Friday, February 28, 2014

I Have A Cold

                                                                     Photo by Berit

I Have a Cold 

There’s nothing unusual about that except that characters in books don’t get colds.  I can recall only one character who once had a cold and there was nothing to suggest that he had post-nasal drip, a sore throat, phlegm or spells of coughing.  I know Sherlock Holmes was addicted to cocaine.  I don’t recall him suffering through the agony of withdrawal.

I often read about characters eating, but apparently very few of them go to the bathroom. 
Several pulp fiction tough private investigators got clonked on the head with some regularity but they didn’t show the effects of traumatic brain injury.  Shouldn’t their heavy drinking have exacerbated the problem? 

I think there are some things we authors don’t write about. I suspect there always have been.  For example, there are diaries of women crossing the country in covered wagons.  They wrote about babies being born on the journey, but, at least as far as I know, they didn’t write about how babies were delivered. 

I don’t recall that Hercules ever said, “Sorry I pulled a muscle wrestling a lion.  I’ll go after that monster, but I need to rest and recover first.” I know he went crazy and killed people from time to time but at least he never caught a cold.  

How are you feeling?

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Hiram, Ohio is a small town and home to Hiram College where James A. Garfield once taught. The town has one traffic light, an occasional convenience mart that’s out-of-business more often than open. Sometimes there’s a pizza parlor, but usually not. At one time there was a branch bank, but not for quite some time now. It’s where I taught for eighteen of my twenty years teaching third grade.

Hiram is also the home of the Squirrel Lady. She lives on a quiet street that I traveled each day to get to the elementary school. She had signs in her yard warning of a squirrel crossing, and supplied numerous feeders for them. She took in injured squirrels and nursed them back to health and raised baby squirrels that fell out of their nest. She’d also yell at any driver who drove too fast down the street. Although Hiram is a very small town, it has more than enough police officers who were quick to ticket drivers, so I was careful not to go over their 25 mph speed limit. I didn’t get yelled at, and I never actually met her, but I heard a lot about her.

This is not the Hiram Squirrel Lady 
There are four kinds of squirrels that live in Ohio, excluding chipmunks. There are fox squirrels, the largest squirrels and becoming scarce. There are flying squirrels. I have them in my woods but never see them because I don’t walk there at night. There are gray squirrels that live in my woods and visit my feeder. They can be almost all gray, a reddish color, a mixture of red and gray and all black. They're a medium sized squirrel. And then there are the smallest of the squirrels, the red squirrel. They’re often mistaken as baby squirrels. However, they can be the most aggressive of squirrels. I’ve heard tales, true or not, that males will castrate other males even the larger squirrels.

This could be why that for the several years I had a red squirrel living between my bedroom floor and the library ceiling, I never saw squirrels at the feeder except one small red squirrel. I knew it was a squirrel living in my house and not a rat because it was quite active in the daytime, but slept all night. I shudder at the thought of a rat ever being in my house, but although the squirrel wasn’t exactly a pet I wanted, it was certainly better than a rat. I don’t know how it got in and out and many others tried to spy some opening, too, but no one ever could. I suspect there might have been a gap between the siding and walls under my front porch. Except for some concern it might chew on my electrical wiring and cause a fire I wasn't too much bothered by the squirrel, especially since I didn’t hear chewing, only the little critter scampering about and sometimes rolling nuts around.  

A red squirrel 
Then I started finding nuts in my shoes in the closet. At that time I had a sloping attic next to my upstairs bedroom and closet. I set a small Have-A-Heart trap in there and baited it with nuts and bird seed. That didn’t work. When I found a nut under my bed pillow, I knew more drastic measures needed to be taken. I could deal with that little fellow putting nuts in my shoes in my bedroom, but not having him in my bed. So although it made me quite sad, I put rat poison in the attic and never saw him again. I still feel sad about that, but not enough to invite another squirrel into my home.

In my third book, Ladies of the Garden Club, I brought the squirrel lady to life in one of my characters, Polly Popcorn, a kindergarten teacher. I had no idea if the real one still lived in Hiram or not. But several months ago I walked into The Village Bookstore in Garrettsville, Ohio; about three miles from Hiram, and Ellen Eckhouse, the owner, introduced me to Ann O’Connell, Hiram’s squirrel lady. She’s a delightful person, still loves squirrels and loves reading books. So end of story.

Tell me about someone you’ve met who you used as a character, or if you're not a writer someone you've met who you'd like to use if you were a writer. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tracy Weber Interview

Tracy Weber doesn’t lack for subject matter when she plots a novel. Her background as a chemical engineer, an MBA recipient, a Microsoft manager, and a yoga instructor will ensure plenty of fodder for murder mayhem. In her first published novel, a Downward Dog Mystery, Murder Strikes A Pose, the main character, Kate’s career parallels Tracy’s career path to yoga instructor. Please welcome Tracy to WWK.                                                                                     E. B. Davis

Give our readers a short summary of the plot, if you would.

Murder Strikes a Pose is a happily-ever-after, murder mystery, human-animal love story! At least that’s how I think of it. ;-)

The main story is about Kate Davidson, a yoga teacher with chunky thighs, tight hamstrings, and a fiery temper, who befriends a homeless man named George and his horse-sized German shepherd, Bella. When George is killed in the parking lot of Kate’s yoga studio, Kate struggles to come to terms with (and solve) his murder while trying to find a permanent home for Bella.

Ultimately, though, it’s the story of how Kate learns to love—and make sacrifices for—a creature that is far from perfect, even though not doing so would make her life significantly easier. Throw in a new boyfriend, a trouble-causing, matchmaking best friend and lots of yoga, and it’s a story that I hope will entice you, make you laugh, and stay with you long after you finish.

One theme of your novel is relationships. What is the tie that binds?

Love. Sounds simplistic, but in Kate’s world—and in mine—the relationships that endure in spite of hardship are glued together by love. Love compels Kate and George to make sacrifices for Bella. Love connects Kate and Rene, even when they drive each other crazy. Even George’s fractured family was reunited—however briefly—because of love. Money, lust, fear, power… all of those binds dissolve in the end. Love endures.

Bella is a special needs dog, a category I never encountered before. Would you define special needs in Bella’s case? Are there other types of special needs dogs?

A special needs dog requires extra care beyond the ordinary. The most obvious needs are physical, but they can be emotional as well. Dogs with diabetes, paraplegia, and separation anxiety might all be considered special needs dogs.

Bella has two issues that fall into the special needs category. The first is an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). This disease has destroyed her pancreas, and Bella will need expensive medication and special meal preparation for the rest of her life. Bella also has a challenging temperament. Some people would call Bella aggressive, but trainers often prefer the term reactive. Bella doesn’t want to hurt anyone; she is fearful and reacts (by barking and lunging) at things she finds frightening. The goal of an aggressive animal is to cause harm. The goal of a reactive one is to make the scary thing go away. Still, reactive dogs require significant training and management, especially if they’re 100-pound German shepherds.

Bella isn’t the only one with issues. Main character Kate oscillates between analysis and impulse. Is that normal?

What is normal? I’d say all of us occasionally react impulsively, only to later regret it. Kate is more impulsive than most. However, she is aware of that flaw and is actively working to become more stable. The yoga teachings give Kate a framework for better self-control, but like many of us, she’s still a work in progress.

It never occurred to me until you asked this question, but Kate—like Bella—is reactive. At her core, Kate has a good heart. She would never consciously hurt anyone. Even though she often loses her temper, Kate is a kind, compassionate woman. Ultimately, the only person she’s ever harmed is herself.

Kate trusts Bella’s loyalties. Are animals trustworthy?

Animals, like humans, vary in personality, character, and impulse control. Most dogs have the intellect of a three-year-old child. Is a child trustworthy? Yes—within limits and with boundaries.

Bella is trustworthy in some ways, not in others. Kate can trust that Bella will never harm her. She can believe that Bella will protect her. In fact, Bella would probably die for Kate. But could Bella be trusted alone with another dog? Probably not.

One of your characters uses yoga to help her get through chemo. Have you instructed chemo patients using yoga?

Yes. As a yoga therapist, I’ve been trained to use yoga tools to help people with a variety of conditions, from back pain, to asthma, to chronic anxiety. Several clients have taken yoga classes with me while they were undergoing cancer treatment. I do ask that they have doctor approval, especially for group classes, as their immunity is often compromised.

Early on in my yoga career, I taught for a wonderful organization called Team Survivor Northwest . They offer classes to women and their supporters in all stages of cancer treatment and recovery. In general, yoga during cancer treatment focuses on promoting mental balance, building energy, and helping minimize treatment side effects.

Do you think that the universe is ordered or random?

A little of both, maybe? There are so many aspects of life that we can’t control, yet I do believe each of us has a purpose on this earth. The yoga teachings say that we can’t control what happens in the world around us. That would imply that the world is random. Yet the teachings also say that we can decide how we will react to the events of our lives. Therefore we can impose order, at least in ourselves.

Let’s take George, for instance. George couldn’t control the economic events that destroyed his business, but he chose how to react when it failed. If he had gone into rehab, his life might have ended up very differently. Likewise, Kate couldn’t prevent the death of her father, but she could (and did) eventually decide to move on after his passing.

What authors do you read?

I LOVE cozy mysteries, especially those that involve dogs. Susan Conant, Laurien Berenson, Linda O. Johnston, Waverly Curtis, and Sheila Boneham are some of my favorites!

Your German Shepard, Tasha, has very long ears! Is there something about German Shepard dogs that that attracts you? When she stands on two legs, is she taller than you?

You should see her feet! Actually, everything about Tasha is big. The average female German shepherd weighs 65 – 75 pounds. Tasha’s ideal weight is 100 pounds.

I’ve loved German shepherds since I was about three years old. They are intelligent, affectionate, loyal, loving, and protective. Tasha has hip dysplasia, so she hasn’t stood on her back legs since she was a puppy. But she can easily take up my whole side of the bed and she weighs almost as much as I do, so I suspect the answer is yes.

What’s next for Kate?

Kate will be back in my next mystery, A MURDEROUS RETREAT. She and her crew of friends are off for a working vacation at an upscale vegan retreat center on Orcas Island, a small island in Washington State. She’s planning to relax, kick back, and teach a few yoga classes. She might even splurge for a massage. She’s certainly not going to stumble across any more bodies, is she? ;-)

Are you a beach or a mountain person?

Beach, all the way. Warmth, sun, and sand. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's a Small World

During the last two weeks while I watched the Olympics and read Tweets about the events, I realized it really is a small world—one that’s getting smaller by the nanosecond. With technology continually and instantly connecting us, I think we’re influencing each other in many new ways.

I don’t know if you watched the spectacular Sochi Olympics opening ceremony, but one performance stood out in my mind for a peculiar reason. A rather stoic Russian Police Choir (except for the main singers who grooved) performed the song, Get Lucky, by the French electronic music duo, Daft Punk, in English. I found it a rather bold song choice since it’s about, well, someone getting lucky. Granted it’s a catchy tune and won a Grammy, but I didn’t expect to see it performed in this venue…and by policemen.

The spread of popular music shouldn’t have surprised me. Gangnam Style, the pop song by South Korean musician, Psy, went viral and became a global hit. In the United States, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood danced to it during the CMA Awards, Today Show hosts jived to the beat, and Halloween lights on some houses were synced to flash to the song. (Pity the neighbors as the light show was repeated over and over, all night long.)

I noticed another curious thing at the Olympics—fist-bumping. I had thought this was a uniquely American good-luck/celebratory action but apparently I was wrong. President Putin fist-bumped the Russian hockey team prior to a game. A Chinese athlete triple-fist-bumped (top, bottom, front) his coach before competing in aerial skiing. I expect he needed extra luck to jump 60 feet in the air, summersault multiple times, and land on his feet.

If this ritual began in America perhaps it went international in 2008 when Barack and Michelle Obama knocked knuckles in what the Washington Post called “the fist-bump heard ’round the world.” Maybe everyone should fist-bump instead of shaking hands to help prevent the spread of germs.

Speaking of around the world, my niece ordered a used textbook for medical school from an on-line bookseller. She monitored the book’s journey on her computer as it was sent from India, traveled to London, made a stop in New York, then arrived at her Philadelphia home. Surprisingly, it was more cost effective for her to buy a used book sent from another country than purchase a new one from the U.S.

Thank goodness for cable television broadcasting shows produced in other countries such as, The Artful Detective (Canada) and Sherlock (U.K.), into my living room. My favorite is Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries based on Kerry Greenwood’s excellent books set in the late 1920s. Unfortunately, this Australian series may be discontinued due to budget concerns even though they have a large audience. (Please, please, bring back Phryne Fisher for a third season!)

Maybe it’s not a small world after all, but a small universe. Olympic athletes who won gold medals on February 15, 2014, the anniversary of last year’s asteroid strike in Russia, will receive additional medals imbedded with a piece of the space rock. And, last November, the Olympic Torch went to the International Space Station and was taken on a spacewalk.

Do you feel the world has become smaller?

Monday, February 24, 2014

“Winter Is Coming” and Other Things I Learned from Game of Thrones

My son found the third season of the HBO series, Game of Thrones, on a spectacular deal at a local big box store and bought it. I’ve long been a science fiction and fantasy reader, and he joined me as soon as he could read. We’re both fans of George R. R. Martin’s series of books from which the TV show is made, and we have watched the first two seasons (on DVD). Heck, even my husband is hooked on Game of Thrones—he who hates fantasy of any kind. The books have been very successful, and the TV series is a spectacular hit. Ben, my husband, is not the only one who scoffs at books with dragons and magic who’s caught up in this particular story. So I thought I’d pick up some tips on storytelling from someone who’s been so successful.

The first lesson is—and this is no spoiler because complaints about it are all over Facebook, Twitter, and various blogs online—every character you come to care about dies. Well, not every single one. At least, not yet. But Martin lets the reader know he’s playing for keeps and that no character, however good, however noble, however much he may seem to be a protagonist, is safe. Ed McBain did this back in the 1960s when he killed off one of his beloved major characters in his popular 87th Precinct police procedural series. He did it as a signal that the usual rules of genre fiction were not applying, and anyone in his books was vulnerable. It shook up his readers, caused a storm of controversy, and enlivened a long-running series.

Other crime fiction writers do this on occasion today. One major writer killed off a pregnant character who’d been a major fixture in her series since the beginning and touched off rage in a number of her readers who swore never to read another of her books. (Her several books since then have been even bigger bestsellers than ever.) Fans of the Game of Thrones TV series have cursed and screamed imprecations all over the internet and sworn to stop watching, but Game of Thrones is a bigger hit than ever. So, lesson one has to do with suspense—if everyone is vulnerable, the reader truly cares and worries about whether those characters she’s come to love will survive.

The next lesson has to do with character. The characters Martin makes us care about most are characters with flaws and weaknesses. 

Tyrion Lannister, the misshapen, brilliant, sarcastic dwarf whose own wealthy, powerful father hates him. 

Arya Stark, the tomboy, unladylike, wild, and reckless, whose own family doesn’t seem to value her as much as her perfect, beautiful sister.

Jon Snow, Arya’s bastard older brother (the only one who really seems to see her true worth) who’s exiled to the Night’s Watch, a band of outcasts who live in the wilds and guard the fragile borders of the civilized kingdoms.

Danaerys Stormborn Targaryen, last of her royal line, only survivor of the massacre of her family when she was a babe (except her tyrannical older brother who terrorized her before his own death), penniless, with the powerful usurper of her family’s throne sending assassins to kill her, her husband and child killed by black magic.

Samwell Tarly, loyal, self-deprecating, and overweight, scholarly heir to a lord who gave him the choice of giving up his inheritance and joining the Night’s Watch or a grisly death.

We watch these people make their mistakes while trying to do the right thing and fight against overwhelming odds in whatever ways they can. And we root wildly for them and fear for them because (see lesson one) we know any of them could die tomorrow.

The antagonists of Game of Thrones are also more fully limned than usual villains. Some that people love to hate, such as Jaime Lannister and his incestuous sister Cersei, are so fully developed with backgrounds that explain their evil behavior and often leave the reader/viewer almost sympathetic as he comes to understand what drives them. This is a strategy that strengthens a book or film and makes the whole plot more realistic and more suspenseful, as opposed to the two-dimensional melodramatic villains that are often used by writers.

The third lesson is another aspect of suspense--foreshadowing. From the beginning of the books and the series, the ominous repetition of a phrase that is both the motto of a major noble house and a warning embedded in the entire culture—“Winter Is Coming”--in this world where winter may last a decade or longer and bring with it horrible monsters to devastate the world. The reader and viewer know that a larger danger lies over the entire story-world while the violent battles between royal contenders, individual crimes, and intricate conspiracies and betrayals hijack the attention and focus of everyone. The characters are like ants fighting a war while a giant shoe is poised to stamp them out of existence.

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Do you read or watch in a genre outside of mystery/thriller and do you find lessons in those genres that can be applied in the realm of crime and suspense?