Tag Archives: cats

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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Casting Characters, Part One: Bait and Switch

2021Bait and Switch_Front_2021Readers often compliment me on the believability of the actors in my novels and ask me how I create even supporting characters who seem so human.  One explanation I have harks back to my choice of the word “actors,” above.  For I love to cast my novels as one might a movie.  “Casting” my novels gives me a way to develop a more convincing character by drawing on actual expressions, ways of moving, ways of speaking, and general behavior.
My casting tends to reflect my preference for films of the golden age of Hollywood, especially the 1940s.  Sometimes, I even select folks who are more contemporaneous, or more contemporary to when I was in my teens and twenties.   I almost feel as if I’m creating exciting roles for some of my favorite performers that the limits of their careers might have denied them. 
house101Many of you have heard me explain how the Minton sisters, Jessica and Liz, are based on the witty, smart, Rosalind1independent parts played by Joan Bennett and Rosalind Russell, respectively.  You’ve also heard me mention that the sisters’ traits and relationship is also flavored by the wise cracking, warmth, and wackiness I share with my sister-in-law Pam Healy.  But how about some of the supporting characters?
In Bait and Switch, Jessica’s boyfriend is drawn from a young Laurence Olivier.  So, we have a chap with enough wit, charm, dependability, and good looks to give James Crawford a run for his money in the romance department.  No Ralph Bellamys or Alan Mowbrays being obvious second choices in my books!

Olivier

When it came to the law, I had some fun in this novel.  James Crawford’s Ed_Asner_1977partner is gruff and sarcastic, with a bit of the old softie hidden under his prickly exterior.  Who better to cast in this brusque-on-the-surface part of “the fire-plug” but Ed Asner of Lou Grant fame.  James’s partner also hates spunk.  Casting Detective Winston particularly gave me a chuckle.  Loving irony, I thought it would be a hoot to have this intelligent, calm, world-weary, patient man be a dead ringer for Moe Howard of the Stooges.  Characters in Bait and Switch trying to square his appearance with his capabilities provide some fun moments in the novel-though not so much for Jim Winston.
Dusty transWho inspired the wise-guy cat, Dusty?  None other than my first cat, Dusty.  Want to hear more about her wise-cattery?  Check out this blog that I did on her.  All Hail Dusty!

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Bait and Switch

Photos from author’s collection except of Laurencer Olivier and Ed Asner

Images for educational and entertainment purposes only.  Contact me if you feel your copyright has been violated and I will remove the images
Oliver:  By Tower Publications – The New Movie Magazine page 65, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37784453
Asner: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ed_Asner_1977.JPG

Continue reading Casting Characters, Part One: Bait and Switch

“My Smart-Talking Gal Mystery Heroine: A Joan Bennett Birthday Tribute”

“My Smart-Talking Gal Mystery Heroine: A Joan Bennett Birthday Tribute”

It’s only natural to honor Joan Bennett on her birthday by explaining her powerful influence on my writing. A lot of this influence goes back to my earlier years watching old movies. As a kid, I started out hooked on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and the rest of the stable of Universal and RKO horror films – God Bless Val Lewton! The mystery and otherworldliness of black and white film, the smart dialogue, the clever twists of plot that other forties and thirties film genres shared with horror lured me into a liminal world like a perpetual deep summer night. I was further captured by classic films’ biting wit, challenging plots, and independent women – especially in what I came to know as film noir. And who showed herself the queen of this world? Above them all, Joan Bennett.

I must admit that I first came really to know Joan when she appeared in Dark Shadows. Her Elizabeth Collins Stoddard was formidable, reminding me of my mother when I was in deep trouble. How could vampires, werewolves, and witches withstand her powerful, regal stare? Still, like my Mom, there was deep feeling and love for her daughter and her family. However, only in film did I discover Joan displaying one of the traits I loved best about my Mom: that witty, smart-talking-gal sense of humor. In outright comedy, Joan could drop a clever line with style and intelligence, but even in some of her darkest dramas that wit came through. What a delight to see her wield that humor to put firmly in their places anyone trying to crush or bamboozle her. In The House across the Bay, she undercuts a smart-mouth chorine who harangued her, “Cheep, cheep, cheep” with “Where’s the birdseed?” When the obnoxious woman tries to go after her physically, Joan rakes her over the coals with, “Just a minute, Miss Dimwit.  I was silly enough to apologize, but now that you want to make something of it, I’ll give you a good reason. You’re a phony, you’ve got a voice like four panes of cracked glass, and about as much appeal as a can of embalming fluid. I could go on, but that ought to give you a rough idea of how I feel about you.” Eight years later, when Paul Henreid tries to disparage her cynicism towards him in The Scar with a deprecating, “You’re a bitter little lady,” she puts him in his place with a world-weary but tough, “It’s a bitter little world, full of sad surprises, and you don’t go around letting people hurt you.” In The Man I Married, Joan’s not even daunted by Nazis, telling her husband-turned-fascist, “Heil heel” when he promises to dump her and take their son. Her feistiness isn’t limited to verbiage, either. Take a gander at this picture.
Like my Mom, Joan played women of wit, strength, humanity, and confidence – not just what the New York Times dubbed her gallery of “hydrochloric dames.”
So, in my twenties, when I decided to take my writing seriously than developing Victoria Holt knock-offs or spoofs of Dark Shadows, I turned to 1940s style mysteries to inspire my own adventures of romance, danger, suspense, and wit. Interestingly, as a writer influenced by film, I found I could better create distinct, believable characters by casting them as actors with whom I was familiar, blending their traits with some of the people I knew (including myself!). I also knew that I didn’t want my heroine to be wimpy, weepy, and inclined to faint in the final reel or pages, which, unfortunately, did often happen on the page or screen in the ’40s and ’50s. Guess who I saw as perfect for the role of Jessica Minton, a smart, independent, quick-with-a-quip forties gal? Someone who had a sensitive heart and a strong sense of responsibility, but didn’t take guff from anyone – and would smack said guff out of the ballpark with whip smart humor.
Surprise!
I do see a lot of myself in Jessica – and in Joan’s less nasty roles – or maybe an idealized version of myself, anyway. I know that mischievous banter with those I love and pointed barbs for those I don’t is something I share with Jess, which Joan plays to perfection. However, I doubt that like Jessica, I’d have the guts to hold onto a mysterious package left by a mysterious and handsome British stranger at the risk of being liquidated by Nazi fifth columnists – to disguise myself as a maid to get into a criminal’s apartment while he’s still there (!) to retrieve a gun used to frame a friend – to grab a gunsel by the lapels and threaten to turn him into a soprano if he ever threatened my cat again – to show up in a shadow-draped room and wittily bargain with a gun-toting femme fatale and her hired gun to trade stolen jade for my friends’ lives – or to slip into a cove and explore a beached and rotting ship while layers of ocean fog swept in around me. I might dare to weaponize a banana-cream pie, but I can’t guarantee my aim would be as good as Jessica Minton’s. I can guarantee you that any fans of our Joanie could picture her carrying off these adventures with verve and wit, though not without human trepidation.
Those of us who love Joan Bennett and appreciate her talents would also, as Sam Fuller writes, see her as “a sensitive actress” enough to also believe her playing Jessica’s distress at being torn between loyalty to an old boyfriend and to a new man who brings her adventure and love; a sister who gets annoyed with her older sibling’s foibles leading them into danger but sticking by her to the end (though not without a smart quip or two exchanged between them); a sweetheart waiting to hear news of a fiancé lost in the war, then a wife supporting her husband’s struggle with memories from that war. And Jessica loves her cat. I know Joan was a dog person, but heck, there’s still part of me in Jessica Minton. So, she’s a cat person!
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject, but if you’d like to take a peek at some passages from Bait and Switch or Letter from a Dead Man, click on the links on the titles and have fun picturing Joan working her magic as Jessica Minton. Oh, and by the way, I cast her sister Elizabeth as Rosalind Russell (and my sister-on-law). Can you imagine what a grand ride it would have been to catch Joan and Roz trading quips with each other, then marshaling their humor to take on Nazis, criminally corrupt American aristocrats, femme fatales, underworld crooks, and crooked cops? And I’ve got two more books on the way! Viva Jessica Minton and Joan Bennett!
If you love mysteries on the screen or on the page, especially centered on the golden era, click here to go to my web page where you can find lots of interesting stuff – including my Joan Bennett tribute page!

 

 

Photos: Author’s collections

Christmas with the Yangs -human and feline

Christmas day approached and so did Rosalind to the manger.  Would the baby Jesus be safe?  One year Natasha ran off with one of the sheep!

Whew!  All is safe in Bethlehem, until Natasha decided that the fake snow on the roof looked delicious.  This leads me to an important question:  what’s with all this snow on manger roofs that we’re always seeing on cards and in manager displays?  How much snow do they get in the Mideast?  I know:  it’s a miracle!

 

Christmas day, the girls were absolutely delighted with their presents from my friend, Kathy Healey.  Both Natasha and Rosalind liked the Jackson Galaxy-approved “base-camp mat.”  Natasha was the more taken of the two.  And both had fun with the cat-nipped toys also a part of their feline care package.

 

 

 

 

After human and felines had opened all our presents,  the turkey having been cooked,  it was off to St. Matthews for the Christmas service.  We had a lovely service, with Mother Judith Lee presiding.  The 10:00 service was the third of three services held over two days (Christmas Eve included), so there was a small number of people attending.  That only made the experience even more homey and congenial than usual.  Yang and I both were the lectors!  Yang did the two readings and I did the Intercessions.  We’re lucky to be part of a church that makes us feel at home and happy.

Back home, we put together a wonderful Christmas dinner to share with each other.  I love cooking the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with Yang.  It’s perfect teamwork, sharing the chores of preparation – and we haven’t dropped a turkey on the floor yet (knock on wood!) ! Of course Natasha was impatient to get her share.  She pulled that turkey right off Yang’s plate!  Little devil!

 

 

 

Here she is getting some turkey in a more acceptable manner – from Yang’s hand.  Kathy Healey take note!

I saluted Yang and the girls before we all tucked in!  It was a yummy meal, suitably stuffing everyone.  And speaking of stuffing, that’s my Mom’s simple but delicious recipe. The squash was my own, with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, along with walnuts.  The meal was followed by a long walk around Millbury, checking out Victorian houses and Christmas decorations.

The end of the day gave us a glorious sunset, which I have to share with you in some spectacular shots.

“I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

 

We’ve been seeing lots of beautiful birds as we move into June.  Many of the usual suspects are still showing up.  I managed to get some interesting close ups and Yang took some videos, so our birds are moving-picture stars!

One day when I was exercising in the parlor, I was lying on the floor, and when I cam up to window level, I saw the Rosebreasted Grosbeak up close.  So, I snuck off to get my camera and managed to take some wonderful close ups!  You’d swear he knew what was going on and decided to pose!  We’ve been so lucky to see one of the males almost every day.  We often see one male and one female together, while sometimes we also see a lone female.  We can hear their birdsong quite often.   I suspect they may be nesting fairly close by.  Maybe they’ll bring the kids to brunch some day.

 

We’ve also been blessed with some frisky catbirds who mainly love to chomp down on suet from the two such feeders we have in the yard.  I and the cats often watch them through the sun porch windows.  Today, one was chattering to me  while I was hanging out the clothes on the line. Anyway, here are some shots that Yang took for me.

 

 

The Downy Woodpeckers also like to feast on the suet as well.  Yang got a few shots of one doing so.  We haven’t seen many Hairy Woodpeckers this year – or Flickers or Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers.  Maybe the latter were too scared.

 

Yang also took some videos.  Here, we have The Adventures of Cardinal with special guest star Rosebreasted Grosbeak and a cameo by English Sparrow  Roll ’em!

 

We also have some mammals in our yard as well.  I managed to get a few shots of a baby rabbit, from which we strenuously held back both Rosalind and Natasha on separate occasions.  Enjoy watching him/her nibble.

Someone else enjoyed watching the bunny, as well.  She thought he looked delicious, er, adorable.  We made sure that she was restrained.

 

A Breath of Autumn

 

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Here’s a melange of interesting autumn images that I’ve come across this past September. One Friday afternoon, while riding the bicycle trail from Coventry, Yang and I came across these funky caterpillars. We’d seen them last fall on the same trail, so apparently these are their main stomping, er crawling, grounds. Does any one know into what they ultimately metamorph? Notice how they have prongs on their derrieres, no doubt to confuse predators as to which end they are biting. We wonder what these guys are.

The following weekend, we did 22 miles on the Nickerson Park Trail on the Cape. What should we see on the trail but this adorable quail! I suspect s/he is domesticated because the little critter did not seem at all unnerved by passing cyclists or walkers. I’ve seen pictures of domesticated quails on line, and this little guy seems to match up. Nevertheless, I’m counting him/her as one of my bird sightings for the year. I hope you can see the little guy in the center of the picture to left on the trail, almost in the leaves. Click on the image for a bigger picture.

 

Though not nearly as cute, here are some pictures of me in Brattleboro, VT. Every year this house creates a tunnel of enormous sunflowers. We went up last weekend and took these shots. The house used to also have a hutch for chickens and bunnies, but alas, those adorable creatures are no longer kept there. I’m not quite so adorable as a bunny, but I like to think I have some charm. Yang staged the photos nicely, don’t you think? Is there anything he can’t do?

 

 

 

Finally, Natasha desires to send you the best of autumn holiday greetings!

 

Rosie wants to photo bomb Natasha’s greeting – and Natasha is NOT amused.

 


 



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

Summer Birds and Beasts One

Yang went to pick up the watering can for the plants the other evening, and this is who greeted him. Frog2My friend Sarah tells me that he/she is a grey tree frog! We always have plenty of toads in the yard. In fact one used to sit on a floating platform in the fish pond and sing away the afternoon. However, I didn’t even know we had these guys in our yard! Quite the cutie, isn’t she/he?Frog1

Here, you can see, from left to right, a Blue Jay, a Mourning Dove, Birds1and the edge of a shy (or hungry) Red-bellied Woodpecker’s wing. I always get them mixed up with the Common Flicker. I can tell the difference in how they look; I just can never remember which name goes with which bird. Ah, here he is peeking out at us!birds2

 

Here’s a Downy Woodpecker. It could be a Hairy Woodpecker. I know the latter is bigger, but I can’t exactly make the comparison here.DSCN2839 I also know the Hairy has a longer beak, but unfortunately the picture is not quite sharp enough. We get both types, as well as Flickers and Nuthatches. No Piliated Woodpeckers, though!

 

 

Next are a Cardinal and a Mourning Dove. Some of these images aren’t as clear as they could be because I had the screen down on the window and had to shoot through it.birds4

 

Darned old Mourning Dove with a Red-winged Blackbird. The Blackbird is hard to catch. He comes by all the time, but always seems to see me and fly off before I can get a good shot.birds7 I’ll have some more bird pictures later with him in it –– as well as other birds. I would also love to get a shot of our Catbird. She is forever landing nearby and popping around looking for food or getting a drink from the bird bath near the fish pond. All I have to do is hold still and she’s my buddy. I’m happy to say that on our bicycle rides, Yang and I have seen a plethora of Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows!

Oh, and by the way, Yang and I aren’t the only ones in the house who like to bird watch.birdcat

 

Plymouth, NH Trip – May

When we went to Plainfield for me to participate in the Sisters in Crime panel on creating mysteries, we stayed over night in Plymouth, NH at one of our favorite places, the Red Carpet Inn.  For years Yang and I, myself alone, or myself and a pal had stayed there for the Medieval and Renaissance PlymouthForum when it was at Plymouth State University.  It’s always been pleasant.  Look at the beautiful view we had from our window!

 

The next day, we drove over to the Red Hill Cemetery where Claude Rains is buried with his wife Rosemary. Plymouthmay3 He has a beautiful epitaph:   “All things once are things forever, Soul, once living, lives forever.”  His wife’s is a variation on lines from Christina Rosetti’s “When I Am Dead” Sonnet –  one of my favorite poems.  We always try to pay a visit.  Just a simple way of saying, “Thanks for the great celluloid memories.” DSCN2816 It’s a special treat to know that my favorite actor is resting near me.  It almost feels like we’re neighbors.  Don’t they have a beautiful view? That’s Red Hill in the background, which Yang and I try to climb in good weather –– we’re tired afterward, but it’s worth it.DSCN2813

 

 

 

 

 

When we stopped in Center Harbor, I found a neat independent book store, Bayswater Book Co.  (12 Main St.).  Of course, I scoped out the lovely little shop –– and ultimately managed to make arrangements to give a reading Dustyaand signing on Saturday, July 9th, from 1:00-3:00.  Drop by and meet me.  Bait and Switch‘s Dusty will be be on the lookout for you!

 

I always wonder if this pun carries exactly the right connotations to bring in customers.  It must work, ’cause it’s been there for like 20 years!Plymouthmay1

 

Once we got home, we were happy to see that, on occasion, sleepingcats2Rosalind and Natasha can rest peacefully together.  The Moe will lie down with the Curly.