If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

June Interview Schedule:
6/5 Daphne Contest Finalists: Joyce Woollcott, Amy Drayer, and Margaret S. Hamilton
6/12 Susan Van Kirk (new WWK Blogger)
6/19 Julie Mulhern
6/26 Barbara Ross

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 6/1 Julie Mulhern, 6/8 Andy Potter

WWK Satuday Bloggers: 6/15 Gloria Alden, 6/22 Kait Carson, 6/29 E. B. Davis


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology will be released on June 18th.

Congratulations to Margaret S. Hamilton for being a finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier contest. Margaret competes in the Unpublished/Mainstream mystery/suspense category.

Congratulations to Shari Randall for WINNING the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her book, Curses, Boiled Again was published by St. Martin's last year. Read the interview about the book here. Yay, Shari!

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.

James M. Jackson extends the Seamus McCree series with the May 25th publication of #6, False Bottom.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When Thoughts Turn to Short Stories

by Paula Gail Benson

With so many activities as summer approaches, sometimes it’s easier to commit to reading or writing short stories rather than longer works. July offers the opportunity for a Camp NaNo experience and wouldn’t it be fun to try something new and different, experiment with a genre you haven’t written before?

I’ve been thinking a lot about short stories lately. At the end of May, we received word that short story writer and longtime supporter of the short mystery fiction community, Sandra Seamans, had passed away. I wrote a tribute to her yesterday on The Stiletto Gang. Many of us credit Sandra’s blog “My Little Corner,” which listed story calls, as giving us the information we needed to make our first submissions.
Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting, a founding member and author for the blog “The Write Practice,” has published some excellent books on writing short stories. These are all available on Amazon:

Tara Laskowski
Art Taylor
I found two of Joe’s online articles in “The Write Practice” to be particularly helpful. “Five Steps to Write a Short Story” has the following process: (1) be a reader of short stories, (2) start out by summarizing the story you want to write, (3) then, write the story, (4) revise and edit the story you’ve written, and (5) submit it for publication. In “How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish,” Joe outlines seven steps: (1) write the story in one sitting as if you were telling it to someone, (2) determine who the protagonist is, (3) list out all the scenes in the story, (4) conduct any research you need, (5) write the story, then rewrite and edit it, and (7) get the story published.

Barb Goffman
Some of the best advice I’ve heard about writing short stories has been at the Malice panels featuring the Agatha nominees for best short story. From this year’s authors, Leslie Budewitz, Susanna Calkins, Barb Goffman, Tara Laskowski, and Art Taylor, I learned a great deal, both from hearing their perspectives and reading their stories. One thing in particular resonated with me: Barb Goffman suggested a year of reading a short story a day. What a great idea for becoming familiar with style, craft, and the types of stories being accepted for publication.

Susanna Calkins
Where do you find 365 stories? One good place to start is with the magazines and anthologies where the Agatha nominees were published. Leslie and Tara’s stories (that tied for the Agatha) appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, while Barb and Art’s were in issues of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Susanna’s was in last year’s Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens. (Also, if you haven’t read them yet, there are still active links on the Malice Domestic’s Agatha page.)

Leslie Budewitz
On Malice Domestic’s anthology page, not only is there a story call for it’s upcoming anthology, Mystery Most Theatrical, but also a list of the Malice Anthology Collection. By Googling “Bouchercon anthologies,” you can retrieve a sizeable list, including the Anthony award winning Murder Under the Oaks, edited by Art Taylor. Speaking of this year’s Agatha short story nominees, how about checking out Leslie Budewitz’ and Susanna Calkins’ websites, which list out their short stories; Barb Goffman’s collection Don’t Get Mad, Get Even that won the Silver Falchion Award; Tara Laskowski’s Bystanders, winner of the Balcones Fiction Prize; and  Art Taylor’s Agatha award winning novel in short stories, On the Road with Del and Louise?

Sisters in Crime’s online Guppy Chapter has a series of anthologies, many of which gave members a first publication. (BSP: my The Train is on the Tracks is in Fish or Cut Bait.) Other chapters of Sisters in Crime also have short story anthologies.

Gigi Pandian
Gigi Pandian’s The Cambodian Curse and Other Stories features nine locked room mysteries (including the Agatha award winning The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn). The Mystery Tribune called Reed Farrel Coleman’s recent collection Short Stack “a master class in short stories.”

