#AtoZChallenge 2020: W Is for What (a Fun Read)

Jack Cowherd (NOT Cow-erd) has just been elected Governor of Texas when he learns that Texas is no longer part of the United States—it happened fast, and not the way you think—and he’s actually President of the brand new Second Republic of Texas.  After a ceremony at the State Capitol, Jack, his wife Nadine (well endowed, but not with brains), his chief of staff Tasha Longoria (overqualified in both brains and common sense), newly dug-up chauffeur Rusty. and “fuzzy-cheeked” aide Shane arrive Austin’s Camp Mabry to inspect the Texas Freedom Militia. When you don’t have an official military, you go with what you’ve got.

*

They arrived at Camp Mabry, once home to the Texas National Guard; now occupied by the Texas Freedom Militia. Rusty slowed the Lincoln and turned into the main entry drive. Two camo-clad militia members immediately stepped out of a small booth in front of the gate. One held up his hand. Rusty braked to a stop.

The militiaman with his hand up ambled over to the driver’s window. Rusty lowered it and stuck his head out. “We’re here for the inspection,” he said.

The militiaman said, “May I see your papers, please?”

“We don’t have any papers,” said Rusty. “We’re not with the militia.”

“I know that, sir. That’s why I need to see some identification.”

Rusty smiled. “Oh, why didn’t you say so?” He handed over a card from his wallet.

The militiaman scrutinized the plastic card. “This is your Costco membership, sir. I need your driver’s license.”

“Uh, the thing is, I don’t have it on me.”

“What?” said Tasha. “You’re the driver and you don’t have a license?”

“I have a license. I just don’t have it here, is all.”

“Well, where is it?”

Rusty furrowed his brow. “You know, I think I left it at the bowling alley last night when I rented these shoes.” He pulled a foot onto the seat to show Shane. “See, I’m still wearing them.”

Shane said, “He’s right, ma’am. Those are bowling shoes.”

The militiaman leaned in toward Rusty. “I can’t let you in wearing bowling shoes, sir.”

“What difference does it make what shoes I’m wearing?”

“What I mean is, you can’t come in without identification.”

Tasha opened her door and stepped out of the car. The second militiaman jumped back, whipped out a Glock pistol, and pointed it at her. “Get back in the car right now!”

Tasha glared at him. “Or what, you’ll shoot the president’s chief of staff?”

Camp Mabry Howitzer. By Leonardocognoscenti, CC BY-SA 4.0. Via Wikipedia.

The militiaman lowered the gun in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Look in the back seat. That’s Jack Cowherd, president of the Republic of Texas.”

The man peered into the car. “Shit, Lonnie, she’s right. They could have told us.”

“Well I’ll be goddamned,” said the man called Lonnie. “What brings you to Camp Mabry, sir?”

Jack got out of the car. “General Cummings invited me to inspect the troops You boys don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”

“No, sir!” said Lonnie, saluting. “Nate, put that gun away.”

Nate quickly holstered the pistol. “Sorry, sir . . . ma’am. Just trying to be safe, you know. Just last week they caught a Muslim terrorist over in Copperas Cove.”

“That wasn’t no terrorist,” said Lonnie. “That was a Mexican woman at the swimming pool with a towel on her head.”

“Yeah, but they didn’t know that until they pulled it off and she yelled something in Spanish.”

Tasha said, “I’ll bet it was ‘Give me my towel back, you idiot.”

“No, I think it had more cuss words.”

“Excuse me, boys,” said Jack, “y’all are doing a fine job but I wonder if we could go meet the general now.”

“Yes, sir!” the militiamen shouted in unison. They stepped away from the car and raised the gate.

Jack and Tasha got back in the Lincoln. As the car rolled trough the gate Tasha noticed both guards snapping iPhone pictures of the vehicle. Rusty said, “Damn, I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they caught that Isis woman in Copperas Cove.”

***

Jeffrey Kerr. The Republic of Jack

Says the author, “The Republic of Jack is a whimsical imagining of a world in which modern Texas secessionists get their way, only to learn that Aesop was right so many years when he wrote, ‘Be careful what you wish for.'”

#AtoZChallenge 2020: L Is for Love, Falling in

 

For my eighth Christmas, my grandmother gave me two Nancy Drew Mysteries: The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.

And I fell in love.

Nancy Drew was so lucky. She was eighteen years old and had a housekeeper, a steady boyfriend, two best girlfriends, and a blue convertible.  The convertible seemed to have a perpetually full tank of gasoline.  She was also a blonde, which meant she had fun.*

Her father, prominent River Heights lawyer Carson Drew, was not the average parent. He rarely, if ever, asked where she’d been all day, and when he found out, he never said anything like, “Nancy, the next time you climb into a moving van driven by thugs and hide under a rug, you’ll be grounded till you’re thirty.” Or, for that matter, “Time to get serious, Nancy. Either enroll in Emerson College and start working on a degree, or find yourself a job. You can’t play detective for the rest of your life.”

