Pride before a fall

“Pride goeth before a fall.”

I’ve always prided myself on organization. I knew where I was supposed to be and when. I scheduled my Mysteristas posts well in advanced and I’d never messed up.

Until today.

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I have no excuses and I have no post. Mea culpa. So just tell me: what’s your best (worst?) “pride before the fall” moment?

By way of an apology, I’ll give a $15 Starbucks gift card to a random commenter.

Photo courtest of Oleg Afonin, used under Creative Commons license.

In search of vindication

So, it’s August and we have a new theme. It’s Wednesday, and I’m thinking “what am I going to write this time?” Because, well, brain cramp.

I realize, I could really get some vindication in the next month. Problem is, it’s not exactly the kind I want.

I’m working on one of “those” projects at the day job. To sum up, we used to do The Thing one way, then we changed our minds and said The Thing was going to be done a new way. Being the person responsible for The Thing, I approved the new way. Except…

People are pitching a fit. They have to meet customer expectations and the new way of doing The Thing doesn’t really work for them. So go back, do The Thing the old way, and then we’ll customize it per client. Oh, and this decision will result in N versions of The Thing, all of which are different and will totally compromise quality and version control (which in this particular case, falls to me as the owner of The Thing).

I can see where this is headed. This will come back to bite us in the…you know. I have issued the warnings. I don’t have any clout, so I’ve been overruled. Only a matter of time before the whole thing blows up; I’ve seen it happen in other jobs. When it does, I guess I’ll be vindicated. Not really what I’m going for here.

On the home front, both kids have summer reading because–high school. For The Girl this is A Piece Of Cake. She loves to read, she is super organized, and a bit obsessive about her grades. All is well.

The Boy is the exact opposite. He has two books and one novella (“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) to read as well as something called “a double-entry journal” to turn in by September 1 (he returns to school on August 31.”

So far this summer he has gone on two trips for Boy Scouts, worked, and played a lot of basketball. I essentially tortured him into reading one book before his last trip. He is maybe 50% through the novella. I figured I’d get him to read the darn books, then worry about what the…heck a “double entry journal” is.

But yesterday, I found out. He has to pull ten quotes from each book and answer 2-3 questions about each quote. This, ladies and gentlemen, is A Lot Of Work for a kid who Does Not Like To Read. Every day, I remind him this needs to be done. We’ve pulled ten quotes from the first book. He has six from “Dr. Jekyll.” Every day, his response is, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll get it done.” Usually said as he traipses out the door.

He has less than a month. He thinks it is plenty of time. It is less time than he realizes. I’ve seen this movie too. Where the kid blithely ignores Mom’s advice, doesn’t get the work done, and winds up with a failing grade as a result.

Again – vindication for me. Again – not really the kind I’m going for.

But, you know – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll all turn out.

Maybe pigs will fly.

Ever been on the receiving end of the wrong kind of vindication?

I always knew I’d be an English major

My oldest–affectionately known as “The Girl” in my social media–starts her senior year of high school next month. Accordingly, we have begun all the grand college tours as she searches for her next educational home. She’s interested in political science, so candidates are of course being evaluated on that criterion.

All of this, plus Kate’s post Monday brings back memories of my own quest for college. I always knew I’d be an English major. What I was going to do with that degree changed over the years (law school, education, etc.), but I made up my mind in eighth grade. I was going to read books for my college years.

Because of this, I looked mainly for liberal arts colleges. (I can hear all the business and engineering folks snickering now.) And yes, I went to college as a declared English major and never wavered, despite many people asking if I also knew how to flip burgers because if I didn’t teach what else was I going to do with an English degree? (I am not flipping burgers, trust me.)

And because of that, I do exceedingly well on those “How many of these 100 essential books have you read?” quizzes. I hit most of them in college. And I learned some things:

  • Medieval English is really hard to read and if you have to have the jokes in Chaucer explained, they aren’t very funny.
  • American literature was obsessed with sex and religion for a Very Long Time.
  • Most 19th century American writers were…ponderous. Except for Mark Twain. I still think he’s funny.
  • The English Romantics were often a bit over the top in their emotions.
  • Those “Victorian” values and the image of being sexually repressed? Yeah, that was for the middle and lower classes. Victorian writing is full of sex and sexual imagery.
  • American literature in the 20th century leaves me scrabbling for anti-depressants and the English were often completely indecipherable (James Joyce anyone? Samuel Beckett?)

But the period I really liked was the Elizabethans and especially Shakespeare. My absolute favorite course was called “Shakespeare in Stratford.” We read five Shakespearean plays and took two trips to Stratford, Ontario (Canada) to see them performed, so the choice of plays for the course depended on the season for the theater company. We also saw Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I enjoyed it so much, The Hubby and I went back for a week on our honeymoon.

When I tell people about this, especially non-reader type people, they stare in horror. “I never understood Shakespeare, especially why he’s still so popular.”

If you are one of these people, I have some advice: see Shakespeare performed. Movies are fine, plays are better. The words on the page are okay, but it is a completely different thing when you get the body language, inflection, expression – and, of course, the correct reading of anything that may be in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare touches the human condition in a way that few other writers have ever done for me. I think this is why his plays are equally successful in multiple time periods. Franco Zeffirelli’s original “Romeo and Juliet” can be translated into 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The “Taming of the Shrew” is just as good done as written, or as “Kiss Me Kate” or “Ten Things I Hate About You.”

I’m not much on time travel. I like modern times just fine, thank you very much. But if The Doctor showed up in his T.A.R.D.I.S. today and offered to take me anywhere, I think I’d want to meet old Will. Pick his brain a bit. Have a glass of wine or three (I’m positive there’d be drinking). Assure him that his plays are going to have a good long run.

Or maybe I’ll just torture The Girl with yet another viewing of “Hamlet.”

Readers, Shakespeare fans or no? Read or performed? Writers, what author would you like to sit down with over a nice glass of wine?

A reverse British invasion

Say “British Invasion” to folks of a Certain Age, and they’ll usually think of one of two things: the Rolling Stones or the Beatles.

Disclaimer: those are the first two things I think of too, and now I don’t know if I’m of “a certain age” or just an old soul.

And yeah, I think it would be cool to see a concert of the Fab Four or the Stones in their prime, but really. I’d like to stage a reverse British invasion. This would not be a big invasion. Actually, I’m not sure it would be an invasion at all.

Because it would just be me.

I start to feel this way whenever I visit the ladies over at Jungle Red Writers and see the latest round of fabulous pictures from their trips across the Pond. Gorgeous manor houses. Beautiful gardens. The quirky fun of Portobello Road (pictures I can’t see without humming the song from “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” – there, see? I’m doing it again).

I keep seeing all these people “taking a break” from the internet or social media because “they are seeing the world through a screen instead of my eyes.”

There’s a very good reason for this. I am unlikely to get to visit any of these gorgeous places any time soon. I have two kids in private high school. One is getting ready to go off to college (I keep saying I’m not paying for it, but, well doesn’t every parent say that? Reality may turn out much differenly.)

And other bills. I’ve got a lot of those, too.

I like reading biographies of kings and queens, too. Those folks lived in opulence.

So bring on the screens, I say. Let me wallow in those luxurious pictures. The lovely flowers, the manor houses and castles from fairy tales. The verdant lands of Scotland and Ireland, with their heathery moors and moody landscapes. Bring it all on, I say.

And one person can absolutely stage an invasion, if only in her imagination…right?

Readers, what about you? Are you up for a reverse invasion?

Grumpy Fries & Crazy Lies – Part 10

This case was getting weirder – and more out of hand – by the moment. Persephone and Aloysius had resumed their bickering. Elton Fries was staying clear of them. Wise move.

I had to think and think fast. Old Mr. Fries had been covered in applesauce and glitter. The Brooks Brothers loafer had been, too. No glitter or applesauce at Claudia Fries’s house, but there had been the matching pipe smoke. Claudia had accused her ex, Duncan Meadows, the man Alo had left Persephone for. Why? And who owned that green canvas slip-on?

I debated interrupting Persephone and her ex. On second thought, let them argue. I had two phone calls to make. The first was to Officer Poundacre. “I need to know the size of that green canvas shoe,” I said when she answered.

“Size seven,” she said without missing a beat. “Probably a woman’s seven. I wear an eight and it looked too small for me.”

I thanked her, hung up, and called Fred Boschman. “Freddie.”

“Have you talked to Persephone MacGillivray since you saw her earlier?” he asked. “I’m trying to get in touch with her about tonight and she’s not answering her phone. Damn, man, who’s the shrew in the background?”

