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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Writer's Life 8/2 - Grey, Black, White & Red

The late Barbara Mertz was a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she also earned a Phd in Egyptology. Because she wrote non-fiction under that name, her publisher suggested she adopt a pseudonym for her works in the mystery, suspense, thriller genre. She used two, Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, writing at least 30 novels under each name. I just finished The Grey Beginning, written under Michaels. Published in 1984, it is the story of a young American woman, recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, traveling to Italy, visiting the estate of her deceased husband's relatives outside Florence. The heir, a ten-year-old boy, is kept under lock and key each night, as it is believed he suffers from the family curse of madness. Are there supernatural forces at work? Is there treachery afoot? The characters are interesting. Except for an occasional choice of word I found odd, the prose and dialogue are solid. Of course, there is a twist, which works as theater but invalidates the first 9/10's of the narrative. Given the circumstances, I wondered why the heroine had even bothered to make the trip. Maybe that's just me. 32 users at Amazon have rated TGB, forging to a consensus of 3.9 of five. More than 30 years after its publication, it's selling better than any of my books. I rate it 2.5. The title is taken from a poem by Robert Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi: "I know my way back/Don't fear me! There's the grey beginning..." It refers to the color of the sky before dawn, before it becomes clear, which is an excellent metaphor for mystery. Only two of Mertz's novels were adapted to the screen, each a TV movie. She received many awards, most notably the Grandmaster from the Mystery Writers of America.

Yesterday I mentioned that Hillary had not received a bump in the polls from the convention. That was according to the RealClearPolitics poll cited by two guests on Sean Hannity's radio show. Today that same measure shows Clinton ahead by 4%. And polls by CNN and CBS, showcased in today's NY Post, show an even wider lead.

I heard surprising news this morning and followed by googling it. I found the following, edited by yours truly, at "The federal government has recommended flossing since 1979, first in a surgeon general’s report and later in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued every five years. Under law, the guidelines must be based on science. Last year the Associated Press asked the health and agriculture departments for evidence. This year the flossing recommendation was removed -- without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched. The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.” I will continue to do it, although I've always been skeptical about it.

According to several reports, the networks have given 50% more coverage to Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq, than to Pat Smith, whose son was killed in Benghazi. Gee, I wonder why.

There were 65 murders in Chicago in July, bringing the total for 2016 to 381. Will Black Lives Matter address this outrage?

My thanks to the kind folks who bought books today, and to Herbie, who donated a Mary Kubica thriller, and to Natalia and Benedict, who donated two paperbacks in Russian. I had a fairly heated political argument with Mark, a retired postal worker and Vietnam veteran, who despises Donald Trump with the same fervor that I despise Hillary. Fortunately, we were able to shake hands after it. He later related his experience during the Tet Offensive, describing it as "really scary." The enemy sent wave after wave. U.S. tanks mowed most of them down, literally cutting many in half. Mark was assigned to the clean up crew, which put the bodies in trucks.
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Vic's Short Story Collection:
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