Confessions of a TV Addict

I know—so many books, yada yada, and I have five or six books going at any given time: one each of crime-related, science, general nonfiction, general fiction, and theology or spirituality.


But, while I’m waiting for the next Mo Hayder, Richard Russo, or Joseph Kanon; the newest on quantum entanglement; and more from authors like Eric Larson or Elaine Pagels, I watch TV. A lot of TV.

Here’s an embarrassing moment.

My husband and I are watching Blue Bloods on TV (embarrassing already, right?) and an actor appears in the ADA’s office.

“That guy looks familiar,” my husband says.

“It’s Dan Hedaya,” I tell him. He was the crazy guy on NYPD Blue who thought he was a werewolf, and he was one of Carla’s ex-husbands on Cheers, and he’s been in movies, like Blood Simple, The Usual Suspects—”

“I got it,” my husband says.

I’m disappointed, because I’m just getting started on Dan Hedaya.

But I’ll have another chance, because soon we’re watching another show, a new one called The Inspectors, about a group from the USPS Inspectors Office. (BSP: This one is research, to go along with my new series that debuted November 3, The Postmistress Mysteries) A main character on this show had died in a car crash, but he makes brief ghostly appearances, dispensing sage advice to his family.

“That guy looks familiar,” my husband says.

“It’s Carlos Bernard,” I tell him. He was Kiefer Sutherland’s main guy on 24, and he’s been on Castle and Madame Secretary, and—”

“I got it,” my husband says.

And so on.

I can’t help it—stories that come to life on the television screen can grab me like no other, and I feel like I know the characters better than some of my friends, better than some of my own characters. I’m depressed when bad things happen to the good guys (Did Will really have to die? Let me know if you know who I mean.) And I’m thrilled when a bully gets it (a whole season of Revenge).

A TV addict should never marry a television engineer. It’s like a giving an alcoholic a job as a bartender. OK, it worked for Sam Malone on Cheers, but that was fiction. My husband’s latest achievement is providing the means (schematic on request) to record 16 different shows simultaneously. And, of course, we have the brand new gadget that lets him skip commercial blocks at the touch of the green button. It’s a wonder we have room in the house for books.


Here are my current shows—never mind that I pretend it’s research that every crime fiction writer needs to do.

The Can’t Miss Shows, roughly in order:

  1. Homeland, it’s like having 24 back, with slightly less torture.
  2. Ray Donovan, because who doesn’t love a Fixer with a Boston accent?
  3. Hawaii 5-0, to pretend James Caan is back, and therefore, so is The Godfather.
  4. The Americans, because the Cold War never ceases fascinate me.
  5. Criminal Minds, for the philosophical wisdom as they fly to the scene.
  6. Law & Order, SVU, because it’s the only L&O left.
  7. The Good Wife, because I need a courtroom between John Grisham books.
  8. Blacklist, for James Spader, and more torture than Homeland.
  9. Blue Bloods, in spite of Tom Selleck, who still SIGHs as if he’s Jesse Stone. Frank Regan wouldn’t last a minute in NYC, uniform or no uniform.

I’m lucky I don’t like comedies, and I won’t watch talk shows, vampires, scifi or fantasies, reality shows, or any dancing or singing amateur talent. I got that last category out of my system with Ted Mack in the fifties.

If only David Baldacci, Brian Green, and the like would write faster, I’d be able to pull myself away from the 58–inch screen.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wendy Hornsby


This year, as I sit down with my family, prepared to tuck into an opulent meal, I am reminded how fortunate we are, how very much we have to be thankful for.  384 years ago, depending on the most accepted account of when the first Thanksgiving took place, a ragtag group of immigrants, religious refugees from a far shore, sat down to share a meal with the local, American born, people who had helped them to survive the Starving Time, as their first year in the new land came to be known.  I know there are many versions of what that first feast signified, but for now I want to stick to the mainstream message we have chosen to accept as the meaning of Thanksgiving.  That is, the feast was a sharing of bounty between the natives and the newcomers.   The United States, as F.D.R. reminded us, and we should all remember, is a nation of immigrants.  Let us celebrate that legacy of diversity, and let us always welcome the pilgrims who come here hoping for a better life.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.


Happy Birthday, Mom

As I looked around for topics for this month’s blog, there seemed to be several choices, all of them depressing. JFK’s assassination, on Nov. 22, 1963, would be an obvious choice—too obvious, really. And there’s Thanksgiving, but what can I say about Thanksgiving that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam ad infinitum? My high-school sweetheart got married (not to me) on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1964. Because of the inexorability of the calendar, that was Nov. 25, the same as this year.

Of course I could have written about the terror attacks on Paris, but I can’t even stand to watch the news reports the last few days. I don’t want to analyze or reflect on that horror. And by the time I could post something, there would probably have been another attack, like the one in Mali.

Then, “while I pondered, weak and weary,” it occurred to me that November 23 is my mother’s birthday. She was, in many ways, a remarkable woman, though not without her blemishes. Her life spanned most of the 20th century, from 1919 to 1995, and I think my brother and I still feel her influence every day.

My mother was the third of five children, four of them girls. Her brother, whom she adored, was a couple of years older than she was. In 1954, when she got the phone call that he’d been killed in an auto accident, she collapsed on the floor in hysterics, a scary thing for a nine-year-old to witness.

Knowing her when I was an adult, I came to realize that she never felt that her mother loved her as much as her siblings. She was the only child in her family who was not given a middle name at birth, and she felt that was a deliberate slight. She was a tomboy who had a goat for a pet and carved her initials in a tree in her yard higher than anyone else. I suspect she was hard to handle. Her great desire in life was to own a motorcycle. At 60 she settled for a Moped.

I knew my grandmother as a loving woman, but in earlier years, I’ve learned, she was famous for her temper. Raising five children during the Depression, when her husband had two businesses fail under him, might have accounted for some of that discontent. My mother felt that her mother’s anger tended to focus on the middle child. She once told me about saving her money to buy her mother a vase as a birthday gift. Her mother put it in a drawer and never displayed it. When her mother died, my mother retrieved the vase and put it in a prominent place on her mantle.

In spite of the difficulties in her relationship with her mother, my mother always wanted to be as close to home as possible. When my dad was at Georgia Tech in 1949-51, she drove from Atlanta to her parents’ home in upstate South Carolina every chance she got, taking me and my younger brother for weekend visits. In later years she pitched in with her sisters and took care of her father in his senility and then her mother for several more years afterwards. In the late stages of her own struggle with cancer, I heard her mutter, “It’s my turn, and we’re going to do it my way.”

My mother was a worker all her life. After finishing high school, she worked for several years in a hosiery mill before starting college in the fall of 1941. She worked in the college dining hall, where she met my father. While cleaning out my parents’ house, I found an old knife, not part of their set of cutlery, that bore the initials MHC. No one in my family knew who MHC might be. Then one cousin suggested that the letters might stand for Mars Hill College, where my parents met. At his college, he said, all the cutlery bore the school’s initials. (Yes, I still have the knife.)

While we were at Georgia Tech, my dad went to school and held two jobs. My mother got a paper route. At age five, I begged to go with her, so one morning she got me up at 5:00, put me in the wagon she used, and off we went. I vaguely remember being miserable, and I’m sure she regretted taking me.

In 1956 my mother started work at Rollman’s Department Store in Cincinnati. She worked in retail for the rest of her life, usually in the office, at places like Penney’s, K-Mart, and Walmart. She was very good with money and accounts, skills which I did not inherit. This did mean, though, that, at ages 11 and 8, my brother and I were latch-key kids long before the term was coined and continued to be until we finished school.

My mother had a keen sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to do outlandish things. In 1944 she rode a train from SC to California to marry my dad, by then a Marine. She once let me read a few pages from some letters she had written to her family from California. Describing her wedding and what came after, she said, “then he moved over to my side of the bed. What happened next is a military secret.” She told me I could have the letters after she died, as long as I promised not to publish them. Before I could get to them, though, my dad burned them. “They were private,” was all he would say.

I think her greatest weakness was her impatience. She once told me that she and I got along well because “you knew what you needed to do and you did it.” My brother, on the other hand, took after her, with a strong independent streak. By the time I was in junior high, I had my own room, and I learned to just close the door when storm clouds gathered over other parts of the house. To this day I will go to great lengths to avoid confrontations. My wife keeps assuring me, “Hon, I’m not your mother.”

Whatever her limitations as a parent, my mother was a terrific grandmother. My children are adopted, but she took them as hers from day one. They loved to visit, and my greatest regret in life is that we lived so far away that we got to SC only two or three times a year. One of my sons needed serious surgery when he was eight. His recovery was slow, and we were concerned. My mother sent him a huge Transformer toy, and you could see the change in him overnight. Twenty-five years later, he let my grandson have some of his Transformers, but he would not part with that one. Whether she was playing with her grandchildren in the pool or riding them around the neighborhood on the back of her Moped, she enjoyed them with exuberance and they still remember her fondly.

As do I. Happy birthday, Mom.

The past rears its cinematic head

About 30 years ago I was asked to help write a horror movie. I love movies and I like good horror—not just gore, but scary stuff with real characters and something of a plot. How could I turn down that invitation? I’d always wanted to write a screenplay and nobody had ever asked before.

We had three producers and two writers. I don’t remember who came up with the idea or the title–Night Feeder–although I know I had something to do with it.

My fellow writer and I began working on the script and the producers began looking for actors and connected with some special effects people at Industrial Light and Magic, already very well known and local in the East Bay where we all lived at the time.

We had a small budget but lots of energy and hope, and we all liked each other.

We got it written and my job was done. The producers dealt with the casting, the sets, the monster, and everything else. In a couple of months I got my copy of the movie, watched it, noticed that a number of plot points had been changed,  and someone had done some rewriting. But what the hell, I thought. It was fun and not the worst movie I’d ever seen. I stashed my copy somewhere and hoped for the best.

A few months later I heard something vague about the movie being shown or distributed or something somewhere in Europe. That was the last I heard of it.

Until a couple of months ago, when I got a note from one of the producers, along with a tiny check that he asked me to split with the other writer. I found her and sent her the money.

Again, I resigned myself to never hearing anything about it again.

And then, a couple weeks ago, I heard from the creative member of the team, Jody, an artist who still lived in her warehouse studio in the East Bay. Turned out, she said, that the movie had picked up a distributor and a bit of a cult following and there was going to be a screening at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco November 21.

I’m sure there’ll be no red carpet, even though Polly and I are on what Jody calls “The List.” Neither one of us likes driving any distance at night any more, and we live in Petaluma. So we’re going to spend the grocery money on a limo for a no-stress night. I believe in that.

We’d love to see you there. Admission is cheap.


Uncovering the Past

Lea Wait, here.Stopping to Home

Historical research is done by librarians, historians, genealogists, doctoral candidates, homeowners wondering about the history of their homes, and grade school students reluctantly fulfilling classroom assignments.

I’ve done all of the above, at various points in my life. But now I do historical research primarily because I write historical novels set in 19th century Wiscasset.!cid_5DD80D18-4277-43A2-92BE-A87ACD38DB1B@maine_rr

I’ve always loved the idea of “place” influencing the people who lived in it, so my goal is to show, in a series of stand-alone books, how people in a small Maine village lived during different time periods.

Why Wiscasset? Because Wiscasset “had it all,” in terms of history. Abenaki lands, early European settlers, citizens taking part in every war Maine has been involved in, a deep-water harbor surrounded by farmlands and lumbering. Mills. Fires. Inns. Wiscasset was on the Boston Post line. The railroad came to Wiscasset.

Stopping to Home (set in 1806) and Seaward Born (1805-1807) show Wiscasset when it was the largest port east of Boston. Wintering Well (1819-1820) is set against a background of new statehood. Finest Kind (1838) shows the result of the Panic of 1837. And Uncertain Glory (1861) takes place during the first two weeks of the Civil War.

My major characters are fictional, but the minor characters are the real people who lived in Wiscasset.

How do I find out about them?Wintering Well

I search the Wiscasset Library archives files on “doctors” and “lawyers” and “houses,” and read through newspapers, files on Wiscasset families, and letters. I don’t just collect names; I collect lives. The Lincoln County Courthouse has records of who was in jail when and for what offense. They also have customs records of ships arriving, homes built and changing hands, and legal cases in Lincoln County. Wiscasset’s graveyards help with dates, and raise new questions. (Why would a man be buried next to only his first wife, when he was married three times?)

In Uncertain Glory my protagonist is an actual teenager who published Wiscasset’s newspaper in the mid-nineteenth century. His diary is at the Maine Historical Society archives in Portland. The newspapers he published are in the Wiscasset Library. Files on his family helped me place him in town, and write historical notes about what happened after the book was finished.

Seaward Born            Other research? I read extensively in political, military, religious, and philosophical analyses of what was happening in the United States during the year(s) I’m writing about. I choose year-and-place appropriate names for fictional characters. I search dictionaries published in New England during the year(s) I’m writing about, to ensure I use words authentically. I study maps. I collect old medical books, books of old recipes, lists of kitchen utensils, weapons, tools, and laws. I read studies of the ways in which women, children, minorities, and the handicapped were treated, through both laws and practices.

All these pieces of research become fodder for the background of my books; sometimes even the basis for specific scenes. But the most important research I do is on my protagonists and their family; how they fit into the community, how they would react to events around them, and what decisions they would make.

Because I write stories. Historically accurate stories, I hope. Stories set in a real town. But, most important, stories of what happens when my major character’s life is changed, and he or she must decide what he or she will do next to survive. That’s the heart of all my books.


Maine author Lea Wait has written five books set in 19th century Wiscasset in addition to two contemporary mystery series, the Shadows Antique Print series and the Mainely Needlepoint series. For more information about Lea and her books, see, and friend her on Facebook and Goodreads.  



The Day I Never Believed Would Come, Came

By K.K. Beck

I have been retired from my last job ever, for two and a half months. I liked my job (except for the occasional pointless meeting, which I usually attended remotely with the phone on mute while I filed or read the newspaper) so I didn’t feel as if I were escaping from a soul crushing grind or ghastly office politics. I just knew that I was never going to work again, which I found impossible to believe.

I knew I wouldn’t be like those fake retired people in AARP or investment services ads who are kayaking and climbing mountains and surfing and starting glamorous new careers in four inch heels or becoming wildlife photographers in the Amazon.

I am holed up at home, reading three or four books a week. I’ve decided to read all of Anthony Trollope’s novels in order. When I read about something or someone interesting in a nonfiction book, I put it on a list of things to look up and read about somewhere else. I know a lot about Rasputin and about British spies in revolutionary Russia right now.

I watch movies in the middle of the day. Yesterday I saw Myrna Loy and William Powell in Evelyn Prentice, a pre-production code combination thriller and weepy about adultery and murder. A wisecracking Una Merkel playing Myrna’s best friend.

My closets are now completely organized. (The sweaters are all rolled into little tubes so I can see all of them when I open the drawer because they aren’t in stacks, something I read about in a peculiar book that also says when you throw things out you should thank them for having made you happy, advice I have resisted taking on board.) My jewelry is organized too. All the gold and silver chains that used to be in little knots are now threaded through drinking straws. Eventually, I plan to organize everything I own – yes, even all those photographs loose in boxes. But not until I feel like it.

I am never in a hurry. I have stopped multitasking and going into a room to do something, then getting distracted by something else that needs to be done. Instead of driving to the grocery store, the library, the post office and the bank, I walk there, looking at other people’s front yards. I have the time to do all the routine maintenance of life slowly and properly. I wake up in the morning realizing there is nothing I really have to do. This is heady stuff.

I remember feeling so sorry for my grandmother when I was a teenager and she was retired. Surely, I thought, she must be going nuts just puttering around her house all day and maybe pulling a few dead leaves off the African violets once in a while. Now, I completely get it.

It feels divine. And also oddly familiar. Retiring turned out to be just like summer vacations when I was a kid, spending time lying in the grass and looking up at the light coming through the leaves of a tree, and maybe joining the summer reading club at the library.

Crime Makes TV People Dumb

Gran Hotel is not a crime show.  It’s a sexy, romantic, exciting Spanish series that ran for three seasons, beldning blends Downton Abbey with Dynasty, but ups the temperature by adding robbery, rape, murders, bombs, and relentless skulduggery.

It’s set in northern Spain on the Atlantic coast at a luxurious hotel and there’s constant interaction at many levels between the staff and feuding Alarcón owners, a family with secrets coming out of their jewel boxes.


The decorous 1905 clothes cover up seething passions: revenge, adultery, jealousy, lust, hatred, and much more.  It’s a festival of felonious behavior, with a handsome, dynamic cast and great comic touches to lighten the tension.

But true to form, people in it do the dumbest things imaginable when faced with crime or criminals.  Like the daughter married to an impoverished  Marquis.  She finds someone stabbed to death in her beautiful suite.  Does she scream?  No.  Does she run from the room?  No.  Does she even ring for a maid to bring her some tea or brandy?  No.

She picks up the bloody knife and you think, “Sure, that’s exactly what I would do if I found a body in my room–pick up the murder weapon.”  This happens all the time in crime shows and movies and it’s beyond stupid.

Then there’s an altercation in another episode where a blackmailing thug is wounded in the hotel office, but supposedly escapes.  We see blood inside the hotel and assume he’s hiding there (if we’re veterans of crime fiction).  One of the guests who’s a family friend goes to her room and when she closes the door, finds blood on her hand from the French-style door handle.  Does she flee?  No way!  Unarmed, she creeps into the room, oh-so-slowly, to see who’s there.  Of course she’s taken captive by the gun-wielding miscreant.  Which is doubly unbelievable because she’s a lawyer and one of the smartest, most independent-minded characters in the show.


These are just two sad examples from a show which fields strong women except when it comes to crime scene behavior.  Apparently the screenwriters privilege plot over believability, and by doing so, they make otherwise intelligent characters seem moronic.  I’ve seen it happen in show after show, movie after movie; all too often, it’s the women who end up playing the part of the dummy.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery including The Edith Wharton Murders. A different version of this blog appeared at Mysteristas.


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