Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Glimpse of History



(Science thriller writer Janet Greger is my guest today, commenting on a favorite subject, history, and offering some information on her latest novel.)

Wikipedia states the Vietnam War was a conflict in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from November 1955 until the fall of Saigon in April 1975. The first date is debatable, and these facts don’t put this conflict into context so it can be understood.

After 40 years, a number of the combatants have died and many of the “little stories” about the war have been lost. That’s too bad because I suspect George Santayana was right: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Thus, when a friend, who was a medic in the secret war in Laos in the early 1960s, offered me his notes, I was thrilled. But I’m no historian. I write modern thrillers and mysteries with a woman protagonist, Sara Almquist, who is too young to have first-hand knowledge of the Vietnam era.

I decided to set the novel, titled Riddled with Clues, mainly at the VA Center in Albuquerque because my dog Bug and I are a pet therapy team there. We’ve met Vietnam era veterans in the rehab programs at this large VA center. Many homeless veterans also roam the campus and its over seventy buildings. I realized the convoluted nature of the layout of buildings would be great for a chase scene, and the veterans in rehab units could be the basis of colorful supporting characters in the book.

Are you curious how I used the notes?  In chapter 1, Sara, a scientific consultant for the State Department, gets a mysterious summons to the VA in her hometown of Albuquerque. She discovers Xave Zack (her old friend from previous novels – Ignore the Pain and Malignancy) was seriously injured while tracking drug smugglers.  He hands her a note he received before his accident. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. 

Xave proceeds to tell her potentially relevant details from his wartime experiences in Laos. (The experiences are all based on my real friend’s adventures). After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. Xave is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the war fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues. 

Sound exciting? I hope so.

Now back to the history. As a medic, my friend treated men covered with hundreds of leeches, a baby monkey, and Hmong children with yaws and vitamin A deficiency besides lots of wounded soldiers. He also received survival training in the Philippines, served as a medic for the Hmong general Vang Pao, and was sent home after he earned his fourth Purple Heart. These “small events in history” are part of Xave’s stories. If you’re looking for military secrets, you’ll be disappointed. However, you will gain an appreciation of guerilla warfare in a jungle from these vignettes. For example, did you know a leech can swell to a couple inches in length with blood? Or that the medics of the Vietnam era were the prototypes for modern Physicians Assistants and EMTs?

The purpose of this blog is two-fold. I hope you’ll read Riddled with Clues and gain a different perspective on history. And I hope you’ll gather “historical” information from older friends and relatives and use the details in your writing. History can be fun.
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237

Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Horror of Reservation Life

The history of U.S. treatment of the Indian, or Native American as some now choose to call them, is replete with misjudgment and failure to keep promises.
As early as 1633 in Massachusetts there was a policy of assimilating the Indian into communities and inviting them to share equally in social and political privileges. Ironically, it was church people (who should by the tenets of their faith be the most tolerant of citizens) who rejected this plan and insisted on separate communities for the Indians.
As Manifest Destiny pushed westward, various treaties were adopted in which tribes ceded land in exchange for certain promises. These treaties were broken as promised lands were coveted by others for various reasons such as fertility, mineral richness or strategic placement. In 1824 the government created the Office of Indian Affairs to govern such issues. Under the administration of Andrew Jackson the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) off their ancestral lands and onto less desirable tracts on what became known as "Indian Territory." Many died in the mass migration rightly named the Trail of Tears.
The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 formally established the reservation system which made the Indian both the ward and the victim of the government and its agents. Even after reservation lands were designated for the tribes, the possibility existed they might be appropriated if Americans found a reason to access the tract--as happened to the Dakota when the Custer expedition found gold on Indian land in the Black Hills.
U.S. Grant adopted a policy of assimilation in 1868, a primary focus of which aimed at converting Indians to Christianity, the primary religion of the country. Violent resistance led to its abandonment by the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, though he retained the system of separating children from their parents for re-education in boarding schools.
The U.S. Congress replaced the reservation system with the Dawes Act in 1887, removing tribal governing councils, attempting to destroy communal traditions and parceling land into individual plots. Accepting and farming these plots opened a path to citizenship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a "New Deal" in the 1930s, authorizing a return to tribal governments, ending the land allotment procedure and resurrecting the reservation system, which remains in effect today.
Throughout its existence, the reservation system has been one of poverty, malnutrition, dependency and limited opportunity for economic advancement.
The San Carlos reservation in Arizona is the setting for my novel Geronimo Must Die and the hardships the people endured in such places makes it plain why many rebelled. Here's the blurb for the novel:
Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.
Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo's life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper's sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it's all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.
Mickey's efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.
Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo's help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

https://www.amazon.com/Geronimo-Must-Die-J-Lindermuth-ebook/dp/B06XFZJG5H/ref=la_B002BLJIQ8_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493469080&sr=1-2

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Inspiration for Unresolved

(My guest today is Marilyn Meredith, a prolific writer of good mysteries. The floor is yours, Marilyn.
)

Two of my friends won a contest on my last blog tour to be characters in my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Both wanted to be villains. What exactly to write to fit them in wasn’t easy, but was part of the planning for the plot.

