What’s your alibi?

Here’s a photo of me taken in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal, in a rare moment when I actually posed for whoever was the persuasive photographer.

Oh no, you’re saying, is this another of those “I Miss New York” stories? (Where’s the “Miss” emoticon, by the way?)

Well, I do love GCT, even though it has been decades since I’ve been there to ride a train, as opposed to buy postcards and eat a lobster roll at the Oyster Bar.

This time I’m admitting that I often study backgrounds, wondering, e.g., who the guy in the pink shirt is, and what those kids on the right are doing now. Were they tourists at the time with their father (?) standing next to them in the plaid shirt? Or maybe they rode the subway from the Bronx for a day in Manhattan. And what’s Daddy looking at? “Information” is all the way to the left, under the famous set of clocks.

It’s hard to identify too many other people in this shot, unless we could send it “to the lab,” that magic place in televisionland where they’d be able to zoom in on that guy in the khaki shorts and black shirt, all the way in the back, past Denim Skirt, and match him with someone in their “system.”

This activity is on my mind at the moment since I’m writing a scene where a candid taken at a Fair shows a guy in the background who . . . never mind, I’m not sure yet how I’ll use it.

BUT, if you ever need an alibi, let me know. I might have your photo in one of my backgrounds.

DINER LINGO

DINER LINGO

BOOK 2 of the series will be released in November. It’s ready for preorder. BOOK 1, Mousse and Murder was released in May 2020.

I’m in the middle of my 3-book series set in an Alaskan diner, currently reviewing the galleys for Book 2, FISHING FOR TROUBLE.

How did diners get started? The best I can do is go back to 1872 and credit Walter Scott, a horse-drawn wagon in Providence, Rhode Island, and a menu designed to feed night owls, whether workers finishing the late shift, or revelers looking for an off-hours meal.

The wagon evolved into “rolling restaurants,” with a few seats added inside, and then dining cars and finally, around 1924, permanently located “diners,” most maintaining the train-car look.

With a new style of restaurant came a new set of phrases, or “diner lingo,” the way a short order cook might communicate with her staff. Some call it shorthand, but diner lingo is often longer than the regular term for the menu item.

“A side of bad breath,” for example is not as succinct as “with onions.”  And “a stack of Vermont” is longer than “pancakes.”

My guess: it’s more for adding fun to a job. Who doesn’t want to do that?

Probably among the best known call-outs are “Adam and Eve on a raft” (two eggs on toast), and “Battle Creek in a bowl” (corn flakes).

Other favorites of mine are:

“Burn the British” (toast an English muffin).

 “Cowboy” (western omelet).

“Cops and robbers” (coffee and donuts).

“In the alley” (on the side).

“Butcher’s revenge” (meatloaf).

A few phrases have been assimilated into our language, no longer recognized as diner-related, like sunny side up, BLT, OJ, and 86 it.

Post your favorites. But whatever you do, don’t be a camper*!

*One who stays at the table or counter for a long time, depriving the server of new tips.

NYC–Looking Back

The sun setting on 42nd Street

It’s a crazy time to be a writer. At least, for this writer.

I “should” be in New York right now, at a conference that I’ve attended every year. Not this year, of course. The conference was cancelled, like all the conferences and events of 2020. Cancelled. Like me, lucky to be NOT sick, not jobless. Just cancelled.

Here’s a blog from the past. New York City as I remember it, written after a trip earlier this century.

I’m just back from a trip to Manhattan with three friends. It was very relaxing – for five days we were out the door of our Times Square hotel by eight in morning, and home by two the next morning, 18 hours later.

In between: the Metropolitan Museum, the Neue Gallery, the Guggenheim, cheesecake at the Roxy deli, the NY Philharmonic (Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff);  Angela Lansbury (!) in Blythe Spirit; afternoon tea at the Ritz on Central Park South; the magnificent NYPL; Little Italy; Bloomies; the Iridium jazz club; and, oh yes, Borders at Columbus Circle where (while I lurked behind a bookcase) my friends suggested that they reorder all my books. We ended the week with a late night show in the Lincoln Center theater: Woody Allen’s new “Whatever Works.” Not brilliant, we decided, but so much fun to see it in Manhattan, where the audience claps when his name appears!

