Friday, October 31, 2014

A new appreciation of Halloween

I've never been excited about Halloween. I don't decorate my house or yard, and I haven't worn a costume probably since I was twelve or thereabouts. Sure, when my kids were little we went door to door, and when they were older they concocted elaborate horror houses at the front door to scare trick-or-treaters. But to my mind the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.
I suppose living alone for many years has added to my feeling. Once I had an empty nest, I dreaded giving out treats, especially when rather large teenagers came to my door. Finally I just turned off all the lights and worked at my computer in the dark, ignoring the whole thing.
But for the last few years, I have been taking candy and going next door to co-host the trick-or-treating. Usually Jay is home and he and Susan alternate giving out treats but tonight he wasn't home, and I helped give out candy. While I ate the delicious beef stew that Susan always makes, she manned the candy table. Then we switched so she could eat.
We live in one of those inner-city neighborhoods where children are brought in carloads from other neighborhoods--a nice, safe neighborhood with abundant candy. Susan, her father, and I estimate we gave had 500 children (including some adults and some who came back for a second go-round) between 6:00 and 8:15 when we shut it down. Of those, I recognized one family and one other child, a good friend of Jacob's. I used to resent that, particularly when grown women took handfuls of candy. But a friend said to me, "Judy, that may be all they've had to eat today." And it occurred to me that they might also be building a stash for when they couldn't buy their children candy. Then again, they might have been just greedy, but why think the worst of people. Susan bypassed that problem tonight by putting two pieces in each bag herself--it worked wonderfully well, except for one child who was too young to know better and one who was too old not to know better. When I said, "Not cool," he turned and gave me a long look. Maybe he isn't used to being corrected.
Almost every child we gave candy to was polite--often if they forgot the "Thank you," there was a parent nearby to remind them. And some of them simply sparkled with excitement, their eyes dancing. You couldn't help but share their enthusiasm and joy. Some were so little they had to be encouraged where to go, what to say--I think Mom and Dad were the ones getting a kick out of trick or treating, and the kids were simply bewildered. But the atmosphere was one of neighborliness, respect, and friendship. I loved it.
Traffic of course is a nightmare, and I did hear of one unpleasant altercation between two drivers who were trying to pass each other with cars parked on either side of our narrow older streets--apparently there was vulgarity and some animosity about who lived in the neighborhood and who didn't. I hate that. It ruined the atmosphere of the evening.
On the other hand, our municipal ambulance service, MedStar, brought two severely handicapped children, each in an ambulance, to trick or treat on the next street over. Such generosity and caring epitomizes our neighborhood...and our city. And I'm proud of it.
So Happy Hallow's Eve everyone!  There is historical and religious significance to this holiday, which may be why I resent the hoopla a bit. Just as many of us feel about Christmas. But after tonight I look forward to next year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When did research become fun?

A tad late today introducing my Wednesday guest on Thursday--thanks to the charming Radine Nehring for understanding. Radine is the author the "To Die For" mystery series, with the latest being A Fair to Die For. She tells us why she chose the Ozarks and how she picks specific sites to set her mysteries--there's an element of spiritual connection in her selection process. Take it away, Radine!

Oh, yikes, do I remember!

When I was doing research for college and university themes and theses, research could be both tedious and frantic--the skimming of material, making of notes, (this was in the days before Internet) and then the jump to the next book on the stack, hoping to find applicable words of wisdom to be quoted or incorporated.  How I well I remember the process, and how flown are the words and even most of the topics they were applied to.

But now . . . ?

I fell into choosing and doing research at some of Arkansas's amazing locations and events in preparation for novels because of two accidents. 

Accident 1. I fell in love with the magic of the Arkansas Ozarks on a weekend camping trip in 1978.

Accident 2. The choice, in 2001, of Ozark Folk Center State Park as a setting for the second novel in
my "To Die For" mystery series. Husband John and I knew the place well. We had spent delightful long weekends in the park and the surrounding National Forest. I needed a setting for the second novel in my series. Folk Center?  Maybe. Plot ideas began bubbling. So, why not choose a real place, real events, characters modeled after the real people we knew, and add the salt and pepper of a plot true to the location that could be real?

That's what I did. It worked. The Folk Center embraced the novel, Music to Die For, and sold copies in their gift shop. The park hosted a release event and continues to invite me for talks and signing events. They now sell all of my published written work in book form in the gift shop.  (I was at an OFC gift shop signing this past weekend, in fact.)

Bingo. The choosing of sites for my series would fit a pattern, taking readers to popular Arkansas tourist destinations and dumping them gently into plausible crimes taking place at each location.

Though I had known the Folk Center quite well, that wasn't true for other places where I wanted to set mystery novels. Therefore, prior to beginning writing, I needed to do extensive on site research at any chosen location to support the realism I demand for my stories.  

In my non-fiction book, Dear Earth, I wrote that something about the Ozarks caught me, heart and soul, and created a sense of home. It still seems to me as if simply standing on Ozarks soil and rock creates a magic bond that comes into me through the soles of my feet, and I fall in love, once more, with a place.

That sort of thing must happen at each book location I use, or no book is set there. I simply stay long enough to absorb the atmosphere, and so much else. It's like magic. When I visit potential story locations and the magic doesn't happen, I move on to the next place.

Pooh-pooh this if you want, but it's the best way I can describe what happens when I choose an adventure site for Carrie McCrite, Henry King, and their families and friends.

If you join me in one book or another of this on-going adventure, you can write it off as a free vacation for the price of a book!

Places covered after Ozark Folk Center State Park:  Hot Springs National Park; Eureka Springs, AR and the 1886 Crescent Hotel; Buffalo National River; Historic Van Buren, AR and its Civil War history, plus a ride on the real Arkansas and Missouri Passenger Excursion Train; the War Eagle area of Arkansas including Hobbs State Park, War Eagle Mill, and the enormous War Eagle Craft Fair.  And, more to come!  Stay tuned.

Don't forget, I have spent days enjoying each site covered. I can guarantee a good time there.

Radine Trees Nehring, 2011 Inductee: Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame;
Sharing the magic of the Arkansas Ozarks in "To Die For" novels
including  A Fair to Die For from Oak Tree Press.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Deborah Crombie's Scotland Yard books

I'm almost through reading Deborah Crombie's new To Dwell in Darkness and can hardly put it down. But I've been pondering why that series is probably my all-time favorite, why I get so wrapped up in each book, and why I wait, patiently as possible, for the next one. The books are set in England, and I usually prefer American settings; I'm a cozy reader--and author--and these are definitely not cozy. Trying to figure out the attraction has brought that old question to mind--is it plot or character?
Crombie's works are intricately plotted and constructed. I sometimes wonder about her writing method--surely she must outline. At times I thought in this book she had written herself into a blind alley, but she always saves the situation in a thoroughly believable manner (no spoilers here). There are plenty of twists and turns to keep any reader guessing, and that's probably one reason I'm drawn to read so fast. But, no, I don't think it's plot that draws me.
Crombie, a North Texas native, knows England better than most Englanders. Her books include maps, but since I have never been to London, they mean little to me. But she has managed to capture the language and culture in a way that can only be authentic. At one point, in a news conference, Duncan Kincaid tells reporters, "Further information will be forthcoming after the inquest." To himself, he says it's better than saying, "We don't have a bloody clue, mate!" The clothing is equally convincing--cardigans are not what they are in the U.S., nor are umbrellas and lots of other things. I do feel transported to London--and sometimes Scotland, which I love. If I ever go to London I'm sure now I'll want to see the historic Pancras Station and a lot of other places.
But when I come right down to it, it's the characters who keep me involved in the world Crombie creates. Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are the main characters--both Scotland Yard. But they are joined by several recurring secondary characters so that the reader feels he or she has entered a small community--their children, their associates, characters added in previous novels. But it is Duncan and Gemma who move the stories forward. They began as tentative lovers--by this, the sixteenth book I think though I may be wrong--they are married and raising his son, her son, and an adopted young girl. They have a houseful of children and dogs and the usual confusion that goes along--such as the litter of starving kittens the children bring home in this one. In previous books, they survived such threats as uncertainty about their relationship, a miscarriage, and the death of some close to them. But Duncan and Gemma are also dedicated to their careers which involved unexpected transfers, long hours, and uncertain schedules. Never assigned these days to the same cases, they manage to share information, concerns, and pure speculation about who did what. The reader thus is part of both their Scotland Yard lives and their personal lives, right down to intimacy with the bedroom door properly closed. They are highly trained and absolutely professional; they are also warm, compassionate, caring human beings.
Those are my scattered thoughts, but as I draw close to the end of To Dwell in Darkness, I'm already aware that it will be a long year until the next book. I assume it's already in draft stage.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mothers, daughters, and the swirl of life

I just spent a lovely, lazy weekend at the home of my oldest daughter, her husband and their two sons in Austin. We were celebrating the eighth birthday of Ford, the younger son. I decided what I like best about being there is that I can settle myself with computer and book at a table at one end of the great room which is open kitchen and living area. Then I watch the life of the household swirl around me...and swirl it does.
Ford and Sawyer, age ten, are having the most wonderful, old-fashioned summer childhood--even now in late October. They live on a tree-shaded street in the Tarrytown area on a block with lots of children approximately the same age. The boys disappear sometime in the morning, come back occasionally, often with a group in tow, and they all work at computers or the X-box, and then they disappear again. (Sometimes it's a bit of a smelly crew that tramps through the house). Megan is grateful to have them comfortable in her home. Her only restriction: the boys have to be home before dark. Sometimes when there's a bunch of children in the house it gets fairly noisy--I simply take my hearing aids out.
Brandon, my son-in-law, is many things, including computer consultant, bibliophile, and avid football fan. So football games are on the TV all weekend--there go those hearing aids again. Brandon's parents were there for the birthday, and he and his dad spent a lot of time watching football. The rest of us kind of came and went.
Megan's best friend from law school, of whom I'm very fond, was also there--so there was a houseful, and yes, it got very quiet if everybody happened to be gone...and very noisy if everyone was there.
Megan is perhaps my most joyful child. Since childhood, she has been filled with joie de vivre--my parents used to laugh that she was so enthusiastic about everything, even brushing her teeth, that she was in danger of popping them right out of her head. Today Megan delights in her boys, in making pots of soup and chocolate cake (she did both Saturday) and in being generally happy and a bit goofy. She is in some ways my total opposite--she never plans ahead. Sunday night about five she announced everyone was going to the bookstore and when they came home she'd think about dinner--we had wonderful hamburgers but no tomato or lettuce, so some of us put our spinach salad on our burgers--quite good.
Yes, I helped in the kitchen, and I sat around the big marble slab to participate in conversations, but it was most satisfying to sit back and watch while this daughter of mine ordered her household in her own fashion, in a way so different from mine. She does it well, and it's a happy house. Few things are ever a crisis...and that's a good way to live. One I should take a lesson from--you can let life swirl around you and go with the flow.

Right: Megan wearing onion goggles, specially designed to keep you from crying while chopping onions.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Goodbye to Luke

I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done today. I surrendered my dog, Luke, to the Humane Society of North Texas. I always hated seeing the words “Owner surrender.” Dogs are part of your family, and you just don’t walk away from them, but here I was today, calling belatedly, “I love you, Luke” as he was led away.
I had Luke five weeks to the day. He’s probably a Bernese Mountain Dog/Aussie/Border Collie mix, a year and a half to two years old, up to date on shots and neutered (thanks to me), heartworm positive (we hadn’t gotten to the treatment yet). More important, he was full of love for the people he adored (including me) and he was so happy—played beautifully with Sophie, my border collie/poodle cross. Lived the good life for the last five weeks, before which he was a stray and then in a shelter. An escape artist, he’d get out of the back yard only to come to the front door and say, “Let me in.” He lived up to the Aussie moniker of "Wigglebutt"--his whole rear end would wriggle with happiness at the thought of coming in the house.

I thought today I’d be writing a plea for a new home for Luke—a home, preferably in the country, with no children and few if any guests. Full disclosure: Luke is a biter. It’s indiscriminate and unpredictable, and in five weeks we had five incidents. He seemed to dislike children, young people, and men (except for a few) but we never could tell when he would react with a snarl and a snap. We learned to restrain him but dog trainers advised me to get rid of him. I live with an eight-year-old here every afternoon, and I entertain often so there are people in and out of my house a lot—if for nothing else but happy hour. Mine is the wrong house for Luke.

 Now I find I’m writing a eulogy. My neighbor Jay—who went with me to rescue Luke—took me today to surrender him to the humane society. I know we did the right thing, the morally responsible thing—in fact, as I said when I got out of Jay’s truck, we did the right thing all along. We loved Luke, and we tried. Once before I decided to give him away and then backed off. This time the decision was the only choice I had. But the folks at the humane society said they will euthanize him—they cannot in good conscience place a dog that bites and might be a danger and a liability in a new home (liability was a factor that loomed large in the final discussions of Luke’s fate around here).

I am heartbroken at putting down a young, healthy (heartworms can be cured), vital, energetic and loving dog. Yes, I’ve done it with dogs that were old and/or sick. But Luke enjoyed life so much, had so much love to give and receive.

RIP Luke. Look for me on the Rainbow Bridge someday. I loved you as much as you loved me, and I will miss you. You will always have a corner of my heart.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Solving the Mystery of Cat Training – Agility and More!

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Sheila Webster Boneham, author of the Animals in Focus mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first book in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America and was an NBC Petside Best Ten Dog Book of 2012. Sheila is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has bred top-winning Aussies and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University, an MFA Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine, and resides in Wilmington, N.C. Sheila writes literary nonfiction and poetry as well, and teaches writing. You can keep up with Sheila’s latest news at and, learn more about animal-oriented writing—with some of your favorite authors!—at her Writers & Other Animals blog at .

When I mention that Leo, the lead cat in my Animals in Focus mystery series, competes in feline agility in my new book, Catwalk, people respond in any of several predictable ways. Disbelief or astonishment are common. Laughter is not unheard of. A handful show some interest in learning more. And the vast majority respond with some variant of “My cat wouldn’t do that. S/he’s too independent/indifferent/self-serving.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that last response and I have a theory. I think that many people prefer to think of cats as lovely companions who really care only about themselves. In a society in which many people are distanced from nature except through media and pets, the idea of living with a minimally civilized animal holds some appeal as a final link to wilder nature.
That’s lovely, but in my experience, well-socialized, healthy cats do enjoy learning new things and interacting with people and other animals. I’ve had lots of cats, and every one of them cared about the people and other animals in their family. Our Kitty (seriously, I didn’t name her!) used to lie on my chest and gently pat my cheeks whenever I had a migraine, and Leo loved to cuddle and play with tiny baby puppies when we were breeding Australian Shepherds. And so it goes.

Leo, the protagcat in my Animals in Focus Mystery Series from Midnight Ink, is one of those well-socialized catboys, and he loves Janet MacPhail and her Aussie, Jay, among others. He showed his devotion with a heroic act in Drop Dead on Recall (2012), and he remained an essential character in The Money Bird (2013). In Catwalk—just out—he and his ilk are in the spotlight at cat shows and in the world of feral cats.
Most people know about canine agility by now, since it’s become popular enough over the past twenty years to be televised regularly. Dogs of all sizes, breeds, and mixtures compete successfully. Check out these videos:

·         Yes, that’s a Chihuahua!

·         All kinds of dogs, and people, too!

Well, cats also compete in agility! In the feline version, the handler directs or—more often--lures the cat through tunnels, up and down ramps, over jumps, and through weave poles and other obstacles. Although it's a fairly new sport, it's growing in popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Here’s a dose of cuteness—a kitten beginning to learn about agility on a kitten-sized course-- .
Obviously, cats can be trained. They’re smart, athletic, and fun-loving animals, so the trick is to figure out what motivates the individual cat. Clicker training (operant conditioning) is a very effective way to teach new behaviors in a positive, reward-based way. Here are some more happily trained cats:

·         Spectacular clicker-trained agility cats -
Like all good training, feline agility provides a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between cats and their owners. It also gives participating cats a fun way to keep their bodies and minds in shape.

To be successful in agility, your cat must

·         have an outgoing, confident personality;

·         be in excellent health and physical condition;

·         love to play.

The sport is open to all kinds of cats, so it might be just the thing for you and your feline athlete. Even if you aren't ready to participate, why not visit a trial when the leaping, tunneling cats come to town and see what it’s all about. You can learn more at
Want to give it a try? Check out this video on getting started -

In the meantime, why not join Janet and Leo at their first trial? And while you’re in town, come see Jay and the other dogs compete as well—it’s likely to be murder for someone. Catwalk is available wherever books are sold, and autographed copies of all my books can be purchased using this form à


Animals in Focus Mystery #3

Midnight Ink, 2014

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer. Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

"Animal photographer Janet MacPhail's latest adventure will delight dog lovers, cat lovers, and mystery lovers. Janet is excellent company, and although Leo the cat plays a starring role, I'm happy to report that Leo does not eclipse Jay the Aussie, who has become one of my favorite fictional dogs. Indeed, if Jay ever needs to move out of the pages of Sheila Boneham's mysteries and into a nonfiction house, he'll be more than welcome in mine. Five stars for CATWALK!" Susan Conant, author of Brute Strength and other novels in the Holly Winter series of Dog Lover's Mysteries




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The annual cranberry battle

It's October, with Thanksgiving hard upon us, and food magazines are filled with cranberry recipes, most of which I applaud. But my family has an annual cranberry battle. I grew up with a raw cranberry relish, made of apples, oranges, cranberries and some but not too much sugar--it should be tart and not sweet. I remember my dad getting our the small green step-ladder onto which he attached a hand grinder and painstakingly grinding the ingredients. It was an all-evening chore. But we loved the result.
Few in my family will eat it, though one man--married to my sister-in-law's sister--loves it. We used to all get together for Thanksgiving, but now our children's families have gotten too big.
There are sixteen in my family and seventeen in my brother's. So I haven't given Kevin cranberry relish in several years. My kids can take it or leave it--mostly the latter--so I rarely bother. Two daughters-in-law insist on that canned, gelatinous stuff that I can't abide.
But I've seen interesting recipes of late for cranberries. One was a cooked cranberry sauce with too much sugar, a bit of orange, and a fourth cup of cognac. Interesting touch, and I'd be willing to try that, though I'd doctor the recipe.
Another though reminded me once again that this whole country seems determined to "Mexicanize" our foods--we put peppers (which I don't much like) and cumin (which I do like) in everything. Come on, in cranberry sauce? Nope, it just doesn't belong. I was surprised there was no cilantro. But this was a recipe for using leftover turkey for sandwiches. It had all the right things--bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese--and the cranberry was a discordant note. Besides, in my experience, if you have turkey left over, it's not the nice white slices of breast meat that are so good for sandwiches--it's odd bits and pieces of dark meat. Makes better hash than sandwiches--and no, I don't want cranberries in my turkey hash (that's a whole other subject, but I love turkey hash made of leftovers).
Cranberries in baking are another thing. I love chocolate chip/cranberry cookies or fruit bread with cranberries. One year, feeling very domestic, I took a loaf of fruit bread to a daughter-in-law's house--I think it had apricots, prunes and cranberries. She took one look and said, "I won't eat it." I stuck it in the freezer and took it home a few days later.
Maybe I just don't keep up with food trends--but cranberries seem sort of trendy to me today. Dried cranberries in salads for instance. So I can't chalk it up to being out of step with the times.
I'll continue to long for cranberries with my holiday turkey-but not cumin or jalapenos, please. And nothing out of a can.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Musings on relationships

"Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be/ The last of life/For which the first was made"
                   from "Rabbi Ben Ezra," by Robert Browning

I guess that's what every young girl, at least of my generation, dreams of--that meeting of souls that lasts a lifetime. A complete, encompassing love that endures long after physical attraction and desperate sexual encounters. For me, it wasn't to be, and sometimes I'm a little sad about that.
I watched my brother and sister-in-law, unspoken, share a private joke (that I unintentionally initiated), and I thought that's the kind of close caring I miss in my life.
In truth, I know very few couples who have grown old together from the get-go. Almost all of my friends are on at least second marriages, and some of those on first marriages don't seem too happy about it. But I've seen close girlfriends develop that soul-mate relationship with new spouses, the kind that is indeed "till death do us part." My brother and Cindy have probably been together a little more that twenty years--which is about a fourth of his life. So not everyone walks happily from youth into the sunset together.
I would not want anyone to think that I am unhappy with my life. In thirty-plus years since divorce, I've been happier than ever...and I've many times blessed the woman who took my ex off my list of worries. I have four wonderful children, who love me I know, but they have their own families that come first. I have many good friends who love me and understand me. I've had a few soul mates along the way...male and female, some lasting and some not so...and I've had relationships with men that I can only thank God for saving me from. What was I thinking? When I was newly divorced, a much younger man told me he'd never date me because I had baggage--four children. Even then I would have been hesitant to introduce a new man into the family circle (did once and they loved him and he them but it wasn't meant to be). Even today I'd be hesitant to introduce someone new to our close family. If I married now, I'd end up being caretaker to some old man. (Years ago when my brother was single, two gay friends suggested I should open an home for old men and take care of both of them and my brother--no, thanks!) And, the kind of relationship I'm talking about doesn't develop in a week or a month--it takes years to build. Sort of how I feel about my relationship with the new dog I'm trying to civilize!
So I'll grow old surrounded by loving family and friends. I treasure the experiences I've had, the accomplishments I can count, the love of cooking my mom blessed me with, all the things that have made up my life and still do. But every one in a while, I see a couple holding hands and walking by the river, and I feel a twinge of jealousy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Update on Luke

Sophie and Luke aren't exactly best friends yet but they have progressed to playing tug of war, which is really cute. Accompanied by blood-curdling growls on Sophie's part and silent concentration from Luke. For the first week or so, he didn't bark, and I thought we had a non-barker. I've since learned that's typical of rescue dogs. Now he barks a lot because he takes his responsibilities as guardian of the house very seriously--sometimes in the middle of the night. Last night Jordan spent the night, and Luke went wild when she got up to use the bathroom, then again at 5:30 a.m. when she got up to organize their garage sale (read on). Unless I'm quieting him, Luke barks at strangers, and he still barks at Jacob, which scares Jacob particularly when he gets in and out of bed with Luke in his crate.
But Luke is adapting to the house. If Sophie didn't provoke him, he'd be a great house dog--well, with a little training and relaxation. He frequently paces from room to room, though occasionally he'll settle down by my side. When he's off wandering in the house I have to watch because he has trouble discriminating what is his from what is mine--a remote is one victim. Forget rubber toys--those left over that Scooby had for years and Sophie has had for three and a half are now destroyed. Knotted ropes work best, as in the picture above.
Luke loves his crate--maybe because I sometimes feed him there (he's always ravenous), maybe because other times I lure him there with his pills wrapped in a bit of cheese, and possibly because it's a refuge from Sophie. But he happily goes prancing in and doesn't try to escape while I fiddle with the door.
I've had Luke four weeks and two days, and I think he's a different dog--beginning to feel more comfortable. When he barks, I praise and reassure him, and I spend some time just stroking his head and face (I don't want anyone else to do that!) and telling him he really does live here.
Today was the great garage sale--my street gets much more traffic than theirs, so Jordan and Christian beg and plead and I give in. My house was a disaster the last two days, filled with more junk than I can imagine. I did just what I threatened--hid in the house all day. Because the kids were in and out, I left the dogs in the back yard until early afternoon. Amazing the amount of work I got done--including getting a needed picture of a Coney Island dog before I served it to Christian. Kids think they did fairly well on the sale though there's a lot left. Anyone want a '50s modern wood table with an inlaid dentil pattern on the ends of the drop-down leaves? If I had room, I'd keep it. Jordan and Christian are exhausted. I feel just fine, thank you very much. And here's another shot from last night:

Friday, October 17, 2014

A joyful day

After a couple of woe-filled days, I’ve had a joyful day today. I truly live in a wonderful neighborhood, and one of the things that makes it so wonderful is the neighborhood spirit for Lily B. Clayton Elementary School, right across from my front porch. This morning they had their annual Walkathon—both a fund-raiser for PTO activities and a good exercise to prove that the kids, even little ones, can walk a mile. Christian walked with Jacob, as he has every year. Subie and Phil came from a few blocks away, and we had a watch party—complete with coffee and dogs. Neighbor Margaret Johnson came to get Sophie for a walk, but Sophie was so excited by all the turmoil, I was terrified she’d pull Margaret down. They had a good walk but Margaret confessed her arm was tired when she got back.

The high school band played, police cars blocked the streets, and tons of neighbors turned out to watch. Band players jived (is that the right word?), danced and kicked, and the atmosphere was truly festive. As Phil said, “I never realized so many children went to that school.” They kept coming and kept coming, but it was a joyful, exciting occasion. Each child was to wear a red Lily B. T-shirt. Jacob buried his under a green Baylor sweatshirt because he was cold—that child who’s always too hot. It was a lovely way to start the day. Subie and Phil left after the walkers had gotten underway, but I told them later the return was much less tightly packed, more loosely organized as kids seemed to scatter everywhere. Still, order came out of chaos, and I assume they spent the rest of the day being studious
At noon, my brother John and sister-in-law Cindy came to get me and we went to Carshon’s Deli where we met my niece Jenn and her youngest daughter, Maddie. Talk about a flirty-girty, beautiful charmer! I was absolutely entranced by that three-year-old child. Loved my lunch (half a tongue sandwich) and the company was even better. A real treat. John walked into my house announcing he wanted to see the killer dog—so he and Cindy waited until I got Luke calmed down and then came out on the porch. They did it just right—ignored him, though he got to the point he wanted to jump on them and came around to visit several times. Also sniffed their dogs’ smell on them.

Tonight Jordan is preparing for the garage sale of the century—in my front yard because there’s so much more traffic than in their neighborhood. I cannot begin to tell you what my house looks like except that I pray it will all be gone tomorrow. Cindy walked in and said, “Oh my God!” Christian has gone home so he can be back here at 5:30 a.m. I am hoping to sleep through much of this. Tonight I fixed them hamburger patties in a butter/shallot/red wine/beef broth/cognac sauce—so good but next time I’ll double the sauce. Baked potatoes and salad—great meal, even if the service wasn’t elegant, given the circumstances. A part of me hates to put a sour cream container on the table!
Now, Luke and I are hiding in my office while she prices things. Going to bed very early tonight and hiding all morning tomorrow. Life is good.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Woe is me!

I know, the world is beset by crises—a third ebola patient in Dallas, Isis continues its violence, the stock market really tumbled. We move from crisis to crisis, yesterday’s crisis earning not so much as a backward glance. What happened to the story of the kidnapped girls in Africa? The border crisis in Texas? The ongoing tension in Ferguson, Missouri?
While the world is reeling through these major crises, I’ve been having a few of my own. Luke continues to fit in well, and sometimes when there’s rowdy play or play-fighting indoors, Sophie is the one who starts it. Luke will be a great indoors dog. But he’s still insecure and frightened of strangers. He exhibits that fright by aggression, and Sunday night snarled and snapped at a treasured friend who went toward him with all good intentions. My own theory is that he’s found a good home, knows it, and doesn’t want anybody new disturbing it. He and Jacob still walk wide circles around each other—actually they aren’t together much.

But that presents a problem. I usually use a teen-age neighbor as a dog sitter. He’s close by, very attentive. But I was in a terrible quandary about exposing him to Luke. The boy’s mother came for happy hour yesterday, did as we suggested, ignored the dog and sat on the deck with her wine. Pretty soon, Luke came to investigate, and she petted him. All was well, and she assures me Gunnar will be able to handle it. One worry off my mind.
Second worry yesterday: an author friend wrote, apologetically, to tell me the Kindle version of The Perfect Coed was all messed up—paragraphs ended in mid-space, pages were blank, etc. I’m pleased to report that thanks to formatter extraordinaire (and really nice person) Jenn Zaczek, the correct version is up. If you bought the imperfect one, please contact Amazon and ask for a new one free.

Yesterday’s crises behind me I sailed into today. Christian was really late bringing Jacob for school. Seems he got rear-ended, which scared Jacob and made Christian splash coffee all over the inside of his car. No one was hurt, and they were in such a hurry I didn’t look at exterior damage. He needs a new car anyway but that’s a rough way to be reminded.
In efficiency mode, I pulled the slipcover off the over-stuffed chair Sophie lies in all the time. Shook it out on the porch and threw it in the washer. Then I couldn’t find the remote to the office TV. That chair is where Jacob sits and often leaves the remote. I looked everywhere and convinced myself I had thrown the remote in the washer too. Apparently not, but I still haven’t found it.

The Democratic Party is having a crisis of its own—an identity crisis. You’ll not be surprised that I get no mail from conservatives, Republican candidates or the Republican Party, but I am besieged with liberal, progressive, Democratic emails. One minute it’s gloom and despair; then I’m told the Republicans are on the ropes; then I get a message that makes it sound as if I personally will be responsible for any loss because I didn’t donate. I have donated—over and over—and this well has run dry. I’m afraid to prognosticate at this point, but I don’t open many political emails these days.
Just found the remote: Luke has a little trouble discriminating between toys and non-toys. It’s chewed but functional.

Maybe tomorrow will be a day without crises, but I doubt it. My ideas on the role of the media are a whole other blog, but I wish we could go back to Huntley and Brinkley.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


            Please welcome my Wednesday guest, D. J. Adamson, an award-winning author with a mystery-Midwest Noir novel Admit to Mayhem, the first in the Lillian Dove series. Her family roots grow deep in the Midwest and it is here where she sets much of her work. She juggles her time between her own desk and teaching others writing at two Los Angeles Colleges. Along with her husband and two Welsh Terriers, she makes her home in southern California.

I remember Stephen King once saying that if you were writing horror, you need to put a dog or child into the plot because the vulnerability of someone innocent creates horror without a need for a lot of words or description. In his novella Secret Window, the protagonist finds his dog on his doorstep, killed. Horrible! Immediately the reader feels the protagonist is threatened by someone evil. And the reader is waiting for the next horrible act. Blake Synder’s book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need picks up on another animal use. Synder states that if the character does something nice, like saving a cat, then the character is immediately endeared to the reader. By the way, I think the Cohen Brother’s offered a giggle to Synder’s book by having their character in Inside Llewyn Davis literally save a cat and carry it around most of the movie. A joke the audience may not have gotten, but those of us who write immediately understood.

I use a cat in my novel Admit to Mayhem, a Lillian Dove Mystery series to do both what King
and Synder suggest. I want the use of Bacardi to say something about my protagonist: Bacardi’s my cat, named for his brown and yellow coloring and my first drinking preference of rum and Coke.  At the age of twelve, if you add enough cola, you forget all about the sweet tang of rum. Plus, Bacardi’s hair frizzed out from his body as if he’d stuck his claw in a light socket. When my hair was shorter, I’d woken up many a morning with that same look. 

My protagonist Lillian Dove is a recovered alcoholic with a five-year sobriety; however, sobriety is not a dominate theme in the book. This is not another novel about a protagonist that cannot keep sober (be it alcohol or drugs). Instead, Lillian’s objective in the novel and series is to take on life anew, with all its emotional, behavioral, and mystery challenges. With the description and affinity to her pet, I wanted the reader to get a feel for Lillian’s troubling past without doing a lot of backstory.

          The overall plot of the novel begins when Lillian discovers a house fire and becomes the only eyewitness to criminal arson. She is in jeopardy by someone who wants to stop her from identifying them. The plot is paced with events to create Lillian’s angst, but again, I wanted to offer my reader the vicarious ability to feel her anxiety and fear. So, I put Bacardi in jeopardy:  It came to me then what was missing. “Where’s Bacardi? Bacardi’s missing.”


        “My cat.” I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the couch. Dust bunnies but no Bacardi. “Bacardi, where are you?” …I got in my car and drove one block after another, up one street and then the next, calling his name out into the night… “Bacardi?” I followed behind them, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” 

        When I did get back to the condo, I couldn’t stay still. I searched each and every cranny I could think where he might possibly have crawled. Then I went back outside. 

        I went without the Mustang this time.  I walked and walked and walked the night away, calling.

        Several cats answered my calls.  They patted quietly up to me purring as they rubbed against my legs. Others merely meowed back a hello. None were Bacardi.  I know Bacardi’s yowl. It wasn’t until I came dragging back to the condo, exhausted, with a voice hoarse and feelings of failure that I allowed myself to truly take in the idea, “What if he never comes back? What if something bad happened to him?” 

        Pike is the major antagonist, and while Lillian may be threatened by Pike, and her mother may be threatened, having him possibly taken Bacardi is almost more than she can emotionally handle.

        My novel is an amateur-sleuth novel which I classify as a soft-edged Midwest Noir. But no matter whether a writer is developing a conventional mystery, cozy, thriller or horror novel, the use of animals can help offer themes and provide movement of plot.

 "In a nutshell, Admit to Mayhem is a well-rounded, engrossing read that creates a memorable, believable protagonist and uses her to immerse readers in a series of challenging probes that end not in court, but in the very human realm of motivation and twisted purposes.”—Midwest Reviews


Monday, October 13, 2014

Flashlights in bed and divided loyalties

If you were a die-hard reading kid like me and one of my sons, you remember taking a flashlight to bed so you could read under the covers after lights out. Well, technology has changed all that. Last night, after I thought Jacob was safely tucked in bed, I checked and saw this strange glow coming from under the cover. He'd taken his iPad to bed with him. Unfortunately, he was playing games, not reading. I confiscated the iPad, but it brought back fond memories. Jamie may correct me but I think he used to read Dungeons and Dragons books. He had several favorite fantasy, paranormal authors. Me? I was probably reading Nancy Drew. An iPad just isn't as subtle as a flashlight.
We are a family of divided loyalties. I have a degree from TCU and worked there thirty years; while Jordan never attended the school, she grew up in its shadow and often in the midst of its social life. Christian is a proud alum of Baylor. Saturday it all came to a head with the epic clash on the football field between the two schools.
Jacob is caught somewhere in the middle. He's grown up on stories of Baylor, but he's gone to baseball camp at TCU and then by serendipity met and was most impressed by a football player. He's been to most of the games this season at both schools. Last week Jordan announced his hashtag for the weekend was #identity crisis--Friday night she dressed him in a Baylor shirt, a TCU hat, and one glove from each school. Then she posted a picture.
But Saturday, at the game in Waco, they were all green and gold. Jordan has told me, almost apologetically, that she would root for Baylor. Her sister called her a traitor, and I commented that if she'd only worn purple as she should, TCU would have won. It was one of those games people can't stop talking about and, yes, TCU should have won. But with twelve minutes to go (which can be an eternity in a football game), they lost focus and acted as though the game was over. Result, as many of you know: Baylor won by three points.
At this point, eight years old, it's almost a given that Jacob will go to one of the two schools. I suspect in the long run it depends less on his preference but which one gives him the best scholarship. Since he "forgot" to turn in last  week's homework on Friday, that's not looking hopeful in third grade but we're working on it. We can't get him to believe that what he does now will matter by the time he's ready for college.
Wish he'd start taking a flashlight to bed and reading under the covers. I wouldn't confiscate the flashlight, at least not so quickly.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chili for supper, photo op, and good times

Frito  pie
Good thing it turned chilly over the weekend--no pun intended, but I fixed chili for some friends tonight. Actually the whole dinner was a photo op for my forthcoming (2015) chili book. The appetizer, which almost became the first course, was Frito pie. Everyone raved and ate so much that they didn't have much room left for the entrée. Son-in-law Christian came in after supper and demanded, "Who brought chili pie? I love it!" When I said I made it, he said, "I wish I wasn't already so full." Good on him for recognizing and honoring that feeling.
Jay Mitiguy (you know, my handsome neighbor), who is becoming sort of the unofficial photographer for this book, was here and took pictures, some with my newly rediscovered camera and some with his iPhone. Jordan couldn't find the pictures on my camera, but Jay sent what he took and they are wonderful and clear. I also served a black-eyed pea relish that someone had given me--it was really good but much out-shadowed by the Frito pie.
The main course was white chili. When the editorial board of the press met, one member wanted to know why there was no white chili in the book. I pointed out to the director there were four recipes--chicken and turkey. For tonight I fixed a version with chicken and cannellini beans--not much broth, but the chicken was tender and the flavor was great. Not too many leftovers, so they went home with Christian. I saved the Frito pie leftovers in case Jacob would eat them--he's here for the night because there's no school tomorrow (Columbus Day).
Jay, who judges at Terlingua, is a chili purist. He called my personal chili recipe a flavorful stew of beef and beans but not chili. I dreaded to think what he would call this and he said no, he'd had white chili and liked it. At the table, though, he couldn't resist saying, "It's really good stew." Purists of course brook no beans in their chili. This was an easy, low cal recipe.
You just can't have chili without cornbread, but I really ran amuck here. I used a really easy recipe for sweet cornbread--1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 2/3 cup sugar, 3-1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 cup milk, and 1 egg. Spray a nine-inch cake pan, scrape in the batter, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes or more. Easy, right? Now I consider myself a seasoned cook but for some unknown reason, the first time I made this I had the oven on broil--cornbread had a lovely brown top but the inside was mushy. Had to make a second batch, but it was really good. I'm well aware that the chili pie and cornbread have "bad" ingredients--although corn chips aren't bad except maybe for sodium but cheese, sugar, etc.--and the chili was healthy--nothing but chicken, beans, onion, chicken broth, and seasonings. What bothered me? There was nothing green with the meal. Didn't seem to bother anyone else.
Dessert? Why ice cream, of course, with a great dark chocolate, salt and caramel sauce one of the guests brought. A feast--and a delight of company. Two of my guests were temporarily without wives, their wives being elsewhere engaged. I invited Jay because I knew he was alone, but I wondered how he'd like my hard-core liberal friends, conservative that he is. He was charming throughout the evening and we steered away from politics. Conversation ranged from religions--one of my guests is a retired Episcopalian priest, his wife and Jay are both fallen away Catholics--to chili and Terlingua and on to all sorts of other topics. What a joy to cook for these people and be surrounded by good friends. Happy Sunday night, y'all. Now I have a sweet eight-year-old (mostly sweet) to spend the night with me.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The walking school bus

This morning, Jacob was part of the walking school bus program designed to encourage physical fitness in elementary school. I'd seen it on Facebook before but was delighted that it came to our neighborhood. There is an actual yellow school bus--a cardboard cut out that two children carry by putting their arms through the windows. Others trail behind. Jacob went specially to a friends' house to be part of this parade and got his picture taken with no less than Her Honor Mayor Betsy Price. Jacob is collecting celebrities--told his mom he was going to tell the Mayor that he knew Senator Wendy Davis. That's a stretch but he was a year or so ago part of a photo shoot stressing Senator Davis' interest in elementary education. The photographer happened to be a member of our extended family who said to himself, "I know that voice." So now we have pictures of Jacob with both a mayor and a senator (he's in the red shirt in the latter). He's pictured above with Caroline Cornelius, daughter of good friends of Jacob's parents. I think it's an omen for the future. And I truly applaud the walking school bus idea.
Dog report: Sophie and Luke spend long hours in the back yard together, sometimes playing, sometimes sleeping. They get along well--until I bring Luke in. Sophie commences to bark at him like the fishwife I've mentioned before. I think it's jealousy; Jay thinks she's saying play with me. But poor Luke is often so grateful to be in his crate and out of her reach. I try in the evening to give each of them some alone time in the house with me. We're adjusting, they're working out their roles with each other, and I'm optimistic.
Rain tonight and tomorrow--I may have dogs underfoot all day. When they're in the house together, then want to tussle right under my feet.
I'm reading a manuscript about the Garden of Eden community, one of the first African American communities settled in greater Fort Worth. Fascinating stuff, but it makes my editing pencil itch, so when I was asked to read for content I'm marking commas, asking questions, putting on my editorial hat again. I find that it sits quite comfortably on my head.
Y'all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the things I like about yoga is that if you can really live in the moment while you're doing it, it does calm you. If I can get dogs and children and telephone squared away and do the poses, repeating breathe in, breathe out, I really do feel different when I finish a half hour. Doesn't happen often enough these days. I've been so busy keeping up with two dogs, that I have done yoga in two weeks...and I miss it. I keep telling myself life will settle down.
Today I woke up with an overwhelming sense of things to be done. Somehow that sense always hits me in the morning, but by evening I feel relaxed and confident about what I accomplished for the day. But Jacob spent the night last night...and I never sleep as well when he's here. In addition, I had to be sure to get up in plenty of time to get him down the block to school on time. This morning it was his iPad that distracted him. After his breakfast I told him to get his clothes and get dressed; he brought his clothes into the living room and then forgot about them until I asked why he was still in his underwear. Then I told him four times to get his lunch money off the kitchen counter. Guess what I found after I saw him off to school. Yep, lunch money. His mom said incredulously, "You let him have his iPad in the morning? What is wrong with you?" Lesson learned.
My lunch plans cancelled--now you know I'm in trouble when that comes as a blessed relief, even with a friend who is especially dear to me. But it meant I got a lot done, and tonight I'm going to start reading a friend's manuscript on the Garden of Eden community--an early African American settlement that survives today, with residents growing vegetables and living off the land as much as is possible in an urban community today.
I'm keeping up with the dog world and falling into a routine. Today, for the first time in who knows how long, I didn't have to be outside with Luke and he didn't escape. Lewis and Jim Bundock fixed the fence yesterday, came back today to reinforce the gate he tore through yesterday afternoon. We may have outwitted him, though I'm not counting on it.
Had an odd dinner tonight. Betty and I did our weekly dinner thing--and split an order of five deviled egg halves. She had clam chowder and I had a great tomato and blue cheese plate. Just the right amount of food. My weight has even gone down about five lbs.--good news!
All of this says to me that life goes on. Problems that seemed insurmountable become but bumps in the road. I'll get back to yoga and breathing in, breathing out. Maybe I'm Pollyanna, but I surely do think life is good. I hope it is for you too.

Past Perfect

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Sheila York. Sheila’s mystery series features screen writer Lauren Atwill, who writes movies and catches killers in glamorous, dangerous Hollywood in the Great Golden Age of Film.


How did I end up in the 1940s? Theft. Well, more precisely, it was borrowing that turned out to be permanent.
My life in crime began by filching Raymond Chandler paperbacks from my father’s bookcase in junior high and secreting them among my Mary Stewarts, Daphne du Mauriers and Victoria Holts. I still have my original copy of Stewart’s Madame, Will You Talk?
Those early years were seasoned liberally with juvenile delinquency: tardy term papers and school days skipped altogether – I may hold the world’s record for staying home with a sore throat – as a result of my late-night classic-movie watching. There was nothing I liked more than a quiet house after all had gone to bed, homework abandoned beside me, a sandwich made from leftovers in my lap, and staying up way too long with my gang from the Great Golden Age of Film.
So when decades later, I finally, finally, began to think seriously about writing that book I thought was in me, I never considered committing my crimes anywhere but in the past.  
There are distinct advantages.
History never changes. When you write historical mysteries, you don’t have to worry about whether those details that give your story the texture of reality will make the book feel outdated a mere decade after it’s published.
Phones will always be dialed, and they will have cords. Messages will be left with people who write them down. Long distance calls will be made through an operator, and there will always be the chance that it could take hours and the operator will have to call you back when the connection is finally made.
Typewriters will always be manual, and usually they will weigh a lot! At least 15 lbs. Copies are made via carbons, mimeograph, and Photostat.
Photos are taken with cameras that do nothing but take pictures, and those have to be “developed.”
Shoulder pads will be fashionable. Men and women will wear hats. Women will have gloves on their hands and girdles round their rumps unless the occasion is appropriate for “sports wear.” They will wear floor-length gowns for dancing at nightclubs, where live bands will play.
They will listen to the radio for at-home entertainment, but go to a theater to see movies. (And the most popular stars in America will as likely be women as men.)
Low tech/high drama. It’s easier to get Lauren, my amateur sleuth, into danger, even to the point of having to confront a killer. Help is not a cell-phone call away. Even if she can find a phone, there’s no 911. She’ll either have to know the number of the nearest police substation, or dial 0 and ask the operator to connect her.
 She might have to deal with a skeptical desk sergeant or dispatcher. If the address is hard to find, or she isn’t sure exactly where she is, there will never be GPS. Prowl-car cops have to rely on knowledge of the area and maps.
Criminal records will always be on paper and kept in file folders in cabinets. Local police will have a hard time finding records in their own city. The urgent manhunt in No Broken Hearts is only possible because in 1947, if a fugitive crossed state lines, your chances of ever finding him dropped radically. Without central databases and the ability to quickly, clearly communicate with other police departments, a suspect could take a new name and simply disappear.
Corruption is a very good thing. The cops in 1940s Los Angeles were notoriously corrupt. In the late 1930s, a bunch of them tried to blow up a private detective named Harry Raymond, who’d been hired by a local citizen to look into police corruption – fortunately, most of the blast blew out and up, rather than into the car. (Note spelling of “clue” in the headline.)
Today, we’d be less inclined to believe that an upper middle class woman would be afraid to go to the police. But Lauren has discovered how deep the corruption goes, and in No Broken Hearts, it’s much easier to justify her not trusting the police and having to take things into her own hands.
There are challenges to writing in the past. The biggest, of course, is getting it right.
My advice would be to doubt everything you think you know. In a draft of my first book, I blithely wrote a scene in which my private detective, Peter Winslow, tries to persuade Lauren that the class gulf between them is too great for them to fall in love. He’s “from the wrong side of the tracks in about every way you can imagine.” Her snappy – and tongue-in-cheek – reply: “Geez, Winslow, what happened to all those innocent men with only you between them and the slammer?” Except . . .  I discovered (fortunately before publication) that “slammer” was not widely used slang for prison till the 1950s.
And you have to decide how and where to sprinkle details, so your story doesn’t stop for a history lesson or for that “show-off” moment where the author demonstrates how much work she’s done.
In my first draft of any book, I always have way too much detail in some places – to which I subsequently take a machete – and in others, bits in brackets: “[Look this up]”. In the end, a small percentage of what you know ends up on the page.
And all those stars are shining: Oooo, is it ever tempting to mix real people into a book. Hollywood in the 1940s is full of marvelous stars, with strong personalities. Some beloved, some with scandalous secrets. Some both. You have Hollywood legends both in front of and behind the camera.
Just look at those faces at the start of this blog. How could you resist putting that “reality” into your story?
Then you wipe the stardust out of your eyes. Readers will rightfully expect more than a drop-in appearance. That’s lazy writing otherwise, and it gets old fast. And if celebrities are featured characters, you would have to pick them carefully. Once upon a time, when a person died, they were pretty much fair game. Not anymore, with image licensing and estate ownership long after death.
Perhaps an even bigger issue: you are forever bound by what happens to them. If they were filming in Mexico at the time your story’s told or in Paris giving birth to an illegitimate child, they can’t be in your book.

Of course, they can inspire characters. And then the character can do something you could never accuse the star of having done. In my regular blog on Crime Writers’ Chronicle (on September 25), I wrote about the star that inspired one of the major characters in No Broken Hearts.
Let me share another real-person story. No Broken Hearts marks the second appearance of a gangster who was introduced in Death in Her Face. Early on when I was writing Death, I knew I needed a gangster, a truly dangerous man, and that I wanted him to be a continuing character. There were too many delicious possibilities in a violent man for whom Lauren would inadvertently do a favor by finding the killer of someone he cared about.
I had to decide, Do I pick a real gangster? There was one who fit the bill rather nicely. No, not Mickey Cohen, who is probably the best known among post-war Los Angeles thugs.
Jack Dragna. He even had a perfect name! He was an extremely powerful crime boss in LA in the 1940s. He was rumored to have “disappeared” his boss. He had dozens of others killed. But I think it’s important to find something to admire in your villains. What if I never found anything to admire? And frankly, I liked the way my gangster looked in my imagination better than Dragna had in real life.
So Julius (“Julie”) Scarza is Dragna, my way.  
We are, after all, writing historical fiction.