Dialogue with Alyx Morgan

This week, The Real Me is trying something new. My writer friend, Alyx Morgan, and I became engaged in a dialogue on Facebook, and decided to take the discussion to our blogs. Here’s the text, which will also be on Alyx’s blog tomorrow, with her comments.

Camille: What’s your response when you see people sitting at a table, each using a portable device?

What’s your response if the people are each reading a book?

What if a teenager comes to the dinner table with her phone? With a book? With knitting?

Alyx: There have recently been lots of videos posted on social media lately about the disconnectivity caused from people constantly being on their smartphones.  I’m sure you’ve seen these people; walking, head bent downward, seemingly fascinated by the small electronic device nestled between their hands.  The videos talk about putting down the phone & getting back in real touch with the world around you; your friends, nature, your community. One in particular suggests that when you “connect” with the world via your phone, you’re actually lonely, because you can edit your life into a beautiful 148 character version of what’s really happening, or a simple snapshot or meme with a few pithy words attached.  This same video, however, says that it’s not loneliness to spend time alone, reading a book, or meditating or even dining out alone, because you’re being a “productive & present, not reserved & recluse.”  Do you agree with that, or do you think you’re being just as recluse if your nose is stuck in a book as if it’s stuck staring at your screen?

Do you feel we’re more connected nowadays than before cell phones & social media, or less, or both?

Camille: Great question, Alyx. I think there’s a bigger issue around this — Ludditism! One of my missions in life has been to defend technology against bad press. When I hear someone refer to reading a “real” book, for example because they like the smell and feel, I wonder what kinds of books thehave. Mine are all just paper, and smell a lot like my Kindle.

Alyx:  I actually had to look up Luddite, Camille, to make sure I fully understood the term.  I don’t think that technology is entirely evil, but I think some people take it too far & use it too much as a way to fill up a void that they fear is there.  I think this is often the case with regards to cell phones & those who are on them constantly.  It’s like my step-daughter who says she’s bored unless we’re doing something.  There are SO many other things to spend your time on that will actually progress your life instead of just sitting around & checking & rechecking Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. for the latest funny memes or to find out what your friends are eating for lunch.

I even know some people who will have the TV on in the background (often muted) while doing something else on their computer &/or listening to music through their headphones.  That constant barrage of electronic stimuli would drive me insane.  Maybe I’m just wired in a way that it’s too much noise in my head & I want to pay attention to it all, but can’t, so I become exhausted by trying to divide my attention.

I will say that I’m of the former group with regards to books, though not quite for the same reasons.  While I definitely notice a scent to books (especially older ones), my preference is because the typeface is bigger & it’s easier for me to hold a book, rather than a small, half-inch thick device.  Plus, I stare at a computer screen all day long at, so I prefer to give my eyes a rest when reading.  I do see the benefit of being able to have 5 (or 25) books all in one small device, rather than having to lug them around on vacation, but I just don’t think I’d ever be able to do it.

Something else that drives me crazy about technology is when people who are out dining with others sit at the table with their noses buried in their cell phones.  It seems rude to me to ignore someone who’s sitting right there next to you in favor of someone who may be miles away.  What’s your take on that?

Camille: We’re not too far off, Alyx, but I admit a bias toward “the latest” and toward noise. I grew up with the sounds of people/city above, below, and around me — never lived in a single, separate house until well into middle age. So I do like the comfort of noises! I understand the need to get away from a screen, however. One reason I like my e-reader is that I can make the font as large as I need and even though it’s a screen it seems be more in my control.

As far as dinner — I think it depends on a mutually agreed upon “rules.” If I know my dinner (or shopping or driving) companion is annoyed by devices, I refrain. If I know my companion is also dying to check her email, then we go for it!

And often the connections are part of the conversation. “Oh, Ian just told me he passed his test.” or “Can you make lunch with us on the 20th?”

Alyx: I agree that if both (or all) parties are okay with it, then it’s none of my business.  My husband & I have been known to go out to dinner together & bring separate books to read.  We don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s the only time we have to read & I kind of think of it as no different than when couples read the Sunday paper together on the couch or over breakfast.  We put the books down when food arrives & relate to each other then, but we still got a little bit of down time in our fantasy worlds.

So, if you’re into the “latest”, how much time do you spend on your smartphone?  Do you spend a lot of time on social media with your smartphone?

Camille: I use my smartphone for Internet only when I’m on travel, pretty much only to check email and take pictures. My eyesight isn’t good enough to do too much FB or videos on my smartphone. Sorry I misled you about “the latest” which refers mainly to our home “entertainment” system, not portables. My husband is a retired tv engineer, so we’re the early adopters w/r satellite dishes, dvrs, and so on. Which means we’re left with a laser disc player and other now outmoded devices!

I agree about being together but engaged in something else, something that’s likely to be shared in the end, like reading a book, on screen or off. My husband and I do separate puzzles together, calling out for help from one chair to the other.

I wonder how often that’s happening when we think people are “not connecting?”

I do have one awful story about phones – a woman pushing a stroller was crossing a huge intersection in front of me not long ago as I was waiting to make a right turn, cars stacked behind me. She had one hand on the stroller and one holding the phone, her head buried in the phone. Unsafe! There’s a line to draw.

Alyx: I agree, that’s SO unsafe!  And I think that’s one of my main problems with this trend . . . people who can’t seem to take their eyes off their phones for even 5 minutes!  It’s almost like people are afraid they’ll miss something important if they focus on “mundane” things like having dinner with your family, walking, or (heaven forbid) driving!  If you’re sitting down somewhere & invested in your phone, that’s one thing (except for when parents use the phone as a babysitter for their young children), but when you’re doing some other activity, put the phone down & focus on that activity!  I promise, the message or Facebook status update will still be there when you arrive at your destination.

Camille: Yes, safety first! There’s another aspect of this, maybe for another time, and that is that often our jobs require constant availability. Even if we’re freelancing, our clients expect us to be ON all the time, for appointments, cancellations, last minute questions. There’s a different expectation than there used to be, say 20 years ago, maybe even 10. In a sense, we do run the risk of missing something if we’re around at the “right” time.

Remember to get Alyx’s take on this at https://morganalyx.wordpress.com on Friday 5/29/15.

Good riddance, Mothers Day

Another Mothers Day has passed. Whew.

I wish people would keep it to themselves. Or to their own mothers.

We’ve learned not to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. What if that barista is Jewish? Suppose the bus driver is an atheist? Not everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus.

And not everyone celebrates a mother, or even the concept of motherhood.

Some women would have liked to be a mom but it didn’t work out; why remind them? Some of us had nasty mothers or no mother at all. For others, the word “mother” conjures up bleak memories of a brutal childhood.

Doesn’t anyone remember Norman Bates? Joan Crawford?

A little sensitivity here would go a long way. There should signs reminding us: Please wish only your own mother or mother surrogate a Happy Mother’s Day.

Motherhood can be enriching for some women; for others it simply turns them more inward, toward family, to the exclusion of the wider community. I’ve seen mothers fight for their children, at the expense of other kids. I’ve heard mothers complain that their kid, one of twenty-five or thirty, gets only one twenty-fifth of the teacher’s attention. Maybe that’s the mother who should get flowers. Or maybe the women who chose to “mother” other peoples’ children, or students or nieces and nephews should get the flowers.

Motherhood and apple pie?

To sum up and perfectly ruin a good Godfather line: Leave motherhood. Keep the apple pie.

Backyard Satellite Dish Demise

GUEST BLOG today, from the Cable Guy, who presided over the decommissioning of our last satellite dish. Thanks, Cable Guy, for keeping me entertained all these years.


After over 25 years of using satellite dishes for viewing television programming, the Cable Guy has the latest big dish removed from the Real Me backyard.

(Note: the pipe remnant has been capped by an inverted Christmas tree stand.)

Previous residential sites where a big dish resided were:Over the years these three dishes served their purpose well, allowing avoidance of inferior cable TV quality and program scheduling.

Now programming is obtained by a much smaller satellite dish, which can provide better quality HDTV because of the increased power and frequencies used today. Also, broadcast reception is available from the antenna shown. The antenna is not significantly different from those used in the early 1950’s, when viewing was done on a 10 inch TV with a round screen. 

The Cable Guy has left the porch and the back yard.


Edgar® Week 2015

As promised: a pictorial summary of my week in New York for the Edgars®.

• A trip to the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle, for an amazing exhibit of paintings by photorealist Richard Estes. Here’s a shot of his Hotel Empire, oil on canvas:

• An orchestra seat (OK, the very last row!) at The Audience, starring Helen Mirren:

• The Edgar ® Banquet, black tie and glitter. And me (moderately glittery) presenting the Edgar to my new BFF, Stephen King:

• A tribute to New York’s way of dealing with trees. Instead of letting them get out of hand, trap them in beautiful art deco metal frames:

• A great traveling companion, Ann Parker, author of the award-winning Silver Rush Mysteries, shown here at the Oyster Bar in GCT:

• And when a building is high enough, add a few stories:

Start spreading the news . . .

Edgars® Past and Present

Jerry Orbach and friend at the Edgars®, early 21st century.

If scheduling went as planned: 1) last night (April 29, 2015) was the presentation of the Edgar Awards at the Mystery Writers of America banquet in NYC; 2) I was there to present the award to the winner; and 3) the world now knows the winner.

It’s not clear whether I’ll be able to post the winner here on April 30, since I’ll still be in NYC, but information should be at this link. I’ll also try to access the comments and put the information there.

Getting ready for Edgars® Present, I found this old photo of the banquet,  2001 or 2002, I believe.

I’d been General Chair of the awards and Jerry Orbach had been signed up to host the evening. Before the festivities began, I noticed Jerry sitting off to the side at a small table, by himself. What?

Now, true New Yorkers do NOT make a fuss over celebrities, but I claim right to call myself a NYer when it suits (cred: 5 years at Fordham grad school) and to call myself a fan-girl from California when that suits.

That night I put on my CA hat and went up to Jerry, told him I loved Lenny Briscoe, and enjoyed a brief conversation, after which he let me have this photo taken.

RIP, Jerry Orbach (1935-2004)

Reading a series

It’s officially released — the 8th book in the Miniature Mystery series. I’m often asked whether a reader should start with the first in the series.

Short answer: no!

Long answer: here it is.

Say you have a new friend. She’s well into middle age, and so are you (maybe). You go to lunch or to a meeting and by the way, you learn her backstory. She reveals it little by little, or a lot by a lot, depending on the circumstances. You bond over things you have in common now.

Do you feel deprived that you didn’t meet right out of the womb?

In case you don’t see where I’m going with this – and why would you?—I feel the same way about a series protagonist. In other words, I don’t have to start with A is for . . .  to enjoy my friend.

I can feel a shiver through the computer: I’m thinking of those who wouldn’t dream of launching into a series without starting at the beginning.

There has even been talk of publishers putting numbers on the spines of books for convenience. After all, who wants to start inadvertently reading a series at number 3?

But it’s no different from meeting a friend in the middle of her life. You can always go back and find out what she’s been doing before she met you. You can “track her growth” through stories, even when they’re told out of order.

Here’s why I always go for the last book of a series first.

1. Any author worth reading gets better with each book. It stands to reason that the latest book will be the best. It’s better to get hooked on the protagonist through the best book, and then go back to earlier ones. I’m more likely to forgive a few flaws in the early books if I’m already committed to the characters.

2. It’s better for the author! The publishing industry is all about “what have you done for me today?” Sales of that new book are what count. In fact, print runs are determined largely by PRE-orders. So, if book 4 is out now and I decide to go back and read book 1 first, it’s likely all over for that author/series.

3. I like to stay current. I want to read what everyone is talking about. Fellow writers, readers, reviewers will be discussing the newest book, not book 1.

4. Sometimes early books go out of print. Why deprive myself of a good book just because the series may not be complete on my shelves?

5. I’m a fan of the Fibonacci series. You can start anywhere in the series and generate other numbers in either direction.

{Fibonacci Refresher: Starting with 0 and 1, each new number in the series is simply the sum of the two before it.


If it’s good enough for Fibonacci . . .

Travel Warnings

Who doesn’t have travel stories?

Sleeping on the linoleum at Chicago’s O’Hare in the middle of a blizzard ✓; being stuck on the hotel corridor where a wedding party occupies all the other rooms and you have an 8 am presentation ✓; inspecting a nuclear power plant in a town where “good restaurant” means a choice of vending machines in the lobby of the motel, the kind of establishment where you sleep with your clothes on and your purse under your pillow ✓.

