Just One More Thing—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://mysterylady.net/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

If you have nightmares about ending up in someone’s book, then you should know that there are certain things that you should never say to a writer—especially a murder mystery writer.

For example, never ask a mystery writer, “Who taught you how to use commas?” Depending on your tone when you ask that question, your fictional counterpart is bound to end up on the wrong side of a toxic substance.

One of my least favorite phrases is “If you’re ever looking for something to do …”

As the wife to a man who can’t fry an egg (Really! Seriously! The last time he tried to fry an egg I ended up having to feed an entire team of volunteer fire fighters.), mother, church volunteer, and full-time writer, I am never looking for something-to-do. Truthfully, I spend a great deal of my time hiding from Something-to-do.

After twenty years of marriage, I started replying, “Do I look like I’m looking for something to do?” My husband didn’t get the message until I boxed his ears. Then, he slowly backed away and never said that again.

One day, I am going to write a post about what not to say to a writer—unless you want to end up in a book.

This is not that post.

I think most of you are quite familiar with the tendency of adding just one more thing to your to-do-list —usually because you are a nice person. (You have my permission to reach around and pat yourself on the back for being a good person.) Or maybe because that little thing is something that you rather enjoy thinking about doing. It isn’t until it is time to actually get up and do it that it becomes a burden.

The very thought of that Just-One-More-Thing seems quite miniscule while it is a thought inside your head. Then, it ceases being a thought and turns into a reality. Before you know it, Just-One-More-Thing is transformed into a 900-pound gorilla that has decided to sit down right smack in the middle of your to-do-list. That wouldn’t be so bad if it’d move down on your list so that you can put off addressing him until tomorrow like everything else on your list.

But, believe me, 900-pound gorillas are impossible to move.

My latest Just-One-More-Thing started out as one lasagna.

During church a couple of weeks ago, my friend Gail requested food for a reception following a funeral. Instantly, my husband’s eyes lit up and he turned to me. “Lasagna,” he mouthed.

I thought, “Gee, I haven’t made a lasagna in quite a while. It only takes a couple of hours to prepare and assemble a lasagna.” So, I went to Gail and volunteered to make a lasagna for the funeral reception. At which point she handed me a huge pan—big enough for three lasagnas.

Okay, my one lasagna is now three, plus one for my family.

Except, when I make a lasagna, I don’t just make a single lasagna. I make several lasagnas, cook one for dinner, and then pack up and freeze the rest. Then during the upcoming months, when I get busy and don’t feel like cooking, I’ll take one out of the freezer and pop it into the oven.

Last winter, I went through five lasagnas in one month.

I confess, it has been a while since I made my batches of lasagna.

The day after I had volunteered to make the giant lasagna, my husband came home with six foil pans in anticipation of my culinary delight. In one day, my couple of lasagnas had multiplied up to ten. One enormous pasta dish for the church, six to be frozen, and one for dinner.

Just smile. It will only take a few hours, and everyone will be happy afterwards, I kept telling myself. You’re such a good girl. Everyone will love you.

As the day approached, my husband kept requesting a grocery list of what he would need to purchase. Finally, on Saturday, I sat down to count up the lasagna pans and add up the amount of the ingredients. I came up with five boxes of noodles, five huge jars of sauce, a half a ton of Italian sausage, and a ton of various cheeses.

He came back from the store with five boxes of noodles, half a ton of Italian sausage, ground beef, and pork, a ton of various cheeses and one regular size jar of sauce.

“What happened to the sauce?” I asked.

“That’s plenty of sauce,” replied the man who has yet to figure out how to turn on the toaster. “Let’s not go crazy.”

“Dear, you’re a little late to suggest that,” I said. “I’ve volunteered to make an enormous lasagna to feed an army, plus enough lasagna to feed us until the end of the next Ice Age, and you bring me one jar of sauce!”

He handed me the car keys and said that if I needed more sauce, I could go back to the store to get it.

