Archive for September, 2020

Coming Soon: Halloween

Post Card issued 1911. From The New York Public Library Collection.

Finally the checkout clerk won’t look at me funny when I unload large bags of candy.

I can’t say enough about a month that starts out National Dollhouse Month, and ends with Halloween.

Throw in all that fun-size candy, those glittery costumes, and the anniversary of Sputnick (October 4, 1957), and you have 31 party-filled days every year. Well, except for October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles read a script derived from “The War of the Worlds” and scared millions in the radio audience more than any ghosts, evil witches, or giant spiders’ webs could have.

 In October, all the white skirts and shoes are safely put away and the orange comes out: pumpkin scones, pumpkin lattes, and pumpkin ice cream. No wonder I love this season.

I always wanted to live on a street that treated Halloween with respect, taking orange and black decorations seriously. It didn’t happen, so I created one of my own in my fifth miniature mystery, “Monster in Miniature.”

FYI, “Monster in Miniature” will be re-released soon, maybe even in time for this Halloween. Watch this spot!

It’s not a coincidence that National Dollhouse Month is the same month as Halloween. Dollhouses and Halloween go together just as Mysteries and Halloween are a natural combination. Every miniaturist has built at least one haunted house.

This year will be different, of course. It’s hard to trick-or-treat on zoom, as wonderful as that software is. We’ll have to get more creative. There’s no reason we can’t have a costume party — and it will be easier than ever: waist up only!

All ideas welcome!

I wish there were Halloween carols to sing. But failing that, I’ve programmed my smart phone with a new ring tone: He did the mash. He did the monster mash.

It will have to do.

What noise?

Yes, another NYC story, but a short one.

I’d been there with a friend for several days.

At one point as we waited to cross a busy street, she 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; cars honking; buses; industrial motors, generators, and fans; crowds of people; alarms; jackhammers. All music to my ears. As opposed to the quiet suburbs where silence is broken only by the occasional ear-splitting lawn sprinkler.

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, always with chatter all around me.

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.

How many decibels does it take for you to feel comfortable?

Q and A

Generic university facade

Answers Please!

It’s September and time for a story from academia.What do you think of when you hear, “It’s all academic”?

That it doesn’t matter? That it’s not practical? No use arguing?

Here’s an incident that might enhance your definition.

Q: What’s the difference between a physicist and a historian?

No, it’s not a joke, it’s actually a true story of an interaction between me and a friend who is a history professor at a university in the east. By which I mean Pennsylvania, not Mongolia.


He’s a PhD history professor, a good friend, and found himself on the review panel for a doctoral thesis on a problem in the history of quantum mechanics.

He called me in a panic. He was the only nonscientist on the committee. He needed to look as smart as the rest of the members. Would I help him?

Of course.

He emailed me and attached the student’s ten-page summary and asked if I could come up with two or three intelligent questions for him to pose to the student who was defending his thesis.

“I can do that,” I said, always thrilled when someone wants to learn science, for whatever reason. I read the summary, wrote out three questions, and called him the next morning

“I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “These are great.”

“I’m glad. I’m ready to discuss them with you.”

He laughed. “Oh, no, I don’t need to discuss anything,” he said. “All I need are these questions. The answers aren’t important.” 

It took a while for his message to sink in: as long as he posed an intelligent question, he’d sound smart. He could then sit back and let the others, especially the student, come up with the discussion and possible answers. 

For me, it was a different take on “It’s all academic.”

How about you?

Updates and Icons

I have a new word to hate, and it’s UPDATE.

What ever happened to Leave well enough alone? Or the elegant, If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?

I work with 2 different academic websites, one worse than the other for updates and (*&^ icons (oops, slip of the links).

There are six ways to do everything on these sites—like post an email, and ten places to put it after you’ve written it. I’ve forgotten how to do the math that calculates how many combinations and permutations that amounts to.

In a strange twist of web designer/user interface, in one class where the opening website to click on your course is new, and the course navigation scheme is new, someone had the decency (guilt feelings?) to include a sentence in tiny font, almost grayed out: Click to see original layout.

Then there are ICONS chosen by ? Please introduce me; I’d like to tell ’em what I think.

What do you think this is?

Here’s an example.

In one class, after I’ve written the text of a post, I get to choose from broad range of things. bold, italic, or Heading, for example. Or bold italic, or bold italic heading, and so on. Today I wanted to choose a color for a line of text so it would stand out. Red, I thought, that should be easy.

But nowhere could I find the icon that said, in any words I could understand, “red” or “color” or color red.

I’ve learned to hack around, however, and so I began clicking on every single icon. Fascinating choices popped up. I had the feeling I could have switched to the language of Croatia more easily than I could find RED. Finally, because I ran out of logical ones, I clicked on the stack of waffles in the image above.

Voila! It opened up a rainbow of further choices including colors, plus many other tools.

OK, raise your hand, you who thought this was the way to indicate “colors”? Or anything other than waffles or dominoes?

I’m leaving before I accidentally hit the COLLAPSE button on the sidebar

and either I or the computer ends in a heap.

In the mail

Actually in the ether. But the point is that I wrote THE END and sent off another manuscript to my publisher. This is Book 3 of the Alaska Diner series.

Granted it’s not really the end because it has to go through the entire structure of the publishing house—editor, editor’s boss, copy editor, galley editor, production editor. And who knows what other “team” members. But at least there’s a core 84,000 words that make up the story, and most of that will survive the blue pencils, or these days “track changes.”

My first 4 mystery series were inspired by me; that is, careers or hobbies I’ve had—physicist, miniaturist, math teacher, postal worker. Even most of my standalones and short stories have been connected in some way to my past—a nun, a concession worker on a boardwalk, inspecting commercial nuclear plants.

But for this new series, my 26th  through 28th  novel, I broke from that pattern, and actually wrote fiction! Yes, it was my publisher’s idea. Oh, and so was a new name: Elizabeth Logan.

“How about a cat in a diner in Alaska?” my editor said. (As most of you may know, editors don’t ask, even when there’s a question mark at the end of their sentences. They tell.)

Book 2 of the series, available for PreOrder.

“Sure,” I said.

I’ve never owned a cat, but apparently every one of my friends has and they were only too eager to help me out with stories. Thus, an orange tabby, Eggs Benedict, Benny for short, was born. (He has his own Pinterest page, by the way. You can check out “Benny” there.)

It’s funny to have my critique partners argue over whether Benny can or can not do a certain thing, eat a certain thing, sound a certain way. So it’s not much different from other research, such as when you ask a question of experts in police procedure, for example, and you get “yes” from three or four, and “no” from three or four others. The good news is you’re then free to do what you want!

A funny example: one friend insists her cat eats corn on the cob, while it’s still on the cob. She demonstrates with her own hands and mouth, teeth running along a “row.” Another friend insists no cat would or can do that. I went with “can” because it was more fun, but my editor scratched it!

Moral here, in case you missed it: you never know whom to credit or blame for settings, pets, character names, pen names, cover design, story decisions. It takes a village!