Memory and Place

The Bookends essays in today’s NYT Book Review address this question: Does where you live affect your writing? I’ll add two more questions: Does a place you once lived influence your writing? If the answer to both is no, thensullivancollage what does inspire your choice of settings?

Most of my work is set in a fictional small town in the Catskill Mountains that bears some resemblance to the town in which we lived for about nine years after leaving New York City. For the past thirty years, we’ve lived in a small town (not as small as it was when we moved here) in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley. I love this town and the surrounding farmland, but I’ve only used it as the setting for one short story. I’ve also set a few stories in New York City, where I grew up.

So why do I choose to set most of my fiction in the Catskills, where I lived for the fewest number of years? I wonder whether the places we leave, no longer blurred by daily life, become more vivid and acquire more significance as they’re distilled in memory.

Your thoughts on this?

The Floating Library

floating library

Borrowed from the Huffington Post:

“There are a few places where we dream of curling up to read a book. Mostly, these include treehouses, cozy attics and the Gilmore residence in Stars Hollow. But now there’s another: artist Beatrice Glow‘s floating library. Who said water and books don’t mix?

Docked off Pier 25 in New York City beginning September 6, the library-slash-art-installation will include an outdoor reading lounge on the upper deck that will, according to its website, be “conducive to fearless dreaming.” Glow’s project will be taking over the Lilac Museum Steamship, a decommissioned steam-powered ship that once carried supplies to lighthouses and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Cool idea, right? Burt it is only temporary so take a look before it is gone. You can read the entire article here.



The Next Book

I’m already thinking about the next book. Only this morning I emailed my submission to my publisher for the mystery I just finished, my second. Besides finally cleaning waiting cabinets and closets, getting ready for fall and winter, I’m finding myself thinking about what I’ll write next.

When the three Cleveland, Ohio girls were found held captive for a decade, kidnapped by Ariel Castro, I was inspired to write about human trafficking right here in the states. My first mystery Murder at the P&Z, had just been published and I was reading newspapers for ideas.

This mystery touches on boys and girls on the street who fall victim to human trafficking through street gangs, and local pimps. The youth advocates that offer help, the juvenile law, policing of “runaways,” they’re all part of my mystery about a missing Wilton,Connecticut girl who disappears on a New York City subway train.

My main character is an investigative reporter, so it made sense.

But maybe this time, I’ll turn to something more light-hearted, like a clever cozy, or a shapeshifting main character might do. Perhaps a romance and relationships, which always fascinates me.

It’s not that easy. All writers know that you need fire in the belly for all the demands of writing a book that can take a year to who knows? It depends on the subject and the writer.

What inspires you?

Where will your next book come from?



Lascaux Review Call for Submissions


lascaux-newsite5-browndropThe Lascaux Review, a showcase for emerging and established writers and artists has announced a call for submissions for three contests from now through the end of the year.

The inaugural Lascaux Prize in Poetry with a $1,000 prize going to the winner. Up to 5 poems may be submitted per entry. Deadline: September 23.

The Christine E. Eldin Memorial Fellowship. Another inaugural contest for unpublished middle-grade fiction opens for submission on September 1st. Prize of $1,000.

And, The Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. Submissions open October 1st for previously published or unpublished stories. Prize of $1,000 to the winner.

For more information and complete details on all the contests, click onto The Lascaux

This Weekend: Noir at the Bar with Two Women of Mystery!

Noir-at-the-Bar-Shade-8.31.14This gathering of Noir at the Bar NYC is on a Sunday night (8/31/14), but smack in the middle of a 3-day weekend, so there’s no school-night excuse for not coming out to sip, carouse, and enjoy a late-summer evening in the Shade of Greenwich Village. There will be a passel of writers and dark doings at the mic, but the pours are honest, the food is good (yes!), and there’ll be not just one, but 2 Women of Mystery. Now that’s a serious Labor Day BOGO sale!

On this occasion, your WORD TANG CLAN includes:


Russel D. “Killa Kilt” McLean
Hilary “Once Made Pol Pot Cry” Davidson
Scott “The Brooklyn Assassin” Adlerberg
Laura K. “The K Is For KUT YO ASS” Curtis
Dave “Ghostface Jersey” White
Allison “The Mandible” Glasgow
Josh “Bazooka” Bazell
Rob W. “Stab You Inna” Hart
Clare “Two Times” Toohey (I know, self-linking’s undignified)
Gregg “O.G.G.” Rossi

For myself, I’m bringing something grim and weird that’s never been out in public before– I’ll have to tranquilize it and keep it in a leather mask just to get it downtown. Hope to see you there!

As the man says: Join us for a night of crime!

