Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas with No Strings Attached (Marty’s Post)

As long as I can remember I have always loved Christmas.

I have many vivid memories of happy times as a child - in the days before my parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses and stopped celebrating Christmas, birthdays, and well.....just about everything that was joyful.....fortunately that didn’t happen until I was a teenager, so I didn’t miss out on the joy of waking up early after the midnight visit from Father Christmas and find a pillowcase (an English tradition) full of toys and surprises!

One of my favorite annual childhood gifts from Father Christmas (Santa), was a Pelham String Puppet. I had quite a collection. I’m not sure why I was so fascinated with puppets; I had a vivid imagination and for me, the puppets became very real playmates and friends.

The Pelham company published a catalogue, and like Ralphie in “The Christmas Story” - I would memorize the illustrations and descriptions and make a list of the ones I wanted.

One of my most vivid memories of Christmas was when I was still very young - perhaps 7 or 8, and being so excited about Christmas that I was unable to sleep. My parents must have been frantic...but somehow they managed to sneak Father Christmas into the house so he could deliver his gifts!!!

That year I received one of my all-time favorite puppets....SANDY MACBOOZLE!!!

Sandy MacBoozle 

Why I loved an ugly, boozing Scottish puppet I will never be able to explain - but I made Sandy come to life - I could make him dance and drink from his bottle at the same time. I can remember walking him around the house with me - dancing and drinking!!!

I had other puppets that I’d collected:

The Witch (I believe she was the witch from Hansel and Gretel)

The Policeman

I seem to remember that he arrested Sandy MacBoozle many times!!!

And of course, no puppet collection would be complete without the supreme puppet of all puppets:


Pelham Puppets were all hand-made and hand painted, and were “creepy” enough to inspire my imagination - a gift that I will always appreciate.

As a kid, I kept all my puppets neatly stored in the boxes - taking great pains to carefully wrap their strings around the “cross” so that do not become tangled - a tangled puppet was a disaster, a “dead” puppet!!

In many ways, my parents’ abandoning of holidays made me realize how important it is to see the world, whenever and as much as possible, through the eyes of children. Christmas and birthdays have always been the best time for seeing life through young eyes - so, as a parent, I have made it a priority to value the magic and mythology of Christmas and childhood. I am thankful that it will be at least part of my legacy.

So, this Christmas, I raise my glass(es) to puppets, dolls, books, and all other things that inspire imagination and joy in the lives of children both young and old.

Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Old Christmas Advertising

Oh, the captions I could write for these! Here are a baker's dozen of my favorite old ads.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy December!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving ... Old Style!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Halloween, Part 2

Happy Halloween, Part I

Friday, September 24, 2010

Happy Punctuation Day!

It's that time of year again, when we dust off our apostrophes, polish our colons and have a drink with our old friend, the question mark. That's right - today, September 24, is NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY.

I wanted my daughter to write this post, since she is the true punctuation/spelling geek in our family, but she's at work. In the meantime, here's a toast to all of you who cringe when a hyphen is left out, sigh when your editor removes every semi-colon and have palpitations when you read freestyle prose with - shock! horror! - no punctuation at all.

This is the one day of the year we can celebrate our geekdom and find others like us. I'll be the first to admit I love commas and em-dashes a little more than I should, but while I pepper my speech with enthusiastic words, I rarely use exclamation points when I write. I'd love to hear from you all -- (damn, how do I make an em-dash on Blogger?). So tell me, what are your favorite, and least favorite, punctuation marks?

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Before I knew the meaning of either of those words, I discovered the magic of Nancy Drew. (A magic which, sadly, does not carry over to the present when I reread her books, but still ...)

The first mystery I ever read was called THE SECRET OF THE OLD POSTBOX, and it made me seek out more books with secrets to discover. At the library I looked for books with similar titles and was amazed to find shelf after shelf of those titles by an author called "Carolyn Keene."

Today's Nancy Drew books have been adapted for a modern audience, and include brightly colored covers. That makes me sad, because there was magic in those old silhouettes and black-and-white illustrations.

Nancy Drew introduced me to mysteries, a love that has continued and grown stronger over time. Nancy and her father, Carson Drew, the housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, Nancy's boyfriend, Ned Nickerson and her best chums George and Bess remain as fresh in my mind as her cool coupe. One of the first Nancy Drew books I read was THE HAUNTED SHOWBOAT, and I think THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK was next.

As an eight-year-old, my vocabulary probably doubled as a result of reading these books. I had to ask what a hearth was (and for YEARS thought it was pronounced "HERth"), not to mention "coupe," "roadster," "sleuth," "bungalow," "bayou" and any number of unfamiliar words.

The florid titles were perfectly mysterious and made me crave more:


I read every Nancy Drew book my small library branch carried and was frantic when I couldn't find more. My lovely aunt  Em bought me new Nancy Drews - non-birthday or Christmas gifts, which made them all the more treasured. Once I discovered these books, I copied the titles of all the ones I hadn't read and didn't rest until I'd read them all. That has become a habit of a lifetime, with every author I've read and loved, from Agatha Christie to Nora Roberts to Jenny Crusie to Dick Francis and more.

My daughter never got into Nancy Drew - for her it was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" books, Ann Martin's Babysitters Club series and Lois Duncan's mysteries. I read Lois' books when I was young, too, so I was thrilled when my daughter became obsessed with those. With my son, J.K. Rowlings' wonderful Harry Potter books turned him from a non-reader into a reader, and I will always owe her a debt of thanks for that.

As I mentioned, the Nancy Drew books lost a bit of their shine when I reread a few of them recently, but scanning those titles still brings back the thrill of finding an unread book and a breathtaking mystery to be solved. The exciting worlds between the covers of books have always had a strong gravitational pull for me. I wonder if authors really appreciate what a gift they give us when they share their stories?

It really is a gift of magic, which is one reason I love moderating the Mystery Book Club at Barnes & Noble ( There's nothing more exciting than introducing a reader to a wonderful book!

Monday, September 6, 2010

"The Boy with the Moon and Star on His Head"

A gardener's daughter stopped me on my way, 
on the day I was to wed.
"It is you who I wish to share my body with", she said. 

"We'll find a dry place under the sky with a flower for a bed.
And for my joy, I will give you a boy with a moon and
star on his head."

Her silver hair flowed in the air, laying waves across the sun.
Her hands were like the white sands, 
and her eyes had diamonds on.

We left the road and headed up to the top of the
Whisper Wood. And we walked 'till we came to where 
the holy magnolia stood. 

And there we laid cool in the shade singing songs and
making love, with the naked earth beneath us 
and the universe above. 

The time was late, my wedding wouldn't wait; 
I was sad, but I had to go. So while she was asleep, 
I kissed her cheek for cheerio.

The wedding took place and people came from many
miles around. There was plenty merriment, 
cider and wine did abound. 

But out of all that I recall, I remembered the girl I met.
'Cause she had given me something 
that my heart could not forget.

A year had passed and everything was 
just as it was a year before ... 
As if it were a year before ... 

Until the gift that someone left, a basket by my door.
And in there lay the fairest little baby 
crying to be fed;

I got down on my knees and kissed 
the moon and star on
his head.

As years went by the boy grew high and the village looked
on in awe. They'd never seen anything like the boy 
with the moon and star before.

And people would ride from far and wide just to seek the
word he spread. "I'll tell you everything I've learned,"
and "Love is all"... he said.

By Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

This song is an old favorite of mine. This isn't the way it's shown on lyric sheets, but to me it reads like a poem. The only thing I'm not sure of is whether the last line might be better this way: and "Love" is all ... he said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alfred, Agatha and Me

There are few things I like better than a nice, juicy murder, especially if it has a surprising twist at the end. I like to read stories so scary I have to sleep with every light on, the kind that get into your head and won't go away.

I blame Alfred Hitchcock.

Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books were my first introduction to mysteries, but it was Alfred Hitchcock's short story collections that clinched the deal. I discovered short stories when I was about 12 - DeMaupassant's "A Piece of String," Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt," "The Ravine" and his heartwrenching story, "I See You Never." I read every short story collection I could get my hands on, by those authors (although the Hitchcock collections only bore his name) as well as Isaac Asimov's "The Black Widowers" and Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" collections.

There was magic in those stories that I still remember some 45 years after I first read them. I saved my favorites, dragging them with me to England and back, to New Jersey, Chicago and to Cincinnati. One of those books is Alfred Hitchcock's STORIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME. Grace Amundson's "The Child Who Believed" still gives me chills, and Bradbury's "The Wind" still haunts me. "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" by Idris Seabright remains one of the scariest stories I've ever read. "For All the Rude People" by Jack Ritchie, from STORIES NOT FOR THE NERVOUS, is a brilliant morality tale -- every title in these anthologies brings back memories.

I need to go through these books and find the story I've been trying to remember, where the murder victim wishes for a smart cop, and the wish is granted. There's another story I'd like to read again, with a boy and dogs and a series of murders, but that one is just a fading memory. I've read so many short story collections now, it could have been in any of them.

For years I read all the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen mystery magazines, plus short story collections by Agatha Christie, Michael Gilbert, Daphne DuMaurier, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King, Frederick Forsyth and more. In recent years, I've read anthologies by Laura Lippman, a couple edited by Lee Child and all those Sisters in Crime, Malice Domestic collections - you name it, and if it was a mystery short story collection, odds are I've read it.

I read my first Agatha Christie, FUNERALS ARE FATAL, at age 15 while visiting my aunt in Albuquerque. That same summer I worked my way through all the books my aunt's friend Lois Duncan had written, including RANSOM. (When my daughter was about the same age, she also fell in love with Lois' books. Her favorite is DAUGHTERS OF EVE.) Not long after that, back in the Chicago suburbs, I was reading a Christie mystery when the people I was babysitting for came home. The woman - Mrs. Murgle - was thrilled, and promptly packed up a box of her Christie paperbacks for me. I still have every one of those books.

Short stories may not be as popular today as they once were, but they'll always be favorites of mine - short and sweet and scary as all get-out. And, in some cases, unforgettable.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Patricia McLinn: Old Favorite, New Friend

Back in the day, I subscribed to just about every category romance line out there. I read so many, I soon recognized the authors who were my favorites. Patricia McLinn was one of these - I especially liked her series set in Chicago, but I loved them all.

When I didn't see any new Patricia McLinn books for awhile, I got curious and sent her a message via her website. Life had intervened, and for a few years I had to do without my McLinn fix. We kept in touch and I finally met Pat in person at Lori Foster's Get-Together in Cincinnati in June 2009. In a wonderful coincidence, Pat had moved down my way and she even joined my RWA chapter.

I am a serious fan, as you can see here. I interviewed Pat at Romance: B(u)y the Book and I've been eagerly awaiting her next release. I've been waiting a LONG time, so I'm thrilled to share this news from Pat:

Hi Becke,

Not sure if you saw my newsletter. Just in case you didn't, I wanted to be sure to let you know, because I promised I would when I (gasp!) had a new book available. ,g>


Okay, everybody hold on to your chair now, I don't want anyone falling over in shock and hurting themselves. Yes, I have a new book out:

This is the "autumn" book in the Seasons in a Small Town series.


Meet Josh Kincannon, high school principal, single father of three, and thus, as he reminds himself ruefully, essentially celibate back into misty memory and forward into the foreseeable future.

After three months of trying to work with Vanessa Irish via phone and e-mails, Josh believes he has an accurate picture of Zeke-Tech's CFO:

Conscientious? Oh, yeah.
Intelligent? Absolutely.
Agreeable? Not so much.

Then he catches sight of her wild, vibrant robe and begins to wonder what other elements might form a portrait of Vanessa Irish. Every time she goes into her I'm-so-boring-I-disappear-against-white-walls act, he remembers that vibrant, wild fabric hanging on the corner of a door and he gets curious. And the more curious he becomes, the more he discovers about her that has him feeling things a whole lot hotter than curiosity. Things that threaten that celibacy claim, scrape against his high school principal job and shake up life with his three kids.

Numbers, that's what Vanessa knows. Not all this interaction with people that she's been pitched into. Especially interacting with Josh Kincannon. Why does he insist on drawing her into his town, his life, his family? And the biggest question -- what kind of man is this, who not only looks at her, but /sees/ her, when that's the last thing she wants?

-- OLD BOOK FOR A GOOD CAUSE is starting a program of offering a book for sale to benefit charity. I'm thrilled that MATCH MADE IN WYOMING is the first one. All of my proceeds from sales of MATCH at will be divided among 4 animal rescue groups:

Best Friends Animal Society
Tri-State Collie Rescue (this is where I got my current rescue collie, Kalli)
A reader's choice group (will be selected at random from among nominations of those who purchase MATCH at ) 

MATCH MADE IN WYOMING is dedicated to those who rescue animals (along with family furries), and features my Riley's alter ego "Sin." As one reviewer said, the dog threatens to steal the stage in MATCH. (That was ol' Riley to a T.).

You can read the 1st chapter of Match at the link below. Better yet, you could buy a copy, help those rescue groups and nominate one important to you!

Buy a book, help a pet!

Pat McL

-- A Writer's Work . . . is here!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bending Reality: When Pen Pals, Fictional Characters, Virtual Friends and Real Life Collide

Hard to believe, but I used to write letters almost every single day. Longhand. *shudders* Well, sometimes longhand. When I could get my hands on my dad's old Royal typewriter, I preferred to use that, but mostly I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Even though I now avoid longhand whenever possible (you would shudder, too, if you saw my penmanship), I still have a callous from all those years of letter writing.

When I lived in England years ago, instead of keeping a journal, I wrote letters every day - to my parents, to my brothers and sisters, to my friends and all my other relatives. And when I moved back to the U.S. I wrote to all the friends and family I'd left behind in England.

I still write to some of my elderly relatives who don't have computers, but not nearly as often as I communicate with those who have Facebook and email accounts. I heart my computer - I don't deny it.

