Category Archives: writing

The Dark Side of the Screen, the Dark Pages of my Novels

Growing up watching films from the ’30s, 40’s, and 50s, often in the dark hours of Seventhbthe night, I was deliciously haunted by the noir-inflected, melancholy, shadowy worlds of Val Lewton films, the eerie displacement of Universal and Columbia horror, and the mind-twisting mysteries exploring the dark side of society and the human heart.  Those were perhaps the major impetus for my desire to recreate shadowy even eerie realms with my own writing. For the chiaroscuro worlds of the mystery and horror delightfully lingered in my imagination.
Specific films influence each of my novels.  With Bait and Switch, I was inspired by those exercises in noir that voiced homefront fears of Nazi fifth columnists infecting our security from within.  So, when Jessica Minton finds herself caught in the middle of a espionage plot that is either a gambit to flush out a fifth columnists or a fifth columnist’s plot to trick her into saving his skin, such films as They Live by Night, The Fallen Sparrow, and Confessions of a Nazi Spy inspired my creation of slippery deceptions, unclear loyalties, and sudden death in a world of slick, dark mean streets; fog rolling off the Hudson, through the New York waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge; crumbling, sinister rows of buildings lowering on the wrong side of town; and deserted theatres.
Of course, I was not inspired merely by the dreamy darkness of these films but by the quick wit and humor peppering many of them.  Perhaps the most influential in that department was All through the Night, a fast-moving tale of Nazi infiltrators inhabiting the stylish but shadowed upper echelons of New York Society – as well as the dark recesses of obscure warehouses and secret panels leading to command centers.  Cutting through that sinister atmosphere is the sharp wit of Humphrey Bogart’s semi-gangster, Gloves Donohue, and his sidekicks played by the fast-talking likes of William Demarest and Frank McHugh.  Of course, there is romance, as well, with a damsel in distress.  I love to spice Bait and Switch with the same sort of irreverent, sardonic humor.  And, though Jessica Minton may find herself caught in distress, she’s hardly a damsel. She holds her own when in danger, though a little help from her vis à vis does come in handy – that and a banana cream pie.
Letter from a Dead Man is more straight noir.  No Nazis, but plenty of intrigue and unexpected conflicts stemming from hidden identities fatally revealed; stolen jade; romantic intrigue; a femme fatale who’s in the chips now (socially and financially) but will do anything to prevent the exposure of her sordid past; a frame job for murder; two tough cops, just this side of jaded; and an F.B.I. agent from Jessica Minton’s past who has his own agenda.  Images and even passages from specific films noirs imbue Dead Man.  The seductive manipulations of Helen Grayle fromMurder, My Sweet inspire the deadly web that Alanna Tewkesbury weaves around the Minton sisters, and those they love, to keep her secrets intact and to get her hands on stolen treasure.  Imagery from The Seventh Victim, Woman in the Window, The Fallen Sparrow, Scarlet Street, and Manhunt live on in the darkened, deserted offices; lonely, rain-slicked streets; deadly lurkers in late-night subways; and even behind the hulking, cold stone of the New York Public Library Lions!
Dead Man is not all darkness.  It’s lightened with the sharp reparté you’d expect from the mouth of a Rosalind Russell, a Joan Bennett, or an Eve Arden.  Plus, there are some truly Lucy-and-Ethel-worthy moments of slapstick, with Jessica and Liz forced to hide in a closet from Alanna and her tough-talking torpedoes, friend Iris leading a room full of party-goers in a madcap conga to cover up an argument between Liz and her boyfriend that will put him at the center of a murder investigation, and Jess donning disguises as a maid to recover a stolen gun and as a shady lady in need of reform to snare a vital witness.
This leads to the third, soon to be released, novel in the Jessica Minton mystery series: Always Play the Dark Horse.  Though this book shares much with its predecessors, there’s a different take on the noir world of mystery, fifth columnists, darkness, and doubt.  Dark Horse is more inspired by the dreamy nature of Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach, Lewis Milstone’s Guest in the House, or Orson Welles’s The Stranger.  Scenes on the Connecticut beach at night; in the foggy advent of a storm; the presence of a mysterious rider on a magnificent black horse along the shore; the battered ghost of a beached ship where forbidden lovers once met; the twisting corridors, warren of offices, dark-paneled rooms, and hidden stone staircase of a college building, all capture the dreamy world of those films, especially Woman on the Beach.  As in Renoir’s film, I found myself caught up in creating a world formed in tune to the haunting mood of Debussey’s music.  The story of dark love, vicious personal conflicts, uncertain loyalties, cruel memories of war’s horrors, and the threat of a Nazi resurgence, however, edge that dream uncomfortably into the realm of nightmare so effectively created in The Stranger and Guest in the House/

