Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Tropical Spring By Kait Carson

I admit to being green. Green with envy. It’s spring. My favorite time of the year, in the north. Here in Florida spring is much like any other season. We’re seeing the last of the cool weather—there is a projection that the low will be 60 tonight. Positively frigid for a south Florida spring. I’m looking forward to the last breaths of cooler air before the humidity comes in and blankets everything like a 1950s rubber sweat suit.

Recently there have been a lot of blog posts with photos of budding trees and early flowers. My pity party was in full swing before I walked outside and looked around. Spring has sprung in South Florida. Everywhere I looked bushes and ground that had been merely green throughout the fall and winter have burst into bloom. The angel trumpet plant is sprouting its bell shaped flowers. The oleander is beginning to burst into bloom. Bougainvillea is developing its colorful bracts. The colors on the croton are deepening and becoming more variegated. The plumbago, always in bloom to a greater or lesser extent, is bursting at the seams with new growth. Yes, it’s spring in south Florida.
A hearty Florida spring has another benefit for mystery writers. Every single one of the plants I’ve listed above grow in my garden. Each of them is poisonous to one extent or another. Some only from the standpoint of causing nasty rashes in the sensitive. Others…deadly. Motive, means, opportunity, anyone? A cornucopia of beautiful death. Springtime in South Florida.

On a lighter note, I’m attaching a photo of the oak that grows in my back yard. The arborist estimated it could be between four and five hundred years old. Many of Florida’s deadly shrubs and wildflowers, including the deadly castor plant, not currently in bloom, but nestled among the roots, grow in his shadow. The granddaddy oak overseeing his garden of good and evil.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin: A review by Warren Bull


The Case of the Gilded Fly was published in 1944. Edmund Crispin is generally considered a literary mystery author. The novel makes many references to classic literature and music, most of which I did not know. I’m sure much of the wittiness and humor went over my head. Maybe that is why I did not like the book. The Case of the Gilded Fly is the first Gervase Fen mystery.
So much of reading is a matter of taste. Someone else, especially someone well versed in the classics, might enjoy the book. For me, by not introducing the main character in the prologue or the first chapter the author had me following a secondary character for most of the novel. It was sort of like trying to understand a Sherlock Holmes mystery by paying close attention to Dr. Watson. 
I found it disturbing that the murder victim’s death was nearly celebrated by the majority of the characters who compared it to drowning unwanted kittens or exterminating vermin. Even the protagonist had mixed feelings about telling the police who committed the crime and how it was done. Personally, I don’t find drowning kittens with exterminating termites or ants to be morally equivalent. In my opinion neither comes close to the immorality of killing a person.Although the woman killed was a truly awful person, I think discovering and punishing murder is part of a civilized society.
The novel was written and set when World War II was part of everyone’s life. In that war millions of people were slaughtered. The perception of a single death might well have been different back then.
I can report that the writing is well done and quite literate.  The manner of presenting the crime was fair. The method of death was ingenious. 

One of my quirks is that I rarely like books in which I do not find any character compelling. That does not mean the character has to be likeable, but I prefer having someone to root for. I will settle for having someone to root against. In this book I thought all the main characters in the novel were obnoxious in one way or another. Characters treated each other with condescension, which I did not find amusing. The Case of the Gilded Fly was not my cup of tea.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Just a few of my many books on folklore and myths.
In the early 1980s I took one of my favorite classes while earning a degree in elementary education. It was a class in Folklore taught by one of my favorite professors, Vivian Pemberton, who became a friend of mine. I found all aspects of the class interesting, but the one I’m writing about here is urban legends. They often derive from earlier legends that have been changed through the year with each telling. A few years after I’d graduated, a column appeared in my local tribune called “Urban Legends,” written by Professor Jan Harold Brunvand. I have no idea which college she taught at, or what her specialty was, but I clipped out those articles and still have them almost thirty years later.

The first I’m going to tell is about a Doberman’s meal, in which a young woman who lived alone returned home to find her Doberman choking violently. She immediately drove the dog to her local veterinarian. The vet informed her that the dog would have to be sedated, and it could be several hours to correct the problem and release the dog. He told her to return home, and he would telephone her later. Her telephone was ringing when she unlocked her door, and it was the veterinarian. In a barely controlled voice, he told her to leave the house immediately. No questions – just leave. The police arrived a few moments later, for the vet had also called them. They searched the house and found a burly, mean burglar hiding in the hall closet, passed out from loss of blood. The Doberman had been choking on three of the burglars’ fingers, which it had bitten off.