Hannah Gruen cooked and cleaned, so Nancy did no chores. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson escorted her to dances when appropriate but otherwise stayed busy at Emerson College and didn’t get underfoot. Friends—tomboy George, whose pet phrase was, in 1959,  an anachronistic “Hypers! You slay me!”; and George’s “plump” cousin Bess—provided companionship as well as help with investigations.

What was there not to love?  Well, Nancy herself wasn’t perfect. She teased Bess about being plump; I didn’t like that.  And her unfailing self-confidence sometimes grated; I’d have been happier if she’d expressed self-doubt now and then.

But she was eighteen and could take off in her convertible, wind blowing through her hair, seeking and finding adventure, solving mysteries along the way. To an eight-year-old convinced she’ll never be old enough for a driver’s license, much less a car, Nancy’s freedom sounded like heaven.

But Nancy wasn’t a party girl; she took detective work seriously. She solved mysteries because she wanted to help people.

In The Clue of the Tapping Heels, for example, she helped restore a child’s trust fund. In The Secret of the Wooden Lady, she found the lost figurehead belonging to a historic clipper and helped the captain establish clear title to the ship. In The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, while looking for a valuable Chinese vase she stumbled upon a gang using immigrants as slave labor. In The Secret in the Jewel Box, she reunited Madame Alexandra with her long-lost grandson, a prince.

In addition to enjoying the stories, I picked up some interesting bits of information. From The Clue of the Black Keys, I learned about obsidian; from The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, about kaolin.

And Madame Alexandra, her long-lost grandson, and Mr. Faber, the jeweler who created the ornate jewel box, took on new meaning when I later read about the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Tsarevitch Alexei, and the Faberge eggs.

I said earlier that I fell in love with Nancy Drew mysteries, but I could just as well have said I was hooked. Two years after I read the first ones, I was penciling, in my neatest handwriting, letters to Joske’s Department Store:

Dear Sir:

Please send me the following books:

1 copy of The Secret in the Old Attic                   $2.00
1 copy of The Clue of the Tapping Heels             $2.00

Please charge my account.

My mother signed them. It was, after all, her account.

By my eleventh birthday, I’d moved along, fallen in love with Zane Grey’s westerns—society ladies from the East meeting up with cowboys down on the Mexican border, very romantic—and was writing to Joske’s about those.

But even though I no longer read Nancy Drews, I’m still hooked—on mysteries. Every time I pick up an Agatha Christie, a P. D. James, a Ruth Rendell, an Elizabeth George, a Martha Grimes, a Tana French, a Donna Leon, a . . . as I said, I’m hooked.

Nancy Drew made me a mystery reader. And Nancy is the reason I write mysteries.

From what my friends tell me, a lot of them are in the same boat.

That Nancy Drew has a lot to answer for.

***

How did we know blondes have more fun? Television told us so.

***

Image of clock by stux from Pixabay

Image by opsa from Pixabay

Lines That Shut Your Eyes

 

Twelve-year-old Emma Graham and elderly Mr. Root sit outside the grocery store in a little town in the mountains of Maryland, discussing poetry. From Martha Grimes’ Fadeaway Girl:

“What’s the poem, Mr. Root?”

. . . It was a paperback, not very thick. I saw it was the poetry of Robert Frost. “But I thought you didn’t like Robert Frost. You were all against ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ Remember?”

“That one, yeah. But he’s wrote a couple of good ones. I kind of put ’em in between Emily’s, you know, . . .”  Mr. Root cleared his throat and intoned in a sing-song fashion:

This saying good-by on the edge of the dark—

It shut my eyes, that line did, as sure as someone passing a hand over them. “Oh,” I said.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

He read on, although I was still back there on the edge of the dark.

Then he came to:

I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s ar-bo-re-al plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.

My eyes snapped shut again. I had never heard anything so fearfully sad. I bit my lip to keep from crying. I could almost see it, the trees too young to be left alone, waiting for someone or something to come, and finally knowing no one ever would.

“Yep,” said Mr. Root. “Some of his, well, I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. Straight talk. That’s what Frost was really good at, none of those namby-pamby poems about Greek urns and stuff. Nope”—he held up the book—”just plainspoken, to-the-point words about nature and stuff.”

“Mr. Root,” I said, “I don’t think he’s plainspoken. He means a lot more than what he seems to be saying.” . . .

Mr. Root pushed his feed cap back on his head and scratched his forehead. . . .

“What do you mean by that?” His eyes narrowed as if I were insulting him.

I didn’t want to talk about it; I don’t know why I had to open my big mouth. “Well, I think he means something different from what he’s saying. Or seems to be saying.” . . .

I asked Mr. Root if I could borrow the book for a minute, and he handed it to me.

“And could I have a piece of paper and use your pencil?”

He tore off a little sheet and handed that to me, too, along with his pencil. “Whatcha doin’?”

