Repost: Review of Kaye George’s CHOKE

I’m reposting this review in honor of Kaye George, author of the Agatha-nominated mystery, CHOKE.

Agatha Christie's signature
Agatha Christie's signature (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kaye is currently in Washington, D. C. , where the Agatha Awards will be announced tomorrow at the annual Malice Domestic “fun fan” convention. Malice Domestic salutes “the traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie,” and “loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”

Austin Mystery Writers send congratulations and best wishes to all Agatha nominees.

To Kaye and her heroine, Immy Duckworthy, we add an orange pickup load of harmonious vibrations and a plea to get back to Texas as soon as possible.

*****

Question: If you combined Lucille Ball with Inspector Clouseau, what would you get?

Answer: Imogene Duckworthy, amateur PI and main character of Kaye George’s new mystery, CHOKE.

Immy is a delight–the 22-year-old unwed mother of 3-year-old Nancy Drew Duckworthy (Drew), she lives with her retired-librarian mother, Hortense, in Saltlick, Texas; slings hash at her Uncle Huey’s cafe; and wants with all her heart to be a detective like her “dead sainted father.”

When Immy up and quits her job (Huey wants her to work double shifts again), and then explains her sudden unemployment by telling Hortense that Huey pinched her bottom (well, he DID pinch the other waitress’s bottom), Hortense heads to the cafe to give Huey what-for. Then Huey is murdered, the police take Hortense to the station, and Immy has her very first case. Guided by the Moron’s Compleat PI Guidebook, she sets out to find the perp.

The Moron’s Compleat PI Guidebook says nothing about staging a jailbreak, holing up in a Cowtail motel, or color-coding her list of suspects. But it does mention disguises, just what Immy needs to investigate on her home turf. An outfit that combines “Buns of Foam” with “Boobs and Belly,” however, leaves the amateur PI in need of the Jaws of Life, and the reader in stitches.

Kaye George’s CHOKE is a different kind of mystery. In most detective novels, the reader watches the sleuth-protagonist work his way through chapter after chapter, picking up clues and discarding red herrings, until he finally comes up with the answer. In CHOKE, however, the reader picks up clues while watching the gullible, ultra-literal, but enthusiastic Immy charge through to the solution while remaining blissfully clueless.

With CHOKE, first-timer Kaye George has accomplished something special: an original mystery, an original Immy, and a novel that leaves readers laughing and wanting more.

FTC Disclaimer: No one gave me this book. I bought it with my own money. Kaye George is one of my critique partners, but our relationship did not influence my review. I did not tell her how to write CHOKE, and she did not tell me what to write in my review. In fact, I never even critiqued the manuscript, and my introduction to the novel came when my copy arrived in the mail. I wish I had critiqued it, because I would like to take credit for “Boobs and Belly,” and the part about the letter opener, and the chicken. But the whole thing was Kaye’s idea. Even the orange pickup on the cover.

Select Tender Type or, Another Reason Literature Is Important

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel
Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At HEB this afternoon, having verified that I had, indeed, spent my last sou on a cup of coffee at Waterloo Writers, I ran my credit card through the scanner. The resulting screen read, Select Tender Type.

Tender.

Such a formal, old-fashioned word for this new-fangled device.

It reminded me of the scene in which Polonius asks Ophelia about the status of her relationship with Hamlet:

 

Ophelia, oil on canvas, size: 49 x 29 in
Ophelia, oil on canvas, size: 49 x 29 in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Polonius: What is between you? give me up the truth.

Ophelia: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.

Polonius: Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

Ophelia: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Polonius: Marry, I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta’en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or–not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus–you’ll tender me a fool.

 

Poor Ophelia. She was a sweet thing, and young, and the men in her life treated her so shabbily.

But even though Polonius belittles his daughter to her face, the way Shakespeare moves tender through the passage, varying its meaning from one line to the next, renders the speech remarkable. As Hamlet later implies, Polonius is a rat—and he pays for his treachery a couple of acts down the road—but he has a way with words.

Thinking of Polonius and Ophelia reminded me of Lord Capulet‘s rage when Juliet tells him she will not marry Paris. He explodes, and Juliet adds fuel to the fire.

Capulet: How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom?

Juliet or The Blue Necklace (1898) by John Wil...
Juliet or The Blue Necklace (1898) by John William Waterhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Juliet: Not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have:
Proud can I never be of what I hate;
But thankful even for hate, that is meant love.

Capulet: How now, how now, chop-logic! What is this?
‘Proud,’ and ‘I thank you,’ and ‘I thank you not;’
And yet ‘not proud,’ mistress minion, you,
Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage!
You tallow-face!


“Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds, / But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,…” Beautiful. Just seeing it on the page gives me the shivers.

To some, Capulet sounds like a terrible father, but, as I pointed out to my freshmen, year after year, Juliet started it. She was rude and disrespectful. Her father didn’t know she was already married; he thought she would be thrilled to marry Paris. But she behaved like a brat. It’s no wonder Capulet threatened to drag her on a hurdle thither.

The two female characters present an interesting contrast: Ophelia refuses to speak for herself; Juliet shouts. But neither one lasts to the end of Act V.

A scholarly paper might lurk in there somewhere: “Shakespeare’s Women: A Study of the Consequences of Self-Actualization Within the Context of the Father-Daughter Relationship Complicated by Nascent Heterosexual Bonding, with a Focus on Hamlet’s Ophelia and Romeo and Juliet’s Juliet.”

Or perhaps not.

By the time I finished with the Capulets, the cashier had almost finished with the scanning. While she bagged the items, I had time to wonder whether the name of Jason FForde’s protagonist, Thursday Next, was inspired by the once-projected date for Juliet’s wedding.

I also remembered that The Idylls of the King contains a line echoing Thank me no thankings, nor, proud me no prouds; I believe it’s spoken by Guinevere–maybe–but I’ve not been able to locate it, and it looks as if I’ll have to re-read the entire Idylls to ease my mind.

But I did find the next lines that drifted by: Guinevere, jealous of Elaine, takes up Lancelot’s gift of diamonds

 

Queen Guinevere's maying, by John Collier, 1900
Queen Guinevere’s maying, by John Collier, 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And thro’ the casement standing wide for heat
Flung them and down they flash’d, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.

 

That image—diamonds falling into the sunlit stream, and water splashing up, like diamonds to meet them—remains with me when the rest of the book has passed from memory.

Well. By this time, the cashier and I had completed our transaction. I wheeled the groceries to the car. End of shopping.

End of post.

Except to point out that I stood for ten minutes in one of the most boring places imaginable and forgot to be bored.

I was busy elsewhere.

Shifting Responsibility, but Nicely

writing in the journal
writing in the journal (Photo credit: redcargurl)

Over the weekend, I had an epiphany.

If I’m going to write anything longer than a blog post–such as a novel–I have to do three things:

  1. Sleep–before midnight as well as after
  2. Eat–no refined carbohydrates, no grains, no sweeteners, no processed foods, no added salt…
  3. Exercise–as in MOVE. I didn’t buy that stationary bike just so Ernest would have a new chew toy.

And since it’s already 11:23 p.m., and I set a goal of an 11:30 p.m. computer shutdown, I don’t have time to write about the Stories from the Heart 2012 conference I attended over the weekend.

However, several other bloggers have written about it:

Linda Hoye at A Slice of Life Writing. Linda has just received the printed copy of her memoir, Two Hearts.

Pat Bean at Pat Bean’s Blog. A retired journalist, Pat spends several months out of the year on the road in her RV, blogging as she goes.

Amber Lea Starfire at Writing Through Life. Amber is a writer and teacher who focuses on telling lifestories through journaling, memoir, and art.

I hope you’ll check out what they have to say.

I would tell you more–both the blogs and the bloggers are much more interesting than my vanilla descriptions imply–but I’ve already run several minutes over my deadline, and I still have to add links.

After that, I head upstairs to work on Goal #1.

*****

Image by redcargurl via Flickr.

Loose Ends

British actress .
British actress Hermione Norris: Ros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PBS is airing MI5 for—what?—the fourth consecutive season? and I’m watching reruns. Again.

Last week, Ros died for the second and presumably last time. Because I’d already seen the episode (often), I used only a half box of tissues. When Adam died, I wept a puddle, but Ros’ original demise prompted a deluge. Now the team is picking up the pieces and moving on with Ros’ replacement, another attractive blonde. I find it impossible to bond with her. I’ve nicknamed her Not-Ros.

