I had a wonderful experience going back to my hometown of Lowell, Mass. to do an author event at Lala Books. This is a lovely bookstore on Market Street (189 Market, to be exact), filled with an extensive catalogue of fiction and nonfiction – with a large local author section, where I fit in. Well, we know I also fit in as a mystery writer. The store is roomy and pleasant, and I had a cozy corner to do my event.
The event went great! I got to talk about how I’ve always been a story teller, even scaring the other little kids on the block with ghost stories when I, myself, was but a nipper. I also got to talk about the influence of black and white film noir mysteries and films of hauntings and the supernatural. It was fun to connect Bait and Switch, Letter from a Dead Man, and Always Play the Dark Horse to specific films that influenced their creation. As always, I had fun talking answering questions about the writing process and publishing. I especially appreciated when one listener told me that reading Bait and Switch reminded him of watching old films with his Dad. I was so happy that everyone seemed to get a kick out of the excerpt I read from Dark Horse – I kept them in suspense!
The audience was, indeed, wonderful! I saw many old friends, including one gal I hadn’t seen since we were little kids and my parent moved our family to another neighborhood. I deeply appreciate all the friends who came out to support me, and tell me how much they love my mysteries – especially my descriptive style. It’s also great to make new friends and bring in new readers. And I did sell some books, too! By the way, do you like the dress? Yang made it based on a 1940s Simplicity pattern. The hat is one of my favorites!
Lauren and her daughter Thea did an admirable job setting up the event and supporting me when I was there. Thanks, so much to you! If you live in the Lowell area, be sure to drop in and do some book shopping. Christmas is coming! All three of my novels are available at Lala Books. Don’t forget, they have some neat events as well.
I suppose I had thought that a person accumulated her experiences over the years and then, when retirement afforded her the leisure to go through her diaries, miscellaneous writings, and correspondence, she would have all that she needed to write her memoirs. I, that is, not she. All those boxes of papers I haven’t organized going back to the year dot, they could all wait until I had the time to go through them. Once I had the time, I had supposed, the floodgates of memory would simply open, and all the flotsam and jetsam of life would more-or-less fall into place. I realize now that I was counting on it. But as it turns out, events are conspiring to present a wholly different picture.
For one thing, my mind seems to have gone completely blank. After all, over twelve-plus years Tell Me Another has accumulated more than…
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In June, I was finally able to get back in the saddle concerning appearances. After one fun reading in May at TidePool books in Worcester, I first did a joint author event with my friend and colleague, Leslie Wheeler, on Saturday, June 4th at the Booklovers’ Gourmet. We had a responsive audience and a lot of fun. Leslie suggested that we, ourselves, be more interactive. So, instead of just reading and talking separately, after each short reading, we asked each other questions about our methods of writing, our particular joys and pains in writing, future writing plans, etc. Our questions and responses, in turn, drew questions and observations from the audience. Totally interactive! I think we even made some new friends and readers, as well. I’m especially excited because we talked about Leslie’s new book, Wolf Bog, which will be released July 6th, this year!
Next, I joined an even bigger group of writers from Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America at a corner of the Natick Farmers’ Market called Beach Reads, organized by Tilia Jacobs. I shared my table with Janet Raye Stevens, who also writes mysteries set in the 1940s. It was a gorgeous day, where we enjoyed chatting with people -and each other- of course, also selling some books. Here’s a tip for writers: have a QR code on your bookmarks, postcards, or advertising poster so that if people don’t have cash, they can use their smartphones to connect to a site where they can buy the book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, your web site) there or later. Anyway, it’s great to see people and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.
I already have some plans for August. On August 24th, from 7:00-7:30 p.m., I’ll be interviewed by Barry Eva on A Book and a Chat. I’ll provide more details when I have them. Next is Lala Books in Lowell, MA on August 26th from 7:00-8:00 p.m., so come and hear all about the latest 1940s mystery adventures for Jessica Minton, James Crawford, and Dusty – as well as talk about writing and publishing! I may be able to give you a sneak peek at book #4, Shadows of a Dark Past.
|I’ve been a horse-racing aficionado since 1966, when I started watching the Triple Crown races on TV. My pick was Amberoid, who finished eleventh in the Derby, moved on up to third in the Preakness, then blasted home first by 2 1/2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes. Sorry Kaui King on crimping your Triple Crown bid. So it’s been lots of fun for me to bring my favorite sport into play in Always Play the Dark Horse. For verisimilitude, I drew on some real race horses’ interesting quirks when creating the equine players of my story.
Equipoise, a handicap star of the 1930s, was known as “The Chocolate Soldier” for his dark brown coat and his warrior-like determination to win. A tough horse, he ran for five seasons and won an impressive 29 of 52 starts. If he couldn’t outrun his competition, he wasn’t above taking a little chunk out of a horse who challenged him in a stretch drive – hence his disqualification in the 1934 Metropolitan Handicap. That loss actually was used for the final twist in the play and movie Three Men and a Horse. He brought such disqualifications on himself two other times as well, but he was also known as “the best assistant starter” for keeping fractious horses in line when he was set on the business of getting the race started clean. An honest, hard-working, hard-knocking horse (literally), Equipoise was a leading stakes and money winner.
Another champion handicap horse, equally determined but far less free with his chompers, was Kelso. For 4 years (1961-65) Kelso dominated handicap racing, knocking heads with such stars as Gun Bow, Mongo, Beau Purple, and Roman Brother. He was horse of the year four consecutive years and won one handicap triple crown as well four consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cups, eventually became leading money winner, just missing being the first horse to win two million dollars. Kelly may have been a tough nut to crack on the track, but he was a tenderhearted guy when it came to kids, letting them feed him ice cream sundaes. After he retired, his owner, Mrs. Allaire Dupont even turned him into a saddle horse, but Kelso was not one to poke along trails. She noticed he had an affinity for jumping natural obstacles on their rides, so to keep her equine friend from getting bored, she successfully trained him as a jumper. I can remember one of his exhibitions at a New York track where the old guy showed himself a master in yet another equine endeavor. The racehorse to jumper story almost made it into Dark Horse; but, alas, necessary cuts sheared it from the story. Maybe a sequel where this equine character makes a return engagement?
Devil His Due was a racer of the 1990s who looked as if he could have played the title role in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Unusual for a champion stallion, he was not retired early but ran into his sixth year. Also unusual, he was sound enough to never have run on Lasix. I was even lucky enough to have seen him at Belmont Park when he ran in the 1994 Woodward Stakes. Unfortunately, it was Holy Bull’s day of glory not Devil’s. This black stallion still won more than his share of stakes: Pimlico Special, Brooklyn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, and back-to-back victories in the Suburban Handicap (with 1994 victories in the Brooklyn and Suburban, he copped two legs of the Handicap Triple Crown). He was especially admired for his determined stretch battle with Lured in the Wood Memorial, finishing in a dead heat for first with the other horse.
Our black stallion was also famous for a little escapade with the IRS, a version of which makes it into Dark Horse. Apparently, the IRS didn’t believe that the horse actually belonged to Edith Libutti, but thought the ownership was a tax dodge for her father. They had a court order to take possession of him. When trainer Allen Jerkins warned the IRS reps that race horses were temperamental and dangerous if not handled properly, the head agent snapped back that the government had a lien on Devil, could do whatever they wanted with him, going into the stall to seize him. Devil was having none of this: laying back his ears and barring his teeth, he chased the agents out. Apparently Devil was too tough even for the IRS. He was back on the track and winning that same racing season. Blackie in Dark Horse puts on a similar show, demonstrating that we should all use our horse sense – if not our flashing teeth and hooves.
Sources for information and Images on each of the thoroughbreds. If you believe the posting of an image here violates your copyright, please contact me and I will remove it. No violation of copyright intended.
Amberoid photo: Turf and Sport Digest Cover, September 1966
Devil His Due
The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten. On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct. When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty. Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore. We were not disappointed.
Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea. The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air. As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated. On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely. The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling. Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back. What has happened to them since? I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments. One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield. This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury. The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior. The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument. Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?
The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury. Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief. This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good. The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population. Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone. They are a little creepy though, don’t you think? I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well. If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument. I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk. How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ? Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison. The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory. Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.
And roll those slopes do! I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall. Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror. I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen. There were so many haunting statues of women. For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum. Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home? Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?
This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss. Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world? The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible? Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption. This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.
It’s hard to select which other statues to show you, there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues. The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron. so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them. Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible. More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere. Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery. Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.
Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me. Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially draped urn. This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death. Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn? Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much? I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
I’ll just wrap up with an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.
Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st. So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass. Remember how we were in drought status that year? Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged by the flooding to create the reservoir. We even caught sight of the phantom bridge! This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year. Unfortunately, in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year: Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees. This year, there was water, rocks, and trees. We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot. Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year! Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see. Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head. We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower. Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein, While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower. The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929. Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times. Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead! Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group Save Talcott Mountain. Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture. For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all. There are several trails to get to the Tower. The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest. We were in good enough shape not to! Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below. The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat! This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like. My shot lets you see an updated in-color version. The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era. Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance. And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below? How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea? I wonder what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations? Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day. And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.
How about some of those bedrooms? Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough. Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor. But you’re on a rustic retreat, so who needs frills? Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock. And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning! Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck. Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up. Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors? It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room. Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture. Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck. During the day, you get views for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors. Feast your eyes!
Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace. How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other. Light pours in the windows.
Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery? This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse. So, how should we work this? Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner, a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her? Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do. Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room? Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand? What do you think?