CONFESSIONS OF A FAT COSMO GIRL Hazel Dixon-Cooper

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Wake up calls are warnings to wise up. One scare like the threat of losing the car or the house or the job usually snaps most people back on track.
 
A fat woman’s life is a series of wake up calls she fails to answer. From the jangle of shooting pains from her permanently twisted ankles, to the sound of her money being sucked down the drain of an endless weight-loss racket, she ignores the signals—sometimes until it’s too late.
 
My most important call came as an invitation to write for Cosmopolitan magazine, which both thrilled and terrified me. At fifty pounds overweight, I was a poster child for the anti-Cosmo girl.
 
For years, no matter what I tried, I failed. I joined and left Weight Watchers three times. I chugged Slim-Fast shakes, ate pounds of bacon on Atkins, and shuddered through the don’t-leave-home cabbage soup plan. Of course I lost weight, hundreds of pounds. I gained every ounce and more back. A doctor friend suggested MediFast. He swore by it, even as his belly pushed through his white lab coat.
 
I ate nothing but protein, everything but protein, and swallowed eat-anything-and-still-lose diet pills. My only nutritional expertise was the talent to turn a healthy 500-calorie meal into a 3,000-calorie binge.
 
Every fatty has a secret stash of junk food. I had several. Although I took the candy dish off my desk at my day job, I simply transferred the candy to the back of the bottom drawer. At home, I had a cache of Hershey Miniatures pushed under a stack of papers on the floor of my office. My purse always held an assortment of munchies. Under the maps and assorted change in the car’s console, I’d buried a bag of peanuts or a box of Junior Mints.
 
If no one sees you eat, it doesn’t count as much. It’s easier to lie to yourself when there are no witnesses. I justified hiding the food because I didn’t want to have to listen to another lecture, well-meant or not. What I really didn’t want was to have to be accountable for what I was doing to my body and my health.
 
So I became a stealth eater, and nearly the size of a stealth bomber. When the stash under my desk at home was empty, I would sneak into the kitchen and raid the pantry. I gnawed six-month-stale Halloween candy that had fallen out of the bag and lay forgotten on the back of a shelf.
 
I began to notice other fatties stuffing French fries in their faces while sitting on a bus bench. Or squeezed into one side of a booth for two, thighs oozing off the edge, as they shoveled down a hot-fudge-covered brownie with ice cream. Sometimes they had a porky partner along. More often, they were alone. We were kindred fools sliding down the buttered slope to self-destruction.
 
There were days when I’d panic because, for a moment, I would wake up and see the damage I was doing. Then I’d swear off food just like I’d done a thousand times before, and for a couple of days or a week, I’d lay off the junk. It never lasted long enough to make a real difference.
 
By the time I received the invitation from Cosmo, I’d settled into that steady five-to-ten-pounds-a-year climb to triple-X tent dresses. You might ask who cares if you’re fat. At that instant, I cared so much that would have given anything to be thin—for about five seconds. Then the fat fog kicked in. I flicked off the message and headed for the cafeteria at my day job.
 
“The regular, Hazel?” the overweight server behind the counter asked.
 
“Yes,” I replied. I was glad she was there because every fat person knows that you get bigger portions if another fattie’s dishing them. She placed a huge apple fritter on a plate and handed it to me. Then I got a cup of coffee with cream and sugar.
 
Under any kind of stress, I reached for food like a drunk reaches for booze. Anything that was sugary or greasy was the temporary fix I used to dull the emotions I couldn’t face. There’s a good reason it’s called comfort food. For about thirty seconds, the mouthful of the dessert or the mashed potatoes or the cheese-laden casserole warmed me, both physically and emotionally. As soon as I swallowed the bite, the glow faded and I had to shove another forkful in my face, and then another and another until I was so stuffed with food that I couldn’t feel anything but food. The guilt set in as soon as I’d hogged down that fried fritter mess.
 
I’ll start dieting tomorrow.
 
Swearing off food was easy when I was stuffed, and tomorrow is always the day.
 
Staring me right in the face was a chance to write the most well-known astrology column for the most successful women’s magazine on the planet. What did I do? Rush for the worst thing I could eat.
 
When the editor at Cosmo called, she was easy to talk to and sounded young. As we chatted, I imagined her sitting at her desk, designer jacket hanging on the back of her chair, designer coffee steaming in a designer cup. I sat at my desk shaking like a druggie needing a fix.
 
She offered the job. I accepted. Although my personal food fight was far from over, this time I’d snapped awake, and somewhere in the middle of my brain a switch flipped. That was the beginning.
 

 

With the mouth of a Gemini, the soul of a Pisces, and an intuitive Aquarius Moon, Hazel can nail anyone’s personality the moment she knows their birthday. She’s been teaching and practicing astrology for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of the internationally best-selling Rotten Day humorous astrology book series. Her just-released book, Harness Astrology’s Bad Boy, is about Pluto, the planet of transformation. She can be reached through her website, www.hazeldixoncooper.com and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/hazel.dixoncooper. Hazel loves to hear from her fans around the world and personally answers each message.

 

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THE MIRROR THAT REFLECTS IT By Bonnie Hearn Hill

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 I am climbing a steep staircase leading to the attic studio where a famed ballerina teaches dance. The light has drained away, making it difficult for me to find the right room. But I must if I am to study with this woman.

Finally, I reach the top of the stairs, and I see her. More than that, I become her. And I realize simultaneously that I am the teacher, and that I cannot walk. My crutches, scarred, wooden ones, lean against the wall, and I am sitting on the floor, my useless legs hidden beneath my skirt. I crane my neck, put my eye to the keyhole, and watch the class that I am supposed to be teaching.

It is a dream, of course, one of those morning dreams that lingers after I wake. I don’t need to analyze it or the ballerina on crutches. I have agreed to teach a class in writing for publication, and I feel like a fraud.

 

“It won’t be permanent,” Craig, the friendly school administrator had said when he asked me to take over a Tuesday-night adult school writing class because the real teacher had dropped out. Although I had published freelance articles in magazines, I had not realized my dream of selling a novel, and I had the rejection slips to prove it. Furthermore, I could not speak in public, and the few times I tried, I was silenced by chest-splitting panic attacks.

Yet something in me wanted to accept Craig’s offer, and I tried to talk myself into it. Only eight weeks. “It won’t be permanent.”

“I’ll do it,” I told him.

Tuesday had always been an optimistic day for me, an anything-can-happen day with blue Monday behind and enough of the week ahead for undreamed-of possibilities to occur. But who the hell did I think I was? How did I, a failed novelist, have the audacity to teach this class?

