Things Work Out

Things Work Out

We are making history every day. Time will tell us whether it is for good or ill, but since we have not figured out how to turn back the clock, except in science fiction novels, we must move forward into an uncertain future.

With the new year upon us, and many people struggling with recent events, I thought this poem appropriate, perhaps even optimistic.

Enjoy and Happy 2021!



Things Work Out

By Edgar A. Guest, 1881-1959

Because it rains when we wish it wouldn’t,
Because men do what they often shouldn’t,
Because crops fail, and plans go wrong-
Some of us grumble all day long.
But somehow, in spite of the care and doubt,
It seems at last that things work out.

Because we lose where we hoped to gain,
Because we suffer a little pain,
Because we must work when we’d like to play-
Some of us whimper along life’s way.
But somehow, as day always follows the night,
Most of our troubles work out all right.

Because we cannot forever smile,
Because we must trudge in the dust awhile,
Because we think that the way is long-
Some of us whimper that life’s all wrong.
But somehow we live and our sky grows bright,
And everything seems to work out all right.

So bend to your trouble and meet your care,
For the clouds must break, and the sky grow fair.
Let the rain come down, as it must and will,
But keep on working and hoping still.
For in spite of the grumblers who stand about,
Somehow, it seems, all things work out.

The Tree of Lost Secrets

The Tree of Lost Secrets

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, mainly because I’m deep in the heart of writing my seventh novel.

This book has been challenging. My first six mysteries take you back in time to a particular time and place. For instance Deadly Provenance brings you to Paris and World War II; Pure Lies to the Salem Witch Trials; and Time Exposure to the American Civil War.

My current book, whose working title is The Tree of Lost Secrets takes place in my hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. Readers travel back to four different time periods, hence, four sets of new characters. Plus, in keeping with my tradition, a modern story which threads through all.

The four time periods and locations:

Italy, World War II, 1943

Halifax, Nova Scotia, World War I, and the great Halifax explosion, 1911

The Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War, 1856

The American Revolution, 1776

In my research I have come across some interesting and amusing material worth a mention here. For example, one of my characters in the section on the American Revolution is a real character named John André, a British spy who was also an actor, artist, and poet. I learned that André had Sometimes history astounds! a statue erected to him in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, along with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Tennyson, among others.

I was impressed. Out of curiosity, I wanted to read one of his poems. Here are a few verses from a poem he wrote called “Yankee Doodle’s Expedition to Rhode Island:”

From Lewis, Monsieur Gerard came,

To Congress in this town, sir,

They bowed to him, and he to them,

And then they all sat down, sir, 

If that didn’t compel you, here’s one more snappy verse:

So Yankee Doodle did forget,
The sound of British drum, sir,

How oft it made him quake and sweat, 

In spite of Yankee rum, sir.

Believe it or not, it can be sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which was written in 1755. Not to be confused with the Hollywood version sung by James Cagney.

In the end, André was hung for spying. Frankly, I think he should have swung from the gibbet for his poetry. Sometimes history astounds!

There Are No Roads That Do Not Bend

There Are No Roads That Do Not Bend

As I watch the leaves fall to the ground, I am reminded of my first years in Vermont back in the seventies. Coming from New York City it was a magical transition. From concrete and brick to buds and bulbs. I had actually never seen a tree bud into leaf when I was a kid in Brooklyn. Until Vermont. I swore I’d never go back to a big city again. But, life has a way of changing our plans. I wound up in San Diego, yes a big city, for many years. Now that I’m back in Vermont, I again glory in the beauty of nature and wildlife. This time, I’m sure I won’t leave.

I wanted to share a song that seems fitting to the environment . . . and the times we’re living in. The singer-songwriter is long gone and unfortunately I only became familiar with her recently. I hope you enjoy. Stay safe and well!

The Times We’re Living In by Kate Wolf

Down by the river the water’s runnin’ low
As I wander underneath the trees
In the park outside of town
The leaves turned brown and yellow now
Are falling on the ground

Remembering the way you felt
Beside me here when love was new
That feeling’s just grown stronger
Since I fell in love with you

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

Winter wood piled on the porch
Walnuts scattered on the ground
And wood smoke risin’ to the sky
An old man comes home from work
And he hugs his wife in a sweat-stained shirt
Walks through that door to
Where it’s warm inside

And I’m walking as the wind
Rustles in the fallen leaves
My footsteps picking out a tune
My heart sings silently

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

See the roses dried and faded
The tall trees carved and painted
With long forgotten lovers’ names
Old cars standing empty
And dogs barking at me
As I walk through the quiet streets the same

If I could I’d tell you now
There are no roads that do not bend
And the days like flowers bloom and fade
And they do not come again

Now we’ve only got these times we’re living in
We’ve only got these times we’re living in

A Tragedy Revisited

A Tragedy Revisited

March 25th, 2016, will commemorate the 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The 1911 fire was the deadliest workplace disaster in NYC before 9-11.  It was significant not because 146 workers died, but because it instigated significant reform. At the time workplace safety was barely regulated and rarely thought about . . . except, perhaps, by the workers themselves. Other workplace disasters had occurred in the past and would again in the future.  You may remember a similar fire at a factory in Bangladesh last year.

When I decided to write a mystery against the backdrop of the Triangle, I had no idea what I was in for.  Research took me in several directions: the forensics of fire, the consequences of “defenestration,” that is, vertical falls from high places, the difficulty in identifying bodies falling from such heights, the safety hazards for garment workers, women’s rights, workers’ rights, changes in the American workplace.

But I also researched the time and place of the disaster.  1911, Greenwich Village, New York City.  A time when Ellis Island kept its arms open to immigrants from many countries — immigrants who came for a better life, but often wound up in sweatshops, or worse.  A time of Tammany Hall and corruption.  A time of women’s suppression.  But also a time of new beginnings, hope, and freedom in a new land.

I am a native New Yorker and was amazed at the fantastic bits of information I dug up.  I learned, for instance, that Washington Square Park is built on what was once a potter’s field, where 100,000 people were buried for a century and a half.  I walked the streets of Greenwich Village, saw the buildings my characters would have seen, drank in bars they patronized, and gazed up at the ninth story of the Asch Building (now part of NYU)  to visualize the flames bursting through the windows and the workers leaping to their deaths.

The cover of my book is a photo I took of the building in 2010, with smoke and color added for dramatic effect.  For those of you who write about history, or simply enjoy reading it, I know you’ll agree that real-life events in the past make a grand backdrop for a fictional story.

Murder, in particular.

The Fine Art of Writing

After visiting an art museum recently, I began to wonder about the similarities between art and writing.  Fine art, as in a painting, can be considered subjective in terms of good vs. bad.  What’s pleasing for one individual is not necessarily for another.  You might adore Renoir, I might love Kandinsky.  Artists and art critics, however, do have their own standards about good art.  These revolve around color, texture, line, impasto and chiaroscuro (shadows and light) among other qualities.  But in general, most people would agree that art is subjective.  (I might fail to see how a large canvas simply painted red is art, but if you like it, well . . .)

Fine ArtHistory proves this subjectivity.  In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis not only murdered people, they exterminated art, artifacts, and literature.  Hitler and his comrades (Goebbels, in particular) decided which pieces of art were good and which were bad. To them, the old masters, artists that portrayed life as it really was, like Rembrandt, were worthy.  The modernists, impressionists and post-impressionists were entartete kunst – degenerate and despicable, destined for flames.  (It is worth noting that in 1937, an exhibition titled Entartete Kunst opened in Munich. The exhibition was designed to ridicule creative works by such artists as Picasso, because it insulted German womanhood.   Ironically, it turned out to be one of the most popular museum exhibitions ever displayed, with queues out the door from opening to closing, every day. )

Beyond art, the Nazis attacked literature.  Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser, considered socialists and “corrupting foreign influences,” were among the authors whose books were burned.  In the eyes of Hitler, it was the social impacts of the writing that condemned them to the fire.

So, what about prose?  Is it subjective like art?  Are there standards for quality writing?  What are those standards, then, and who determines them?  Is it merely the telling of a good story in a compelling manner?  What about proper grammar and spelling?  Sentence structure?  Dialogue, description, character development?  Is it a function of the time period in which they are written?  How does Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” hold up to Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” today?  Is one objectively “better” than the other?  What about classics like “Ulysses” by James Joyce where grammar, sentence structure, et al, are lost in a stream of consciousness?

Fine art 2Bottom line: Is writing simply subjective?  Can books, like art, be judged good or bad . . . based on the eye of the beholder?

What do you think?

The Forensics of Fire

An article in the New York Times about seven children killed in a fire in Brooklyn last March  (  reminded me of the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory 105 years ago.  The Triangle fire lasted only half an hour, from the initial spark to final burning embers but in the end, 146 perished.

Near closing time on Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire erupted on the eighth floor in a bin of scrap materials and fabrics. A steady flow of wind rushed through the elevator shafts from the street and fed the flames. Smoke began its way upward to the ninth floor. Garment workers, seamstresses, mostly women and young girls, raced to the exit door on Washington Place. It was locked. Later, some claimed the doors were kept locked so the girls didn’t steal the fabrics.  Within minutes the eighth and ninth floors were raging infernos.

Forensic science, often called forensics, is the application of science to the legal system.  This may be in relation to a crime or a civil action.  The word itself is derived from the Latin for?nsis, meaning “of or before the forum.”  In Roman times, criminals would present their case before a group of individuals in the Forum.

Today, with the preponderance of CSI programs and movies, forensics is a household word.  Law enforcement and crime-lab teams, however, view these programs as a hindrance since it colors the public’s (and the jury’s) view of the real work involved.

In 1911, fire forensics (in fact, all forensics) was in its infancy.  In my book, The Triangle Murders, Cormac Mead searched the two destroyed floors at the Triangle factory for evidence that would prove his wife was murdered. If he suspected arson, what would he have been looking for?  Probably things similar to what fire investigators look for today when investigating fires: evidence of accelerants, igniters, pieces of a bomb and explosive residues (if an explosion is suspected), point of origin, and point of entry and exit of the arsonist (if arson is suspected.) Interestingly, unlike crime suspects who are innocent until proven guilty, fires are considered suspicious until proven otherwise.

aftermath of firePhoto: An officer stands at the Asch Building’s 9th floor window after the Triangle fire. Sewing machines, drive shafts, and other wreckage of the Triangle factory fire are piled in the center of the blaze-scoured room. (Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911, Copyright: Kheel Center, Cornell University,