Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Mysteries Abound

Oh drat, i thought I had this schedualed for 9am this morning, but instead I set it for 9pm.  Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.
This past week has been quite busy.  Son is home from college and daughter belongs to many groups, it seems I was continually out with one or the other.  I still managed to find a wee bit of time for stitching.

The mystery quilt, which I won't name, is moving toward completion.  Last week I showed you block one, this week block two.  These make up the central portion of the quilt.  I am working on border three, which is pieced and should be complete by the weekend.  The big unveiling will be at my guild meeting early in June and I'll have photos of everyones' tops.

One of my online guilds, The Canadian Quilt Swappers (Yahoo groups) has started a quick mystery.  It uses five fq's and will finish at 25 inches square.  The yellow is my background colour.  Step 1 involved selecting out fabrics.

Step 2 did all the cutting, though I haven't cut the binding strips as I haven't decided on how wide I want them.
Step three arrived on Friday and involved sewing a lot of half square triangles.  All of them were cut over sized and had to be trimmed. Oh how I dispise doing that.  I'd much rather cut and sew accuratly that risk a ruler slip and have to re- cut and sew.  Now I must wait till Friday for step four.

I am still stitching fan blades together and trimming them.  I sent a second email to QuiltKing to enquire about the defectiveDresden Plate  quilt kit, but they haven`t responded.  I asked either for a replacement kit or for them to sponsor a kit give away on my blog so that my readers could be reassured that they stand by the quality of their kits.  I`ll let their lack of response speak for itself.

Tomorrow, mom and I are taking a Zentangle class at Creative Sisters,  a quilt shop in the next town.  I`m really hoping that the instructor will relate it back to quilting and not just leave it on paper.  I`ll have some samples for you next week.

What are you working on this week, did you start a new project or are you finishing one

Tami at Just One More Thing, has posted a 'finish' today.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Cutting Kits

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.
One of my friend's mother wants to quilt.  She has wanted to for quite some time but can't get out to a quilting class.  My friend has tried to help her out with books and links to videos etc., but that still has not lead to her mom quilting.  She called me a week ago and asked if I would help her make a kit that she could send to her mom.  I gave her a suggested shopping list, which she then took to the shop and brought me the resulting purchases.  We spent a lovely time one day late last week, and cut two little kits. After she left, I cut the third kit.  She selected a cute panel of  'Kitty Cucumber'.  We cut those to 8 1/2 inch squares.  There were eight squares.  Since we didn't know what supplies her mother had, I decided on making her kits that were ready for her to sew.  The first has rail fence blocks , the second has 9 patches, and the third kit (shown below) has four squares with sashing and corner stones.  I have also cut backs and will include batting.  Once I write up detailed instructions my friend will be mailing these off. 
Since her mother is an accomplished seamstress, I don't expect her to have any difficulty.  We are already planning the next kit, a table runner.
My doll quilt is finished and bound.  I really like how it turned out and am wanting to try quilting more feathers.  I have made several blocks for mug mats and they are all getting feathers. 

I have shown you some of the nine patch blocks that I made from a kit.  This is the first of the pieces from the matching Dresden kit.  I am slowly sewing the pairs of blades and trimming them to the correct size.  As you can see, the trimming was essential to get the plate to lay flat.  It's not perfect, but close enough that I'll be able to applique it onto the background (once I buy some).  You'll have to wait a while for the results as I'm saving them for a big reveal.

I couldn't resist one more tease.  My guild is doing a mystery quilt this year.  Step 6 gave me four of these 16 inch squares.  Last night I pick up the instructions for steps 7 and 8. That will be the complete quilt.  The designer will be attending our meeting in June and we are all to have our tops completed.  I am not listing the name of the designer nor the name of the mystery at this time, as there are many other guilds and shops doing this mystery at present and I don't want to spoil the surprise.  After our meeting in June, I'll be posting pics of all the tops that are completed at that time.  I haven't done a large mystery quilt in a few years.  It is a challenge letting go and trusting the designer, after all, it is a large expense to purchase all that fabric and not knowing what you are going to end up with.  I did peak ahead in the instructions and am quite excited by what is developing.
I am curious, do you participate in mystery quilts?
Below are photos of some earlier mystery quilts I participated in.  Sorry, I don't recall the designers nor the pattern names.
Block of the Month at Elmira Needlesisters Quilt Guild

Block of the Month at Waterloo County Quilters Guild

My second mystery quilt at Ruffled Elegance, St. Jacobs, Ontario.  Mine was  the only quilt totally finished.

