Bouchercon17

Well, another Bouchercon is over. What a fun one this one was. Besides the usual interesting panels, it was held in Toronto. What a fabulous city.

Susanna Calkins was our wonderful moderator with really thought provoking questions. And the panel: Lois Gresh, Jonathan Putman, Andrea Penrose and Beverly Todd were all fascinating speakers. You can see from the photo how intently I’m listening.

On to St. Petersburg next year!

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Ancient Crete

Although I am planning to continue the Will Rees mystery series, I also want to begin a new and very different series. These mysteries will be set in Ancient Bronze Age Crete.

Needless to say, the research has been intense!

I have learned so much. (There is still a lot more to learn, not just for me but for the archeologists too. All that we know now is from the archeological record, myths and various interpretations.)

But I digress.

These ancient Minoans were a civilized society with indoor toilets, beautiful art, and some very intriguing cultural differences. For one thing, they worshipped a Goddess and appear to be matrilineal as well as matrilocal. (That means inheritance went through the mother and when she married the man lived with her.) They worshipped snakes and apparently snake handling was part of the ceremonies.

Like most of the Goddesses then, she was the deity of fertility. Women enjoyed a high rank, something that many of the early archeologists found hard to believe.

The bull was revered. A symbol of the male principle, the bull was sacrificed at important ceremonies. Yes, this is the culture with bull-leaping. Probably most people know of this from the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It turns out that the people who became the Classical Greeks interpreted the Minoan culture through the lens of their own beliefs.

More on this next week.

Talk at the Mavens of Mayhem

On Saturday I spoke to the SINC (Sister in Crime) chapter to which I belong: the Mavens of Mayhem. SINC was started by Sara Paretsky in the 1980’s to support women writers. At that time, women writers were hardly ever reviewed. (Many sources I see in the Library are still like this. Book page mystery section reviews about 85% – 90% men and the few women who appear are heavyweights like Louise Penney. So there is still a lot of work to do. But I digress.)

So Sisters in Crime was begun and now there are chapters all over the country.

Anyway, I put on my librarian hat and spoke about genres and the difficulty of placing a book in the proper slot. Of course there is a lot of discussion on this; many librarians don’t want to “pigeonhole” but I feel it is an aid to the patron who reads only mystery or only romance. Of course within the genres there are sub-genres (noir, historical, cozy for example) and especially now days there are a lot of books that are more than one genre. The Devil’s Bible by Carpenter is mystery, historical, fantasy and even a little romance. (It is a great book, BTW.) Then the question is, where do you locate such a book so readers will find it?

Since several of the writers and beginning writers in the group have books that cross genres, we had a great discussion. One of the members referenced her attempt to find a book Dinosaur barbecue. In the catalog it was listed: Cookery – Dinosaur.

I will leave the peculiarities of subject headings for another day.

Amazon

I order a fair amount from Amazon even though I am one of those dinosaurs that actually likes to go into a store and browse. I order books too even though I work in a library and I haunt Barnes and Noble and visit the smaller book shops regularly. Amazon has books I need for my research that I can’t get by any other method.

But what I really use Amazon for is streaming music. I have a variety of playlists and I buy music, both old and new, to download to my phone, all the time.

The problem with Amazon is this: Music unlimited. Now I am willing to purchase the songs and I do, (And sometimes Amazon takes them away again even though I have bought them and downloaded them. I hate this. But I digress.) But I CAN’T buy some songs because they are music unlimited and Amazon wants me to pay $7.99 a month for access to them. I do not download that many songs per month. Besides, the time I would need by itself stops me. I am sure that Amazon believes that customers want the songs so much they will pay that amount of money. But I won’t. I think its gouging. And its not like Amazon doesn’t already make huge profits. So I don’t buy the song at all.

Still. Amazon’s control of this marketplace is both irritating and frightening. They can go into my phone and remove something I’ve paid for? Seriously? And the billions they are already earning isn’t enough? So here in a nutshell is the good and bad of the digital world. I can get odd books and yet Amazon has so much power over music as well as my phone.

September 11 – 16 years later

Taking a break from my writing activities for a moment, I thought I would mention some of the thoughts I reflected upon yesterday.

Sixteen years seems like such a short time and yet so many things can happen. On September 11, I was in Maine with my daughter and several other kids. We’d taken a ferry to an island, only to be told at the little general store/post office what had happened. We all thought it was a joke. But when we returned to MDI and put on the television, there it was.

I was frantic. My son had gone home for a new – and I think his first job – after college. In the city. I kept trying and trying to reach him or my ex-husband, he also worked in the city, but of course I could not get through. I did not hear until much later that night that both were fine. My son had to walk uptown from Wall Street through the crap in the air. A day or two later his lung collapsed and he had to be hospitalized. He missed the wedding of his step-sister which took place the following Saturday.

I worked in a Rockland County library then, near Pearl River. The funerals were on-going for police and fire lost that day. In the Library, always a diverse and warm community, there was conflict with the Muslims, who then blamed the Jews – fully half my staff at the time. Although we papered over the differences, some of those friendships never recovered.

Sixteen years later so many things have changed. One of the young men with me in Maine met his future wife on that trip and they now have a little girl. Other relationships ended and others began but all are married with kids of their own. The country as a whole has changed, more than I would ever have thought possible. Just think about the security at the airports. I can’t even count the number of pat-downs (and I am blond and blue-eyed) that I have endured. As a country we seem to be more fearful – and now have our own homegrown terrorists. If bin Laden’s aim was to destroy the America as we knew it, he certainly succeeded.

As for my husband and I, we’ve moved to Maine and back again and then several times in New York. We have different jobs now – and 2011 was the year my writing career finally took off. In some ways sixteen years has been a long time, but in others how short it is.

 

Suffolk, Virginia

It has been a busy two weeks. July 31 my husband and I left for a Danube River Cruise and it was awesome! Definitely the way to travel. I will share pictures next week.

We came home on Thursday and on Friday we left for an author’s festival in Suffolk Virginia. Wow, it was fun. Got to speak to the featured authors, who were all lovely, and to many aspiring authors as well. And of course I got to do my favorite thing: talk about my books.

Next week I go to Mechanicsburg for another author event. It is connected to the Mystery bookshop there but will be held in a local church. 9:30 – 2:00.

Arsenic

Arsenic has been known as a poison for millennia. It was so commonly used during the Victorian Age it was called inheritance powder. (Seriously.) It occurs in nature and contaminates water and foodstuffs. (New Mexico has the dubious distinction of having high levels in their water and rice is particularly susceptible to absorbing arsenic.) A slightly sweet odorless and colorless powder, the symptoms of arsenic poisoning mimic cholera or some kind of intestinal distress. It has been used as a cause of death by many many mystery authors.

Women in the Elizabethan era used it in a paste to whiten their complexions. Of course it was absorbed through the skin and a lifetime of use must have meant serious health complications. (Talk about dying for fashion.)

What interests me, though, are the inadvertent poisonings. Napoleon’s hair was shown to have very high levels of arsenic. Was he poisoned by his nearest and dearest while on Elba? What about King George III, the so-called mad King who reigned during the Colonial period and Revolution? He had porphyria, a blood disease that results in dark urine and extreme sensitivity to the sun. (Some scholars think that porphyria was the original seed of the vampire legends.) Well, when they tested King George’s hair, it too displayed high levels of arsenic. Was he poisoned?

They were both probably poisoned by environmental factors. As that time a beautiful emerald green was all the rage for wallpaper. When George Washington built his house he ordered rooms papered in this fashionable color. The problem is that beautiful color was created by arsenic and in damp or humid weather the arsenic came out of the paper into the air. Instant poisoning.