“Just copying.”

I wrote the last lines on the paper and folded it up and stuck it in my change purse.

***

Are there any lines of poetry or prose that shut your eyes?

What’s Literature For?

 

What good is literature? What’s it for? Why do we study it?

High school English students used to ask me that all the time.

I told them that reading novels and short stories, especially classics, would give them an edge on Jeopardy.

Today I’m going to tell the truth.

Once upon a time, the library I directed sponsored a scholarship contest for seniors going on to post-high school education—$100 for the best essay on the subject, “A Book That Changed My Life.”

One student wrote about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, an autobiographical novel about a young woman’s descent into depression. At her lowest point, she attempts suicide and is hospitalized. With treatment, her condition improves. The book ends with her preparing to have an interview to determine whether she can leave the hospital. It’s suggested that she will go on to live a normal life.

About The Bell Jar, the girl wrote that she had once seriously contemplated suicide. After reading the novel, however, she abandoned the thought and had hope for her future.

Another student wrote about Judy Blume’s Forever. Katherine, who is preparing for college, falls in love with Michael and begins a sexual relationship with him. They’re sure they’ll be together forever. Later, Katherine becomes attracted to another boy. She sees that her relationship with Michael is limiting. She breaks up with him. She realizes that she can get over the break-up and knows she will go on to have other relationships in the future.

Disclaimer: I believe that teenagers should be allowed to read widely. I believe teens are capable of reading at a deeper level than many adults give them credit for. But when I read Forever in a graduate course in library school, I was horrified. The sex scenes are graphic, and the protagonist’s main concern is her sex life. No, no, absolutely not.

Then I read the girl’s essay. What she took from the novel: “I love my boyfriend, but I learned I have to be responsible for myself, and not depend on somebody else to take care of me. I carry the book in my purse all the time,” she wrote.

Wow.

One novel convinces a teenage girl not to commit suicide; another shows a girl that she must be responsible for herself.

So what is literature for?

For that.

I apologize for being flippant. The next time I’m asked what literature is for, I’m going to be serious.

Literature has nothing to do with Jeopardy.

Literature is for life.

 

Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance: “I’m Going to Ask?”

It’s 1967, and two sixth-grade girls are selling candy so Baltimore’s Herbert Malone Elementary School Orchestra can travel to regional competition in Harrisburg. Both girls have “sworn they would absolutely die if they didn’t get to go . . . ”

*

“Hold the whole carton up when they open the door,” Sonya told Willa. “Not just one candy bar. Ask, ‘Would you like to buy some candy bars?’ Plural.”

“I’m going to ask?” Willa said. “I thought you were.”

“I’d feel silly asking.”

“What, you don’t think I’d feel silly?”

“But you’re much better with grownups.”

“What will you be doing?”

“I’ll be in charge of the money,” Sonya said, and she waved her envelope.

Willa said, “Okay, but then you have to ask at the next house.”

“Fine,” Sonya said.

Of course it was fine, because the next house was bound to be easier. But Willa tightened her arms around the carton, and Sonya turned to lead the way up the flagstone walk.

The house had a metal sculpture out front that was nothing but a tall, swooping curve, very modern. The doorbell was lit with a light that glowed even in the daytime. Sonya poked it. A rich-sounding two-note chime rang somewhere inside, followed by a silence so deep that they could begin to hope no one was home. But then footsteps approached, and the door opened, and a woman stood smiling at them. She was younger than their mothers and more stylish, with short brown hair and bright lipstick, and she wore a miniskirt. “Why, hello, girls,” she said, while behind her a little boy came toddling up, dragging a pull toy and asking, “Who’s that, Mama? Who’s that, Mama?”

Willa looked at Sonya. Sonya looked at Willa. Something about Sonya’s expression–so trusting, so expectant, her lips moistened and slightly parted as if she planned to start speaking along with Willa–struck Willa as comical, and she felt a little burp of laughter rising in her chest and then bubbling in her throat. The sudden, surprising squeak that popped out seemed comical too—hilarious, in fact—and the bubble of laughter turned to gales of laughter, whole water falls of laughter, and next to her Sonya broke into sputters and doubled in on herself while the woman stood looking at them, still smiling with a question smile. Willa asked, “Would you like—? Would you like—?” But she couldn’t finish; she was overcome; she couldn’t catch her breath.

“Are you two offering to sell me something?” the woman suggested kindly. Willa could tell that she’d probably gotten the giggles herself when she was their age, although surely—oh, lord—surely not such hysterical giggles, such helpless, overpowering, uncontrollable giggles. These giggles were like a liquid that flooded Willa’s whole body, causing tears to stream from her eyes and forcing her to crumple over her carton and clamp her legs together so as not to pee. She was mortified, and she could see from Sonya’s desperate, wild-eyed face that she was mortified too, but at the same time it was the most wonderful, loose, relaxing feeling. Her cheeks ached and her stomach muscles seemed to have softened into silk. She could have melted into a puddle right there on the stoop.

