespeare? Again, why not? You have to admit, it’s totally absurd, and that’s what I was going for.

I developed the Anastasia Pollack Mysteries after September 11th. I had previously written dark romantic suspense, but I no longer wanted to write dark. There was enough dark in the real world. I needed an escape from reality, and I figured others probably did as well. With everything going on in the world today, I still need that escape. If you do, too, I have just the prescription for you—Anastasia and her zany household.

Scrapbook of Murder

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

Buy Links:

Kindle http://amzn.to/2ffIMgy

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/scrapbook-of-murder

iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/scrapbook-of-murder/id1286758416?mt=11

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/scrapbook-of-murder-lois-winston/1127145157?ean=2940158851896

Paperback http://amzn.to/2y2Omhl

LOIS WINSTON

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Theory of Dollhouses

PLAYHOUSE

Here’s my latest “dollhouse,” almost ready for departure to a local school raffle, an annual project for me.

Technically, this house is a PLAYHOUSE, not an official DOLLHOUSE, the difference being that one couldn’t really live in a house with a partial roof and rooms not fully enclosed by walls. Not that you could live in a dollhouse, but it looks like you could!

1/12 scale DOLLHOUSE (1 INCH TO 1 FOOT)

The rooms in a playhouse are easily accessible to young hands, to toddlers who might want to move things around. A dollhouse is more of a showpiece, meant to draw you in so that you feel you have entered a different world. You can imagine yourself sitting at the miniature table, taking a nap on the bed.

The play house pictured came ready-to-assemble, and accompanied by dolls. Ugh, dolls. Here’s why dolls are ugh-ly – they ruin the fantasy. You can tell by looking at these dolls that they’re not real. They can’t comfortably sit in the tub (middle right of the playhouse); their stiff hands can’t pick up the can of soda on the table (lower right of the playhouse). They don’t bend for the rocker or the couch. Never mind that they are simply painted wood.

So here’s what I do with the dolls – I steal their clothing, which does happen to be “real” – real fabric. Yes, I strip them and fling their clothing around the houses, as real people might do. You can see a sample in the bunk-bed bedroom of the playhouse, where a pink jacket from a girl doll has been thrown on the floor. Now the house looks lived in, but more important it looks like you live there.

COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Breaking the Egg, by William Hogarth.*

October 12 used to be a fun holiday. Christopher Columbus Day! Parades! A reason to celebrate in my Italian-American neighborhood.

Today, not so much.

Many years ago, before most towns, Berkeley, California changed the text for its parking meter holidays from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People Day.”

It’s been hard for me to adjust.

One of the first passages we had to memorize in Italian class as 6th graders was Cristoforo Colombo nacque a Genova nel mille quattrocento cinquanto due (his birthdate 1452, now disputed by a year or two). . . followed by accounts of his successful excursions and discoveries and feats of valor. No one ever mentioned his arrest for abuse of power, his presiding over a massive slave trade, or even that the Vikings may have gotten here before him.

A statue of Columbus stands outside St. Anthony’s Church in Revere, Massachusetts, where I was born (nacque in Revere nel mille novecento ??) My childhood friends and I always thought he was a saint, of equal stature with St. Anthony of Padua, who stood on the other side of the entrance.

In Revere, the tradition continues to this year, with a Columbus Day parade. If I can find a photo, I’ll add it! If you have one, please add it!

* Read the apocryphal story of Columbus breaking the egg.

My Dog is Friendly

First, a caveat: I didn’t do this research, nor did I sponsor it in any way. I’m really just passing it on.

The RAND study found no evidence that children from pet-owning families were better off in terms of their mental well-being or their physical health. (Click on the image to read the article.)

I could quit here, but this is only one of my points. The rest have to do with other myths:

1. Pets give children a chance to take responsibility caring for the animal.

Well, yes, but I’ve yet to see a kid actually assume responsibility for the animal more than ~5% of the time.  In one case, a cat owner I know left her cat with her mother when she went off to college, with instructions on what to do with it.

