MATRIMONY IN MINIATURE

The 9th miniature mystery is set for release next week. For once I can tell you the ending without being a spoiler — the title says it all: MATRIMONY IN MINIATURE.

Of course, things go wrong; otherwise, it wouldn’t be under “Crime Fiction” in bookstores and libraries.

Here’s how amazon describes it:

When murder happens in the small town of Lincoln Point CA, there aren’t many degrees of separation between the victim and retired teacher Gerry Porter. How can she stay away from the investigation when the crime scene is the venue for her marriage to Henry Baker? But this time, nephew Detective Skip Gowen tries to discourage Gerry’s and granddaughter Maddie’s efforts to solve “The Case.” He couldn’t live with himself if the murderer learns of their efforts and comes after them.

Happy Anniversary

Gearing up . . .

On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment to the constitution was ratified, guaranteeing American women the right to vote. The amendment reads, in part:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.  (Coloring mine, in keeping with the new adult coloring craze.)

Here is your go-to site for articles, videos, audio recordings of key speeches.

Dog Days of Summer

A post repurposed from LadyKillers, BUT more appropriate here since the Dog Days period ends today August 11.

Apparently this phrase dates back to the ancient Greeks (doesn’t everything?) and has to do with a constellation that looks like a dog (Canis Major) chasing one that looks like a rabbit (Lepus).

The star Sirius (14th c.), the brightest in the constellation, is at the dog’s nose. The meaning of the phrase has morphed into a characterization of the period of Sirius’s rising, from July 3 to August 11, a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.

Never mind that in (roughly) 13,000 years, the dog star Sirius will be rising with the sun in mid-winter.

Some imagination those ancients had. It took an entire semester-long course in college for me just to match the names, the gods, and the myths.

What interests me is how, and how come, so many of the names have survived. For example, the multi-channel radio in my car is by Sirius. It seems incongruous that I’m listening to Willie’s Roadhouse on a service with a name that dates back at least 7 centuries and means scorching.

320px-NOVA_laser

The Nova laser, one generation after Shiva, from the Latin, meaning new.

One of the world’s most powerful lasers of the 20th century was named Shiva, the name of a Hindu god, the Destroyer. Apt, I suppose, since Shiva the laser decimated any target it was aimed at.

But wouldn’t you think there’d be a more modern hi-tech name, indicative of the high-level technology that brought Shiva into existence?

Maybe this is why LASER is one of my favorite words, the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. There are no gods associated with it; no wars, no constellations, no etymology traceable to the ancients. While not the first acronym, the word itself has no other origin.

So, maybe the Dog Days of Summer can be called Dodaysum, and in 1000 years or so, someone will think she was a 21st century goddess who lay around all day.

And now, speaking of new words: I think I’ll make my Blexit.    <groan> Come on, admit it if you get this!

BEACH READS

Beach Reads: A popular term as we begin the summer. But not for me. (If you’ve ever read The Real Me, you’re not surprised.)

I don’t like beach reads because I don’t like beaches for more than 5 minutes.

Early in my California residency, I decided to try the beaches west-coasters always talked about. The ones in Hawaii.

First, why not? They were so close. Just off the coast of Los Angeles, right? At least that’s what all the maps pictured.

Imagine my surprise!

After a loooooong plane ride, which could have taken me to Coney Island instead if I’d made a quick U-turn, we were on a serious island. Maui. One with no skyscrapers nearby. No Edward Hoppers as far as the eye could see. Unlike Manhattan, which is an isle of joy.

The “vacation” turned out to be the longest 2 weeks of my life. Several times, I  thought of leaving early, but we’d paid in advance, and maybe it would get better.

There was no bookstore (not then, anyway, early 1980’s) in case I did want a “beach read.” There wasn’t an activity in the tour book where you could wear a decent pair of pumps.

Beach reads? Nah, I’ll take subway reads any day. Or, maybe the term should be Bleacher reads. Picture this: the bleachers in Times Square. Now there’s a comfy reading corner.

A perfect place to read.

In Defense of Weeds

Our front "lawn" before we succumbed to property-value guilt

Here’s a question: How can you tell a weed from a plant? Darned if I know, except gardeners have it in for weeds. Weeders are the serial killers of any green things they didn’t plant themselves. We have weed killer, but not fern killer or boxwood killer. What’s up with that?

I’ve seen my neighbors pull up one perfectly good-looking green thing and plant another that looks pretty darn close. I don’t get it.

You’ll never catch me weeding. Live and let live, I say.

Like everything else, this attitude probably stems (get it?) from my childhood. There were no weeds in my life. No grass either. And my parents were too busy making ends meet on the inside of the flat to worry about what was on the outside. Nature took care of that however it wanted to.

Like Woody Allen, “I am two with nature.”

For a long time, I held out on the property-value argument. Why should I pay more attention to what prospective buyers might want in the distant future, as opposed to what I want now? It’s still my house, not theirs.

Expensive rocks/labor to supplant the offending, free weeds

Finally, this year I succumbed to the think-of-the-neighbors thing and agreed to get rid of the weeds. So now we have rocks that we paid $$ for instead of the freely growing green non-plants. I guess that makes me officially a 21st century suburban homeowner.

Note: this blog was inspired by one posted by my friend and author Lois Winston, most recently the force behind the anthology SLEUTHING WOMEN, a collection of ten first-in-series novels.

How much science is too much?

I always enjoy participating on panels, and the annual ThrillerFest panel I join every year is especially interesting.

Boyd Morrison (far left) moderates

The official title: Ghost Particles, Nanotechnology, or Bill Nye: Introducing science in thrillers. Panelists (l. to r.) Amy Rogers, Mark Alpert, Bev Irwin, Kent Lester, Kira Peikoff, Camille Minichino, Grand Hyatt, NYC, July 8, 2016.

You might call the panel a lovefest, in that most of us have been on this panel for several years and are in complete agreement as to what to offer readers: engaging characters and plots, free of technical information dumps. Only the slightest bump in the smooth interaction came when one panelist suggested no more than 2 pages in one shot for a scientific explanation. “2 paragraphs” said another; “2 lines” another.

I’m on the side of less is more, when it comes to technical information. While not strictly thrillers (global consequences), two of my series deal with STEM topics — the Periodic Table mysteries and the Professor Sophie Knowles series. I’ve tried to avoid the cliche device of dialogue between a lay person and a scientist:

Jill, Scientist: I’m going to charge up the laser, Bob.

Bob: What’s a laser, Jill?

Jill: Well, Bob, the word “laser” is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The first one was built in 1960 by . . .

Reader: <snore>

What’s you threshold between interesting/informative and TMI?

A MAD Trip

I have lots of photos from my trip to New York City for the ThrillerFest conference, but here’s one that says it all. It’s the tip of my cane, worn down from walking through Grand Central and up and down the streets and avenues.

Tip of my cane. The silver sliver is where the rubber is completely worn off!

In the next weeks, you’ll see more artistic captures from my museum breaks. Here’s a taste, from a delightful sculpture exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design, properly called MAD.

"Steam" from the sinking ship forms the table!

A bent Eiffel Tower is the base of this lamp.

New York never disappoints — more proof to follow.

New York New York

If all goes well, I’ll be in New York when you read this, at ThrillerFest 2016.

Here’s a scene I look forward to:

The NYPL, courtesy author Margaret Duma

Here’s one I hope to avoid:

OUCH!

Your friendly local newspaper

Famous blogger, Lisa A. Kelley, shared a great idea with cozy authors: why don’t we “publish” newspapers from our fictional towns? I’m in!

The first issue of The Lincolnite was published by Lisa on June 1. Here are some of the sections of the newspaper, in case the link is not active by now. It’s worth a look to scroll down on Lisa’s site to see her great graphics.

THE LINCOLNITE

Lincoln Point, California              Forever 50 cents

SADIE’S ICE CREAM SHOP EXPANDS MENU, CAUSING UPROAR

Picketers lined Springfield Boulevard on Monday, protesting the newly offered lunch menu at Sadie’s Ice Cream Shop. “NOT FAIR TO WILLIE” read the signs, referring to Willie’s Bagels, only 2 doors down from Sadie’s and a popular lunch spot for many years.

“People don’t want to have to get up and trudge outside between lunch and dessert,” a spokesperson for Sadie’s said. Regular customer Mabel Foster said, “It’s hard when it’s raining,” while her companion, who wished to remain anonymous, asked “When is it ever raining?” The two businesses have agreed to arbitration, which will be facilitated by retired English teacher, Geraldine Porter.

LOCAL DOGS HONORED

A monument unveiled at a ceremony this week at Lincoln Point Park, Civic Center, honored the K-9s that serve alongside the city’s police officers. Civilian volunteer, Bev Gowen, arranged the privately funded dedication. “In the coming year we plan to honor the human officers in the unit,” said Gowen, the mother of Detective Eino “Skip” Gowen. The younger Gowen was unavailable for comment.

SPORTS

The Mary Todd Gym has issued swag bags to all lifetime members. Featured is a red logo travel mug with I’D RATHER BE READING in white letters.

SCIENCE FAIR

Local middle school children showed off their projects this week at the annual Science Fair. Heading the judges panel was a visiting physicist from the Boston area, Dr. Gloria Lamerino, who is responsible for the nationally recognized Cannoli Method of awarding prizes. “I’ve never seen so many 5-Cannoli projects,” Lamerino said. First prize, a 1-inch mini Austrian crystal cannoli went to Maddie Porter, 12, for her working model of a waste water recycling plant.

POLICE BLOTTER

After a string of more than a dozen murders in the last 8 years, the Lincoln Point Police Department is pleased to announce that the only crime committed so far this year is the theft of a small fountain from a lawn on Gettysburg Avenue. The thief left a note reminding the homeowner that it was drought season in California and that he should stop being “a water waster.” The homeowner has decided not to pursue the matter.

COOKING WITH CAMILLE


Abraham Lincoln High School home economics teacher CHEF CAMILLE offers a special recipe for Father’s Day: an Honest Abe top hat cake.

DIRECTIONS:

Start with your favorite basic cake—white, yellow, or chocolate—and bake THREE 8-inch rounds. Split the rounds, giving you six layers. Mix black food coloring into enough frosting to spread between layers and around the top and circumference of the cake. Use the last of it to spread around the edge of the cake plate, to make the brim of the hat. Add a BEST FATHER figure as pictured, and let the celebration begin!

The Book Stands Alone

Mystery series are popular these days. (Thanks, readers!) Some series seem to go on forever, with 10 or more books released over a period of years—nearly 26 for Sue Grafton (Thanks, Sue!) I know many readers who insist on reading the series in order. I’m not one of them. One reason is purely practical: if the series has been around for a while, the first ones are out of print, and possibly not available in e-form either, if the publisher has chosen not to reissue. The other reason takes longer to explain:

The photograph illustrates my theory:  Every book is a standalone.

Think about the need to read a series in order. I imagine these readers at a party, being introduced to someone new, hitting it off.

“Let’s be friends,” the new person says.

“Sorry,” says the in-order reader. “We can’t be friends because I didn’t know you as an infant.”

The way it usually works in real-life friendship is that you can start a friendship at any age, with people of any age. As the relationship grows, each person’s backstory is revealed, not necessary in chronological order. It’s the same for me with characters in a book. If I happen upon book four of a series and it looks interesting, I’ll read it, then decide if I want to know more about the protagonist, in which case, I’ll pick up either earlier or later books, depending on what’s available.

Of course, it’s different for a trilogy or other format where the story is set up in a certain order.

It’s also different for tv shows, where it’s sometimes impossible to understand an episode unless you’ve seen the “previously on”s.

But each book in a mystery series should stand on its own, with understandable characters and a story that has a satisfying conclusion. If you’ve started with book five of a series and have no idea about the motivation of a character, or if you feel you’re missing something, it’s the author’s fault. Every book should be a standalone.