Monday, July 31, 2017

My Weakness - Yard Sales

by Shari Randall

Okay, so I’m a procrastinator. My fellow bloggers here at Writers Who Kill are used to me sending in my blogs for peer review on the Friday before my Monday slot. Well, full disclosure: sometimes I squeak in on Saturday. And if I’m being completely honest, even Sunday.

I really intended to get up early this morning (Friday) and work on my blog but it was a beautiful day and the yard sales were calling.

Yard sales, garage sales, or as we say here in my corner of New England, tag sales, are one of my weaknesses. For me there’s not much that's more fun than poking around lots of fascinating old stuff. Nothing better than the high of a great Find (with a capital “F”) at a bargain. It’s the thrill of the chase, the chance to exercise those ancient hunting and gathering skills that kept our prehistoric foremothers alive.

Around here, sales tend to fall into three types: yard sales, estate sales, and mega sales. Yard sales are the most common. Usually it’s the more organized among us unloading stuff they no longer need – Little Tykes toys, outgrown clothing, too small bicycles, treadmills that have turned into clothes hangers.

Estate sales are the Olympics of yard sales. They are for the more advanced yard salers. They offer the chance for really fascinating stuff but you have to bring your A game. At estate sales you’re competing against antique dealers, lovers of vintage clothes and jewelry, collectors – the pros who will have their finds on ebay by the end of the day, the early birds who have no qualms about showing up for an 8 a.m. yard sale at 6 a.m.

Mega sales are done by liquidators who sell the contents of businesses that have closed. Usually they have lots of one kind of thing – car parts, paint -  but sometimes they can surprise you.

I grew up in an antiques loving family. My folks still have an antiques shop in Connecticut. Over the years my interests and tastes have shifted. Being married to a military man and moving many times over the years has made me tamp down my urge to collect anything but my absolute favorites.  I still get excited about finding a great piece of McCoy pottery, or a great piece of art, or mid-century souvenirs, but now I’m pickier. Plus I’ve found another way to enjoy yard sales. I approach them with a writer’s eye. What other chance do we have to go into complete strangers’ homes? There is often so much drama and family dynamics at play at these sales.

Every yard sale is different, but often the story is the same – younger folks have inherited a relative’s house and a lifetime of things that they don't want.

In a tidy brick rambler I stopped at today, one young man proudly showed me his grandmother’s needlework while his brother rolled his eyes and tossed her silk opera gloves and hats into a stained cardboard box. “Crap,” the second brother muttered.

A lifetime can be read in objects. Another yard sale had a table of cameras, carved African masks, little Dutch wooden shoes, Spanish castanets, and battered suitcases next to a metal walker. $2.

I did a drive by of a tired duplex. A young man stalked past a stained sofa and a rusty mismatched patio set with a box. As he tossed it onto the table, photo albums and sepia tinted portraits spilled from within.

So. Much. Stuff. But for me, no Finds.

So I slammed on my brakes when I saw a small sign by the road: Mega Sale. The yard sales I’d been to had been disappointing, so I decided to give it a shot.

I followed the signs down a driveway, through a fence, to a rutted parking lot. At one end of the lot was a small warehouse. Between me and the warehouse were row upon row of unopened boxes and Tupperware containers.

The heavens opened. Angels sang.

A young woman unpacking a box of books told me that the Mega Sale was done four times a year by a storage company. Unclaimed storage lockers are unloaded and their contents sold for rock bottom prices.

I put on my game face and dove in.

Sure, it was box after box of Stuff. And not great stuff either. America, you have a problem with holiday decorations.

There was the good – a brand new Portmeirion serving bowl in pristine condition, crystal wine glasses, punch bowl sets (remember those?), vinyl records, books galore. All tempting but I passed them by. See, I have some self restraint.

There was the bad: box after box of the aforementioned Halloween and Christmas decorations, yellowed bed sheets, half finished macramé pot hangers, chipped World’s Greatest Grandpa mugs.

And there was the ugly: weirdly alive antique porcelain dolls that looked like they had a score to settle. I gave them a wide berth.