This was my first mystery quilt from Ruffled Elegance, St. Jacobs, Ontario

Tami at Just One More Thing is working on a prayer quilt, which she explains, and has posted updates throughout the day detailing her progress.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I've had days when I felt no one was listening to me and that I might as well be invisible.  Imagine this is how you  are treated every single day even by your own parents.  They forget you at restaurants, at vacation sites and even  have a big note posted on the back door to remind them of your very existence.  One upside is that you can do anything, because no one ever notices you doing it.  You could be the world's most successful assassin or criminal and no one would know it was you.

Claire Ryan is 15 and wonders why her parents don't pay her attention, why her teachers never notice her hand up in class and why her classmates never talk to her.  All this comes to a head on a day when someone finally does notice her, and it's not a good thing.

Nix is 17 and has lived in a plain, white room at the Society ever since he can remember.  Even the most sensitive people there have a difficult time noticing him.  For years they have trained him as an assassin, the most invincible one in the world. 

What could happen if Claire and Nix were to meet?

I was fascinated by this concept.  For me, this would be like a nightmare come to life.  Being a nobody in a very social and interactive world.  It would have been even worse for this to happen as a teenager.  At that age, being noticed is of utmost importance, otherwise they wouldn't tryout for teams and join clubs, and spend hours choosing clothing an grooming.  Being visible is every thing.

It was difficult to watch Nix as his world fell apart, for him to learn that he had been fed a pack of lies by those adults he was supposed to have trusted for his entire life.  With no outside influences, he'd never questioned what he was told, where as Claire went to school and learned to ask questions as does every student.  Her view of the world was based on wide experiences.

As an adult reading a YA novel, I enjoyed the story and the concept.  I wasn't too worried that there was little attention paid to the morality of supporting themselves and procuring supplies.  A couple of times, Claire and Nix discussed whether they should be concerned about her no longer being at home, and it was a simplistic approach, but considering their status as 'nobodies', it was probably quite appropriate.  There was enough details about both of their childhoods and their upbringing that I felt as though I knew them and could empathize with their situations. 

This is the first novel I have read by author Jennifer Lynn Barnes and it won't be my last.  She has two  stand-alone stories and  four series at present, though she is currently working on more.

Thanks to Chapters.ca for use of the cover image

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Fabric Postcard Binge

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.
This past week I dug into my scrap box, these are the pieces too small for practical piecing or that I am tired of working with.  They are perfect for making fabric postcards.  Add a bunch of fusible web and the stiffest interfacing I can find and I'm all set for fun.
First I want to share a postcard my mother made for me.  I told you in an earlier post, that she was also playing with the disappearing 4 patch.  She felt that the centre strips were just too narrow in this block, so she cut and fused and made me this terrific postcard.

I recently cut up almost all my floral fabrics for a couple of quilts.  Lots of little strips were left over.  I pieced two sets, one floral and one green.  Laid them over top each other and cut them into a zig zag pattern.  I really like how these turned out and plan to make more with different fabric combinations.

This time, I tried the same technique using four layers of fabrics.  I still have two more of these t put together though I have run out of the heavy interfacing.
Lots of little pieces are fun to put together, not knowing what the end will look like.  Add a bit of machine embroidery, those fancy stitches on my machine that I don't get to use often enough.
Flying geese seem to turn up in all sorts of quilt blocks.  This time I sewed together a bunch of strips to make a larger square which I then cut corner to corner both directions.  The square I started with was 3 1/2 inches on a side, which was too large, I should have used a 3 inch square, then I wouldn't have had to trim.  I have some strips already sewn together to try this one again.  Still can't decide whether to offset the geese or to line the up as close to straight as possible.

I sewed together a whole bunch more of these floral strips and using a template from Marti Michell cut these hexagons.  With Mother's Day approaching, I wanted to turn it into a bit of a flower garden.  The background white was already fused onto the stiffener, so I went with it. Next time I'll try some sort of green or a light brown.

I did make another, but it is a prize from an earlier contest, so I can't show it until I have sent it to the winner.

Have you tried making fabric postcards?  If so, what is your favourite method?  If you haven't tried them, what's holding you back?

Marie has requested that I put together a tutorial for making these cards.  After I purchase some more supplies, I'll get to work on that.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown

Welcome to the ruthless and competitive world of food competitions.  To most people, Cadillac, Texas, population of 1524 people, is a pleasant and nurturing place to live.  Become a member of the Blue Ribbon Jalapeno Society and it becomes a cut-throat, back stabbing battle ground.  Growing the hottest jalapenos and creating food products from them was the founding principle of this decades old club.  The competition with the group and between the neighbouring town is quite fierce.

Amid this rivalry, are sisters Marty and Cathy and their dearest friend Trixie.  Together they run Miss Clawdy's Cafe, named after the twins' mother.  Across the street from the cafe, lives 78 year young Agnes Flynn, feisty aunt of the twins. And across from her, in the renovated garage is Darla Jean and her Christian non-denominational church.  Darla Jean is herself a reformed prostitute.

On the far side of town, both physically and financially, is Violet Prescott, self appointed for life Queen of the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society.  Everything in town must go according to some plan that Violet has devised, which is solely to the benefit of herself and her son. 

Even with all the underhand conniving by Violet, the twins, their aunt and Trixie manage to thrive and deepen their friendships.  While their relationships strengthen, they open their hearts and homes to those around them and show that small town warmth that I expected.

This book was funny and highly entertaining but at the same time, it has a sensitive side that makes it a personal story.  The main characters range in age from early 20s to almost 80 years old, making it a suitable read for a wide range of readers.

Food plays a big role in this book as you might expect from owners of a cafe.  The food descriptions make me want to visit Miss Clawdy's and try the daily specials, or to nip across the street with Agnes after closing and gorge on the day's leftovers.  Author Carolyn Brown even has a section on her website where she has included some of these recipes.  She invites readers of her books, to write her if there is a particular recipe that would like.

I read an early ebook version of this novel, but have ordered a paper copy as I enjoyed it so much and want to share it with my mother.

Website for author Carolyn Brown

Thanks to Sourcebooks for my review copy and for use of the cover image.

Also reviewed at:
Books and Needlepoint
Jenny Loves to Read

For more foodie fun, be sure to visit with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking meme.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Splitting the Nine Patch

Welcome to my regular weekly Needlework Tuesday post where I share whatever I have been stitching during the past week. I find this a great source of encouragement as I always want to have some sort of progress to share with you. Feel free to grab the cute little mouse and add him to your needlework post, then leave a comment with a link. I'll be sure to drop by and visit.

Last week, I introduced you to the 9 patch blocks I am working with and asked my readers to share links to their own projects using 9 patches.  Below are the links that I have received to date.  All are wonderful uses of this versatile block.
Roslyn at Ros-the-Quilter wrote a special post to showcase her varied projects. The she found two more and wrote about those as well.

Barbara at Pointless Quilter has just finished a gorgeous double 9 patch in pinks and oranges.  oh, I do so love orange.

Chumkie at My Favourite Things shows a Single Irish Chain. I had totally forgotten that was made with 9 patches.

Visiting these posts got me thinking about my previous quilts and wondering if I had any quilts or tops with these blocks.  I did find three.

Crib size, donated to a charity
oh wait, now that I look closer, this is a 4 patch.

Entered in a UFO show. Dozens of 9 patches that I swapped for in the late 1999 and early 2000.
 Yet to be made into a quilt or two.  Most were from a 50 State Swap.

Made with 1 1/2 inch squares, all 9 patches then put together to form the top.
 Can't recall the designer.  yet to be quilted.
During the past week I worked on three quilt tops all with the 9 patch block I showed last week.  I pieced the 12 that I am sending to my mom for her to work some embroidery magic. 

The second variation was made using 9 identical blocks cut as shown.

Then rearranged.

And sewn.  This top is now finished, but I am saving them all for a grand unveiling when all the tops are completed.

Variation 3. this one I pieced two different blocks, both with the same fabrics but in different arrangements.

Cut as shown
Re-arranged with the other coloured block.
I have 6 of each of these blocks and am yet to decide how to sash and border them.

 Next, on to the kit for the fan blocks.  All I have to do is open it and start sewing.

I thought that before I sewed all 44 fans, I better sew a test to ensure my seam allowance was accurate.  Imagine my surprise to find that the blades had be cut inaccurately.  I placed a 12 1/2 inch square up ruler over the fan and you can see how much is extending outside at the top of the arc.  That's more than an inch.  That is not acceptable for what was sold as a die cut kit.  The kit is from a company called QuiltKing Products in Liberty, Kentucky.  I have sent them a letter of inquire to find out what happened in the making of these kits and how they plan to correct this error.  I have over 240 wrongly die-cut blade pieces.  It's been 5 days and I haven't heard back from them. If I don't hear from them by the end of the week, I'll send them another message.  Will have an update for you next week.
 Lucky for me, I have a template by Bethany Reynolds for a 6 blade, 15 degree angle fan blade.  I used that to re-cit 6 blades. I then sewed another fan and have laid t upside down on top of the first fan i sewed.  At the bottom left you can see the little purple wedge. That is how much too big the die-cut blades are.
Has any one else had this sort of problem with die-cut kits?  If so, what was the response of the company that you dealt with? Even though I bought this kit years ago, the company should still offer me a full replacement as the kit was defective.
Tami at Just one More Thing, finished the doll quilts that she started with her sister and mother last week.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow was my selection for my local book club read this month.  It had been sitting on my shelf for over a year and I was still curious.  The premise is that that people are divided by time zones.  They don't have to live in a particular time zone to identify with it.  With an online world, it is easy to work and socialize/game with people anywhere.  The main character Art Berry identifies with the Eastern Standard (EST) time zone even though he is currently working in England.  This constant time zone shifting tends to play havoc with peoples states of mind.
While Art is in London working for one company, he is actually an agent for the EST and trying to undermine the company's success as well as the standing of other tribes.  All seems to be progressing well until he is involved in an automobile accident. He hits a pedestrian, Linda, and they both end up in the same hospital room.  From that point on, their paths cross and intersect as they build a personal relationship.  This turns out to be a major complication in his line of business. 
Our book club had a lively conversation of this book.  The concept of aligning yourself with people from different time zones was a bit far fetched.  Yes, we admit that it does happen for the purpose of work meeting with distant staff and for online game playing, but to live your whole life with a shifted internal clock, nope, we didn't buy it. Only exception I came up with was those scientists studying the Mars Rover who set their hours by Mars time.
How widespread are these tribes.  We all got the impression that it was not a global phenomenon, rather small groups of dissatisfied people who had banded together. Outside of these groups, the general population hadn't heard of them.  One of the doctors in the hospital has no idea what Art was referring to.    This brought us to question whether Art really did belong in the psychiatric hospital.  oops, I didn't tell you about that, you'll have to read and find out how and why that happened.  If he wasn't crazy, then was he just suffering the effects of resetting his internal clock due to his overseas travel.
This was another enjoyable book by Cory Doctorow, though I would have liked if the final chapters had been expanded.  It seemed a rushed, that the developments could have been explored in more detail. 
Also by Cory Doctorow:

This book counts toward the 6th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John at The Book Mine Set

Saturday, 6 April 2013

I love udon noodles

Over the past few months, I have fallen in love with udon noodles.  Perhaps it was my husband descibing them as earthworms and he didn't want to even see them.  Whatever it is, I love eating them.  They are thick and substantial, take sauce and flavours well, and because them come already cooked, they are ready to eat in minutes.
The ones I have been buying are  called Don Don Instant Japanese - Styled Noodle (Udon) from Kwong Tai Agency Co., Ltd. The package contains 4 individual serving of 200 grams each.  I haven`t tried other brands at home, though I have eaten udon a few times in restaurants, and enjoyed them equally as well.
There are some simple recipes on the back of the package and I adjusted on to my needs and ingredients at hand.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan along with one packet of udon.  Add a teaspoon of oyster sauce and about a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce for chicken.  Stir fequently.  Add whatever small cut vegetables and stir for a few minutes.  I added a handful of bean sprouts. I then poured it into a flat bowl.  Then I scrambled friend a beaten egg.  I also added a handful of fresh greens into the serving dish, added the egg on top sprinkled with a bit of Sriracha sauce.
Simple yet so tasty.

For more foodie fun, be sure to visit Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking post.  Beth invites you to join in the fun by adding a link  your recent food related post.

Friday, 5 April 2013

First Nations Friday - Him Standing by Richard Wagamese

 First Nations Friday is an occasional Friday post where I review books written by First Nations/Aboriginal authors.

I recently learned that Orca Book Publishers has a line of books that they call 'Rapid Reads'.  These are shorter stories, both fiction and non-fiction, that are both shorter in length and easier to read.  The target readers are ESL students, people with lower level reading skills, those who want a one night read.  I feel they would also be a great choice for people who are having trouble focusing, perhaps due to an extended illness. At  present there are 29 adults titles available.   Him Standing by Richard Wagamese is the first I have read.
Lucas Smoke is just 20 years old, yet he has the carving skills of much more experienced artist.  When he holds a piece of wood in his hand, he can see his subject within it.  He feels that he is making a good living by carving the images of people along the boardwalk.  He learned much of his art by watching his grandfather carve spirit masks, which were highly sought by collectors.
Undoubtedly he would have continued carving people, except that fateful day when Gareth Knight stopped on the boardwalk to challenge Lucas to a particularly difficult commission.
This story was non-stop action right from the first page where we learn that Lucas is a nature, perhaps even a savant at his craft.  It continues a a brisk pace and kept my attention for every minute.  And yes, I did read it through in one evening. Even though this book is rated at a grade 2.8 level, it still have sufficient detail and was a complex enough story to keep me interested. 
Thanks to Orca Book Publishing for use of the cover image and for my review copy.
Also by Richard Wagamese:
The 6th Canadian Book Challenge is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

This 1962 book is set in Lima, Peru at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy.  It Academy is a real school and was established 1943 and author Mario Vargas Llosa attended in the early 1950's.  This book is based on his experiences at that time.
The academy is a boarding school and each of the three years are divided into sections.  You study, you practise manoeuvres, you eat and your sleep with your section.  You spend almost 24 hours a day with the same group of students with a limited amount of adult supervision.  These students are soldiers and are expected to act as such.  The Poet, the Slave, the Boa, the Jaguar, Curly and Cava the peasant are all in the same section.  During their first year, they are repeatedly and brutally initiated by the senior year cadets.  The Jaguar decides he is not going to put up with it and stands up to them, which results in the end of the initiation rituals for his whole section.  Along with the Boa, Curly and Cave, Jaguar forms an inner Circle to protect his section.  After their counter-attacks of the senior boys, the officers disband the Circle.  That doesn't mean the end of their camaraderie and plotting.
Becoming men while attending the Academy is not an easy process for all the students.  There is a a distrust of all the officers.  The students view them as adversaries and certainly not anyone they could confide in.  At the sametime, these same officers seem to only see that which they chose and off look any infraction which wou take tiem out of their ease to notice.  Smoking, drinking, bullying.  The Circle has picked on one student throughout their entire three years, the Slave has been bullied and picked on by almost everyone and every day.  They also have a dislike of anyone they deem a 'peasant', which includes anyone from the mountains, the small villages or that is an Indian (I assume this is the indigienous Peruvians). 
Intermixed with the stories of events within the Academy, are the back stories of some of the boys, what lead up to them becoming cadets.  At times I found  it difficult to determine which boy was narrating, but as I read along and learned more about them, it did become more clear. 
In some ways, this book reminded me of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Even though the cadets were supervised daily by their teachers and officers, they left to manage themselves during their free time and when they were in their barracks.  They didn't seem to be given much moral guidance during these times.  When they were with their families, their mothers treated them as men and mostly left them to their own devices with little or no attempt of discipline.  I have not idea if this was because they were cadets or due to their culture. 
This was an interesting read that introduced me to  a very male world of which I can never be a part.  The writing style is casual and really gave me the feel of young teenage boys talking.  Since this was Mr. Llosa's debut novel, I am not looking forward to reading one of his later works.
Thanks to Stu at the blog Winston's Dad for introducing me to this author.  I do have a friend in Peru and I have been wanting to learn more of his country and for me, reading is a terrific means of learning.
I found an interesting article at the Universal Peace Federation website where Mario Vargas Llosa was welcomed back to the Leoncio Prado Military Academy.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Interview with Author Connie Corcoran Wilson

Thanks for joining me today for my first author interview.  Actually, the interview was completed by Maxine of Between the Lines, unfortunately she was not able to post it at this time and asked if I host Connie here.  The week before last I posted my reveiw of author Connie Corcoran Wilson's lastest book Red is for Rage, and so I am happy to have her here once again.  
I find authors fasinating people.  They live in the same world as me, yet they seem to be experiencing it on  a different level, or it's the fact that they are seriously 'people watchers'.  I want to thank Connie for her very candid and most interesting  answers .  ps, occasionally I rather like to wear the colour khaki.
Interview with Between the Lines 

1.     Tad McGreevy can see the auras of those around him.  Each aura colour denotes a certain personality type, suggesting that the path we are to take in life is already marked out.  Given that some of your characters are based on pupils you once taught, and that some of those pupils are now unfortunately serving life in prison, do you believe that these people were actually born with the propensity to commit an evil crime?

First, Maxine, let me say that this is an extremely refreshing question---very thought-provoking and not run-of-the-mill at all.   (Kudos!) Your question about “the propensity to commit an evil crime” almost makes me go all religious and start blathering on about Calvinism and predestination, where all events are supposedly willed by God and (supposedly) He selected eternal damnation for some folks and salvation for others. That would bring up “the paradox of free will” and possibly soteriology and all sorts of other intellectual religious theology points that I’m rather rusty on, all these years later, to be honest.

 So, let me just say this about these students—whom I remember vividly---all of whom went on to commit evil crimes and capital felony offenses. Sometimes, I feel the student was “not right” in the head to begin with, yes. There’s a chapter in RED IS FOR RAGE when Jeffrey Dahmer even says he felt that he was “born with a part of me missing.”[It’s in the Chapter entitled “Sing the Die Song,” which explains more about Tetrachromatic Super Vision.]  Sometimes I think such crimes have to do with socio-economic status and poor parenting. Sometimes I think it is partially society’s fault, as various social agencies may have failed a particular child in his or her formative years, at their most vulnerable ages, when they badly needed intervention from a social service agency or a significant mentor or a family member who cared.  

But back to my former students: One of the most heinous crimes involved a student I had for 3 years who beat his girlfriend’s small child to death intentionally,( after inflicting a great deal of abuse on the poor child during life) and then blamed  “neighborhood children” for the victim’s death when on trial. (That didn’t fly).

Later, he said he should get a new trial because the drugs he was taking to help him sleep while imprisoned made it impossible for him to adequately aid in his own defense. (That didn’t fly, either).

