August 4, 2017
This Caribbean island looks serene, but don't kid yourself
Lately I worry a lot about who to kill off.
Don’t call the police—I’m talking about characters in the thriller I’m currently writing.
I don’t mind offing bad guys, because they fully deserve it. Every one of them, believe me. It’s the good characters who trouble me, imaginary people I’ve come to like and respect.
I’m writing this novel, so I suppose I’m Zeus, and I get to decide who dies and who lives. However, the truth is that the story itself is king of the gods, with its own wishes and demands and requirements. Authors are soothsayers. All we can do, really, is divine what the story wants and do its bidding.
For instance, this novel started as a pure thriller, set on a Caribbean island, but I’m about midway through now and—all on its own—it’s taken on a faint sci-fi tinge, although nothing that couldn’t actually happen in the world today. Let’s just hope it doesn’t.
is the novel’s title. So far, at least. Even in titles, the story will have its way, so we’ll see.
Anyway, back to the question of good characters dying. For some reason, in our real world, we’ve lately had a rash of people we know dying. People not yet in their fullness of years. Brain cancers, heart attacks, prostate cancer, rare disorders with unpronounceable names….
I suppose that what determines who dies too young is not goodness, not badness. It’s just how our story wants to be told.
June 27, 2017
Eric & Murdock, just awarded a ribbon for winning a race (again!)
In our celebrity obsessed society, where it seems only People Magazine
A-listers rate attention, here’s what we see all around us—talent, ability, accomplishment, decency. In this blog, we try to acknowledge what we see.
So, here’s one….
Our friend Eric was just inducted into the Vermont runners’ Hall of Fame, with these words:
“For the better part of three decades, Eric Morse was the most dominant road runner in Vermont.” And this: “Whenever Eric entered a local race, the only question was who would finish in second behind him.”
Six-times the state’s high-school champion in cross country and track. A running scholarship to college. Then, seven times, a member of the U.S.A Mountain Running Team, competing internationally, often racing up Alpine peaks. Who even knew there was such a sport? Not us, until we met Eric.
He’s retired from Team U.S.A., but he still races. He partners with his super-fast West Highland Terrier, Murdock, and he’s still a champ—he and Murdock miss few “six-legged” races in the U.S. northeast.
They win every one.
--Joyce & Richard
May 8, 2017
This tableau of dinosaurs partially inspired one of Richard’s fantasy stories, “Last Days of the Cretaceous,” in his anthology, Frankie & Johnny, & Nellie Bly
It’s set in Atlantis, where aristocratic sportsmen hunt the tyrannosaurus rex.
Yes, dinosaurs disappeared long before humans showed up. We all know that.
Yet, here’s this convivial family, grazing at Florida’s Dinosaur World. It shows the huge reptiles and humans can co-exist, if the dinosaurs are made of concrete.
--Richard & Joyce
February 25, 2017
Western Movies Didn't Get It Quite Right
Conestoga wagon—the iconic wagon of the pioneer west!
We photographed this Conestoga wagon at the Shelburne (Vt.) Museum, one of the nearly 200 sleighs, coaches, and wagons in its “Horse-Drawn Vehicle Collection,” housed in a vast barn shaped, appropriately, like a horseshoe.
If your ancestors made the westward migration, they probably rode in a “prairie schooner,” a smaller, lighter wagon. Conestogas were too big and heavy to lumber across the roadless Great Plains. They were called “ships of commerce.” They were the Mack Trucks of the 18th and 19th centuries. Few, if any, crossed the Mississippi River.
Each Conestoga wagon, drawn by teams of horses, mules, or oxen, hauled up to six tons of cargo. Each had a rear-mounted feed box, for the animals, sort of a pre-industrial gas tank. Conestogas transported goods extensively in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, often forming long wagon trains. Conestogas’ floors curved upward, so the cargo wouldn’t fall out.
Incidentally, people didn’t ride in Conestogas, only cargo did. People walked alongside, although the wagons did have a wooden plank mounted on one side. It was to accommodate sore feet, and it was called “the lazy seat.”
We frequently visit the Shelburne Museum—39 historic buildings on 45 acres, exhibiting everything from duck decoys to impressionistic paintings. Among other things, it takes you time-travelling back into the past, when much transportation depended on hooves.
It wasn’t just those American pioneers, heading for California, either. Richard’s great-grandmother rode a covered wagon, not so different from the Conestoga, but that was across the Russian steppes.
--Joyce & Richard
January 31, 2017
A LIVING SCULPTURE
She is roughly 30 feet high. She is a living sculpture, made of plants.
Based on Chinese myth, she was one of 50 such giant foliage-and-flower sculptures we saw at the Mosaicultures Internationales Exhibit at the Montreal Botanical Gardens--galloping horses, parading lemurs with their tails up, a shepherd with dog and flock, pandas frolicking, waterfowl taking flight….
This summer, 2017, the Mosaicultures will be back, this time at Gatineau, Quebec (across the river from Ottawa), as MosaiCanada 150, celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. See it if you can. These stunning sculptures are all made from living plants, but they aren’t topiary, which is shaped shrubs.
It is a highly complex form of art. The artists--from all over the world--must design and build frameworks for the sculptures, blend the colors, and plan for the maintenance of each plant they use.
It lifts your spirits.
January 5, 2017
Richard Tries Out A Bike
In "Spider's Web in the Green Mountains," just published, why do mysterious motorcycles roar past the heroine's house in the night?
Why is a biker threatening her corgi, Henry?
Generally, what's with all these Harleys and Hondas?
In this photo, we see the author doing serious, in-depth research for his mystery, sitting on a parked motorcycle to get the feel of the thing.
It felt pretty good.
December 25, 2016
When our friend Murdock last visited, it was Green Murdock, because he got wet and rolled in the grass. Here he is again, but now it's Muddy Murdock--
Because a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do!
Next visit? Who knows?
--Richard & Joyce
November 17, 2016
Vermont's mountains--just right for a murder mystery
I took this photograph in the Vermont mountains and it led to the novel I’ve just published, a mystery.
It’s about the people living in a small town, tucked away in these Green Mountains.
Everyone is connected. It’s as if an invisible spider web crisscrosses the town, every resident touched by its strands: loves, grievances, envies, kindnesses, marriages, divorces, business deals….
Spider’s Web in the Green Mountains
is the book’s title.
A murder perturbs the web.
It even affects a Pembroke Welsh corgi, Henry.
Another major character is Dill, Vermont, the town itself.
I know something about small towns, because I grew up in one, along the Hudson River. We live near a small town now. It’s just a five-minute drive down the mountainside.
It’s interesting to read the police report in the daily paper, lost wallets and domestics and hypodermic needles found in alleyways and wandering dogs.
No murders lately, but you never know.
November 5, 2016
Willow--a cat? Maybe.
This is Willow, who lives with our friends, Pam and David. She is a rescue from the local animal shelter.
Here she is helping Pam bake cookies.
Willow is more like a dog than a cat. She loves to be around people and her motto is: Attention must be paid!
We like dogs, but who can resist a cat in a bowl?
We decided she is an honorary dog.
--Joyce & Richard
October 31, 2016
Edmund Wilson, Literary Critic
Edmund Wilson, the eminent literary critic, said detective stories are junk.
Ouch—I've just published a mystery novel, "Spider's Web in the Green Mountains." More to the point, I’m a long-time mystery reader.
It was 1945 when Wilson huffed about detective stories. I just looked it up. That was when books still mattered, and literary critics, like Edmund Wilson, actually could be eminent. So attention must be paid.
Wilson cited an Agatha Christie novel, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," and posed a zingy question: “Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?” He also said that “…the reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, resides somewhere between smoking and crossword puzzles.”
Actually, I also don’t care who killed Roger Ackroyd. Mostly, I’m in it for the adventure. In real life, I get edgy crossing a city street—I like virtual adventure, in which somebody else dodges .45 slugs.
I’m also drawn by the mystery ambience, the sense that, beneath the mundane, run strong currents, deep and dark.
Stories hinging on unlikely tangles are popular, but I’m more simple-minded. I like my stories straight up—Hey, that could really happen!
I wonder, too, if the mystery genre hasn’t evolved since Wilson’s day, when he complained the characters were “all simply names on a page.” Some modern mysteries seem less Roger Ackroyd and more Raskolnikov.
Besides, one of our greatest poets liked mysteries. So, I’m with you, William Butler Yeats.
Check out our published books
Stories published in literary journals
A "Pleistocene western," published in Reflections Edge
A nonfiction book of stories about disappearing animals, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
An award-winning chronicle of life and caring in a small hospital, published in Smithsonian Magazine
Just when a terrifying illness strikes, a self-confident corgi appears on our deck, seeking a new home, and he becomes our guide.