Just as I was about to leave I noticed a box shoved under a card table. I dragged it out and opened the flaps. Inside were dozens of items wrapped in newspaper so gray and old it was practically dust. I gingerly unwrapped a plate, a souvenir plate for Gillette’s Castle in Connecticut, one of my favorite places. The newspaper, soft as tissue, was dated July 5, 1975. I unwrapped several more. To my delight there were four more mid-century souvenir plates – Kentucky, Connecticut, Story Land, and Atlantic City. The young woman running the sale said I could take them all for a dollar.


Now, you know that my hubby and I just moved into a new house and the last thing I need is more stuff. So don’t tell him I went yard-saling this morning, okay? It will be our little secret.

What’s your weakness?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chihuly Garden and Glass

The last morning we were in Seattle as part of a 19-day excursion with our youngest granddaughter, we took in the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. It’s part of the Seattle Center, whose best-known attraction is the Space Needle. A series of five short films are part of the exhibit. They feature Dale Chihuly talking about his approach to some of his exhibitions. Pictures in this blog come from the Seattle exhibit.

Having visited some of his other exhibits, I would have guessed that he was a deep planner, with each piece’s placement well-considered before the glass-blowing began, and then placed in its pre-determined spot. Turns out he’s more of a seat-of-the-pants kind of guy.

Oh sure, he sketches out big pieces, but he’s not a slave to the design. For example, while developing one exhibit, he took great delight in tossing his glass creations into a river to see how they would float together, what patterns they would make, how they would flow, and so on. Kids collected them and stuck them in a large rowboat. Chihuly was so struck by the arrangement the kids made, he included the same concept in several subsequent exhibits, including the one in Seattle.

When Chihuly creates his very large chandeliers, he and his team produce the component parts, but when it comes to constructing each chandelier, serendipity plays a huge part. One film shows the team putting together a new chandelier for an installation. Chihuly stood below and periodically held up a piece and said, “Make sure to include this somewhere. I like this piece.” Later, a small hole in the pattern developed that he commented on several times, making sure they knew it was there and kept it. “After all, nature does the same thing.”

It was clear he enjoyed himself throughout the whole process. When it comes to his art, he has kept the freedom of a child: willing to experiment, follow a wild idea, challenge himself and his partners.

Exiting the exhibit, I was looking forward to the next chance I had to write. Thanks, Dale.

Friday, July 28, 2017

An Answer for President Trump

Why Was There A Civil War? An Answer for President Trump by Warren Bull

During an interview with Salena Zito for ”Main Street Meets the Beltway,” released on April 30, 2016 when discussing President Andrew Jackson President Trump said:

I mean had Andrew Jackson been president a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War. If you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Dear President Trump,

After the interview you clarified that you knew Andrew Jackson died before the war started, but intended to say that if he had been alive and president he would have prevented the war.
Sir, you raise a fascinating question that people have been pondering ever since the start of the war. Could a strong and intelligent president have brokered an agreement to avoid war? Respectfully, I would like to answer your question
Before war broke out, the two most powerful men in the United States government, President James Buchanan, who personally opposed slavery and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Brooke Taney, who personally supported slavery, tried to do exactly what you suggested was possible. They considered what was politically expedient, i.e., what was achievable and least disruptive to settle the growing rancor between states and most likely to avoid bloodshed. Their conclusion was that the continuation of slavery was the solution. They decided slavery should be protected where it existed and expanded when people in new territories and states wanted it.

After all, they probably reasoned, slavery existed in the colonies before the nation was formed. In forming the United States the southern delegates to the Constitutional convention insisted that slavery had to be legal for the nation to be formed. They got what they wanted. The way to end slavery already existed. The Constitution could be amended if and when a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate called for an amendment. Also a constitutional convention could be called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures and the convention could change the document.

Besides, slavery was good for the economy. Cotton production in the south was the primary engine running that economy. In the north banking, insurance and ship building all benefited from the slave trade. Exports made the entire country economically stronger. Whatever people say, they usually act to favor whatever adds to their financial well being.

