Author Archives: K.B. Owen

Time for Chocolate!

by K.B. Owen

With the decadence of Mardi Gras upon us (and the sugar-coma of Valentine’s Day fresh in our minds), a post solely dedicated to chocolate seemed appropriate. Our fascination with this particular food item is older than you might think. Enjoy!

It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate, isn’t it? But how and when did folks first discover it?  Was it always the sweet dessert we know it to be?

Image by David Leggett, via wikimedia commons.

Image by David Leggett, via wikimedia commons

The beginnings: Mesoamerica (early central Americas)

image via nhcs.wikispaces.com

Chocolate was initially consumed in beverage form.  Some scholars put its use as far back as the Olmecs (1500-400 BCE), even earlier than the generally-acknowledged Mayans (250-900 CE), and Aztecs (14th CE).  Both Mayans and Aztecs used it in their sacred rituals – including cheering up sacrifice victims too depressed to dance in their own pre-sacrifice “celebrations.”

In fact, the Aztecs valued cacao beans as currency.  According to early documents, three cacao beans could get you a turkey egg (source: Cornell University).  Cacao wafers were also issued to soldiers, to be dissolved into beverage form when needed. It was considered fortifying on long campaigns.

Spain

"Cortes". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cortes.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Cortes.jpg

“Cortes”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In their travels/take-overs, Spanish Conquistadors were introduced to chocolate (although Cortez considered it a “bitter drink for pigs”) and brought it back to Spain.  Once modifications were made, with the addition of  sweeteners, vanilla, and other flavorings more familiar to the European palate, the beverage became popular among the wealthy class in Spain.  It was also considered somewhat medicinal in nature.  But it wasn’t until the 17th century that it seemed to catch on throughout Europe.

The 19th century: chocolate changes from beverage to candy

We have the Swiss and the Dutch to thank for developing processes whereby the fat content of chocolate was reduced (and some of it added back, in the form of cocoa butter), and the resulting product could be molded more easily into bars and discs.  At first, this was intended to make it easier to dissolve into water or milk as a beverage, but the smooth, aromatic sensation of eating the resulting solid form of the chocolate made it quickly appealing.

We also have the British to thank for passing the first legislative standards for chocolate in 1860, which kept commonly-used adulterations such as brick dust (I kid you not) out of our chocolate!

White's Chocolate House, London, 1708. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

White’s Chocolate House, London, 1708. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Ghirardelli, Guittard, Cadbury, Lindt, Hershey, and Nestle (who invented Milk Chocolate) – all were chocolate makers who furthered the quality of chocolate in the 19th century, through various mechanical processes.  The sources below have more info about them, along with other fascinating facts.  Check them out!

Chocolate – food of the gods (Cornell University)

Cacao and Chocolate Timeline

The Food Timeline

Understanding Chocolate

Smithsonian: A Brief History of Chocolate

In the spirit of Mardi Gras and chocolate decadence, here’s a favorite chocolate recipe of mine.  It’s a cross between cocktail and decadent dessert (even reading about it may be fattening, LOL).  My hubby made them for a murder mystery party we hosted a while back, and they were a big hit:

MUDSLIDE (makes 1)

from the Bartender’s Pocket Guide

Ingredients:

1 oz Kahlua

1 oz vodka

1 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream

2 scoops vanilla ice cream

1 Oreo cookie

chocolate syrup

whipped cream

Directions: Blend the first 5 ingredients until smooth.  Circle a drizzle of chocolate syrup inside a large parfait glass.  Pour in the blended ingredients and top with whipped cream and another drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Yum!!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

A special salute to the passing of Italian confectioner Michele Ferrero, son of the inventor of Nutella, Pietro Ferrero. Michele coined the term “Nutella” for the spread his father concocted to get more mileage from the scarce cocoa available (there was a shortage during WWII). The company is also responsible for Tic-Tacs and Ferrero-Rocher truffles (among other products). Ironically, or fittingly, he passed away on Valentine’s Day, the holiday best known for chocolate.

What are your favorite forms of chocolate, or do you think chocolate is wa-a-ay too fussed over?  I’d love to hear from you!

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Two-Sided Sword of Ambition

by Kassandra Lamb and K.B. Owen

I woke up the other morning with the subject of K.B. Owen’s new release, Unseemly Ambition, on my mind. My muse had apparently spent the night pondering the question: What happens when ambition, normally a good thing, is no longer reined in by a conscience?

When we say someone is an ambitious young man or woman, that’s meant as a compliment. We’re saying that they are going to work hard in life and probably accomplish great things. And if we say that someone “lacks ambition,” we’re putting them down, indicating that they are practicing one of the seven deadly sins: sloth. They are being lazy, cruising through life. We may even view it as an intrinsic flaw in their character.

1725 engraving of "The Lazy Student"

“The Lazy Student” 1725 copper engraving by Johann Georg Puschner

A synonym for ambition might be goal, or even dream. And we’re supposed to have goals and dreams. The only times in life when someone is allowed to not be ambitious are childhood and retirement. And even then, although it’s not expected, we still applaud ambition when it occurs.

Many of my younger writer friends complain about the reactions they sometimes get from others (sometimes even total strangers). Some people tell them to “stop wasting their time” and “get a real job.” These critics don’t see writing as a worthy ambition. “You’re just sitting around all day writing.” As if crafting words were the same as eating bonbons.

I have never gotten that reaction. When people ask me what I’m up to these days and I tell them, their response is always positive. “Wow, that’s so cool!” Why? Because I’m retired from two previous careers as a psychotherapist and college professor. So I’ve already fulfilled the requirement to be ambitious. Now, my efforts to write are seen as a bonus ambition!

But ambition has a dark side. What happens when one is so obsessed by their ambitions that they become ruthless?

I’m reminded of a famous incident 20 years ago, when those close to a champion figure skater conspired to take out the competition via a physical attack. In 1994, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard hired a man to attack Nancy Kerrigan and break her leg. Their ambitions were successful in the short term. Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, leaving the path open for Tonya Harding to win that event.

Stamp of Azerbaijan--Nancy Kerrigan skating

1994 Azerbaijan Republic stamp honoring Nancy Kerrigan

Kerrigan, fortunately, recovered from the attack, her leg only bruised rather than broken. She continued her career and won or placed in other champion-ships, including winning a silver medal in the 1994 Olympics.

Those who had engineered the attack ended up in prison, and Harding avoided jail time only by pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution of those men. Her career was over. The U.S. Figure Skating Association conducted their own investigation and determined that she knew about the attack in advance. They stripped her of her 1994 Championship title and banned her from skating.

In this case, the overly ambitious were caught and punished, and their intended victim recovered relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t always happen in the real world. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, much of the evil in the world is perpetrated by those who have crossed the line to the dark side of ambition.

When ambition is no longer balanced by ethics and compassion for others, it becomes ugly… and unseemly. But fortunately, in both the real world and in fiction, there are those who are willing to stand up to the overly ambitious, such as K.B. Owen’s intrepid Concordia Wells.

Your thoughts on the two-edged sword of ambition? Have you ever felt its bite? Talk to us in the comments, but first here’s K.B. to tell you more about her new book, and a contest. Woot!! (Psst, it’s okay to have the ambition to be one of the twelve winners. Make sure you enter multiple times. That’s allowed.)

Hi, K.B. here. So excited to tell you about Concordia’s latest adventure…

book cover UNSEEMLY AMBITION, A Concordia Wells Mystery
by K.B. Owen

A murder…a missing boy…a secret society’s bold and deadly plot.

It is 1898, and Professor Concordia Wells turns to an old ally when her good friend, the eleven-year-old Eli, disappears after his mother’s murder. Complicating Concordia’s desperate search for answers is the ever-watchful college dean, who has recently learned of her past “lady sleuth” doings. It also doesn’t help that Concordia’s own school colleagues are not above suspicion.

Despite the dean’s close scrutiny, the lady professor presses on with her unseemly inquiries. Far more people are in jeopardy than the loved ones she seeks to protect, and now there is no turning back.

Available at:     AMAZON     BARNES & NOBLE      KOBO     SMASHWORDS

And in paperback as well!

Ready for a little “Unseemly” giveaway?

We’re ready to celebrate the recent release of the new Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Ambition, and we want you to party with us!

K.B. Owen mysteries logoPrizes: ebooks from the series, a signed paperback, promo goodies (Post-It pads, candy tins), and even the opportunity for folks to collaborate with K.B. to name a character or pick a distinctive trait for a character in book #4, Unseemly Haste! She’ll be randomly drawing twelve winners overall. If any of the winners live outside the United States or Canada, she’ll substitute a gift card to Amazon because of the prohibitive postage for certain items.

When: between now and January 31, 2014. Winners will be announced on February 6, 2014.

How to get your name in the drawings (choose from any or all of these): 

1. subscribe to K.B.’s newsletter (those who have already subscribed will have their names automatically entered);

2. write a review on Amazon or BN for any of the Concordia books (your name will be entered TWICE for each review, and if you’ve already left a review in the past, drop her a line to confirm that you want her to enter your name in the giveaway, either in the comments or email: contact@kbowenmysteries.com);

3. send her a pic of yourself (to the address above) with any of the Concordia books (on your e-reader or in print)…or, if you feel camera-shy, send her a pic of one of the books “in the wild.” She’d love to see where Concordia has traveled to! She’ll post them on her Unseemly Readers page;

4. leave a comment on today’s blog post, and any she writes at kbowenmysteries.com. There will also be the opportunity to comment on upcoming guest posts K.B. writes (to be announced).

Remember, your name can be entered more than once, so participating in multiple ways will increase your chances of winning!

 K.B. Owen is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

Add some Betsy to your Fourth!

by G. Liebscher, via wikimedia commons.

by G. Liebscher, via wikimedia commons.

 

by Kathy Owen

I’ll bet you haven’t thought about Betsy Ross since you
were in grade school, right?

With Independence Day almost here, let’s take a look
at some cool facts regarding America’s seamstress.

Interesting facts about Betsy Ross and the
creation of the first flag:

1.   Betsy grew up in a large family: she was the 8th of 17 children.

2.   In her teen years, Betsy was apprenticed to an upholsterer, and that’s the business she worked in the rest of her life, starting her own shop with her first husband, John Ross.  An upholsterer in those times sewed much more than furniture-related items, and tasks included flags and garments.

3.   In May 1776, the now-widowed Betsy was visited in her home by a secret committee from the Continental Congress:  George Washington (then head of the Continental Army), Robert Morris, and George Ross, the uncle to Betsy’s late husband.  Washington already knew the widow; she had embroidered ruffles on his shirts in the past, and their pews at Christ Church were right next to each other.  Along with her skill, she was the natural choice for making the first flag.

4.   The original sketch Washington showed her was of 6-pointed stars, but Betsy proposed using 5-pointed.  They thought 5-pointed stars were too hard to make, but she showed them otherwise, by making a 5-pointed star with a single snip of her scissors.  Want to learn how?  Click here.

Up until this time, each colony had its own flag, and the founding fathers knew the value of a unifying symbol.

5.   Betsy was married three times.  Her first two husbands were killed as a result of the war.

6.   In the winter of 1777 (well after Betsy had finished the flag and the Continental Congress had passed the Declaration of Independence), British soldiers forcibly occupied her home during the time their army had possession of Philadelphia.  This was the same brutal winter the Continental Army was spending in Valley Forge.

7.   Betsy lived to be 84 years old, and had 7 children, 5 of whom survived into adulthood.

"The Birth of Old Glory," by Percy Moran. Image via wikimedia commons.

“The Birth of Old Glory,” by Percy Moran. Image via wikimedia commons.

Want more info?

Betsy Ross Homepage

“Flag Day” – Library of Congress

Flag Timeline

To our American readers, Happy Independence Day, and to our readers from other parts of the world, have a drink on us. Freedom deserves to be celebrated, whenever we take the time to appreciate it!

How about you? What’s your favorite fun fact about the 4th of July?

Until next time,  Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 3 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Like Detective Fiction? Thank the Metropolitan Police Act

By K.B. Owen

Ever wonder how the police came into existence?  We certainly wouldn’t have any detective fiction without them.

Although each country has its own history in that regard, the formation of the police force in England was what led to the birth of detective fiction as we know it.

Here’s where it all started:

The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829

Manchester Police, 1880s, from flickr.com

Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the British Cabinet and a Tory, brought about a number of reforms in the area of criminal law and the gaol system, but it was the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 that was most far-reaching and controversial at the time.  For the first time in Britain’s history, the Act established an organized police force in London, with 17 divisions of 4 inspectors each, its central base at Scotland Yard, under the purview of the Home Secretary.  (The Detective division was formed in 1842).

The early names for these policemen – “Bobbies” and “Peelers” – derived from the man who passed the reform.  They carried truncheons as their only protection, and dressed in blue uniforms (similar to the color of the Royal Navy uniform) with long tail coats and top hats (LearnHistory.org.uk says that the top hats came in handy as stepping stools for policmen to stand on and look over walls).

However, the idea of a government-instituted police force made people nervous.  It was an alien concept, in an age of  Bow Street Runners and local constables (poorly-paid and barely trained), hired individually by each town, walking a beat.  What if the government started using this new police force to get rid of its political enemies, or to spy on honest citizens?

But people also knew that their options were few.  The Industrial Revolution was crowding London quickly, and with more people came more crime.  Constables were notoriously unreliable, preferring to drink in a sheltered corner on a cold night, go to sleep, or visit a prostitute.  Even if every constable was reliable, there still weren’t enough of them.

Although it took a while for the general population to accept police (who were often jeered in public), the police force worked well in suppressing riots and bringing down crime in the areas they were allowed to go, driving crime, in a way, out into the neighboring boroughs, which experienced an increase (later Municipal Acts were instituted to address this problem).

One significant black eye for the police, however, came in 1888: Jack the Ripper. But that’s another post.

Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, Sept 22, 1888. Wikimedia Commons.

Want more info?

Text of the 1829 Act

Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 (Wikipedia)

History of the Metropolitan Police

Crime, Punishment, and Protest Through Time, c. 1450-2004

The Metropolitan Police

So, who’s your favorite detective? Do you prefer your protag to be an amateur or a professional, private eye or cop? I’d love to hear from you!

~Kathy

About K.B. Owen:

K profile pic 2014K.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.  A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.

 

Check out the latest Concordia Wells adventure!

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…

It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus.  Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.”  The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.

And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus.  Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn.  An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.

Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead.  But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself.  Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?

Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:

Kindle

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iBooks

Ready for an “unseemly” giveaway?

SwagKitDuring K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!).  The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits.  At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.

***

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Fine Dining, Mashup Style

During these long winter months, a lot of folks enjoy getting together for meals and entertainment.  So let’s take a look at the subject of:

 Fine Dining

And this isn’t just your ordinary survey of tips and recipes, oh no.  Today we have two mavens of fine dining, together in a way only possible through the wonders of the internet.

The first is Mrs. Isabella Beeton, famous 19th century domestic expert and author of The Book of Household Management (1868).  According to Mrs. B:

“Man, it has been said, is a dining animal.  Creatures of the inferior races eat and drink: only man dines.”

We’re also lucky to have none other than the ultimate domestic diva of our day and age, Martha Stewart.  What does Martha have to say about dining?


martha stewart2

 

 

“It appears on that mental list from childhood of ‘things grown-ups do’: Throw a dinner party.”




Since we all want to be both civilized (Mrs. Beeton) and grown-ups (Martha Stewart), we’ll benefit from consulting both ladies.

That means…it’s mashup time!  Isabella vs. Martha.  I’ve volunteered to moderate.  (Wish me luck.)

 

KBO: So, ladies, thanks for joining me today, to help our readers understand the important elements of fine dining.

IB: I’ve been here already, dear.  Remember last year?  My advice about the nursery?

MS: *sniffs* Your readers should skip this malarkey and just read my blog.  It’s far superior.

IB: What’s a blog?

KBO: But you’ve never had Mrs. Beeton on your blog, have you, Martha?  You weren’t even a gleam in your daddy’s eye when she was giving her household tips.  Have you given pointers on how to truss a fowl or make butter?

MS: Yes, I have.

KBO: Oh, right, I forgot. *blush* Well, you don’t know how to slaughter an ox, do you?  Tell her, Mrs. B.

IB:

 

MS: …stop right there, lady.  I’m having filet mignon tonight.  You’ve made your point.

KBO: Now, on to those dining tips.  Which do you think is more important, the menu or the setting/decor?

IB: We have sighed over many a dinner where the offerings were irreproachable, and might have been enjoyable, but turned out to be quite the contrary.  One must have all of the elements in place, including congenial company.

MS: I so agree with you, Isabella.  Decor, food, music, timing, the conduct of the hostess – all my “good things.”

KBO: Glad to see we have a consensus.  Let’s start with table decorations.  What sort of table setting would you recommend?

IB: We can imagine no household duty more attractive to the ladies of the house than that of making their tables beautiful with the exquisite floral produce of the different seasons.  Here’s an illustration from my book:

 

KBO: Hmm…looks like a ceremonial ring in a tiki village.  Not sure that works for me.  What do you think, Martha?

MS: Guests should be able to see each other, Isabella.  Now, my recent creation doesn’t have that problem: this ring of blossoms seems to float in the air, with globes of tea lights dangling in airy whimsicality. It’s sure to impart a cheerful radiance to any party.

Image by Kristen Ausk, via Flickr (in other words, not Martha).

Image by Kristen Ausk, via Flickr (in other words, not Martha).

KBO: Martha, how do you get that thing to stay up? It certainly looks pretty, though swaying tea lights at my house are sure to cause trouble…as in lighting people’s hair on fire.

MS: The instructions are on my website. Of course, you’ll need a blow torch and welder’s face mask, but what serious crafter doesn’t already possess these basic tools?

KBO:  And what is that shadow I see in the background? Looks like a mushroom cloud.

MS:  Merely an unfortunate photographic angle. I have taken the camera person in question under my wing.

KBO:  Mrs. Beeton, you’ve been rather quiet.

IB: *pouts* You didn’t say we could use colour.

KBO: Not to worry, yours is lovely, even in black and white.

IB: Thank you, dear.

Food

KBO: Okay, it’s time for round two: the food.  But first, some ground rules: no descriptions of how to slaughter an ox, and no complaints about black-and-white vs. color.

IB: But that’s not fair – she’s wearing a fetching onyx-and-gold blouse, and you can’t even tell what colour I have on.

KBO: Find me a color picture, and I’ll put it up.

MS: Was there even color in the 19th century?

IB: What an absurd question!  And it’s colour, dear, not color.

MS: Sounds the same to me.  You British don’t know how to spell anything properly. Like gaol, for instance.

KBO: I think we’re getting a bit off-topic here.  Readers have better things to do than to listen to you two sniping at each other.  Like getting a tooth drilled.  Let’s get back to the menu.  Mrs. Beeton?

 IB: It’s all in my book:

KBO: Hmm.  If we’re going by that rule in my house, that leaves out everything but Easy Mac and Cheerios.  Martha, you’re both the cook and hostess for your dinner parties.  What would you recommend?

MS and IB: What’s Easy Mac ?

KBO: Well, it’s sort of like pasta…

MS: Never mind; I don’t want to know.  You can do better.  With all of our modern conveniences, we 21st century women can do it all!

Image by Michael Bennett, via wikimedia. Not really Martha's.

Image by Michael Bennett, via wikimedia. Not really Martha’s.

KBO: …but, Easy Mac is a modern convenience…

MS: You know what I mean.  Now, here’s something you can cook:

KBO: Looks yummy.

MS: Roasting chicken atop a layer of shallots infuses the meat with their flavor; further, the shallots carmelize as they cook. Baby new potatoes and fresh broccoli from one’s summer garden are lightly steamed, and a demi-glace is drizzled on top for an artful presentation.

KBO: If I could serve it with a side of your verbs and adjectives, I just might be able to pull it off.  I suspect, though, that my house would be “infused” with the smell of burnt onions instead.

MS: Well, we only have so much to work with, don’t we?

IB: Poultry is an excellent suggestion, Martha.  Ooh, wait!  I have a colour picture of my poultry dish and other meat suggestions:

KBO: Mrs. B, how could you?  You killed Thumper. My guests would run screaming from that.  We don’t serve meat dishes with head and feet still attached anymore, unless it’s a luau.

IB: Who’s Thumper?

KBO: *sigh* Well, ladies, that’s all we have time for today! Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.  I know I’ve learned a lot today.  Good luck with your future endeavors.

MS: Can I go back to my real life now?

IB: That’s a little hard for me to do, dear – remember?  I’m dead.

KBO: Oh, yes, how silly of me.

So, as we part ways with Isabella and Martha, why not share your dinner party successes and failures? (I really did have a *small* fire at one – well, maybe two – of my celebrations). How elaborate do your centerpieces get when you host a party? How recognizable should our meat sources be when we serve them?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

 

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

P.S. – join me on my blog tour (starting next week) to launch my new mystery, Unseemly Pursuits!  The book is the second in the Concordia Wells series.

Click here for the schedule, along with details on the giveaways!

 

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of the Concordia Wells mysteries. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 3 and 4 in the series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 2

Hi!  K.B. Owen here again, with the rest of the story behind The Maltese Falcon.  If you missed Part 1, click here.  Thanks for joining me today!

Samuel Dashiell Hammett:  1894-1961

Hammett’s life was more important to his work than is usual with an author.  Hammett was the first detective (a Pinkerton) to write detective novels, and is considered one of the best practitioners of the hard-boiled detective genre.  His life was varied and controversial.  He was friends with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and West, and was Lillian Hellman’s lover.

image of Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett

His middle name came from the French side of his mother’s family the “DeChiells,” who had been famous in France for their bravery in battle, but his upbringing was humble.  Hammett was born on a run-down farm in Maryland to a struggling Irish middle-class family.

He loved to read anything and everything, and would do so late into the night.  However, he had to quit school at 15 to help support the family when his father became ill.  He hated his jobs, which were mostly in the railroad and industrial fields, and never held one for any length of time.

He became a Pinkerton operative when he was 21, and liked it.  The Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was the largest private law enforcement agency in the U.S., founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, a former Chicago policeman.  He invented the trademark of his business – the unblinking eye – and its motto, “We never sleep,” which led to the shortened tag of “private eye.”

The Pinkertons filled a gap between the federal government’s small Secret Service and the local police forces.  As the nation grew more complex, the gaps grew:  the Pinkertons were called upon to prevent assassinations and to solve difficult cases, especially those crossing several local jurisdictions.   These are the kind of tasks the FBI performs today, but the FBI (founded1908) of the ‘20s didn’t really get going in terms of its mission, organization, and jurisdictional authority, until it was re-organized under J. Edgar Hoover in 1934.

Pinkerton logoThe Pinkertons were also hired by big businesses to break up the formation of unions – with varying degrees of success, as those of you familiar with the Homestead Strike of 1892 know. The Pinkertons were highly disciplined.  They were on 24-hr call, were required to keep meticulous reports, and had to be able to successfully watch a house for days at a time without being detected.  Their work took them all over the country:  Hammett went to Idaho, Utah, Montana, and San Francisco for assignments.

Hammett joined the Army during WWI, but became disabled with tuberculosis and was discharged.  For the rest of his life, he would be plagued with respiratory problems.  He also smoked and drank a lot, which of course didn’t help.  He worked off and on as a Pinkerton for a number of years.

During one of his rehabilitations at a hospital, he started dating one of the nurses and got her pregnant. He married her, moved to San Francisco, and eventually they had two children, but then later divorced.

After another stint as a Pinkerton in San Francisco, Hammett got sick again, and they couldn’t get by on his disability pension.

At this point he was too ill to do the physically demanding detective work, so he began writing detective stories, and then novels.  The Maltese Falcon was his most successful, and the one for which he’s best known.  His Pinkerton experiences gave him a unique inside view of his detective creation.  Hammett, in one edition of the novel, describes Spade as his ideal of the hard-boiled detective:

He is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and what quite a few of them in their cockier moments thought they approached.  For your private detective does not want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent bystander or client.

Hammett also wrote the Nick and Nora Charles detective series for the screen: The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936).

Even with all the money he was making at the time, he couldn’t hang onto it. His drinking problem became serious and he was hospitalized at age 42.

Hammett also became involved in Communist party activities, and was named chairman of the Committee on Election Rights, a group allied with the Communist Party.

Somehow, he managed to join the Army again in 1942 (at age 48, with TB!).  The Army was aware of his communist affiliations and kept a close eye on him.

He was sent to jail in 1951 for refusing to testify about the Civil Rights Congress bail fund (which had helped put up bail for people arrested for Communist activities, who then turned right around and jumped bail). Hammett was also interrogated by the McCarthy Committee in 1953.

He died of lung cancer in 1961.  As a veteran of two wars, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Publication and response to The Maltese Falcon:

The story was first serialized in Black Mask Magazine the year before it was published as a novel in 1930.

The third film version of The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (directed by John Huston, with the fabulous cast of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) became the definitive version of the novel.

Bogart and Astor--confrontation scene

Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenstreet and Lorre

Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway praised Hammett’s story.  When Gertrude Stein came back to the U.S., Hammett was the writer she wanted to meet.  Eleanor Roosevelt loved the book, and wouldn’t let it be pulled from the shelves when the anti-communist movement blackballed Hammett.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about The Maltese Falcon, and it was written by fellow hard-boiled mystery writer Raymond Chandler:

[Hammett] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get as far as possible from Emily Post’s idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken-wing.

Have you read The Maltese Falcon?  Do you enjoy the hard-boiled detective genre?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 1

Cover of Black Mask magazine featuring the Maltese Falcon

Hi, K.B. Owen here, to talk about the “hard-boiled” detective story subgenre and one of my favorite examples of that style, The Maltese Falcon. (Yes, I’m fully embracing the irony of a cozy mystery writer discussing such a rough-and tumble fictional world. If you really want your mind blown, check out my hard-boiled short-short fiction piece a few months ago on Laird Sapir’s blog). 

This will be in two parts: today, I’ll talk about the genre in general and some background on Sam Spade’s world; next Tuesday, I’ll talk about how Dashiell Hammett’s background (hint: he wrote what he knew) came to be linked so closely with his creation, and the reaction to the novel’s publication.  I hope you can join me for both parts!

What is hard-boiled?
What we call “hard-boiled” (a term first coined by Raymond Chandler) is crime fiction that’s characterized by a hard-drinking, cynical private eye with his own moral code, a sexy dame with lies even longer than her legs, and an emphasis on action over contemplative deduction. Although the detective-hero is street-smart and savvy in the ways of the criminal underworld, he solves the case more with his fists than by sitting in a corner, smoking shag tobacco and thinking over the puzzle.

Some folks consider hard-boiled and noir interchangeable terms, but critic Otto Penzler gives a great explanation of why this isn’t the case: Noir Fiction is About Losers, Not Private Eyes.

Only in America
The hard-boiled subgenre is a uniquely American creation, arising from the frontier heroes, larger-than-life loners, scoundrels and criminals of U.S. history.

American literary tastes of the early 20th century had been conditioned by the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper. The hero, Natty Bumppo (I kid you not), had moral virtue and fantastic visual powers by which he could read broken twigs and faint footprints to seek out the enemy.  Rather than society’s rules, he followed his own code of ethics.

American readers were interested in frontier adventure tales, stories with a romantic interest, and those with a residual sense of the “eye for an eye” justice of their Puritan forefathers. They avidly read stories serialized in magazines – in 1922 alone there were over 20,000 magazines published – and the magazine detective story format was emerging as a very popular medium. The enormous following of the late 19th century dime/pulps (even though the stories were rather primitive) also encouraged publishers of the early 20th century to promote this sort of fiction.

A Classic Example: The Maltese Falcon (1930), by Dashiell Hammett

poster fior the 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon
Of course, many of us are familiar with the 1941 film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. But there’s much more to the story than what we see in the film version.

Since the novel is set in 1920’s San Francisco, let me give you a little background about that time and place:

San Francisco was the metropolis of the West – a focal point of immigration, mining, industry, and export.

After the passage of the Volstead Act (otherwise known as Prohibition), the city became a major port of entry for illegal liquor. Speakeasies paid off local authorities in free liquor; networks of rum-runners stretched inland; and houses of prostitution flourished. Apparently many San Franciscans considered Prohibition an incentive to commerce.

The Bay area during this time attracted German, Italian and Chinese immigrants. In fact, an entire Chinese society, complete with criminal gangs, holy men and a social hierarchy, developed in a twenty-square-block area of downtown SF.

In terms of law enforcement, corruption abounded. Many of the cops, D.A.s, and city officials were either on the take or looking to advance themselves by whatever means necessary. This mindset is a prominent part of the world of The Maltese Falcon. Private eye Sam Spade doesn’t dare trust anyone but himself in such a world.

Next week, we’ll talk about Hammett the author, and how The Maltese Falcon was received at the time.

Are you a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction?  Have you seen the Bogart film?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells Mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

You Know You’re a Mystery Fan If…

Hi, everyone! It’s Kathy, bringing you a Just for Fun post today.

I’m assuming you’re over here at misterio press because you love mystery stories, right?  Me too!  But have you ever wondered exactly what separates us mystery fans from “normal” folks?  Here are a few items to consider, under the heading of:

You Know You’re a Mystery Fan If…
1.  You know the 10 Rules of Golden Age Detective fiction.
2.  You know that Hercule Poirot was Belgian, not French.
3.  Should you ever meet a butler, you would be on your guard.  (Because “the butler did it” is such a cliche that it could now work in reverse, right?)
4.  You’ve played so many games of Clue that you have to erase old character/weapon/ room grids because you’ve run out of them (but first you relive your brilliant victories)

Clue game

Hasbros’ Clue, Classic Edition, sold by Winning Moves on Amazon.com

5.  You endlessly watched episodes of Scooby Doo when you were a kid. Like, groovy, man.
6.  You now make your children watch re-runs of Scooby Doo on Cartoon Network.
7.  If you could ever do a police ride-along, it would be with Lieutenant Columbo.
8.  You bring the complete Sherlock Holmes collection of stories with you to college.
9.  (from the Facebook crowd):

comments from my FB friends

…sometimes I worry about these folks.

10.  You avoid:  large, gloomy mansions in the midst of thunderstorms; invitations to remote islands by an unknown benefactor; and having sex with your boyfriend after the kids you’re babysitting have gone to sleep (oops, sorry, that’s the one in horror movies).
11.  You celebrate your 10-year wedding anniversary by going on a murder mystery weekend (hey, hubby had fun, too!)
12.  And finally, you know you’re a mystery fan if you own one (or more) of the following:

 

 

 

You like to snuggle up under your crime scene throw to watch NCIS or Criminal Minds.

 

 

 

target alarm clock

Lock n Load Alarm Clock (sold by Loveseason on Amazon.com)

 

You literally shoot your alarm clock every morning to get it to shut up.

 

 

 

 

 

You then take a shower with the help of this heart-thumping bathroom decor:

 

 

 

 

bloody footprints bath mat

bath mat (sold by Spinning Hat on Amazon.com)

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve equipped your kitchen with the brass knuckle meat tenderizer and…

time bomb kitchen timer

(sold on Amazon.com)

 

 

 

 

….the time bomb kitchen timer!

And you send your kids to school with sandwiches wrapped in these:

 crime scene sandwich bags

(sold by Accoutrements on Amazon.com)

 So, how do you show your love of mysteries?  Tell us about it!  We’d love to hear about the demented fun things you do for your passion.

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)