Before the first night arrived, I happened upon this Edith Wharton quote. “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Just the mirror. I could do that.

As I drove the thirty minutes to the school that evening, a thought came to me. Focus. Like the lens of a camera. Not wonderful writing, not hopeless writing. Just in or out of focus. Sure, that might work. At least it was a starting place.

When I reached the campus about six-thirty, the downpour had stopped. I parked as close as I could to the classroom and carried my packet of registration materials inside.

I got about halfway across the parking lot, telling myself that it would be okay, when a panic attack hit me. I broke out in a sweat, and my legs turned to water. The anxiety that had plagued me since my early teens had left me alone as long as I avoided airports and shiny, waxed floors. This new undertaking must be as stressful as climbing into a jet. Why had I agreed to do it? And what was I going to do now? For starters, ditch the shoes.

I took off my high-heeled pumps and walked in my stocking feet toward the classroom. It was March. The parking lot was wet from the rain that had left its scent in the air. I didn’t care. My breathing began to return to normal.

“Something wrong with your shoes?” An African American man with short, neatly trimmed hair, immaculate slacks, and leather jacket the color of butter joined me. He held a briefcase, and the way he carried himself telegraphed authority figure loud and clear. All I needed: an administrator to check me out.

Panic attacks teach one to improvise around the truth in any situation. I once faked car trouble on the freeway when anxiety gripped me so hard that I couldn’t drive another mile.

“I always teach in my bare feet,” I told him. “Keeps me grounded.”

“Really?” The lie was so ridiculous that he believed it. “Are you the teacher for the writing class?”

“Yes.” I bit back the impulse to spit out my feeble credentials. “I’m Bonnie.”

“Walter.” He reached out and shook my hand. “My wife suggested it. I’m retired, and I guess she wanted me out of the house one night a week.”

I didn’t know yet that most people lie about why they’re taking a writing class or pursuing any heartfelt goal, for that matter. They’re not going to say, “Oh, yes. I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, but I’ve been too terrified to attempt it, and now whatever happens in this classroom—and with you, who are probably going to tell me that I’m no damned good—is going to make or break my dream.” I wouldn’t have said it, and neither did Walter.

He surveyed the empty room with its elementary-sized desks and box of yellow pencils on the podium.

“Want me to help you sharpen these?”

“I can do it,” I said. “We won’t need more than ten, maybe only five or six.”

He gazed steadily into my eyes. “What if no one else shows up? It happens a lot in these classes.”

“Then we can get some coffee and talk about writing.” I was almost hoping the scenario would play out that way.

Just then, another man came through the door. Then two women. And another.

“Is this the writing class?” asked a redhead about my age in a soft blue denim shirt. She had a San Joaquin Valley accent, one that echoed Southern roots.

“Sure is,” Walter said, and took the registration slip she handed him.

She looked at the pile of slips on my desk. “You need some help with these?”

I nodded. “Do you know what to do with them?”

“I can figure it out.”

Soon close to twenty students sat in those small desks and looked up at me.

Some moments are so clear and defining, that although we don’t know it at the time, they remain with us like visceral photographs. I can see those faces as clearly today as I did then. I can feel the red Macy’s dress I wore with its shawl collar and ridiculous shoulder pads, the black linen summer shoes I placed behind the podium. Most of all, I can feel the fear tightening my throat as I tried to swallow.

It wasn’t about me. It was about them. They were there for the same reasons I had ventured into similar classes, only to be disappointed by someone who didn’t know, didn’t care, or both.

The room began to blur. My hands grew cold and moist. For a moment, I was all hands, all breathing. Count the breaths, I thought, two, three four. Don’t let the panic take over, two, three, four.

Walter took the registration slips from my desk and handed them to the redhead with the drawl.

These people had come out in the rain to be here, two, three, four. You don’t have to be the light, two, three, four. Just the mirror, two, three, four. Just the mirror.

“This class is about writing for profit.” The words escaped my lips, and the students looked up from their desks. “Actually, most writers probably earn minimum wage, if you consider the hours of thought and torment they put into their work.”

The room was silent. What next? The reflection, not the light.

“First, I want to know about you,” I told them. “Tell me what you write or want to write and what you expect to get from this class.”

In the front row, between the redhead and the babe with the hot pink toes, Walter raised his hand. “Walter Smith, retired educator, high school counselor, and army major. I have a series of vignettes, and I’m looking for ways to improve them.”

He turned to the redhead, who was sifting through registration slips and money.

“Ella.” She ran her fingers through her short curly hair. “As you can probably tell, I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve been writing most of my life. Don’t know if I’m any good, though.”

“I’m Gladys, and I feel the same way,” replied a heavyset woman. “I can’t seem to stop though.”

“And you?” I asked a terrified-looking woman in the back of the room. Anxiety buzzed around her like static.

She looked down. “Gloria. I want to write bilingual books for children. Inspirational stories.”

“Do you read children’s books?”

“Oh, yes, but my English is not so good. I hope I am not too stupid to be a writer.”

She had spoken what everyone else, myself included, was feeling.

“I don’t think any of you would want to write if you had no ability.” Once the words were out, I realized that they made sense. “I mean, I don’t feel called to mathematics or brain surgery.”

Even Gloria laughed at that, and I wondered if I was right. Could their desire to do this be strong enough to propel them toward their goals? Could mine?

“Well, I don’t think I’m stupid, and I’ll bet you aren’t either.” The woman with the hot pink toes and jeweled gladiator sandals had what my mother used to call a whiskey tenor. She tapped the notebooks on her desk. “I’m Mary, and I have three finished novels right here. All I want from this class is for you to read them and tell me how to get published.”

Finally some confidence, but I had a feeling that might not be a good thing.

As the rest of the class members began to talk, I was able to respond to their concerns. I had knowledge within me, answers, that I didn’t know I possessed.

I’d never seen a writing class from this perspective. Instead, I had looked at it through the tunnel of my own need. Now, all of these tunnels were directed at me. I tried out my focus idea on them. I liked the lack of judgment in that word. An unfocused manuscript could be brought back into focus. It wasn’t a failure.

By the time the hour expired, more than twenty students had spoken and registered.

They clustered around me. “I want you to read my novels.” Nancy shoved her notebooks onto the podium.

“I brought a little poem,” Gladys said.

Over the sea of heads, I saw Gloria head for the door. Her long dark hair hid her face but not her fear. She glanced over her shoulder at me. “My husband called. I left the oven on at home.”

