10 posts categorized "Margaret Maron"

December 28, 2011


Margaret Maron

Images-9As one who came late and planned to leave early, I’ve been amazed by the realization of how very much I’m going to miss all of you . . . all y’all, as we say down here when we mean everybody in the room plus your kinfolks, too.

Normally, I post my comments several days in advance.  I pick a subject, write five- or six-hundred words, then slot it into the queue so Mr. Typepad can publish it online at the proper time.  This time?  I’m four hours away from deadline and I’m at a loss for words.

How can I say goodbye easily to the place where I learned about lip paint?  Where I “met” Karen and sent her wild phlox seeds in exchange for forget-me-not seeds?  Where I finally learned what IOCHFTS means (and realized I wasn’t holding up my end in Me, Margie’s department)?  Where I discovered all over again what a great bunch of women my fellow writers are?  In the short 18 months I've been here, we’ve laughed and commiserated with each other, scolded and praised, cried and cheered.

I feel as if it’s the last week of high school. Images-13 Oh, we swear we’re gonna keep in touch—that we’ll call and write and drop in on each other whenever we’re in the neighborhood, and for a while, we probably will.  But in our heart of hearts, we know that it’ll never be the same, that inevitably we’ll drift apart as time carries us further from each other.  

I had a list of stories and topics I wanted to share with y’all so I could hear your take on them:  declassifying jack rabbits at the Pentagon, nutpicks, gargoyles and rainbows, the real life murder I planned but didn’t commit, buzzard lore, family reunions—

Okay.  A family reunion story.  My grandmother was one of ten siblings. Every June, the “children” would take turns hosting the whole family on the Sunday nearest their mother’s birthday (30 June 1860). The host provided the plates and cups and tubs of sweet lemonade and iced tea.

Images-14Every family came with hampers of food and a long table would be spread under the oaks or pecan trees.  The crispy fried pork chops! The ham biscuits! The competing potato salads, ditto the deviled eggs!  The fried chicken and first tomatoes of summer!  Desserts had a table to themselves:  pecan pies, lemon meringue, red velvet cakes, banana pudding, my own grandmother’s famous 7-layer chocolate cake.

The year we moved back to North Carolina would be our young son’s first reunion since we left New York. He was still miffed that we’d brought him to a place where the Mets games were not automatically televised and nothing about the reunion interested him till we were getting into the car and I told him that the it was going to be at my grandmother’s brother’s house.  My Great-Uncle Willie.  His eye grew round.  “He’s my Uncle Willie, too?”

I was pleased that he was excited until I heard him crooning happily in the back seat, “Uncle Willie. . . Uncle Willie Mays!” 

I really hated to have to break it to him that our Uncle Willie was an old white guy who not only had the wrong color skin, but who also had never played for the Mets. Images-15

But the thing is, aren't we all related now on some psychic level?  And won't we’ll feel that kinship whenever news of someone we met here works its way through the grapevine?

Images-10Karen sent me forget-me-not seeds and I’ll think of TLC every time I see a clump of blue around the farm. 

Forget any of you? 

Not likely.


December 14, 2011

Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy

Margaret Maron

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined “poetic faith” as “that willing suspension of disbelief.” He was referring to the reader’s complicity in joining the writer in the writer’s imagined world, but it could also refer to the magical creatures of childhood, the ones the under-10 set believe in despite all the knowing smirks from classmates or older siblings.

Images-3Children so technologically savvy that they can reprogram the family’s telephones or figure out how to TIVO their favorite programs can also look up at you with worried eyes and wonder if the Tooth Fairy will find them should that wiggly tooth comes out while having a sleepover at Grandma’s house. (An emphatic yes!)

This is probably the last year our younger granddaughter will believe in her. Probably the last year for Santa Claus, too. It’s hard to ride a school bus and not have such beliefs shattered by the time you’re nine or ten. Images-7

I can remember believing in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Especially Santa Claus. I do NOT remember when I stopped believing, so it was not a traumatic event in my young life. An informal Images-1survey shows the same for most of my friends. One year they believed implicitly; the next year they did not, although one friend’s older brother told him he wouldn’t get any presents if he didn’t believe. “I was like the Cowardly Lion,” he told me. “Only instead of witches, I put myself to sleep those last few weeks of December chanting ‘I DO believe in Santa Claus, I Do believe in Santa Claus!’”

The worst reaction to hearing the truth came when a child in my extended family came to her mom in tears. Someone had told her there was no Santa and she demanded to know the truth. She didn’t want it sugar-coated. “Is there a Santa or isn’t there?” Images-4

Her mother explained it as gently as she could -- about the love that lets parents pretend, etc. The little girl was appalled. “No Santa Claus? No Rudolph? No elves at the North Pole?” She fled to her hidey-hole behind the couch in tears.    

A few minutes later, still sniffling, her small head poked up from behind the couch, “What about the Tooth Fairy?”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

More tears.

”And the Easter Bunny?”

Loud sobs from behind the couch upon hearing that the Bunny was make-believe, too. Then came a small trembling voice, “What about God?”

How did you learn the truth about the iconic myths? Was it traumatic for you or your children?

November 09, 2011

Meeting Cute

Margaret Maron

 It’s a favorite boy-meets-girl device in books and films.  She accidentally spills her drink on a Images-1 stranger or he trips on his own feet and knocks her down, too, or it’s pouring rain and both try to commandeer the same taxi.  It's called “meeting cute” and it always begins with an awkward or embarrassing situation. 

But does it happen in real life?

I love hearing how people first met and I really don’t care it was a case of mistaken identity or he sat behind you in geometry class or you were both eight years old and too short to ride the Zipper at the State Fair.

Last week, Nancy Pickard wrote about the road not taken.  When people tell me how they first met the person who became so important in their lives—be it lover, best friend, or editor —there’s usually a sense of wonder in the telling:  “If I’d left the house five minutes later... If  I’d taken the subway instead of the bus... If I hadn’t been closed out of the cool professor’s class... 

Images-3My husband’s from Brooklyn, I’m from the tobacco fields of North Carolina.   Our separate roads branched and forked so improbably that we somehow wound up in adjoining offices in the Pentagon and married six months later.

I delight in the gray-haired couple who found each other on the Staten Island ferry, and I’ll listen to every detail when someone tells me how she met her best friend when their fishing lines got tangled on a pier at Atlantic Beach, or when he says, “I hadn’t picked up a baseball since high school, but they needed an outfielder so..."

I met my favorite editor because I don’t always mind my own business.  I was checking out of the convention hotel, and I heard her tell the desk clerk that she had three hours to kill till her plane left for New York.  Was there anything interesting within walking distance?

Only the ugliest shopping mall in Raleigh.  It was her first trip to Raleigh and I  Images-2couldn’t bear to think of the impression she would take home with her, so I introduced myself and asked if she’d like a quick two-hour tour of the town? See our capitol building and our 1912 carousel?

We became friends for life that day and a few years later, she nagged me into writing a North Carolina book for her. If I’d minded my own business and walked out of the hotel that day, I might never have written the book that won an Edgar.


Tell me your story.  Even if it isn’t “cute,” I want to hear how you met that best friend or truest love.


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?  


October 26, 2011

Pinching Pennies

Margaret Maron


“Use it up, wear it out,

Make it do, or do without.”

            — New England Maxim

Growing up, we never had much money, so hand-me-downs were a way of life.  In good years, we got two pairs of shoes:  school shoes in the fall, Sunday shoes at Easter.  And like our clothes, they never really fit well because Mother always made sure “there was room to grow.”  So I would start the school year in shoes and clothes that were too loose and finish the year in clothes that were too tight and shoes that pinched my feet.

I never quite had Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, but Mother was handy with a sewing machine.  She could and did take dresses and  coats apart and restyle them.  When clothes were too ragged to wear, she would cut the good parts into squares and triangles and make quilts. 


 On a farm, nothing ever goes to waste.  Our barns and shelters were full of dented buckets, coils of baling wire, scraps of lumber, and odd pieces of ironware because “you never know what will come in handy.”  It became such a way of life that it’s a wonder I haven’t wound up on one of those reality shows about hoarders.


My first impulse is still to see if I can’t make it myself from stuff on hand rather than hiring someone to do it or buying it in a store.  Over the years, I taught myself to build stone walls, lay blocks, frame in a window, and repurpose kitchen cabinets.  I’ve caned chairs, resized doors, reupholstered furniture, wired junked lamps, and reglazed windows. 

100_1947 When we finally added a real office onto the house a few years back, I wanted a big—a REALLY big—bulletin board, but the prices were shocking. A 4 x 6′ cork board cost five times more than I was willing to pay and it wasn’t as big as I wanted anyhow. After rummaging around in a DIY store, I came home with a sheet of brown fiberboard. It was as ugly as homemade sin, but it was half an inch thick, measured 4 x 8′ and cost only $6. It soaked up four coats of white paint before all the brown disappeared. But when I nailed it up over my work counter and edged it out in scrap molding, I finally had the bulletin board I’d always dreamed about.


100_1886Recently we paid several hundred dollars to have a professional take down a 40-year-old sweet gum tree that endangered the foundation of a rental house we've acquired—a case of spending money to save money, I suppose. Actually, I wanted to cut the tree down myself, and twenty years ago, I would have.  I also wanted to try my hand at sculpting a couple of the resulting logs with a chainsaw, but for some reason, my husband objected to that as well; and these days I try not to give him a heart attack. (Hospital stays are $$$$$)




My all-time favorite money saver came when we were very young and nearly broke and still lived in New York.  My husband was getting his master’s and we had just had a baby. An elderly childless friend was going into assisted living and offered to sell us her homeplace:  an 1880s wooden farmhouse with a turret and fifty acres of land only a few miles from the farm I grew up on.  Her price?  $5000.  We didn’t have $500, but I so wanted that dilapidated  house.  It had stained glass windows in the turret, heart pine flooring, and wraparound porches with gingerbread molding. But it had no indoor plumbing, the roof was shot, the wiring was pre-WWII, and there was extensive termite damage. It was only later that I came to realize how lucky we'd been because that house would have been a time and money pit. If we had bought it, I would have done most of the restoration myself and I would have poured every ounce of creativity I possessed into it, not into writing.  Not all bargains are bargains, and sometimes an unanswered prayer can be the most economical thing that every happened.

What's yours?

October 12, 2011

Anxiety Dreams

Margaret Maron

Images-5 I’m late for my Spanish exam.  The class starts in ten minutes and I’m on the wrong side of campus.  Plus I cut the last three classes and haven’t studied at all.  Plus, I’m not sure what building the test is in.  I spot a classmate, but he disappears, so I keep running in the direction I think he was going.  I’m going to flunk!  I’ve never flunked a course in my life, but I’m going to flunk this one.  I’m going to lose my scholarship.  Only, where is the damn building?



This is when I usually wake up.  This is when I realize that I never again have to take a Spanish exam as long as I live.  But I do have to turn in a book in three weeks and I’m still 20,000 words short.  From here till then, I’m going to be running across campus every night in my dreams, in a panic because I’m late, I’m late, I’m LATE! 



But at least I no longer have the elevator nightmare.




I walk into an ordinary building and push the elevator call-button.  It arrives, it’s empty, it’s self-service.  I step inside and push the floor number.  The doors close and immediately the elevator morphs into the elevator from hell.  The top of the cage is open and I can see the cables and pulleys in the concrete shaft. They all look old and ready to break.  I can't trust it. The walls become brass accordion gates and the floor is nothing but rough-hewn boards with big cracks that let me see how bone-crushingly far I’ll fall if the cables give way.  Everything shakes and rattles.  I push buttons, desperate to stop at any floor, never mind the one I wanted.  I’m totally terrified and I awake in a gibbering lump of fear.

After suffering from this dream for years, I finally investigated nightmares and read somewhere that the dreamer can take charge.  At the time, I was skeptical, but the next time the elevator doors closed and the walls and roof started to disappear, I said in my firmest dream voice, “That will be quite enough of that.  Stop it!”  And darned if the elevator didn’t settle down, return to normal and take me to the floor I wanted without a single incident. Nor has it ever returned.

Unfortunately,  no puedo hablar español and I haven’t been able to persuade my Spanish exam to go away when I’m racing toward a deadline.

What’s your worst anxiety dream?

September 28, 2011

The Ladies' and Gentlemen's


Today’s text is from humorist H. Allen Smith’s Life in a Putty Knife Factory, ©1943.  In describing where he liked to take out-of-town friends, he didn't talk about the Empire State Building or the Metropolitan Museum or the Statue of Liberty.

Rcmh-1 “I want them to see the gents’ room at the Radio City Music Hall.  Here is one of the most noble prospects in the Western Hemisphere.  It is, beyond doubt, the biggest and most magnificent can on earth—a veritable Taj Mahal of toilets.  Looking at it for the first time, a man’s credulity is put to test.  It is almost too purty to use.”

Sooner or later (and it’s usually sooner), you will find yourself away from home and in desperate need of the “facilities.”  If you’re a man in the woods, the nearest tree will do . . . or a dark alley in town.  Yes, there’s a device that accords a women similar privileges, but you’ll have to Google the topic because that’s not what this post is about. They say “any port in a storm” but it would take a hurricane to induce me to step inside a portable one.  Instead, let’s talk about the most elegant public restroom you’ve ever used.










I've used the facilities in the White House and in our own Governor’s Mansion.  Both feature classic architecture and tasteful wallpaper.  Both have monogrammed paper towels. (And yes, I snitched one from each.) 

For sheer opulence, though, nothing quite matches the public restrooms in 4- and 5-star hotels. As long as you don’t look like a homeless drunk, no one will lift an eyebrow if you approach an employee and ask where the nearest one is. Usually, they are clean and usually they are adequate, but some are minimal while others fall in Smith’s Taj Mahal category.

Images Images-1








I have never visited the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, but if I’m ever in the vicinity, it’s on my list because of this recent comment by Michelle Gervais, Associate Editor of Fine Gardening:

8-9-2011-Longwood1-MG_lg-1 “I visited Longwood Gardens down in Pennsylvania late last week, and one of the things I was most excited to see was, believe it or not, their new public bathrooms. When I was there late last summer they were just completing them, and even then, during a sneak peak when I had to duck under scaffolding wearing a hard hat, they were spectacular. They're even better now! This underground corridor is attached to one of the rear corners of the conservatory, and it's a huge living wall under a glass roof, with individual bathrooms evenly spaced along each side. Inside each bathroom is a domed ceiling topped with a small, round skylight that pokes out of the grass above. It's truly a spectacular destination.”

  Nominee-2010-10        Did you know that there’s a contest for America’s best restrooms?   http://www.bestrestroom.com/us/

Here's last year's winner, The Fountain on Locust, a vintage ice cream parlor in St. Louis, MO.  

According to the contest rules:   “Nominees must meet two criteria: The restrooms must be clean, and they must be memorable.”

Do you have a nominee? 

September 14, 2011


Margaret Maron



<<Mack Sennett:  A mother never gets hit with a custard pie.  Mothers-in-law, yes.  But mothers? Never.">>             

 Mack Sennett was right.  Mothers are sacred. The second Sunday in May honors them. Songs are written about them. 


Mothers-in-law, on the other hand,  are automatically the butt of jokes and deserving of a pie in the face. Why?

My husband loved and pampered my mother and I adored his.  She was funny, loving, supportive, and although at times bewildered by some of the things I did and said, she almost never showed disapproval.  And when she did, I fully deserved it.  Her formal education ended with the 8th grade, but she taught me how to play Scrabble and then wiped the floor with me. She showed me how to cook the Yankee foods her son missed when he married me, taught me how to budget our money, diaper a baby, and bring down a baby's fever. When I became a stay-at-h0me-mom, she quickly disabused me of the idea that it was "his" money.  "You're working just as hard.  His salary is just as much yours as his."

She ironed socks, dishtowels and underwear, but admitted that was her hangup and nothing I needed to do. She was a meticulous housekeeper, but tactful as hell when it came to my house.  Even though she lived on the next block, she dropped in only once without calling and was so shocked by the clutter that she always gave me at least a half-hour warning after that.

Images-1 <<Mark Twain:  “Adam was the luckiest man in the world.He had no mother-in-law.”>>

 Even though my mother-in-law was the yardstick by which others should be judged, I have heard enough from my friends to know how lucky I was.

 <<Juvenal:  "One cannot be happy while one's mother-in-law still lives.">> 

 When a good friend’s fiancé told his mother that he was going to marry a shiksa, she said, “Fine.  I’ll be out in the kitchen with my head in the oven.”  She did everything possible to prevent the marriage and then spent the next 30 years trying to undermine it.  She said such hateful things to her son, to my friend, and to her own grandchildren that I couldn’t understand why they continued to let such a toxic woman in their lives.  Now in a nursing home with deepening Alzheimer’s, her face lights up when this previously-despised daughter-in-law enters her room.  She grasps my friend’s hand and says, “We’ve always loved each other, haven’t we, dear?”  My friend says, “I could weep that she never showed us this gentler side when it would have made such a difference.”

<<A man sends his mother-in-law to a seaside resort for a month to get her out of his hair.  Two days after she gets there, he receives a tweet from the resort manager:  “Regret to say your M-i-L drowned and washed ashore covered in blue crabs.  What shall we do?”     To which the man tweeted back: “Ship the crabs and set ′er again.”>>

Treasure_and_dragon Another friend, I’ll call her S., married into a rather wealthy family. His father was in the diplomatic corps and he was decent enough, but the mother made it quite clear that her son had married “down,” and she loved to give formal dinner parties in the hopes that S. wouldn’t know which fork to use, nor how to eat squabs or meringues. She had bursts of calculated generosity, followed by bursts of stinginess and she was a notorious for giving someone an expensive gift and then declaring later that it was only a loan.  S. learned the hard way.  The dragon lady gave her a pair of lavish brocade drapes when she redecorated the embassy, then asked for their return a year later:  “I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed them, dear, and the room looks lovely decorated around them, but I need them back now.”

She decided that S. needed an “important” piece of jewelry and, upon the birth of her first Images-9 grandchild, gave S. a wide gold cuff encrusted with high-value gemstones.  “It was really garish,” S. said, “but I wore it to parties in an attempt to please her.”  A year or two later, when her  m-i-l asked for the return of “that bracelet I lent you,” S. said, “Certainly,” and went straight to her jewelry box and gave it back.  “Of course, I had taken the bracelet to a jeweler as soon as she gave it to me and had the stones replaced with imitations. After the divorce, my daughter and I lived on the proceeds of that bracelet for two years till I could get back on my feet.”

<<Joan Rivers: “I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house, and she said, ‘Get the hell off my property.’”>>

Another friend’s m-i-l has taken just the opposite tack.  She thinks that her son married “up” and sneers that nothing she has or does is good enough for her d-i-l, who couldn’t care less about such things.

So what about you?  Did you luck into a lovely mother-in-law like mine or was she someone who could give the dragon lady a run for her money?

September 11, 2011

This Day to Remember.

Where were you on September 11th? What do you remember?

From Margaret:

  I was awakened earlier than usual to be told that a close relative was in the hospital with a broken hip, so when I flipped on NPR to catch the morning headlines and heard that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center, I immediately turned on the television and was shocked to watch as that second plane went in.  The first could have been a weird accident; the second was clearly deliberate, but who?  why? The horror continued as I flashed on the few times I'd taken an elevator up to one of the towers' high floors.  How long it took even on the express.  To think of trying to walk down through smoke and fire . . .? Ghastly. In addition to all the people who died that day, there were even more deaths to come.  Of the two close friends who lived in lower Manhattan, I'm convinced that  breathing those contaminants for months caused the death of one and hastened the end of the other even though neither was in the building itself.

From Nancy Martin: 

 I was living on a mountaintop in rural Virgina--alone because my husband had already moved back to Pennsylvania for a job. Between writing the last chapter of my first mystery, I was packing boxes that morning and watching the Today show.  With packing tape in my hand, I heard Katie Couric's incredulous voice saying,  "We don't want to alarm anyone, but it looks as if a small plane may have crashed into the World Trade Center." And while I watched, the second plane hit.  I thought, "My daughter is in New York," and you know that expression "my blood ran cold?"  Well, that's how I felt---as if a terrible block of ice hit my chest and spread through my veins all the way to my fingertips. 

An instant later, the phone rang, and the voice of my great friend (and backblogger!) cried, "Are you seeing this?"  It was just like our mothers telling us about Pearl Harbor.  We couldn't believe it.  The sky was so blue and perfect. For hours, I kept trying my daughter's phone, but of course it was out. Thank God for Ethernet.  When she got back from class, we emailed, and she begged me to phone her boyfriend's mother in DC.  Her boyfriend had been on a plane from New York that morning, but I couldn't make the call. I kept thinking he'd been in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.  I couldn't call a mother whose son had died.  But he was already on the subway in DC when the plane went down, and he reached my daughter by email within a few hours. 

My mother called from Pennsylvania.  Her voice shook.  "An airliner flew over the golf course.  It was so low, we thought we could reach up and touch it." That was minutes before it crashed. When I phoned my husband--already at his new banking job--he said in amazement that the guys he'd been doing business with the previous day weren't answering their phones.  They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. My sister, in Brooklyn, said her front steps were covered in burned bits of paper with the Cantor Fitzgerald letterhead.

That night, alone in the house on the mountain, I heard a tremendous roar of powerful engines down in the valley.  It went on for hours, and the concussion rattled the windows of the house.  I was afraid to go outside to listen by myself, so I took the dog, and Dolly and I stood on the lawn, listening in the dark. Dolly leaned against my leg. I remember how warm she felt, and comforting. Turns out, all the east coast railroad companies had sent their locomotives to hide in the old coal yard in the town below. To be safe from terrorists. Terrorists!  What was a terrorist?

I remember how we all felt in the weeks that followed--joined in a common spirit.  Makes the current Congress look so self-absorbed and petty. If nothing else, I'm glad we have so many stories of heroism and patriotism and unity from that terrible day.

From Barbara O'Neal:  

I had been on a very challenging hiking trip in Provence, and made it home on September 11 at 3 am Colorado time.  I awakened to the phone ringing, and it was my grandmother calling to be sure I was home. She said, "Oh, thank God you are not on a plane. I didn't know when you were coming in. They've bombed the Pentagon."  I thought she was being alarmist, but turned on the television to see the towers smoking after the first plane hit.  The calls continued all morning--my family calling to make sure I was actually home and not on one of those planes.  I have a lot of friends in NYC, but my thoughts that morning were for the friend I'd gone hiking with.  She was stranded in Paris, alone, because she'd taken a later flight than I did, and didn't get home for two weeks.  

The story I think about the most is one from an editor I was working with at the time. She lived in the village and couldn't get to her apartment for quite some time. When she finally got back, she said the smell was awful in the neighborhood and she commented to her boyfriend that it smelled like rotten garbage all the time. He said gently, "Honey, that's not garbage."   


From Hank Phillippi Ryan:

It was a beautiful, beautful day on the East Coast, as you remember, too, Nancy.  And chillingly, as it turned out, that's one of the reasons the plot could work--because it was so clear that it allowed the terrorists to see the towers.

I was--crazily--at the hairdresser, getting a hair cut. That night was my station's preview party for the upcoming TV season, and we were all sprucing up.  Someone came running in, saying something incomprehensible, and then the news came flooding in. I had wet hair.

I knew I had to get to work, GET TO WORK as  soon as possible. As a reporter, this was...well, it was work. Separating the journalists from everyone else. I called Jonathan, yelling over the sound of the blowdryer. Yes, he knew.  Are the kids okay, in Park Slope? Our step-son works in the city...yes they're okay. I don't know when I'll be home, I said. (And I will admit, what I really wanted to do was go home.)

I walked to work, maybe 4 blocks, in that beautiful day. The bars were all open on Congress Street, all the glass fronts wide open, all the televisions on. I remember, so clearly, deliberately walking slowly. Thinking, so clearly, so clearly, "this is the moment our lives are all changing. When I get to work, our lives will never be the same."

(Ridiculously: I'm the investigative reporter, you know? And my boss came racing into my office. "How did this happen?" he yelled. "You and Mary (my producer) have to find out how this happened!"  As if we could do that. I think we stayed in the office for the next--three days? And every time we started to   complain, we'd look at each other and say: "We're not dead. Not dead." And then go back to work.)


From Sarah Strohmeyer:

Yes, it was a beautiful September morning and I'd just sent the kids off to school and sat down to write. We'd recently redone our computer system and installed a New York Times news alert. So many ways to procrastinate! Oddly enough, the first message that popped up was from my childhood friend, Connie Jordan, whom I hadn't spoken to in, gosh, ten or more years.

Connie is a smart, beautiful woman, a Swarthmore/Harvard grad and Presbyterian minister whose husband survived a nasty bout of cancer early in their marriage. I've often thought of Connie as being deeply spiritual - though we occasionally butted heads over different interpretations of Christianity. Anyway, I'm still moved by the randomness - or not - of hearing from this woman of God just as my New York Times news ticker started firing bulletins about a plane crashing into the twin towers.

The bulletins were confusing. First it was a small plane. Then it was a jet. Wait, something was going on in D.C.? Was that another plane in New York? Or the same one? I remember thinking that it was probably a joker pilot. About a month before, a single-prop plane had flown precariously close to high rises in Manhattan and in flying from Manchester to New York, our little commuter flight often followed 5th Avenue. You could even see people working in their offices. 

But this was different.

Finally, I wrote Connie this: "Something's going on."

Connie wrote back. "I know. But what?"

"It's bad," I wrote back, getting chills as the bulletins became more alarming. A missing plane in Pennsylvania. Reports of a small plane flying into the Pentagon. More planes missing.

"I have to pray," Connie said. And that was it. I've never heard from her since.

I called Charlie at work and he was just getting the news. I flipped on the TV and there was Peter Jennings, smoke swirling from the twin towers in another frame. I told Charlie to come home immediately, that the towers were on fire. I thought of all my friends in New York, of the husband of my daughter's godmother who worked at Merrill Lynch. Like Connie, I prayed.

And then the unthinkable. The first tower fell, just crumbled like a house of cards. Peter Jennings went dead silent as Charlie came through the door and I looked at him and said, "We'll never be the same."

All those people. Gone.


From Elaine Viets:


That’s what I remember most after 9-11. Don and I lived in a beach condo in Hollywood, Florida. After the attack, the airport was closed for weeks, silencing the constant drone of commercial flights.

Instead, the skies were patrolled by sinister black helicopters. Warships cruised offshore, some with the ominous bulge of nuclear weapons.

Three of the terrorist leaders moved to Florida in 2000, near our home. South Florida is an international community, and they blended in. They used our local library, where the computers are free to all. They made one of their last appearances at Shuckums Oyster Bar in Hollywood, where at least two "holy warriors" drank forbidden alcohol – screwdrivers and rum and Coke. You can make what you want of this: They ate chicken wings.

Twelve hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the FBI flashed their photos around the bar. The Shuckums’ server remembered them – and their lousy tip.


From Heather Graham:


The very words will, for everyone old enough on the day, be horrible and poignant. And no matter how much time passes, we all know where we were and what we were doing on that date. 

For me, I was mourning, and cleaning out mother's house with my sister; we had lost her just weeks before. And one of the things that kept running through my mind was at least she doesn't have to see this.

But my mom's passing became back-burner; I hadn't seen a TV. I was driving to a store to buy cleaners when a friend called me and frantically told me not to go to downtown Miami. At the time, I never went downtown, and I thought she'd spiked her morning diet coke. Of course, when she told me that two planes had hit the towers, I immediately started trying to reach my third son--he was going to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at the time, and the kids there were always on the Path train to reach the store where they bought their art supplies. I was frantic, trying to reach him. His cell went straight to a dull tone. 
I rushed back and got on my computer and I was amazed when I got an instant message. He was on the roof at Pratt and miraculously, his Internet was up. He was alright; he was feeling his gut wrench as he and fellow students watched the towers burn. Suddenly he wrote, "OMG! It fell, it fell!" And I didn't know what he was talking about, until he explained, "It went down; the whole damned tower went down. Oh, God, oh God."
The day that travel was allowed again, Dennis and I got on a plane and flew to New York; I had to see him, and friends in the city who had lost loved ones. If I didn't get on a plane, I could never suggest that anyone else ever do so again. I was terrified getting on that plane. It turned out to be Dennis and I, a few scattered people, and about ten pilots heading up to start commercial travel again. I'll never forget flying by the place where the towers had been--and the ground was still smoldering. 
I'd considered myself a student of history, and I had thought I'd known something about terrorism; my mom and her family left Dublin because they were "mixed" and the "troubles" continued. But I had never understood the kind of hatred that could make anyone massacre so many people so blindly. I'd been to Egypt, I had friends who were Muslim. And I had to make myself realize that while their was a culture of hatred--quite possibly the result of poverty and misery as so much hatred was--was not the culture of everyone. 
Today, I know that we often wonder what our men and women in the service are accomplishing because it's true that you can't kill and ideal. But I was with a young serviceman the other day who told me, "You don't get to see the good very often on TV. I was there when we opened a new school, and the parents and the children were grateful and wonderful. Building and giving, yes, we can make a change."
So what do we do in our world today? We defend ourselves. We learn how to do that through intelligence. We suffer, because we can't stop everything. We keep trying to be the country we began to be after the Civil War, seeing all people as equals. It's so easy to hate. And I hate fanatics of any kind who would do harm to others; I pray that I never do so blindly, and I always judge a person for the person they are. And because I really have no control, I pray for our men and women in the service, and I pray for all who are caught in the violence brought upon them by others. Most of all, I pray that we stop being such a party-determined society, and that our law makers can stop following party lines, and work hard to defend and strengthen out country, and show others, through our united front and efforts to benefit all mankind, that we should be emulated, and not alienated, assaulted, and attacked.

From Joshilyn Jackson:

I went downstairs to get coffee and I turned on a little television I had on the kitchen counter. There was the first tower, with the plane going into it.

I immediately called my friend Lydia Netzer and said, Turn on your television, because I didn’t want to be watching alone. They showed it over and over.  It seemed crazy and impossible. We began coming up with explanations for it, back and forth, two fiction writers constructing implausible scenarios, looking for a way it could have happened. We were like children telling each other fairy tales ---- pilots having strokes and electrical instruments going haywire, anything to keep ourselves from understanding.

The second plane came. We saw it happen.

Then we knew. There wasn’t any way to not know. This is on purpose, we said back and forth to each other, but only because there was no other explanation left. We had tried so hard to make it be Fate---God---Accident---Error, anything at all. Anything except a deliberate, human choice.


From Brunonia Barry:

I worked at the World Trade Center for several years in the mid-seventies, soon after it opened. I was in the accounting department of Toyoda America, Inc. on the fiftieth floor of the North Tower. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I loved the whole experience. But most of all, I loved the WTC. It was like a small community. I was there when Phillippe Petit walked the tightrope between the towers.

Windows on the World had not yet opened, and, for a short while, we were allowed to take our lunches up there and enjoy the view from the top floor. A small group of us representing many different companies lunched there most days, until the construction crews put an end to our visits. After that, we all continued to meet for lunch at the restaurant on the 44th floor.

I was our company’s fire marshall, and used to lead the employees in monthly evacuation drills, things they sometimes participated in and sometimes refused to take seriously. Thankfully, my friends at Toyoda had relocated their company offices a few years before the towers came down, but there were others I knew there who remained, friends who were lost.

Ten years ago on September 11th, I was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. I remember the television and everyone huddled around staring. I remember hoping that I was hallucinating from the medication, and then realizing that it was not a dream. In the ten years that have passed, I have not visited the site. It’s still difficult for me to think about, as it is for many of us.   


September 08, 2011

The Family That Preys Together . . .

Margaret Maron

For years, I read voraciously without analyzing what made one book more enjoyable than another.  It finally dawned on me that I cared more about character than plot.  As a kid, I read and loved the Jalna books, which had no murders but lots of eccentric and interesting characters who were born, aged, and died over the span of the series.  

I read the Sayers saga as much for the relationship developing between Harriet and Peter as for the murders they solved together—needlessly complicated murders, be it added.  The Nine Tailors was improbable, but  Have His Carcass was downright silly.  Spoiler: Why concoct an elaborate hoax that requires outdated razors, improbable disguises, horses, etc. etc., not to mention a couple of accomplices to pull it all off? If you’re going to kill someone you’ve never met and have no easily-discovered motive for wishing him harm, why not just catch him alone in a dark alley and bop him over the head so that it’ll look like a simple mugging?  I know, I know:  no complications, no book.  All the same . . .

 In honor of the new school year, there will be a quiz, so sit up straight, sharpen your pencils, and put on your thinking caps.

Question #1:  What’s the silliest plot—and by that I mean unintentionally silliest—you ever came across? (Dead authors preferred.  If you’re going to point a finger at someone living, please don’t use names or book titles, just summarize the plot and tell me what made you wonder how it got published.)

Sharon-gless Speaking of relationships, when it comes to television, no matter how many car chases, serial killers, and exploding cars flash across the screen, I still prefer the interaction of family characters over plot. Two in particular have me hooked at the moment:  Burn Notice and Memphis Beat.  Both have male leads with the usual sidekicks and romantic entanglements, but both also have single moms.  In Burn Notice, tough-as-nails Madeline Westen is played by Sharon Gless, while the more vulnerable Paula Ann Hendricks in Memphis Beat is played by Celia Weston. Both are single moms who try to keep themselves in their sons’ lives.   Images-4

Television is diverting, but I’m a reader first, so here’s Question #2:

Are there any mystery novels out there in which the main protagonist son keeps in close touch with his widowed/divorced mom other than Lord Peter and the dowager duchess?  Or conversely, any series with a daughter and father? 

Images-5Question #3:  While there have been son/father crime novels, where are the daughter/mother ones?  For that matter, other than Nancy Martin’s Blackbird sisters, Lisa Lutz’s Spellman kids, or Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver, are there any sibling mysteries you would recommend?

Or hey, how about cousins?