Last year I suffered an epic fail trying to grow eggplants. (I chronicled my struggle in a March 2014 post.) Last fall, when I began to clean up prior to a killer freeze, I notice an eggplant in a pot was just beginning to thrive. I brought it indoors, expecting it to die before spring. The warm and sunny window must have suited it, because the eggplant thrived. This spring, I set it outdoors again.
I did plant other eggplants, in a protective hot house made from greenhouse scraps. I learned how to make ratatouille with the eggplants, squash, and tomatoes from the garden. But this little potted Winter Eggplant just continued to look pretty.
When a hail storm took out most of the garden in early spring, I thought the potted eggplant was a goner, but it made a comeback. Then temperatures were predicted to drop near freezing in late September, and I brought the eggplant indoors again. Another fruitless summer on the deck, I thought. until I noticed three little eggplants hanging from its branches. I may get an eggplant out of this yet!
At the Denver Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show in September, I found everything related to dinosaurs, from the fossilized plants and fishes they ate, to the end product of their digestion.
Entire skeletons were amazing, whether they were assembled from fossilized bones, or from casts, as were the full-sized specimens on display by the Morrison Museum.
I was intrigued by the do-it-yourself fossils offered by Oreodont Fossils. Jim Ackerman is a geologist and paleontologist from South Dakota. He had on display items as they appear freshly dug up in the field. Wrapped in newspaper and bound with black electrical tape (photo below), Jim had a good idea of what could be found inside. Although most looked like lumps of dirt to me, perhaps with a bit of bone or a tooth showing, a budding paleontologist could “excavate” the treasure. Jim took the time to explain to me some of the how and where of fossil discovery.
I did not expect to see the large variety of fossilized plants, fish, and insects on display at the show. This palm frond was offered as "Geo Decor," and had a price tag of $65,000. I might have one wall in my house large enough to display this fossil, but not the budget!
Because it is mentioned several times in my novel Stone Cold Dead, I was hoping to find an affordable sample of coprolite. The humor abounded as the vendor and I made tasteless quips about purchasing fossilized dinosaur poop.
Another customer, with no interest in spending good money on fossilized feces, asked how a person could be certain the samples were actual dinosaur poop. The vendor said her source traveled the world in search of coprolite, and that it can be tested to verify authenticity.
Since then, I have learned that coprolite is serious business. A July 29, 2014 article in the National Geographic online magazine describes a case of a poop impostor in the article Was Six-Million-Year-Old Turd Auctioned for $10,000 a Faux Poo? You can read the article at this link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140729-dinosaur-coprolite-paleontology-dung-fossil-auction/
I love the new Sherlock Holmes movie series, which I grant takes liberties with the original Arthur Conan Doyle novels. Still, I find them visually appealing and entertaining. My friend, multi-genre author Patricia Coleman, explained that the movies have a steampunk twist. I asked for a definition, which Patricia provides below.
Hi everyone. I’m Patricia Coleman, aka P. R. Morris, and Cathy and I have been friends and writing buddies for more years than either of us care to count. I write humorous historical intrigues, the contemporary amateur sleuth series Media Fan Mysteries, and steampunk mysteries. My latest steampunk short story , “English Waters”, just came out in the September issue of Steampunk Trails. You can find me at www.prmorris.com.
I get a lot of questions about just what steampunk is. Basically, it is an alternative time line where the combustion engine is not the prime technology. Most stories are set in a late Victorian era, but not all. Lately we’re seeing stories set in WWI and the 1920s. Another definition I hear a lot is retro-futuristic. Think how nineteenth century writers predicted the future. Another common element in steampunk stories is the emphasis on technology, either as a positive force or as the antagonist. Many plots deal with the abuse of technology and the creation of techno-based feudal political systems. Like historical mysteries, steampunk mysteries incorporate these unique aspects of the “times”.
Steampunk has moved beyond its YA roots and is appearing in practically all genres now. We’re seeing leather corseted ladies with guns in their garters on romance novels and bowler-wearing gizmo-carrying PIs with a dirigible in the background in the mystery section. So why do I write steampunk?
Steampunk allows me to explore alternatives that my historical and contemporary mysteries don’t. In those the investigative techniques and modus operandi must stay in the realm of appropriate and realistic for the time. In steampunk I can extrapolate and create new possibilities. It is a grittier world, full of horrifying villains and troubled heroes, and societies in the middle of change, yet the fundamental human spirit is constant, fighting through.
Not all steampunk is dark and brooding. One of the lighter examples is the old TV show and later movie The Wild, Wild West. Series like Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and Ballantine and Morris’ The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences are cross-over stories that appeal to mystery readers. So if you’re looking for something a little different, give steampunk a try.
Patricia's steampunk short story is found in volume 2 of Steampunk Trails: http://steampunktrails.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html - the website states Denver area fans can find copies at Broadway Book Mall 200 S Broadway
I recommend Patricia's cozy mystery Entering the Twilight Zone, written as P. R. Morris, available in paperback and a variety of e-book versions:
You can learn more about Patricia at http://www.prmorris.com/
I met fellow Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine author Michael Nethercott at the Malice Domestic traditional mystery convention in May. Recipient of the The Black Orchid Novella Award for short fiction, Michael is a versatile writer who is also the author of two novels.
The 1950s post-war landscape… The energetic folk music revival… The rebellious Beat literary scene… Into that swirling Bohemia that was mid-century Greenwich Village, I’ve chosen to weave my latest storyline. Something about that time and place, with its spirited overlap of cultural currents, beckoned to me as I was deciding where to set my next mystery novel.
In The Haunting Ballad, a divisive folk song collector—a “songcatcher”—named Lorraine Cobble has taken a fatal plunge from the roof of her apartment building. Almost everyone—the police, her neighbors, the local musicians—accept her death as a suicide. Almost everyone. The one exception is Lorraine’s admiring young cousin who contends that the songcatcher didn’t jump from the rooftop—she was hurled off. The cousin’s conviction brings the deductive duo of O’Nelligan and Plunkett into the picture. Lee Plunkett is a reluctant young private eye with a somewhat meager skill set. Mr. O'Nelligan is a scholarly, idiosyncratic Irishman who’s the true sleuth of the team. Also in the blend is Lee’s “perpetual fiancée” Audrey who, just to complicate things, is captivated by a handsome, smooth-talking young singer who had a contentious relationship with Lorraine.
While certainly my characters are the stuff of fiction, I was inspired by the many vibrant types who once filled the Village streets and coffee houses. My suspects are a varied bunch: the detached Beat princess; the twitchy bookie, the hepcat ringmaster, the ex-con bluesman; the rollicking Irish balladeers; and the “ghost chanter” who sings tunes the dead have taught her. For good measure, there’s also a hundred-and-five-old Civil War drummer boy whose flirting skills are still intact.
In my writing, I take inspiration from the Golden Age experts—Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—and am very much an apostle of the “whodunit” piece of the pie. I always try to provider the reader with a sizable squad of suspects with shrouded backstories and secret motives. But alongside any tale’s colorful cast is the setting itself. A locale can have a nature and energy that makes it a character unto itself. And the Village of 1957, with all its shine and shadow, was certainly quite a character.
The Haunting Ballad (St. Martin’s Press) is the new whodunit in Michael Nethercott’s traditional 1950s mystery series. It features the sleuthing odd couple from The Séance Society: gumshoe. Lee Plunkett and erudite Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan.
Nethercott has won The Black Orchid Novella Award (for traditional mysteries), the Vermont Playwrights Award, the Nor’easter Play Writing Contest, the Vermont Writers’ Award, and the Clauder Competition (Best Vermont Play.) He has also been a Shamus Award finalist. His tales of mystery and the supernatural have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Crimestalkers Casebook, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He lives with his family in Vermont
Website: www.michaelnethercott.com/ (See Purchase page for ordering information.)
My daughter hefted a round intact geode in one hand. It resembled a ball of concrete. Yes, that pretty.
We asked the vendor how exactly we were supposed to open our geodes. In our broken Spanish, and her broken English, we determined that either a super-sized bolt cutter or a hammer would do.
“Manimal will like these,” my daughter said, referring to her husband. “They combine two of his favorite things: rocks and smashing things.”
We selected five geodes each. What a bargain!
The Denver Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show was overwhelming. I attended to do some research for book three in my rock shop mystery series. I love this kind of research! In this blog, I’ll explore five things that met my expectations, and five surprises.
Meeting expectations -
1) Geodes – We found plenty of geodes at wholesale prices. I lugged my bag of the cannonball-heavy minerals around until I wised up and stashed them in my vehicle.
2) Coprolite – one vendor had two trays of fossilized dinosaur dung. As I made my selection, we made jokes about the insanity of buying dino poop. One browser asked how the vendor knew it was really poop. The vendor said her coprolite guy travels all over the world collecting fossilized dinosaur dung. You can test it to verify it is really poop. What a job!
3) Ammonite – will be featured in its gemstone form ammolite in book two of my rock shop mystery series. Amazing ammonite fossils appeared in many sizes, colors, and forms. I purchased the smaller variety cut and polished, and made into a pair of earrings.
4) Size – I suspected the show would be huge, and I was not disappointed. I now know the source for wholesale items that my character Morgan stocks in her rock shop. In fact, some items were marked “for wholesale only.”
5) Educating me on the reality of a large mineral show. I suspected I did not know enough to write an effective mystery based on this setting, and I was correct.
1) Generosity of knowledge – every vendor I met offered his or her expertise for my research. I will highlight folks in a future blog who went out of their way to bring me up to speed on gemstone prospecting (The Bad Boys of Cripple Creek) and paleontology (Oreodont Fossils).
2) Prospectors – I knew the cast of the television reality show was scheduled to make an appearance at the mineral show. I did not expect to meet the stars! Dwayne Hall and his sister Yvonne made this newbie feel right at home among serious professional rockhounds.
3) Prices – I thought my mystery novel’s rock shop had an extravagant fossil – a Triceratops brow horn priced over three thousand dollars. I saw panels, at least five feet by six feet, that were priced in the tens of thousands of dollars.
4) Variety – of people and goods. I saw boxes of rocks, strings of beads, raw gemstones, cut gemstones, petrified wood pedestals, inexpensive commonplace fossils, crazy expensive large intact skeletons, T-shirts, tools, and toys. The international nature of the vendors surprised me, too. Every continent was represented. Everywhere on the planet, humans are digging for bones and treasure.
5) My daughter was grateful for the vegan, gluten-free food truck, while I was happy that the coffee truck had soy and rice milk. Who would have expected?
My daughter’s youngest succumbed to the heat and walking. She packed up her crew and left. I wandered around for another hour, made a few more purchases, and then conceded that I was on the brink of cranky-tired, too.
The afternoon spent at the Denver Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show was time well spent, and yet it was not nearly enough time to answer all my questions. Fortunately, I met some folks who are eager to educate a newbie rock hound.
I will be writing more about the mineral show, and posting more photos. Until then, here is a photo of one expensive fossil! This panel must have been five feet on each side.
My blog this week offers encouragement, an annoying light at the end of the tunnel, and my own modest moment of glorious triumph.
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt
These lofty words hardly seem to apply to our everyday lives, and light at the end of the tunnel messages rarely uplift in the manner intended. Especially when we are in the midst of defeat. In fact, they can be downright annoying. This quote was featured in my daily planner yesterday, on the same day an article was circulating through the writing loops on a similar topic.
The Power of Rejection by Moira Allen http://www.writing-world.com/coffee/coffee84.shtml
Power? In rejection? Surely that's a cruel joke.
At the Malice Domestic mystery convention, Sisters in Crime members received an advance copy of Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey. This inspirational collection of essays encourages writers through the difficult process from idea to fruition in the form of publication.
When you hear the same message from several different directions, it is time to take notice.
Yes, the stories of failure and rejection before success are inspiring, but that route is not the one we prefer to take.
The vast majority of us want glorious triumph without suffering failure.
When I was running and training for a marathon, the message was "no pain, no gain." Running and training involve a certain amount of pain, but it's the good kind - sore muscles at the end of a run or a session at the gym. You know that pain will result in a higher fitness level. Faster race times. Less pain when going for a fun run.
That is difficult to translate into other endeavors in life, but think about it. Starting a new job can be mentally and emotionally difficult, but eventually you're adept. Maybe even the go-to person, an expert at your company or even in your field.
I have been down a particularly rocky road to success in the career of my heart, fiction writing. My early uneducated dreams of the writer's life have been tempered by experience and reality. I have several "trunk books," those early attempts at writing a novel that ended in disaster. And now I am published. My debut novel went through countless revisions, but I would guess at six major rewrites, and at least a dozen serious editing overhauls.
In the hectic pursuit of balancing my day job, family life, and writing career, it is easy to lose sight of my glorious triumphs. The recent repeated messages of success made possible by walking through the fires of defeat may be, for me, a reminder to savor this time. So I'll share my Moment with you.
I had breakfast with my editor the other day.
I've waited a long time to be able to make that sort of statement.
Sunday I had the privilege to join senior editor Deni Dietz and several fellow Five Star authors at breakfast. Everyone sitting around the table that morning had experienced rejection. The difference between success and failure is often a matter of perseverance. So hang in there, whatever your goal is, and remember to enjoy your moments of triumph.
A friendship rediscovered is a rare treasure. I recently reconnected with a friend from my Sunday School teacher days. Susan and I were recruited as teachers, not for our Bible knowledge or our skills with children, but because our kids wouldn't stop crying when we tried to attend services upstairs.
To celebrate our recent reunion, Susan and I decided to attend our local Shakespeare in the Park production. Our husbands were not interested. Recoiling in horror might be too strong to describe their reactions to being invited, but not by much. I have wanted to go for several summers, and somehow it never happens. I was not going to miss it again this year.
The play was everything you'd expect from homegrown theater. I was impressed with some brilliant performances, but what we talked about most on the way home were the bits of side entertainment.
The play took place at the Rock Ledge Ranch, an historic homestead in Colorado Springs. As we walked into the park, we noted the strong odor coming from the barn. I do not mind the smell of livestock. In fact, it added a bit of realism to hearing the Bard's work. Surely manure was one of the sweeter odors to be experienced back in Shakespeare's day.
We have enjoyed an unusually rainy summer. This made the park brilliantly green and lush (for Colorado), but it also created a large, murky puddle outside the tent. A walkway had been erected to traverse the swamp, as we affectionately dubbed it after several crossings.
As we retrieved our tickets from the will call booth, the helpful young women gave us tokens. "Since you paid full price, you get a free dinner." We inquired about this dinner, and learned it was a hot dog. Both of us are vegetarians. Somehow we had expected a wet bar and choice snacks. This was Shakespeare after all. We noted the audience of older, prosperous citizens. Definitely not a hot dog and soda pop crowd. And then we noted all the wiser folks who had smuggled in booze. Well, we know for next time.
At intermission, we emerged from the tent in darkness. We followed the crowd of slow moving seniors to the restrooms. As we returned, the play had already begun again. We had to wait outside, straddling the swamp, until we were allowed reentry. Seriously. They send the old folks tottering through the dark a quarter mile to the restroom and back, and expect a twenty minute intermission to suffice?
As we hustled to our seats, there was a commotion on the top row. Bleachers of a sort rose up several levels. Folding metal chairs perched in rows. As someone hurried to his or her seat, a miscalculation apparently caused hindquarters to miss chair. Susan and I believe the person was rescued by his or her companions before falling out the back of the tent. At any rate, no ambulance showed up. I can't say for certain, but I'm guessing this group was one of those who smuggled in their own wine.
One highlight for both of us was realizing we could still understand Shakespearean-era English. It took a few minutes, but we got up to speed quickly. As You Like It contained plenty of humor, some of it bawdy, as well as serious reflection, and fight scenes that looked painful.
Local theater is an experience not to be missed. The sets and costumes were creatively thrifty, and the venue fraught with issues. That was what made it such a fun experience for me. There was nothing slick about the tent in a pasture. The performance itself commanded all my attention. Will I brave the inconveniences to do this again? You bet!
I devoured book one in Christine DeSmet's Fudge Shop Mystery series as if it was a piece of the Cinderella Pink Fudge featured in her story. In Christine's novel First-Degree Fudge, "diamonds discovered in fudge create a rock-solid new cozy mystery series." Christine dropped by my blog to talk about her unique setting, and to explain why no kermis is complete without booyah. Welcome, Christine!
I feel a kinship with Catherine Dilts’s series because rocks—diamonds—are at the core of First-Degree Fudge, my first novel in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series from Penguin Random House. Catherine and I met at the Malice Domestic mystery conference in Bethesda, Maryland in May.
My series features Belgian American Ava Oosterling and her Grandpa Gil. They operate Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers & Belgian Fudge & Beer in Door County, Wisconsin.
Door County is the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” It’s quaint. Fast food chains are banned in the upper half of the county. It’s that thumb of land in Lake Michigan surrounded by 300 miles of coastline peppered with 11 lighthouses and canal lights
The rocky geology and picturesque high bluffs are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a formation carved by glaciers that stretches from Wisconsin to Niagara Falls.
The county is a leading U.S. producer of cherries. Ava makes cherry-vanilla Cinderella Pink Fudge, part of her Fairy Tale Fudge line. Ava’s fudge is used to hide diamonds and choke a famous actress to death in First-Degree Fudge.
For Book 2, Hot Fudge Frame-Up, published this past June, the crime involves the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, which in real life was chosen as “Featured Lighthouse of 2014” by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival Association. I highly recommend the tour as well as a drive around Door County in late September to see the fall foliage.
That lighthouse is at the top of my web page, www.ChristineDeSmet.com.
I like to think of Ava as the 21st century Hercule Poirot; that famous Belgian character debuted in 1920.
Door County and neighboring counties courted the Belgians in the 1850s with land for sale at $1.25 an acre. Over 15,000 Belgians came to the area. All of Door County’s population today is just 28,000. The area is said to have the largest rural population of Belgians in the U.S.
The Belgians were hit hard by the Great Fire of 1871, which happened the same days as the famous Chicago fire.
Around 1,500 people were killed in Door and nearby counties, with 3,000 left homeless. In comparison, the Chicago fire took about 300 lives.
The resilient Belgians rebuilt with brick. When you travel through Door County you’ll see green farmland dotted with red-brick houses.
Book 3 of my series, Five-Alarm Fudge, deals with fire and an arsonist. Book 3 also puts Ava Oosterling on the hunt for a famous divinity fudge recipe in the real St. Mary of the Snows, a church in Namur, Wisconsin. The church is now used as the Belgian Cultural Center.
On Sunday, September 21, 2014, a kermis will be held on the grounds and you’re invited. A kermis (Dutch origin) is a harvest festival, replete with games such as Belgian rolle bolle (a lawn game), music, raffles, famous Belgian pies, chocolate pastries and confections, and Belgian beer.
Most Belgian communities in Wisconsin hold a kermis sometime during September and October. The public is always welcome.
No kermis is complete without booyah. That’s a chicken stew made over an open fire in large kettles. Booyah features a light tomato base instead of a thick sauce. Recipes for booyah are in Hot Fudge Frame-Up.
You can also visit Door County and a kermis vicariously through my books and find easy-to-make recipes for fudge.
Christine DeSmet is the author of First-Degree Fudge, and the new release, Hot Fudge Frame-Up, in her Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House). She teaches writing at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies.
Thank you for visiting my blog, Christine. And thanks for introducing us to Door County, Wisconsin.
Inspiration for fiction comes in many forms. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time on the Santa Fe Trail. I haven't hiked or run it much lately, but I recently enjoyed a morning walk with my daughter and step-daughter. This trail provided the outdoors setting for a scene in book one in my rock shop mystery series, Stone Cold Dead. In my novel, it is January, and pretty bleak. This summer, we've had more rain than usual. The trail is green and lush. Lots of folks were hiking, running, and biking. A women's running club shared the trail with us, along with a gentleman in possession of four large poodles. (Click on play to see the slideshow and read the photo captions.)
Before we get into today's topic, I received mention on another blog yesterday. Mystery author Liesa Malik participated in the Writing Process Blog Hop - http://liesamalik.wordpress.com/ Check out Liesa's fun answers to the blog hop questions.
And now to Pushing Back Politely.
My vegetarian granddaughter ordered a seasonal salad. The bowl of lettuce, pecans, and strawberries arrived buried under a mound of chicken flesh. We sent it back.
In this clear-cut case, what was ordered was not what was served. All involved were calm and sensible, and she received a new salad. I checked to make certain the chicken had not been merely plucked off, and the error re-served. You have to be careful about these things.
Is it just me, or are you also finding yourself having to do a lot of pushing back these days? The errors run from little things like botched restaurant orders and incorrect change to big mistakes on business-related paperwork like leases and contracts.
Sometimes I receive a blushing, sincere apology. Sometimes the person who receives the request for correction reacts poorly, perhaps even seeking to blame the recipient of the incorrect service.
One of the worst was when a friend was drenched with a side dish. Oily vegetables spilled down his brand new shirt. When concerns expressed to the waitstaff were met with indifference, his wife demanded to speak to the manager. Said manager would not show his face.
Our friends are persistent as well as observant. They tracked the manager down to the restaurant loft. He sat at a table in dim lighting while his minions, the restaurant employees, scuttled up and down the stairs to consult him. This was a brew pub, not the headquarters for a mafia godfather.
The young and obviously inexperienced manager was not particularly helpful. We walked the ticket.
This brings us to my rules for Pushing Back.
1) Verify that you are in the right. Nothings stinks worse than having to apologize after throwing a temper tantrum over something that was your own fault.
2) Escalate your complaint gracefully. Address the person who erred first. Work your way up the chain of command as needed.
3) Don’t use bad service merely as your excuse to throw an out-of-proportion fit. The poor clerk doesn’t deserve your venting inspired by events that have nothing to do with this incident.
4) If your complaint is addressed to your satisfaction, let someone know. The individual involved, their manager, or even corporate headquarters.
Righteous indignation comes with a price. How can you expect good service from the barista, bank clerk, or insurance claims adjuster if you are careless in your job? Give 100% in your daily work. Honesty is the best policy. Sure, you hate receiving incorrect change that is to your disadvantage, and you should get that corrected asap. Likewise, we’ve all received incorrect change that was to our advantage. Be quick to rectify the error by returning money that isn’t rightfully yours. You know the drill - do unto others etc.
Those are my thoughts on pushing back. Do you have any stories to share? (Please do not include names of individuals or businesses.) Oh, and by the way, we had no issues at Adventure Miniature Golf. My granddaughters and I had a great time!
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