So, I did exactly that. Grumbling the whole way, I drove to the store and bought four huge jars of sauce and a giant cheesecake.

You see, over the years, I’ve learned something about 900-pound gorillas. There’s only one thing you can do when Just-One-More-Thing turns into a nine-hundred-pound gorilla.

Embrace it, feed it plenty of cheesecake, and the two of you will get along just fine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for both
Geezer Squad ebooks by Lauren Carr,
Ice and Winter Frost,

just leave a comment telling when you
volunteered for that “Just One More Thing…”
that sent you over the edge.
. The

winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, February 18th.

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My Favorite Places

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share her love for libraries and independent bookstores.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/

Two of my favorite places are libraries and book stores. I got my first library card when I was in kindergarten. That was a long time ago, but I have never since been without one. I have moved a bunch of times over the years and one of the first things I do when I hit a new town is find the library and get a card. Not to have a book ready at my elbow makes me panic worse than the internet being down. It’s an addiction, one I picked up from my mother and father, neither of whom were ever without a book, one in their hands, another waiting for them to pick up.

The love of book stores came later. There wasn’t a lot of money in our household and the library was free. However, we did have books. Mainly non-fiction or classics, books my mother claimed we would read over and over, but rarely the latest best seller. However, I had books of my own. It was all I ever wanted for Christmas or my birthday, except that one year when I wanted a Brownie uniform. But we didn’t haunt the book stores. That came later.

I can’t remember when I first discovered the pleasure of wandering through a book store. I don’t think we had one in my home town, but if we did, I never went into it that I can remember. It was after I grew up, had children of my own that I discovered the local book store. At first, I was looking at children’s books. When my children had a library book they liked, they didn’t want to take it back. They wanted that story read to them night after night, so I started their small in-home library. As it grew, I added my own books. Then we built a wall of bookshelves in our family room. I didn’t set out to fill it with books, but gradually, maybe not so gradually, it happened. Cook books played a large part in my book buying back then, it was hard to use a recipe that I’d found in a returned library book. I’d made a list of authors I loved while I pursued the library shelves and I started to buy some of their books. Mom was wrong. I did go back and read them again. There were also text books on those shelves. I had married young and had a whole houseful of children but after the second child, I started back at night school. Books I needed for those classes filled the shelves along with the fiction and cookbooks. But the campus bookstore had a poor selection of cook books and children’s literature. Or my beloved mysteries. It didn’t take me long to find a store that did.

Independent book stores, however, were not always easy to find. Back then, there was no Amazon, no internet, no Barnes and Noble, so you had to search out a local store. Some sold used books ( I love the smell of those stores, the dusty shelves, the treasure hunt as you find a book by a favorite author you haven’t read, or have read but don’t own) but it wasn’t until I published my first book that I realized how many small book stores there are scattered around the US. I have been fortunate enough to visit a handful of them. Many are gone now, victims of large box stores and the internet, but many remain. They may have branched out a little, added a coffee bar, some cute cards and puzzles, local jewelry, but books remain their passion. Someone is always available to discuss the newest best seller, or to help you find a treasure you have never heard of.  These shops are tucked away in shopping centers, around the corner from the local café, in an old house on the fringes of town, just about everywhere you can imagine. You will often have to seek them out and they’re worth the effort. You can spend a lovely hour or two, wandering the aisles of these stores, and the books you take home will give you many more hours of pleasure.

I am not going to name any of my favorite stores today, there are a number of them in a lot of different states, but I hope you will share your favorites with the rest of us. Tell us about them, and why you keep going back. I’ll post them in my next blog and I’ll add a few that I love as well.  Let’s keep them alive. They matter.

Productive Procrastination

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about all the really good things about procrastination.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

I had 6 weeks to write this article. I’m writing it the day before deadline. I confess, I’m a serial procrastinator.

As those weeks barreled by, my head was empty of ideas. I’m always sure I’ll never come up with material for my column. I get ready to tell Lelia I can’t possibly do it. Then the universe throws something in my path that starts niggling in my brain. Maybe it’s a meme I saw on Face Book. Maybe there was a piece on the news or via a conversation with a friend. Sentences start flowing through my head, usually at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. By procrastinating, the idea has time to germinate and grow.

Procrastinators gets a bad rap. We’re often accused of trying to avoid the inevitable or being lazy, passive-aggressive, afraid to move forward, unable to make a decision. People who we inconvenience find it arrogant. It signals a message: “I will do what you want but at my own pace.”

As I experience it, procrastination is more like going through the 5 stages of death:

Denial: I don’t want to do this project.

Anger: Why do people expect this work from me?

Bargaining: If I get to read another chapter, I’ll do the chore.

Depression: Geez, now I only have two days until deadline.

Acceptance: Fine. I’ll do it!

I understand this leads to issues like unpaid bills or missed appointments. On the flip side, sometimes doing nothing is best. I’ve often found that if I procrastinate long enough, a problem simply resolves itself. Maybe it wasn’t really a problem in the first place.

I’m not alone in advocating a delay strategy. On Google I found an article with tips on how to be a productive procrastinator. First, do it intentionally. Acknowledge the fact that you are putting off an important task. Next, figure out why you want to put it off. Don’t let yourself feel guilty. Decide what “last minute” means. Is it a week out or the day of? Finally, if you don’t want to tackle a big problem, just do a smaller one for now.

Please don’t show this column to politicians. They procrastinate enough as is.

Appropriation of the Witch

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

The dictionary defines a witch as a woman believed to have magic powers, especially evil ones.  She is generally portrayed as a hag with a crooked nose, a pointy black hat, and a broomstick.  “It is not unusual,” declared one cleric of the 16th Century, “that the scum of humanity should be drawn chiefly from the feminine sex.”  Indeed, suspicion has surrounded the female of the species ever since Eve got Adam in trouble over the apple.  There’s just something innately witchy that lurks in the feminine temperament, something that keeps men on the qui vive.

The Good Book makes no bones about it.  “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18).  Given that exhortation, it’s not surprising that during the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries, Christians regarded witchcraft as a crime punishable by death – primarily by burning or hanging.  The populace stayed on high alert and between 1450 and 1750 in Europe, an estimated 90,000 witches were detected and executed, eighty percent of them women.

In addition to being female, there were other telltale signs of witchery.  Moles, warts, birthmarks, and extra nipples provided clear visual evidence.  Alternatively, you could weigh her against a stack of Bibles.  If she was lighter, guilty – likewise if she was heavier.  Once the judges decided to plop her on the scale, she didn’t stand much of a chance.  One town in the Netherlands sold vouchers to women certifying they were heavier than air and unable to fly. Those who couldn’t fly were less likely to be offered a seat on the ducking stool.  Owning a cat was an incriminating sign, as was left-handedness.  And anyone overheard talking to herself was presumed to be conversing with the Devil.  Matthew Hopkins, the most successful witch finder of the 17th Century, tested suspects by throwing them in the river.  If they floated, he had his proof and hanged them on the spot.

Astonishingly, laws against witchcraft remained on the books until the mid-20th Century.  One of the last women to be tried for the crime of witchcraft was Helen Duncan, a Scottish medium who did tricks with cheesecloth and palmed it off as an ectoplasmic emanation. During a séance in 1944, she blurted out a wartime state secret she couldn’t reasonably have known and the British government charged her under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.  After hearing the testimony of numerous witnesses, the jury returned a guilty verdict in just twenty-five minutes and the bailiff led Helen away moaning and crying.  She served nine months in Holloway Prison.  Upon her release, she promised she’d have nothing more to do with the spirit world, but you can’t expect a witch to tell the truth.  The police raided a séance in 1956 and arrested her again.  She died a few weeks later, whether because of police brutality or the consequences of an interrupted trance.

As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.  In parts of India and Africa, witch-hunts still go on with thousands of accused witches brutalized and murdered every year.  A poll taken in 2005 found that more than twenty percent of Americans believe in witches, although here, the term “witch-hunt” no longer means the pursuit of someone believed to be in cahoots with the Devil.  It now refers to a campaign of harassment directed against an individual or group because of their politics or unorthodox opinions.  In 2018, more men claimed to be victims of witch-hunts than women. Are men trying to appropriate the role of the witch?

Male practitioners of the dark arts aren’t called witches.  They are wizards or warlocks.  Derived from the word “wise,” wizard carries more positive connotations than “witch”.  A wizard is a sort of genius, marvelous and exceptionally skilled.  Everyone loves wizards – Merlin, Gandalf, Harry Potter.  I don’t think the American public would put up with a “wizard-hunt.”

It’s all about the brand, as the marketing experts say.  President Trump might enhance his brand by dropping a term that harks back to an era when powerful men tortured and murdered powerless women because of a crazy superstition.  Conversely, the more macho sounding “wizard-hunt” might appeal to his tough-guy base.  And men who worry the #MeToo Movement has opened a Pandora’s box of persecution against the male sex might improve their image by avoiding the word “witch.”  They probably shouldn’t mention Pandora, either.  She was the femme fatale the Greeks blamed for loosing a swarm of miseries on mankind.

Cherchez la femme.  For centuries women have been the convenient cause of whatever trouble men have gotten themselves into.  While it’s wicked cool to be a Wiccan or a witch these days, it behooves the modern witch to remember who’s likeliest to feel the heat when things go wrong.

Frontispiece, The Discovery of Witches by Matthew Hopkins

 

 

My Home Town

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share her memories of small town life and why community is so important.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/

I was born and spent my growing up years in Glendale, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. Back in those days, Glendale was not quite a small town nor was it quite a city, but it was a nice place to live. Lots of tree lined residential streets, a good-sized downtown with I think three movie theaters, a couple of department stores (Webbs was the biggest and nicest, Famous was as I remember a bit dowdy but had lots of great bargain basement deals). There was a chicken pie restaurant that had a large sign over the take home counter. “If you don’t like chicken, dinners over.” The first Bob’s Big Boy restaurant was in Glendale. It also had a great library which I frequented regularly, and a bus and red car system that was safe enough even for my over cautious mother to let us ride without her. But it wasn’t the kind of small town I write about in my mystery novels. The kind where everyone knows everyone else, where families live close by and cousins are your best friends. We knew our neighbors, of course, and my parents had friends, as did my brother and I but they were not the people my parents had grown up with. Our closest relatives were half a day’s drive.

I read about small towns, about cousins running in and out of each other’s houses, about how friends were made from birth to grave, how everyone knew each other’s ‘kin’, knew their friends family history as well, maybe better, than they knew their own, knew the latest gossip about everyone in town, knew to a day how close a baby was born after the wedding, and had no problem telling everyone who would listen. They also knew who needed a helping hand, who needed a job or help with a hospital bill, or a barrage of prayers from the church prayer group. Casseroles appeared on kitchen tables of the bereaved, children were taken in while their parents  tended to a sick grandparent, help fixing a broken car engine appeared almost before the car owner knew he was in trouble and teenagers had a hard time trying to cross the red line set by their parents. Someone else’s parents had the same red line and had no problem imposing justice, or just ratting out the offender to his or her parents. It wasn’t only the young whose misdeeds were found out. Adults had an equally hard time straying from the straight and narrow pathway. Someone always knew what they had done. There was always someone in town who knew where all the bodies were buried.

Were these towns real? I often wondered, until I ended up in one.

I moved to a small town in central California after my divorce. I took with me my mother, father, last born child, 5 horses, 3 dogs, assorted cats and a brand-new real estate license. I knew no one in town. It took awhile to break down the barriers, but eventually we were accepted. The town was going through many changes as new wineries and vineyards popped up everywhere. That meant new people were moving in, which changed the character of the town, but not entirely. Old families remained. Not all of them stayed on the farms and ranches they had inhabited for several generations. Many moved to town to start businesses, but others traded in cows for wineries, yellow fields of barley for the green of vineyards. And the rhythm of small-town living remained. The traditions, the festivals, the church suppers and the annual rummage sale, they’re all still there. A little larger, as they include a new generation of people who, luckily, recognize the value of community, a blessing small towns offer.

I don’t think this sense of community remains in all small towns. It seems many of them are swallowed up by growth. Large housing tracts appear along with chain restaurants and retail stores. The only place neighbors meet is at the housing association pool. Children still make friends, but their mothers rarely know the first names of their kids’ friends. The neighborhood women don’t play bridge any more while they exchange recipes or gossip, the men don’t play poker on Saturday night at someone’s house where they can walk home. Kids don’t ride their bikes all over town under the watchful eyes of the town merchants who know their parents. Those towns seem to be flourishing while the small towns I’m talking about seem to be dying out right along with the family farm.

I hope that is not true, but in the meantime, I plan on helping to keep them alive through stories. You actually won’t find many murders in small towns, but you will find plenty of mysterious goings on, and every town has a Mary McGill to keep the town organized and the community spirit alive.

So, draw up a chair, smile a little, and prepare to meet Mary McGill and her dog, Millie, and the good people (mostly) in Santa Louisa, Ca. and enjoy a little bit of small-town living.

The 4th in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Boo, You’re Dead, will be released late 2019.

The Sound of Silence

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about white noise and whether it’s always a good thing.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

One thing I find hard to live without is a white noise machine.

It sounds like a contradictory term. Is white noise a sound at all? How is it different from silence?

I discovered white noise while stationed on Roosevelt Roads Navy Base in Puerto Rico. My first night in the barracks I found I was surrounded by a thunderously high noise coming from everywhere. Well, it was a jungle out there and I anticipated unique noises but this was like nails on a chalkboard.

I soon found out it was the sound of frogs called “coqui.” They’re named from the sound they make: “Co-kee” and are the national symbol of the island. They are unbelievably small with a thousand watt call. Their song started at dusk and went on until dawn. Every night. All night. If they managed to get inside your room, they were impossible to find.

My solution was to run the air conditioner to drown out the sound. That’s how I discovered white noise. It worked until my roommate begged me to turn the air off because she was freezing. Even in the winter it gets chilly on the island.

When I got back to the states, I couldn’t sleep. It was too quiet. The silence was too loud. Someone in the world of radio offered a solution. Every night on a certain station you could dial in to hear the sound of waves breaking on a beach and retreating. Other solutions were a radio set between station for static or leaving the bathroom fan on.

So, what is white noise? It’s any constant, repetitive sound which overrides other noise. For some of us it’s incredibly soothing, practically hypnotic. For others it’s annoying as a buzzing mosquito. There’s a heartbeat setting recommended for babies, both human and animal. Scientists have found it also helps people suffering from tinnitus.

Simon and Garfunkel

You can buy white noise machines at Target or Walmart. They range in price, from $84 at Target, mine was $15 at Kmart. Best price seems to be Amazon. The machines offer a selection of sounds, from waves to rain and stream (which makes me want to go to the bathroom). Now they even have an app for that.

I’ve conquered silence. However, in the rest of the world there are still overwhelming sounds that keep me awake at night. Political discord, the news, riots, the sounds of gunfire, war and babies crying on the wrong side of the fence. The silence we don’t need is a society which believes their voices aren’t heard. A government working quietly to keep secrets hidden. An earth that has no voice as it’s passively destroyed. What I’d like is a constant, quiet voice of reason. I’d stay awake for that!

Wish I’d Said That

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

I recently read a review of a movie about a frustrated, wannabe poet who discovers a literary prodigy in her kindergarten class.  Driven by envy and a desire to impress, she represents the five-year-old’s original verses as her own.  It started me thinking about plagiarism, a vice that’s been around since ancient times.  “I wish I’d said that” must be one of the oldest, most oft-repeated sentences in the language.

