Question Time!

Do you know that feeling when one of your favorite authors lets it slip that they like your work, too? So do I!

Even better, I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Josh Lanyon. You can read it here on the Josh Lanyon blog.

And while you’re over there, check out Josh’s new book, Murder at Pirate’s Cove. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and I think you’ll find it quite a treat as well.

Thank you again, Josh, it was a lot of fun!

The Woman Behind Sherlock Holmes

They say behind every great man is a great woman. But behind the legendary Arthur Conan Doyle stood an entire great family. Great, not in the sense of prominent, though his lineage did include a number of prominent people in artistic fields. No, when I say “great,” I mean significant to Conan Doyle’s development as a writer. And though his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was neither a prominent artist nor a person of great social influence, her influence on the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is inarguable.

A line drawing of Mary Foley Doyle by Dicky Doyle
Image: Public Domain by Dicky Doyle

Mary Foley Doyle, depicted above in a sketch by her brother-in-law Dicky Doyle, married Charles Altamont Doyle in Edinburgh in 1855, when she was just seventeen. The couple had seven children who survived to adulthood.

Mary was well-educated, and herself a gifted storyteller. Arthur would describe her as “the quaintest mixture of the housewife and the woman of letters, with the high-bred spirited lady as a basis for either character.” She was partial to dramatic stories of chivalry, knights, and bravery, and had a knack for oral storytelling.

“In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle would later note, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” He would also say, “Looking back…it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I began weaving dreams myself.”

The stories would eventually serve an important purpose for the family — not just as entertainment, but as distraction from the uncertainty and tragedy of their everyday lives. Charles Altamont Doyle was not a well man. Though an accomplished artist from an artistic family, Charles was forced to neglect his art in order to support his large family. He would later develop an alcohol addiction, and would spend much of his life in and out of asylums, leaving the family’s day-to-day support and management to his young wife.

Mary’s strength and steadfastness in the face of the family’s adversity would leave a lasting impression on both her husband and Arthur. Throughout his life, Arthur would remain close to his mother, seeking her advice in all things. It was a sentiment shared by his father.

 

Line drawing of Charles and Mary Doyle by Charles Altamont Doyle
Image: Public Domain by Charles Altamont Doyle

 

When their extended family chipped in to send Arthur to boarding school in England — by all accounts a gruelling and unpleasant experience —  Mary’s stories helped Arthur to endure. There, Arthur discovered that he, too, had a talent for weaving spellbinding tales, which he would often do for the amusement of the younger students.

When Arthur’s boarding school education finished, it was Mary who insisted he enter medical school at the University of Edinburgh. There he met not only other writers, including James Barrie (Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), but also Dr. James Bell, whose deductive method of diagnosis would inspire the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

This period would see Arthur Conan Doyle’s first published works, short stories that included The Surgeon of Gaster Fell (inspired by the events surrounding Charles Doyle’s commitment to an asylum), The Mystery of Sasassa Valley (written during his early studies), and Captain of the Pole-Star, which arose from his experiences as a ship’s doctor in the Arctic.

Was it any wonder that Dr. Watson’s beloved, long-suffering wife would take her name from the heroine of Arthur Conan Doyle’s early life? Or that he would pass that name on to his own daughter?

A lot has been made of the professional influences on Conan Doyle’s life and writing. But one can’t forget that it was Mary who started him down the path — boarding school, medical school, and his subsequent medical career — where he encountered those influences.

It’s clear, also, from the words of Conan Doyle himself, that it was Mary who taught him the importance of stories — as well as how to create them. And for that we owe her a great debt of recognition.

And I think Arthur Conan Doyle would agree.

Featured Image: Public Domain by Dicky Doyle

 

Cover Reveal!

Behold the cover for my upcoming novelette series, Shadow of Justice. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the combined work of Dawn Kimberling and Selene Volturo, and it won’t be the only cover. Why not? Because there are eight mysterious stories in this series of shorts, which we’re planning to release onto Kindle Unlimited in February.

Want to know more? Enjoy the picture then scroll down.

Shadow of Justice cover RGB flat

Constable Simon Pearce doesn’t believe in love. It’s a dangerous proposition for many people in 19th century London, but for an ambitious copper climbing Scotland Yard’s greasy career ladder, it’s out of the question.

He doesn’t believe in monsters, either, though there seem to be a lot of them about. Whether it’s a ghost haunting a London churchyard where men seek men’s companionship, a phantom hound in Edinburgh that’s hell-bent on revenge, or a murdered businessman on a cross-country train who just won’t stay dead—the mysterious has a way of finding Pearce, whether he wants it to or not.

But are these happenings truly supernatural? Or is something worse—something thoroughly human—to blame?

Pearce has his theories—about crime, about monsters, and about love. But life has a way of testing even the most carefully considered ideas. And as he chases mysteries from one end of Britain to the other, he may just have to reconsider his ideas about all three.

Eight novelettes spanning one year, three cities, and eight mysteries. Coming in February from Blind Eye Books.

 
Featured Image based on an image by Samuel John.de, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The Armchair Linguist Deconstructs Scotland: Understatement Edition

If one has to emigrate, it’s a fortunate thing to be able to settle in a country where you speak the local language.

We landed in Scotland, though.

All joking aside, it’s been one of the best things that’s ever happened to us in so many ways. People have been kind, welcoming, and loads of fun. 

And they have a lot of interesting ways of putting things.

A Disclaimer

Full disclosure: I have a master’s degree in linguistics. This means precisely squat. Actually, what it means is that I have a basket full of analytical tools that enable me to make observations that probably only I find interesting — but not the actual ability to find a job in my field.

The more one learns about any field, though, the more one realizes how little one actually knows, and how much there is left to learn. And this means that generalizations are dangerous and often wrong.

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For such a small population — there are more people in my native Los Angeles than in the entire country — Scotland has an unbelievable amount of linguistic diversity.

We have Scots speakers, Gaelic speakers, and people who grew up speaking only English. There are islanders. And other sorts of islanders. There are English-from-England speakers, as well as folk from all across the English-speaking diaspora.

There are quite a few regional accents as well, and within those, accents touched by social class, education, generation, and a number of other factors. And there are probably lots of other divisions I haven’t even thought of.

What does this mean? It means that after two years my American ears can hear perhaps a dozen distinct and unique accents and identify them as being from Scotland, but not much more specific beyond that. So I won’t try at this point.

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So, instead of generalizing my observations to all of Scotland, it would be more accurate to describe my observations as pertaining to “People that I have spoken with in Edinburgh.”

That said, today we shall discuss…understatement.

(And, yes, I realize that understatement is common all across the island. But this is…special.)

Wee Bumps on Wee Dugs

The first thing a visitor will notice upon conversing with the native population is the ubiquitous use of “wee.” Folk here use it a lot as an American might use the word “little.” Wee is essential in the Fine Scottish Art of Understatement.

Recently I took my pup to the vet for a checkup. The vets love my “wee dug.” My wee dug is a 100-pound German Shepherd. He’s a gentle giant — which I think is what one of the techs meant when she described him as “a be’ of a woos fer setch a big boy.”

Later, I received a call from my vet. They had found “a wee speck tha’s a be’ worryin’” Translation? It was a malignant melanoma half the size of my thumb that needed to be immediately, invasively, and expensively excavated.

the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh
Greyfriars Bobby was “a good wee dug.” He kept vigil over his master’s grave for 14 years.

A few weeks later, I received a call from my children’s high school. One of my children had experienced “a wee fall” and had “a wee bump” on their knee.

My first response, as you might expect, was, Why on earth are you calling me about this?

Then the school said, “An ambulance is on the way.”

WHAT?

Turns out, my child had dislocated their knee. The kneecap was actually sitting on the side of their leg. Emergency treatment was required, as well as physio, and a dire warning that this may happen again.

A wee bump indeed.

Silly Behavior and Weaponized Disappointment

Someone else we know (also an American transplant) went to pick up their child from a high school trip to Europe. The teacher in charge of the trip pulled them aside and said there had been “a be’ of silly behavior” and that it was possible the headteacher might want to have “a wee chat” about it at some point.

The headteacher called promptly the next week.

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Turned out, the “silly behavior” was something which, in the States, would be seen as jerky and inappropriate. However, in Scotland it could have been seen as a criminal offense.

The school went easy on the student, however, seeing as they were still acclimating to the culture. The student got off with writing a heartfelt letter of apology to the school community, and a year-long ban from school trips, including the long-anticipated end-of-the-year jaunt to an amusement park.

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What this actually means is “a very high bridge with an extremely steep curve made from slippery stones covered in moss and slime and not held together very well. If you go near it, you will probably die.”

The disciplinary head who hosted the “wee chat” was a master of Weaponized Disappointment. I have experienced this myself, and can say that American schools would do well to put away every other disciplinary tool at their disposal and develop this.

Weapons-grade Scottish Disappointment is the single most effective tool I have ever witnessed. The quiet, sad tone. The heavy sorrow that is palpable in the air. The slowly shaking head. The doleful, soulful eyes. The sigh, followed by a statement to the effect that we know you’re better than this, but you really slipped up, mate. 

It will scare you straight like nothing else.

So, Now What?

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When learning a new language, one tends to generalize outward. Which means that I have to wonder…what dire warnings have people been trying to transmit to me that I’ve been too thick to heed?

When my doctor said, “Och, yer blood pressure is a wee be’ eleva’ed today,” did she really mean “Nae worries, I’ve got the defibrilla’or charged and ready tae go”?

When the mechanic said “there’s a wee be’ of a ping under the bonnet” did they mean it’s time for a new engine?

One thing’s for sure, though. If my neighbor knocks on my door to tell me “there’s a wee zombie havin’ a butchers through yer back windy an’ i’ looks like it could use a cup of tea,” I’m outta here.

New Release!

Alternative Truths: Endgame
It’s here!

Alternative Truths III: Endgame, the last of the Alternative Truths series is here, and it’s fantastic!

I had the privilege of co-editing this anthology of wonderful, imaginative stories by some of today’s best and brightest names in fiction and poetry. We had hundreds of submissions, and it wasn’t easy to choose. But we’ve brought together the best of the best, just for you.

And if you like this one, check out the other anthologies that B Cubed Press has put out.

If great fiction isn’t enough, many of the authors from this anthology (and the others) are donating their royalties to various charities, including the ACLU.

So, what are you waiting for? Check it out!

5 Surprising Things About Moving To Scotland

As I prepare for my first trip home after almost two years in Scotland, I can say there were many things that surprised me — some in pleasant ways, and others? Well…

Here are just a few.

1. Manners Matter

In Scotland, people have Manners. It comes down to a lot of little things, but, ultimately, it’s about making the world a pleasant place for everyone, not just oneself. And, having come from me-first Los Angeles, it took some getting used to.

manners
Image CC BY 2.0 by Rochelle Hartman, via Flickr

Here is a short list of things that can earn you a good, public telling-off:

  • Littering
  • Putting the wrong kind of trash into a trash/recycling/glass/food waste bin
  • Sitting in a seat designated for parents with children/elderly/handicapped
  • Not going to the back of the line at a bus stop
  • Failing to allow an elderly/handicapped/parent with child to go in front of you through a doorway or onto public transportation
  • Putting your bag — or God forbid, your feet — on a seat in a restaurant or public transportation
  • Taking up more than your share of space in a public area
  • Speaking loudly
  • Not bagging your groceries quickly enough at the checkout
  • Not making way for others on the sidewalk
  • Not picking up after your dog (it’s a 100 pound fine!)
  • Not giving way to a car if you’re a pedestrian (cars have priority in the streets)

As you can see, these are all things that make life easier and more pleasant for everyone. Still, it made me see that, at least where I’d come from, common courtesy sometimes isn’t that common.

2. Getting a Driving License is REALLY Hard

When I got my first driver’s license in Arizona, I read the little booklet while standing in line waiting to take the test. I scored 100%.

Here, I studied for the written test every day for six months. I passed it, but not with 100%. Not even close.

UK Driver License
Image CC0 by Dom, via Pexels

As for the practical, I took professional driving lessons every week for a year and a half and failed three times before my driving instructor and I fired each other. I’m still working on it.

Mind, before coming to Scotland, I drove for 25 years in the United States, had a clean record, and always had the Good Driver Discount from my insurance company.

Which, here, means precisely squat.

Some faults that examiners may mark you down for include:

  • Not checking all of the mirrors every time you do anything including signaling, shifting gears, and scratching your nose.
  • Giving way to pedestrians (not failing to give way, but, rather, failing to run them down when they illegally cross in front of you)
  • Not crossing over the middle stripe to “use all the road available to you” even when there are cars coming in the other direction and parked on both sides of the road
  • Not putting on the handbrake every time the car stops for more than a few seconds
  • Giving way to other drivers instead of pushing one’s own initiative
  • And, I shit you not, failing to shift gears with adequate finesse.

One writer said that getting a British driving license is like getting a PhD in driving. And in truth, only Japan has a more difficult test. To be fair, British roads are statistically much safer than American ones. 

Still, it’s a good thing the public transport is top notch.

3. Women’s Haircuts Cost More Than Men’s

A lot more. And hairdressers are sex-segregated. My daughter, for example, who favors a high-and-tight, has to go to a beauty shop and pay 25-40 pounds ($40-$55) for one, while my son can walk into a barber and get the same cut for 10 quid (around $15). The excuse is that women’s haircuts are more complicated, but my son’s cut actually requires more work, as his hair is tightly curled, while my daughter’s is straight.

a lady getting her hair cut
Image CC 2.0 by Scott Feldstein, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve not found any unisex chain discount cutters like Supercuts, though it is nice to see huge numbers of independent barbers and beauty shops flourishing all around Edinburgh.

If it’s any consolation, a beauty shop will almost always serve you, and anyone who comes in with you, a complimentary brewed-to-order espresso drink.

4. Scots-Mex is a Thing

“Mexican” food is very popular here. And it is tasty. But if you’re an authenticity snob, you’re going to be disappointed.

Haggis burritos, anyone? Yes, this is a staple. There’s even a vegetarian version. It’s not my thing, but it’s on enough menus that people must like it.

a haggis burrito
Yes, this is a haggis burrito with Irn Bru, which tastes like bubble gum. Image CC BY 2.0 by Ross Bruniges, via Flickr

Just don’t expect gooey rivers of cheddar, like at your favorite Sonoran restaurant. As they say here, Tha’s no’ happenin’. Restaurants across the board are…sparing…with the cheese. And that includes pizza places.

And, just so you don’t get your hopes up, when it comes to burgers and fries, don’t bother asking for sauces. A request for ketchup, brown sauce, or any other sauce will net you literally one measured tablespoon. And that’s just cruel. By way of compensation, most food is well-cooked, fresh, and tasty enough that you won’t even miss the sauces.

And people here do love their salsas and chilis.

5. Money and Credit

First, if you’re moving to Scotland, keep your American credit card, because you’re not getting one here. I’m only half joking when I say that it was hard enough to get my bank to trust me with my own money. The same goes for mortgages. If you want to buy a house, make sure you’ve sold one back home, so you’ll have cash in hand. Otherwise, tha’s no’ happenin’. If you can hang onto your American bank account, that’s a good idea as well.

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Image CC BY 2.0 by Sean MacEntee, via Flickr

How do people get by? Well, the bank debit card is used a lot more, here. In fact, it’s used like many Americans use credit cards. And there are more security measures in place that ensure that this is safer to do than it is in the U.S.

The only difference is that if you can’t afford to buy something outright, you’re not going to be buying it at all.

But that’s pretty good advice anyway, isn’t it?

scottishmoney
Image CC SA 2.0 by Howard Lake, via Flickr

Also, interesting fact: Scotland has its own currency, the Scottish pound. It has the same value as the English pound, and it’s accepted in England, though I have had people “down south” ask me if it was “real money.” English pounds are also in circulation across Scotland.

Another interesting fact: Banks issue their own notes, rather than money being issued by a central authority. So there are Bank of Scotland notes, Clydesdale Bank notes, Royal Bank of Scotland notes…and so on.

And finally, a lot of Scottish money has more than just your standard dead white guys. We have Jane Austen, flowers, otters, scientists…. They’re almost like trading cards.

Come See For Yourself!

Scotland has proven a wonderful and welcoming home for me and my family. It’s a land filled with friendly folk, natural beauty, and endless opportunities for adventure. But why take my word for it? Come and see for yourself!

 

Featured Image CC BY 2.0 by Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr

The Life-Changing Magic of Ignoring “I Don’t Wanna”

“Can’t we just skip today?” My son asks, as we wait for the bus to go to Saturday Tae Kwon Do. 

