Salt Pork Bacon

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

You may have noticed that things are a little interesting at the moment. Jobs, schools, vacations, careers, and the like are all upended. We are not used to that on such a wide and all-encompassing scale. We all to varying degrees have become used to getting what we want when we want it and doing what we want when we want to do it. All that got upended, however temporarily, in a hurry just a few weeks ago. Were you ever told that it only takes one person to change the world? That turned out to be true. All it took was one guy licking the wrong bat and here we are…

…so I was in the middle of working on something when a new album crossed my desk by a vocal group calling themselves “The Legendary Ingramettes.” My first thought was “Wow. Not too humble.” My second thought, which I had about thirty seconds into the first song, was “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” I have been playing the album over and over since then.  The song that I want to share with you today, particularly if you feel as if all of what is going on is never going to end, is “Beulah Land/I Wanna Go There”, or at least the first three minutes and thirty seconds of it. That introduction is a narrative spoken over a piano/bass accompaniment, with the narrator’s voice threatening to take right off to the stratosphere on every tenth syllable or so. She is telling a story that everyone needs to hear right now. It’s better and more vivid than anything you will see or hear on Netflix. Consider it as an example of oral tradition. 

Some of our younger visitors may not be familiar with the term “oral tradition.” I would ask that they think of it as an ancestor of the podcast. Before we had our television, computers, and phones people sat and with family and friends and told stories. Some had been passed down to the storyteller from older relatives while others were cases of first impression, but the best of them were told and retold. Some folks, particularly those in the American South, became really good at it, which is why some of our greatest authors come from that region. 

What you hear described in the first few minutes of “Beulah Land” is about growing up without and finding joy in it. The story told is not an exaggeration. I have heard similar stories from people of the same age and background as the Ingramettes. One wonderful lady of my acquaintance had four sisters and grew up in the rural South in a very small home that had one bathroom. She told me that she never saw her dad use the facilities because, when nature’s call came upon him, he took a walk (sometimes a run) into the woods to answer it, so as to not tie up the facilities should his wife or daughters need them. The common theme that runs through my friend’s story and the story in “Beulah Land” is generally, “Yeah, I guess we were poor, but we never knew it. It wasn’t that bad.” I listen to “Beulah Land,” and I remember my friend’s story, and when I come out the other end my conclusion is that I am the most fortunate person who has ever walked on earth, comparatively. Particularly now. Next time I get impatient waiting in line or get cut off by somebody passing across two lanes I’m going to try to remember the story about salt pork bacon and getting ready for Sunday morning on Saturday night. I’m going to particularly attempt to remember it in a few weeks or months when things are more or less back to normal. 

Please enjoy and be comforted.



Describe Your #StayHome #Quarantine Life in a Book Title (& More)

Jordan Dane



When I believed the stay home order might only be for a month, I was determined to make the most of the isolation. After all, the end was in sight, right? But the Corona Virus has such dire outcomes for some that I get the sense this won’t be over soon.

I’m primary caregiver for my parents. We’re fortunate they have their health (and humor) but that doesn’t keep me from worrying about them. Their independent living apartment complex has implemented tighter rules to restrict access for their facility to outside visitors (except in certain circumstances). I’m grateful. They have a restaurant that delivers to their door and they are encouraged to stay home and order.

My parents celebrating Willie Nelson’s birthday. Don’t ask.

But I miss seeing my mom and dad. I miss hugging them. I miss my siblings. We talk on the phone and text all the time as a family, but it’s not the same. I’m sure you guys know what I mean. I miss what I can’t have and it’s getting old.

Basically the walls of my home have closed in on me. I fixated on stocking my shelves with grocery items I don’t normally eat. I haven’t resorted to SPAM yet, but I’m sure that day will come. You know what they say–it can’t go bad if it was never good in the first place. Did you know that you can slice SPAM thin and use it to oil your furniture? It’s quite versatile–if you can put up with the flies–but I digress.

What if this quarantine order lasts for months? I would need a different mindset for the long haul. I might have to exercise or get rid of my weight scale, but in the mean time, I could use my TKZ family for a little fun. We can all use a good laugh these days.

DISCUSSION (Something for everyone):

1.) Describe YOUR QUARANTINE LIFE in a book title.

2.) What movie title best describes your SEXY SIDE?

