Wednesday, September 30, 2020

An Interview with Sherry Harris by E. B. Davis


According to my dad, wishes were for the weak. You had to make your own destiny.

Right now, my destiny was here, working in the bar…

Sherry Harris, From Beer to Eternity, Kindle Loc. 1337


With Chicago winters in the rearview mirror, Chloe Jackson is making good on a promise: help her late friend’s grandmother run the Sea Glass Saloon in the Florida Panhandle. To Chloe’s surprise, feisty Vivi Slidell isn’t the frail retiree Chloe expects. Nor is Emerald Cove. It’s less a sleepy fishing village than a panhandle hotspot overrun with land developers and tourists. But it’s a Sea Glass regular who’s mysteriously crossed the cranky Vivi. When their bitter argument comes to a head and he’s found dead behind the bar, guess who’s the number one suspect?
In trying to clear Vivi’s name, Chloe discovers the old woman isn’t the only one in Emerald Cove with secrets. Under the laidback attitude, sparkling white beaches, and small town ways something terrible is brewing. And the sure way a killer can keep those secrets bottled up is to finish off one murder with a double shot: aimed at Chloe and Vivi.

In late December, Sherry Harris’s ninth Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery, Absence of Alice, will be released. Meantime—Sherry has written the first book of a new series, From Beer to Eternity, set at the opposite end of the East coast—beachside on the Emerald Coast of Florida’s panhandle region. Her main character is as different from Sarah Winston as the setting. Chloe Jackson is young, single, and by profession, a children’s librarian. But like Sarah, Chloe is brave, dedicated to the truth, loyal to her friends, inquisitive, and persistent. You’ll like Chloe, even if you want to pour beer over bar owner Vivi’s head now and then.


Please welcome Sherry Harris back to WWK.                      E. B. Davis

Is there a country/cowboy flavor to the Emerald Coast, being so close to Alabama and Georgia? How do you know the area? Is Emerald Cove a real town? The Emerald Coast is very southern. It’s often called Lower Alabama and the Redneck Riviera—although they are trying to shed the latter. My parents retired to the area after visiting since the mid 1980s. I’ve visited many, many times, and then we were fortunate enough to be stationed there for two and a half years when my husband was still in the Air Force.


Why did Chloe take a leave of absence from her librarian’s job in Chicago to waitress in a bar named the Sea Glass Saloon on the Florida beach? Before Chloe’s best friend, Boone, went on a deployment to Afghanistan, she promised him that if anything happened to him, she’d go help his grandmother (a woman she’d never met) run her bar in in Emerald Cove. One of Chloe’s life mottos is: a promise made is a promise kept. When the worst happened, Chloe felt honor bound to go to Florida.


What would possess anyone to wear an armadillo hat? Armadillos carry the bacteria responsible for leprosy, as well as other deadly bacteria. Should Vivi, the bar owner, even allow her patron to enter the bar where patrons drink and eat? This made me laugh! I’m envisioning a shell that has been well-cleaned and sanitized. After I came up with the idea, I Googled armadillo shell hats and some interesting images came up.


How does Chloe invoke her librarian persona in the bar? As a children’s librarian in an urban Chicago library, Chloe is used to dealing with a wide variety of people. She thinks drunks and toddlers have a lot in common. Chloe uses the skills she learned as a librarian to deal with the customers at the Sea Glass Saloon.


I was surprised at Vivi’s attitude toward Chloe. She was a friend of Boone’s, her grandson. Why does Vivi seem to dislike Chloe? Vivi is grieving the loss of her only remaining heir. I’m not so sure that Vivi dislikes Chloe as much as she doesn’t like the situation, and Chloe is a reminder of that. Vivi’s a very independent woman and doesn’t take to the idea that she needs help.


What happened to Boone’s mother and father? Boone’s mother died of cancer and his father? Time will tell.


Joaquin, the Sea Glass bartender, is gay, but the ladies don’t seem to know that. What is Joaquin’s background? Joaquin is a happily married man, but also a flirt who loves everyone. One of the things that I found out about Joaquin as I was writing is that he was once a professional backup dancer for people like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez. Now he’s settled down and is a fisherman in the morning and a bartender in the afternoon.


What’s a rocks glass? It’s a short tumbler with a thicker than normal bottom.


What’s a channel knife? A channel knife is used to cut strips of citrus fruit rind for garnishes in drinks. I have learned a lot about bartending as I researched for this book. I have a new appreciation of bartenders!


What are the heritage businesses and why are they called that? They are businesses in Emerald Cove that have been there since at least the 1940s.


After Chloe finds the body of a local Sea Glass patron dead by the dumpster behind the bar, Vivi is taken in for questioning by the police. What compels Chloe to investigate? Chloe is doing what she thought her friend Boone would want her to do—which is to help his grandmother out.


