Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler

On July 23, 1888, Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1895, after the divorce of his parents, Chandler moved to London with his mother. From 1900-1905, he attended Dulwich College, and later traveled to Paris and Germany to study languages. In 1907, he returned to England and became a naturalized British subject.

jpg_bridge401In 1912, Chandler returned to America; he lived briefly in St. Louis and Omaha before moving to California. In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. In December, he arrived in Liverpool, England, and was later sent to France. In June 1918, he transferred to the Royal Air Force, where he began aviation training school. In February 1919, he received a discharge from the Army and travelled along the Pacific coast.

In 1919, Raymond began a love affair with a married woman, Pearl Cecily “Cissy” Pascal, 18 years his senior. Cissy divorced her husband and married Chandler in February 1924.

jpg_copybook3In 1932, at age 44, Raymond lost his job as an oil company executive, due to drinking and absenteeism. He decided to become a detective fiction writer. Before writing his first novel, The Big Sleep (published in 1939), Chandler wrote pulp fiction short stories, published in The Black Mask and Dime Detective.

Chandler developed Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel. He also wrote an essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.” chandlerart

Check out the extensive list of Chandler’s works, including TV, radio, and film, on ThrillingDetective.com.

bigsleeppocketThe Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was released in 1946. The plot was drawn from two of his short stories: “Killer in the Rain” and “The Curtain.” It also incorporates a bit of “Finger Man.”

Chandler worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter, contributing to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the film noir classic The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

In December 1954, Cissy Chandler died. At age 70, Chandler died from bronchial pneumonia on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, San Diego, California.

Author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, resurrected Raymond Chandler’s famous private eye, Philip Marlowe (with permission from Chandler’s estate), in his 2014 novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde.

In 2015, Raymond Chandler will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


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Cheap Shot Hits the Mark

My summer reading pile has been so big I’m just now getting around to reading Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins. I have to say, there’s no disappointment here. Atkins continues to keep Parker’s characters strong, charming, and on the job. I have to say he has Spenser’s humor down quite well. I’ve always thought Parker’s writing had a sort of cadence to it, a rhythm that kept you turning the pages. Atkins has picked up that pen and continued it with charm and creativity.

CheapShotIn this latest adventure, Spenser is called in to find out why two men have been following Kinjo Heywood, the talented and popular linebacker in the NFL. Though Spenser has no luck finding who’s doing the following, all that is put on the back burner when Kinjo’s eight-year-old son is snatched on the way to school one morning.

It’s the perfect case for Spenser and Hawk and the PI-in-training Zebulon Sixkill. The three of them work well together and the humorous barbs fly like darts, each one hitting a bullseye in its sarcastic target.

This is one of my favorite:

When the man got closer, Ray stood up and said, “Spenser, this is Jeff Barnes.”

We shook hands while the players scrimmaged. The misty rain seemed to make the practice field glow an intense green.

Barnes smiled without warmth, eyes wandering over me. He was a compact man, blue-suited and red-tied, with chiseled features and thick white hair. His lips were thin and his nose hawkish, and he had a superior posture that reminded me of a rooster.

“Nice to meet you,” Barnes said, shaking my hand. “Can’t say I was excited that Steve Rosen didn’t tell me about you.”

“Not everyone can sing my praises.”

“I’m not familiar with some of the local cops, but I did call up a friend with the FBI,” Barnes said, still gripping my hand. “His remarks weren’t kind.”

Barnes let go of my hand. A smile remained frozen on his face.

“You must be quite a hot dog to draw the ire of the special agent in charge of the city.”

I wavered my hand in a so-so gesture.

Barnes’s face reddened. His cheek twitched just a bit. The air horn sounded on the field and Belichick called in all the players. Ray stared down at the field where the team had gathered, but Barnes remained splayfooted and cocksure.

“Rosen is a hot-shit agent,” he said. “But I can pull you off the tit fast. When you’re on this property, I am in charge.”



“I said, ‘Yikes.’ It means my knees won’t stop knocking.”