3.) What book or movie title best describes PARENTING?


April Fools’ Day Literary Hoaxes

Happy April Fools’ Day.

April FoolWhen my brother was about 3 or 4, he loved April Fools’ Day. I think he regarded it as a chance to tell little lies, like “You have dirt on your face,” or “Your shoes are untied,” and then shouting “April Fool.”

Some people go to great lengths to fool the public, like the great spaghetti harvest or the Sydney iceberg.

But when did this tradition of pranks originate?

Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.

There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather, something we Coloradans know all too well.

Since this is a writing blog, I hit the Google Machine for some literary “pranks.”

Here are a few.

Naked Came the Stranger, by Penelope Ashe
The Hoax: America goes nuts for a salacious novel of sex and drugs.
The Truth: A group of journalists purposefully wrote a terrible book to prove American culture is vulgar, which everyone kind of assumed anyway.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey
The Hoax: Wrote a harrowing memoir about his struggle with addiction.
The Truth: It was more novel than memoir; he got caught; made an enemy of Oprah.

Coffee, Tea or Me?, by Donald Bain
The Hoax: Memoir reveals the wild and crazy lives of airline stewardesses (which is what we used to call female flight attendants).
The Truth: A ghostwriter is hired to pen memoir of wild and crazy stewardesses, discovers they’re actually kind of boring, makes up a bunch of stuff, and makes millions.

The Painted Bird, by Jerzy N. Kosinski
The Hoax: Polish American author writes a harrowing memoir of his experiences during World War II…
The Truth: …but it’s a cobbled-together skein of plagiarism and lies.

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Hoax: The diary of a troubled, drug-addicted teen is published in order to scare kids straight.
The Truth: Well, yes, except the diary was a forgery, penned by a therapist.

Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea
The Hoax: “Travis Tea” submits a salacious novel to a seedy publisher.
The Truth: “Travis Tea” is actually a group of sci-fi and fantasy authors seeking to expose an unscrupulous publisher.

Any April Fools’ Day memories to share? Best pranks? Given the “outside” world, a few laughs are welcome.

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

by Debbie Burke


Photo credit: Ryan Arrowsmith, Creative Commons

For your listening pleasure, here’s the late, great Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin singing Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

The answer is: millions are zooming.

Zoom is a videoconferencing service, similar to Skype but easier to use, where a number of people can see and talk to each other via their computer cameras and microphones. Until recently, Zoom has been used mostly by business.

An Authors Guild newsletter brought Zoom to my attention as an alternative for writers  to connect with readers in the face of cancelled book launches, appearances, and tours.

[BTW, if you are not already a member of the Authors Guild, consider joining. Their lawyers reviewed three book contacts for me, worth far more than the $135 annual dues. Daily discussion groups are excellent sources of knowledge and experience shared by pros. Okay, end of commercial.]

Because Zoom is live, people at meetings can interact and ask questions. It enables authors to chat with book clubs and give readings and presentations.

Zoom’s basic option is free and allows from three to 100 participants, with a 40-minute time limit. Pro options start at $14.99/month and offer unlimited meeting time and other bells and whistles, including webinars, education courses, toll-free call-in numbers, etc.

Sounds like the perfect venue for authors and readers to connect, right?

Except there’s a hitch: you must give Zoom permission to access your computer. Whenever a third party gets inside your computer, there are inherent risks.

Last year, a massive security breach was discovered at Zoom. Cyber-security expert Jonathan Leitschuh reported the flaw in this article. His analysis is highly technical and much of it went way over my head. But it’s still well worth reading for his summations.

To paraphrase in simple non-geek terms, Zoom is essentially a virus, albeit a benevolent one, that opens a back door in your computer to activate your camera and microphone, letting you see/hear others and they see/hear you.

However, a flaw enabled hackers to hijack Mac users’ cameras, obtain personal data, and insert malware without the user’s knowledge.

Jonathan expressed concern about Zoom’s slow response to patch the flaw and their rather cavalier attitude toward their customers’ security.

Additionally, even if you uninstall Zoom, the capacity remains for third parties to access your computer to do mischief. Jonathan’s article delves deeply into Zoom’s inner workings and suggests workarounds.

For those of us who are less techie, here’s an article from Consumer Reports with ways to protect your camera and mic from hacking.

