Sunday, March 20, 2011

Never Fear Fear Itself Contest #3 - Win a Free Book!

Here you go:  Quiz 3 of the Never Fear Fear Itself Contest.  The 3rd novel in the Possessed Mystery Series is POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY, a trip back in time to 1783 Williamsburg.  In it, you'll find early American Yuletide customs such as mummers' plays, rum punch, and sumptuous dinners, plus a frightening look at medicine, then and now.

Send your answers to the quiz below, along with your full name, to  All entries who ace the quiz will be entered in a drawing to win the free signed book of their choice from the Possessed Mystery Series or DAME AGATHA'S SHORTS.  If you have all 4 books already and can't think of anyone who'd like one as a gift, tell me that on your entry.  Another prize will be selected for you.  If no one aces the quiz, the person with the best score will win.  Entries not selected in this drawing will be eligible for the next drawing.  In April, I'll do a grand prize drawing for a signed copy of FEAR ITSELF, due out at the end of that month.

Only entries sent to will be eligible.  Deadline for entries for the quiz below will be March 31, 2011.  Winners will be announced April 1st.

1.  A wealthy man walks into an apothecary and pays a shilling to see the doctor, who prescribes an elixir of vitriol, which the apothecary prepares for the patient.  This elixir is made from alcohol, "aromatics" (usually ginger or cinnamon), and

a)  camphor.
b)  mercury.
c)  sulfuric acid.
d)  aloe.

2.  When the British Army under General Cornwallis marched into Williamsburg on June 25, 1781, many of the residents, fed up with the long war, welcomed them.  Meanwhile, they were followed at a distance by Continental troops under the command of General

a)  Washington.
b)  Lafayette.
c)  Rochambeau.
d)  Wayne.

3.  The mystery novel Poison to Purge Melancholy takes its title from an 18th century publication called Pills to Purge Melancholy, which contained

a)  a list of medications for depression.
b)  herbal remedies for constipation.
c)  chocolate recipes.
d)  bawdy songs.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Miss Maggie on First

This week's weirdness is that I've been playing Wii baseball.

I've loved baseball since age 6 when I started watching Phillies games on TV with my dad. Every nice day after school, I'd go out to the back yard and throw a tennis ball against the porch step, trying to get it to hit just right, so it would bounce back to me and I could practice catching. I improved my skills enough that the boys in the back alley always chose me for their teams before choosing their brothers. Came as a hard blow to discover I couldn't aspire to be a baseball player because they didn't take girls. Since our town had no local women's softball team, my baseball career ended.

A couple weeks ago, I began reliving my childhood by playing Wii baseball (part of a scheme to get my derriere off my desk chair and get some exercise).  When you play alone on Wii, the system gives you a team of different avatars (animated people).  You bat for all of them.  Each time I play, the system gives me a different set of people, so it's hard to think of them as a team.  I did notice, however, that it always put my brother's avatar on my team as catcher.  So I decided to create another avatar.  And why create a character from scratch when I've got a bunch of series characters to choose from?  So Miss Maggie, my 91 year-old sidekick character, became my first baseman.

The process of making an avatar is interesting.  You can choose body types, face shape, hair and eye color, you name it.  Of course, it gives you limited choices, so Miss Maggie had to settle for gray hair instead of her usual white.  But I was able to give her a shirt that's greenish-yellow, her favorite color.  The avatar doesn't really look at all as I picture Miss Maggie.  Still, when I play baseball, there's now always a familiar face on first base, her reading glasses hanging from her nose, her wrinkled face frowning in concentration as she makes a catch.

You'd think, since I'm holding the controller, that the Miss Maggie avatar would act and play exactly like my own, but she doesn't.  Don't ask me why.  Maybe Wii adjusts for height (Miss Maggie's shorter than me), and probably my own subconscious adjusts for attitude.  I do know that Miss Maggie is an amazing Wii jet skier.  I can't even stay on the course.

The whole experience has begun to show me what I know and don't know about characters who have been living in my brain for 10 years.  I'm in the process of creating a Beth Ann Lee avatar (to cover second base).  Yet I'm not ready to do one of her father.  I realized I don't even know what Hugh's favorite color is.  Which means Pat doesn't know what his favorite color is.  That gives me fodder for an argument in book five (insert evil laugh).  As for Pat, I think I know her well enough to figure it'll take some coaxing to get her to play Wii Sports at all.  She'd rather be in the kitchen.

I've named my Wii baseball team the Fightin' Compression Sox.

Go C-Sox!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Remember Thou Art Dust

Mystery writers have to deal with death in their books.  Ash Wednesday seems an appropriate day to talk about it.

I set the historical portion of my 4th novel during the week before Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933.  He stepped into office on Saturday, but had already begun changes by declaring a bank holiday the day before.  Banks didn't open again until their books had been examined and approved--the first step to pulling America out of the Great Depression.   By coincidence, two days before that was Ash Wednesday, the day Christians are supposed to remember their mortal nature.  To me, this seemed a perfect tie-in for a murder mystery.

I'm guessing most mystery writers don't have much first-hand experience viewing violent death.  I don't (and hope I never do).  Quite possibly most writers haven't seen someone die at all.  In these modern times, society has become quite efficient at hiding the act of dying behind the closed doors of hospitals and nursing homes, so people who don't want to see or deal with death, don't have to.

Until 2007, my only brushes with death had been attendance at viewings.  Then, over the course of 18 months, I became a caregiver for my mom, then my dad.  Both became hospice patients.  Through some odd twist of fate, my aunt and 2 friends also became hospice patients at the same time, and an uncle a year later.  So in the last 4 years, I've sat with 6 people who were actively dying.  My dad and my aunt both died as I held their hands.  My mom waited until we'd all gone out of the room.  My mom was like that.

Hospice, I found, is more than just waiting for a sad event.  Physically, of course, it's messy, but not as much as I expected.  Philosophically, it can be rather beautiful, like walking a loved one out to the garden gate before sending them the rest of the way on their own.  And surprisingly, you can find humor in the situation.  In fact, caregivers who don't find humor in it will make themselves ill and everyone else miserable.

One thing, though, in all cases--keeping that final vigil with hospice patients made me think about my own mortality, but not in a scary or depressing way.  In fact, the most unsettling part is wondering if I'd have someone to sit with me when I'm on my way out.

Hospice is in many ways a return to a traditional way of treating a dying person, all the more so when it's done at home.  The first century of mystery writers--Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie--all of them experienced hospice with a loved one.  I think all of their characters had a more grounded attitude toward death.  In their books, death itself wasn't the enemy, evil was--the kind of evil that produces an untimely, unnatural, and uncomforting death.

In too many modern novels (and on TV and in the movies), death has become very two-dimensional.  Dying has more facets, both for the victim and the survivors.  I don't think it would hurt a few mystery writers to remember they are dust and to dust they shall return.  After all, death is our ultimate mystery.

Enough of that.  Time to go get soot smeared on my forehead.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

FEAR ITSELF Trailer and Answers to Contest #2

Book trailers are becoming popular so I decided to make one for FEAR ITSELF.  As an advertisement, it's not Superbowl worthy, but it's short, painless, and gives you an idea what you'll find in the book.  The background tune is best described as Miss Maggie walking music (actually, the original 78 RPM version of "Brother Can You Spare A Dime.")  Enjoy!


The answers to the second Never Fear Fear Itself Contest quiz are

1.  Sojourner Truth not only helped recruit black troops for the Union cause, but, after the Civil War, worked among freed slaves with the National Freedman's Relief Association.  Besides that she often spoke about the plight of black women, and rights for all women.  So the answer is D - All of the above.

2.  I had it pointed out to me that my wording was poor in the second question.  Joseph Rainey, of South Carolina, was the first African American elected to the House of Representatives in a general election (in 1870).  Hiram Revels was the first black man to serve in Congress, as a senator from Mississippi, but he was appointed (earlier in 1870 than Rainey served).  However,  the Mississippi legislature held an election amongst themselves to choose Revels.  Since I didn't specify "general election" in the question, I accepted both answers A and B.

3.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states from imposing their own voting registration qualifications, so C is the correct answer.  The reason this ended up giving more minorities the right to vote was because many states had enacted laws creating prerequisites to voting registration--such as literacy tests--to limit minority voting.

This month's winners are Suzanne Pontius and Penny Tuttle.  Questions for Contest #3 will show up right here in mid-March.  Study up on your Revolutionary War and pre-Constitution American history.

Down with tyranny, here and abroad,


Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors