Welcome, Summer Solstice!

Dear Kids, Teachers, and All Readers,

Happy Summer! The season when children and educators get giddy, and parents wonder what to do with the kids for three months.

However you plan to spend this summer, I hope it’s one of your best.

I get nostalgic this time of year as I reflect back on wonderful childhood summers.

My twin sister and I spent nearly every day with our cousin, who is two years older than us. She lived one block away, so by mid-morning, we met either at her house or ours, ready for another day of fun. As we were on the way out the front door, my grandmother would shout, “Just be back by dinnertime.” Those were the days when kids felt safe to explore without adults hovering, planning their time, or driving them everywhere.

Off the three of us went, usually walking about a mile to Balboa Park, the jewel of our city. Back then, the San Diego Zoo, part of the park, was free for kids, so that’s where we often started. My cousin used to enjoy the Reptile House. Not I, but we would go with her, anyway, because she always made it fun. She shared interesting things about the snakes or whatever animals we encountered. We would stop and say hello to the elephants, giraffes, and lions, ending up at the Children’s Zoo–a zoo within the zoo–and watch the little white rodents in the Mouse House, a large loaf of bread where they ate their fill. Then, we’d go to the petting paddock and rub down the goats and donkeys and feed them carrot and celery sticks stuffed into ice cream cones (minus the ice cream). But watch out! Those goats loved to nibble on clothing.

Sometimes if we had money from our allowances, we would buy hamburgers, French fries, and cokes at the zoo. While eating our lunch, we would listen to the park’s enormous bell tower chime all four quarters of the hour but keep an eye out for swooping seagulls. They were master food thieves, stealing goodies right out of our hands! Good-bye lunch.

Once our cousin learned to drive, we would pile into her family’s car with our own homemade picnic lunches and head for the beach. Our favorite was La Jolla Shores. We took rafts and rode the waves into shore, built sandcastles surrounded by moats, which we filled with seaweed “dragons,” slathered ourselves with baby oil, and sunbathed for golden tans. (No one knew about skin cancer yet.) Often, we waded out into the ocean, waist high, and dove into towering waves before they crashed. We were fearless. Sharks? What sharks? On the way home, we always stopped at the drugstore for ice cream cones. Chocolate with fudge swirls for me, always. My sister liked vanilla or strawberry while our cousin favored pistachio or rocky road.

Other days, we would stick closer to home and take our lunch and a blanket to “The Green,” a small park three blocks south of my house, for a picnic. I would pack either a peanut butter and grape- jelly sandwich or a cheese sandwich, a small bag of Fritos, a brownie from the morning bakery truck, and plums or peaches, but mostly peaches. I remember eating way too many for a kid some days–maybe four!–because my mom would buy them by the lug. I still recall those comforting peach scents perfuming the back porch, smelling of summer.

On days when it was too hot, we would hang out at my cousin’s house. She would make us tuna sandwiches, full of chopped onions, and serve ice-cold lemonade. Afterwards. we would have popcorn while plunked down in front of her big-box television set, hoping to catch an afternoon monster movie. We were seldom disappointed. But if we were, there was always Monopoly or Clue! And speaking of “clue” . . .

Get a clue, kids and all readers. I hope you get out and have a blast under the summer sun. May you create some fabulous memories to sustain yourselves in the years ahead. Eat lots of peaches, but not too many. And don’t forget to use sunscreen.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Flock!

Happy Fourth Birthday, Blackbird Writers!

Hello, Dear Readers! This is an invitation to join the celebration:

My fellow “four and twenty” Birds and I are celebrating four years flying together to “bring mystery and mayhem to the world,” one book at a time.

Our flock of supportive mystery writers took flight in May 2020, thanks to founder and thriller author, Tracey S. Phillips, who was concerned about writers’ isolation during the Pandemic.

I was welcomed into the group in October of that year and am one of three children’s authors though the only one writing Middle Grade mysteries (ages 9-12). Other genres include romance thrillers, police procedurals, cozy mysteries, international intrigue, crime thrillers, YA suspense, paranormal mysteries, and more.

Please check out each of us Birds and our books HERE, or go to https://blackbirdwriters.com. If you purchase a few of our books, we would be very grateful. Thanks for your support!

So, get a clue, Readers! Never be afraid to celebrate a birthday. It beats the alternative!

(Ad Credits: Colorful ad by Sherrill Joseph; black-and-white ad by Blackbird Writers)

Filing on the Prison Bars

Dear Readers,

We’ve probably all seen movies or read stories where someone, somehow sneaked a large file into a jail cell to help a prisoner have at the metal bars to enable an escape.

I’ve been a “prisoner” in a kind of “jail” for a few years now–the jail of clutter! And the kind of “file” I’m talking about is my file cabinet, bursting at its metal seams with folders of stuff that go back to my childhood. I had more recent files stacked on a table next to the cabinet because I couldn’t get another piece of paper inside it with the proverbial shoehorn!

I was inspired to start decluttering my file cabinet for two additional reasons: 1. Spring Cleaning; and 2. A free paper-shredding community event at a local school last Saturday. I started purging my files, one folder at a time, A to Z, about a month ago during my evening downtime. I got pretty good at zipping through a stack each night.

But one folder that took an entire evening was “Favorite Articles.” It’s the folder where I threw (and continue to throw) special greeting cards, media clippings, letters, and other sentimental, Romantic-Era-type treasures saved over the decades. I pondered to read many of them, and I discovered that my curation has remained quite consistent over the years.

Mostly, I had squirreled away magazine pictures of curving staircases, a lifelong obsession. And my favorite kind of writing, namely, descriptive: atmospheric verses, especially from Halloween greeting cards; the poem “Ithaca,” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s favorite, which was read at her funeral in 1994; a Parade Magazine article from 1982 entitled “Our Family Ghost,” written by the nephew of William Faulkner about their haunted family mansion in Oxford, Mississippi; a recent addition from the New York Times about Lord Byron; a list of my favorite childhood books; and essays I wrote about the gorgeous houses south of me that, as a child, I loved to pretend were my castles (and still do!).

Two items that brought me to tears were a musical program guide from Van Cliburn’s 1994 visit to San Diego. My dad played classical piano, and Van Cliburn was his hero. So, I saved my money and surprised him with tickets to the performance, as well as the pre-concert dinner, and after-concert dessert in a tent where my dad got to meet his favorite pianist. I am so glad I shared that evening with my all-gussied-up father, who died three years later. The other beautiful item was a four-page biography about me written by my daughter in 1996 when she was in high school. Oh, the joys and sorrows of our lives, so eloquently and lovingly penned by her.

Needless to say, not much was purged from that folder! But what a joy to reread some of those treasures that now fit in my file cabinet with lots of space for the next decades’ worth of collecting.

So, get a clue, dear Readers. Decluttering is so freeing! I hope you’ll break out of your “clutter jail” if you have one, with or without files.

(Photo by Anete Lusina on pexels.com)

Do You Enjoy Easter Eggs?

Dear Kids and All Readers,

Who hasn’t sought those delicious chocolate-covered, candy-speckled, and rainbow-dyed eggs left by the E.B. in pretty baskets and springtime flowerbeds?

For now, however, please try not to think about chocolate as we shift to the nonedible, nondenominational types of Easter eggs—those scattered in literature and movies.

The formal name for a literary or cinematic Easter egg is an allusion. You’ve probably laughed out loud when finding one of those hidden treasures, tucked into a book or film, that was designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly.

These indirect references—Easter eggs—can be an inside joke that a writer’s or movie’s fan base understands immediately, thereby creating a special bond, as if finders are suddenly part of “The In-Crowd.” Easter eggs can have a broad appeal or be subtle. They are usually somehow significant to the author or filmmaker, which is why they are included.

In addition to inside jokes, sweet Easter eggs can name an author, character, book or movie title, setting or place from another work or time, or a piece of music or work or art, thus linking one to the other; an object or symbol that foreshadows an action in the work or a character trait; a bit of dialogue; a pop culture element; an action that harks to something seemingly and momentarily unrelated; an epigraph; and, an epigram, anagram, puzzle, or set of runes that requires the brainiest of fans to decipher their surprising and often cleverly hidden messages. Sneaky, sometimes snarky, often unexpected—magical!

Sometimes, Easter eggs reveal their hiding places and messages only when we reread a work or rewatch a movie. Those can bring extraordinary ah-ha moments.

One of the most famous and prolific literary E.B.s is Stephen King. Each of his books has a single connection, one to the other. Those of us of a certain age might immediately understand the movie’s Easter egg when in The Shining, a crazed Jack Nicholson peeks through the crack in the door, as he tries to get at his terrified wife, and says, “Here’s Johnny!” Note: That phrase is not in the book, but it duplicates King’s predilection for literary Easter eggs. A “double-yolk” Easter egg, perhaps?

Such revelations of understanding can elicit comic relief, a smile, nod, wink, OMG, or outright guffaw because an E.B. has scattered the eggs successfully.

Disney’s animated movies are replete with hidden egg treasures. Eagle-eye fans have fun hunting and finding them, which are often objects or characters from previous films. In Tangled (2010), there is a wild scene at the Snuggly Duckling Pub. Perched high above the fray in the shadows is Pinocchio (1940)! And Mickeys abound. To see all forty-one Disney Easter eggs, google “Easter eggs in Disney movies,” and check out the Good Housekeeping article from 2020.

According to Samantha Knoerzer’s “The Best Easter Eggs in Literature,” in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “the book has an acrostic poem that spells out ‘Alice Pleasance Liddell,’ which was the actual name of the real existing girl who inspired the fictional Alice character.” In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, “the beginning of the book contains an epigraph . . . quoted by a man named Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. True fans should recognize the name as a fictional character in Fitzgerald’s third novel, This Side of Paradise.”

My Book 6, Upas Street: Shocking Specter, releasing in Fall 2024, will have Easter eggs of a haunted nature. Maybe that’s where I got the idea for this blog—hmmm.

But writers, be warned! Don’t be a profligate E.B. (or Wild Hare) and scatter eggs too often within a single work. By cracking too many eggs—ha, ha—you will likely lose the element of surprise and perhaps a few of your fans along the way. Wise E.B.s hide effective Easter eggs carefully so they are neither too obvious nor a stumbling block (of broken egg shells).

So, please remember: Too many Easter eggs, hidden willy-nilly, may go undiscovered. Those will turn smelly! And no one wants to read a rotten book.

(Photo Credit: Cottonbro Studio on pexels.com)

Paving the Way

Hello, Kids and All Readers,

Seven days a week, I take a three-mile walk to enhance and extend my healthspan and lifespan.

The five different routes I mapped out years ago take me over much of my historical neighborhood of North Park in San Diego, California, USA.

North Park is where I grew up and still live, so I have seen many changes, good and not as good, over the decades. While out walking these days, I enjoy the early-morning freshness, birds singing or hunting for breakfast worms, charming vintage houses where I used to trick-or-treat, and the chance to say hello to my neighbors out walking their dogs.

From day to day, I never know what will inspire me as I stroll. But so far, my walks have supplied story character names, plot points, objects, and my mystery series designation, “Botanic Hill.”

Recently, I became interested in my neighborhood’s century-old sidewalk markers and started photographing them. The dates you see in the photos are from the 1900s, not the 2000s! For example, “12–15” means December 1915. I have been walking over many of these markers since I was a child, and they were already decades old by the time I was born!

Some markers have held up better than others. I like that the city saves them when the sidewalks are repaired, carefully excising, then tucking them into the new concrete, but near where they once lay. And as a bonus, some original street-name markers still appear on the corners, too.

I wonder what stories the markers could tell about the masons who made them. About the hundreds of thousands of people who have walked over those pavements. Did the masons ever imagined that their sidewalk legacies would live on over one hundred years later? Some of us see the markers as public art now. And art inspires. Recently, one marker helped me name a character–“Cawley“–in my upcoming Book 6, Upas Street: Shocking Specter.

So, get a clue, Readers. You never know where inspiration awaits! I hope you are on the lookout, wherever your paths lead you.

 

 

 

“It’s Alive!!!” . . . Well, Soon

Hello, Kids and All Readers!

Do you dare to enter Dr. Frankenstein’s La-BOR-a-tor-y?

That’s where you’ll be when you read Upas Street: Shocking Specter, Book 6 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, releasing in Fall 2024.

I’m finally busily working on the first draft–yay!–which is due to my editor on March 10–yikes! As Detective Lexi would say, “Wowzers!”

Our four detectives are traveling to the Welsh village of Llanfair in Southern California at the invitation of residents Mr. and Mrs. Llewellyn. The couple and other villagers have sighted a green-glowing object roaming about the countryside. It was once believed to be the ghost of stagehand Scotty Roberts. He died in a freak accident in the village’s abandoned shepherds’ watch tower in 1931 during the filming of Universal Pictures Frankenstein. The “Shocking Specter,” as it came to be known, appeared right after Roberts’ death. Then, it vanished almost as quickly as it had arrived. But not before setting fires just outside the village!

So, why in 2024, almost 100 years later, have the Shocking Specter and the fires returned? Who or what is it? Why did it disappear long ago only to reappear now? What does it want? As Detective Lanny points out, “Villains always want something!” The detectives are on the case and mean to find out.

I happily dug up–no pun intended–much fascinating information on Frankenstein, other Universal classic horror films like The Wolf Man, the studio itself, the amazingly talented actor Boris Karloff, who plays the monster with such pathos; his still-revered makeup artist, Jack Pierce, an artistic special effects pioneer, who created the monster’s iconic look; Kenneth Strickfaden, an electronics wizard and visual special effects pioneer, who invented and ran the mad scientist’s laboratory machines, thereafter known as “Dr. Frankenstein’s electrician”; and, Mary Shelley, intrepid author of Frankenstein (1818), who made all this possible.

My favorite morsels are woven into Shocking Specter to honor those artists and the Golden Age of Hollywood horror films.

So, get a clue, all Readers! I’ve even hidden a few Easter eggs in this book for your hunting pleasure. Don’t know what literary and cinematic Easter eggs are? Stay tuned for my March 31 newsletter “News” blog!

Photo Credits: Frankenstein photos from commons.wikipedia.org in the public domain; Easter eggs photo by Elina Sazonova on pexels.com