Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Main Character Blog Hop - Meet Will Hepburn by Linda Root

I have been tagged by Anna Belfrage and Susan Appleyard in the Meet the Main Character Blog Hop. The idea is to introduce a principal character from a yet unpublished work and tell our reading audience a little bit about the person. In turn, we tag another four or five good-natured writers to do likewise. My tags have gone to Stuart S. Laing, Ginger Myrick, Louise Turner and Darius Stansky.
My current work is part of the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series featuring husband and wife adventurers Daisy Kirkcaldy,posthumous bastard daughter of the knight Kirkcaldy of Grange, and William Hepburn, the son of the 4th Earl of Bothwell. I have previously answered the questions as to Daisy in an earlier round. Now it’s Will’s turn: Questions used are composed by Debbie Brown of The English Historical Fiction Author’s Blog and Facebook pages.
Photo (C) Distrik 3, Deamstime.com, from
The Other Daughter by Linda Root

What is the name of your character?

Will Hepburn:  If ye dae nae mind, hen, ah’ll be speakin fur m’self. Tis bad enough ‘aving Daisy puttin’ words in m’ maw.  Ah call m’self Will Hepburn, but when ah was a lad, ah used the name a’ Will Beaton.  Ah borrowed the surname from m’ Granny’s best friend Janet Beaton, an older hen who happened tae be m’ da’s mistress on an off.  Tis fair tae say m’ da the earl’s love life was a wee bit complicated.

Are you fiction or a historic person?

Oh, ah’m real enough, but there’s nae much written boot me.  Just a few lines here and there unless ye’re good at trawlin. Ah was at Holyrood serving m’ step-brother James as his browdinstair, which means ah was the one who embroidered the canopies hangin’ o’er the king’s head at banquets, ‘cept when as busied m’self at tasks ah was better at doin’, such as savin’ the king from folly and courtin’ me gudewife Daisy.

When and where is the story set?

The action starts up at Kinghorn at our lodge on the shore a’ the Firth.  Twas a couple a’ years after our king toddles off tae LondonTown tae catch himself a crown. Truth be told, most a’ the action takes place on the wrong side a’ what we used tae call the Border which our fickle king has renamed ‘The Division’ and calls it parklands ‘stead of battleground.  Like ma da Lord James Hepburn, formerly the Earl of Bothwell, R.I.P., ah ‘ave nae affection fur the English.

What should we know about you as a main character in the story? 

 Ma mammy was a Norwegian lass who got herself jilted by ma da. She said they were handfasted and m’ da nay-sayed. So, she hauled me off tae Scotland when ah was wee, hoping tae enforce a marriage contract. Nice as they were tae her—and she was very rich, so they were very nice—they were nae anxious tae go against Marie Stuart, who was Queen a’ Scots and had other plans fur m’da. After a spell, m’mame gave up and sailed back tae’ Norway, leaving me with Lady Janet, who helped m’ daddy raise me up. Fur the most part ah lived among the reivers until m’ da got mixed up with the Queen.  Tae understand the way ah look at things, ye need tae know ah am closer tae being a Border Reiver than a royal embroiderer. Ah dae nae cut the image a’ some a’ the other Borders like m’gudewife’s kinsmen the Kers a' Ferniehirst, but people ‘ave a way of sensin’ ‘twould nae be healthy tae come at me with a dagger drawn, if ye git m’meaning.

What causes the conflict in the story—what messes up your life?

After the last time me wife a’ ah nearly got ourselves killed savin’ Scotland from the intrigues a' ma cousin Wild Frank Stewart, who wears the Bothwell title as a reward fur being born on the right side a' the sheets,  ah promised Daisy tae settle intae  the quiet life. Things were goin’ just fine 'til a pack a' bawbags broke intae the house in Kinghorn. They murdered our master of the household and carried off our son Wee Peter. Ah had a heavy load a' guilt tae deal with,  'cause ah was the fool what caused it. And tae top it off,  fur sure m' wee lad came first, but ah also felt duty bound tae save our sorry king. Seems like savin’ James had gotten tae be a habit.

 What was your personal goal?

First and foremost came gettin’ wee Peter back, but ah needed tae find a way tae save the Stuart Royals if ah could.dae it and still keep m family safe. Ah guess  ye could say ah needed tae balance m' duty tae m' family wi’ m' pesky sense a’ honor. And there's always the need tae keep  Daisy frae getting all a' us killed.

Is there a working title for this novel, and where can we read more about it?

If ye are interested in how ah managed tae deal with Peter, m' Bodacious wife  Daisy, a pint-sized duplicitous Prime Minister and a bunch of Catholic fanatics and still dae m' part in saving the royal family, Mistress Root has set it out right straight in a piece she's written called In the Shadow of the Gallows. Parts of it have shown up from time to time on The Review blog and Facebook page on Excerpt Sunday.

When can we expect the book to be published?

Seems moderns are pickier than folks who did their readin’ in the auld days, at least those of them who could read.  Ah keep telling Mistress Root the story she calls In the Shadow of the Gallows is lookin’ fine as it is, but she says, Nae, tis not quite ready yit, like it was one of m’ Granny Agnes’s half-baked shepherd pies. Methinks she’s lookin' at the end a’ June. Daisy says tae tell her tae hurry up. Seems there’s another book she needs tae get busy and write.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A conversation about love, death and writing historical fiction

Those who read my Legacy of the Queen of Scots series know who Daisy Kirkcaldy is.  She is the indomitable posthumous bastard daughter of the Knight of Grange. He is a real historical character, but she is not.  Sometimes I pretend she is my alter ego, but she is not that, either.  I know this, because, in my book 1603, the story begins with everyone who matters  telling her to get on with her life because her husband Will Hepburn is dead, and she refuses to believe them. In my novel, Daisy is right, and the rest of the world is wrong.  I would not have had her faith in Hepburn or her inner strength.