I don’t care for explosions and executions and car chases, and if that’s all MI5 had to offer, I’d have turned it off before getting hooked. Interesting characters and tight plots have kept me tuning in. That, and the fact that violence isn’t at the heart of the show: it’s the suspense, the waiting for the clock to tick down, for the bomb to detonate—or not.

And the knowledge that, in the hands of these writers, no character is safe.

Back in the olden days, one thing was certain: when he strode into the dusty Dodge City street on Saturday night, his badge glinting in the sun, his six-gun secure in its holster, to face the man in the black hat, Marshal Matt Dillon would be alive at the end of the show.

No such guarantee for Sir Harry Pearce and Section D.

No guarantee for anyone in real life either.

This afternoon, in a grocery store parking lot filled with cars but almost empty of people, a young couple passed me. The man was shouting at the woman. He reached out and pushed her shoulder. She turned away slightly, made a half-hearted attempt to fend him off. They made their way across the lot—the man shouting the same unprintable insult over and over, pushing and shoving, the woman staying beside him, hardly trying to defend herself.

Leaving the path leading to the cart return, I followed them. I didn’t consider what I could, or would, do. I just had to keep them in sight.

They had reached the sidewalk when a young woman rolling a cart filled with groceries and a toddler in the child seat stopped beside a nearby car. She called to me. “Call the police.”

“I don’t have my cell phone.”

She dug in her purse for her phone, then dialed 911. She then reported the couple’s actions and described them: jeans, black shorts, yellow t-shirt, blue and gray jersey displaying the number 31, baseball cap. I moved to a better vantage point and fed her details.

While she was on the phone, another young man and woman ran across the parking lot and managed to separate the couple. The women crossed the street. The men walked in the opposite direction across the lot. I lost them when they got into a car and drove away.

I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them again, but I have a feeling the fellow doing the shouting and pushing would recognize me: He left staring over his shoulder at me. I wasn’t comfortable standing in that gaze. Since he obviously knew what my new friend and I were up to, he might have been uncomfortable, too, but he appeared too angry to feel self-conscious.

With no suspect, the 911 call ended. My friend turned off her phone and dropped it back into her purse. I thanked her.

“That wasn’t right,” she said.

“No.”

“She didn’t even try to get away from him.”

“I was worried about what would happen when he got her away from here.” I was still worried. He hadn’t had time to cool off, if that made a difference. If they drove around the block, found the women walking up the street…

“It just wasn’t right.” She thanked me and finished loading her groceries.

I wheeled my cart to the return, got into my car, and drove home.

Ever since, I’ve wished I could finish that scene, tie up loose ends, get everyone home safely, make them live happily ever after. But in real life, I don’t get to write the script.

And I don’t always get to know how the story ends.

*****

Image of Hermione Norris by Hermione_Norris.jpg: Sam Knox derivative work: ukexpat (Hermione_Norris.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


A Cat May Look at a Queen

Every Christmas, David gives me a gift commemorating our visit to the UK ten years ago. The latest was a small figurine of the Queen, which resides on the lamp table beside my chair. The Queen seems comfortable there, upright, smiling yet dignified, never the focus of unseemly familiarity.

The Queen

Yesterday, though, returning from my critique group meeting, I found her toppled over and lying supine on the marble table top, a position she would not have assumed voluntarily. Then, this evening I caught Ernest standing on the back of the couch, his front paws on the table edge, snuffling  her glove.

I shooed him down, but he refused to leave. 

Ernest not leaving

Instead, he settled on the couch and gazed up at her, his green eyes wide.

It took just a moment to discover the reason for his interest.

Ernest and the Queen


On top of the Queen’s handbag is a solar panel. In the lamplight, it prompts her to move her hand at the wrist, back and forth, in a royal wave.


Rice Pudding Suitable for Framing

My friend Em informed me that she has found the Google Art Project and will therefore be incommunicado for about the next five years.

If she can drag herself away from the National Gallery of Everywhere, she might show up for dinner Sunday, an engagement we made months ago. If not, she’ll send her husband along by himself.

Em is an artist. One of her pieces hung in her office—a pencil drawing of opera star Marian Anderson. It is beautiful. She entered it in the county fair several years ago. I don’t remember how it placed, but it didn’t take first. Her husband said it would have done better if she’d put a pair of boots and some cactus in the background.

I wish I had Em’s passion for visual art, but I have neither the education nor the eye. I’m a word person. If I had my way, I would cover all my walls with words.

Which brings me to the point: I have discovered how to turn words into art without using talent or turpentine: Wordle.

I pasted the text of an old post into the Wordle website, clicked Go, and Voila! A post suitable for framing.

Or it will be when I get the bugs worked out.


SCN Stories from the Heart Conference 2012: Saying Yes

Linda Hoye, one of my sisters in Story Circle Network, reminded me today that SCN’s Stories from the Heart Conference 2012 will take place April 13-15, here in Austin. She’ll be there. Sisters I’ve met in person or online will be there. Sisters I would like to meet will be there.

Will I be there?

I’m dithering. But I think the answer is Yes.

You see, I attended the 2008 conference and benefited in ways I can’t begin to describe. In 2010, however, citing fiscal responsibility and restraint (aka saintly self-denial), I did not attend. Later, I told a friend it was a good thing I hadn’t arranged to go, because on the weekend of the conference I was sick in bed. She responded, “You were sick because you didn’t go to the conference.” She was right.

Story Circle Network, a nonprofit organization with an international membership, exists to help women write their life stories and share them with each other and with posterity. Conference workshops focus on ways to get those stories onto the page. There’s a keynote speech by a noted author, and social hours, and a farewell luncheon with entertainment, and an evening of sharing at an open mike. I could go into detail, but I won’t. All the information is on the webpage.

Anyway, some things can’t be scheduled. The most memorable moment of the 2008 conference wasn’t on the program.

It happened Saturday evening where a dozen or so strangers were gathered around a table in the hotel restaurant, having dinner and talking about our lives.

One of the women, Jean, said she had moved to San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She had been traveling when the hurricane hit, and her home in New Orleans had been spared, but at her age, she could never feel secure living there again. She was seriously depressed; she had lost her home and way of life, the relative she had come to live with had died, and no one could understand the trauma she had experienced. She felt hopeless.

Midway through the meal, the restaurant manager, a tall, young African-American woman, stopped by the table to make sure service had been adequate. She asked about the conference. One of the diners explained why we were there and invited her to write with us.

“Oh, I’m not a writer.”

In Story Circle, that excuse means nothing.  “Then maybe you have a story to tell.”

Oh, yes,” she said, “I have a story.” And, in a voice that drew us in, she launched into an account that went something like this:

I was in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. I managed the food services at a nursing home for elderly nuns. We helped get the nuns evacuated, but there was no room for anyone else, so all the staff stayed behind. Some of the people had gone and gotten their children, so they were with us, too. When the water began to rise, we went upstairs, but the water kept rising,  so we got on the roof. We were up there for days, with helicopters going over, and us waving and shouting, but they ignored us. When the waters went down, some of us went looking for food, because we had nothing. We waded through the flood to a grocery store where we found some bread, and we carried it back, but our legs broke out in ulcers from the chemicals polluting the water. When the helicopters finally landed, they wanted to take the children, but we said, No, if you take the children, we’ll never see them again. We kept the children with us. We were up there for two weeks. When I finally got out, I found my brother in Chicago and went to him, but the city was too big. I needed somewhere smaller and more like home, so I came to Austin and got this job. But I can’t forget, and nobody here really understands what I’ve been through.

When she stopped talking, the room was hushed. We must have looked like wide-eyed children listening to a ghost story. Then someone said, “There’s a lady here who needs to talk to you,” and led her to Jean.

Later, discussing what had happened around that table, one of the listeners called it holy.

That’s exactly what it was.

And that’s why for all my dithering, I really have no choice. I’m going to have to say Yes.

Tizzy

What follows is a repost from January 2011. It’s one of my rants. And it’s worse than I remembered it. It’s an example of what happens when I write instead of withdrawing to a funk hole to get over it. (If you don’t know what in the world I’m talking about, see the previous post.)

14th Amendment of the United States Constituti...
14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, page 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I began a post about the proposed cuts to library funding now before the Texas Legislature. A 99% reduction to state funding to school libraries. Elimination of state funding for public library TexShare databases. Elimination of funding for K-12 data bases. Elimination of state funding for direct aid to public libraries.

I was a librarian when the Legislature–headed by pro-education Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock–put a chunk of money into school libraries. K-12 databases. A state-wide union catalog. A system of public school interlibrary loan. Later came the Loan Star Libraries program–the first time funds flowed directly from the State of Texas to individual public libraries. That money paid for summer reading programs, new books and media, conference registrations…Now it’s all on the table…Cities, counties, school districts are facing deep cuts of their own…Many won’t be able to pick up the increased costs…There’s talk of $25 million a year for ten years for a  Formula 1 racetrack…

By paragraph five, I’d written myself into a tizzy. I saved and rummaged through the files for something without emotional significance.

I found the lie, lay, lay lecture. I wrote it for fun, as an offering to my paralegal study group. I posted it.

Tonight I began a post about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement that the U. S. Constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis or gender or sexual orientation: The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, applied to former slaves, and so the word person as it is used there does not refer to women. The first clause reads as follows:

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As I wrote about the logical conclusion that the Constitution does not prohibit depriving women of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, and that it does not prohibit denying women the equal protection of the laws…And wondered whether the Justice would, if push came to shove, follow the precedent set in 1971, when a unanimous Court held that the 14th Amendment does apply to women…I became a little testy. A little cross. A little agitated.

In other words, I’d written myself into another tizzy.

But I don’t have another ready-made piece suitable for posting. So I’m telling the truth about the process.

I learned a long time ago not to write when angry, irritated, agitated, tizzied. The result is never worth reading. The meaning comes through, but so do several other things, none of them impressive.

A critic–I think it was Ellen Moers, but since I read the comment in 1982, I can’t say for sure–compared Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte in the following way:

Austen is detached. She doesn’t betray her emotions in her fiction. She doesn’t intrude into her characters’ points of view.

Bronte doesn’t contain herself so well. When Jane Eyre, for example, speaks about the differences in the lives of men and women, her voice veers off–suddenly it’s Charlotte Bronte’s voice we hear, not Jane’s, and it’s Charlotte’s anger. And the anger poses a distraction.

Again, it’s been thirty years since I read that assessment, but I think it’s true. The principle applies to other types of writing as well.

Anger addles the brain. Words pour out in tangles. To the writer, the result sounds high-minded and righteously indignant when it’s really over-wrought and poorly reasoned and sometimes downright silly.

The tizzy-laden paragraphs above are longer than I intended. I got started and didn’t stop. At least one of them should have a violin playing in the background.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with me.

If you care to read more about the library situation, links to articles appear below. Be sure to read the one from the Guardian.

And did you see the story about the community in England that checked out every single book in the library to protest impending cuts? Amazing.

Times are hard, and we can’t have everything we want. But surely libraries are as important as racetracks and pro football.

And no matter what anyone says, I think women are persons.

Grappling with King Charles’ Head

Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the...
Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the Order of the Garter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been–to use a term I learned from fellow blogger Kate Shrewsday–in a funk hole.

Recent events in the American political arena have had me biting my tongue and wearing mittens to keep from making an abject fool of myself on this blog.

Every time I started a post, I immediately thought of a number of men whose names I will not mention–yes, always men–and my chosen topic veered off the rails into an area I prefer not to traverse.

I felt like Mr. Dick, David Copperfield’s friend, whose attempts to complete his Memorial were repeatedly obstructed by the intrusion of King Charles’ Head.

Lacking Mr. Dick’s good sense, sweet temper, and ability to construct a kite from a laptop monitor, I went underground. Crawled under the porch. Played Bookworm for two or three weeks.

Bookworm is a good game. One evening I racked up 2,000,000 points before my library burned up. This is not a boast. It is a source of shame. But it kept me from posting.

I’ve also watched all the P. D. James mystery adaptations on Netflix, some of them twice. And all the episodes of Kingdom three or four times. I was so unhappy to learn Kingdom ran only three seasons. Here I am left hanging, wondering who Peter Kingdom really is.

But I believe my topic has once again taken off on its own.

The point is that you, Dear Reader, do not come here to read what I think of the current U. S. political scene, nor do you need to know about my obsessive-compulsive personality. Or my sharp tongue.

I prefer that you think of me as a kindly, marshmallowy creature, constitutionally incapable of an unrefined thought. Kind of like Jane Bennett.

And to that end, I found myself a funk hole and crawled in.

When I came out to test the waters, I wrote about cats, the subject least likely to attract King Charles’ Head.

Having passed that test, I now return to the fold.

Round #2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins this week. I flunked–if that’s possible–Round #1–but I’m willing to give it another try.

My Round #2 goal is to submit to my critique group every week. Period.

King Charles and the U. S. Congress can go fly a kite.