Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Day Questions and Love Notes

by Paula Gail Benson

Leap Year Day Dot Com, a site devoted to the once every four years occurrence of February 29, is created by folks who have a “leap day” birthday in their families. One page of the site collects 94 versions of the poem many of us learned in elementary school to remember the number of days in each month. Here’s a combination of Versions 58, 60, and 64, which comes closest to what I memorized:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Save February, which has twenty-eight alone,
But, once in four,
Leap Year brings one day more!

February gets a “leap day” because a single orbit around the sun actually takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds -- which is roughly an extra day every four years. People with leap day birthdays or anniversaries are frequently teased about getting to celebrate only every four years.

Sadie Hawkins’ Day is often confused with leap day. Sadie Hawkins, a character from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip, was a spinster at age 35. To help “remedy” her situation, her father instituted a day in her honor, where all the single women chased all the bachelors and married the ones they caught. Li’l Abner avoided Daisy Mae’s grasp for two decades. According to the Li’l Abner website, Al Capp did not name a specific day for Sadie Hawkins’ Day, but featured it in November comic strips.

Perhaps the reason people confuse Sadie Hawkins’ Day with leap day comes from an Irish tradition known as St. Bridget’s Complaint. When St. Bridget expressed concern to St. Patrick that women had to wait for long periods of time to receive marriage proposals, St. Patrick authorized women to ask men to marry them on leap day.

Another version of the story had St. Patrick first agreeing to women proposing marriage every seven years, then reducing the number to four, based on the leap year. Upon hearing his edict, St. Bridget was supposed to have gone down on one knee to ask for his hand in marriage. He refused, but kissed her cheek and gave her money for a gown.

In 1288, Scotland passed a law allowing women to propose marriage to men in leap years. If a man refused the proposal, he had to pay a fine, such as a kiss, a silk dress, or a pair of gloves.

Over the years the traditions of St. Bridget’s Complaint and Sadie Hawkins Day came to be viewed as empowering women to choose their own futures.

This year, as we add an extra day to a month of celebrating love and affection, I would like to recognize the accomplishments of my marvelous blogging partners.

Connie Berry’s suspenseful debut Kate Hamilton mystery (set in Scotland) is nominated for an Agatha and her second novel features Kate visiting England at Christmas.

Warren Bull (our only male blogger) continues to explore new adventures (like singing and playwriting) while amazing us with his knowledge of history and his expertise in writing short stories.

Kait Carson, in addition to her Hayden Kent and Catherine Swope mysteries, will soon have a new series (the Southernmost Secrets) set in Key West. And, she’s an expert scuba diver!

Carla Damron is working on a novel that, like her The Stone Necklace, weaves characters’ stories together to create a fascinating tapestry.

Annette Dashofy has produced nine incredible novels in the Zoe Chambers series. Her eighth, Fair Game, is her fifth Agatha nominee!

E.B. Davis, our fearless leader, continues to serve as coordinator of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crimes’ online classes. In addition, she writes great paranormal police procedurals.

Nancy Eady somehow accomplishes the crazy balancing act of working as lawyer and author as well as producing terrific articles about the writing craft.

Kaye George (how many people are you, really?) has a new cozy series with Lyrical Press being released in March and short stories in several anthologies (one of which is nominated for an Agatha).

Debra H. Goldstein, who has the incredible ability to keep hundreds of plates in the air without a single crash, continues to receive raves for her Sarah Blair series, with the third due for release in August.

Besides writing wonderful short stories, including one in Mid-Century Murder, Margaret S. Hamilton has taken us on a fabulous photographic journey through Egypt this year.

Marilyn Levinson, who also writes as Allison Brook, has been nominated for an Agatha and has a third book out in the Haunted Library Mystery series.

Shari Randall, just returning from signing books at the Public Libraries Association’s meeting in Nashville, is back at work on her new cozy series about an ice cream shop.

Martha Reed is a writer of short stories and the IPPY award-winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series.

KM Rockwood’s delightful short stories are slated to appear in numerous publications. And, don’t miss her Jesse Damon crime novels.

Linda Rodriguez writes brilliant mysteries, elegant poetry, and Plotting the Character Driven Novel, a great book of writing advice.

Grace Topping’s debut novel, Staging is Murder, is nominated for an Agatha, and her second, Staging Wars, is due out in April.

Susan Van Kirk, after her first publisher ended its mystery line and her Endurance series, moved with resilience to a new Sweet Iron series featuring a genealogist and historical researcher.

Whatever you’re doing to celebrate this Leap Day, why don’t you check out some of the stories and books by these truly gifted authors?

Friday, February 28, 2020

Fighting Words 2 by Warren Bull

Fighting Words 2


Wikipedia image 

After he gave an intellectual and verbal statement that became the framework of the Confederacy, John C. Calhoun in a speech in 1837 enunciated a doctrine that, in my opinion, encouraged slaveholders and others who supported slavery to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, and to react to differing opinions with suspicion.  I believe the result fostered an “us against the world” mentality very much like members of a cult.

The general view of slavery in the south and the north was perhaps best expressed by Henry Clay who lived from 1777 to 1852. He owned 60 slaves. Yet he called slavery “this great evil…the darkest spot in the map of our country.” Throughout his life, Clay maintained a what can bests be described as a “moderate” stance on slavery: He saw the institution as immoral, but insisted that it was so entrenched in southern culture that calls for abolition were extreme, impractical and a threat to the integrity of the Union. He favored gradual emancipation and deporting blacks to Africa. Clay’s view was not benign. When a slave he owned ran away and petitioned the court for her freedom, he opposed her and had her forcibly returned since she was a piece of his property. His stance did not recognize blacks as fully human and his desire for emancipation was not based on doing anything positive for the enslaved.

However, very few people anywhere in the United States believed blacks were anywhere close to whites in intelligence, morals, or humanity. In addition to being close to views in the northern part of the country, Clay admitted the basic immorality of slavery. He had enough common ground with people in general that he was able to compromise with and respect people with differing points of view.

Selections from John C. Calhoun’s 1837 speech:

Be it good or bad, [slavery] has grown up with our society and institutions, and is so interwoven with them that to destroy it would be to destroy us as a people. But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil:–far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both, and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually….

The relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two [races], is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good. 

There is no room for compromise in these words. In other parts of the speech, those who oppose slavery are depicted as hostile.  He warns that abolitionists may force the country into a Civil War. To accept the view that slavery is beneficial to the enslaved as well as the owners of slaves required ignoring the obvious reality that slavery is immoral. Letters and books written by visitors to the south from northern American states and foreign countries documented the obvious cruelty of the slave system.

Over time, slavery became increasingly unacceptable throughout Europe. Opposition to fugitive slave laws requiring that escaped slaves be returned to their owners grew in the northern states. Even free blacks could be mislabeled as enslaved and sold against their wills. 

During the first six months of the Civil War, Confederate diplomats in Europe were surprised that their argument they were being denied their God-given right to enslave other people was met with disdain and disgust.

When the concept of slavery as good for the slaveholder and the enslaved person was a distortion of reality, eagerly adopted by those who profited by the sweat of others. Sadly, it remains with us today among “Lost Cause” adherents who minimize the horrors of slavery and strive to find some noble purpose in the Confederate cause.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

An Interview with Agatha Nominee Annette Dashofy by E. B. Davis

“You’re right about one thing.”
The attorney protested, but Perkins ignored him.
“Horace Pavelka is the man you want. A lifetime of being bullied will
eventually push a man over the edge.”
Annette Dashofy, Under The Radar, Kindle Loc. 4189
Paramedic and deputy coroner Zoe Chambers responds to a shooting and discovers her longtime friend, Horace Pavelka, has gunned down a man who’d bullied him mercilessly for decades. Ruled self-defense, no charges are filed. When another of his tormentors turns up dead in Horace’s kitchen, Police Chief Pete Adams questions the man’s innocence in both cases…especially after Horace and his girlfriend go into hiding.

While fighting to clear her friend, Zoe is handed the opportunity to finally learn what really happened to her long-lost sibling. What starts out as a quick road trip on a quest for answers leads her to an unfamiliar city in the middle of a November blizzard, where she finds way more trouble than she bargained for.

Pete’s own search for his missing fiancĂ©e and a missing murderer ultimately traps him in a web of deception. Face-to-face with one of the most cunning and deadly killers of his law enforcement career, Pete realizes too late that this confrontation may well be his last.

Annette Dashofy has garnered five Agatha nominations. This year’s Malice Domestic conference will determine if she wins for Fair Game, the novel that precedes Under The Radar. I have no doubt she’ll be nominated again next year because it was a fast read with twists and turns that kept me glued to the page going between Pete, main character Zoe Chamber’s fiancĂ© and police chief, and Zoe’s POV that has become Annette’s format.

There are these peripheral characters that lurk. They are not what they appear to be, but then none of the main characters know them well. But the lurkers become central in the triple-murder case Pete must solve. Under The Radar is aptly named.

I know Annette has reported here about her Citizen’s Police Academy she attended in her home area of southwestern PA. That’s the part of the story I had the most questions about—police procedure and technology—one of many strengths in her storytelling.                                                       E. B. Davis
 Cold seeped through the pages to the reader. I wanted something warm to drink—tea or cocoa—while reading. Why did you choose November rain and snow for your backdrop?

I’d love to tell you I had some great plan to tie the weather into the theme, but the truth is I generally advance Zoe and Pete’s story three or four months from book to book. Fair Game was  set in August, hence Under The Radar happens in November. But I confess, I love writing about that time of year. The weather can change from minute to minute. We could have days in the 70s or 12 inches of snow. Since I have Pete venturing to the nearby Laurel Highlands and Zoe taking a road trip to Erie, I could legitimately have various weather types from location to location all on the same day!

Horace Pavelka is both a victim and a killer. Horace has been a life-long victim of bullying by the same peers. He admits to killing in self-defense in the first murder brought on by the same bullies. Will a lifetime of bullying push a victim to lash back or do victims tend to retreat into more passivity?

Everyone handles the stress of suffering cruelty in different ways, but we see cases of victims lashing out on the news every day, especially with many of the school shootings. Whether the victim eventually snaps, or they internalize it, either way, they’re deeply scarred.

Zoe knew Horace in high school. She knows he was bullied then. She is loyal to him and convinced he hasn’t become a murderer. Why does she have such faith in him?

Zoe feels she owes Horace, who came to her rescue decades earlier and paid a steep price for his heroics. She has seen a side of him that few others have. And while Zoe has been known to have poor judgment where friends are concerned, she tends to defend those she cares about until faced with absolute evidence of their misdeeds.

Do you know the psychology of why people align themselves with bullies even if they don’t act in violence but verbally taunt a victim?

I’m no psychologist and no expert by any means, but in this instance, pack mentality definitely plays a part. An individual might not get involved in bullying on their own but will join in when a group is involved, especially if the others in the group are perceived friends.

The older lady neighbor who witnessed the first murder is questioned. Pete knew she was a victim of domestic violence over the years before her husband died. Why do people ignore older women?

Such a good question. As someone who now falls in the “older woman” category, I can say with some experience that we become invisible. This can come in handy if you want to lurk and observe without being noticed! It can also be a big mistake for those doing the ignoring!

And yet, readers wish we could ignore Zoe’s mother, Kimberly Chambers Jackson, a steamroller. We can almost hear the ominous music when she steps out of a black mobster SUV. But Kimberly shows a side of herself she’s never shown Zoe. Why? Or why hasn’t she revealed her softer side to Zoe before? Why now?

“Steamroller” is a good term for Kimberly! She’s self-absorbed and convinced that she’s right. Always. In Zoe’s and the reader’s perspective, Kimberly is not a good mother, but she certainly doesn’t see herself that way. She just sees the world through her own filter. And, honestly, don’t we all? Kimberly was a much different person before Zoe’s father died. Losing him affected Kimberly as much as—maybe more than—Zoe. I’ve always wanted to show a deeper, more complex side of Kimberly and finally had the opportunity in Under the Radar

What is blood ox meter? Does it have anything to do with oxen?

Ha! No, it has nothing to do with oxen or any kind of bovine. It’s medical shorthand for blood oxygen meter. It’s that clip they put on your finger in the hospital or doctor’s office and reads how well your blood is oxygenated.

I was really surprised that Zoe had to establish a flatline of an obviously dead man by attaching an EKG monitor to him. Do they really have to do that?

Back when I was an EMT we didn’t have to, and I’m not entirely sure it’s something all departments do, but I learned about it in one of the Citizen’s Police Academies I attended. I can attest from experience that on occasion a patient who appears “obviously dead” is not. Humans can suffer some horrible injuries and still have a pulse. Using the EKG prevents a devastating mistake from being made.

In which book did we last meet Lauren? What were the circumstances in her moving to Detroit? How does she find out about Zoe’s real half-brother, and what’s in it for her to help Zoe find him?

We first met Lauren in Uneasy Prey, and it was a rocky introduction! Somewhere between that book and Cry Wolf, she received a job offer that took her away from Monongahela County. As for her part in the search for Zoe’s brother, Lauren, as any good reporter, refuses to give up her source. (Hint: this particular question gets answered in the next book!)

No one likes Dr. Charles Davis, who is running against Zoe’s boss Franklin Marshall, for the coroner’s seat, except for Wayne Baronick. Is Wayne a political realist or is he disloyal?

Wayne doesn’t like Dr. Davis. He merely tolerates him and acknowledges that creating an enemy of the man isn’t a wise career choice. After all, if Davis wins the election, Wayne will have to work closely with him for the foreseeable future.

Why do cats drape themselves over people’s necks like a fur collar? Why do dogs and horses roll in mud and worse?

My cat sleeps on my pillow, “spooning” my head. It’s a sign of affection, which I must remind myself when I’m roasting at 2 a.m. with my fur hat. As for dogs and horses rolling in the mud? I have no idea, but they sure do seem to think it’s grand fun!

Gene reminded Zoe of a sad basset hound. She wondered
If he’d always looked like that or if he’d developed
The expression as a result of driving dead bodies around.
Kindle Loc. 1369
Do peoples’ experiences show on their faces?

I believe so. Sorrow and stress can definitely age a person beyond their years.

Pete and Wayne come up with various scenarios of how the two subsequent murders went down. Do they genuinely believe their theories or do they play devil’s advocate for each other?

A bit of both.

What is a secondary crime scene and how is it defined or determined?

The primary crime scene is the location where the crime took place. Example: if a body is found in one location but deemed to have been murdered elsewhere, where the murder occurred is the primary crime scene. Where the body is found is the secondary. Or if a house is robbed, that’s the primary crime scene. The location where the thieves store the loot is a secondary one.

What is the mike Pete wears that transmits a signal to the station? Is it a Bluetooth device?

No, not Bluetooth. It’s just a standard police radio. In addition to the unit in the car, officers wear a remote speaker/microphone clipped to the uniform.

Will Zoe ever get a new truck?

Hahaha! After her truck got shot up in With A Vengeance, I had intended to have Zoe get a new car, but she refused. I admit to some sentimentality where that truck is concerned myself. It’s based on my own 1990 Chevy Silverado that I used to haul my horse trailer around. We’ve turned down offers to buy it even though it’s currently off the road, sitting in our barn, awaiting a lot of needed repairs. But my husband and I are both attached to the old beast. So every time Zoe’s truck is in the shop for something, it’s because my truck has or has had the same issue! Write what you know!

What’s next for Zoe and Pete?

I have turned in the 10th Zoe mystery titled Til Death. In it, an old homicide conviction—the first one Pete investigated when he moved to Vance Township—is overturned, and what starts out as simply rounding up the witnesses from nine years ago gets a lot more complicated when people close to the case—and close to Zoe and Pete—start dying under mysterious circumstances. Also, Zoe’s position with the Coroner’s Office becomes more involved than she ever bargained for.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

That Tantalizing, Terrifying Blank Page

One of the first questions I get from readers is: “Where do you get your stories?”

It’s not an easy answer, because the ideas come from more than one source. Some I pull from current event headlines; sometimes they come from something I’ve overheard on the street, or it’s an interesting bit of local legend or lore that I’ve learned. The magic comes from connecting the dots and knitting them together into a cohesive pattern. I love it when readers finish a story and ask: “How did you do this?” And I have to explain that it’s just a lovely, joyous gift.

Of course there’s craft skill behind it, and disciplining my time to get the story written. (For instance, right now I’m typing this blog post when I’d rather be out riding my bike along Coffeepot Bayou warming my skin in the Florida sunshine.) But, as a writer, I know what needs to get done, and how to prioritize both my energy and my schedule, and that no one else is going to keep me to it, but me.

And as thrilling and fun as it is to be smack in the middle of a solid manuscript revision, when you know that the story you’re working on is going to feel alive and oh-so real for your readers, that you really do have something special polishing up beneath your fingertips, you eventually reach that fearsomely marvelous day when you type “The End” or “#” with a flourish. It’s time to face that next great fearsome thing, the Blank Page.

To give you some insight into my world, I’m going to share my last foray with the blank page. I was attending a weeklong writing retreat, honored to be spending seven days with four full-time professional writers who had multiple series book contract deadlines on their radar. Now, I’m a friendly soul, and I thought we’d be spending our mornings leisurely discussing our fabulous writer’s lifestyle and sharing secret writerly insights and handshakes. Not so. Immediately after breakfast those folks firmly shut their doors, locked themselves in their rooms, and started adding words to their manuscripts.

Not me. I went for a walk.

I strolled back an hour later, and there was still no one to talk to. Our retreat location was on the grounds of a nunnery, so even the other residents I saw had taken seriously stubborn vows of silence that I couldn’t charm them into breaking, try as I might.

With nothing better to do, and no one to talk to, I went up to my room, opened my laptop and created a new blank page. At that point I had bupkis. I didn’t have a working title, or any characters, or even a setting, but I knew I had to get something started, so I sat there like a great leaden lump and decided to listen to some music while thinking great thoughts.

And just like that, the universe handed me my story. I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, but one of my favorite Tears for Fears songs came on, and the ideas started to percolate and then to gel. I’d been to Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans; you could get into a lot of trouble there. Bang: Setting. In an earlier story, one of my secondary characters had said something snarky and bright in a great voice, and I’d always meant to follow up on that. Bang: Protagonist. The new storyline construction started linking together like mutant DNA or Tinker toys, and five hours later there came a gentle tap at my door, and did I want to join everyone else downstairs for dinner?

How do you get started, and face your Blank Page?