Monday, July 30, 2012

My First Bookstore

My first bookstore was “The Frigate” (There is no frigate like a book…” It was housed in a Colonial building at the end of our street. It had a bright red door and the sign that hung outside bore a picture of a sailing ship and the lettering was very ornate and old-fashioned.

The door was open from nine to five on weekdays and ten to six on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays. The proprietor’s name was Polly.

When we first moved to this neighborhood I was too young to cross the big street alone. It was a major thoroughfare with trolleys and trucks. I would have to wait for my mother to take me. But on my tenth birthday, she decided I was old enough to go by myself. Clutching my hard-saved allowance and birthday money in my hand, ($2) I set off.

Since I arrived on the dot of nine, there was no one else in the store. Just me. It was as quiet as the library except for the soft tap tapping of a typewriter in a back room. I hesitated for a minute, then took the plunge and began browsing among the shelves, inhaling the heady aroma of new paper and fresh ink, the smell of newly printed books. I don’t know how long I prowled there, but after awhile the little bell over the door rang and another customer came in. At this point, Polly emerged from the backroom, and seeing me first, said, “Can I help you?”

“No,” was my resolute response. I didn’t want any help. This book was to be my choice and mine alone.

She smiled and moved on to the other customer. A tall woman who looked like a schoolteacher, she gave me a disapproving glance, probably wondering why such a young person was in a bookshop alone. I clutched my money tighter and continued to study the brightly colored spines of the books.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember what book I finally picked, but knowing my taste at that time, it was probably the latest Nancy Drew mystery.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Where Did You Come From, My Friend?

I have a friend who sometimes looks in the mirror and wonders… where did you really come from?

We are a nation of immigrants from every corner of the earth. Every race, color, religion, ethnicity, philosophy.
- We are human beings.
- We depend on one another.
- We speak one language… Humanglish.

As Americans, we want the same things:
- The American dream
- Freedom, liberty, justice for all

My friend belongs to a wonderful adult group in the center of America's largest urban cosmopolis, a group with superb programs on every possible topic – from art to literature, history, music, every domain of thought and culture from all corners of the globe.

Members come from many geographic areas, Russia, Israel, Hungary, Poland. The background of most of the 700 members stems from the laws, traditions and culture of the Old Testament.

My friend's heritage, as far as she knows, comes from both the Old and the New Testaments. Currently, she has the coloring and physical characteristics of Northern Europe.

Sometimes fellow members of this group ask her, "Where are you from?"

She replies, "Here."

Then they ask, "Where are your parents from?"

She repeats. "Here."


Longer silence, accompanied by a puzzled look.

Then, with a broad smile, "But where are your GRANDparents from?"

Now, slightly embarrassed, my friend says quickly, "They also came from here. Everyone in my family has been in America for a long, long time. I think they came originally from England or France. I'm not sure. It was so long ago. It's never been a question…"

The questioners shake their heads, perplexed and walk away, leaving my friend to ponder.

What should she have replied???

She could have said, on my father's side there was a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Hampshire. On my mother's side there were a few Methodist ministers…

But given the way history happened, there were probably some other pieces of the geneological puzzle. But she had no proof – there was nothing in writing. And all she could do was piece together bits of history that MAY have happened.

She recalled her history lessons from grade school…

Maybe this: A couple of hundred years ago my paternal relatives sailed in a flimsy boat across the Atlantic. Some of them died on the way. Some were killed when they landed, by wild animals or the harsh New England winters or the Native American tribes already here on the land.

Some might have married those same natives.

On my maternal side, they came across that same ocean, but landed further south, maybe Virginia or the Carolinas or Georgia's penal colony. Everyone knew the southern lands were colonized by escaped convicts from Europe.

Some might have co-habited with people with dark skins, some of them with African-born slaves.

So, if she could trace the lineage honestly, she'd have to answer her colleagues' questions by admitting she might come from slaves, convicts, slave-owners, from that side of the family!

When my friend was in college and worked at the Henry Street Settlement House Camp up in Westchester county one summer, the people there assumed she was also Jewish. She had dark hair then. And a tan.

My friend looked in her mirror recently and thought: What does it really matter where your or my relatives came from???

We are here.

This is our home… on the little struggling planet called Earth.

America the beautiful… my country 'tis of thee… God bless America…

Thelma Straw

P.S. My friend is that face that stares back at me in the mirror…

P.P.S. Please share with me your thoughts on this topic…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Preparing for Fall

The temperature in Lambertville plunged thirty degrees last week, leading us all to think about getting ready for cooler weather. As soon as I finish the book I'm working on I mean to get busy and pull my fall wardrobe together. When I finish the book my agent will get me a million-dollar advance for it, right? Or, far more likely, I'll win the Pennsylvania Lottery, which is up to umpty-septillion dollars this week. As a millionaire, I'll be able to select a few of the little dresses on Neiman-Marcus's web site, all in lovely, subtle shades of green.

This is what comes of having no daughters. There's nobody to say, "Seriously, Mom? Really? You're going to wear that out in public?" (Sons don't care what you wear, as long as it's not totally slutty.) But, alas, I haven't anyplace to wear these clothes, even if I were thirty years younger and twenty pounds lighter. As long as I'm dreaming, though, I can dream of wearing a long, green, ten-thousand-dollar dress to an awards dinner, where my book will get a prize, right? Right? What do you think, should I buy the dress now or wait until I finish the book?

Me, Photoshopped into Dress

I am so ready for fall.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Life in Six T-Shirts

There used to be shop on Third Street in Greenwich Village where you could buy a cotton t-shirt and have the store clerks write anything you wanted on it.  I bought several during those years when making a statement that way was considered cool, even in the Village, the World Headquarters of Cool.  With the sale of our country house, a few of those shirts that I hadn't seen in years emerged from my unjustly extensive collection of memorabilia.  Somehow, the six shirts shown here wound up in one pile on my closet shelf.  They tell my story, not the whole tale of my life, but some of the significant bits.  The first two were on sale, as is, from the store.  The others show personal messages.  Here is what they say about me:

I went to Catholic school for 17 years, all of my formal schooling.  That experience was largely a blessing for a poor, working class girl like me.  The quality of my education was for the most part excellent, if rule bound.  On that score, a passage in The Once and Future King really spoke to me.  In that book, to teach the young Arthur about life and leadership, Merlin turns him into various animals.  When the future king is transformed into an ant and approaching the ant colony for the first time, over the entrance he reads, "Everything that is not compulsory is forbidden."  I could relate to that!  On the other hand, I went to a women's college on scholarship.  There I met brilliant nuns dedicated to educating the minds of women. I revere them.  They gave me my college degree as a gift.  And showed me that women could be gifted.  And take charge.

I emerged from college right into the transformative experience of the feminism of the 1960's. I have written elsewhere on this blog of my participation in what I call The Pink Collar Wars.  The nuns of my college primed my engine so that I might zoom right into the movement and have it broaden my horizons and multiply my possibilities.

When New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy in the 1970's, the real estate market wobbled for a few months, making a small house on 12th Street, badly in need of renovation, affordable for me and David.  A beloved friend whom we greatly respected for his real estate acumen and financial prowess, begged us not to buy.  "Buy near us in New Jersey," he said, pointing out New York's state and city income taxes, the city's sink-hole-of-depravity reputation, and the leafy beauty of the swanky suburban town where he lived, where we could have bought a mansion for the same price.  We agonized.  We even did a financial analysis that told us that, in the long run, it might cost us $10-20K extra per year to live in New York.  But we were in love with our city, warts and all.  We decided to buy that house on Twelfth Street.  During its chaotic renovation, while staying in New Jersey with my father, we drove in and rummaged around the dusty construction site to find clothes suitable for a friend's wedding.  When, in duds relatively filth free, we boarded a taxi to go to the church, David said, "We are more like a track team than a married couple."  The next week, when our daughter was still commuting through the Lincoln Tunnel to the 4th grade, I moseyed over the Third Street to get us team shirts.  Staying in New York was the best decision we ever made, in many ways, especially financially.

This shirt has more to do with my daughter's education than mine.  Brilliant as she is, she qualified for the ultra-prestigious Hunter College High School, a public institution where the 200 most brilliant New York kids, by a rigorous testing process, attended.  Because of the heady milieu where she had been studying, by the time she was ready to apply to college, she considered herself average or a little below.  She fretted that she would never get into a decent institution of higher education.  No amount of reassurance on my part calmed her fears.  "You're just saying that because you are my mother," she said.  I went to Third Street to get shirts that spoke about where her parents attended college.  I chose sayings to communicate that one did not have to go to Harvard to have a good life.  Her parents both started out just this side of destitute, and we both had jobs we loved that we're quite financially rewarding.  We were, after all, living in our own Greenwich Village townhouse.  Mine is the shirt you see here.  David's said, "Unimpressive State University."   Even having parents wearing such billboards did not calm her down much.  She got into the top four small liberal arts colleges in the country.  She went to Swarthmore!

I wore this shirt to Luciano Pavarotti's first free concert in Central Park.  I learned to love the opera, literally, at my grandfathers knee. Music of all sorts of, including opera, brings me enhancement of my joys, solace in sorrow, companionship when I am lonely, help concentrating on any task at hand, and especially inspiration when I am writing.  I consider making music the highest calling for humans on this planet.  I cant play a lick myself, but I am so very lucky to have been born into a family of people who can experience ecstasy when listening to music
Most New Yorkers used to call that Pharaoh of old two-TANK-ah-men.  But when the first big exhibition of artifacts from King Tuts famous tomb came to The Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, the museums president, made sure we all learned how to pronounce the ancient name properly, with the accent on Tut (long o sound).  I got this shirt to wear to the show.  But I also keep it as another talisman of how lucky a person I am.  The photos of ancient Egyptian artifacts in my fourth grade text book were the first taste I got of the breath of history and the existence of exotic locales where one can see the art of the centuries. I have lived to see Karnak and Abu Simbel and to celebrate my 60th birthday at the Great Pyramids of Giza under a full moon. Not bad for a little girl from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Paterson, NJ.

I am keeping the shirts.  I don't ever want to forget any of this.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Reading List

Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed this summer that I’d like to share with you.

The perfect book to read during the year of the Diamond Jubilee!


I had read Elizabeth Taylor’s short stories in the New Yorker and liked them, but I had never read any of her novels. This one is charming. The author understands what growing old is all about and portrays the process in many shades of gray with great sympathy. I want to read more by this author


This writer got me through the heat wave. She is like a cool bath or a glass of cold lemonade, not too sweet. Tart.


I’m not big on modern poetry, mainly because I usually don’t understand it. But this poet is very understandable, and her poems are like a cold drink of water,

That’s it! If you have any books you' d like to share, I'd love to hear about them.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Is a Blog???

The woman asked. She had a Ph.D, was a published writer, but was not keen on computers.Yes, Virginia, there are some people left in that category…

I stumbled over a reply, but her eyes glazed over, like I was speaking in some weird UFO lingo. I realized I'd never seen a definition of a blog!

So, I got to work. Is it an article? A prose piece? An op ed? A commentary?

Probably, all of the above, I thought by instinct.

This group blog you are clicked on to, Crime Writers' Chronicle, centers mainly on crime-writing information, methods, opinions.

But not always. Though the cast of writers are members of crime-writing organizations, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers - to name a few - in some of the best-crafted blogs here our authors deal with art, music, travel, espionage, animals, love of a spouse, etc.

I did some digging and learned that a blog is a personal journal published on the world wide web consisting of discrete entries; the work of a single individual or a small group and often themed on a single subject. Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject, others function as online diaries.

A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages and other media relative to the topic.

Blogging is a form of social networking - they not only produce content but also build social relations with their readers and other bloggers.

The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running acount of their personal lives, diarists, journalists, journalers.

Since 2004 blogs have become mainstream, as political consultants, news services, and candidates used them to express opinions on political issues.

Israel was among the first of national governments to set up an official blog; under David Sarango, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs set up Israel Politik, the country's official political blog.

Blogs have become a way to reflect on life or works of art.

Some types of blogs - political, travel, gardening, house, fashion, education, niche, music, art and legal.

The collective community of all blogs is the blogosphere.

Brian Klems, Newsletter Editor of writers Digest, gives tips for writing a blog:

  1. Find your focus. Who are your target readers? Home in a niche strategy and be the expert on it.
  2. Be relatable. Be yourself. Your personality or your voice in writing will let your readers get to know you.
  3. Use links within your post.
  4. Include images. Readers need to be stimulated visually.
  5. Respond to blog comments. Connect directly with your readers. Even say "Thanks for reading my blog!"
  6. Make it easy for potential readers to find your blog.
  7. Give your blog the professional quality it deserves.
  8. Be positive, inspirational and supportive to the community you're writing for.
  9. Break up your blogs into shorter paragraphs, bullet points, lists.
  10. Don't avoid trying new things. Let your blog evolve over time, take risks, add infographs, personal stories, guest bloggers.

T. J. Straw

P.S. Please add here what YOU think a blog is!!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Find the Little Dresses You Need Right Now

I opened my email this morning only to be exhorted by one of those shopping sites I can't seem to stay away from to find the little dresses I need right now, because it's still summer. Yes! The little dresses! It's been a few summers since I could get into most of them, but I think I have a couple under the bed, covered with cat hair, and maybe I need them right now. Or maybe I'll just let them lie there.

Or did they mean the dresses they were offering on the site? It could be that I need them right now, but worse than the dresses I need the three hundred dollars apiece they want to charge me for them.

What do you wear in the dog days of summer? Other than sunscreen. What do you wear when you write? When you surf the net? Does it lift your spirits to gussie up in a sweet little frock (or a sharp tropical shirt, for you boys out there)? Or do you pig it in yesterday's underwear? What effect does your clothing have on your work? Find those little dresses, folks.

As for me, I'm not going to tell you what I'm wearing right now. Cloak of charity and all that.

Kate Gallison

(Little dresses from ShopBop)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Get Cool

Following up on Robin's lament about the tropical weather that has been plaguing most of the USA, here from the heart of the Baked Apple, I am going to try to stage a Cool-Off to help us all chill out.  As in every area of my life, music will be the tool that effects the change in mood.  Today, I share with you some of the coolest music I know.

So get yourself an iced drink, sit back in a comfortable chair, and give a listen

Okay, let's start with the gorgeous, soothing piano jazz of Bill Evans.  Here's his "Like Someone in Love."

Cool, huh?

Still cool, but also swingin' is this:

Try to feel as cool as Frank sounds.

Okay.  Now, for my money, the ultimate in cool is John Coltrane.  Listen to his "Evry Time We Say Good-Bye."

Now, aren't you feeling better?

How about your cool favorites?  Add a link in the comments to tunes you think will help me stay cool.  Its blistering in New York.   Give me a break!

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Slump

Recently I have been overcome with lethargy. At first I blamed it on the heat, but it got cooler and I am still a sloth. All I want to do is lie around, read mysteries, and take naps. Occasionally I eat or drink something to keep going, but nothing that requires any effort or imagination. Soup and a sandwich, iced tea (the powdered kind) or lemonade (the bottle kind). And ice cream. Plenty of that.

This is no way to live. Nothing gets accomplished. You fall behind in everything—paying bills, writing thank you notes, cleaning, blogging… and you know you will suffer the consequences of having to catch up later. You get fat. (Fatter?) and an unfinished manuscript languishes on my desk.

I long for fall. I love those brisk autumn breezes and pungent scents that wake me up and act like a cattle prod to get me going. But autumn is more than two months away! Meanwhile, how can I motivate myself? Any suggestions are welcome.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Second Oldest Profession

The role of the female spy is as old as recorded history. As children we read how Delilah betrayed Samson to the Philistines.

Empress Wu Chao, A.D. 625-705, set up a Chinese sovereign-controlled secret service. High priestesses at Delphi are credited with passing on intelligence while in drug-induced trances.

The Byzantine Empress Theodora danced nude while her spies worked the streets.

In the 16th century Q E 1 brought the art of espionage to an international level.

Women were active spies in the American Revolution. Patience Mehitabel Lovell Wright, an American sculptress, a confidant of Ben Franklin, served as a valuable intelligence agent in London and passed information to Franklin.

The Civil War had Belle Boyd and Nancy Hart, "Rebel Rose" Greenhow, the widow of a state department official who also served as a secret executive agent for the U.S. Rebel Rose was a capitol confidant of statesmen, congressmen, army and navy officers stationed in Washington.She penetrated Union Lines through her very effective courier service, sending intelligence to Richmond that Gen. Irvin McDowell was marching on Manassas, VA. Her timely ciphered message set the stage for the Union debacle at Bull Run in 1861.

On the Union side, a Quaker teacher in Winchester, VA, Miss Rebecca Wright, and Gen. P.H. Sheridan worked through an elderly black man who had a confederate pass to sell vegetables in the town - with messages on tissue paper, wrapped in tin foil and secreted in the man's mouth!

Miss Elizabeth van Lew, a spinster in Richmond, led a double life. Under the guise of a partying busybody, she eavesdropped on military conversations, sent coded messages back to Union posts and hid northern prisoners in her James River Mansion.

A Creole actress, Pauline Cushman of New Orleans, transmitted intelligence on military attacks to the Yankees.

A war widow, Sarah Thompson, helped in the capture of the famous Dixie Major John Hunt Morgan.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a prisoner of war, was awarded the Medal of Honor, for service to the Union forces in 1865.

Spy fever spread across the U.S. in WW1. Signs were posted on the Brooklyn docks: "Beware of female spies!"

Femmes fatales with German accents were eliciting secrets in New York's high society. Even bird watchers along the coast were suspect.

Maria de Victorica, known as Baroness Kretschmann, Marie de Vussiere or Miss Clark, in 1917 organized spy rings, sabotaged ships and munitions factories, worked sub rosa from the Netherlands Hotel for the German Nachrichtendienst.

American officers uncovered her work in re-supplying German U-boats off Cape Hatteras, positioning spies on American and British ships and plots against the Panama Canal.

Admiral Sir Reginal "Blinker" Hall, director of British Naval Intelligence in WW1, hired ladies who were known as "Blinker's Beauty Chorus". They had to be able to speak two languages and type!

In the second great war, women worked for SOE, the British Special Operations Executive, OSS, the American Office of Strategic Services, and BCRA, the French Bureau Central de Reseignements et d'Action.

They also worked in Africa, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Scandinavia, Asia and the Middle East.

Women managed the cryptography sections, infiltrated enemy lines to get tactical intelligence, published newspapers, managed guerilla operations and worked in "black" propaganda. Marlene Dietrich worked in radio for propaganda purposes.

Women taught weaponry, sabotage techniques and served in paramilitary units.

Many courageous French women worked in both world wars for intelligence or the resistance. Lee Child has several touching chapters in The Enemy, his book about Reacher's courageous mother and her work in this. The story of her funeral is very moving. Be sure to read it!

Over 4,000 women served in the OSS in WW2. General William Donovan called them "invisible apron strings." Women held jobs in administration, research and analysis. Jeannie Rousseau reported on Hitler's secret weapons. Rachel Griese compiled information on German defenses in France. Virginia Hall served in so many programs as a secret agent. Donovan awarded her the Distinguished Service Cross. After her work at OSS she joined the CIA.

Aline Griffith, Paige Morris, Isabel Pell, all made strong contributions to OSS in England, France and Spain.

Rosa Frame was a vital OSS agent in China and India.

