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Today, a friend – an actual one, not just a virtual one – posted a picture on Facebook of some ducks in a pond near her home in CA. The pictures weren’t too clear, as often happens when taking photos of distant objects with a cell phone. (And I have the blurry Facebook posts I’ve added to prove it.) I tried to identify the species, thinking at first they were mallards. But their heads weren’t green, but were white with a black stripe from crown to nape. I spent all too much time checking images and descriptions of various ducks, teals, and other water birds, and finally posted, “I’m stumped. The pix aren’t clear enough for me to ID them. They’re not mallards – no solid dark or green head on the one on the left – but the rufous breast indicates it may be. I was thinking it could be a hybrid mallard X black duck or mottled duck, but neither species is in CA.”

To which another friend replied, “Shucks, Ilene – ‘duck’ will do!”

To which I replied, “Not for a birder!”

After which I realized (and posted) the observation that I enjoy bird watching and both writing and reading mystery books for the same reason: to find a solution.

When reading mysteries, I try to outguess the author (and, sometimes, the protagonist) by finding out whodunit before the end of the book. If the author has played fair and seeded enough hints throughout the book, I’ll sometimes succeed. But even if I’m surprised at the end, I’ll have the fun of the “ah hah!” moment when I realize what I had overlooked. On the other hand, if there are facts the author has withheld, then not only won’t I succeed, but I’ll be frustrated and annoyed at the end of the book.

When writing mysteries, I have two problems: 1. Confounding the reader without cheating them, while not being so simplistic that there’s no real suspense. 2. Constructing a complex mystery without writing myself into a corner I can’t write myself out of. It happens. Often. Which is why the delete button was invented.

In birding, there’s also the experience of solving a puzzle. (I’m referring now to identifying a bird, rather than recognizing it without any conscious thought.) Both birding and reading and/or writing mysteries involve the same kind of attention to minutiae, plus the unraveling and organizing of details that seem inconsequential at first: when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic.

And in both cases, there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment at having arrived at the answer.

As for the mystery ducks, I used the same set of steps mentioned above, “when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic,” to arrive at the solution that they are immature red-necked phalaropes.

Unless they’re not. In which case, they’re Miss Scarlet in the dining room with a rope.

NJ is the punchline of many mean-spirited jokes. Find out what residents of South Jersey know and why they disagree with the rest of the US – and North Jersey.  Check out my guest blog on Annette Snyder’s site “Fifty Authors from Fifty States” at http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com.

And if any of what I wrote sounds familiar, it’s because I cribbed from my own previous blogs on the topic!

Small but interested audience last night at the Moorestown Library. But my next appearance promises to be a crowded one – if the weather cooperates better than it did last night.

I’ll be exhibiting (and, I hope, selling) my books at BooksNJ 2015, Sunday, June 14, 1:00-5:00 PM, on the grounds of the Paramus Public Library.

And speaking of panels, I’ve been asked to be on one there (time TBA):
Killing in New Jersey:  Murder in the Garden State
 
Michael Stephen Daigle
Ilene Schneider
Dave White
Maureen Wlodarczyk
Panel Leader: Lori-Ann Quinn

The BooksNJ website (http://www.booksnj.org/) promises:

UP NEXT

MAY 21, 7:00 PM: MOORESTOWN LIBRARY, 100 West 2nd Street, Moorestown, NJ: Panel with NJ Authors Network MOORESTOWN

JUNE 14, 1:00-5:00PM: BOOKSNJ, Paramus Public Library, 116 East Century Road, Paramus, NJ

JULY 15-20: LAS VEGAS, Orleans Hotel and Casino, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave.

JULY 16-19: PUBLIC SAFETY WRITERS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE (http://policewriter.com/wordpress/conference/)

AUGUST 7-9: DEADLY INK, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ, Fan Guest of Honor (http://www.deadlyink2015.org/)

 

 

THE JOKE’S ON ME

I don’t like practical jokes, even on April Fools Day. I never really enjoyed the original “Candid Camera,” and have never seen “Punk’d.” I squirm when I see people humiliated in public. Or in private. So it was completely unintentional, and rather ironic, when I became the perpetrator of such a hoax.

It began on March 31, when fellow Oak Tree Press author Sharon Moore emailed all of the OTP authors to check the blog on April 1 for an important announcement. When I clicked on the site the following day, there was a “press release” from Sharon that OTP publisher Billie Johnson had signed a deal with Simon and Schuster. “Wow,” I thought naively, “I wonder if S&S is going to distribute our books under a new imprint.” Then I read further and realized it was a doozy of an April Fools Day joke. Billie, Sharon wrote, was purchasing S&S! After I stopped chuckling, I sent an email announcing that I had big news, too: my books had been optioned by Hollywood, Broadway, and TV.

I thought my joke was so good (and absurd – I love absurdist humor) that I posted a version of the email onto my FaceBook page. I wrote:

“I was sworn to secrecy until April 1, but I can now announce my Rabbi Aviva Cohen books have been optioned as a movie by Spielberg, as a series by HBO, and as a musical by Sondheim. Bette Midler will star in all 3 productions. And Mel Brooks is teaming up with Gene Wilder and Carl Reiner to adapt Talk Dirty Yiddish as a PBS special.”

And that’s when the joke was on me.

Many people got it. I got a lot of comments along the lines of “Yeah, you wish.” But I got others with what seemed to be sincere congratulations

The April 1 “dateline” hadn’t tipped everyone off. So I added a link to Sharon’s blog. I still got awed responses. So I suggested people check the date of the posting. Still too subtle. So I posted it was a joke. Some friends responded to the original post without checking the comments. Two days later, after 135 likes (some for the cleverness of the joke) and 87 comments (many from people who understood it was a hoax), I posted a new status explaining it was a joke.

My favorite response was from an author I consider a friend (I hope she still feels the same about me) who wrote, “You mean I just wasted hours being green with envy? And now my husband is laughing at me.” But I couldn’t tell if she were serious, or if she had realized it was a joke and was going along with it.

And that’s really the crux of the matter. As I wrote in my mea culpa, the joke must have been a success if people believed it. But, I continued, it also “demonstrates the limits of the written word for communication, as people can’t hear tone of voice and inflections or observe body language.”

My idea is not original. Much has been written about how hard it is to know what someone intends when reading a post or a text. A whole industry – that of emoticons – is devoted to “solving” the problem. But is that big grin meant to be ironic? Is someone hiding behind the winking face to disguise an insult? Even my favorite comic strip, “Pearls before Swine,” devoted a series to using emoticons to excuse nasty comments. (“If you’re hurt by what I said, it’s your problem. I added a wink.”)

How can we really be communicating when comments are taken out of context and there are no auditory or visual cues to help understand what is meant?

Do I have answers? No. Just more questions. And puzzlement.

But I do appreciate  my husband’s perspective on the matter. He told me I should be flattered that people thought the news could be possible. It meant they liked my books. Of course, it could also mean they have a low opinion of popular culture. I prefer to believe that they do think my books are that good. So if anyone has contact with Spielberg or Sondheim or HBO or Bette Midler or Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner or Gene Wilder, please let them know I’m willing to accept offers. But, please, no prank contacts from them. I, too, can be very gullible.

The major theme of Passover is the universal one of  celebrating the journey from slavery to freedom, from tyranny to independence. The foods served and displayed on the Seder plate, in the center of the table, all have symbolic meanings relating to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: the matzah (unleavened bread) for the haste with which the Israelites fled from Egypt; the horseradish or other bitter herb for the bitterness of oppression; the shank bone for the 10th plague, when the Israelites put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to ward off the Angel of Death, and  to represent the Paschal offering in the days of the Temple; the greens to represent the spring season; salt water, to represent the tears that were shed under the cruelty of the taskmasters; the hardboiled egg to symbolize wholeness and the cycle of the year; and the charoset, to remind us of the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks.

“Charoset?” you ask. “Never heard of it. What is it? And who wants to eat mortar?”

Glad you asked. Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and red wine. Other families may have their favorites, made with figs, dates, and other fruits. But apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine are the ingredients I grew up with. Sometimes, I’m a traditionalist.

It’s simple to make: put all the ingredients into a food processor (so maybe I’m not that much of a traditionalist) and mush it up. Taste. Decide it’s missing something. Add more wine. Taste. Now it’s too watery. Add more nuts. Taste. Now it’s too bland. Add more cinnamon. Taste. Now it’s too sharp. Add more apples. Look for a larger bowl. Taste. Give up and decide it’s fine the way it is.

I’ve been following that recipe for years, and have yet to hear any complaints. Our guests wouldn’t dare complain. If they do, they’ll be in charge of making the charoset next year.

To my friends who celebrate Passover, have a hag sameach (happy holiday) and a zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover).

 

 

My calendar for March through August is filling up quickly. In addition to the events and conferences I’ll be attending (listed below), I have my 45th reunion from Simmons College in Boston the last weekend in May. Plus, of course, in no particular order, theater tickets, routine doctors’ appointments, visits to my parents in Florida, chasing rare birds, watching all birds, writing, movies, gardening, keeping up with emails and Facebook, guest blogs, breakfast and lunch with other women writers, volunteer shifts and meetings,  Pesach and Shavuot, a few local tentative events I’ll add when they’re no longer tentative.

If you’ll be in any of the cities I will be in, let me know and maybe we can meet up. Or invite me to speak at your organization, book club, synagogue – there are still a few blank squares on the calendar.

MARCH 8, 11:00 AM-4:00 PM: LINES ON THE PINES, Kerrie Brooke Caterers, Rte. 30, Hammonton, NJ – exhibits and sales on all things connected to the Pine Barrens. (http://www.linesonthepines.org/linesonthepines.html)

MARCH 10-17:  PORTLAND, OREGON, Double Tree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah Street

MARCH 12-15 LEFT COAST CRIME (CRIMELANDIA) (http://www.leftcoastcrime.org/2015/)

MARCH 13, 10:15 AM-11:00 AM: PANEL on How Did That Body Get There?: The Amateur Sleuth;” book signing following the panel discussion.

APRIL 1, 1:20 PM-2:40 PM: TEMPLE UNIVERSITY LIFE LONG LEARNING SOCIETY, The B. Batsheva Friedman Lecture Series, 425 Commerce Drive, Fort Washington, PA; presentation on “Yiddish: A Fun Look at the Common Language of European Jews.” (http://fortwashington.temple.edu/noncredit-programs/lifelong-learning-society)

APRIL 27, 6:30 PM: MARLTON LIONS CLUB, Corrollo’s Restaurant, Rte. 73, Marlton, NJ; talk on mystery writing

APRIL 30-MAY 3: MALICE DOMESTIC, BETHESDA, MD, Hyatt Regency, 7400 Wisconsin Ave. (http://www.malicedomestic.org/aboutmalice.html)

JULY 15-20: LAS VEGAS, Orleans Hotel and Casino, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave.

JULY 16-19: PUBLIC SAFETY WRITERS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE (http://policewriter.com/wordpress/conference/)

AUGUST 7-9: DEADLY INK, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ, Fan Guest of Honor (http://www.deadlyink2015.org/)

 

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