Such a beautiful busy summer

Yes, I know this summer’s been far too hot everywhere. In fact, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, June was Earth’s hottest month ever recorded. But I’ve enjoyed this summer anyway. Funny how events just refuse to portion themselves out nice and even.  You get a long period when you think your life is stalled like an old tired car, and then suddenly you need to hit the ground running.  I think I spent today just catching my breath.

The last weekend in July was Bookstock, which is Woodstock VT’s “Festival of Words”.  Like last year, I signed up to help cover the Sisters in Crime table.  In between selling my own books and explaining the Sisters in Crime mission to curious patrons of the Festival, I spent a pleasurable morning talking books and the mysteries of publishing with Ursula Wong, author of gripping novels about a little known corner of World War II.  If you like stories about strong women dealing with brutal times, her “Amber Wolf” series is one you don’t want to pass up.

Ursula had to head back home around noon, so I spent the afternoon sharing the table with Lisa Lieberman, who enthralled me with her wealth of experience in writing and publishing.  Her series of historical mysteries is based on old movies and often feature blacklisted Hollywood people in dangerous places.

Both these writers leave me in awe. I had quite enough trouble researching Washington D.C. in the mid-1960s for “The Last Party in Eden”, and I was there at the time!

Here’s an interview of Lisa and fellow Sisters in Crime author Frances McNamara, by Kathryn Gandek-Tighe.

Cold beer and nachos!

It was definitely a Sisters in Crime week.  A month ago I invited Connie Hambley, the president of our New England chapter, to join me and several other writers and readers at the Harpoon Brewery for an old-fashioned palaver over a cold brew.  Never having done anything so brash before, I was very nervous.  But when Connie showed up yesterday with her handsome husband Scott, the whole group couldn’t have had more fun!  That’s my daughter-in-law Renee to my left, and Connie is sitting on my right (I’m holding my treasured stuffed lobster from last year’s Crimebake). Kudos to Scott for a great picture! Sometimes the best thing about meeting with old friends is being able to introduce them to new ones, and I think everyone was charmed and excited and inspired by the whole afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better, though the hot sun did cause us to move from one outdoor table to another, which probably nonplussed our poor servers, but they rallied magnificently.  Good food and brew and sometimes live music makes Harpoon one of the best places to stop in the area – don’t miss it the next time you’re in the Windsor-Hartland area.

To toot my own horn, also this week I was the subject of an interview by David Alan Binder.  When he asked if I preferred an email interview or to talk on the phone, I replied that there is a reason I’m a writer, not a speaker!  I had a very good time with his thought-provoking questions, and I hope you enjoy reading my answers. 

Now to do a little summer relaxing before a planned road trip in September.  More on that later.

It’s a Grand Hopeful Flag

Another “exactly one hundred words”! Thanks to Roschelle Wisoff-Fields for her “Friday Fictioneers” prompt and to PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll for the picture:

It was a humid Fourth of July.  Brogash’s sweaty hand stuck to the useless employment application.  Land of the free, right.  They’ll take one look at my name and that’s it.  He scribbled a signature and took it to the counter.  At least it was cooler inside than out there under that hopeful flag.  He’d hang around a while, maybe buy something cold with his last buck.

The manager read Brogash’s application.

“You Bulgarian?”

“American,”  Brogash snapped.  Then, more politely,  “My grandfather was a Bulgar.”

“Mine, too.  This looks good.  Come back Monday morning at nine.  We’ll start your orientation.”

Cold City Streets

Okay, I’m having fun with another prompt from Friday Fictioneers. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff, and to ©Ted Strutz for the photo. I’ve also uploaded the story to InLinks. If you want to give it a try, write your own 100-word story and click on the frog on Rochelle’s blog!


The city streets were so cold.  She’d walked forever, dodging people with bitter eyes and hunched shoulders.  The fifteenth marquee didn’t even show the name of an upcoming play.  She opened the door anyway and crossed the thin scarlett carpeting to examine the outdated posters.  Faint music floated from somewhere.

“Lookin’ for somebody?”

She jumped.  “Oh!  No.  Not really.”

The woman looked at her muddy shoes and pinched cold face.  “You an actor?”

“Couple seasons.  Back home.”