2. Pets provide unconditional love.

True, but how is that a good thing once you pass the age of 2? How does this teach a kid reciprocation, the idea that it’s as important to give as well as receive? And not just on the kid’s terms.

And I’m disturbed by memes claiming that pets are “part of the family” or even “more caring than people.” Do we really need that in today’s world? Shouldn’t we be sure every human is taken care of before we put pets out in front? Another study found that half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household. That study was 8 years old; I’ll bet the number is higher now.

3. Pets are loyal.

Only as long as you feed them.

I cringe when I see photos of small children, even infants next to an animal three or more times their weight. All it would take would be one innocent move by the child to aggravate the pet and there would be sorrow in that household. And yes, I’ve seen that happen—an unfair competition between an up-to-then beloved family doberman and a two-year-old. For another, more famous example, recall the story of the silverback gorilla and the toddler in the Cincinnati Zoo last year—even granting the gorilla’s best intentions of taking care of the child, the protective arm of a 400-lb animal can be lethal to the child. Who was to blame for this? I say: the zoo. Why do we have them? But maybe that’s another blog.

The solution: leave animals to other animals. Nature will take care of them. It’s hard to carry out this philosophy. Even though I don’t linger outside (that’s “their” domain), it’s difficult to avoid pets. It’s my theory that animals would prefer this. I know of 2 large dogs that are in cages all day while their owners work. One parent told me the dogs like the cages. Oh, and is the horse that’s sailing down the freeway also happy? In many ways, non pet owners are kinder to the animal kingdom.

When one is outside my local coffee shop for example, essentially taking up the whole sidewalk, I step off the curb and cut a wide swath around it, preferring a sideswipe from a vehicle to contact with a dog.

Often the owner senses the reason for my maneuver and says, “He’s very friendly.”

“That’s the problem,” I say.

I’m not sure the owner understands this — it’s not that I’m afraid of getting bitten by an animal (though, that too), I don’t want it to touch me. To nuzzle, to drool, to pee on me, or to run its fur anywhere near me. Who knows what normal reflex on my part will send the pet into untamed mode?

And now for a PET PEEVE. (groan) Why do authors feel the need to tell you what pets they have? You know what I mean: ” . . . lives in Vermont with her husband and large pit bull.” If this to keep aggressive fans away, I get it. But what about “lives in Iowa with his wife, two children, and a tiny purse dog?” Do they think we’ll like them better if they not only write excellent books, but also rub noses with the lesser species? Why not something like “lives in Brooklyn with his partner, with whom he shares a couch.” Oh, never mind.

I know I risk losing friends, but it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of that RAND study. And as always, I’m happy to hear counter arguments.

Male or Female?

Teaching an international student body in two online science courses, I often don’t know the gender of some of my students. At first this was disconcerting. How could I know how to respond to a posting if I didn’t know whether it came from a man or a woman?

Girl or Boy?

I’ve had students with first names such as Xjigme, Myint-San, Widya, Lieu, and many more that are unpronounceable and unidentifiable as to gender. I can only do so much to encourage them to post a photo. In the past, I’d study the postings to see if he or she would refer to a wife or husband. But that’s no longer a clue.

Many “American” names are gender-neutral also. Was the Sean I had last term a girl, like the actress Sean Young, or a guy, like the actor Sean Penn? How about Lee? Female Lee Harris or male Lee Marvin? What about Alex? Casey? And fuggedabout Chris and Dana.

Every year that I’ve taught these classes in cyberspace, there’s at least one student whose gender I never learn, not even as I assign the final grade.

The Implorer by Camille Claudel, sculptor (1856–1943)

I had my own name trauma when I was 5 or 6. My family was on a trip up by the East Coast Canadian border. Some French-ish guy named Camille had the nerve to tease me by claiming I had a man’s name. Wah! He ignored my cries and pointed out Camille Henry, Camille Saint-Saens, Camille Pissaro, Camille Corot. Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to match him with Camille Claudel, Camille Paglia, Camille Guaty, or Greta Garbo (OK, that was a fictional role, but still.)

Back to my class rosters, eventually, I realized that it shouldn’t matter whether I’m reading the postings or the quiz answers supplied by a man or a woman. How does it help to know the gender perspective of a person if the issue is nuclear power or gene therapy or bitcoins or the Higgs boson?

Maybe it doesn’t.

One-offs

Another repost from LadyKillers — they do come up with the best topics!

One-off: done, made, or happening only once and not repeated.

Possibly the story of my life. Once I’ve “done” something, I don’t want to do it again. There are so many other things to do that first time.

This can be good, when it comes to a marriage, for example. But for other projects, results vary.

I blame my Gemini beginnings—by some readings, we’re “restless and distracted.” Not the kind of person who can do the same thing twice.

In my knitting days, this was borne out by the fact that if I wanted to make a pair of mittens, I had to do it with both mittens on the needles at the same time. Otherwise, there was a good chance the second would never get made. The same with socks. My best products were one-offs: ponchos (yes, it was the sixties); hats; scarves. Especially scarves, since I could quit whenever I wanted to.

My husband, an engineer whose favorite thing to do is something he’s already done over and over, says I’m not a finisher, thus compounding my one-off personality trait. (It’s also said that Geminis can’t do the same thing once.)

By contrast, the Cable Guy, as I call my husband (he who will not be named on social media), is an obsessive finisher. Case in point: We both do crossword/crostic puzzles. Once I know what the theme of the puzzle is and I know I could finish it, I’m done (see definition of One-off, above). The Cable Guy on the other hand, is not finished until he puts that final letter in place, even though he crinkles it up and tosses it away immediately after.

The same goes for jigsaw puzzles, even though—hello? the picture is on the cover!

The Cable Guy never tires of asking me, “Aren’t you going to finish that?”

“I’m done,” I say, but not every time.

Multitasking

Topic of the week: Who doesn’t multitask?

There are a few ways to do it.

1. How to multitask a movie.

For example, say you think you’ve earned a couple of hours for a movie. Before you sit down with a cup of coffee, you

• put in a load of clothes

• start a soup in the crock pot

• set the timer for a pan of hard boiled eggs

• make sure a pad of paper and pen are handy for notes for:

– to do list

– critique of movie for:

— blog

— writing class

• set timers for laundry, soup, eggs

• have pile of magazines handy for sorting

and during the movie

• watch for useful tips for:

– writing class or

– your next short story

• grab a dust cloth and clean up the small table next to you, including:

• pull the odds and ends container onto your lap and

– sort out the nailclippers from the vitamins, etc.

• whisk off the cloth and arrange a clean one on the table

then

relax with cold coffee during the last 10 minutes of the movie

Not an uplifting news segment

2. Watching the news.

It’s harder to multitask on your own while watching the news, because they do it for you. Here’s a typical screen from CNN.

In the one second that this frame is showing, I’m getting 15 pieces of information:

• the voice of the anchor woman

• an image of the guest

• audio from the guest

• the name and affiliation of the guest

• the time zone the guest is in

• the time zone the anchor is in

• separate image of the content of the interview, which includes:

– a video connected to the content

— ID of video provider

• a video and captions of separate news item (Irma in FL)

• a thick banner with a summary statement from the AMB

• a scroll along the bottom with information on donations

• a small box with Dow Jones info toggling with time

A few seconds later I saw

• a pop up with COMING SOON (documentary on Reagan)

• news of a royal pregnancy

3. Computer Multitasking

I have 2 monitors in front of me.

Monitor #1 has

• list of writing students and status of submissions

• record and schedule of blogs

• handy addresses/phone #s

• Word doc for science students needing attention

Monitor #2 has

• docs being worked on

• folders with open projects

• email open

• FB open (in case of emergency)

I’m exhausted just writing this. I’m going to relax and fold a pile of clothes while I stir the soup and finish a chapter for tomorrow’s book club.