The professor wrote that this could be true, but was more than likely passed down from the ancestor of this story. In the original story, the hero, Prince Llewellyn, returns home where he has left his hunting dog guarding the baby. He discovers the dog, covered with blood, cringing at the open front door. Then he sees the baby’s crib inside, overturned and empty. Assuming that the dog has attacked the child, the prince kills the animal, only to find when he enters the home, that the baby is safe and a huge wolf that the dog had fought off is lying dead on the floor. I’ve heard the same story about a husky in Alaska, that killed a wolf, but unfortunately the owner thought his dog had killed the baby so he shot his dog.
My friend Laura goes along with any crazy idea I  suggest.
Once upon a time I heard another story that turned out to be an urban legend. A woman was driving along and saw a dead cat beside the road. Being an animal lover, she put the cat in a plastic bag planning to bury it when she returned home. She put it in her trunk, and drove to the local mall where she was heading. She went inside and did her shopping and when she returned with her bags, she put the bags in the trunk, and the bagged dead cat on the trunk as she headed to another store in the mall to buy one last thing. As she came out, she saw a woman furtively looking around and then snatched the bag with the dead cat in it, and headed for her own car.
The woman who had picked up the dead cat was curious and followed the woman to a nearby restaurant. The thieving woman took the package she’d stolen into the restaurant where she met a friend. The animal lover took a booth nearby where she could watch the woman when she opened the package. When she did, she let out a scream and passed out. The story said she died of a heart attack.

And then there’s the story I told my brother Jerry, and our cousins Norman and Dolores when we camped out one night in a tent on our grandparents’ farm close to our houses. The story goes:

A young boy was given money by his mother to go to the store to buy liver for supper. However, the boy bought candy instead (Or depending on who tells this, maybe a bigger kids stole the money.) and realized his mother would be very angry with him. He didn’t know what to do, but as he passed a graveyard on his way home with a fresh grave, he dug up the body, and removed the man’s liver and headed home and gave it to his mother. That night when he’s upstairs in bed, he hears a heavy footstep on the stairs, and a voice says “One step, give me back my liver.” And then he hears, “Two steps, give me back my liver.” The boy is terrified and huddles down under his blankets, then he hears another step and the deep voice say “Three steps give me back my liver.” And that’s when I grab the person’s arm next to me and shout “I got cha!” And, of course, the screams rang out. I did the same thing with my Cub Scouts and my Girl Scouts.  

The whole story is ridiculous. I mean a young kid digs up a grave that to my knowledge has always been six feet deep? But it’s all in the telling and the setting at the time. Usually around a campfire at night.
In my second book, I have my main character locked in a trunk, and the old legend of a young girl who sinks into a coma for some reason goes through her mind. The doctor pronounced the girl dead, and she was buried on top of a hill in the family cemetery on the family farm. Her parents grieved for her as does the dog. For several nights they heard their dog howling mournfully. The wife insisted they dig up the coffin, although the husband thought she’d gone crazy with grief, went along with it. When they dug up the coffin and opened it they saw the inside satin of the lid torn into pieces with some still in their dead daughter’s hands. She had been buried alive and had been trying to get out. Did this actually happen once upon a long time ago? Maybe.

Before television, movies, radio, and even the written word, people told tales. It was partly to entertain and partly to pass true stories on to future generations. It’s more than likely that even if there was some truth in the original story, a good story teller embellished the facts with fiction.

What urban or other legends do you remember?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kaye George/Janet Cantrell Interview by E. B. Davis

That’s the thing about concerts. There’s never been a perfect one in the history of the
world, yet every player and every conductor pick apart every little thing afterward.
I guess you can’t grow and improve if you don’t. But you also can’t expect perfection.
I’d been told that so many times, someday I might believe it.
Kaye George
Requiem in Red (Page 142)

Few authors have two book releases within the same week. On April 5th, Berkley Prime Crime released Janet Cantrell’s (one of her pseudonyms) Fat Cat Takes the Cake. Barking Rain Press released Kaye George’s Requiem in Red on April 12th. The Fat Cat series’ genre is cozy mystery, characterized by a bar-cookie bakery located in a village-type setting, a fat cat character, good friends who serve as family, and no graphic violence. The Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery series is traditional. The main character, Cressa, a music conductor (as well as keyboardist and vocalist) becomes drawn into the mystery via her proximity to the murder. There are romantic interests/disinterests, friends, career, and a wonderful character arch. 