John Floyd

How can I not mention collections by B.K. Stevens (Her Infinite Variety), John M. Floyd (Dreamland) (in addition, John recently wrote a post for SleuthsayersAnthology Psychology,” listing the themed anthologies where his stories appear), and Earl Staggs (Short Stories of Earl Staggs)? As a matter of fact, maybe that’s what I should continue to do this summer, fill my messages with lists of short story anthologies.

If nothing else, please consider reading my tribute to Sandra Seamans on The Stiletto Gang. Although her story collection is out of print, I was able to find links to a number of her short stories available online. Reading those, you can see the skill of a true craftsman who loved the short story form.

How about you? Have you read or written any good short stories lately?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Birthing a Character

Birthing a Character by Debra H. Goldstein

Characters don’t spring full-grown onto the page. Instead, like a child (or for pet-lovers – an animal), each must be conceived and nurtured during an internal growth period before being introduced to the world.

There are numerous forms of conception used by authors. Sometimes a family member, friend, or someone simply observed casually passing triggers the idea for a character. Occasionally, a word or understanding of the type of individual who might be involved with the plot the author has in mind is the impetus for creation. Once the first seed is planted, the author fleshes out the different aspects of the proposed character. Humans and animals have more limited mechanisms to conceive a character – Google them.

At some point, the human or animal embryo develops arms, legs, hair, and other physical attributes that will be obvious at birth. The author has a clean slate to steal from living or fictional individuals or to simply mix and match physical characteristics and emotional traits as the author deems appropriate to the story. Consequently, the character may be deaf and blind like Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, have a single eye like Cyclops, be on the heavy side with a wonderful mustache like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or be a Peter Pan boy-like sprite.

Many authors write detailed backstory outlines for their characters while others simply let the voices they hear in their heads (which they attribute to the characters) dictate character behavior and development. As they write their stories, they nurture their characters in different environmental settings and have consequences arise from interaction with other characters. Animals and humans can be influenced by their physical and emotional environments, but unlike authors can’t change the end results by hitting delete.

Perhaps the one thing I believe most distinguishes successful characters and books from those that
don’t resonate with readers is when it is obvious an author became engaged with the characters. In those instances, there is a link of love that comes across even with the antagonist. Louise Penny’s books offer good examples of this phenomenon. Reading her entire series, one can see how she relates to her characters and works hard to give them room for growth while respectfully nurturing each character’s individuality.

I tried to use these concepts when I created the Sarah Blair series. My initial thought was I wanted a cozy protagonist adverse to cooking and crafts. The conceptual idea was the difference between my sister’s and my abilities in the kitchen and our physical attributes – night and day. I didn’t initially create a detailed backstory for Sarah or any of the other characters. Instead, I listened to their voices. This was problematic when I ignored them. The book stalled until I realized I was trying to make the wrong character the antagonist. When I listened, I rewrote half of One Taste Too Many and fell in love with every character. I was engaged and eager to know what would happen next. Hopefully, readers will pre-order or purchase Two Bites Too Many (https://www.amazon.com/Bites-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719484) because they, too, are engaged.

As for a final comparison between fiction and life, I am convinced the same rules of engagement hold true from the minute of birth.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Furthermore – When Readers Dictate Priorities

by James M. Jackson

It started with my False Bottom (Seamus McCree #6) proofreaders. My ARC readers jumped in with two feet. When the local postmistress buttonholed my better half, Jan, I knew I had a strategic issue to address.

Each novel, novella, and short story in the Seamus McCree series has its own narrative arc, but the series itself has a larger arc. At the end of each tale, questions remain—not about the action in that one—about how something will affect Seamus and his family in the future. Some of the novels have a specific hook to a future book. I say future advisedly because the hook from Ant Farm (Seamus McCree #1), although it receives a nodding reference in Bad Policy (Seamus McCree #2), does not come to fruition until Empty Promises (Seamus McCree #5).

I’m not about to provide any spoilers, but it gives nothing away to confirm that at the end of False Bottom, the reader will recognize that I have left multiple issues for Seamus and his family to address. Perfect fodder for future books.

