So Many Blogs, So Little Time #ROW80

 

 

by Kathy Waller

blog 

noun

  1. a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.
  2. a single entry or post on such a website:She regularly contributes a blog to the magazine’s website.
According to GrowthBadger, there are over 600 million blogs online today. Over 31 million bloggers in the United States post at least once a month. Over 2 billion posts are published each year worldwide.
Alas, no matter how hard I try, I can’t read them all. I have some favorites, however, and in this post I’ll profile two of them.
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Friday Fictioneers

Which is easier to write—novels or short stories? How about short-short stories? How about short-short-short . . .

Each week, a photograph is posted at Rochelle Wisoff-Fields—Addicted to Purple. Using the photo as a prompt, you write a 100-word story—complete with beginning, middle, and end—post both photo and story on your own blog, and link to an inLinkz list of other Friday Fictioneers’ stories.

Prompts are also posted on the Facebook Friday Fictioneers page.

Rules and February 21 photo prompt appear here.

Photo prompts are not in the public domain. They’re to be posted only for Friday Fictioneers, and photographers are always to be credited.

The week’s inLinkz list is here. Currently, 56 writers have added their names here.  Below are five stories I’ve chosen at random.

“After All This Time” 
“Diluted”
“Rosey, a buggy and a heap of hay”
“Secrets”
“Why Should I Go to Pakistan?”
“How Much?”

Here are some of my own past efforts:

“You’ll Be Fine”
“‘Shrooms”
“Lovestruck”
and more here.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days: The Writing Challenge That Knows You have a life

Many writing challenges set goals for you: Write 1,000 words every day. Write five chapters every week. Write write write . . .  And then life gets in the way, and goals are not met, and the challenge ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

ROW80, on the other hand, allows writers to set their own goals. There are four 80-day rounds in a year. At the beginning of a round, you set your goals, write about them on your blog, and then post about your progress on Sundays and Wednesdays.

As with Friday Fictioneers, posts are linked so other participants can keep up with your progress.

Progress is the operative word. Goals can be modified at any time.

Everything you need to know about how the challenge works is on the ROW80 site:

What Is Row 80?
How Do I Join?
I’m Lost . . . FAQ
Accountability Partners
Blog

If you miss out on the beginning of a round, you haven’t missed out. Just set goals, write them up, and post on the next Sunday or Wednesday that comes along.

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I missed the beginning of 2020’s first ROW80 round, but today is Sunday, so I’m going to jump in.

Round 1 ends on March 26–31 days away.

Goal: By March 26, I’ll add 4,000 words to my WIP.

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I hope you’ll check out Friday Fictioneers and ROW80. Now I have to post.

NEW ORLEANS – A CITY OF MYSTERY, MAGIC, HISTORY AND THE WORLD WAR II MUSEUM

by Fran Paino

New Orleans is known for many things. It is a city of magic, mystery and a creole culture. New Orleans offers fabulous Cajun food, jazz and traditions born of hundreds of years of French, Spanish and American influences melding to create one of the most exciting cities in the U.S.

February marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras culture of masks, beads, and jazz music on every corner and in the streets,

and the closer it gets to Fat Tuesday, the more frenzied the partying becomes.

Somewhat out of character in this atmosphere, however, New Orleans has a very sobering institution. Surrounded by the city’s distinctive and ornate French architecture, surrounded by the mysterious atmosphere, and surrounded by celebrations and festivities, stands a stately monument.

Flying the Stars and Stripes, high above its roof, is the National World War II Museum. Visitors who take time off from the city’s fun events to come here experience the sacrifices made by so many in defense of other nations, as well as our own.

2017 TripAdvisor rated the World War II Museum the number one attraction in New Orleans, and number two in the world. Again, in 2018, it was rated one of the top ten museums in the world.

Well planned, the museum’s design provides immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and a vast collection of artifacts. Spanning the nation’s pre-war domestic manufacturing, preparation to enter the war, and its industrial efforts on the home front once the U.S. entered the conflict, the exhibits pay attention to the women on the home front who took over the industrial work when the men were sent overseas.

Upon entering the museum, one looks up to see a C- 47 transport plane suspended on cables. The C-47 carried many of the young men sent to fight and die in Europe and Southeast Asia. Beneath this plane is a Nazi anti-aircraft gun, the type used to shoot down the C-47s, and alongside the gun is an Andrew Higgins landing craft.