 Please welcome Kaye George back to WWK.                                                                         E. B. Davis 

As a new conductor fresh from graduate school, Cressa is asked to interview for a part-time conducting position helping to build a community orchestra. Accepting the position means moving to the small Minnesota town of Hopkins. Is the town real or is it based on another town?

K: Let me first say that I love how you pull quotes from my books that make me look so good! I lived in Minnetonka, which is near Hopkins. Both are outer suburbs of Minneapolis. Some of the places in the book are real, but others are altered or imaginary.

What is the “pure 440 concert” and “A440 tuning pitch?”

K: The only way for an orchestra, or any ensemble, to be in tune with each other is to have a standard, an absolute, that they all can use for tuning. The A above middle C on a piano is, for some reason, the note that orchestras tune to. It vibrates, ideally at 440 hertz per second (440 Hz). So an electronic tuner is usually used for the oboe to tune to, then the oboe gives this pitch to the rest of the musicians.

Here’s an aside. A used to be 435 Hz in Europe, but Americans, a rebellious lot, decided to use a 440 A instead. Today we and the United Kingdom use 440, but it wanders from 440 to 444 in Europe. Very old music played on old instruments used a lower A and other kinds use other vibrations.

Her relocation upsets her current Minneapolis boyfriend, Daryl, but Cressa takes the position anyway. Why?

K: She doesn’t want to be stuck in her current teaching job, which she feels doesn’t give her time for her true love, composition. Just as fiction writers have to write, music composers have to write, too.

The woman who requested Cressa interview, Maddy Streete, has a brother named Barry who is bi-polar. Bi-polar disease varies from patient to patient. What are Barry’s symptoms?

K: He’s angry when he’s manic, then withdraws after an episode. Like many bi-polar people, he feels so normal when he’s on his medicine, that he gets to thinking he doesn’t need it any more. When he’s off his meds, his life’s events affect him much more strongly, spiraling him into depression and shooting him up and down. There’s a bit of it in my family and I’ve always wanted to write a character who has it.

You’ve written in third POV for characters other than Cressa and in first person for her. Why did you decide to present your story in that manner?

K: I had too many stories to tell in this book, and I wanted them told by the people involved. There’s a character with another type of devastating mental illness and he had to tell his story.
There’s a young drug addict who wanted to tell his side, and the people involved in the gay issues needed voices, too. I didn’t see any other way to tell this one.

Cressa’s parents died in a car wreck outside of Minnetonka years before. She is told that it wasn’t an accident. Why doesn’t Cressa research the accident?

K: There was a bit more about it in the first book, and her research had reached a dead end. However, more will happen with this in the third book.

Each chapter starts with a musical temp/mood or other notation I think is in Italian. Are musician’s lives musical scores?

K: Most of the musical terms are Italian, but some are German and even English. These are terms that most classical musicians are familiar with and I think they can be used to describe more than music. A lot of musicians, me included, always have music playing in our heads. Hey, right now I’m humming something, but I don’t know exactly what it is. Maybe it’s something I just heard on the car radio or maybe it’s something I made up. Or a combination. I hate it when a boring song gets stuck in my head. Then, like Cressa, I start on Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Bach. That will wipe it out.

Homosexual characters are volunteers for and are employed by the church. But none of the church officials voice his/her opinion of the issue. Why not?

K: That’s simple! This is a Methodist church. Mainstream Protestants are nothing at all like the noisy, bigoted, evangelicals who get so much press. Methodists accept everyone. We’re all God’s children. We live by the New Testament, not the Old Testament.

One character, an abused young man, becomes a suspect because he hides and sleeps in the two churches, one Cressa attends and the other, she works for as a keyboardist. In a way he was a red herring, but, due to presenting his POV, I don’t think you really added his character for that purpose. What was your purpose?

K: Yes, I did want him to be a suspect, which he is. He is also instrumental in the climax scene where everything comes together, at first disastrously. I also wanted to depict the attitudes of others toward him, with some hypocrisy and some ungrounded bias.

Is mental illness inherent or do life events drive people insane?

K: You got me there! I know some tendencies are inherited, but what part experiences play is debated by smarter, more knowledgeable people than me.

Fat Cat Takes the Cake is set during the December holiday season. Co-owner of Bar None, Anna Larsen, is getting married on Christmas Eve, working in the bakery, and competing in the baking contest, the Minny Batter Battle. Main character Chase Oliver manages the bakery, attends an impromptu high school class reunion, investigates a murder, and still needs to shop for clothing to wear in Anna’s wedding. Have your characters never learned to say “no?”

K: Anna is the real go-getter over-achiever, I think. My editors seemed to think that, since she was over 60, she would be “elderly,” so I worked hard to disabuse that notion.

Since Quincy (Fat Cat) often runs away, Chase decides to walk him in a harness. At first, Chase’s inability to fasten the harness accounts for his escapes, but then Quincy takes to the harness. I found that surprising. Is cat walking catching on? Do cats cooperate?

K: I did find some cats who were harness trained when they were adults, but usually it must be done when they’re very young. I think cat walking is more an urban thing, where there isn’t sufficient green space for them to be indoor/outdoor cats and be safe. Some cats are wonderful on the leash, some aren’t. You know, they’re cats.

The victim stalked Chase’s friend Julie, Anna’s granddaughter, in high school. Many young women would have complained to the school administration, but she kept quiet about the harassment. He verbally accosts her at the reunion and takes her scarf. When he is found strangled by her scarf, she becomes the primary suspect. Had his stalking been widespread knowledge, would her being a victim help or worsen her defense?

K: Actually most sexual harassment is not reported, so I think not saying anything is more realistic. She thinks that she would be even more suspect if it were known that he used to stalk her. Not speaking up does turn out to complicate things for her.

Does everyone have unctuous high school classmates?

K: I think that, if you go to public schools, you spend a lot of time with all kinds of people. To me, that’s the value of public schooling, but only if you learn how to deal with all of them. For some people, things get overwhelming no matter how they grow up.

Some of the feelings Chase and Julie have about high school are mirrored in Anna’s cooking competition. As a society, we applaud competition, but aren’t there negative aspects of “sport?”

K: I’m not sure if you mean cooking competitions or not. Of course, there are negative results when children and teen excel at a physical sport and are made to feel superior and entitled because of that. There are many sports where this doesn’t happen, I hope!

Dr. Mike disappoints Chase by not going to the reunion with her. He gets romantic competition when an old boyfriend, who spurned Chase in high school, courts her. Partly reconciling her heart, part sleuthing, Chase accepts the old boyfriend’s invitations even though Mike catches her. Chase feels badly, but doesn’t Mike deserve the competition or should Chase forgive him since there isn’t anything worse than attending someone else’s class reunion?

K: I wanted to give Chase an opportunity to revisit her high school crush and when Mike stands her up at the very last minute, she gets her chance. It’s still early in her relationship with Mike, so it’s a good time to explore and make double sure whether or not she wants to continue with the vet.

Could you ask the doctors in your family why steroids and meth both produce acne?

K: I could, but they give me answers to stuff like this that I have to translate word by word. I do know that they both mess up a person’s hormones and hormonal imbalances do cause a lot of acne.

How are you writing four series and keeping sane, Kaye? Which series will capture your attention next?

K: Call me crazy. I’m writing a proposal for another cozy series. I’m also trying to work on a fourth Imogene Duckworthy book. A 4th Fat Cat book is started. I do plan at least one more for each of the other series, Cressa Carraway and People of the Wind. I know, shoot me now.

If you were to wish for a gift, what would it be?

K: More time, longer days, a maid, a secretary, the lotto numbers so I could pay them. Oh, you said A gift. More time in the day!

                                                                                     al fine

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Of Accidents and Art

The story of this photograph started off with an accident. I was watering the plants on my backyard deck, and I tripped and slopped water on the wooden boards. Suddenly there was a pretty little puddle at my feet. I spill stuff all the time when I'm gardening – dirt, mulch, compost. And since Mother Nature is not known for being overly fastidious, I don't bother cleaning it up.

So the puddle stayed. And it wasn't until I finished my chores and started back inside that I noticed it again. Only this time, it looked very different.

The angle of light was such that the sky overhead reflected in the still water like a mirror. The white clouds, green-gold new oak leaves, and slick black tree limbs were all backgrounded by a sky so clear and blue it looked freshly painted.

But this was no mirror, no flat oval of silvered glass. The water took an organic form, spiky at the edges, like a starburst. It shimmered with liquid grace, following rules of physics to arrange itself there. There was no design of mine in it. There was only this puddle, and the late afternoon sunshine, and the green spring bursting above it.

Soon the sun sank lower, changing the angle of light, and the puddle became a puddle once again. I am writing this post on another brilliant spring day, and I am tempted to try to replicate the effect. But I don't think I can. My intentions would get in the way.

Some artists are spectacularly good at getting out of the way of intention, Jackson Pollack being one of the best. His paintings incorporate fractal patterns typically found only in nature, patterns that at their deepest level cannot be ascertained by the human eye. We see only seemingly random drip and drops, splatters and splashes. And that's what most abstract work painted by humans looks like under the microscope too – a random mess. But Jackson's work, just like Nature's, has an underlying order. Spirals loop together into elegantly mathematical forms, graceful and precise.

I think of this process, the tapping of the underlying order in the chaos, whenever I sit down at the page. We writers are working with limited materials – in English, we have twenty-six letters and a smattering of punctuation marks at our disposal. You'd think we'd run out of interesting new combinations, that perhaps Shakespeare or Morrison or Dickinson would have used up all the really good patterns.

But no. New stories still abound. It's only natural. Our DNA works with only four nucleotides, and look at all the variety there. We writers haven't exhausted our twenty-six building blocks, not by a long shot.

So the next time you end up with a mess, whether wordy or watery, consider the beauty there ripe for the beholding. Perhaps like me, you'll find a rainbow in the ruin.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Road: My Life With John Denver - A Review by Shari Randall

This past week I attended a play at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT. The intimate, charming 284-seat theater is a great place for catching new plays that might someday make their way to Broadway.

The show was The Road: My Life With John Denver. A picture of John Denver, that round face, those granny glasses, that laid back Colorado vibe, seventies mellow, beamed down on the stage.

Now, John Denver is perhaps not my first choice for musical theater – I’m more a Rent or Wicked girl – but the show had significant charms. When I took my seat in the balcony, I expected to be entertained. I didn’t expect to be surprised.

The play follows the journey of a young man, a novice musician from the 1970s Colorado music scene. He meets Denver, who invites him to join his national tour. As they travel on the road, the young man’s life parallels Denver’s: he meet a young woman, falls in love, marries, has a family, all while dealing with the stresses, challenges, and addictive joys of performing for several years in 53 shows in 50 days. In the end, both of their marriages break under the stress of life on the road.

I’ll leave the merits of the show to the professional critics. I enjoyed it, though I would have liked a shorter first act. The audience sang along to the familiar tunes with gusto and it was easy to get caught up in the joyful vibe.

But the play changed one thing for me in a big way. Hearing Denver’s lyrics in the mouths of other singers gave me a new appreciation for Denver’s songwriting talent. I learned that one of his first songs was performed by another group, Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had a hit with “Jet Plane.” I’m sure you’ll be humming along if I just type the words, I’m leaving on a jet plane.

One of the strengths of the play was the decision to have a woman sing several of the songs, especially Denver’s famous love song to his wife, “Annie’s Song.” This choice switched up the audience’s expectations and brought into focus that this is not just a beautiful song from a man to a woman, but a song for any lovers. Not just a song for one particular person, Annie, but for anyone. As the amazingly talented Katie Deal sang the familiar lyrics, the song sharpened into focus. The poetry of the words and the beauty of the emotion revealed power in music that I’d considered just feel-good oldies.

I thought of the old saying: A poet but didn’t know it. I left the theater impressed by the talent and artistry of John Denver. Really.

Are you a theater fan? Seen any good shows lately?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shhh! Confessions from a Hopelessly Unorganized Home Library

by Julie Tollefson

I have a confession to make, and it’s embarrassing: Even though I have a master’s degree in library science, the bookshelves in my home lack even the most basic level of organization.


Adult titles and children’s picture books commingle on the same shelf. A biography of Theodore Roosevelt sits next to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Diary of Anne Frank shares space with a manga version of Hamlet. High school yearbooks, gardening guides, short story collections, classics. Several dictionaries and a thesaurus. They’re all there, scattered across the lovely custom bookcases that were my only true demand when we built our house.

When we moved in five years ago, the books went onto the shelves without a lot of thought. We’ll organize them later, we said. Well, it’s later, and we still haven’t found that spare weekend to impose order on the unruly shelves.

Usually this doesn’t bother me one bit, because I can almost always find the book I want with minimum searching. I picture it on the shelf—purple spine with white lettering, let’s say, about two-thirds of the way in on the shelf behind my favorite chair—and I walk right to it.

Except when I don’t.

This week, as I sat down to write this post, I had a different topic in mind. I wanted to refer to one of my writing reference books, so I went to the shelf where I know it should be (between a couple of young adult titles and one of two copies we own of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—which for some reason are not shelved together). But it wasn’t there.

I scoured the shelf. No luck. So I checked the other most likely places—beside the bed and beside the bathtub. No luck. My system, such as it is, failed me.

So I’ll save my original topic for another day, once I find the book I’m searching for. In the meantime, how do you organize your bookshelves? What do you do when your organizational system fails you?