He says this every Saturday, and every Saturday, I tell him that he can walk home if he wants to, no one’s stopping him, but I’m going. Every Saturday he scowls, but steps onto the bus with me and goes to class. And every Saturday, after a grueling hour of kicking, running, sparring, and techniques practice, he’s very happy I “made” him go.

I like to think he’s beginning to recognize the importance of regular and deliberate Acts of Discipline — that is, doing something even when you really, really, really don’t feel like it. Just because.

That’s not to say no one should ever take a break. It’s important to rest and recharge, often. It’s also important to respect that voice that says maybe it’s not the best idea to push yourself in this particular instance. The problem is, though, that — at least from my experience — if you coddle I don’t wanna often enough, it turns into quitting. Worse, it becomes easier to give up on other aspects of your life as well. Especially in things that no one likes, like keeping house, exercise, and eating your veg.

Yes, rest, recuperation, and recharging are important. Self-care is important. But a lot of us, and I include myself, cut ourselves a bit too much slack sometimes. A lot of us overestimate our need for a breather, and overestimate the necessary magnitude of that breather. To our detriment.

The Complacency Conspiracy

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Scrolling though the various social media channels I’m forced to use to promote my “artist brand,” (it’s an Act of Discipline) there’s a relentless, inescapable avalanche of memes and messaging to the effect of “just stay home and watch TV,” “socializing is bad,” “people are scary,” “doing stuff is overrated,” “self-care means binge-watching, binge-eating, and living in your jammies.” Also, “SLEEP.”

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It’s hard, sometimes, to get moving on things when the entire internet seems to be  saying “It doesn’t matter, just pull the shades and stay in.” It’s disturbing to hear my active, outgoing teens parrot things they’ve obviously read, like “It’s too people-y out there. Can’t we just lay on the couch all day and watch TV? Self-care is important.” It’s really horrifying to see apathy presented as something to aspire to.

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The small, conspiracy-minded part of my brain wonders if it’s not deliberate. It is, after all, cheaper than putting everyone on Soma. And less expensive, too.

Regular and Deliberate Acts of Discipline keep me off the couch and out of comfortable ruts.

Bucking the System

The idea of the Individualist, the Outcast, and the Rebel is an integral part of the American psyche. Our entertainment is filled with the archetype of the person who saves the day by going against the grain, ignoring “expert” advice, and “following their gut.” That’s an empowering story line. But, like any plot device, it can get in the way if a person takes it too much to heart.

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Another American archetype is the person who Thinks Outside the Box, does things differently, and — this is important — is So Special and So Gifted that they don’t have to follow the rules — or gain the basic skills — that the rest of us do. There are individuals like that. I’ve met them. But they’re far and away in the minority. And the fact is that for the rest of us, if we want to accomplish great things, we have to do the work.

Acts of Discipline are the building blocks of Great Things.

I’m new to Discipline, and I came to it pretty late in life. Like a lot of people, when I was younger, I experienced Option Paralysis. There were so many things I wanted to do and had the ability to do and had the support to do, that I didn’t know what to choose. I tried a number of things, with varying success, but never followed one course in the methodical, plodding way necessary to accomplish more than the basics.

The Cure for Option Paralysis

When you have children, your options narrow dramatically and overnight. When I was a single young adult, I had so much free time I didn’t know what to do with it. I watched a lot of TV and went to a lot of parties. Once I had children (two less than 1-1/2 years apart) I could count my “free” minutes each day on one hand. This may sound like complaining, but it’s not. Suddenly, I wasn’t drowning in options. Suddenly, I had to choose what was important to me and do it with all my heart.

The two things that turned out to be the most important were writing and Tae Kwon Do. I was naturally pretty good at writing, but I’d no idea what kind of writing I wanted to do, or how to go about it. I’d always gotten by with minimal effort, and hadn’t put in the work. As for Tae Kwon Do, I’d done it quite a bit as a child, but hadn’t touched it since. I loved it, but I was starting over.

The Conveyor Belt

Both writing and TKD proved to be Conveyor Belt exercises. That is, there are steps everyone has to go through. You do the steps, you take your test (or submit your story) and either you succeed or fail. If you fail, you can quit, of course. Or you can go back, figure out your mistakes, and have another go. How badly do you want it?

Tae Kwon Do, especially, can be like this. At the school where I reconnected with TKD, the curriculum was very explicit and standardized. Everyone knew what they had to learn, and when they’d learned it well enough to test. 

More importantly, everyone learned to say “yes, sir,” and “yes, ma’am,” no matter what the instructor told you to do. We did a lot of pushups. To this day, I can still do 100 of them in a row without blinking. Because every time we tested, we had to finish with 100 pushups — and this was after a physically grueling three to six hours of sparring, techniques, breaking, and endurance exercises. 100 pushups? Yes ma’am. You want me to break garden bricks with my hand? How many and how do you want me to break them, sir?

Riding the TKD conveyor belt gave me the discipline — the unthinking acceptance that if there was something to be done, I’d jolly well do it — to finish my first book. And, as I tell anyone who asks me about writing, the major reason writers don’t get published is that they never finish their first book.

But…I Don’t Wanna!

There are times when I don’t want to write. Really, really don’t wanna. But I’ll tell you a secret — those times are far more common than the times I feel borne aloft on the wings of inspiration. If I waited around for inspiration to smite me, I’d never have finished Book 1. 

Another secret: if you have a plan, you can bang out the next scene even if you’d rather be taking a toothbrush to the grout. Sure, it’ll suck. But first drafts always suck. It ’s the rule. Anyone who tells you they only write one draft is either lying or unsuccessfully self-published. And this isn’t a swipe at self-publishing. The self-published authors I personally know sell more books than I do. They’re successful because they work really hard at their craft and write amazing, well-crafted books. But dollars to donuts they do more than one draft.

Further Acts of Discipline

Three and a half years ago, I lost 36 pounds with Weight Watchers. This was another Magic-of-the-Conveyor-Belt thing. WW is a system. I locked into the system and the system worked for me. YMMV. However, over the course of last summer, I gained 7 of those pounds back. There was a health crisis in our household, and I was stressed, and I indulged in Self Care Through Pizzas and Bags of Sweets. I’m sure the Internet would applaud how willing I was to Buck Expert Advice and Do What I Wanted When I Wanted How I Wanted. The Arbiters of Meme would congratulate me for Being The Best Me I Could Be and Finding Self Esteem No Matter What.

But damn it, what *I* wanted was to fit into my clothes again.

A friend mentioned that last December she had done the 5K A Day challenge. I don’t mind running. It’s efficient and Scotland is beautiful, and I’ve done so much running already, it’s dead easy. 

But I hate running in the winter. I despise running in snow. If it’s colder than 60, I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.

Nonetheless, against the advice of the Internet and that little voice in my head, I took up the challenge. In January. In Scotland.

Granted, this winter was pretty mild. It’s the end of January, now, and it’s just kissed freezing. But the memories of running last winter in the snow and negative numbers made me seriously rethink the entire exercise.

But I made myself do it anyway. It was an Act of Discipline. And it wasn’t so bad. I’m used to running longer distances. 5K, for me, is a pissy little run hardly worth doing. When I run, I often do twice or three times that. But I never run every single day. Never ever. The problem was, every day off made it that much easier not to go back. Four runs a week turned to three, then to two, then to…uh…shouldn’t I be cleaning the grout instead? 

5K was a real challenge — not because it’s hard, but because it isn’t. The idea of begging off from such a short, pissy, trifling little distance was humiliating. So I did it. Every damn day. Almost. I refuse to run on Tae Kwon Do day. But Mondays I always make it up by doing a double.

At the end of the month, I still haven’t lost those 7 pounds. They may be there forever. But my clothes fit again, and I look damn sharp in them.

And also I don’t hate winter running so much anymore. I made myself do it, so now I know I can do it, and I’m ashamed if I don’t do it.

highland cow in the snow
Image by Smooth_O, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And you know what? I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it again in February. I won’t promise to run 5K a day for the rest of my life, because for sure I’d find some way to rebel against it. But for another month? I can do that. Just gotta get back on the conveyor belt.

It’s Never Easy and That’s The Point

Acts of Discipline are rarely easy — at first. And they’re rarely fun — ever. But it’s still important to undertake them from time to time. Because inspiration fades. The Muse goes on vacation. But if you can push through a project even when you’re rather be scrubbing the grout, you don’t need those fleeting fantasies at all.

Five Authors You Should Read in 2019

Author Selina Kray recently published her list of five authors she thinks everyone needs to read right now. It was a fabulous idea, so I’m stealing it. With different authors, of course. And also, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway — Selina’s books are a lot of fun, so you should check them out, too.