In this Internet age, young people have taken to poaching other people’s content in record numbers in spite of software that promises to detect copycats.  The prevailing attitude seems to be that information wants to be free, originality is overrated, and who cares anyway?  Boosting a few bits here and there is as easy as Control + C, Control + V.  And it’s not just the kids who are helping themselves to the intellectual output of others.  The University of Oregon handbook that warns students against plagiarism was copied from the Stanford handbook.

In ancient Rome, a plagarius was a kidnapper who lay in wait to steal away unsuspecting children in his plaga – or net – and sell them as slaves.  The word acquired fresh meaning when a disgruntled poet named Martial accused another poet of kidnapping his poems and passing them off as his own.  A plagarius thus became a literary thief, although stealing other poets’ words wasn’t frowned upon by anyone but Martial for several hundred years.  Shakespeare filched from Plutarch, Milton from Masenius, Lawrence Sterne from Robert Burton, and Oscar Wilde stole shamelessly from everyone.  But by the middle of the 18th Century books began to be mass-produced, there was money to be made, and authors grew touchy about pilferers – particularly if the pilferer profited off another writer’s hard work.  In 1601 Ben Jonson called one such word-napper a plagiary and by 1755, the word had found its way into English dictionaries.

“That was an awfully witty remark you made last night. I wish I could say it was mine.”
“You will, my boy, You will.”

Writers tend to think of their books as their children and when their children are kidnapped, they get riled.  Thomas Mallon wrote a fascinating book about the history and psycho-pathology of plagiarism called Stolen Words.  In it he says, “The real mystery of writing, like all forms of creativity, is that we don’t know what makes it happen.  Where did [the author] find the words?  We marvel over an arresting passage.  More rare, and therefore more shocking, are those moments when we come upon a paragraph and can say…I know where he got that!

In Colin Dexter’s The Wench Is Dead, Inspector Morse experiences just such a shock.  Morse is in the hospital recovering from a bleeding ulcer and the wife of a recently deceased patient gives him a book about a murder that occurred on the Oxford Canal in 1859. As the mystery unfolds, his attention snags on the phrase “conjecturally damned.”  Instantly, he recognizes it as a crib from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  Two little words and ding!  An alarm bell sounds.  Plagiarism.

Morse’s pronouncement struck me as a teensy bit persnickety.  After decades of reading, how many catchy phrases have lodged in the crevices of my brain?  Must I always be wondering, did I make that up or did I absorb it from some long forgotten source?  Mark Twain adopted a more liberal stance.  He thought that if a writer used another’s phrasing unconsciously – “snaking it out of some old secluded corner of his memory, and mistaking it for a new birth instead of a mummy,” the transgression was forgivable.  Subconscious kleptomania happens all the time.  Memory, influence, imitation, sloppy note keeping, cutting and pasting, cryptomnesia – the lines are hazy.  A little two-word echo may not amount to plagiarism, but deliberate copying of entire passages is a serious heist.

Quite a few famous authors have been caught lifting material from others without attribution: Lillian Hellman, Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alex Haley, Dan Brown, James Frey, and Ian McEwan to name but a few.  Bob Dylan appropriated his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature verbatim from the SparkNotes for Moby Dick.  Plagiarism isn’t a prosecutable crime, but copyright infringement is illegal.  It can get a writer sued, not to mention the damage it may do to his reputation.

Writers draw their ideas from a million outside sources and influences, but each of us views the world from a different vantage point and we describe what we see in our own unique words.  T.S. Eliot said, “immature writers imitate, great writers steal.”  It was a glib retort from a writer known for his borrowings and allusions.  Still and all, there’s dangerous ground between wishing you’d thought up a clever turn of phrase and pretending you actually did.  No author wants his brainchild snatched and rechristened by a plagiary.  It ain’t murder, but it could provide a motive for one.