Monday, September 24, 2018

Mystery Monday: Who was Leslie Ford

Mystery Monday: Who was Leslie Ford

With all of my research into the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, I'm always surprised when I unearth yet another writer I've not heard of. Leslie Ford is the pseudonym for Zenith Jones Brown who also wrote under Brenda Conrad and David Frome. In the forty years she was active, she published over sixty novels. Her series characters were Lieutenant Joseph Kelly, Grace Latham, and Colonel John Primrose, Mr. Pinkerton, and Sergeant Buck.

Zenith was born in California in 1898 and grew up in Tacoma, Washington. Her parents were both from Maryland - her father from Chestertown, and her mother from the famous Calvert family. After graduating from the the University of Washington, she worked as an assistant to the editor and circulation manager for Dial magazine, a journal published intermittently between 1840 and 1929. Little is known about her husband Ford K. Brown, but at some point they moved to London where Zenith used her first nom de plume David Frome.

By 1931, the couple was back in the U.S. and living in Annapolis, Maryland where Zenith started writing mysteries under the name Leslie Ford. Many of her books ran as serials in The Saturday Evening Post, and she had quite a few short stories published in anthologies.

During WWII, she became certified as a war correspondent for the U.S. Air Force in England and the Pacific. In addition to her reporting, she wrote novels featuring nurses as the protagonists under the name Brenda Conrad.

According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, Ms. Brown was a fast writer, racking up as many as 12,000 words in one day. Fast paced, the books contained tangled plots and evocative descriptions of the locales such as Baltimore, Charleston, Georgetown, and Savannah.

She once state that "mystery fiction is written to entertain, not to instruct. I don't regard it as "literature" or of lasting value." In a 1946 interview Ms. Brown commented that "I believe in getting the murder over quickly and proceeding to the emotional complications." Prior to beginning a story, she would visit the location as well as speak to the local police.

Another prolific author whose books have faded into obscurity. Well worth a read, check with your local library to see if they're lucky enough to carry one or two of her novels.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wartime Wednesday: FDR and his Fireside Chats

Wartime Wednesday: FDR and his Fireside Chats

Even if you are not a student of history, you have probably heard about the “fireside chats” that President Franklin Roosevelt conducted during his presidency. Until recently when I researched these radio broadcasts, I thought they were a “regular” part of his administration. By “regular” I assumed they occurred on a weekly or perhaps monthly basis. As it turns out there were only thirty-one of these chats between 1933 and 1944, all broadcast during the evening hours (after supper).

During his first term, President Roosevelt used the radio to address the American public directly about serious issues such as the banking crisis and his New Deal solutions as well as ongoing policy changes. After the attack at Pearl Harbor, he took to the airwaves on December 9, 1941 to inform and reassure U.S. citizens.

The idea behind the chats was to communicate encouragement during times of extreme uncertainty and distress. FDR’s tone and demeanor was calm as he spoke, giving facts and figures while assuring the American people, he and the government had a handle on each situation. He was the first president to use the radio industry in this way.

The term “fireside chat” was coined by CBS broadcast executive Harry Butcher in a press release before the May 7, 1933 address. It was inspired FDR’s press secretary Stephen Early who said that the president liked to think of his audience as a few people seated around his fireside. Listeners were able to picture the president in his study, in front of his fireplace and imagine themselves sitting beside him. These images and the familiar way Roosevelt spoke (referring to the audience as “my friends” and himself as “I”) made the president a “man of the people,” and his popularity soared.

June 12, 1944 is the date of his last chat during which he spoke about the invasion in Normandy, the need to continue to support the war effort through the purchase of war bonds, and the Pacific campaigns.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Traveling Tuesday: Maine During WWII

Traveling Tuesday: Maine During WWII

Originally part of Massachusetts, Maine voted to secede in 1820, and as part of the Missouri Compromise became the 23rd state. In addition to its forest and farming industries, the Pine Tree State has a long history of shipbuilding. A major portion of the state's economy during the 18th and 19th centuries was due to its construction of wooden cargo and passenger ships.

When WWII struck it was no surprise that Maine shipyards quickly converted to war craft production and contributed nearly twenty-five percent of the Navy’s big ships by the end of the war. Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery produced iron freighters, destroyers, carriers, submarines, and the famous Liberty ships. Smaller yards in Camden and Boothbay manufactured wooden minesweepers and patrol boats. As with other states, women joined the ranks of employment, and ultimately eighteen percent of the shipyards’ workers were female.

Several airfields were built as training bases, one of which is now Bangor International Airport. It is estimated that tens of thousands of soldiers and millions of pounds of cargo left from these airfields to Europe.

The vacancy of thousands of agricultural jobs by men enlisting, being drafted, or choosing to enter one of the lucrative war industries caused Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith and U.S. Senator Ralph Owen Brewster to petition the U.S. government to place POWs within the state. Finally, in 1944, approximately 4,000 German prisoners of war were allocated to Maine. Housed at four camps (Houlton, Princeton, Seboomook, and Spencer Lake) the men were used on potato farms, logging camps, and in the paper industry.

Few people realize that dozens of German U-Boats patrolled the U.S. east coast during WWII. By June 1942, 171 ships had been torpedoed. As a result of the attacks as well as the news that several foreign agents had managed to land on U.S. soil via Maine, the government increased defenses by creating new forts or expanding existing forts. The remains of many of the batteries can still be seen today.

Minefields and indicator loops designed to magnetically detect subs were installed in the floor of Casco Bay. A mobile artillery unit was then deployed to Biddeford Pool. Observation Towers were constructed, and the coast was patrolled by sub-chaser boats and dirigibles. And, as with the rest of the country windows were covered, lights were doused, and the state shrouded in darkness at night.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Mary Ann Diorio

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Mary Ann Diorio

Linda:  Thanks for joining me today. Congratulations on the recent release of your latest book, Poems for Wee Ones. Can you tell us about the journey from idea to publication?

MaryAnn: Thank you so much for having me today, Linda. It's an honor to be on your blog.

POEMS FOR WEE ONES started many years ago with poems I made up for my children at bedtime. Over the years, I wrote poems for children and accumulated many of them in this book. I trust that children will find as much delight in reading this book as I did in writing it.

LM: You write in a wide variety of genres: fiction for children and adults, non-fiction, and poetry in addition to being a Life Coach. How do you decide which writing project to work on?

I pray and ask Holy Spirit for guidance and direction as to what to write and when.

The age-old question for writers is whether they outline their books or write “by the seat of their pants.” What type of writer are you, and do you use different methods for different genres?  

MaryAnn: I would call myself primarily a writer who outlines but, at the same time, I leave myself open to Holy Spirit's leading as I write my story. After all, it is His story that I am writing. Often, He changes my outline to go in a different direction, and I simply follow. So, while I have a good idea of where I want to go with my story, I let Holy Spirit doing the leading and am open to changing course.

LM: Here are some quickies:

Favorite Season: Autumn
Favorite food: Vegetables
Favorite childhood book:  The Bobbsey Twins Series

LM: What is one thing you wish you could learn how to do?

MaryAnn:  Speak Hebrew. Actually, I am studying the language now.

LM: That's exciting. What is your next project?

MaryAnn: I am currently working on a novel for adults titled IN BLACK AND WHITE. It is a story about racism and the power of God's love to bring reconciliation.  Please pray for me as I write on this controversial subject.

LM: Where can folks find you on the web?

Blog (Matters of the Heart):

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wartime Wednesday: 6888 Central Postal Battalion

Wartime Wednesday: 6888 Central Postal Battalion

Last week I posted a Facebook image about the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, and quite a few people indicated they were unfamiliar with these ladies, so I thought I’d do a bit of research and share it with you.

There were 855 women in the battalion, and they were the only all-black, all female to serve overseas during WWII. Nick-named the six-triple eight, their motto was “no mail, no morale.” According to the battalion’s website, by February 1945 there were millions of pieces of mail stashed in a warehouses in Birmingham, England that should have been distributed to members of the armed forces, Red Cross workers, and U.S. government employees. Incoming letters and parcels added to the massive backlog of Christmas packages and correspondence.

In addition to vague addresses (e.g. “Junior, US Army), the constant movement of troops, and common names (there were 7,500 Robert Smiths alone), mail delivery was difficult at best. One general estimated it would take six months to wade through the mail.

Mary McLeod Bethune (a civil rights activist best known for starting a school for African-American students in Florida) contacted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to find out if there was a way Black women could serve overseas and in more meaningful roles. Mrs. Roosevelt succeeded in influencing leaders in the Women’s Air Corp to integrate their ranks, and in 1944 the war department pulled together all the African-American women from the WACs, the Army Air Force, and the Army Services Forces to create the 6888 Battalion.

The women trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, then traveled to Camp Shanks, New York to be deployed. They were sent over in “batches”, and the first group arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on Valentine’s Day, 1945. The trip across the ocean was dicey, and the ship was forced to dodge German U-boats as they traveled. Transported to Birmingham, they faced unheated and poorly-lit warehouses jammed to the rafters with mail. Rats had helped themselves to rotting food in the packages.

Bundled in long johns and extra layers of clothing, the women worked round-the-clock in eight-hour shifts seven days a week. In order to keep track of servicemen with identical names, over seven million information cards were created that included serial numbers. In addition, battalion members investigated insufficiently addressed items for clues as to how to deliver them. They were also responsible for returning mail to the families of those who had died.

By processing 65,000 per shift, the 6888 cleared the backlog in three months. With their project complete, they were sent to France where they arrived shortly after V-E day. Discovering another two year backlog of mail, the women got to work. Unfortunately, over 200 women were eligible for discharge in January 1946, so the workforce was reduced. The remaining members of the battalion were sent home the following month.

Watch a National Archives Video:

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mystery Monday: Murder, My Sweet

Mystery Monday: Murder, My Sweet

Murder mystery movies were quite popular during WWII; an interesting fact considering the violence associated with war. Perhaps because the audience knew the films were fiction or they wanted a "puzzle" to solve is what made them well-liked. For whatever reason, the books of Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and many other mystery writers were made into movies almost as quickly as they could write them.

One of the movies, which is my favorite, is "Murder, My Sweet," based on Chandler's novel "Farewell, My Lovely." The film features Dick Powell as PI Philip Marlowe, Claire Trevor, and Anne Shirley (who retired at age 26 shortly after making this movie). It's an interesting film because Marlowe is not only part of investigation, but he is also part of the story because of almost becoming a victim of the murderer, not once but twice! Then during the "take down" he is temporarily blinded by the flash from a gun. Not the best way to tie up your case.

Breaking all the rules of writing, the book and the movie start with flashback, but the scene prompts so much intrigue, the reader and viewer can't help but want to continue.

Dick Powell primarily played in light comedies and musicals during the 1930s and early 1940s, so Hollywood was surprised at his casting as Marlowe. He took to the role, and the film was a rousing success. Many critics feel that it is the "purest version of Chandler on film," successfully capturing the noir flavor of the book as well as the first person narrative.

The film went on to win the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1946.

View the trailer.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Talkshow Thursday: Peggy Blann Phifer

Talkshow Thursday: Peggy Blann Phifer 

Linda:  Thanks for joining me today. Congratulations on the recent release of your latest novel, Whispering Hope. Your other two novels are contemporary. What made you decide to dive into writing historical fiction, and where did you find your inspiration for this story?

Peggy: That’s a good question, Linda. It started years ago in another life. There was an estate along the highway we traveled often back then that intrigued me. After I left Wisconsin, that place kept coming back too mind. It was quite old and I pictured as it might once have been. So I started doing a few ‘what-if’s’ and a story came together.

LM: The age old question for writers – are you a planner or a “pantster,” and what is your favorite part of the writing process?

Peggy: I’m a pantster through and through. My favorite part of writing? Should I say ‘having written?’ I read that somewhere by another author. Writing THE END is a great feeling.

LM: Historical fiction requires an extra layer of research to ensure accuracy about the era. How did you go about researching Whispering Hope and did you have any “wow” moments when you discovered information that you knew had to go into the book?

Peggy: I loved the research part of this book. The Prohibition era is a fascinating time in our history
and the research was intensive. But I loved every minute of it, even buying a PBS DVD on the time by Ken Burns, famous for his documentaries. Bought several books. Printed out gobs of what I found on the Internet. WOW moments? Oh yeah, quite a few. Deciding what to include in the book took some discipline, they were all so good.

LM: Here are some quickies:

Favorite Season: Spring. I love the renewing after the long winter, and the scents that accompany it.

Favorite movie: That’s a tough one. I think I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between Exodus and Dr. Zhivago.

Favorite childhood book:  Another tough one. The first one that comes to mind is one called Snip, Snap, and Snur. Can’t remember much about it, though, just the title. After that would be Little Women.

LM: You live in a beautiful area of the world, a place many people visit. If money were no object, what is your idea of the ultimate vacation?

Peggy: Oh, my … the list would be too long to share here. Let’s make it a choice between going to the British Isles where my ancestors come from. The second would be an unlimited time in the Holy Land. Imagine walking in the footsteps of Jesus!

LM: What is your next project?

Peggy: I’m currently working on a contracted novella series (women’s contemporary) but it’s not going well … so far.

LM: Where can folks find you on the web?

Twitter: @pegphifer
Purchase link for Whispering Hope:

About Pegggy: Peggy Blann Phifer was born in Upstate New York, but never lived there. She has lived in Connecticut, Florida, Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada, and she is now back in Wisconsin.

Peggy has three published books to her name: To See the Sun, Romantic suspense; Somehow, Christmas Will Come, women's fiction; and Whispering Hope, historical romantic suspense. She is currently working on a novella series titled Sweetwater River, also women's fiction. Peggy has been a member of American Christian Fiction writers since 2001.

When she's not writing, Peggy enjoys reading, blogging, playing challenging word games on her Kindle, adn share her home with her daughter, son-in-law, and a spoiled Border Collie mix dog named Rocky.

About Whispering Hope: 
1930 Chicago is no place for a Wisconsin country girl.

Virginia Hopewell visits her cousin in Chicago and gets caught up in a deadly gangster shooting at a speakeasy, barely escaping with her life. After learning of the tragic death of her father, brother, and sister-in-law, Ginny returns to Wisconsin and convince her mother to reopen he resort her father had closed after losing everything in the stock market crash in 1929.

 Ransom Blake, an agent with the Chicago Bureau of Prohibition, had been at the same speakeasy acting on a tip about the shooting. Rance is charged with finding the gangster responsible. He and his team are sent to Wisconsin where the man was reported being seen, adn to investigate how illegal liquor from Canada is making its way to Chicago.

 With the Opening of Whispering Hope Resort, Rance registers as a guest and comes face to face with the lovely redhead he'd briefly encountered at the speakeasy during the shooting.