Zoom-Bombing” is another problem. This recent article from Forbes describes how trolls broke into a Zoom meeting and inserted pornographic videos. When they were blocked, they simply chose new user names, joined the meeting again, and inserted more “bombs.”

Zoom’s privacy statement reveals they share your information with third parties like Google and Facebook. In other words, data mining. 

With COVID 19, Zoom use has exploded and its stock is going to the moon. This article in the Motley Fool says:

“Why Zoom is a solid long-term bet:

While Zoom stock has already more than tripled from its original IPO price, it still has the potential to create massive wealth for long-term investors. The enterprise collaboration segment is expected to top $48 billion in 2024, up from $31 billion in 2019.”

With shelter-in-place restrictions, hundreds of thousands of people are conducting virtual meetings about every subject from Aardvarks to Zumba. With many more potential targets for malicious hackers to exploit, I expect attacks will zoom up faster than the stock.

While I don’t seriously believe hackers are dying to break in on my upcoming meeting with a book club, I am concerned. When personal data is vulnerable, losses can be drastic.

Each of us must decide if the risks outweigh the benefits of using Zoom.


TKZers: Have you used Zoom or other videoconferencing tools? What has been your experience?




Last day to download Debbie Burke’s thriller, Instrument of the Devil, for only $.99 here.


Comforting Creative Outlets

If you’re like me, every day has started to become a bit of a blur…but happy Monday all the same! After reading Sue’s great blog post last Monday (Why the World Needs Creatives More than Ever) I started to feel less guilty about my complete inability to write last week – I definitely felt my overall anxiety had depleted my creative reserves (not to mention having a household full of boys trying to work/being out of school). Instead of writing, I found myself turning to what I now call my ‘comforting’ creative pursuits – namely sketching and painting (as well as my less comforting, more challenging, creative pursuit – the dreaded knitting!).

I’ve dabbled in painting for years, always enjoying the fun of doing something for the pure pleasure of it. I’m not particularly good but also not particularly bad, so it’s a hobby that can be both satisfying and comforting. Unlike my writing, I don’t feel the pressure to excel or try to make a living out of it and, because I lean towards abstract art, my paintings don’t even have to look like anything in real life (bonus!).

The last couple of weeks I’ve found that getting absorbed in a painting is a great stress reliever. I get to just focus on the stroke of the paintbrush and the subtleties of color. It enables me to get engrossed in something other than compulsively checking news apps or social media – and time does seem to pass in a completely different way when I’m painting (hours seem to float by, calm and serene – it’s lovely!).

Next week my boys start back at school via remote learning and hubby will continue to work from home, so I need to set up a new schedule – one that reintroduces some decent writing time (I feel I really ought to get that back into focus!) and which, I hope, will also include time to paint. In these troubling times, I feel I need my comforting creative pursuits more than ever…

So TKZers what are your ‘comforting’ creative outlets? Are you having trouble focusing on your writing – or are you using this pandemic as a way of channeling your thoughts and feelings at the moment (I feel completely stymied in this regard!). What creative pursuits are you turning to? Books for me are also a comfort – although I had started a post-apocalyptic YA novel that might need to get re-shelved for while for my own mental health…

BTW – here’s a photo of my latest painting  ‘in progress’ – no judgement please:) When it’s finished it will hopefully look a little like the one at the top of this post (which I finished last week:))

Oh, and here’s a photo proving I have actually made some progress knitting!!


The Coronavirus Diaries

By Mark Alpert

My 18-year-old daughter, who’s home from college now just like everyone else in her generation, says she’s writing a diary. Years now from now, she says, she’ll want to remember what it was like to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City, which has become the American epicenter of the new coronavirus. She’s an excellent writer, much better than me, so she’ll probably do a good job.

I haven’t written much about the pandemic since my last blog post, which described some of the mistakes that led to this fiasco (you can read it here). Instead I’ve focused on the novel I’m working on (15,000 words so far). I’ve pretty much confined myself to our apartment in Manhattan, going out only for long walks in our neighborhood (usually at night, when it’s easiest to stay six feet away from any passersby) and for 3 a.m. trips to the local supermarket (which is open 24 hours, fortunately). So I don’t have a lot to say about the effects of the pandemic on New York City aside from the basic facts that everyone else is reporting: the streets are mostly empty, the stores are mostly closed, and most people seem to be following the rules of social distancing.

(There are, however, some glaring exceptions. Until yesterday, construction crews continued to work at half-built skyscrapers across the city, crowding into elevators and other tight spaces. There’s nothing essential about their work; New York certainly doesn’t need any more luxury buildings right now. But the real-estate developers were worried about their profits, and the workers were worried about their paychecks. After an outcry from public-health experts, New York officials finally put a stop to non-essential construction on Friday.)

Because I’m a science journalist and an author of science thrillers, my musings on the new coronavirus have a somewhat technical flavor. One of the scariest things about Covid-19 is its variability — many infected people exhibit mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, whereas many others (including a significant number of robust people under the age of 50) become deathly ill. At first I assumed the variations were the result of the normal genetic diversity of the human species, the same diversity that makes some people susceptible to cancer and others vulnerable to Alzheimer’s or autism. But why are the symptoms of Covid-19 so much more variable than those of influenza? If you catch the flu, it’s almost never mild, and usually not deadly unless you’re quite old. The course of the disease is fairly predictable: about a week of discomfort, miserable but not life-threatening.

Then I started to think about the most significant difference between influenza and Covid-19. The flu has been infecting people for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. During flu season, most people acquire some degree of immunity to the influenza virus, either because they were vaccinated or because they caught the flu and recovered. But the virus evolves very quickly, its genome mutating randomly during the billions of reproductions that occur every time the microbe infects someone. That’s why you need a new flu vaccine every year: a few of those mutations will produce new virus strains that can evade the antibodies produced by the human body to defeat last year’s strains.

Notice, though, that natural selection is at work, and the evolution of the influenza virus has a clear direction. The flu virus will mutate in many different random ways, at many different places along its relatively short genome (about 15,000 base pairs), but the only mutations that’ll give the microbe a clear survival advantage will be the ones that’ll help it evade the antibodies. So over time we’re more likely to see carefully tailored adaptive changes to the flu virus rather than wholesale revisions of its DNA.

The new coronavirus, in contrast, has been infecting humans only since December. It’s invading a population that has no immunity to it, so it has free rein to develop into a wide variety of strains. It’s similar to a flock of birds that get blown to a remote island in the Pacific where there are no birds but lots of different food sources: seeds, nectar, insects, whatever. Because the newly arrived birds will face no competitors that are already occupying the various ecological niches, they will eventually evolve into many different species, each tailored to a particular food source. Birds with longer beaks will be more successful at drinking nectar from flowers; birds with more powerful beaks will be better at cracking nuts, etc. Natural selection will accentuate these traits over the generations, and in a relatively short amount of time (maybe only a few million years) the island will host all kinds of bird species that descended from the original flock but look very different from their ancestors.

Charles Darwin was the first to postulate this process, after he visited the Galapagos and observed the great variety of finches there. Evolutionary biologists call it adaptive radiation. My hypothesis is that the new coronavirus is also undergoing adaptive radiation as its spreads across humanity. Unlike the familiar strains of influenza, the new microbe isn’t optimally adapted to its human hosts yet, so a multitude of mutations will proliferate, and some strains of the coronavirus will be much deadlier than others. My hypothesis has the advantage of being easy to prove or disprove; researchers just have to measure the amount of genetic diversity in all the new coronavirus samples being collected right now and compare it with the genetic diversity of influenza (or, better yet, compare it with the more established coronaviruses such as the ones that cause the common cold).

And here’s another idea that might appeal to science-minded thriller writers. Cooped-up conspiracy theorists have been speculating that the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese germ-warfare laboratory. This conjecture is mostly based on the fact that there is a bioresearch lab in Wuhan — the Institute of Virology — where researchers have studied coronaviruses, and this lab is less than ten miles from the Wuhan seafood market where Chinese officials have said the disease originated. Other bioresearch labs in China have had safety problems in the past, so is it unreasonable to think that some lapse at the Wuhan lab could’ve allowed a dangerous virus to escape?

But more detailed studies of the new coronavirus have thrown cold water on this theory, or at least on the hypothesis that the microbe is a product of genetic engineering. One piece of evidence involves the molecular structure of the new coronavirus’s spike proteins, which give the germ its distinctive crown-like appearance. This spike protein enables the virus to invade human cells because it binds with a receptor on the cells’ membranes. The arrangement of six crucial amino acids in the spike protein determines how easily the virus can bind with a human cell, and although the arrangement in the new coronavirus is fairly effective for binding, it isn’t the optimal configuration. If this coronavirus was designed for germ warfare, why didn’t the researchers create the best possible version?

Furthermore, if the new coronavirus was genetically engineered, the bioweapon researchers would’ve probably started the process by making tweaks to existing coronaviruses that infect humans and/or other mammals. But when scientists compare the genome of the new virus with the DNA of similar germs, they see differences sprinkled randomly along the genetic sequence, which is the kind of change you’d expect to see in a virus that arose from pre-existing microbes by the process of natural selection. In a genetically engineered germ, the changes would be concentrated in selected areas of the genome. (Unless the bioweapon engineers were being particularly tricky and trying to hide their tracks.)

But enough about the science. Thriller writers should always focus on emotions, especially the extreme emotions triggered by extraordinary events. As I go on my nightly walks across Manhattan, I’m struck most by the emptiness of the streets. In the city that formerly never slept, the only people outside are the dog walkers and the homeless. I expected the stores to be closed, but the great majority of the windows in the apartment buildings are also dark. All the New Yorkers who own second homes upstate or in the Hamptons have escaped to their summer places. The city is eerily quiet and newly unfamiliar.

There are terrible things happening in the hospitals nearby, dozens of people dying of Covid-19 every night, but I can’t see them. (I can hear the ambulance sirens, though, screaming down Broadway.) So I’m not the best person to write about this new plague. Someone else will have to do it, someone closer to the real struggle. Or maybe someone who can better imagine what it feels like.


True Crime Thursday – Shut the Door Murder Confession

Credit: Wikimedia

By Debbie Burke


A mistake in a court transcript resulted in a “confession” to a double murder in Syracuse, NY.

During testimony before a grand jury in February 2020, 13-year-old Brendell Elmore said he “shut the door.” However, the court reporter erroneously transcribed that he “shot the dude.”

Big oops.

By law, grand juries do not allow recording. A transcription by a court reporter is the official record of the proceedings. If the reporter doesn’t record something, it didn’t happen. Or if s/he records something incorrectly, that error stands unless challenged. Transcripts are critically important because they are the only documents that judges consider when they make rulings and decide appeals. 

Fortunately, in Brendell’s case, an audio recording verified his actual words–“shut the door.” The reporter had inadvertently activated a record option, saving his testimony. Although illegal, the judge ruled the recording was not intentional and it was crucial to the accuracy of the proceedings.

A news report about the error can be found at this link. A trial in March resulted in the conviction of Brendell’s older brother Treamon in the double murders, covered here. Even though Brendell didn’t pull the trigger, he was present during the crimes and held the victims at gunpoint with a non-working pistol. He faces time in a detention facility for his role.

The disturbing error in the transcript calls into question the long-standing practice of human stenographers who record documents by hand (and ear) in an age when digital recording is reliable and accurate.

While some courts are trending toward technology, lawyers still come down in favor of human stenographers, according to this article.

UPDATE: Please scroll down to Jim Bell’s comment for a more expert analysis than mine. Thanks, Jim!


TKZers: Do you think court reporters are obsolete? Should digital recording be allowed in legal cases? What about using both reporters and recordings in tandem?






Internet to the Rescue!

By John Gilstrap

I’ve read articles by and about other writers who maintain that their first step in drawing a character is to find the perfect name.  I’ve never understood that, beyond the obvious connotations of character type.  A romantic hero named Raunchy McStinkface would probably be doomed.  My series character, Jonathan Grave, is called that because my original plan for the series was to build titles around the name–Grave Danger, Grave Peril, etc.  Okay, I’m not very good with titles.  (Hand to God: I was two or three books into the series before I realized, thanks to an inquiry from a fan, that Jonathan and I share the same initials.)

For me, characters develop in my head from the inside out–how they think and feel and react.  Names, for the most part, are just labels, something to call them.  I’ve taken names from friends, and also from news stories, sometimes attaching one news maker’s first name to someone else’s last name.

In my current WIP, Crimson Phoenix, my first non-Grave book in quite a while, I’m cursed with a ton of walk-on characters.  I’ve been going crazy trying to develop names for these folks, until earlier this week, when I wondered if the internet has such a thing as a name generator.  Eureka!  This site is a name generator.  It allows you to choose ethnicity, sex, age, and a host of other factors to spit out a list of names.  Or, you can go straight to the Quick Name Generator, which will spit out a random list for you to choose from.