“If you see anything, suspect anything, or spot anyone in or around Gillette, you call me first. Connor said you’re overly fond of your weapon.”

I let that one go and simply shrugged.

Carrying on a legacy in the proper manner is a big job, but I believe carrying on a writing legacy is especially tough because it means keeping the writer’s voice alive. And all of us know the writer’s voice is his or her gift to the world.

I have to say I think Atkins continues to do a superb job for Parker, and I look forward to continuing my love of reading the Spenser novels well into the future.

What do you think about continuing a series after the writer’s death?

Close-Up or Long Shot?

We recently spent a week in the Berkshire Hills, which we love for the scenery as well as the music, art, theater, great walking and hiking, good food, and lovely towns to explore. Not the least of the area’s charms is that it’s an easy three-hour drive for us, and that includes the requisite stops, coming and going, at the classic Chief Martindale Diner where you can get the hottest Spanish omelet on the East Coast. (You’ll find a history of Taconic Parkway diners here.).

One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to Williamstown and the renoirnewly reopened Clark Institute, which includes Impressionist paintings in its permanent collection. I’m drawn to the Impressionists because of the beauty of the work of course, but also because as a writer the technique intrigues me. Stand close to a Renoir and you see dabs of color and light; move away and you see the image the artist intended.

So distance brings clarity. Can that principle apply to writing as well as painting?

I’ve been thinking about this as I struggle with a big scene that, as we speak, has the clarity and intrigue of a mosh pit. Maybe the solution is to pull back and go for the long shot–the impression–and play down the potentially deadly detail. Of course as writers we can shift perspective, zooming in for the close ups and pulling back as the action demands. Something to play with. I’ll let you know how it works out.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.



A Harried Writer-What, You Too?

With summer visitors and vacations, both of which, I love more than anything, I’m trying to wrap-up a book.

Which I love more than anything.

I’m totally obsessed and can’t wait to continue digging for those typos, tightening up a sentence, banishing others, deleting whole paragraphs, and even one whole chapter.

Each word, and punctuation mark, at this point, is focused upon and measured for its worth, or worthlessness.

Sleep, of course, is a necessary evil, when you’re caught-up in the passion, but it helps you to operate. Often the next morning after a late night, I find very strange things staring back at me from my computer screen.

How did I write that?

So it isn’t that the whole other part of life is a rude interruption, but right now all I want to do is write.

Do you turn into a writing nut?

Visiting the Femmes Fatales

We Women of Mystery have a lot of pals who hang out at the Femmes Fatales blog.On any given day you might pop in to hear what wonderful writers like Donna Andrews, Dana CameronCharlaine HarrisDean James/Miranda James,Toni L.P. Kelner (Leigh Perry)Kris NeriCatriona McPhersonHank Phillippi RyanMary SaumsMarcia Talley, or Elaine Viets have to say.

Every now and again the Femmes Fatales invite a guest blogger to talk about whatever might be on their mind and today I am the guest of Toni Kelner who, as Leigh Perry writes the wonderful Family Skeleton Mystery series. (Look for The Skeleton Takes A Bow in September 2014.)

If you have a chance, please stop on by and say hello.



Disney Magic, Disney Media, Disney Money

Ah, Disney magic? Disney money? Watching Saving Mr. Banks recently, and blogging about it, got me to thinking about that particular combination for the first time in some years. Here’s why.

If you are my age, and had an average American childhood with a big console television in the living room, you grew up watching Disneyland every week.DL

Then I went to library school, specialized in work with children and re-read many of the classic stories.Yikes.The Disney version was often not even close to the original and often different in ways that were not improvements. Plus,this was the end of the protesting 1960′s, when Disney was considered a crass corporate monster supporting outdated cultural values. In some circles, anyway.

All this makes it hard to think about Disney the company with complete clarity or critical ability. However, it used to be part of my job. I worked in research at a global consulting firm where my specialty was the media and entertainment group. I needed to know everything possible about Disney as well as the other industry giants.

Then I was sent to an offsite meeting right there at Disneyworld. Belly of the beast? (We stayed here. My employer didn’t do anything half way ).

We were there to explore a new industry development, multimedia, and get a behind the scenes look at what Disney was doing.

And here is where it all becomes a kind of split-personality experience. The professional I was then easily recognized Disneyworld as a giant machine dedicated to separating people from their money. And they did it extremely well. They made it fun, they made it easy, and boy, did they make it profitable. I knew all about how they had underground tunnels so staff never, ever, ever, appeared on the street only partly costumed. In fact, a cashier looked me right in the eyes and said, “What costume?” Yes, that was Disney’s much admired training program in action right in front of me.

But along with me, the cynical industry observer me, was the little girl I was, who never got to Disneyland, and me, the mom who never took her (no longer little) girls. As I watched the very small children hugging the Cinderella mice and Robin Hood the fox, it was perfectly clear to me they thought the characters were the real thing.

RobinSome kind of magic was indeed happening here.

I even felt it a bit myself when I flew past Big Ben on the Peter Pan ride.


It is deeply fake and calculated. And it is deeply real and kind of wonderful. How do I deal with this intellectually? Is it possible?

Certainly it’s true that some Disney versions of children’s classics are pretty bad, but even in the worst of them, there are often moments of beauty and imagination. I am particularly fond of the singing flowers in Alice in Wonderland.


And the best of them are the best in class, period. What child ever forgets the talking mirror in Snow White, the pumpkin-to-magic- coach in Cinderella or the dancing flowers,flying horses and hippo ballerinas of Fantasia? pegasusf

So here is my confession: that same summer I took my family to Disneyworld for a few days before daughter #1 left for college. We had a good time, too.

And at the same time, I am very glad the protesters won and Disney did not get to theme park Gettysburg. What a bad plan that was. Some places do not need Disney magic and some places should not be turned into Disney profit centers.


About Description

9780375842207_p0_v6_s260x420I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem In it.”–  so says Markus Zusak. His young adult novel was published in 2006, and is “poised to become a classic,” – USA Today.

Three years were spent “rewriting” to place a “gem” on very page, Zusak tells us. He returns to the pages to rework the words.

We as writers are not surprised with this process.

Yet this is my second post about his book, this time to address the creative descriptions. The book’s subject is the lives of a poor German families during WWII. Maybe because it’s a young adult fiction a sense of freedom prevails and I’m looking to adopt some of it.

He uses nature in a different way, such as in this sentence: “He had windy hair and cloudy eyes, …”

Here he uses words opposite to what is usual: “The sky was murky and deep like quicksand.”

Quicksand in the sky?

Freedom of language here is apparent in the following: “Smoke was rising from Liesal’s collar.” “A necklace of sweat had formed around her throat.””Beneath her skirt, a book was eating her up.

Colors are prominent and come in shapes:Pink bars of light on the snowy banks….”

More: “…the concrete ache of the water, thickening from his toes to his hips.

Strings of mud clench his face. His tie is a pendulum, long dead in its clock.

His lemon, lamp-lit hair is disheveled…

The Cologne sky was yellow and rotting, flaking at the edges.”

“Silver eyes,” “gangly blue eyes,” “sharp-edged woman with fat glasses,” “the sky was bleached bed sheet white,..” “…her voice was akin to a beating with a stick.”

It’s not just the word play that struck me, ideas fill the pages as well: “It’s the kind of book that can be LIFE-CHANGING.” — The New York Times.

Do you have a favorite author that uses words in a unique way?


Happy Birthday–Get Your Thyroid Checked

birthday-cake-mdToday is my birthday! I was born on July 8th many, many years ago. Then on July 8, 2009 I had surgery that was the first step in eliminating my status as a thyroid cancer patient and upgrading me to thyroid cancer survivor. So actually I am five years old. Five years cancer free.

Having your thyroid checked is the easiest thing in the world. You sip water. The doctor palpates your thyroid. Usually that is the end. If the doctor feels something, you go for sonograms and biopsies and confirm the diagnosis. DO NOT RELY ON THE ROUTINE BLOOD TEST that indicates your thyroid hormone numbers. I had a blood test taken on the same day that the doctor found my tumor–and that test was as perfect as all my previous tests.

thycaNow I could lecture you on how important this is and how we as a society are becoming more prone to thyroid cancer. But there are experts in the Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association. I’ll let them tell you:

A new record total of 62,980 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014 in the United States, reports the nonprofit ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. (“ThyCa”) based on information from the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Thyroid cancer continues to increase rapidly in both women and men. Three of every four people diagnosed with thyroid cancer are women, and the 2014 total of 62,980 people newly diagnosed (up 4.6% from 2013) will include 47,790 women and 15,190 men. A total of 1,890 deaths from thyroid cancer are expected in 2014 in the United States, compared with 1,850 in 2013.

“Early detection is a key. A neck check by a medical professional can be done quickly, but those few seconds could make all the difference when it comes to thyroid cancer, because thyroid cancer is usually treatable when found early,” says ThyCa Executive Gary Bloom, a thyroid cancer survivor. “However, some thyroid cancers are aggressive and difficult to treat.”

“Many thyroid cancer survivors first become aware that they may have cancer when they notice a nodule on their lower neck,” adds Bloom. “Others notice changes in their voice or breathing or swallowing. Most thyroid nodules are benign, but some are cancer.”

ThyCa urges everyone to learn about thyroid cancer and ask for a neck check at doctor’s appointments. People in all age groups from children through seniors can be diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Okay  I’m off to celebrate and to blow out the five candles on my yummy cake. You go have your thyroid checked.


A Pause for Reality

k12444311Everything that happens to us affects our writing. While finishing the second book of The Connelly Witches series, my writing partner went through her husband’s serious illness. As a result, we asked for an extension on our deadline. This was something we’d never done before, and both of us felt disappointed in ourselves. That was a foolish response, we know, but when you can’t force the words, you have to let go and refresh yourself.

A dear friend was diagnosed with renal cancer last week and this is the first I’ve written since then. Fiction seems trivial and unimportant when someone you love is facing an epic physical battle. Still, we all have commitments and deadlines, and the work must go on.

What do you do?

Take some time. You will need to let yourself accept and grieve. You may also need time off to help a loved one. It’s part of the human experience. Just do it and let go of the guilt.

Keep your writing in mind. Your subconscious works even when you don’t. When I was finally able to sit down and pull up the file, I found I had been “working” in another part of my brain and finished the chapter I’d been writing.

Be true to yourself. Do what you need to do to help those around you, and if it means extending a deadline, explain the situation to your editor and see if a later deadline is possible. We were fortunate that it worked for us.

Writing is like any other job, though many people on the outside view it as a hobby. But like our friends in the corporate world, we are aware of our role in getting the job done. Hope my little bit of encouragement helps.

We hold these truths to be self-evident…


So while everyone is enjoying picnics and boat-rides, eating potato salad and barbecue, let us remember that the reason we can do all that is because the Founding Fathers, a group of men with very divergent views decided it was time to cut our ties with England and go it alone.

In high school I was required to memorize parts one, two and three of the Declaration of Independence. That is every word except the list of grievances but as a refresher I read the Declaration every year. You can read it for yourself right here. When you are done reading, scroll down and click on the name of any of the signers to learn more about them. It is important to remember that there were many delegates to the Continental Congresses. And they didn’t get agree on anything but they did argue through until they reached compromise.

The other thing I do every Fourth of July is watch the movie 1776. It my not be exactly historically accurate but I don’t care. I love the music, the struggle for concensus among the delegates and most of all I love John Adams who was a prime catalyst for revolution and is on a very special list with my other historical loves, Thomas Paine and Harry Truman.

I don’t know how to embed a You Tube but here is the link to “Sit Down John” one of my favorite songs from the movie. It may give a clue as to why I continue to adore John Adams.

Happy Independence Day.