That’s not to say you’ll need uppers to get through Dark Horse!  The quick wit and strong sense of camaraderie that I portray in the other novels percolates here as well.  I really enjoyed developing the married relationship between Jessica and James, showing their support and love for each other seasoned with their playful humor.  They may not always get along or be perfectly happy with each other; but, as grown ups, they work things out.  That partnership and humor are what help them resolve their case.  I also enjoyed Jessica’s bond with her friend Rose.  An educated and intelligent working woman (professor) and mother, Rose is a loyal, funny friend who helps Jessica stay ahead of the game.  I always like to show the power of girlfriends in my books!  Last, but never least, where the dog – e.g. Asta – has traditionally been the animal sidekick in mysteries, I once again return Dusty to her feline glory!  She plays a major role in all three novels:  a pal but not a drippy one.  And there ends up being nary a mouse in the cottage by the beach where Jessica and James must do their part against murder, betrayal, and Nazis.

Screen shots from The Woman on the Beach and The Seventh Victim are from the author’s collection.  RKO videos
Still photos from Scarlet Street  and The Woman on the Beach are from the author’s collection
Image of Dusty and images from book covers from the author’s collection
Image from Murder, My Sweet from unknown source
Image of New York City from New York in the Forties, Andreas Feininger (Dover Publications, 1978)
Banana cream pie image courtesy of  https://www.pngkey.com/detail/u2w7u2e6q8e6t4r5_pies-clipart-slice-pie-lemon-meringue-pie-drawing/

 

 

Casting Characters, Part 3: Always Play the Dark Horse

Part Three: Always Play the Dark Horse  horse and rider

Now we come to Always Play the Dark Horse, with a cast of characters 106738603_10223680069933821_7022871368887621055_nboth new and familiar.  Rose Nyquist, Jessica’s professor friend, returns from Dead Man, only this time she helps Jessica navigate academic politics at the College at Margaret Point, even joining Jessica and James to face intrigue and murder.  Who better to play this part than the straight-from-the-shoulder, quick-witted Barbara Stanwyck – with a dash of my good friend Kathy Healey, who is also quick-witted and straight-from-the shoulder.
DSCN5749The English Department’s chair is Nigel Cross, a man of powerful character, icy cold control, and a devastating wit to those who try to play cute with him.  With those he respects, though, he seems a square shooter. The perfect inspiration for the character, especially the first part of the description? How about Nigel Bennett, well known as the formidable and cool LaCroix on Forever Knight?
Terry Clarke was Jessica’s college boyfriend many years back, in a Selby2relationship that didn’t end well when he opted to look for a gal with the do[ugh]-re-mi to restore his family fortunes.  Now a professor at Margaret Point College, he’s intelligent, capable, witty, and charming enough to balance out his ego, almost.  However, Terry’s also a bit of a ladies’ man, to his wife’s chagrin.  My casting choice was the handsome, young Quentin played by David Selby on Dark Shadows.  That hint of a Southern accent dovetails nicely with Terry’s Virginia horse-country roots. No Quentin-1897 sideburns, though. But those blue eyes, WOW!
Maureen_O'Hara_1950Meanwhile, there’s Carolina Brent Clarke, the wife who resents Terry’s philandering with another teacher who has mysteriously gone missing.  Who should inspire the Virginia belle whom Terry thought he could marry for money, only to discover she had the same misapprehension about him?  Well, I don’t have enough redheads in my stories, so how about the fiery-tressed and -tempered Maureen O’Hara?  I know she usually plays a heroine, but she could go fatale when she wanted.  So I traded in her Irish accent for the faint strains of a Maryland one and let her take the folks at Margaret Point for one hell of a ride!
Then, there’s Sailor, aka Phil Novack, the mysterious man who rides theRyan equally mysterious Dark Horse of the title.  A solitary sort, haunted by war memories and perhaps something more, to whom Jessica is drawn by their mutual love of horses.  This becomes dangerous for them both. My inspiration was the craggy-featured, brooding presence that Robert Ryan so beautifully brought to the screen.  Naturally, I’m thinking more of the decent but tortured and confused types he played in The Woman on the Beach or Act of Violence, not the sly, murdering racist in Criss-Cross.
DSCN4673And what inspired my College at Margaret Point?  Ah, that’s interesting.  Over the years, I’ve made many a visit to the campus of UConn at Avery Point.  It’s located on the Long Island Sound, with wonderful grounds, a gorgeous view of the ocean, and an impressive mini-chateau that was once  a wealthy business person’s Branford House.DSCN4684  Now the House holds administrative offices and hosts conferences or even weddings in its magnificent Great Hall, with its first-floor rooms  boasting gorgeous woodwork and carved mantels.  On the second floor is a  small but nifty art gallery.  Although I embroidered on the campus a bit by including stables,  victory gardens, and cozy faculty-cottage housing in my novel,  the fictional Cameron House neatly captures the elegance of Branford House.
Once again, Dusty remains Dusty!  Mice, murderers, and master spies beware! What’s she nabbing now?!

