Monday, November 30, 2015

Mystery Monday: Author Helen Eustis

At a time when mystery books seemed to be split into two schools – the hard-boiled detective story (think Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett) or the cozy whodunit (Agatha Christie), author Helen Eustis burst on the scene with a new type of mystery fiction – psychological suspense. Her books featured innovative plots and commentary on gender and class issues of the 1940s and 1950s.

Born in Cincinnati, OH on January 31, 1916, Ms. Eustis passed away in January of this year. After a stint in business school, she graduated from Smith College in 1938. She then pursued a doctorate in English at Columbia University before giving up her studies in favor of a writing career.

She was not a prolific fiction writer – only publishing seven novels during her career. But when she did write fiction, her work did well. Nineteen forty seven was a good year for her. The Horizontal Man won the Edgar for best first novel, and her short story An American Home received an O'Henry Prize. Her novel The Fool Killer was adapted into a 1965 film starring Anthony Perkins and Edward Albert.

When asked about her motivation in creating her characters in The Horizontal Man, a story in which a philandering English professor is murdered at a small college replete with psychologically unstable students and professors, she said she wrote it “because she knew so many people in college she would like to murder.”

In addition to her mystery novels, Ms. Eustis wrote for Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker and other magazines. In later years she translated books written in French by authors including Christiane Rochefort and Georges Simenon.

Consider picking up one of these fascinating reads.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: North Africa

The bulk of my knowledge about World War II encompasses the American and British homefronts. In my recent study of the battlefronts, I now understand why the conflict was called a “world war.” There were nine theatres of war that literally crossed the globe: African and Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Western, Atlantic, Eastern, Indian Ocean, Pacific, China, and Southeast Asia.

I have also come to appreciate the strategic thinking and coordination required to overcome the Axis powers. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin each had their own idea about the order in which battles should take place to defeat the enemy. And until November, 1942 each had led his army accordingly. But then came Operation Torch, a campaign that was the first time the British and Americans had jointly worked together on an invasion plan. According to all reports, this coordination was a long time coming.

Stalin was pushing the Allies to start a new front against the Germans in the
western sector. The British did not feel strong enough to attack Germany via France, but the Americans felt an invastion of France would be successful. Ultimately, Roosevelt did something that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was never to do during the entire course of World War II. He intervened and overruled his military advisers. Roosevelt gave his generals a direct order to support the British proposal for landings along the coast of French North Africa.

Some analysts postulate that this may have been the most important strategic decision that Allied leaders would make. This amphibious operation inevitably postponed the landing in France until 1944, but at the same time it allowed the United States to complete mobilization of its immense industrial and manpower resources for the titanic air and ground battles that characterized the Allied campaigns of 1944.

From North Africa, the plan was to invade Sicily and then on to mainland Italy and move up the so-called “soft underbelly” of Europe. Victory in the region would also do a great deal to clear the Mediterranean Sea of Axis shipping and leave it more free for the Allies to use. Thus, an invastion of the French-held countries of Morocco and Algeria began on November 8, 1942. By November 10th the battle was over with French forces surrendering. Soon the Allies were on their way to Tunisia.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery Monday: Charlotte Armstrong Lewi

I am continuing my project to read mysteries written by some of the lesser known or forgotten authors from the 1930s and 1940s. A writer I recently stumbled on is Charlotte Armstrong Lewi. An Edgar-award winner for her book, A Dram of Poison, she also wrote under the names Charlotte Armstrong and Jo Valentine. Born in 1905, she started her career in the advertising department at The New York Times then became a fashion reporter for a buyer’s guide.

After marrying, she raised her family while writing poetry and plays. It wasn't until the 1940s that she began to write mysteries. Her first novel, Lay On, Mac Duff! was published in 1942. The book was an immediate success and resulted in a three-book series. She switched to suspense and went on to write 29 novels, six of which were adapted to the Silver Screen.
In an interview after her death, her son Jerry said, “Her idea with this first mystery was to create a recurring character, a professor who dabbled in crime named MacDougal Duff. Duff was featured in two other mysteries whose titles also came from Shakespeare that I would call conventional who-dun-its as it was your job as the reader to figure out who the criminal was based on clues sprinkled throughout the story. How our mother, an apparently traditional housewife and mother, came up with the sometimes rather grisly crimes has always been a mystery (pardon the play on words) to the family.”

For those of you looking for something different for your “to be read” pile, consider this award winning author.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Carrot Cookies

I have a definite sweet tooth, and I love cookies! Ooey, gooey, chewy cookies. So when I found this recipe for carrot cookies, I was horrified as in "driving by an accident and can't look away." Yes, carrots are a sweet vegetable. But really, vegetable cookies? It's just wrong. Or at least it seemed that way to me.

So in the spirit of "I'm writing about WWII, I need to experience some of the same things my characters do," I decided to give the recipe a try. The result? These cookies are light, sweet, and quite delicious! Scroll down for pictures of my process.

Carrot Cookies (Makes 12)
1 T margarine or butter
2 T sugar (plus a bit for sprinkling on top before baking)
1 t vanilla
6 T AP flour
1/2 t baking powder
4 T grated raw carrot (use the small side of the grater)
1 T water

Cream together the margarine/butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix in the grated carrot. Fold in the flour, then add the water. Drop by spoonfuls (I used a teaspoon) onto greased or parchment lined cookie tray. Press down slightly.

Cook in 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. (I rotated the pan halfway through the cooking time).

Next time I may add cinnamon or nutmeg.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mystery Monday: Crimebake!

As I write this, I’m sitting in my Dedham, Massachusetts hotel room having just finished my second full (read jam-packed) day at the annual Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of America Crimebake writing conference. This year is my eighth time to attend the conference. If possible, it gets better every year. Why? Because I get to hang out with other writers who are as passionate about their scribblings as I am. Most of these folks I only see once a year, but we reconnected like long-lost friends each time.

Just before coming into my room tonight, I stood in line to get Hank Phillippi Ryan to autograph her  most recent book for me. Maybe you don’t know Hank, but she is an award winning TV journalist AND an award winning novelist. Yet she greeted me with “Linda, great to see you again. How are things going with you?” When I informed her I had a manuscript under consideration, she said “How exciting, let me know what I can do for you.” Really? But I know she meant every word.

At the next table a woman was getting a book signed by James Hankins. He asked her if she was a published writer, and she said, “Not yet.” His response? “Don’t worry. You will be, just keep at it.”

As always, I have learned tips and techniques to improve my writing, including what not to do. But just as exciting was seeing the members of the writing community encourage and support their own, even those without their name on a dust jacket.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Martha Gellhorn

Hello, everyone! Fictional war correspondent Ruth Brown here. Today I'm interviewing Martha Gellhorn-novelist, travel writer and war correspondent. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Martha is a real globe trotter. I'd like to introduce you to her.

Ruth: Thanks for joining me, Martha. You are one busy lady. How did you get your start in journalism?

Martha: After my high school graduation from John Burroughs School, I enrolled in Bryn Mawr College. I always wanted to be a writer, and decided to leave college before graduating to pursue a career as a journalist. I was able to get some of my articles published in The New Republic which gave me some great visibility. That led to other assignments.

Ruth: You make it sound easy!

Martha: I think I was in the right place at the right time. After a couple of years, I decided I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. It took me a while, but I was able to get on board with United Press in Paris.

Ruth: How exciting! You wrote a couple of books, too. Tell me about them.

Martha: The first one was published in 1934 and is called What Made Pursuit. It's about the time I was involved in the pacifist movement in Europe. In 1940 I published A Stricken Field about Hitler's rise to power and my time in Czechoslovakia. But war reporting is my first love.

Ruth: You've seen a lot of action, and not always with permission.

Martha: (laughing) Yes, ma'am. As a woman war correspondent, it's tough to get to where the real war is happening. Sometimes I have to take things into my own hands. I tried to get press credentials for the Normandy landings, but no one would give them to me, so I hid in a hospital ship bathroom and then when we landed I pretended to be a stretcher bearer. I had to get there. It was terrible time, but I knew I had to experience it myself and report on it.

Ruth: You're very brave. Thanks for taking time to meet with me. Good luck, and stay out of trouble!

Martha: Not likely to happen, but thanks for the sentiment!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: Alamo of the Pacific

I recently wrote a blog about Corfu Island, a small but important location in WWII. Reader Marcia Lahti commented that Wake Island had an important and interesting history as well. Intrigued I went to my computer and started digging. I was astounded at what I discovered.

Originally annexed in 1899 for a cable station, Wake Island is an unincorporated territory of the United States. One of the most isolated atolls in the world, it is administered by the Air Force under an agreement with the Department of the Interior. Did you know that? I certainly didn't! That fact sent me digging further to see just how many more territories I didn't know about. Turns out there are sixteen-perhaps that will be another blog.

Wake is a tiny island, only three square miles in diameter-about eleven times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC. Wikipedia claims there are 94 inhabitants, but another website indicates there are about about 150 military personnel and civilian contractors. Either number seems quite small to me. The island's main activity is the operation of the Wake Island Airfield which is primarily used as a mid-Pacific refueling stop for military aircraft. It is also used as an emergency landing area.

The Battle of Wake Island occured simultaneously with the attack at Pearl Harbor. On December 8, Japan hit the island with thirty-six bombers then returned on December 11 with a naval force. The U.S. Marines and the civilians constructing the air base successfully defended the coast for twelve days. They managed to sink two destroyers and a transport, but on December 23 Japanese reinforcements came from Pearl Harbor and over-ran the island.

As a result, over 1,600 Americans were captured and sent to POW camps. The island remained under Japanese occupation for the duration of the war, and nearly 100 American civilians were held on the island to perform forced labor. On October 5, 1943, the occupiers realized an Allied invasion was imminent and excecuted the civilians. During the event one of the prisoners escaped and carved a memorial into a large rock: '98 US PW 5-10-43.' He was later caught and executed.

People worldwide continue to remember the Texas Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

“Remember the Alamo.”

I say we should also remember Wake Island.