Due to tourists and expensive short-term rentals, Chloe ends up sleeping in her car or on Boone’s boat. Why does Vivi suddenly give Joaquin the keys to Boone’s house to give to Chloe? Vivi was appalled when she found out what Chloe was doing. When they are together, they do rub each other the wrong way, but Vivi also wants Chloe to be safe for Boone’s sake.


You give a history of the word “cocktail.” Please explain the history to our readers, who may never want a mixed drink again. The word cocktail dates back to 1776 and supposedly came about when a woman in New York ran out of wooden stirrers and grabbed the feather of a cock’s tail to use instead.


Who is Ann Williams? I made the same mistake Chloe did. Is Ann the reason Chloe stays away from Rhett? Ann is one of the reasons. But Chloe was engaged to someone not too long ago and is leery of jumping into another relationship. Plus, she has unresolved issues relating to Boone.


Each of the heritage business owners has a motive to kill. Of all of them, I liked Ralph Harrison, owner of the Redneck Rollercoaster, but he provides more questions than answers. What is the ride, and what were the racial politics of the day? The Redneck Rollercoaster is actually a trolley that takes tourists around Emerald Cove. But originally it started when black people in the panhandle of Florida weren’t allowed to go to amusement parks in the area. Instead they took dune buggies out on the giant dunes and made their own rollercoasters. At some point they realized how much damage that caused and the business evolved.


How did the Appalachian Mountain quartz end up on the Panhandle beach? I was so fascinated to learn that the white sand on the Emerald Coast was actually fine bits of white quartz washed down the Apalachicola River to the Gulf Coast. The tides then wash it up and create the beaches. It’s an ongoing process.


Why does Chloe lie to children and think it’s a good thing? This is what Chloe thinks about lying: “I was an adept liar. It came from working around kids all the time. My friends gasped in horror when I said that, but I always pointed out that kids get lied to all the time—Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Elf on the Shelf.  I’m proud to say I wasn’t above doing it at the library when absolutely necessary to prevent a catastrophe.”



What is Crab Island? Doesn’t it ever flood? What do people do on the island? Crab Island is actually a sandbar in Choctawhatchee Bay. It’s a huge attraction for boaters and is a mob scene in the summer. Here’s an interesting article with some beautiful pictures of Crab Island:


What are Florida Man stories? They are stories about crazy events or strange crimes that occur in Florida. There are websites, Facebook pages, and even Esquire magazine articles devoted space to the Florida Man. For example, a man in Jacksonville, Florida took a five-foot alligator into a convenience store with him when he was on a beer run. That’s a Florida Man story.


What is muddling? It’s simply mashing ingredients to release their flavor. A good example is mashing mint leaves for a Mint Julep or a mojito. 


Ann William’s real last name is Lafitte. Wasn’t Lafitte a pirate? Jean Lafitte was a pirate, but he was also a war hero during the War of 1812.


Although Boone is dead, his character is very much evident throughout the book. Will we learn more about Boone in future books? It’s almost like he could see the future. Will he guide Chloe deeper into his world? I confess I had no idea that Boone would loom so large in From Beer to Eternity when I started writing the book. He’s not a ghost, but he is a presence. Boone will be in future books because he is the reason that Chloe is in Emerald Cove.


What’s next for Chloe? I just turned in A Time to Swill which comes out next August. When a ghost ship (which is a term for an unmanned ship) washes up on the beach in Emerald Cove, Chloe’s life and the lives of the heritage business owners takes a turn that no one saw coming. Thanks WWK for having me back to talk about my new series!


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Taking My Writing to the Dogs by Nancy L. Eady

             Behind the love seat where I write, on top of a bookshelf, is a photograph frame with five pictures, each slot filled with a picture of a different dog. 

Clockwise, Starting with Big Picture on top:  Darwin, Shadow, Tyra, Mandy and Woof

            My husband and I got our first dog, Shadow, six months after we married. (Hint:  Never play chicken with your wife at a New Year’s Eve party that includes alcohol.)  January 1, 1988 opened with us hunting for an open K-Mart to get supplies for the alleged cocker spaniel we had just bought for $100. As you can see from the picture—Shadow is at the bottom right—she was not a pure-blooded cocker spaniel but a lab cocker mix. It was the best swindle ever.

            Shadow decided she was my husband’s dog early on. She tolerated me, but at times she would eye me and think, “You know, we really don’t need you around here.”  But by the time she was 7, she was slowing down and seemed lonely. With gentle nudging, my husband acquiesced to getting a second dog if we could find another lab/cocker mix. Thanks to my contacts at work, we found dog number 2, Woof. (The top left photograph.)  It took one day before Shadow became ecstatically aware that she had acquired a puppy. And I was no longer superfluous to Shadow’s world, since I could run interference on Woof when Shadow wanted to monopolize Mark.

            Neither Shadow nor Woof did a lot of writing with me between my working full time while going to law school and then beginning to practice law in 1998. By 2003, though, when Shadow died, the idea of writing took hold of me again. We had to help Woof first. She was very unhappy as an only dog.

            Enter Tyra, our first pound puppy. (Bottom left picture). Tyra shared a run with another dog at the pound. The sign on the run read, “My name is Tyra and I sit.”  She never sat on cue any other time in our lives together, but the one time it counted, she did.

            Now, I was ready to begin writing, until Fate intervened again with the arrival of our daughter, age three years and one month, on December 1, with only 30-days’ notice. The adoption of both Woof and Tyra into our family before Kayla reassured her. Our saying is “Once a member of the pack, always a member of the pack.”   

            Then Kayla turned six and decided she needed a dog of her own. As she explained it, Mark had a dog (Tyra) and I had a dog (Woof), so she needed one, too. In a moment of insanity, my husband sent me and Kayla off to the pound to see if there was either a lab or a golden retriever available. Instead, we returned with Mandy. (Center left). Mandy was a husky/basset-hound mix, with the body shape of a basset hound, the fur of a husky and the most amazing eyes—one brown and one blue, with a smidgen of blue in the brown eye.  With three dogs and one child, life became even crazier, but I finally started writing—in the form of a blog where I had the chance to share the crazy things that were happening in our house.

            It wasn’t until after Woof died that we adopted Darwin (Darwin James is a lab/Great Dane mix, shown in the top left photo). By this time, I had graduated from my blog to working on a full-fledged mystery novel. Tyra died a few years after we got Darwin, but Darwin and Mandy were best buddies until Mandy died in September 2019. I didn’t give him time to get lonely, though; Darwin has never liked being an only dog. He seems to think being by himself means he is going to be abandoned. So about a week after Mandy died, I adopted Daisy. At 8 months old, she is our first puppy since Woof, and Kayla’s first puppy ever. (I need to find a new photo frame with six spots in it.)  To be honest, I had forgotten how much work was involved with a puppy, but we hit that magical point where house training kicks in within a couple of months, and the rest has been smooth sailing. And she has adapted to the writing regime quite well; she likes to curl up beside me on the love seat while I write. Darwin naps on his bed by the fireplace.

Daisy on the Love Seat

            While both dogs are weak on plot points and meaningful critiques, they do like to participate in phone conversations. Apparently, the ringing and answering of a telephone between the hours of 8 and 5 is the international signal for group barking. And they listen to my stories. In the end, isn’t that what all writers want—someone to share their stories with?

Monday, September 28, 2020

Write What You Know by Nancy L. Eady

             “Write what you know” is a writing maxim. Like most maxims, it contains truth but is not meant to be taken literally. If it were, the world’s literature would comprise multiple autobiographies, most of which, while fascinating to the authors who lived through them, wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to the rest of the world. And we would be without hobbits, Harry Potter, fairy tales and Nero Wolfe.

            I grew up in a naval family. Until I was sixteen, we moved every two years all over the country (and once overseas).  Right before my junior year in high school, we moved to the well-known naval metropolis of Montgomery, Alabama. I have lived in Alabama ever since, except for a short three-year stint in North Carolina when my husband and I were first married.  While Montgomery itself is a nice sized city (as long as you’re not looking for the excitement of New York City and don’t mind the sidewalks rolling up around 10 on weekends and 9 on weekdays), I also spent most of those years living in small towns of 10,000 people or less.

            In addition, my family has a good sense of humor and funny stuff happens to us. For example, there was the time that the townhouse my mom, my sisters and I lived in had water leak from the bathroom upstairs into the fluorescent light in the kitchen. I was out of state at college,  but my two sisters discovered the problem when they came home from school. They called Mom, who sensibly told them to shut the water off, without realizing they didn’t know how. So she had to leave work early to do it herself, and by the time she got home, she was not a happy camper.  

            After she turned the water off, she went downstairs and studied the light, one of those large industrial flat fluorescent lights with a plastic cover. She decided to try tilting the plastic cover to see if she could get the water to drain into a bucket on the floor. This theory, sound in principle, failed spectacularly in practice and she ended up drenched, with water everywhere but in the bucket. One reason I am convinced God loves me—my two sisters, knowing Mom was upset, looked at each other and fled to opposite rooms in the house to smother their laughter in their bedrooms. Had I been home, I would have laughed immediately, probably not the best move for family harmony.

            Or there was the time my husband and I got ready to sell our house to move to a better school district for our daughter. Kayla had just turned five. The problem with selling our house at that period in our life was the fact that we had two indoor dogs, so we had the house shown by appointment only. While that wasn’t an insurmountable challenge, it did mean last-minute rearranging of schedules when someone wanted to tour the house.

            One Saturday afternoon, we got a call about a realtor wanting to show the house at 1, so we dropped the child and the dogs off at Mark’s mother’s house. Since Mark’s Mom told us not to worry about picking them up until after supper, Mark and I dutifully toodled around for three hours and returned to the house at 4, giving the potential buyers a wide berth. We intended to take advantage of the remaining hours of our unexpectedly free afternoon enthusiastically at home.  About 5, the front door opened, and the (very late) potential buyers and (surprised) real estate agent—well, they didn’t quite catch us in flagrante delicto (if that applies to married couples), but it was a close enough call to laugh about ever since. (And for the record, no, they did not buy the house.) 

            And there is my profession—as a civil plaintiffs’ lawyer who has specialized in research and writing for over 20 years, I possess an unusual skill set, one that has become as much a part of me as the physical traits I was born with, like brown hair and eyes.

            So my “write you know” morphed into a protagonist who is a female lawyer working in a three-lawyer firm in a small Southern town. When her senior partner, who is a father figure to her, is charged with vehicular homicide, she is honor bound to defend him. I use humor to leaven an otherwise serious mystery. Now all I have to do is find a buyer for it.

            What does your “write what you know” look like?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Our Stories Never Die, They Just Reinvent Themselves

  by Tina deBellegarde


Please welcome debut author Tina deBellegarde to Writers Who Kill to tell us about her new release, Winter Witness!


How Far Would You Go to Avenge the Death of a Stranger?


When a beloved nun is murdered in a sleepy Catskill Mountain town, a grieving young widow finds herself at the center of the turmoil. Bianca St. Denis is searching for a job and seeking acceptance in her new home of Batavia-on-Hudson. Agatha Miller, the nun’s closest friend and the ailing local historian everyone loves to hate, shares her painful personal history and long-buried village secrets with Bianca. Armed with this knowledge, Bianca unravels the mysteries surrounding the death while dealing with the suspicions of her eccentric neighbors. 

However, Bianca’s meddling complicates the sheriff’s investigation as well as his marriage. Can Sheriff Mike Riley escape his painful past in a town where murder and infighting over a new casino vie for his attention?

Danger stalks Bianca as she gets closer to the truth. Can the sheriff solve the mystery before the killer strikes again? Can the town heal its wounds once the truth has been uncovered?




Winter Witness, my debut novel, was born out of a lost story, literally. Many years ago I wrote a long short story or a short novella. Much of it was in free verse – that’s just the way it came out. It was the first time I had actually attempted more than journaling. I wrote it, shared it with one encouraging person and put it away. Life happened, but no more writing happened. Then I moved. Twice.


When I finally decided to write Winter Witness, the decision was made in the comforting knowledge that the old story existed. My intention was to find it, polish it, and expand it into a novel. I looked for it for weeks. I searched my computer, my laptop, all my flash drives. Nothing. I looked in file cabinets and boxes and still nothing. I almost gave up the project. For some reason I believed that I had lost the ability to write this story now that the original manuscript was lost. I mistakenly believed that losing the manuscript had meant losing the story.


I eventually sat down to the arduous task of recreating my original work, but that’s not what happened. Instead, a nugget that was particularly vivid to me surfaced and I built around that nugget. What I created was something different entirely.


I learned that there is no one way to make a thought or a sentence sing. My two stories are the same and yet different. You can express the same feelings in so many ways. I now believe that if I had found the original it would have stymied me. I would have gone back and not forward. I would have regressed instead of allowing myself to grow as a writer. Even now that the book is complete, I am sure that if I scratched it all and started again that I would write a different story the third time around as well. We are not static as writers. We are evolving, so our stories evolve with us. The benefit of writing a series is that I can continue to grow alongside my characters. Dead Man’s Leap, Book 2 in my Batavia-on-Hudson mysteries, feels even truer to the characters who inhabit the series because I know them better.


What I learned is that words are never lost. Even words written but intentionally discarded are not wasted. They are our necessary exercise and practice. We wouldn’t think of performing a musical instrument or running a marathon without limbering up. This is also the case with writing. All writing is good writing. It all serves a purpose and furthers our writing practice and polishes our style and voice.


In the end, I wrote something different from the original work. It is not an expanded version. It is something else entirely. The stories we have inside us are endless.


PS: After turning in the final manuscript of Winter Witness to my editor, I found the long lost story in a box in the attic. It wasn’t on any hard drive or flash drive. I found it in a folder with a handwritten version, a typed version, and, wait for it…a floppy disc.




Tina deBellegarde lives in Catskill, New York with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby. Winter Witness is the first book in the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series. Tina also writes short stories and flash fiction. When she isn’t writing, she is helping Denis tend their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro. Tina did her graduate studies in history. She is a former exporter, paralegal, teacher, and library clerk.


Visit her website for more information


Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Story of My Life by Kait Carson

Have you ever written a book? When my first novel was released my heart was warmed by those who came to author events and praised it. These people were largely strangers. All had nice things to say about the story and the characters and several made valid critical suggestions that I appreciated.

The praise from my friends was a bit different. These were people who know me well. They cheered me though the writing and the editing. Some served as beta readers, but following release, more than one had this advice. “Loved the book, but if you really want to write a great one, let me tell you about my life.”

The comment took me a bit to puzzle out. Were they saying the story was okay, but could be better? Did it lack suspense? Was there something unsatisfying that could have been remedied? I simply didn’t know. I opted to smile and nod encouragingly while suggesting that perhaps they were best suited to tell their own story.

As I wrote more novels, I found myself confronted with similar comments. After a while, I realized the comment isn’t about the book. It’s a comment about us as individuals. We are all author of the story of our lives. It’s a saga that begins the day we are born and continues until the end. There is conflict, joy, resolution, red herrings, regrets, and pain. Each of us perceives our story to be the most interesting. It’s ours after all. It’s the tale that shapes us and those closest to us.

We’ve all heard the quotation “write what you know.” Some attribute it to Twain, others to Faulkner. The author isn’t important, the spirit of the quote is. It’s this spirit that ignites the belief that ours is the best story. We tend to view every story through a personal prism. Far from criticism, the remark is praise. Someone saw themselves in your book and wants to trust you with their experience.

Unfortunately, write what you know, in fiction, does not mean tell your own story. If it did, most books would be pretty dull. Instead, it means to write what you don’t know and make it part of your experience. I’ve never murdered anyone. The story that I tell is informed by my quest to explore the motives of the murderer. What drives someone to murder? With few exceptions, I don’t have an answer to that question. I write to find out, and to explore how to restore equilibrium to society after the offence.

Does this mean that a life well-lived would fail to make good copy? Not at all. While there is no debate that some people live their life on a grand scale, and others on the world stage, it’s the everyday person who makes history. In fact, it’s the everyday person who finds themselves in an extraordinary situation who serves as the protagonist for most novels. Most of us can relate to one heart-stopping moment where what we do is greater than who we are. That’s the moment we all want to share. The one that would make the best-selling book.

Have you found yourself in a situation that would make a best seller? Are you sharing it with your favorite author or writing about it yourself?

Friday, September 25, 2020

Seasons of a Book 2 by Warren Bull

 SEASONS OF A BOOK 2 by Warren Bull

 Seasons of a Book 2 by Warren Bull



As I mentioned before, when I write I find the climate of a book changes over the course of writing. I usually start with a character who knocks on my consciousness to say he or she has a story they want to share. My role is to listen and type it out.  I am convinced that if my characters could type, they would gladly cut me out of the process. I know one writer whose characters do type. She describes her process as responding to the notes her characters leave her about what she got wrong and how she needs to fix it.


With my current work in progress, I finished a rough draft of the complete book. After that a minor character tapped me on the shoulder and explained with some exasperation the reason for a group’s odd behavior.  Right now, another character is trying to get me to see the obvious, to her, sources of another character’s wealth, which is necessary for the conclusion to be credible. She played a major role in accumulating the wealth. Thank you very much. She believes she should get credit for her actions. I have to agree. And the physician is wondering why I am still puzzled by the genetics. Fortunately, she is determined and persistent. I might have to ask my brother-in-law for help. He will tell you how to build a clock if you ask him what time it is.


Hang on. The characters now insist I need a door through that wall. I have no idea what waits behind the door. Not yet.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Noncomplementary Behavior: Adding Complexity to Your Story by Connie Berry


Life in the time of the plague means lots of little losses. One of the things I really miss is writers' conferences and the opportunities they create to reconnect with old friends and make new ones in the writing community. 

My favorite conferences have always been Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville, and Crime Bake. Last year I added Bouchercon in Dallas and Left Coast Crime in San Diego.  Left Coast turned out to be a one-day affair as I'd no sooner checked into my room than the whole thing was shut down. That was the first inkling I had of the seriousness of Covid.

What I love about writers' conferences is more than the feeling of coming home, meeting with people who do what I do. I also come away from almost every conference with at least one practical nugget I can use in my writing. 