Because Rocky Bluff P.D. has a low, low budget which doesn’t make it easy for the detectives working any case, I thought about bringing in the city council members who make the budget decisions. Who were they and why were they so stingy with the police department?

From there I created the council members and who each of them were. And as I was thinking about them, ideas began to bombard me. Which one should I kill off and why? Who would want to be rid of this person and why?

As the characters developed I decided to throw in a little romance for the new police chief, Chandra Taylor.

And of course, I had to bring my readers up to date on what was happening in the ongoing characters’ lives. Always a fun part to write in this series.

I’m not an outliner, but as I write new ideas occur to me and I do jot them down so I don’t forget.

This is more or less how this book came about.

F.M. Meredith aka Marilyn

Blurb for Unresolved:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping.

Books may be ordered from all the usual places as well.

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/
Tomorrow, April 26, I’ll be visiting Linda Thorne, with the topic, My Writing Process




Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Evolution of a Character

(This essay is included in the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal, Small Town Cops II, along with a full slate of articles of interest to those who enjoy mysteries set in smaller communities)

I'm the author of the Daniel 'Sticks' Hetrick crime series, set in a small, fictional community near Harrisburg PA. There are currently six novels in the series and the seventh was published on Sept. 16, 2016 by Torrid Books, a division of Whiskey Creek Press (Start Publishing).

I've published 15 novels (including the Hetrick series) and a non-fiction regional history book. My short stories and articles appear regularly in a variety of magazines. Though I'd used him previously in a short story, Sticks made his novel debut in 2006, four years before my own retirement after 40 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Sticks is the focus of the stories, but other members of his team (like his proteges Flora Vastine and her boyfriend, Cpl. Harry Minnich) as well as a few town characters get their stage time. Fans seem to like that I offer this approach and reveal the lives and concerns of ordinary officers and their families in addition to the procedural and forensic detail. The bits of humor (dark, of course, in keeping with the theme) and romance hasn't turned any off to my knowledge either.

In Something In Common Hetrick's bored in retirement and offers himself as unofficial consultant to his less experienced successor, Aaron Brubaker, who's perplexed by a recent murder, the first on his watch. Sticks discovers the murder is linked to a major theft of rare ornithological books and the trail leads from the big city to his hometown. The discovery forces him to confront danger and the darker side of his community and its residents.

Cruel Cuts, the second in the series, introduces Hetrick's protege, novice Officer Flora Vastine. A rash of animal mutilations and a vicious poison pen campaign aimed at an ambitious young lawyer leads to murder.

Corruption's Child, which follows, has Hetrick and his colleagues investigating the murder of a local waitress and an elderly Amish man, the latter mortally wounded in the latest in a string of burglaries from the Amish.

Being Someone Else, a tale of identity theft: When an out-of-state reporter is found murdered at a disreputable bar, the tendency to violence spirals in the rural Pennsylvania community, and the investigative trail keeps bringing Hetrick and the team backs to the family of a wealthy doctor who has retired in his hometown.

Practice To Deceive, next in the series, splits locations between Sticks and the team. Hetrick, a widower, and Anita Bailey, the new woman in his life, go on a Caribbean cruise. When a passenger is murdered, Sticks is drawn into the case and works with the Jamaican officer in finding a solution and a killer. The cruise was intended to be a vacation before he began a new job as a county detective, working out of the same office as Anita, a deputy prosecutor.

Meanwhile, back home, Flora and the team are probing mysterious assaults on young women.
Both Sticks and Flora will learn the past has consequences which can't be denied.

The sixth in the series, A Burning Desire, takes arson to murder. Sticks and Flora confront dangerous people from their pasts, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.
Shares The Darkness, the seventh, is about the murder of a birder in a patch of woods on the outskirts of town. Here's the blurb:
Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Officer Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.
When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman's life, as she searches for clues.
As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.
Still Flora maintains focus on the murder. Despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.