Music and Writing

Who listens to music while you write? And how do you use it? animated-staff

It’s on my mind lately because I had a CD get stuck in my computer CD player. It’s happened before and usually the tech support department (that would be husband) had figured out how to fix it. Not this time. One choice was to haul it to Mac repair shop. Two middle aged people, one heavy Mac, 2 ½ flights of stairs. Bad idea. And that’s before paying the shop a lot of money to take it apart. Or, just have it be my only office music until the time comes for a new computer. Husband is getting antsy for an upgrade and I will get his current model. That’s not discrimination- I would never, ever, ever change computers if I had the choice.

(There is a plot twist coming)

I don’t actually listen to music while I actually write. I definitely don’t listen to sung music, much as I enjoy it. I like American Songbook, old rock and roll, folk music ( Ian and Sylvia, anyone?), Broadway, Bette Midler. Even Gilbert and Sullivan. But not when I’m writing. Other peoples’ words interfere with hearing my own in my head.

Generally I don’t listen to more orchestral music either, just because I end up not paying attention to it while I write.

However, I have a large collection of discs from when I was in my last business job and had an office of my own for the first time. Different kinds of music kept me focused on different tasks and entertained me when I was not busy. Now they are all home and are my cure for the spell check blues. I am a terrible typist and anything I write must be – tediously, laboriously – spellchecked. That’s when the music is my best friend. Bach, so I don’t tear my hair out. Coltrane. Beach Boys, to sing along. Or Tony Bennett. Or Bette Midler. Nina Simone. Loud Wagner overtures when I am really fed up. Wagner

So the stuck disc was Beethoven piano concertos, an old Deutsche Gramophon recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. This is solid gold in the classical music world, so things could be worse, but I wondered how long it would take me to get sick of it. (It was Beethoven, so just maybe – never)
DG disc

Then the problem solved itself (Here’s the plot twist). We went away for the weekend and came back to find the copying program (CCC) going into hysteria. It turned out the hard drive had died quite some time ago and my computer automatically went to the back up, the external hard drive. So – have you guessed? – there was no backing up. WIP gets backed up manually on a Zip disc too, so that was safe, but I lost several months of blog texts, including one I needed to post on my publishers blog the next day; MWA committee work; all the pr info from my March release, and so on. And so on, depressingly.

So now I have a new Mac with an external CD player. When I go to spell check this, I think I’ll put in, hmmm. Maybe Ray Charles with his friends. They can be my friends too. rcgenius

Wrapping-Up the Next Book

Okay, it’s my third book, my second to be published the traditional way. My editor has it right now, and when I view her magic, I’ll send it to the publisher with my fingers crossed for an acceptance email.

I’m always on the lookout for switching tenses, computer spell check glitches, repetitions, starting too often with “I” and checking the spelling of names, to mention a few. With all the characters in a novel there are that many chances to make mistakes.

Typos and such, of course, have nothing to do with the spellbinding stories we write, but they’re there nevertheless. Most of the time, readers will read over them, and so will writers, so that’s why an editor is priceless.

What are some of your common mis-steps?


Forty-Ninth Book in a Series? I Read One


Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris

Photograph by Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris

J.D Robb aka Nora Roberts is about to have her forty-ninth book, Festive in Death, in her In Death Series, released next month. Midnight in Death published in 1998, was the first Nora Roberts book I’ve ever read.

I loved one element of the series and of Midnight in Death, which takes place in 2058, everyone seems to be vegan since only soy hotdogs are available from a street vender. It is the diet of the future for many sound reasons, of course, I’m a vegan now. Guns are banned as well, as this line implies:51cVuZBGdlL._AA160_

“Thirty-eight caliber,” he told her. “First one I’ve seen outside a museum.”

Obviously murder didn’t end with the gun ban. On the loose is a sadistic serial killer. He tortures people. He places them in a cage nude, burns letters into their skin and other horrible painful events occur before death.

I’m not a fan of serial killer plots even with a vegan twist, and even when they are as well written as Midnight in Death. Here are a few more lines.

“JUDGE NOT, LEST YOU BE JUDGED  She hoped the burns had been inflicted postmortem, but she doubted it. He had been mercilessly beaten, the fingers of both hands broken. Deep wounds around his wrists and ankles indicated that he’d been bound. But it hadn’t been the beating or the burns that killed him.”

The victim was a judge and the cause of death was slow strangulation.

It was hard to believe that Nora Roberts started her writing career  by writing romance novels. She’s written about 280 books, according to one source.51ezGHvMTQL._AA160_

I think I’ll read Festive in Death just to measure the progress of the series, veganism and the writer.

Are you a fan of this incredibly popular and prolific writer?


Visiting Poe and Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina (with pix!)

Fort-MoultrieMore literary-themed pictures from my travels! Not yet nineteen years old, in 1827, Edgar Allan Poe was an enlisted Army soldier, stationed for about a year at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, not far from Charleston. A Revolutionary War stronghold established in 1776, it was originally rustic and made of palmettos, in keeping with the state’s bounty. Even today, you can see the sense of a windblown tropical outpost remains.
Battle-Plaque-Fort-Moutrie-SullivanHere’s how Poe described it in “The Gold Bug“:

This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point and a line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle…


Just a few hundred yards from the cannonade is the beach. While there’s now civilization visible along the edges of nearby shorelines, it’s still easy to imagine how empty and remote it must’ve seemed.

While at Sullivan’s Island, it’s reported that Poe heard and was inspired by the local stories of pirates. In his mid-30s, Poe immortalized the setting in his short story “The Gold Bug,” which won the $100 grand prize as well as publication in a contest sponsored by Philadelphia’s Dollar Newspaper in 1843.


This mosaic of the insect species Poe invented is on the walkway leading to Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island.

The tale featured the mad pursuit of a secret treasure by an entomologist named Legrand, a treasure concealed by cryptography. The story became a sensation, one Poe was uniquely qualified to stoke, having issued a challenge in the years before to solve all qualifying substitution ciphers that were sent to him via Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, and apparently, succeeding. From “The Gold Bug;”

Here Legrand, having re-heated the parchment, submitted It my inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red tint, between the death’s-head and the goat:


See the link above about for more information about this cryptogram, how to solve it, and Poe’s challenges.

The ingenious story and its author subsequently became so well-known, that, later in 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson would acknowledge the debt he and Treasure Island owed to Poe. Now, there’s not only the Edgar Allan Poe library on Sullivan’s Island named after him, but the fine Poe’s Tavern, with the largest collection of Poe-phernalia I’ve seen. There are so many paintings, framed posters, colorful chalk drawings, quotes, themed menu items… it’s impossible to capture how epically and festively Poe’d, that place is. My burger and fries were really good, too.

Poes-TavernPoe-Tavern-Wall-Pictures-South-CarolinaAnother unique feature of the tavern is that it has tiny Poe-riffic bathrooms, papered in pages from illustrated versions of his work. An additional accompaniment to your restroom visit is provided by a speaker in the upper corner of the room (see the black lozenge attached to the ceiling?), which played a deep-voiced reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart” while I was powdering my nose.Poe-Bathroom-Speaker-Tell-Tale-HeartPoe would also use his formative experiences in South Carolina in two more, lesser-known works, “The Oblong Box,” about a mysterious object on board during a sea voyage from Charleston to NYC, and what eventually became called “The Balloon-Hoax.” The latter was originally published as the true journalistic account of a European balloonist, Monck Mason, traversing the Atlantic Ocean in a lighter-than-air gas balloon, landing on Sullivan’s Island after a mere 75 hours. Published by New York’s The Sun newspaper in April of 1844, along with a diagram and specifications of the craft, it was retracted two days later. (Interestingly enough, Poe had earlier accused The Sun’s editor of having “stolen” the idea for an earlier sensational moon-based hoax from him–such flim-flammery being a known method for juicing circulation in those days–and we are left to ponder its influence upon acknowledged-fan Jules Verne’s later 80-day tale.)

A Different Country–Different Language–Only Six Hours Away

Writers who speak a couple of languages, or more, seem to have a richer vocabulary and, I’ve noticed, they have more expressions from which to choose.

But why learn another language when you’re thousands of miles from the country of origin?

Who will you talk to? How much will you use it?

My husband and I live in Stamford, CT and we visited Montreal for a conference a couple of weeks ago. And guess what? People seamlessly move from French to English.

The Official Languages Act of September 9, 1969 gives English and French equal status in the government of Canada, which makes English and French “official” languages.

If your family is English you are sent to a school that teaches in English and you are taught French, and vice-versa, according to residents there.

So if we spoke French, we could actually use it on our vacations by visiting Canada. And an added bonus, besides its cultural differences, is that you don’t have to fly to get there. Driving north during the week, we pleasantly rolled through the green hills of upstate New York without traffic, enticed by one beautiful bucolic view after the other. Without exaggeration, the views looked like paintings, making a six-hour trip a joy. A picnic lunch going and coming also pleasantly paved the sylvan way by allowing us to avoid crowds.

At least once a week, we go to  our favorite Buddhist restaurant in Flushing, NY. So for fun, we’ve picked-up a couple of Mandarin words and phrases. As a result Chef Wong and his crew treat us like family. But we failed to learn much more, for unknown reasons.

For summer vacations, however, we usually travel south for more sun and to visit family. We now plan to return to Canada next summer with a couple of French phrases under out proverbial belts. Hopefully, with the similarity between the two languages, we’ll get a little further than we did with Mandarin.

How many languages do you speak? Does it help with your writing?