But then, this morning--a beautiful desert morning unique to the high desert after a storm--I awakened knowing as long as I do not write it, Hepburn and Daisy will live without either of them having to share the death of the other.  Such is the way of fiction.  Life is different.   But, I asked myself, what if Will should die on one of their madcap adventures under circumstances disallowing Daisy to deny the reality of  Will Hepburn's death?
What then, Daisy Kirkcaldy?
I think of another pair of star-crossed lovers from the history of Britain both of them real.  Like Will and Daisy, they do not alway act wisely or in their common interest, but their love is enduring and intense.  And one of them, the more selfish of the two perhaps, out-lived the other for many years.  Her name was Sarah Churchill, the wealthiest dowager in Britain, who even in old age was besieged by young, ambitious suitors.  But Sarah did not waiver.  Legend is she drove them off telling them she would never give in marriage the hand that touched hands with John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. Methinks Daisy would behave in the same manner.

John Churchill - First Duke of Marlborough
She would live on because she is an adventuress, and she would not go about it alone.  But she would never link arms with anyone the way she linked arms with Hepburn. And not just because that is the way I have written them.

When I introduced them in my novel The Other Daughter, I rather expected Daisy to chose her nephew, Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst.

He was the tall, dark and handsome one.  There were genuine obstacles in placing Ferniehirst in a long term relationship with Daisy. Sir Andrew Ker is an actual historical character, married with a son and three daughters.  He became Lord Jedburgh and had his portrait painted alongside his wife Anne Stewart, who is depicted holding a monkey in her hand.

 In addition, there is the problem of consanguinity. Even today, avunculate marriages are not universally considered incestuous, but they are illegal in England and Wales, for example. During Daisy's day, the Pope gave dispensations to Hapsburgs when it was of dynastic advantage for uncles to marry nieces or aunts to marry nephews, but I find no such practice endorsed by the Calvinist Scottish Kirk.

William Hepburn is also real--the bastard son of  Lord James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, third husband of the Queen of Scots. His mother is either Janet Beaton or Anna Trondsen. History has little to say about him other than he was  James VI's browdinstair- an embroiderer of the canopies that hung above the king's place at the banquet table. He also had served as arbitrator in a street brawl. In choosing Hepburn, I had an almost empty slate to fill. But I am not sure I am the one who selected him. I suspect Daisy did.

In my current works in progress (WIPS in novel speak) Daisy is in her early thirties.  If she were a modern twenty-first-century woman, she would have another forty years before she faced the crisis that at 76, I am facing now. Her time with Hepburn likely would have been much shorter.

Modern women with permanent partners may not be as financially and socially dependent as their 17th Century counterparts. We have options. They do not make it easier to watch the breath grow shallow, or the eyes grow dim in one we love.  Daisy suggests rather than becoming maudlin, I should switch my genre to historical romance and send her, Hepburn, and the kids, on a voyage into a painted sunset, heading somewhere warm, mayhap Bermuda.  I wish they had room aboard La Belle Ecoassaise so I could write a place for Chris and me aboard their carrack.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dirty Words from the World of Book Reviews by Linda Root

We are drowning in lists--grocery lists, shopping lists best sellers, worst dressed, sexiest man, cutest dog, most cunning cat...but the lists  I find the most annoying have to do with books--writing, reading, reviewing and promoting.  I have my reasons.  I am a writer, a voracious reader and a serious reviewer and I find the language of book reviews  as creative as fast food for dinner and as exciting as a barium enema as a nighttime ritual.  My fellow writers Mickey Mayhew and Michael Schmicker should teach a class: How to Write an Incredibly entertaining Highly Intelligent and   Masterful Book Review.' At least I'd approach  reviews of my work without wincing, no matter how many or how few stars my novel rates.
Terms which turn me off:
Thriller:  Besides being a Michael Jackson musical masterpiece, a thriller has special meaning for me and others who are  1. long of tooth;  2. advanced in age;3.  Seniors; 4. mature adults; 5. old people.    Each of those terms are on another list I will discuss on a day when I have both 1) ice; 2. Jameson's; and 3) no other commitments.  To most people old enough to vote and still breathing  (unless they grew up in live in Cleveland where Thriller is a roller coaster at  Euclid Park) a thriller is something exciting and fraught with danger.  A book I consider a thriller is Silence of the Lambs. Another is Relic.
 A thriller is a high-octane, very scary piece of work.  It is not a highly plotted Elizabethan mystery involving ladies and monkeys and dwarfs and nuns and spiders.  Nor is an espionage story in which the scariest thing in the book is a Russian woman with a silencer on her H & K.  All action adventures are not thrillers.  Not every good piece of fiction with tension and intrigue is a thriller.

Which leads to the ubiquitous page-turner.  For some reason if a book is not labelled a page-turner, it is doomed unless it is the Bible or something written by Neil Stephenson.  Why must we equate excellence in writing with a product which must be digested in one giant gulp.  We savor good wine;  appreciate beer with the right amount of head, and sip champagne.  Why do we have to guzzle words to make them worthy of ingesting? I recently read a book by author David Blitx which I consciously put aside to let it penetrate the inner reaches of my mind, or to laugh at plot twists I found amusing or ironic or simply delightful.  And I was on a schedule.  Some books by Susan Howatch can be read in sections according to the point of view of the character.  They are not barn-burners, or races. The last line is not a Finish Line.  A good book engages its reader and keeps the interest level high, but it is not a  390-page literary marathon.

There are other terms bandied about in reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, assuming there still is an elsewhere.  For example, a reading experience is not necessarily a 'ride'.  Also in my opinion, there is no such thing as a masterpiece by James Patterson. Mr.Patterson is a fine prolific writer who I read and enjoy, but his books are not masterpieces. Eco sometimes writes masterpieces.  Patterson writes excellent pulp fiction.  I also hate the overuse of the term 'tale'.  There is something about calling a books about a serial child molester a 'tale' which I find obscene.  'Yarn' is another one.  Yarn is not just antiquated and a tad too cute--it implies a complicated, tangled plot with a homespun quality. Hannibal is not a yarn.

The new word which drives me to frenzy is 'steamy'. For some purposes  we find books rated on their steam value.I am not quite sure how steam and sex became equated--perhaps on Grey's Anatomy.  On the other side of the same gripe I find the word 'sweet' applied to every Victorian novel where kissing is a brushing of taunt lips on a gloved hand and no one removed clothing other than a cloak or a hat.  If the entire plot is saccharine, then sweet is as good a label as any but if the story involves a heart-rending romance  full of emotion and tension, it desires a more substantial label than 'sweet'.
I understand the term 'cozy' when applied to a specific class of arm chair mysteries.  It is the title of a sub-genre, like time-slip.  When I've had enough of guts and gonads, I am drawn to a 'cozy.'  I occasionally like books where the principal character (as opposed to protagonist) is a cat, an elderly busy-body or a vicar.  We cannot all be John Ryan or Lucas Davenport.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Here is a copy of a letter I sent to my health insurance carrier and the health care administrator which provides (maybe) services. It is neither professional nor politically correct. Perhaps that's a mistake on my part, but as I quote Peter Finch in Network from list of the 100 greatest quotes in American cinema, (below) " I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore."

Anyone want to bet on whether or not the eecipients send me a canned robotic reply on my land line or a live message recorded for quality control purposed, spoken at two hundred word a minute and in Tagalog?   I have edited out some personal financial information and redacted names and other identifiers to present some unauthorized person at Oasis from selling our data to Desert Hills Memorial Park and Crematorium.

March 26, 2015

To:      Desert Oasis Health Care.
            Blue Shield 65 Plus HMO 
            CC: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From:  Linda A. Root, J.D. (lindaroot8@gmail.com)

Re:      Christopher G. Root, xxxxx

Preamble:  It is essential in responding to the issues and requests below that readers be provided a few salient facts. Taking a moment to peruse them will save all parties to this matter considerable misunderstanding and ill-will.  I am listing the points in order:

1. Background: The subject of this memo is Christopher G. Root, XXXXXX, who is covered by Blue Shield 65 Plus and Medicare.  He is bed-bound, non-ambulatory, incontinent and receiving no current medical care.  I am 76, also covered by the above plans, generally in good health and ill tempered.  I am his full time care giver, assisted on an ‘as needed’ basis by our son and his wife who  reside nearby. I also blog, write books and raise chickens.  So there you have it.

2. Issues re Communication: Both my husband and I hold advanced degrees including Juris Doctors.  We are neither stupid, uneducated nor childlike. We are, however, both hearing impaired.  Chris is diagnosed as moderately to profoundly deaf. I am moderately-to profoundly deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other. We do not do well on phones. I do not respond to robotic calls, messages from speakers who are not proficient in American English, or those requiring me  to ‘say yes if this is correct,’ in order to advance to the next menu item. I am admittedly quirky and I respond to callers who begin a scripted dialogue with ‘Hi there, Mrs. Root. How're you doing today?’ in midland Scottish, the language from which the s word, the f word and the c word originate. While I prefer to receive emails (lindaroot8@gmail.com), I will struggle through a telephone call from a live speaker of the only English I can adequately hear—the one Microsoft Word labels United States English.  If it is not deemed politically correct for your organizations to employ personnel possessing that particular linguistic skill set, deal with me by email.

3  Issues re Diagnosis, or lack of one: My husband’s present medical condition remains 1) undiagnosed [past PCPs];   2) diagnosed as natural aging [desert orthopedics] ; 3) diagnosed as resulting from his lack of cooperation in his own recovery [Dr. A & Dr.,D]; 4) Recovered [ also Dr. D just before he left  DOHC  and retired to someplace where they have real doctors to treat him] and 5) observed signs of neurological damage to his extremities {possibly  resulting from chemotherapy and requiring further testing [Dr. XXX whose file is  oddly closed: I wonder if his diagnosis had anything to do with it]

4. Current History: Chris Root’s only recent (i.e., since mid 2014) medical intervention occurred two weeks ago when he choked on food and could not breath. I was unable to perform the Heimlisch maneuver because 1) I am recovering from a sprained wrist 2) I cannot move or lift a 150 lb non-responsive body mass. My husband began convulsing while I was on 911, but on impulse I drastically changed the position on his electric bed, and the obstruction dislodged enough so he could breathe. The paramedics remained on site until his vitals were stable and he became mentally responsive. The person I deemed to be the team leader asked if Chris was a hospice patient, which gives a clue of how his condition presents to medically trained responders unaware of his history. I compliment them highly.

5. Logistics: Taking Chris to the offices of our new PCP (Oasis’s arbitrary choice, not ours) is not currently feasible. Even before his latest decline, it required two+ people to transport him.  I cannot lift his wheelchair in and out of our vehicle nor can I get him in and out of the wheelchair in his current state, even without my sprained wrist. Even reasonable waiting room delays are unendurable. I accompany him as his historian and my son acts as my translator because of the inability of most people to deal with my hearing deficit. Most of them are unaware  hearing loss  not a symptom  of ADD or Diminished Capacity, although I am often treated as if it were.( While I am not a shrink, as a (retired) criminal lawyer I own a DSM-IV:  I looked it up.)  I am deaf, not dumb and I do admit to an un- healthy dose of anger. Like Peter Finch in Network, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore.’  As I recall the plotline of the movie, the Finch character offs himself on network television, but do not consider this a suicide threat or a desperate ploy for higher Neilsen ratings.  What I want is some support and a treatment plan.  I doubt providing either will bankrupt  Blue Shield or Oasis. 

The Bottom Line:  If you have read this far without dismissing me as a crank, a miscreant or a M.O.W.W. (euphemism for mean old white woman—hey, I learned if from my previous secretary, but she was smiling when she said it.), then please work with me to find a means of getting my husband evaluated by a home health care specialist or some other appropriate medical care provider.  I cannot just sit here on my side of our automatic bed and watch my husband vegetate or die. 


In addition to the weakness and disabilities noted above, my husband Christopher Root suffers from hiccups when he eats; he is out ofXX, the hiccup Rx prescribed for him 6 years ago by radiation oncologist Barbara Anderson, M.D. (one of an endangered  breed of physician who cares, treats and remembers her patients from one week to the next)XXX XXXXX He has stopped eating because it brings on an onset of hiccups that lasts 10-12 hours.  He is sleep deprived due to nearly constant bed jolting hiccups. He cannot get to the bathroom without a strong person to help him get into his walker, XXXXXXX  Between my son, his wife and me, we continue giving Chris sponge baths, manicures, and pedicures; my daughter in law regularly changes his bed linen. We try to provide mental stimulus when Chris is awake and responsive (we are rather entertaining people).  But we are having a hard time sitting back and watching Chris die inch by inch.

And no, I do not want him moved to a convalescent care center, which would break his heart and my personal word. What I am requesting is a modicum of constructive support so I can keep him in our home without ruining my own health in the process.
I resent the implication that his alleged lack of participation in his own recovery is his fault-or that for some reason my son and his wife and I should bear the brunt of it. That assessment came from Chris’s former PCP and a former physical therapist and it caused Dr. XXXXX to terminate Chris as a home health care recipient.  WE, not his PCPs, have watched Chris struggle to overcome his weakness for the past several years. WE  have watched his disappointment and despair when efforts failed or attempts by competent physicians such as XXXX to pinpoint his condition were either stone-walled or foreclosed.   It took me a year to get DOCTOR D to override DR.A's refusal to approve the issuing of a handicapped parking sticker...for a man who who could  no longer stands unaided and is no longer licensed.  I doubt there is a single care provider in the Morongo Basin who will approve the renewal of the handicapped sticker so we can park while we maneuver Chris into his wheelchair to get him to Urgent care should the need arise.  In his current condition, even that is moot. 
I spent most of professional life fighting for the rights of victims.Now I realize one does not need to be the victim of violent crime to need a champion and a voice. Look to this letter as if it were a velvet gauntlet, a challenge cast by one who believed her days of doing battle with the enemy ended when she retired.  Go ahead.  Take the challenge. I suspect finding a cost effective means of re-evaluating of my husband’s home health care needs  is not beyond your collective expertise.  

Very truly yours, perhaps…
Linda A. Root
XXXXXXxxxxxxand @#+ES&D.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Week in My Life with Chickens

Day 3, Rescued Orpie and its buddy Pennie

Last week I had an incubator of eggs ready to hatch, with the Orpington buffs due late Wednesday and the Penedescencas due Thursday.  Our son Russ had 'candled' the Pennies three days earlier and only 4 of the expensive 10 eggs showed any development. The Orpingtons all showed some, but no movement. Chickens hatch in 21 days on average.  

Hatch Day 1:  This is the day scheduled for the  Orpington Buff  hatch.   The first one pipped, early, the term for when a chick begins to break out of the egg by making a small crack, and he was way ahead of schedule.  A second one pipped soon after.  That turned out to be a problem.  By evening I had 4  live Orpington chicks in the incubator and a fifth one who was trying futilely to unzip (cut around  the top of the shell ) and who appeared to be dead or dying.  For a batch of 8 mailed eggs, a 50% yield is anticipated.  During the night, one of the Penedesencas began to pip. Except for the one failed hatching, I was pleased.

Four Orpington buff chicks (shown on day three, out of incubator)
Day 2:  (From notes dated 11/20 7pm)

Today was a most unusual day. Late today I elected to intervene to save  the life of the  Orpington chicken who was dying in his shell.  I wrote: 'He is presently in ICU and his condition remains Improved but Guarded.'  I wish I'd taken a picture of what I faced when I removed him from the incubator. I had to take him out because I saw some occasional movement at a spot where the hatched chicks (which by then included 4 Orpingtons and one 'Pennie') were attacking  the hole (too big to call a pip--more of an unsuccessful zip) where something that looked  like the tip of a beak was still moving). I had wanted to try to remove the trapped chick earlier, but there are issues in opening an incubator during a hatch which is why I waited until the Pennie had unzipped his shell. By then there was no further sign of life from any of the remaining eggs but I inserted a wet warm towel into the incubator to keep the humidity up just in case and quickly removed the problem egg.  Obviously I made the right decision, because when I examined the unhatched eggs, none of them were viable.

What I held in my hand looked nothing like a chick. The mass inside was laminated to the outside of the shell and the membrane was thick and dry.  I spent a half hour opening its shell and another 20 minutes peeling off the pieces that would come off without causing the chick to bleed. The only encouraging sign was my patient chirped almost the entire time. I wrote 'He is stuck together in a ball and looks like a peeled lemon or lime, with a beak peeping out. Nevertheless, however the episode ends I learned something important:  Life indeed is precious and worth fighting for. He chirped intermittently for almost 24 hours in his shell with only his beak showing through the pip.'

I further wrote  :'Contemplating universal truths of cosmic proportion re life and death is not how I planned to spend my day.  I planned to spend it writing and instead I saved a life, or tried, and however it ends, it was a worthwhile endeavor.  He cannot stand up but he has two feet. I only see one wing and his head is stuck to his chest.'

As for the very disappointing result with the Penedesencas, I wrote: 'This was also hatching day for the Penedesencas.  Out of 10 expensive eggs, only one hatched. None of the other 3 showng any sign of embryonic mass pipped. This is going to be one expensive little chick.'

Note: Subsequent events make me wonder if the one healthy Pennie hatched for a reason.

Day 3:  Here are my notes from the third day of the Orpington hatch. 'Today I made a decision.  I gave the failing chick a bath and a blow dry. I saw that he was not missing a wing as I had thought.  It was only stuck to him .  After his bath I tried to separate his wings from his body and his neck from his shoulders so he could hold his head straight.  His legs seem strong'  It was not his legs but his ill-distributed body mass that kept him from walking.

Day 4:  'Chris and I gave the sad little guy another bath and blow dry this morning.  He was so scared he started to convulse.  Then I  read something on the Backyard Chicken page and some other sites that made me decide to give my damaged chick a buddy, so I  put a healthy Orpie in the ICU  brooder and my patient attacked it.  On a whim I replaced the healthy Orpie with the solitary Pennie which by then was dry enough to leave the incubator. The Pennie showed the Orpie how to eat. They are inseparable.'

Day 5.  Picture of Pennie and Orpie  Best Buds (taken yesterday). The other Orpington chicks are growing wing feathers.  During the middle of the night I began to worry so I moved them into a brooder with higher sides just in case.  No sleep for me.

Day 6:  The hatchings are in two separate brooders and are doing fine, including the one who was at risk.  It is smaller than its batch mates and still has some pasty spots  but otherwise it is doing well. It does whatever its buddy does.

Day 7: Time for an update of the eggs my husband  ordered in late September when he decided raising chickens would assure us a supply of fresh cage free brown eggs.  Since he has health issues and is bed-bound and I am his care-giver, you can guess which of us is caring for the  chickens.

My first group of hatchings (October 18th)  are  Partridge Penedesencas and will be six weeks old on Saturday. They are a relatively rare new breed which originates in Spain.  They are noted for their chocolate colored eggs. Ours  are no longer really chicks.  It's time for a coop.

My second group (Hatch date: October 25) were silkies and only one of  them hatched. They were mostly buff but the one which hatched is black. Yields from mail order eggs are iffy. However, None of the other eggs showed signs of embryonic development and my guess is they were infertile.

My one lonely little silkie (shown below after he escaped from his brooder yesterday) will be five weeks old Saturday. It  thinks it's an eagle and wants to fly. It is so very pretty. Pictures do not do him justice.
I cannot be sure, but  I fear that 2 out of the 3 older pennies are Roos. I can only keep 2 roosters on my 1.4 acre lot  I have decided no matter, if the little guy I saved is a Roo, he gets to live here for as long as I do.  If the silkie is a roo I have someone who wants one to breed with silkie hens.

Statistically with 10 chickens I should have 5 hens and 5 roos. But when only one out of a batch hatches (like the silky and the last pennie) some experienced backyard breeders say they are likely roos. That means I probably have 4 hens and 6 roosters, a problem I must face. I can always build a rooster hotel on land I own in Joshua Tree. If I get lucky and have 5 hens, we'll have enough eggs.

Isn't this fascinating? 
Not what you expected from a retired prosecutor of major crimes who writes historical fiction, you say?
Take heart. During the month of November when I wasn't incubating, feeding, watering and cleaning up after chicks, I wrote an entire book in the National Novel Writing Month event!  It's a sequel to my Scottish Fantasy The Green Woman, written under the pseudonym J.D. Root. Look for it in final form in March.

I am  finished with incubating eggs until I sex the chicks I already have. Since breeders do not ship live hens in winter, I will likely order 1or 2 female Silkies and an assortment of brown egg layers in late spring to bring my total hens to 10.

Have I gone crazy?  Ya think?

Monday, November 10, 2014

One Lovely Blog Award (True confessions::The care and maintenance of A Lovely Blog )

My blog is not quite as lovely as I would like it to be.  It is like my yard.  It suffers from inexcusable neglect. And that is a tough confession to make, because I love my blog. I just never seem to get around to writing it.  Being invited by two distinguished authors Judith Arnopp and Anna Belfrage to share the designation of being tagged the author of 'A Lovely Blog'  has clearly shown me the error in my thinking.  If I love my blog, I should be kind to it, instead of treating it as if it were an elderly relative in a rest home and visiting it occasionally, but not often enough. Nevertheless, I am absolutely delighted to have been twice nominated for The Lovely Blog Award!  Thank you from the top of my hoary head to the tips of my gnarly toes, Judith Arnopp and Anna Belfrage.

The One Lovely Blog award has rules.  The first is to thank the person or persons who conferred it and link to their blog or website. That was not much of a challenge. Blogspot has a button for it.

The second  rule, adding the One Lovely Blog Award badge to my layout,  required a modicum of basic blogger skills. After much cursing myself for not staying current on technique, I finally sorted it.  As evidenced on my sidebar,although it took me about ten tries to get it right,  I am a disciple of Sir Winston Churchill when he declared:  Never, never, never give up. And thus, Eureka.

Third, we are asked to nominate others deserving of the award and link to their sites.  Forgive me for the duplications on my list, but that is the only honest way to respond.  I have tried to add a few news names  which will hopefully add diversity to our reading and blogging pleasure, and I am omitting some of my favorites because they have been selected more than once. I have tried to select sites that are not entirely devoted to selling the bloggers books.  That is a fine and noble motive, but for this list, I was looking for a bit of news, humor, inspiration and mentoring. The list comes last so if you to not want to share my secrets,scroll on down..

The Fourth Rule, and a true Monday morning challenge, asks us to reveal seven things about ourselves that others might find interesting. Those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that being twice nominated, I am tempted to list fourteen.

Here is my list.

1.  Although I have been around for three-quarters of a century I swim in a bikini.  By way of explanation, I only swim in the exercise pool in my garage with the garage door down.

Note closed garage door- a humanitarian gesture.

Note two men reacting to 75 year old woman about to enter ipool in Michael Kors bikini

2. This is a real shocker I usually do not share unless I have a couple of double-Jameson's under the  belt, but I share an honor with Queen Katherine Parr.  Bear in mind that I have been happily married to the same husband for going on 35 years, but neither of us were 'first timers.'.  Yes, friends, I am Chris's #6.

 Katherine should be smiling like I am in the photo below.  We are a very exclusive pair of survivors in the Sixth Wife's Club.  She should be thankful not to have shared the fate of wives 2 and 5.  And as an aside, Chris and I were introduced by this third wife on the day they signed their divorce papers. We were friends for the next eight years before we got it right, but when we did, we did!
Smiling  Member of Sixth Wife's Club

3. I went to high school with Dennis Hopper and college with Kris Kristofferson and neither one of them asked me out. (As an aside, Dennis Hopper always wore a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the sleeves and Kristofferson, who was the smartest person on the Pomona campus and possibly, the planet,kept his hair cropped short, was clean shaven and favored conservative dark colored turtlenecks).  I would post pictures but my year books burned up in a garage fire in 2008 along with my IRS records, my beloved PT Cruiser and my LHS with the heated seats.

4. There are three fast growing Partridge Penedesenca chicks and one small Silkie living in our guest bedroom. Our former human guests have decided they prefer the Hyatt in Indian Wells. So what's this about an Empty Nest Syndrome?

Below are photos of my human chicks, granddaughters included.
Son Michael and grandkids Elise & Gen
Jolie the First Born and granddaughter Gen

'Cio, Russ, John and Chelsy

5.  In spite of my reputation for knowing a lot about 16th and 17th century Scotland, I have never been there.  The Ferniehirst from the Green Woman series, the Cockie House in Canongate and the Maitland mansion near the Meal Market are constructs of an overactive imagination and a lot of research.  I have, however, been to Westminster.

6. I lie about having always (almost) been a blonde. I would have lied about being tall like Diana Rigg, but that is a much harder stunt to pull off (Note: Young, Fabulous and Broke is just the trade-name  for a brand of clothes I like. I am neither young nor broke.)

7. My first writing award was a national Quill and Scroll first place in Biography in 1956.  I wrote about my friend Nancy Lindberg from my high school class who was an acknowledged  music prodigy at age 4. She is an internationally known Bay Area pianist and composer,shown here with the conductor of the Galeburg Symphony. And if you are one of my friends from Helix High School in La Mesa, she and I wrote the La Mesa Junior High School song. I doubt they still sing it, but I do.
Nancy Lindberg Ohlbach

8. My eighth confession is controversial. It is my bonus fact: Ever since I was seven and they would not let me into Cub Scouts, I have been puzzled why people chose their friends based on such things as sex and race and age and politics instead of how sincere they are and how much fun they add to life. Which leads me to the list, because each of the bloggers listed has contributed to mine.  I have neglected some of my favorites because they have already posted and/or been tagged more than twice.

Each of you have been tagged. If you have been tagged more than once, respond at will. Or not. In that case you will already know the rules.  For the Marie Stuart Society Group, I suspect it will find responding outside of its guidelines, but I list it because it is an exception source that should at least receive honorable mention.  It is a Stuart historian's mother-lode of information.

1. Kim Rendfeld, 2.The Marie Stuart Society. 3.Debra Brown 4,Gingernut Books,D.Michelle Gent - 5. InMemorium - M.m.Bennets http://mmbennetts.wordpress.com/6.Judith Arnopp 7.Paula Lofting
8.http://wendyjdunn.com/ 9.http://layeredpages.com/ (Stephanie Moore Hopkins' incredible site)
10. https://www.facebook.com/louise.rule 11.http://elisabethmarrion.yolasite.com/ 12Maria Grace-Random Bits of Fascination 13 http://stuartslaing.blogspot.com/ 14.Tara Chevrett, the Book Babe
15. C,W, Gortner/16.Marie Macpherson 17.Jayne Smith Scottish History

Cheers to all and happy blogging.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MY FIRST HOMICIDE SCENE: 'Write what you Know.'

Last night I took a short break from my scheduled reading and opened a Linda Fairstein crime thriller.  Thr protagonist in her blockbuster series is a female assistant district attorney with expertise in sex crimes and homicides.  I was traveling on very familiar ground.  I'd been there and done all that, but not in New York City.  I prosecuted homicides in the Morongo Basin area of the San Bernardino county high desert.

Not all prosecutorial agencies encourage or even permit prosecutors to visit crimes scenes, but New York County does, and as television audiences worldwide know, so does L.A.  County.  Remember the shot of Maria Clark walking down the sidewalk toward Nicole Simpson's Brentwood apartment?
Did Johnnie Cochran get her kicked off the case for visiting the scene? No he did not. The  noise made by defense attorneys suggested deputies who visit scenes must recuse themselves from trial, is because there is no police report that equals a visit to a homicide scene. Homicide scenes carry a message.  My first one screamed.

I remember my first homicide scene vividly. It was the final weekend of a month's vacation I had taken after a thirteen victim child sexual assault case, twelve little Boy Scouts and one of their baby sisters. We arrived home from a trip to Colorado on a Rocky Mountain high on the evening the call came. We were had not  unpacked our suitcases.  I was still wearing my travel clothes, a pair of DKNY  jeans and a button down shirt. My sons were sitting on the sofa with my husband watching television when the telephone rang.  I was in the kitchen with the popcorn, closest to the phone.
'If it's Mother, tell her I fell out of the car somewhere in Arizona.'
It was not my mother-in-law. It was my boss and he wasn't looking for me. He was looking for another Morongo felony deputy who was not answering his pager. He apologized for disturbing me on the last days of my vacation, but wondered if I had a different number or some idea where my colleague  might be reached.
'Unless, of course, you are willing to go to the scene of a double in 29.'
Of course I was.

The information he provided over the telephone was sketchy. If I responded I would be briefed by officers at the scene. He had the address, a general description of the location, and the added information that both victims were female and  probably rape victims. Local law enforcement  and NCIS were controlling the scene. The homicide detail from Specialized Detective Division in San Bernardino was meeting at the Morongo Station while the crime lab processed the crime scene. The designated case agent  had requested the presence of a deputy district attorney and would be returning to the crime scene as soon as he doled out assignments to his team. Because of our proximity to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms, California, all CID and NCIS agents had been cross-deputized to assist in investigations that might involve personnel on the base. I was happy to hear they were involved.  Most had equivalent training to FBI agents and in 20 Palms,they knew who most of the players were.

It was a very warm summer night. I drove to an  apartment complex a block off the highway just beyond the center of town in an area of small apartments in the city of Twenty Nine Palms. I knew the area well. The murder scene was in a small single story court just behind one of our favorite family burger joints, Andrea's. I pulled up behind the substation commander's personal vehicle. His wife was in the car. He had only stopped by on his way home from dinner to thank the military agencies for their support. He pointed to an apartment where two white vans were parked. Before political correctness came into vogue, they were referred to as meat wagons.The scene was still being processed and the bodies 'had not been rolled.' The coroners men were standing by, waiting for something to happen. So was half of the population of central Twenty-nine Palms. Until the bars closed, the crime scene was the only show in town. I had to elbow my way through a crowd to get to the evidence tape.

 The perimeter was  being manned by a detective who had recently transferred to the Morongo station from Narcotics. He did not recognize me in my designer jeans and shined a flashlight in my eyes as if he were conducting a horizontal gaze nystagmus test. As soon as I was confident he would not shoot me for reaching into my fanny-pack, I produced my District Attorney's office. I.D.

''The only  good thing about this one,' he said once he was convinced I was who my I.D.said I was--'is someone left the air conditioning on.'  Up until he made the remark, it had not sunk in that I soon would be entering an apartment where there were dead bodies. I had heard my share of gut-wrenching  crime scene stories.  I have since arrived at an untested theory that many women handle murder scenes better than most men. Motherhood and our physiology make us immune to feces, blood and body fluids. Nothing protects us from the pathos.

'I'll let  them know you're here.  You'll need to put on some booties, and wait for one of the techs to walk you in. The front room is pretty well processed. There's an open kitchen off a living-dining room, and remnants of a party. The pizza looks to have been there since the night before. I think it was one of the party guests who came by today with a buddy and discovered the bodies. The ugly stuff is in the bedroom and bath behind, and from the looks of it, they'll be lucky to have it processed before the middle of next week.'

We were waiting for one of the crime lab people to come outside to collect me when Detective Dick Bunn came up the walk. In those days, Dick was a math teacher at Yucca Valley High School where my daughter taught English.   Each afternoon as soon as the bell rang, he was out the door and on his way to the sheriff's office annexed to the Joshua Tree courthouse.  Somehow he managed to put in a full forty hour shift per week at his second job as a reserve and he had enough experience and smarts to get  assigned as a substation detective. I do not know how old Dick was when his hair turned silver, but for all I know he was born with it, and when I see him out in town since we have both retired, I  think it's actually getting thicker. Not once in the thirty years I've known him have I seen Dick when he wasn't wearing cowboy boots and a western shirt. He and his wife Rex got married on horseback on the O.K Corral movie set in Pioneer Town. I am always glad to see him, but never more than on that night.

'One of the victims is Mandi Scott,' he said.
 I knew her mother. Almost everyone I knew from the Morongo station knew Debbie. She was a popular bartender with an open, pleasant demeanor.   I had met her daughter Mandi in the course of a bicycle theft in which the victim was a highway patrolman's step-daughter. The bicycle had been recovered hidden on Debbie's porch. Mandi  said  it had been given to her by one of her mother's boyfriends. Maybe. I did not prosecute juveniles, but we did go forward on a charge of receiving stolen property with Debbie as a defendant.  The next month she called me to help her with a problem with neighbors who objected to her keeping her pit bull in the front yard. She had also called a reporter from the L.A. Times who did a story on discrimination against owners of pit bulls. Debbie wanted me to give the reporter a statement.  Debbie had excellent marketing skills, and I liked her. She added a touch of glamour to the community.I did not want to believe that the Mandi Scott in the splayed on the bedroom floor was the same girl I had interviewed a couple of years earlier in the bicycle case.
'Not Debbie's Mandi?' I asked with a prayer in my voice. My usually surly cowboy detective friend merely nodded and one of the female criminalists came and tapped me on the shoulder.

From this point it, it is appropriate fto mention  there are no privacy issues in what I am about to describe. There were two syndicated television reenactments of what follows and with Debbie's stage management and promotional skills,  a true crime book was authored by a writer named Deanne Stillman which sold well. It took an editorial stand condemning the United States Marine Corp as much as  the serial rapist who butchered Debbie's daughter, a USMC named Valentine Underwood.
I declined to be interviewed by Ms. Stillman because the case was still active and I took exception to its editorialization. Whether I agree with its message, it is a well written true crime book.

I harbor no doubt as to  defendant Valentine Underwood's guilt. He has recently been extradited to an eastern state and convicted of a brutal 1988 rape in what had been a cold case until  a lab in Massachusetts matched a rape kit in the  crime to the DNA of Valentine Underwood, who is serving two California sentences  of life without parole for the murders of Mandi Scott and her friend Rosie,whose family has repeatedly requested that her last name be withheld.

I had seen dead bodies in viewing room in funeral homes. I had never attended an autopsy and blamed the omission on my trial schedule and an incident in  high school science lab when I suffered a severe reaction to formalin while dissecting a cat.. I always took the time to drive to San Bernardino to confer at length with the forensic pathologist, the late  Irving Root, who did not mind if I missed the autopsy as long as I understood his theory of how death occurred and stayed for lunch.Many of the cops I worked with thought Irv and  I were cousins.  We worked well together. The double in 29 was my first crime scene, but not my first homicide.

Thanks to Dick Bunn, I was aware  I would be seeing a young girl I had known when she was thirteen and very much alive.  I promised my escort to stay on the plastic and not to touch anything. I would  enter the bedroom when they were ready.  At the onset, I was to stand in the doorway and survey what could be seen from there.

And there was Mandi.
Dead on her back on the bedroom floor.
She had been stabbed thirty three times.
Her lace demi bra was wound around her head at the level of her mouth, perhaps as a gag, perhaps as a humiliation.  As I recall, bikini panties dangled from an ankle.I know they were present--colorful and sexy black and either red or yellow lace.  Her eyes were open, her hands and arms posed like a china doll. Her dark hair was hardly disheveled. She was a plump, pretty girl, even in death.
I could see into her chest cavity.
Her sixteenth birthday was a few days off.

Her friend Rosie, the tenant of the apartment, was in the tiny bathroom, nude in front of the toilet. Her eyes were open and her lips were pursed. As I recall, at least one of her hands was in a tight fist. It was difficult to process the bathroom scene because there was a a stain on a towel or blanket which the criminalists thought might include a footprint and they did not want to risk unfolding it. I viewed the slaughter from the bathroom door.
Rose was in her twenties, a good deal older than Mandi, a tiny Southeast Asian of remarkable beauty. She had two children but I do not recall where they were staying the  weekend of Rosie's party.
She, too, had been stabbed thirty-three times, the number on Valentine Underwood's basketball jersey. Valentine was a basketball player.

The lead detective on the case had been at a briefing. He arrived in time to offer me a cup of warm black coffee. The reason why he had summoned a deputy d.a. to the scene had to do with evidence preservation. I finished my coffee and returned with him to the scene.  Even though the time of death had been many hours earlier, the room had been kept so cold that the smell of death was faint, subtle, like flowers at a funeral.

"Did you happened to notice the stain on the wall?'
I had. It had been pointed out to me by the criminalist, but it would have been hard to miss.
'The bloody handprint,' I said.
'As I see it, we have two choices: We already have taken photographs of  the print, and if we process the print where it is,  we will take more photos and videotape every stage. The alternative is to remove a section of the wall, do the testing at the lab and preserve the print as a trial exhibit.  But to do that, someone from your office is going to have to request it.'

It didn't call anyone above my pay grade and I did not hesitate. For me, the decision was a no brainer. The room was ruined anyway. The carpet was saturated.  There were blood spatters everywhere. Hanging a new section of dry wall would be a minor item. A hung jury and retrial would cost the county more than compensating the owner for the entire apartment complex.The only salient question was whether a jury would  be as convinced by an expert with a videotape and photographs as opposed to one with a laser pointer and a bloody hand print preserved on drywall for jurors  to see and examine in the deliberation room.
'Take the wall,' I said.
Those words of mine were memorialized on an episode of The Prosecutors. I have a copy of the director's cut on a useless old VCR in a cabinet in the same room where I am writing this post.
The immortal words of Linda Root: "Take the bloody wall."

Afterthoughts, Vents and Procedural Notes:

1) Dick Bunn was the first person to place Valentine Underwood in the neighborhood on the night  of the crime. His was a name known to the two of us because of a rape prosecution that went nowhere when the victim refused to cooperate and recanted. Her father was a high profile military officer and her parents did not want her to participate.  We could not find her to serve her and  she had made it known she would not come to court voluntarily. At that time, our office had a policy not to take a case to a jury with a victim whose testimony would have to come in as impeachment  testimony from a police officer. That was prior to rape shield legislation and new interpretation of the hearsay laws. Dick Bunn and  I and the two NCIS officers who assisted in the investigation always thought Underwood was a serial rapist and likely a serial killer, but we could not interest other jurisdictions where Underwood had lived where there were  unsolved  crimes with the same M.O. in pursuing it. But this post is not about the Underwood case, about which I could write a book. Mine would be different from Deanne Stillman's and probably would not sell nearly as well.

2) For anyone curious about the investigation and what turned out to be the most prolonged judicial event in the history of San Bernardino County, there is Ms. Stillman's book Twenty-Nine Palms, a True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mohave, available on Amazon, a worthwhile read for anyone who redacts the roasting of the United States Marine Corps. I would have written the same story differently.

2) Why I did not try People v. Underwood  myself is for another forum on the topic of interoffice back-stabbing. The defense brought a recusal motion based on my presence at the crime scene, an issue that has been litigated ad nauseum in California courts and other venues.. However, my supervisor told me had been informed by a member of our staff  that the judge was going to grant the motion. His Honor later told me he had prepared a ruling denying the defense motion, had hinted as much to both attorneys, and he soundly scolded me for recusing myself when there was no basis for it. Perhaps it was an innocent  misunderstanding on the part of a colleague, and perhaps it was not. Sobeit. Whatever the reason, the case was assigned to a fine prosecutor in the Victorville District Attorney's office, Gary Bailey. He got his verdict but it took years of spurious defense motions and shenanigans to do it, while my own career advanced. There was always another murder about to be committed.  Whoever thought they were robbing me of a plum was doing me a favor. I was the lucky one. While Mandi Scott's murder was languishing in the courts, I was assigned other cases, one of which defined my career.  In the television reinactments of that case, I got to say a whole lot more than 'Take the bloody wall.'