Sonya was the first to give up. She flapped an arm wearily in the woman’s direction and turned to start back down the flagstone walk, and Willa turned too and followed without another word. After a moment, they heard the front door gently closing behind them.

They weren’t laughing any more. Willa felt tired to the bone, and emptied and a little sad. And Sonya might have felt the same way, because the sun still hung like a thin white dime above Bert Kane ridge, but she said, “We ought to wait till the weekend. It’s too hard when we’ve got all this homework.” Willa didn’t argue.

***

I observed in a recent post that Anne Tyler has a tendency to kill my favorite characters (and characters my favorite characters care about). I declare today that if Anne Tyler does that in Clock Dance, she will have much to answer for.

I don’t buy many physical books these days; in the interest of storage space and the planet, I buy ebooks. But reading some books, even those by authors who keep killing off characters I love—especially those who keep killing off characters I love—requires old technology. It’s an emotional thing.

And so today, breaking my own rules, I bought a paperback copy of Clock Dance. I’m up to page sixty-three and already see trouble coming—because Tyler writes about real people and tells the truth. And the thumb on my left hand—I call it my holding-the-book-open thumb—will protest for weeks after its job is done.

What’s worse, I’ll probably cry and my head will get all stuffy.

But as David once told me, “That’s okay. I’m getting used to sad movies.”

So, no matter how many crying towels I go through, I’ll have a warm and fuzzy feeling and memories of being curled up with a good book.

***

 

 

 

Anne Tyler
Clock Dance
Vintage (July 10, 2018)
ISBN  978-0-525-56302-0

 

 

 

***

 

Image of candy is courtesy of Public Domain Pictures, via Pixabay.
Image of book cover is from Barnes & Noble.

A Mid-Century Murder: Elizabeth Buhmann’s Blue Lake

 

“Rural Virginia, 1945. The Second World War had just ended when Alice Hannon found the lifeless body of her five-year-old daughter, Eugenie, floating in Blue Lake. The tragedy of the little girl’s death destroyed the Hannon family.

“More than twenty years later, Alice’s youngest daughter, Regina, returns home after a long estrangement because her father is dying. She is shocked to discover, quite by accident, that her sister’s drowning was briefly investigated as a murder at the time.

“For as long as she can remember, Regina has lived in the shadow of her family’s grief. She becomes convinced that if she can discover the truth about Eugenie’s death, she can mend the central rift in her life. With little to go on but old newspapers and letters, the dead girl’s hairpin, and her own earliest memories, Regina teases out a family history of cascading tragedy that turns her world upside down.” 

When I began Elizabeth Buhmann’s BLUE LAKE, I was–I’m ashamed to say–afraid I would be disappointed. Her first novel, LAY DEATH AT HER DOOR, was so well constructed, clues so obviously placed, that I should have been able to predict the ending–but so deftly woven into the plot that the last chapter was a complete surprise. More than a surprise–a shock. That novel was so good, I knew BLUE LAKE couldn’t match it.

I was wrong. BLUE LAKE is different from its predecessor, of course, but just as well written and just as suspenseful.  And when I reached the end, I said, “I should have known.”

BLUE LAKE does not disappoint.

Buhmann hides things in plain sight–the mark of a good mystery writer, and the delight of every mystery reader.

*

Tomorrow I’ll post an interview with Elizabeth Buhmann.

Read the book: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Lake-Mystery-Elizabeth-Buhmann-ebook/dp/B07SKJ1CF4/

*

FTC Disclaimer: Elizabeth Buhmann is a friend and fellow writer. When we were both members of Austin Mystery Writers, I read the first chapters of BLUE LAKE in draft form and then waited impatiently for it to reach publication. The synopsis above is quoted from Amazon. The rest is mine. Nobody told me what to think or to say, and I posted because I wanted to. I bought the ebook with my very own money. No reviewers were bribed in the writing of this review.

                                                                                                                                                               

 

A Is for Anne Tyler: #atozchallenge

Anne Tyler has done it again.

The last time I wrote about her, I was in a snit. She’d killed off my favorite character halfway through the novel I was reading, and I was not happy.

I’m writing this time because she’s made me laugh. The book is Vinegar Girl, a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and in it she kills no one at all. She must have had a wonderful time writing it.

“Petruchio and Kate” by Smatprt licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

For a quick recap: Shakespeare’s shrew is Katherina, daughter of Baptista and older sister of the gentle Bianca. Afraid Katherina, whose reputation precedes her, will never receive a proposal, Baptista tells two young men eager to marry Bianca that his older daughter must marry before the younger. The suitors recruit Petruchio to woo Katherina; Katherina resists, but finding him her intellectual equal, agrees to marry him. Then Petruchio sets about “taming” his bride. At the end, Petruchio presents her to the public as the model of a sweet-tempered, obedient wife

Tyler’s Katherina is Kate Battista. Ten years before the story begins, Kate was invited to leave college after telling her botany professor his explanation of photosynthesis was “half-assed.” Her medical research scientist father made no fuss about her expulsion because he agreed the explanation was half-assed.

