Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Celebrating literacy

 Today I am excited to be giving a lunch-time Zoom talk sponsored by Literacy Quebec. Literacy has always been dear to my heart, not just because I grew up in a house full of books or because I make my living with words, but because literacy opens up a whole new world of information, entertainment, and knowledge. It makes life so much richer.

In my career as a child psychologist, I witnessed first hand the defeat that children faced in school when they struggled with literacy, the avenues that became closed to them, and the lifelong frustrations and discouragement they faced as adults. That's why I was delighted to participate in the initiative of Orca Book Publishers to write short, engaging novels for reluctant and emerging adult readers. It married my two loves – my psychology interests and my writing. Mystery novels are perfect for encouraging reading, because they are fast-paced page-turners that grab the readers' interest from the first page.  I gave a lot of thought to the kind of books I would write. What kind of hero would I create? What problems they would face? How would they solve them? 

I decided to create a hero that reluctant readers might identify with. Not a police officer or a lawyer, but an ordinary guy who has struggles of his own with reading and who keeps his life as simple as possible to hide it and cope with it. The problems occur when that simple life was disrupted by demands from the outside.

Cedric O'Toole is a simple country handyman who lives on a farm in rural Eastern Canada that he inherited from his mother. He ekes out a living growing organic vegetables and doing minor carpentry jobs. He barely finished high school, is socially awkward, and feels inferior because he can't read his job contracts or come up with quick repartee. But like many people who struggle with literacy, he is very good with his hands, can visualize, build or repair anything, and dreams of one day creating a great invention that will make his fortune. It is this strength that helps him solve the mysteries he faces in the books. 

I hope readers will not only identify with the life challenges Cedric faces, but also see his strengths, and gain inspiration from how he solves the mysteries. These are short, easy-read books, but the issues they tackle are not simple or superficial. As such, they can be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good mystery and an interesting cast of characters. So far Cedric has appeared in four mystery novels; he is slowly coming out of his shell but there are still plenty of problems waiting for him.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Just going for it

By Rick Blechta

Eric Wright (photo: Valerie Wright)
In my post two weeks ago I spoke about my difficulty remembering the sort of recent past with any kind of accuracy. Researching this has been both enlightening and, well, tedious.

Basically what I’m trying to do is get the overall broad strokes of current events at the time in which I’m writing which I somewhat remember, and knocking that into shape in my head, more or less, okay this — which will or may have something to do with my plot — happened here and people thought this about it.

The other important item to have firmly fixed is what was happening with technology. Now that sort of thing may have gotten by me at the time because I had no interest in it, so it’s not a matter of refreshing my memory, but learning about what was going on.

Take computers. I clearly remember the first computer I fooled around with, the Radio Shack TRS 80  or “Trash 80” as we called them. One of the schools where I was teaching (I always taught in multiple schools) had several and I brought one home during our spring break to mess around with it. So that’s what I remember about computers in the ’70s.

But clearly there were far more sophisticated machines than this basic one. What could they do? How were they connected to the internet — which existed at this time — and who had access to this technology? Both of these are important to my plot.

It’s taken a surprising amount of effort to get that information, and I’m certainly far from done. Will I use all that research in writing the book? Heavens, no! But I need to have it firmly in my mind to avoid needless technical gaffs.

And then in the middle of all this I remembered the sage words of Eric Wright, one of the people whose writing started what has become the Golden Age of Canadian Crime Writing. Eric was an academic who would tell writing students (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Don’t let research bog down your writing. Just do it. You can pick up the pieces when you start editing.”

So that’s what I decided to do this past week. I have the research sort of roughed out in my brain and notes.and when I get to the end of the story, I’ll simply find a friendly technology historian (do they even exist?) and ask them to proofread what I’ve written. It’s not as if I haven’t done that kind of thing before.

Know what? I’m feeling more energy and the novel is moving ahead. I’m certain I’m getting things wrong, but who cares at this point?I’m certainly a lot happier.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Give us a smile

Good Monday to you, Type M peeps - Skelton back at the keyboard.

I am in the throes of a house move, as those of you who tuned in last time already know. Were we last together only two weeks ago? As they say, time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.

(Think about it).

I am now ensconced in the new place although perhaps as you read this I will be back in the old one transporting yet more of a lifetime of stuff. I thought I had been pretty ruthless in the game of keep or chuck while packing but clearly I was less ruthless and more ruthmore.

Mickey and Tom seem to have settled into the new quarters quite happily though.

Anyway, while I was unpacking boxes and trying to decide where to put the contents, my writer's mind was stimulated by Charlotte's recent blog on Murdering the Myth, in particular her line about happy endings in which 'the good guys won and the bad guys were defeated'. Charlotte also talked about the increasing tendency in TV drama to allow evil to flourish unchecked.

Here in the UK we are well acquainted with unsatisfactory endings (usually in elections 😁). Our crime dramas often were downbeat, with the bad guy getting away with it and justice not only failing to be served but barely making it to the menu. 

My book 'Thunder Bay' was rejected by one US publisher because (spoiler alert!) one strand of the plot remained unresolved. Naturally, I disagreed. For me the plot played out the way it had to and to try to wrap it up in a neat bundle would diminish the whole.

Having said that, I understand everything Charlotte said. I think we need some hope that good will always overcome evil (it kind of did in 'Thunder Bay', by the way), at least in the world of fiction if not reality. And we need those rays of light in these days of increasingly venal politicians who get away with crimes, rising international tensions and, of course, a global pandemic.

That last statement will surprise any who may have read my books. I remember a conversation I had with Scots crime writer Alex Gray, who said she liked a happy ending. I told her I don't do them.

And looking back on my fiction, I really don't as a rule, although my new title coming out in the UK in August is pretty damn close.

I've not done the old DNA thing so I may not even have Celtic blood in me but I'm happy to self identify. And there is something in that Celtic blood, real or just claimed, that welcomes the darkness, I think. 

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

However, I leaven it all with an often hefty dollop of humour. The Davie McCall books had a lot of Glasgow patter, while a wisecrack was never far away from Dominic Queste's lips. 'Thunder Bay' was perhaps the one with fewer laughs than usual but they were back in 'The Blood is Still' and I think even more in the new one 'A Rattle of Bones'. My protagonist Rebecca Connolly is growing older, more assured, and now, at times she talks to other characters like Philip Marlowe on speed.

But that darkness is still there, within me and, by extention, within her. Of course it is. It goes with the territory.

We need humour in our work. No matter how dark things are, there will always be someone who will say something witty. Or just plain stupid. For the record, the person making the latter is usually me.

Lightness of touch is lacking from a great deal of TV drama now. Many crime shows are so bleak and mournful. There's a lot of slow motion walking, mooning about, navel-gazing and staring off into space with furrowed brow and pained eye.

Yes, I know crime is not a laughing matter but we can tackle dark subjects while also bringing much-needed lighter moments. Look at the works of Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane and, the author I grew up with and who inspired me to take up the genre, Ed McBain. They handle some distressing stuff but always find room - where appropriate - to throw in some snappy banter.

(Incidentally, Robert Crais thanked me on Twitty the other day for an RT. I've never been so thrilled.)

Light relief goes a long way. It makes the darkness even darker, it helps build up characters and it makes for an entertaining read. 

And that's what we're supposed to be doing, isn't it? Entertaining people? 

Yes, we can explore the human condition if we wish. Yes, we can reveal deep truths. Yes, we can examine issues of concern.

But if we don't tell our story in an entertaining way then all we're doing is preaching and we have enough of that in real life, thank you very much.

Even superhero movies are now places of angst. I just want to grab some of them by the shoulders, give them a shake and say, 'You're in a ridiculous costume, maybe even tights, in a world that doesn't really exist outside of a computer. Lighten up, for goodness sake!'

Thank heavens for Deadpool and Shazam! And, to an extent, Robert Downey Jnr.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

High Crimes and High Adventure

 Next month my newest novel comes out. Or more specifically, one that I co-wrote. My day job is as a ghost writer. Most of my projects are memoirs or business-type books. Occasionally I get hired to flesh out a novel and I've done about ten. They're all work-for-hire projects and the client gets the copyright and whatever profits they can manage from publication. Sometimes a client is so pleased by my work that I get asked to share author credit on the cover. 

Luther, Wyoming took a long, long time in getting published. The client, Tomas Alamilla, a Mexican restauranteur, brought a rough manuscript that he wanted me to polish into a Western novel. The genre demands high adventure, high stakes, and high crimes and Alamilla's concept included all these. A key plot twist was one of my favorite literary devices, a well-timed double-cross. As the writing progressed, I changed some of his other ideas like move the setting from Montana to Wyoming, flip the lead characters--Adam Sanchez became the protagonist and Sheriff Nelson Cook the secondary--and introduce a romantic angle to give the story more texture. I gave Sanchez backstory as a Comanchero, who are typecast in Westerns as impoverished and sadistic villains. I liked the story so much that I asked Alamilla when I completed the contract, that I'd like to work with him to get the story published, a hard nut to crack as Westerns are a very narrow niche. I solicited a couple of Western presses, including one in the UK (go figure) and got rejected by both. Along the way, I met Tiffany Schofield from Five Star Press and kept her in mind as I continued to work on the manuscript. For many novelists, a challenge is paring down the narrative. For me, it was beefing up the word count to meet Five Star's requirement, which added a lot more depth to the characters and replaced exposition with active scenes. One topic that I discuss with my clients is that of publication. Getting picked up by any press is a labor of love and an ordeal of frustration. The process can take years. Consequently, most go with self-publication or pursue an in with a small press. I started working on Luther, Wyoming, in 2012 and here we are, finally, nine years later. Covid pushed the original pub date back from last October.

One of my guiding precepts was to write a Western that hit all the tropes--shootouts, chases on horseback, bad hombres, saloons--while steering clear of the cliches. I studied Daniel Woodrell's Woe To Live On to get the period language right. I included details we seldom see in traditional Westerns like Indian scouts, Buffalo soldiers, Chinese help, cavalry wearing Prussian-style helmets, and a trip to San Francisco's Barbary Coast. 

Here are a couple of blurbs that my fellow mystery writers were kind enough to provide:

"Luther, Wyoming is a like a crack Louis L'Amour western infused with Quentin Tarantino steroids. You're in for a ride with Adam Sanchez, man of the law -- and other priorities as needed."

- Mark Steven, author of the Alison Coil Mystery Series, including The Melancholy Howl

"The frontier town of Luther, Wyoming, is a hardscrabble dot on the prairie map where the bad guys are clearly and always bad, and the good guys are sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Tomas Alamilla and Mario Acevedo have created realistic characters for an action-packed story filled with tense gunfights, barroom brawls, explosive jail breaks, and deadly ambushes. Adam Sanchez is the lone stranger who rides into town with a broken hear from a love destroyed by bigotry. He teams up with an old friend, Sheriff Cook who served with Sanchez in the War Between the States. Together the men take on a gang of outlaws terrorizing the town. Sanchez risks his life for his friend and his love, and he must test not only his sharpshooting skills but also his courage.

Before the final bullet has been fired, Sanchez struggles with the meaning of friendship and loyalty, the temptation of honest men and their guilt for succumbing to that temptation and the uneasy balance between justice and vengeance."

- Manuel Ramos is the award-winning author of the Luis Montez and Gus Corral crime fiction.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Murdering the Myth

 Recently I've watched a couple of series that were well written, with a sterling cast. The episodes held my interest. Then the bad guys won. The endings were wretchedly unsatisfying. They made me feel the same way I did in the period after the election when the country was in so much turmoil

I was raised on ridiculously pleasant westerns. There was always a happy ending. The good guys won and the bad guys were defeated. It was especially satisfying considering there was broad agreement in our society about what constituted good and evil. 

These myths--and I'm speaking of belief systems, not fairy tales--bind civilizations. Our belief systems about "we the people" shape our morality. We know when we sin. And we know when someone else does. 

It's unsettling to me that so much of the art created now rewards what would formerly have been considered bad behavior. It's confusing and depressing. Granted some artists are honestly pulled in this direction. If it's your experience of life, I say more power to you and no one has the right to stop you. 

Even if I hate every word you write, I applaud your courage to go right ahead. 

But must so many TV shows and books have a bleak ending rewarding characters that make us cringe? It is simply not my worldview.

Rewarding people who commit terrible crimes erodes the myths that underlie our civilization. These myths aren't lies. They are basic truths. Good eventually wins. Justice prevails in the end. "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine."

We love heroes. For those of us who can remember what the good guys actually did and acted like, let's bring 'em back from time to time.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

From Chabon to editing

I’m reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union again this month, teaching the book, in preparation for the author, Michael Chabon, to visit. This is maybe the third time I’ve read the book, and I continue to be more in awe of the novel that won both the Edgar Award and the Hugo Award with each turning page.

My takeaways from the book are many. Among them is the absolute fearlessness with which Chabon writes. The prose is breathtaking, but risk-taking as well. Reading the book leaves me feeling like I’m listening to a jazz musician riffing. Character and prose trump plot in this work, and the Edgar committee rewarded that.

That’s the magic formula, though, isn’t it? Character and prose?

It’s certainly what I strive to focus on. I’m about 30,000 words in (a hundred or so pages) into the project at hand, the place where Elmore Leonard said he usually stopped and figured out where he needed to go. And that’s what I’m doing –– printing the manuscript out, tearing into it with my pencil, cutting lines, adding lines, jotting a rough outline in my notebook, all in an effort to push the story ahead.

My agent and I spoke this past week about my need to print and work on hardcopy, about my belief that the work suffers if I don’t. Not superstition. There is something about seeing the pages on paper that changes (and improves) how I edit and work through a draft.

I’d love to hear others on this topic: Do you edit on the screen or on the copy?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

National Craft Month


March is National Craft Month. Any month is craft month as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve been doing a fair number of craft projects over the past year, more than usual anyway. It’s a nice form of escapism from the bad things in the world including the recent shooting in Colorado and, of course, all of the Covid news. So I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve worked on

My Aurora Anderson mystery series is the set in the world of tole/decorative painting. As you might guess, this is one of my hobbies. In the last year, a lot of decorative painters who would normally teach at painting conventions have gone online. I’ve taken 4 classes via Zoom and have enjoyed them immensely. In some ways, it’s nicer than taking a class at a convention since I get the recording of the video afterwards to review. These are 2 of the projects I’ve done, both classes taught by Chris Haughey of I’m pretty sure that, even after we can attend painting conventions again, teachers will continue to offer some classes online. That’s one good thing that’s come out of this pandemic.


I’ve also gotten into macrame. The last time I did that was in the 1970s in 7th grade when we had to do a macrame project for art class. I remember really enjoying it. Last year, I was browsing Herrschner’s catalog, saw this cute project and just had to get the kit. Took me a bit to remember how to do a square knot, but I’ve really enjoyed it. There’s something very peaceful about tying knots. I did these Christmas gnomes and just finished the Halloween ones.


I have a bunch of other painting projects lined up, plus some counted cross-stitch ones I started mumble mumble years ago and never finished. Has anyone else done any fun craft projects recently?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

My thoughts on Tom’s post

By Rick Blechta

I read Tom’s horrible account yesterday of gun violence that took the lives of two of his friends. Then, before I could even write a comment to his post, a gunman once again took the lives of ten people in Boulder, Colorado. I originally planned to continue last week’s post today, but I’m just too numb to write much of anything.

The United States leads the world in mass killings such as the one we saw yesterday as well as the week before. There is no doubt of that. The reason for this is easy to see and I don’t think I even need to mention it because I’m certainly no wiz in figuring these things out.

Can anything be done to stop it? To my despair I have to say no. Firearms are way too prevalent in the US. Basically, if you want a gun, you can get one. If you have mental issues, there’s still little to stop you. Because of American society, the government cannot take them away. The fallout to any politician seriously suggesting this would be too great. The Constitution even tells citizens that they have the right to bear arms — even if the original intent was to provide a “well-regulated militia” to defend the country, rather than a standing army. That idea lasted only to the War of 1812. 

The really terrible end game to this state of affairs is that there is no way to stop mass shootings from happening again. The people of the US just have to live with that. And that’s not to say other countries are immune from the same thing happening.

Life can be so grim sometimes.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Senseless Shootings

On Tuesday, eight people were gunned down in Atlanta at three different massage spas. The suspected gunman, Robert Aaron Long, told police that he’d been a regular customer at two of the massage spas. The spas are suspected of being as places where sex acts could be purchased—and locations where sexual exploitation may have taken place.

The suspected gunman said that the people who worked in those spas were “temptations” and needed to be “eliminated”. When the police tracked Long down through his cellphone, he was apparently on his way to Florida to kill yet more people.

Whenever I hear of a senseless event like this, it reminds me of one that struck home. When I was at a newspaper in Connecticut, a young man by the name of Sean was working for me. He had a personality that could be both hilarious and abrasive at the same time. I considered him and his fiancée, Stacey, to be friends.

On the day of Sean’s marriage, over my objections, he introduced me to Cindy who would eventually become my wife. I had objected because I was a single father and wasn’t interested in meeting new people at the time. Plus, it was obvious that when Cindy and I met, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

Nonetheless, Cindy and I eventually fell in love and married. We stayed friends with Sean and Stacey even after Sean left the newspaper. The two of them and their daughter moved to Tennessee where Stacey managed a home supply store and Sean was a stay at home dad. For several years, they visited friends in Colorado to go backpacking until eventually, in love with the mountains, they moved to Boulder.

Once there, they bought a struggling little business called Boulder Stove & Flooring. While they owned it, the business flourished. Sean and Stacey and their daughter made working there fun for the four other employees and everyone profited. They became staples in the community. Their daughter started a babysitting service.

In 2010, the fun atmosphere changed when Sean and Stacey altered the bonus program for the sales team. Robert, one of the employees, complained to the company’s accountant who explained to him that he would actually be making more money. He refused to believe it and allowed his anger to fester until it boiled over into rage.

On a Monday morning, all the employees were supposed to be in the store, but on that particular day, there was only one other salesman at the front counter. Sean and Stacey were in the backroom. Robert walked quickly past the one other employee, seeking out the owners.

By the time Robert was done, there were thirteen spent shell casings on the floor and three people were dead. After gunning down my friends with a dozen bullets, Robert put the gun to his head and killed himself with one shot.

My friends died because one of their salesmen had poor math skills and a gun.

