Labor Day

My fall desktop: view of Central Park

Coming soon: Labor Day, my favorite holiday. There are so many pluses to the unofficial end of summer. Even in California, where there is no fall to speak of, I’m comforted by the fact that there’s supposed to be fall, that Hallmark thinks there’s fall, and that the days of dry, unrelenting 90+-degree sunny weather are numbered.

Here’s what’s in store:

  • School starts! In fact, it has started.
  • I can officially buy large bags of Halloween candy without getting strange looks at checkout.
  • The ratio of kid movies to adult movies will change from 100 to 1 to 10 to 1. First on my list: the very adult psychological thriller, The Gift. I’ll let you know how that measures up.
  • Ice cream parlors will be kid-free again before 3 PM.
  • Pumpkin flavored everything!
  • Theater comes alive on Broadway; all museum wings are open, and it’s finally safe to plan a vacation.
  • I can put away those nasty white clothes that show spills without mercy, and are not as slimming as blacks (sometimes you just have to add an LOL).

Back to School

Heavy-duty text!

At the end of this month, my class for Golden Gate U, SF, begins. That is, the payroll office and the Help Desk are in San Francisco; I’m at home in a suburb thirty miles away and my students are all over the world.

The syllabus states: This course examines the impact of scientific thought and technological innovation on major cultures of the modern world. It includes analysis of the acquisition, application, and adaptation of technology in pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial societies.

Okay, it’s a bit academic, but that’s to be expected in a university catalog. Really, what the course allows me to do is discuss key events in the history of science that have changed cultural patterns and beliefs. Topics include breakthroughs from the printing press (the Church at the time condemned it as an instrument for spreading the devil’s work) to stem cell research and cloning (now being condemned by some).

It’s challenging and exciting to explore these issues with my students. Advances in science and technology have given every age more conveniences and life-saving medical procedures as well as new problems and new moral issues.

Remember the divorcing couple who were arguing over who would get her frozen eggs? Not a problem in my grandmother’s time. And all the cases of how long to sustain life with technology? Not a problem in the Old West, for example.

With an international student body working in cyberspace, 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? I’ve had first names such as Jigme, Myint-San, Widya, Lieu, and many more that are unpronounceable. I longed to have a photo, an audio file, or some indication of the student’s gender. Maybe he or she would refer to a wife or husband. Of course, in 2015, that still wouldn’t be a clue.

Even some “American” names are gender-neutral. Was the Sean I had last term a girl, like the actress Sean Young, or a guy, like the actor Sean Penn? How about Jordan? Lee? Alex? Casey?

Short of asking outright, which I don’t want to do, I have no way of knowing the gender of these students. Every year that I’ve taught this class on line, there is at least one student whose gender I never learn, not even as I assign the final grade.

Eventually, I realized that it shouldn’t matter whether I’m reading the views of a man or a woman. Does it help to know the gender perspective of a person if the issue is end-of-life technology or gene therapy? Or does it hinder our ability to listen objectively?

Boy or Girl. Should it matter?

Museums, Part 2-ish

Here are a few samples from my summer museum visits. Which would you linger by?

Madame X by John Singer Sargent

Glass and neon with transformer by Keith Sonnier

3 of 4 paintings by Van Gogh, never before exhibited together

The Cyclone

“Write what you know” is a common theme among writers. Not bad advice, in general. But in particular, it’s difficult. The more you know, the more experience you have, the more you feel about a topic, the harder it is to put it into a few words that will satisfy you. And if you the writer aren’t satisfied, than pity the reader who has to slog through it.

Thus, only after I’ve sent dozens of my stories out to be read, I’m sending this one, the one I know best. The setting is Revere Beach in the 1950s. I’ve written a little about it in the Periodic Table Mysteries and here and there in this blog, but here is its own story. It’s not about a crime, but it is about fear. And life.

The more you know, the longer it takes to write about it.

Ducks, Cartoons, Ants

I’m thrilled to have a guest blogger today: MARGARET HAMILTON, a longtime friend, author, and recently coauthor of a collection of short stories, SIX SCATTERED STORIES. Her story THE RETURN OF MARCUS CASTEEL is featured in the July 11 issue of New Realm magazine.

Murder Along the Mississippi - Margie and Friends

from Margie:

About twenty years ago I ran across a crayon drawing on one of my mother’s hallway shelves. My best guess is that I drew it in kindergarten. The picture was of three ducks in an almost vertical pond. Each duck had a conversation bubble that read: “QUICK”. Was the drawing an intended cover of a book I planned to write?

Chapter 1: Three ducks swim in a pond.

Chapter 2: Something threatens the ducks, maybe a fox or a hunter.

Chapter 3: The ducks warn each other to quickly fly away from the impending danger.

Or maybe I meant to print “QUACK” in the bubbles. In any case, I wish I had that drawing.

Most of my third through fifth grade artistic efforts were encouraged and nurtured by Miss Mattocks, my art teacher in the St. Louis school I attended. My first big project (it might have been for extra credit) was a story with pictures, kind of like a comic strip. I cut strips of butcher paper, taped them edge-to-edge, made vertical lines to denote frames, then drew and captioned my story. As I recall, it was about ten feet long. Miss Mattocks must have liked it because she let me tape it across a wall.

Around the same time, the boy next door and I published a newspaper of original cartoons (i.e., we made them up). We drew our cartoons on both sides of a large sheet of paper, then copied our work, by hand, onto a supply of same-sized paper. Then we hit the street, selling our latest edition to parents, neighbors, and relatives. The price per edition was probably a nickel.

At some point, I wrote the play I mention on my web site. I titled it Alice in Ant Land. The characters included a girl heroine and several ants. The plot had conflict, tension, and resolution. (However, in re-reading Chapter Four of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, I think it fell short of the Heroine’s Journey.) Though Alice in Ant Land was set in present time, a few friends and I put on the play in our history class. As playwright, I assumed the role of Alice.

It was interesting and fun to think about my early attempts to draw and write fiction. Best of all, it made me recall the teachers, parents, friends, relatives, and neighbors who inspired and appreciated the budding little artists I suspect we all were.

A Stitch to Die For

A guest blog from my agent and friend, Lois Winston. You’ll see that we share a lot more than what’s discussed at business meetings.

Here’s Lois:

My mother never should have had children. However, she was of a generation where it was expected that married couples produce two, three, four, or more offspring, and she did. Unfortunately, none of us was ever wanted. My mother’s birth control would mysteriously fail every time she suspected my father of having an affair. Being an “honorable” sort (and I use that word in the loosest of terms,) my father would then end the affair—until the next time. I was a rather precocious child, and I figured all of this out myself by the time I was ten years old.

Consequently, my siblings and I grew up in a home that was nothing like what was depicted on family sitcoms of the sixties. In a time of great prosperity in this country, my father lost one job after another because of his temper and arrogance and often took his frustrations out on us. When he was working, he spent most of his money on his girlfriends. My mother was so bent on keeping him from walking out on her that we children often went to bed hungry so that she could afford to serve him steak dinners. Love wasn’t in short supply in our family; it was nonexistent.

I’m not telling you all of this to garner sympathy. My childhood made me the person I am today, and for that I have few regrets. I took the adversity of my childhood and rose above it. I also took my life experiences and channeled them into my writing.

Those of you familiar with my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series may be wondering how that could be. After all, I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, and there was nothing humorous about my upbringing. Humor has great healing power, though. Scientists have discovered a direct correlation between laughter and the release of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones of our body. The more we laugh, the better we feel. I choose to laugh, and I choose to write books that I hope will make other people laugh because whether you had an upbringing like mine or not, there’s so much crap going on in the world right now, that we all need as many feel good hormones coursing through our bodies as possible.

I’ve also discovered the cathartic power of revenge—not actual revenge that could land me in prison, but the kind I can produce on the pages of my books. Basing villainous characters on certain family members has a healing power all its own. In my novel world, unlike the real world, the bad guys always wind up paying for their crimes.

One such character is one of the murder victims in my recently released A Stitch to Die For, the fifth full-length book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. If you’ve read any of my interviews or guest blogs over the last few years, you know that Lucille, Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, closely resembles my own communist mother-in-law. However, several of the antagonists that have populated my books, both my mysteries and my romances, are drawn from people who were less than kind to me throughout my life. I’m just keeping mum about which characters and which books. You’ll have to figure those out for yourself.

A Stitch to Die For

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 5

The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

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Bio: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction 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. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Tsu at, on Pinterest at, and onTwitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at

The Original Selfies

Earlier this month, I wandered into the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue in New York. I hadn’t been there in decades and was pleased to see a new wing—a common occurrence in my museum hopping lately, a la the Gardner in Boston and the whole new Whitney down by the High Line. I’m glad to see museums prospering and do my best to help, especially in the gift shops.

Exhibits at the Morgan this summer feature 150 years of Alice in Wonderland (see what the real Alice was like!); photographs by Emmet Gowin; and portrait drawings from Durer to Picasso.

A fun observation in the Morgan: an intro to the portrait drawings refers to self portraits of Rembrandt, Matisse, and the like as Selfies!  So I had to take one.

A Miniature World

Open air playhouse

Here’s my latest dollhouse, shown with its master builder, my 11-year-old friend, Carmen. Carmen is the daughter of bestselling author (and assistant builder), Diana Orgain.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll decorate the house for Christmas and donate it to a raffle at a local school, 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 enclosed by walls. Not that you could live in a dollhouse, but it looks like you could!

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 environment. You can imagine yourself sitting at the table, taking a nap on the bed.

A Tudor you can live in

A suburban home that's been burgled!

Eventually the playhouse in the photo will be on its way and I’ll be ready for another dollhouse!

The Bystander Effect

A popular quote reads, If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me, attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, and supposedly found embroidered on a pillow in her home.

I like the sentiment (Dorothy Parkerlike), but one thing I resist is dissing another author’s work. I like to wait until I have only good things to say about a book before writing a review or comments.

Edgar® Nominee for Best Fact Crime

Kevin Cook’s KITTY GENOVESE: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America (2014) is that book.

I suppose one reason I appreciated it so much is that I was living in New York at that time (1964), and remember the crime and its aftermath very well. Before reading Cook’s book, if I’d been asked what the incident was about, I might have said: a young woman was stabbed to death on the sidewalk in front of her building in broad daylight while everyone looked on.

That particular crime defined New York City for a long time and the effect rippled around the world, being reported by countries far and wide. “The 38″ came to define the number of people who looked on; the outcry launched the “Bystander Effect.” It took Mayor Ed Koch to bring the city back to a favorable Big Apple image. The bigger the city, the bigger the recovery, apparently. I can attest to that from my many trips there, the latest ending just this week as I attended ThrillerFest. More on that later!

Cook’s research, which included interviews with Kitty’s partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, put the crime in a whole new light for me, shattering all the media spin I’d adopted as fact. I couldn’t put the book down

I learned that almost everything about the picture I’d formed was false, a set-up engineered by the press and the police administration of the time. The crime occurred not in broad daylight, but around three in the morning; most of it took place outside the view of all but two people, each of whom saw only a part of it, and one of whom reported it.

And so on . . .  leaving you the chance to read it for yourselves.

In no way does the book lessen the horror of Kitty’s murder or the impact on Kitty’s family, especially on Mary Ann. The book is a social commentary, an excellent example of how we’re influenced by how others want us to view what’s happening around us, often in a way that’s far from the truth.

Long may she wave

A tour of my crafts corner to commemorate Independence Day.

Thanks to AC, the flag waves next to my model post office.

A look inside the miniature post office.