Since then, Kate has worked as a teacher’s aide at the Charles Village Little People’s School, where she spends a lot of time in Mrs. Darling’s office, being counseled in the need to use tact, diplomacy, and restraint when speaking with parents. For example, when Jameesha’s father asked her to do something about Jameesha’s finger sucking–Jameesha has a “habit of sucking her two middle fingers, with her pinkie and her index finger sticking up on either side like the sign language for ‘I love you'”–Kate told him not to worry: “Chances are she’ll stop soon enough, once her fingers grow so long that she pokes both her eyes out.” Mrs. Darling says she must develop “some social skills. Some tact, some restraint, some diplomacy.” Difficulty navigating the school’s “mysterious” etiquette has Kate on what Mrs. Darling calls “thin ice.”

Kate also runs the household and takes care of her father and her fifteen-year-old sister Bunny. Taking care of her father includes delivering his oft-forgotten lunches to his lab and doing his taxes. Taking care of Bunny includes preventing her from getting too friendly with her “Spanish tutor,” next-door neighbor, Edward Mintz, whose mother says he has “that Japanese disease . . . the one where young people shut themselves in their bedrooms and refuse to go on with their lives.” Bunny, who was normal until about the time she turned twelve, also has the “irksome habit” of “turning declarative sentences into questions.” Bunny isn’t easy to deal with, and Kate has been dealing with her since their mother died, when Bunny was six years old.

Working at a preschool and being a family manager isn’t the life Kate expected to have, but when the story opens, she’s not expecting anything to change. Then her father introduces her to his research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov.

When they meet, Kate says, “Hi,” but Pyotr says, “Vwwouwv!” That’s the kind of thing men often say when they first see Kate, “due to a bunch of dead cells: her hair, which was blue-black and billowy and extended below her waist.”

(She stopped getting her hair cut when she was thirteen because she couldn’t take any more of the “Chatty Cathy act”:

“In the beauty parlor. Talk, talk, talk; those places are crawling with talk. The women there start going before they even sit down–talk about boyfriends, husbands, mothers-in-laws. Roommates, jealous girlfriends. Feuds and misunderstandings and romances and divorces. How can they find so much to say? I could never think of anything, myself. I kept disappointing the beautician. Finally I went, ‘Shoot. I’ll just quit getting my hair cut.'”)

Then Dr. Battista brings Pyotr home to dinner. And snaps photos of her and Pyotr with his cell phone, which he never uses because he’s a little afraid of it. And tells her that in two months, Pyotr’s visa will expire and he’ll have to leave the country, and he’s the best assistant Dr. Battista has ever had, ever could have, and the whole scientific community knows about Pyotr Cherbakov, and he’s the only one Dr. Battista can possibly work with, and without Pyotr he might as well abandon his research, because it’s doomed . . . unless . . .

“Unless, perhaps, we could get him an . . . adjustment of status.

“Oh, good, get him an adjustment of status.”

She brushed past him and went out to the hall. “Bunny!” she shouted. “Supper’s on!”

“We could adjust his status to ‘married to an American.'”

“Pyotr’s married to an American?”

“Well, not quite yet,” her father said. He trailed her back to the dining room. “But he’s fairly nice-looking, don’t you agree? All those girls working in the building: they seem to find different reasons to talk to him.”

“So he could marry a girl in the building?” Kate asked. She sat down at her place and shook out her napkin.

“I don’t think so,” her father said. “He doesn’t . . . the conversations never seem to develop any further, unfortunately.”

“Then who?”

Her father sat down at the head of the table. He cleared his throat. “You, maybe?”

And so it begins. Such fun.

Or maybe not.

Shrews aren’t usually born shrewish. Shakespeare shows that Baptista favors Bianca; it’s no wonder Katherina is out of sorts.

Kate Battista, too, is the daughter of a widowed father who seems to take her for granted while focusing his attention on his younger child. When Pyotr observes Kate is pretty, Dr. Battista says, “You should see her sister.” That must hurt.

And then he makes a heartless request, urges her to marry a man she doesn’t know so he can keep his research assistant.

“I guess I just couldn’t believe my own father would conceive of such a thing.  . . . You would never ask Bunny to do this . . . Your precious treasure Bunny-poo.”

The Taming of the Shrew poses a problem for modern audiences: It is misogynistic? Maybe. Maybe not. Some scholars say Katherina isn’t tamed at all, but that she and Petruchio are putting on an elaborate show for the banquet guests and are enjoying every minute of it.

Vinegar Girl poses no such problem. Kate is no Katherina, rife for taming. But after ten years of routine, she suddenly has a lot more to think about than doing taxes and cooking meat mash and keeping Bunny in line. The idea of marrying Pyotr is unthinkable. But it’s so important to her father.