Before I tried to figure out why Gloria’s husband couldn’t just turn off the oven, Ella nudged closer. Dollar bills and checks fanned out in her hand. “Looks like this class is a go,” she said.

END

 

California author Bonnie Hearn Hill taught writing for twenty years, and this selection is from a memoir-in-progress. Her fourteenth novel, IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN, will publish in the UK in July, 2015 and in the United States four months later. She writes suspense dealing with social justice and women’s issues, and a film based on one of her books is currently in pre-production. Last month, twenty-five years after that first class, her student Gloria’s book was brought out by a large inspirational publisher.

 

 

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Balance by Kenneth Weene

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Like most young children, I liked playground equipment – that is most playground equipment. I didn’t like seesaws. My brother, who is older and was therefore bigger, would always con me into joining him on the seesaw only sit on his end and keep me trapped, legs dangling uselessly and hands gripping in terror, high in the air. Then, when I had been suitably intimidated, he would jump off and allow me to fall to the earth, invariably crying as a result.

It wasn’t fair. I knew that we were supposed to balance that long beam so it was even, but we never did. Over time I came to think of maintaining balance in life as very important, but I also had learned that life is not fair. Accepting its unfairness was an important lesson. Being prepared to pick myself up after disappointment or after my brother jumped off the seesaw was an essential life principal.

Fast forward about fourteen or fifteen years. I was a freshman in college. Like all colleges, Princeton had a physical education requirement. I ended up in a boxing class. Our coach, Joe Brown, was a delight of a man. He had been a professional boxer, and he saw boxing as less about fighting and more about dance, rhythm, and balance – especially balance. I wasn’t very good at the sport. I hated hitting others almost as much as I hated getting hit. But the idea of balancing myself struck home. We would take our stance, and Joe would push against us. If somebody wasn’t properly balanced, if his weight wasn’t properly distributed and set low, down he would go in an embarrassing heap.

Quickly I appreciated the lesson of balancing myself, of tucking in, of setting my feet and getting low. I thought of that balance as self-organization. If we aren’t prepared and organized, we are not ready to deal with life.

Joe taught me other lessons about balance as well. In addition to boxing, he taught sculpting. While I didn’t sculpt, I liked him well enough to occasionally hang out in his studio. He always had music playing – usually classical Spanish guitar. It wasn’t simply a love of music but also a keen awareness of the need for aesthetic sensory input. There was also decent wine to drink, the earthy smell of the material, and the sensuous tactile experience of working the clay. And there were wonderful discussions an unending flow of topics.

The balance of sensations, including intellect and emotion, helps us to live fully. I call that the balance of life.

Besides sculpting, Joe designed playground equipment – not the static equipment of my youth but interactive climbing apparatuses. When one child moved, it would change the equipment for all the other children who were on it. This meant that the child had to be aware of the social matrix in which he or she was playing.

Social balance is important if one is to find fulfillment. If we are not balanced in terms of the significant others in our lives, we will find ourselves very lonely.

These four balancing lessons are integral to my artistic endeavors. My creative milieu is words; I’m a writer – mostly novels but poetry and short stories as well. Every day I sit down at my computer and type away. It would be easy to lose perspective and focus, to become wrapped up in my work, unable to accept the inevitable rejection letter, digging my way deeper and deeper into a maze of my own mind. It is so very easy to lose balance. That is why I like to review these four lessons, to think about their application to my life.

Periodically I ask myself four questions:

1) Am a ready to deal with disappointment? If the story doesn’t work or the rejection letter comes, can I get on with my work?

2) Have I got my life organized so I won’t be caught off guard? Have I taken care of what has to be done?

3) Am I getting good quality input to keep my mind and body in tune? Have I planned ways to fill my personal space with the quality sensations, information, and nurturance that will allow me to be productive?

4) Have I thought about the social world in which I am pursuing my art? Have I taken proper steps to meet the needs of those who are important to me and have I made my needs clear to them?

I no longer play on seesaws or climb on jungle gyms. I’m long since out of college and well past the age when I could box even if I wanted. However, the life lessons about balance still hold true.

 

Brief bio:

Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil

Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. He is the proud papa of five novels and two short print books. His most recent books are “Broody New Englander” and “Times to Try the Soul of Man.”

To find Ken’s books visit http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU

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Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen

2014 GISHWHES Story, Charline Ratcliff

Last August (2014), one of my Facebook friends contacted me because she was once again participating in the annual GISHWHES event. (GISHWHES stands for the: Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen).

This event’s existence began in 2011 – created by actor Misha Collins. His reason for creating this competition was that he “loved the idea of thousands of people from all over the world connecting to create incredible things.” Collins hoped that participating in GISHWHES would encourage the participants “to do good in the world.”

One of the scavenger hunt tasks was to locate a published author and get them to pen a tale that combined Misha Collins, Queen Elizabeth and a make-believe creature known as a Helopus.

Did I mention that the authors were only allowed to use, at max, 140 words to create said story? I almost said no – but I do love a writing challenge. (Additionally, the author would also need to provide a photo of his/her book along with the story – submitting a photo of the book, the story AND the author might even get the contestant/team additional points).

So, while today is Earth Day, a day on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection – I also felt that (based upon what GISHWHES represents) this story would be a fun inclusion to help celebrate the day.

 

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Misha Collins awoke from a partially completed night of slumber. Stumbling to the window, he turned away almost immediately; hurriedly dressing; mumbling wildly.

“…Queen Elizabeth,”

“…dead!”

“…Monster!”

Waiting at the elevator, he heard cables rumbling, yet time crawled. Panic overtook him and he bolted for the stairs.

Reaching his destination, he hoped his imagination had played a vile trick. However, Queen Elizabeth still lay unmoving. And a monstrosity lurked nearby…

“Elizabeth!”

Where were her guards?

He sensed the creature behind him; felt iciness as a tendril reached past him. Her eyes finally opened; her look almost sinister.

“Misha, he is an Elopus: half elephant, half octopus. This is his new home.”

“But, the … Elopus … will never be accepted!” Misha croaked.

“Why not,” she asked. “I am…”

At this, his sight shifted. There stood Elizabeth… Human face… Octopus body…

 

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Charline Ratcliff is a writer, reviewer, and interviewer. Some of her interests include: travel, learning about other cultures (past and present), and enjoying the beauty of nature. She also strives to help others by sharing her personal experiences; seeking to raise awareness, and to provide hope to those who feel there is none.

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Living with Loadshedding by Maggie Tideswell

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South Africans are faced with an unusual challenge, namely loadshedding.

Loadshedding is defined as the action taken to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. In practice, this means that there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers, necessitating interruption of supply to certain areas. It is a last resort to balance electricity supply and demand to avoid total collapse of the electricity supply grid.

Escom, South Africa’s electricity supply company, has fallen behind on maintenance and upgrades of their power plants over the past 20 years. Now it can’t cope with the demand of electricity for day to day living. This affects businesses, mines, factories, traffic lights, hospitals and private homes, the whole country and nobody is exempt from it.

Rolling blackouts has become an integral part of living and working in South Africa today. Although there is a schedule for the power outages, one never knows when it is going to affect the area you are in. Escom doesn’t stick with the schedule. One cannot plan one’s life according to Escom’s schedules. The power could go off at any time, in the middle of your favourite TV programme, with dinner partly cooked, before you had time to save that very important manuscript you have sweated over for hours. It is completely unpredictable.

And there is nothing anybody can do about it!

When the power goes off, it isn’t only for a couple of hours as it is meant to be. You could be ‘in the dark’ for 6 – 8 hours at a time.

People in the towns and cities are not equipped anymore to cope without electricity. Shopping malls and hospitals have emergency generators, but there is chaos on the roads when the traffic lights are out.

At home one has to grin and bear it with the help of candle power, portable battery operated radios and one-plate paraffin or gel stoves. New dishes are being created as our way of cooking is forced to adapt. One-pot dishes are the order of the day. Laundry is a challenge.

And loadshedding is here to stay for at least the next two years!

But, as a writer of the ghostly unexplained, flickering candle light is great for the flow of the creative juices about the paranormal. Every dark side has a bright one too! And fortunately my laptop’s battery lasts for several hours. I’m sure every ghost in my environment smiles at me where I pound away with only a couple of candles to light the keyboard. Great atmospherics!

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I have been interested in the paranormal, the things that go bump in the night kind, since I lived in Pilgrims Rest, South Africa’s very own gold rush town, for three years. And the thing that fascinates me about ghosts is why some people pass over to rest in peace and others don’t. Two of my paranormal romances have been published, Dark Moon in 2011 and Moragh, Holly’s Ghost in 2013. The latter was nominated as SAIR Book of the Year 2015.

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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY: NEVER AGAIN AND NEVER FORGET By John B. Rosenman

Nazi-Prisoners
It has been seventy years since the Holocaust.  To some, it is ancient history, little more than a fading myth.  To others it is a painful daily presence, especially if it decimated their entire families and they bear an identification tattoo on their forearms.  How did such a colossal atrocity happen?  How could it happen?  Could such a nightmare happen again?  Six million Jews, both adults and children died in gas chambers and by other horrific methods.  Nearly two-thirds of Jewish people living in Europe at the time of World War II were killed by Nazis.  And yet today there are those who scoff and say the scope and numbers are vastly exaggerated.  Some deny it ever happened at all.

But it did happen, and Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) was established by Israel’s Knesset (unicameral parliament) in 1959.  It marks the liberation of the dreaded Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in 1945.  After much debate, the date of Holocaust Remembrance Day was finally decided.   It falls on the 27th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, but it is moved slightly if the 27th happens to be Shabbat (Friday or Saturday) or Sunday.  This year Holocaust Remembrance Day is Thursday, April 16, which happens to be my birthday.  Therefore, it seems more personal, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this essay.

To me, Holocaust Remembrance Day represents the enduring senseless hate and intolerance people have as well as the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  In addition, the Jews who perished and were sometimes subjected to hideous medical experiments remind me of others who were victims of the Holocaust.  Altogether, it claimed the lives of eleven million people.  Three million were Polish Christians, and most of the remaining victims were from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Holland, France, and even Germany itself.  With Hitler’s approval, Nazis also singled out particular groups such as Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals, Roma (Gypsies), and the mentally and physically ill.  Perhaps we should reflect on this a little before we find fault with others.

There have been many holocausts throughout history, and collectively they constitute a dark tribute to our species’ tendency to torture and destroy those we disapprove of in any way.  Whether we call them genocide or use some other term, they remain pretty much the same thing.  EXCEPT we are getting better at doing them!  For example, Mao Zedong, the greatest mass murderer in history, beat the Nazis at their own game, killing a minimum of 40,000,000 people in four years alone from 1958 to 1962.  That’s an impressive body count, though one can argue that during WWII, a far higher percentage of Jews than Chinese peasants were killed.  Either way, modern science may prove to be the ultimate winner.  Someday, with the use of nuclear bombs or bacteriological agents, we might even manage to kill billions and threaten our very existence.

In many ways, Hitler’s Holocaust seems to be a natural outgrowth of Jewish history, for Jews have suffered and been discriminated against for a long time.   When I first read the Old Testament, it seemed to me the Jews were always being driven out of Jerusalem and having their Temple destroyed.  We were slaves of Pharaoh and even when he let us go, things didn’t get easy.  We were disobedient and distrusted God, and we were punished by having to wander for forty years in the wilderness until all the transgressors had died.  In subsequent centuries and millennia, our lot continued to be hard.  And although we finally established an independent state in 1948, we haven’t exactly lived in comfort in our home.

Some Jews might take pride in believing we are “the chosen people,” but with our rich vein of humor, we often look askance at this distinction.  In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye like Job is overwhelmed by life’s injustices.  One day he says to God:  “I know, I know, we are the chosen people. But once in a while can’t you choose somebody else?”

Holocaust Remembrance Day stems from the fact that a vastly disproportionate number of Jews were “chosen” to die and suffer during WWII.  Six million.  Often, I’m sure, victims of Hitler’s “Final Solution” must have felt that God was choosing them alone, or that Fate was blind where they were concerned.  To a large extent, Holocaust Remembrance Day represents an attempt not only to remember what happened and to honor those who died, but to make sense of it.

How did it happen?  A simplistic answer: It happened because there were mean, vicious people, and many folks, who should have cared, either didn’t care enough to act or weren’t paying close enough attention.  What is the meaning of such injustice, and what lesson can we take away from the Holocaust?  As my title suggests, we must never forget it happened, and we must never let it happen again.  Also, we should enjoy and cherish the gift of life, for it is fragile and can be whisked away in an instant.  COULD the holocaust happen again?  You bet.  Unfortunately, it happens every day.  Just pick up a map or watch the news.

How is Yom HaShoah observed?  As Jennifer Rosenberg notes in “Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day,” “Since Yom HaShoah is a relatively new holiday, there are no set rules.”  There are many conflicting beliefs about what is “appropriate.”  The day “has been observed with candlelighting, speakers, poems, prayers and singing.  Often, six candles are lighted to represent the six million.”  Most meaningful, perhaps, “Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences or share in the readings.”  Sometimes, “people read from the Book of Names” in an effort to remember the dead and convey a sense “of the huge number of victims.”  In Israel, all public entertainment is forbidden on this day.   “At ten in the morning, a siren is sounded” and everyone is supposed to stop “what they’re doing…and stand in remembrance.” http://history1900s.about.com/cs/holocaust/a/yomhashoah.htm

Others have different methods of observing this holiday, such as attending the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum located in Washington, D.C.  From my visit, what I remember most is that visitors were given a card.  Each one showed a photograph of a holocaust victim along with some information about the person.   My photo is of a young boy with a luminous smile.  I find it to be inexpressibly sad because of the loss of such a young and promising life.

I have no doubt that the holocaust contributes to the horrific nature of some of my writing.  In it, I explore evil in its various forms and search for hope even though it may seem hopeless to do so.  Ultimately, Holocaust Remembrance Day stands for hope rather than despair.  Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering” and the importance of seeking “to transform the suffering into a creative force.”  This is precisely what Holocaust Remembrance Day is meant to achieve.

John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books.  His work includes science fiction, fantasy, YA, and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes” won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.”  In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E
Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

No gas will be required

She shivers in the night,
as an old dog quivers
not knowing the why
but sure of its end.
Yesterday they came;
they had so much to say—
asking questions, giving
faint praise, wanting
her memories to be lies.
An exorcism must be held,
and she, revenant, must
be expelled. It is only right,
this remnant of   sorrow,
this palsied rag left by hate,
must be expunged.
War can be forgiven
when the victim is gone,
when memory has expired;
when the lingered guilt of evil
can finally be retired.
She passes with a shiver,
her soul but a whisper,
a silent passing in the night.

© Kenneth Weene 2015

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Life or Death by James Secor

 

Edgar Allan Poe, it is said, would read the news, the scandal sheets and even the Federal Register looking for stories. Today, we have the Internet, which can be an amazing scandal sheet. But sometimes there’s just news, weird news, stupid news, horrible news (the norm). And this story came via a news outlet. I just left out the hook. I also colorized the story. I intended it to be a horror story but something happened along the way. The ending was intended, though. A kind of, “and then this happened,” as with children telling what happened.

And then, in a story the following day, I ran across another graveyard item. It is now being written on the dining room table, listening to Memphis Minnie. This one, upcoming, is intentially absurdist. Life or Death was not intended so. It’s just. . . something got hold of me. . .

 

stella pirella deirdre webb's headstone modified Jim Secor

Life After Death

by

James L. Secor

 

Imagine your most fervent wish came true. Immeasurable bliss. Of course, for appearance’s sake you’d have to withhold public displays of joy and thanksgiving. Perhaps not so difficult to do, as the wish was also secretly held. But sometimes the inner workings of human nature have a tendency to work their way up through layers of consciousness and self-protection to appear unbidden and miraculously into the public domain. Then, you just make excuses for your ill-got behavior, explaining it away, if, indeed, your sentiments are not in agreement with others. Which, of course, they are not for this story. For this story is about wishing and repercussions.

Roxanne was a strong woman with dearly held beliefs. However, her mother-in-law was a domineering bitch. Though Roxanne was able to keep her at a distance—Roxanne and Will lived elsewhere—but Mama Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb insisted on daily phone calls to “Billy.” Whenever anyone is trying to control you, they will lie. Inevitably. Although Will knew this, knowledge seemed to be on the back burner whenever Mama Stella called  “Billy.” The word “Billy” was a button pusher. Will did not whine on the phone but he was acquiescent. A mama’s boy yes man. Not that, at this distance Will necessarily did his mother’s bidding but he did mention it. Whenever. And whenever Mama Stella visited, more often than necessary or welcome, adjustments of a sort had  to be made in order, as Will or “Billy” had it, to keep her, if not happy then moderately content.

During one such visit, Roxanne and Will sat in the kitchen, a late night moment of togetherness.

“What do we need with servants?”

“We’re rich enough, Rochester.”

“Why do you insist on calling me that?”

“Because I can’t live without you.”

“I might as well be Jeeves.” Roxanne’s dish washing become noisy, water sloshing about.

“I have Mama for that.”

“Ain’t that the truth!” More sloshing.

“Don’t be too hard on her, Rochester.”

Roxanne rinsed her hands and turned to face her husband, wiping her hands on a bright flowery tea towel.

“Surely you’re not conspiring to have her move in here? I’ll have to buy another oven to cook in.”

“Why?”

“She keeps her Zinfandel in the oven.”

“Oh, yes. I forgot.”

“How could you?!”

Will shrugged. Then, “Where’s she keep it when she’s here?”

“Writing desk drawer.”

“You’ve checked?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Roxanne sighed. “Warm wine!”

A sudden creaking from upstairs cut short the conversation. Quietly they listened to the wandering sound. That could only be Mama Stella. Mama Stella with a tank full. Roxanne looked at Will.

“Beer?” Her voice was unnaturally loud.

“Yes.”

“Val-Dieu?”

“A little bit of God from the valley can’t be bad.”

“Let us hope so,” grunted Roxanne as she took the beer from the fridge. She went in search of appropriate glasses. Not a search at all, as Roxanne was rather OC about her kitchen.

A pop of the cork and a scurry of creaking from above greeted Roxanne’s return to the table. Will poured, careful about the head. Not an  easy task with Belgian beer.

Roxanne drank her way through the foaming head, pulled away with a bubbly brown moustache and smiled. She refilled her glass.

“Funny how she can drink and wander around a strange house and not meet calamity.”

“Calamity Jane.”

“Why do we have to do things her way?”

“Only when she’s here.”

“Bullshit.” Roxanne took a long swallow.

“Well, alright. But it keeps her under control. . .somewhat.”

“Somewhat. No truer word. She’ll probably rise up to make sure she’s mourned and buried just so.”

“You’d like that?” Will looked at her over the top of his glass.

“God no! The thought of your mother rising from the grave is too frightening for words.”

“Yes. I think you’re right.”

Will and Roxanne laughed heartily, requiring  more ale to mellow this world they’d conjured up.

“I don’t think you’d know what  to do without her.”

“Lord give me the chance to find out.”

“This is my mother you’re talking about, y’know.”

“Exactly.”

“You really wish my poor mother dead?” asked Will, holding his glass up for more.

“We could travel without your mother.”

Will took a long drink.

“She is still my mother.”

