Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Moment with Albert Campion

Some years ago Mystery! on PBS featured a series based on Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion mysteries. It starred Peter Davison. The episodes were wonderful and even my friends who told me time and again that they never read mysteries watched the show avidly.

I tuned into NJN, the broadcaster of Campion, one evening during a fundraiser. I always felt sorry for NJN because they were competing with WHYY in Philadelphia and WNET in New York City for viewer dollars. Imagine my delight when they announced that the special in-studio guest for the evening was Peter Davison.

“Yes, friends, for a pledge of $35.00 you can talk to Peter Davison, star of the PBS series, Mystery!”

I seized the phone and was greeted by a lady with a clarion New Jersey bray. (Hold your letters filled with outrage and umbrage. I mean this characterization as a compliment.)


“Yes. I pledge $35.00 and I want to speak to Peter Davison.”

I surrendered name, address and credit card information.

“Just a minute,” said the lady on the line. “Where’s the CELEBRITY?”

I hear a murmur of voices and then I hear the telephone lady say, “STEPHANIE.”

“Good evening, Stephanie. Lovely of you to ring.”

This was said in the most beguiling British accent. (Heaven, I’m in heaven)

We talked for a while about Campion (I assured him the series had many American fans), his impressions of America, and his wish to do a play on the West End. Mr. Davison was was a delight and seemed to have the entire evening to talk to me.

I dined out on this experience for some time. I not only told my friends about it, they put me in touch with friends of theirs so that I could recount the experience. I was excited to tell the story over and over and any number of people seemed enchanted by it.

Then came my friend Jane. Jane, the reader and watcher of science fiction. Jane who once accused me of thinking less of her because she read science fiction.

“What did he have to say about Doctor Who?”


“You didn’t ask him about Doctor Who?”

“Why would I ask him about Doctor Who?”

A great sigh that spoke of regret, resignation and not suffering fools gladly was released.

“He played Doctor Who and you didn’t ask him anything about it?”

“Do I get a reprieve from your scornful attitude if assure you my failure to ask questions about Doctor Who was the result of ignorance and not malice?”

I did feel awful about this oversight for a few minutes, but not much longer.

Over the years, I have given money to public television and radio and collected mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, books and God knows what else.

Those few minutes with Peter Davison, though I have nothing to show for it but the memory, remain my favorite thank you gift.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Everything Comes in Pieces Nowadays

A lot of us have gotten out of the habit of going to the store to buy things like clothing and furniture. Buying clothing online is the simplest thing in the world. You don't even have to be decently dressed while you do it. It comes, it fits or it doesn't, if it doesn't you put it back in the box and take it across the street to the post office. No problem.

Furniture, not so much.

We've been living in this house for thirty years. We don't generally require more furniture. Sometimes we require less. There's a table with matching chairs in the kitchen, all solid maple, that my mother bought for her house in Massachusetts sometime in the sixties. I think it must be the last furniture she bought. But, the truth is, it doesn't fit in my little kitchen. I'm covered with bruises from bumping into the chairs. The table offers no storage underneath. There's stuff all over the tabletop that I can't fit in the cupboards. I've taken to storing potatoes and bags of flour on the chairs.

That's the kitchen problem. Then there's the trouble with my office. If you think the kitchen is cluttered, you should try wading into the office. You all know how long I've been complaining about this. It's been years, right? The desk is too big for my little office, there's stuff all over the floor, blah, blah.

If you can state a problem clearly, the solution will suggest itself. I have always believed this. So. Away with the too-big desk, get a smaller one with a file drawer. Out with the kitchen table and chairs, replace them with a modest kitchen island of a good height to work on and a stool for when I want to work sitting down. Simple matter. And yet I would never dream of going to a furniture store and selecting a kitchen island and a desk. Instead I did what I always do, go online and poke around until I find something that looks good.

This desk looked good! And the price was right. I sent away for it, along with two nice-sized bookcases, the day the shelves began to peel away from the wall. All of these things, the desk as well as the bookcases, came in pieces. I should have understood how it was when I read the reviews for some of the desks that were for sale on Amazon. "It only took my boyfriend three hours to put it together." "Remarkably good quality for the price. The fact that they included glue for the joints made this desk unusually sturdy." I read these words with a vague feeling that rabbits were walking over my grave. They make you put it together. Still. How hard could it be?

Harold, God bless him, put the bookcases together. They were real wood, solid wood. The desk was not. It came several days after the bookcases in a flat package with warning stickers for the delivery man to get help picking it up. I think he delivered it solo. I heard a thump on the front porch and went to the door in time to see him getting back in his truck. "I will drag this into the house myself," I thought, "and then I will unpack it and take it upstairs piece by piece and put it together. Harold will be so surprised." But I couldn't budge it. You know how heavy particle board can be, many times heavier than wood. Luckily the young fellow next door picked it up and carried it in for me. I opened it up on the living room rug and took the heavy pieces up the stairs to my office, rejoicing in the prospect of doing all the assembly myself without bothering Harold. I would have it finished, I thought, before he got home from work.

Well, it took the two of us, working alternately, a full week to put that sucker together. I finished it yesterday morning. The sticker that said Made in America was particularly piquant. Yes, the desk is made in America, if you live in America; you're the one who makes it. I noticed the rail supporting the file drawer was made in Taiwan, and a very sturdy piece of machinery it was. As for the rest of the desk, it's good-looking, and that's the best I can say for it. I hate particle board. The veneer on it is so thin that you only have to scratch it a little to reveal the pale crumbs of glued-together waste wood beneath. Which I did, through various accidents.

The new kitchen furniture promises to be much classier, having cost a lot more. The stool arrived weeks ago, a dear little retro stool with steps that fold underneath. It, too, had to be put together; Harold got busy and did the job in an hour and a half.

The kitchen island comes today sometime. It will be solid wood, with a butcher block top, no particle board, and I don't expect to have to do anything to it other than unwrap it and carry it into the kitchen. Maybe attach the legs. Maybe put the shelves underneath. But probably not anything, because the guys at the John Boos factory worked on it for a month before they shipped it. Surely they got it all finished. And they made it in America! Is this a great country, or what?

Note the rounded edges. I can't possibly bump into it and hurt myself. It will be just the right height and size for rolling out Thanksgiving pie crusts.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Bouchercon Photo Essay

I am in the midst of a quick turnaround between Bouchercon and Icelandic Noir.  Who knew writing books would be so strenuous.  In truth, I feel tremendously lucky to be attending these book festivals.  And especially now, at my ADVANCED age, to be part of such a welcoming tribe of talented and interesting people.

My time for the keyboard is limited, so today the best I can managed is these glimpses of what the last week was like.

My week began with a visit to a life-long friend, which included her grandson's
second birthday party and an unforgettably joyous reaction of the little guy to
her birthday gift to him.

The pre-B'con days included visits to LA's museums.  LACMA has on view a
fabulous exhibition of samurai armor.


We continued with the Asian aesthetic at Huntington Gardens and the Chinese
and Japanese gardens.  These are bonsai Italian cypresses. 

A pavilion in the Chinese gardens.

The view from my room at the Long Beach Hyatt

The MWA table featured a cut-out of our patron saint.  When
I happened by, friends Michael Sears and Susan Spann were
also on view.

My panel with the Murder is Everywhere bloggers: Stan Trollip, Cara Black,
yours truly, Jeff Siger, Caro Ramsay, and the other Michael Sears.

The panel on Asian mysteries, with Lisa Brackmann (on the right) holding forth.

Since I was on the Pacific coast and this is the sun over water,
you might think this is sunset, taken from my room.  But it is dawn !?!
And I thought the geography of LA was difficult to understand.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, November 17, 2014

Out of the Past—Classic Film Noir

Is it more admirable to struggle, hopelessly, against your fate, or to accept it with as much dignity as you can? Robert Mitchum, as Jeff Bailey/Jeff Markham, in the brilliant film noir OUT OF THE PAST, tries one and then settles for the other.

And he does it in great film noir style, traipsing around gritty nighttime New York and San Francisco in a fedora and a trench coat, with an omnipresent cigarette practically surgically attached to his lips. Mitchum is a great physical presence, a quite large man with broad shoulders and a deep chest, and a sinewy, sinuous slow and cocky walk that seems to say, “I can kick your ass now or later, but I’m going to kick your ass.” And you don’t doubt him for a second.

And Jane Greer, as Kathy Moffat, the beautiful, sultry and terribly sexy femme fatale, has an equally dangerous physicality, a vamp-y, lusty sense of her own sexual power that mirrors Mitchum’s in the sense that she seems to be saying “I can f$%^ you now, or I can f$%^ you later, but I am going to f$%^ you.” And you don’t doubt her for a second.

And when Moffat says “we deserve each other,” and when she asks Markham if he believes her when she says she didn’t steal $40,000 from the gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas in a great early role) and he tells her “I don’t care” you believe them again. The irresistible force and the immovable object, the yin and yang, the head cheerleader and the quarterback on the football team, the masculine and feminine principles, the two of them are so powerfully drawn to each other that you can’t imagine they could ever resist each other.

But Markham should have, because Moffat is as morally diseased as she is physically perfect. Markham is hired to find her after she shoots her boyfriend Sterling and absconds with $40,000. Markham is a gritty guy in a gritty profession, and agrees to do it even though he knows Sterling may be lying when he says he only wants her back. Sterling tells Markham he likes him because he is smart and honest, implying implies that even those qualities can be bought, which they apparently can.

Markham finds her, of course, and instead of fulfilling his contract, he runs away with her. They both have the idea that they will live an idyllic life of romance, of laughter, of picnics and the racetrack, their primitive longings for each other transmuted into some kind of genuine partnership, something exalted and grand, something miles away from the grime and squalor of the city streets they grew up on. Markham tells Moffat, “Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it,” and they do try to share their world.

But you can’t escape the past, or who you are, and they are tracked down by Markham’s old partner, who wants some of the dough Moffat stole. Markham gives him a good thrashing (what other outcome could there have been, as Mitchum exudes a supreme physical and sexual confidence, even going so far as telling Douglas as Whit Sterling, when it looks as if they are to come to blows, “forget it, you’re out of shape,” as Markham gracefully takes a seat on the couch and Sterling decides not to test him), but then Moffat kills the partner in cold blood as he lies, senseless and helpless, on the floor. It turns out she did steal the money, and she runs back to Sterling.

Perhaps Markham can’t help his romantic and decent impulses any more than he can help himself from being attracted to Moffat. He goes into hiding as Jeff Bailey, after Moffat leaves, in an unassuming little town in the Sierra Nevada, Bridgeport, runs a gas station, and falls in love with Ann Miller, who is an Ivory Soap kind of girl, the kind of girl who had the best handwriting in third grade in Catholic School and was liked by the nuns and her classmates both. When Sterling finds Markham, Markham tells Miller everything, and she tells him she still loves him, believing Markham didn’t kill his partner (in the dark and convoluted plot, Bailey eventually gets framed for three murders by both Sterling and Moffat), or the other two.

Sterling pushes Markham back into another job for him, and Markham lets himself be pushed, perhaps having an impulse to ruin himself instead of ruining Anne’s life (she really does play a likeable character, a good girl who is not prudish or prissy, and who genuinely love Jeff, going on picnics with him and watching him fish, kissing him and believing in him in a way he can’t believe in himself).

The plot is not all that important, dark and convoluted as it is. Let us just say that Sterling, his henchman, Markham’s partner and a lawyer who got caught up with Sterling all wind up dead, and Moffat is in one way or another involved in all the deaths. She’s the most completely cynical character of the bunch, gulling both Markham and Sterling with that beautiful thoroughbred body, the brooding black eyes, and the radiant smile that promises that you are the only one.

Markham makes one last attempt at the good life, to be with Ann, when he goes to see Sterling to un-frame himself and set everything right. But Moffat has killed Sterling, and tells Markham to run away with her or go to jail for the murders he has been framed for. She is capable of speaking out of both sides of her mouth, this one, as is everyone in the movie, practically, except perhaps Ann and the boy who helps Markham at the gas station, who saves Markham’s life, and who is true to Markham and Ann till the end, no matter how much danger that puts him in. The boy is deaf and mute, unable to be manipulated or to manipulate others with the very language that everyone else uses to deceive.

And so Markham drives away with Moffat, and lust and venality and corruption seem to have taken the day, except that Markham has tipped off the cops. Moffat kills Markham, telling him he is a double-crosser in a voice that seems to betray her truly evil nature for the first time, and the cops kill her.

Maybe it is both noir and romance, this movie, because now Ann is free to be with the boyfriend who has been pining for her all through the movie, a good guy whom she passes up for the more magnetic Markham, whom she can’t resist any more than Markham could resist Moffat. The two survivors drive off together in the end and you know that death at a police roadblock is not in their future.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Gifted Multi-Cultural Writer

I'm not an effusive, demonstrative, terribly touchy-feely kinda gal… but I have an Enormous Capacity for LUV—of a LOTTA fellow crime writers. (You ladies and gents know who you are!)

Marilyn Meredith is one… her life is so different from mine… she is happily married to "Hubby"—with tons of kids, grand-kids, and even greats!!! And her professional CV is radically unlike mine—She is a product of the West Coast, which I've only visited scantily on business assignments.

But this gal exudes such a ton of warmth, sincerity and generosity—I can't help lovin' her! A Bunch—as our warm-hearted North Carolina colleague, Kaye Barley, would say!

I'm so impressed by this lady's knowledge of and sensitivity to the cultures of folks in her neck of the woods—the American Indian cum Mexican tribes… and their cultures and mores… she writes with such authority, sensitivity and passion—I'm deeply impressed!

Welcome, Marilyn, we are so honored to have you here! We LUV you!

Thelma Straw

Where I Get My Energy

Me and Great-Granddaughter Jaslyn
Thelma asked me a question that I get from a lot of people, and it always makes me laugh—and wonder a bit.

Am I being asked that question because I’m old? I guess when you get to be my age people expect you to retire to the rocking chair. I don’t have a rocking chair, plus I’ve noticed that those who quit doing things when they get older don’t have much fun. And some of them don’t last as long as I have.

Okay, so I’ll reveal my big secret, and it doesn’t have anything to do with energy. I tend to poop out in the afternoon and often grab a nap—usually while watching something on TV.

My day begins around 4:15 or 4:30, the time I automatically wake. I’m not one to sit around in my p.j.s like I’ve heard some authors do—I always get dressed. Who knows what might come up during the day and I want to be ready for it.

My routine consists of Bible study, straightening the kitchen, fixing a cup of Chai latte, checking email, a quick look at Facebook and promoting whatever’s new on my blog. Once that’s done, I get busy with whatever book I’m working on. I usually do that for around three hours—but if I’m also doing the laundry or other chores, I’ll be up and down.

Being the mother of five, babysitting grandkids, raising two others at different times, and for over 20 years being the administrator of a residential care home, I am used to interruptions and don’t have any trouble getting back to what I’m doing.

To be honest, I have much less on my calendar than in earlier years. And I don’t accomplish nearly as much as I once did. I still do things the same way though—I make lists of what I want to accomplish each day and usually manage to do it. I’m never only writing a book.

There are some things I’ve really cut down on, the big one is flying to events. I used to love flying, but too often these days the time between flights is such that you almost need to run to make them in time. I’m not running anywhere anymore. Instead, I’m choosing to take part in events that are close enough to drive to—and there seems to be one or two a month.

What I don’t do is chat on the phone. I’ve never really liked to do that, I much prefer email or private messaging someone on Facebook. I seldom write letters anymore—though I do write and send get-well, birthday and anniversary cards and thank-you notes. I don’t do housework—instead I pay relatives who can use the extra money to do it. I don’t do much visiting either, except with family.

For fun, hubby and I love to go to the movies—but we’re picky about what we see—and we like to go out to eat. We make out-of-town events that have to do with writing into mini-vacations. I also play Bunco once a month with the church ladies, and do like to play games with family members, young and old.

I have no idea if this really answers the question, but it’s the best I can do.

Marilyn Meredith

Visit me at

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

From here I’m hopping over to see John Wills, a friend from Public Safety Writers Association.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra.