A Teenager in 1946?

What would today’s teenager find different in 1946? How would she react if she suddenly found herself in that alien land? That’s the question I had to answer when I wrote Cherish, a mystery for young adults. (It’s now under consideration by a publisher so don’t look for it yet.)

One of the first things a teen might notice is—no seat belts in cars. None, not one. No car seats, no safety air bags, and nobody was in the least concerned about it. They were too excited about any new car, since there had been none during World War II, from the end of 1941 to mid-1945. And some of those new 1946 cars might look suspiciously like those pre-war models. Names of cars one might see were Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Lincoln, Mercury, Cadillac, Buick, and Chrysler, but the styles would be different. Then there were other autos no longer being built today. Among them are: DeSoto, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Hudson.

Of course, a teenager would notice the clothing styles right away. No one wore jeans to school. Girls wore skirts or dresses, except possibly on a specially designated casual Friday. Then she could wear nicely tailored wool slacks. Shoes were often saddle shoes or penny loafers. Sweaters were a given. In a large city school, the teen would want a different cashmere sweater for every day of the week. In a small country school, one cotton or plain wool sweater to wear with a skirt, and trade off with a blouse and skirt ensemble or a dress was adequate. Peasant blouses and dresses were quite the rage. And every girl wore bobby sox. For dress-up she wore the newly available nylons and pumps with Cuban heels with her dress. She did wear jeans after school and on weekends. Her jeans had slim legs that she rolled up to just under the knee. There were sometimes regional differences in clothing fads. One was bell-bottom jeans. They mimicked the sailor’s bell-bottom trousers. That craze traveled around the country, often popular in one area and completely out in another.

These are a couple of differences a teen would notice. There would certainly be others. What do you think a teen from 1946 would first notice about the year 2013?

Henry Clay and The War of 1812

The War of 1812? Yeah, America was at war two hundred years ago. It’s rather a forgotten war in our past. Seems the British and the French were having a war, and both of them decided that if the United States was trading with the other, those ships plying the Atlantic Ocean were fair game to stop and loot. Not only that, but the British were fond of stopping American ships and impressing our sailors, that is, declaring them British deserters and taking them. Some wanted to declare war on Britain, or even both Britain and France, despite not having much of an Army or Navy. Or, money, for that matter. President Madison wasn’t in favor of declaring war. And, a lot of American’s who had nothing to do with shipping or sailing, weren’t eager to go to war.

Enter Henry Clay. In 1810-11, at the age of thirty-four, he’d already served two terms in the Senate, but he ran for a seat in the House and won. He was immediately elected to the position of Speaker of the House. He wasn’t the only new face in Washington, D.C. Almost half of the incumbents, many old men, lost their seats to young men. Clay represented a western state (Kentucky), and was a Democratic-Republican (a party that later split into you-know-who). Like most elected officials, he lived in a boarding house. (The new city of Washington, D.C. had few suitable accommodations.) Clay took a leadership role, not only in the after-hours meetings, but in his office as Speaker. Before 1811, Speaker was more of a clerical role, but Clay took it to the prominent position it now occupies. He and those young men who had replaced the old guard wanted to go to war. They were the original, the War Hawks of 1812. And Clay filled his committees with those of like mind.

There were political and legal maneuvers from both sides of the war debate. France was capturing our ships, burning them, and imprisoning the Americans in French jails. England was taking up to one thousand of our men each year from our ships. Finally President Madison issued a tentative call to war against England (everyone agreed that making war against all of Europe was impossible) listing five points of contention. 1. Impressment of our sailors. 2. British ships hovering near our ports to harass our ships. 3. Blockades of our ports. 4. Orders-in-Council, which was the British assumption that they ruled the entire Atlantic Ocean. 5. The renewal of Indian warfare in the west-assumed to be stirred up by England and Canada.

The House passed the bill, the Senate then passed the bill, and the President signed the bill that began the War of 1812. There were other reasons and advocates besides Clay, but he was a leader who stood out.

