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October 29, 2011

Headlines and Beverly Gray

 Hartlogo2 [Margaret:  Please welcome one of my long time colleagues.  Carolyn Hart and I met at the very first organizational meeting of a then-nameless group of women, a group now known as Sisters in Crime.  She created SinC's fabled data base of libraries and bookstores and became its 5th president.  Best known for her Death on Demand series set on "Broward's Rock" off the coast of South Carolina, she has written everything from gritty stand-alones to charming ghost stories.  New York Times bestseller, Pulitzer nominee, winner of the Agatha and more awards than can be easily listed, Carolyn excels in writing the traditional mystery. For more about her books, visit her website: http://www.carolynhart.com/]

At the St. Louis Bouchercon, I was on a panel with four distinguished journalists and a former working journalist. I was the wren among the macaws because I spent only a year as a reporter and began writing fiction in my mid-twenties.

I didn’t have their professional qualifications but I shared with them an abiding interest in journalism and in the importance of public truth.

Headlines-Pearl-Harbor-560x390 It all began with the stark blackness of headlines in the newspapers when I was young and with Beverly Gray, the girl reporter in the series written by Clair Blank.

I was a child during WWII. The bigger and blacker the headlines, the more important the story. The newspapers - morning and afternoon editions - brought news on the progress of the war, the battles, the fears, the hopes, the casualties, rationing, scrap drives, Victory gardens. 

I decided there could be no more important role in life than to be a newspaper reporter. I believed bringing truth - and that was the objective in those news columns - was perhaps the greatest contribution anyone could make to society.

I began to read the Beverly Gray stories, wonderful adventures that begin when 51-AazTgHHL._AA160_ Beverly arrives at college with the aim of being a reporter. I followed Beverly through her college years and out into the world as a reporter for a New York daily. Beverly was intrepid, eager, and, as characters often do, she became a real figure in my mind. Beverly Gray went to college and became a reporter. I thought, “Maybe I can be a reporter, too.”

I worked on the Chief Justice in junior high, The Classen Life in high school, and the Oklahoma Daily at the University of Oklahoma. I had real life reporters as heroes then, Webb Miller, a foreign correspondent during the war, and Maggie Higgins, who covered the Korean war for the New York Herald Tribune. I had a trench coat. I smoked Chesterfields. (This was  Images-4 before the dangers of cigarettes were revealed, which came about because of investigative reporting and a refusal to be intimidated by the tobacco companies. Happily, I quit smoking more than 40 years ago.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to the newsroom. I met a young law student and my life took a different turn. After we were married and started a family, I didn’t want to go back to work on a newspaper. I loved the writing but the hours are  long and the pay (no change there today) is low.

That is when I first seriously addressed fiction. (I will admit to a long-ago mystery written when I was in high school. The protagonist? A reporter, of course! Happily, I have lost that ms.)  I was in my mid-twenties, my husband Phil was in the JAG Corps and we were stationed at Ft. Leavenworth. I tried some short stories and had no success. I took the Writer Magazine. Every issue had a section in the back that told of contests. I saw a contest for a children’s mystery for girls ages 8 to 12, sponsored by Calling All Girls Magazine and Dodd, Mead. I wrote the book and won the contest. The Secret of the Cellars was my first published book. My 47th mystery will be published next spring.

Among the many books is a series with a retired reporter as the protagonist, a  novel that explores the degradation of today’s 24/7 exploitive news cycle, two books set in journalism schools, four WWII novels, and a series that celebrates mysteries.

And it all began with the big black headlines and Beverly Gray.  

Who inspired you?  



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Carolyn, what a terrific blog! It's always nice to read about what compels someone to write...:)

Mine was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When I was around 8 or so, my grandfather gave me a copy of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. And that, as they say, was the key that opened the lock...:)

I am a child of the sixties. When I was in grade school, MLK day did not exist. Martin Luther King was killed when I was in first grade. I remember my grade school classmates taking off to attend memorial services each year. I remember learning and hearing "I have a dream" before African American History had a month or even a week or a day. MLK was a lesson in January.

I have tried to live these words, that I learned long ago:

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today."

This is the part I aim for each day, "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Is is kissmet? Princess Two was born on January 17, 2005. It was a Monday. Schools were closed. It was MLK day. Princess One was born on August 28. The People's March on Washington was on August 28. "I have a dream..."

Welcome, Carolyn! I'm a longtime fan, and just adore the darling Darlings and the intrepid Henrie O. Thank you for all the many hours of entertainment!

Until recently I had never aspired to write mysteries, but no less than Herman Wouk and Chaim Potok made me want to write fiction. Like theirs, but with more focus on women: deeply moving, richly drawn stories of life, with quiet drama, rather than a lot of onomatopoeic action.

You know, unmarketable novels. Sigh.

Hi, dear Carolyn. I never knew about that early contest you won! Have I mentioned lately that I love you? :)

Alan, what a beautiful comment.

My writing career was inspired, not by a book or a person, but by an event in my life (a miscarriage) that drove me to write poetry to express my feelings about it, and the poetry led within a year or so to fiction.

Welcome, Carolyn!

So many inspirations for me, but the two writers I most loved as a teenager, in our genre, were Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. But it took me years to find my way into writing novels, because I so loved being on stage, I thought I'd be doing that the rest of my life. And I think the person who inspired me as a stage actress was . . . my mom. I appeared with her in a production of DIDO AND ANEAS when I was 5 and she was around 45 -- she was a witch and I was an angel. The transformation of my sweet mom into a mezzo soprano terror was thrilling. Who wouldn't want to spend a life playing other people?

Thanks for the memories. I needed them this morning.

Welcome, Carolyn!

I adore reading and find so much inspiration to fuel my dream..the impossible dream.
Or as Frank Sinatra said "I did it my way."
Yes, I admit it. I am a collector of craft books on writing and I am fueling myself to write the great American novel.
I have my trusty notebook handy reading to jot down my inspirations. If I never am published it will be a journey that I will enjoy.
Your novels and blog are so delightful. Have a wonderful day!!

Carolyn, what a pleasure to see you here! As always, your words are inspiring.

Like Harley, I was immersed in Mary Stewart's books as a teenager. So suspenseful and adventuresome and romantic. I still pull her books down to read now and then.

I missed the Beverly Gray stories, but I loved Calling All Girls magazine which I devoured every month for several years. I'm so glad you won the contest that kept you writing all those great books and stories. I'm looking forward to reading Escape from Paris which I ordered this week from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.

This is an amazing story, Carolyn. You've created so many wonderful books and you're an inspiration to both readers and fellow authors. I was very excited to see that ESCAPE from PARIS is now available and I've recommended it as a local book club choice. What an inspiring tale! It occurs to me that with Veteran's Day just around the corner, this would be a wonderful gift for a veteran, or for any of our brave men and women serving in the Armed Forces. For anyone who isn't familiar with the book, it's the inspiring tale of two American sisters who risked their lives to save British fliers in Nazi-occupied Paris. A must-read! All your books are an "auto-buy" for me, but this one is particularly significant. Thanks so much for giving us the background on your writing history.

Always to interesting to read what made someone want to write. For me, it was Edna St. Vincent Millay. She wrote so evocatively that all the senses were involved, especially smells and touch - you could feel the cockleburrs and smell the thyme and basil.

What a wonderful surprise to find you here and have the opportunity to tell you how much I love your work!
Letter from Home is my favorite, but I read everything I can find from you and it was a blurb from you on one of Margaret's books that started that adventure for me. Thank you for years and years of laughs and tears.

What a distinguished career you've had, Carolyn, including a Pulitzer nomination. I'd hardly call you a wren -- more like a peacock.
I was inspired by my hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and a feature writer called Jack Rice. Jack was a fabulous writer and when he had a feature story in the paper, it made my day.
My grandfather bought Jack a drink in a bar, and dined out on that honor for years.
The nuns at school guided me into a writing career, where I hoped to create the kind of excitement for readers that Jack did.

Carol, how nice to hear that Carolyn introduced us!

This is close to my story--a few years apart. My dad was a pressman at a big newspaper when I was a child, and I loved going to the newsroom. The women were so glamorous and drank coffee and smoked and typed away. It seemed incredible. My dad encouraged me to study journalism in college, and I did love it, but--

I desperately wanted to write fiction, so I gave myself five years to see if I could sell a book.

Thanks for this story!

Carolyn, loved Henrie O and Letter from Home. Isn't it wonderful that books can inspire more books? Victoria Holt novels got me through law school -- a few minutes every night wiped all thoughts of tax and torts out of my mind so I could sleep! Years later, back in Montana, I drove a lot and started checking books on tape out of the library. Many of them were mysteries -- Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Tony Hillerman -- so naturally, when fiction emerged, it came out as mystery!

Oh my goodness, what a warm and wonderful welcome from writers I cherish and readers I thank for making all the years of writing possible.

I believe all of us are grateful to those who inpsired us. I am touched by those who are sharing their beacons. Margaret and I have always been linked in many ways. We share a birthday and we both love Edna St. Vincent Millay. Margaret, were you also enthralled by Amelia Earhart?

My thanks to all of you for taking the time from a beautiful fall day to say hello.



It is exciting to have you here today! I need to thank you -it is through your Annie Darling that I "met" nearly all of the Tarts. Whenever I read any of your Annie Darling mysteries, I keep a notebook handy so I can jot down the names of authors mentioned whose books I have not yet read. So I guess that YOU are my inspiration. In addition to entertaining me with your own books, you have led me to many other good books as well.

A huge portion of my childhood was spent sharing the kitchen table with people who reading were reading, writing, and talking about it. Nothing has ever inspired me more. I cannot live in a house without a kitchen table. The world lives at my kitchen table.

And my inability to proofread, attested to above, was undoubtedly caused by the fact that at my grandparents' house all school lessons were done at the dining room table. There we sat, even the adults who were taking night courses in shorthand or studying for the Mass. Bar sat with their books and papers staring back from the impossibly thick mahogany table watching all through its handmade lace tablecloth - all a testament to the importance of what they were doing.

A bored child could only hope to finish soon and return to the kitchen, a brief reprieve until Grandfather Harrington looked at your work.

I can't remember a time when there weren't books around. A treat for me when I was little were The Little Golden Books. Does anyone remember them? I read all the girlhood books, and graduated to James Bond, and Georgette Heyer-ow there's a combo. One year, I discovered the Victorians-Eliot, Hardy-and started thinking about people feel and manage their lives, and my road to psychotherapist was born. I often remember the places and the characters better than "whodunnit."I wanted to know more. I loved writing, but My English teachers didn't think much of it so I read and work, and today I backblog and try my hand at reviews. I still read everything I can, and I still learn from what I see in books. Thank you guys.

Sorry to hijack, but this blog... http://coedtoplesspulpfiction.wordpress.com ...combines three of my favorite things: reading, pulp fiction and topless ladies. Also, maybe some legal civil outrageousness.

I know, I'm a dirty old man.

BTW, I was inspired by the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dr. Seuss, Robert Benchley and a whole slew of hero pulp and science fiction writers.

I loved the Little Golden Books, Lil, but before that, does anyone here remember a series of biographies written for children that had an orange jacket and were illustrated with nothing but black on white silhouettes? Anyone remember who the author or publisher was?

What fun to read over these comments.
To Karen in Ohio - Once I wrote seven books in seven years and did not at that time sell any of them. Never give up.

To Marie - Nancy Pickard has written a brilliant book on writing. Not be missed.

To Mary kennedy - I am excited that you have discovered the newly released ESCAPE FORM PARIS. I hope it will find its way to many wonderful book club readers. They are highly intelligent ladies, often of a certain age, who will bring their memories of WWII or the memories of their parents in WWII. Its publication in a full and uncut version after 30 years means a great deal to me.

To Carol Robinson - Letter from Home, my WWII book set on the homefront, is special to me because it is a book about Oklahoma, my home. I am honored that it is special to you.

To Deb - One of the greatest pleasures of writing the Death oin Demand series is the pleasure of sharing information about wonderful books and authors.

To Lil - None of us exist without wonderful readers like you.

I have enjoyed all the comments. I'm not surprised that several of us recall the books of Mary Stewart, still the best of reading today. I think my favorite is My Brother Michael. But The Ivy Tree runs a close second.

Happy reading to all. Carolyn

Hi, Carolyn:

My favorite World War II reporter was Ernie Pyle. I read his columns in The Daily Oklahoman and loved his way of making a global war personal -- good model for a future reporter and fiction writer.

Where can I find a list of all 47 of your books? I'd like to explore further some of the themes you mention.

All the best,

Pat Browning

Dear Pat,

At my website - www.CarolyhnHart.com - there is a list of all the books, including all the early standalones. The early books are currently available on Kindle and others will be reprinted in addition to Escape from Paris.

I loved Ernie Pyle. He wrote about what mattered, hearts and minds and souls under duress and doing the best they could, as he always did.


H.P. Lovecraft, Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, Elizabeth Berg, Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare

There are others, but they are either local or I am too shy to say or both.

It's interesting how seemingly insignificant or everyday experiences can be so meaningful in our lives and take us places we never really thought we'd go. Great blog that has me thinking.

The Little Golden Books, some of them, are still published by Random House, and still available. I bought a couple for my grandson a few years ago.

The Poky Little Puppy, The Little Red Hen, and The Shy Little Kitten were all books my grandmother had in our toy basket. This year is their 65th anniversary.

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