As I demonstrated with Ant Farm, I’m willing to let readers stew for a while before resolving open issues. My writing plan called for me to write a spin-off series featuring one of the secondary characters from an early Seamus McCree novel. Truth is, I’d like the experience of a big publisher contract and marketing, and that won’t happen with the Seamus McCree series (although many fans have suggested Seamus would make a great television series . . .I’m up for offers . . .).

So, once I finished False Bottom, my intent was to work on the second draft of the first novel in the new series. And, if False Bottom gained enough readers and reviews to make me think another novel was worth my time, I had an idea for it: I’d return Seamus to his camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and have the story revolve around his granddaughter, Megan.

Perfect until the proofreaders asked, “Who is she?” And they—and the ARC readers—predicted (without consulting me or despite consulting me) that the next novel would answer the question. Well, I had other plans that required them to wait for their answer.

Until Linda, my postmistress, told Jan she read False Bottom over the weekend and wanted to know who she was. When, she asked, was Jim coming out with the next one to answer that question?

2021 was not an acceptable answer.

As readers posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and contacted me by email, it became clear that if I waited two years to provide answers, I would piss off not only my rabid readers, but even folks who had read only False Bottom.

I thought my priorities were the new series and bringing Seamus back to his U.P camp. But they were not lining up well with my readers’ wish to find out who she is.

I caved. I will answer (Well, maybe. You never can be sure—this is me, after all.) my readers’ pressing question by writing a novella. It’s current working title is Furthermore. It takes place three weeks after False Bottom ends. Set in Boston, it will address both the complication hinted at in the last chapter of False Bottom and the burning question—Who is she?

I mentioned my decision to one proofreader, and she wanted to know when she would get it to proofread. When I demurred, she suggested she could set up a writing schedule for me. Talk about motivated. I expect to finish the first draft next week.

What do you think? Am I wise to accede to my readers, or should I have ignored the hubbub and worked on the spinoff?

* * * * *

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. False Bottom, the sixth novel in the series—this one set in the Boston area—was first available in May. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com/index.html.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Why I Love Book Clubs by Gloria Alden

I belong to two book clubs. The first one I joined was in the fall of 2006. It was a new book club started by Carol Baker, the local librarian, and we met in a cafĂ© with lunches and antiques and crafts for sale. It was called The Brew Basket. I think the first book picked was To Kill a Mockingbird, but I didn’t keep a record then.
Eventually, Carol couldn’t be with us because government funding for the library was cut back. She still had another book club at the library. We met there every third Thursday for several years until the Brew Basket went out of business. Then we went to several other restaurants for a while and finally ended up at Roby Lee’s, a larger restaurant where we had more room and where we still meet at 11:00 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month, except when one of our members has us meeting up at her cottage on Lake Erie in July.
Then in December, we meet at my house and each of our members comes with two or three books for us to pick from for the following year for January to November. The extra books are added to a list for anyone to read after they’ve read that month’s book. We have a potluck meal at my house, too.
When we meet at Roby Lee’s, we discuss the book-of-the-month and then some of us stay for lunch, some order take-out, or some, like me, order the meal for takeout, but stay there to eat from the salad bar, which is really good and includes soup, dessert, and delicious small slices of white pizza. Carol Baker is retired now and has joined us again. The waitresses who takes care of us always bring coffee or tea and fresh baked bread with butter to nibble on while we’re discussing the book or talking about what has gone on in our lives since the last time we met.
The other book club I joined was the Red Read Robin. It was started in February 2008 and meets on the last Thursday of the month at 6:00 p.m. It’s a larger book club with over half of the members related to each other and at least half of them go to the same Mass I go to. We sit together. This book club is held in a member’s home where she prepares the meal, or if the member for some reason can’t or doesn’t want to have it in their home, they pick a restaurant for us to meet in and usually bring some little gift to give us. One of my best friends has a small house and a husband with a disability so she always chooses a restaurant. The hostess of the month always serves wine with the meal, too. We just celebrated our tenth year this past month. This book club always has wine with the meal, too. The first book that was chosen for that book club was also To Kill a Mockingbird. Only three members have dropped out, not because they didn’t like us, but because they were too busy like Erin, who is a teacher and just had her second child, an adorable baby girl, and an older son, who is now in kindergarten. Her husband is also a teacher and both of them have lots of papers to grade. Another member moved back to her hometown in PA, and only comes once in a while because of the distance to drive at night. Two of our members live at fifty miles away so don’t come quite as often, and when it’s their turn to have the book club, they have it on a Saturday afternoon so no one has to drive the distance after dark
My love of belonging to book clubs, which have so many positive aspects. First, it’s interesting to hear everyone’s opinions of a book you’ve just read. Some really liked it. Some had a few complaints and then there’s one member who often hated the book, which is kind of upsetting for the hostess of the book club that night who picked the book.
Second, it’s fun to be with fellow book lovers, who have become my friends over the years I’ve belonged to both book clubs.
Third, I’m introduced to books I might never have heard of or particularly wanted to read. I’m a big mystery fan and read more mysteries than anything else, but it’s good for everyone to read other books, too. There have only been a few over the years that I didn’t like, but that is because the person who picked the book didn’t bother to read it first. I often pick a good mystery, or a book I’d read in the other book club and enjoyed.
Do you belong to a book club?
If not would you like to belong to one?

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Dangers of Reading by Warren Bull

The Dangers of Reading by Warren Bull

image from Martin Adams on Upslash

In my last post, I argued that writing is dangerous to authors. However, I neglected to warn about the malignant effects of reading.

In 1864 the warnings below were published in a New York religious tract entitled, “A Pastor's Jottings; or, Striking Scenes during a Ministry of Thirty-Five Years.” It was printed anonymously according to the introduction because the author "could thus write with more freedom." That same introduction assures readers that "the statements of this volume are all literally true." Here is more information about the book. https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-moral-dangers-of-reading-novels-in-1864.158807/

In fact, novels are at the top of the list of the many things (this religious tract is nearly 350 pages long) that distress this unknown pastor. He writes, "The minds of novel readers are intoxicated, their rest is broken, their health shattered, and their prospect of usefulness blighted."  

Even novels by Charles Dickens are suspect, and he quotes the 19th century educator Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame to prove it:

"Childishness in boys even of good ability seems to be a growing fault; and I do not know what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusement, like Pickwick, Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc...that leave [a boy] totally palled, not only for his regular work, but for literature of all sorts."

The pastor says women suffer even more than children or men:

"Listen to the evidence given by a physician in Massachusetts: 'I have seen a young lady with her table loaded with volumes of fictitious trash, poring day after day and night after night over highly wrought scenes and skillfully portrayed pictures of romance, until her cheeks grew pale, her eyes became wild and restless, and her mind wandered and was lost – the light of intelligence passed behind a cloud, and her soul was forever benighted. She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels."

"Not very long since, a double suicide was committed...by a young married couple from Ohio, who were clearly proved to be led to ruin and death by these most pernicious books.... some of our own large cities, have given mournful evidence of the results of some of these novels when dramatized and performed on the stage, as leading to burglaries and murder."

Further evidence:
A list compiled from the logbook of West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, documenting admissions to that institution between 1864 and 1889 included reading novels. The list has been archived by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Even Neil Gaiman has written an essay “Why Books are Dangerous” in which he shares his harrowing experiences as a reader.
I hereby apologize for my failure to extend the warning. Beware of the activity of reading.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Cincinnati Zoo Tulip Festival

By Margaret S. Hamilton

“Tulip Mania” happens April 1-30th every year at the Cincinnati Zoo, when the display beds are filled with 100,000 blooming tulips. Red and yellow tulips bloom first, followed by other hues: white, purple, and pink. A million daffodils, hyacinths, flowering bushes and trees planted on the grounds augment the tulip festival.

The Cincinnati Zoo opened in 1875, the second-oldest zoo in the United States, on its original sixty-five-acre campus near the current University of Cincinnati, UC medical campus, and the EPA. The Cincinnati Opera performed in an outdoor pavilion at the Zoo from 1920-1971, before the annual productions moved downtown to Music Hall.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden participates in both animal conservation programs and an extensive plant program, including specialty gardens within the zoo (butterfly, conifer, pollinator, and rain gardens) and a propagation program for endangered plant species. Bowyer Farm, north of the city, is a reclaimed twenty-four-acre wetland serving as a bird migration stopover and growing facility for native plants.

