Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't Make A Will Or You'll Die

Note:  I wrote this especially for Friday the 13th.  Blogger was down this morning.  Coincidence?  I think not.
My series protagonist, Pat Montella, would tell you that she inherited plenty of her family's Italian superstitions.  Today being Friday the 13th, it's the perfect day to talk about them.

As you might expect, Pat and I grew up with the same superstitions.  The Santangelos always began each New Year by eating pork the first thing after midnight, to bring us all luck in the coming twelve months.  My dad's folks were farmers who planted their root vegetables on March 19th, so St. Joseph would bless the crop.  And if you ever felt inspired to express your pleasure about someone's garden--"Look at those pretty roses!" or "My, the tomato plants are big this year!"--you always had to follow the comment with "God bless 'em!"  Otherwise the plants might wither and die.

My mom told of how her grandmother would make a cross from silver knives and place it out at the end of her yard in the summer, so lightning would hit them instead of the house.  Silver conducts electricity.  Whether she knew it or not, she was making a lightning rod.  Another thing Mom did was to bring home palm blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday and put a piece in each room of the house.  This also was to protect the house from lightning.  Interestingly enough, lightning actually did hit our house once.  The only consequence was that it short-circuited the bathroom outlet.  The bathroom was the only room with no palm.  Call me crazy but I still keep a piece in each room.

The title of this blog?  Yes, that was one of their superstitions, too.

All this said, my family didn't much believe in the Malocchio (that is, the Evil Eye.  Mom used to pronounce it malorky.  Other Italian Americans I know say maloiks).  One of our neighbors down the block mounted a rack of real bullhorns on her garage.  I never did find out why cow horns were supposed to be protection, but this particular women was certain that one of the neighbors on either side was giving her the Malocchio.  I remember trying to explain the horns to my Pennsylvania Dutch friends.

Someone once gave me a necklace with a horn amulet, which I've even worn together with a crucifix.  Doesn't hurt to hedge one's bets.

Peace, good luck and God bless,

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Do You Choose Certain Authors?

I attended the Malice Domestic Convention this past weekend.  Malice Domestic celebrates traditional mystery literature, the kind Agatha Christie wrote, with bodies in the library and such.  Nowadays, the definition is a bit broader, with bodies everywhere from Cabot Cove, Maine to the mean streets of LA, and around the world, but at Malice, you'll still find more whodunits than dark, gritty thrillers.

I could write pages about all the terrific fans and writers I met.  I found some new authors, like J.J. Murphy who writes about Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and John Cullen, who deciphered Dame Agatha's handwriting and transcribed her writing notebooks.

Instead, I'll mention one discussion that got me thinking about  why readers choose certain authors.  We were talking about law mysteries.  One lawyer friend of mine said she doesn't read them.  She reads to escape and doesn't want to spend time in the same setting where she works.  Then she admitted that she does read Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series, saying "but she's a judge."

I thought about why I read the Deborah Knott series.  Not for the law aspect.  Maron's Carolina settings bring back to me the happy times I've spent vacationing and eating my way through that region.  I like the character of Deborah.  She's intelligent and down to earth, a person with whom I love to spend time.  I like  her big family and all their antics, all the brothers that I can't keep straight.  The mystery plots are always good.  Maron's prose is beautiful.  If you took the courtroom scenes away, I'd still read the series.

Lisa Scottoline's novels have lots of "law" in them, but I read those books more because I feel at home in them.  Mary DiNunzio's family isn't so different from mine.  I understand their notion of food equaling love.  And, having grown up in the Philadelphia area, the settings are familiar to me.  I can even vividly picture the Federal  Courthouse, because I did jury duty there.  Lisa makes the "law" parts of her books interesting, but frankly, I don't choose her novels because of them.

Still, lots of readers probably do read law mysteries for the law in them, just like some readers pick up cat mysteries specifically because of the cats, or cooking mysteries because of the food.  Yet, it's still important for authors to make their characters, plots and settings strong, to win over those readers not otherwise interested in their subject matter.

I had one fan this weekend say, "I don't normally like history, but I like your series," and another say the same thing about not usually liking ghosts in books.

That to me proves that what a lot of readers want is simply a good story.  I'd be interested in hearing your opinion.



Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors