Books ‘n Boots Soiree

Just back from the Fort Worth Bookfest’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University campus, where I learned the following:

“They say Fort Worth is where the West begins, but the fact of the matter is that Dallas is where the East just kind of peters out.”

I also got the impression that this is going to be a fun weekend.

IMG_3540Three writers with ties to Texas Wesleyan read from their works. Dr. Jeffrey DeLotto read from his novel A Caddo’s Way; Marjorie Herra Lewis read from her novel When the Men Were Gone; and Michelle Hartman read poems from her Disenchanted and Disgruntled (in which we learn what happened to the “eighth and most annoying dwarf, Gropey.”)

So there are three more titles on my To Be Read list. IMG_3544 (2)

Click here to see authors who will appear at the festival, and the covers of their books. Click through the pictures and you’ll eventually see my head shot and the cover of Murder on Wheels. They’re the same pictures you’ve seen before, and I don’t advocate covering old territory, but it’s a heady experience for me to be included with real writers.

I’m not supposed to engage in such defeatist talk, but after listening to the authors read tonight, I did look around the room and wonder what I’m doing here.

No matter.  I’m here.

This is going to be a fantastic book festival.

*

IMG_3546Citations: Here’s a picture of my notes. I like to get things right, and since I had nothing to write on but a napkin . . .

Elizabeth Berg: The Last Time I Saw You

10-12-2019 TTM pixabay CC0 african-boerboel-2138273_640Lester Hessenpfeffer awakens on a bath rug stuffed into the corner of a gigantic cage and stares into the open eyes of the bull mastiff. The dog wags his tail once, twice, and Lester feels his chest tighten with joy. Just before he fell asleep, he’d been preparing a speech for the dog’s owners about how he’d done his best, how he’d tried everything, but . . . Samson had ingested a few Legos the day before, which the owners’ great-grandchildren had left lying about. One had perforated his intestine. By the time he was brought to Lester’s clinic, the dog was in shock and the prospects for saving him were almost nil. Lester had slept in the cage with him to provide comfort not so much for the dog as to himself. He’d known Samson since he was a puppy, and he was very fond of the owners, an elderly couple who thought Samson hung the moon. They’d wanted to spend the night at the clinic, but after Lester told them he’d be literally right beside the dog, they reluctantly went home. Lester had hoped they’d get some sleep, so that they could more easily bear the news he was pretty certain he’d have to deliver in the morning. This is always the worst part of his job, telling people their pet has died. Sometimes they know it, at least empirically; on more than one occasion someone has brought a dead animal into the office hoping against hope that Lester can revive it. And when he can’t, he must say those awful words: I’m so sorry. He’s noticed a certain posture many people assume on hearing those words. They step back and cross their arms, as though guarding themselves against any more pain, or as though holding on more time the animal they loved as truly as any other family member, if not more. Oftentimes, they nod, too, their heads saying yes to what their hearts cannot accept.

But here Samson is, alive and well enough to give Lester’s face a good washing with a tongue the size of a giant oven mitt. “Hey, pal,” Lester says, “you made it. Let’s have a look at that dressing.” He rises to his knees and very gently turns the dog slightly onto his side. Samson whimpers and holds overly still, the way that dogs often do when they’re frightened. There’s a lot of drainage, but nothing leaking through. He’ll give Stan something for pain and then call Stan and Betty. By the time he’s done talking to them–he can anticipate at least a few of the questions they’ll have–he’ll be able to change the dressing without causing the dog undue distress. He thinks Samson will be able to stand and move about a little this afternoon, and imagines him lifting his leg with great dignity against the portable fireplug his staff uses for cage-bound male dogs (the girls get Astroturf). The portable bathrooms had been Jeanine’s idea; she was always coming up with good ideas. She had the idea for Pet Airways before they came up with Pet Airways, although her suggestion was that owners and pets fly together–cages would be installed next to seats so that an owner could reach down and scratch behind an ear, or speak reassuringly, or offer a snack. This was a much better idea for alleviating the stress caused to animals when they fly, and Lester advised Jeanine to write to Pet Airways suggesting it. She said she’d rather keep the idea for herself, because she wanted to start Dog Airways, as it is her belief that only dogs really care when their owners are gone. She is by her own admission a dog chauvinist, but she’s good to all animals who come to the clinic, even the hamster whose hysterical owner brought her in because she was gobbling up her babies as soon as she gave birth to them.

Jeanine also had the idea that Lester should attend his high school reunion. When the invitation had come to the clinic, Jeanine had opened it, and then immediately begun a campaign to get her boss to go. Lester knew what she had in mind–she wanted him to find a woman. . . .

*

From Chapter Two of Elizabeth Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You
Random House, 2009

“As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet–or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away; desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.”

