Writers


Old fashioned calling cards

On an email list, a recent topic was business cards, with a diversion into Victorian calling cards. Since the list’s purpose is discussion between authors, and since some of them write historical books, Victorian calling cards is a logical topic.

 

Stuffy women and diplomatic realities

During the discussion, someone mentioned the calling cards of the wives of foreign service officers with the U.S. State Department. That led to a comment about how military wives traditionally called on each other and left calling cards.

That practice must have been only among officers as I don’t remember my mom ever having calling cards (Dad was career Army/Air Force enlisted with a short stint during WWII as a warrant officer), and I know I didn’t have cards (my husband was career Army, also enlisted).

The development of the ritual of calling on other wives may have been due, in part, to older social patterns that hadn’t yet disappeared. I remember my dad saying that when he joined the Army, enlisted men had to live in the barracks, married or not. In the 1930s, the Army still had horse cavalry, even though we now think of the cavalry as only something in the wild, wild West.

1939  Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

1939 Dad on Warwhoop at the Presidio of Monterey.

Another possibility is that the social events provided the women with a purpose other than staying home with the kids. Women did work, but in a transient environment, employment can be a tricky business.

Even when I was a kid in the 1950s, some of the moms in the States worked outside the home. Among my civilian relatives my godmother was a nurse and instructor in a teaching hospital. Other aunts who were the wives of farmers stayed very busy with the work of chickens, eggs, gardens, and being the support staff for field workers during harvests.

The problem for wives of military servicemembers was, and is, a restriction on job availability.

I imagine State Department wives had the same difficulty as overseas military wives in not being able to find jobs on the local economy because of language fluency challenges in jobs other than entry-level, local work permits, tax complications, etc. Entry-level jobs may have also been prohibited for wives because of the dissonance of attending State Department functions in a higher social capacity than any low status job could provide. A grocer’s clerk wouldn’t have been seen as a suitable person for shaking the hands of an ambassador.

On overseas military installations, status of forces agreements and treaties required the US to provide X-number of jobs to local nationals as payback to the host nation for allowing the troops to be in the country. Quid pro quo.

For a long time, military family member jobs were of low priority. Even after jobs-for-family-members came to the forefront, any job had to be unsuccessfully offered to local nationals before being advertised to military family members. That was the existing diplomatic environment and it wasn’t about to be negotiated away when the families-in-country were temporary and local workers were permanent.

Recruitment for higher-paying American technical jobs took place in the States among career Civil Service employees and those employees were transferred in and out just like their military colleagues. No wives need apply because they were never in the running.

Teachers in schools for military kids was one area where local hiring did favor family member spouses because of the English-language fluency requirement.

In the States if the wives followed their husbands on assignment after assignment (not everyone did) they would be starting out fresh in new markets every few years. Even if the wives were career Civil Service employees, the location to which the service member was transferred needed to have a job available in the wife’s career field and at her grade-level. One of my jobs was as a GS-02 school playground monitor.  $5.00 an hour. The other playground monitor, and the lunch-room monitor, were the wives of officers.

More than one career Civil Service employee has shown up at the civilian personnel office for her new home, with her job status being in the holding pattern of LWOP — leave without pay. The employees were often under the impression that career-status made them shoo-ins for employment only to find out that the installation not only had no open jobs but the one job for which they were qualified had just been filled. If they still submitted an application, the job would often open up a couple years later, just as they were getting ready to leave for their husbands’ new assignment.

With so few jobs available for so many family members, it’s no surprise that the women developed a social structure in which to function. Installations have only a limited number of jobs especially since the local civilian population is stable. A civilian employee has to die, retire, or move someplace else in order to create a vacancy. For many of the women, volunteering with Scouts, family support organizations, Gray Ladies (Red Cross), chapel activities, and schools took the place of paid work.

Kindley AFB, Bermuda, 1965: Me and my mom with our pre-clip-art, completely homemade poster for Girl Scouts.  No idea why we have snow-capped mountains in the picture. Nostalgia?

Kindley AFB, Bermuda, 1965: Me and my mom with our pre-clip-art, completely homemade poster for Girl Scouts.
No idea why we have snow-capped mountains in the picture. Nostalgia?

With the rise of the Internet and various business opportunities, some wives of military members can have jobs that they can take with them. Tupperware and Avon provided portable jobs in the past. Etsy and eBay — not to mention telecommuting — might be the most common now.

The new calling cards

Social events with rituals such as calling cards probably provided a sanity-saver for women who had to create temporary homes for their families time after time. The formality of coffees, teas, and calling cards mirrored that of the military’s rank structure.

Those ancient Victorians, who are now seen as ridiculously stuffy with their silver tea services, their linen tablecloths, and their china tea sets, did leave a card legacy for their successors. Some of today’s military wives — and the increasingly less-unusual military husbands — do have cards. They have their own business cards.

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.

01 Jenny Milchman and Nancy Pickard

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to Nancy Pickard at our monthly first-Saturday meeting of the Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime at the Mysteryscape bookstore.  Nancy, whose most recent book is The Scent of Rain and Lightning, introduced Jenny Milchman to the Border Crimes members.

Jenny, who released her debut novel Cover of Snow this past January and is now on a 7-month bookstore tour with her family, told us about her friendship with Nancy, her publishing journey, and together they recounted the differences between Nancy’s start as a published author and Jenny’s.  It was a rewarding meeting and I was pleased to meet Jenny in person after making her acquaintance online.

I had a good time today with Nancy Pickard from my home Sisters in Crime group (Kansas) and about forty new friends.  Nancy taught a seminar, SinC into Great Writing, and many of us later agreed that we were happily surprised at the number of hints, tips and techniques she generously shared.

The icing on my cake was having my name drawn to win Nancy’s book, The Scent of Rain and Lightning.  She autographed it, too.

I must also thank my husband for doing my convention registration while I was listening to Nancy.  So far, I’m win-win at Bouchercon, and it doesn’t even officially begin until tomorrow.

So, the USAREUR G2 reunion is over, the organizer’s wife has loaded the banner into their car, and many of us had a relatively communal breakfast before we all scatter again to the corners of the country. My husband and I said our goodbyes to the organizer’s wife (“behind every great man, there’s a woman …”), the organizer (who kindly autographed his Secrets of the Cold War book for me), and friends of friends (who’ve become people with whom we want to stay in touch).

We traded email addresses with a married couple, the husband having had overlapping co-workers with my husband, and our new friend hinted at a book he, too, was writing.  I gave him an arch look, as you do when something wonderful this way comes, and said, “Mine takes place in Fulda.  Where is yours set?”  My question was prompted in part from an overheard comment from another of our breakfast companions about his proposed novel, as well as hearing a talk at last night’s banquet from the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series.  People close to “spy stuff” during the Cold War are feeling the need to write.

My friend’s story is set in Wiesbaden, Germany, during the Berlin crisis in the early ’60s, an event whose seriousness was compounded by the Cuban missile crisis.  My own experience of that time was that my mom and my siblings and I were in the U.S., still at the Air Force base my dad just left, while my dad was at another base in Bermuda trying to find us a house. I remember feeling as if the Russians had physically erected an oceanic wall between me and my dad, just as they were really done to the  people of Berlin. To a child, this was overwhelmingly scary — “scary” being the best I could do to express my feelings as I had yet to learn just how horrific adult threats can be.

My stories, also in Germany, begin about a decade after my friend’s story. The American military forces were dealing not only with the Soviet Union across the inner border between the two Germanies, but also with Soviet-supported terrorism within West Germany, a terrorism that was spreading across Europe and the Middle East like a plague. Everyday people knew that the terrorists had elements of the American military in the crosshairs of its sights. Clearly, those of us who were there have stories to tell.

Our new friend and I talked about a longing to preserve a period about which little is written (neither one of us have had much luck with library research), but yet which is a time that consumed the better part of our adult lives:  the “spy vs. spy” era in Europe. The difference being the actual “spy vs. spy” and the fictional depiction of it comes mostly from the gap between the workaday perspective of filling in the puzzle pieces of actual espionage, and James Bond style glitz. The trick will be infusing the memories with enough necessary fictional drama to keep readers turning the pages.

In any case, I was tickled enough by finding yet another writer in our group that I’ve put off packing my suitcase to write this blog post (checkout is when?  thirty minutes?!?). For me, enthusiasm shared is enthusiasm doubled — and if I want to live long enough to enthusiastically write anything else, I’d best get a move on as my husband is already taking suitcases out to the car.

The list of nominees for the 2012 Anthony awards is up.

Now to set aside time for reading the books and stories I haven’t yet spent time with. I need to vote intelligently.

Umberto Eco’s rules for writing resemble a similar list by William Safire.  Some advice is universal.

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