About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

Our Secret Language

By Elaine Viets

We writers learn many specialized words. Words for our craft, including point of view, story arc, and pacing. Legal words such as subpoena, defendant, and waiver. We learn forensic words, sports language and many more.

But we all speak a private language, though we may not realize it. I’m talking about family words.

I first learned about family words from Paul Dickson, the author of  “Family Words: A Dictionary of the Secret Language of Families.” If you can get your hands on this book, grab it.

Dickson describes family words this way: “Every family has them. The words that only you use, your own secret language. For instance, one family has coined the word ‘lurkin’ for any sock that has lost its mate because ‘you know the other one is ‘lurkin’ around somewhere.’”

My personal favorite from Dickson’s book is “Grabacabbage,” someone whose name you don’t know or can’t remember. As in, “I saw that Grabacabbage kid from Cedar Court skateboarding through traffic. He’s going to get hit.”

My family also had their own words. Many centered around food. Here are a few:

Mustgo. Leftovers. As in “must go today or you’ll eat it tomorrow.”

Bread sandwich. My grandfather’s scornful name for a sandwich with only a thin slice of meat. Grandpa liked to pile on his meat and cheese.

Sunday ham.  When unexpected guests dropped in around dinner time on Sunday, Mom would serve up an informal spread of potato salad, chips and lunchmeat. The cold cuts were the everyday stuff packed in our lunchboxes: baloney, pickle loaf, salami and braunschweiger, Swiss and American cheese.  One of us kids would be sent to the local convenience store for ten cents’ worth of ham – usually about three slices. The Sunday ham would be draped on top the platter. Only the guests could eat it. If they didn’t, Dad got the Sunday ham in his lunchbox. We kids weren’t allowed to touch it.

FHB. (Family Hold Back). Used when we had voracious visitors, and there was a sudden shortage of hamburgers, steaks, or pork chops. The meat was reserved for guests. Once they were served, we kids could eat. If there were two chops or burgers left, they went to the guests under FHB rules.

My family gatherings had their own special words.

Organ recital. When my great-aunts visited my grandmother, these formidable women would repair to the kitchen for coffee cake and what my grandfather called the organ recital. Grandpa would flee to the living room and watch the ball game.

The organ recital was for women only. Kids like me were banned, but I found a place where I could eavesdrop on the gruesome details.

My aunts were permanently upholstered in black and wore Enna Jettick shoes. During the organ recital, my aunts would discuss their aches, pain and operations in loving detail.

Better yet, they talk about other people’s operations. Especially the hopeless ones. Aunt Marie would say, “The surgeon opened Eddie up and found a tumor the size of a grapefruit. There was nothing they could do, so they sewed him back up and sent him home.” I don’t know why, but tumors were always the size of a grapefruit.

As the afternoon wore on and the coffee cake disappeared, the labor contest would commence, and the women would one-up one another with horror stories about how long they were in labor during childbirth.

Is it me or is it hot in here? A euphemism for hot flashes. No woman would ever admit she was in menopause, much less suffered hot flashes. Instead, she’d ask this question. The other ladies would declare the heat was getting to them too, and fan themselves dramatically with napkins and magazines. The hostess, who was usually the same age, understood what that question meant, and adjusted the room temperature to December in Iceland.

Mutton dressed as lamb.  An age-shaming remark aimed at an older woman dressed like a young girl. Today, Kris Jenner, Charo and Madonna are often sniped at as mutton dressed as lamb. I doubt they care. They’re laughing all the way to the bank.

Short arms. My grandfather’s term for someone who avoided reaching for a check. As in,  “I’m not going out with that short arms and get stuck with the dinner check again.”

Tuberoses. My grandmother’s nickname for any mournful chiming clock. Apparently, when she was younger, tuberoses were a popular funeral flower.

Pasture pool. A golf game.

What are your family words, TKZers? Do you use them in your writing?


It’s here! A Scarlet Death, my new Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery. Buy A Scarlet Death hardcovers and ebooks at:

          Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/bde2c7ks

          Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yhtvzns7

          Target has the hardcovers here: https://tinyurl.com/5xnrx5n4

Sneak Preview

By Elaine Viets

          Hey, there, TKZers. A Scarlet Death, my latest Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery will be published April 2, and I can’t wait for you to read it. This is what TKZ is all about: getting our writing published. It’s why we work to improve our plotting, pacing, even our proofreading. We put a lot of time and money into our work. Let’s not forget to celebrate our success.

It’s easy to become blase after we write multiple books. A Scarlet Death is my 34th mystery. When it arrived, I danced around the house, then showed it off to my friends and family like a new baby. Even my cat, Vanessa, came by to check it out.

Let me tell you a little about A Scarlet Death. Angela investigates the bizarre death of socialite Selwyn Skipton, found strangled on black satin bedsheets, with a red letter A stapled to his chest. Selwyn was a good man. He gave to charity, supported local causes, and was married to his wife for more than twenty years. What were his dark secrets? What did he do to deserve such a terrible death?

Also, what’s going on in Angela’s personal life? Will she be a new bride? Or a new widow?

Here’s a look at the first chapter. Enjoy.

         A Scarlet Death Chapter 1

Selwyn Skipton’s murder scene was one of the strangest, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my job.

The seventy-year-old CEO was buck-naked on a bed with black satin sheets. A silk tie, in a muted shade of blue, was knotted around his neck. There was nothing muted about the large, red letter “A” stapled to his gray-haired chest.

Yep, stapled.


I thought Skipton would be the last man to die on black satin sheets. He was a devoted husband who made big donations to charities – unfashionable causes that helped the illiterate read, the hungry eat, and the homeless find shelter. In short, a good man.

Selwyn was strangled in an apartment above the Chouteau Forest Chocolate Shoppe. My town is so rich, we don’t have shops. We have prissy shoppes.

I’m Angela Richman, a death investigator for Chouteau County, a fat cat community forty miles west of St. Louis, Missouri. Chouteau Forest is the largest town in the county.

Selwyn’s murder was discovered by Maya Richards, the chocolate shop owner. When she opened the store that morning, Maya smelled something that definitely wasn’t chocolate. She followed her nose up the back stairs to the apartment, where the door was unlocked, and poked her head in. One look at the strangled Selwyn, and she sprinted downstairs. When Maya recovered her breath, she wailed like an air raid siren, then called 911.

That’s how Detective Jace Budewitz and I wound up at the scene at eleven o’clock on a freezing December morning, an hour after the place usually opened. The chocolate shop was chaos. The front doors were locked, with the three responding uniformed officers inside. Mike Harrigan, an old pro, was guarding the back door. Scott Grafton was drooling over a rack of chocolate Christmas candy, and Pete Clayton, the new hire, was at the front door. Crazed chocolate lovers stormed the place, oblivious to the falling snow. Jace shooed them away, and had Pete string up yellow crime scene tape.

Maya Richards unlocked the door with shaking fingers, and let us in. I was familiar with the interior, thanks to my craving for sea-salt truffles. The decor hadn’t changed since 1890. Curlicued dark wood framed mirrors behind mahogany counters. The chocolates were displayed like jewels in beveled glass cases. The cases were empty today. Maya knew her shop wasn’t going to open for a while.

Maya was about forty, wearing a chocolate-brown suit, the same color as her hair. Her face was pale as paper and her red lipstick looked like a bloody slash. Maya was shaking so badly, I was afraid she’d collapse. She was clearly in shock, and could barely talk.

Jace was worried about her. He made sure Maya sat in a chair and called 911. I went back to find her a cup of coffee. I couldn’t find any, but there was plenty of the shop’s double-dark hot chocolate. I heated a mug in the microwave, and brought it to her. Maya wrapped her hands around the mug, and nodded. After a few sips, she recovered enough to talk. There were long pauses between her words, but she forced them out. Then the words tumbled out in a rush.

“I . . . get . . . here . . . about seven . . . to set up the shop,” she said.

“I have a very keen nose, and something didn’t smell right. I thought a squirrel might have gotten into the store and died. I checked everywhere, and finally decided the smell must be coming from upstairs.

“Mr. Selwyn Skipton has the entire apartment upstairs. I thought he kept it as a second office, or a pied-à-terre for when he worked late downtown. He owns the building, you see, and he’s a regular customer. He loves our bear claws.”

“Me, too,” I said. Jace frowned at me for interrupting.

Maya took another sip of hot chocolate and kept talking. ‘I’ve never been upstairs in the apartment. Mr. Skipton’s kept it for years, and he likes – I mean, liked – his privacy. I was afraid he might have had some kind of accident. He has his own entrance in the back of the building, and I need a special key to open it. I also need a key to open the door at the top. The upstairs door was left unlocked.

“I ran upstairs and knocked on the door. No one answered. I jiggled the handle and the door swung open. All I saw was this giant bed, covered in black satin, and Mr. Skipton in the middle of it. Dead. And naked. With bugs crawling on him!”

Now Maya’s teeth were chattering. Her breathing was rapid and shallow and her skin was clammy. She set her mug on the floor.

“Are you OK, Ms. Richards?” Jace asked.

“I’m fine,” she said, and fainted.

“See if she has any family, Angela,” Jace said. “I’ll call 911.”

I found her cell phone and ran back. It needed the owner’s fingerprint to unlock it. I grabbed Maya’s limp hand, used her index finger to unlock the phone, scrolled down to an entry that said “Sis,” and called the number. Her sister Anita answered, and once I calmed her down, Anita said she’d leave her office and meet Maya at the hospital.

“That’s the ambulance,” I told her, as the siren died with a squawk. Doors slammed. Pete opened the shop door, and four paramedics rushed in, bringing a blast of cold. Jace explained what happened. They checked Maya’s pulse. “Do you know if this has happened to her before?” the biggest paramedic asked. He looked like he bench-pressed Buicks.

“No idea.” Jace shrugged.

“It could be a panic attack,” the paramedic said, “but we’ll take her to the ER to make sure.”

Jace asked Pete to stay with Maya at the hospital until her sister showed up. The young crew-cut mountain gave Jace a sour look and stomped out the door.

I raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Pete’s got a bad attitude,” Jace said. “He tried to get hired by a big force, and wound up here. Thinks he’s too good to do scut work.”

I nodded, and let it go. Some detectives wouldn’t have bothered taking care of Maya at a murder scene, but Jace had a kind heart.

Meanwhile Mike, the responding officer, had set up the crime scene log. Jace and I gloved up, put on booties and trudged up the dark, narrow private staircase. I dragged my death investigator’s suitcase behind me.

The apartment door was open from when Maya fled downstairs.

Jace looked in and said, “Good lord.”


A Scarlet Death will be shipped April 2. Preorder your hardcover or ebook at: Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/bde2c7ks

          Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yhtvzns7

          Hardcovers only:  Target: https://tinyurl.com/5xnrx5n4

          The Penguin Bookshop, https://tinyurl.com/67nvm4j9

          RJ Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn: https://tinyurl.com/4drh288c

          Please note that prices may vary. Check before you buy. 

Good Reading

By Elaine Viets

Reading is good for you.

That’s right. Reading is healthier than a bale of kale, according to the studies I’ve seen. Here’s a rundown on some:

Reading can help keep your brain sharp.

Can’t do Sudoku? Me, either.

But I do read. And a 14-year study of almost 2,000 people in Taiwan who were 64 and older, showed those who read one or more times a week had less cognitive decline at six-and 14-year intervals.

Wanna live longer? Read.

          Here’s a novel idea. Books are better for you than magazines and newspapers.

“Book readers also experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers,” said a study published in 2017.  “These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.”

Reading can improve your brain’s health.

          According to Bustle. The newsletter said, “Scientists looking into a six-month daily reading study at Carnegie-Mellon discovered that the volume of white matter (that stuff responsible for carrying nerve impulses between neurons) in the language area of the brain actually increased.”

Stay connected.

Business Insider says reading strengthens the connections in your brain.

According to Sabrina Romanoff, an NYC clinical psychologist, “reading creates neurons in the brain, a process known as neurogenesis. Neurons are cells that send messages and transmit information between different areas in the brain.

“Reading material that requires thought, consideration, and effort to metabolize what’s being described leads to the creation of new neurons in your brain,” Romanoff says. “These neurons also increase new neuronal connections, both with each other and older networks, which accelerates processing speed.”

Six minutes.

          Is all it takes to reduce stress. That’s according to researchers at the University of Sussex. They said, “People who read for just six minutes had reduced muscle tension and a slower heart rate.”

Tired of being told to eat your veggies?

A study of more than 15,000 Chinese age 65 years and older who didn’t have dementia were followed for about five years.

The study wanted to find out if intellectual activities could lower “the risk of dementia in older adults, independent of other healthy lifestyle practices such as regular physical exercise, adequate fruit and vegetable intake, and not smoking.”

The good news?  “Daily participation in intellectual activities was associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia several years later, independent of other health behaviors, physical health limitations, and sociodemographic factors.”

In other words, “Active participation in intellectual activities, even in late life, might help prevent dementia in older adults.” And yes, intellectual activities include reading.

Pass the zucchini, please. To someone else.


          Stay smart and healthy! Enjoy The Dead of Night, my seventh Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery. http://tinyurl.com/mr33sc8e

The Christmas Rescue

By Elaine Viets

 This is my last blog before the holiday break, and I wanted to tell you about my favorite Christmas memory.

When I was growing up in St. Louis, I waited for my grandfather to bring home the Christmas tree. Grandpa had a real knack for picking them.

Every year, he had the worst tree on the block. It was skinny, scraggly and bald. The needles fell off when he brought it through the door.

It looked like a bottle brush.

Grandpa didn’t buy a tree. He rescued it.

He’d wait till the last minute on Christmas Eve. Then he’d stop at the local tree lot and buy one for a buck. He overpaid.

Grandma would take one look at the homely thing and burst into tears. “Just once, I’d like a real tree, like normal people,” she’d say.

We kids would burst into laughter. You had to work had to find a tree that ugly.

Grandpa looked bewildered. After all, he’d saved a poor little tree from a cold lot. And now everyone was mad at him.

Operation Tree Rescue kicked into high gear. Dad would get extra branches from the tree lot and try to drill holes in the spindly trunk to make the tree look fuller. He had to be careful. The tree’s trunk was skinny.

He strung the tree with lights, which made the branches sag. Now we had a bald, round-shouldered tree, like a bad blind date.

Grandma would Christmas cookies and Christmas cards in the wide-open spaces. She brought out the colorful glass ornaments. Then she’d fill the biggest holes in the branches with popcorn strings and beads.

The tinsel went on last. That covered a lot of problematic places. Grandpa’s tree ended up looking like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family.

Meanwhile, Grandma’s normally pristine carpet was knee-deep in needles. The tree shed needles we didn’t even know it had. Grandma vacuumed twice a day, and there were still needles.

Every holiday, Grandpa would surpass himself. No, considering what those trees looked like, he’d outstrip himself. “Next year, just bring home a broom handle,” we’d tell him, as we tried to rescue his latest find. He’d sit in his recliner, looking pleased with himself.

Year after year, the saga of the rescue tree continued. Until it didn’t.

My grandparents are long gone, and I can have any tree I want. Big, beautiful trees. Perfectly shaped trees. Trees that are decorator delights.

But none of them are as good as Grandpa’s rescue trees.

Happy Holidays, however you celebrate.

Age Old Problem

By Elaine Viets

See this woman?  I’m sure you have. She’s been featured in a slew of ads. Aw, what a cute old lady.

I loathe the old bat. Her harmless cuteness stereotypes seniors and makes it easy to dismiss older people. Thanks to her, anyone over sixty seems powerless and a bit simpleminded. She may be a fine person in real life, but I don’t like how her stock photo is used.

Crazy old cranks. How about this woman known as “Cranky Martha.” You’ve seen her in the Medicare ads. Martha’s another stereotype – an old woman who grumbles about Medicare programs. Martha is denied the dignity of righteous rage. Dealing with government phone lines and websites should make anyone angry. They can eat up your whole day. But poor Martha is just another complaining, crazy coot.

Like many baby boomers, I’m old enough to get Social Security.  I’m also concerned about how older people are portrayed. Older people are cute, cranky, sexless and downright weird.

How many of these demeaning stereotypes are perpetuated in our books?

Even the language I’m using to describe these people is disrespectful: coot, crazy, old crank, old bat. All those words diminish older people.

Here are a few more stereotypes:

The old weirdo. This person is often found in cozies, dressed in loud clothes and behaving like a silly 16-year-old. Margery, the 76-year-old landlady in my Dead-End Job mysteries, skirted the edges of this stereotype. But I tried to keep her smart and sometimes downright scary.

The male version is the wacky old guy who is the hero’s sidekick, a popular Western trope. Remember Gabby Hayes, the grizzled old codger who tagged along after John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and  Hopalong Cassidy?

The foreign old weirdo. Heaven help an old person who lives in a poor country, like this Cuban woman smoking a cigar. Photographers flock to photograph their wrinkles (apparently poor people can’t afford moisturizer). Writers condescend to them and their customs.

The old technophobe.  Yes, it’s true. Some older people have trouble with cell phones and other tech. There’s a reason for that. Parts of the brain shrink with age and communication between neurons slows. This makes it tough for some older people to learn new technology.

Some. But not all.

It’s true I still long for the return of the five-button phone in offices, but I can use a cell phone. Alan Portman, a regular reader of this blog, is my main IT person, but when I need someone local, I use a sixty-something grandfather with his own business. His brain works just fine, thank you.

Growing old disgracefully. That’s the motto for a lot of boomers. They love to tease their staid children.

The old stereotypes are outdated. Older people are not the old fogies of yesteryear. They are active, well-educated, and entrepreneurial. Empire-builder Martha Stewart was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 81.

Seventy-year-old Christie Brinkley looks damn good in a bikini.

Older people are powerful. Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held office until her death at age 87.

So how do you portray old people in your mysteries? Are they one of these stereotypes, or realistic characters? Are your older people like Miss Marple, who are underrated because of their age, but use it to their advantage? Or are they fierce and vital?

Deadly secrets in a crypt. The Dead of Night, my 7th Angela Richman mystery, is on sale here: https://tinyurl.com/2c4qzlb6



Meet Webster’s New Words

By Elaine Viets

New words are supposed to be the sign of a living language. In that case, English is not only alive and kicking, it’s dancing barefoot around the room. Recently, Webster added 690 new words to the dictionary. Many are Gen-Z words that have officially entered the language.

Do you use any of these words in your writing? How about your speech?

Beast mode: an extremely aggressive or energetic style or manner that someone (such as an athlete) adopts temporarily (as to overpower an opponent in a fight or competition).

Doomscroll is a verb meaning, “to spend excessive time online scrolling through news or other content that makes one feel sad, anxious, angry, etc.” I expect to do a lot of doomscrolling as the 2024 Presidential election gets closer.

Chef’s kiss is “a gesture of satisfaction or approval made by kissing the fingertips of one hand and then spreading the fingers with an outward motion.” Often used as an interjection.

Here’s an example: “The crab itself deserved a chef’s kiss—not only was it clear that it was good quality crab that had been handled with care, but it also had this mouthwatering consistency that held its integrity until you bit into it. Then it was like a burst of flavor.Amy Martino.”

Cheffy is an adjective describing the “the characteristic of or befitting a professional chef (as in showiness, complexity or exoticness.

You can’t go online without encountering tiny house. That’s “a small house or mobile home that typically has a floor plan of less than 500 feet and is usually designed for ergonomics and space efficiency.”

 Thirst trap is “a photograph (such as a selfie) or video shared for the purpose of attracting attention or desire; also : someone or something that attracts attention or strong desire.” Kim Kardashian and her selfies are the definition of the word.

Girlboss is “an ambitious and successful woman (especially a businesswoman or entrepreneur).” Forbes magazine wrote “But almost every notable girlboss tumbled out of the C-suite in rapid succession in June 2020.

Really? Girlboss? Did that word escape from the 1950s?

Nope, Webster first noticed it in 2016. That’s one word I’m not planning to  use.

GOATED: An adjective meaning, “considered to be the greatest of all time,” Webster said. I think it’s presumptuous, unless you can see into the future.

Zhuzh: To kick it up a notch. Webster credits Queer Eye’s “original fashion guru, Carson Kressley for making zhuzh popular.” This show also brought you metrosexual.

“Zhuzh describes the act of making slight improvements or accents to a wardrobe or look (such as by adding a pocket square, teasing one’s hair, or popping a shirt collar),” Webster says. That’s Carson in the middle of this photo below.

Rizz means “romantic appeal or charm.”

Old words with new definitions.

Doggo. To lie doggo means to hide, but now doggo has been repurposed as slang for dog.

Bingo card: This is not your Aunt Myrtle’s bingo card, the one she played in the church basement. Webster also says it “means a list of possible, expected or likely scenarios.” As Molly Taylor wrote, “I’m pretty sure nobody had ‘global pandemic’ on their bingo cards back in 2016 …”

Hallucination has taken on a new meaning in the computer world. This is how Webster defines it: “a plausible but false or misleading response generated by an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

Webster gives this example: “This type of artificial intelligence we’re talking about can sometimes lead to something we call hallucination,” said Prabhakar Raghavan in an interview . . . “This is then expressed in such a way that a machine delivers a convincing but completely fictitious answer.”

Simp used to be a simple word. It meant someone who’s not too bright. Now it’s sprouted several new meanings.

Webster says simp can be informal and often disparaging. “Someone (especially a man) who shows excessive concern, attention, or deference toward a romantic partner or love interest.” Margaret Taylor says a simp is “… multiple videos offering examples of what makes someone a simp, like wearing a nice outfit to school and hoping your crush notices only for them to be absent.—Magdalene Taylor.”

Or, a simp can be someone who “has a marked fondness or desire for something.” Morgan Sung used it this way:  “… as a simp for multifunctional appliances, I was enamored off the bat.”

And last but not least, simp can be a rather awkward intransitive verb. Webster gives this example from John James: “A Brazilian influencer has taken simping for the richest man on earth to a new level by getting Elon Musk’s name … tattooed across his forehead.”

Oh, that’s what that is:

 Some new definitions give us words we need.

Bracketology is “the practice or study of predicting the outcome of elimination tournaments or competitions especially in NCAA college basketball.”

Vanity card is “the logo of a production company that appears briefly on-screen following the credits for a television show or movie.” Executive producer and writer Chuck Lorre’s vanity cards are famous. Here’s one:


Kayfabe is “the tacit agreement between professional wrestlers and their fans to pretend that overtly staged wrestling events, stories, characters, etc., are genuine.”

Hah! True wrestling fans know wrestling is real and the rest of the world is kayfabe. The word has been around more than 50 years. Webster mentions  “. .. a letter to the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune concerning a fight between Dick the Bruiser and Angelo Poffo is signed ‘Mark Kayfabe,’ a name presumably made up from mark ‘the victim of a con’ and kayfabe.

          Like words and word play? Check out this page at Webster’s dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/wordplay/new-words-in-the-dictionary

You’ll enjoy it. As Webster says, TTYL — Talk to you later.

Enjoy hardcover mysteries? LATE FOR HIS OWN FUNERAL, my seventh Angela Richman, death investigator mystery is on sale at Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0727850296/ref=ox_sc_saved_image_2?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1





Lost Words

By Elaine Viets

I needed everyday phrases for a project partly set in the early 20th century. Old words and phrases are clues to how people thought more than a hundred years ago.  Conversation was more formal and swear words were rare. Here are a few lost words I found:

Tickled pink: My Aunt Tillie, who was as cute as her name, was “tickled pink to attend a party,” or hear about a wedding, a birth, or any other good news.

Puzzle bones and sauerkraut: My grandfather’s favorite meal: pork neck bones with boiled sauerkraut.

You drive like Barney Oldfield: In other words, really fast. More than a hundred years ago, pioneer race car driver Oldfield set a number of speed records, including the world speed record for driving 131.724 mph at Dayton Beach, Florida.

He’s a (real) daisy: A deadly insult men used to insult one another. Calling a man a daisy meant he was anything from a jerk to a prize scumbag – or worse. Women were never daisies, just Daisies.

Mutton dressed as lamb: An older woman dressed like a much younger one. A form of age-shaming.

Elbow grease: What you use when you clean vigorously. As in, “Plain old elbow grease will get rid of that ring around your bathtub.”

Frog strangler: A heavy rain.

Three sheets to the wind: Really drunk. As in, “He came home from the bar three sheets to the wind.”

Wound up like a clock: Overexcited. Before digital clocks and sugar highs, children who were running around inside the house and shrieking were “wound up like a clock.” This usually meant it was naptime.

Grass widow: A divorced woman. Divorced men can be grass widowers, but that phrase didn’t seem to be used as often.

Tinker’s dam: Mom wasn’t big on swearing, so she’d say, “I don’t give a tinker’s dam.” Mom thought she was avoiding the other D-word, but that may not be true. The Phrase Finder says, “There’s some debate over whether this phrase should be ‘tinker’s dam’– a small dam to hold solder, used by tinkers when mending pans, or ‘tinker’s damn’ — a tinker’s curse, considered of little significance because tinkers were reputed to swear habitually.”

      Some experts sided with Mom. They said a tinker’s dam was a socially acceptable way to curse. But others dug out a sentence from John Mactaggart’s The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, from 1824, which said, “A tinker’s curse she did na care what she did think or say.”

The Phrase Finder says, “In the Grant County Herald, Wisconsin, 1854, we have: ‘There never was a book gotten up by authority and State pay, that was worth a tinker’s cuss.’

“So, we can forget about plumbing,” Phrase Finder concludes. “The earlier phrase simply migrated the short distance from ‘curse’ to ‘damn’ to give us the proper spelling of the phrase – tinker’s damn.”

Damn straight.

Six ax handles wide: Body shaming was big in the old days, too. A hefty woman was described as “six ax handles wide.”

Farting like a brewery horse: A condition presumably caused by the horses’ rich diet. Not sure that this phrase is entirely forgotten. Bud Light made the following commercial, where a girl’s hair is set on fire by a gas-passing sleigh horse. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBU-lWs6Cn0

More brass than a government mule: One of my grandmother’s favorite phrases, to describe someone who is outrageously bold. As in, “He had no business being there, but that man has more brass than a government mule. He marched right in.”

         I have no idea where Grandma got that phrase. I’m pretty sure she never listened to the southern rock band, Gov’t Mule. Or heard legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross say someone was “being beat like a government mule.”

So where does that phrase come from?

Beats me.

Readers, what are your favorite lost words?




Rejections Happen to Us All

By Elaine Viets

Feeling discouraged, writers? Tired of papering your walls with rejection slips?
When I feel down, I turn to the good book. Not THE good book, but a good book by Elaine Borish called “Unpublishable! Rejected writers from Jane Austen to Zane Grey.”

If you’ve been rebuffed by a publisher, you’re in good company. So was Agatha Christie. Borish says it took Dame Agatha four years to find a publisher for her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” – and then it sat on a desk for another eighteen months. The publisher suggested some changes to the ending, and Agatha made them. Belgian detective Hercule Poirot finally made his debut in 1920.
Agatha Christie wrote more than ninety titles, and “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is still in print.
Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, was a hybrid author. Her “Peter Rabbit” was rejected by six publishers. She used black-and-white sketches, since she was worried that color pictures would make the book too expensive for children. Beatrix finally self-published “Peter Rabbit.” It went through two printings.
In 1901, Beatrix submitted Peter Rabbit again, and the traditional publisher politely rejected it: “As it is too late to produce a book for this season, we think it best to decline your kind offer at any rate for this year.”
The next time Beatrix submitted the book, she had color illustrations. The first edition sold out before the 1902 publication. By 1903, sales were multiplying like, well . . . rabbits. She’d sold 50,000 copies, and lived hoppily ever after.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ books were definitely not for children. “Whose Body?,” the first mystery by the rebellious Oxford scholar, was rejected by several UK publishers for “coarseness” in 1920. Today, the risque parts wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. The novel opened this way:
“Oh, damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey.
Besides that four-letter word, Dorothy L.’s first book is about the disappearance of a Jewish financier, Sir Reuben Levy. Borish tells us, “When a naked corpse turns up in a bath, Inspector Sugg is eager to identify him as Levy.” Lord Peter says it can’t be “by the evidence of my own eyes.”
And the evidence? The body was (gasp) uncircumcised.
Dorothy L., desperate for money, revised her story, making sure the body could not be mistaken for a rich man. The deceased had “callused hands, blistered feet, decayed teeth” and more. An American publisher bought “Whose Body?” It was published in New York in 1923, and Dorothy was on the way to fame and fortune. Borish writes, rather gleefully, “consider the last words spoken by Lord Peter in the last novel: ‘Oh damn!’”

George Orwell had his masterpiece, “Animal Farm,” turned down by no less than T. S. Eliot, a big deal at UK publishers Faber and Faber. Like many in the upper echelons of publishing, Eliot missed the point when he rejected Orwell: “Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm . . . What was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
Another publisher, Fredric Warburg, took the book and paid Orwell a hundred pounds. Orwell had the last laugh – Borish says the book sold 25,000 hardcovers in the first five years.
Anthony “A Clockwork Orange” Burgess had a novel about his grammar school experience – “The Worm and the Ring” – rejected because it was “too Catholic and too guilt-ridden.”

Publishers outdid themselves with boneheaded reasons to reject bestsellers. Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, “A Study in Scarlet,” was turned down by the prestigious Cornhill magazine because it was too much like the other “shilling shockers” already on the market. The editor said it was too long “and would require an entire issue” – but it was “too short for a single story.” Another publisher sent the manuscript back unread. A third bought the rights for a measly twenty-five pounds, and let it sit around for year. It was published in 1887, and then brought out as a book, but Conan Doyle didn’t get any money from that because he’d sold the rights. Worse, the book was pirated in the U.S. Doyle wrote a couple of historical fiction works. Then an American editor, looking for UK talent, had dinner with Doyle and Oscar Wilde and signed them both up. Wilde wrote “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Doyle did “The Sign of the Four.”
These writers endured humiliation, insults, swindles – and in many cases, poverty – and still went on to write books that are read today.
Orwell talked about an embittered Russian who said, “Writing is bosh. There is only one way to make money at writing, and that is to marry the publisher’s daughter.”
Obviously, we writers have to pay attention to rejections sometimes. My agent gave me a good rule of thumb: “If you get the same reason for rejection repeatedly – your plot isn’t twisty enough, or you have too many secondary characters – it’s time to pay attention.”
How many times have you ignored rejections?

Neglecting to Make My Deadline

By Elaine Viets

When the first day of June rolled around, I realized my next Angela Richman, death investigator mystery was due at my London publisher on August 1.
AUGUST 1! A day I was sure would never arrive when I signed that contract two years ago. But here it was, rushing toward me like a runaway freight train.
I had eight weeks to finish my novel. Eight weeks. And I was on Chapter 10 – a long way from the end. If I wanted to finish on time, I’d have to write 4,500 words a week.
I could do that. If I switched to extreme writing mode. In other words, “neglect everything else.”

Good-bye to my social life. No parties, no leisurely lunches, no long phone chats or Zoom visits. My friends know they’ll see me in August.

No conferences and drinks at the bar with other writers.
So long doom scrolling. The nation will have to take care of itself for the next eight weeks.
Adios, cute cat videos.

I can no longer afford these luxuries.
No binge-watching TV. No shopping, no matter how good the sales.

My husband Don has promised to run errands for me. Any other essentials can be ordered online. For the next two months, my emails will pile up. All doctor and hair appointments are cancelled. I have to finish this book on time.
The decks were cleared, and I’ve been pounding the keys. I’ve just finished Chapter 25 and need to get a good start on Chapter 26. Another five hundred words today and I’ll be up to speed.
Ben Franklin’s warning is glaring at me. “You may delay, but time will not.”

I’m lucky. Unlike many writers, I have a helpful husband, and the luxury of an office in my home. I don’t have children or relatives to care for. I’m a full-time author and don’t have to go to a job.
So what do writers with serious responsibilities do?
Parents certainly can’t neglect their children or quit their day job. Some have to write at the kitchen table. They don’t have a room of their own.
These writers are a tough breed. One of the toughest is author Joan Johnston. A number of years ago, she was a mom with two young kids. She wanted to write romances – and succeed.
There was nothing romantic about how she achieved her success.
Joan told me she got up at four o’clock in the morning and wrote until she had to get the kids ready for school and go to her job.
Joan’s hard work at that ungodly hour paid off. Today, she is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than sixty historical and contemporary romance novels, and she’s won a slew of awards.
I’m not sure I could have done what she did.
So, writers, how do you carve out writing time for yourself when you’re down to the wire?


The Dead of Night, my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery, is available in book stores and online:
Buy from Bookshop.org, and your purchase will help support local bookstoreshttps://tinyurl.com/yet7h56d
Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/2wdzhjh5
Amazon: amazon.com
PLEASE NOTE: Prices for e-books and hardcovers vary. Please check that you have the lowest.


Good Luck and Good Advice


By Elaine Viets

What a week of ups and downs. I broke my collarbone. My right collarbone and I’m right-handed. I wish I had a good story to go with it, like I was outrunning the cops in a high-speed chase, but I tripped and hit a wall. Yep, tripped.

The brakes failed on my husband Don’s car in our condo parking garage. (That’s it above, leaking on the garage floor.) The car hit a wall and was totaled. Don walked away without a scratch, and no one was hurt. A minor miracle, and we’re both grateful.

My car (the green one with water up to its hubcaps) survived the great Florida flood and it’s ready to drive. Except I can’t drive it because of the busted collarbone.
But along with this steaming pile of lousy luck, there is some good news. Very good news.

The Malice Domestic mystery conference is honoring me with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Malice 36 April 26-28, 2024. Malice Domestic is an annual fan convention in Bethesda, Maryland. I’m thrilled to be part of a star-studded line-up next year.
Lori Rader-Day will be Toastmaster. She’s nominated for the Edgar Award, and won the Agatha, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark awards. The award-winning Sujata Massey, who writes historical and mystery fiction set in Asia, is Guest of Honor. Noted blogger Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books, will get the Amelia Award. There’s more, much more, but there always is at conferences.
I learn a lot by talking to other writers and readers. At the recent Malice Domestic convention, we were talking about the good career advice we received. Many of these tips have been discussed in TKZ, including the importance of persistence at all stages of your career. And, don’t quit your day job.
But the most helpful advice for me, now that I have 34 books out, came from my current agent.
He had me re-read all my books, from the beginning to the current novel, and report back to him.
The results were enlightening. Novels that I thought were my best had major flaws. I repeated certain catch phrases. In some, I waited too long to start the mystery. There were good things, too. But I learned a lot.
I recommend this for every writer. If you only have one or two novels, take time to analyze them. If you have several unpublished novels, do the same thing. Analyze your body of work.
I probably won’t be stopping by today because I’ll be in St. Louis for a book signing, busted wing and all.
Tell us what writing advice works for you, TKZers.

############################################################################The Dead of Night, my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery, is available in book stores and online:
Buy from Bookshop.org, and your purchase will help support local bookstoreshttps://tinyurl.com/yet7h56d
Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/2wdzhjh5
Amazon: amazon.com
PLEASE NOTE: Prices for e-books and hardcovers vary. Please check that you have the lowest.