MEOW, WOOF AND TWEET

ANIMAL SIDEKICKS AND PETS IN FICTION

By Francine Paino AKA F. Della Notte

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” —Groucho Marx

Animals are near and dear. We often imagine them to be all that we are not. Thus it’s no great wonder that they show up and play important roles in our stories. There are hundreds of tales that sentimentally humanize animals, but even in the ones that don’t, animals are essential to the  completeness of many characters’ lives and the mysteries of humans.  

But why are ‘grown-up’ books featuring animals as sidekicks or just plain ole-pets so successful? First of all, any pet owner—myself included—will object to the term, plain ole. No such thing. Every pet has its own personality, likes, dislikes, habits, and quirks, just like us. On top of that, we often imbue them with human behaviors and sentiments—in some cases, that is realistic and in others not, but the question remains, why do we love these stories? What is it about animal sidekicks or companions that attract many readers?

There are as many opinions as animal sidekicks; among them is the theory that authors are free to attribute emotions to animals that might be construed as too sappy in a human. Then, of course, animals don’t usually warrant life stories of their own, although I’d bet any author writing a pet sidekick or companion in fiction could give one. Animals can display levels of loyalty to its human that does not read the same person to person. Can you imagine a human sitting beside another human, panting for their attentions, hanging on every word, listening to their thoughts, insecurities, and foolish notions, without sitting up and saying, “Hey, pal? Get over yourself,” or “Get off your duff and take care of business?” Not likely. So, where do we find these lovable, funny, sometimes sad creatures in literature?

In most genres, we find unforgettable, heart-warming, emotional, and spirited animals like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Then there is Charlotte, in Charlotte’s Web, and not to be ignored, Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl, but some of the most heart-wrenching are the animals that are written into sagas, such as Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 War Horse. 

The book, the movie, or the play are all tearjerkers, but not with the epic scope of the true account of the horse it’s based on: Warrior. This amazing story of a real warhorse published 1934, was based on My Horse, Warrior by General Jack Seely. It documents the hell that horses endured during the Great War. You won’t get through this one without a box of tissues.

Sometimes, authors need a villain, and according to Disney, “from time to time we like to shine a light on the work of villains and their sidekicks,” which brings us to the feathered friends or not-friends of Iago, Jafar’s parrot sidekick in Aladdin. Who can be more deliciously evil than Maleficent with her Raven? There’s Mockingjay from the contemporary Hunger Games, and perhaps the nicest in a novel and outside the cartoon world is Harry Potter’s Snowy Owl, Hedwig, loyal, intelligent, and affectionate. 

Photo from Pixabay

Cats and dogs are also a staple in Romance writing . They provide the author with a character who can be the subject of a tug-of-war in the humans’ breakups. They can reveal the softer side of a character portrayed otherwise as cold or emotionally distant. Still, perhaps their presence is felt most in the mystery categories, beginning with its subgenre of cozies. 

  For those who aren’t exactly sure of what defines a cozy, neither am I, but the definitions I find basically explain that the cozy mysteries have specific characteristics in common: these are “gentle crime books.” No graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex. Most often, the crime takes place “off stage,” and death is usually swift. The characters must be likable, most often not professional crimes solvers – amateurs and primarily women. Into this fray enters the pet sidekick.

There are shelves of cozy dog mysteries—in fact, too many to list, beginning with Michael Bond’s Pomme Frites (French Fries) and Dashiel Hammet’s Thin Man Mysteries with Nick and Nora Charles, and their female Schnauzer, Asta.

Among the most popular cozies are cat-detective mysteries, a universe of its own. In the realm of regal cats, there are also too many to name, but among the most famous are Lillian Jackson Braun’s cats, Koko and Yum Yum, in The Cat Who… series.

Given the characteristics that we love in animals, it’s no wonder that literature, particularly the mystery genres, is full of them. If you’re in the market for some plucky animal characters, real and imagined, there links on the internet that will fulfill your curiosity. All you need do is google Animals as Pets and Sidekicks in Fiction. Perhaps your pets will be interested in hearing these opinions.  

Miss Millie

Pictured here: Miss Millie, my boss, whose characteristics can be found in the cats of the Housekeeper Mystery Series, LaLa, Ziggy, and Sasha.

Weaving Complexity into Story

by Renee Kimball

It has been a year of extremes—Covid, freezing weather, and higher than average temperatures forecast for the summer ahead. 

During Covid quarantine, I read many, many books of all kinds.  I forgot some of those within an hour of finishing, but others, stayed with me long after I turned the last page.  

The stories that remained with me included specific historical, geographical, even philosophical backstories, that despite of a kind of literary density, held my attention.  Each author had conducted meticulous research, and their obvious investment of time, effort, along with many complex details, was an achievement.  Each story was the kind the reader falls into and stays to the end.

Similarities between them were clear; all were written by female authors; all contained resourceful, intelligent female protagonists; and each flawlessly merged a complex backstory within the main theme.  What could have been unintelligible and unenjoyable was successful, even riveting.  These stories were not mired in dry, mind-numbing facts, and the characters were believable, even likeable; what more could a reader ask?

In the first novel, The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, we meet the protagonist, Alma Whittaker.  Whittaker’s character is loosely based on the historical women explorers of the Victorian age.  Alma’s story is engaging, and she not only became an explorer, but a respected scientist through her groundbreaking global research in Bryology, the study of mosses, a branch of Botany.

Alma, an unattractive baby, then a precocious child, develops into a brilliant multi-talented adult.  Alma’s insatiable need to know everything, to her credit, gives her an unstoppable confidence that keeps her strong and saves her in the later decades of life.  Her greatest disappointment is her failed marriage, the husband unable or unwilling to give Alma the love that she desperately wants, eventually leaving her unhappy and alone. 

Gilbert’s rigorous research details the severity of the life of a Victorian woman.  Blocked from entering or studying within male dominated scientific fields, any findings women might make were dismissed or stolen by men who took credit for the original work, or disregarded completely.  In spite of this overall disregard, many women persevered, becoming explorers or scholars in their own right, and laid the groundwork of the first inklings of female equality.

The second novel, The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish, introduces a dual timeline and two female protagonists: the present-day London historian, Helen Watt, who discovers an ancient cache of valuable correspondence, and Ester Velasquez, a Jewish female scribe, who was the actual author of the historical letters.  Two stories run side by side, back and forth, jumping from present day London to the Jewish community of 1660s plague-ridden London. 

Intrigue and tension rise as a present-day scholarly battle throws university professors and researchers in a race to establish control over the translation of the letters, while, in tandem, Ester’s life-story is picked apart as the letters are slowly translated, revealing her character and brilliant inquisitive intellect.

Ester, an orphaned Jewish adolescent, is sent to London along with her brother, from Amsterdam, when their family home burns, killing both parents.  The children become wards of the venerated but blind Rabbi Moseh Ha Coen Mendes.  Ester’s brother, slated to become a scribe for the Rabbi, refuses, runs away, and dies shortly after. 

Hiding behind a fictious “male” persona, Ester becomes the Rabbi’s scribe.  A scribe was traditionally a male only position, but the Rabbi silently allows Ester to hide behind a false identity and to transcribe his weighty correspondence.  It does not take long for Ester’s razor-sharp intellect to rise to the surface when unbeknownst to the Rabbi, Ester modifies the Rabbi’s responses with her own commentary and questions.  This correspondence is composed in reply to some of the greatest thinkers of the day, a list that includes the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, among others.

Kadish presents an intellectually strong and resourceful woman trapped by gender, religion, tradition, and social constraints in the frantic environment of plague-ridden London.  Ester’s character refuses to be cowed and questions centuries of Rabbinical teaching and beliefs, even questioning Spinoza’s philosophies. 

Kadish’s language flows, integrating the complex philosophical theories of Judaism and those of Spinoza through Ester, and again through Helen Watt, a specialist in Judaic history who demands Ester’s letters be given the prominence and respect they deserve.  With Kadish, the reader becomes nothing less than a captive to the story—Kadish has created an historical page-turner.

The The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1 by N.K. Jemisin, unlike the first two novels, is pure science fiction in imaginary time.  The novel takes place on an Earth-like planet of broken islands, what Jemisin’s calls the “Stillness.” The ever-changing geological landscape breaks, fuses, rises and sinks, entire enclaves disappear, only to rise again elsewhere.  Time runs in Seasons that begin and end with land-mass upheaval while creating a daily apocalypse for its inhabitants.  

Essun, the protagonist, a middle-aged woman-healer, lives in the ever-changing Stillness, confronting numerous small enclaves of hostile caste-ridden survivors with bizarre magical abilities.

When her own toddler son displays telekinesis, he is murdered by her husband.  Essun had hidden the child’s gift from her husband to protect the child, and although Essun has these same gifts she keeps them hidden because she too would be killed.  After murdering the son, the husband takes their remaining daughter and flees.  The novel is based on Essun’s search for her husband and daughter within the ever-shifting geological nightmare landscape.

All three novels are a testament to the authors’ exacting research and story-telling abilities.  

Gilbert became an expert in Victorian mores, women explorers, and scientific standards of Botany and Bryology during the 1800s. 

Kadish grounded her story in Judaism, Spinoza’s complex philosophies, the history of Amsterdam and the London plague.  She successfully tackled the difficult job of two protagonists with parallel timelines, one present day, one historical, with finesse and without alienating the reader or breaking the thread of the story.  

Although science fiction, Jemisin incorporated ever-changing geological manifestations—shifting tectonic plates, volcanic fissures, and violent changes resulting from those stresses.  Notably, Jemisin’s characters are believable despite the imaginary violent landscape of the Stillness.  Jemisin’s story is a woman’s fight for survival.

Countless other authors have successfully incorporated complex concepts into successful fiction novels. For me, Gilbert, Kadish, and Jemisin, prove that although the backstory may be scientifically and philosophically dense, it is possible to create stories both engaging and understandable to the reader  

Their skill to weave complexity into writing is something to be admired, even envied.

***

References

Image Extreme Weather courtesy of Pixabay

Images of book covers courtesy of Amazon

Heller, Jason. ‘Fifth Season’ Embraces The Scale And Complexity Of Fantasy. August 4, 201510:03 AM ET

Jason Heller. https://www.npr.org/2015/08/04/427825372/fifth-season-embraces-the-scale-and-complexity-of-fantasy

***

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 both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

THE PLOT THICKENS! Or, Your Suspicions May Be True

by Helen Currie Foster

Okay—Mom Genes is such a great title, it couldn’t not be used. But Abigail Tucker’s new book of that title doesn’t focus just on moms. Tucker, a New York Times best-selling science writer, dives deep into the burgeoning science examining parental behavior—genetic? hormonal? learned?

And you writers may find it a rich source for potential plots.

Moms will recognize Tucker’s description of the weird sensation of being kidnapped, of feeling like victims of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not feeling quite yourself? In the first of a series of jaw-dropping recent research findings, Tucker reports, “Our children colonize our lungs, spleens, kidneys, thyroids, skin”—and brains. Far from being that familiar image of the one-way street, with mother’s blood, nutrients and even cells flowing into the fetus, the fetus also sends its own fetal cells into the mother. It’s “fetal microchimerism.” No wonder a burgeoning mom feels…she’s changed.

Tucker doesn’t dodge painful issues of maternal and paternal favoritism. “Some 80 percent of us allegedly … prefer one of our children to the others, and more than half of parents demonstrate so-called differential treatment toward various progeny.” The most striking predictor? “Moms appear to dote on their cutest kids.” Apparently “the components of infant attractiveness…are rigid and globally constant,” including big eyes, large forehead, small chin, and chubby cheeks. Tucker says this preference extends to nearly all baby mammals.

But dads apparently outperform moms on “child facial resemblance determination” – i.e., dads are more skilled at noticing whether a child looks like them. Indeed, one Senegal study found “kids grow up bigger and are better fed if they look and in fact smell more like their dads.” A different kind of favoritism…favoring the child which dad feels sure is his.

Jane Austen knew this. You remember that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the parents in Pride and Prejudice, have different favorites? Mrs. Bennet favors beautiful Jane; Mr. Bennet favors sensible Lizzy (Elizabeth). Mrs. Bennet scolds her husband: “Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”

Humans share mothering tendencies across species. Will you recognize yourself if I mention “left-handed cradling bias”? In a “near-universal” mothering behavior, “Something like 80 percent of right-handed women and, remarkably, almost as many left-handed women hold their babies automatically on the left.” Check out many paintings of the Madonna, suggests Tucker. This “lefty” preference extends to other mammals. Why? It may allow the infant to “view the more expressive left side of the maternal face.”

Tucker points out it’s not all about genes. Life experience also affects maternal behavior. She describes studies of new monkey mothers showing that, of those roughly treated by their mothers, “more than half of the maltreated monkeys became abusive mothers. All the well-tended infants matured as competent mothers.” But when the scientists swapped some babies, so the abusive monkey moms took charge of the offspring of outstanding monkey moms, “the monkeys grew up to match the behaviors of their adoptive mothers, not their biological mothers.”

Here’s another potential genetic component. Canadian scientist Frances Champagne wondered why mother lab rats from the same genetic strain, living under identical conditions, engaged in different “licking/grooming” of their babies. When Champagne swapped the rat babies, so high-licking moms raised the babies of low-licking moms, the babies of below-average lickers followed in their adoptive mom’s footsteps. Then other scientists found they could program a baby rat’s future licking behavior by stroking it with a tiny paintbrush. “The physicality of getting licked somehow shaped the females’ instincts and behavior.” According to Champagne, “I wanted to show that the care you receive leads to epigenetic changes in infancy, and that this could replicate.” Epigenetics focuses on whether and how bits of genetic code may be “expressed.” Champagne found well-licked baby rats “were more likely to express their genes for certain estrogen receptors…” which made them more likely to express genes for oxytocin receptors and to grow more oxytocin neurons in their brains.

Fascinating research discusses how different bits of our genes “express” themselves, particularly in response to hormones. For instance, various sorts of stress can result in hormonal effects on gene expression: “Physiological changes that affect mRNA stability occur during development, nutritional stress, hypoxia, inflammation, cancer, and aging.”

The notion that our genes are static? Maybe not!

So…parental behavior factors include genes plus life experience with hormones kicking into action to affect gene expression.

Back to favoritism! Harry Potter? Reluctant adoptive parent Mrs. Dursley can’t abide her own sister’s son. The internet is full of books and studies on why parents have favorites and how favorites impact families, including impact on sibling rivalry.

Being a favorite can be dangerous, as Joseph learned. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children…But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him….” (Genesis 37.)

And I haven’t touched on what Tucker calls the “murderous tendencies of mothers,” citing Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s theories on infanticide in Mother Nature.

Tucker’s final chapters look at the impact of our own stressful society on parents. “Social-support deficits and perinatal depression are intimately linked.” Tucker reports that compared to Dutch mothers, American mothers appeared comparatively quite miserable, with high levels of unhappiness and worry, because they don’t get enough support in their health care or workplace. To transform this problem “would involve taking on some of the most grinding and deadlocked political issues of our day: not only income inequality, but also health care, education, and other topics that have consistently stumped our government,” including racism (citing pregnant Black women’s higher blood pressure and elevated risks of prenatal diabetes, preterm delivery and death).

Tucker visited Erin Kinnally, a scientist at the UC Davis California National Primate Research Center. “Kinnally rattles off the factors that can shape primate moms…age, number of births, genetics, her own mother’s rearing history, the baby’s sex and other characteristics, access to food and shelter and sundry other environmental factors.” But the most potent force is “social chemistry.” The low-ranking macaque moms at the primate center “have weaker immune system and other distinct traits…the lowest ranking moms had four times the amount of stress hormones in their blood.” “Low-ranking [macaque] moms grasp that they have to be vigilant at all times. Fascinating studies have shown that these moms are much more likely to try to shush their infants’ cries when higher-ranked animals are around, for fear that the fussing will draw unwanted attention and attacks.”

Hormonal impact? Stress can mean a baby gets more cortisol in breast milk. In monkeys, “these high-cortisol babies grow unusually quickly, ‘prioritizing’ growth instead of social exploration…”

Tucker, like Bill Bryson in The Body, respects her readers enough to include a serious index. Hers is excellent: for her assertions in each chapter, she includes detailed links to the research studies involved.

We’re all from families; we’re all affected by our genes and our experiences, by how we were parented (and, indeed, how those who parented us were parented, and so on back up the long chain of humanity). Mom Genes confirms what writers already suspect: plots abound!

***

Helen Currie Foster lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She writes the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series. Ghost Daughter, Book 7 of the series, was published June 15, 2021. Helen’s active with Austin Shakespeare and Sisters in Crime – Heart of Texas chapter. Find out more at www.helencurriefoster.com.

Creating Multiple Identities: the Research Rabbit Hole

by N.M. Cedeño

Setting a story in the past requires the author to do research to make sure the details of the story are correct. For me, researching topics means risking falling down the research rabbit hole and discovering way more information than I need. This week’s research topic: how a character could create fake identities during the 1960s and 1970s.

My current work-in-progress, a short story, involves a character with a penchant for using fake identities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I wanted to know how hard it would be for my character to have multiple bank accounts and jobs under different identities during that time period. This necessitated research into social security numbers (SSNs) and how they were issued in the past.

Creating a fake identity prior to 1974 took very little effort because laws regarding obtaining SSNs and starting bank accounts were lax. For instance, for my character to open bank accounts under different names was fairly easy. Social security numbers were not required for starting financial accounts at banks or other institutions until 1983. However, even if the banks had required SSNs, my character could have easily provided multiple SSNs for multiple fake identities.

Before April 1974, anyone could request a social security number by completing an application without providing evidence of their age, identity, or citizenship status. Electronic tracking of social security numbers, using a punch card computer system didn’t start until 1979. This ease in obtaining SSNs led to all kinds of irregularities and problems in the system that lasted for decades. As late as 2007, the Social Security Administration identified 4.7 million people who had more than one SSN. Most of those people had requested numbers before 1974 when the requirements for providing evidence of identity and age went into effect.

Why did so many people have more than one social security number? Was identity fraud rampant?  

No. Most of those people weren’t trying to commit any crime. After SSNs were introduced in 1936, not everyone understood how they worked. Some people thought they needed a new number every time they started a new job. If workers lost the card with their number on it, they simply applied for a new number. Other people applied for a social security number when the cards were first introduced. Then, when they started working a new job, they filled out paperwork provided by their employer to get another one as employers tried to make sure their employees had SSNs.

It wasn’t even unusual for more than one person to use the same SSN.

For example, in 1938, a wallet manufacturer in New York sold wallets in stores with a sample social security card inside to show the buyer how the card would fit in the wallet. That sample social security card had a number on it which many buyers of the wallet then adopted as their own. By 1943, at least 5,755 were using the sample SSN that came with the wallet. As late as 1977, twelve people were still using that same number.

Prior to the late 1980s, most people didn’t have to get a social security number until they got a job and had to pay taxes. A pilot program to get children SSNs at birth started in 1987. Before 1986, most kids didn’t need SSNs since they could be listed as dependents on tax forms without one. From the time the SSN was introduced in 1936 until the late 1980s, most people only applied for social security numbers when they reached a point in life where they needed one. Therefore, it was common for adults to apply for cards.

All of this means that the character in my story could easily have created multiple fake identities before 1974 by filling out applications for multiple SSNs. He could hold jobs under different SSNs and keep many unconnected bank accounts. But now, all of this research will be filed away, because I can’t use it in my story. I only needed to know that my character could indeed obtain documentation for multiple fake identities without getting caught immediately.

~~~~~

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Note: All pictures by Pixabay.

Tipper: My Manager Extraordinaire

by K .P. Gresham

I suspect most of us have our secrets about how we survived the Pandemic of ’20-’21. Video games, binge-watching movies, reading like a fiend–you get the idea.

My secret was my dog, Tipper. Or should I say my manager. Tip’s a fifteen-pound rescue dog of the Chihuahua meets Terrier variety. Nobody wanted to adopt him because he has bad knees. Really? I’ve had two knee replacements and nobody ever threw me out on the street. Tipper came home to live with me and my better half, Kevin, that very day. 

Now, eight years later, it is my dog who has rescued me. Or should I say bosses me around. Thanks to him, I have the next installment of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, Four Reasons to Die, later this summer. 

This is the schedule Tip put me on from the pandemic’s git-go. First, he begins his slow process of waking–this entails laying beneath the bed covers for at least a half hour after Kevin and I are already up, then he slowly rises like a ghost from the grave because the sheets trail after him as he fights his way out of bed, and finally, he spends another half hour under the bed to avoid the rising sun. His last half hour of officially waking iup is spent in my lap while I finish my morning pot of coffee.

And then he jumps down from my lap, game face on. Enough lolly-gagging on my part. Time to get to work.

We start our day with a three-mile walk. Tip has decided this is the amount of time it takes for me to chew through the scene I have to write that day. When we come home, he demands breakfast, then shoos me upstairs to my office to get to work. No shower. No breakfast. It’s work time. To make sure I stay at it, he takes up residence on the small couch in my office and does not leave it until he hears my husband (who during Covid works in his office downstairs) making lunch. Then Tipper jumps down from the couch and scratches at my leg to tell me to take a break. But does he come downstairs with me? Oh, no.  He goes back to his couch where he waits for fifteen minutes while I make my lunch and put some tidbits in his bowl. THEN, he comes down.

I finally get my shower after lunch–remember, he doesn’t let me take it before since he’s sure I will forget what I’ve decided to write during our walk. Only then does he allow me to return to my office to get back to work.

At 4:00, Tipper believes our work for the day is done. This is the time when, pre-pandemic, my neighbors and I used to get together to watch Jeopardy. We couldn’t, of course, during the Pandemic, but Tipper never got the memo. At 4:00, we’re supposed to close up shop. I oftentimes decide to keep on working until Kevin was done with his day, and Tipper thinks this is sacrilege. He leaves his couch to sit by my feet and growls as I type away. He believes its against his contract to work such long hours and has threatened several times to call Animal Rescue to arrest me.

I didn’t understand how serious he was about his managerial duties until he started wearing a tie to work. And proofing everything I write. And working on his own stories.

Lord help me, they’ll probably be better than mine…

Thank goodness for my little Tipper. I wouldn’t have made it through the Pandemic without him.

Coming Soon (Thanks to Tipper)!

Four Reasons to Die

The 4th Book in the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series

 When Pastor Matt Hayden steps up to give the Texas Inaugural Ceremony’s benediction after the scheduled minister, Reverend Duff, disappears, he finds himself embroiled in a religious war, a political power-grab, and murder.

 The missing Duff, a progressive leftist, is locked in a bitter, public battle with the ultra-conservative Reverend Meade. Duff has also taken on U.S. Senator Womack, a far-right Presidential hopeful whose only love is himself.

 Matt joins the search for the missing pastor, but is he prepared to discover the true evil that threatens his family, including the new governor…and his beloved Angie?

***

Where to Find Me

Website: http://www.kpgresham.com/

Email: kp@kpgresham.com

Blogs: https://inkstainedwretches.home.blog/

https://austinmysterywriters.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kpgresham

Books by K.P. Gresham

Three Days at Wrigley Field

The Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series

The Preacher’s First Murder

Murder in the Second Pew

Murder on the Third Try

“Quaint and Curious”

by Kathy Waller

Today is Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, when we remember the men and women of the military to whom we cannot say, “Thank you.”

There are many stories about when and where Memorial Day, formerly called Decoration Day, began. Originally, it honored soldiers fallen during the Civil War, and was first officially celebrated in 1868.

Wikipedia, however, points to an earlier beginning: “On May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, formerly enslaved African Americans honored hundreds of Black soldiers who were killed in the Civil War but who were buried in a mass grave. They unearthed the bodies and gave each a proper burial and held a parade in the soldiers’ honor. This is the first major honoring of fallen soldiers that is believed to have begun the tradition.”

In honor of the day, I’ve chosen a poem by British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy.

#

The Man He Killed

By Thomas Hardy

“Had he and I but met
            By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
            Right many a nipperkin!

            “But ranged as infantry,
            And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
            And killed him in his place.

            “I shot him dead because —
            Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
            That’s clear enough; although

            “He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
            Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
            No other reason why.

            “Yes; quaint and curious war is!
            You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
            Or help to half-a-crown.”

#

Wartime provides the setting for many books, movies, plays, and television films in the mystery genre. Among them:

12 best historical fiction books set during World War II

9 Mysteries Set in the Immediate Aftermath of WWI

9 Murder Mysteries Set During Wartime

The Best Historical Mystery Series

Five Novels of Mystery, Intrigue and Suspense Set in WWII

Foyle’s War (Television series)

My Boy Jack (Television film based on play by Daniel Haig)
(Link leads to complete film on Youtube.)
The title My Boy Jack comes from a poem written by Rudyard Kipling for Jack Cornwell, “the 16 year old youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross who stayed by his post on board ship during the battle of Jutland until he died.” The poem “echoes the grief of all parents who lost sons in the First World War. John Kipling was a 2nd Lt in the Irish Guards and disappeared in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos in the First World War.” His body was never found. (Wikipedia).  Haig’s play deals with Kipling’s grief at the loss of his son.

#

Kathy Waller’s stories appear in Murder on Wheels, Lone Star Lawless, and Day of the Dark, as well as online at Mysterical-E. She blog at Telling the Truth, Mainly.

SIDEKICKS

Francine Paino AKA F. Della Notte

Almost every great detective has a great sidekick. Leading the pack, of course, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s with his team of Sherlock and Watson. 

hOLMES AND WATSON

In the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. John Watson is Sherlock’s sidekick and the narrator. The character created by Doyle to support Holmes is modest and intelligent—but not as smart as Holmes. A former military doctor wounded in India, Watson is far from dull. Still, like most readers, he doesn’t share Holme’s detecting capabilities, powers of observation, and lightning-swift reasoning, which is a blessing for readers, for it’s Watson who explains and shows the readers Holme’s admirable characteristics through his narrative and descriptions. 

Another of the best-loved investigating pairs are Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.Wolfe is a New York City private investigator. His sidekick, Archie Goodwin, does the lion’s share of investigating because Wolfe doesn’t like to leave the brownstone, but it’s Wolfe who provides the keen intellect. Archie’s role is to bring wit and a fast-paced narrative to the reader. Rex Stout has published around 80 novels and novellas detailing their various cases. Wolfe and Archie are right up there with Dr. Watson and Sherlock. 

Contemporary author Faye Kellerman created the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus team.Decker is a Los Angeles cop investigating crimes in a conservative Jewish community. His supporting character is Rina Lazarus, with whom he falls in love. He converts to Judaism for her, and they are married. Together they become involved in several mysteries in Jewish communities. Although she isn’t a police detective, she is vital to the investigations for her deep understanding of Jewish culture and faith. 

A little outside this norm is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marplewho seems to work alone. She is an independent woman of independent means. Elderly, and unassuming Miss Marple uses her advanced years and knitting needles to stay out of the limelight to observe without being noticed. She is a student of human nature and able to solve complex crimes not only because of her shrewd intelligence but because over her life living in St. Mary Mead, she has had the benefit of infinite examples of the nastier side of human nature. 

Her friends and acquaintances function in the role of supporting characters, and they are sometimes bored by her frequent analogies. Still, these analogies often lead Miss Marple to a more profound realization about the true nature of the crime. It isn’t until her later years that her companion, Cherry Baker, moves in and makes her first appearance as the sidekick in The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. 

Perhaps one of the most unique and unexpected characters in a supporting role is M. Hercule Flambeaua reformed criminal in the Father Brown series by G. K. Chesterton. Flambeau is always amazed at how a priest could have such a depth of understanding and insight into the criminal mind. The good priest explains that while he must protect the sanctity of confessions and not give specifics, people reveal their sins and show the evil in the human heart. 

flambeau and father brown

In the first chapter of The Secret of Father Brown, the priest tries to explain that he doesn’t look at criminals scientifically from the outside. 

“I am inside a man. I am always inside a man, moving his arms and legs; but I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions; thill I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes, looking between the blinkers of his half-witted concentration; looking up the short and sharp perspective as a straight road to a pool of blood. Till I am really a murderer.” 

Flambeau was a skilled and highly successful thief with an intellect equal to Father Brown’s. In The Secret of Flambeau, he reveals, “Have I not heard the sermons of the righteous?… Do you think all that ever did anything but make me laugh? Only my friend told me that he knew exactly why I stole, and I have never stolen since.”  

There are as many famous sidekicks as there are famous detectives, including Captain Hastingsin the Hercule Poirot books by Agatha Christie and Brother Eadulf in Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series. In Dashiell Hammet’s The Thin Man, Nora Charlesis a glamourous sidekick to her husband, NickBut why do authors create these characters?

Like the supporting stage and film actors, the mystery book sidekicks have a vitally important role, both to the principal characters and to the readers or audience. 

A good sidekick is usually the polar opposite of the detective. Watson is kind, patient and loyal, and in many ways ordinary. The opposite of Holmes.  Like Watson, Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s supporting character is also ordinary, loyal, and determined but lacks Watson’s military experience. 

The sidekicks showcase the detectives’ intelligence but cushion the readers from feelings of inferiority. The sidekick usually seems to be a rather ordinary person, with exceptions, like Flambeau, who is anything but ordinary.  

For the sake of storytelling, good detectives have quirks and personality flaws. They allow the sidekick to show opposite and balancing characteristics, provide an avenue for readers to understand what the main character is thinking, ask the readers’ questions, explain the detective’s reasoning and methods and any cryptic or scientific terms. Sometimes, the sidekick inspires the detective to look at a situation in a new way, which wouldn’t be evident without the secondary character’s input. This can provide a stalled plot with an escape valve, but most importantly, the sidekick can never be interchangeable with the main character. 

nick and nora charles

From the outset, Nora Charles is a Nob Hill socialite. Nick Charles is a retired detective who has been exposed to the seedier sides of life. This seemingly incompatible couple marry and combine wits to solve crimes.

In my Housekeeper Mystery Series, Mrs. B. is the leading amateur woman detective. She’s impulsive, willful, nosy, outspoken, likes people, loves to cook, and loves cats. 

Father Melvyn Kronkey is her boss and pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Roman Catholic Church. He is a good man and a devout priest who will serve as an anchor for the curious and impulsive Mrs. B. 

 Even our lovable and independent Miss Marple, who doesn’t have one sidekick, has a group of friends to whom she talks and explains. Still, she too takes on a supporting character, in the person of Cherry Baker, in later mysteries.   

An essential part of a mystery writer’s tool kit, the sidekick provides color, contrast, relief, and assistance to the reader. They often help the main characters grow, evolve, and sometimes change course altogether. 

father brown
peter decker and rina lazarus

Book Hangover

Tales of Matthew Shardlake, C. J. Sansom
and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

by Renee Kimball

BOOK HANGOVER

Book hang-o-ver (hang-oh-ver) noun
1. The inability to start a new book because you are still living in the old book’s world
2. The inability to function at work/school because you were up all-night binge-reading
The Urban Dictionary

Is a Book Hangover a real condition? The answer: a resounding
“YES!”

Avid readers frequently suffer a feeling of despondency after the
ending of a riveting novel, and often refer to that despondency as a
“book hangover” (Urban Dictionary). Similar to a hangover from alcoholic overindulgence, a book hangover can be just as painful, and
last a lot longer.

What causes a reader to yearn to remain in the literary world of certain books, and what causes that thorny depression following the ending of an engaging novel?

Clare Barnett writing for Book Riot in 2020, found some answers to those questions in reading research focused on the “effects of reading on theory of mind and empathy,” conducted by Maja Djikic, PhD, Associate Professor and the Director of Self-Development Laboratory at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, (Barnett).

According to Barnett’s article while citing Djikic’s research, the despondent feelings felt at the end of an engaging novel might be a kind of “simple sadness” (Barnett). Sadness that the novel has ended, and the beloved characters and the world they inhabit are gone. Yet, the interior self won’t let go, and the reader enters into a type of mourning where ‘inside one’s psyche, . . .the reader wishes for more time to reflect and unravel whatever complexities still plague them.” (Barnett, Djikic).

For some readers, the loss is magnified, it blooms and stays. Djikic contends this might flow from two other sources, “emotional transportation and empathy.” (Barnett).

“Emotional transportation” is the reason most avid readers read. That wonderful feeling of getting “lost in a book,’ the one read through the night. The reader becomes unaware of the world around them, a feeling of lost time, all while the characters envisioned in their head are so present that they feel they are in the room (Barnett).

According to Djikic, “in reading psychology, the experience of losing reality is called “emotional transportation” (Barnett). Most obsessive readers readily relate to the concept of “emotional transportation”—that is the reason they read, to be transported away to another realm, another reality, the reality within the story.

The second source, “Empathy,” allows the book characters to feel like “. . .close friends because your brain processes feelings for them in much the same way as it does for real-life connections” (Djikic). Reading research found that “reading fiction activates empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”—a very good thing (Barnett) (emphasis added).

How intense and how long a book hangover lasts depends upon a variety of internal causes. Djikic believes that if the hangover is short, then possibly it is merely a simple sadness that comes at the end of an engaging story. While book
hangovers lasting longer, several weeks or more, could result from an inner need to rationalize and understand the actions and story line that struck a chord within the reader’s psyche. The story has brought to surface personal unresolved issues needing examination. Djikic offers that even this can be a positive experience that results in self-improvement, increased empathy, and promotes a deeper self-analysis establishing positive behaviors and awareness (Barnett).

Having a book hangover is uncomfortable, but it can also be an impetus towards a broader view, a need for more, a push towards research and more reading. A suggestion or need to delve deeper within one’s self. It is an evolutionary process: you start at point A and follow the “yellow brick road” to other universes–you become immersed and words, characters, and worlds become alive.

“When a ‘hangover’ evolves into a more continued emotion of discomfort – that usually comes from still pondering and struggling with some personally relevant issues that were brought up in the book – it could lead to a personal transformation. Fiction reading can be a powerful dysregulator of identity, allowing readers to ‘exit’ themselves, and be in a state that is more receptive to personal change or transformation.”
(Barnett- Djikic)

My Hangover. . .

Historical fiction is not for everyone but by chance, I was led to C.J. Sansom’s Tudor England and the inimitable Matthew Shardlake. Sansom has written a masterpiece of history and suspense, and it is a masterpiece, stretching through seven books and over 4100 pages – The Matthew Shardlake Series.

Shardlake is the character who held me through the series that resulted in a terrible book hangover. I only felt that lost after reading King’s Talisman in the ‘80s, and I was moved to tears when Wolf died. If you have read it, you will relate. I was bereft and miserable then, and felt the same after the last Shardlake novel. Mourning Shardlake, feeling empty and wanting more, led me to Hilary Mantel’s expansive Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and the Mirror and the Light—I am still reading.

What exactly is so riveting about Shardlake? Shardlake is no Columbo, he isn’t Jack Reacher or James Bond, maybe a bit of Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, and a Tudor MacGyver, generously spiced with Umberto Eco’s formulae found in
The Name of the Rose. Mostly, he is likeable and relatable.

In Sansom’s novels, Shardlake is forever deftly stepping into and away from threats-and his own imminent demise by means unfair and foul. While Shardlake tries his best to avoid Court intrigue, the Court and its powerful inhabitants find him, drag him back to face danger through seven volumes. Lawyer Shardlake is nobody’s fool. He always gets his man.

Reading Sansom, I am transported to Tudor England, I am there. Matthew Shardlake is all too human, questioning, doubtful, the favorite relative, cousin, uncle, that you remember with deep affection, who plods, pokes, and unearths the unimaginable.

Shardlake’s home is located in Chancery, London. A simple man from all appearances, Matthew is a brilliant tactician, astute, aware, and sadly, physically disfigured, he is a hunchback. He knows what it is to be made fun
of, shoved aside, set apart, and to face scorching loneliness. Yet, despite his deformity, he cares for others, even those who treat him with aversion. He is generous to the poor and disadvantaged, he is kind to people of every
station and kind to animals, he is empathetic and a gentle soul. Shardlake believes in courtly love, but he loves from afar –his love remains unrequited, he does not get his girl.

An honest lawyer, Sergeant Shardlake, is employed by Lord Cromwell to ferret out the evil doer, the thief, the immoral noble. Matthew’s successes cause him to become a much sought-after sleuth – he is tenacious in his dealings. In the first novel Dissolution, during the year 1537, a royal commissioner has been murdered at the Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant, Scarnsea, Sussex. Lord Cromwell directs Shardlake to leave London and investigate the murder. And so, with Dissolution, the first of the seven Shardlake books begins.

Book two, Dark Fire, takes place three years later in 1540. Again, Lord Cromwell demands Matthew leave the security of his private law practice and enter the fray of court politics. In Dark Fire, Shardlake must find an ancient missing formula for a fiery combustible liquid and the weapon crafted to handle and disburse the highly volatile liquid. The formula was created during the Byzantine era and lost for centuries, now, the liquid is in London and Cromwell must have it for the King. Murder, madness, and greed propel the plot forward, while Lord Cromwell loses favor and is eventually beheaded. Will Matthew now be able to live in peace or will his reputation draw him back? Book 3 through 7 along with more plots and near misses follow.

The setting for the Shardlake series is a time of high intrigue: Tudor England under Henry VIII, the dissolution of the Catholic Church, the unending wars between England and France, and of course, Henry VIII’s love life and merry-go-round of divorce, beheadings, courtships, children begot and dreamed of, and the wives! Henry the VIII’s court was stormy, unstable, and full of trickery– what a cast of characters!

The last novel, Tombland, ends with an aging Matthew, now in his early sixties, holding a baby girl that he was in the process of adopting. The baby, who he had pulled out of the arms of her murdered parents and had refused to leave behind at the end of an especially long and bloody battle, is now safe in his London home. We leave Matthew looking out the window of his study in London late at night, baby in arms. Despite the war-torn setting of this last novel, the tale seems to end with a new beginning and much hope for the future–hope from his readers too, that C.J. Sansom will bring Matthew Shardlake back, and soon.

While mourning Shardlake and hoping Sansom will continue his legacy, I turned to other historical fiction authors in an attempt to remove my lingering book hangover.

My search found Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy of Thomas Cromwell’s ascendency and fall—it is another historical fiction masterpiece. Wolf Hall, the first book of the trilogy, introduces Cromwell while he was in the service of Cardinal Woolsey.

Cromwell, fiercely loyal to Woolsey must remove him from service to the King because Woolsey has failed to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and a dispensation from the Catholic Church. Henry’s push to divorce Catherine—his wife of twenty-five years — and his desire to marry Anne Boleyn destroyed Woolsey’s standing with the King. The Pope refuses to acknowledge the dissolution of Henry’s marriage nor will he grant dispensation, Woolsey becomes a scapegoat, is forced out, and eventually dies, alone and disgraced.

After Woolsey’s fall and death, Cromwell rises in the Court hierarchy. Cromwell’s rapid ascendency towards the King’s most trusted advisor and the accumulation of his immense administrative power are exhaustively
researched in both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Bring Up the Bodies, ends with the beheading of Anne Boleyn, her reign a short one. The third and last book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, begins where Bring Up the Bodies ended, a court without Boleyn and the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour.

Mantel’s writing is soothing, intricately woven, and psychologically deep. Mantel removes the secrecy surrounding the interior workings of the Court, the machinations of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and the multi-faceted psychology of Thomas Cromwell, a brilliant, driven man. Under Mantel, Cromwell becomes flesh, at times cruel, lonely, self-directed and self-controlled, but more than that, kind, concerned, aware of those outside Court, and loving to those who mean the most to him.

Like Mantel’s, C.J. Sansom’s writing is England’s historical voice. With Sansom, the reader is steeped in the sights, smells, and violence of Tudor England. His detail of the pageantry, clothing, colors, smells, and food are highly sensory – you see and taste and smell everything. Sansom realistically portrays the struggles of the everyday man, his despondency, his urges, his needs, his losses, the daily struggle to merely survive under Tudor reign. Stunning with brutal descriptions of war, blood and loss, as well as the intrigues of the court are bold and shockingly real, Sansom is a word master, it is “emotional transportation” at its finest.

So, while I will continue to hope for Shardlake’s return, I will read Mantel to the end. The plan going forward will be to complete one of many biographies of Thomas Cromwell. After all, Cromwell was a prime mover and shaker at the center of Henry the VIII’s Court, although sadly and eventually, its victim.

Maybe, just maybe, that book hangover will gradually disappear.

***

References
C.J. Sansom, The Matthew Shardlake Mystery Series. Books 1-6 and
Book 7: Tombland
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light
Clare Barnett. “The Psychology of a Book Hangover.” Book Riot. Jun 9, 2020
https://bookriot.com/psychology-of-a-book-hangover/
Malcolm Gaskill. Man Is Wolf to Man. The London Review of Books. Vol. 42 No. 2 · 23 January 2020.

***

Images courtesy of Pixabay.com
Book covers from Amazon.com

***

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

The Ones That Stick With You

by Helen Currie Foster

We read to learn, we read to be entertained.

We begged at age three, “Tell me a story.”

The stories began, “Once upon a time…”

And Hansel fooled the witch and escaped. Jack chopped down the beanstalk and escaped.

We mystery readers read a vast number of mystery novels. Fifty percent of adults say their favorite book genre is mystery/thriller. In 2020 mystery e-book sales appear to have increased by13% and thrillers by 15%.

We’re always searching for a new adventure, a new love. Have you ever pulled a book from the shelf, glance at the back cover, then (with hope in your heart) the first page, and then pushed the book back on the shelf, sure this one won’t do? I have, so many times. Same drill at the library. We usually know from page one (or at most page two) if we’re going to like a new author. If we don’t like the setting, the protagonist, the voice, forget it. But if we do, if we give that book a chance and like it, we look for a series. Bonus points if we find a new series we like! A series is efficient: we already know the protagonist, the repeating characters, many details of the setting. We plunge straight into the story.

Yet sometimes—even when I really like an author’s book—they run together. I may find them exciting, may remember specific scenes, may like the ending. But often a week after I finish a book, even one in a series with a protagonist who enchants me, I can’t quite remember who died. Now that’s embarrassing. As a murder mystery reader, shouldn’t I remember the victim?

If the victim, stuck there on the page, could talk back, maybe he or she would say, “C’mon, reader, give me a break! Don’t you remember how my body was pulled from the [canal] [truck] [hidden grave]? Don’t you remember how hard I was to find? Don’t you remember how excited the [police team] [sleuth] was to figure out who killed me? Can’t you remember me for at least three minutes? I mean, I’m the one your beloved protagonist investigated! I’m the whole point of the book!” And then in a more querulous tone, “Aren’t I?”

Maybe not. We get caught up in the badinage between DI Dalziel and his sidekick Pascoe. They go off to a pub and suddenly we find we’ve opened the refrigerator. We want to be there with them, sitting at that table near the dart board, sipping beer. Or our protagonist is reviewing the grisly evidence while listening to Madame Butterfly, and we find ourselves humming the first phrase of the aria (the only one we know). Maybe we’re really more interested in a favorite protagonist than in the victim.  Sorry, Victim. The Protagonist will be in the next book––but you won’t.

On the other hand, now and then, there’s a death that sticks. One that even haunts me, after the denouement, after the explanation, after I finish saying “aha, I spotted that,” or “Hmm, very tricksy.” After all the figuring-out, occasionally I’m still thinking about the victim.

I started wondering about the ones who stick this week when I read two mysteries from Donna Leon, who just published her 30th book, Transient Desires. The title puns on what Donna Leon terms the “Nigerian Mafia” which she describes as smuggling young African women into Italy, promising them jobs which will let them send needed money home to their families, but instead enslaving them as sex workers or—occasionally—taking their transport money while throwing them into the Mediterranean to drown. In Transient Desires, Leon introduces us first to a young woman who survived the sea crossing but is being driven mad by her enslavement. Then we meet a naïve young Venetian man, desperate to keep a job with his boat-owning uncle which allows him to support his mother. The young man is slowly being destroyed by what his uncle forces him to do. These two portraits stick in my mind.

I also read Leon’s 22d book, The Golden Egg, where her protagonist, Venetian Inspector Guido Brunetti, must determine whether a young deaf man committed suicide by swallowing his mother’s tranquilizers, or was murdered. Which? Brunetti is stunned that the Serene Republic of Venice, which keeps tab of virtually every aspect of every inhabitant’s life, has no record of this young man. He’s unaccounted for: no school, no paying job, nothing. Brunetti learns he toiled his life away ironing clothes in a laundry, unpaid, speaking to no one, with no one speaking to him. He was never taught sign language, never taught how to interact with people. He lived in Venice where people know and speak to their neighbors and shopkeepers…but no one spoke to him. Brunetti doggedly unearths the peculiar cruelty of the people who kept him alive but didn’t teach him to live…parents who never talked to him, never taught him, never allowed anyone to reach out to him. Even worse, if worse is possible, Brunetti discovers the boy had a rare artistic talent—appreciated only by the boy’s doctor—that the boy never knew was worthy of recognition. Donna Leon’s description of one of the boy’s drawings, one the doctor has on his wall, brings home to the reader the two-fold tragedy: that the boy never knew his creations were beautiful, and that the world was deprived of knowing the human being who created such beauty. He was trapped. And he died without ever escaping. That’s a victim I cannot forget.

What about The Nine Tailors (1934), by Dorothy Sayers?. This classic tale, often called her best, has all the charming hallmarks of a carefully constructed village-and-vicar English mystery, including the peculiarly English tradition of bell-ringing. We’ve got it all here: stolen jewels, a letter written in cipher, and an unidentified male body with no hands. The setting: the fens of East Anglia, with drainage ditches, locks, and ever-shifting floodwaters, and the contrasting grandeur of the ancient fen churches whose spires, with their enormous bells, mark the landscape. On New Year’s Eve, with the great influenza raging, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Bunter wreck the car and become lost in a snowstorm. They’re rescued by the vicar of Fenchurch St. Paul, who proudly announces that his bell-ringers are going to ring in the New Year with “no less than fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty Kent Treble Bob Majors”—nine hours of bell-ringing. When one ringer, Will Thoday, is struck down by influenza, the vicar begs Wimsey to take his place. Wimsey later finds a recently buried man with no hands. As to why the victim has no hands, and how he was killed—is it a spoiler to emphasize, reader, that you do not want to be tied up, unable to escape, in a bell-chamber just above those enormous thousand-year-old bells while they ring unceasingly for nine hours? That victim’s death has stayed with me. But also, the circumstances which led to in his entrapment in the bell tower resulted in such grief for three characters that their lives are changed forever. That stayed with me too. No happy Sayers-esque denouement here. Instead, characters are condemned to remember. As to the title, the Nine Tailors are the nine strokes of the tenor bell—three, three, and three more—rung to mark a death in the parish.

Fans of Tony Hillerman will remember The Wailing Wind, where NavajoDetective Joe Leaphorn is hired by Wiley Denton, a wealthy older man recently released from prison for shooting a man named McKay, who had promised Denton a map to a fabled gold mine. Denton wants Leaphorn to find out what happened years ago at Halloween to his beloved young wife, Linda. The convoluted plot takes the reader through numerous twists and turns, but the gold mine convolutions aren’t what I remember. Instead I remember that McKay, all those years ago, drugged Linda and left her in a locked bunker (one of hundreds of identical bunkers in an untravelled area on the vast grounds of Fort Wingate), hoping to use her as leverage to get the deal he wanted from Denton. Denton shot McKay, not knowing that McKay had hidden Linda. So she died, slowly mummified, in a bunker in the Arizona desert. Now that’s one that sticks with me.

I’ve been wondering why I found these particular victims so hard to forget. You’ll have noticed that all were trapped. Transient Desires involves economic entrapment—slavery, really. Both the young Nigerian and the young Venetian have no economic hope, no way to escape doing what they hate. The Golden Egg reveals a young man cruelly trapped by isolation, deprived of human communication, deprived of any way to express an enormous talent. In Nine Tailors and The Wailing Wind, the victim’s death by physical entrapment creates another trap: those involved are trapped by their memories.

I wonder if the rank injustice that Leon depicts is part of the staying power of Transient Desires and The Golden Egg. Particularly in The Golden Egg, Brunetti feels helpless, and we share his frustration, his horror, really, at the young man’s death, and at the society that allowed it to happen. To that extent I’m still identifying with Brunetti, not the victim.

I’ve hidden my murder victims in enclosed spaces. Ghost Cave.

 Ghost Dog.

But mercifully, they were already dead.

Maybe we identify more with the victim when reading about a death caused by physical entrapment, whether the victim’s tied up in a bell-tower or locked in an isolated bunker, where no one can hear the call for help (the bells are too loud, or the bunker too soundproof). Doesn’t that reverberate with all of us? We’re generally confident we could escape from most situations, could chew off the ropes on our wrist, pick the lock, find a secret passage, get a message to our rescuers. Fool the witch and chop down the beanstalk. But what if there’s no one to hear? No one to help? No way to get out? End of story. Not comfortable. Awfully memorable. Awfully.

Submitting Short Stories: Part 2

By N. M. Cedeño

Previously, I wrote a post covering some of the basic rules for submitting short stories to anthologies, magazines, and contests. That information can be found here: Submitting Short Stories to Anthologies, Magazines, and Contests. Below are a few more tips for submitting your stories.

1. Persistence

The very last step in submitting stories is to continue submitting until you succeed. Persistence may be to the main key to success in the entire submission process.

by Pixabay

For example, one of my short stories was recently accepted for publication by Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The story will appear in the magazine’s Cozies issue early in 2022. As near as I can tell in my records, I wrote the first draft of this story sometime in 2011. It sat in a file on my computer for several years, forgotten, until I sorted through my old stories, reread it, tweaked the ending, and finally submitted it to a market in 2018. It was rejected, so I revised it again, and resubmitted it five more times, but it was rejected each time. I submitted it next to a market that looked open on their website, but they advised me they were closed and asked that I resubmit later. I waited and resubmitted, but never received a response, which, for some markets, is the equivalent of a rejection.

Eventually, I came across the BCMM call for cozies, which seemed like a good fit for the story. So, once again, I reviewed the story, changed a few words here and there, and submitted it. By my count, BCMM was my ninth submission of the story to a market.

And so, “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm” has finally found a home and will be published in 2022. If I’d given up after the first or even the fifth rejection, the story wouldn’t be under contract to be published right now.

2. Response Times

Pixabay

How long does it take to hear back from a publishing market rejecting or accepting a story? Response times for short story markets differ dramatically. In the world of science fiction short stories, I discovered one market where I submitted the story after 5 pm and received a rejection by email at around 1 am the next morning. Receiving a rejection in eight hours or less is apparently not unusual for that market. At the other end of the spectrum is Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine which, based on the data on Submission Grinder, is currently taking approximately 350 days, almost a full year, to respond to submissions.

Some markets post on their guidelines page how long they expect to take to respond to your submission. Others do not give any information. Currently, I have a story submitted to an anthology call for submissions that did not provide any estimate for when they will respond with either acceptances or rejections. They’ve had the story for about three months. All I can do is wait patiently to for the editor to eventually respond. I won’t be surprised if I have to wait six months. Waiting months for a response to a submission is much more common than waiting only hours in the world of mystery short story submissions. However, I have seen mystery anthology editors reject stories within a matter of days.

3. Finding calls for submissions and open markets

Be on the lookout for calls for submissions and market opening dates. The Submission Grinder has a tab on their home screen labeled “Recently Added Markets.” New calls for submissions and updates on markets are posted there regularly. You can also find calls for submissions by joining groups that inform their members of new calls. The Short Mystery Fiction Society, for example, informs members of calls for submissions via an online group chat and a website market page.

To find markets that open and close on set dates throughout the year, use the search feature on Submission Grinder and uncheck the box eliminating temporarily closed markets. Then, when you search for markets, all the temporarily closed markets will appear in your search. Some of these magazines and e-zines only open for submissions for a week or two at a time in various months of the year. Unless you know when those dates are, you will miss your chance to submit to these markets.

Good luck with your submissions!

****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.