There was a way open to settle issues without the need for bloodshed. Dred Scott, an enslaved African-American man, sued for his freedom in lower courts. One court said he should not be freed. Another court ruled in Scott’s favor. The case was appealed to the highest court in the land.

Taney seized upon the case, which asked only if one individual because of his particular circumstances and history should be freed, to answer the greater unasked for issue of whether slavery should be continued. Simply put, Taney ruled that African-Americans had no rights at all under the Constitution. I admit he had to misrepresent the case before him, misstate the opinions of the other justices and misread the Constitution to reach his decision. But consider that he wanted to preserve the nation.

President James Buchanan was willing to go against his personal beliefs for the “greater good” of keeping the country together. If others had been willing to follow his example, union could have been preserved. He backed the court decision to the hilt.

Question settled. No need for any more fuss. Sorry, enslaved people. Maybe the Constitution will be amended someday.
However, this elegant solution did not work. People on different sides hardened their positions. The war that resulted was the bloodiest in American history. Fathers against sons. Brothers against each other. Even the newly elected President had in-laws fighting against the union.

Before I continue, I should mention that some people, no doubt including some who advise you, now claim the basic conflict was not about slavery but states rights versus federal rights. They are half right. The first state to secede, South Carolina, wrote an explanation of why secession was necessary. In that document the people mention a number of states rights. They reported that there was one state right which northern states failed to honor, which required their succession. That right was to hold people in bondage, i.e. the right to keep slaves.

Those same people might tell you that Abraham Lincoln said he was willing to keep slavery intact to keep the union intact. In this they are entirely correct. Lincoln said and believed that…at first. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri, all states where slavery was legal, joined the union side of the conflict.

Over time Lincoln revised his beliefs. He acted on his new beliefs even though they were not popular with a majority of voters. Unlike Buchanan, he remained faithful to his core principles. Unlike Taney, he never did more than he could legally justify.

I am the first to admit that James Buchanan was not a strong President, but I do not believe that any President could have persuaded people to give up their core belief that slavery was morally wrong.  

So, no. Sometimes the willingness to act against a person’s basic beliefs (if that person has firm beliefs) in order to appeal to a popular trend will only exaggerate differences between others. Flexibility can be a real asset, but so can having and sticking with core beliefs. I see no way the Civil War could have been avoided by mediation.
By the way, if the expedient solution suggested, to leave slavery in place and support its expansion, had been accepted, it would have been an absolute horror.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your attention.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Catriona McPherson

I’m a fan of Catriona McPherson. I’ve some of her Dandy Gilver Murder Mysteries but it’s her stand-alone mysteries that are so mesmerizing and hard to put down like As She Left It, A Child Garden, and the one I just finished Quiet Neighbors.
I love the cover because it adds to the creepiness.

The main character, a woman named Jude, runs away from her home in London and comes to a little town in Scotland to a bookstore she remembered called Lowland Glen owned by a man named Lowell. The bookstore was a shambles with bags and piles of books everywhere. The owner not only hires her to organize his book store, but he takes her to his home to give her a place to stay. He’s a gentle and kind man.

Then a young girl around eighteen shows up and claims she’s the book store’s owners’ daughter, a daughter he had no idea he had. Jude wonders if she is just trying to get money from him especially when she says she’s pregnant. Jude thinks she has stuffed something inside her clothes to make it look that way. For a while both Jude and the girl Eddy are at odds, but eventually they become tentative friends. Eddy takes over the room on the third floor Jude was staying in, and Jude moves to a house Lowell owns in a cemetery down the road.
Another excellent cover

Of course, there are some mysterious things going on in this small town and Jude gets a note in her note box at the little house she’s staying in to tell her to stop snooping. She’s been investigating some of the deaths in the small town of people buried near the small house she’s living in, and asking questions of different people in the small town.

I won’t say anything more about it and give away what happens, but here are some comments about the book Quiet Neighbors  that express my opinions of the book much better.