Fair warning: The site can become an obsession if you’re not careful.

So, this got me to thinking, what else is out there?  One of my evil writing reflexes is to have characters nod too much.  Non-verbal communication is important in a scene, but beyond shrugs, nods making faces, my quiver runs empty pretty quickly.  Here’s a site I found specifically to help with body language.

Want more?  How about this helpful blog with 106 ways to describe sound?

I forget sometimes what a boon the internet can be for writers.  I am continually amazed by how there seems always to be an answer to any question you want to ask.  Not all of the answers or suggestions are great, but there’s always a route to follow to get to the answer.

So, TKZers, give us a link to your favorite helpful sites, either on craft or just for reaearch.


What Book Wasted Your Time?
What Book Moved You?
Let’s All Take A Quiz.

By PJ Parrish

Sue’s post yesterday on the need for creativity in our trying times got me to thinking — why has my urge to write anything gone pffft?  I figured it out — all my creative juices lately are going to helping me and my own stay sane.

Not easy in these times of cabin fever, quest for toilet paper, and real fears. I’m walking more than ever, and I gotta tell you, there’s been an unexpected joy in seeing my neighbors and friends out more. And this morning was really lovely — I was all alone with my dogs, a hovering dawn fog and a very loud symphony of birdsong. (Loud because there are no cars).

Yesterday, I ventured out to a toy store to buy a jigsaw puzzle. The sweet young clerk told me they are doing a bang-up business.  Seems even the kids are getting tired of video games and Scrabble is sounding pretty exotic.  I am looking for good things, small as they may be.

I am also reading more. Normally, I cleave to fiction but this week I started Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels. It is a history of our democracy, with every wart revealed and wonder exalted.  It’s beautifully written and very affirming.  We will get through this, Meacham says, we’ve endured worse. You don’t believe me? Well, here’s the sad story of Nathan Bedford Forrest…

Books are so vital right now. Whether you’re escaping to Treasure Island or retreating into the romance of Danielle Steele. (Although I’d vote that you should re-read Judith Krantz. She’s much funnier and very randy). I wish the libraries were not having to close right now.

So, forgive me today if I have no good writing advice. My mind is elsewhere. Let’s play a game instead.

One of my favorite stops in my Sunday New York Times is the By The Book feature in the book review. Famous folks are interviewed, asked the same questions week after week a la the format popularized by the great James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio. (“What sound do you love?” “What’s your favorite curse word?” “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”)

This week in By the Book, Emily St. John Mandel was questioned. (She’s the author of one of my favorite books Station Eleven.)  So here are the questions, but I am going to give you my answers. That’s because I will never be famous enough to be asked but always wanted to be.  Please weigh in with your comments and answer any of the questions that move you!

What book are on your nightstand? The Meacham book, plus Robert B. Parker’s The Judas Goat. Just added a really ratty copy of Wuthering Heights that I found this week at the GoodWill. I figure it’s time.

What’s the last great book you read? Your first thought is usually your best one. I immediately grasped upon Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I still think about the people in that book sometimes.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, how?).  Somewhere foreign so I can’t understand anything on TV.  It’s raining. My dogs are snoring at my side.

What’s your favorite book no one else heard of?  Well, my tastes aren’t esoteric enough to dazzle anyone and I refuse to make something up to sound important. So I will recommend two: Jim Harrison’s memoir A Really Big Lunch. If you love cooking, wine and great writing, this is for you. (A tip from Jim: Don’t drink and cook at the same time. But if you must, only one glass of prosecco.)

Also, try Di & I by Peter Lefcourt.  Leonard Schecter, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, goes to London, meets the unhappy princess and they run off to travel across America in a mini-van, and end up running a McDonald’s in Cucamonga, California.  I’m a royalist and love books about the twisted Windsors. This made me laugh til I cried.

Which writers working today do you admire most? I will read a grocery list if Joyce Carol Oates writes it. Or maybe I am just envious of her work ethic. So that’s it. Your turn…

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you? This was easy.  My own first book, Dark of the Moon, written with my sister, remade a sibling into a beloved friend.