I found most of this material in a book, The War of 1812 by Harry L. Coles, part of the Chicago History of American Civilization. Somehow, I learned very little about the War of 1812 in school. The older I get, the more I realize that history is much more interesting that I thought it was—at least in school.

Did you learn a new fact today? Can you tell me something new as well? Love to hear it!


Gettysburg – 100 Years Ago

It was 150 years ago this week when the Civil War battle took place in Gettysburg. Our nation was divided and brother fought brother to the death. This week reenactors are reliving that battle for tourists and history buffs. But what happened 100 years ago on that battlefield?

One hundred years ago, my local newspaper covered the full four days of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Thousands of Civil War veterans arrived in trains filled to capacity. With temperatures over 100 degrees, 15,000 old and feeble vets sat in the stands on the first day of the semi-centennial celebration. An estimated 55,000 arrived all together. As the tent city and available housing filled to overflowing, many had nowhere to go. They slept on the ground with only their clothing to protect them.

One of the scheduled events was the charge of the survivors of Pickett’s division. The old men in grey, bearing their guns, charged up the hill where the enemy, the remaining men of the Philadelphia Brigade in blue, met them with weapons ready. Those in grey went over the wall, and they all shook hands.

One unadvertised reunion took place when a fife and drum corps of men in blue tramped up and down the Confederate part of the tent city, stopped in front tents and played a fanfare which brought out the men in grey. They all shook hands or threw their arms around the ‘enemy’ shoulders.

On the last day President Wilson spoke briefly. At noon the Stars and Stripes that flew from every flagpole were lowered for ‘Five Minutes for Memories’ while the veterans in blue and gray stood, along with current regulars of the army, all with bended heads and hats to their hearts.

Thus were the wounds of war officially put to rest. I’m sure that many had not waited for fifty years to reach that peace and understanding. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all nations and all factions could reach the plateau observed by those men?

News From The Past

Does your newspaper publish weekly reminders of our past? Mine does. One week they tell us what happened 25 and 75 years ago. The next week they give us the latest from 50 and 100 years ago. (They’ve been in business a looong time!) It’s always entertaining, and often eye-opening.

Here’s a stunner for you. Only twenty-five years ago one of our local hospitals phased in a total smoking ban for all visitors, employees, physicians, and patients. Up until then, smoking had been allowed in the coffee shop, in employee and physicians lounges, and in patient rooms (by the patient). And, this was the first hospital in our county to issue such a ban. Wow! Now the smoking ban is almost universal.

It’s so easy to forget the time-line of our more recent history. Have we always had zip codes in our addresses? Nope, that began fifty years ago. Our county, along with the nation, began using the Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP, or course) in 1963.

Seventy-five years ago state police were happy with their crack-down on speeders. They were so happy, they began thinking of doing the same for the slow-pokes who bottled up traffic. There was no law setting a minimum speed, but they thought thirty miles an hour on main roads would be about right. They experimented with loud-speakers to install in the six hundred patrol cars. They hoped to develop a speaker that could be heard several miles down the road “to break up those traffic jams caused by beetle drivers by barking to them to speed up or get off the highway.” Don’t think that ever happened!

One hundred years ago, the circus came to town. In 1913 the Hagerbeck-Wallace Circus was the second largest in America (the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was number one). There was a large crowd in town brought by trolley cars filled with people. Many others came by steam roads (whatever that is-a misprint maybe?) and drove in. The streets were lined with people. Elephants and camels walked. Horses pulled brightly-colored wagons. There were a dozen cages filled with wild animals. Six (count them) beautiful women rode prancing steeds. There were four bands, and (let’s mention this again), a large number of ladies. Performers on horseback, funny clowns, and a steam calliope rounded out the parade that took several hours to pass through the city streets. Way before my time. I’d have been right there sitting on the curb, dreaming of joining the circus. What a glorious life! (Yeah, as a kid I did dream of the circus. Can’t remember actually seeing one, but I practiced my skill for months. I’d be a champion ball-bouncer. Hey, I was a kid, a young kid.)

