August 2013


Beware the revenge of writers.  We might (eventually) make a profit off your incivility.

One woman considers breaking the laws of 'victimless' crimes to be something from which she can benefit.  Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit.  When they meet, it can't end well.

One woman considers breaking the laws of ‘victimless’ crimes to be something from which she can benefit. Another woman is merely a thoughtless twit. When they meet, it can’t end well.

Click cover to open file.

One of my pet peeves is stories, whether written or performed, that have incorrect military information.  Some of the wrong information is simple, such as my current peeve, and some of it is illogical made-up-stuff.

Tonight’s irritation is with an episode of “Unforgettable.”  In the story, a Veterans Administration doctor has been asked by Unforgettable’s main character about a veteran who is a person of interest in a murder (the Crazed Veteran is always a popular character if you need a military person in your story).   The veteran in question would be fluent in Pashto, a language in Afghanistan.  The doctor replied to the detective that it would take several tours in Afghanistan for a soldier to become fluent in Pashto, and then says that she does have a client in counseling who fits the description — a corporal.

Insert rant about ‘if you plan on writing about something, learn the basic information about it.’

In the Army, a corporal is an E4, a junior enlisted rank.  If this person were a corporal he wouldn’t have had enough time in service to easily become fluent in Pashto, unless he’d been demoted multiple times.  Pashto is a language that the Foreign Service Institute rates as a level 2 or 3 language, levels that take between 34 – 48 weeks of full-time study for basic proficiency. Unless a person were being trained as a linguist, it is unlikely that the Army would invest the time for the training.

Which brings us to another point.  The photo of the uniformed ‘person of interest’ shows a relatively long-haired white-bread man (for today’s military) in an Army uniform, wearing infantry brass backed by a light blue disc.  An infantryman in Afghanistan is not surprising, however, an infantryman wouldn’t have linguistic training.  If an infantryman had acquired fluency in Pashto — either from multiple tours in Afghanistan or from language training — he would have been in the Army long enough to be more than a corporal.  Still, for story-purposes, a Pashto-spouting bad guy is more menacing than your average veteran.

Then there’s the fiction that he’s a corporal.  In today’s Army, very few military occupational specialties (MOSes — ie, ‘jobs’) use the rank of corporal.  An E4 in the infantry would be a specialist unless he were filling a leadership position.

Specialist is a designation retained from when the Army had ranks from Specialist Fourth Class up to Specialist Seventh Class alongside the NCO ranks of the same pay grades.  In today’s Army, and of the specialist ranks, only the E4-Specialist rank remains.  I’d say this story character wouldn’t be a corporal because, as I said before, if he’d been in the Army long enough to be fluent in Pashto, he was probably demoted more than once and wouldn’t be leader material.

Now if this service member were a Marine, then the corporal rank is appropriate — although, as a Pashto-speaking-E4, he still would be suffering from the time-in-service problem concerning the language fluency.

The holes in this one story point are large enough to drive a truck through.

Writers — and producers and directors — if you’re going to use the Crazed Veteran character in your stories, at least do the poor guy the honor of getting his backstory straight.

When you’ve collected lots of books, it helps to have a system for organizing them — if you can’t find what you’re looking for, what’s the use of having it? I often sincerely wonder how people who live in very large houses find things — who keeps track of all the *stuff* that goes into furnishing large spaces?

In organizing my books I chose not to reinvent the wheel.  Someone had already done the groundwork of sorting-subjects, so why not use an existing system?  As for which system, I chose the one most familiar to me, the Dewey Decimal system.  I’ve read that it isn’t as detailed as the Library of Congress system, but as I’m unfamiliar with that system (no college for you, little girl!), I stuck with what I know.

The entire house isn’t rigorously organized as a library — I like to know where things are, but I’m not a rigid purist by any means.  Still, I have them all sorted: mysteries are in the bedroom, writing books are in the writing room, nonfiction is in the three large bookshelves in the basement, general fiction is in the entryway, children’s fiction is in the spare bedroom, cookbooks are near the kitchen, religious studies are under the knickknacks (no connection intended, it’s just where there was room), cartoon books are in the bathroom, and the Agatha Christie collection has a place of honor alongside the Junior Deluxe Editions children’s classics my parents collected when I was a kid.

Thanks to Mr. Dewey, I have a general idea of where to shelve books, but every once in a while a book stumps me.  Years ago a friend gave me a Dewey Decimal Classification book, but working through it to figure out where a book belongs when the classification isn’t obvious can take some time because, in a microwave/Internet/text messaging world, divining library classification entrails is something to be undertaken on a grey, slushy winter day with a cup of cocoa, and that isn’t today.

The book that flummoxed me this morning was CID: Army Detectives in Peace and War.  The press that published it didn’t add the classification numbers I usually rely on (thank you, modern publishers!).  This led to an Internet search — long story short, good old OPAC has it listed at the Ft. Leonard Wood library.  I haven’t regularly used OPAC since we lived in Belgium, so that was a fun trip down memory lane.  I now have the book classified at 355.1, which will put it at the far left end of the shelf of writing books with their 800s numbers.

Sorting books may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa, but if you want to find what you’ve squirreled away, having the books organized is the way to go.

It also gives the kids something benign to share as their penance for having been born into this family.

I was very pleased to have seen Elizabeth Peters at the 2012 Malice Domestic convention.  I’d read her books for decades, so it was a thrill to see her and enjoy her humor.

Thank you to her for all the hours of adventure and laughter.

Mystery writer Barbara Mertz dies at 85

Barbara Mertz, a best-selling mystery writer who wrote dozens of novels under two pen names, has died. She was 85.

Mertz died Thursday morning at her home, in Frederick, Md., her daughter Elizabeth told her publisher HarperCollins.

One of her books is also my nominee for Best Title:  Naked Once More. If you haven’t yet met Jacqueline Kirby, you’re missing something.

Three weeks ago we adopted a rescued family of cats — cats we never expected to share a home with. We’d recently lost Dinah, our 19-year old blue point Siamese and we didn’t think we’d want to ‘replace’ her. Dinah was special. We reckoned without our veterinarian daughter who, apparently, is our enabler.

Mama-cat is a seal point Siamese, and the two kittens who came with her are a tortie point polydactyl (6-toed) Siamese and a brown tabby who looks as if he wanted to be an Egyptian Mau. We are charmed by all of them.

As is usual with new members of the household, we needed to be able to call them something. “Hey, you! Get off that!” is unwieldy and too nonspecific, plus it isn’t something a kitten ever responds to. The names I suggested for the two cats we initially intended to adopt were Polly and Ernestine. Polly sounded perfect for the tiny polydactyl girl kitten, and Ernestine would have been just too cute for her mama as Ernest Hemingway had a thing for polydactyls. I was voted down by the local Philistines.

The next round of names were Cocoa and Yum Yum for mother and daughter. When I’m feeling fragile I like to read or listen to gentle stories such as those by Lilian Jackson Braun who named her two main character cats Koko and Yum Yum. Braun was inspired, I assume, by characters from The Mikado, my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. Koko was a male character in the operetta so Cocoa seemed appropriate for a pretty girl with dark brown Siamese points.

Then they came home. Not only did they come home, but one of the little boy kittens came with them as all the kittens had so much fun with each other it seemed cruel to separate them.

Once the cats were home, we saw that Cocoa didn’t fit the shy mama cat (who has yet to really come out from under the bed) — the repeated k-sounds in the name were too hard. Yum Yum was fine for the little girl but without the Cocoa/Koko companion name, it felt incomplete. Since my ideas for names weren’t working, I let nature take its course with the rest of the family, and they filled in the gap. We now have three named cats: Minka (courtesy of our daughter, who Googled German cat names), and Audrey and Rusty (courtesy of our son who likes the National Lampoon vacation movies).

Minka

Minka

Audrey

Audrey

Rusty

Rusty

Here’s where it gets odd. Yesterday I opened a Word file from 2009 in order to edit the second short story in a series for a main character I’ve been developing. The storyline is irrelevant, but with character names that made me think I ought to be hearing Twilight Zone music. I don’t have a Rusty in the story, but I do have an Audrey and a Minky.

— One name in common is a reasonable coincidence, but two names are decidedly odd.

— Two names that I thought up is a reasonable coincidence, but two names from two people who haven’t Clue 1 about the story, or that I’d even written it, is again, decidedly odd.

I had thought to remove the cat from the story (an unfortunate victim, but from carelessness, not anything horrid) but with the coincidence of the names, it has to stay in. I want to think that what I write comes only from my own imagination but the Audrey and Minky/Minka coincidence makes me feel that maybe I have a muse laughing at me from a corner of the room.