Monday, May 30, 2016

Mystery Monday: Trixie Belden and The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire

Mystery Monday: Trixie Belden

The Trixie Belden books were written between 1948 and 1986. Initially authored by Julie Campbell Tatham, the series was ghost written by at least eight other people under the name Kathryn Kenney after Tatham gave up writing. There is much debate over who the ghost writers were, and most folks feel this mystery will remain unsolved.

Julie Campbell Tatham was a literary agent who proposed the Belden series when Western Publishing put out the call for authors who could produce children’s mystery and adventure stories. She had already authored numerous magazine stories and articles. In addition to the Belden books, she wrote the Cherry Ames (nurse) and Vickie Barr (stewardess) series.

Published in 1984, The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire is the thirty-fifth book in the series, which had a total of thirty-nine books. Trixie and her friends search for an arsonist who sets fire to a local store and warehouse during the annual Memorial Day parade. A fun aspect of the book is the characters’ trip to the library to use “The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.” Remember those?

Consider a trip down Memory Lane this Memorial Day and pick up a copy of your favorite children’s book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wartime Wednesday: Plane Spotting

Plane Spotting

Airplane spotting is a hobby that has been in existence since airplanes were invented. However, during World War II, it became a matter of life and death. Spotters were civilian volunteers who were trained to identify planes (and their associated country), and to determine where they were headed.

After the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Force (at that time the Army and the Air Force were one organization) created the Ground Observer Corps in an attempt to prevent future attacks. At their peak, the GOC has over a million and a half members. Posts were manned around the clock, mostly along the U.S. coasts. Some of the posts were as simple as a chair and an umbrella at the top of a bluff to a special built structure.

Observers needed a telephone, a set of binoculars, and a pad of flash message forms. Most important was the official identification book that included photographs and silhouette drawings of both Axis and Allied war planes. When an airplane was seen or heard, the observer recorded as much information as possible, and then called it in to an Army Filter Center.

Not everyone was cut out to be an observer. Passing a strict training course was required. Students had to identify airplane models that were 1/72 size from thirty feet away. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but many were unable to do it. Over 500,000 models were used in classes around the country, and the government called on children and model airplane enthusiasts to fill the need.

Playing cards were manufactured by various toy companies, and charts were printed in comic books, newspapers and magazines. Coca-Cola offered a manual called “Know Your Planes,” and Wonder Bread offered an Aircraft Spotter Dial.

Would you have fit the bill as a Ground Observer?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Traveling Tuesday: Baltimore and the Liberty Ships

Baltimore and the Liberty Ships

During WWII, many of the country’s manufacturing plants were converting from producing commercial items to producing war materiel. With the moratorium on new cars, automobile plants switched to making airplane or ship parts. In other locations around the U.S. “emergency” facilities were erected. The Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard was one of nine emergency shipyards constructed to ensure the country could meet production goals. At its peak, it employed 27,000 people.
Located in the Fairfield section of Baltimore, the 1,300 acre yard operated from 1940 to 1945 and originally consisted of thirteen ways. (A “way” is the structure that slops toward the water used to launch the vessel when it is complete). Expanding to sixteen ways, the yard produced over five hundred of the more than 2,700 ships produced during the war, most constructed in just forty-two days.

The first ship was named the SS Patrick Henry in honor of the founding father Virginian famous for his “Give me liberty, or give me death” statement. The Liberty ships were considered the ugly ducklings of the naval fleet, but were worth their weight in gold. It is estimated that the ships carried over two thirds of the cargo that left the U.S. during the war. Numerous leaders from Churchill to Eisenhower to Montgomery agree that the Liberty Ships went a long way to winning the war.

There are only two existing Liberty Ships that remain from the war. The Jeremiah O’Brien is berthed in San Francisco. Built at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard, the John W. Brown is a museum ship that sits in Baltimore Harbor. The Brown is named for a Maine labor leader who died in 1941.

On May 22, the ship made its way from Baltimore to Norfolk as part of a Living History Cruise. Re-enactors portrayed the U.S. Armed Guard members who protected the ship, as well as entertainers such as the Andrews sisters, and Abbott and Costello. A cruise to New York is planned for the fall. The current crew, including the captain, are all volunteers. For more information, visit

Friday, May 20, 2016

Forensic Friday: Unsolved Mysteries

Forensic Friday: Unsolved Mysteries

Jack the Ripper. The Black Dahlia. Bugsy Siegel. Bob Crane. The public is intrigued by unsolved mysteries no matter how long ago they occurred. On the other hand, the police are no doubt frustrated. As time passes, the trail gets colder and colder.

One such case is that of Sir Harry Oakes, an American who later became a British citizen and moved to the Bahamas to avoid paying income taxes on the millions he earned from his gold mine. Born in Sangerville, Maine, Oakes traveled to Alaksa during the Klondike gold rush, then made his way to Ontario where he finally struck iron ore in 1912. Later that same year, another of his mines struck gold. Ultimately, the gold mine was thought to be the second most productive mine in North America. He claims that he paid nearly $18,000 per day in taxes because of his success.

A multi-millionaire by 1921, Harry decided to go on a world cruise. He met his wife Eunice on the
voyage, and they married almost immediately. They went on to have five children, and he became somewhat of a philanthropist. As the years passed, he tired of paying exorbitant taxes, so he became a British citizen and moved to the Bahamas in 1935. He was knighted by King George VI in 1939. Life was good.

Then on July 7, 1943, Sir Harry was murdered.

The prime suspect was his son-in-law, Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny. De Marigny was a playboy and heartily disliked by most of Bahamian society. He had been seen arguing with Oakes in the recent past and was known to be regularly short on money. An interesting aside is that the Duke of Windsor (then governor of the British colony) ordered the local criminal investigation division to step aside in favor of two American detectives who regularly provided security for the Duke when he was in the U.S.

At the trial, it was determined that the detectives framed de Marigny by claiming to have found a fingerprint at the scene. In reality, the print had been lifted from the cellophane wrapper on a cigarette package the suspect was giving during questioning. The jury acquitted de Marigny in less than two hours, but he was sent packing off the island a few weeks later.

The case was never reopened, nor was Harold Christie, a guest in the house on the night of the murder, ever questioned. The official autopsy lists a blow to the head as the cause of death. However, de Marigny claims a Nassau doctor told him that Oakes had been shot-a story that coincides with the testimony of the two estate guards on duty.

Books have been written, and movies have been produced, which draw their own conclusions. But the case remains unsolved.

Sometimes forensics have advanced since the time of the original crime creating the opportunity to solve cold cases. Will the murder of Sir Harry Oakes be one of those opportunities?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mystery Monday: Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Mystery Monday: Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Always on the lookout for mystery authors from the 1930s and 1940s, I recently stumbled on Phoebe Atwood Taylor. A native of Boston, most of her books are set on Cape Cod. Her first novel The Cape Cod Mystery, features Asey Mayo, who has been nicknamed “Codfish Sherlock.” The book sold over 5,000 copies – a significant number for back then. Twenty four novels made up the Mayo series, and she wrote an additional nine books under the pseudonyms Freeman Dana and Alice Tilton.

Taylor’s books are cozies and include a strong comedic thread. Critic Dilys Winn said, “Mrs. Taylor is the mystery equivalent to Buster Keaton.” Of her Witherall novels, he said, “These books don’t make all that much sense, but they go a long way in proving that making sense is immaterial-a guffaw is more vital. Tilton books are so busy, so complicated, so Marx Brothers…that makes them sound as if they might have a plot, doesn’t it? Bad assumption. They drift from incident to incident with the style of the crash ‘em cars at a carnival.”
Despite the success of her books, there are some reports that indicate she was constantly short of money during the Depression. However, her husband was a surgeon and they owned two homes. Perhaps they were “house poor.”

In one interview, Mrs. Taylor indicated that she wrote between the hours of midnight and three A.M. after “housekeeping all day.” Her books written during the 1930s don’t mention the Depression, but her characters are impacted by financial difficulties. In her novels produced during WWII, her characters deal with rationing, blackouts, first aid training, military maneuvers, and fifth columnists.

Published in 1951, Diplomatic Corpse was Mrs. Taylor’s final book. She passed away from a heart attack in 1976.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Catherine Richmond

Welcome to my blog! I see on your website that you are a native of Washington, DC and that you grew up in Northern VA. I lived in the NoVA area from 1978 through 2002. I wonder if our paths ever crossed!

Cathy:  Maybe we did! I grew up in Arlington and Fairfax, and lived in Loudoun County in 1994. By then I'd learned there are places in the world where people don't sit in traffic for hours and don't organize their lives around rush hour. As beautiful as Virginia is, I was glad to escape!

Linda: Hmm. I was in Loudoun in ’94. We left that area for many of the same reasons. Your bio indicates that you were not looking to be a writer until a song planted a story idea in your head. Can you tell us about that?

Cathy: Harry Chapin's "Mail Order Annie" transported me to 1873 Dakota Territory. A red-tailed hawk spiraled over the empty prairie. Creosote from new railroad ties tainted the wind. A lonely farmer met his timid bride, neither prepared for the surprises marriage would bring... which you can read all about in Spring for Susannah!

LM: You’ve released two more books. Did the ideas for them come from songs also? If not, how did you come up with their plots?

Cathy:  History provided the inspiration for the next two. In 1879, right here in Omaha, the trial of Standing Bear gave legal status to Native Americans. As I dove into the events leading to this landmark court case, I found a Russian woman teaching on the Ponca reservation. A woman with the same name taught French at Vassar near that time. Russian royalty spoke French. What if a teacher from this prestigious women's college ended up at one of the most impoverished schools in the country? Sophia's story became Through Rushing Water.

I wanted to do a story set in Virginia, since my mom is a Virginia history librarian. The Blue Ridge Mountains are blessed with abundant mineral springs. Resorts built around springs became social centers for wealthy Southerners to take the waters and flirt. Mom and I wandered the back roads, looking for remnants of these old hotels, staying at those still open. So many story possibilities! Gilding the Waters takes place when the resorts were on the decline, and asks what happens when your way of entire life changes?

LM: You write historical fiction. Do you have an unusual research story to share?

Cathy: While researching Through Rushing Water, I kept stumbling across connections between Standing Bear's trial and one little church. When I found the last connection, I wanted to stand up and cheer - but I was in the state historical library where cheering is allowed only during football season. What a thrill to find a small group of God's people seeking justice and defending the oppressed - and changing history!

LM: The age old question for writers-are you a “pantster” or a plotter?

Cathy:  "Pantster" distracted by research. I know the threads of a story; history weaves it into a fascinating tapestry. 

LM: Are any of your characters based on real people?

Cathy: Several! Teddy Roosevelt tried to take over Gilding the Waters, but no worries - I kept him in line.

LM: LOL! What is your next project?

Cathy: Third Strand of the Cord is a contemporary romance about a single mom who has a child with Down syndrome. In my work as an occupational therapist, I've met so many amazing parents. Third Strand of the Cord is the happy ending I wish for all of them.

LM: What are your passions outside of writing?

Cathy: Hiking with my dog, eating chocolate, and travel. I'd like to combine the last two in a round-the-world chocolate sampling tour - who's with me?

LM: I’m in! What else do you want folks to know about you?

Cathy:  I love to hear from readers! Facebook is the easiest: Or my website Or twitter @WriterCatherine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Traveling Tuesday: Baltimore

Traveling Tuesday: Baltimore

I was born in Baltimore, but my family relocated to New Jersey when I was still a young child. However, my father’s family members are long-time residents, so I continue to have close ties with the city. I decided to set my latest story in Baltimore and have been immersing myself in Charm City’s history. What a fascinating project it has turned out to be!

The majority of my career was spent outside of Washington, DC in the Northern Virginia area where I worked for several of the “Beltway Bandits,” companies who contract with the Federal government. My first corporate job was with Boeing Computer Services (a division of The Boeing Company.) One of our competitors in bidding for projects was Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin).
I was intrigued to learn that Martin Marietta was the result of a merge of the American Marietta Corporation and the Charles L. Martin Company, a Baltimore-based aircraft company. Born in 1886, Martin was an aviation pioneer. He designed and built his own planes, and in 1912 founded his own company in California. He had great success during WWI with several bombers and won the coveted Collier trophy in 1932.

So how did he get to Baltimore? The Maryland Industrial Bureau approached him in 1925 to relocate his company to the Maryland. They were recruiting companies who could come and create jobs within the state. It took three long years of negotiating, but Martin finally moved his factory to Middle River in 1928.

During WWII, the factory was responsible for producing bombers, the most famous of which is the B-26 Marauder. Authorities were worried that the plant would be bombed by the Axis powers, so the 603rd Camouflage Engineer Battalion was given the order to make it “disappear,” at least from the air. With the use of netting and other materials, the area was made to look like the surrounding fields. Truly a magical feat!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Talkshow Thursday: Meet Author Jodie Wolfe

Meet Author Jodie Wolfe

Linda: Welcome, Jodie! Your bio says you were bitten by the writing bug after watching Little House on the Prairie as a child, but that you didn’t particularly enjoy history. What changed your mind and made you decide to write historical stories?

Jodie: Growing up I didn't like history because school mostly focused on memorizing dates—something I'm not good at. But when I started to write and research for my historical settings, a whole new world opened up for me. I love digging to uncover the stories from the time period or setting. I have found that if my research can only be obtained online, I usually can find someone who either works in a library or museum who loves to help out with the research.

LM: You’re first novella, Hearts Tightly Knit released this week. How did you come up with the idea for the story?

Jodie: Hearts Tightly Knit is my first published novella, although I have another novella I wrote that my agent is trying to find a home for.

I've always had a fascination with twins. Not sure why. So I started thinking, what would happen if twin sisters made a pact to never marry. How could they be persuaded to change?

LM: What a great story idea! You write historical fiction, and your website indicates you like to travel to story locations if possible. Do you have an unusual research story to share?

Jodie: One of my stories is set in Camden, Maine. Years ago my husband, son and I traveled to visit the area. My heroine lived on Curtis Island where her father worked the lighthouse. I had been in contact with the local historian at the library in town, and she put me in communication with a couple who agreed to ferry us to the island. This was in November and the couple had already taken their boat out of the water for the winter season, but they made a special point of helping us out.

Now, I'm not real crazy about water and was hoping they'd provide life jackets. When I mentioned about not being able to swim well, they said neither of them could either. Definitely not a confidence builder when the sea was rough that day. This all took place while we were being rowed across to the island. They had a life jacket or two on the floor of the boat in case they were needed. (After we fell in the water? J) I prayed the whole way to the island and back to shore.

LM: The age old question for writers-are you a “pantster” or a plotter?

Jodie: I guess I'm a hybrid—a little of both. I like having a good feel for my characters and the story before I begin, but my characters often change things on me as we go along the journey too.

LM: Are any of your characters based on real people?

Jodie: No. But I did have twin women who read my story and gave input on whether or not I was getting the twin thing right.

LM: Now that your novella is out, what is your next project?

Jodie: Most likely my next project will be the second part of the Twins & Needles Series, Love in the Seams which will be coming out in November. Now that Ellie has found a spouse, Mae needs to find out what she's missing.

LM: Sounds exciting! What are your passions outside of writing?

Jodie: I love to read. I think most authors do. I enjoy walking, spending time with my husband, and the occasional craft.

LM: What else do you want folks to know about you?

Jodie: I thought your readers might enjoy seeing the back cover copy:

Orphaned at age ten, Ellie Stafford and her twin sister Mae made a vow—to stick together and never marry. Now in their mid-twenties, they are bucking convention in Calder Springs, Texas, as women with respectable occupations who can take care of themselves. Ellie works at the Good Fixin's Diner and spends her evenings knitting garments for The Children's Aid Society. When a handsome local rancher shows up looking for a cook, she's hardly tempted, despite his good looks.

Luke Rogers owns a spread just outside of Calder Springs. It was running as smooth as cattle going through a chute until his cook up and marries and high-tails it back east. With no cook and a bunkhouse full of ranch hands ready to revolt, he persuades Ellie to temporarily fill in until he can hire someone else. He should have known better than to get tangled up with another woman.

Thank you for having me today, Linda. I'll be giving away one copy. So be sure to leave a comment or ask a question. 

Glad to have you today! Thanks for your generosity in giving away a copy of your book! Can't wait to read it.

To purchase a copy of Hearts Tightly Knit visit Amazon.