“Impotent dreams.” Though Roxanne wished they had children so a toy could be left on the stairs one night.

When it happened, it wasn’t via misplaced toy. Where  would she get the children? There was only Will and he was doing something wrong, not to have given his father a son; but for Mama Stella, it was all Roxanne’s fault. The snide comments irked both Roxanne and Will. All the more reason for short, well-spaced visits. And, of course, Will was not assertive—or perhaps reckless?–enough to reprimand his mother, as it were. Set her straight. Or, more upsetting to Roxanne, not defending his wife or his marriage.

When mother was out of the picture, Billy as a different person. Billy was Will. Sometimes willful. Which made the marriage exciting.

So, Roxanne spent a good deal of time dreaming of ways in which Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb might meet her maker after each visit, and, for that matter, before, at the phone call announcing her intention. Toys on the stairs was the least offensive, as was a drunken stupor fall, even though Stella did not drink so much in quantity, just whenever. So she had good tolerance and never stumbled. Still, Roxanne’s fantasy was a good one, though not the most shining. Roxanne was very creative.

When it came to pass, Roxanne’s fantasy deaths for Mama Stella could never have matched her mother-in-law’s true demise. The accident was rather inconsequential. She hit her head on the stove reaching for her Zinfandel, which had somehow worked its way further back on the middle rack than it was accustomed to be stowed. She hit her head on the door, bounced off the stove door and fell heavily on her nose and forehead. Estella Pirella Deirdre Webb lay on the kitchen floor all day and night holding her Zinfandel, which had not broken, when Mr. Webb returned from his business trip. She lay there awhile longer until her husband could gather his wits  to call 911. At which point he became suspect in a suspected spousal death. His alibi panned out and the accident was officially declared an accident.

The church service, the viewing and the graveside epistolatory diatribe went without a hitch. The perhaps excessively tall and ornate headstone was placed and life went on.

On the seven week, 49th day, anniversary of Stella Pirella Deirdre Webb’s death, when the dead person’s soul is supposed to take on a new form, the family gathers to say good-bye, for it is all over. Truly and forever all over.

Roxanne and Will went to Mama Stella’s grave to lay their gift of flowers, a beautiful large gathering of Queen of Hearts, a large red-almost-to-black bulbous flower flaring out from a green centre, like great lips ready for a kiss. The opening in the shape of an upside down heart. Silky and slim. Biological name Nepenthes robcantleyii. Roxanne had chosen the flowers, making sure they were potted so they would not die quickly.

With the birds chittering away, Roxanne bent over and placed the over-sized pot at the foot of the headstone. The marble edifice fell over and the bronze angel mounted on the beveled carved rays topping the black stone clouted her on the head and killed her. And then it was very, very quiet in the cemetery.

 queen of hearts

 

Bio: Jimsecor is surviving in Kansas under the Brownback Horror and the first rain in a long time. A former student from China came by for a visit; he’s now teaching in Chicago. His new hip is coming along, though slower than he’d like. He is now at Covington’s Who’s Who but otherwise an unknown celebrity with publications here and there, in 3 countries, and some theatre production in China, where he staged an all-female Lysistrata that passed the gov’t filming. He thought it was nice that he remained a good boy; in the US he’s not so good, I think is the way to put it. At least, he’s very outspoken, including over Obama’s not reading Lupeé. Jim can be found at Linkedin and, via Minna vander Pfaltz, at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com. And can be reached directly at hellecchino@eclipso.eu.

 

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Writer, Writer Pants on Fire – Or Confessions of a News Junkie  By Nancy Cole Silverman

april 8

I was once taken to task by a reader for saying that I think a good writer is not only a good liar, but that there is also a bit of larceny in their blood. The young woman in the crowd looked at me as though I had just attacked the Holy Grail. It seems to me, I said, that if cops and robbers are at times only separated by a thin line – that between right and wrong – then certainly mystery writers are only a blank page apart from their characters and the crimes they commit. Pease let me go on record and say that I do not believe all cops and robbers are cut from the same cloth or that writers are all liars, cheats and scoundrels, but that at some point, writers do tell lies, and we all do steal. We have to. We steal from each other – I’m not talking plagiarism – but we are frequently inspired by the ideas of another writer, a conversation overheard at the park, a mother talking to her daughter, two lovers in an argument, or a news story that caught our attention as we had our morning coffee that won’t let go.

For instance, this last month I’ve been riveted by the Robert Durst’s story.  In case you missed it, it’s the one about the son of a New York real estate mogul accused of murdering his wife, getting a female friend to dress up as her, enter their New York apartment so that she might give the appearance of his wife returning home, then moving to Texas where he changed his identity to that of a mute woman, befriends a neighbor, who he is suspected of convincing to go to California and kill the very woman who supposedly helped him cover up the murder of his wife, and is later accused of murdering the man in self-defense, cutting up the body, and dumping it in the bay. Got that? It’s an amazing story. If I set down to write it I don’t think I could have imagined all the twists and turns. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction. While I wasn’t quick enough to grab the idea for myself, writers Marcus Hinckey and Marc Smerling did. They turned it into a successful screenplay, All Good Things, and later worked with HBO to produce a documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. 

After twenty-five years in news and talk radio it’s no surprise that I look to news for the source of my inspirations. For a long time I worked both sides of the desk.  In the early days I worked as a reporter, doing light news, when a woman’s voice was a novelty. Later I worked on the business side in sales, marketing and eventually management where women were again a novelty. When I retired I was one of two female general managers in the marketplace.

Growing up in the business I saw talk radio as the grand central station of any market it was in. It was the local watering hole where politicians, entertainers, doctors, lawyers, celebrity-chefs and those colorful, local personalities – you name it – came to vent.  As for the listeners, the on-air hosts were their friends; faceless voices they listened to each day on their commute to and from work for the latest box score, gossip or crisis update.  It’s also where they called to yell at the host and to share their grievances and their victories.  For many, talk radio was their commuters’ shrink, their best friend, a faceless voice who would listen and was there for them, twenty-four seven. For me, this theater of the mind – that you could hear but could not see – was rich soil from which to write my new series.

In my first book, Shadow of Doubt, Carol Childs, a middle-aged mom embarking on a new career as a reporter, is told by her friend and next door neighbor that her aunt, a top Hollywood agent has died suspiciously in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills home. Where did the idea come from? A news story of course. The day after an Academy Awards show here in Hollywood, I read an article about a Hollywood Agent who had been shot and killed as she drove home from the awards show.  That in itself was terrible, but what followed in the paper was even more intriguing. The agent had twin nieces and had left a will in which one niece inherited one-million dollars and the other niece just one dollar. One dollar! I couldn’t let that pass. The story just wouldn’t let go of me. That’s frequently the way it is.

But what came out of the story, for me anyway, was even more revealing.   I started to think about Carol and what her own internal struggles might be. Young, single, in the midst of a career change. I looked around at other women, women in the midst of reinventing themselves and the pressures that were on them to succeed. Did I steal from that? You bet. As for my characters Misty Dawn, a former hippy, flower-power clairvoyant who befriends Carol, or Tyler Hunt, her boy-wonder boss, who refers to Carol as the world’s oldest cub reporter, did I make them up? Or were they a combination of the strange but lovable personalities I’ve met along the way? I get asked that a lot but I’ll never tell.  However, I will say they all made for a better story because I pulled from those around me and blended fact with fiction.  In essence, I lied.  A lot.  But it all made for Carol’s experiences to ring true on the page.

I was very pleased when Kenneth Weene reviewed Shadow of Doubt with great praise.  He and other reviewers, who have also liked it, have the set the bar for this new mystery series. And as the sequel, Beyond a Doubt, is about to be released in July, I find myself rubbing my hands, hoping my readers and reviewers will enjoy my second book as much as they did the first.

Beyond a Doubt opens with a body dump. Is the idea original? Not entirely. Years ago I woke up to the sounds of helicopters above my house in the hills where I live. Commuters had spotted a body and called police.  The story stuck with me, the emotion of seeing a body airlifted from the canyon, not easy to forget. I pulled from all those scenes to get the feelings and emotion I wanted Carol to feel on the page. Am I guilty of theft? Absolutely.

My point is that as writers we’re like emotional sponges. We soak in all that we see and hear around us. We have to. To be authentic on the page, one has to be able to recall a similar experience with from within ourselves, or that we’ve experienced vicariously through others. Whether it’s a scene we’re writing or the same gut feeling we need to show our character experiencing we have to pull it from somewhere. To do that a writer must steal from all around him, blur the lines of fact and fiction – lie even – then wrap it up in from of novel or a short story.

Bio – Award winning author Nancy Cole Silverman’s new series with Henery Press is available in bookstores and online. For more information about Ms. Silverman, please visit her website; www.nancycolesilverman.com or her publisher http://henerypress.com/nancy-cole-silverman/

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Affirmations by Linda Palmer

 

RightTrack

Time and again, I’ve noticed that when I open my mind to a new idea and begin to propose, plot, or write a new book, I start getting what I call “affirmations”(others might call them coincidences) that I’m on the right track with my story and character decisions.

This began in my Silhouette Romance days and three particularly useful affirmations associated with a proposal I was working up. I wanted my hero to be conflicted about illegal immigration from Mexico into Texas, which made doing his border patrol job very difficult.  I realized I didn’t know what branch of the government controlled that. At the time, the internet wasn’t available, so the world wasn’t at my fingertips as it is now. Before I had a chance to go to a library to research my question, I ran into a man who had Border Patrol on his cap. We were both donating blood, which meant neither of us could go anywhere, so I was able to ask him a lot of questions that he graciously answered.

A second affirmation involved my need for a believably lonely stretch of highway. I wanted my heroine to stop and change a flat tire for the hero, whose entire arm was in a cast. If there was a lot of traffic on the road, someone else would have done the job already. She had to think that she was his only hope. I found the answer to my dilemma when the woman who sells me make-up stopped by my house and began talking about her recent vacation. Out of the blue, she said that she’d driven down a road for over an hour without seeing another car. I got out an atlas. She pointed out the road, which was—you guessed it–in southern Texas.

The biggest affirmation of all was release of Dan Seals’ incredible song “Bordertown,” which sealed my determination and captured the exact mood I wanted. These affirmations gave me a boost, and I moved on with a little more confidence.

Stormswept, first published by Wild Horse Press, was an early YA paranormal romance resulting in so many affirmations that I listed them. In that book, a character that is in the military is called up to help repair damage from a hurricane that I randomly named Farrah. My affirmation? Right after I chose that name, a woman  popped into my day-job office wearing a name tag that said “Farrah.” Coincidence? Maybe, but also an affirmation because she was actually looking for another office, and I could easily have been away from my desk the moment she showed up.

A second example from that book was my decision to have my heroine enrolled in classes at a culinary institute. I immediately received two affirmations. First, I started seeing ads for a culinary institute while watching “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy channel. Second, I heard one of my coworkers on the phone talking about her cousin actually enrolling in one. If I hadn’t already made that choice for my character, I’d think that hearing about the institute subconsciously made me choose it. But it just didn’t happen that way.

More affirmations popped up after I decided that my heroine would be cooking breakfasts at her sister’s B&B. I not only got a random e-mail from Kraft foods full of breakfast recipes, one of the characters on “Big Bang Theory” talked about a B&B.

A final example is my choice of “mermaid” as a nickname the hero gives the heroine. After I decided on that, I immediately received three affirmations. First, the movie Mermaids starring Cher came on television. Second, there was a story on the news about a prosthetic mermaid tail created for a woman who didn’t have legs so she could swim. Third, I overheard a coworker saying her husband called her that.

By far, the book that has resulted in the most affirmations is Titanium, my latest release from Uncial Press. I received so many that I can’t even remember them all, but a couple stand out that aren’t spoilers. My book is about a US Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. The first glimmer of a plot resulted from a song I heard in the movie Pitch Perfect: “Titanium” by David Guetta featuring Sia. That led to the word titanium popping up everywhere in one form or another.

I’d just decided a graphic novel series would play an integral part in the story when my nephew brought over his Batman collection. I’ll admit right here that modern graphic novels stump me because I can’t figure out who’s saying what. (Oh how I miss the Archie and Dennis the Menace comics my daddy used to bring home.) So while I didn’t necessarily “get” Batman, I did get an affirmation that I was headed in the right direction.

The hero of my story has an injury resulting from his time in Afghanistan, with some PTSD to further complicate him. Right after that plot decision, a “Sixty Minutes” episode dealt with new treatments for PTSD. Even better, the treatments were only being offered at the Little Rock VA Medical Center, which is about thirty miles south of me.

Sharing some of the other affirmations would give away my plot, but I got enough of them to assure me that I’d done the right thing in writing this book of the heart.

Now I know it could be argued that I’m more aware of these affirmations because I’m immersed in my novel (sort of like when you learn a new word and then you suddenly see it everywhere), but it feels like so much more. Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga says she got her idea from a dream. Well, no dreams for me so far, but I do get affirmations straight from my personal muse, and her thumbs-up never  fails to encourage and inspire me.

 

Bio: Linda Palmer has been writing for pleasure since the third grade and has letters from her teachers predicting she’d be an author. Though becoming a writer was never actually a dream, it was something she did naturally and eventually with intent. Silhouette Books published Linda’s first novel in l989 and the next twenty over a ten year period (writing as Linda Varner). In 1999 she took a break to take care of her family. She learned that she couldn’t not write, however, and began again, changing her genre to young adult paranormal romance. She has twelve full-length novels out as e-reads and in print and there are always more in the works. She also has many novellas and short stories available.  Linda has been a Romance Writers of America finalist twice and won the 2011 and 2012 EPIC eBook awards in the Young Adult category. She married her junior high school sweetheart many years ago and lives in Arkansas, USA with her family.

 

Website: www.lindavpalmer.com

Link to Titanium: http://tinyurl.com/nj66kok

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc./payphoto

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Love, Lust and Whodunit

Crimelandia-Logo

Love inspires us to be heroes and fools, lust has a long, distinguished role as a motive for bad behavior, but the confluence of the mystery and romance genres is something different, and that’s what we were talking about. Five mystery writers who included elements of romance in their novels shared the stage at the 2015 Left Coast Crime conference. The name of our panel was Guns and Roses.

We were a disparate group. Donnell Ann Bell moderated. Her debut mystery, The Past Came Hunting, was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Kendra Elliott has sold over a million books of tightly plotted romantic suspense. Yvonne Kohano’s books are heavy on the romance and include a little spice. Carole Price’s heroine is an ex-cop who is romantically involved with a Navy Seal. Each of my three books is a mystery, but together, they describe a young widow’s journey from emotional devastation to a new love – in other words, the trilogy is a romance.

A sprinkling of romance in a mystery novel isn’t a radical change. Maybe Miss Marple simply didn’t – didn’t even think about it, but others did. Nancy Drew had what’s-his-name, although he always struck me as part of the scenery and not a player. Adam Dagleish, PD James’ poet police commissioner, had romance in his life, however, resolving the relationship always took back seat to solving the crime. On the noir side, our heroes were rarely celibate, but romantic love was a faint and usually regretted glow in their rearview. James Bond followed in that cynical tradition, without the regrets, and had more fun.

In today’s mysteries, there are more partnerships and fewer detectives with a little romance on the side. Attitudes have evolved. Calling women dames, as noir heroes did, is not cool. Still, this is evolution not revolution. Mystery writers who incorporate romance in their stories owe a debt to the past and, strangely enough, to a pillar of noir.

You don’t get much more hard-boiled (harder boiled?) than Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, but Hammett also created Nick and Nora Charles. The Thin Man, Hammett’s last book, introduced this wisecracking married couple who solved mysteries together. Despite The Thin Man’s enormous success, Hammett didn’t write another Nick and Nora novel, but he and others wrote stories that became five more Nick and Nora movies. These immensely popular films led to a radio show, a TV series, even a Broadway musical. I think it’s fair to say that Nick and Nora are the parents of today’s romantically involved detective teams.

It is a proud tradition. Kendra Elliott’s Callahan and McLane series features FBI Special Agent Ava McLane and the man she has come to love, police detective Mason Callahan. I wouldn’t be surprised if a future book didn’t see them marry. In Carole Price’s Shakespeare in the Vineyard series, an ex-crime analyst Cait Pepper inherits a vineyard, two summer theaters and a lot of trouble. Her romance is a bit more tenuous. RT Tanner, her Navy Seal, has an unfortunate habit of being called back to duty just when things are moving along between them. Donnell Ann Bell writes stand-alone mysteries, each with a romantic relationship that enhances the suspense. Because the books are stand-alone, the romance as well as the mystery is resolved at the end.

Plenty of mysteries are still written with little or no romance, but overall, there is a greater emphasis on romance. Among the panelists, this is most evident in Yvonne Kohano’s Flynn’s Crossing series, which moves from one couple to another in a group of long-time friends. Yvonne’s books are on the romantic side of romantic suspense. The relationship is resolved, and a mystery is solved, in that order of importance.

A romantic relationship provides another dimension to both characters and plot. The reader wonders how a budding romance will survive the stress of being involved in a murder investigation. For the protagonists, seeing their beloved in danger raises the ante. There can be conflicts within the romance. The main character in my trilogy is a young widow with two potential love interests. Which one she will choose, if either, adds another layer of mystery to the who-done-it of the central plot line. That question will be answered in the third book, which doesn’t come out until the fall, but readers are already expressing strong opinions as to how it should go. I’m not telling.

Back when books were only on paper and sold from shelves in stores, genres were important. Lines had to be drawn because booksellers had to decide which shelf. Does this book belong on the mystery shelf or on the romance shelf?  (A little off the topic, but funny: one ex-bookstore employee swears that, back in the day, the question of whether a book was “literature” or “fiction” was decided by whether or not the author was alive. You guess which way it went.)

Genre still matters to the brick and mortar stores, and this is among their challenges. Elsewhere, in our electronic age, a book can “sit” on as many shelves as seems appropriate, and the number of shelves isn’t limited by physical space. A reader looking for a mystery with a touch of romance can click on romantic suspense, or mystery, or romance. The same thing applies to science fiction and fantasy, and steampunk and every other genre. The question of what is literary fiction vs. popular fiction will probably remained unanswered forever, but do readers really care?

The name of our panel was Guns and Roses; it could have been Blurred Lines. Genres still exist, and they matter, but the edges are melting into each other. Bits of this are finding their way into books of that. Readers are getting a wider variety of products to choose from. This has to be a good thing – don’t you think? Being on the panel introduced me to four new – to me – authors. I read something by each before our session and recommend them to anyone who enjoys a bit of romance in their mystery.

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Before she became a writer, Patricia Dusenbury was an economist and the author of numerous dry publications. She is hoping to atone by writing mystery stories that people read for pleasure. Her first book, A Perfect Victim, won the Electronic Industry 2015 e-book award for a mystery. Book 2, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, was a top ten finalist in the Preditors and Editors 2014 readers’ poll. Book 3, A House of Her Own, is scheduled for publication in late 2015. All are published by Uncail Press. Pat also writes short stories and you can always find one on her web site, PatriciaDusenbury.com. When she isn’t writing, Pat is reading, gardening, babysitting or exploring San Francisco, her new home. Or, if it is late April/early May, you can find her in New Orleans, soaking up the sounds of Jazz Fest.

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