Cut The Cord: Cheap(er) TV, Movies, and Books

Library booksale loot

Curious about cord-cutting? I’ve been reading a lot about things I can do to cut my expenses and cord-cutting is a popular topic. Some of these are things I’m already doing—and you probably are too–but a discussion about cord-cutting on … Continue reading

Somebody Explain Why Degrees Costs So D#mn Much, Please?

I don’t think a degree should cost as much as a mortgage, but I do know people whose student loan payments are equivalent to their rent. Over at attn:, Aron Macarow explains why Paying For College Is Now Harder Than Paying Off A Home:

“Student loans made up the smallest portion of household debt until 2009. Now, U.S. educational borrowing amounts to $1.16 trillion. This amount has been ballooning for years, surpassing total credit card debt almost five years ago – and jumping $77 billion in the last year alone. Nearly 1-in-5 households are impacted by student loans. That’s almost a quarter of the United States.”

Seriously, why the dramatic increase since 2009? Is it the recession creating more degree-seekers? Has it increased tuition and fees? Both? Here’s one take on where all that money goes.

I think I need to go look at some pretty paintings now.

The Life Changing Magic of Getting Your Sh%t Together

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I won’t lie: I’m trying to get my stuff together. Let’s talk about it a little bit. There are two things that happen to you when you get graduate degrees in creative writing and library science. First, your weakness for … Continue reading

My Life of Crime….Reading

I’m beginning a life of crime…reading. Don’t be alarmed, no blog readers will be harmed in the course of this experiment!

The truth is that I love blogs and non-fiction books about real people embarking on neat and thought-provoking projects. I liked reading Gretchen Rubin’s tips for increased happiness or laughing at AJ Jacobs’ slogging through the Encyclopedia Britannica. I even read Living Oprah. But rather than read about other folks’ projects, I thought it would be fun to dive in and have one of my own. So, I’m undertaking a project tailored to my fascination with mysteries and classic whodunits. For the rest of 2015, I’m going to read my way through 100 mystery and crime novels and blog about them here.

HRF Keating’s 1987 book, Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books will be my guide. If you haven’t heard of Keating (1926-2011), he was the award-winning author of the Inspector Ghote novels and president of the Detection Club. The Guardian described him as a scholar with “an awesome reputation as an expert on the genre.” My hope is that this project–like the best literature surveys and themed courses–will help me understand how mysteries grew and developed as a genre. You can find a list of all 100 books in chronological order here. Plus, Keating had an amazing beard.

The great thing about Keating’s list is that it begins with many nineteenth-century books that are widely available, starting with Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins. I’m already looking forward to reading Frances Iles and Patricia Highsmith (whose books became Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and Strangers on a Train, respectively) for the first time. And Mary Roberts Rinehart!

My plan is to begin with The Moonstone, since I have an unread personal copy, while I track down Poe. If you’d like to join me, Collins’ book is available at Project Gutenberg.

    

Gardenia Blonde Sale

The Gardenia Blonde is now on a special $0.99 sale at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Grab your copy now!

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June 1935.

At first, everyone assumed that pretty young heiress Jane Campbell had eloped with her boyfriend, a popular nightclub singer. But Jane is still missing…

A phone call from Los Angeles convinces ex-actress and private detective Lana Hayward to look into the most notorious disappearance in the city. Lana and her partner Andy Halloran are asked to find the missing woman—and clear her boyfriend of suspicion.

Has Jane Campbell been murdered? Or kidnapped by disapproving relatives? Only the flamboyant Lana can discover the truth. When Andy stumbles over a familiar corpse, the ex-actress is also on the lookout for a deadly poison that leaves its victims a gruesome shade of green.

Knock Three Times on the Table if You Want Me….

How much do you know about Spiritualism?  Spiritualism was a religious movement that focused on contacting the spirits of the deceased via mediums. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a believer in Spiritualism and so was Mary Todd Lincoln. Communication often took the form of rapping on tables, séances, and automatic writing. I’ve been reading about Spiritualism because it plays a role in my next story.

I’ve started (just barely!) on a sequel to The Gardenia Blonde, set in July 1935, immediately after the events of the first book. Lana Hayward and Andy Halloran flee New York City for Europe aboard the RMS Athena, an ocean liner with a very spooky history. The Athena, you see, was built in 1912, and is the physical twin of the world’s most famous sunken ocean liner. As Andy says wryly in chapter one:

“Other passengers kept clustering around the ornate Grand Staircase in first class, pointing and gawking. I’m not a superstitious man as a rule, but none of it improved my mood. And I was tired of hearing people talk about icebergs.”

I was inspired to create the Athena after reading about the RMS Olympic, a real-life ocean liner that was the sister ship of the Titanic. The two ships had similar architecture and the Olympic actually continued to sail well into the 1930s, so it provided an appropriately creepy inspiration for the RMS Athena. What’s unusual about my fictional ship is her passenger list–a famous spiritualist medium and her entourage. They aim to use the ship’s unique characteristics to commune with the spirit world because of the Athena’s relationship with tragedy. Getting in touch with the spirit world leads to earthly misfortune for Lana and Andy, who find themselves entangled in a murder investigation during their voyage. While some may want to talk to the dead, there are others onboard the Athena who’d like the spirits to remain silent…

I’m trying not to get too derailed by research, because spiritualism is a fascinating topic and it would be easy to lose myself in reading. Intriguingly enough, the popularity of Spiritualism allowed some female mediums to become important social figures. Even though its popularity peaked in the Victorian era, spiritualism still exists as a movement today. In fact, one of the books I’m reading for research is about Lily Dale, NY, a famous spiritualist community that still holds workshops every summer. I was dazzled by this quote from author and Lily Dale visitor Christine Wicker, describing a summer resident’s daily bicycle ride around the community:

“Lynn passes the Lily Dale Spiritualist Church, the little white church where people gather summer mornings hoping to be healed, and Assembly Hall, a two-story meetinghouse where students practice bending spoons and making tables rise. She coasts around men who carry passports to Orion in their wallets and women who give lessons in how to tell an angel from a human being. She wheels around widows hoping to talk with their late husbands, skirts lovestruck girls anxious to find out if their boyfriends are cheating, steers clear of divorcees yearning to know whether passion will ever visit them again.” –Christine Wicker, Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead

Doesn’t that just make you want to visit Lily Dale?

The Devil and Mrs. Bradley

I started Gladys Mitchell’s The Devil at Saxon Wall today. The opening chapters, about a timid young woman who marries a strange man on impulse and then begins to suspect that her new husband is using witchcraft on her, are really creepy and effective. I hit the end of my e-reader sample chapters and was all, “I CAN’T. I have to find out what will happen to this poor girl.”

Mitchell was a contemporary of Golden Age mystery writers like Sayers and Christie, but if you know her protagonist Mrs. Bradley today, it’s probably from the British television adaptation starring a very glam Diana Riggs as Bradley. The novels are much darker than the series and Mrs. Bradley is usually described as “reptilian,” rather than elegant. That’s one of the things I enjoy about period novels–characters are sometimes less likable than contemporary mystery protagonists and you read them in frustration and amusement rather than identification (this is a very fancy way of saying I find Nero Wolfe obnoxiously endearing!).  It looks like the Mrs. Bradley ebooks have been recently re-issued, since all I could find were used copies when I looked for them after watching one episode of the series on Netflix sometime last year.

My new mystery, The Gardenia Blonde, is live on Amazon and B&N right now, but is tragically short of mysterious and potentially homicidal husbands.

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So, I wrote a mystery…

Big News! My first mystery novel, The Gardenia Blonde, has just been uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon. It should go live at major retailers over the next few days.

That’s where I’ve been all this time: writing about my protagonist, Lana Hayward.  Lana is an ex-actress who once starred in movies like The Gardenia Blonde and now dabbles in detective work in 1930s Manhattan. Of course, every good detective needs a partner. Lana has Andy Halloran, a regular-guy smart aleck who tolerates his boss’s fondness for good-looking men and Cubist artwork because working for her is more fun than working anywhere else. Here’s the book description:

 

June 1935. At first, everyone assumed that pretty young heiress Jane Campbell had eloped with her boyfriend, a popular nightclub singer. But Jane is still missing…

A phone call from Los Angeles convinces ex-actress and private detective Lana Hayward to look into the most notorious disappearance in the city.

Lana and her partner Andy are asked to find the missing woman—and clear her boyfriend of suspicion. Has Jane Campbell been murdered? Or kidnapped by disapproving relatives?

Only the flamboyant Lana can discover the truth. When Andy stumbles over a familiar corpse, the ex-actress is also on the lookout for a deadly poison that leaves its victims a gruesome shade of green.