“That’s more’n some of us.  C’mon, kid.  You can watch us rehearse.  We got coffee.”

Maybe the city wasn’t so cold after all.

A warm old kettle

Here’s another 100-word story from a picture prompt:

“Where’s the Nescafe, Pop?”

“Cabinet over the stove.  Told her it would dry out up there, but she never listened.”

“Well, it’s dried coffee anyway—”

“It changed the taste!”

I spooned Nescafe and poured hot water from the kettle.  “Where’d you get these mugs, Pop?  She never told me.”

“Never asked, did ya?  Some tourist shop after the wedding.  Stupid idea.  I had to get to work, didn’t I?  I swore I’d take her on a real honeymoon someday.  I swore it to her.”

Tears fell from his old eyes as his hands crushed a flower from the funeral.

So I’m a Peeping Tom

I’ve always loved being a peeping tom, and it’s even better in a small town.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not some kind of sleaze.  I just mean, if I’m not the one doing the driving on the way home, I will gaze out at the night-lit windows as we pass and make note of what I can see inside.

It’s amazing how often I don’t see people in the lit rooms.  Where do they go?  Back to the kitchen?  To bed and left the living room light on?  Are they settling down after a long day or getting dressed to go out and release some tension?

That’s one thing about New England – there are still plenty of houses that sit barely back from the road — those roads that used to be quiet lanes that rarely saw a vehicle during the day, never mind at night.  Now ‘traffic’ (hardly worthy of the word) goes on all the time, even late into the night.  Yet often they leave their draperies open to the street view.  And I appreciate it.

I study the different tastes in wall covering, furnishings, lighting fixtures.  I try to guess how many people live there.  And I wonder why they are still up so late, or alternatively have already gone up to bed when the sun’s barely behind the hills.  I read books that still mention the blue-tinted light of TVs, but that hardly applies now that black-and-white is retro.  With more and more realistic color, it’s the movement, the flicker that I see now.  And it gets easier to see what they’re watching with the great screens that are hung up on a wall because they’d be too cumbersome as a piece of furniture. It’s wall art, ever changing and intriguing.

Sometimes I see heads above the backs of sofas and easy chairs. I wonder what they’re talking about, or what they would talk about without TV.  That’s not a criticism, there was radio before that.  The Lone Ranger.  Dragnet.  The Boston Pops.  So to sit quietly and just listen isn’t really new.

There are anomalies that fascinate me, that stay with me.  The other day I took a walk along a different small-town street, looking in the cafe windows.  At least, I think it was a cafe, although I could find no sign hanging out.  It may have been someone’s home made over from a long-ago cottage industry.  It was a gloomy brick building with no draperies, very little furniture and nothing to be seen on the far wall to break up the pale expanse.  In one window a woman sat angled so that she seemed engrossed in something to her right along the intervening section of wall.  As I walked on past the next window, I saw that another woman sat in the left corner, looking back in the direction of the first woman.  It certainly looked like they could be having a conversation, but the separation of the two windows had to be ten feet.  Why sit so far apart?  Was there a table between them pressed against the inside of the wall?  It had to be a long table.  Or was it two separate tiny tables, with each woman’s companion crammed in between them?  I hovered, waiting to see if anyone joined them or if a waiter came up, but eventually I felt I’d better move on before I got arrested for standing there staring at them.

I suppose my favorite peeping is when we coast along our own main street, pretty much the only street of what you might call ‘town’. It runs about half a mile west before it rolls on out past the volunteer fire department and then the farmlands. The ‘business district’ consists of a tiny post office, cafe, and a small grocery which all share the same long building.  The library’s around the corner, a little bank branch is right on the corner, and “Mike’s”, a four-pump gas station with portable potties outside and a deli and wine selection indoors, is a very popular stop for skiers and folks hauling boats and campers out to the lakes.  The hair salon and barber shop are tucked in between old and stubborn clapboard homes, and it’s all overlooked by two historic mansions up on the hills – for sale, at very modern prices. There are no traffic lights, just three or four stop signs in unexpected spots that generate a lot of consternation in people if it’s their first time through.

We skirt the hundred-year-old imposing brick town hall and roll on past the three-room cottage labeled “Historical Society – call for appointment” (if you look close, they are open Mondays at certain hours which aren’t exactly peak tourist times).  The recreation center is on the other side of the street, with a park, playground and ball field stretching behind it all the way back to the library.  Not much for peeping there. 

After that comes the pretty homes in wide lots with their porches full of rockers and potted plants.  The garages are always unattached and out back, with some of them sitting right up close to the ‘crick’ that runs through the trees. A few houses might be a hundred years old, others maybe just fifty or so.  But they all have the tall, wide front windows of a friendlier, less fearful time, and I can glance in as we cruise by.  Living there, you could wave from your living room window to people across the street, or stroll out to have your coffee on the porch and speak with passersby. 

At night the lit-up homes always look as open, warm and inviting as I remember my grandmother’s house.  So I happily peep and try to imagine the stories going on behind the windows.

Visiting the Generation Gap from the Other end

When we get older we sometimes participate in a kind of disconnect without realizing it.  I don’t mean things like politics or music; with a little effort or enthusiasm I can keep up my end enough to carry on a conversation about most things with my grown grandchildren.  But sometimes I have to remind myself that my memories and my opinions are based on a much longer base of experience.  They are looking at the world through a camera lens, while I am zooming across nearly seventy years.

Last week I attended a Meet-Up with a local group of writers I hadn’t met before, and I was pleased when four of our seven turned out to be young – that is to say, twenties?  It gets harder to judge at this end.

Conversation was invigorating.  At times these “kids” reminded me of my old friends who camped outside the store back in the Eighties so they could be the first in line for the latest Piers Anthony or Stephen King or a particular fanzine. It was when the talk moved on to editing manuscripts that I was pulled out of my no doubt condescending amusement.

I brought up the fact that one college-age person who had attended my other group for a short time did her “critiquing” entirely on my punctuation and had laboriously gone through and “corrected” where I had double-spaced after every period at the end of a sentence.  I said that when you’ve been taught and have practiced that double-space for so long, it was damn near impossible to make your thumb hold at one space when your mind has already moved on to the next sentence.  And what was the big deal, anyway?

One of the young women explained to me that one space was insisted on because many people would “pad out” their work in order to make it look longer.  This seemed to make sense; at least it was the first actual explanation I’ve ever received.  So I nodded and conceded that it was a good point.

Then I got to thinking about it.

The fact is that the double-space at the end of a sentence has been the rule since manuscripts were first submitted to publishers in typewritten form rather than long-hand.  In other words, by insisting on one space you are not restricting anyone from doing it differently — it’s the one-space that’s different.  If professors today don’t want padding in their college papers, they might concentrate on overworked themes and drawn-out conclusions rather than focusing on something that has been in place for upwards of a hundred years.  Or simply make the guidelines involve word-count and not pages, just as any publishing house does.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we need to stick with the double-spacing after a period.  I really don’t care.  I am saying that there is a reason for it just as there is for double-spacing the lines.  I don’t even want to picture a manuscript submitted with the lines single-spaced. Double-spacing between lines was required because editors (or professors) did not want to strain their eyes trying to read however-many submissions day after day.  From experience I know that sentences can start running together if they are crammed in elbow to elbow, top to tail.  And you need space to write comments, insert corrections, add or delete.  This is incredibly frustrating with a single-line-spaced manuscript, and I can’t think that having only one space between sentences would be any help either.

But rather like the little boy who ran home from school and exclaimed,  “Mom!  Did you know that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings?”, these younger people were looking at the world through a zoom lens that didn’t extend into the past much further than, possibly, ten years before their birth.  I guess us old folks have to keep remembering that.

By the way, there’s a double space after every sentence in this post. So sue me.

The Thornbush

A 100-word story for Friday Fictioneers @

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

She crouched behind the thornbush and heard him croon her name in the night.  His silhouette crossed in front of the backyard security lamp, and she clenched her eyes tight so he wouldn’t see her tears reflecting the light.  At first the thunderous rain had masked every sound, but now there was silence except for the crack of the stick when he lashed out at something. 

She couldn’t tell anyone what he’d done.  She would curl up and let the earth absorb her.  The cold was sweet and forgiving, and the yard lamp shone through the thorns like a star.