Thursday, July 30, 2015

Talk Show Thursday: Those Pesky Typewriters

Hi, Ruth Brown here. For those of you who haven't been following this blog, I'm the main character in Linda's WWII trilogy. I'm a war correspondent from New Hampshire who is assigned to England. I started out as reporter for my hometown paper The Gazette. Now I send home stories about how the stalwart people in London are handling the war.

I often stop in at the Broadcasting House, headquarters for the British Broadcasting Company. Opened in 1932, the BBC made some space for all of us roving correspondents after the war broke out. But sometimes the crowd of journalists makes it impossible to get my story typed up, so I drag my portable Remington with me.

For those of you who cart around laptop computers that weigh a mere two to five pounds, you are horrified that I consider my nine pound Remington light weight. However, perspective is everything! The average weight of a standard typewriter in the 1930 and early 40s was thirty-five to forty pounds. Not exactly portable.

A handy carrying case, and some of the extra features Remington offers make their Rand 5 my
machine of choice. Remington invented the QWERTY keyboard, and this new machine includes a self Starter key, that indents paragraphs uniformly without the bother of counting. Nice and quick: tap once for five spaces, twice for ten. Keeps me typing quickly and efficiently. My high school type-writing teacher would be proud!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Forensic Friday: Forensics in a Nutshell

“Luckily, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It gives me the time and money to follow my hobby of scientific crime detection.”

So said Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), socialite, heiress to the International Harvester fortune, and creator of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Although she hoped to pursue law or medicine, Lee was born in the Gilded Age-the wrong era for women to attend college. Instead, she married early (probably an arranged marriage) and had three children. A long separation finally occurred before the couple divorced in 1914.

“Fanny” learned to make miniatures and took to it with a passion. She created an exact replica of the Chicago Symphony-including ninety musicians, their instruments, sheet music, stands, music cases and other intricate details. Then she met her brother’s good friend George Burgess Magrath, a student t Harvard and eventual medical examiner in Boston.

Through her friendship with Magrath she heard about the difficulties in investigating violent deaths. At that point in time, coroners were not required to have medical degrees, and police officers were not trained in collecting crime scene evidence.

Photo: Corinne Botz
After Fanny came into her inheritance, she was determined to do something about the problem. Eventually, she organized week long seminars during which experts lectured on topics such as victim identification, time of death, interrogation techniques, and more. Years past. In 1943, deciding that the training was not enough and convinced that crimes could be solved by detailed analysis of material evidence, Fanny constructed a crime scene diorama. It took her three months to assemble “The Case of the Hanging Farmer.”
Photo: Corinne Botz
Incredibly effective at teaching detection and observation, the diorama was wildly popular. Fanny followed up with nineteen more, and all became a critical component of the seminars. Maryland Chief Medical Examiner and close friend, Erle Stanley Gardner (author of the Perry Mason mysteries) wrote that “A person studying these models can learn more about circumstantial evidence in an hour than he could learn in months of abstract study.” As a result of her work in the advancement of forensic science, she received an honorary appointment as captain in the New Hampshire State Police.

In 1967, the Nutshells were moved from the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine to the Baltimore Medical Examiner’s office where they are on permanent loan. In 1992 the dioramas were restored for $50,000, and are still used at the seminars used to train investigators from around the country.

Who knew a hobby could make such a substantial impact? What are your hobbies?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Veggie Turnover

My character American war correspondent Ruth Brown is assigned to London. With meat rations at a minimum, more often than not she finds herself with a pantry full of vegetables with which to make her dinner. I thought I'd try one of the recipes she might use. It didn't turn out too badly. Done over again, I would add a few more herbs to bump up the flavor, but it was an easy recipe and very delicious. My husband asked if I could make it again!

War-time Vegetable Turnover
12 ounces of all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 ounces margarine or drippings
Enough water to bind the ingredients. I started with about 2/3 cup and went from there.

10 ounces scrubbed, diced potatoes (don't remove the skins)
4 medium, diced carrots
1 large onion, diced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Herbs to taste

  • Cook the carrots and potatoes until soft.  (I microwaved mine to save time)
  • Saute the onion in a little bit of oil, margarine or drippings.
  • Combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Cut the margarine into the flour mixture then bind with water.
  • Combine the cooked carrots, potatoes and onions. Add herbs, salt and pepper. (I used about 2 teaspoons of rosemary)
  • Divide the dough into 4 equal parts.
  • Roll each piece of dough into a circle about 7-8" in diameter.
  • Put 1/4 of the vegetable mixture to one side of the circle.
  • Wet the edges of the pastry with water, and fold the dough in half, pressing the edges together.
  • Prick top of each pastry and brush with milk.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Enjoy hot or cold.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mystery Monday: Meet Hildegarde Withers

Expectations for women in the 1930s and early 1940s were to marry and raise a family. To be relegated to spinsterhood was to be pitied and sometimes scorned. With the arrival of WWII, there was a gradual acceptance of women holding a career, albeit a “proper” career such as teaching, nursing, and secretarial.

In literature, a few authors at the time pushed the envelope by creating female sleuths. Nancy Drew and Miss Marple being two of the most famous. Let me introduce you to one of the less well-known created by Stuart Palmer, reporter turned novelist turned screenwriter.

As with most amateur sleuths, school teacher Hildegarde Withers was thrust into the role when she stumbled on a body floating in the penguin tank at the New York Aquarium where she had taken her class.

In Palmer’s first book to feature Miss Withers, The Penguin Pool Murder, she is described as one “whom the census enumerator had recently listed as spinster, born Boston, age thirty-nine, occupation school-teacher.” Elsewhere the novel states “she collects tropical fish, abhors alcohol and tobacco, and appears to have an irritable disposition. However, she is a romantic at heart and will extend herself to help young lovers.” (note the reference to her spinsterhood!)

When asked how he created Miss Withers, Palmer gave the following response:

The origins of Miss Withers are nebulous. When I started Penguin Pool Murder (to be laid in the New York Aquarium as suggested by Powell Brentano then head of Brentano’s Publishers) I worked without an outline, and without much plan. But I decided to ring in a spinster schoolma’am as a minor character, for comedy relief. Believe it or not, I found her taking over. She had more meat on her bones than the cardboard characters who were supposed to carry the story. Finally almost in spite of myself and certainly in spite of Mr. Brentano, I threw the story into her lap. She was based to some extent on Fern Hackett, an English teacher in Baraboo High School who made my life miserable for two years. Once I came to get her permission to transfer to another class and she said okay, only she’d be lonesome and board without our arguments; that I was the only student in the class whom she thought enough of to bother with. I think she started me as a writer. Fern was a horse-faced old girl, preposterously old-fashioned, fine old New England family run to seed, hipped on Thoreau and Emerson.”

In addition to appearing in fourteen full length novels, Miss Withers shows up in countless short stories published in “Mystery” magazine, a periodical sold exclusively at Woolworths stores. In addition, Palmer successfully partners with author Craig Rice to pair Miss Withers with Rice’s character John J. Malone. There were several screen adaptations to the books with actress Edna May Oliver being the definitive Miss Withers.

Consider reading about Miss Withers’ adventures:

  • The Penguin Pool Murder (1931)
  • Murder on Wheels (1932)
  • Murder on the Blackboard (1932)
  • The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933)
  • The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934)
  • The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1935) [also known as "The Puzzle of the Briar Pipe"]
  • The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937)
  • The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941)
  • The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947), an anthology of short stories
  • Miss Withers Regrets (1947)
  • Four Lost Ladies (1949)
  • The Green Ace (1950) [also known as "At One Fell Swoop"]
  • The Monkey Murder and other Tales (1950), and anthology of short stories
  • Nipped in the Bud (1951) [also known as "Trap for a Redhead"]
  • Cold Poison (1954) [also known as "Exit Laughing"]
  • The People Vs. Withers and Malone (1963), written with Craig Rice

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Selah Saturday: Forgiving God

Did your eyes do a double-take when you read the title of this blog? Were you horrified or just slightly amused at the concept? Do you deny that you've ever been so angry at God that you had trouble forgiving him?

It does happen though, you know. We have plans, lots of plans. Some are small-what sort of garden we'll plant this summer, which events in town we'll attend, that sort of thing. We also have big plans-we'll get married, we'll stay single, we'll have children, we'll change jobs, we'll retire. But sometimes our plans get a big, fat rip in them.

I recently received the news that the husband of a friend of mine has been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. I was stunned. How could this happen? He is a wonderful, Christian man with much of his life ahead of him. Or so I thought. Maybe he will beat this thing, but maybe he won't. And when I thought of that I got mad at God, really mad. What was he thinking? How did this fit in his plans?

Then as he had done with Job, God asked me where I had been when he was forming the world, speaking it into existence. Then he reminded me that his plans were always the right plans, no matter how off kilter they seem (Jeremiah 29:11).

This stopped me in my tracks, and I realized I needed to forgive God for his choice in this situation. Then, more importantly, I realized I needed to ask him to forgive me for thinking I know everything. As always he forgave me, and our relationship has been restored. But it was a hard road to get there. It was not an overnight thing. 

What about you? Is there something in your life for which you need to forgive God? Or for which you need to ask forgiveness?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Talk Show Thursdays: First Impressions

Hi: Ruth Brown here. I'm the main character in Linda's series about WWII London. I wanted to talk a bit about what it was like when I arrived in England.

Have you ever traveled far from home? I hadn't. I dreamed about it, but never thought in a million years it would actually happen. I'm from a teeny-tiny village on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Granted, it's a made up town, but it's not unlike many of the places you are familiar with such as Center Harbor and Wolfeboro.

Needless to say, London was different than anything I had ever experienced. It was spread out, noisy and very dirty, what with all the rubble from the bombs and the coal dust. Not only that, most of the signs had been removed to thwart the Germans in case they invaded. It took me several weeks to get my bearings and arrive at a location without back tracking several times.

The Londoners were friendly and helpful. That's what struck me the most when I arrived. Even with all the hardship, rationing, fear and death that surrounded them, they carried on. The shops simply boarded up broken windows and painted on the wood that they were open for business. Homeowners swept away debris and planted window boxes. People made do with little to eat, and soldiered on night after night of air raids.

Despite the war, I love living in London and look forward to the day when I can explore the rest of this wonderful country. Meanwhile, I cover stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Traveling Tuesdays: Dashiell Hammett and The Battle of the Aleutians

Nearly fifty years old and already famous for his hard-boiled detective stories, Dashiell Hammett enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. He was a disabled veteran of WWII and suffered from tuberculosis, but chose to serve anyway. Due to his membership in the Communist Party, it took some “string pulling” to get admitted. A sergeant, he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands where he edited an Army newspaper, The Adakian. 
The Aleutian Islands, a chain of fourteen large and fifty five small volcanic islands, are a mere 1,750 miles from Tokyo. Owned by both the U.S. and Russian, they are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire where the weather is extreme and the wildlife diverse. According to Hammett “There was a gauge to measure the wind, but it only measured up to 110 miles an hour, and that was not always enough.”

In June 1942, the Japanese attacked a U.S. military base in Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island and went on to occupy two far western islands in the chain. The U.S. responded to the attack, and the battle raged for over a year-in the air and on land and sea. Conditions were brutal and the fighting was fierce, and the Japanese were finally defeated in July 1943.

Hammett’s assignment was to keep the troops informed of current events, and his articles sometimes read like one of his novels as seen in the following passage:

“And then trouble came, a williwaw, the sudden wild wind of the Aleutians. Nobody knows how hard the wind can blow along these islands where the Bering meets the Pacific…the first morning the wind stopped landing operations with only a portion of our force ashore and by noon, had piled many of the landing boats on the beach. The men ashore had no tents, no shelters of any kind. They dug holes in the ground and crawled into them for protection against wind and rain and cold. When the wind had quieted enough to let the others come ashore, they too dug holes and lived like that while the cold, wet and backbreaking work of unloading ships by means of small boats went on. And they did what they had to do. They built an airfield. They built and airfield in twelve days.”

While in Alaska, Hammett co-authored The Battle of the Aleutians and composed myriad letters to his girlfriend, Lillian Hellman, in which he wrote detailed descriptions of life and living conditions on the island. Fresh food was scarce, and the conditions harsh, but he seemed to enjoy the opportunity to live among the troops. In addition to his newspaper work, he worked at the radio station and delivered evening lectures.

He remained stationed in Adak until the summer of 1945 when he was discharged. He never wrote another novel again.