How do you organize your books? Roughly by subject. Crime fiction on one shelf, my dance books from days as a critic on another, etc.  My husband has shelf with rock biographies. I recommend Keith Richard’s Life because anyone who is more durable than Astroturf deserves to be heard.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? Do I remember? Hell yes, I remember, because these books take up valuable time and energy and leave you angry for months for being so gullible, sort of like a bad blind date. So this gives me yet one more chance to trash Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. (I mentioned it in Jim’s Sunday post).  I love fiction set in old England. But this was first-person pretension and overwrought prose prettified with preface graphics of family trees. Which still didn’t help me keep all the guys named Thomas straight.  A friend told me I have to let this go and suggested I read Infinite Jest to regain some perspective.

What say you, guys? Your turn to talk about books. Stay safe. I know that sounds banal but sometimes banal, like rice pudding, is what works.



“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “You are.”

Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

The best-laid plans…

I was so proud of myself for writing today’s blog ahead of time and finishing it on Monday, March 16. It was supposed to be about the ways in which authors could spend their time while dealing with all of the hoo-hah about social distancing and the like. The feeling lasted until Thursday, March 19, when the wondrous and wonderful Jordan Dane posted her blog titled “A Writer’s Guide to Surviving Social Distancing and Quarantine.” 

Whoops. Jordan’s post was so much better than what I had prepared — no surprise there — that I couldn’t even be frustrated. That said, one might expect that such a state of affairs would have put me into a state of panic, given that my deadline was near. Well,  contraire, mon frere. I have it covered. There is always something, and something else, to discuss. 

I am of the age at which one may find oneself attending at least one organ recital on a weekly basis, if not more often. By “organ recital” I refer to one of those gatherings which takes place — or at least used to until recently — at a coffee shop or diner, where a group of duffers might gather and trade war stories about their latest hospitalizations, surgeries, doctor visits, blood work results, and gradual deterioration. I don’t want this to be that at all. But here goes.  

I have for a few years experienced occasional episodes where I’ve been awakened at night by knocking. Two knocks, to be exact. My impression has in each instance been that someone is knocking at my front door. My bedroom and its window are in front of the house on the second story. I leave an outside light on at night as well. I accordingly can quickly obtain an excellent view of the front yard. I never see anything, such as a neighborhood urchin dashing madly way, following these knocking episodes. I also go downstairs and check to see if possibly Steve Harvey, Michael Myers, out-of-season after curfew trick-or-treaters, or missionaries are there. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

These episodes don’t happen frequently or regularly. I can go a year or more without one and then experience one every few weeks. In the past, I have forgotten about these episodes until I have had another. After experiencing one earlier this week, however, I did a little research and discovered that I apparently have something called EHS.

Photo courtesy

What is EHS? It’s “exploding head syndrome.” EHS is described as being benign, and it is, in my experience. The condition was first noted in medical literature in 1876 by Dr. Silas Wier Mitchell but was given its charming name in 1988 by Dr. John M.S. Pinafo…er…Pierce.  Those who experience it hear loud noises and occasionally see flashes of light at the beginning or end of a sleep cycle. There is no medication for EHS but some prescription sleep aids have been reported anecdotally to be helpful. It doesn’t bother me enough to take Halcion or Ambien or one of those medications whose potential side-effects include walking down a highway disrobed while singing the soundtrack from Hamilton. It’s not worth it. 

EHS may have been around for quite a while. I found a British legend that solemnly declares that if someone is awakened by one phantom knock it meant that good fortune (Steve Harvey) was coming. If awakened by three, however, it meant that death (Michael Myers) was imminent.  The legend is moot, however, as to two knocks. Maybe hearing two knocks means that nothing will happen. I should be so lucky.

Have any of you heard of EHS or experienced it? My most experience has inspired me to fool around with writing a Cthulhu Mythos story, even though I don’t know what I’m doing with it.  Porter stumbled toward the front door, jumping each time the ponderous knock sounded. As he reached out to turn the doorknob Porter heard a slithering and hissing noise, as if hundreds of snakes were seeking entrance via the door hinges.  Porter tried to keep his voice steady as he yelled, “Get back, I say, get back! The Innsmouth Police are coming!” I might share it here if I finish it. Or not. In any event, be well and safe. Thanks for dropping by The Kill Zone, where you don’t need to call or knock first. 

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash