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.


Continuing the spirit of back to school, I was eager to learn a new word. Here’s one.

Acersecomic (noun): a person whose hair has never been cut. For example, my 3-year-old grandniece is an acersecomic. I can hardly wait to teach her how to write it.

Act of rejection of acersecomic-ness

Granted, the word hasn’t appeared since some time in the 17th century, but I’d hate to see a good word go to waste.

If you care about its etymology: The word is from the Latin acersecomes, a long-haired youth, a word borrowed from an earlier Greek word made up of keirein, to cut short; kome, the hair of the head; and the prefix a-, meaning not.

What’s your odd word of the day?

A moment of unity

My private NYC skyline

A moment of unity in our recent history. Remembering 9/11.

A spontaneous  God Bless America in Congress.

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.