The first week of May, the tulip bulbs are dug up and sold for replanting in home gardens in the fall, and the display beds filled with bedding plants.


Readers and writers, does your community have a special spring flower display? 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Susan Van Kirk Interview by E. B. Davis

Everyone in the small town of Sweet Iron knew the teenage daughter of Judge Tippitt and his wife, Jolene. Melanie Tippitt’s exotic green eyes sprinkled with gold flecks only added to her haunting beauty. That is why her shocking murder in the summer of 1971 shattered the innocence of the town. Soon, the inhabitants sighed with relief when the murderer was sent to prison. Case closed.

Four decades later, Elizabeth Russell arrives in Sweet Iron with plans for a brief visit. She extends her stay when she discovers reasons to research the Tippitt family genealogy and the disturbing tragedy of their daughter’s murder. Her decision disturbs the tranquility of the town and challenges the truth of what happened that day at Tippitt Pond…

Case closed. Or was it?

I’ve interviewed Susan Van Kirk before on WWK because her writing and characters draw readers into the plots. A Death At Tippitt Pond hooked me from the first page.

Here’s the first hook: A forty-seven-year-old New York researcher is contacted by a lawyer’s agent about an inheritance from someone she doesn’t know in a place she’s never been and has no family. Ticket paid by the estate. Between projects and enticed by intrigue, she accepts and comes to the small town of Sweet Iron, IL telling friends she’ll be back within a week. Famous last words….

And that was just the first chapter. There are many more hooks that compel readers forward until the end is near and whodunnit is revealed. But there are still unanswered questions, which I hope, will necessitate Susan to write more about these characters—by reader mandate!

Please welcome Susan Van Kirk back to WWK.                    E. B. Davis


Is Sweet Iron, IL based on another town?

Not exactly. Sweet Iron is a bit larger than Endurance, the town in my earlier series, and the population is somewhere between the town I live in now, Monmouth, Illinois, and the town I grew up in—Galesburg, Illinois. But all the small towns I write about are eventually an amalgamation of the area in which I’ve lived—west central Illinois.

How did the Tippitts find their way to Sweet Iron?

Molly Grayson, the librarian at Sweet Iron’s McClendan College, gives Elizabeth (Beth) Russell a history lesson about that. The Tippitt family was part of the second group of settlers arriving in Sweet Iron. The first group found their way from Pennsylvania in the 1830s. Thomas Johannes Bergmann was the leader, and his family had made their fortune in iron in the early 1800s in Philadelphia. But owner-worker strife and strikes became commonplace in the iron foundries, and Bergmann foresaw more of the same in the future. An adventurous visionary, he moved his wife and five children to the new state of Illinois and founded Sweet Iron, named for his wife’s family—Sweet—and the product that had made him wealthy. By the time William Webster Tippitt showed up with his family in the early 1840s, the town was a thriving wilderness outpost, and Tippitt brought his young wife. They settled into the little town, becoming involved in the politics and governing, and founding the first newspaper. One of the characters in A Death at Tippitt Pond, Jefferson Webster Tippitt, is named for this newspaper editor of the mid-1800s.

Were all adoptions sealed in the sixties?

Virtually all legal adoptions in the 1960s were closed, meaning the original birth certificate was either sealed or expunged, and the parents who adopted the child were listed on the new birth certificate. Information about the birth parents was unavailable. Previously, adoption had been more open, resulting in privacy issues. By 1960, twenty-eight states had laws stating that the original birth certificate could only be seen by court order. State and federal governments tightened the restrictions during that decade. By the 1970s, open adoptions became more acceptable, and today it is rare to have closed adoptions. My character, Beth Russell, was conceived in 1968 in small-town Illinois where closed adoptions would still have been more common. She discovers early in the story that she was adopted. (Sorry. Spoiler. Can’t help it.)

Why has Elizabeth always been plagued by anxiety?

Here are Elizabeth’s thoughts: “Deep down, Beth had always known something was wrong. She could remember a conversation with her well-meaning friend, Gabrielle, who said, ‘But I have grandparents and aunts and uncles and four brothers and three sisters and nieces and nephews too numerous to mention. At last count, I think that overwhelms your zero. Don’t you find it strange?’ It was true her parents kept her close to home. No history. No relatives. If she were honest, even she found it strange.”
Beth had grown up with a few friends in upstate New York, but ironically, despite being a genealogist, she knows nothing of her own history. Add to that her green eyes with gold speckles. Where did those come from? Her calm father had died when she was fourteen, leaving her in the care of her paranoid mother who was always anxious about something. But what?
Finally, Beth had a horrifying memory of an experience that would make anyone anxious. Despite her confidence in the freelance work she does for authors, she is not so sure about her personal life.

How does Elizabeth react when the DNA analysis comes back positive?

She is literally in shock. This can’t be true. She had two parents—the Russells—in upstate New York. She knows nothing about this family in Illinois. However, the more she thinks about it, the more she remembers her gut feeling that something was wrong. This adoption might be the reason her mother was so paranoid. The Russells were the only parents she ever knew. Now she finds out she has biological parents, and no one—not even the Russells—told her the truth. She feels betrayed and angry at first. Even worse, none of these people are alive so she can yell at them or ask them why.

Why was Kyle Warner, a detective for the Sweet Iron PD, charged with taking Elizabeth’s DNA sample for testing?

The Tippitt family lawyer wants to make sure everything is done legally, and he wants someone he can trust. Kyle Warner is being paid handsomely on his day off to take this DNA sample to a private lab. They can make no mistakes because a great deal of money is riding on this identification.

I was surprised that Elizabeth, who suffers from anxiety, had no trouble sleeping at the old Tippitt house. Why?

You would think she would be awake all night with these huge changes in her life—strange town, strange house, strange story about who she is. The first night Elizabeth thinks she’ll never get to sleep, especially since this small town is totally quiet at night—little traffic on the streets, few people out and about, and few people in town that Elizabeth would even know. At one point, she even thinks about getting a small fan to help her sleep. But the minute her head hits the pillow, she’s out. Why? She may not be alone in Tippitt House.

[Spoiler Alert] Elizabeth is told that her mother was murdered by her father. Why doesn’t she except that as fact?

She does at first. In fact, if she is angry at her adopted parents for keeping this secret, she is even more upset that her biological father is a murderer. Because of him, she will never meet the mother who first held her in her arms. As time goes by, however, Elizabeth begins meeting people in town who knew her parents. When she listens to their stories, a shadow of a doubt crosses her mind.
We must also understand that Beth was raised by a lawyer-father whom she often compares to Atticus Finch. He taught her about justice and righting wrongs, and those lessons weigh heavily on her mind. She is an excellent researcher in high demand because of her reputation. So her desire to see justice and the skills of her job make her the perfect person to research the past and consider what happened that day at Tippitt Pond. Did they get it right?

What type of evidence can be found through genealogical records?

Genealogy has a lot to do with connecting dots and making assumptions. Finding the evidence to substantiate those assumptions is what genealogists do. Beth can find databases that list births, deaths, and marriages. That’s basic. Then she will need to explore letters, diaries, newspapers, and various artifacts that will help her connect the dots. Church records of baptisms are sometimes helpful sources. However, it works both ways. Evidence often leads to more questions and theories that she must try to verify. It can be a very frustrating experience that leads her in circles. In this series, I plan to have Beth explore some of the past members of the Tippitt family. Delving into the past helps her better understand the present.

How does Elizabeth know who to trust?

She is faced with a town she doesn’t know, people she’s never met before, and bits and pieces of information from which to draw conclusions about her biological family. Lies and secrets abound. Motives and fears add to the information she weighs. Fortunately, she strikes up a relationship with Molly Grayson, the college librarian, and Beth bounces her impressions off Molly’s experience in the town. As she meets the people who were there at Tippitt Pond that day, or she is introduced to people who knew her parents, she considers her first impressions of them. She’s travelled extensively in her work life, so she is good at reading body language. Using the skepticism she learned from her father, she excels at knowing lies when she hears them. Depending on what she finds out, she could be a threat to someone.

Elizabeth fled Spring Harbor, NY, her hometown, because everyone knew everyone’s business. Is this one element a factor in her decision to stay or leave Sweet Iron?

Absolutely. She left her hometown for that reason and fled to college, graduate school, and New York City. Very comfortable in a condo in Sea Cliff, Long Island, she commutes easily to the New York City Public Library for research and enjoys Broadway productions, lunches out with her friends, and all the wonderful amenities of a huge city. She can be anonymous. No one knows her business. When we first meet her in the lawyer’s office in Sweet Iron, she is considering whether she can catch a plane back to New York that same day once she talks to him. At various points in her unplanned, extended stay, she is amused, annoyed, or angry in her reactions to this small town where everyone knows who she is—“the lady with the weird eyes.” She makes no secret of her desire to go back to New York where her “real life” and her friends are.

Is Tippitt house haunted? Or is Elizabeth haunted?

Perhaps a little of both.

I wasn’t sure if A Death At Tippitt Pond was a stand- alone. But it is labeled as A Sweet Iron Mystery. Is this the start of a new series? What’s next for Elizabeth and her new friends?

Yes, it is going to be a series. Each of the books will have a present-day plot with Elizabeth and her new community, but each will also go back in time to some historical events. I’m planning her research in the next book to go back to William Webster Tippitt, who built Tippitt House in the decade before the Civil War.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Readers, Writers and Offensive Language

What language will your readers find offensive?

It varies. Offense is in the eyes of the beholder, not the producer, of the language. Often similar types of expression are viewed very differently.

Earlier image of the Fightin' Irish
For instance, many people find the name of the Washington football team, the Redskins, unacceptably offensive, and think it should be changed. On the other hand, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, which has its uncontested origins as an actual ethnic slur[1], seldom elicits such a reaction.

Some written works are drowning in profanities. There are people who do talk in endless profanities, which at times have unintended consequences. I can remember acting as a job coach to a young man who was desperate to have a job, any job, so he could proceed with being released back into the community from a halfway house. His language was a problem, and despite my expressed concerns, he assured me he had total control over his use of profanity. He would never talk like that on a job!

He was hired to work in a fast food restaurant. After training, he was assigned to the drive-through window, and lasted less than an hour. A woman with several young children in the
car put in her order, and, a bit flustered since it was still new to him, he asked her if she wanted "any f.....g fries with that."

Others avoid profanities at all costs. Snagglepuss, a popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, would exclaim, “Heavens to Murgatroyd”[2] when others might use a profanity. Another character often said, “Oh, my stars and garters!” which is actually an old English expression, first cited in 1765. The garters in question have nothing to do with hosiery, but rather with the Noble Order of the Garter, which is the highest heraldic order bestowed by a British monarch. “Stars and garters” was used as a generic name for the trappings of high office.[3]

Most writers use potentially offensive language sparingly, as a tool, where they feel it is appropriate for the character or the story.

"Stars and garters"
Raymond Chandler had this to say to his editor at the Atlantic Monthly. “When I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”[4]

Mark Twain, whose colorful writing sets a standard, said, Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.[5]

What about actual “obscenities,” which are not protected as free speech by the1st amendment?

 “The Miller test was developed in the 1973 case Miller v. California. It has three parts:

·       Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,

·       Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or
Mark Twain
excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,

·       Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The work is considered obscene only if all three conditions are satisfied.”[6]

Opinions on how appropriate it is to use potentially offensive language will differ. 

In Theodore Roosevelt's opinion, "Profanity is the parlance of the fool. Why curse when there is such a magnificent language with which to discourse?"[7]

But he wasn’t primarily a writer. Margaret Atwood, who is, said, “There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities... There's something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It's like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt.”[8]

How do you deal with profanities, both as a writer and as a reader?

[1] Carey, Charles M. CSC, University of Notre Dame, Religious Bulletin, March 16, 1953 [accessed 8 June 2019]
[2] Wikipedia contributors, 'Snagglepuss', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 May 2019, 19:21 UTC, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Snagglepuss&oldid=899702324 [accessed 8 June 2019]
[3]https://www.phrases.org.uk Stars and Garters [accessed 8 June 2019]
[4] https://www.azquotes.com Raymond Chandler [accessed 8 June 2019]
[5] https://www.azquotes.com Mark Twain [accessed 8 June 2019]
[6] "Three Prong Obscenity Test", Professionalism in Computing, Virginia Tech, [accessed 8 June 2019]
[7]  https://www.azquotes.com Theodore Roosevelt [accessed 8 June 2019]
[8]  https://www.azquotes.com Margaret Atwood [accessed 8 June 2019]