Dustyg

Stay tuned for more blogs to whet your appetite for Always Play the Dark Horse, coming out on August 24th.

DSCN4680
Barbara Stanwyck Image, unknown source
Nigel Bennett Image:  Screen shot, Forever Knight, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006
Maureen O’Hara Image:  By J. Fred Henry Publications – page 32, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44624486
Images of David Selby, Robert Ryan, Branford House, and Dusty:  Author’s collection

No copyright infringement intended by use of images.  Only educational and entertainment purpsoes.  Contact me should you feel your copyright has been infringed

Always Play the Dark Horse

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Promoting Books, Meeting People, Having Fun

Once school was out- permanently for me now! – I had more time for readings/talks/signings.  One of my first events was the Local Author Book Fair in Worcester at the Wesley United Methodist Church.  This was a signing and chatting rather than a reading.  I had a wonderful time.   I met lots of new readers and also got to talk with many other local writers.  Jean Grant and I did a book trade, so I’m looking forward to reading her A Hundred Breaths this summer.   I also saw some old friends.  Kate Zebrowski, whom I know from my time at Worcester State, had the table next to mine where she was promoting her  time-slip fantasy Sleepwalking Backwards as well as her poetry. Tom and Barbara Ingrassia were at the other end of the auditorium with tables for their work as well – Barbara on copyright law and Tom with his “supreme” books on the Supremes (Reflections of a Love Supreme) and self-help (One Door Closes).  By the Bye, Tom’s One Door Closes is being turned into a film that is nearing conclusion.  Stay tuned for more on that!

 

In June, I returned to my alma mater where I earned my BA, then ULowell- now UMass-Lowell, to give a talk on becoming a published author through the school’s LIRA (Learning in Retirement Association) Program.  To my delight, the talk was at the South Campus (originally Lowell State), where I did all my course work.  We were in  Allen House, a beautiful old building on a rise overlooking the Merrimack River.  There are some wonderful views, as you can see from this photo that my cameraman and husband, Yang, took.
I can remember going to some receptions here back in the mid to late ’70s when I was an undergraduate- a child undergraduate, that is.  The place was entirely redone after having been abandoned for a long time after I had graduated – no connection.  The room I presented in was done beautifully in dark wood paneling with floor-to-ceiling doors looking out on a green and then down to the river.

 

The presentation was loads of fun, with a packed house and an audience who had great questions for me on my personal experiences as a writer and on the travails of finding a publisher and promoting my work. I especially loved sharing with the audience the powerful influence of filmed and written mysteries of the golden age and film noir on creating Bait and Switch and Letter from a Dead Man.  Of course, I made sure to give a tip of my mightily feathered hat to my favorite smart-talking gal Joan Bennett and her influence on the creation of my heroine Jessica Minton.  I also got some nice comments on my hat and suit!  The nylons with the seam up the back (from the WWII Museum in New Orleans) were a big hit, too!

 

What the heck am I thinking about here? It must have been some question  thrown at me?!
Look here.  I CAN walk and talk at the same time!  Thank God no one asked me to chew gum!  One bridge too far.
Interestingly enough, I also met some people who knew folk I with whom went to grammar school and high school!  And people laughed at my jokes, too!  So, the summer has started off nicely in terms of doing readings and such.  Now, it’s on to Pettee Memorial Library in Wilmington, Vt. on Saturday, 6/22.  Hmm, which hat and suit should I wear.  Any suggestions?

 

Passport to Adventure: WSU Writers Workshop

On Friday, April 26th, I had the pleasure of joining Lisa Lieberman in presenting the writing workshop “Passport to Adventure” at Worcester State University.  Like me, Lisa writes historical mysteries.  Hers follow the adventures and intrigues of Cara Walden from 1950s Hollywood to England and Italy (special guest appearance by Cary Grant!) to Hungary during the Revolution and soon to Indochina.  Lisa is also Vice President of Sisters in Crime New England.  In that role she’s been working to bring new blood, so to speak, into our organization.  This fun work shop is one means she is rolling out to do so.  I was happy that she asked me to join her.
To give you an idea of how fun and inspirational this work shop is, here’s Lisa’s description: “The Surrealists used to pool their money and buy a one-way ticket to the furthest destination they could afford. They’d send one person off on an adventure and they’d have to make their way back somehow, and tell the others all about it when they returned.  Along they way, they’d collect talismans that helped them navigate the dark places they encountered. In this workshop, we’ll be sending each of you off on an adventure and when  you get back, you’ll have the outline of a short story.”
Of course, we didn’t literally send anyone off ‑ that would be a really long workshop.  More pragmatically, we had a display of all kinds of intriguing objects from which participants could choose for the “talismans” or souvenirs. For a destination for their journey into the mysterious, we had them select one sealed envelope from an array, each with a different noir image to inspire their journey into creativity.  They had time allotted to get started on who one character in the image was and what his/her concern was.  Then, to spice things even more, I got to do individual tarot reading of past, present, and future of their characters ‑ which would aid them in thinking through where their characters had been, what conflict they were in now, and how that conflict might be resolved.  It was fun for me to give vague interpretations of the cards and then watch our writers run with them, already inspired by their images and selected souvenirs.  Wonderfully, the writers all seemed pretty well pleased with what they had come up with and planned to continue their tales.  One fellow even told me he had finished his short story and had submitted it to the Al Blanchard Short Fiction Contest.  Since he’s one of my students, of course, I’m pulling for him to win!
Our faculty liaison, Cleve Wiese was so excited by our endeavors, that he not only now has a story he wants to finish, but asked us to come back next fall to do the session with the WSU writers’ club INK.  Another faculty member wants us to do the workshop with his course The Writers Life in the spring!  And here’s the good news for everyone else out there!  Lisa and I would be delighted to come to schools or writers’ groups to do the workshop as well!  So let me or Lisa know if you would like us to work with you.  Once again, Sisters in Crime is out there making a difference for writers, published and unpublished!  Joining was one of the best decisions I ever made!

            

Charles Island: Haunting and Serene

The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach.  Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I  posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to

the island.  This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of  reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though.  The ocean only subsides from the tombolo  during low tide and this land path  is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull.  On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding  Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile.  The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.

 

Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center.  Not many extensive ruins  to find.  Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938.  Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.

There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.

 

This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.

We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island.  Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.

And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!

It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon.  There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.

Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel?  In the 1860s, there was resort here.  Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!

On the Road Again – In a Noir Frame of Mind

 

 

In between the raging blizzards of this spring, I was fortunate enough to be able to join some wonderful fellow mystery writers to promote our books and make connections with readers and neophyte writers.  The first such adventure took Yang and I to the far north (of New York, anyway) to Ithaca and Buffalo Street Books.  Here, my friend Lisa Lieberman and I presented “An Evening of Noir,” where we not only talked about our books but about the noir films that inspired us!  Lisa’s husband Tim created this gorgeous poster for our adventure.  Note that it features my favorite femme fatale and/or smart-talking gal, Joan Bennett!  Didn’t he do a superb job?!

 

 

Lisa and I had a fun program.  I had prepared a cd of background music to help create the mood of dark, mean streets; tough detectives; mysterious dames; and haunted pasts.  Our playlist contained  multiple versions of “Laura,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “Penny Blues,” “Drink Dirty Water,” “Peter Gunn,” and even Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” to name a few.  And, of course, we dressed the parts, with Lisa’s swanky mink stole and slinky mystery-lady dress and my Claire Trevor femme fatale black suit with  swag, complimented by  red velvet and black feathered cap.  Watch out Phil Marlow and Sam Spade!

 

We had loads of fun talking with our audience about the trademarks of film noir  and how they influenced our novels, especially in terms of specific films.  Lisa detailed how  her experiences in Hungary and the film The Third Man  inspired the tense and dark atmosphere and tight plot twists of her  Burning Cold.  I shared how the wit, surprising reversals, and slippery characters in films like The Scar; Murder, My Sweet; and Double Indemnity shaped the latest adventures of Jessica Minton in Letter from a Dead Man.  And both us ladies of noir had a great time sharing trivia and background about the filmmakers and writers of our favorite noir films with our audience.  We had such a wonderful time, we’re thinking of adding film clips and “taking  our act on the road”!

 

My other recent appearance was on a delightful panel, with an equally delightful name:  “Stealing from the Dead.”  This Sisters-in-Crime Panel took place at Atria Bay in Barrington, RI.  I was pleased to join Frances MCNamara and Steve Liskow for a fun presentation at the community.  Both writers have fascinating books, with Frances’s latest series set in early 20th century Chicago and Steve’s in Connecticut and New York concerning the brutal reality of human trafficking.  Do click on each of their names to check out their work in greater detail.  You won’t be sorry! You can see from the picture on the left that I had a wonderful time.  If you ever want to book a Sisters-In-Crime panel for your library, school, or other such group, you can contact Leslie Wheeler at the Speakers Bureau.

I also want to extend my thanks to Margaret Shand of Atria Bay for setting up the panel.  the audience had intriguing questions and great comments for us.  My thanks to Margaret for the photo at the top of the paragraph.

 

Yang took what is probably the best shot of me, below.

Launching Letter from a Dead Man

Saturday, 11/18/17, Letter from a Dead Man got its official launch at The Booklovers’ Gourmet in Webster.  What a wonderful experience!  There was a nice turnout of friends, colleagues from school, fellow writers, students from WSU, and even new people I didn’t know yet.  As usual, Deb Horan had the room set up beautifully, and we all had the opportunity to partake of some yummy comestibles and beverages.  I smoothed out my vocal cords with a tasty pumpkin latte – ’tis the season!

 

We all started off by chatting about writing, teaching, and the inspirations for my 1940s-style mysteries, especially how I like to cast my characters as  favorite actors from the era: Joan Bennett and Rosalind Russell as the smart-talking Minton sisters, Lloyd Nolan as the tough-guy henchman, and Claire Trevor as the ultimate femme fatale, for example.   Interspersed with these points, I did some readings, which I’m happy to report, people found tense and intriguing.  I gave them a scene where sisters Jessica and Liz have to face off against the threats of the femme fatale’s menacing torpedo – without giving away what mysterious object he held in his hand that would prove a vital pivot for the plot.  I later read from the scene where Jessica had to flee and seek refuge from deadly pursuers behind one of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. This led to a discussion of Dead Man’s cover and the fun story where I went to New York with Yang to “test” out the scene of Jessica’s flight.

 

I was fortunate that two of my Sisters In Crime, Lisa Lieberman and Leslie Wheeler, joined me.  The three of us bounced questions and comments off one another to give the rest of the audience insights into the sources of our ideas, how we write (outliners or seat-of-our-pantsers), how we overcome writer’s block, and how good editors or writers/readers groups challenge  and inspire us to overcome obstacles in the way of getting the right words on the page and those pages into print.

 

 

Speaking of reading/writing groups, one of the posse who keeps me on my toes, my friend Judy Jeon-Chapman, was able to join us. Not only has she given me great feedback, but  there were days when she’d needle me every night to get her more chapters to calm the suspense I’d enkindled with my writing.  So, as a reward, I worked her into the third story (yet to be published)  as I was editing it!  Several of these pictures even came from her.

You can see how enthusiastic I am about talking writing here.   I also love Leslie’s “Crime Scene” scarf!

 

Maybe the best part of the day was getting to spend time with old friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in a while, like Rini Kilcoyne and Jim Foley from Worcester State.  I so much appreciate how these folks support me and the good friends and coworkers they have been over the years.  I’m a lucky gal!

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a picture of my favorite supporter!

Maybe I shouldn’t be charging him for the books?

All Hail Dusty!

Dusty, the feline star of my novel Bait and Switch, is based on a cat with whom I grew up.Dustyk

Dusty came into my life as a kitten when I was seven years old, and despite my occasional lapses of trying to saddle her with tack from my toy horse, Thunderhead, we were actually great pals. Dustye Especially since I would sit through thunderstorms when she hid behind the couch and try to calm to her.  I’m afraid singing was involved, but unlike Rosalind, she didn’t think my singing suggested I was in pain.

 

Dusty gets credit for inspiring what may actually have been my first venture into literature:  writing her biography, illustrated with pictures from a Purina Cat Chow book on cats.  It was mercifully short.  However, I did learn that Dusty was a silver or grey tabby from my research.

 

Inspiring the wise aleck attitude of her literary incarnation in Bait and Switch, the real Dusty was quite the character. Dustya Not only a top-flight mouser (which will come into greater play in the third Jessica Minton novel), Dusty also taught the neighbor’s dog an important lesson in inter-yard relations.  As my mother related the story, Spot (there’s an original name) had a bad habit of chasing Dusty, until one day her nibs stopped short, turned around, and, as if to embody that she’d had it with being a victim, unleashed her very sharp claws right across her pursuer’s nose.  He never bothered her again –– even though she would occasionally sit on her side of the fence between our yards and do the cat version of “Nyah-yah!”

 

She also was undeniably the boss of us. Dustyi If my brother or I spent too much time late at night sitting, talking in a car with our friends outside the house, Dusty would circle the vehicle growling, until we got out.  Then she would march us to the back door and into the house, before she galloped off to handle the rest of her catlly night duties.  Humans are so hard to take care of!

 

Also like her name sake in Bait and Switch, Dusty was quite the gourmand.  She also delighted in Polish ham, liverwurst, or fresh turkey and chicken.  Dusty additionally had some more unusual tastes for a feline:  peach ice cream; potato chips;  Dustydand, as you see here, corn still on the cob.   Note that her place setting has four bowls:  water, milk, and two types of cat food!

And woe to you if you didn’t feed her fast enough. My sister-in-law Dusty2 Pam got a sound smack on the hand once for not moving that chicken with sufficient alacrity.

 

Dusty may have had a secret scandalous life.  She did give birth to three kittens (Tiger Butterball, Jr; Mitzi Gaynor; and Midnight –– I didn’t name them!). Dustyf We also suspected she might have had a drinking problem.

 

 

 

 

All in all, Dusty was a dear and sympathetic pal, Dustyjgoing for walks with me in the yard, nuzzling me when I was down, playing with me when I needed some exercise.  She lived all the way up to sixteen, one day waiting for my mother to come home before taking her leave and making a final journey to the great beyond.  I have many more stories about her to tell, so mayhap we can have some more Dusty blogs.  I would love it if anyone else who remembers Dusty would share.  I just hope my novels are a fitting tribute to a truly cool cat!

 

 

Dustyc

River Hawks Bookstore Lowell – Reading on My Old Home Turf

 

So, on May 28th I gave my final reading of the month at my alma mater’s bookstore, River Hawks.  It wasn’t exactly a trek back to Tara, but it was a wonderful experience for seeing so many old friends at UMass Lowell.Lowell4

First of all, the day was a scorcher:  in the 90s!  Of course, I had to have a hot cappuccino before my performance!  Thank God this place is air conditioned – but the nice, comfortable kind of air conditioning, not the Arctic temps that make polar bears shiver, which you find too often once May rolls around.  Lowell5Here, I’m sitting, looking over my notes and finishing my coffee in the lobby.  The building is really nice, with lots of windows and airy space.

Ham bone that I am, I had to get a picture of myself with the display for my book! Lowell1 The young woman clerking at the counter was nice enough to do the honors.  Like the dress?  Yang made it for me by copying a vintage dress I’d bought on Ebay.  This way we get the beauty of authentic vintage design combined with the convenience of material you can hand or machine wash!  There’s not much he can’t do:  from using physics to move boulders to building an oxygen R08chamber for a kitten recovering from double pneumonia.  Note the luxurious quarters:  litter box, bed, blanket, toys, and inspiring pictures (Rosie the Riveter, Rosalind in AYLI, and Rosalind Russell).

Before the session, I had a nice chat with Abbey and Christina, who had taken charge of setting up the space for me.  As you can see from the pictures, it’s a great area for doing a reading.  Lowell7What I could really kick myself over is that I had such a wonderful time seeing old friends that I forgot to have my entourage (Yang) take any pictures of folks.  Damn! Not even a group shot!  So, who’s on the red – or here royal blue-  carpet?

Sue Thorne-Gagnon and her husband Bobby were first to arrive.  Sue and I were at ULowell together at the same time, but darned if we never met until years later when we were working at BASF systems before we both went back into teaching.  She’s a wonderful teacher and flutist.  Next came Lisa McCarthy and her daughter Hedda.  I’ve known Lisa since the late seventies, and we’ve been through everything together from rambles around Boston, hikes through the woods, and Star Trek conventions.  My nephew Phil and his wife Steph also appeared on the scene.  Steph is responsible for addicting me to Psych; Monk; Murder, She Wrote; and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.  Can I get her hooked on Murdoch?  Steph is a teacher and Phil is a filmmaker – check out his co-production of My Name Is Jonah.  When he and his older brother were kids, Sharon&GeoffI used to hold them under the arms and swing them in a circle, which they loved.  Now they can do it to me, but not at the reading. Here’s a picture of my giving Geoffrey a whirl.

After the reading started, I was so excited to see, first, Barbara DeMeuth then Mary Lou Beausoleil slip in!  These guys have been my friends since grammar school!  Clearly, they have much forbearance.  It was fantastic that they came to support me!  Barb is actually my oldest friend – not in age but in duration.  We met when we were going into the fifth grade.  Mary Lou is only a few months behind.  But we can’t get together as much as we’d like, so it was fantastic to catch up!  Mary Lou was one of the earliest readers of one of the earliest versions of Bait and Switch – and she still came, anyway!  Barb and I have managed to stay in touch on the phone or over an occasional lunch lo! these many years.  Both have wonderfully wicked senses of humor!

It was an absolute delight to see people I care so much about, and who showed me they cared by being here to share in the success of Bait and Switch. And thanks to Maria Shusta, Christina, and Abbey at River Hawks for doing a wonderful job of setting everything up for me and making the day run so smoothly.

So, if you’re a friend from the Merrimack Valley, old or new, who missed the reading but still would like to get Bait and Switch, they have copies awaiting you at the Dusty1River Hawks Bookstore, 220 Pawtucket Street, Lowell.  Dusty from Bait and Switch will be watching for you.

The Book Lover’s Gourmet: Reading and Signing

The Book Lover’s Gourmet is a little gem of a bookstore and cafe in Webster, MA.  I was fortunate to do a reading and signing there on March 19th!  There’s a lovely selection of books of all kinds, with an especially nice section of children’s books and another of local authors (including me!).  Agourmet8Ah, the excitement of seeing your name and book title, well, not in lights – but at least in magic marker on the white board!  There I am in turquoise, one of my favorite colors, third from the bottom.

 

So, let’s get started, in the cozy little room where people usually sit and enjoy scrumptious pastries – or quiche if they’re more in the mood for savory.  And don’t forget the coffee, chai, lattes, and cappuccino – mine’s right behind me in this picture.  Agourmet5I must have said something profound, because Bill Graves (one of my sharpest students) is smiling and pondering, while another sharp cookie, Joanne Evans, is exchanging deep thoughts on the writing and publishing processes with me.  You can tell it’s a profound conversation by the way we’re  raising our mitts to make our points.  I just wonder what brings that cat-that-ate-the-canary smile to Kathy Healey’s face.  She’s probably thinking about finally being finished editing the Gothic Landscapes book – well almost finally.

The conversation continues. Elizabeth Gaumond listens with rapt attention.  I look reflective.  So does Joanne – or has my reading put her to sleep?  No, not the adventures of Jessica, Elizabeth, James, and Dusty! Agourmet7

 

Meanwhile, across the room, Pam Graves, Barbara Ingrassia, and Kate Zebrowski seem to be enjoying the reading Agourmet4of Jessica Minton’s encounter with a mysterious stranger, his mysterious package, and a threatening chap who’s built along the “graceful” lines of a fireplug.  Note the display case of goodies behind them.

My husband Yang seems to be having a humorous time for himself with them and Cookie Gaumond (Elizabeth’s Mom). Agourmet2 Maybe it was the line about Jessica fearing she might have to slug a G.I. for his Hershey bar.  That’s not very patriotic of her! Barbara’s husband Tom gallantly rose to give up his seat for Cookie, so you don’t see him here.

Something that was particularly fun and informative about this session was that we had two other authors present.  Joanne has authored and illustrated a marvelously beautiful, creative, informative and fun children’s book Seashells, Treasures from the Northeast Coast  and graciously gifted me with a copy.  I want to buy copies for the little kids in my life, now.  Agourmet1Tom Ingrassia has written two  books, himself.  One, Reflections of a Love Supreme, is a wonderful book on the Motown story “through the eyes of the fans,” as the subheading explains.  It’s filled with unique pictures from the fans and fascinating, fun background stories of fans and artists that don’t bog you down in all the depressing scandals but still give you an intriguing insight into the bonds between the people on both sides of the stage.  One Door Closes is an enjoyable and helpful collection of essays by people who have dealt with disappointment and misfortune by redefining their lives creatively and joyously.  Then, there were also some neophyte writers with questions about writing, publishing, promoting – as well as legal aspects – so, we could talk about our experiences to help them with their questions on how to get their writing off their computers and into the hands of the public. Barbara had great advice on legal concerns.

 

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So, why am I excitedly on my feet here?  I was delighted to find my friend and colleague, Jim Foley had come with his wife Lois and his son James.  Yay!  Fellow MST3K and Shakespeare and music fans!  How can things go wrong?!

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Agourmet9The day draws to a close, and I get to sign books for my delighted fans – and, no, students attending did not  have to buy a book to pass my classes.

 

 

Bill certainly seems pleased with whatever I wrote.Agourmet11  Elizabeth looks pretty cheery, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, I don’t know what cracked me up, but it must have been  pretty good. Someone must have quoted a quip from those Smart-Talking Gals Jessica Minton and her sister Elizabeth Hennessey. Or maybe Agourmet10someone asked me if I was going to pick up the coffee and pastry tab for the whole crew?  Anyway, this was a lovely gathering:  old friends, new ones, all mixing together and either renewing old ties or forging new ones.  That might be what I love best about these signings.  They’re like parties where you catch up with people, meet new ones, and share dreams and ideas – and, of course, people buy my book.

 

And here’s one last look at that luscious array of comestibles that Debra Horan serves up with nifty book chasers in cozy surroundings.  Agourmet12The Book Lover’s Gourmet is a great reason to pass up Amazon so you can enjoy the warmth of a beautifully decorated store with real people.  And Bait and Switch is definitely on sale there, so hurry down, buy a copy, and sit down with something tasty and refreshing in a sunlit room to read! Save a spot in the sun for Dusty!Dusty reduced1