Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I speak the Queen's English

Image result for queen's english“I speak the queen’s English.” What the heck does that mean? It probably depends on where you are in the world.  During my formative years, it was something I heard repeatedly, especially from English teachers.  They’d emphasize, “You have to speak the queen’s English.” It was a mark of higher social status, of an educated elite and of the successful. But you’ve got to remember, I grew up in St. Kitts, at the time a colony of England. Locally, we spoke a dialect of English and were often chided about it by English teachers who referred to it as “bad language.” Consequently, anyone aspiring to sound educated would speak or write the “Queen’s English.”

But then I came to the US and was thrown in front of a class of 14-year-olds who quickly informed me that Sulphur was spelled Sulfur, oestrogen began with an “e” and neighbour didn’t have a “u” in it. And I defensively said, “I speak the Queen’s English”, to which a student responded, “Which queen?”

Yeah. Which queen?  Queen Elizabeth the second? Queen Victoria? Queen Anne? They did speak differently from each other. After all, language is not static. Language is dynamic.

I got the inspiration for this post from a few of my Facebook friends who keep lamenting about journalists massacring the English language. At first I tended to agree with them.  I even had some pet peeves of my own. Sometime ago some great orator took the poetic license and replaced “people” with “persons”. Now it’s so widespread the word people seem to be non-existent in the Caribbean. I simply hate to hear “persons”. And I despise the term “conversating” when people mean “conversing” (it just sounds illiterate).

However recently I’ve been disagreeing with these Facebook friends. You see, if a great orator, or the most celebrated English literary writer of today were to submit a manuscript in the 17th century using our modern language, it would be discarded as trash because it was not written in the “King/Queen’s English.” Think about it, who today says, “Thou art what thou thinkest! Thy work is but dung.”

Language is dynamic. It changes constantly. It changes even faster when social media provides a communication outlet for every Tom, Dick and Harry. Fifty years ago, the term oxymoron didn’t exist. Now it’s part of the Webster’s dictionary. A century ago there was no such thing as google until 9-year-old mathematician coined the term “googol” as a number with 100 zeros in 1920. Based on that the search Engine Google chose its name. Now we use it as a verb.  How do I know that? I googled it!

When we were younger we had a whole different vernacular from the previous generation.  When we said something was bad, it meant it was good. When we said it was the bomb, it was out of this world in greatness. Some of our slangs and sayings stuck, some of it drifted by the wayside.  Now my children have a different vernacular. A kid in my college class did well, I wrote “excellent” on his paper, he gave me a tight smile. An undergraduate TA wrote “LIT” on his paper, he beamed. My daughter uses “woke” to mean socially aware or enlightened. Some of the terms, the sentence structure, the alternate meanings (not alternate facts ) will eventually become legit in the English language. That’s because language is dynamic and we should embrace it.

So now that you’re “woke” is this post Lit? (Am I using these correctly? I’ll have to ask a teenager.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Guest author Linda Lee Kane: The World Needs Readers

Linda Kane
Linda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, Chilled to the Bones. Clyde: Lost and Now Found and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mystery are 2017 releases. Linda lives with her husband, three dogs, one bird, and six horses in California. 

I’m not a disciplined or systematic reader. I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye. Most of the time the books I read have nothing to do with improving myself. I mean if I’m happy why would I look for a book to make me happier? Sometimes when I’m walking through a bookstore I’ll stumble across a book that may change me in a trivial way but later, when I’ve thought about it in a more significant way.

When I was younger my constant companions were books about strong, inventive women like, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, women who made a difference in the world. Now I read books that politically affect our lives and compare them with historical books from the past, for example: The White Rose, Kill the Indian, and Save the Man. Those comparisons help me be wary of rhetoric that sounds almost too good to be true.

I’m reminded that reading a book regardless of the grim realities, there is always an affirmation of life. This affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of the retelling in their own way.

Reading books isn’t just a reset and recharge, it isn’t just how I escape. Books help me further engage with people and life.

Books remain one of the strongest ways we have to prevent tyranny but only as long as free people are allowed to read different kinds of books. A right to read whatever you want, whenever you want is a fundamental right that helps preserve all other rights. But reading isn’t just a strike against intolerance and narrowness, mind control and domination: it’s also one of the world’s greatest joys.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Right Name

After one of my books is approved for publication I become almost maniacal checking Amazon to see when they make it available for sale. Nothing was different with my latest YA novel, Barberry Hill. I searched for the title and, what you see above is what I got: 'Showing results for Burberry Hill.' Wait what? No!

I knew going in that it was an odd name, but for me the name felt as natural as the ocean breeze and for most of the process I never considered that the book might be called anything else. I visited a botanical garden in 2013, came across the Japanese Barberry bush, and fell in love. Don't ask me why it appealed to me so, but, when I conjured up a story set on a hill in St. Kitts and decided I wanted the specific location to be fictitious so I would not be bound by existing physical constraints, I chose to call the hill Barberry Hill. I've always struggled to name places and characters in my book, and perhaps it is because the name came to me so organically that I never questioned it, never typed it into a search box, it just felt right.

There was one time, before we were ready for publication, when I considered changing the title. The book involves what we in the Caribbean call 'barrel children.' These are children whose parents live abroad usually to make a better living, and send home barrels of goodies for the children they have left behind. The book also involves guns. And so I thought of renaming it 'Through the Barrel.' The idea was nixed by editors and critical readers alike-the book focuses on the social stratification of the society as reflected on the slopes of Barberry Hill and so the title stayed.

What's your process for naming a book? I hope you are smarter than I am and you enter it into a search engine in advance to make sure your potential readers won't be directed to a completely different product.

A few days ago it occurred to me the perfect name might be 'Barberry Hill Boys' since the story revolves around a number of boys who live on the hill. That idea excited me for a while until I realised that the first print run had already been ordered. There was no turning back.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kansas, Harvey Houses, and Books

Residents taught me the history of the small Kansas town of Horton during a recent visit to the town library, where I helped present a check from Sisters in Crime and give a book talk about my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series. The town’s recent population is around 2,000, but in the 1920’s, it held 5,000 souls, all because it sat at a junction of the Chicago, Kansas, and Nebraska Railroad.
Soldiers on horseback, cattle drives, wagon trains on tall-grass prairie trails, river barges, and pony express riders evoke images of nineteenth-century Kansas. However, that era had a short-lived existence. The Pony Express, for instance, lasted only eighteen months. Like black and white TV and eight-track players in the Twentieth Century, new technology took over faster than our forebears of one-hundred-fifty to two-hundred years ago could have imagined.  Railroads brought goods and people along with the new technologies into the Sunflower State and caused a demand for new services.

Entrepreneur Fred Harvey saw the need and developed a vast network of eating establishment and hotels at train depots across the state and beyond. In 1875, he opened a café in Wallace, KS on the Kansas Pacific Railway.  A year later, he contracted with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway to build restaurants at its depots. He opened a restaurant in the Topeka train depot in 1876. It did so well that Mr. Harvey opened a Harvey House Restaurant/Hotel combination at the Florence, Kansas train depot.

With Harvey’s strict oversight, Harvey Houses provided good food, large helpings (pies were cut in fourths rather than sixths), fast service, and reasonable prices. More depot restaurants were built, and by 1883, there were seventeen along the train route.  A Harvey House with ornate architecture built in Chanute, Kansas, the Santa Fe’s southern Kansas headquarters, opened in 1896 and now serves the town as its public library.
Nine million dollars are being spent to renovate the grand El Vaquero Harvey House in Dodge City, originally opened in 1900.  By 1901 there were forty-seven Harvey House Restaurants, fifteen hotels, and thirty dining cars.
One of the reasons for Fred Harvey’s success was his decision to replace rough, western male waiters with young females, later including Hispanics and American Indians, who became crews of well-trained waitresses.
They were known as the Harvey Girls and are said to have brought a civilizing effect to the west. They were provided uniforms, room and board, and a better wage than many men of the day. In return, they gave fast, friendly service that drew customers.

At the Harvey Company’s peak, there were eighty-four Harvey Houses at depots along the railway from Chicago to California plus service on the trains and tourist destination hotels and eateries in Indian country, the most famous being at the Grand Canyon. The company was sold by a grandson in 1964, but the legend lives on in the grand old depot buildings that now serve as museums, restaurants, libraries, and town show places. The Harvey House at Union Station in Kansas City is gone, but hasn’t been forgotten. Photos are abundant. Also, Harvey’s Café in the station is named in honor of the former bustling Harvey House.

I live on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro where my cozy mystery series is set. My husband and I take trips across Kansas in our fifth-wheel RV, with our cats in tow, and we’ve visited many of the towns that had Harvey House train depots. One can travel from the northeast to the southwest of the state and see some of the renovated buildings or the spots where they stood. The town, Harveyville, Kansas, sits along Route 335 between Topeka and Emporia. Landscape changes from the woodland east through the Flint Hills and tall-grass prairie to the rugged west makes the drive even more worthwhile.
Fred Harvey’s family settled in Leavenworth, Kansas. His home is now a museum.

The Arcade Hotel in Newton now hosts a law firm in the old Harvey House Restaurant area.

The original Harvey House Hotel in Wichita was most recently used as a Cox Cable office.

A hotel sits where the beautiful Harvey House in Hutchinson once stood, but the original is gone.

My current work in progress is set in part along I-35 in Kansas and Oklahoma where the railroads grew towns in the 1800's. The first three books of my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series are: CATastrophic Connections, FURtive Investigation, and Nine LiFelines. The Audiobook of CATastrophic Connections is available here or at your favorite audiobook site.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Guest author Bill A. Brier: A Dumb Idea

Bill A. Brier
Bill A. Brier grew up in California and served in the Air Force as a combat cameraman. After hiring on at Disney Studios as a film loader, he soon advanced and moved on to other studios. During his more than 25 years in the movie business as a cameraman, film editor, and general manager, Bill worked on everything from the hilarious, The Love Bug, to the creepy, The Exorcist, to the far out, Star Trek and Battle Star Galactica. Eight years ago, Bill switched from reading scripts to writing mysteries and driving race cars. His first novel, The Devil Orders Takeout, was a finalist in the 2015 Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. His second mystery, The Killer Who Hated Soup, launches this summer. The Brier Patch is Bill’s wildly entertaining blog about his shameless early days in Hollywood.

A Dumb Idea

The natural curiosity of children often prods them into mischief. They get into things. They explore. They take risks.

As adults, that curiosity is too often squelched by that tiny voice inside that says you won’t be good enough, you might fail, others won’t approve.

Eight years ago, I came up with an exciting idea for a novel. But then that tiny voice came knocking—That’s a dumb idea. The funny thing is, later, I learned it was a dumb idea.

While this best-selling idea was percolating in my mind, I told a writer friend that I was thinking of coming up with a mystery that included a talking dog and wondered what he thought about it.

I waited with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for cold toilet seats.

He nodded thoughtfully, stroked his beard, then said, “Bill, if that’s what you want to write, write it!”

Man, pretty exciting.

I went home, ordered a writing book and put a little workstation together. Desk, computer, printer, and a dumpster-size wastebasket for crummy drafts.

I was on my way. Young Jim Bolt, a magnificent golfer whose dog not only finds Jim’s lost balls—any mutt can do that—but the pooch also talks. Says exactly how far to the hole, what club to use, and once on the green, the dog …

Yes! The Devil Orders Takeout was born.

But wait!

Giving birth was one thing. Surviving the terrible twos, fearsome fours, and sucky sixes was quite another. I’d worked six months on a story that sucked. The talking dog needed muzzling. More than muzzling. He needed to be taken out.

Desperate, I searched online for help, found a writer’s group, and was invited to sit in on a meeting. Boy, was I charged. These were real writers. Everyone had prepared a critique of something one of them had written.

Those people knew their stuff. They saw problems I didn’t know were problems. Passive sentences, clichés, head hopping, too many to be words.

Huh? Better order more writing books. I’d need them.

When the meeting was over, the facilitator asked me to send her a sample of my writing. I danced out the door. Not just anybody gets into her group.

I went home energized—and intimidated. Didn’t dare send her my crappy talking-dog story. I don’t remember what I wrote, but it wasn’t up to snuff. Too much head hopping? Too many to be words?

“Do you have anything else?” the woman asked. A benevolent teacher trying to coax me into giving the correct answer. “Anything at all?”

My throat tightened as I tried to think. “Um … there’s Scamming the Scammer.”

I sent her some funny emails I had written, and she wrote back, “Bill, you are a writer. Welcome to our group.”


Determined to make The Devil Orders Takeout as good as possible, I wrote draft after draft, year after year, yet never quite reaching the finish line.

“The funeral scene is much improved,” one person wrote, after I was four years at it. “The boy taking the father’s hand brought tears to my eyes, but what was the police chief’s reaction?”

Another year, more critiques: “Misha’s bosses call him, derisively, The Midget. Why, and how tall is he?”

When someone corrected the word further for farther, I could go no further. As the wise man (or woman) said, “Novels are never finished, only abandoned.”

And that’s how I, as a writer, was born. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Until eventually, I had three completed books.

Go to for more Brier Patch blogs.

Friday, May 19, 2017

How Gritty Are My Mysteries?

My panel topic at Bouchercon 2015 was “How Much Grit Do I Want in My Mystery?” Violent content, bloody images, sexuality, and tough language come to mind when I hear the word “grit.” Gritty movies are rated R. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of gritty is “harsh and unpleasant.” 

Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Robert Crais, Henning Mankell, and Ruth Rendell are just a few of our renowned authors who write the “dark stuff”—noir. And they’re really good at it.

I watch many TV shows where violence runs rampant. The British and Swedish do it best—Luther is breathtakingly violent; the characters in the riveting Swedish drama, Beck, don’t flinch at a little blood; the American Animal Kingdom had a mild, if menacing, start but by the end of the season the violence had reached a nearly unbearable level. Sexuality and language are a natural part of these stories— the characters leave the bedroom door wide open and aren’t likely to say, “Oh, fudge!”

I love these depictions of a grim reality, whether in print or on screen. But do I want to write tales with a “darkness of the spirit?”

No, no, a thousand times, no! Maybe spending so much time with my characters and story makes me fear all that darkness. I write cozies, edgy cozies, but cozies all the same. My violence happens off-page and is minimally described. In one story, I have the killer picking up a weapon and using it. But I left the aftermath to the reader’s vivid imagination. In another story, a character gets killed in a pretty horrific way, but all I mention is the murder weapon. Again, I let my readers fill in the blanks. No gritty details. Sometimes a well-chosen word here or there will paint a complete picture.

My characters love sex and love to talk about sex but when they “get right down to the real nitty-gritty” (see how well the song title fits the subject?) they go off-page. I may sprinkle a mild expletive—or two—into the dialogue. My readers object to profanity and I must respect their wishes. There are ways to suggest swearing and mystery author Naomi Hirahara is so skilled at this that you know the exact word she’s not using. Another mystery author, F.M. Meredith, has this to say about the lack of salty language in her Rocky Bluff P.D. series: “Oh, the characters do cuss, I just don’t quote them.”

But Merriam-Webster has an alternative definition of gritty: having or showing a lot of courage and determination.

My main character, Hazel Rose, doesn’t consider herself to be brave and accepts her crime-solving missions with great reluctance. But, once committed, she will run a killer to earth. Mystery writers, regardless of how noir-ish or cozy their story is, want a determined detective, one with an abundance of “true grit.” It’s true grit that unites crime writers as we restore justice to our fictional worlds.

And it’s true grit that I want in my mysteries.

Back to the Bouchercon panel: Laura DiSilverio, Frankie Bailey, Lynn Cahoon, and I had a lively discussion about grit in mysteries and pretty much covered the points I’ve made in this post. Author Lise McClendon moderated. Here’s a non-very-good photo of us: 

Writers, weigh in. How do you feel about grit in your mysteries?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Changing the Name of a Fictional Town

by Linda Thorne

Sometimes it's the little things about writing a novel that get authors all in a tizzy, spinning our wheels on something that may not be that important.

My second book in the Judy Kenagy mystery series, A Promotion to Die For, is set in Topeka, Kansas, but part of the setting includes Emporia where I lived for a year when I was a young woman.

Why even consider Emporia, Kansas? The reason: a one-in-a-million bizarre occurrence happened to me there on one blizzard-ridden night. I've taken that happening and written it exactly as I remembered then launched my plot from that single incident. To make the plot work I needed to move Emporia closer to Topeka, so I had to give it a fictional name. I chose Zemporia; that is, until my husband grumbled about it one too many times.

He didn't like the name. So someone told me about an quaint little town named Grandville only about fifty miles from our current home in Tennessee, so I changed the name of my fictionalized town from Zemporia to Grandville.

This past Monday, my husband and I decided to drive over and see this Tennessee town. What I didn't realize until we got there is I'd been misspelling the town name. It is Granville, Tennessee, not Grandville. We knew it wouldn't look like Emporia, Kansas but hearing of its existence was where I got the new town name (or thought I had the correct name). Not only does it look nothing like the town in my story, I chose to stay with the incorrect spelling. I like the ring of Grandville better and it's not nearly as common of a town name.
Granville, Tennessee is smaller than I expected. Here's the old general store it's known for (the real kind from the turn of the century). The name is T.B. Sutton Store.

Sutton Homestead has a guided tour of a very old home with its original furniture (see below). There's a Granville Museum around the corner too.

The town is right off the Cumberland River and there's a restaurant in a colorful aged building with a nice view of the river and a wooden swing set outside. I'm standing nearby the restaurant with the water behind me.
The picture below provides a better view of the swing set and the water:

Granville, Tennessee looks nothing like my little town now spelled Grandville in my WIP, but this is how I came up with the newer name. The fun of fiction is playing with reality until you find what works best for the story. So in A Promotion to Die For, I describe Emporia, Kansas, move it's location close in to Topeka, and give it the misspelled name of a real town in Tennessee.