Giving Thinks

It’s so important that we all stop to GIVE THANKS  on this one special day each year.

But it’s also important to GIVE THINKS, every day, to think about things and give others a reason to think.*

*In case you’re wondering if this is a deliberate play on words: The label on the package identifies them as GIVE THANKS napkins and suggests they can also be used as GUEST GOWELS.

Wishing you a Happy Thinksgiving day.

Interview Number 329876

OK, I made up that number. It seems I’ve done a lot of interviews but I wanted to share this recent one, with questions from writer Judith Marshall.

The questioner: JUDITH MARSHALL
The answerer: THE REAL ME

Where are you from?

Here I am doing just what I tell my writing students not to do: starting at the beginning! My excuse is that Revere, Massachusetts is special—site of the first public beach in the country. At one time a 2-mile boardwalk of amusements and games stretched along the ocean; and inland every street corner had its own group of bookies. Numbers? Check. Dog-racing? Check. Horse racing? Check. All at your fingertips, only a few blocks from 2 roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, frozen custard, fried clams. That’s where I’m from—what’s not to like?

Tell us your latest news?

I’m in the middle of writing my 25th mystery novel, under my fourth pen name. I feel like I should do something silver. Or that I’m in hiding with WitSec.

When and why did you begin writing?

As early as I can remember, I put out a newsletter for my family, only one or two of whom could read English. I wish I could remember more about it, like how I made copies. I have a feeling I just handed the handwritten sheets over whenever Aunt Evelyn or Uncle Johnny stopped in for coffee. I do remember that the “news” consisted of things like Cousin Richard made a base hit at Friday’s game or Grandpa Minichino was caught making moonshine in the cellar.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I wanted to capture the Revere experience, the Italian-American culture I grew up with. I also wanted to present science in a good light and offer a female scientist protagonist who was fun to be with. Too many agenda items! Another thing I warn my students against, but I did it in my first 8 books, the Periodic Table Mysteries.

How much of the book is realistic?

Everything but the murder.

What books have most influenced your life?

I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid—no one in my family read English very well, and I thought of books simply as required for school. The first book I read for my own pleasure was a biography of Marie Curie, by her daughter Eve. After that, I couldn’t be stopped.

What book are you reading now?

I’m always reading about 5 books at the same time: a couple of mysteries for book clubs; a science/technology book to stay current for my science classes; a nonfiction book for another club; books on writing for my writing classes; a mainstream novel for the pleasure of the language. Currently, I’m into a Nevada Barr mystery for a book club; Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology is my nonfiction; an old Peter Robinson mystery in my purse; a gruesome Mo Hayder on my Kindle.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

As a result of being chair of the Edgar® award for best novel last year, I was introduced to many new authors. Karin Fossum has my attention, as well as Todd Goldberg. Also new to me is Malcolm Mackay, a Scottish writer with a great hit man trilogy.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Three writing organizations: the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club; NorCal Sisters in Crime, and NorCal Mystery Writers of America. All of these groups were welcoming and encouraging at the beginning stages of my writing and are largely responsible for any success I’ve had.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Take advice cautiously! Find your own voice and your own rhythm. For a long time, I thought there were rules: write every day; write what you know; keep a journal. None of those worked for me. I realized that as long as I made writing a priority in my life, I’d find my voice. And I did.

Is It Real Or Is It A Dollhouse?

A real crime scene?

Many people assume that, since I’m into dollhouses, I also love dolls. Not!

I do love dollhouses. It’s people I can’t stand. Not all people, just the ones that inhabit dollhouses; i.e., dolls.

You should be able to take a picture of any room in a dollhouse and have it be indistinguishable from a real house, unless there’s a ruler or a coin in the photo.

But as soon as you put a doll in the house, it no longer looks “real.”

I know there are “realistic” dolls of the right size for a dollhouse, but no matter how expensive and “lifelike” they are, they still stare into space and are usually capable of only one expression on their faces. Sure, some are “poseable,” but until there’s a living, breathing doll that can move around on the one-inch-to-one-foot scale, I’ll stick to vacant houses. I’m thinking of putting a SALE PENDING sign on my latest cottage so no one will be tempted to give me dolls.

There’s a way to have a dollhouse look like people live there, without having to deal with the faux people. To that end, I crumple small pieces of paper and put the “trash” on the desk and floor of a miniature office, toss clothes on the floor in the kid’s room, strew laundry around the basement and crumbs on the kitchen counter. I even plant cobwebs (thread) in the attic.

It’s enough that people have been there; you don’t have to see them.

The UK calls them “dollshouses.” I don’t like this spelling, because it implies that dolls live in the houses, whereas I live in them. I live in the Victorians and Tudors and room boxes I build and decorate, and even in the much nicer houses I visit at miniature shows and museums.

I imagine myself putting away groceries in the tiny kitchen of one of my dollhouses, resting on the living room couch, eating at the six-inch dining room table, climbing the stairs to lavish bedrooms and even cleaning the tiny bathrooms. (I can help you make a tiny plunger using a toothpick and a small piece of crafts clay.)

Before you get ready to cart me away, let me explain that you’d have to lock up entire communities of miniaturists if you’re worried about this tripping out, imagining we live in our tiny houses. There are sound reasons for the flight of fancy.

In fact, they’re the same reasons readers give when they escape into a novel.

You know those discussions authors and readers have about “fiction” vs. “reality”? Should writers be super-careful about one-way streets if they’re using a real city as a setting? Should historical writers check every detail to be sure they’re not off by a few days of the invention of ink or zippers? TV viewers complain about how “off” CSI is as it relates to the daily life of a real crime scene tech, but it’s still one of the most popular shows on the air.

It’s fiction. Does it matter?

Miniaturists have the same kind of discussion. How realistic should dollhouse furniture be? Should dresser drawers open? If you can open the oven door, should there be a rack with a tray of cookies in there? A light? Should we spray chocolate fragrance?

It’s fiction. Does it matter?

From Cassie Miller in DEATH TAKES PRIORITY (Chapter 1) "I love my job. Who else gets to start the day by raising the American flag outside her office?'

The first book in my new series will be out November 5. Read the first chapter NOW.

Compare the cover of DEATH TAKES PRIORITY to a photograph of the post office in Revere MA, c. 1980:

It’s quite a happy coincidence.

The Halloween of His Life

Here’s the cutest Halloween story I’ve heard in a long time. It’s by a frequent visitor to The Real Me, author Jo Mele. This piece appeared in Reminisce magazine.

Jo, a few years after the Halloween in question

My little brother Joey is the most determined; some call it stubborn, person I know. Joey loved Halloween and couldn’t wait to get home and sort his candy into piles eating  all his favorites first.

When he was eight he had to miss trick or treating because he had a high fever. My mother’s decision to keep him in nearly drove Joey crazy. The pleading went on for hours until he gave my mother a headache and was sent to his room in tears.

I went around the neighborhood with two bags asking for a treat for my brother who was home sick. The neighbors were sorry to hear he was missing his favorite Holiday and were very generous to his sack. He didn’t even feel well enough to do his sorting and eating routine until the following weekend.

The next year Joey had two costumes ready, the pirate from last year and the new cowboy costume complete with boots and pearl handled Lone Ranger six-shooters he got for his birthday. He was counting the days to trick or treating. Unfortunately, he came down with the flu and couldn’t even stand.  My mother did not allow him to go out into the frigid New York afternoon.

I went around the neighborhood with his sack and mine and everyone said “Not again.” They poured goodies and change into his bag saying he could buy what he liked when he felt better. He made two dollars but wasn’t happy.

When October came around again Joey was ready. He was ten years old, full of energy, had three unused costumes waiting to be worn. He was determined and on a mission. My parents had already decided they’d let him go trick or treating – no matter what. Halloween fell on a Saturday that year so Joey could rest before his long-awaited adventure and stay out late since it wasn’t a school night. It was a beautiful warm fall day and after whining “Can’t I start yet,” for the hundredth time,  my mother gave in and let him start.

He was the first kid out and the last one home. When his bag got heavy he came home, changed his costume and got another one. He started over again, and again, determined to make up for lost time. He had the Halloween of his life.

When Joey finally dragged in and saw his three bags full of goodies waiting for the sorting, he hugged them and burst into tears of joy. He’d won his battle with Halloween.

I admired his determination. He never gave up and wouldn’t settle for one round of trick-or-treating when he deserved three. I’m sure I would’ve quit after the first. Joey was no quitter, he needed to even the score, two traits he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Too Big to Be Mean

A post on the Perseverance Press blog by the bestselling Wendy Hornsby sparked a discussion about big city v small town.

Rather than usurp her space-time in her comments section, I’m blogging in my own space.

I’ve lived in big cities (New York City, Boston) and small towns (Rockville, Connecticut) and some in between (Hartford, CT and four in CA).

Too close together for unfriendliness

My own impression is that big cities are like small towns. Each block in the Bronx is like a village. Each large apartment house in Manhattan is a small town. People who share an elevator (and, in the old days, a bathroom) have to get along or they’ll be miserable.

The bigger the city, the more likely you can bend rules; the same is true in small towns. It’s in the middle — the suburbs — where everything gets tight and friendliness is not necessary for survival.

My first experience in a suburb was my first year in California, 1974. I lived on a tree-lined street, with all separate, unattached houses; each house had its own garage and back yard—a first for me! Whereas in cities or small towns, it’s the stoop or the front porch that brings people in contact with neighbors, in the suburbs the gatherings take place in the back yard, and only among the invited.

I lived in one house an entire summer and never saw my neighbors. A garage door would go up, having been activated from a distance; a car would enter; the garage door would come down. I’d never see the driver or the occupants of the car. Not possible in a big city!

We all have endless personal anecdotes about the issue of big cities/suburbs/small towns, so I’ll limit myself to just one.

It had been a few years since I’d ridden the subway in NYC. Oblivious to the fact that  a system of tokens had gone into effect, I tried to insert my quarter into the slot, holding up a long line of people. A guy of indeterminate age pulled me aside. His touch was gentle, but his voice was scolding.

“C’m'ere, lady,” he said, annoyed. He led me to the token booth, losing his place in line, and scolding me all the way. He instructed me on buying tokens, waited until the transaction was completed, then he was on his way. Not exactly polite, but the best kind of friendly—he took care of my problem.

In a similar situation with public transportation system in the suburbs of  Northern California (I know, I really need to keep up with local changes, wherever I live) no fewer than five well-dressed people walked by me, moving to the next turnstile, politely tsk tsk-ing me. Very polite. And useless.

So, what are your stories? Big cities or small towns?

Holiday Mysteries

This summer I took advantage of an invitation to join 11 other mystery writers in an anthology of holiday stories and revisited retired physicist Gloria Lamerino and her crew. I was thrilled to be back in Revere—back in the ’90s in fact—picking up the Table at neon. The series has 8 novels, The Hydrogen Murder through The Oxygen Murder and now 2 short stories, The Fluorine Murder (2002) and THE NEON ORNAMENTS, released today, 10/15/15.

THE NEON MURDER is a historical and a prequel. Haven’t you always wanted to know how Gloria and her homicide detective husband, Matt Gennaro, got together in the first place? I have!

Here’s what happens: Physicist Gloria Lamerino meets her friend Rose in Boston for what she thinks is a girls’ getaway weekend. But Rose has other plans. She volunteers Gloria to help solve a murder. Of course, the chemistry between Gloria and the homicide detective help catch a killer?

Happy Homicides is a collection of thirteen cozy mystery holiday stories—nearly 800 pages of reading material—by a dozen different authors, all bundled into one ebook, featuring some of your favorite bestselling and award-winning mystery authors—Lois Winston, Joanna Campbell Slan, Neil Plakcy, Annie Adams, Jenna Bennett, Nancy Warren, Sara RosettNancy Jill Thames, Linda Gordon Hengerer, Joyce and Jim Lavene, and Teresa Trent.

We also have a holiday gift for you. We’ve put together a bonus file crammed with recipes, craft tips, projects, and more. You’ll find the link for the free bonus material inside Happy Homicides.

Featured stories include:

Elementary, My Dear Gertie (the sequel to the award-winning Talk Gertie to Me) by Lois Winston — Much to the dismay of her conservative parents, Nori Stedworth and her boyfriend Mackenzie Randolph are living together. Mom and Dad cope as best they can when Nori and Mac arrive in Ten Commandments, Iowa for the holidays. Mac is all for exchanging “I do’s,” but before he can pop the question, an explosion hurls him and Nori into the midst of a murder investigation. Can they uncover which of the town’s not-so-pious residents is the killer in time to catch their flight back to New York City?

Lost and Found Holiday Gifts: A Cara Mia Delgatto Novella by Joanna Campbell Slan — Santa isn’t the only one who delivers presents during the holidays. Cara Mia Delgatto sets out to do a few small favors and quickly learns how a thoughtful gift can change a life.

Dog Forbid by Neil Plakcy — A Thanksgiving trip with friends takes reformed hacker Steve Levitan and his crime-solving golden retriever, Rochester, to Pennsylvania Dutch Country. When Steve’s friend’s golden goes missing in an area notorious for local puppy mills, can Rochester nose out the missing puppy and save the holiday?

Flowers, Food and Felonies at the New Year’s Jubilee Cook-Off by Annie Adams – Busy florist Quincy McKay thought that judging the annual Jubilee food contest would be as easy as picking daisies. Will the event turn deadly when someone cooks up a scheme to slice and dice the competition?

Contingent on Approval: A Savannah Martin Christmas Novella by Jenna Bennett – On Christmas morning Savannah Martin finds herself looking at Rafe Collier, a pair of fuzzy handcuffs, an economy-sized box of condoms, and the rest of her life. But before her happily-ever-after can begin, she needs to get through a holiday dinner with her mother. Savannah has plenty to worry about, not the least of which is whether her new boyfriend will still want to stick around after the meal.

Teddy Saves Christmas by Nancy Jill Thames — When Jillian Bradley finds herself alone for the holidays, her dog Teddy latches onto a homeless woman with a dangerous secret. Jillian is forced to get involved. Can she find a way to save her new friend in time for a Merry Christmas?

Menace at the Christmas Market by Sara Rosett — With the holidays nearing, Kate has time off, a rare occurrence for a location scout. She plans to spend her time shopping for Christmas gifts, but when she goes to the local Regency-themed Christmas Market, a new acquaintance is poisoned and Kate gets drawn into the investigation.

A Diamond Choker for Christmas by Nancy Warren — In order to borrow an extremely expensive diamond and sapphire necklace to wear at Christmas party, Toni Diamond’s mother Linda offers her home as collateral. But the necklace is stolen right off her neck, and Toni has to solve the crime or her mother will be homeless for the holidays!

Dying for Holiday Tea: A Beach Tea Shop Novella by Linda Gordon Hengerer — Sisters Danielle, Chelsea, and Alexandra Powell rejoice when Alex finds their grandmother’s old recipe book–and plan to bake her gingerbread for their upcoming holiday tea. But someone else wants the recipes and is willing to kill for them. Can the Powell sisters cook up a way to catch a murderer?

The Dog Who Came for Christmas by Joyce and Jim Lavene — A woman running from her deadly past finds hope, a dog, and possibly a new love, at Christmas.

The Deadliest Christmas Pageant Ever by Teresa Trent — It’s Christmas time in Texas. Betsy Livingston and her boys are caught up in the Pecan Bayou Christmas Pageant to raise funds for needy children. Betsy gets tricked into replacing the absent director and quickly learns that show biz can be brutal—and this Christmas pageant is downright deadly.

The Rowan Tree Twig: A Kiki Lowenstein Novella by Joanna Campbell Slan — The holidays offer Kiki the perfect chance to keep a promise to her late friend, Dodie Goldfader. But this sweet thought hits a sour note when Dodie’s husband is wrongly accused of murder.


A recent Cartoon of the Day featured a “medic alert ” bracelet with the words DELETE MY BROWSER HISTORY.

Don’t you wish?

Because if the NSA or Big Sister is watching my history, there will one day be a tap on my door, badges shown, and a “Come With Us.” But that’s not the worse thing that could happen. The worst thing is that I’ll be plagued by ads related to everything I checked out online, for whatever reason.

Just this morning I Googled:

• “Murder weapons” in an attempt capture a cool image for another blog;

• A trailer for The Love Boat. A mistake, it turns out, as I was looking for the new CBS show The Inspectors.

• Porch swings. I don’t have a porch and I wouldn’t swing on one if I did. But I wanted to put one on the fictional porch in the book I’m working on and I needed some “realistic” words. I chose “Nantucket” style and distressed pine as my adjectives. Now, I know I’ll be receiving ads for porch swings for a month.

• Victorian furniture. See above. Is it a coincidence that the same red brocade two-seater I checked out for my setting now appears in my FB feed? I think not.

• An e-birthday card site. Friends, I’m only ever going to choose the FREE ones so stop hoping.

If only DELETE meant DELETE.

East is east

My guest blogger today is my good friend and writer, Jo Mele. Jo is the published author of The ABCs of Asperger’s Syndrome, Parent’s Magazine, Third Times A Charm, Reminisce Magazine, and Flowers, Fauna and Firearms, Lamorinda Press. She has recently completed her first cozy, ‘Mystery In Monaco’, and a memoir, ‘The Primo Grandmothers’. She is working on ‘Homicide in Havana’ based on her travels to Cuba. Hard to find a good crime spot with everyone watching everyone.

Here’s Jo at the NYPL with a friendly lion:

Patience and friend


Having lived on both the east and west coasts, I feel qualified to write about the similarities and differences of life, food, and murder on each coast. Caveat: being of a certain age I feel qualified to talk on any subject.

I came up with a few examples of location differences to think about when writing about murder. Second caveat: in my geography east coast means NYC. To me, considering West Palm Beach, Florida, or Portland, Maine, the east coast is laughable. When people think of the east coast they think of tall buildings, crowded sidewalks, subways, traffic, horns honking, sirens day and night. In other words cities have ear-splitting noises as background music.

City vs country locations

Killing someone in NYC and not being seen by a camera, drone, snoopy neighbor, cop, street person, dog walker, pervert, taxi driver, bag lady, or phone-carrying teenager is almost impossible today. The crime will be captured on someone’s camera. Your face, name, and mother’s maiden name will be on the web, before the body can drop to the sidewalk. If there’s enough room for the body to land on a sidewalk, in NYC.

My advice, take your victim to the west coast. In the geography book according to Jo, that means California. Portland, Oregon is not the first thing you think of when you think west coast any more than Portland, Maine screams east coast.

In California there are forests, desserts, mountains, cabins, abandoned mines, and any number of secluded spots to commit a crime. One can dispose of a body and not be seen by another camera- carrying human.


Weather is a factor in planning a crime. Last year would’ve been a great time for a winter murder in the East. The corpse would still be covered in a pile of melting snow in June and the killer long gone. It’s harder to kill someone on a sunny California day, everyone’s outside chasing Frisbees or texting.

Food: Killing someone with food requires a return to the east coast. You will never die drinking bottled water and eating kale, salad, fruit, seeds, yogurt and gluten-free crackers.

NYC is perfect for death by food. Every corner has an ice cream wagon or food truck. NYC has the best cheesecake, corned beef, hot dogs, knishes, greasy egg rolls, Italian pastry, cupcakes, candy, and pizza to die for. The victim could die of natural causes and the killer would be in the clear and sunbathing in Palm Beach.

If you don’t have time to wait for natural causes, go west. Feed the vic the kale, etc. He will either die of starvation, or happily commit suicide after a week.

Means are still a factor. It’s a fact, the wealthy and connected get away with more crime than the poor. Don’t believe me? Look who’s in prison. Only the rich can hire the right sleazy attorney or hit-man, cover their tracks, and still have enough money to rent a house on a secluded island. The poor always get caught because they have nowhere else to go. They head back home where their ‘friends’ turn them in for a reward, or fifteen seconds of TV fame. The rich don’t worry about this, they have no friends.

Motive is outdated just look at the uptick in stranger murders, drive-by and gun violence in general. All a killer seems to need today is a target. Drive-by shootings are a west coast crime. If you try setting this method in NYC your killer won’t make it of the block. He will be tied up in traffic. The cops will walk up to his car and catch him with the smoking gun still in hand.

Why Write About Crime?

Even some of my miniatures end up as crime scenes.

Most of my friends in the mystery writers community have been asked at least once:  Why do you write about murder? Why not romance? Or biography? Or comics?

A few answers to a question in the words of others:

1) The old familiar:

Because All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

— Leo Tolstoy

2) A strange comment from Agatha Christie:

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no awe, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.

Well, not my mother, but are we to believe that all of Christie’s work represents mothers’ fighting for their children? Hmm, does this mean that even happy families might involve crime?

3) A new one, paraphrasing Michael Connelly in his NYT review of THE WHITES by Richard Price, 2/15/15:

the crime novel [is] something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; [it is] societal reflection, documentation, and investigation

That’s as good a reason as any why I write and read crime fiction.