At one point as we waited to cross a busy street, one of my friends cupped her ears. It turned out she’d been bothered all week by the noise.  

“What noise?” I asked.

She meant the soothing sounds of taxis; buses; industrial motors, generators, and fans; crowds of people; alarms. All music to my ears. As opposed to the quiet suburbs where silence is broken only by the occasional ear-splitting pickup truck stereo system.

What’s noise and what’s soothing background?

It goes back to childhood, I believe. My bedroom window growing up was about 3 feet from a bar/pizza parlor. I fell asleep to the sounds of the jukebox. Later, I had a nearly 2-hour commute to college in Boston. For 4 years, I did my calculus homework on the famous MTA, often with one arm slung around a pole.

For me, noise provides stimulus to write and a reassuring background to sleep. If it’s too quiet, I can’t relax, neither to write nor to rest. Where is everyone? I wonder. Maybe I should get up and look around.

New York City is the perfect place to relax.

July 4 past and present

Here’s a link to Boston Pops past.

This year, enjoy the Pops or your favorite July 4 music from the safety of your home and keep well!

🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

And one more bit of news: Volume 2 of Low Down Dirty Vote will be out July 4, 2020. More on that on the day!

You may have seen this on FB — wanted to give full credit here also to photojournalist B. A. Van Sise, who also wrote the article. I think the photos are nicely WEIRD!

This appeared in the Fordham News Magazine, Spring/Summer 2020.

Camille Minichino has, in the course of her more than eight decades, been a nun, a physicist, and a mystery novelist, with more than two dozen titles to her credit, including one published this spring.

Her California home is filled with what she calls her miniatures—expansive, intricate dollhouses depicting Lilliputian versions of scenes from her mystery novels. The miniatures, like their creator and her murderers, are careful, meticulous—every bit in its proper place, no table turned over but for plot.
“In the end, it’s all the same thing,” Minichino says. “Physics, mystery, even the houses. It’s about taking the unknown and working, step by step, to know it, to make it real.”
She is effortlessly eloquent discussing physics—in which she earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the 1965 and 1968 before embarking on a long career studying and teaching high-temperature, high-pressure physics—and points out warmly that all physics is commanded by different flavors of quarks, including up, down, strange, and charm. “Come to think of it,” she says with a chuckle, “mystery stories are built on those same elements, too.”
She’s been to college three times. Now, at 82, she’s enrolled in school again, getting a second master’s degree in creative writing—a certification whose lack has always troubled her, regardless of the 27 novels to her name. She has no trouble explaining why, in spite of all her achievements, she’s back taking classes. “There’s so many days, still,” Minichino says, “and every day you’re not learning is a waste of a day.”

Minichino’s latest novel is Mousse and Murder (Berkley, 2020), the first book in the Alaskan Diner Mystery series she’s writing under the pen name Elizabeth Logan.

Camille Minichino holds a tiny vintage icebox from one of her mystery novel miniatures.

The Whites of Their Eyes

The Bunker Hill Monument

June 17 is Bunker Hill Day — one of many holidays in Boston and vicinity that commemorate the Revolutionary War. And one of many, like Patriot’s Day (April 19), that I had to give up when I left Massachusetts. (I take the days off anyway.)

This event is famous for the expression: Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes! allegedly necessary because the troops were low on ammunition.

An embarrassing admission: As a grade school student, on a field trip to the monument, I couldn’t make the climb! Thanks to Joey who gave me a helping hand, c. 1947.

Cryptoquote

Thursday crept up on me this week, thanks to a birthday. Okay, it was mine, which meant a lot of nice surprises but they messed with my calendar.

So I’m offering an extra cryptoquote this week, one the Cable Guy likes, from an unlikely source:

AHUDMVUAVA BIDPF PQJLV BJUMC CIDPV VTUMCA; DMCUMDDIA BJ VTDF.

                                    – EPFDA FUHTDMDI

And for a smile, a classic from an earlier age:

One time a guy handed me a picture and said ‘Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.’ Every picture is of you when you were younger, I said.

Expert Puzzler

Besides penning her excellent Samuel Craddock mysteries, TERRY SHAMES is an Expert Puzzler.

When my Cable Guy and I got a 3000-piece puzzle as a gift some time ago, we said, “No way,” and put it on the giveaway table. Terry Shames took up the challenge, and here’s the result.

The puzzle on March 18, 2020

She shares her story here!

First, you do understand that 15 pieces are missing, right? My dog (or dogs) (Editor’s note, “Sparky”) snacked on them. Because it’s so big, it hardly matters.

I started it March 18, which is when my husband and I went into serious lockdown. It turned out that the only surface big enough for it was our large dining room table. Which was fine. I figured we wouldn’t be having people over anyway. 

Here’s the fun thing: I don’t look at the picture when I do a puzzle. I challenge myself that way. Turned out to be a huge challenge. And also turned out to be a huge mistake (see below) 
I usually try to organize pieces one way or another—by color and texture. There were simply too many pieces to do this. I had to slog ahead.

The puzzle on March 30, 2020

About a week ago, I got sick of it and decided I had to really make a push to finish or throw it away. Of course I’m too stubborn to quit, which meant if I was going to get it done, I had to spend hours every day for a week. But by then I knew that every piece I found a home for meant fewer pieces to have to look at.

The puzzle on May 6, 2020

As for the big mistake. Here it is: I had a big chunk that I had put together separately and as I neared the end, I realized it didn’t go anywhere. So I had to peek at the cover. And found that I had put two sections together wrong. The lower left-hand corner and the upper right-hand corner were switched—I mean really switched, like around 100 pieces in each section. The odd thing was that pieces fit together nicely—wrong.
So two mornings ago I got up and said, “Go for it!” I loosened each offending section and then slid them around to slot in where they were supposed to go. Needless to say, it answered some puzzling (pun intended) questions about what the thing was supposed to look like. An hour later, I was done!
Here is a better photo of the finished product. I had to stand on a stool and try about 10 photos to make it work: 

Done!

CONGRATULATIONS, Terry!

MY TARGETS

Sometimes I’m late learning a very useful word. This time the word is

Paraprosdokian

— a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising, frequently humorous. It’s said that Sir Winston Churchill was a big fan.

Here’s one I like especially, since it describes me pretty well.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

More often than not, this is my decision making process. No planning, just responses to what comes my way.

In the writing/publishing life, this is called being a pantser (writing by the seat of one’s pants), not a plotter (outlining the story).

It’s my theory, that in the general population, people fall into one category or the other. For example, how do you approach a dinner party at your home:

            a) write out a menu, check off what you have in stock vs what you need to buy, assemble menus, and so on.

            b) check out your freezer and fridge an hour or so before, and work with it.

How do you approach a project/hobby? (see above choices)

And so on.

Here’s what a pantser’s desk might look like. There’s a rare opening for writing out a postcard. A last minute thought: make a list of items you see here. A prize for the longest list in the comments.


Does your process work for you – whether you’re writing a book or learning a new skill?

That’s all that matters. The target will take care of itself.

A Spam Test

Last week’s post, a quote from Carl Sagan, earned me nearly 100 SPAM comments over the course of a couple of days. Was it Sagan who drew them? The quote itself? I have no idea.

I eventually deleted the post and all the spam, but what a nuisance.

This is a test—a simple photo a friend of mine took of the NYPL from her hotel room across the street, to see if the spammers will follow me here.

Yours, Camille/Margaret/Ada/Jean, and now Elizabeth!