In a bit of irony, before moving to Tennessee, Sean and Stacey and their daughter had lived in Newtown, the place of another horrific, senseless shooting in 2012.

The point of this blog? Last week in my creative writing class, we talked about what constitutes a solidly written villain in fiction.

The bad guy/girl needs to have a backstory, must be three dimensional, must show that he/she isn’t completely bad, and believes that what he/she is doing, no matter how despicable, is the correct thing to do.

The shooter in Atlanta and the shooter in Boulder? They both thought what they were doing was right. But this is real life and that doesn’t make the victims any less dead.

And the senseless shootings? They never seem to end.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Murderous March conference

 My apologies for not having a real post today. Sisters in Crime-Upper Hudson chapter ("Mavens of Mayhem") is hosting our 4th annual Murderous March conference this afternoon and all day tomorrow. We were forced to cancel in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year we are going virtual.

There may still be spaces available, so please drop by and register if you would like to join us for this afternoon's workshops and/or tomorrow's panels. The conference is free and open to the public.


Thursday, March 18, 2021


I (Donis) am writing this on St. Patrick’s Day, a day which always makes me nostalgic. From my early childhood, I’ve considered St. Patrick’s Day my lucky day, a day to celebrate. I still feel an uplift on the day, even though it’s been a long time since we actually celebrated. 

My first trip to Ireland when the world and I were young.

A few St. Patrick’s Days ago, my husband Don and I were standing at the check-out counter at Trader Joe's. As he was ringing us up, the very good looking, very young and studly clerk asked us, "So, are you celebrating tonight? Going to a party? Having some green beer?"

"No," I said. "Been there, done that."

"Don't worry," he told us, "I'll take up where you left off."

I think of that exchange every March 17, now, how life is just a continuum. You’re born, you go through a bunch of things, learn stuff, and when you’re done with that lesson, you move on but someone takes up where you left off. It seems that no one learns from those that came before them. We all have to go through it on our own.

All of this is my round-about way of bringing up the topic of vaccinations. Don and I are both fully vaccinated now. Neither of us hesitated about signing up for even a minute - we’d to just about anything to contribute to the end of this plague.

Vaccinations were the going thing when I was a kid. I was about ten when they lined us all up in the gym of my elementary school and used what looked like a gun to shoot us in the arm one by one with I-don’t-even-know-what. Did the school even ask our mothers for permission to vaccinate us? I don’t know. I just know that we had mass vaccinations at school every year for several years until I was a teenager. 

I smile when I hear people express annoyance at feeling tired and achy after receiving the COVID vaccine. I felt tired and achy, too, even had chills and a low fever for a day. It wasn’t fun, but it was nothing compared to getting a smallpox vaccination and enduring that horrible, sore, pus-y wound that had to be covered with a plastic dome for two weeks. But then Don and I are both old enough that we were part of the crowd that took the shots that helped eradicate polio in the U.S. and smallpox in the entire world so those of you who came after us don’t have to worry about it. We have the scars to prove it. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Lest we forget

Douglas's post about the world of forgotten things really touched me. Those bits of the past are our link to memory, often our touchstones to a past remembered only in fleeting fragments. I am not a hoarder, but I cannot understand the type of ruthless dweller-in-the-present who throws things out if they haven't any current use. Six months is a very short time in our lifetime and gets shorter the older we are! I find that whenever I do a culling and toss things out because "Oh, I'll never use that again", I inevitably want it a few months down the road. I have an entire jewelry box of tangled necklaces and bracelets from times when tastes were different, and yet, I don't like to throw out a single one. That peace symbol on the leather strap from my protest days? That walnut shell and seashells from the trip to Costa Rica? Each of them is more than a tangle in a jewelry box.

I've been writing since I was six years old, and by the time I left home at 21, I had produced reams and reams of stories, TV scripts, and fan fiction, as well as probably a dozen unfinished books. I have no idea what happened to all that writing. It resided in drawers and boxes in my childhood bedroom and when my parents moved houses years later, I imagine my mother must have hovered over those boxes and wondered what to do with it all, as well as the report cards, mother's day cards, and kids' art that she'd accumulated. All I know is that none of it made the journey to their new home. When she died and we went through her papers, however, we discovered that what she did save were the letters she had sent home from France when she was 16, priceless windows into an era (the 1930s) and a time in her life that tells me so much about who she was.

My parents as newlyweds 1943

She also saved that very first book of mine, printed in a child's lined notebook with hand-coloured illustrations. That is also priceless to me. All my adult life I have been writing for pleasure, even though I had a primary income-earning job, and I have kept one copy of each of those admittedly dreadful books for posterity. Once the computer arrived, I saved my writing to floppy discs, and I have numerous short stories and early drafts of novels on 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 inch discs. It will take some special equipment to transform them and I hope they have not degraded over the years, but at least that record of my past still exists. Someday, someone may be curious enough to read them. Maybe me.

A jumble of stories

Memories are also captured in photographs. When my parents, parents-in-law, and various aunts died, we acquired boxes and boxes of old photos, most unlabelled by date, locale, or even name. Very frustrating! I held history in my hands and tried vainly to identify people by their surroundings or some vague resemblance to the old person I knew. I know my children will also inherit thousands of photos and slides that marked my journey through life. Perhaps they  will mean as little to them as those old black and white photos meant to me. Going through old photos is a wonderful trip back through our life, and even if no one in the future generations will care, I will enjoy the trip. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Living in the past

By Rick Blechta

No, this week’s post title is not a reference to the 1969 song by Jethro Tull but I suppose it could act as a musical background, I suppose. Not familiar with this song? Click HERE to listen to it. 

In my post two weeks ago now — more on that later —I spoke of coming to the realization that my current work in progress should not be set in the present but maybe as much as 35 years ago.

Since then I’ve been cogitating on when that when should be. My characters seem comfortable with somewhere between 1975 and 1980. That choice would necessitate a huge change in the crime that drives the story, but I have a few ideas how that might work out okay.

If, however, I went with the later ’80s and 1990, I would have to change the original storyline less.

So that’s one conundrum I’m facing, the one that will have to be solved first.

The other issue is how much I don’t remember the ’70s, ’80s, or even the ’90s. I mean, come on, Blechta, you lived through it, didn’t you? I’m beginning to think I sleepwalked through it, though. There is just so much I don’t remember.

I’ve taken to reading about it as if the whole era took place before I was born. It’s the only way to refresh my memory enough that I can write about it authoritatively. How weird is that?

I’m currently on 1983 and looking at what changes to technology took place that year, and it’s astonishing to me how long some of the electronics that are so much a part of our lives has been around, even though much of it was pretty crude at the time.

I’d like to say as I research it’s all coming back to me, but it’s not. I feel as if I’m an archeologist of my own life. I could blame it on having a young family at the time, working far too hard for too many hours, or  just not paying attention, but I lived through this stuff! It seems so foreign to me.

So I hope to nail down my time period and get back to work. I’ve written a few experimental scenes based on how I’m leaning towards changing the plot, and while it’s been elucidating in some regards, it’s hardly providing any forward motion.

We’ll get back to this in next week’s post.


As for last week’s non-post, I was under the weather with a dizzy spell, something I’ve suffered with the past three years right around this time and continuing into June, then disappearing. Apparently I have loose crystals in my right inner ear. It’s all very boring, but the doctors are working towards a solution. However, when one of these spells occur, I’m laid flat out until it subsides, and last Tuesday was a bad one. Sorry ’bout that!

Monday, March 15, 2021

The World of Forgotten Things

Hi - Douglas Skelton coming to you from Scotland.

I'm in the process of moving house at the moment. That means I'm surrounded by boxes, bubble wrap and packing tape. 

I have so far resisted the urge to build a fort.

Thank you 'Friends' for that thought.

I've been here for 15/16 years. A lot has happened in that time and packing things away can often be a saunter down that lane we call memory.

As most people do when moving I've been playing what we in Scotland know as Keep or Chuck. 

It's when you have to decide if an item is worth hanging onto or if you should send it to dump.

I've disposed of a fair amount of stuff and more will go. I've handed over old bits of furniture to be given a new lease of life before they go to charity. I've trashed some that were beyond repair. Most of my rugs will be picked up by the local council. Years of dogs, cats and, it has to be said, me have taken their toll.

But it's when you go through drawers and shelves and pockets that you find you have entered into a new world - the world of forgotten things. Little items that are not gone, merely left, stored, placed, sitting sometimes in plain sight and yet still unseen. 

Until you pick them up.

And you remember.

They are generally inconsequential, sometimes even everyday, but they carry with them memories like dust which, as you hold them, come back as if through osmosis. These forgotten things can represent a moment in time that you cherish, a place that you haven't seen for too long, a face no longer visible, a voice no longer heard.

A pen, given on a milestone birthday by someone who was special then and is special now, clipped in the inside pocket of an old suit and long since dry.

A small hip flask, a gift never used, still in its box, but it reminds you of the day it was handed to you by the giver with whom you have long since lost contact.

A book, sitting on a shelf among others, its spine cracked and frayed, its pages dog-eared and loose. It was well-loved, well-read, and well-worn by someone who will never read again.

A concert programme brings back the excitement of seeing composer Jerry Goldsmith in Glasgow. A big deal for me.

A paw print in ink of a dog that has long since crossed the bridge.

And books from my own childhood that have been unnoticed on shelves all this time and never taken down in all these years. My copy of Tom Sawyer. A Pictorial History of World Exploration. My Ed McBain collection, some editions dating back to the 60s. Alistair Maclean. Jack London. Ian Fleming. All monuments to a young boy reading in his room and wishing he could be like them.

And more. Ornaments. Old photographs. A poker chip that came from who knows where but which, for some reason, I keep on my desk.

They are all time machines transpporting me across the years to when life was simpler, or better, or happier. 

I have a friend who says that as a matter of course if she has not used, touched or worn something for six months it goes.

I can understand that ethos but there is something within me that cannot part with these and other items, so they are packed away and will find a new home with me. 

The world of these forgotten things is one that I will carry until I am part of it.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The End is Near

 Winter, and the ghost of Covid 19 is stealing away. I'm writing this while Fort Collins is preparing for a massive snow storm and we are warned daily about the emergence of variants to this disease. Nevertheless, spring is just around the corner. I can feel it coming. 

My spirits always lift when I do what I'm supposed to do: write books. Today, I got back to work on my mystery. I have liked the basic plot from the very beginning, and was going great guns, then got side-tracked. I had an assignment from the publisher of my historical novels and put the mystery aside. That was a good move, but then I didn't get fully back to the work-in-progress, and that was a dumb move.

 The time spent during the Covid shutdown could have been a great blessing for writers. It should have been for me. But strangely enough, I found myself frittering away my days. I've always been a compulsive reader and I couldn't stop myself from reading book after book. It's my primary way of dealing with anxiety and just about anything else. Atypically, I became a binge TV watcher. 

There was this sense of all the time in the world to complete work. I worked sporadically, and not with my usual zest. My days lacked the joyful bewilderment of immersion so complete that I would lose track of time. When this immersion occurs, the real world, with all of its real problems, fades away because the process is more compelling. 

During this wasted year when I should have finished my book and begun a new one, or reorganized my house, or hand waxed all of my hardwood floors, or sewn lovely gifts for all my daughters and grandchildren, or refinished furniture, or tackled math, or learned a language, or cooked and froze meals, or worked on my saggy body, I treated the time like it was a vacation.

Still, I'm not clinically depressed and a lot of people are. I'm ready to get back to work. I've had both of my Covid shots and so have a lot of my friends. 

Between this strange sorrowful disease that came out of nowhere, and the terrifying wildness of American politics, simply surviving seemed like a worthy goal. 

I'm here. Bring the new year on. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Thank You Last Responders


I’ve heard the term “first responders” for quite a while now, but I hadn’t heard “last responders” until local newspapers started publishing a series of articles on the impact COVID-19 has had on the death care industry. Too often, I think we ignore those who work in this industry. I suspect it’s a need to not think too much about death and dying until you absolutely have to. The articles focus on Southern California, but I suspect similar experiences are playing out all over the country and the world.

As an author of mystery novels, I’ve written my share of memorial service scenes. If a writer is going to set a story during this pandemic, they need to understand how the world has changed with regard to funerals, cremations and burial and do the appropriate research in the area the story is set in.

Here’s what it’s been like here in Los Angeles County, home of 10 million people:

As you can imagine, it’s been a stressful time for funeral directors, morticians, cemetery workers and everyone else who works in this industry. New government regulations have forced changes in how, or even whether, funerals are conducted. And the sheer number of bodies has overwhelmed the system.

Private mortuaries only have so much storage capacity. Some are converting rooms where services are normally held into temporary refrigeration units. Others are renting refrigerated trucks. Under normal circumstances, if someone dies under a doctor’s care in a hospital, the body is transported to a local funeral home. But now, the county coroner’s office is storing even those bodies until a funeral home can handle them. The coroner’s office has added refrigerated trailers to up their storage capacity. Usually, they can hold 500 bodies, now it’s up to 2000. It's not unusual for a family having to call multiple funeral homes, sometimes 10 or 15, to find one that will take the body of their loved one.

Then there’s the problem of getting death certificates. Doctors and hospitals are strained themselves, which tends to slow down this process.

There’s a greater demand for cremations. Normally, a crematorium can only do so many cremations a day because of air quality rules. The AQMD (Air Quality Management District) has had to suspend those rules during this crisis. Some mortuaries have stopped allowing families to watch the body of their loved one being placed in the cremation chamber because it takes too much time.

Private autopsy firms are also affected. Their services are more in demand as families contact them to get confirmation that their loved ones did, indeed, die from COVID.

Large funerals are no longer allowed and Zoom services are not unusual.

Then there’s the psychological and physical toll it’s taking on the people in the industry. Long hours, continuously ringing phones, not being able to offer the services they normally offer, desperate people looking for someplace who will take their loved ones—they all take a toll. Even those who deal with death on a regular basis are overwhelmed.

Here you can listen to two funeral directors talking about their experiences (there’s also a transcript if you prefer to read). One is from Southfield, Michigan, the other from Los Angeles, California. As one of them noted, they are funeral directors not mass fatality experts.

I hope this crisis soon passes and the world can return to normal.

Thank you, last responders, for everything you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Covid and Literary Conflict

 By Thomas Kies

 Two weeks ago, today, my wife and I won the lottery…sort of.  We both got our second Pfizer vaccination.  It was like this massive weight was lifted off my shoulders.  After a year of wondering if I’d catch covid-19 and end up on a ventilator in the hospital, my anxiety level dropped precipitously.

If I was of a mind to write something about the pandemic into my work in progress (which I’m not) I wonder what kind of conflict that could be defined as.  

Tonight, in my creative writing class, the participants will be reading the first few pages of their book.  I didn’t define what that might be.  I left that up to them. I’ve assigned this before in other classes and it’s usually pretty interesting.

We’ll also be discussing different types of literary conflict.  

There’s character vs. self.  This might take the form of inner demons—alcoholism, addiction, phobias.  Or it might be a moral dilemma such as: If you can’t afford food to feed your children and there were no other options, would you steal?  Is murder ever moral?  Can I have one more cookie tonight and ignore the scale in the morning?

There’s character vs. character.  This is the classic good against evil—the good guy or girl versus the bad guy or girl. With shades of moral nuance thrown in.  After all, don’t most villains think that what they do is right?  They might see their actions as being outside of the law, but it’s still the right thing to do.  It can be as powerful as a life and death battle in the climax of your book or being handed a written warning by your clueless, overbearing boss.

There’s character vs. nature.  This is where the hero battles forces like weather, wild animals, the wilderness, or a natural disaster.  Think Titanic. Think Old Man and the Sea. Think Texas after a snowstorm. 

There’s character vs. the supernatural.  This is more for authors of fantasy or horror and not so much for mystery writers.  My protagonist, Geneva Chase, doesn’t do battle with demons or zombies or ghosts. But in my first book, Random Road, Geneva rides along on a waterborne ghost hunt. 

FYI, that scene is based on a real ghost hunt I went on years ago.  The only spirits I saw that night were in the bottom of my wine glass.  

There’s character vs. technology.  I think this is more in the realm of science fiction writers, but I do understand the angst, anxiety, frustration, and rage I can feel when my internet goes out and I have to call the freaking cable company to get it back on.  

There’s character vs. society.  This can incorporate a broad spectrum of conflicts.  It could stem from race or religion.  Townies vs. the jocks on campus. It might be a character caught up in the raging fires of war. It could be me staring down an IRS audit. 

Then there’s something called passive conflict.  When the protagonist is being kept in the dark, lied to, or avoided.  Much less violent than physical conflict but can still do mental damage to a character. Much like being in high school and not being invited by the cool kids to any of their parties. 

I’m not bitter. Anymore. 

So, to circle around to the pandemic.  I guess we can slide that into character vs. nature. And I’ll be damned glad when we have all gotten vaccinated. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Using Distractions

Writing teachers tell us to make our protagonist's life difficult. 

Personally, I've had major life events that not only made my life difficult but sent my life spiraling out of control. But more often, an event that I either anticipated with pleasure or thought would be easily navigated is what causes chaos. For the past six weeks, the source of that chaos has been an adorable new puppy. (See photo to right -- Fergus at four months, now five months and taller. Note the flash of blue sock peeping out of side of old loafer that was gnawed by sharp puppy teeth).

As I pick up ripped paper (spilled from knocked over wastebasket, torn from toilet paper rolls, envelopes, or book covers) and wipe up water spilled from bowls, food dumped from dishes, and pee that missed designated pads, I have been thinking about the disruption that a puppy could cause in my protagonist's life not to mention her investigation. 

Hannah McCabe, my Albany PD detective brought home a rescued Great Dane puppy at the end of What the Fly Saw, but I left it there. The book was over and she had her father and brother to help with puppy care. But what if the dog that plays a role in my first Jo Radcliffe novel -- set in 1950 -- ends up spending a few nights at her house? A subplot that could both disrupt her investigation and move the story forward. 

In my 6th Lizzie Stuart novel, the visit to Santa Fe at Thanksgiving to meet her fiance's family for the first time takes her out of Gallagher right after a woman she saw disappears. When she gets back to Gallagher, the project that she has been working on to aid a church congregation that wants to have its building declared a historic site needs her attention at the moment when she is  drawn into the investigation of the woman who disappeared. These distractions -- the family visit and the church research -- function as subplots that grow, respectively, out of what is happening in her personal life and out of her work as the director of an institute. 

I enjoy reading other writers' books in which subplots emerge naturally from the lives of the protagonists -- the job changes, the births, the illnesses of family members, the cooking classes, the noisy neighbor -- whatever they have going on when the crime occurs. Reminding myself of that has helped me with the 1939 historical that I'm working on. Asking myself what was happening in a character's life when she left home on a train heading for New York City -- rather than focusing on what would happen when she got there -- has provided a subplot that is essential to the main plot. The character now has motivation that I had not anticipated for two important decisions.

So, back to my puppy chaos. I wonder what might have been in that envelope that was ripped to pieces?


Thursday, March 04, 2021

Promotion – Too Much or Not Enough?

The good old days of promotion

 My new novel, Valentino Will Die, has been released.I’ve been spending the past few weeks, and will spend the next several weeks, trying to get the word out. Trying to publicize a book during a pandemic presents problems, but opportunities, too. No personal appearances, but many more opportunities to participate in on-line promotion. I’ve been spending hours a day in front of the computer setting things up - ZOOM workshops, podcasts, guest blogs, etc.

If there is anything more boring than shilling over the internet hour after hour after hour I don’t know what it is. After a while I’d be happier cleaning the toilets. At least I’d know for sure that I have accomplished something tangible and immediate.

Besides, how much is too much? How tired do people get seeing post after post about someone’s new book? And yet, one almost has to do it and take the chance of becoming an irritation. Then again, how much is enough? I’ve heard that readers/viewers have to hear about something at least seven times before they remember it. (Don’t ask me who decided that. I don’t know.)

How do you decide what books to read? I consider my own habits. First, if I know and like the author, I’ll almost always give her books a try. Second, I am an inveterate browser. I’ve discovered innumerable titles that I’ve loved simply by browsing bookshelves both in bookstores and in libraries. I am more prone to read a book by an author I don’t know if I see it in the library.This avenue has been cut off by the pandemic for the last year. Third, I’m very much influenced by the recommendations of friends, especially friends whose taste I know is similar to mine. The only internet sites that influence my buying and reading habits tend to be a couple of review sites that I like, such as Lesa’s Book Critiques. If I read a book I like by an author who is new to me, I’ll look up his website, read about him, and see what else he’s written.

I’m perhaps one of the few readers who has never bought a book online. If I’m going to buy a book, I order it from one of my local independent book stores if they don't have it in stock. This is not to say that I wouldn’t buy a book from, say, Amazon, if I was desperate to read it and absolutely couldn’t find it anywhere else. If given a choice, I’d rather have a physical book to read instead of an ebook. When I’m done with a physical book, I can either return it to the library or resell it or give it to the local nursing home.

According to a survey issued a few years ago by Sisters in Crime, I’m not alone. The number one factor influencing a reader when she buys a mystery novel is that she knows and likes the author. Second is that the book is part of a series she enjoys. Third, the reader saw the book on an in-store display. (This was pre-pandemic, of course.) Next was that the reader got the book through a book-buying club (this surprised me), and then the recommendation of a friend or relative.

Other revelations from the survey:

The cover of the book is very influential in persuading a reader to consider it.

Most mysteries are bought by women older than 45 (though a third of them are purchased by women 18-44. That’s not to be sneezed at.), and more are bought by women in the South, closely followed by the West, than in other parts of the country. More mysteries are bought through stores than online, and personal recommendations “are the major driver of reading choices.” Even younger mystery readers, who are more familiar with e-readers and use them more than older readers, said they preferred to read physical books. As I said, this survey was taken a few years ago, but I have a feeling the results would be similar if it were repeated today.

Are you annoyed by authors’ continual on-line BSP, Dear Reader? What influences you to read a book, and in what form do you prefer to read it?

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Aiming at a moving target

Since the pandemic began, I have posted from time to time about the challenge of writing it into my current work in progress. Or not. The book, the eleventh in my Inspector Green series entitled THE DEVIL TO PAY, is due for release in October 2021. Initially we thought the pandemic would last a month or two (remember those days?), but as I continued to write the novel, I gradually realized it might last into the fall or even winter of 2020. Authors everywhere agonized about what to do, and I posed the questions a few times on social media. Some wanted to write as if life was carrying on as normal and the pandemic didn't exist. People didn't want to be reminded of these grim times, or the experience was too raw, or it interfered with their planned narrative. Others suggested the book be set in 2019 or in the near future. And still others said that the pandemic should be in the background, but merely hinted at.

This last option was the one I chose. I couldn't imagine pretending it didn't exit. It's the defining event of the century (so far). Imagine writing a book set in 1942 without mentioning the war? But surely by the fall of 2021, the pandemic would be over, and I could write as if it were in the rearview mirror. The memory and the effects on people's lives would linger, but life would be normal. But in October, when I submitted the manuscript to the publisher, we had no idea how long it was going to last. There was no vaccine, and countries were lurching from opening up and shutting down as their health officials obsessively watched the case counts. I was changing the manuscript on the fly right up until the submission date.

Fast forward four months, and I have now working through the edits and doing final rewrites. Once again, the pandemic is centre stage. It will not be over by the fall of 2021 when people will start reading the book. Furthermore, it dawned on me that the book is set in May through July, just a couple of months from now.  There is no way things will be back to the post-pandemic normal I had envisioned in my original draft.

The one good thing is that now there is a clearer picture of what pandemic life will be like in a couple of months. Vaccines will be here but may not yet be widely distributed. Many Covid restrictions and protocols will continue. So I set about making adjustments to the manuscript to reflect what I thought would be the reality in May 2021. Police officers and many other essential workers will be vaccinated, but Plexiglas dividers in restaurants and shops will likely remain. Masks will continue to be worn. So each scene had to be analyzed. Activities in the police station like briefings and meetings would not require masks but interviews with the public would. Restaurant patios could not be "packed" and streets would no longer "bustle with tourists".

When characters are wearing masks, most of the nonverbal facial cues are lost. I had to remove all the friendly smiles and tightened lips, and find other ways to convey the emotion. Scowls, furrowed brows, and blinking eyes. Those tics get tired fast! And it is so much harder to recognize suspects when half their face is hidden. Note - this can be useful.

But I still didn't want to make the pandemic too intrusive. It's a mystery story about tortured relationships and murder. I didn't want the reader to be tripping over the pandemic at every turn. It's a fine balance, and I hope by the time the book comes out it October, it won't be too far off base. Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Let’s have some fun!

By Rick Blechta

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you enjoy words, possibly enjoy playing with words. If so, you will enjoy this week’s post. It might even make you LOL or even ROTFLYAO.

Right now we certainly need things to lighten the mood and make the world seem a brighter place. What follows should help…


If a bottle of poison reaches its expiration date, is it more poisonous or is it no longer poisonous?

Which letter is silent in the word "Scent," the S or the C?

Do twins ever realize that one of them is unplanned?

Why is the letter W in English called double U? Shouldn't it be called double V?

Maybe oxygen is slowly killing you and it just takes 75-100 years to fully work.

Every time you clean something, you just make something else dirty.

The word "swims" upside-down is still "swims"

120 years ago, everyone owned a horse and only the rich had cars. Today everyone has cars and only the rich own horses.


Four great confusions still unresolved:

1. At a movie theater, which arm rest is yours?

2. If people evolved from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?

3. Why is there a 'D' in fridge, but not in refrigerator?

4. Who knew what time it was when the first clock was made?


Vagaries of English Language:

Ever wonder why the word funeral starts with FUN?

Why isn't a fireman called a Water-man?

How come lipstick doesn't do what it says?

If money doesn't grow on trees, how come banks have branches?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

How do you get off a non-stop flight?

Why are goods sent by ship called CARgo and those sent by truck SHIPment?

Why do we put cups in the dishwasher and the dishes in the cupboard?

Why do doctors 'practice' medicine? Are they having practice at the cost of the patients?

Why is it called ‘rush hour' when traffic moves at its slowest then?

How come noses run and feet smell?

Why do they call it a TV 'set' when there is only one?

What are you vacating when you go on a vacation?

Did you know that if you have What, When and Where and then replace the "W's" with T's the questions are answered?

How come we park our cars on driveways, and drive our cars on parkways?

Monday, March 01, 2021

All's well that friends well

 Douglas Skelton at the Type M keyboard.

A couple of years ago I was invited to attend the annual prizegiving at a Scottish high school. My job was to shake hands, congratulate each prizewinner and then pass them their certificate or trophy. I managed it without any serious difficulty. 

Young people often get a bad press but they’re not all video game playing hoodie dropouts but the students I met were bright, energised, engaged and active. 

However, it set me thinking about my own school days. They weren’t so long ago after all I’m only 30.

I’ll pause here to allow those who know me to guffaw and snort tea down their nostrils.

I had a love-hate relationship with learning. I would have loved to have been an egghead but hated the idea of working towards it. My head, as we say in Scotland, was too full of broken biscuits and more than one teacher observed that if I applied the same amount of effort into studying that I did into basically acting the fool my grades would be much improved.

It started off so well, too.

Apparently on my first day of primary school I came home at lunchtime and announced I wasn’t going back because ‘I knew it all.’

I don’t recall this and I’m not sure what particular all it was I knew but that arrogance didn’t last long.

Truth be told, I was not the brightest bulb in the box. I’m still not.

Neither was I proficient at anything sporty. Science was beyond me. And maths and arithmetic were a mystery. That’s still the case, apparently, because just recently someone told me the plot of one of my books just didn’t add up.

What I could do, though, was string words together. Sometimes even in the right order. And I could make stuff up. As an adult, I eventually gravitated towards an occupation where being able to string words together and make stuff up came in handy.

Naturally, I became a journalist.

(I’m kidding. No angry letters from outraged reporters, please!)

School has changed, though. In my day, computers were something in ‘Star Trek.’ Even calculators were akin to science fiction. My fingers were my calculators. For complex sums the shoes and socks came off. Not a fragrant experience on a hot day. And examiners frowned upon a question like ‘what is 5x4’ being answered with '10 plus 10 little piggies.’

However, as I said, the complexities of mathematics were beyond me. I thought a logarithm was a dancing lumberjack. And when a friend told me he’d passed Highers in French, German, Latin and Algebra, I wondered how you said ‘Good Morning’ in the latter.

What you have just seen was an example of why I didn't do well at school. There is a serious point to my blog this week but I go for the laugh. That point occured to me while I was writing something on spec that, at its heart, deals with friendship - and a realisation that all my fiction is based firmly on the concept - and that in turn prompted a memory of that ceremony.

During that prizegiving, a terrific speech from the outgoing school captains underlined the value of friendship.

I still have a few friends from my youth. I don’t see nearly enough of them but they mean a lot to me. And they know that everything I’ve said above is very nearly true. They’re also the ones wiping the expelled beverage from their upper lip at me being 30.

There are a couple of lines about friendship from the film ‘Stand by Me’ (I’m not sure if they’re in the original Stephen King novella, ‘The Body’). One is, ‘Friends come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant.’

That is true. Friends can come and go. I hate that they do, and sometimes it's been me who has done the come and go routine, but as a wise perspon once said, that's life.

The other line is this ‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’

That is both true and false.

There’s something about friendship when you’re young. It’s not something you think about at the time, analysis comes when you’re an old fogey like me. To the young, friendship is just something that is. Friends at that stage in life are more important than anything, even family.

As you grow older, you drift. Pressures of work, of family, of life take precedence. Soon those people who you roamed the streets with, who you played with, who you fought with, who you thought would be there forever are gone. Maybe in later life you hook up a reunion, more likely a funeral but the spark of what had once been sparks no more. 

So I think myself lucky that I’m still at least in contact with a couple of people who knew me way back then.

Of course, I’ve made more friends since school. Good friends. Close friends. Friends I rely on. Friends I know will be there when the solids hit the air conditioning. Friends I no doubt annoy regularly but are still there. Some are authors, some are not. Some are recent, some I’ve known for years. But they, like my old school chums, remain as vital a part of my life as the need to breath. I’m glad I have them.

I've lost friends, too. Sometimes my fault, sometimes theirs, sometimes nobody's. They let me down, I let them down, or that old saying That's Life did its thing. 

The school captains said their friendship would last.

Wouldn’t it be great if they were right?