“For the delightful hours it takes to read this novel, it seems that the characters jumped off the page and joined the crowd for a casual family supper.” — Chicago Tribune

“Marvelous . . . plenty of pathos and can’t-stop-laughing moments . . . readers will care about every character. — The Oklahoman

“Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet significant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening; Berg’s latest novel satisfies and succeeds on both counts.” — Booklist

*

 

Image via Pixabay

 

Story


 

 

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution–more so that opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it–a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

 

 

 

A Mind Unhinged

Here’s my latest post at Austin Mystery Writers.

Austin Mystery Writers

So you start writing your post about the incomparable Josephine Tey’s mystery novels two weeks before it’s due but don’t finish, and then you forget, and a colleague reminds you, but the piece refuses to come together, and the day it’s due it’s still an embarrassment, and the next day it’s not much better, and you decide, Oh heck, at this point what’s one more day? and you go to bed,

and in the middle of the night you wake to find twenty pounds of cat using you as a mattress, and you know you might as well surrender, because getting him off is like moving Jello with your bare hands,

Elisabet Ney: Lady Macbeth, Detail Elisabet Ney: Lady Macbeth, Detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Attribution: Ingrid Fisch at the German language Wikipedia.  GNU_Free_Documentation_License

so you lie there staring at what would be the ceiling if you could see it, and you think, Macbeth doth murder sleep…. Macbeth shall sleep no more,

and…

View original post 1,054 more words

William Bit Me

William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.

IMG_2679 (3)

 

***

Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was not a demonstrative woman. But one day when writer Leigh Hunt arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Surprised and delighted, Hunt memorialized the event in a poem: “Jenny Kissed Me.”

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

###

My apologies to Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Carlyle. I mean no disrespect. I couldn’t have written the parody if I didn’t love the poem.

“Hell on Wheels”: The Story of a Lethal Librarian

Excerpt from “Hell on Wheels” by Kathy Waller appears in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 TALES OF CRIME ON THE MOVE, published by Wildside Press, 2015

Join Austin Mystery Writers for the launch of MURDER ON WHEELS at 7:00 p.m. on August 11, 2015, at BookPeople Bookstore, 6th and Lamar, Austin. Authors will read and sign. Refreshments will be served.

***

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight.

The next day, while Mama was down at Essie’s Salon de Beauté, my brothers and sister and I crowded into a booth at the old Dairy Queen, just across the corner from the library where I worked. The DQ was practically empty. The only customers—besides Frank and Lonnie and Bonita and me—were senior citizens, and most of them had their hearing aids turned off.

When the waitress had delivered our orders and retreated behind the counter to her copy of People magazine, I explained why I had called the meeting.

“It hurts me to say it, but the time has come to put Mama out of her misery.”

Lonnie stabbed his straw through the plastic lid on his frosted Coke. “Mama don’t have no misery. I never seen nobody so contented with her lot.”

Bonita poked her pointy elbow into my side and reached across the table to pat Lonnie’s hand. “I think Marva Lu’s talking about a different kind of misery, baby brother. I’ll explain later.”

That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Bonita’s explaining was why it took Lonnie till he was twenty-nine to get his GED.

Frank, sitting across the table from me, grabbed a napkin and wriggled his way out of the booth. “Now look what you made me do. Scared me half to death, making such a mean joke about Mama.”

He dabbed at his tie with a napkin. “This necktie is a souvenir from when we took the kids to Disney World. That gravy landed right on Donald Duck’s tail feathers.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the other diners, several of whom were looking our way. “Frank Dewayne Urquhart, stop carrying on and sit back down,” I hissed. “You’re attracting attention.”

Frank unclipped his tie and laid it across the back of the booth. By the time he settled down to finish his steak fingers, the senior citizens had turned back to their burgers.

“Now, quit worrying about that duck’s derriere and look me in the eye,” I said, in the steely tone of voice I used on seventh-grade boys I found hiding in the how-to books, giggling over The Joy of Sex. “I am not joking. This is serious.”

Frank stuffed a couple of napkins into his collar and dunked another steak finger. “Serious?” He leaned toward me, his eyes wide and his voice just a whisper. “You want to … put Mama down … just because you saw her add something to the pie? I bet you didn’t have your contacts in. Might’ve been powdered sugar. She’s probably practicing something new for the Methodist ladies’ fundraiser cook-off.”

“The new bishop’s going to judge the cook-off.” I took a sip of my Diet Dr. Pepper and gave Frank time to think. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Murderous Methodist Does in Bishop with Omelet’. And every penny of our inheritance will go to pay a lawyer to try to keep Mama out of prison. Squeaky Vardaman says defense attorneys charge more when the client’s guilty. And Squeaky’s the district attorney, so he ought to know.”

Bonita stabbed me again with her elbow. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming.” We all followed her gaze.

A bright red Corvette was racing up the street. Ignoring the stop sign, the driver shot through the intersection, just missing a pedestrian, who scrambled onto the high curb and wrapped his arms around a light pole for support.