I LOVE that I've reconnected with my old friend Ian on Facebook - he lives in Scotland, but we worked together in London some thirty years ago. We've sent Christmas cards to each other for years, but now it's like he's in the next room.

It's the same with my friend Linda. We've been friends since we discovered our mutual love of the Beatles in sixth grade and we've stayed in touch all these years. But we never really felt connected until Facebook brought us together again.

Jim, Pat, Felicia, Bonnie, Bunny - friends from middle school and high school who had seemed so far away are there whenever I click the page, even though Bonnie is in Rio or other exotic places.

Facebook is fun, but I do have some fond memories of writing to pen pals and watching every day to see if the mailman would bring me a letter. My first real pen pal, Lilann, was slightly older than I was; her mother was a good friend of my aunt's, and she lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I'd met her when I was 15 and we corresponded for years after that. I remember when she wrote about her father's death at an early age, and when she decided to go to nursing school. We lost touch for years, and then met again about ten years ago. When her mom died this year, it was like losing a piece of my youth.

My most memorable pen pal lived right down the street. Her name was Kerry, and we met in fifth grade. We were dorks, by any standard. The day she was introduced as the new kid in class, I saw a very short girl with straight brownish-blonde hair and heavy bangs, cat-eye glasses and, as I recall, a leopard print dress. (I had one like that later, so I'm not sure I trust my memory of that.)

I was quite tall and very skinny, with masses of freckles and long red hair that I wore in two braids. I HATED that I'd been named after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; I fit her description a little too well. I would have preferred Loretta Young as a namesake, with her looks to match. Instead, the boys called me "Mr. Green Jeans" because, well, I actually had a pair of green jeans. See what I mean? Total dork. (That's a picture of Mr. Green Jeans with his friend, Captain Kangaroo, below.)

We both were obsessive readers, although our taste differed - Kerry adored Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House series, while I was into Alfred Hitchcock short stories and anything with a mystery. We made up stories about the Russian spies across the street (they had a ham radio and foreign names, and my parents think they might really have been spies - it was the Cold War era, after all), and when another neighbor dug a trench for some plants, we convinced ourselves he was hiding bodies under them.

Those were wonderful times. We hid in the furnace closet when her three older brothers had wild parties that inevitably ended with the police showing up, and we willingly ran errands for her brothers, for a small fee. My house was overrun with younger siblings; to me, her house was the most fascinating place on earth. We were young voyeurs, always spying on the teenagers and, as I recall, sometimes taking notes.

Kerry and I clung to each other when we saw a double feature of Two on a Guillotine and Psycho (and it was the former that terrified us . . . the slowly turning doorknob . . . eek!), and when my brother and his friend Alan put some of my Beatle cards in a mousetrap, we retaliated by making Poison for Boys out of everything in her parents' medicine cabinets. (We poured it all into baggies and lobbed them at the boys from our bikes; last time I went by our old house there was still no grass growing where the PFB had landed.)

So, if Kerry lived right down the street, how did we become pen pals? Well, it wasn't exactly us. We made up an imaginary friend named Lillian P. Potter. She had a brother named Georgie, and she lived in Moonstone Manor in Scotland.

Whenever we felt the urge, we'd write a page or two in Lillian's POV (although we had no clue what point-of-view meant in those days) and mail it to the other with the Moonstone Manor return address. This went on for years. I would LOVE to find those letters, but unless Kerry has some, I think they've all gone the way of other childhood ephemera.

Kerry and I were inseparable all through middle school, but by the time we reached high school we'd begun to grow apart. It wasn't until we were out of school and I was married that we reconnected again, and then, every so often, Lillian would resurface to send a birthday or Christmas card.

By the time we became mothers (Kerry's a teacher now, with two grown sons and a couple of grandchildren), Lillian had grown up, too. I'm sure she's frolicking in the Highlands with some brawny, shirtless Scot in a kilt and having mysterious adventures every day. (Hey, it's my story, despite the fact that Ian will go into hysterics when he reads the bit about the brawny shirtless Scot.)

Lillian is not forgotten, though, and when the Harry Potter books came out, I liked to imagine he was a descendant of Lillian's.

I could hardly believe it when it was revealed that Harry's mother was named Lillian. Could it be??? Perhaps one of our letters went astray and was returned to Scotland, where it was found by an aspiring author with a vision of a bespectacled boy floating in her head. Stranger things have happened . . .

So, back to pen pals vs. Facebook, reality vs. virtuality. (If there is such a word.)

I think it's all the same, really - pen pals, virtual friends and friends we see in "real life." Characters in books are just another form of virtual - and only somewhat imaginary - friends. To those of us who live between the pages of books, reality is a little bit virtual, too.

At least, that's what I like to imagine.