What I remember about this student---vividly---was that he was always given a “pass” by a (supposedly) loving mother (who resembled nothing so much as the stereotype of the squat middle-aged Russian woman, stodgy, wearing a babushka, lumbering along.)

Mrs. “X” would trudge into school and tell us that we couldn’t discipline this student in any way. He was “untouchable.” (And I don’t mean the Indian caste system term.) He was not to be kept after school for detentions. We were not to discipline her little darling, who would actively lobby to try to be sent to the office for any infraction, as, during the stifling hot fall months, it was the only air conditioned  room in the school. When he left your classroom for the Principal’s office, he would sport a huge Cheshire cat grin, happy to be being sent to a more comfortable part of the building. He once told a teaching colleague of mine at the high school level (after I had taught him three years through junior high school), “We liked to get Wilson going.”

 For Raymond, it was strictly “hands off”. (He was 11 or 12 when I taught him in school.) This student was of average to above-average intelligence, so we cannot blame low intelligence. But Raymond had been having it his way for so long that he seemed to begin to feel that no laws of behavior applied to him, somewhat like the Jeremy Gustaffsson character in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

Raymond went on in adulthood to prove this in the worst possible way(s). The last time I saw him before he was arrested for murder, he was running through a supermarket with a small, terrified child in a shopping cart, literally RUNNING through the aisles, pushing the small child as fast as he could run,  and putting every adult  shopper in the aisles at risk. (Clean up on Aisle 3!) And trudging along behind this out-of-control individual was Mom, never saying a word.

 When that former student was grown up and on trial for his life, his mother never once came to the courtroom during his trial. His father was there every day, but his mother never once showed up. Interesting, no?

So, was this person born “bad?” Was he evil or amoral from birth?  Was he raised poorly?  Was there something “wrong” with him, psychologically? In Raymond’s case, perhaps both nature and nurture apply, but not because he was mistreated by his parents, as some criminals have been.  Raymond  always  seemed  psychotic, based on his behavior in my classroom (and I had him for 3 long years). Certainly he had gotten the feeling that no standards of conduct or rules of behavior applied to him and that may have contributed to his actions as an adult, when he crossed the line and became truly evil.

In some cases, as with the “Sixty Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday, March 17, about former Philadelphia hit man John Veasey, the hit man did not answer interviewer Byron Pitts as though he had much going for him in the area of higher intellectual abilities. He had the blank look in his eyes of a killer. Veasey certainly had no moral qualms about murdering people, even if he liked them. He spoke dispassionately about killing people---which he had done a lot of---as though he had merely swatted a mosquito. His arrest record even as a juvenile was lengthy, with something like 60 counts for lesser offenses in his youth.  Now, of course, he is married, claims to be “born again Christian,” attends church weekly and drives a church bus. Some doubters think it’s all an act. He testified against the Mob and was given a new identity and a good job and he claims to be a changed man. He still had a cold, dead, blank look behind his eyes and a woman he had threatened played telephone tapes of him threatening to kill both her and her husband, whom he blamed for the death of his brother. So, is he still a killer with no qualms about killing, or is he a reformed born-again Christian? You tell me and we’ll both know.

        A different killer I taught in junior high school murdered a man on a dare simply because he was high on drugs. This was a poor district. We could blame socio-economic factors. There is money in drugs, and drugs are an escape from the realities of one’s life, if the reality is that you are born into poverty and your future doesn’t look that bright. There were other issues, as he was a student who came to this country unable to speak English, originally. So, was he destined to go bad? Was it something within him? He lived next door to the art teacher, who once saw him rolling around on the lawn on a Sunday morning, fighting with his father, trying to hit his father over the head with a full Coca Cola bottle, an image which has remained lodged in my brain ever since.

Then there was the student who---while a grade school age student--- locked himself in the family bathroom, took a straight razor, and slashed all the plastic surfaces in the bathroom (toilet lid, shower curtains, etc.) He was about 8 years old at the time. Certainly old enough to know that this was not ideal behavior to display for his terrified babysitter trying to gain access to the locked bathroom that Kevin was destroying. When in my class, he would sit in the front right corner desk and actively self-mutilate during class with pins. You could ask him to quit, but good luck with forcing him to do anything you requested. He died in his early twenties in a drug bust gone wrong, burned to death in a downtown business, the fire set in an attempt to cover the homicide. No one was ever arrested for his death. [His sister was a piece of work, too, although she did not end up on Death Row.]

 We might say the individuals I mention above are examples of “Nurture, not nature,” but I honestly feel that “nature,” in some cases, also had a hand.

Yet another of my students---not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and one of 23 biological children born of the same mother---was talked into killing a man who had only one leg and wore a peg-leg because a truly evil Svengali type convinced him that the amputee with the wooden leg had money hidden in his leg. They callously (and somewhat stupidly) threw the man’s dead body in a ditch. (I’m telling you; you can’t make this stuff up. But you can write about it, if you experienced these students, firsthand, and that’s what I’ve begun to do.)

I hope that answers your excellent question and let me hasten to add, [having been psychoanalyzed by amateurs online recently myself,  unfairly, publicly , incorrectly, simply out of mean-spiritedness by people I had met for literally 10 minutes) : I’m not a psychiatrist and not a therapist, and I don’t say that I am.

 I am merely an observer with a certain amount of knowledge of human nature who has done a fair amount of reading, has a minor in psychology (and a sister who IS a psychologist) and that the teacher years in the immediate family go back, uninterruptedly, to 1927. I’ve written a book on successful teaching for the nation’s largest teacher training firm, in fact (“Training the Teacher As A Champion,” Performance Learning Systems, Inc., 1989).  

So maybe my 33 years in the classroom, observing student behavior, count for something. Or maybe I’m all wrong. You decide. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing about all of these people. Just wait.

2.     Khaki actually happens to be a colour I like to wear, why did you choose it as the ‘colour of evil’?

Another excellent question! (I thought no one would ever ask!) 

First, the word “khaki” comes from Persian and Urdu and has “dusty” or “dust” or “ash” and I was thinking of the phrase used at funerals: “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”  So it’s a short hop, skip and a jump from “khaki” to “death,” for me.

: I thought black was too obvious and had been overdone. [Wasn’t that what you THOUGHT it would be? See what I mean?] I always used to tell my writing students to throw out the first 2 clever ideas that came to them when writing names for groups of animals as a creative exercise (“a stripe of zebras”)  because those first two would be the easy ones and true creativity meant original thinking, thinking out of the box, not saying what everyone else would say.

Third:  for me, the color khaki has always equated to decaying flesh or mold or algae or other unpleasant connotations. Even the animals I can think of that we might describe as “khaki-colored” are unpleasant, for the most part. (Fill in the blanks here with the names of your favorite or least favorite khaki-colored animal.)

Fourth: khaki is the color worn by most Armies, and even a synonym for certain types of attire (“khakis”), and an Army often equates to war and death. That could become a theme of a future book. In fact, the next book will probabtly be titled KHAKI = KILLER, (although that is still to be decided.)

Fifth: true funny story. I was writing a story once on the practice of “having your colors done” when that was all the rage and people would be pronounced a “winter” or a “spring” or whatever. I always thought that, if you were a grown adult, you should know by the age of sixteen or so whether you looked better in pink than in orange, but that’s just me. This was a weekly humor column I called “The Write Stuff.” One of my friends revealed that she had “had her colors done” at a cut-rate place (i.e. cheapie joint) and her color turned out to be khaki.

I laughed and said, “Well, you get what you pay for. Even Johnny Cash only wore black, but he mainly visited prisons.” I thought it was funny and wrote a humor column for my weekly column with these quotes. I was called in and told that the local woman who was “doing colors” and bought advertising in the paper was not amused. (I had also made fun of the concept of “having one’s horses’ colors done,” as a rich, local dowager had ostensibly done). Apparently, not everyone shares my sense of humor. So, that is another “khaki” story, which caused me to select it from among others for THE COLOR OF EVIL.

3.     What colour aura would you have and why?
Well, as you know if you’ve read both books, it would be good to be a brilliant green (NOT khaki) because you’d be very healthy. Yellow is also a good color because those individuals are sunny and funny and bursting with energy.(Yellow was my mother’s favorite color.) So, I’d hope to be one of those. I wouldn’t be blue (remote, cool, introverted) and, although I, personally, like to wear pink, I wouldn’t be pink, based on my attribution of that color to behavior (which you’ll have to look up for clarification.)
4.     You quote from various songs in both The Color of Evil and Red is for Rage, do you listen to music when you are writing and if so what type of music gets you into the writing frame of mind?

I do not listen to music when I am writing. I have trouble writing and chewing gum at the same time. Music would just take me somewhere I might not want to go (as far as synching up the characters’ actions with the music that might be playing.) I am musical, however (4 instruments; sang throughout college), and my daughter actually graduated in Music Business from Belmont University in Nashville.

5.     You also quote from movies, what is your all time favourite movie?

It is impossible for me to single out one All Time Favorite movie because I’ve seen so many and been reviewing them in print since 1970. My book “It Came from the ‘70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” is the product of  15 years as a film and book critic for our local paper (Quad City Times), and I took 8 years putting it together. (*Reviews written AT THE TIME and saved for 43 years in scrap books.) It has 50 reviews representative of the era, 76 photos (many not seen previously and obtained from the directors from onset photographs) and interactive trivia and won 5 national awards.

I can tell you my favorite films for THIS YEAR would include: “Flight,” “Bernie,” (Jack Black) “Argo,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and---most recently---“Side Effects.” They are far from my All Time Favorites. I used to respond The Manchurian Candidate (the first film)  and there was an old British film called “The L-Shaped Room” back in the sixties with Leslie Caron and Brock Peters, that nobody but me has probably ever seen, that I loved at the time, just as I did Robert Redford’s films “Love with the Proper Stranger” and “This Property Is Condemned.” (This was when “Georgie Girl” was out, another great film.) But I’ve seen too many films since then, and I hope to see many more. I’ve covered the Chicago Film Festival for Yahoo for the past 5 or 6 years and my piece on Brad Pitt’s film “Killing Them Softly” just got over 100,000 hits on Yahoo. Check it out. It put me in the “Hot 500” for the month of February, which is pretty interesting when you consider that I was on a cruise ship floating around New Zealand and Australia and didn’t write anything that month. These were all hits on pieces written prior to that. I’ve been blogging since about 2007  on Yahoo as a Featured Contributer and Content Producer of the Year (2008) in politics, on10 other blogs ,and for my own blog, WeeklyWilson.com, where this Virtual Tour schedule is currently posted. I also love going to  documentaries. One from Iran called “Be Like Others” was horrifying, as it depicted governmental pressure on gays to actually have sex assignment surgery if  gay. Not very electively, I might add. And there was a terrific documentary year before last called “On the Bridge” by Olivier Morel of Notre Dame University about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) in returning Iraq war veterans that was heartbreaking. Some favorite comedies would include Woody Allen’s “Love & Death,” “Sleeper,” Bridesmaids,” “Lost in America” (Albert Brooks). I just plain love movies. If you take a look at my WeeklyWilson blog, you’ll see comments from “There Will Be Blood” at the top and you can scroll back to find evidence of my coverage of several years’ worth of Chicago Film Festivals in October. And, when in Australia this year, I greatly enjoyed watching the Australian version of the Oscars, because, this year, my 3 favorite films of the Chicago Film Festival were “Flight,” Helen Hunt’s “The Sessions” and “The Sapphires” from Australia, which really cleaned up in Sydney with Chris O’Dowd winning Best Actor and the entire film taking 11 out of 12 or some such. It was such a great film! Great sound track! Wonderful story. And I like the Australian TV show “Rake” a lot, too.

6.     How did you go about choosing your character names, Michael Clay is a good name I feel for the serial killer, but McGreevy is very unusual.

[Thank you on the “Michael Clay” comment. I have to be careful that I don’t end up calling him “Michael Clayton” (the George Clooney film) which has actually happened a few times.] McGreevy IS an unusual name. I didn’t realize HOW unusual until I was chatting with Todd McGreevy, who publishes the local entertainment newspaper “The River City Reader” and I realized that his surname must have sneaked into my subconscious.

I told him about the character “Tad” and HE told ME how rare this last name is. I’m glad Tad is a “good” character so Todd can’t get mad at me for co-opting his surname without conscious intent. I did that once before with another “good” character named Lucinda Resnick (who appears in one of my short stories in the first “Hellfire & Damnation” entitled “David & Rachel.”) I honestly had not thought of her name consciously, at all, but it must have crept into my subconscious because of its unusual nature. (In the story, she’s a nurse at a children’s hospital, so a “good” character). The very first names I selected for characters in my first (sci-fi) fiction novel (“Out of Time,” now Out of Print, from Lachesis), were Bella (beautiful) and Renee (reborn). So, I’ve given some thought now and again to the symbolism of a name (“Claire- light, etc.) but McGreevy probably came from the gentleman mentioned---although I swear it was not intentional, and I had no idea it was as “rare” as he claims it is.

7.     I am interested in what frightens people as horror is so subjective, I’m rarely disturbed by horror novels or movies but I have an absolute horror of cockroaches .  Stephen King has written some very chilling stories in his time and I read somewhere that only Pet Semetary ‘bothered’ him as he was writing it and that the scariest thing for him would be if something happened to his children.  So, have you been haunted by Michael Clay as you have been writing about him, and in reality what would really frighten you?

“Pet Semetary” frightened ME, too! I was in a motel, alone, while in Iowa City (my alma mater, the University of Iowa) taking a class entitled “Writing Across the Curriculum” and I couldn’t sleep all night long. I agree with Stephen King that bad things happening to good people is a fear, as is ill health and death for  loved ones. If you want me to talk about things of a cockroach sort, I’m not cool with spiders and once vacuumed up a HUGE spider hanging from the ceiling while 9 months pregnant with my second child because I was too big a wuss to knock it down and pick it up. I think we all have a fear of the unknown and of death and of things that might hurt or kill us or those we love, so that is probably pretty universal…no? (I’m not like Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie who once said they had a fear of furniture with feet! Ha!)