Category : personal

How Long is Short?

I’m not talking about skirt length, or even of a prison term, but of STORIES.

I sat through a program about short stories recently and came away with one interesting factoid (yes, only one, therefore I won’t name the sponsor).

The factoid: The Great Gatsby, often called the Great American Novel, is barely longer than a long short story.

Sorry about the outpouring of adjectives, but I checked it out and, sure enough, The Great Gatsby is fewer than 48,000 words. Today that would be called a novella, shorter by 30,000 + words than a typical mystery novel, even a cozy.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (born September 24, 1896, a distant cousin of THE OTHER Francis Scott Key) tended to write short, as did several other well-known writers.

Here are four more short novels: Fight Club, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I can hardly wait till my next contract negotiation.

In Person

Next week at this time, I’ll be preparing to venture OUT to an in-person book event. Wish me luck. I hope I remember to wear my street clothes.


September 11, 2001, coming this week, the 20th anniversary of a day every adult remembers.

One impressive new version of the World Trade Center stands in Manhattan. I’ve written about it and included an image in my September newsletter. There are also other formal memorials and tributes to those who found themselves drawn into what we simply refer to as 9/11.

I’ve chosen a less formal, but poignant image as we reflect on the heroes and those we lost.

Part of an informal memorial to the victims of United Flight 93, which crashed in a nearby field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought with hijackers who had taken the plane and directed it to Washington during the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.


Labor — the beginning

Revere Beach Boulevard in the ’50s
My cousin Richard and his mother, my Aunt Annie, across the street from the Cyclone Roller Coaster.

Labor Day and who doesn’t recall her first job?

Mine was twirling cotton candy at a concession stand on Revere Beach Boulevard. I was 12 years old.

The area under the cyclone in the top photo is where Fred and Lil hired me to twirl cotton candy. Each of the following summers I was promoted to a different part of the concession. The soft drink section. The pepper steak grill. The fried clams!

Don’t look for the coaster now — it’s history, along with the rest of the amusements on the 2-mile boardwalk.

Deal of the week: Several decades later, I wrote a short short story set on the Cyclone. You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t and you pay $.99 to read it, let me know and I’ll “reimburse” you with one of my paperback mysteries!

19th Amendment

August 26 is the anniversary of the ratification the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. Anthony, Library of Congress photo

Old Ironsides

August 19, 1812: The USS Constitution defeated the British frigate HMS Guerriere off Nova Scotia during the War of 1812, earning the nickname “Old Ironsides.”

The question is how did the ship get from Nova Scotia to Boston Harbor, which it has called home at least since I was a kid.

I can’t answer that, but I can attest to its presence in Boston when I was in grammar school. Remember Field Trips? This was one of ours. Not that I remember the tour, but surely the bus ride from Revere.

Too bad I didn’t appreciate history at the time, surrounded as I was by “where it all began” as our teachers tried to drill into us.

For some reason, the drills involving the multiplication tables were more interesting to me. And now it’s too late — I could never climb onto the deck for the tour, any more than I could climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, also the object of a Field Trip.

Where did your Field Trips take you?

Pure Sport

While everyone was glued to something called the Olympics, I decided to travel back to this month in 1950, August 11, in fact, when Boston Braves pitcher Vern Bickford pitched a no-hitter against the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving the Braves a win of 7-0.

Those were the days, my friend. Pure Sport, no soap opera behind-the-scenes tales or Vern Bickford throw mats and fragrances.

At least I thought so. A short time later, I learned about the Pure Business part, when the Braves ditched Boston for a more financially rewarding Milwaukee.

For more on this, see:

My short-lived love of Pure Baseball is enshrined in an authentic, signed photo of Warren Spahn on my bookcase. Spahn stands next to a Boston Braves hat (not authentic) and a pile of engineering reports. Places of honor.

M is for Mini

Some exciting news this week: reversion of rights!

I have my rights back to the last 4 Miniature Mysteries. By the end of the year, you’ll see all 9 as a set, with “matching” covers.

The first 3 have already been re-released, under my own name, with different covers from the original releases.

What’s in a name? Could mine have predisposed me to a life-long miniatures hobby and a string of mystery novels about a miniaturist? It makes as much sense as anything.

As a kid, I played with the one “toy” I had, which was a dollhouse my father built for me. Along with my favorite cousin, I turned everything into minis. We cut up old greeting cards and “framed” a bird or a flower or a bicycle to decorate the walls of my mini house. We sliced pieces of straw from a broom and made spaghetti. We covered sponges with scraps of fabric and made beds and easy chairs.

We had a whole life in miniature.

I’ve kept that hobby through my adult years. At one time or other, nearly everyone I know has received a miniature “something.” A small sewing scene for my quilt-making friend, a tiny cluttered dorm room for one stepdaughter, a miniature stable for another. In my home I have a post office, a 6-level museum, and a funeral parlor, all in miniature.

Photos on request!

Going up!

In about a month, I’ll be teaching one of my favorite classes: Science, Technology, and Social Change. As you might guess from the title, the class encompasses the history and philosophy of science through the ages, as well as the ways new technology presents new questions and answers.

Topics are as ancient as the teachings of the pre-Socratics and as modern as the latest in observations of black holes.

I like to start by asking my students to place themselves on the technology spectrum between Luddite and Early Adopter.

It’s amusing enough to read anti-technology sentiments from students who are earning their degrees completely online.

But no one beats a woman I saw at a conference hotel a few years ago, as we both waited in line for an elevator. This person wore a large, obviously homemade button on her lapel: LAST LIVING LUDDITE.

I smiled. “That can’t be you,” I said.

“Yes it is,” she said, head held high. “I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t email or text. I’m not on Facebook—”

I had to interrupt. “So, you’re not in line for the elevator?”

She looked confused. “Of course I am.”

But this was a very smart lady. I could tell by her frown that she knew where I was headed.

The elevator came. The lady turned and walked away. I wondered if she used the stairs or simply took the next car.

I wish she’d stayed. I love hearing about people’s attitudes toward technology, where their thresholds are.


Magneto Compass generating unit recovered from aircraft used by pilot Wiley Post on his final flight in August 1935. Public Domain image, Smithsonian Museum

On July 22, 1933 (before even I was born) Aviator Wiley Post completed the first solo flight around the world. The flight took 7 days and 19 hours.

In August 1935 Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers were flying together in a hybrid airplane when they crashed 15 miles outside of Point Barrow, Alaska.

The airport in Utqiaġvik, the largest city and borough seat of the North Slope Borough of Alaska is called the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.

It seems fitting to honor Post, and others like him, after a week of edge-of-space flights.