Luggage lost ✓, luggage stolen ✓.

Until my latest (April, 2015) Miniature Mystery, Manhattan in Miniature, I’ve never given any of my characters a bad travel experience. Maybe because I think every reader would be able to say: I’ve been there, and I can top that.

In fact my characters have hardly traveled at all.

It took four books to get Gloria Lamerino of the Periodic Table series out of Revere, Massachusetts. In seven books, Geraldine Porter of the Miniature Mysteries never leaves fictional Lincoln Point, California. Sophie Knowles of the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries stayed put in the Boston area through four books, except for a jaunt to New Hampshire, which hardly counts as travel.

In Manhattan in Miniature, Gerry finally returns to her roots in New York City. Here’s a taste of one of her less pleasant moments.


I still felt a little jet-lagged and tired enough to grab a few minutes of sleep. If a cab could be a phone booth, why not a bed? We were traveling slowly enough in midtown rush hour traffic. I scrunched down a bit, got comfortable, head back, legs stretched out as far as possible, volume turned to zero on the video display in front of me, then . . .


A flat tire? In the middle of the crowded Lexington Avenue? From the quick stop and words from the cabbie, words that were directed to an SUV driver and not fit for Maddie’s journal, I guessed No, not a flat, but a fender bender. At a rate lower than the speedometer could register, I’d hardly felt the jolt, which was less violent than what I remembered from operating the bumper cars on the boardwalk at Coney Island.

“You okay back there?” my driver asked, opening the door to exit and examine the damage. He sounded more like a man who hoped to avoid the inconvenience of an injured passenger than one who was concerned for my wellbeing.

“I’m fine,” I said, as he slammed the door. A light changed somewhere and traffic started to flow, but without us.


I’ll leave it you to read about dealing with a killer, the other unpleasant moments.

I Spy

I love a good spy story, from John Le Carre’s classic “Smiley” books to my latest read, Joseph Kanon’s Leaving Berlin. One of my favorite current tv shows is “The Americans,” a story of embedded Russian spies during the Cold War.

Not even the scariest “Dexter” episode gets me on edge as much as a good “drop” scene. Will the spy be caught by a slip of the tongue? Because his wig falls off? Because her FBI-agent neighbor inadvertently catches her radioing her handler? No Internet hacking story is as thrilling.

Every scene in a spy book or a movie or tv show has the potential for a disastrous outing.

Old-fashioned as it is, here’s a list of “Moscow Rules,” said to have been developed by the CIA for spies working in Moscow during the Cold War. The list varies, but here’s a version I like. Tell me if this doesn’t apply to all areas of life and love!

  1. Assume nothing.
  2. Never go against your gut.
  3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  4. Don’t look back; you’re never completely alone.
  5. Blend in.
  6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  8. Don’t harass the opposition.
  9. Pick the time and place for action.
  10. Keep your options open.

So, would you make a good spy?

Little Things

Last Saturday I visited Shellie’s Miniature Mania in San Carlos, CA – my favorite store! She’s always willing to let me drag along my newest Miniature Mystery and join whatever other fun is happening—this time her annual Easter Egg Hunt.  (Shellie is so anxious to please her customers that if they don’t find an egg within a minute or two, she directs them to the nearest one.)

Here are a few of the treasures I picked up:


Is this the smallest “quart” you’ve ever seen? I think so!


Peanut butter & jelly, or Chinese takeout? As long as you’re not too hungry.

Next time you’re in the area, check out Shellie’s!

Spring. Who needs it?

Someone who knows me well sent me a card with this greeting, attributed to Dorothy Parker:

Every year, back Spring comes,

with the nasty little birds

yapping their fool heads off.

It’s here. I send you my condolences. Put away those lovely woolen scarves, your handsome jackets, and all your closed-toe shoes.

You’ll have to adjust to the shops’ single-minded pastels (as if an adult can be taken seriously wearing canary yellow or shades of peach).

Dust off the fan blades and get out the tissues; it’s allergy time.

Pi day has passed, along with Einstein’s birthday. Is there anything to look forward to?