Recently, I had the fun experience of being involved in the Sisters in Crime panel Mystery Making at the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont. The authors with whom I participated were Sadie Hartwell and Max Folsom. Lisa Lieberman was our MC. This panel is quite unique, challenging our creativity and drawing in the audience to craft a mystery with us. How does it all work?
The audience members are all given index cards and asked to write on a separate card: a character name, a motive for murder, a method for murder, and a location. Each of the three members of the panel circulates with a bags for each category, and the audience puts the appropriate card in the designated bag. Then, under the direction of our MC, the fun begins. Starting with names, each of the panelists selects a card from the bag, and we have to come up with a character whom we think goes with that name, including a back story and how the character fits into the story. Sleuth? Suspect? Victim? Sidekick?. Then we go through each of the other bags and create a story around the locations, murder methods, and motives, working with each other and the audience to resolve conflicts and develop the intricacies of a mystery plot. Lisa kept track of the projections on a white board in the front of the theatre. I was so impressed when my husband Yang jumped in from the audience to explain how you could have a poisoning by tofu!
Initially, I had a little trepidation about whether I would be up to the task, ad libbing a story, but I had a ball! We ended up with an intriguing tale about a vengeful love child, a shady importer, a socialite with a stripper’s past, a militant health food maven, a deceptive scuba expert, the Nobel Prize, and, of course, poisonous tofu.
The Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro was quite the venue! An art deco theatre, likely from the 1920s, this building had gorgeous statues, mosiacs, carvings, and Spider Man. How did Spidey get in there? Listen, bud, he’s got radioactive blood. He can do whatever he wants.
Mystery Making is a session that is available for libraries, schools, festivals, etc. through the Sisters in Crime New England Speakers Bureau. Usually, there is a fee, but under certain circumstances, there may not be. Check out the web site for details at Sisters in Crime New England.
Last Sunday, I managed to take a day off from working on novel #4 to join my two buddies MaryLynn Saul and Judy Jeon-Chapman for a lovely nature walk. Judy suggested that we visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Ma – one of my favorite places. We also met Judy’s friend, the bubbly Christina, along the way – who shared a lovely picture of the four of us with me. In addition to wonderful plants and flowers, the Garden also has intriguing wind sculptures integrated into the greenery (amongst other colors). You can see one example behind MaryLynn and Judy here.
I also couldn’t help photographing some flowers that intrigued me, though there are too many to record. But I do love the blue color of these lovely blossoms. Are they large Forget-Me-Nots? I’d love to have them in my garden. I think they like shade. I was also delighted to see these brilliantly scarlet flowers. I had posted photos I’d seen of similar flowers when on a bike ride once, in hopes of getting an identification. Several of my friends pronounced them Cardinal Flowers, and the card underneath these confirmed that i.d. Problem solved!
The Gardens also possess a lovely wooded trail, filled with artfully placed sculpture that make you feel as if you had wandered into a Renaissance pastoral play or novel. Here’s Cupid, ready to fire off his arrows to spark the typical green- world love tangles. The glorius rays of the sun glint through the leaves, but will not burn us
An ancient Greek warrior peers out at us from the lost past, before this return to the Golden Age when honey and acorns dropped from trees.
Enjoy the ruins in which to recline and play your pipes or sigh away the hours in languid otium.
Gracefully sculpted urns are always conducive to pastoral ease – especially if they might hold delectable libation – and I’m not talking Moxie here.
My fellow mystery readers and writers might look at this picture and question, “What’s this?! What are they looking at?! Trouble in paradise? A murdered corpse discovered in the woods?” Sorry, mystery lovers. It was just a sign about fairies in the woods. If it makes you feel better, maybe they’re referring to traditional Medieval and Renaissance Fairies. Like this!
We also found this lovely rotunda with the words “Peace” inscribed on it. I thought it would be hilariously ironic for MaryLynn and I to stand under the word and pretend to strangle each other – she and Judy decided otherwise. Not everyone shares the Healy sense of humor. So, here you have a nice picture of MaryLynn and I before the structure, me holding the dahlias that Judy had purchased from the Dahlia Show that day. They actually go with my blouse.
All images, from author’s collection except:
1.the header from Christine Yen
2) the public domain image of the deamon fairy from: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/fantasies-evil-spirits-faeries-medieval-imagination-007445
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!
I’m heading back to school this week. So before work gets too hot and heavy, I want to post a blog on one of the wonderful short trips Yang and I took when we went away for two days. The first day was a visit to NYC to explore Central Park and have a yummy tea at Alice’s Teacup – another blog on that later! The second day, as we made our way back from where we’d stayed in Milford, brought us to Danbury’s Tarrywile Park and the Hearthstone Castle. If you click here, there’s a wonderful history on this link about the castle.
We walked up a fairly short, but decidedly steep, wooded path to be greeted with this sight. What a pity that the castle has been defaced and let go into such disrepair. Still, it was deliciously eerie, with the afternoon sunlight rising in a clearing amidst the trees. Note the turrets with sharp field stones acting as the crenellation. There in front was the portico where the wealthy would arrive in their carriages to be dropped off at the door for a summer weekend in the country or a formal dinner or ball. They must have had a ballroom! And here I am walking quite determinedly up to get a closer view, braving assault from ticks and poison ivy.
We took some neat shots of the ruins, so you could see the sky pouring blue through a window in the back wall out to you from a smashed window or a broken wall in front of you. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright that it washed the blue right out of most of these shots. I love the gorgeous turret here and wonder what kind of round rooms were inside on each floor. The view must have been a delight. A great place to sit with your tea and a good book. Perhaps a Scarlet Tanager or Rosebreasted Grosbeak might fly by, even perch on the ledge? Looking through the smashed windows, where the boards had been pried away, you could also see the brick that lined or insulated the interior where the material covering the interior walls had been stripped away. I couldn’t help recalling the marvelous ruined abbeys I’d seen on my trip to England – sky gleaming blue through soaring arches and graceful architecture. Of course, this ruin is on a much smaller scale – and more jagged than the medieval constructions. Still, doesn’t the setting lend itself to a novel? Hmm, maybe that’s what I’m working out in my mind here.
Here’s a neat farewell shot of the ruin. I’m not sure if Yang or I took it. I would love to go back in the fall, when the leaves turn gorgeous! You should make a visit, too. And remember that the park has lots of inviting hiking trails. Yeah, I think this place has to make it into a novel. It’s just so Thornfield or Manderly!
P.S. A tip of one of my many hats to Robert Johnson for putting me wise to this site.
The same day that we visited Battleship Cove, we also gave ourselves a walking tour of the older architecture in the downtown section of Providence. Yang and I had come here for a walk once before in the winter and marveled at the beautiful buildings with their ornate decorations. We’ll start with the Shepherd Department Store Building.
The Shepherd Department store was once the largest department store in the country, covering an entire block and consuming three buildings. First built in 1880, the store continued to grow and became a mainstay for about 100 years. Unfortunately, like many of the other big department stores (Bon Marche, Filenes, G. Fox) it was undone by the viral spread of malls. Check out the interesting background info on this store and on it and similar ones. Fortunately, Shepherd’s facade has been preserved, with a major portion of the building serving as campuses for URI and CCRI, as well as offices for the RI Department of Education, making the relief of the owl pictured above both prescient and appropriate!
And of course, you can’t help but admire this fierce lion head decorating the building.
He isn’t the only lion. This building, now a dance club, is protected by a line of threatening Panthera Leo – so you’d darn well better heed the sign warning that the rest rooms are only for patrons!
There are also far less threatening carvings or reliefs. With this building that was once a nineteenth-century performance center, we have musical instruments: mandolin and horn on one side and lyre on the other.
On another building, I found these reliefs: a pilgrim-looking guy and the female head from the old dimes. How wise to pick a relief that has rays coming from her head that can also double as pigeon repellers. Note that anchor relief just around the corner.
Between them was a medallion with this cherub.
I was struck by the Providence Performing Arts Center. This gorgeously ornate building covers an enormous amount of territory. It seems like an entire block. The front is impressive, predominating the view at this end of Weybosset Street. The sides are no less impressive. Originally built as Loewe’s Movie Palace in 1928, the theatre opened to an audience of 14,000. Loewe’s went through some tough times in the latter half of the twentieth century before its redesign as a successful multipurpose performance venue. Click here for background on this magnificent building.
Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees. The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!
This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace. Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.
This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks. So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones. I love this configuration near the entrance. We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard. So, we had to hurry a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.
The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death. Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living. This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift. The broken column signifies a life cut off. I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.
Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears? Either makes sense in this context. She also holds an anchor on her far side. Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?
I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean. Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.
I found this stylized monument of an angel particularly intriguing. Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco. It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period. I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.
The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie. What do you think? What does she perceive hovering above even her? Don’t blink!
The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time. We had to rush. However, I did get a shot of this gazebo. What a wonderful place to sit and read. Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.
I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses. Some in family groupings.
I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots. The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail. I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade. You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created. One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times. This was some time ago that I heard this tale. I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot. I do love the graceful shape.
Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for: Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments. We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies. So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them. You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave. If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.
There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them. There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame. Won’t that be a treat to see? So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!