Will she please her father or herself? Can she do both? Will her sense of honor and self-respect survive the ordeal?

Does she have the tact, diplomacy, and restraint to carry her through? Or will her own mysterious etiquette be enough?

And, by the way, where does Pyotr fit into this puzzle?

Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is a delightful romp, part Shakespeare, part Jane Austen, all Anne Tyler. It would make a fine summer read. Or fall. Or winter.

Or now.

***

Anne Tyler. Vinegar Girl: William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold. Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016.

Bookfest #2: Heading to Fort Worth

I’ll start by saying I have recovered from my major irritation with WordPress. It was malfunctioning to the max the night I wrote the humorous post that took a downhill turn (as WP) slid further down the hill–but everyone is allowed one major malfunction. I’ve had several myself whose results were worse than a paragraph-challenged blog. WP works now, I work now, we all work now. Amen.

Now to the heart of the matter:

Last Saturday, with my Sisters in Crime, I sold and signed books at the Heart of Texas chapter booth at the Boerne Book Fest.

2018-10-18 cowboy and steer fort worth pixabay ttm cc0 statue-720781_640Next Saturday, October 20, I’ll sign and sell at the Fort Worth Bookfest. Organized in 2018, the festival’s goal is “to raise awareness of the transformative power of literacy through the BookFest platform to showcase the wealth of talent among all cultures that call Fort Worth and the southwest region home.”

In addition to selling and signing, I’ll participate in an Author Spotlight, where I’ll have the opportunity, in “TED-talk style,” to introduce myself, share some interesting facts, and read from one of my stories. On the same venue will be Tabi Slick, author of Tompkins School Trilogy, set in Oklahoma, and Kimberly Packard-Walton, author of Prospera Pass, set in Texas.

First on the agenda, though, is Friday evening’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University Campus. Sounds like fun.

David has been, as the Five Little Peppers would say, a brick during preparations for BookFest. He had a banner for my table made and then spearheaded the drive for business cards. He found book easels around the corner at Wal-Mart so I don’t have to drive all the way across town to Michaels. He’s charged my phone, my camera, and the hotspot. I predict that before we leave town, he’ll do a dozen or two other tasks I haven’t even thought of.

I’m still making a to-do list.

mkwaller banner 2 black

This procrastinator is so lucky to have attracted her opposite–a man who does things now. And who knows how to hurry things along in the nicest way possible.

Book Sales and Books Book

A good day at the Boerne Book and Arts Fest in Boerne, Texas with a group of my Sisters in Crime from the Heart of Texas Chapter

I sold four times as many copies of MURDER ON WHEELS and LONE STAR LAWLESS as I did last spring in Fort Worth–no need to say how many I sold then–but the company of the Sisters  would have made it a good day if I’d sold no books at all. 

I surprised myself by un-introverting and not only saying hello to browsers but also telling them MURDER ON WHEELS is better than LONE STAR LAWLESS because I have two stories in MOW and only one in LSL. I also said I like my stories in MOW more than the ones in LSL. The not-my stories in LSL might be better than their counterparts in MOW, but let’s face it, when I’m selling my own books, I get to say what’s what. 

For future reference, anyone contemplating buying one of the anthologies should buy MURDER ON WHEELS, unless he or she already has a copy. In that case, take the other. My story in LONE STAR LAWLESS is excellent, too. I showed it to my high school English teacher and she said so.

In other news, at The Bosslight in Nacogdoches a couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy of Book Riot’s READ HARDER. Failing to examine it carefully, I thought it was for keeping a record of books read. Imagine my surprise when I later discovered it’s a series of twelve reading challenges. Among them are

-a book about book

-a book about a current social or political issue

-an award-winning young adult book

-a book about space

-a book published by an independent press

-a book that was originally published in another language

So I must make decisions. 

I’m tempted to re-read some books–for a book originally published in another language, for example, I’d like to re-read Giants in the Earth, originally published in 1926, which I read in 1975. Written in Norwegian, it was then translated into English by author Ole Rolvaag. It’s the story of Per Hansa, who in 1873 settles with his family in the Dakota Territory. A look at Wikipedia to check my facts reminds me that Giants is the first book in a trilogy, so I’m free to read the sequels, Peder Victorious (Peder Seier) (1928) and Their Fathers’ God (Den signede dag) (1931). 

For an award-winning YA book, I’d like to re-read Katherine Paterson‘s Newbery winner Jacob Have I LovedAlthough the Newbery is given for children’s books, Jacob is really for older readers, and, I contend, for adults.* As a person of integrity, though, I’ll read a book that’s new to me. Then I’ll read Jacob again.

Note: All of Paterson’s book are exquisite. She believes that once children reach a certain age, they should not be given fairy tale happily-ever-after endings. Her books carry the message that life can be difficult–as it will be–but that readers have the knowledge, courage, and strength to endure, and that there is always hope. The daughter of missionaries to China, herself a missionary to Japan for a year, and the wife of a Presbyterian minister, Paterson writes realistic–and drop-dead funny–books that hold a prominent place among titles most often banned in the United States: Sometimes, when pushed to their limits, her characters say, Damn. They also have problems, have to make hard choices, and are not happy all the time, conditions some adults have forgotten from their own childhoods. Young readers, however, love her stories.

For a book about books, I’ll read The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979). It examines Victorian literature–specifically, the works of Jane AustenMary ShelleyCharlotte and Emily BrontëGeorge EliotElizabeth Barrett BrowningChristina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson–from a feminist perspective. The title comes from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in which Edward Rochester’s mentally ill wife, Bertha Mason, is secretly confined in the attic.

I read part of Madwoman years for a graduate course and found it fascinating. According to Wikipedia, some critics say it’s outdated, but that won’t keep me from being fascinated again. A second edition was released in 2000.

I’ll check the Internet and journals for the subjects of other challenges. The only book I’ll have trouble choosing is one I “would normally consider a guilty pleasure.”

I can’t imagine feeling guilty about reading.

*The best children’s and YA books are for grown-ups, too. Adults who don’t read pictures books don’t know what they’re missing. A good book is a good book. 

Here’s a grandmother reading The Wonky Donkey to her grandchild. Or trying to read it. Pay no attention to background noise. 

 

The man standing beside the SINC Heart of Texas banner is author Nichols Grimes, who kindly let us take his picture.

My mother brought home boxes of books . . .

My father worked up to three jobs to ensure our family never missed a meal. We weren’t poor but neither were we wealthy or middle-class. Every so often my mother took a job to help make ends meet, including one at Gamma Phi Beta sorority at Northwestern 2018-09-05 TTM pixabay - cc0 - books-1082949_640University, where she worked as a cleaning woman during the Christmas holidays. She brought me along to help because she couldn’t afford a babysitter. I remember her telling me that the sorority’s chapter said no blacks or Jews would ever be admitted into its ivied halls. My mother brought home boxes of books thrown out by the sorority girls when classes ended, and in those boxes I found my first copies of Mary Shelley and Shakespeare. I read them, determined that the privileged girls of that sorority would never be able to say they knew something about the Bard that the son of their holiday cleaning woman didn’t. Decades later in 1990 Northwestern’s English department actively and generously pursued me for employment by offering me a chair in the humanities, which I declined.

— Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer:
Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

*

Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

What You Can Do When You Don’t Turn on Your Computer

On June 18, I didn’t turn my laptop on. At all.

I got out of bed, trekked up to Central Austin for a mammogram, came back home, picked up a book, and read from roughly 11:30 a.m. till midnight. The mammogram was nothing to speak of, but the rest of the day was lovely. I hadn’t spent an entire day reading for a long time.

While unplugged, I finished Terry Shames’ latest mystery, A Reckoning in the Back CountryIt’s a good book, as are all of Terry’s mysteries.

I did a brief review of her first, A Killing at Cotton Hillhere–actually, it’s a review of a sentence I fell in love with–and later wrote more about the book.

A digression: I am honored that one of my stories is in the crime fiction anthology Lone Star Lawless (see cover picture on sidebar) along with one of Terry’s.

All right. That’s my self-serving plug for the day.

Tomorrow, I’ll write more about Juneteenth.

 

 

 

 

 

Headline: Guess Who Sold a [Copy of a] Book

Our first full day at All-Con Dallas 2018 was a rousing success. I sold a book.

A man picked up a copy of DAY OF THE DARK and asked if I had change. I was gobsmacked. Of course I didn’t have change. I hadn’t thought about needing change. I didn’t even have my purse.

David, standing behind me, pulled out his wallet and handed me two fives. I handed them to the customer in exchange for a twenty.

It was fun. I forgot to say, “Would you like me to autograph that for you?” But I’m new at this.

David, as usual, was more prepared than I. He came armed with Tootsie Pops and a bowl he’d bought at Walmart. Two Pops were taken, the first by a monster, and the second by me.

I’d forgotten how much trouble lollipops are. When you have one in your mouth, you can’t talk, and when you take it out of your mouth, you lose the use of one hand. David suggested I set it on a sticky note. Later, when I picked it up, I discovered something interesting: the stickum on the back of the sticky note was stickier than the stickum under the Tootsie Pop.

Most of the attendees were in costume, and we took a lot of pictures. David’s are good; he didn’t mind asking people to stop so he could get a shot. I was reluctant to ask anyone to do anything, so I snapped many of my subjects as they walked toward, by, and away from me. Moving targets, as it were. Fortunately, David shares.

Selling the book was the first Big Deal of the day.

The second also occurred while I was parked at the Aliens and Mysteries table. A man stopped to look at books and stayed to talk about crime fiction, and then about crime, and that led to his saying his grandfather was a Texas Ranger from 1928 into the 1950s. For over a year, I had looked without success for a certain piece of information about the Rangers in the ’50s. So I asked; he told me. I just love serendipity.

The second experience was also serendipitous, but it goes well beyond Big Deal. Tonight I had a sudden inspiration–an epiphany–that could change the course of my life as a writer.

And the credit goes to Lady Lola Lestrange of La Divina Burlesque.

I didn’t get a picture of her. But you can look her up.

 

Isabel Allende: January 7th

 

I start all my books on January eighth. Can you imagine January seventh? It’s hell.

~ Isabel Allende

 

Isabel Allende by Mutari. [Public Domain] via Wikipedia Commons
“Paula is a soul-baring memoir that, like a novel of suspense, one reads without drawing a breath. The point of departure for these moving pages is tragic personal experience. In December 1991, Isabel Allende’s daughter Paula became gravely ill and shortly thereafter fell into a coma. During months in the hospital, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious daughter. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. Chile, Allende’s native land, comes alive as well, with the turbulent history of the military coup of 1973, the ensuing dictatorship, and her family’s years of exile.”

“Note from Isabel: I have received more letters from readers in response to Paula than for any other book.”

 

 

 

 

 


Allende quotation from Why We Write. Meredith Maran, ed.

Friday Fictioneers: The Red Shoes

The Friday Fictioneer Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photo.

Photo Prompt © Magaly Guerrero

 

 The Red Shoes

“A photo prompt? Ooooh. High-heeled lace-ups.”

“What’s that book?”

“So retro—art reference—I want.”

“No. That one. Red cover, gold letters, dog… E-G-P-U-something-C-A-R-O—

“Zoom in. RECRUIT. Dog?”

CAROLINA.”

“Which Carolina?”

OUTHD-E-R—”

DEPOT. Red pumps.”

“ND OUTH CAROLINA…”

“MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, Iwo Jima Memorial. That dress at Nordstrom’s . . . ?”

“The dog–“

Where?”

“On the ‘memorial.’ English Bull. Eyes, ears, big red tongue.”

“Going shopping. ‘Bye.”

Ohhhh. Not a tongue. The cover. There’s the Marine’s bottom… his leg… I thought it was a dog.”

“A Rorschach cover.”

“What’s a dog mean?”

“What’s a bottom mean?”

*

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island South Carolina 1968  ~~~ Not the same, but similar

*

Afterword
Word Count: 42

Ernest and William © MK Waller

Speaker # 1 didn’t go shopping for red pumps. He stayed home, worked on his cartoons, did laundry, and massaged William the Cat. “Rorschach cover” is his.

Speaker #2 said, “Thank you,” then wrote and cut and cut and cut. And wrestled with Ernest the Cat.

*****

 For more stories by Friday Fictioneers, click the Froggy.       

Thank You, Nightstand Book Reviews

img_0489
William and Ernest examine Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light and the box it came in.

When I was eight, my grandmother gave me two Nancy Drew mysteries for Christmas: The Secret in the Old Clock and The Clue of the Tapping Heels, and I was hooked. One title led to another.

Since then, I’ve read through Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti, Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford, Ngaio Marsh’shttp://ngaio-marsh.org.nz/index-ngaio.html Inspector Alleyn, Dorothy L. Sayers‘ Lord Peter Wimsey, Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant…

Yesterday, Nightstand Book Reviews sent me a copy of a novel from another popular series: Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light, one of the titles in her series featuring Inspector Gamache.

A Trick of the Light has received the following honors:

English: Louise Penny
English: Louise Penny (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Ian Crysler (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Crime Novel 2012
Finalist for the Macavity Award for Best Crime Novel in the US 2012

Finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Mystery of 2011
Finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel in Canada in 2011
Finalist for the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association for the book they most enjoyed selling in 2011
Finalist GoodReads Choice Awards for 2011
Publishers Weekly top 10 Mysteries of 2011
Amazon.com top 10 Thrillers and Mysteries of 2011
Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore: Favorites of 2011
The Toronto Star: Favorite Read of 2011
New York Times Book Review: Favorite Crime Novel of 2011
BookPage, Readers’ Choice: Best Books of 2011 (#6 all genres)
Women Magazine: Editor’s Pick #1 Book of 2011
The Globe and Mail: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
The Seattle Times: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
Quill and Quire: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
I-Tunes: Top 10 AudioBook of 2011
Richmond Times-Dispatch: top 5 Fiction Books of 2011

My copy of was a windfall from Nightstand Book Reviews.

NBR reviews a variety of genres by both established authors and those newly published. Subscribers receive notice of reviews by email. Only recommended books are reviewed–“books that are great reads.”

NBR also conducts drawings for free books from the list of email subscribers. I’m a subscriber. My name was drawn. A Trick of the Light arrived in today’s mail.

Thank you, Nightstand Book Reviews.

Now I’m off to begin a great read.