Uh-oh. Fred was what one might call “touchy” about women. No need to let him know his date was only feet away from me, shrieking at her ex. “No, I haven’t. Sorry. As for the shrew, one of my witnesses is getting feisty. You run any tests on the applesauce from the Fries homicide earlier?”

“Don’t nag me, Spreadbury. I’m working as fast as I can.”

“I just need to know, in general, what kind of applesauce it is. Like do you know what kind of apples it was made of?”

“No clue. But it has a lot of cinnamon in it. I can smell it.”

I glanced at the empty cans in Everslam’s garbage. Bingo, cinnamon applesauce. I thanked Fred and hung up. Then I put my fingers to my lips and whistled, cutting through the chatter. “Listen up. I’m gonna need some things from each of you and I don’t want any arguing. You.” I pointed at Everslam. “What size shoe do you wear? And don’t even think of lying to me.”

His face turned brick-red, then sulky. “A ten-and-a-half.”

“He’s not lying, Detective,” Persephone said, shooting a scornful glance at her ex. “I picked up after him enough to know.”

I focused on Elton Fries. “What about you?”

“M-me?” his voice squeaked. “Uh…”

“Think hard, Mr. Fries.”

“Eleven,” he said, swallowing hard.

“Do you own a pair of Brooks Brothers loafers?”

“I don’t see…”

I arched an eyebrow, daring the younger Fries to continue his protest.

He didn’t take the dare and his shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

“Do you have them with you?”

“One.” He went to the back bedroom and returned with the mate to the loafer we’d found at the scene.

“What were you doing at your father’s house, Mr. Fries?” I glanced at Everslam, who continued to pout. “I understand you’ve been away for a while.”

“Yes.” Fries flopped into a kitchen chair. “You might as well know, Detective. My father and I argued years ago right before I left town. Alo and I…we met up when he was out in the Gulf for vacation. He’d just broken up with Meadows and was looking to drown his sorrows.”

Persephone started to speak, but I cut her off. “Let me guess. You helped him.”

Fries nodded. “We’ve been writing ever since. I came back so we could go to this big disco charity dance tonight. That’s why I have the shoes. I figured I’d stop and see Dad, see if we could bury the hatchet.”

“Another guess. The answer was no.”

That got him to look up. “You’re right, Detective. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. Dad was dead when I got to the house. I swear it. I dropped my shoes when I saw him and I decided it was better to leave the one covered in glitter and applesauce behind.”

“That applesauce.” I turned to Everslam. “It’s the same kind you have in your garbage. Care to explain that?”

His ears turned red to match his face. “I’m not the only one in town who likes cinnamon applesauce.”

“No I mean it’s the exact same kind. I called my lab guy.” Okay, Fred couldn’t tell me it was a match, but I was playing a long shot.

Everslam stared at me for a long second, then gazed at the floor.

“Maybe your boyfriend here,” I jerked my thumb at Elton Fries, “came home and said he argued with his dad? Maybe you went over there to teach him a lesson? Forced a little applesauce on him, knowing he was allergic?”

Everslam sputtered.

“I want to see your shoes. Now.”

“You’d better do it Al,” Persephone said, her voice sugar-sweet. “Detective Spreadbury doesn’t like to be told no.”

Everslam muttered, but he led me to his bedroom and opened his closet. Pairs of shoes were lined up on the floor. No green canvas slip-ons. Damn. But Poundacre said they were probably a woman’s shoe.

“Thank you, Mr. Everslam. We’ll be going now,” I said.

“We are? But Ster…Detective Spreadbury,” Persephone said. “Don’t you have more questions?”

“Yes, but not for these two.” I took her arm and half-dragged her back to the Maserati. Then I made her face me. “That glitter was from clothing, Persephone. I need to see your sweatshirt.” I eyed her. “By the way. That date with Boschman? I think it’s definitely off.”

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies – Part 4

Nobody was running from the house and the smoke was wrong for a fire. I inhaled. Pipe smoke. Deep, welcoming, with a hint of sweetness. Took me back to sitting with Grandpa Spreadbury listening to him tell tales of growing up in the mountains where he chopped wood, hauled water, and occasionally wrestled a bear.

Of course it was all BS, but hey. When I was a kid it was good stuff.

A female officer came out of the kitchen. “Is that you, Detective Spreadbury?”

Officer Patty Poundacre. Finally, someone competent. The woman was as plain as a bowl of oatmeal, but she knew her job. “In the flesh. What’ve we got, Officer?”