Not all female OSS operatives gathered intelligence or blew up bridges. The MO branch of OSS, Morale Operations, dealt with black or covert propaganda. Their work included "all measures of subversion... used to create confusion and division, to undermine the morale and unity of the enemy."

In current tradecraft ... disinformation!

In post-war Germany, Emmy Rado, at OSS, worked with Allen Dulles on the highly secret "Crown Jewels" operation to coordinate churches in the German postwar rehab program.

In Japan, an OSS/MO woman planned the program to save the Emperor of Japan as a rallying point for the defeated nation. Her plan was adopted by Gen. MacArthur.

Under Stalin the NKVD set up Russia's first spy school in 1939, where actresses learned surveillance, ciphers and hand-to-hand combat, as well as the languages, culture and customs of the countries they infiltrated.

By 1971 there were hundreds of husband and wife teams in Russia. Anna Rosenberg, Jane Foster, and Martha Dodd Stern were indicted for espionage.

In Israel the Mossad was known for its excellent intelligence service. An agent code-named Cindy lured a prominent Israeli nuclear technician to Rome where he was picked up by the Mossad.

After 1947 the new Central Intelligence Agency hired many women from the old OSS. Women were promoted gradually to high positons, in operations and anti-terrorism.
William Colby, Director of the CIA from 1973-76, predicted then that one day a woman would be appointed head of CIA.

Many current mystery writers have women in various levels of the world of espionage. Thanks to the latitude of fiction, Zoe Bingham, with the looks of Helen Mirren and the will of the early Lady Thatcher, holds the position as head of CIA in my current series.

As a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers for over two decades, I recommend, however, that you read the books of our colleague, Vince Flynn, for the best portrayal of a woman head of CIA. His Dr. Irene Kennedy is shown, over about a dozen books, to be a woman of strength, erudition, culture - yet is one tough dame!

Thelma Straw

Friday, July 13, 2012

Blindingly Obvious Advice

I picked up a copy of Family Circle at the supermarket the other day, intrigued by their offer to tell me twenty ways to organize my living quarters, or twenty things it was okay to throw out, or something like that. When I got it home I was disappointed; turned out that the article could be boiled down to one useful piece of advice, which I already knew: get rid of all the stuff you don't need. The other articles were all about parenting. How to parent. I'm not in that game anymore.

That's the trouble with women's magazines nowadays, or the trouble with me. Most of the sage wisdom they dish out is stuff I've known for years, blindingly obvious stuff. Get rid of what you don't need. Don't eat spoiled food. Be civil and kind to your significant other. The fashion and lifestyle magazines for single women that I used to love so well when I was young and giddy are offering very different articles from the ones I grew up on.

I remember one article in Mademoiselle – yes, I know, it folded in 2001 – that told us how to care for our clothes, how to hem them if necessary, how to get spots out and sew up rips, how to treat our shoes so that they would last a long time. Nobody bothers with that anymore. Throw them out and get new ones from China. Nowadays, if you can believe their covers, the magazines for young women offer articles like Should I Have my Breasts Enlarged, and By How Much? and Fifty Kinky Things You Can Do With the Pool Boy.

It struck me the other day, as I perused article after article giving advice about things I already knew and things I didn't care about, that it would be a public service to unload my own accumulated wisdom upon the cringing heads of the young. After all, I didn't always know everything either.

In the interests of passing on a lifetime of wisdom, here goes:

Twenty Hints for Living a Free and Happy Life. 

(Many of these things I learned from bitter experience.)

  1. Get rid of what you don't need.
  2. Don't eat spoiled food.
  3. Be civil and kind to your significant other.
  4. Brush your clothes and hang them up when you take them off.
  5. Remain on good terms with your neighbors as far as possible.
  6. Change your oil every three thousand miles.
  7. Never quit a job without having another job lined up.
  8. Keep your kitchen and bathroom spotlessly clean.
  9. Don't marry before you're thirty.
  10. Stay sober.
  11. Wear only well-made clothes that fit properly.
  12. Don't smoke.
  13. Brush your teeth twice daily.
  14. See your dentist regularly.
  15. Don't talk when you should be listening.
  16. Don't have sex without protection.
  17. Never lend a relative more money than you can afford to lose.
  18. Make sure you're always wearing clean underwear.
  19. Sieze the day.
  20. Follow your bliss.

These bromides will keep you safe from serious grief until you grow your own wisdom. As for the pool boy, you're on your own.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Win an Autographed Copy.....

Here's the contest:

I took this picture of the statue of George Washington in Union Square in New York City.

Imagine that the blonde you see at the bottom of the shot is a tourist who asked the statue for directions to a specific place.  The statue is answering correctly.  What was her question?

The first person to give the correct answer will receive an autographed copy of Invisible Country.  You can enter by leaving a comment on this blog or on my Facebook Author page:

Or you can tweet your answer to me at @AnnamariaAlfier

For each day that there is no correct answer I will post a hint here in the comments, on Facebook, and tweet a hint to my followers on Twitter.

Good luck.

Where do you think the blonde wants to go?

Annamaria Alfieri   

Monday, July 9, 2012

Don't Touch That Book!

Recently I was complaining to a friend about the hazards of having too many books. She said, “Why don’t you have an appraiser come in and tell you which ones are valuable? Keep those, and get rid of the rest?”

Logical, right?

Wrong. Because my idea of valuable and the appraisers may not agree. He’ll be talking monetary value; I’ll be talking sentimental value.

How could I ever get rid of that scuffed volume of “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” illustrated by Nathaniel Wyeth and Jesse Wilcox Smith? The one with the picture of a duck drawn in crayon on the inside back cover, by my mother when she was four years old.

Or… that set of Edgar Allan Poe with the black crinkly binding and silk ribbon bookmarks. Or…the tattered complete set of Dick Francis in paperback, that I know I’ll reread again and again.

Or… all of Dorothy Sayres, Margery Allingham, and Josephine Tey? Or… ”The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler in which I marked the passage where the hero goes into a hotel bar early and describes the making of a martini as if he were in church watching the priest perform his sacred rituals. Or… the battered copy of “Rebecca” with all the suspense passages marked to be read to my class in mystery writing. Or… I could go on and on.

The trouble is—these books are my friends. And when I go to sleep at night it is a comfort to be surrounded by them.How can I think of getting rid of even one of them?
It’s hopeless.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pity the Poor Crows!

An Albany Eye On Crime

One day last winter at dusk I left my recliner in front of the TV (and a ‘Law & Order’ I had a nagging suspicion I’d seen before, more than once) to put on the ‘porch light’ to scare off muggers and make my neighbors feel unjustifiably secure. Truth is, I don’t have a porch, hence no ‘porch light’, since I live in a brick row house on Elm Street in beautiful Downtown Albany. I like my block because it lives up to its name: tall, stately, thick-bodied leafy trees sheltering up and down both sides of the street: Elms, Ficus, and Pears that don’t, however, bear fruit. It’s their look that comforts me. So, I turned on the outside light (one of those new bulbs that cost $35.00 and burn for all eternity) in the areaway (what we called it in Brooklyn) where you store the garbage cans a couple, three steps below street level. And then I saw the crows. By the thousands, in the trees, on telephone wires, atop streetlights, making a din of CAW! CAW! CAWS! Stunning, it filled me with awe of the marvelous world.

Then I read in the Times-Union, the local rag, that the City of Albany had brought in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to drive the crows out of town. ‘Crow Dispersal’ by means of pyrotechnics and sound devices: fireworks and shooting off fake guns, I presume. In a Letter to the Editor, a reader, obviously a crow-lover, asked: ‘What is it that the crows are doing? Why is it they need to be killed?’ As if on cue, another reader replied: ‘They poop all over everything, cars, sidewalks, backyard, roofs. When I was a kid my mother and grandmother always warned me about bird droppings being real bad. I think we have the making here of a Public Health Crisis!’

And so began the annual Crow War! I don’t recall seeing many crows in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens where we lived before leaving the City. What I do remember is walking out of my apartment building each morning and being altered, electrified by the swell of music from the legion of small birds living in the trees and on the outcroppings of buildings. Instantly and forever, I became a bird-lover. Curious about the crow, I Googled him.

Crows are large, perching birds with glossy black plumage and a raucous voice. They rise early and make a lot of noise. Crows are very social and live in large extended family groups. A bunch of crows is called a flock or a ‘murder of crows’ A ‘murder’ because the flock will sometimes kill a dying or injured crow, it’s thought. Crows appear to be monogamous and can live 20 years or more. They’ve been congregating in large roosts in the fall and winter for as long as there have been crows. Roosts of tens of thousands of birds are common. But their arrival in cities is relatively recent. Since 1993, upwards of 50,000 crows have taken to roosting in large trees in the center of small Auburn, New York. Like Albany, Auburn declared war on the crows and has had as much success: Nada. Crows are considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals, capable of both tool use and tool-making. If you have the good fortune to see a crow burying food in your backyard, you might see him cover it over with a leaf or plucked grass, then look at it several times and use different coverings before being satisfied with his efforts.

Why are tens of thousands of crows roosting in the trees on Albany streets? It’s speculated that crows have figured out that you can’t shoot at them in cities where there are ordinances against discharging firearms, unlike in the country. There is a crow-hunting season in New York State. Another hypothesis is that they seek safety in numbers against their nemesis, the Great Horned Owl. Crows don’t see well at night but the Owl does. Therefore, crows roost near sources of bright illumination such as streetlights so they can see the Owl coming.

The most remarkable talent of the crow, according to researchers, is the ability to recognize individuals by facial features, especially if the person has done them wrong in the past. I saw a demonstration of this on TV. A person wearing an outsized Nixon mask approached a roost of crows in a tree that, upon sighting him, sounded a loud alarm and swooped to the attack. A year earlier, the researcher, wearing the mask, had threatened those crows.

