Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hydrangeas and Short Stories by Margaret S. Hamilton

What do hydrangeas and short stories have in common? I’m writing two stories this month, while I wait for my five hydrangea bushes to bloom. Will the plot, setting, and memorable characters of my stories lead to satisfying endings? Will the hydrangeas amaze and delight me when they bloom? 

I have three “Endless Summer” macrophylla, or mophead, hydrangeas planted in my garden that first produce vivid blue floral balls. In Cincinnati’s alkaline yellow clay soil, the distinctive periwinkle blue blooms fade to muted shades of pink and mauve, lasting well into fall. I plan to spike the soil with aluminum sulfate this year, curious if the blooms will retain their original blue color. Or should I not alter nature’s course, and be content with blooms of different colors? It’s exasperating, like writing a trick ending with a hitherto unsuspected killer.
 “Big Daddy” and “Lemon Daddy,” are two macrophylla hydrangeas that only bloom one year in three, their huge pink balloon-sized blossoms contrasting with vivid yellow-green foliage. I named a memorable short story character “Big Daddy”; he, too, was unpredictable and problematic, but deliciously diabolical.

I fell in love with blue hydrangeas during childhood visits to Cape Cod, their bright sapphire balls of tiny flowers contrasting with orange haploid daylilies against the gray-shingled houses, thriving in the salt air and acid soil. When we moved in Cincinnati, I mapped the sun patterns in the yard, seeking a suitable location for hydrangeas with morning sun and afternoon shade. The “Endless Summer” variety, introduced in 2004, was deemed hardy enough to survive harsh Midwestern winters and hot, humid, summers. I learned that hydrangea flowers and leaves can make a dog sick, if ingested. My standard poodles are more interested in snacking on coneflowers, basil, and tarragon.

The stories are progressing, with settings, characters, and inciting incidents determined. As I write, I discover motive and outcome. While in research mode for a historical story, I learned that Joseph Banks brought the first hydrangeas from China to England in 1790. Hydrangeas were introduced to the United States during the 1820’s. In the past ten years, a huge number of re-blooming varieties have become available--whites, pinks, and purples--in addition to the traditional blue.

My hydrangeas, carefully mulched with pine straw, survived the winter, with buds on both last year’s wood and this year’s, their leaves unfurling in the spring sunshine. I see evidence of blooms on the “Endless Summer” varieties, tiny pinpoints of light green, but alas, nothing on “Big Daddy” and his cousin “Lemon Daddy.”

Will my stories be successful, or doomed to live perpetually in a state of submission, or lie forgotten in a drawer?

As summer approaches, are you anxiously waiting to see what blooms in your garden?

Margaret S. Hamilton has published short stories in Kings River Life and the Darkhouse Destination: Mystery! anthology. When she isn’t tending her garden or walking her two standard poodles, she writes cozy stories and traditional amateur sleuth mysteries.

Monday, May 30, 2016

We Have a Jewish Lawn

by Linda Rodriguez

People who have been reading my posts on my own blog, here at Writers Who Kill, and on my other group blog, The Stiletto Gang, know that I have had to battle disapproving neighbors and the city about my front yard, which is planted in native, drought-hardy plants for the most part. (See recent photos of my yard here.)

The neighbors and the city both would prefer that my husband and I have only bluegrass in my yard, and they’d like to force us to do that. They periodically threaten to come clear-cut our front yard and charge us for it. Fortunately, we’ve been able to fight it for the past eight or nine years.

Now, along comes Pat Robertson, that ancient, uber-wealthy televangelist, to give us just the excuse we needed to stand up to the neighbors and the city. Not too long ago, Robertson said on his television show on the Christian Broadcasting Network that you never saw Jews tinkering under their cars or mowing their lawns because they were too busy polishing their diamonds. My husband, who’s Jewish, sent me the link to the video. 

He included a subject line in his email that read, “We Have a Jewish Lawn,” referring, of course, to the problems with the city. 

I watched the video with the demented old rich televangelist and emailed my husband back. “You’re right. We do. But where are the diamonds?”

And I’m still waiting, darn it!

Linda Rodriguez’s three novels featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—have received critical recognition and awards, such as Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Award, selections of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, 2nd Place in the International Latino Book Awards, finalist for the Premio Aztlán Award, 2014 ArtsKC Fund Inspiration Award, and Barnes & Noble mystery pick. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration, Rodriguez received numerous awards and fellowships. Rodriguez was 2015 chair of the AWP Indigenous/Aboriginal American Writer’s Caucus, immediate past president of the Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Find her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tightening a Manuscript

In the writers’ class I teach on revision and self-editing, I encourage students to start big and work small. Start with the largest issues (plot, characters, points of view) and only when those are finished work on polishing the language; otherwise, the time spent polishing may be wasted when that scene or character ends on the cutting room floor.

The penultimate task in polishing a manuscript before the final proofread is to check for the author’s blind spot word usage. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks: performing the final polish of my WIP, Doubtful Relations, before sending it to the editor.

Blind spot words are ones we have already caught in our earlier rewriting. Some we read through without noticing they are duplicative (shrugging her shoulders—try shrugging a knee). We need to take the ax to flabby modifiers (almost, nearly, completely, finally, totally, absolutely, literally). Filler words (just, so, of course, as you know [then why am I telling you?]) must be excised when they have no real purpose. The list goes on, but they have one thing in common: I find them difficult to spot in my own writing without taking extraordinary measures. (These same issues often stick out in someone else’s manuscript.)

To find my issues, I have compiled a list of words and phrases to check. With more than a decade of experience in this practice I have taken a generic list and personalized it to incorporate my bugaboos. Every novel has generated a few additions to my list and also provided some unique issues. With Doubtful Relations, I was enamored with “morphed” and the phrase “held herself together.”

Doing a search on words like began, started, turned, and finally is a shortcut way for me to catch stage directions in the form of a series of sentences that began when the point-of-view (POV) character started walking onto the scene, turned a corner, and then marched down a long hallway filled with description and no action before finally entering a room where (hopefully) something interesting happens.

Other phrases suggest my writing is telling rather than showing: I felt, I looked, I watched, I heard, I saw, I listened (replace “I” with “he,” which also catches “she” for third person POVs).

Phrases such as going to, planning to, and trying to are often indicative of two-step processes in which only the later one counts. Here’s a made up example: “After trying to call Abigail and having to leave a message, I planned to give my son, Paddy, a call and see what he knew. When I called him I discovered that. . . “I called Abigail, was forced to leave a message, but had better luck getting my son, Paddy, on the phone. “What do you know about . . .” [Thirty-two wandering-in-the-woods-waiting-to-spot-a-bear words become twenty-five direct words.]

How much of a difference can this make? For me, a lot. Working though my list for Doubtful Relations allowed me to eliminate more than four percent of the words. For perspective, that means a 300-page book shrinks to 288 pages. Twelve pages of bloat no longer slow down the story.

I realize many authors and their copy editors must not think that process is necessary. Reading published books, I find numerous examples of characters who nod their heads (again, try nodding a knee), kneel down (kneel up anyone?), tell me in paragraph one what they plan to do and then do it in paragraph two. It drives me crazy.

What about you, what excess verbiage takes you out of a story?

~ Jim

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Patriotism in Everyday Life By Kait Carson

My first thought this month was to blog on my experiences with Windows 10 (basically good experiences despite what I’ve heard about the program). Then I realized this blog would appear on Memorial Day weekend. That brought patriotism to mind.
Memorial Day was a big deal when I was growing up. I was in the band in my grade school, first honor guard (I carried the gun alongside the flag) and later as drum majorette. To this day I don’t know how that happened. I still can’t tell right from left and in giving directions, I’m apt to say, “Turn that way.” And if that doesn’t work, “Make a driver.” It’s sad, but those who know me well will turn left simply because I told them to turn right. I blame the nuns. I think they made me a righty when I was a natural lefty. Left, as you may know, is sinister in Latin. Now that would stop any self-respecting veil wearing, habit enrobed person in their tracks!
Still, despite my handicap, I was proud to march in my small town parade every Memorial Day. The town was a mile deep and a half mile wide. We marched from our school through the center of town to Memorial Park. Older students made floats on flatbeds dragged behind tractors or pickups. Real floats. I can remember a papier mache ship depicting the sacrifice of the Sullivan brothers in WWII. And there was the year the high school decided to depict the surrender at Appomattox complete with a life-sized papier mache Traveler. My brother’s role was to hold the horse’s head. Of course the horse wasn’t going anyplace. Or maybe it was, hard to say how stable it might have been.  The Memorial Day parade was the last of the year for the band, unless we got invited to perform at a 4th of July parade, which sometimes happened.
The most memorable part of the celebration for me was the veterans’ parade. As a young child we had vets from WWI right on up to the then current Viet Nam War. In my heart I knew it was more important to salute them than to scarf the free hotdogs. And I knew that by saluting them, we were really honoring all of those warriors who had not come back to march in their hometown parades. Nothing brought this home to me more than the year I was selected to place the wreath on our veteran’s memorial.
An old man stepped out of the crowd to assist me. He tottered on a cane and he wore the uniform of a United States Marine. The entire event was unscripted. He stepped up, saluted the flag, then he took my arm and led me to the memorial. Together we placed the wreath at the base of the marble column. I thought he stumbled when he half knelt at the foot of the monument and let his fingers rest on a name. Before I could react with all of my Girl Scout first aid, he stood, turned, snapped to attention and saluted me. Tears were pouring down his face.
The man was Mr. Treple. He had served proudly in WWI as a Marine—the uniform still fit him—sort of. He’d lost his only son, also a Marine, to WWII. His boy child buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Europe then still listed as missing in action and presumed dead. We all knew Mr. Treple, and we knew his wife had died that spring, just before Easter. Mr. Treple followed her before the fall.
Freedom isn’t free. Semper fi.
That’s my Memorial Day memory. What’s yours?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Apprehensions &Convictions by Mark Johnson: A Review by Warren Bull

Apprehensions &Convictions by Mark Johnson: A Review by Warren Bull

At age fifty, who would quit a well-respected administrative job in the non-profit world to take a seventy-five percent reduction in salary to wear a uniform that some people see as a symbol of oppression and others see as a target to shoot at? The who is Mark Johnson. In Apprehensions &Convictions: Adventures of a 50-year-old Rookie Cop, Johnson tells not only who, but also why and what happens as the result of his unorthodox decision. He tells it well.

The author goes into detail about what it is like to discover the body of someone who died weeks before. He talks about getting sucker punched and forced to fight. He also explains why cops don’t lose fights.  Whether it is a high speed chase at midnight or responding to a domestic dispute call where the victim as well as the perpetrator may at any moment turn on the cop who is trying to help, Johnson gives a description that may give you goose bumps or make you sweat. 

The authenticity and honesty with which he writes is remarkable.  If you write about cops or the sort of people who deal with cops frequently, this is a book that should be read and kept as a reference. You can put it right next to Adam Plantinga’s 400 Things Cops Know. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

When Life is Stranger than Fiction

Life is always going to be stranger than fiction,
because fiction has to be convincing and life doesn’t.”
                                       Neil Gaiman, author

One of the things writers are told is that unless we’re writing fantasy or Sci-fi, it’s important to make our works believable which means doing some research. I know with my first books one of my Guppy critique partners criticized my small town police chief because he didn’t seem to act like a cop she was familiar with, like her husband who was a police officer in a large city. She came around to accepting my small town police chief, and he’s now one of her favorite characters.

One only has to listen to the news or read the newspaper to discover things too weird to put into our books unless we are writing comedy. For instance: In St. Petersburg, Florida last fall, an eighteen-year-old man drove a stolen car to police headquarters to pick up court papers about a previous auto theft he was involved in – documents that were found in yet another stolen car. Carnell Eugene Butler now faces charges in three stolen car cases. Detectives contacted Butler, who arranged to pick them up. When he arrived at police headquarters, a detective arrested Butler and found keys to a Hyundai Sonata in his pocket. The car was located a block away. It too had been reported stolen. Butler now was being held without bond.

In Austell, Georgia, a metro Atlanta man told police a spider thief snuck into a crawlspace under his home and stole five of his eighteen tarantulas. The police issued an arrest warrant for a man accused of possessing the arachnids. The owner of the spiders said they were under his home in individual containers to hibernate during the winter until spring arrives. He didn’t know the spiders were missing until he got a call from Animart Pets in Austell, where an employee said someone had just sold them five tarantulas.  The owner identified them and the police are investigating. Years ago a Hiram college student brought her pet tarantula into my third grade classroom to show the kids, and I let the big hairy arachnid crawl from her hand to mine. Actually it was kind of cool and not frightening at all. A few of my students wanted to have it crawl to their hands, too. Maybe someday I’ll include a tarantula loving character to a book or short story.

Twenty-two year old Eddie Smith of Mineral Wells, Texas, decided it would be macho to hop on the Internet and brag that there were sixteen outstanding warrants for his arrest. A tipster called police to report Smith’s Jan. 20th Facebook boast, and, you guessed it, police showed up and took him into custody.

And then there was the failed bank robbery in Swissvale Pa. when Dennis Hawkins, forty-eight, disguised himself before committing his crime. The African-American man, who sported a goatee, put on a woman’s blond wig, strapped on fake breasts under a blue sweater, and finished his ensemble with a pair of colorful clown pants. He used a stolen toy BB gun and actually accomplished the robbery. It was his getaway that needed work. Leaving the bank, Hawkins peeked at his loot and was promptly sprayed by a red ink pack. He stumbled into a woman’s car in the parking lot. She quickly escaped with her keys and summoned the police. Apparently Mr. Hawkins is still in prison. I wish I could have found a picture of him taken in the bank.

Now this odd story might work well in a mystery book. An Indiana woman says her training in medieval combat helped her corner a home intruder. The Indianapolis Star reported that forty-three year old Karen Dolley threw punches until she had the man cornered during the night break-in. She kept him subdued with a Japanese sword she keeps near her bed. Dolley said she learned to fight as a teenager in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that recreates skills of the Middle Ages. She also skates with the roller derby team, Naptown Roller Girls. Police responded to her 911 call and arrested a 30 year old man, who had forced open the home’s back door. It was reported he was taken to a hospital because he was high on an unknown substance. I’ll bet he regrets taking on a woman like Karen Dolley. She’s certainly not a woman anyone should mess with.

The inside of some funeral home.

The following story came from an old AARP magazine and isn’t a crime, just weird.
When Hope Walker sent out her wedding invitations, a few blinked an eye at the unusual venue: the Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn. “When my mother learned that the chapel was free (of charge), she said “Go for it,” says Walker. Apparently, she isn’t the only one to choose a mortuary for a wedding, graduation or birthday party. The multi-use trend is a “win-win for the funeral home and the people who choose to hold events,” says Jessica Koth of the 18,000 member National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis. In 2007, hosting non-funeral events was practically unheard of, but in a 2010 survey of funeral homes, 8.3 percent of respondents had added it to their services. “We know how to plan a major life event,” says James Olson, president of the Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan, Wis. “We usually do it in two days.” Well, each to one’s own, I guess.

One more: Last fall in Santa Barbara, California, the police detained a twenty-two-year-old man they said crashed a wedding, then bit an officer and a police dog during a six-minute melee. Sgt. Riley Harwood said police were called Saturday night after a stranger, who may have been on drugs, crashed the wedding at the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum. The guests evicted him, but during a confrontation with two arriving officers, the man punched one officer in the face and bit his shoulder, and then bit a police dog on the leg. The confused dog also bit an officer. Harwood says after the guy was handcuffed, the man attacked a third officer. Two officers were treated for various injuries, and the man was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries and would be arrested. Personally, I can’t imagine a stranger biting a police dog and the dog not biting him.

So in wrapping up this blog, I guess it is okay for writers of mysteries to include the strangest of things happening in our books and not worry too much about it. Like the scene I wrote in my third book when an elderly hard of hearing man was driving the hearse to a cemetery and while following the police car leading him out of the town, the patrolman  got a bank robbery alert that the robber was heading out of town and description of the vehicle. He took off with sirens blaring, lights fastening with my elderly hearse driver following at break neck speed and all the cars in the funeral procession behind trying to keep up. He couldn’t hear the funeral director next to him screaming at him because he had his hearing aids turned off. The bank robber was an idiot, too.

What have you read in the newspaper or a book that seemed hard to believe?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Julie Mulhern Interview by E. B. Davis

Henery Press released the third book in Julie Mulhern’s “Country Club Murders” mystery series. Clouds In My Coffee (I hear Carly Simon and Mick Jagger, can you?), the third in this series is set in 1974, making it historical (oh my!), when I was a college freshman/sophomore. My memories are clear. Julie gets the era right.

In 1974, I remember feeling so progressive with the trials of the 1960s behind us. Julie’s main character, forty-year-old Ellison Russell, battles for her independence and career in an era when many women still sought the profession of housewife and mother. As I think back to how I felt then, reality sets in—like realizing your existence confirms your parents actually had sex—it provokes our feelings of naiveté. Ellison’s mother and aunt provide that smack of reality, showing the constraints on women of the previous generation and the consequences. The victory of WWII can’t overshadow the hard won equal rights our generation won. Ellison is a great role model, but then she also solves murders!

The book was an unexpected find and a fun read. Please welcome Julie Mulhern to WWK, and I hope not her last appearance here!                                                                                     E. B. Davis

What was the best advice you ever received on writing? 

Any new writer has heard the words “show don’t tell”.

Lord knows I heard them.

What exactly do those words mean? In a nutshell, She reached out to touch his cheek is telling. She reached out and touched his cheek is showing. One demonstrates intent, the other action. I have developed a list of “telling” words that I avoid.

And then there are filter words – thought, felt, wondered, etc… She thought he was handsome. Don’t tell the reader what the heroine thinks. Show them. He was tall with an adorable divot in his chin.

Your series is set in 1974. What drew you to that era?

I was a kid in the 1970s and I have such fond memories. I set my books in 1974 out of a sense of nostalgia and also because it was an era when things were changing for women.

You set the series in Kansas City. Are you from that city?

I am a fifth generation Kansas Citian.

In creating your main character, Ellison Russell, did you base her on your mother, an aunt, or an actress from the time?

Ellison, like all my characters except Max, is an amalgamation of people I know.

When you write do you put yourself in the context of the times—such as where you were then, what you were doing, and what was going on around you—or do you rely on old newspapers?

I was seven in 1974 so the things I remember aren’t entirely relevant to a murder mystery. I am the proud owner of a year’s worth of Gourmet, Vogue, House and Garden, and Glamor magazines. They are my primary sources. Being able to stream The Streets of San Francisco or All in the Family is also tremendously helpful. I’ve read the bestsellers, watched the top-grossing and critically acclaimed movies of the decade, and have my radio permanently set to 70s on 7.

Ellison is not an average woman of the era, who went to college to get an MRS as well as a degree she won’t use. Ellison has artistic talent, and she is pursuing a career. What function did you want that difference to fill in your storyline?

Ellison’s career started out as an acceptable hobby. Turns out she was really good at it. She married the man her mother wanted her to marry and has lived, in large part, the life that’s expected of her. Part of the fun of the Country Club Murders is seeing Ellison push against the expectations that hold her back.

People today seem to forget about the bohemia of the 1920s and 30s, thinking only of the 1960s, but Aunt Sis’s experience reminds us. Have we become a more forgiving society due to the 1960s?

Absolutely! Things that were edgy in the sixties went mainstream in the seventies. It was a decade caught between the sexual revolution and AIDS. It was a decade when women fought for equal rights. It was a decade that celebrated youth. In 1974, three of the top shows on television took on older men being challenged by younger, liberal men – All in the Family, Chico and the Man, and Sanford and Son.

I understand the Country-Club Mentality due to my grandparents. Is it elitism, a social network, or a community for a certain economic class?

I tend to think of it as a community.

I’ve known and avoided women like Ellison’s mother. Why does Ellison always refer to her as “Mother” rather than “Mom?”

Frances as Mom? Doesn’t work for me. There is nothing remotely informal about Frances. That said, Ellison, a woman pushing 40, still calls her father, Daddy.

Are sisters always “peas in a pod” and at the same time total opposites? When they finally grow up do they stop competing?

I will let you know if I ever figure that out.

Ellison has two eligible men vying for her attention. Give our readers the CVs of both men, if you would?

Anarchy Jones is a homicide detective whose father is a professor at Berkley. His mother is a fiber artist. The only way he could rebel was to be conservative (think Alex Keaton on Family Ties). He has a healthy respect for the rules—they should never be bent.
Hunter Tafft is a silver-haired, silver-tongued lawyer. He’s thrice divorced and considered a catch.
Unlike Anarchy, Hunter is willing to bend rules if the situation calls for it. With Ellison, it often does.

Dastardly dog? How did your dog earn that adjective? A model for Max? A picture, please!

Max IS Sam. Sam is dastardly. Sam’s vet bills have paid for whole semesters of college for our vet’s daughters. He ate what?
What’s next for Ellison?

Ellison will be back in October with Send in the Clowns. More murder, more mayhem, and more coffee!

Are you a beach or mountain woman, Julie?

That’s tough. Mountains in the summer. Beach in the winter. Says something right there, doesn’t it?


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tarot Tells The Tale

I'm not psychic. I'm not a fortune teller. I can't read your palm. But I can read your cards.

I'm a tarot reader, you see. I use the imagery of tarot cards to help people—and myself—access the information and wisdom that we already have at a subconscious level.

There are many different ways to read cards, and knowing as many as possible helps me decide which particular approach is best for any particular occasion. I also study new spreads (patterns that the cards are laid out in), new methods of shuffling and dealing, new approaches to explaining what I see, new symbolic interpretations. I especially enjoy exploring new decks. My favorite right now is the Steampunk Tarot by Barbara Moore and Aly Fell—it's very sci-fi geeky, with clockworks and dirigibles, a Victorian esthetic combined with a gearhead love of nuts and bolts. I also have ghost decks and Renaissance art decks and decks based on the Welsh Mabinogion lore. Decks with woodcuts and decks with watercolors and decks with images like stained glass.

Regardless of what some may say, there is no carved-in-stone "right" way to read tarot. I enjoy a narrative approach, where I let the cards' various interpretations connect into a storyline, just like I do when I'm writing mysteries. And like crafting the plotline for a novel, I find that this narrative approach is best served if I leave room for intuition to blossom.

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a sword is just a sword. And sometimes a sword is a representation of the dual-edged nature of the human intellect. Being open to the many symbolic possibilities of the images on the cards makes a reading not just personal, but universal.

I believe the tarot works on many levels: psychological, spiritual, intellectual and practical. It works equally well for "spiritual" people as it does for atheists and agnostics. The key is the willingness to engage your own conscious and subconscious in a way that lets information and wisdom bubble up where you can reach it. Some call this intuition. Some call it divination. I understand it as both.

Does it matter what the person I'm reading for calls this power? Only as much as it helps me frame my responses. The tarot itself is neutral on this issue. If you treat it and the process with respect, you'll get a treasure trove of information in return.

(PS: If you're interested in reading more about tarot, including my weekly Writerly Tarot posts, you can visit my Tarot by Tina blog. There you can sign up for my weekly Writerly Tarot, read a tarot-themed mystery short story, or explore previous posts on the art and science of tarot).

Monday, May 23, 2016

How I Finally Met Trixie Belden

by Shari Randall

At this year’s Malice Domestic conference I met Mark Baker, the creator of the wonderful Carstairs Considers blog. It was fun to talk to someone who knows so much about mysteries, and who, like myself, is a fan of the Mrs. Pollifax mystery series.

As we compared notes about mystery novels, he discovered my deep dark secret.
“You’ve never read Trixie Belden?” Mark was too polite to gasp, but he dropped his dinner roll.

I’m a huge Nancy Drew fan and I never meant to snub Trixie, but Nancy filled all my teenage sleuthing needs.  But I feel strongly about reading the classics, so I added one book to my post-Malice TBR pile: The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell, er, Kathryn Kenny, er, Julie Campbell Tathum.

Actually, Julie Campbell Tathum, a literary agent, was the originator of the Trixie Belden series and wrote the first six books between 1948 and 1956. Tathum also wrote for the Ginny Gordon, Vicki Barr, and Cherry Ames series. The publisher, Whitman, assigned the nom de plume Kathryn Kenny to the Trixie Belden series. There is some evidence that Tathum wanted to write for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but was not offered a position with The House That Built Nancy.

I feel like a louse, but, Nancy, I have to confess. I couldn’t stop turning the pages of The Secret of the Mansion.

In this first book of the Trixie Belden series, 13 year old Trixie is bemoaning the boring summer stretching out before her when Honey Wheeler, a millionaire’s daughter, moves in next door. Then a runaway kid hides out in a nearby mansion and rumors fly that the mansion has a fortune hidden inside. Suddenly Trixie’s summer is packed with excitement, fun, and danger. Lots of danger.

Trixie’s uninhibited, impulsive nature is contrasted by the quiet personality of her new friend, Honey. Honey is a poor little rich girl who worries that her mother doesn’t love her. She’s been sheltered so much that her family moves to the country so she can get some sunshine and put on some weight. Trixie and Honey form an instant friendship. Trixie helps Honey come out of her shell and Honey’s quiet nature reins in Trixie’s impulsive personality. A bit.

Trixie is not only unsupervised in a way that would make a modern parent call in Child Protective Services, she is often left in charge of her young brother, Bobby, who manages to get bitten by a copperhead while under Trixie’s less than stellar supervision. Trixie does know first aid and it’s a good thing too, because in the span of just a few days characters also get thrown by a horse, fall off ladders, crash bicycles, narrowly miss getting hit by a truck, and dive headfirst into a rock. There’s also a fire and a mad dog attack. Oh, and a plane crash, I almost forgot the plane crash. Trixie is always fanning Honey when she gets faint at the sight of blood or is overcome by stress, but with a friend like Trixie, that happens to Honey all the time.

One can hardly compare 13-year-old Trixie with 18 year-old Nancy. It’s a comparison of Bobby sox to penny loafers, bicycles to roadsters, but both had freedom that modern teens, with all their expensive technology, can only dream of.

Action packed, with a likeable main character who always chooses the most exciting path, Trixie Belden and The Secret of the Mansion gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from this lifelong Nancy Drew fan.

Have you read the Trixie Belden books? Team Nancy or Team Trixie?