“There she is, on her way to Essie’s to get her hair screwed up.” Lonnie grinned. “Man, Mama can drive that car, can’t she?”

Frank cleared his throat and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Yeah, Marva Lu, I see your point.”

Bonita wrinkled her nose and wound a blonde curl around her finger, a habit she’d gotten into when she was five years old and people told her it was cute. “Why don’t we keep a real close watch on Mama and make sure she doesn’t have a chance to put anything bad in the food? I mean, killing her seems a little extreme.”

“Are you volunteering to babysit around the clock?” I said.

Bonita wrinkled her nose again. “Well, what about putting her in the Silver Seniors Retirement home? We could have her committed. Then she couldn’t cook at all.”

“No way,” said Frank. “Old Dr. Briggs is as loony as Mama. He isn’t about to certify her. Hell, there’s not a man, woman, or child in the county, including us, who’d dare to cross her. After all, she owns the bank.” He wadded his napkin into a ball and dropped it into the empty basket. “You going to convince her to move to the home, Bonita?”

Before Bonita could get her nose back in gear, Lonnie finally caught up with the conversation. He sat up straight. “Killing her? What do you mean, killing her? You saying you want to kill Mama?”

“Shhh. Use your library voice, Lonnie.” Bonita patted his hand again. “Kill is just a figure of speech. Like one of those smilies we talked about before your test.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not a smilie. We’d better make sure right now that everybody understands what we’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything,” whispered Lonnie. “If you’re going to kill Mama, I’m heading for the sheriff right now. Move, Frank, and let me out of this booth.”

I glared at Frank. He stayed put. I smacked Bonita’s hand off Lonnie’s and closed my hand around his. Poor Lonnie, he’d always been Mama’s favorite, and so softhearted. I should have known our talk would upset him.

I assumed the sympathetic tone I used when citizens called to complain about the library having dirty books. “Lonnie, sweetheart, you heard what I said about Mama’s new recipe. And you remember how Uncle Percy died last month, just hours after Mama cooked him a special birthday lunch.”

“Dr. Briggs said that was Uncle Percy’s ulcer.” Lonnie jerked his hand back. “Frank, let me out.”

I grabbed his hand again and hung on. “Jasper Alonzo, calm down. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully and then give me an honest answer. After that, Frank will let you out, and you can go to the sheriff or anywhere else you want.

“Now, here’s the question: How would it make you feel if they put Mama on trial for killing Uncle Percy? Or somebody else she fed bad food to? And what if she had to spend the rest of her natural life locked up in the prison at Huntsville?”

Lonnie’s brow wrinkled like it always did when he was turning something over in his mind. One thing about my baby brother, he never made snap decisions. I usually admired him for that. In this case, however, even with the answer so obvious, I threw in some details.

“Think about what prison’s like, Lonnie. There wouldn’t be a soul Mama knows. And most of those inmates are so common, not our kind of people at all. Mama would have to share a room, and you know how she values her privacy. There’d be no more trips up to Neiman Marcus, and she’d have to dress just like everybody else, in horizontal stripes. She’s always been dead-set against horizontal stripes. Essie wouldn’t be there to keep up her weekly White Mink rinse, and without that, her gray hair would get that ugly yellow tinge to it. And how would she survive without her Friday bridge club? Think about it, Lonnie. What kind of life would Mama have?”

By the time I got to “yellow tinge,” all the fight had gone out of Lonnie. His brow unwrinkled. Tears welled up in his soft brown eyes. It was just the saddest expression I’d ever seen on that sweet face. He looked so miserable I was tempted to toss the rest of my chocolate sundae into the big red waste bin and tell my siblings to forget the whole thing.

But I didn’t get to be Director of the Kilburn County Public Library and Archives by caving in to every pathetic face that stared at me across the circulation desk.

“All right, Lonnie,” I said. “What’s your answer?”

He pulled on his straw but got only a gurgle, so he quit stalling. “Mama wouldn’t like prison at all. So I guess I’d feel pretty bad.” He shook his cup and managed to suck up one more taste of frosted Coke. “But I still don’t feel good about planning to kill her.”

I looked out the window. Old Judge Vardaman was shuffling down the sidewalk from the courthouse, heading for the library, where he would spend his usual hour dozing over the Wall Street Journal. On his way out, he would tiptoe into my office and sit down for what he called “a little visit with my sweetie-pie.”

Bonita saw me watching him and smirked. “Well, here comes Big Sister’s gentleman caller. Honestly, Marva Lu, I don’t know how you can stand to have that old goat around. He’s older than God.”

“You should talk,” I said. “The way you drool over the old goat’s son since he got elected D. A. is a disgrace.” I passed the remainder of my sundae across the table to Lonnie and smiled. “Anyway, Bonita, he’s not so bad. Goats can be very useful animals.” I shouldered my purse and stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Lonnie,” I said. “You won’t have to do a thing. I’ll take care of all the planning myself.”

***

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