My picks are all over the map. I tend to pick one author and read Everything They’ve Ever Written. For this list, I’ve picked a fistful of authors I discovered this year. They represent different genres and time periods. Some have had books out for a long time; others are new to the world as well as to me. So here they are, in no particular order.

Kaite Welsh – The Wages of Sin wages

Kaite Welsh is a Scottish writer, cultural commentator, and journalist. I discovered her novel The Wages of Sin at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh and despaired, as I knew immediately it was the book I should have written. I bought it, of course, and despaired some more. It’s brilliant in every way. The Wages of Sin is a murder mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh. The heroine is one of the first female students at the University of Edinburgh Medical School (where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also attended.) Hilarity does not ensue.

Scottish mysteries are notoriously gritty, violent, and dark — second only, in my opinion to the Scandinavian ones, which are a bit too much for me. There are a lot of cultural similarities, in my mind, between Scotland and Scandinavian countries. Maybe it’s the chilly Northern thing. The Wages of Sin doesn’t hold back with any of it, especially when it comes to what the first women entering the vaunted Edinburgh medical brotherhood must have faced. And still, I loved this book with all my heart. There will soon be a sequel out, and I’ll be the first one in line.

Ambrose Parry – The Way of All Flesh flesh

Ambrose Parry is the pseudonym of the married couple Chris Brookymyre and Marisa Haetzman. Brookmyre is an award-winning Scottish writer. Haetzman is an anesthetist who also has a master’s degree in the history of medicine. The Way of All Flesh is another medical murder mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh, and it, too, is gritty, violent, and dark.

What made me buy this book was this line from the opening:

“No decent story ought to begin with a dead prostitute, and for that, apologies.”

As a voracious consumer of murder mysteries, to the point where my husband, when he sees me reading always asks, “Have they found the body yet?” I am fed up to the teeth with (1) the trope of a woman dies, horribly, and, if she was sexually active, also deservedly, and a man feels bad about it (2) the trope of a faceless person from society’s margins dies to provide a reason to start the story and (3) the word “trope.” 

It was refreshing to see the authors recognize and apologize for dipping into these categories that typically provide faceless, disposable victims. It was also refreshing that the victims did not remain either faceless or disposable — the authors went to a good deal of trouble to flesh them out and to make them matter — not just to the main characters, but also to the people around them.

Also, this is a fine Edinburgh historical medical mystery. I’m becoming a bit of a connoisseur. The map of Edinburgh hasn’t changed too much since the 19th century, and I love being able to picture where I’ve been when I’m reading something. 

Harper Fox – Kip’s Monster

monsterTo keep with the format, I’m only recommending my favorite of the Harper Fox books that I read this year. This is also the newest. It has three things that make it absolute catnip to me: cryptids, Scotland, and a good romance. But it’s not a romance novel in the typical sense. It, too, has a dark and gritty side, which Fox paints very realistically. And the romance is of a second chance variety.

The two things I like best about Harper Fox’s books (and if you like this one, you should also check out her Tyack & Frayne series) are her characters and the way she weaves a subtle, golden thread of supernaturalism in with their mundane lives. Somehow, without overloading the text with description, Fox gives a very real and detailed picture of their lives, from a crease in the trousers to the chip in a teacup. I wish I could write characters that way. There’s an incredible amount of compassion for all of the characters, even many of the villains. The stories also have a wonderful sense of place — Scotland and Cornwall, specifically. I discovered her books this summer, and I’m so glad I did.

Henry Rollins – Before the Chop III chop

I’m late to the Henry Rollins party. I’m late to every party. Except when it’s an actual party, and then I’m always ten minutes early. But. Rollins’s writing speaks to me on a very visceral level. He’s the quintessential Gen-X L.A. writer, simultaneously wildly optimistic and crashingly cynical. I started following his columns in the L.A. Weekly some time ago, so I suppose it’s not fair to put him on a list of writers I’ve discovered this year. However, I did splash out and buy this book this year, so I suppose it counts. It’s also the only nonfiction on this list.

Michelle Paver – Dark Matter

darkmatterMichelle Paver has written a lot of really interesting stories. What I like best about them is their sense of place. Dark Matter and Thin Air are ghost stories set in Cold Places. Dark Matter is an Arctic story, and Thin Air is set in the Himalayas. It’s been said that in Victorian fiction, setting is often a character in itself. This is certainly true of these two modern works. Not only is it an active, tangible force, but it’s also an unfriendly one. Not that there’s a shortage of unfriendly forces in either story, from hostile fellow explorers with Dark Agendas to, oh yeah, ghosts. Paver manages to make both of these stories, set outside amazingly claustrophobic, and to scare the bejeezus out of me with the mere suggestion of a ghostly presence. If you want to know how to write a ghost story, this is it.

So, there you are. If your Mount TBR isn’t high enough already, get your pickaxe and start climbing! Who are your favorite new or new-to-you authors?

 

4 Ways Librarians Save the World Every Day

You have to admit, librarians have a certain mystique. Whether it’s that buttoned-down-but-secretly-sexy figure in cute glasses that you know has a wild side waiting to be set loose, or a secret master of the arcane, there’s no shortage of heroic librarians in literature and film. You can find book-magicians in Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer series, for example. There’s also the TV and feature-length film series The Librarians, that features a delightfully nerdy cast of artifact hunters who, interestingly, never seem to crack a book. But real-life librarians quietly save the world every day, in numerous ways that most people never hear about. Here are just a few. 

The Library Detectives

A line drawing of three men standing over a table stacked with books.
By Frederic Dorr Steele / Фредерик Дор Стийл [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“There’s this book…I don’t know what it’s called or who wrote it, but it has a dog on the cover….” Does this sound like you? Never fear. There are librarians who specialize in rendering exactly this kind of help.

When the New York Public Library’s queue of “what’s that book” questions reached critical mass, reader services librarian Gwen Glazer assembled a crack team of librarians to track down the titles patrons were desperate to read. They dubbed it the Book Quest Hackathon, and over the course of the day, librarians from across NYPL’s various branches used the power of the Internet—and their social connections—to identify and track down readers’ requests. 

Who knew that so many people would go to so much trouble to reunite people with the books they loved?

Services to Vulnerable Populations

a woman reads a picture book to small children
Photo by Airman st Class Ellora Remington, via the U.S. Air Force (Public Domain)

Libraries in the United States provide a stunning array of low-cost and no-cost services to patrons. From free internet and computer usage to classes and workshops, if you want to learn something or better yourself, the answer can often be found at your public library. Some libraries offer free legal clinics for people who need legal advice. You might also find job skills workshops. If you need a flu shot, many libraries partner with the local health department to provide them for free. Want to learn how to use a computer, or speak a second language? Chances are you can do it for nothing, or next to nothing, at your public library.
The library also provides a day-haven for people who have nowhere to go. People at risk for social exclusion can find a calm, quiet place to read or grab a cup of coffee. Parents of small children can take a break while their kids enjoy story times, craft activities, or scheduled kids’ movies. 

On the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic

a box of Narcan
Image: CC BY 3.0, by Intropin, via Wikimedia Commons

On a more serious note, you’ve no doubt heard about the opioid epidemic. What do librarians have to do with it? Well, unfortunately, some addicts have found the library to be a safe place to shoot up. In fact, one Philadelphia library had to close for three days after used needles had clogged its sewer system. Librarians find themselves evicting drug dealers, cleaning up used syringes, patrolling bathrooms, and even acting as de facto first responders by administering Narcan when patrons overdose.

Keeping the World Safe for Democracy

key-hole-2274790_640
Image: CC0 by succo, via Pixabay

When various freedoms have been at risk, librarians have stepped into the breach to protect them. 

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom defends intellectual freedom on a number of fronts. They have worked tirelessly to keep banned books on the shelves, to challenge book bans, and to fight censorship on every front.

When the Federal Government wanted to secretly peek at patrons’ checkout records, the American Library Association took them to court. And when the FBI insisted on snooping on patrons’ records, libraries across the country put up signs warning patrons about this activity. They also changed their record keeping systems so that checkout records were destroyed once a book was returned.

Today, many libraries provide digital privacy workshops to teach patrons how to be safe online. And many others only use browsers that don’t track user data.

Librarians save the world every day, in ways big and small–in some ways that make headlines, and in other ways that no one ever notices. So next time you visit the library, thank a librarian.