At Crime Bake 2017—I was in the middle of a massive revision at the time—I heard Hank Phillippi Ryan respond to a question about her own revision process. "I delete everything," she said, raising her index finger for emphasis, "that isn't the book." Brilliant. That sentence is still one of my guiding principles. Every scene, paragraph, and word must serve the plot in some way or it doesn't belong.

Last year at Bouchercon my big take-away was the concept of "noncomplementarity," mentioned by one of the participants in a panel discussion called "Keep Those Pages Turning." The story came originally from NPR (Invisibilia, July 21,  2016). Here's what I remember:

One warm summer night, a group of friends was having a backyard picnic when a man burst in, wielding a gun and shouting, "Give me your money or I'll start shooting." Naturally everyone froze, and the worst part was no one actually had any money at the time. The night was sure to end in disaster until one of the women spoke up: "You look like you're having a bad day. Would you like to join us? Sit down. Have a glass of wine."

Like flipping a switch, the look on the man's face changed. He put his gun in his pocket, sat down, and accepted a glass of wine. "This is good wine," he said, and then, "I think I've come to the wrong place." Later he asked, "Can I get a hug?" Several people hugged him. Then he apologized and walked out, carrying the glass of wine, which they found, placed carefully on the sidewalk.

Complementary behavior means people tend to mirror each other. If someone treats you warmly, you are warm back. If they display hostility, you respond with hostility. Noncomplementary behavior means reacting in an unexpected way—breaking the pattern. Conflict is inevitable, but how we respond is powerful. Flipping the switch.

Flying home from Dallas last year, I realized that in my second Kate Hamilton mystery, A Legacy of Murder, one of the characters—Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde—responds to a crisis with non-complementary behavior. Her unexpected behavior is the game-changer that leads to the resolution of the crisis. I just didn't have a name for it. Now I do.

Have you experienced—or demonstrated—noncomplementarity? What was the result?

How might you use the concept in your WIP?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

An Interview with Rhys Bowen by E. B. Davis

I am a bit at loose ends at the moment. My cook, Queenie, is making my new role as mistress of Eynsleigh something akin to constant torture as Darcy is off on another one of his top-secret jaunts. And Grandad is busy helping wayward youths avoid lives of crime. So when my dearest friend, Belinda, inherits an old cottage in Cornwall and begs me to go with her to inspect the property, I jump at the chance.

After a heart-stopping journey in Belinda’s beast of a motorcar, we arrive at the creaky old cottage called White Sails and quickly realize that it is completely uninhabitable. Just when I’m starting to wonder if I would have been better off trying to get Queenie to cook a roast that hasn’t been burnt beyond all recognition, we meet Rose Summers, a woman Belinda knew as a child when she spent time in Cornwall. Rose invites us to stay at Trewoma Hall, the lovely estate now owned by her husband, Tony.

Belinda confesses that she never liked Rose and had a fling with Tony years ago, so staying with them is far from ideal but beggars can’t be choosers as they say. Trewoma is not the idyllic house Belinda remembers. There’s something claustrophobic and foreboding about the place. Matters aren’t helped by the oppressively efficient housekeeper Mrs. Mannering or by the fact that Tony seems to want to rekindle whatever he and Belinda once had right under his wife’s nose.

Our increasingly awkward visit soon turns deadly when a member of the household is found murdered and all clues point to Belinda as the prime suspect. I soon learn that some long buried secrets have come back to haunt those in residence at Trewoma Hall and I’ll need to sift through the ruins of their past so Belinda doesn’t lose her chance at freedom in the present. . . .

The Last Mrs. Summers is the fourteenth book in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mystery series. In the forward of this book, and others, Rhys has apologized for distasteful subject matter. In this instance, it is the topic of female sexual abuse, especially by upper class males against service class females. Although I agree it was a horrific crime, I am nonetheless glad that Rhys writes about it. But I don’t think she need apologize for it as she is in no way responsible for it. History must be talked about. As George Santayana is attributed as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Few of us were alive during the 1930s and cannot remember it. I am thankful to Rhys and historians who search the records and literature to provide us with the truth as distasteful as it may be, in all its horrific detail. I’m thankful the records haven’t been destroyed. My most educational experience ever—my high school presented a film made by the Nazis of bulldozing their murder victim’s bodies into mass graves from nearby concentration camps. Graphic—you bet. But it taught me more about WWII than any other resource.

Events in the news make me fearful of a future in which we rewrite history to fit with our current mores. Little do they know that preserving such evidence will educate and shock future generations.

Please welcome Rhys Bowen back to WWK.                                                                           E. B. Davis

To marry Darcy, Georgie had to renounce her right to accede to the throne. Does this mean Georgie will never be summoned to the palace again?

RHYS: Probably not on official occasions but we know the Queen is fond of her and has used her detective skills on occasion. That may well happen again sometime soon…. Hint, hint…

No matter the generation, the Prince of Wales always seems to get into trouble. Is there something about the position or the title that trips up those who hold it?

RHYS: Isn’t that interesting. On each occasion you are thinking of, Queen Victoria’s son, King George’s son and now Prince Charles they have all had to wait a long, long time as heir with too much time on their hands. They have the title and the powerful image that comes with it but no real job. In the case of Edward and Mrs. Simpson, I think he had always shown himself to be a weak character, although the other two I’ve mentioned certainly weren’t. In Charles’s case, he was not allowed to marry the woman he loved but had a bride found for him who was not his intellectual equal and so much younger. That was a recipe for disaster, wasn’t it?

Georgie is worried that after three months of marriage she hasn’t gotten pregnant. Were expectations so high to cause anxiety and pressure in such a short time?

RHYS: Nobody has put pressure on her. And we know it’s a really short time but I think she expected it to happen really quickly.

Georgie’s long-time friend Belinda inherits a Cornish cottage, White Sails, of little value. In fact, it is barely inhabitable. I was surprised Belinda wasn’t more disappointed. Has she grown up?

RHYS: Belinda has also inherited a really nice house in Bath, quite a lot of money. The cottage would have been fun but it’s not the end of the world. And Belinda has become older and wiser after her experiences (no spoilers).

Belinda hints to Georgie that there are “precautions” women can take to avoid pregnancy. What contraceptives were available to women during the 1930s?

RHYS: First there were condoms of course. Then a female thing called a Dutch Cap which was an early rubber cervical cap. Not readily available, I should think! Belinda would know.

The entire time Georgie and Belinda are in Cornwall the weather seems nasty. But then on one property there is a cove where tropical plants grow. What’s the truth about Cornish weather?

RHYS: They are there toward the end of October. This is a time of Atlantic gales. The climate is quite balmy compared to the rest of UK. No frosts in winter and plenty of warm weather in summer, meaning that palm trees can be grown and the area is known for growing early spring flowers.

Who was Oswald Mosley and his gang?

RHYS: He was the leader of the British fascist movement called the Black Shirts. An imitator of Hitler. They paraded around, loved to attack Communists. However, he always remained a fringe movement in England as the British are sensible!

Why does Belinda remark that, “Those Victorians should never have been allowed to build anything.”?

RHYS: Victorian architecture is often over-the-top ornate without a feel for line and simple beauty. Think St Pancras station in London.

Rose, who was in Belinda’s childhood gang while she visited her grandmother in Cornwall during summers, seems partly passive aggressive/partly tragic. Georgie has her sympathies as she can identify with Rose in some aspects of her life. Why the dichotomy?

RHYS: Rose is out of her element. She is in a situation for which she wasn’t raised and feels insecure and inadequate all the time, especially when Mrs. Mannering makes it quite clear how perfect Jonquil was. Since Georgie has felt an outsider at times she can appreciate how Rose feels that way.

Tony, Rose’s husband who was also part of Belinda’s childhood gang, and his first wife Jonquil were risk takers. Is this part of the survivors’ syndrome of the Great War and depression or are they just spoiled brats?

RHYS: It is the way upper class youngsters behaved. Maybe the aftermath of the Great War had something to do with it but in the 1930s there was a lot of risky behavior, driving around in fast cars, flying planes, etc. You have brought up an interesting point. Maybe they were trying to say ‘look at us. We’re alive.’

You have a knack for naming characters. Jonquil is a lovely name. Did you choose that name as a contrast to the character?

RHYS: Sometimes I think of the perfect name. Sometimes it just comes to me. I was going to call her Jasmine but then I wrote Jonquil. Sometimes characters surprise me.  I wanted a name that was clearly upper class and different from the ordinary ROSE.

In thinking about Rose’s isolation and now with our Covid-19 induced isolation—does it make people paranoid?

RHYS: I think living in that house would make anyone paranoid. Parts of it she wasn’t allowed to go. Long dark hallways. Walls full of old weapons. And above all loneliness. No one she could turn to. A husband who didn’t want to be married to her. Her mother far away. We have all seen how being isolated can bring on depression.

We’ve talked about food before, especially the consumption by the Victorians. But I was hoping by the 1930s the diets had improved. They didn’t have to walk so much since automobiles were invented. Georgie seems to think nothing of eating in one meal; consommé, lobster salad, leg of pork with crackling (!), sage and onion stuffing, chocolate mousse with clotted cream—all that followed by Anchovy toast! Did they eat small portions? Did you research menus? Was this typical?

RHYS: It was not unusual for the upper class, who had more time on their hands (and money for food.) In my lifetime my in-laws (upper class Brits) would have a full English breakfast, sherry before lunch, wine with lunch, tea with cakes and then a big dinner like that. They didn’t put on weight because English houses are really cold and you burn calories to keep warm. Also they were quite active: working in the garden, walking, riding.

The Scotland Yard detective seemed prejudiced against the upper classes. He was especially deprecating toward their morals. Was this a common attitude after the Great War or after the depression? Why?

RHYS: The British upper class had a bad reputation in that period between the wars when they were particularly hedonistic. Lots of loose morals, plenty of drug use, cocktails, reckless driving etc. And the class system in UK was so strong that there was often a ‘chip on the shoulder’ feeling toward the upper class. For the police he might have experienced someone getting away with a crime simply because of who they were and could pull strings.

Were there real instances of foreigners or Germans buying properties near English ports between wars? Were they expulsed?

RHYS: There certainly was German infiltration in many sectors so quite possible that they bought properties. My mother had a German penpal who asked her to send maps!

I recently read that weekly bathing became the custom in NYC during the 1880s (but brushing teeth was unheard of). When did daily bathing take hold in England?

RHYS: Working class families often didn’t have an indoor bathroom. The loo was outside the back door. There might be a wash basin but the only way of taking a bath was to heat up water for a tin bath in front of the kitchen fire. This only died out when more modern houses were built with bathrooms. And even then central heating was rare so bathrooms were cold. I remember my father lighting the oil stove in the bathroom an hour before I would take a bath.

What’s next for Georgie?

RHYS: I promised my editor that the next Georgie book would be another Christmas story. So it will be called GOD REST YE ROYAL GENTLEMEN…  and yes, the royal family will be involved.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life of Influence by Words and Deeds

by Paula Gail Benson

A few years ago, while I was in San Francisco for a national meeting, I visited a jewelry shop on the first floor of the hotel where I was staying. When the clerks learned I was a lawyer, they told me they wanted me to see a prized possession. They brought out a personal thank you letter signed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and written on Supreme Court stationery. They were very proud she had done business with their shop.

Since Justice Ginsburg passed away on Friday, many articles and news stories have explored her influence on the law and our society. CNN offered an article with ten of the best Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotations. When asked, “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?” she replied, “When there are nine,” pointing out that no one had questioned nine men being on the Court. She paid tribute to her relationship with Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer and her spouse of 56 years, by saying true equality between men and women will be achieved when “men share with [women] the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

While the CNN article provides spoken comments by Justice Ginsburg, it does not include language from cases that she authored. Some of those statements give additional insight to her character and her influence upon the law.

She dissented in the 2007 decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, where Lilly Ledbetter sued for discrimination because the pay she received was less than that given her male colleagues. The majority opinion found that Ms. Ledbetter failed to timely file her suit. In a rare occurrence, Justice Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, stating, “In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.” Ultimately, Congress amended the law to adopt Justice Ginsburg’s interpretation in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

In 2009, when she was the only woman sitting on the Supreme Court, she authored an opinion in Safford Unified School District v. Redding, concurring with the majority that a 13 year old girl’s 4th amendment rights had been violated when the girl was subjected to a strip search, but agreeing with Justice Stevens’ dissent in how that legal conclusion should have been reached. Justice Ginsburg noted that following the search, “to make matters worse,” the principal made the girl “sit on a chair outside his office for over two hours. At no point did he attempt to call her parent. Abuse of authority of that order should not be shielded by official immunity.”

Debby Levy wrote a children’s book, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, titled I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. That book explains to young people how Justice Ginsburg’s lifetime of learning how to effectively disagree has made a difference in people’s lives.

When the biographical film about her life, On the Basis of Sex, was released a few years ago, my entire office, male and female, went to a showing. Before attending, I read about how the movie came to be made. The screenplay was by Justice Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman. When he told her about the project, she seemed indifferent, as if questioning why her life would have been of interest. As the film progressed, she provided background information to the writer and actors. She approved of Armie Hammer’s being selected to play her husband Martin. One article indicated that, in a way, she got to spend time with her beloved Marty again as the movie was being made.

I always considered that I attended law school during a time when women were more accepted in the legal community. I actually graduated the same year as Justice Ginsburg’s daughter (different law schools). But, as I watched On the Basis of Sex, I remembered how many times professors gave me frowns for arriving late for class because I had been standing in line for the restroom. When our law school was built in the 1970’s, female students were still in the minority and the restrooms were apportioned based on the lower numbers.

By the end of the movie, tears ran down my face as I realized what Justice Ginsburg had accomplished. So often, Supreme Court Justices labor in secrecy with their work not truly appreciated or evaluated until after they have passed away. I’m grateful that Justice Ginsburg had the opportunity to learn about what her achievements meant to those who benefited from her words and actions.