Bloody Stories

A recent blog site topic invited us to compare American and British writers. Here is my response, reproduced.

Wouldn’t it be considered unpatriotic if I said I prefer British mysteries, as if I wished we had lost the Revolutionary War? From a native Bostonian yet, where it all began?

As I thought about the nationalities of writers I love, it turns out I have favorites from many countries. Karin Fossim from Norway. Pierre Lemaitre from France (How can I resist a male cop named Camille?) The recently deceased Umberto Eco from Italy. An American or two, like Thomas H. Cook and John Verdon. I thought I had a few British favorites, too, but it turns out Peter Robinson is Canadian and Peter May is a Scot. I’m one of the few readers unimpressed by the work of Denise Mina or Val Mcdermid, but Brit Mo Hayder makes up for them.

A couple of years ago, I became a British writer. Well, to be exact, a UK magazine asked me to write a short story. I was (and am) thrilled. The story, Majesty in Miniature, was published in parts over 3 months in The Dolls House Magazine.

I set the story at Windsor, the home of Queen Mary’s famous dolls house, sending my protagonists Gerry Porter and her granddaughter, Maddie, on a tour of the majestic house.

Although I’ve never seen the house in person, I knew all about it from books and videos. I knew about its running water (the cisterns housed in the basement), electric lighting, and working lifts, its miniature crown jewels and special tea services.

I was sure I could capture the essence of the dolls house; what I worried about was the language of the British characters, especially the British docent. I agonized over using “bloody”—too mild? too wild?—and finally checked in with my friend Simon Wood, who agreed to vet the story.

There was only one language problem that neither Simon nor I could have predicted.

“Docent?” a UK contact from the magazine asked me. “We’re not sure what that is.”

What? I’d been concerned about the docent’s dialogue, not the definition of the word. And isn’t the UK the home of the OED?

I figured the person was too young for an old word, or she was a foreign intern serving across the pond.

In the end, we settled on changing “docent” to “guide” and the story made it through the rest of the process.


Preparatory sketch for Doge . . . Presented to the Redeemer

Has it really taken me 3 months to organize photos from my July museum breaks? One exciting stop was to The Met Breuer, the new branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at 75th and Madison, the site of the old Whitney.

My favorite exhibit there: UNFINISHED — THOUGHTS LEFT VISIBLE

Some of the pieces were unfinished in the usual sense, like the paintings by Tintoretto (above) and Van Gogh (below).  In the Tintoretto painting you can see that some of the characters are fully rendered, some are hovering in the clouds as sketches.  In the Van Gogh, the sky is unfinished, a series of scattered brush strokes. The artist took his own life before completing the work.

Street in Auvers-Sur-Oise

Below are two unfinished paintings. In one, the artist has completed the face, but not much else; in the other, it’s the opposite — all but the face seems complete. An insight into how each artist worked?

Klimt's Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III

Meng’s Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento

It seemed that every artist I’d ever heard of was represented in this exhibit: El Greco, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Monet, Manet, Sergent . . . on and on.

One more piece deserves a specific mention, however. Not a painting, but an installation

Robert Smithson's Mirrors and Shelly Sand

A long pile of sand is spread directly on the floor. The documentation reminds us that even in the museum, the sand is vulnerable to loss and disintegration, an illustration of incompleteness in its own way. The mirrors that accompany the sand change our perception of the sand. I was fascinated by this installation, and understand how it can be viewed as “unfinished,” reminding me of Sir Isaac Newton’s comment:

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore . . . while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

I would appreciate the thoughts of anyone else who has seen this installation. Otherwise, I’m going to have to rush back to NYC and interview people in the gallery.

Trending: Zombies!

Never let it be said that The Real Me missed a trend. My guest today is bestselling, zombie-loving CHRISTINE VERSTRAETE. Here she is.

Why oh Why Zombies?

By Christine Verstraete

Thanks Camille for inviting me to your blog. I promise not to scare you or your readers too much. Heh-heh.

This is another stop on the release blog tour for Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.

I can hear Camille asking, why zombies? (You can add a bunch more why’s to that, too!)

My answer: Why not?

Actually, I found myself glued to The Walking Dead TV series like a lot of other people, which one day led to a kind of epiphany: I started looking at the Lizzie Borden records and autopsy photos and realized what other reason could Lizzie Borden have for killing her father and stepmother? The photos give another more sinister reason if you look at it from a horror and supernatural viewpoint.

Of course, writing about a real-life murder can be tricky. The crime was horrific, but with the passage of time, it’s also become history. We’re distanced enough from the actual event that it has become a part of our culture. Who doesn’t remember that sick little rope-skipping rhyme, Lizzie Borden took an axe…?

And since no one really knows much about Lizzie as a person other than the modern-day film and fiction portrayals, it leaves her personality open to interpretation. Spoiled spinster? Greedy? Abused? Jealous and angry? Who really knows?

Obviously there were some problems in that family. There were rumors of Lizzie stealing. The doors in the house were all locked, even inside. Were they locked against someone on the outside—or someone on the inside?

In Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, the enemies are both within and without. Lizzie has to put aside her own disgust, shock and utter disbelief at her own actions and what she’s encountered. But even as she goes on trial and faces the gallows, she is determined to see this horror through to the end. She has to protect her sister, and her hometown, from the terrors that have been unleashed, even if it means uncovering her own father’s secrets.

The Lizzie we read about at the inquest who’s unsure, confused and kind of lackadaisical (likely due to the drugs she was given) becomes a strong, confident woman determined to fight these monsters—and win.

In real life, Lizzie chose to remain in her hometown after the trial, which takes some strength of character in and of itself. How many of us could stay somewhere where every move we made was watched and talked about? Despite being snubbed, shunned and judged by society even after the trial, she is determined to live life on her terms. Or was she thumbing her nose at everyone? Again, who knows?

I have my own reasons as to why she stayed. Having talked to people overseas who had lived in the same home and the same town for generation after generation, it’s easy to see why Lizzie would have stayed. As she says in the book, “I was born here. I intend to die here.”

Lizzie supposedly had gone to Europe like other young women of her time. A theater fan, she traveled to see stage plays. But despite that, and finally having the money to do anything and live wherever she wanted, she chose to stay in Fall River, Massachusetts. Stubbornness? Again, maybe. But roots can grow deep and can be even harder to pull up.

Maybe with all that happened to her, both in real life, and in my fictional, zombie-infested world, Lizzie felt she deserved to live out her life and settle down in the only place she felt comfortable in. The one place she would always call home.

** What do you think? Why do you think she stayed? Please comment (and leave an email to enter the giveaway!)

About the Book:

Every family has its secrets…
One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy and greed. But what if her parents were already dead? What if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become zombies?
Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them.

** Follow the blog tour and be sure to get your copy of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter in print and Kindle Sept. 13!

Add it on Goodreads:

** Go to Christine’s blog, and enter the rafflecopter giveaway to possibly win 1 of 10 Kindle copies of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.
Email is required for entry. Contest ends 9/14.**

Think you know Lizzie Borden? Read on! The blog tour schedule is:

Mon. Sept 5 - GirlZombieAuthors – Introduction – A Little About Lizzie

Tues. Sept. 6 - Jaime Johnesee blog – 12 Questions for Lizzie Borden

Weds. Sept. 7 - Jean Rabe’s blog – Lizzie Borden… Dog Lover?

Thurs. Sept. 8AF Stewart blog interview

Fri. Sept.  9Haunt Jaunts blog – More Lizzie

Sat. Sept. 10Stephen D. Sullivan blog – Lizzie Films

Sun. Sept. 11GirlZombieAuthors recap; Camille Minichino blog – Why oh why zombies?

Mon. Sept. 12Horror Maiden’s Book Reviews

Tues. Sept. 13 - RELEASE DAY!

Zombies and Toys Review!

Join the FB Release Party – prizes, guest authors, zombie fun! (See info posted on my Facebook page and website.)

Weds. Sept. 14Chapter Break Book Blog – Lizzie as a Zombie Hunter

To give the book a boost: Share a review. And come back to the GirlZombieAuthors blog or the author website for info on another blog tour starting Sept. 26 with Bewitching Book Tours.

End note from The Real Me: If you’re not a believer by the end of Christine’s tour, you’re even more stubborn than I am.

The Postmistress Cometh

Postmistress Cassie Miller debuted in DEATH TAKES PRIORITY  in November 2015. Last week, you heard her speak in her own voice. This week, she’s back, starring in the second postmistress mystery, CANCELLED BY MURDER, released this week.

Warning: No cat appears in this book.*

* This caveat is in anticipation of readers who are moved to notify me (chastise me?) of their disappointment when there’s a cat on the cover but nowhere in the story. On the positive side, no cats were harmed before, during, or after the making of this novel.

A Postmistress Speaks

Few jobs or services have the bad press accorded the USPS. Post office employees have the singular honor of having an unflattering term that refers to their behavior. “Going postal” has come to signify becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The term originates from the series of incidents beginning in the late ’80s, in which employees or former employees of the post office committed acts of murder.

I think it’s time for my favorite postmistress, Cassie Miller, of the Postmistress Mysteries, to convey a more positive view.

The calm, welcoming post office of my childhood

From Cassie

As you can see from the badge on my regulation blue USPS jacket, I’m CASSIE MILLER, POSTMISTRESS. I’ve just come in from one of my favorite duties, hoisting the American flag outside my post office. After many years working in Boston’s main postal facility, I recently returned to my home town of North Ashcot, Massachusetts.

Nothing makes me more nervous than writing an essay. Except possibly public speaking. I’m feeling that old classroom anxiety all over again. I remember those awful Compare and Contrast questions. The State the Theme of challenge. The Prove Your Point with Examples dare. Old Mr. Warren required a minimum of 500 words. Didn’t he realize how many that was? A typical thank-you note, a task forced on me by my mother, runs about 15 words. Thanks very much for the pretty green sweater, Aunt Tess. I wear it very often. That’s my speed.

But to please my mentor, Jean Flowers, I’ve agreed to write about my life running my one-woman post office in a small town. So here goes.

I love my job. I think of all USPS workers as the greatest couriers in the world. I’m honored that my customers trust me with their most important communications. Whether they’re paying a bill, sending an invitation, or dropping a Get Well line to a friend, they count on me to deliver.

Even though I’m only one person in a long chain of people on the way to your addressee, I take my responsibility very seriously. I imagine I might be handling a life-changing missive. A love letter, or its opposite. A job offer, or its opposite. An acceptance. A rejection. Every one of the approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards that are sent annually is important.

Lately I’ve had some unusual experiences. I didn’t expect to become involved in solving murders, for example! But I’ve been exposed to many aspects of USPS employment, from sorter to letter carrier to counter service, plus brief stints with the inspection arm and what we used to call the Dead Letter Office, but now refer to in a more positive way as the MRC (Mail Recovery Center).

My training has served me well. Not that I’m skilled with weapons (although guns sometimes arrive at the MRC) or forensics, but a postal worker has to be a problem solver. Like all the times the USPS receives letters addressed to God, or Santa, or the tooth fairy. Or when the mailbox on the corner yields not only envelopes but keys, eyeglasses, gloves, and the occasional roast beef sandwich.

So far, I’ve been able to help our Chief of Police, my friend Sunni Smargon, as she works to bring the bad guys to justice. But what I like to talk about best is post office history. Did you know, for example, that:

• The first woman featured on a U.S. postage stamp was Queen Isabella in 1893.

• The first American woman featured was Martha Washington in 1902.

• The USPS has more than 200,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world.

• The USPS handles 47% of the world’s mail volume.

You can imagine the fun postal workers have when we get together and exchange trivia!

Funny post office stories are also high on the list when my best friend Linda and I chat. Linda still works at the main post office in Boston and not a day goes by without at least one laugh. Today Linda told me about finding an unorthodox envelope in the outgoing mail slot—the customer had taped 1 quarter, two dimes, and 4 pennies across the top.

The best story might be the one about the elderly woman who addressed a letter to God, asking for $100 to cover her food and drug needs for the month. She had no one else to turn to, she said. A kind postal employee took up a collection and managed to pull together $90 and send it to the old lady. A few days later, a note in the same handwriting appeared, again addressed to God. “Thanks a lot for your attention,” the woman wrote. “But you should know that those corrupt postal workers stole $10.”

Not every good deed is rewarded, but here at the post office we do our best all the same.


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.


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: 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.