Throughout the museum, there are displays of weapons, the soldiers’ back packs, communication equipment, and first-person oral histories, as well as unique immersive exhibits—all included in the admission price. One interactive exhibit is The Dog Tag Experience, which

encourages visitors to choose a soldier from the kiosk of registered combatants and follow him through the war.  

For those who prefer to go from exhibit to exhibit on their own, the displays are labeled and arranged to move the viewer from event to event, but also included in the admission price are guided tours.   

These guides are well versed in the areas they cover, and they provide the details and connective tissue that turn specific events into full histories.  

Then there is the 4D movie. Shown on a panoramic screen, and narrated by Tom Hanks, Beyond All Boundaries covers the epic story of WW II. The film is a very intense experience and not recommended for young children. 

Although there are many stories of inspiration and courage, all war is hell, as is clearly shown here. No one sane wants it, but in the words of the first president of the United States, in his first annual address to Congress, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” (George Washington, January 8, 1790) To that point, there is an exhibit board displaying how unprepared the U.S. was in 1941. Japan had 1,700,000 men in uniform, Germany had 3,180,000, and the U.S. had 335,000.

In a separate pavilion, connected by an indoor bridge are two roads. Each one occupies a full floor. One takes the visitor on the combat road to Berlin, starting with the battles in North Africa, and the other, on the road to Tokyo, weaves in and out of the island fights in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

New Orleans was selected for the museum because it is the city in which Andrew Higgins built the landing craft used in the amphibious invasions. As the Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower believed the landing craft was one of the five essential inventions that helped win the war. New Orleans is better known, however, for its free spirit, fun, food, music, multicultural events, and Mardi Gras festival. Having the museum here is a solemn reminder that the freedoms and celebrations we enjoy carry a hefty price tag.

The men and women who paid the price in the mid-twentieth century are almost gone. One day soon, all that will be left to tell future generations what happened to the world between 1932 and 1945 are these stories of the citizen soldiers, the men and women who fought the battles in Europe and the Pacific, and the odds they faced. Their records, personal oral histories, and photographs taken by military photographers in real-time ensure that they will be remembered forever.  

The World War II museum is comprehensive, and it is not possible to see and experience everything it has to offer in one day. Nonetheless, any amount of time spent there is worth the price of admission. 

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A native New Yorker and a Texas transplant, Fran Paino loves learning about her new State and enjoys melding the cultures and characteristics of two cities, New York and Austin, where she and her husband now live,  under the watchful and loving direction of their cat, Miss Millie.

Ms. Paino is an active member of the Writers’ League of Texas, Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter, and Austin Mystery Writers. She is an alumnus of the Austin’s Citizen’s Police Academy.

Read more about her here.

Art History Mystery, Chasing Kandinsky and Finding Hilma Af Klint

 

by Renee Kimball

1986, Community College, Day One of Art Appreciation. Clumping to the podium on wooden clogs, dressed like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, the teacher stated we would learn two truths about art: 1) Art is subjective; and 2) with Art, there is always something more.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vassily-Kandinsky.jpeg
Wassily Kandinsky. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

This post began about Wassily Kandinsky, but surprisingly, things quickly moved someplace else and about someone else. And, just like that, there was something more to the story–a real art history mystery.

In the long story of art, Kandinsky is the Father of Abstract Art. This was an undisputed fact until 1968. Then an utterly unknown Swedish artist’s hidden work was released—a woman, not Kandinsky, was the first Abstract artist. Her name, Hilma af Klint, and just like that, the art world was turned on its head.

The immensity of the af Klint discovery is still being debated, its impact on-going, her diaries under translation, and further scholarly work anticipated.

For this post to go anywhere, it was obvious much more digging would have to happen. First, find out more about these complex artists, the who, what, where and when of each.

Who was Wassily Kandinsky?

Composition VII. Wassily Kandinsky, 1913. Public Domain. Via Wikipedia.

Kandinsky, a Russian, was born in Moscow to loving and financially secure parents of the merchant class. Despite his parents’ divorcing when he was young, he had a stable childhood. After the divorce, he went to live with his aunt and attended school. His mother later re-married and had three additional children, providing him both siblings and a second family.

Kandinsky showed artistic talent early: drawing, painting, and playing the cello and piano. But later in college, he pursued degrees in law and political science, becoming a career educator, lecturer and teacher. Abruptly at thirty years of age, Kandinsky left the academic world, seeking a career in art. His formal training was brief, however; he adopted the day’s avant-garde styles and joined non-conformist artists in establishing the Bauhaus Movement in Germany.

Prior to World War I, Kandinsky achieved some notoriety as an art teacher and lecturer. In 1911, he wrote his treatise titled Concerning the Spiritual in Art, that is still in use today. Groundbreaking at the time, his premise (generally) was that within each artist there was a spiritual need to create. Art, in turn, when viewed, fulfilled a spiritual need inherent within the viewer. Music, color, and the arts (drawing, performing, painting) created a synthesis akin to a spiritual experience.

Kandinsky’s writings are complex but made clearer when it was found that he had a condition known as synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition in which certain individuals upon hearing music, see colors and vice versa. With Kandinsky, the more intense the music, the more intense the coloration in his paintings.

Synesthesia also proved to be a key contributor in Kandinsky’s creation of a symbolic linear shorthand. Sixteen years after writing Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he published Point and Line to Plane, expanding his theory of lines, color, music, and composition, solidifying his theories.

Later, his most memorable paintings would be titled and numbered mimicking musical compositions. While historians have debated the point, they generally contend that the first Kandinsky abstract was his 1913 Composition VII. This work was, for the time, shockingly absent of any form and a total abstraction of color.

Something More

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hilma_af_Klint,_portrait_photograph_published_in_1901.jpg
Hilma af Klint. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

When the estate of Swedish artist Hilma af Kint released her hidden private collection in 1968, the art world was at a minimum shocked. Not only was Af Klint a woman, her work was entirely unknown.

Af Klint, believing that the world would not understand her life’s work, stipulated in her will that it was to remain hidden until twenty years after her death. When af Klint unexpectedly died in 1944, her nephew inherited the estate. He was surprised at the immensity of the find, and abided by the will’s terms, withholding the collection and finally releasing them in 1968.

With the release of the collection, it was discovered that af Klint had been creating abstracts a full six years before Kandinsky. Hilma af Klint, not Kandinsky, was the most likely choice to have been the first abstract painter – a dramatic revelation.

Who was Hilma af Klint?

Hilma af Klint was born the fourth child of five children, a daughter of a Swedish naval captain. Af Klint, like Kandinsky, displayed an early talent for both drawing and painting. Hilma was also adept in both mathematics and botany. From other accounts, she was known as a kind, serious, and intelligent person, devoted to her family and particularly to her visually impaired mother.

Eventually, Hilma’s talent was recognized and she was admitted to the Stockholm Academy of Fine Arts at twenty years of age. After graduation, af Klint was able to financially support herself producing landscapes, botanical subjects, and portraits. She became the primary caretaker of her mother and never married. Due to her mother’s condition, she was unable to travel or exhibit outside of Stockholm.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilma_af_Klint#/media/File:Hilma_af_Klint_-_1907_-_Altarpiece_-_No_1_-_Group_X_-_Altarpieces.jpg
“Altarpieces, No. 1, Group X, 1907.” Hilma af Klint. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

During the productive years of both Kandinsky and af Klint, Spiritualism was a widespread popular pursuit. After the death of her younger sister, af Klint became heavily involved and became a medium and member of a secret group of women named The Five. The Five met regularly to channel spiritual guides. Lengthy and detailed notes of instructions and messages received from the guides were written down in numerous notebooks and diaries.

It was during the seances that Hilma was instructed by her personal guide Amaliel, to create a group of paintings, reflecting the life stages of man from birth to death, later referred to as the Temple series. She completed the series in 1906, at 42 years of age. These works physically and mentally exhausted her. At one point, she attempted to share her work but was rebuffed gruffly by a critic and withdrew from painting for a period of time.

Comparing Lives – Kandinsky and Af Klint

After af Klint’s death, over one thousand spiritually directed works were discovered along with an undetermined number of diaries with sketches and notebooks. All of these works are now being studied and translated. Like af Klint, Kandinsky produced a large body of work; however, Kandinsky’s total output remains unknown. Many of his works were deemed degenerate and were destroyed under Hitler’s regime during WWII.

Both Kandinsky and af Klint believed in the Spiritual Movement sweeping Europe, and in separate and distinct ways, it directed their work. In his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky, speaks of the confluence of music, color, and art as a spiritual synthesis producing the highest form of art. Hilma af Klint painted the famous Temple series at the direction of her spiritual guide, Amaliel. Although the spiritual instructions came in widely different forms, each artist believed that outside forces were directing their work.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hilma_af_Klint_1907_-_The_key_to_the_work_up_to_this_point.jpg
Hilma af_Klint, 1907. The key to the work up to this point. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Historians have confirmed that at least on one occasion, af Klint participated in an exhibit with Kandinsky. It is also been confirmed that her working studio was in the same building in which an Edvard Munch exhibit had taken place, also confirming she was a contemporary of Munch and Kandinsky. There is no proof at this time showing that Kandinsky and af Klint were introduced or aware of one another.

Other differences exist between the two artists. Kandinsky was born in 1866 and died at 78 years of age, relatively unknown and penniless in Paris; Hilma af Klint was born in 1862 and died at 82 years of age as the result of automobile accident in Sweden, she also was unknown and penniless. Kandinsky was born in Moscow, an only child, only much later gaining step-siblings through his mother’s second marriage. Af Klint, on the other hand, was born in Stockholm into a large family, the fourth child of five children. While af Klint never married nor had any children, Kandinsky married twice and had one child who tragically died at three years of age.

Kandinsky did not pursue an artistic career until 30 years of age, having very little formal training. Hilma af Klint began formal training at 20 years of age and graduated from a prestigious art program at 25. Both artists displayed talent when young, yet Kandinsky was a respected academic before coming to art late in his life. Both artists created paintings in the Absract style, but produced their works in totally different countries, far apart from one another. It also been confirmed that af Klint created her abstractions a full six years earlier than Kandinsky.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wassily-kandinsky-stars.jpg
“Stars.” Wassily Kandinsky. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Geographical differences also exist between the two. Kandinsky moved frequently. He was first in Moscow then Munich, changing careers, pursuing art at thirty, finding some notoriety and acknowledgment. He was forced to flee into the German countryside, then went back to Russia because of WWI. After WWII, Wassily finally arrived in Paris, where he died penniless and unrecognized.

Af Klint, unlike Kandinsky, moved infrequently and always lived within Sweden. Born in Sweden, she grew up living on a naval base, went to school in Stockholm, and essentially never left Sweden her entire life. Hilma died at the age of 82, and, like Kandinsky, was isolated, penniless, and unknown.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilma_af_Klint#/media/File:Hilma_af_Klint_-_Group_VI,_Evolution_No._13_(13949).jpg
Evolution, No. 13, Group VI, 1908. Hilma af Klint. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Both Kandinsky and af Klint were pioneers of Abstraction. Both left art legacies filled with mystical language, color, and symbols. While Kandinsky left a linear language of representational movement, af Klint left admirers an otherworldly language of symbols.

Kandinsky’s fascination with lines and color are readily apparent in his paintings, while, af Klint’s paintings reflect her proficiency in botany with many images similar to cellular or even floral reproductive or germination phases.

And in the end, the question Who was the first Abstract Artist? remains unanswered. We ask, Does it matter that we do not have an answer? The best response, probably not. The legacies of Kandinsky and af Klint is their art – and happily, we are the beneficiaries.

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For Even More

“Hilma Af Klint.” – Lecture by Gertrud Sandqvist @ Summer Academy 2010.

“The First Abstract Painter Was a Woman.” by Nana Asfour. The Paris Review, October 12, 2018.

“Open Culture. Who Painted the First Abstract Painting?: Wassily Kandinsky? Hilma af Klint? Or Another Contender?” Open Culture, September 14, 2017.

“What Does Colour Sound Like? Kandinsky and Music.” Barnaby Martin August 19, 2019.

Stefan Scheider. “KANDINSKY – I spy with my little eye.”

“Hilma af Klint: A Painter Possessed.” The Observer, Sun. 21 Feb. 2016.

Jillian Steinhauer. “The Universe According to Hilma af Klint.” New Republic. March 11, 2019.

“Hilma af Klint.”  Wikipedia..

Maria Popova. “Kandinsky on the Spiritual Element in Art and the Three Responsibilities of Artists.”

Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky, is in the public domain and is thus available as a free download from Project Gutenberg.

Also available from Amazon.

 

 

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A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

Tell Me a Story! P.D. James, Talking about Detective Fiction, 2009

 

by Helen Currie Foster

Tell me a story,” begs the child.

Tell me a story about before you met me,” the lover entreats the loved one.

Tell me the story about how you met,” we ask the new couple.

Tell me the scariest moment,” the reporter demands of the returning explorer.

Tell me a story,” we whisper to the books on the library shelf.

After an astounding career as master of detective fiction, P. D. James finished Talking about Detective Fiction in 2009, when she was nearly ninety. This small but hugely thoughtful book touches many topics: the history of detective fiction, authorial arguments over point of view and whether or not the murderer can be a protagonist, variants in the genre. Then James tackles the importance of setting, the importance of character, and the importance of plot.

As to setting: “If we believe in the place we can believe in the characters.” She notes that one function of the setting is to add credibility to a story. For James, credibility is particularly needed for crime fiction, which often offers not just dramatic but bizarre or horrific events. (This immediately brought to mind Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s) Cormoran Strike series, including The Silkworm.) According to James, “My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character.” She says her Devices and Desires was born when she stood on a deserted beach in East Anglia, then turned and saw the vast outline of a nuclear power station.

Character: her characters “grow like plants” while she’s writing but still bring surprises, so that “at the end, no matter how carefully and intricately the work is plotted, I never get exactly the novel I planned.”

As to why people love this genre? For the story. For the story! Here she quotes E.M. Forster:

“‘We are all like Scheherazade’s husband in that we want to know what happens next. That is universal and that is why the backbone of a novel has to be a story….Qua story, it can have only one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. And conversely it can have only one fault: that of making the audience not want to know what happens next.’” [E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel]

Our mystery genre has at its heart, of course, a mystery, and we know that by the end it will be solved, more or less. Of course, we readers relish solving the mystery, but, as James says of herself, if that were the only attraction, we wouldn’t reread our old favorites. Which many of us do.

Why do we reread? Not just for the solution, but for the story. Once upon a time there was [a character] who lived in [a setting] and one day, a [terrible awful amazing startling promising exciting bizarre weird shocking hilarious unexpected] thing happened. And what do you think happened next?

We can’t wait. Bring it on. Because we want a story, in a setting we believe in, even if surprising, so we believe in the characters, and––even when we’re re-reading an old favorite–– we want to keep turning the pages so we can know what happens next.

Thank you, P. D. James, for this rich small book, and for all your books with their settings, characters, plot intricacies…and story.

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Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

Death in Small Town Texas: Who Collects the Body?

Mystery authors deal in death. They must get the details correct when writing about the untimely demise of a character. Because laws for responding to death vary by location in reaper-2026350_640the United States, authors have to do research depending on their setting. Without a national standard, each state and frequently each county within a state sets its own rules for handling unexpected deaths. In January, Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas Chapter was fortunate to have Tiffany Cooper-Aguilar, a licensed funeral director and embalmer, walk authors through the legalities of collecting, handling, and storing bodies after death in small town Texas.

In Texas, the handling of medically unattended deaths varies by county population. Larger, more populous counties are required by law to have a medical examiner’s (ME) office. The ME’s office collects the bodies of those who die outside of a medical facility, abstract-2726482_640and the medical examiner determines the cause of death. Less populous counties aren’t legally required to have medical examiner’s offices. They rely on contracted mortuary services or funeral homes to collect the bodies of the dead. Lacking a medical examiner, these counties rely on a justice of the peace to decide if a cause of death is apparent or if a body should be sent for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

According to Ms. Cooper-Aguilar, in central Texas alone, laws and practices vary considerably by county. Some counties may have a single funeral home contracted to retrieve all bodies. Other counties may have several funeral homes contracted on a rotational basis. One county is even known to force family members to choose a funeral home as soon as a death is discovered to prevent the county from expending the funds needed to transport and store the body. Still other counties may use a mortuary service, which is a small company created specifically for collecting and storing the dead temporarily until a decision is made to either send the body to an autopsy or to send it to a funeral home for burial.

In counties where a funeral home is contracted, a licensed funeral director and one assistant director will go to the scene of the death to remove a body. Fire, EMS, and law hospital-1978209_640enforcement personnel in less populous counties leave the body where it is discovered, so that the funeral director and assistant have to go into water, fields, ditches, wrecked cars, or other locations to retrieve the decedent.

Depending on weight, the state of decomposition, rigor mortis, and traumatic injury, the funeral home employees may need a variety of items to collect a body. Ms. Cooper-Aguilar states that a plain white sheet is her best tool in these situations. A sheet can be knotted for gripping, is an aid in unwedging bodies in awkward locations, and is perfect for ensuring that the entire body stays together during removal.

In most cases the funeral home or mortuary services personnel will wrap the body in the white sheet first. Some counties, but not all, require the remains also be placed in a zip-tied body bag. The body is then transported to refrigerated storage until the justice of the peace’s official paperwork is completed determining the next steps in the process. During this storage time, the deceased remains untouched until the legal formalities are settled. Family is not allowed access to the body during this period.

body-4076102_640The justice of the peace orders autopsies when the cause of death is unknown or questionable. If an autopsy is required, the body will be transported to the medical practitioner responsible for carrying out the autopsy. Small counties may contract with larger counties to use their medical examiner for autopsies. After the autopsy is complete and the body is released for burial, the legal next of kin must sign a release allowing a funeral home to collect the remains from the medical examiner and prepare them for burial or cremation.

If no autopsy is ordered, the deceased is released for burial and the next of kin may choose funerary services with any funeral home. The decedent may be transferred between funeral homes at the family’s request.

death-2421821_640Burial may take place as soon as the family is ready. Texas law does not require embalming to occur before burial. Cremation, however, requires additional legal paperwork which can take up to two weeks to be completed. While reducing human remains to ash can be accomplished in a matter of hours, acquiring the paperwork needed to begin the process takes time. Getting authorization for cremation is a longer process because a buried body can be dug up and studied if foul play is suspected at a later date, a cremated one can’t.

Ms. Cooper-Aguilar provided highly detailed information about the legal handling of unexpected death in counties with small populations in Texas. She explained the steps required to prepare a body for identification by family and the entire embalming process, including discussing how the embalmer deals with a body from which tissues, organs, or bones have been donated. Ms. Cooper-Aguilar answered many questions from the audience, providing a thorough overview of the legal handling of death in small town Texas.

*****

All pictures provided by Pixabay.

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is currently the president of Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

What Makes a Good Story, Or, Is Joseph Campbell Bossing Me Around?

by K.P. Gresham

Writers (or at least me) despise (rightly so) the idea of formulaic writing. I am creative! I have my own ideas! Ain’t nobody gonna tell me how to write!

But what if this “formula” came from inside ourselves? What if I create it in my thoughts, my actions, my psyche? What if this “formula” is actually an internal pattern shared by all humans?

Joseph Campbell was a pattern finder. As he studied different cultures, different mythologies, different religions, he developed his theory that the journey of the archetypal hero is at the very soul of what makes us human. He called it the “Monomyth” and, drawing on Carl Jung’s theories, he proposed that a psychic unity is shared by all humankind, and that our lives AND stories are all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story.

Boulderdash, my creative spirit cries! But…shoving hubris aside, what does the evidence show?

Okay. Enough of Campbell. I’m not smart enough or deep enough to even begin to understand the intricacies of his studies or theories. So I did what most of us do. I looked for someone who could “explain it to me.”

For me, those answers came from reading Chris Vogler’s The Writers Journey. Mr. Vogler breaks down this inner self-generated pattern of how humans think and act into twelve understandable, progressive steps.

Step One-The Hero’s Ordinary World (Everyday Life Before the Insanity Begins)

Examples: Dorothy’s life in Kansas before the tornado tosses her into the land of Oz. Luke Skywalker’s mundane life on Tatooine before the C3PO and R2D2 show up. Your life when you’re in your comfort zone.

Step Two-The Hero’s Call to Adventure (Introduction of Something that Must Happen)

Examples: Bilbo Baggins appalling invitation to go with the dwarves to reclaim their treasure in The Hobbit. Captain Pyke’s challenge to James T. Kirk to join Starfleet in the latest Star Trek movie iterations. Your college acceptance letter taking you to a life you’ve never lived before.

Step Three-Refusal of the Call (Ain’t No Way I’m Gonna…)

Examples: Humphrey Bogart doesn’t want to take Kathryn Hepburn on The African Queen. Indiana Jones not wanting to investigate his father’s hogwash theories of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Your unsuccessful job hunt that presents you with the one offer you’d most dislike doing.

Step Four-Meeting with the Mentor (Somebody help!)

Examples: Robert Redford getting Paul Newman to help him get even with a murdering crime boss in The Sting. Charlie is guided by Willy Wonka through the Chocolate Factory. Your new boss’s admin takes pity on you and shows you the ropes of the career foisted upon you.

Step Five-Crossing the First Threshold (Taking that first step on the new journey.)

Examples: Alec Baldwin jumps from a helicopter to help find Sean Connery’s Russian sub, The Red October. Cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) leaves his Detroit home to discover who murdered his friend in Beverly Hills. You pack your belongings in a car and leave home.

Step Six- Tests, Allies and Enemies (Life Happens)

Examples: In Casablanca, Rick’s Café is frought with desperate refugees, thieves, spies and intrigue. In the recent movie, 1917, the two soldiers meet with countless dangers and pitfalls in their efforts to save 1600 British troops. You have to figure out where to live, who are your friends and who are your enemies, and how will you pay for it all.

Step Seven-Approach to the Inmost Cave (Facing Your Worst Fear)

Example: In The Matrix, the Oracle tells Neo that either Neo or Morpheus must die, and Neo has the power to choose which goes. Nala asks Simba to return to the Pride and take back the throne in The Lion King. You realize that you must make peace with the parent who never loved you.

Step Eight-The Ordeal (Your fight within the belly of the beast.)

Example: In Spiderman, Norman figures out that Peter Parker is Spiderman and kidnaps . In The Odyssey, Odysseus must go to the underworld to find the way home and is almost killed. You have no choice but to declare bankruptcy in a financial matter.

Step Nine-Reward (Hero Achieves Goal)

Example: Luke reconciles with Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. Robert Redford and Paul Newman pull off their “Sting” and get away with it. You and your creditors come up with a plan to pay off your debt.

Step Ten-The Road Back (Trouble’s Not Quite Over)

Example: The moonlight cycle ride of Elliott and E.T. as they escape government bad guys. Harry Potter’s walk on Hogwart’s Bridge to destroy in the Elder Wand in Deathly Hallows II. Your ride home from a hospital visit with medicines in tow and physical therapy sessions in sight.

Step Eleven-Resurrection (Death and Darkness Get One More Shot Before Their Destruction)

Example: In Divergent, Tris’s mother dies, but Tris and Four defeat the Erudite coup. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly witnesses the Professor getting killed (again), only to learn the Professor was wearing a bullet proof vest. You discover your long lost sister only to realize she’s dying.

Step Twelve: Hero Returns to Real World with Elixir. (Back at Home, but You’re Not the Same Person You Were When You Left.)

Example: Dorothy goes home to Kansas knowing that she if loved by her family. In The Hunt for Red October, Ryan is able to sleep on the airplane going home. Turbulence isn’t a problem—he’s seen a lot worse. You realize you’ve gone through hell with a certain issue, but you’ve come out alive and stronger.

Now folks have taken these steps and created beat sheets (I’m referring specifically to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! fifteen step beat sheet), diagrams, pie charts, whatever. But the basic monomyth theory is the same: a hero’s journey. Formulaic? Perhaps. Or maybe a pattern observed in the psychic unity of mankind. Is this something foisted upon us or something that originates from the very core that makes us human?

High brow questions for a low brow thinker. All I know is I love a good story.

***

K.P. Gresham is the author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field.  Her most recent publication is Murder on the Third Try. To read more about K.P. and her books, click here.

Christmas in Texas–Italian Style

by Francine Paino

We Italian-Americans take our Christmas tradition seriously – as do Texans. I’m fascinated by some of the “Texas-American” customs, including Fried Turkey, on Christmas Day, which I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tasting. My son-in-law, a fabulous cook, promises that one day he’ll do it for us.

I cannot, however, separate myself from my cultural heritage being only a second-generation American, and more of an immigrant than I’d ever realized, having grown up in an immigrant community of Italians, in Corona, New York. I’ve lived my life until six years ago, in New York surrounded primarily by other Italians and Jews, many of whom graced our home and table to share our Christmas Eve rituals. Many are no longer with us in this world, but my love for them spans time, distance, and death – Here’s what they shared with us, and what I brought to Texas with me.

The tradition of the special Christmas Eve dinner for La Vigilia (the vigil), came over with the unwanted Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the U.S., it evolved into The Feast of the Seven Fishes

Hundreds of years ago, until the reforms of the 1960s, the Catholic liturgical calendar specified several days of abstinence from food and meats altogether; Christmas Eve was once such day. Although no longer required by the Church, preparing meatless meals and specifically fish dinners on Christmas Eve is still a widespread tradition across Italy and other predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Its origins, however, were rooted in the impoverished areas of southern Italy, where locals relied on fish because it was considerably less expensive than meat. 

Some of my warmest childhood memories of Christmas Eve are of my grandmother preparing a range of fishes. Baccala (dried cod) salad, followed by spaghetti with a red sauce with eel (which I never ate) and/or Linguini with clams and anchovies (I always picked out the anchovies – which got me into a world of trouble.) Following the pasta dishes were lots of vegetables, fried smelts, maybe some baked flounder or redfish (what she bought depended on price). Fruit, coffee and hard biscotti ended the meal – and we all looked forward to the sumptuous dinner we’d have on Christmas Day.

For many years, in my home in New York, the Vigil dinner on Christmas Eve brought family and close friends to our table to share food, fun, stories of my husband’s and my backgrounds, as well as the tradition of our friends of other cultures who’d join us.

Typical menus always started with appetizers, followed by salads, then at least two different fish dishes. When my mother-in-law was alive, she’d prepare my husband’s favorite, a Sicilian dish of codfish in a red sauce with potatoes and capers. Linguini with white clam sauce was a constant, as well as bakes flounder and shrimp scampi. We always had an array of vegetables and the meal ended with coffees – espresso, American and decaf, as well as fruits, and cakes. (For our non-Catholic friends I always had roasted chicken and beef), but I held my family’s feet to the fire: No Meat on Christmas Eve! 

When my children were very young, we made a big production of Santa’s arrival at midnight (Yes, that’s the one night a year I’d wake them from a sound sleep to greet Santa). Well, children grow, life moves on, many of the elders pass away, and we moved to Texas, where new traditions add to the old.

This year, on Christmas Eve, we were a scant fourteen because only one of my daughters lives in Austin. She, her husband, and three children were here, along with my son-in-law’s mother and my friend, our Scottish/British friends and their triplets, and, of course, my mother, the still cooking and baking nonagenarian.

I decided for this Vigil dinner, I would prepare a seven fish menu. We began with appetizers of sardines with jalapeno cream cheese on crackers with hot sauce; smoked salmon on toasts with cream cheese and capers; a halibut salad, anchovies, and spicy green olives, shrimp cocktail and an assortment of other olives and cheeses. Most of these were consumed with pre-dinner drinks – gotta keep those appetites going!

The first course at the table was a green-bean and sliced pepper salad – then came the star of the evening: Cioppino – Something I’ve adopted as my Christmas Eve tradition 

Cioppino traveled from west to east. Created in the late 1800s by the Italian fisherman in California, this tomato-based seafood stew contained leftovers from the day’s catch, and cooked on the boats while at sea. 

There are some myths concerning the origin on the word Cioppino; it is not the fractured English of fisherman asking each other to Chip-a EENO. The immigrant fishermen were predominantly from the Genoa region of Northern Italy. In the Ligurian dialect, the word “ciuppin” (chu-pin) means “to chop” or “chopped,” which is an apt description of the process of making Cioppino.

Here, almost 200 years later, in my home in Austin, my Cioppino contained cod, shrimps, clams, scallops, and crabmeat. ( All store-bought, by the way. I’m not a fisherperson.) I served Texas toasts and crusty Italian bread to soak up the delicious liquid in the bowl. Stuffed, we then refreshed our palates with fruits and took a rest to track Santa’s progress from the North Pole.

The meal ended with an assortment of cakes, from cheesecake to my mother’s homemade apple turnovers, biscotti, and pound cake – Yes, at 96, she still bakes. 

Before everyone departed to rush home before Santa arrived, the children gathered around the crèche. I passed the figure of baby Jesus from child to child and last to received Him, placed Him in the manger. The next day we’d celebrate His birth. This is a new custom I’ve started to remind them why we celebrate Christmas.

I don’t know what the next iteration of our Italian-American/Texas Christmas Eve traditions will be, but I’m confident the constant will be family and friends. 

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo a tutti!

(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.)

***

A native New Yorker and a Texas transplant, Francine Paino, aka F. Della Notta, loves learning about her new State and enjoys melding the cultures and characteristics of two cities: New York and Austin.

Appropriately, the Live Music Capitol of the World is where she and her husband now live, under the watchful and loving direction of their cat, Miss Millie.

Ms. Paino has had a varied career in the business end of dance. She has worked for several dance notables, including Ali Pourfarrokh, and the late Kaleria Fedicheva. Her passion for ballet, opera, and history fuel much of her writing.

Her first book, a Young Adult, Paranormal murder mystery, TO LIVE AND DIE FOR DANCE, received recognition from Purple Dragonfly and The Hollywood Book Festival, and her children’s book, MAMA’S LITTLE LADY: A SPECIAL PONY, also won an award from the Purple Dragonfly Book Contest.

Her short stories, “An Unwelcome Image,” a psychological thriller was published in Over My Dead Body, an online mystery magazine, and one of her humorous tales, “A Supermarket Nightmare,” was carried in Funny Times Magazine.

In 2018, writing as F. Della Notte, she created the Housekeeper Mystery Series in the tradition of the clergy amateur sleuths, with a 21st-century twist. The housekeeper isn’t a sidekick; she is the sleuthing equal of the priest. The second book in the Housekeeper Mystery Series, CATWALK DEAD, will be released in 2019.