 The New York Times: “McPherson writes mystery stories that are both cozy and creepy, which accounts for the quirky charm of Quiet Neighbors.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Layer upon layer of deception.”

Library Journal (starred review) “”McPherson is a master of slightly creepy narratives that are complex and character driven.”

Booklist “Despite the dark underpinnings, this is a story of love.”

Mystery Scene “A cleverly conceived, skillfully executed, decidedly nontraditional small town mystery that is bursting at the seams with warmth, wit, moxie, and menace.”

Suspense Magazine “Quiet Neighbor is a real find . . . This is one of those ideal stories that you cannot put down and actually feel sad when it’s over” I can relate to that.

One of the Dandy Gilver books I have

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland, where she lived until moving to California in 2010. She is the author of the award-winning Dandy Gilver historical mystery series, a member of Mystery Writers of America, and the 2014-2015 President of Sisters in Crime. Her modern standalone mysteries have garnered numerous awards. I have seen Catriona at Malice Domestic numerous times, and find her delightful.

 Have you read any of Catriona McPherson’s books?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Interview With Nancy Cole Silverman

by Grace Topping

One of the joys of reading a mystery that features a main character with a particular talent or business is learning about that talent or business. Often times, the author has researched a field and provides good information in the book.  In other instances, the author has years of experience working in the character’s field. Nancy Cole Silverman is one of those authors. Having spent almost twenty-five years working in news and talk radio, Nancy imbues her character and the field of news radio in her Carol Childs mystery series with an authenticity that would be hard to match without that experience.

Welcome, Nancy, to Writers Who Kill.

Earlier in your fiction-writing career, you wrote several standalone books. What made you decide to write the Carol Childs mystery series with an ensemble cast of characters?
Nancy Cole Silverman
I wrote several standalone books and short stories too before I finally landed on the premise for the Carol Childs Mysteries.  I think the idea was always in the back of my mind. I’d worked in news and talk radio for nearly twenty-five years, and when the radio station I worked for sold, I decided rather than go back to work at another station, I’d make one up and write about it. The world I worked in was so full of vibrant and unusual characters and stories, with something new happening every day, I just couldn’t resist. I like to tell people, you can take the girl out of radio, but you can’t take the radio out of the girl.

Your main character, Carol Childs, works in radio, but is just getting a foothold behind the microphone. Your own experience in radio adds authenticity to your books. Was your start in radio as challenging as Carol’s?

Carol’s career and mine were exact opposites. I began in broadcasting behind the mic in the early seventies when there were very few women on the air. Later, because I could write copy, had two kids to support, and had moved to Los Angeles, I ended up on the business side of things. Reporters don’t make much money, and on the business side, I was able to earn a comfortable living. Carol, on the other hand, did the exact opposite, going from the business side to the talent side. In some ways, I wish I could have done that. I loved working as a reporter and would have liked more time behind the mic.

The pace of your books leans toward the suspense side of mystery writing. However, the character of Misty—described as a wacky or kooky psychic—adds some comic relief and a touch of the paranormal. What inspired the character of Misty?

I adore Misty Dawn.  She reminds me a lot of my cousin-in-law, Mitzi McCall, an actress, stand-up comedian and one of my dearest friends. Fans of hers may remember Mitzi and her husband, Charlie Brill, as the act preceding the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mitzi was my muse for Misty Dawn, who I wrote into the series as an unemployed psychic to the stars.  Hey, I live in L.A., there’s a psychic shingle hung out on nearly every corner. The idea seemed to make sense, and when Misty Dawn shows up on Carol’s doorstep, unemployed and looking for work, what else can Carol do, but hire her. After all, Carol’s a single mom and could use a housekeeper.  Spoiler alert – I plan to bring Misty back in a spin-off series of her own. 

What’s the hardest part about writing a series?

Remembering the details of supporting characters. Things like birthdays and anniversaries that I may have used in previous books tend to elude me. It wasn’t until I was working on book four and Carol was in the midst of planning a birthday party for her son that I realized I’d forgotten how old he was. Fortunately, I’d made him fifteen in the previous book, so the fact that he was turning sixteen worked out well for the plot. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d been younger.

In Room for Doubt, someone is killing men who have a history of being abusive to their partners. This leaves Carol Childs and other characters in the book struggling with the moral issues involved. How have reviewers and readers responded to this issue?

I appreciate you asking this question. After working around news and talk radio stations, I saw a lot of unsolved cases and things that the average person may not really understand as par for the course.  While I’d like to write books with happy endings and nicely tied up scenarios, where the bad guys all go to jail.  Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. In Room For Doubt, I wanted to leave the reader wondering, what if?  To your point, however, there were some reviewers that found the subject matter complex and the resolution a bit untidy. But I wouldn’t write it differently. I like that it left readers wondering, could this be true?

In each of the books in your series, you’ve addressed social issues. Are they issues that you feel strongly about? How does fiction help to address these issues?

Working in news and talk radio I was aware how certain stories got airtime while others didn’t.  So when I sat down to write The Carol Childs Mysteries, I wanted to write about the inner workings of a news station in hopes of explaining the politics and complexities of selecting those stories that make it on the air. In reality, there simply is never enough time or money to cover every story a reporter wants to investigate. But with writing fiction, I’ve no news editor sitting over my shoulder telling me we can or can’t run that, so in a sense, I’m also my own programming director.  

And you’re right, I do like to weave social issues into my books. I think it’s the role of the writer to entertain and inform. In my opinion, the best writers know how to spin a story so that the writer gets into a reader’s head and as the book progresses the reader is looking and thinking about an issue they might not have looked at or thought about before. If I can do that in each book, I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

You were a trailblazer in radio, having worked as a broadcaster, an advertising sales executive, and then as the only female general manager of a sports radio station in the U.S. What was the best part of working in radio? The most challenging?

When I worked in radio, I loved every day I went to work. I never knew what to expect, what might happen, who I might meet or where I’d be at the end of the day. I think the variety of assignments, the immediacy of the medium, and the people made it a fascinating business. As for what was the most challenging? I’d have to say the constant deadlines, living with the adrenaline rush and that endless commute down the 5 Freeway during rush hour. 

Based on your experience, what would you tell young women today interested in a career in radio?

Do it! Particularly if it involves news radio. I love the medium, but more importantly, I think journalism is an important place for women to be whether it be radio, TV or print.  Right now, it’s an exciting and challenging time for journalists. Women haven’t always had a place at the table. When I started, women’s voices were considered too light to be taken seriously. I hope we never return to those days.   Women have come a long way, and I hope we continue to go further.

How much of your experience and stories covered during your career in radio have you drawn on for your books? Do former co-workers accuse you of using them in your books?

I’ve done a mash-up of personalities and experiences with my books. None of the characters are exactly like that of anyone I knew. With fiction, I think character, story, and dialog have to be over the top. There’s a saying in news, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  The same thing goes for writing fiction. Get your characters to bleed onto the page with emotions readers can relate to, and they’ll remember your stories and want to read more.  
Your mystery mantra is smart, sassy, and fearless. If our characters are a lot like ourselves, what contributed to this aspect of your personality?

I wish I were as smart, sassy and fearless as Carol Childs. It’s a lot easier to create a smart, sassy and fearless character on the page when you can play Monday morning quarterback than it is to do so in real time and under real circumstances. I suppose if I had to attribute these characteristics to someone or something in the past, it would be my mom, my dad, and my first couple of working assignments where I felt totally lost and intimidated.

Specifically, my mother was a schoolteacher, and she didn’t raise her girls to be anything less than good students. With smarts comes empowerment and I liked that feeling early on. As for Sassy, my father gave me that nickname when I was a little girl. I was a terrible tomboy. Kind of a smart-alecky little girl who refused to play with dolls. I once tried to wire the fruit trees in our backyard with orange cans and string in an effort to enable communications between my tree forts. So the name came kind of naturally. And fearless? That came when I started working at my first job as a reporter.  I quickly realized I had no one but myself to depend on. Any fear I may have had about doing something new or unknown was dwarfed by my fear of failure. My motto was simple: “Don’t look down and don’t look back.”

Since you have the same birthday as Edgar Allen Poe, do you think the stars were aligned in such a way that contributed to your ear for the written word?

I’m a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe, and I love that we have the same birthday. It’s one of those fun little coinkydinks I like to share with people. In that regard, I think writing is a gift, and that those of us who have been given the talent need to work to develop it. I suppose there is a certain kind of kinship among us all in that regard.  Poe wrote numerous works in his lifetime; the exact count is disputed. But the fact is, as a writer, we must work at the craft every day.  Like any of the arts, one has to practice to achieve their goals; there are no overnight successes. One may be born with talent, but to craft it, it takes practice, practice, practice. 

You founded and edited The Equestrian News. Where did your love of horses come from?

From the time I was a small child I loved horses. I grew up in Arizona and remember looking out the window of my third-grade class at an open horse pasture.  I couldn’t wait for class to end so that I could go and feed them through the fence. At the time I must have read every one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really learned to ride and it opened my world and my confidence. I often tell people that for girls I think horses teach them to be powerful in a very gentle way. 

What’s next for Carol Childs?

I’m currently working on book five for the Carol Childs series.  Stay tuned.

Thank you, Nancy.

Learn more about Nancy and her books online at her website:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Sort of Summer Storm

It was a dark and not-yet-stormy night, but the radar map and the Weather Channel both agreed—the storm was coming. I could see it flickering at the southeastern horizon, cloud to cloud lightning, a mild incandescent light show.

I knew I needed to put the chickens up before it hit. They’d already gone to roost, but I still had to latch the doors and close the nest boxes behind them, and I didn’t want to do it in the rain. I opened the back door, urged the dog to get his business done too, but he didn’t want to go out. This was not unusual—our dog hates nature in all its forms—so I shoved him out bodily and left the door open for him to come back inside.

And the door slammed itself shut behind him.

I hadn’t touched it. The wind must be getting up, I thought, and opened it again. There was no wind, however. The trees were still and silent, not even a rustle of breeze. I stepped onto the deck just as the dog shot back into the house.

The door slammed shut behind him, yet again.

I headed for the chicken house in my bare feet. I started off walking, but then I realized how deep the silence was, as if the air had thickened. As if there were no animals, no night birds, no insects. Just this dull cottony silence broken only by the sound of my footsteps.

I started running. My imagination shifted into overdrive, and I had the sensation that I was about to be sucked into the air, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. So I ran faster. I hastily locked up the chickens—silent too, hunched inside their roost—then galloped back inside and shut the door behind me, breathing hard.

And then the wind rippled to life, and the first rain pattered down, and the heavy air dissipated.

My family has a complicated relationship with wild weather. We thrill to thunder and lightning, crowding onto our porches to watch storms coming, retreating inside only when the rain becomes horizontal and the sizzling bolts too close for comfort. My mother, however, has lost two homes to tornadoes, and she tells me that the feeling I had was probably one passing overhead. Or if not a tornado exactly, a pressure system of some sort, the eye of a meteorological black hole, dense and sucking and dangerous.

She is probably right. It is a reasonable explanation. But I am Southern born and bred, with ancestors hailing from the coasts of England and Ireland. We know that some nights are darker than others, that some winds don’t come from the compass directions. We remember the old tales of the Wild Hunt, and the Fey, and the Banshee. We understand that sometimes it is best not to think too hard about doors that slam themselves shut.

It is a bright morning as I write this. The breeze is still cool-ish, not yet warmed by the baking sun. The birds fight the squirrels over the sunflower seeds I have put out, and the chickens make crooning noises as they scratch and peck.

But there’s another summer storm coming tonight. And I plan on being safely inside when it does. With a candle lit against the darkness. Just in case.

*     *     *
Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The fifth book in this Atlanta-based series—Reckoning and Ruin—was released last year. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: