Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter Weather

Donis here, thinking about Christmases past. We've spent the past thirty Christmases in Arizona and are just about to grow used to the idea of spending Christmas in the desert. I grew up on the southern plains of the U.S., where the weather is extreme most of the time. (I exaggerate, but not much) If it's summer in Oklahoma, it's too dang hot and sticky and wet and miserable. If it's spring it's windy and stormy and dirty. I can remember walking to classes in March, when I was a freshman at OSU in Stillwater, OK, and by the time I got to where I was going my hair would be sticking out to one side and one cheek would have a layer of red dirt embedded in the skin.

My brother's front yard in Tulsa a few Christmases ago

Winter was always cold and windy and raw. We sometimes got deep, heavy snow that broke tree limbs, but it seldom lasted more than a few days. Ice storms were more common. One winter when Don and I lived outside Norman, in the center of the state, a big ice storm knocked out electricity and coated the roads. I was all for huddling in the dark and cursing fate, but Don insisted in getting into the car and driving five miles an hour sideways into town to go out to eat. I was pretty ill-natured during the whole trip, envisioning the police finding the two of us the next morning, frozen solid inside our car upside down in a ditch. I changed my tune when we were sitting inside a toasty warm Mexican restaurant wolfing down steaming hot chiles relleno.

But Christmas was Christmas, cold, like it ought to be unless you're an Australian. (Except when it wasn't. It is Oklahoma, after all, and cannot be predicted.) Now, in southern Arizona, we don't do cold, or at least what most people would consider cold. We are having a cold snap right now. Here is a picture I took of the thermometer on my back porch about an hour ago.

My back porch in Tempe today

Most normal people would not consider 60 degrees Fahrenheit to be cold, but I'm finding it uncomfortable. I had to rummage around in my closet for something long-sleeved. We can always tell who is visiting the desert for the winter, because they run around town in shorts when it's this chilly. We long-timers bust out the sweaters.

And no, people who live in hot climates are not wimpier than others. There is actually a physiological reason for their intolerance to cold. The capillaries grow closer to the surface of the skin after years of exposure to continual heat. Conversely, the capillaries of those who live in cold climates sink lower into the epidermis. A doctor friend of mine told me this. I don't know if he was pulling my leg, but I like the story and I'm sticking to it.

I'll take this opportunity to wish all you Dear Readers a very happy holiday season, great reading, and for those of you who indulge, successful writing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Yis the season to be busy

Barbara here. I had intended to post a blog today about the holidays and how we writers fit them into our books. Inspector Green, being Jewish, celebrates Chanukah and Shabbat in various books in the series, but like most secular Jews in a diverse, largely non-Jewish environment, he happily remarks on and enjoys the trappings of Christmas and other traditions as well. Holidays are one of the elements of setting that help to ground a book and evoke a sense of time and place and connection in the reader. A sense of cheer and warmth and family tradition, but also frenetic preparation, crowds, and stress over details to make it perfect.

That frenetic pace caught up with me this week, as I prepare for children coming home for the holiday, Hanukah gifts and food, a vaguely clean house at least with the clumps of dog hair vacuumed up, and in the middle of it, some house renovations.

So the blog never got written, and I am left instead to dash off this quick note, at least twelve hours late, and several paragraphs short. Because in all the horrendous news of the past few days, I do want to spread some cheer and warmth. My heart breaks for all those who have suffered incalculable pain and who are left to pick up the pieces in a world that suddenly feels very dark

This season, however we celebrate it, should be about light and peace and hope. So I hope you all have a Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and may the next year be a gentler, more compassionate year for all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sometimes you just gotta face facts: there’s no time…

…for a thoughtful post on Type M, that is.

Various aspects of my life are colliding in a serious way this week. I feel like a juggler who’s barely handling three balls, then I get handed a fourth, and a fifth, aware that the whole shebang is going to crash to the ground in another moment.

But I can’t bring myself to shirk my responsibilities (no matter how hard I try). I also have a rainy day contingency store of things to share, and now seems like a good time to empty the vault, because man, oh man, it’s teeming out there!

Here are some clever things, puns, posters, and even the odd tip that I’ve clipped and saved for a moment just like this. Hope you enjoy ’em!

See you next week with something more “substantial” to digest.

And today’s helpful hint for all of you who are like me:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Peace and Goodwill

I'm going to be busy this week preparing goodies to take down for Christmas with my daughter and her young family. Christmas with little ones is a magical time; I'm making the most of it because all too soon the excited children with their shining eyes become bored teenagers with grannies and grandpas just another cross they have to bear in their tragic lives.