Grab a copy of Mystery Readers Journal: Small Town Cops here: http://mysteryreaders.org/journal-index/small-town-cops-ii/





Friday, December 16, 2016

Some Favorite Films

I don't consider myself a film critic. But, like many raised in a time when film took precedence over TV, I have my favorites.
I've mentioned before, I consider The Gods Must Be Crazy my favorite film of all time and view Jamie Uys as a cinematic genius. I'm not going to include Gods in this summary, though, citing instead some other classics I enjoy. They are, in no particular order:
Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston star in this 1948 adventure tale of a search for gold in Mexico based on a novel of the same name by the mysterious B. Traven. Bandits and greed turn a search for wealth into tragedy. Huston steals the star honors from Bogie.
Wuthering Heights. There have been a number of remakes of Emily Brontes' story of vengeful, thwarted love (one of my all-time favorite novels), but none have surpassed the emotional intensity of the original 1949 version starring Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven.
Arsenic And Old Lace. Frank Capra's brilliant 1944 adaptation of a Broadway play is a dark comedy with a stellar cast headed by Cary Grant. If this film doesn't make you laugh, you have no sense of humor.
The Trouble With Harry. Another dark comedy, this one about a dead man who won't stay put. I'm a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and I've watched this 1955 film dozens of times without tiring of its quirky humor. Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) believes he's accidentally shot Harry, but he's not the only one with reason to hide the body. John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine (in her screen debut) star, respectively, as a struggling artist and a single mother who knows Harry and is glad he's dead.
North By Northwest. This 1959 film, another Hitchcock, is considered by many one of the director's best. Even if the critics didn't agree, it'd still be among my favorites. A case of mistaken identity puts Cary Grant (here in his more usual casting as a suave man-about-town) on the run from villain James Mason and his cohorts and sexy Eva Marie Saint as the mystery woman he meets on a train. Who can forget the crop duster chase or the Mt. Rushmore climax?
To Kill A Mockingbird. The 1963 film is a fitting tribute to the Harper Lee Novel and Gregory Peck is superb in the role of Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer defending a black man accused of rape. Mary Badham and Philip Alford, the children portraying Scout and Jem, were equally brilliant. It's no surprise this film took three Academy Awards.
The Sand Pebbles. A 1966 classic which earned Steve McQueen his only Oscar nomination and explores U.S.-China relations in the 1920s. McQueen stars as a sailor with a personal code of ethics who is drawn into a situation which can only go downhill. Based on a novel by Richard McKenna, who actually served on a gunboat like the one in the film.
The Wild Bunch. One of my favorite Westerns, this 1969 Peckinpah classic about a group of aging outlaws who run to Mexico and come up against a larger foe than the lawman (Robert Ryan) pursuing them after a foiled bank robbery. An outstanding cast, including William Holden, Ernie Borgnine, Strother Martin and Emilio Fernandez as the vicious Mapache. Bloody, but not inappropriate for the time and situation.

Ragtime. This 1981 movie is based on the novel of the same name by E. L. Doctorow and features an all-star cast including James Cagney as Police Commissioner Waldo, the lovely Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit and Howard E. Rollins Jr. as Coalhouse Walker Jr. I love the novel and wasn't disappointed by the film. It's a beautiful (and at the same time, disturbing) portrait of New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.

Once Upon A Time In America. In my opinion, this 1984 Sergio Leone offering is the best gangster epic ever--more emotionally satisfying than the Godfather (see the full version, not the edited studio version). A Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to his old haunts on the Lower East Side and confronts ghosts and regrets from the past. A knockout cast including Robert De Niro, James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern. And the score is knockout beautiful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Some Favorite Dogs in Books

Watching the National Dog Show on Sunday brought to mind the huge role dogs have had in literature.
From the earliest Greek tales down to the present, dogs have accompanied some of the most beloved and hated fictional characters, earning a big place in our memory. We all have our favorites. Here are a few of mine (in no particular order):
White Fang, a mixed wolf/dog in Jack London's stellar adventure novel. After a brutal early life, White Fang bonds with Weedon Scott in a manner sure to tug at the heartstrings of the most hardened of readers.
Lassie, a Rough Collie, is memorable from a book, films and TV serials. The creation of Eric Knight, Lassie is an over-the-top sentimental story of a dog bonding with humans.
Fred Gipson's story, Old Yeller, a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mix, is a tragic character. If you haven't read the book, I'm sure you've seen or heard about the film. After heroically saving the lives of his owners, Yeller tangles with a rabid wolf and has to be put down.
Snowy (Milou), a Wire Fox Terrier, is the companion/rescuer of TinTin, the rather naive boy adventurer created by Herge. Unlike most dogs, Snowy is capable of speech (only with TinTin and other animals). I loved these comics as a boy.
Big Red, an Irish Setter, in Jim Kjelgaard's most famous novel, is owned by a man who wants to make him a show dog. Red gives his affection to a boy who happily accepts him, simply, as a dog.
Bull's Eye, breed not specified, Bill Sikes' dog, in Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, is not a nice dog. Though considering his owner it's easy to see why. Bull's Eye has "faults of temper in common with his owner," but you can't deny his loyalty to his master.
Gnasher and Wolf, possibly Mastiffs, though breed is not specified, are among a number of memorable dogs in Emily Bronte's wonderful Wuthering Heights. Like Bull's Eye, they are not noted for their affectionate nature. Described as "hairy monsters," Lockwood first encounters them on a visit to his landlord, Heathcliff.
Then we have Lad, another Collie, almost as famous as Lassie, who began as a short story character created by Albert Payson Terhune, a dog lover if there ever was one. Terhune, a sportsman/adventurer who also bred Collies at his Sunnybank Kennels, penned more than 30 dog-focused novels. Harlan Ellison paid tribute to Terhune in his novella A Boy and a Dog.
Though not a fictional character or my favorite breed, there's Charley, a Poodle, who accompanied John Steinbeck on his 1960 road trip across the United States. Charley actually belonged to Steinbeck's wife, Elaine, but makes a good sounding board for the writer. The title was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels With a Donkey, an equally fascinating travel journal.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ketch, a German Shepherd, in my tale, The Limping Dog, and Change, Officer Flora Vastine's faithful Border Collie.
So, who are some of your favorite dogs in books?




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What I've Been Reading It

This is an assessment of books read in the past month. I may make this a regular blog feature, provided people find it of interest.
The books:
James Oliver Curwood--The Valley of Silent Men.
Ngaio Marsh--Killer Dolphin.
Judy Sheluk--Skeletons in the Attic.
Juli Zeh--Decompression.
J. M. Lee--The Investigation.
E. S. Thomson--Beloved Poison.
Jonathan Yardley--Misfit.
As a youth, I was an avid fan of Curwood's adventure tales set in the Far North. On a whim, I downloaded a Kindle copy of his The Valley of Silent Men to see how his work stands with me now. Unfortunately, despite an intriguing plot that kept me turning pages, I found myself irritated by his flamboyant style and abuse of the exclamation point.
I also hadn't read Marsh in many years but am now inspired to read or re-read more of her work. Killer Dolphin allowed her to indulge in her love of theater. This, the 24th in her Roderick Alleyn series, focuses on a glove alleged to have belonged to Hamnet Shakespeare and the skulduggery it inspires. If you're a fan of Agatha Christie and haven't read Marsh, do.
I gave Skeletons in the Attic a five-star review. If you enjoy small town mysteries with feisty heroines, a cast of quirky characters, well-paced plots, twists and turns and a bit of romance, this is a book you'll want to check out. https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R3K23XEWQNO940?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl
Fueled by an interest in deep sea diving, I expected to enjoy Decompression more than I did. I gave it three stars. Zeh tells the story from the viewpoint of the three main characters, Sven, a dive instructor; Jola, an actress who hopes to land the role of a pioneer woman diver, and Theo, a struggling writer and Jola's lover. It was difficult to tell who told the truth and, frankly, I couldn't work up much sympathy for any of them. Review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R2C9BI8WL8CODX?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl
The Investigation also rated five-stars. Lee is one of South Korea's top writers and this is his first novel to be published in the U.S. It involves a murder during World War II in Japan's notorious Fukuoka Prison. A majority of the prisoners, including famed poet Yun Dong-ju, are Koreans accused of fomenting rebellion against their Japanese conquerors. Review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R1FLB3SYYWA7FB?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl
Beloved Poison was another five-star read. I'm fascinated by the Victorian era and grew up reading classics from the period. In this debut novel, Thomson evokes the age and provides fully-developed characters with names right out of Dickens, a gripping plot and a distinct sense of place. Review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R2AAU1SZZ55SY3?ref_=glimp_1rv_cl
Yardley's stellar biography follows writer Fred Exley's alcoholic trail from his birthplace in football-dominated Watertown, N.Y., across the U.S. as he sponges on friends and strangers and achieves fame if not fortune. Yardley characterizes Exley as a "one-book author," centering his attention on "A Fan's Notes," the first and best known of his three "novels." That may be true but I found "Pages From a Cold Island" and "Last Notes From Home" entertaining expansions on the first autobiographical entry.
So, that's the books for this time. What am I reading now?
Loren Estleman--Detroit is Our Beat.
James Lilliefors--The Psalmist (first in the Bowers and Hunter mystery series).
Rob McCarthy--The Hollow Men.
Ian Mortimer--Millennium.