She fixed me with a stare worthy of my third-grade teacher. “Have you turned in that Maserati yet?”

“Uh, not yet. Eventually.” My gut squirmed. Hey, what red-blooded American male wouldn’t want to keep a car like that? Screaming down the highway, wind in my hair, arm around a woman, maybe Persephone…

“Detective, are you listening?” Poundacre snapped her fingers.

“What? Yes, sorry.” Stop fantasizing, Spreadbury. You haven’t had that shield so long they wouldn’t yank it back and you’d be back to pounding pavement on the night shift.

“Okay, here’s the deal.” Poundacre consulted her notes. “First, the right shoe.”

“The canvas one?”

“Yes. That’s a problem.”

“Why?”

“Because the victim doesn’t have a right leg, that’s why.”

I blinked. Okay, so two people had been at the Fries residence. “What else?”

“The left shoe. Not the victim’s.”

This was ridiculous. “How do you know? I mean, look at this place. Décor from the 70s, sure, but he might like to dress up on the weekend. He might have a lady he takes dancing.”

Poundacre’s gaze was steely. “It’s the wrong size. Shoes in the closet upstairs are a men’s 10. The Brooks Brothers loafer is an 11.”

Damn it all. “Okay, so victim lived alone. This place is neat as a pin. You think he–”

“I’m not done.” Her voice was prim. The woman was competent, but she was rubbing me the wrong way. My pants definitely did not react to Officer Poundacre. “Where’s the pipe?”

“What?”

“The pipe. I’m sure you smelled the smoke. So why didn’t we find a pipe?”

What the…three people? This was out of hand. “Okay, Officer Poundacre. So you’re telling me that three people, including the victim, were in this house?”

She closed her notebook. “Yes, sir. Would seem to be that way.”

Visions of me, Persephone, and the Maserati vanished. It was going to be a long, damn night. “Where’s the victim?”

“This way.” Poundacre led me to the backyard. Freshly mown, by the scent of it. A small, concrete patio with those woven strap aluminum chairs was directly behind the house. Aluminum chairs in a hideous color of orange plaid and silver threads that were definitely disco era.

“Someone needed to bring this guy into the current century,” I muttered.

The body was on the grass. Mr. Fries was on his back, arms spread out. No right leg. A look of shock on his weathered face. More glitter and applesauce down his front.

“Okay, so our killer surprises him at lunch, shoots him, leaves him here and runs, leaving a shoe. Someone else comes in, sees the body, panics and flees, thus the second shoe.”

“Two problems with that.”

Did Poundacre have any solutions or just problems? “Such as?”

“He wasn’t shot. Or stabbed—or strangled, or bashed over the head. There are no marks on the body except an old bruise on his left arm.” She paused. “And there’s no applesauce.”

I looked around. She was right. No bowl of anything. I returned to the kitchen. No applesauce there, either. A few plates were in the sink drainer, standing like soldiers at attention. One coffee mug, a knife and fork, but no bowls and no damn applesauce.

“In fact, I’ve checked and there isn’t any applesauce in the house. In fact, it looks like Mr. Fries is allergic to apples, sir. I found a sheet of emergency medical information in his bedroom.” She paused again.

“Spit it out, Officer Poundacre. What else?”

“That glitter? On the shoe and the victim? It’s not craft glitter, like kids use, sir.” She arched an eyebrow. “It’s glitter they put on clothing. Like a sweatshirt.”

Seed to blossom

The other day, a friend of mine posted a picture of her rhododendron bush in full bloom and said, “I swear they burst into bloom overnight!”

Sometimes it’s the same with story seeds.

When I was at Malice Domestic a couple weeks ago, they put out the call for next year’s anthology, Mystery Most Geographical. The idea being that geography is an important part of the story. I was talking to my roommate about it and mentioned I’d worked in Puerto Rico and St. Croix for six months after I graduated from college. She said, “Oh, I bet there’s a story in that!”

A seed.

I continued to bat it around a bit. I did a little research. The island of Puerto Rico. A rainforest, an observation tower, two accidental deaths, superstitions, and the Puerto Rican independence movement (now mostly dead, but that’s another story).

A stalk of green pushes through the dirt.

After a little more thinking, I had a story. A plot. Even the opening paragraph.

A bloom.

And so it goes. I still have to write the rest of the story. But at least it’s underway. And it all started with a single, tiny seed.