I've never written a book that centered around Christmas, though it's got lots going for it, when it comes to offering up plot-lines. 

Around this time of year the newspapers and magazines are full of articles about how to defuse family rows as your nearest, and not necessarily dearest gather about you. Goodwill can be in short supply  as the resentments that have rankled since childhood resurface and murderous impulses have to be sternly quelled, even in the best-regulated families.

Even in my own, the subject of Teeny Tiny still comes up, though it is greatly to my older sister's credit that she has never been warped by her crushing disappointment when she woke on Christmas morning and saw a very cute little teddy bear peeking out of, not her stocking, but that of the baby sister who was much too young to appreciate it.  Perhaps it helped that Teeny Tiny became so precious that he still lives in the drawer of my bedside table, because my husband drew a line at sharing the bed with him.  She does still mention it regularly, though.  Perhaps there are sinister undercurrents there and I should look twice at those mince pies...

When I'm working up a plot, I always start with an event that puts huge strain on the protagonists, and of course that's almost a definition of Christmas – so much hope is invested in it now, so much anxiety that it should be perfection,  so many competing demands for what that perfection should be. so much money spent on trying to achieve it that relationships buckle come January and provide a bonanza for divorce lawyers.

There are almost too many plots on offer there, many of them used before of course, but still susceptible to being given a new twist, I suppose. I'm not tempted, though.

I do like reading crime with a Christmas theme, but only around Christmas. If I pick up one in high summer, I don't relax into it: it feels oddly stagey, somehow.  So many conventions hang about it that even going against the convention seems a bit hackneyed.

Perhaps I just haven't read the right Christmas thrillers. Tell me what they are!

May your Christmas this year be happy and relaxed and may the only problems you have to deal with be the ones you invent at your desk.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest spot - Sara Sheridan

Aline here. I'm delighted to introduce you to Sara Sheridan, the stylish Scottish author of the stylish 1950s Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries: Brighton Belle, London Calling and England Expects. She'a a real live wire and In between blogging for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and the Huffington Post, she also writes another series based on the real-life stories of Victorian explorers and adventurers. You can follow her on twitter: @sarasheridan or on FB: sarasheridanwriter

I started writing crime quite by accident. I had an idea for a character from 1951. I was already an established historical novelist and had set a couple of books in an earlier period: 1820-1845.

One day, having lunch with my father, he told me a story about a woman he’d seen on the pebble beach in Brighton on the south coast of England. In 1951 Dad was 13 years of age, visiting his grandmother for the summer holidays, and he’d spotted this well-dressed, glamorous lady dodging a deckchair attendant on the beach so that she wouldn’t have to pay a penny for her chair. ‘Odd,’ Dad said. ‘I always wondered why.’

As I walked home, I wondered too and I decided to write a short story for Dad’s birthday about it. To my mind it was going to be a comedy – this crazy woman who couldn’t bring herself to spend any money. Already an historical novelist, though, I committed myself to boning up on the period before I started.

I knew nothing about the 1950s apart from having watched a few movies, so off I went to the archive and uncovered photographs, video material, acres of personal accounts and what I found was extraordinary. Only 60 years had passed and yet here was a different country – a place I recognised and yet everything was different – the infrastructure, the politics, the economy and most of all, the mindset.

My generation talk about everything – here I am telling you about my father, for heaven’s sake! But in the Britain of the 1950s people harboured secrets of all sorts. From enforced secrecy about operations during WWII (governed by the Official Secrets Act) to the social unacceptability of issues which today are commonplace matters of discussion – homosexuality, extra-marital infidelity and divorce as well as a range of subjects which no 1950s Brit would dare touch upon: sex, religion, money, work, politics – all the good stuff.

 I’d never thought of writing a crime book before but it struck me that this was an era of secrets and of mystery. I turned to writers I had first read as a teenager – Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh – and I read their work with a new understanding. Traditional or cosy crime has a reputation for being soft, but although these women were not writing graphic scenes of sex or violence, they were writing about subjects their contemporary audiences would have found profoundly shocking – forbidden love, unconventional relationships, illegitimate children, divorce and homosexuality.

It seemed to me that modern readers had a completely false impression of the work of these classic writers. Their books weren’t safe in their day – they were just as edgy as police procedurals and forensic crime books are to a modern audience, though for a different reason. I decided I was going to involve that woman on the beach in a murder mystery that would seem traditional but I wanted to find something that was edgy for modern readers, not violent or sexy but something that was still shocking – just like those mid-20th century authors had done.

 It was a bid, I suppose, to resurrect the true spirit of cosy crime. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. Watching video footage from the era that included white people talking about black people and men talking about women, had me holding my hands over my eyes because I couldn’t bear to watch. We might talk about a wide range of personal subjects but sexism and racism are just as taboo for a modern-day middle class girl like me, as sex and violence were for my 1950s counterparts

. I knew immediately that woman on the beach had been through hell and not only that, she lived through everyday sexism the like of which I could only glean from watching Pathe newsreels. I called her Mirabelle Bevan and I constructed a black sidekick for her – Vesta Churchill, an unconventional insurance clerk from south London.

I’ve never written a series before and it’s interesting how fond of these characters I’ve become. Mirabelle is scarred by her experiences during WWII and the series is effectively a bid to mend her spirit and more than that – it’s a testament to the difficulties so many women faced in those challenging times. Writing her story has given me new respect for my mother and grandmother who transitioned from being second class citizens with fewer rights than their menfolk, to today with legislative equality - things might not be perfect, but we have come a long way.

I’ve always found that reading my favourite historical novels is a form of time travel. That’s what most readers are usually looking for – a book that makes the world disappear and instead creates an alternative one that sucks them into its pages. I think I’m addicted to the 1950s now – to visiting a time that is very directly where my life came from and, like Mirabelle, unraveling its mysteries, one at a time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's About Time

We are in the middle of a hysterical discussion here at Type M. It's about time. It started innocently enough with our faithful blogmeister, Rick Blechta, suggesting that we give a little thought to our scheduling. By this he meant instead of scheduling our post for 3:00 am (or just whenever) schedule for the earliest time, which is midnight. He could not understand the reasoning behind the strange variations.

I led off with an immediate frantic response that I didn't know when midnight was in military time. Actually Type M schedules on normal time and 12:00 a.m. has never seemed right to me when it's dark as the devil outside. So I always schedule my post for 12:30 a.m. which seems safer. When I blog for Poisoned Pen Press, it's on military time and 12:00 a.m. (midnight) is expressed by 00:00 which to my thinking is no time at all. It's free time. Time that isn't going anywhere. Meaningless time. Don't you agree? I mean, all those zeros. 

Donis chimed in next that she was on AZ time which agrees with the rest of America most of the year but stubbornly refuses to cooperate with daylight savings time. I never know what time it is in AZ. I always ask Google before I call anyone in that state. 

We have a number of readers around the world. Heavens! The day isn't even right with some of our posts. Much to our delight we have very supportive  readers in Russia. I'm not even going to go there in my time calculations.

Aline Templeton lives in Scotland. She said she doesn't know what time it is either.  She always posts at 6:30 a.m. because she knows America is six hours behind. Besides, she always thought 12:00 a.m was midday.

I will post this blog for 12:00 a.m. and see where it gets me. 

Time has never been a stable commodity. An older lady told me once that when they put lights on tractors, it ruined time and everything else. Before that, farmers could only work from sunup to sundown. With lights on equipment they could work half the night if they wanted to. Time no longer followed the sun. Previously, the womenfolk could tell with a glance when the men would be coming in from the field. Hard telling when to have supper on the table after the arrival of lights.

This year has defied every natural law of the universe. Time spun out of control. Were there actually twelve months? January changed to June and then raced on to December. No wonder we poor bloggers with our over-developed right brains are looking shell-shocked. 

And behind time, I might add.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dealing With Deadlines

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!
No time to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, 
I’m late! I’m late! I’m late! 
—The White Rabbit in the Walt Disney Film Alice in Wonderland

Okay, I’m not late...yet, but I do have a big deadline coming up and I’m about as frazzled as the White Rabbit so this post is going to be short.

I don’t know about my fellow Type M’ers and all of you blog readers, but I’m not really great when it comes to dealing with deadlines. I get all anxious and bothered which makes it hard to write so awhile back I searched the web for advice from fellow authors. Here’s what I found:

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the author of the Odelia Grey Mystery Series, the Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery Series, the Madison Rose Vampire Mystery Series and a whole lot of other stuff. She writes all of these things while working full-time so she knows all about deadlines. Here’s the first post of a series she did on her blog about dealing with those deadlines:

Here’s a post I found on the Writer’s Digest website:

And here’s one on the Write It Sideways blog:

I suspect if I actually took the advice in some of these blogs I’d be a whole lot happier and not as stressed out. Next time, next time.

Okay, that’s it for me. Back to my writing cave. I have that deadline to deal with.