The moral here, Albanians: Don’t piss off the crows. They have memories like elephants.

Robert Knightly

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Attractions of Ocean Springs, MS

Last week I put off writing some more by leaving town, the ultimate act of procrastination. Harold and I went to Ocean Springs, MS, to visit with relatives, and to take in the sights and sounds. One of the not-to-be-misssed sights is the Walter Anderson Museum, Walter Anderson and his brothers made art all through the thirties and beyond and left an unmistakable stamp of their style on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Here are some pictures I took in the museum of Anderson tables and sculptures.

And here is a shot of an old live oak, one of the many in this lovely Gulf Coast town.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Invisible Country" Out This Week

Invisible Country is second of my historical murder mysteries set against fascinating points in South American History.  Since it is fresh to the bookstores this week, I am taking this moment for some shameless self-promotion.  Here's more about it:

In a Paraguay devastated by war, Father Gregorio discovers the dead body of Ricardo Yotté—a powerful ally of the Dictator Francisco Solano López and his consort, the beautiful foreigner Eliza Lynch.  Lynch had entrusted a fortune in gold and jewels to Yotté, which after his murder has gone missing.  Now, she and the brutal López will stop at nothing to find the treasure.  A band of villagers, fearful of wrongful punishment, undertake to solve the murder, thwarted by their own dangerous secrets.  Love and death pervade this fast-paced, complex mystery cum political thriller set in 1868, during South American’s War of the Triple Alliance.

Love and hate, desperation and despair, terror and suspense, unexpected twists and outright surprises, Invisible Country has them all….No one is better at spinning South American mysteries than Annamaria Alfieri.” 
Leighton Gage, author of A Vine in the Blood

You can read more about the book here:

If you can, please come to celebrate with me at my Launch Party:
July 10th at 7PM
Partners & Crime Bookstore
44 Greenwich Avenue
New York, NY  10014
(212) 243-0440

Get the first scene and find out about more of my author appearances at:

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, July 2, 2012

In Other Words —

Not long ago I came across a copy of Johnson’s Dictionary at a flea market. While rummaging through the dusty tome, I found some wonderful words that are no longer in use. I would love to bring them back to life. For example:

AFTERWISE, Wise too late.
(What a wonderful word to describe the whole process of bringing up children. Why had it fallen into disuse?)

DISHCLOUT, the cloth with which one washed dishes long ago, (or broke them).

FLAPDRAGON, a game in which the players catch raisins out of burning brandy. (Sounds like fun to me!)

FLESHQUAKE, a tremor of the body. (How much more exciting than the feeble shivers and shudders we have today.)

FLITTERMOUSE, the bat. (What a beautiful name for such an unsavory critter, eh, Bob?)

GRUMLY, sullenly, morosely. (the way this heat wave makes me feel!)

GUTTLE, to feed luxuriously, gourmetize, a low word. (To pig out, is the modern substitue.)

MOIL, to labor in the mire.

RANTIPOLE, to run about wildly (like my two-year-old grandson.)

STAR-PROOF, impervious to starlight. (Most of the proofs we have today are good proofs--fire-proof, water-proof, moth-proof. But “star-proof”! What an awful thing to be. As I sat pondering this at the window, the first star of evening appeared. I gazed at it a little longer than usual.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Earl Staggs' Kindergarten Challenge

Our guest for today is Earl Staggs, a Derringer Award winner, former President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society and Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine. His recent novel, Memory of a Murder, earned 13 Five Star Reviews online at Amazon and B&N. Earl resides in Fort Worth, Texas, and is well-known to the mystery community.

He graciously allowed us to reprint his blog from June 11, 2012. He shares his wonderfully creative experience in talking to a group of wee folk about how to be a writer when you grow up.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

T.J. Straw

Story by Earl Staggs

After I retired from the insurance business, I discovered I didn’t like staying home all day. I found a part time job driving a school bus. The job only takes up two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, it gets me out of the house every day and keeps me in touch with other members of the human race, and I happen to like kids. Most of them.

Casey Stapp and me. Funny,
I don't remember my teachers
being this pretty.
I also make new friends among parents and teachers. One teacher, Casey Stapp, became a good friend. Her two sons ride my bus, she read my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER, her father is a writer, and I read his book. Not only that, but when she stops for breakfast in the morning, she often brings me a sausage biscuit.

So when Casey asked me if I would visit her class and talk about writing, I immediately said yes. Then I remembered something. She teaches Kindergarten!

Now, I love talking about writing. I jump at the chance to meet with a group of readers or writers, make a presentation at a conference or seminar, or appear on a panel. I’d do it on a street corner if I could get the audience to stand still long enough.

But, how in the world would I talk about writing to a room full of five-year-olds?

Believe me, I worried and fretted over doing this. I wanted desperately to make it meaningful and talk to them on their level. Yes, definitely a major challenge.

While I fretted and worried, I learned something interesting. At this particular school, Rockenbaugh Elementary in Southlake, Texas, all grades from Kindergarten to Fourth Grade have a class in creative writing. I’ve long worried about where the next generation of writers will come from. Most young people I know spend their time thumbing meaningless text messages on their phones with no regard for spelling, grammar or creativity. I was astounded and heartened to learn these young people were being schooled in writing. Maybe there’s hope for the future of writing after all.

But back to my challenge.

I knew I had to present the art and craft of writing in such a way that they would understand what I was saying and, at the same time, be entertained. I knew I had to hold their interest for twenty-five minutes, my allotted time. We’re talking about an audience with an attention span of about twenty-five seconds, if that. I knew I needed to make it interactive and get them involved both mentally and physically.

So, with all that in mind, I went at it. I’m not going to repeat the entire presentation here, but here are some of the highlights.

After Mrs. Stapp introduced me, I asked how many rode a bus to school. Nearly every hand went up. “I love my job and I love my bus,” I said. “I’m going to do a cheer for school buses.”

And I did. I raised a fist in the air, made circles with it, and shouted, “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! for school buses!”

Then I asked them to do it with me. They did, but it was very soft and timid. I told them we needed to do better and asked the teacher if it would be all right if we made some noise. She said yes, so we did it again. We shook the room.


They enjoyed it this time.

Next, I told them I was also a writer. I held up my novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER, and pointed to my name on the cover. Then I held up my collection, SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, and pointed to my name. I did the same with two of the magazines in which my stories appeared and pointed out my name on the covers.

“Do you think,” I asked, “it feels good to see my name on the cover? You bet it does. Let’s do a cheer for books and magazines.”


This time, we shook the entire school. They were getting into it.

“To be a writer and get your name on books and magazines,” I continued, “you have to be a good writer. But being a good writer can help you even if you don’t become a writer. Suppose, when you grow up, you want to work in a bank. One day, your boss tells you to write a report about banks. If you’re a good writer, you will write a good report and your boss will be happy. He may be so happy, he will pay you more money. Let’s do a cheer for more money.”


After that cheer, I expected the riot squad to rush in.

I gave them more examples of ways being a good writer could help them as grownups.

“So, being a good writer,” I told them, “can help you no matter what kind of job you do when you grow up. Now let’s talk about how you can learn to be a good writer.”

I talked for several minutes about the importance of school because that’s where we learn all the things we need when we grow up, no matter what kind of job we do. “Without school, we would all be dummies,” I told them.


Mrs. Stapp winced at the amount of noise we made that time, but she also gave me a smile.

I talked next about learning words and spelling. “To be a good writer or to be good at any kind of job,” I went on, “you have to know a lot of words. Did you know that the more words you know, the smarter you are? That’s right. Read as much as you can and when you come across a word you don’t know, find out what it means and how to spell it. Every time you learn a new word, you get a little bit smarter.”


Then I told them, “To be a good writer, you also have to use something you’re born with. It’s called imagination. That’s a part of your brain where you can pretend and make believe and dream up anything you want to, all by yourself and in your own mind. It’s also where you can come up with ideas for stories to write. Let’s have some fun now. I’ll reach into my imagination and find a story idea that would be fun to write.”

The story idea involved a hero, a princess, a bad wizard, and fire-breathing dragons. I asked for volunteers to play the parts and selected Graham to be the Mighty Warrior and Angel to be the Beautiful Princess. I played the part of Bad Earl, the Terrible Wizard. In our story, the Wizard kidnapped the Beautiful Princess and took her to his castle. The Mighty Warrior had to fight the dragons and rescue her. Everyone in the class was a member of his army, and they had fun shooting their imaginary magic bows and arrows to drive away the dragons. We made a lot of noise playing out our story, but the teacher didn’t mind. At the end, Mighty Warrior Graham had to fight Bad Earl with imaginary swords. He beat me and sent me off to jail.

To end the story, I said, “Then Mighty Warrior Graham takes Beautiful Princess Angel home to her family and they get married.”

That brought loud “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” from the audience. Graham grimaced and shook his head. He obviously didn’t like the idea of getting married.

“Graham,” I told him, “the good part about making up your own stories is that you can write the ending any way you want. How about instead of getting married, you go to Hollywood where they make all the movies, and you can be the star in a superhero movie?”

Graham liked that idea.

All the kids agreed it would be cool to reach into their imagination, find a story idea like that one, and write it.

To close out my presentation, I thanked Mrs. Stapp for inviting me to come in, and we gave her a cheer.


Then I thanked the class for being a terrific group.

“And remember,” I said, “working hard in school and learning to be a good writer will help you in any job you do when you grow up, even if you don’t become a writer. But, if you do become a writer and someday someone asks you who inspired you to be a writer, tell them Mr. Earl the school bus driver did. That will make me very happy.”

Mrs. Stapp took over at that point and led the class in a cheer for me.


That, my friends, made me very happy.

Meeting some of the Kindergartners
after it was over.

And that’s how it went when I took on My Kindergarten Challenge. I hope I did okay. What do you think?

Earl Staggs