Ann Rule ~ 1930-2015

Ann RuleTrue-crime writer Ann Rule, who wrote more than 30 books, including a profile of her former co-worker, serial killer Ted Bundy, died Sunday 26th July, at age 83.

Although not my go to genre, I always enjoyed books written by Ann Rule, and her skill of making ‘true-crime’ interesting for the lay reader will be a great loss.

Our condolences go out to her Family and friends.


Tom Piccirilli: 1965 ~ 2015

tom-piccirilliTom Piccirilli was a two-time winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for “Best Paperback Original” (2008, 2010). He was a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award. He was also a finalist for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Award given by the Mystery Writers of America, a final nominee for the Fantasy Award, and he won the first Bram Stoker Award given in the category of “Best Poetry Collection”.

Author of The Last Kind Words: A Novel (Terrier Rand)Pentacle – A Self Collection, and The Walls of the Castle, he more than once managed to make my hair stand on end.  I would like to express my condolences to his Family at this time.


Joël Champetier 1957 ~ 2015

220px-Joel_ChampetierCanadian author and editor Joël Champetier died on May 30. Champetier’s first story, “Le chemin des fleurs” appeared in Solaris in 1981 and his first novel, “La mer au fond du monde” appeared in 1990. In 1983, he helped organize the first Boréal Congress and was on the board of directors for several years. Beginning in 1990, he held various positions at Solaris and was managing editor at the time of his death.

His other works included  ” The Dragon’s Eye”, “La taupe et le dragon: Roman” and “La mémoire du lac”.



Isak Dinesen

April 17, 1885:

Isak Dinesen is born

Karen Dinesen, Baroness Blixen-Finecke, better known by her pen name Isak Dinesen, is born in Rungsted, Denmark. Dinesen’s memoir, Out of Africa, helped demystify the Dark Continent for millions of readers.

Dinesen was born to an upper-class Danish family. Her father committed suicide when Dinesen was 10, ending the happiest period of her childhood. She began writing plays and stories and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where she developed an interest in art.

When her family sent her to Oxford to study English, she rebelled and went to Paris and Rome to study painting. In 1914, she married her cousin Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, and the couple moved to what was then British East Africa (now Kenya), where they owned and operated a coffee plantation. While the unhappy marriage dissolved in 1921, Dinesen fell passionately in love with Africa and remained to manage the plantation for a decade. In Africa, she was a lively and extravagant hostess, fond of throwing lush dinner parties for her friends-parties which laid the basis for her 1949 story, Babette’s Feast, which was filmed in 1987.

Drought and a crash in coffee prices forced Dinesen, penniless, back to Denmark in 1931. She began publishing short story collections with Seven Gothic Tales (1934), followed by Out of Africa in 1937, which brought her recognition and respect. She published several other story collections before her death, in 1962.


Happy Birthday

April 4, 1928:

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou is born

On this day poet and novelist Maya Angelou-born Marguerite Johnson-is born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she and her brother went to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. When she was eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. When she revealed what happened, her uncles kicked the culprit to death. Frightened by the power of her own tongue, Angelou chose not to speak for the next five years.

From this quiet beginning emerged a young woman who sang, danced, and recorded poetry. After moving to San Francisco with her mother and brother in 1940, Angelou began taking dance lessons, eventually auditioning for professional theater. However, her plans were put on hold when she had a son at age 16. She moved to San Diego, worked as a nightclub waitress, tangled with drugs and prostitution and danced in a strip club. Ironically, the strip club saved her career: She was discovered there by a theater group.

She auditioned for an international tour of Porgy and Bess and won a role. From 1954 to ’55, she toured 22 countries.

In 1959, she moved to New York, became friends with prominent Harlem writers, and got involved with the civil rights movement. In 1961, she moved to Egypt with a boyfriend and edited for the Arab Observer. After leaving her boyfriend, she headed to Ghana, where a car accident severely injured her son. While caring for him in Ghana, she took a job at the African Review, where she stayed for several years. Her writing and personal development flourished under the African cultural renaissance that was taking place.

When she returned to the U.S., she began publishing her multivolume autobiography, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Four more volumes appeared during the next two decades, as well as several books of poetry. In 1981, Angelou was appointed Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. She has been nominated for several important awards and read a poem written for the occasion at President Clinton’s inauguration.



February 7, 1898:

Zola is Brought to Trial

On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola is brought to trial for libel for “J’Accuse,” his newspaper editorial attacking the French army over the Dreyfus affair.

On January 13, Zola had published his editorial in the newspaper L’Aurore. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. Two years later, evidence of Dreyfus’ innocence surfaced, but the army suppressed the information. Zola’s letter exposed the military’s mistaken conviction.

Zola was a well-known writer who had published his first story collection more than three decades earlier. A high school dropout, he had worked in the sales department of a major French publisher, who encouraged his writing and published his first book. He became one of the most famous writers in France with the publication of his 1877 hit,The Drunkard, part of his 20-novel cycle exploring the lives of two families.

Zola’s letter provoked national outrage on both sides of the issue, among political parties, religious organizations, and others. Supporters of the military sued Zola for libel. He was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, but he fled France. In 1899, Dreyfus was pardoned, but for political reasons he was not exonerated until 1906. Shortly after Dreyfus’ pardon, Zola returned to France, where he died in 1902.


‘Take it away Mr. Keillor’

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
~Thomas Mann

writers almanacIt has been a few months since I turned over the post of the day to someone else, but today, Wednesday January 22 2014, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, or have not read the previous post in August last year, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“It is Enough”
by Anne Alexander Bingham

To know that the atoms
of my body
will remain

to think of them rising
through the roots of a great oak
to live in
leaves, branches, twigs

perhaps to feed the
crimson peony
the blue iris
the broccoli

or rest on water
freeze and thaw
with the seasons

some atoms might become a
bit of fluff on the wing
of a chickadee
to feel the breeze
know the support of air

and some might drift
up and up into space
star dust returning from

whence it came
it is enough to know that
as long as there is a universe
I am a part of it.

“It Is Enough” by Anne Alexander Bingham. Reprinted with permission of the family.


It was on this day in 1938 that Thornton Wilder‘s play Our Town was premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Our Town is about the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. In the first act, Emily Webb and George Gibbs are children together; in the second act, they marry; in the third, Emily has died in childbirth and is looking back from beyond the grave with other dead citizens of Grover’s Corners, and she decides to revisit the happiest day of her life, her 12th birthday.

Wilder had trouble writing the third act, but when he finally found inspiration, it came fast. He was in Zurich, entertaining a friend (and probably lover) named Samuel Steward. Steward wrote later: “He insisted we stay up until dawn to hear the bells of Zurich as Max Beerbohm has described them. That was in my drinking days and I kept going into every café we passed. My feet were getting wet and so was I, and I kept hollering for an umbrella. When daylight came I went home to dry out and fell into bed and slept all day, but Thornton went to his hotel and wrote the last act of Our Town,which begins with the graveyard scene with the umbrellas. He confessed later that he had ‘struck a match on me,’ and that the graveyard umbrella scene came from my complaining about my walk in the wet.”

Our Town was revolutionary for its time because Wilder decided not to use any scenery and almost no props. He thought that they got in the way of seeing the play as truly universal, and he wanted his play to be more like the great Greek tragedies. So he got rid of the excess visuals and he added the group of the dead people of Grover’s Corners, who commented much like a Greek chorus.

From Princeton, the play moved to Boston, where it was a flop. The Boston critics gave it poor reviews, it played to half-empty houses, and some audience members — including the wife of the governor of Massachusetts — walked out. But two New York theater critics, Brooks Atkinson and Alexander Wolcott, convinced the director and producer to give it another try and bring the show to New York. It did much better there, although some people found it inspiring and others depressing. But Our Town won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it is now estimated that, on average, Our Town is performed at least once every night somewhere in the world.


Today is the birthday of Sir Francis Bacon (1561) . He was born in London, and he was, among other things, a philosopher, a statesman, an essayist, and a champion of modern science. He was born into a family with connections at court, but he criticized Queen Elizabeth’s tax levy and fell out of favor. When Elizabeth was succeeded by James I, Bacon’s career got back on track, and in 1618, he was named the Lord Chancellor. His glory was short-lived; he was convicted of accepting bribes in 1621, and banned from political office for the rest of his life.

He spent much of his intellectual life challenging Aristotle’s view that knowledge should begin with universal truths. He said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” InNovum Organum (1620), Bacon wrote that scholars should build their knowledge of the world from specific, observable details. His theory is now known as the scientific method, and is the basis of all experimental science.



It’s the birthday of the man who founded the science of electrodynamics:André-Marie Ampère, born in Lyon, France (1775). Ampère didn’t have much in the way of formal schooling, but he was given free rein of his father’s large collection of books. Some say that Ampère was a math genius from the time he was young, working out complex mathematical formulas with crumbs of bread. When he was 13, he wrote and submitted his first mathematical paper, but it was turned down because he didn’t understand the principles of calculus. He immediately arranged to study calculus with a local monk. He loved it, and wrote that he was “animated with a new ardor.”

These were the years of the French Revolution, and when Ampère was 17, his father was arrested and guillotined. Ampère was so upset that for a couple of years he gave up studying mathematics. He came out of his depression when he fell in love with a woman named Julie. He wrote about a walk with Julie and two companions: “I sat on the grass beside her and ate some cherries that had been at her lips. All four of us were in the large garden when she accepted a lily from my hand. We then went to see the stream; I gave her my hand to jump over the little wall and both hands to climb up again. […] I sat again beside her as we four observed the sunset which gilded her clothes with a charming light.”

Ampère was not the most dazzling suitor; he wore unfashionable clothes, he was socially awkward, and his teeth were crooked. But he continued to woo Julie with constant attention and love poems. They were married in 1799 and soon had a son. Ampère was offered a job teaching mathematics at a school in a town 40 miles away, but just before he moved, Julie became sick, and he had to leave his wife and son behind in Lyon. He was able to move back after a year, but Julie died soon after, and he was once again miserable. He moved to Paris, but he didn’t fit in there and he missed his friends in Lyon. Feeling desperate, he quickly remarried, to a woman who married him for his money and stopped speaking to him after a few months; this marriage ended, leaving Ampère with custody of a newborn daughter.

Despite his rocky personal life, Ampère continued to make major contributions to mathematics, chemistry, and physics. He produced work on partial differential equations, discovered the chemical element fluorine, and wrote about the wave theory of light. In September of 1820, he attended a lecture about the findings of a Danish physicist, who had accidentally discovered that a magnetic needle was deflected when it was placed next to an electric current. Ampère was fascinated, and less than two years later, Ampère gave a speech on his theory of electromagnetism. He devoted the rest of his career to the subject. One of his great strengths was that he had the mathematical knowledge for the theoretical side as well as the scientific knowledge for the experimental side. His most important discovery, named Ampère’s Law, was a mathematical formula that could determine the relationship between the magnetism operating around a closed loop and the electrical current passing through that same loop.

In his final years, Ampère continued to teach, and he published his Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience (1827). It was in this work that he coined the word electrodynamics. His personal problems continued — he lived with his son, but the men were too similar, both with the tendency to suffer in silence and then explode into anger. This arrangement worsened when his daughter moved in with her abusive, alcoholic husband, a lieutenant in Napoleon’s army who frequently got drunk and terrorized the family with his extensive collection of weapons.

Ampère died at the age of 61. His is one of 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower, under the first balcony. The ampere — the unit of measurement for electrical current — is named after him.


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®


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Sea of Cortez

December 5, 1941:

John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez is Published

Sea of CortezOn this day, John Steinbeck‘s nonfiction book The Sea of Cortez is published. The book reflects Steinbeck’s serious study of marine biology. He also uses his knowledge of the sea and its creatures in creating Doc, the marine biologist character in Cannery Row (1945).

Steinbeck was born and raised in California’s Salinas Valley, where his father was a county official and his mother a former schoolteacher. Steinbeck was a good student and president of his senior class in high school. He attended Stanford intermittently between 1920 and 1925, then moved to New York City, where he worked as a manual labourer and a journalist while writing stories and novels. His first two novels were not successful.

He married Carol Henning (whom he later divorced) and moved to Pacific Grove in 1930, where his father gave him a house and a small income while he continued to write. His third novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), was a critical and financial success, as were subsequent novels In Dubious Battle (1935) and Of Mice and Men (1937), both of which offered social commentaries on injustices of various types. His 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

His work after World War II, including Cannery Row and The Pearl, continued to offer social criticism but became more sentimental. Steinbeck tried his hand at movie scripts in the 1940s, writing successful films like Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata (1952). His book Travels with Charlie (1962) describes his travels across the United States in a camper truck with his poodle, Charlie, and his encounters with a fragmented America. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and died in New York on December 20, 1968.


George S. Kaufman Born

KaufmanToday sees the birthday of the playwright George S. Kaufman, who co-wrote more hit plays than anyone else in the history of Broadway and one play and musical that he wrote won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; You Can’t Take It With You (1937, with Moss Hart), and Of Thee I Sing (1932, with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin).

Kaufman for all his genius had his quirks, a terrible case of hypochondria being among them.  This he inherited from his Mother who wouldn’t let him play with other children for fear of germs and she wouldn’t let him drink milk either.  The only beverage he was ever allowed to drink was boiled water.  This led to him having a morbid fear of dying in his sleep that was so severe he often wouldn’t sleep for days on end; he was also terrified of being touched and he never shook hands.  Uncomfortable with any expression of affection between human beings, Kaufman was surprisingly married twice.

Despite all his various foibles, partners that worked with the man through the years all said that he was a meticulous polisher and rewriter and that he was never satisfied with a script even up to the last minute.  On the most triumphant of opening nights, he could always be found backstage, pale and terrified that the play would be a flop.


Oscar Hijuelos 1951 ~ 2013


Oscar Hijuelos, a Cuban-American novelist, and the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer prize, died of a heart attack whilst playing tennis in Manhattan on Saturday.

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the novel which won the Pulitzer prize, published in 1989, tells the story of two Cuban brothers who travel from Havana to New York to start an orchestra. The book, which became a bestseller and won international acclaim, was eventually turned into a movie starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

His other novels include Our House in the Last World, Empress of the Splendid Season, Dark Dude, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien and A Simple Habana Melody.