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Author: Maria Alexander (page 1 of 80)

Why Europe’s Christmas Monsters are Now Haunting America

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Naturpuur from Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Quartz published an article that purported to explain why European Christmas still featured a number of interesting “monsters” of folklore while American Christmas didn’t. The article did a great job of listing out all the European variations of the monsters that punish bad children at Christmas time. However, it completely failed to explain why America didn’t embrace these monsters. In fact, it misidentified the Austrian characters in the parades as “Krampuses” when they’re actually “perchten,” the companions of Perchta. (To be fair, even Salzburg tourism has given up trying to explain to Americans that there’s a difference.)

First, if you’re a fan of my books — especially Snowed — you know the main reason why America embraced the jolly old elf from Moore’s poem over any of his European versions. But if you’ve not read Snowed, read this excerpt from Chapter 9.

Chapter 9 Excerpt from Snowed

Mr. Reilly’s class rolls around. Without their leader, Darren’s followers fail to find a voice. Mr. Reilly appears more serious than usual, which is quite a feat.

“I’ve set aside the curriculum I’d planned for today in favor of something a little lighter.” He approaches the chalkboard and picks up a piece of chalk. “I realize it’s a cardinal sin to talk about Christmas before Thanksgiving, but since we have entered the Industrial Age in our reading, let’s talk about modern American cultural values and ideas that stem from that time period. A little history-lite, if you will. But I assure you it ties into what we’ve been studying.”

Snowed_2ndEd_Cover

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He writes: A Visit from Saint Nicholas

Oh, great. Another one of Mr. Reilly’s tangents. I’m pretty sure no one else talks about this stuff in their American history classes.

“The American poet Clement Clarke Moore published this poem anonymously in eighteen twenty-three. What else was happening that year? Anyone?”

No answer. He writes on the board: The Monroe Doctrine.

“In early December of that year, President James Monroe declares America’s neutrality in European conflicts. Step-by-step, America continues to distance itself from the UK and Europe, further establishing its independence. Meanwhile, this poem single-handedly established Christmas culture in America, distinguishing it from British and European customs and traditions. To this day, this depiction of Saint Nicholas remains the dominant iconography for the American celebration of the holiday.”

So, America was already trying to distance itself from both the UK and Europe. The tides of separation were hastened by both the Monroe Doctrine and American sentiment. While Moore’s poem captured that sentiment in a powerful way, it was by no means the catalyst of it. Since the war of independence, Americans had been forging their own identity, much of which is still founded on an idealism that has no room for whipping fathers and child kidnappers.

No More Epiphanies

Also, America is largely a Protestant country. We don’t celebrate Epiphany the way much of Europe does. And since much of the folklore around Perchta and other Christmas creatures focuses on Epiphany, we’ve shaken off that entire line of folklore. Which also means that we probably wouldn’t know the difference between Krampus and the perchten. The perchten proceeded Perchta on her rounds to drive out evil spirits. (The whole perchten thing is very pagan, as is Perchta herself. The Catholic church simply gave up trying to stamp out the pagan festivities in the Alps because they were too strong.)

The UK’s Separation from Europe

Despite Germany’s influence on English Christmas, you won’t see Krampus shaking his chains in the halls of Buckingham Palace, either. That’s because the UK never really embraced those characters in the first place. European ideas were foreign ideas, and that was that. Believe me, the rest of Europe does the same to the UK. For example, you won’t see many Frenchmen celebrating Halloween; they’re more than happy to explain it’s an “Anglo-Saxon” holiday.

America’s New Romance with an Old Devil

Perchtenlauf Gh Pröllhofer

 A perchtenlauf from katsch1969 via Wikimedia Commons

So, why is America now reaching for those same whippers and kidnappers?

Globalization has opened up access to other cultural traditions in ways we’ve never seen before, allowing outside influences to infiltrate our collective conscious in the U.S. But that’s just one part of the whole picture. The U.S. has been opening up more to European ideas — single-payer healthcare, gun control, and free education top the more progressive political tickets.

The Death of American Idealism

Meanwhile, American idealism is merely a ghost. Almost daily mass shootings by murderers slaughtering schoolchildren; the killing of unarmed black Americans at the hands of the police who are supposed to protect them; the death of Americans who can’t afford healthcare; rampant, baldface racism and sexism; tax cuts for the corporations at the expense of the poor; and our severely partisan, dysfunctional government — to say people are jaded is an understatement. We see more taken from us than given, our “freedoms” destroying us.

That’s why Krampus is supplanting St. Nicholas, because we feel the monster’s lash more heavily each day. Santa Claus is too saccharine; we yearn for something more authentic to our experiences.

Changing Climate

Climate change also plays a role. Recall that these “Christmas monsters” are primarily from the much colder Alpine regions and the Netherlands — places where winter is especially deadly. It’s no wonder as America’s weather turns more severe thanks to climate change that we feel the teeth of winter more keenly. Therefore, Alpine lore feels right to our frostbitten bodies.

Gruß von Krampus

So now you know why your Facebook feed is filling up with a devilish character wearing a wicker basket full of screaming children. Be good to one another or else you might find him dragging you from bed on the night of December 5th, to take you somewhere hotter than Los Angeles…

Christmas is coming…or is it Krampus? Find out today!

 

Book Blast: Carol Potenza’s New Thriller HEARTS OF THE MISSING

Hearts of the Missing is the mesmerizing debut from 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize recipient Carol Potenza. In a Starred Review, Library Journal says, “This action-packed mystery, which vividly evokes the beauty of the New Mexico landscape and its indigenous peoples, will attract fans of the Hillermans, leaving readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.”

Summary

Hearts of the MissingWhen a young woman linked to a list of missing Fire-Sky tribal members commits suicide, Pueblo Police Sergeant Nicky Matthews is assigned to the case. As the  investigation unfolds, she uncovers a threat that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Fire-Sky Native: victims chosen and murdered because of their genetic makeup. But these deaths are not just about a life taken. In a vengeful twist, the killer ensures the spirits of those targeted will wander forever, lost to their family, their People, and their ancestors. When those closest to Nicky are put in jeopardy, she must be willing to sacrifice everything—her career, her life, even her soul—to save the people she is sworn to protect.

About the AuthorCarol Potenza_credit Leah Grace Englehart

POTENZA is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University. She and her husband, Jose, live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. HEARTS OF THE MISSING, her debut novel, is the winner of the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize.

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Chapter One Excerpt

Tsiba’ashi D’yini Indian Reservation New Mexico, USA

The harsh scrape, out of place in the quiet of predawn, penetrated the low buzz of the refrigeration motors. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, the sound made the hair on her neck and arms stand on end.

She wasn’t alone anymore.

Her eyes narrowed as she peered through the open door of the office and into the cavernous space on the other side. Other than a few emergency lights pooling eerily on the floor, the room was dark, its bulky shelves and racks rising out of the linoleum like misshapen boulders.

Sergeant Nicky Matthews was careful to make no sound as she placed her fingerprint brush on the metal shelf in front of her. She stripped off her latex gloves with quiet efficiency as she rose, dropping them on the floor by her feet. Head cocked to the side, she strained to hear any other sound that would indicate who—or how many—might be just outside the broken plate-glass window of the mini-mart.

She hadn’t heard a car pass by since she’d been here, and she’d sent the manager home after he’d let her inside.

Her police unit was parked in plain sight by the gas pumps, illuminated by the fluorescent lights in the metal canopy above it. Those lights formed a harsh bubble of white in the nighttime blackness that surrounded the building. The village store sat alone on a two-lane road, the only place to purchase food and gas for twenty miles in every direction. Porch lights from widely scattered trailers and small houses dotted the landscape, but she’d seen no one when she’d arrived. She’d been inside, processing the scene, for over an hour. If the perps had come back, they must know she was here.

Another stealthy rasp, outside and to the left of the window.

She stiffened, focus shifting, tightening. Her hand slipped to her holster, palm scraping the butt of her Glock 23. Whoever was out there was on the other side of the wall where she stood. She’d trained her phone’s camera on that area earlier. The perps had used a bat or crowbar to bash in the large windows, and glass was strewn over the front sidewalk. At least one of them had cut themselves when they climbed inside. There were drops and smears of blood throughout the interior. She’d already gathered some samples for DNA testing, but the bloody smears turned into distinct prints in the office. One of the burglars spent quite a bit of time here, and that was where she’d been concentrating her efforts. But no longer.

Whoever was skulking outside had her full attention.

Nicky stepped forward, avoiding the half dozen sunglasses knocked to the floor during the break-in. She turned her back to the wall, body coiled, and scanned the interior of the store for a change in the vague fluorescent light filtering into the room. Someone peering through the window would throw a shadow.

Her scalp prickled and a flash of heat swept over her skin. She swore she could feel a presence out there.

Waiting for her.

She drew in a slow breath, pulled her weapon, and pointed it down along her leg. Her finger rested across the trigger guard. She sidled closer to the window. Shards of glass littered the floor. The rubber soles of her boots muffled the crunch, but the sound was loud enough to make her wince. She paused, listening.

Seconds ticked by.

Nothing. No sound except the ever-present hum of the glass-doored coolers lining the back wall of the store.

She stayed in the shadows, her sharp gaze sweeping the gravel expanse of the parking lot. Tall, scraggly grass stood unmoving at the edge of the light. There was no wind, no scuttling leaves to explain away the noise.

Another minute passed. The feeling of a presence was fading. Nicky exhaled slowly. Her shoulders relaxed the tiniest bit, even as her expression twisted in faint confusion.

Had she been mistaken?

A movement caught her eye between the gas pumps, and she snapped her head to the right. Her body tensed. At a flash of color, Nicky stepped out of the shadows, not worried about the sound of scattering glass as she tracked the motion of . . .

A skinny brown rez dog wandered around the side of her unit, nose to the ground. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air. It trotted toward an overflowing trash can and rose up on its hind feet, one front paw positioned delicately against the side. Nicky’s lips pressed tight. You could count the ribs on that poor animal. Most likely it was a stray, but you never knew. It might belong to anyone in the village.

Relieved she had an answer to the sounds, Nicky holstered her pistol. Suddenly tired, she stretched, arching her back. Outside, the sky was beginning to gray. She checked the clock on the wall above the door. The sun would be up in a few minutes, and it would still take another hour to process the crime scene. Then she was going to canvass the nearest homes, to see if anyone had heard or seen anything. She probably wouldn’t be done until hours after her shift was officially over.

Her gaze focused closer, and she stared at the pale oval of her reflection in what was left of the glass window in front of her. Dark brown eyes stared back as she ran her hand over the top of her head and slid her fingers through the smooth, straight black hair of her ponytail. She was mistaken for Native all the time. Not by Indians—but by the non- Indians she encountered on the reservation and at the casino.

She sighed deeply, glanced at the dog one more time, and froze. A wave of unease washed over her, this time prickling up her back. The animal stared at the front of the store, fixated not on the place where she stood, but to the left of the window’s edge.

At the place where she’d first heard the noise.

Her hand dropped to her sidearm and Nicky jerked her head around.

An old Native woman stared at her through the glass.

No. Not through the glass. In the glass. The old woman’s face was in the glass.

Their eyes met, and every nerve in Nicky’s body stretched taut. The woman’s pupils glowed black, glittering and alive, sharp points embed- ded within a deeply wrinkled face. An ancient, disembodied face.

Nicky knew she was supposed to look away—had been told in no uncertain terms by her traditional friends on the rez—but she couldn’t move. She was transfixed.

The sun flashed over the horizon, blinding her.

But not before the woman smiled and turned away. Her long white hair whipped in the light—and she was gone.

Nicky yanked out her gun, hit the front door of the mini-mart hard, and ran outside into the brightness of dawn, skidding on the broken glass. The same scraping sound that had alerted her only a few minutes before grated along her skin.

A flash of white raced away and her arms swung up, the muzzle of her sidearm tracking a rabbit as it zigged and zagged out of the parking lot, across the road, and into the grass next to a trampled dirt path. She caught another movement out of the corner of her eye and her head swiveled to the dog. It cringed and shivered as it stared after the rabbit, before it backed up and loped away through the brush, tail tight between its legs.

Nicky’s flesh crawled with goose bumps. Heart thudding, she pointed her weapon to the ground, clutching its diamond-patterned grip so tightly it cut deep into the skin of her palm.

Dammit, dammit, dammit!

Scowling, she slammed her weapon back into its holster. The old woman was back.

That meant life was about to get complicated—and a lot more dangerous.

Book Blast: Nancy Bilyeau Hits Us from Out of THE BLUE

Nancy Bilyeau’s Latest Historical Thriller: THE BLUE

People are saying great things about Nancy Bilyeau’s latest Victorian thriller. Here’s the summary:

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities. Fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.

For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice.

When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain manufacture, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue…

The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage.

She also learns much about love.

With the heart and spirit of her Huguenot ancestors, Genevieve faces her challenges head on, but how much is she willing to suffer in pursuit and protection of the colour blue?

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About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyleDuJourRolling StoneEntertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at City University of New York and a regular contributor to Town & CountryPurist, and The Vintage News.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The Crown, her first novel and an Oprah pick, was published in 2012; the sequel, The Chalice, followed in 2013. The third in the trilogy, The Tapestry, was published by Touchstone in 2015. Her fourth novel, The Blue, launches December 3rd.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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Excerpt from Chapter One

Amiability has never been counted more important in a woman’s character than it is today. Which is why I’m twenty-four and unmarried and without friends or employer, only a grandfather for company. It doesn’t matter. Ambition consumes me, an impossible one. It’s what delivers me into the back of a hackney carriage on this December night, holding a party invitation that doesn’t bear my name as I make my way from Spitalfields to Leicester Fields.

My grandfather and I live on Fournier Street, one of the most respectable in Spitalfields, a street where, never mind the longing and greed and fear that nibble at the souls of a good many neighbors, all say their prayers after supper and snuff the candles. Not so along the route through London to Leicester Fields. From my swaying carriage, I see lights leaping in many windows and hear the shouts and the laughter. London is alive, and so am I.

After more than an hour, the carriage jerks to a stop as it is has many times. But on this occasion, it’s not in order to allow another to rumble forward. Thump, thump, thump. The driver pounds his stick. I’ve arrived.

The carriage door swings open to number thirty, Leicester Fields, the home of England’s greatest living painter, William Hogarth.

As I step down, I catch sight of handsome houses rising along each side of the square, illuminated by coal-lit street lamps that stand to attention like tireless soldiers. The largest by far is Leicester House, tucked behind a courtyard, containing whichever Prince of Wales is presently draining the country of gold with his peevish schemes. I know from the newspapers the names of some of the other residents, wealthy doctors and striving merchants and low-rung nobles. But now is not the time to gawk.

I’m not sure what I expected from Hogarth’s London home. The solid terraced building, third from the left on the southeast corner, gives no outward evidence of artistic genius. Yet I know I’ve come to the right place, by the lights bursting from the windows and the roar of many voices. This is the man’s Christmas party.

I fully expect the servant at the door to give me trouble. Raising my chin, I try to look as if I belong in the rarefied world of Leicester Fields. Unfortunately, a bitter cold wind envelops me, making my earrings, the only ones I possess, sputter against my neck. I shiver in my dress. I did not bring my winter cloak — how could I? It is too plain, the garment of a modest, God-fearing Huguenot woman of Spitalfields, not the West End. Sober manner and somber dress, such is our creed.

Without a word, I thrust the invitation into the gloved hand of the silver-wigged servant. He does not look down at the card.

“Have you no escort, Madame?”

“None is required.”

He peers at the writing and frowns. “This was sent to Pierre Billiou.”

“My name is Genevieve Planché and I am his family — his granddaughter,” I reply. My mother died of smallpox when I was eight. My father being dead of typhus three years before that, Pierre has long been my only family.

I say, as casually as I can manage, “Grandfather is ill, but he wished me to convey to Mr. William Hogarth in person his wishes for a merry Christmas.”

The servant purses his lips.

I take a step closer. “I’m sure Mr. Hogarth would be most angry to know that a member of the Billiou family was made to feel unwelcome.”

A smile crinkles the servant’s face. With a mocking flourish, he beckons for me to enter. I straighten my shoulders and follow him, determined to maintain the appearance of being accustomed to such occasions, when the truth is I’ve only attended two artists’ gatherings hosted by my grandfather and they consisted of three or four old friends grumbling about their commissions over goblets of cognac. I’ve never attended a party among London society in my life.

Interview: Author Loretta Goldberg Takes Us to the Elizabethan Age

Today we welcome debut author Loretta Goldberg whose novel, The Reversible Mask, is set during Elizabeth I’s reign. Let’s just jump right in…

What do you think modern readers will be able to relate to the most about Edward Latham, your story’s protagonist?

What a great question. His unmoored wanderings, as he struggles to find an effective place in a changing world. I hope readers will react in two ways: if their lives are stable, his vicissitudes will be all the more vivid; but if they have any discomfort about compromises they’ve made, if they’ve colored over the edges, hopefully they’ll recognize themselves in him, love him and root for him. I’ve heard both responses from readers.

If you could go back in time and ask Elizabeth I one question, what would it be, when would you ask it, and why?

Whatever I ask she wouldn’t answer, of course. I’d go back to 1593 and ask about her destruction of two documents. The first is the log book from Sir Francis Drake’s three-year circumnavigation of the world 1577-80. Historians pieced it together from other accounts. Her reason was obvious: to allow her to deny Spain’s true charges that Drake attacked their posts in the New World. The other document was one by the man on whom Edward Latham is based, Sir Anthony Standen. When Standen was blown as a double agent and returned to England, Elizabeth demanded an account of his actions abroad before he could be invited back to court. He wrote his account. Reportedly it was delivered but has disappeared. Despite his important service to her before the Armada attack, she was unfriendly toward him from then on. Now, that’s tantalizing! Elizabeth didn’t hide stuff, she got rid of it. But her thoroughness has robbed future generations.

Which research tools do you most recommend to other writers approaching historical fiction projects?

I’m a new writer, so I have much more to learn than to offer anyone else. There are great academic articles; primary documents; art, sport, and literature of the time; law trials. Public libraries with inter-library loan capacities did the most for me in this novel, but being in a community of writers like the Historical Novel Society also brings tremendous resources and ideas. What’s on the internet has to be checked out.

Any chance that you’ll someday indulge us in a tale starring Sir Francis Drake or one of the other Elizabethan sea dogs?

He does figure in my sequel, which revolves around a little known but important action of 1589, the year after the Spanish Armada. But so much has been done on Drake. He used to be a childhood fantasy companion of mine. When we were stuck in daily traffic jams, I imagined him scoffing at all those smoke-belching tail pipes, stuck even through green lights. What amused him was that we’d invented this thing that went 100 mph but didn’t make roads to accommodate them when the need was greatest, going to work and coming home.

Your discography is impressive, especially to someone like me who grew up listening to and performing classical music. What role does music play in your writing, if any?

Music affected my perception quite a bit. As I read about Elizabeth I, who was a good musician, I felt that she acted polyphonically, not linearly, in politics. I always saw three or more moving lines in her manipulations. That was my original fascination with her, what I thought other interpreters didn’t capture, at least for me. I try to convey that side of her in the novel. She saved polyphonic music for England, by adding a clause to The Religious Settlement of 1559 banning the dismantling of endowed choirs. Radical Protestants resented her for it, but composers like Byrd and Tallis wouldn’t have thrived without it. A lot of great music wouldn’t exist without that clause. There are also music-oriented scenes in my novel. Latham’s love for Barbara Blomberg was stimulated by music. Blomberg was the greatest singer of her age, her voice made her Emperor Charles V’s mistress. I make her an amalgam of Joan Sutherland’s voice with a temperament of composers I’ve worked with. And Latham learns about Edmund Campion’s execution, a pivot point in the novel, from church bells and a balladeer’s song.

Readers of my blog know that I’m notorious for my views of how swords and swordsmanship are portrayed in fiction and film. What are your biggest pet peeves about historical fiction and movies?

The sexualization of love. There are many kinds and shades of love; love objects can be ideas or institutions as well as people. I often long for these nuances.

Who are your favorite fiction authors and books? How have they influenced your writing?

Where to begin? We didn’t include a bibliography in The Reversible Mask, but I’d be happy to send it to any interested reader. I could pick out four of my favorite historical novels. The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally is about provincial Australian nurses who enlist in World War I, drawn from diaries in the military archives. The whole experience evolves through their unprepared eyes; no editorializing or explanations. I can’t say enough how much that impressed me. Other books I like are Bernard Cornwell’s second of the Arthurian trilogy, The Enemy of God, with its plausible first person narrator in the warrior/monk Derfel. I love his deconstruction of Lancelot. Then Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic series,where the eighteenth century language enfolds us completely. Coming to the present, Adrienne Dillard’s Cor Rotto, a novel of Catherine Carey, is a beautifully unsentimental portrayal of a noblewoman who survived sixteen childbirths.

Thank you so much, Loretta!

Synopsis

Summer 1566. A glittering royal progress approaches Oxford. A golden age of prosperity, scientific advances, exploration and artistic magnificence. Elizabeth I’s Protestant government has much to celebrate.

But one young Catholic courtier isn’t cheering.

Conflicting passions—patriotism and religion—wage war in his heart. On this day, religion wins. Sir Edward Latham throws away his title, kin, and country to serve Catholic monarchs abroad.

But his wandering doesn’t quiet his soul, and when Europe’s religious wars threaten his beloved England and his family, patriotism prevails. Latham switches sides and becomes a double agent for Queen Elizabeth. Life turns complicated and dangerous as he balances protecting country and queen, while entreating both sides for peace.

Intrigue, lust, and war combine in this thrilling debut historical novel from Loretta Goldberg.

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About the Author

An Australian-American, Goldberg earned a BA in English Literature, Musicology and History at the University of Melbourne, Australia. After teaching English Literature at the Department of English for a year, she risked all, coming to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship to study piano with Claudio Arrau. Her discography consists of nine commercial recordings, now in over seven hundred libraries. She premiered an unknown work by Franz Liszt on an EMI HMV (Australian Division) album, and her edition of the score for G. Schirmer is in its third edition. Concurrently, she built a financial services practice, which she sold recently to focus on writing. Her published non-fiction pieces consist of articles on financial planning, arts reviews and political satire. She earned an MA (music performance) from Hunter College, New York; and a Chartered Life Underwriter degree from the American College, Pennsylvania. Member of the Historical Novel Society, New York Chapter, she started and runs their published writer public reading series at the landmark Jefferson Market Library.

Audio Links

http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/1_Aug_1566.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/3_July_1572.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/5_July_1572.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/9_Oct_1576.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/11_Dec_1577.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/11_June_1578.mp3
http://lorettagoldberg.com/downloads/22_April_1585.mp3

Find Loretta Goldberg Online

Website: https://lorettagoldberg.com/
Blog: https://lorettagoldberg.com/blog/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/loretta.goldberg.906

My Father’s Cold War Job with the State Department

Yesterday, I discovered some notes I took about a harrowing incident that happened to my dad on February 6, 1956 when he was working for the State Department at an office in Thessaloniki, Greece. Every step of the story he relayed is a monument to what a fecking idjit my father was, even at the age of 28. I’m not kidding. He does so many colossally stupid, dangerous things, you can’t begin to feel sorry for him. Still, there’s enough here that I can fictionalize the hell out of it and turn it into a wee spy thriller short story.

The 1953 Refugee Relief Act

Meanwhile, I’m looking into some of the statements my dad made, namely about the 1953 Refugee Relief Act for which he was conducting investigations of applicants for visas. A 1954 report from the CIA (declassified in 2006) about that act provided definitions of refugee, escapee, and expellee. I don’t know what the current legal definitions are, but this is a fascinating window into the past.

What’s definitely of interest is that it seems the U.S. only recognized European and Asian countries in this CIA report. No countries south of the border, in the Middle East, or on the African continent are part of the refugee program. They even define refugees as people who are displaced due to either natural disasters or military action. An escapee, however, is a refugee escaping a Communist country or Communist-occupied area. The Cold War was certainly foremost on their minds.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your thoroughly investigated”

That said, the government failed to provide adequate financial support to staff the overseas operations necessary to process the proposed “preference quotas.” However, the appointed Administrator —  Edward Corsi — sounded (unrealistically) optimistic that they’d surpass the quotas by the following year. He doesn’t say why. This is especially interesting given that he was in the middle of a fight with Congress. Before he was dismissed for being involved in a Communist group, Corsi went on record as saying that the law was being “wholly dominated by psychology of security” and the applicants were being “investigated to death.” *

Sound familiar? It’s sad to think at that point it was already more “American” to be paranoid than welcoming.

Perfect Window into the Past

I wish I’d been able to ask my dad more questions, but our relationship was already worn thin. It’s probably okay, though. This perfect window into the past gives me more than enough for personal education and imaginative exploration.

*Presidential Profiles: The Eisenhower Years by Michael S. Mayer

Book Blast! Cynthia Kuhn’s THE SPIRIT IN QUESTION

The Spirit in Question (A Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Book 3) by [Kuhn, Cynthia]

English professor Lila Maclean knew drama would be involved when she agreed to consult on Stonedale University’s production of Puzzled: The Musical. But she didn’t expect to find herself cast into such chaos: the incomprehensible play is a disaster, the crumbling theater appears to be haunted, and, before long, murder takes center stage.

The show must go on—yet as they speed toward opening night, it becomes clear that other members of the company may be targeted as well. Lila searches for answers while contending with a tenacious historical society, an eccentric playwright, an unsettling psychic, an enigmatic apparition, and a paranormal search squad. With all of this in play, will she be able to identify who killed her colleague…or will it soon be curtains for Lila too?

Blurbs:

“Lila Maclean returns with theatrical hilarity and otherworldly suspense. A fabulous backstage whodunit.” — Gretchen Archer, USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-nominated author of the Davis Way Crime Caper Series

“An A+ academic mystery! This delightful cozy deserves extra credit for its clever protagonist, laugh-out-loud dramatics, and layers of mystery. Add in ghostly intrigue and a haunted opera house, and The Spirit in Question is the perfect Halloween read.” — Nora Page, author of the Bookmobile Mysteries

“Murder, protests and a haunted theater–Stonedale University English professor Lila Maclean deals with it all with wit and humor in The Spirit In Question, a must-read for cozy mystery fans.” –Sybil Johnson, author of the Aurora Anderson Mysteries

“Delightful heroine Lila and her supporting cast conjure a fun show stopper in The Spirit in Question. Old scandals, new rivalries, a ghostly menace–and a determined killer will keep readers puzzling over whodunit until the final act.” –Vickie Fee, author of the Liv & Di in Dixie Mysteries

Bio:

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series: The Semester of Our Discontent, an Agatha Award recipient for Best First Novel; The Art of Vanishing, a Lefty Award nominee for Best Humorous Mystery; and The Spirit in Question. Her work has also appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD, and other publications. She is professor of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver and president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Website: cynthiakuhn.net

Twitter: @cynthiakuhn

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cynthiakuhnwriter

Blog: chicksonthecase.com

Interview with S.L. Huang: Writing, Fighting, and Kidnapping Characters

Hi everyone! Today, I have the joy of interviewing author S.L. Huang who sold her action-packed, self-published Amazon series to Tor, starting with Zero Sum Game. More about the book soon, but first onto the questions.

9781250180254_FCCongratulations on selling your series to Tor! You started this series as a self-published author, which gives you a lot of creative and financial control. What factored into your decision to sell the publication rights to a traditional publisher?

A few reasons. First of all, I’d discovered that I was not actually that good at self-publishing. I think I did a great job writing a book people loved and releasing it with top-notch production value, but it turned out I was not at all good at the sales-driving aspects. More importantly, I was not a fast enough writer to do well in self-publishing—I was only able to put out a book every nine months, whereas in self-publishing, it’s hard to do well if you’re going longer than three or four months between releases.

Meanwhile, I’d started working in short fiction and found that working with an editor and publisher suited me extremely well, and I love it!

So when I managed to get a fantastic agent and he asked me if I wanted to look into getting a traditional deal, I said yes. He was confident he could get me an incredible contract—which he did, and that’s why I said yes!

And I haven’t regretted it. I love my editor, and Tor has given me an unbelievable amount of support—I think the book is better than it’s ever been and is going to go to much greater heights.

Having a degree in mathematics (and probably loads of related classes like physics) must give you a lot to work with when getting Cas in and out of trouble. How do you know when to let up on the math and let in the muse?

My first draft I was actually worried about putting too much math in, so I went very light on the math details. My first readers, none of whom where math people, told me to add more! They said it didn’t matter to them that they didn’t understand it, but they wanted the texture of it, because in the book it’s so fun. I was delighted to oblige them.

Believe it or not, I can’t use a whole lot of my background for the little details—I didn’t, for example, take classes in the mathematics of exploding buildings or how blood spatters when someone is murdered. So I have to do a lot of research for each new bit of overpowered mathematics my main character works in the series, and often end up scribbling in a notebook to do the equations for real and figure out what’s possible.

Do you know where your towel is? If so, where did you buy it?

I do, and I didn’t buy it, I won it in a Japanese speech contest by talking about the tooth fairy. (True story. 歯の妖精.)

I frequently wrap it around my head to ward off the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

AP - SL HuangWhat’s your favorite real-life hand gun and why?

A Belgian-made Browning Hi-Power in nine-millimeter. It is my very favorite gun.

As someone who’s worked in theatrical combat, you probably know that every fight tells a story. What’s your favorite screen or fiction fight? And how did that make you a better writer?

Oh, I 100% agree about fights telling stories! To me, the least interesting fights are usually two people whaling on each other with no stakes or relationship behind it.

It’s hard to pick a favorite fictional fight, but in my top handful would be the sword fights in The Princess Bride, and they were certainly one of the most illuminating to young S.L. Huang’s understanding of how fights work in narrative. When I was a kid, I was watching a commentary track in which some of the creators talk about the fight between Inigo and The Man in Black as being the second-best fight in cinema—after the fight scene between Inigo and Count Rugen, which comes at the end of the film. I didn’t understand what they meant by that until I’d started studying fight choreography.

If you’ve never seen the movie, the Inigo/Man In Black sword fight is the flashier, longer, funnier one. The technicality of the fight choreography is incredible, and it’s a great lesson in how to write a long clashing of swords in a way that still keeps unfolding in an entertaining manner.

But it doesn’t match the stakes of the second fight. Inigo and the Man In Black are nearly equal in blade mastery and not truly invested in killing the other; their fight functions like a very skillful and entertaining dance. Whereas in the Inigo/Rugen fight, Inigo is the clearly superior swordsman . . . but he’s also bleeding to death in three places while trying to complete the revenge quest that has consumed his entire life since age eleven.

The choreography and performance of the first sword fight is nothing short of marvelous. But the choreography in the second is much more entrenched in story and character and stakes in a way that was a revelation to me when I figured it out!

Who have been your favorite fight masters with whom you’ve either worked or studied? And how have they influenced your storytelling?

I’ve studied fighting nearly everywhere I’ve lived, and the amount I’ve learned from some truly incredible fight masters would take too long to list here. And of course on movie sets I’ve worked for stunt coordinators and fight choreographers who are the top of the field.

But I’ll say that one of the most significant and influential fight instructors I’ve had is still my first: Ted Hewlett, whom I credit with giving me a deep foundation and formative understanding that helped shape the rest of my career. It was Ted who first taught me about how much the characters’ relationship impacts how arresting a fight is going to be to an audience. He also taught me that the more two characters love each other, the more painfully they can hurt each other.

Who are your most beloved authors? 

Oh, this question is always overwhelming because I feel like I could easily list twenty names and still be leaving people out. So how about I give a little overview of the stories and authors that have blown me away lately?

Books I’ve read in the past few months that I’ve especially enjoyed include Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (last sequel to The Three Body Problem); Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi; All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; The SEA Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng; Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield; and Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse.

I’m also a big short story reader. Some of my favorite short story writers include K.M. Szpara, JY Yang, A. Merc Rustad, Alyssa Wong, Isabel Yap, and S. Qiouyi Lu. I highly encourage people to check them out as well!

You, S.L. Huang, have to kidnap Batman with what you have at your place right now. How do you do it?

This might be the best question I’ve ever been asked.

I’ll have to be creative, because I just moved back to the U.S. from Japan and I have hardly anything in my new apartment yet. I only barely got a mattress. So this is how it’s going to go:

I invite Batman over to my place to see my trampoline, dropping my MIT cred and claiming it’s a new especially-bouncy trampoline that will help him leap up onto balconies. While he’s looking at it and determining that it is not, in fact, any sort of a special trampoline at all, I whack him over the head with a math textbook.

While he’s dazed I stuff his mouth full of the levothyroxin I take for my dysfunctional thyroid, a medication that I have just been assured causes “confusion, shock, and light coma” if taken in overdose. I gag him with my Japanese towel so he has to swallow, and then I wrap him in my hammock, tie it shut, and drag him to a proper hiding place.

Supplies needed: trampoline, math textbook, levothyroxin, aforementioned Japanese towel, and hammock, all of which were clearly so essential to me that they beat a mattress into my apartment!

Awesome! Thanks, Lisa!

Check out Lisa’s book:

A blockbuster, near-future science fiction thriller, S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game introduces a math-genius mercenary who finds herself being manipulated by someone possessing unimaginable power

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price. As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master. Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved.

There’s only one problem… She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

BUY IT!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250180252?tag=macmillan-20

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zero-sum-game-sl-huang/1119014921?ean=9781250180254#/

Books a Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/product/9781250180254

INdiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250180254

Powells: http://www.powells.com/book/zero-sum-game-cas-russell-book-1-9781250180254?partnerid=33241

Sign Up to Get the Heads Up!

Just a quick note to everyone following this blog that I have some very special, time-sensitive news. So, please sign up for my newsletter this holiday weekend to get the heads up. Go to the bottom of this post, enter your email in the box, and click “Sign up.” That’s it!

Do it! Do it now! Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance!

Now, here’s a kitty.

 

Thanks!

Greek America: Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity

Helen_Menelaus_Louvre_G424

I generally don’t like chiming in on social media about the ever-increasing number of mass shootings. I prefer to vote, make calls, etc., because we clearly have a gun problem. But in this case I’ve been contemplating the fact that the Santa Fe shooter was a Greek boy. It hits close to home for many reasons.

My Big Toxic Greek Family

Maybe some of my Greek friends haven’t had this experience, but I grew up with intense toxic masculinity that continues to this day in my Greek family. Some of you are familiar with one of my early short stories, “The King of Shadows.” My Greek father, who didn’t want me to go to college, was the inspiration for that brutal faery tale. And when he died a few years ago, my life changed in ways I never dreamed. I also have a trunk story called “Scarlet, Lavender, Lapis” about a Greek woman trying to escape her roots, but she gets pulled back into one of the darkest Greek myths we teach today. The idea that I can’t escape my heritage has always haunted me, especially the hideous racism that riddled every family conversation.

My father had guns. He almost never used them — he certainly didn’t take care of them, leaving them unsecured in a half-open closet — but later in life he’d regularly threaten to kill my mother with them. She told me on the phone so that I’d know “in case something happens.” This just added to his many other abuses, some of which I only learned after his death. One was so sickening that, if I could have dug him up and murdered him with my own hands, I would have.

It wasn’t just my father. Almost every Greek man in my family abused women with impunity. One exception I can recall is when a distant Greek relative screamed at her pre-pubescent son as she pulled him off of me, saying, “You will respect women!” He’d been trying to climb onto teenaged me as I was sitting in a chair, minding my own business. I have a hunch he never learned that lesson.

Attack in London

As if that weren’t enough, when I was in London back in 2001, I was assaulted on an otherwise empty tube platform by a young Greek male tourist. I knew he was Greek because he tried to strike up a conversation with me about where he was from. I made the mistake of saying, “That’s nice. I’m Greek, too.” He then grabbed me and tried to force me to kiss him.

After a struggle, I broke away just in time to jump onto the next train. He followed me onboard. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. We had a standoff in an occupied car, where I told him to go away. When the train doors opened again, I flung myself out of the train and ran as fast as I could to the nearest tube employee, who comforted me until I stopped trembling.

Thankfully, I lost the bastard.

I’ve never been to Greece as a result, and have never had any desire to go because I hate being harassed on any given day, much less assaulted while I’m traveling in another country.

The Hellenic Community

In a thorough blog post by Greek American Girl about violence in Greek homes, she details why violence is tolerated in Greek families, including those in America:

Greek culture is traditionally patriarchal, it tolerates and “waters down” abuse more so than someone from American culture. The Greek culture socializes women and men to believe that the husband is the head of the home and that a wife’s function is to keep the family intact. As a highly patriarchal culture, men are taught to believe they merit a position of power over women who believe it is their fate to live in violence. Due to these ingrained cultural ideas about marriage, family and sex roles, abuse tends to be overlooked, tolerated, and even condoned.

She goes on to break down the specific cultural values — in particular the taboo of revealing family secrets — that make it even harder for abused women to get help. And if we think it’s bad here, it’s much worse back in Greece, where the pressures of the economic crisis are lighting fuses everywhere.

Dear Fellow Greeks: Get It Together, FFS

When I heard the Santa Fe shooter cum would-be bomber was Greek, I wasn’t fazed. In fact, I wondered why it hadn’t happened sooner. And then the Los Angeles Times had this quote:

One of Pagourtzis’ classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, “had 4 months of problems from this boy,” her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. “He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.”

Sound familiar? And yet his family says, “what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love.” Guess what? My Greek family has always been similarly baffled that anyone would complain about the boys they love, as the boys themselves blamed the women in their lives for their problems.

#NotJustGreekMen, #NotAllGreekMen

Of course, Greek men aren’t the only ones who grow up infused with garbage attitudes toward women. This is an everywhere-problem. A Mediterranean-Asian-Middle Eastern-All-American plague. Still, this is just a reminder that the Greek American community is responsible for doing their part to make better men. Straight up, my family failed. I know many others have, too. I’ve watched it happen my entire life.

I also know a couple of perfectly sweet Greek men, writers I’ve befriended over the years, like the late David Thomas Lord aka John Sumakis, and the always-lovely and hilarious Mark McLaughlin. We need to make a lot more of these guys, not another goddamned Milo Yiannopoulos or this newly minted, psychopathic asshole.

Heartbreak in Santa Fe

Meanwhile, my heart breaks for the families and friends of those who were killed. Sylipiteria to you all. I’ll be doing my part politically to work toward a safer America for every student.

Today’s Brushes with Death

Today was a crazy-pants, near-deadly driving day.

First, I was headed down Coldwater Canyon on a quick jaunt to a friend’s house just south of Ventura Boulevard. After I’d safely crossed an intersection, some jackhole in a super-sized SUV with tinted windows and paper plates decided at the last (im)possible second to turn left in front of me to enter a strip mall.

Thankfully, I was:

  • Alert
  • Wearing big-ass Doc Martins, and
  • In possession of fantastic reflexes

I slammed on the brakes hard and fast enough to stop my car within perhaps a couple of inches from plowing into the side of that SUV. It’s funny how we instinctively know when to throw everything into that brake. It took every ounce of leg strength to halt my sedan.

So. Damned. Close.

My heart ka-thunked the rest of the way to my friend’s house. I remained shaky for a little while after I arrived until the adrenaline eventually cooled.

Later, I was to meet with friends who were visiting this weekend from San Francisco at a local restaurant. I figured I’d just take an Uber. I’ve had very few bad experiences with ride sharing.

Less stress, right?

Easy Peasy…Queasy

The driver who picked me up kept glancing down to her left side. I craned my neck to see that she was holding her cell phone in her left hand. I asked her not to look at the phone. I told her the restaurant was a straight shot down the road we were on, and then we’d turn right on the destination street.

Yet she continued to glance down at her phone surreptitiously every few seconds. I kept thinking about what happened to me earlier today with that SUV driver. If someone pulled something like that on this woman during our short drive, we’d not just be toast, but crispy-fried, Belgian roadkill waffles sprinkled with gravel granola.

As we drove, I kept looking on the Uber app for a way to report the driver in-route, but I didn’t find anything. I should have just demanded she stop and I get out. Nothing is worth that kind of risk. But we arrived pretty quickly. When she dropped me off, the app prompted me to rate her, and I reported her. They refunded my ride. To think, this driver supposedly had a 4.72 rating out of 5.

I Live, Obviously, But…

Thankfully, I’m home safe and glad the day is drawing to a close. Today is the Baron Samedi’s Day. Maybe the ghede just needed to dangle a bit of danger in front of me to remind me that every moment of every day is both precious and precarious, even when we feel like we’re in the driver’s seat.

Wishing you all a beautiful Sunday tomorrow! As usual, I’ll be writing.

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