Author Archives: K.B. Owen

Stay safe this summer: know the REAL signs of drowning!

by K.B. Owen

image via clker.com

Happy mid- summer, everyone!

With everyone hitting the pool/beach, it seemed a good time to talk about the real signs of drowning (they may not be what you think). I was really impressed by the video below that shows what it looks like.  I know I learned a lot, and I hope it’s helpful to you, too.

We human beings have a number of hard-wired, uncontrollable, instinctive responses (we had even more of them as infants), designed by nature to protect us:  we blink when an object comes at us suddenly; we experience a fit of coughing when something gets lodged in our throat; we feel our heart racing when we’re afraid, as our bodies ready for a possible “fight or flight” action.

Turns out, there’s an instinctive response when one is drowning, too.  It’s a completely involuntary set of movements, and it looks nothing like the portrayals in film and t.v.  People have been known to drown – especially children – with others standing right next to them.  But no one recognized what they saw as drowning, because they didn’t know the real signs of drowning.

Differences between Aquatic Distress and Drowning:

Behaviors: “Aquatic Distress” (this can lead to drowning) Behaviors: Drowning (the person has 20-60 seconds before loss of consciousness)
   
Yelling for help Can’t speak; just trying to breathe (If you aren’t sure, try asking “Are you all right?” If they can’t answer, act quickly)
Waving arms/thrashing in the water.  Can respond to a rescuer and grab a rope or buoy. Arms out laterally, pressing down on the water’s surface (instinctive attempt to gain leverage).  Cannot control arm movements or reach for a flotation device.
The head is out of the water Mouth is moving just above and below the water surface, barely clearing the water to catch a breath.

Here’s a dramatic video of a drowning boy.  Don’t worry; he was rescued in time and is fine. 🙂  Note the people standing right near him, with no clue as to what was happening.  In their defense, you can also see how quiet and barely noticeable it is.  Thank goodness for trained lifeguards!  The video includes a terrific expert-narrated explanation of what is going on.

The instinctive drowning response.

What do you do to stay safe?  I’d love to hear from you.

Yep, these guys are mine, though they are much older now. 😉

Here’s to a safe rest of the summer for you and your family!

Until next time,

Kathy

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

Posted by K.B. Owen. K.B. taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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Where My Research Takes Me: Rare Book Reading Room, Library of Congress

Where the research takes me: to the Library of Congress (main reading room)

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

by K.B. Owen

All kinds of decisions (and a hundred indecisions, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot) go into the plotting of a mystery. For example, as I was deciding upon the plot points for UNSEEMLY FATE, book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, I knew I needed a rare literary artifact that would be compatible with the lady professor’s interests (primarily Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Romantic poets). It was to be a gift from one of Concordia’s new relatives – a RICH relative (I think you can see where I might be going with this), which would set off a chain of catastrophic events that sends Concordia scrambling for the rest of the story.

The Criteria

I had one other proviso: the item couldn’t be SO rare that people would be giving it the squinty-eye and asking how the heck the rich man came to have it, and didn’t it belong in a proper museum, rather than a private gallery at some women’s college? Hmm???

That let out Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Sigh. And as far as the Romantics, not that many decades would have elapsed before we were in Concordia’s time (1899)…so something lost or rare was less likely. Double sigh.

I was basically scouting around for something of literary significance that would appeal to my protagonist’s interests, and old enough to be somewhat rare but not holy-cow-you-must-have-stolen-that rare. AND…I wanted to be able to use cool quotes by that author as apropos headers to chapters…’cause that’s just how this former academic rolls. *wink*

Enter William Blake, the Very First Romantic Poet/Artist

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips. Oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake had a lot to say about society, religion, art, and man’s place in the cosmos. I soon settled on his 66-page Descriptive Catalogue, of which he printed less than one hundred copies in 1809 (making it 90 years old by the time Concordia sees it). The Catalogue was written to promote an exhibition of his watercolors and frescoes in hopes of drumming up sales and potential commissions.

Here’s the full title, as William Blake was more voluble than concise: A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions, Painted by William Blake, in Water Colours, Being the Ancient Method of Fresco Painting Restored: and [water color] Drawings, For Public Inspection, and for Sale by Private Contract. 

Blake sold copies of the Catalogue for two-and-a-half shillings each, which also covered the cost of admittance to his one-man show (in a room over his brother’s shop).

What Made It Perfect for Concordia

Of particular interest to me was Blake’s commentary in the Catalogue about Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, which takes up nearly a third of the pamphlet. Blake had painted a work entitled The Canterbury Pilgrims, from which he later created a copper-etched plate and made prints (with watercolor touch-ups), but the text in his Catalogue went beyond mere description of his painting and analyzed Chaucer’s own characterization of the pilgrims.

Print from Blake's copperplate etching, Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

Print from Blake’s copperplate etching, Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

And our dear lady professor has an interest in Chaucer – perfect.

I was able to find descriptions of the text and cover via online searches, but then I got stuck. I wanted to know what it would be like to hold it in one’s hands, to turn the pages, and so on, as Concordia would do.

Where the Research Takes Me: To See the Real Thing

Where the reasearch takes me: to the Rare Book Reading Room

An original of William Blake’s “Descriptive Catalogue,” 1809. Housed in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book Reading Room, LOC.

Sometimes you just have to see something in person. I’m fortunate enough to live within 25 miles of the Library of Congress, and a search turned up an original (16 are known to exist at this point) in LOC’s Rare Book Reading Room.

There were a lot of hoops to jump through – getting a reader/researcher card, securing advance notice to have it located and pulled, restrictions as to what you can bring in with you, how the books are to be handled, and so on. But it was worth it, and I’m grateful to each of the librarians who assisted me.

And the Rare Book Reading Room is a VERY quiet place.

Any cool discoveries you’ve made recently? I’d love to hear from you. ~KBO

AVAILABLE NOW:

Unseemly Fate

Book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

Beware of rich men bearing gifts…

It’s the fall of 1899 and the new Mrs. David Bradley—formerly Professor Concordia Wells of Hartford Women’s College—is chafing against the hum-drum routine of domestic life.

The routine is disrupted soon enough when the long-hated but wealthy patriarch of her husband’s family, Isaiah Symond, returns to Hartford. His belated wedding gift is a rare catalogue by artist/poet William Blake, to be exhibited in the college’s antiquities gallery.

When Symond’s body is discovered in the gallery with his head bashed in and the catalogue gone, suspicion quickly turns from a hypothetical thief to the inheritors of Symond’s millions—Concordia’s own in-laws. She’s convinced of their innocence, but the alternatives are equally distressing. The gallery curator whom she’s known for years? The school’s beloved handyman?

Once again, unseemly fate propels Concordia into sleuthing, but she should know by now that unearthing bitter grudges and long-protected secrets to expose a murderer may land her in a fight for her life.

UNSEEMLY FATE is the seventh adventure in the Concordia Wells Mysteries, featuring 1890s professor-turned-amateur-sleuth Concordia Wells Bradley.

Amazon:

Also available on:  B&N, Apple, Kobo

AND I’m running a pair of giveaways…

Want to win a free book, ebook, or audiobook?

Check out these giveaways!

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Audiobook Giveaway

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Book Giveaway

Anyone can enter! Contests end May 15th.

 

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

Posted by K.B. Owen. K.B. taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )



Winston Churchill, Nazis, and the (almost) exploding chocolate bar

by K.B. Owen

With Valentine’s Day still on our minds, we thought you might enjoy this post about an exploding chocolate bar.

photo by John Loo (creative commons)

The year was 1943, and those crafty Nazis had come up with another plan to assassinate Winston Churchill.  They decided to prey upon the Prime Minister’s fondness for expensive chocolate, and began work on a bomb hidden in a pound-slab bar of Peter’s Chocolate.

photo via wikimedia.org (cc)

How it was supposed to work:

The exploding chocolate bar was made of steel, with a thin layer of real chocolate covering it.  Inside was the explosive, with a 7-second delay mechanism.  I’ll quote the rest of the description, as detailed by Lord Rothschild, head of counter-espionage at MI5:

When you break off a piece of chocolate at one end in the normal way, a piece of canvas is revealed stuck in the middle of the piece  which has been broken off and sticking in the remainder of the slab.  When the piece of chocolate is pulled sharply, the canvas is also pulled and this initiates the mechanism.

The bar was wrapped in shiny, expensive foil, and labeled “Peter’s Chocolate.”  The plan was to take the chocolate into the war cabinet dining room, and so take out as many cabinet members as possible, along with Churchill.

As you may have guessed, the plot was unsuccessful.  British agents, working undercover in Germany, alerted MI5 about the plot, and included a rough sketch of the bars they had seen.

Since there was concern that the exploding chocolate bars may actually reach the British public, Lord Rothschild wrote a secret letter to artist Laurence Fish, asking him to draw a better picture of what such a bar might look like. (Fish’s widow just recently discovered this letter, part of which is quoted above, and donated it to the country’s collection of other war-time documents).  Check out The Huffington Post’s article, which includes a photo of Rothschild’s letter.

There’s also an interesting looking sketch (via Photobucket) you may want to check out, which I can’t post here for copyright reasons. I haven’t been able to establish if this is Fish’s drawing, or someone else’s, but it looks really cool!

Want to read more? Check out these other sources:

Mystery Fanfare: Death by Chocolate: Winston Churchill.

Independent.ie

Tek-Bull

Sometimes real life is crazier than fiction, right?  What do you think of the plot – did they really have a chance to pull it off?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Kathy

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

When Turkeys Strike Back

Hi Folks! We had a crime writer’s interview scheduled for today that was postponed, so K.B. Owen dug into the archives of her blog and came up with this fun gem: When Turkeys Strike Back 😀

by K.B. Owen

Meet Tom Turkey, the star of the Thanksgiving meal. The poor fella’s often maligned for his stupidity, but the people trying to cook him aren’t always the sharpest knives in the carving block either. In some ways, it’s a form of revenge. Fear the turkey!

Turkeys, humans, and fire

flame

Sometimes turkeys strike back…with fire.

There are almost as many ways to cook a turkey as there are lame jokes in Uncle Harold’s repertoire, right? Bake, broil, brine, deep-fry, spatch-cock….

In other words, lots of potential for messing up the centerpiece of the meal so that dad has to run out to the 7-Eleven for a pack of hot dogs.

Since 1981, Butterball has operated a telephone helpline on Thanksgiving, with real people to talk to when all hell’s breaking loose. (Turkey-wise, that is. They can’t do anything about the heavy-metal boyfriend your daughter brought home, or the passive-aggressive brother-in-law you have to deal with every year).

Speaking of spatchcock, I gave it a go one year. I think we needed a bigger pan. Looks a bit lewd…

The Butterball folks get some crazy questions from callers: how to clean out chainsaw oil residue after trying to cut a frozen turkey in half (nope…go get hot dogs), how long it takes to pop popcorn inside the turkey’s cavity while the bird is roasting (an old myth – and you can’t), whether a frozen turkey can be thawed with a hair dryer (Lord, no), how to get a chihuahua unstuck from inside a turkey (before it went in the oven, thankfully)…the list goes on.

And then there are the fires. According to State Farm Insurance Company, more cooking fires happen on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year. Most occur when folks decide it’s a good idea to submerge a 20-pound turkey in a vat of boiling oil. (If you fry your turkey, don’t send me hate mail. I’m sure there’s a safe way to do it, but I watched too many turkey-fryer disaster videos while preparing this post).

State Farm compiled cooking-fire data between 2007 and 2011 to come up with a Top 10 list of states that have had the most fires on Thanksgiving, based on number of claims.

Want to see the list? Me, too.

Top 10 States Most Likely to Bring Firefighters to Your Door on Thanksgiving:firetruck

#10 South Carolina

#9 Minnesota

#8 Pennsylvania

#7 Louisiana

#6 California

#5 Florida

#4 Ohio

#3 New York

#2 Illinois

…and the #1 state for the most turkey fires:

TEXAS

texas

Source: http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2012/11/21/top-10-us-states-for-turkey-fryer-fires

What do you think of this list? Any states that surprised you? Any you’d like to nominate?

So this Thanksgiving, count yourself lucky to successfully cook your bird without the help of your local fire department! Here’s a humorous video by William Shatner (in conjunction with State Farm Insurance Co) about the dangers of turkey fryers:

 

 

How do you like to cook your turkey? Has the fire department ever paid you a visit on Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes for a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Kathy

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

A Crime Writers Interview: Teresa Trent

Crime Writers logo

Please help us welcome Teresa Trent to our blog for another crime writers interview. I just love her Pecan Bayou cozy series, and now she has a new series out… oh goody!

Teresa Trent head shot

Teresa enjoys creating small towns filled with quirky characters and high crime rates. She lives in Houston, Texas with her family and spends her time as a writer and caregiver. Teresa started the Pecan Bayou Mystery Series in 2011 and adds to it yearly. Her Piney Woods Mystery Series, published by Camel Press, debuted in 2018 and will also have a new mystery each year. Teresa loves to write with just a little humor and to include characters you might not find in other cozies, including Danny who was influenced by her own son with Down syndrome.

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio press): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended, “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Teresa Trent: My life experience plays into my writing. My Pecan Bayou Series has a character with Down syndrome because I have a son with Down syndrome. Because of that, I am around many people like him. I couldn’t “world create” without my character Danny because without him it wouldn’t be my world.

I love a certain kind of story. I want to be touched emotionally but I also want to laugh, so characters need to be human. When I decided to start writing seriously I wanted my voice to be unique and my stories to touch other people’s hearts. I know I’ve written my book correctly when I find myself crying in the final scene. I also laugh at my own jokes.

Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you, rather than say romance or science fiction?

book cover

And Then There Were None, first published in the U.S. in 1940.

Teresa: I was an English teacher once upon a time, and one of my favorite novels to teach about was And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I loved solving the puzzle of finding the murderer.

With romance you know the guy and the girl are going to get together in the end. With a mystery you are never sure if your suspected villain is the right villain, so, the ending in this genre is unpredictable. I love sci-fi, but have never felt I know enough of the science side to write it.

Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer? Do you also prefer it as a reader?

Teresa: I write cozy mysteries because I enjoy the small-town characters and the less graphic situations. I have written some light horror short stories but find I keep coming home to cozies.

As a reader, I enjoy all types of stories. To me a good story is found in the writing more than the genre, so if a book hits the best seller list, I want to read it, not only for pleasure but to see what that author did right!

Kass: What do you find to be the most fun and/or the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching? Why is that?

Teresa: I love writing a first draft. I love collecting thoughts, characters, plot lines, settings and then putting them all into a story. After that comes several drafts where I drag through the story looking for grammatical errors and plot holes and I usually have plenty of both!

Kass: Where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little more about your stories.

Teresa: I write the Pecan Bayou Cozy Mystery Series and the Piney Woods Cozy Mystery Series which both occur in Texas.

A Dash of Murder cover

Book 1 in the Pecan Bayou series.

Pecan Bayou is in the Hill Country famous for wildflowers in the Spring and German food. Austin is also a part of the hill country and politically a little more left-leaning than the rest of the state. It is no mistake that Rocky, my newspaper editor has a Christmas tree that always leans slightly to the left. I so enjoyed creating this cast of characters starting with my amateur sleuth, Betsy, a woman who writes helpful hints for a living, and is constantly having to tackle those pesky bloodstains.

The Piney Woods Mystery Series is in East Texas, close to the Louisiana border. Nora is very different from Betsy and works in the historic Tunie hotel. Piney Woods is an oil boom-bust town heavily influenced by close neighbor, Louisiana. Gumbo is a popular dish on the menu and running across the state line to gamble is a major attraction. Nora and her law man boyfriend, Tuck Watson solve murders together while Nora tries to keep the hotel afloat.

Kass: What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Teresa: That would be how to explode a port-a-potty. You would be amazed how many You Tube videos there are on the subject.

Kass: In your latest story, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?

Teresa: My latest book, Murder of a Good Man, was a little darker than some of my other stories, so I had to work to bring it up to the lighter form of the cozy mystery. When I first started writing this book, the news had just come out about Bill Cosby, and that was the inspiration for the plot line. What if a guy the whole world loved was really not such a fine gentleman?

Thank you so much for joining us today, Teresa! If you all have any questions for her, please ask them in the comments. And you can connect with her on her blog, on Twitter or Goodreads.

Here is her latest release, folks…

Murder of a Good Man, Book 1 in the Piney Woods Mysteries

Murder of a Good Man coverWhen Nora Alexander drives into Piney Woods, Texas, to fulfill her dying mother’s last wish, she has no idea what awaits her. First, she is run off the road, then the sealed letter she delivers turns out to be a scathing rebuke to the town’s most beloved citizen and favored candidate for Piney Woods Pioneer: Adam Brockwell. Next thing you know, Adam has been murdered in a nasty knife attack.

Suspicion instantly falls on Nora, one of the last people to see him alive. After all, everyone in Piney Woods loved him. Or did they? Nora learns that her mother had a complicated past she never shared with her daughter. Told not to leave town by Tuck the flirty sheriff, Nora finds a job with Tuck’s Aunt Marty trying to get the rundown Tunie Hotel back in the black. The old hotel was Piney Woods’ heart and soul in its heyday as an oil boomtown.

Now the secrets it harbors may be the key to getting Nora off the hook. She’s going to need to solve the mystery quickly to avoid arrest, or worse: becoming the killer’s next victim.

Available on: Amazon    Barnes & Noble     iBooks     Kobo     Paperback

Note: I am going to be traveling when this interview goes live, so K.B. Owen will be fielding comments.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Where our research takes us, and a new release!

by K.B. Owen

I hope everyone in the northern hemisphere is enjoying the summer season! For your leisure reading enjoyment–whether it’s the beach, pool, back porch, or a comfy chair in an air-conditioned room…the next Penelope Hamilton adventure is ready for you! Yes, our lady Pinkerton is at it again, facing her toughest assignment yet, in The Case of the Runaway Girl:

Lady detective Penelope Hamilton must navigate a labyrinth of 1880s politics, high society, and murder.

On a January night in 1887, trouble comes knocking at Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton’s door in the form of a sulky young runaway. The girl turns out to be the grandniece of an influential senator, who hires Pen to escort her and her friend from Chicago to his Washington, DC home.

What seems a simple assignment takes an alarming turn when a hired thug shadows them on the train, and Pen stays on the case in Washington for the girls’ safety. But in the days that follow, the senator’s home is broken into, his driver goes missing, and she is pursued along dark city streets and nearly captured. Obviously, Miss Hamilton is thwarting someone’s plans, and such an encumbrance must be removed.

In a search for answers to keep herself and her young charges safe, Pen must tread carefully within the confines of 1880s back-room politics and business tycoons with a lot to lose, while resisting the attentions of an attractive but not-quite-reformed jewel thief who knows far too much about her.

She’ll need more than her lockpicks and derringer this time, if she is to save them all. 

THE CASE OF THE RUNAWAY GIRL is the third adventure in the CHRONICLES OF A LADY DETECTIVE series featuring 1880s Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton.

Available now as a $2.99 ebook! KindleiTunesNook, and Kobo.

The Research

As with all of my books, the writing of this story required extensive research (but it’s fun!), specifically into 1880s Washington DC, the workings of the Senate, and the details surrounding the passage of a key piece of legislation at the time. I found all sorts of intriguing details….

Read the rest here, at K.B. Owen Mysteries.

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  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 Ides of March: more than the Shakespeare play you read in school

I first heard the phrase “the ides of March” in ninth grade, when we were assigned Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It’s a great play for your average teen, full of intrigue, deceit, betrayal, prophecy, political power, and murder. The soothsayer’s prognostication in the play is now legendary:

Beware the ides of March.

That’s it: short and sweet. Ever notice that most soothsayers in these stories are cryptic old men? A little more information would have been handy for Julius, who was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 B.C.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

How did the old man know? Shakespeare doesn’t say. There were all sorts of divination techniques back then, from ooh to eww. Check out this wikipedia article for the complete list. I like to think it was owl entrails. Just call me old-fashioned. *wink*

Even though we don’t examine entrails (known as extispicy) or watch the peckings of roosters (known as alectromancy) anymore, we continue to look for patterns to make sense of our world. Pattern recognition is hard-wired into us by evolution and has saved us many times in our early survival days. But it’s also tricky. Some patterns are significant, and some are purely coincidental.

I doubt I would have given the ides of March another thought in my lifetime if not for a klutzy mishap in eleventh grade. I broke my ankle on March 15th of that year, slipping on the wet floor in the pool locker room. Even then I didn’t get it, until my mom pointed it out and wrote Beware the Ides of March on my cast. Everyone got a chuckle out of that. I got off easy compared to Caesar, right?

Me and my prom date, 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

Me and my prom date, less than 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

In the decades since, I have managed to get through the ides of March unscathed, and those locker rooms got non-slip mats for the floor, so we’re all good.

A few interesting facts about the Ides of March (Idus Martii):

  • The term “ides” referred to the middle of the month, at the time of the full moon. Based on the Romans’ lunar calendar, the ides were on the 13th for most months of the year and on the 15th in March, May, July, and October.
  • The ides, no matter what the month, were considered a holy day dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter, and commemorated by animal sacrifices.
  • By the oldest Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year; therefore, the ides of March was the new year’s first full moon.
  • In Rome, the ides of March was when one settled debts. Kind of like an IRS tax deadline.

You can see that Caesar’s assassins picked a significant day to do the deed. Here we have the death of Caesar linked to sacrifice, the settling of a debt, starting a new year, and a celebration of the Romans’ most important god. Patterns yet again.

The unluckiness of the ides of March doesn’t end with Caesar’s assassination. Here are some ominous things that have happened in history on March 15th:

  • 1889: cyclone in Samoa destroys six U.S. and German warships docked in the harbor at Apia, killing over 200 sailors.
  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II signs the papers to abdicate his throne, turning over his rule to the Bolsheviks. He and his family are imprisoned and executed.
  • 1939: the Nazis seize Czechoslavakia
  • 1952: record rainfall hits La Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean), dumping over 73 inches in a 24-hour period.
  • 2003: the World Health Organization issues a world-wide health alert for the emerging SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. Panicked populations across the globe don surgical masks and close schools.

For the rest of the list, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that March 15th is more unlucky than any other day of the year. At least, I hope not. Crutches are a pain in the neck on the stairs.

Happy Ides,

Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 released a few months ago.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  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. 🙂 )

Where the Research Takes Us and a New Release in Historical Mysteries!

by K.B. Owen

I’m so happy to announce the release of the next Concordia mystery.

It seems that, no matter where the lady professor may go, trouble is sure to follow. Not even wedded bliss can stop our intrepid Concordia from getting involved in something dangerous…

When a killer crashes the honeymoon, three’s a crowd…

It’s the summer of 1899, and Professor Concordia Wells—now Mrs. David Bradley—eagerly anticipates their honeymoon in the Hamptons. She has one errand along the way, to visit a former student seeking advice. About a love interest, no doubt.

If only it were that benign. The young lady, now employed as a switchboard operator, inadvertently eavesdropped on a murder plot involving the high finance world of the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club. How to notify the police without losing her position? Before Concordia can think of something, the girl is murdered.

Without proof, the police give little credence to second-hand conspiracy tales. David convinces Concordia to leave the matter to the authorities and go on with their honeymoon. Little do they know that trouble will follow them to their peaceful getaway, and entangle them in secrets and long-standing grudges until they are fighting for their very lives. “’Til death do us part” may happen sooner than the couple ever imagined.

Available on Amazon for Kindle.

I’ll post more purchase links as they go live, including the paperback. Just in time for your holiday relaxation, curled up in a cozy chair on a wintry afternoon! *wink*

I know many of you enjoy the background research behind my books. While writing Unseemly Honeymoon, I needed all sorts of info: 1899 telephone operations, turn-of-the-century honeymoon customs and behaviors, the terrain of the Hamptons area of Long Island, the system of jurisprudence in Suffolk County, and the Long Island RR in 1899 – it’s stops, platforms, and schedules. And then there’s 1899 baseball, yachting, hotels, and theater performances. Fun stuff! I’ll probably be developing some of these as more extensive blog posts down the road. But for now, here are a few fun little facts that I picked up along the way:

Want to read more? Click here.

Happy Holidays,

Kathy
Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 just released.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  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. 🙂 )

‘Tis the Season: 19th century Shoplifters

by K.B. Owen

As “Black Friday” rapidly approaches, the official opening of the holiday shopping season in the U.S., we thought it would be fun/interesting to look at a related activity, past and present.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, retailers lose $13 billion (that’s a 13 with nine zeroes after it!) in merchandise each year.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime-time for such thefts, when professional and amateur alike hit the crowded stores.

Such was the case in the 19th century, too. According to a December 12, 1897 article in The Sun: 

As soon as the shops become crowded with throngs who go to investigate, admire, and buy their Christmas offerings, shoplifters also turn out en masse. Experience soon teaches them that they can do their most profitable work this season.

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don't you love the nicknames some of these gals have?

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don’t you love the nicknames of some of these gals?

For now, let’s set aside discussion of the amateur shoplifters of the 19th century — wealthy and middle class women, mostly, who often had their charges dropped by the store because they came from a prominent family and/or they were diagnosed with kleptomania (by some accounts brought on by something “menstrual”). Our focus today is on the professionals, also known as “hoisters,” or “h’isters.” There were two kinds of hoisters: the clouters and the pennyweighters. To quote one of the policemen in the article: “These people have more ways of stealing than they have fingers and toes.”

Shoplifters such as Flossie Maitland and May Murray (couldn’t find their pics, sorry), worked together as clouters, with one to distract the clerk and the other to wear the apparatus under her skirt. The clouting apparatus consisted of a hidden band around the waist, to which strong elastic bands are attached. The item to be stolen would be dropped on the floor, and the clouter would stand over it (covering it with her skirt), then stoop down as if she was picking up a hairpin, reaching under her skirts to secure the item beneath the criss-crossed elastic.

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

The Sun article describes May Murray as “‘Big May,’ the most notorious shoplifter in the country.” Policemen in every city had heard of her. When she was caught in New York (after being followed in and out of several stores by police in a nearby cab), they found a 42-inch sealskin coat hidden under her skirt, and two other fur coats beneath the cab seat from the stop at the previous store.

Pennyweighters (both male and female) were thieves who would steal an item and replace it with a cheap copy so its disappearance wasn’t quickly noticed. Jewelry was a typical target. The thieves would scope out the jewelry on display ahead of time and create something close in appearance that could be quickly swapped out.

So, without security cameras or metal detectors, what was a Victorian department store owner to do? The common solution was to hire a detective to keep watch, although some stores, such as Lord & Taylor, denied that they even had a problem with shoplifters.

Surprisingly, some of the private detectives were women. Why? According to a female detective interviewed for The Sun article, “they (store managers) found that men were clumsy at following and arresting women shoplifters.”

Here’s a bit more about this particular lady detective, from the reporter’s point of view (he’s referring to himself in the third person):

shoplifters2

“Things not being what they seem” certainly makes writing mysteries fun!

Have you ever seen someone shoplift an item? Should we bring back store detectives, as opposed to those metal detectors that go off for no good reason when you’re trying to leave the store? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  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 Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

by K.B. Owen

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:

Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide….

Read the rest at K.B. Owen Mysteries

 

 

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact. ?

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

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. 🙂 )