How about you? Did any of these news items from the past spark a memory, a desire, a giggle?

Meet and Greet at Malice Domestic

If you are a mystery writer, maybe even if you are a dedicated mystery reader, you know what Malice Domestic is. Or, maybe you don’t. It’s a fantastic convention filled with mystery authors and even more mystery readers. It’s a grand weekend to put the two together. There are panel discussions, shared meals, autograph sessions, and award presentations. And I attended my first one the first weekend of May at Bethesda, Maryland.

An in-person conference introduces you to a lot of people. New faces. New names. But, since I’ve been a member of the writing community, especially the mystery writing community, for quite some time as a reader AND a writer, I know many names. I’ve seen many faces looking back from websites and blogs on my computer. And, wonder of wonder, some of those names and faces know who I am from seeing my posts on those websites and blogs. I have even met a few of the writers in person.

A gathering of 500 or 600 people can be overwhelming. The thing is, you can’t be shy. (Bit of a problem with that, as I’m sort of a naturally shy person, but I overcome it quite well, I think) I met people I’d never heard of before, and people who I already thought of as friends, even though I’d never met them before.

I belong to the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime, so I knew they were planning to lunch together on Friday. Meet by the hotel front door, I’d read. So, I grabbed my camera, met, and lunched with the Guppies. We were spread out over several tables. Here’s a few pictures of that event.

Late that Friday afternoon, I chatted with a few people. When I met Chloe. she had dinner plans, but asked me to come along. So I ended up having a lovely dinner with five ladies from Nevada. Besides Chloe, they were Marian, Martha, Susan, and Judy. They welcomed me into their group, and, of course, I took a picture.

the ladies from Nevada

the ladies from Nevada

I attended the Sisters in Crime breakfast on Saturday morning. As I came in I glanced around at tables filling up and saw a lot of unfamiliar faces. I was graciously accepted at the closest table, and as others joined us, I discovered I was seated with two of the honored attendees, Laurie R. King and Laura Lippman. (I didn’t have my camera with me. Sorry about that.)

Saturday night was the big blast–the awards banquet. As I milled among the

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

multitude at the pre-dinner cocktail party, meeting quite a few writers that I knew in person or electronically, I heard my name. There were my five Nevada friends. They’d scored a table for six, and had a chair with my name on it.

I’d signed up to sit at one of the Henery Press tables, so I met more people. And, I had my camera when one of their authors won the Agatha teapot for Best First Mystery.

Sunday afternoon as I sat in the lobby waiting for my husband to pick me up, I chatted with authors I’d met earlier during the convention. Of course, I went home with a ton of new books, for, as a mystery author, I’m definitely a mystery reader. I truly enjoyed attending panel discussions and listening to authors tell about things their books had in common. One was cooking–with samples. One was the invisible woman sleuth. There were so many, I couldn’t possibly attend all of them. However, it was great to meet and greet new authors and new readers–probably my favorite part of this convention.

How about you? As a reader, or possibly as a writer, do you go to conventions and conferences? What is your favorite part? The classes? The panels? The discussions? Or, like me, meeting others who share your passion.

It’s a Mystery

I love to read mysteries. I love to be amazed, astounded, and completely mystified by the events as they happen. How did that amateur sleuth think that, or solve this problem? I love twists and turns. The more the better. And unexpected events? Oh, my!

But, since I’m a writer, I’m thinking all the time—how did the author come up with that? She’s good. (Or he.)

Okay, since I’m a writer, I’m also thinking—how the heck am I going to come up with all those twists and turns for my work in progress? Gee, I’ve done it before. Can I do it again? There’s always the advice, that when you come to a spot where you don’t know what to do—shoot somebody. Oh, dear, that sounds dreadful. I have already killed off two people, but so far, no guns. And, I think, two bodies is quite enough (for now, anyway). So, how do I keep that interest level up?

Day before yesterday, I wanted to put Jo, my amateur sleuth, someplace different. Let’s see, she’s been—oh, heck. She’s got a day off. Put her on a tour boat. Fine, I put her on a tour boat, but the whole thing wasn’t going anywhere, so yesterday, the tour boat was stopped by the Coast Guard. Okay, now what? Before I turned off the computer last night, when the Coast Guard heard Jo’s name, they informed her she was coming with them and bodily lifted her off the tour boat and into the Coast Guard cutter.

So, today I’m wondering—why did they do that? At the moment, I have no clue. So, either I figure out an answer, or I forget about the Coast Guard cutter, and maybe even the tour boat. I’ll keep thinking though. FYI – sometimes these forays into the unknown disappear, but sometimes they turn into an incredible plot point.

So, the mystery is—which will it be?

Adding Pictures to My Life

Collins farm house

Collins farm house

This is the house where I lived from fourth grade until I left home. It’s in the northwest corner of Washington state—Whatcom County, to be exact. (Since I now live in Pennsylvania, I must add the word “state,” as I’ve discovered the naked word “Washington” always means Washington, D.C.)

Now I live in Pennsylvania with my husband. When our children were mostly grown, we got into boating on Chesapeake Bay. The pictures of our lives changed.

We boated on the bay, south on the Intracoastal, and north into Canada’s canals. But we remember Chesapeake Bay. We had a sailboat – Cloud Nine, then a mini-tug cruiser, Ivory Cloud, and finally, a second mini-tug cruiser, Sunset Cloud. We named the last one deliberately, for the sunset of our boating experience. We were then, and still are, land-based, but we enjoyed these pictures in our lives. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’ve placed both my mysteries on Chesapeake Bay. I have many pictures and memories to guide my writing.

The Four Diamonds

Last week the lead article in our local newspaper brought tears to my eyes. I’d remembered the story while it was still happening in 1972. An eighth grade boy named Chris Millard had written a story called The Four Diamonds. He was a cancer patient and the Cancer Society was using his story, with his approval, of course, to raise funds. There were interviews, stories, and, later that year, the obituary when he died. He was courageous and greatly missed.

In following years, the story was told again. But I hadn’t heard too much about it in recent years. Until this year. The woman who had been his teacher realized that the current students knew nothing about his story. So she and the boy’s father told bits about it for the newspaper.

The teacher had asked her students to write an autobiography, but Chris told her, since he was so sick, and knew how the disease would end, didn’t really want to. She suggested he write whatever he wanted to, and he did. His father said he never showed his work in progress, but occasionally said, “I’ve got another diamond!”

Unfortunately, I’ve never read his story, The Four Diamonds. But I do know that it impressed everyone.

I expect I’ll learn how to do this better, but here is the link to that article: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/826208_Elizabethtown-eighth-grader-who-died-of-cancer-wrote-story-in-1972-that-inspired-the-Four-Diamonds-Fund.html

My first blog post

My new blog is a work in progress, so please excuse any weirdness. I’m taking a class, so it will improve, right? I will learn how to add a picture of my choice to the headline banner. Although the current one is quite nice, it doesn’t have the feeling I’m looking for.

My second title, or whatever it is called, is MYSTERY, HISTORY, AND SPOOKS, OH MY! As the Grandma Moses of Mystery, I write mystery, so that accounts for the first word. The mystery part refers to comments about history in my first mystery, Yesterday’s Body, but that isn’t my entire reason for “History.” The sequel to my first book (I’m writing it now) is Forgotten Body and takes place during reenactments of the War of 1812. (Hey, it’s 200 years since that happened. Did you know that?) Plus, a YA I’ve written and is currently knocking on a publisher’s door has a 1946 component. That’s history too, right?

Now for the “Spooks.” Well, practically everything I write has a bit of woo woo embedded. Yesterday’s Body has an imaginary cat. Death of a Hot Chick has a ghost with an agenda. And the so-far unpublished YA? Well, that has a ghost and sort of time-travel as well. Even my short stories that have been published are a bit woo woo. (You can read them on my website: www.normahuss.com)

Tuesday is my next lesson. Come back to see what impressive things I’ve accomplished with the aid of Pepper O’Neal’s class.