Knee-deep in the Hoopla

An undefeated season meets a singular phenom who could drop a shot from mid-court.  March Madness Women’s Final was a three-ring, three-point thriller and we could not look away.  It was legendary play from surefire hall of famers.  Dawn Staley and Caitlin Clark drove to the goal, opposing teams but united in belief of their skill, their discipline and their power.

One fine day in 1891, Dr James Naismith, was lolling about in Springfield, MA trying to think up a sport that one could play in the winter.  His boss, head of the YMCA International Training School, Luther Gulick, gave Naismith 14 days to think up a game to counter the rowdy energies of young men with little to do in snow-bound New England.  Gulick wanted something that required vigorous activity but that did not take the physical toll of the immensely popular game of football.  He wanted an indoor game – way too cold to play anything outside – and that game was to be more skill than brute force.   

Five minutes later Senda Berenson, physical culture director at Smith College, was meeting with Naismith.  Berenson began teaching basketball to her student in hopes the activity would improve their physical health.  Of course, this was the Victorian era so every man jack of an athlete, would-be athlete and plain old misogynist had something negative in comment on this development

Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, co-founder of the International Olympic Committee and known as the father of the modern Olympic Games called women’s basketball “indecent.”    Then again, he also decried women participating in any sport.  He declared that the Olympics with women would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and indecent”.  The “Games”, he said, were created for “the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism” with “female applause as a reward”.    

Oh, give us a break!  Another road to success barricaded by short-sighted males with personas as fragile as a soap bubble.  Unadmitted fear in the male psyche coursed like a heat-seeking missile.  How could men compete with women for the spotlight?  Unimaginable to the dim and unallowable to the ones who recognized reality.

By gosh, they threw everything but that proverbial sink at us.  Scroll back to the 1967 Boston Marathon.  In 1967, women weren’t allowed to officially enter the Boston Marathon, so Kathrine Switzer entered that year as “K.V. Switzer” to hide her gender.  Two miles in, an official tried to eject her from the course. She finished anyway, becoming the first woman to complete the race as an official entrant.  Women weren’t officially allowed to enter the race until 1972. Women’s marathoning wasn’t part of the Olympics until 1984.

And were we glued to the TV in 1973 to watch a tennis match?  We were.  On a September night in Houston, Billie Jean King smashed an ace for women in sports with her defeat of Bobby Riggs, a self-described male chauvinist pig.    King subsequently organized a meeting that led to the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association.  She threatened to boycott the 1973 U.S. Open if male and female champions were not paid the same, which led to the Open becoming the first major tennis tournament to offer equal prize money.

Shoot forward to a few weeks ago, Dawn Staley and Caitlin Clark planted another flag in our craggy climb to recognition and equality.   Unhampered by the “nervous fatigue” warning from starched collar Victorian men.  Bowing to none who forced women’s teams to pay their own way until Title IX, they played.  They played to a packed house of 24M, almost double the audience for NCAA Men.

That skirmish is over, the giant leap taken.  It could not have been without the play of hundreds of women who went before.  I still remember when I played guard in a tunic, a dress; I couldn’t even cross center court and there were six of us.  It was a soft game for people perceived as too soft to play the real thing.

Basketball and the sports arena is but one metaphor for women’s emerging role.  We will bring the full court press.  We will block shots aimed at keeping us subservient.  We will not go back to anything where we are “less than.”   And we will vote to secure our gains and continue our forward advance.

“I figure, if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one.” —Calamity Jane

Return of the Writer

“That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”  We’ve all read stories of the physically challenged who have overcome.  Like most, I could not conceive that nothing threatening my life and my work would happen to me.  Hey, I made it almost to 75 years without fear that at any moment I could shoot off the planet like a punctured balloon.  Those “bad things” happened to others.  Until it didn’t

It was a Colorado August afternoon.  The sun sizzled the thin air like deep fry oil awaiting the fries.  Over Long’s Peak a restless motion of super-heated sky roiled clouds into towering banks of cumulous thunderheads.  The breeze stiffened.  It’s always a crap shoot as to whether that weather would remain a speculation or pound the earth below.

I decided not to chance it.  I needed to lug an open bag of mulch into the garage.  There were three roofers shooting nails into spanking new shingles on my roof.  Yeah, they told me not to go outside but . . . .    Within inches of the garage door, a heavy something slugged the back of my wrist.  I looked up first – saw nothing and no one.  When I glanced at my wrist, I expected to see a bruise, a big bruise.  I saw bone. I saw ligament tatters.  I saw stars. 

Every worst-case outcome sped through my horrified head as a friend punched the accelerator on the way to the closest emergency center. 

I had an initial surgery to reattach my ligaments.  I sported a spiffy purple fiberglass cast, followed by a softer support splint a few weeks later.  Thought I was on the short path to recovery.  But the incision refused to close two small but nonetheless oozy and resistant-to-closing wounds.  A month after the usual healing period of such an opening, the incision gaps refused to progress.

My optimism started to flag.  My hand hurt and it wasn’t functioning.  I couldn’t type.  While I previously viewed the wound as an annoyance, I began to doubt.  The surgeon speculated on errant stitches and recommended a reopening of the site to hunt.  Nothing turned up.  While I had just completed my second book, musings on long-term disability at first trickled.  After disappointment in the second surgery though, the intermittent disaster scenarios became a steady flow.  My emotional state sank like the Titanic – without benefit of the band or Leo DiCaprio!

I thought back to the writers who I read had survived the incidents and setbacks of bad fortune.  I considered Hemingway who endured back-to-back plane crashes only one day apart.  In order to extricate himself from the day-two crash, Hemingway had to ram the plane door with his head.  He survived with a legacy of persistent killer headaches and the after effects of damages to his kidneys, liver and spleen.  Given my own depressed state engendered by far less egregious injuries, I could not imagine how Papa managed to write with the incessant distraction of head pain.  Of course, he tried suicide multiple times before he set himself free.

I also was reminded of Stephen King’s almost fatal walk along a narrow Maine road where he sustained a broken hip, collapsed lung, multiple lacerations and his right leg was so badly shattered doctors debated amputation. At the scene, EMT’s told King’s brother he might not make it to the hospital.  He spent three weeks in said hospital and endured five surgeries.  In the immediate aftermath, he decided he would not write again.  The pain was too overwhelming.  Still, the siren call of writing persisted and, determined to complete his Dark Tower series, he began perspective repair.  And we know King did, in fact, return to his work which became his saving grace.

Debilitating what-ifs swirled faster than a mixing bowl beater on high when I learned from the surgeon that a third opening of the wound might be of help.  I swore I wasn’t going to cry.  Fear cozied up to me.  It wanted attention and I gave it.  Like a hapless customer in the clutches of a time share salesman, I had no wherewithal to flee.  I could not rationalize my way out.  I experienced my self growing smaller and smaller. Inversely, fear expanded by leaps. 

In a moment of clarity, a still small voice whispered “Enough.”  I clung to that and like a climber scaling a fearsome bare rock wall, I gathered myself to act.  I spent time learning the specifics of how my ligaments were re-attached.  I talked with others who had similar injuries from which they’d recovered.  I learned about things I could do to promote my own healing.  Once I retook my rightful place as chief of extricating myself from this painful tangent, my strength returned, though slowly.  And like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, I embraced the necessaries that would restore me. I booted my PC and took up where I had left off.

Without overt summoning, the flint of defiance stuck the stone of resolve.  I would find a way and I began to take heart as surely as I had begun to take action. It took some time but I found a chronic wound specialist who made a suggestion for a trial remedy.  It worked!

With success came confidence and I’ve been able to return to my writing.  At my lowest point, I had given up the idea of being able to create another book, but ultimately, I’ve never been a quitter.  My recent brush with defeat is far distant in the rear view.  While I continue to have healthy respect for “black swans” and “freak accidents”, they no longer threaten me with nagging residence in my head.

Every adversity has the potential to cut down or build character.  I want always to keep the faith and it was the words of Churchill, whose island was crumbling under the Luftwaffe’s devasting rain of bombing, who delivered the message of defiance that stiffened the Brits’ backbone.   If you’re going through hell, keep going.  And I am.

Slate of Macavity nominees for 2023

Slate of Macavity nominees for 2023

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw— For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law. He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair: For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

T.S. Eliot

The Macavity Awards, established in 1987, are a literary award for mystery writers. Winners are nominated and voted upon annually by members of the Mystery Readers International, the award is named for the “mystery cat” of T. S. Eliot‘s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The award is given in four categories—best novel, best first novel, best nonfiction, and best short story.   Congrats to all this year’s nominees!!  Winners will be announced at the San Diego Bouchercon which runs from August 30 to September 3.

Like to vote for your favorite but don’t know if you’re  eligible?  Send an email to  janet@mysteryreaders.org

Here are the 2023 MACAVITY NOMINEES:

Best Myster Novel

  • Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King (Bantam)
  • Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone (MCD)
  • A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
  • A Heart Full of Headstones by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown)
  • Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn (Berkley)
  • Secret Identity by Alex Segura (Flatiron Books)

Best First Mystery

  • Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz (Atria/EmilyBestler) 
  • Shutter by Ramona Emerson (Soho Crime)Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler (Crooked Lane Books)
  • The Verifiers by Jane Pek (Vintage Books)
  • The Maid by Nita Prose (Ballantine)

Best Mystery Short Story

  • “The Landscaper’s Wife” by Brendan DuBois (Mystery Tribune, Aug/Sep 2022)
  • “Beauty and the Beyotch” by Barb Goffman (Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Jan 2022)
  • “First You Dream, Then You Die” by Donna Moore (in Black is the Night, Titan Books)
  • “Schrödinger, Cat” by Anna Scotti (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mar/Apr 2022) 
  • “Stockholm” by Catherine Steadman (Amazon Original Stories)
  • “The Angel of Rome” by Jess Walter (in The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, Harper)
  • “My Two-Legs” by Melissa Yi (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sep/Oct 2022)

Best Mystery Critical/Biographical

If you enjoyed this update, please subscribe to my blog.  You can also find – like – my page on Facebook https://bit.ly/RitaMars.

Falling Into Success

Falling Into Success

You just boarded a plane to New York. There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard. What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped. For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die. The family will only survive if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane. 

T.J. Newman, the author of the suspense internationally acclaimed “Falling”, graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a degree in Musical Theater in 2006. She moved to Queens and hopped from job to job, facing rejection at many of her acting auditions, and eventually moved back to Arizona.   

Head held perhaps a little lower because of so many slammed doors, Newman persevered and landed a job working in a bookstore. Then, the wanderlust that runs in her family caught up with her. She began her new career as a flight attendant for Virgin America Airlines. It was here, surprisingly, that she found her love of writing. 

Newman was struck by inspiration while on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York. Using cocktail napkins, a move reminiscent of great songwriters and inventors, she began to jot down ideas for her book during layovers. 

Her job allowed her to people-watch constantly, which contributed to her keen eye for detail. Newman recalls that she never let anyone know she was writing a book, saying it was less scary to write and never have anyone read her work than to stand in front of a panel of dismissive judges and audition for a play. This only goes to prove the quiet bravery of embarking on an impassioned experiment turned full-blown career. When her draft was finally complete, Newman taught herself how to contact publishers with the help of a book called “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published”. She was turned down by countless people on account of her inexperience, but pushed onwards until someone said “yes!”. 

Today, the rights to T.J. Newman’s novel have been sold in 24 foreign territories as well as to Universal Pictures (motion picture coming soon). The book was named “Best Book of the Year” by many organizations and hit #2 on the NYT Bestseller list at its debut. Her success allowed her to leave her position as a flight attendant and pursue her passion for authorship full-time.

Let this story be a message to all of the aspiring writers out there: you are never too old, too busy, or too deep in a career to follow a dream.  

From reviewers: 

“T. J. Newman has written the perfect thriller! A must-read.”

Gillian Flynn

“Stunning and relentless. This is Jaws at 35,000 feet.”

Don Winslow

“Falling is the best kind of thriller…Nonstop, totally authentic suspense.”

James Patterson

“Amazing…Intense suspense, shocks, and scares…Chilling.”

Lee Childe

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog.  You can also find – like – my page on Facebook https://bit.ly/RitaMars.

Unmasking Intrigue: The Latest Trends in Crime Fiction

In recent years, the landscape of crime fiction has become delightfully unpredictable, reshaping the genre’s expectations and norms. The once rigid boundaries of classic whodunits, thrillers, and noir have transformed into a fluid arena, thriving on audacious experimentation. If you’ve been following crime fiction, you’re likely to have noticed some fascinating trends that are captivating readers across the globe.

Firstly, the genre is currently experiencing a significant shift towards inclusivity and diversity, a reflection of the broad societal demand for representation. While crime fiction has always been a lens into society’s nuances, it is now delivering narratives from a wider range of cultural, social, and geographical perspectives. The protagonists and settings have become more eclectic, the mysteries and crimes more layered. The inclusion of diverse authors also means authentic voices and distinct storytelling styles, enriching the genre’s oeuvre.

A prominent example of this trend is the burgeoning sub-genre of “Glocal” crime fiction – narratives that blend global themes with local cultures and situations. Such stories tend to explore socio-political dimensions of crime while deftly weaving in cultural nuances. The Scandinavian noir wave, with its unique blend of grim settings and sharp social commentary, has paved the way for other regional influences, such as Latin Noir, Asian Noir, and more.

Secondly, crime fiction has evolved from linear “whodunits” to complex psychological narratives that prioritize “whydunits.” The genre’s focus has transitioned from just solving a crime to exploring the motivations and mental intricacies behind it. This shift towards psychological crime fiction is fueled by readers’ curiosity about the darker recesses of the human mind. Consequently, crime fiction’s palette has grown richer, delving into the perpetrator’s psyche and blurring the lines between villain and victim.

Another fascinating trend is the rise of the “unreliable narrator,” a trope that enhances the enigma and suspense of the story. This technique, where the narrative is relayed through a character whose credibility is compromised, keeps readers on the edge, as they grapple with layers of deceit and ambiguity. It creates a pervasive sense of unease, a hall of mirrors, where distinguishing truth from illusion becomes a challenging exercise.

The fourth trend is the incorporation of technology in crime narratives, mirroring its pervasive impact on our lives. In a world dominated by the digital revolution, tech-savvy detectives and cybercrimes are increasingly featured in plots, replacing the traditional magnifying glass with the high-powered microscope of digital forensics.

Lastly, true crime narratives have found a new home within the realm of crime fiction. Inspired by real-life events, these narratives are blurring the line between fact and fiction, offering readers an exciting blend of authenticity and narrative invention.

In essence, contemporary crime fiction is continuously evolving, mirroring the changing facets of our society. Its current trends reflect an all-encompassing world, a deeper understanding of the human psyche, a sophisticated integration of technology, and a fluid mix of reality and fiction. As writers, it’s an exciting time to be part of this genre’s evolution, as crime fiction continues to stretch its boundaries and shatter its own cliches.

Why I Write

Why I Write

I fought my way into this world backward – my mom reminded me of that til the day she died. I made quite an impression on her. It made such an impression that I’m surprised she had any more children. She did wait five years though to make sure the coast was clear and no more hellions were going to pop out.

I was a curious and energetic rascal. I wore my mother out to the point where she quietly abandoned me to my grandmother. It was not that she could manage me, but in her fifties, she could still outrun me. Her strategy, for which I am forever grateful, was to find me an occupation that would settle me.  She bought me a book.

I’m sure she bought more than one but I seized on that one like it was the Bible.  It took me into my seventies to find a copy of that book, “Three Mice and A Cat,” but I never give up on anything. By age three, I could “read” it out loud.  While it didn’t keep me from roller skating in the house or chunking apples at the neighbor boy, it fired a love affair that lasted a lifetime. 

The “word” was a tantalizing instrument of magic. It spun a carpet-ride of tales that I longed to play a part in.  It brush-stroked lush worlds and adventures I wished to visit. It carried me far from the chaos that spun like an F5 tornado in my house.

I was a tiny little critter, bird-like in frame and flighty. To my grandmother’s dismay, I had the energy of a hummingbird.  Nonetheless, my grandmother could entice me from running and jumping and generally creating upheaval in the neighborhood. I could sit with her without stress on my part or threats on hers. I sat absorbed in assimilating the mysterious which included the names and habits of flowers, how numbers could speak and family stories which I loved above all.

My grandmother had grown up the oldest of five.  She was the only girl at a time when the education of girls was not only an afterthought but could be outright forbidden. I often regret that I never asked who in her family was her champion.  Everyday she rode her bike on rutted dirt roads to a tiny schoolhouse where she transformed herself from farm laborer and prospective wife to an empowered woman.  She was the first in her family to graduate high school.

And what an empowerment that was. She married the handsome police chief of the nearby town.  My grandfather taught me to dance and play poker and tell jokes. He won a city council seat. Always the natty dresser, he turned women’s heads wherever he went. His weakness was get-rich-quick ideas. It would be my grandmother who ended up managing his fast money businesses and making them work.

And make them work she did. My grandmother was a quick study who helped her farmer brothers get sizeable refunds every tax season. She bought real estate. She bailed out my clothes horse mother who shared more traits with her father than what she viewed as the unglamorous psyche of her mom.

My grandmother was no feminist by modern standards, but she understood the high value of independence and knowledge and the economics that engendered those values. Never crass, never at the forefront. She was my rock.

It was she who assisted with homework that befuddled my mother.  As I grew older, I had to live with my parents and attend the school in their district. My grandmother provided school lunch money every day for me and my three siblings.  She cooked dinner for us every night. And she provided me money for books, books from school, from bookstores and from mail order back in the day. I soaked it all in.

I was reading Machiavelli and Red Badge of Courage long before my age level. I curled up in refuge with horse stories about the likes of Flicka and Black Stallion and my favorite of all time, Misty of Chincoteague, a legend local to where we lived. I thrilled to Call of the Wild and White Fang. I could talk to my grandmother about these books; my mother did not have time.

My grandmother took me out into the world to places that made my mother nervous. She took me to the circus and the movies. She made summers at the beach possible for our family. It was she who gave me good counsel about who was a good guy and who was suspect. 

And when it was time to decide if I could go to college which I so longingly, desperately wanted to do, we worked out arrangements where I would work part time and she would fill in gaps. As I write this even now I feel that swell of excitement and gratitude for one of the greatest milestones in my life. 

It was in a local teacher’s college that I learned not all people, all families are the same. I was awed by professors in convocation robes, they seemed at the time superior beings whose knowledge was borne out by the school colors in their academic hoods. I wanted to know what they knew.

Because of my grandmother’s assistance, I met another of those pivotal people that fortune presents along our way. I started classes with the most difficult English professor in the college, one every freshman and on up tried to avoid. I wanted what I knew she could give me – discipline in the craft of understanding good literature and the ability to express my ideas.

That professor, long departed from the lectern, descended on me and my pitiful attempts at writing.  In the beginning she thought me a pretender and she told me so in blunt terms. I threw off harsh words.  I asked for her time.  I asked for direction.  Each semester I came back wanting more.  She finally accepted my sincerity and she gave me her time.  She gave me guidance. She gave me the head and the eye and the skills I sought.  In my senior year she nominated me for scholarship.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I took her training onto graduate school. Once again, I got help from my grandmother. I also secured a teaching assistantship – and a job. I went on to finish my masters. My grandmother was bursting with pride on the day I graduated. 

From that moment on, I wrote – on planes and in hotel rooms and after meetings were over.  Like that intellectual discipline painfully acquired through my former professor, I was determined to make my work as memorable as the works I admired and envied. When you stumble out last from the starting gate, it takes a while to overcome the deficit, but I was in the running and that’s all that mattered.

I doubt if my grandmother ever heard of the butterfly effect. We don’t have to know it or comprehend it order to be a fortunate recipient. You must, however, be open to recognize wisdom even from the most unlikely of sources. She prepared me to be that student for whom the teacher would appear.  

Now each time sit to compose, I honor her memory. I craft the story.  I choose the words.  I am willing to put in the time. I am unafraid of the self-reveal which every good writer unwittingly discloses. I will dig as deeply as I can to be my true self in every page.

I do not claim perfection. But every time, I write, I travel back to that corner of a sofa where a spindly little girl looked up in awe at a woman who opened a book and a door to a world where I could bloom, no matter where I was.