Confessions of a Christmas Junkie

As the temperature heats up for summer, I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.

The yuletide season is my favorite time of year. I love the music, the pretty decorations, the sweets and of course the celebration of the savior’s birth.

I haven’t always been a Christmas junkie. I loved the holiday as a child but for many years as an adult I was a scrooge. I’m not sure exactly when I began loving the season again, possibly when I accepted the fact that Christmas Present will be different from Christmas Past.

When I was a kid, Dad put up the artificial tree. I helped hanging the decorations—anyone remember those silvery tinsel strips fell off once you put them on the tree?

Mom made felt stockings from a pattern. The stockings were hung on a wire and I loved dumping out the candies and trinkets from my stocking on Christmas morning. Nothing expensive, but still fun to get.

My family didn’t shower the kids with oodles of presents, so we appreciated the few we received. One year my parents packed the gifts inside empty cartons. I pulled off the wrapping paper on one gift to find a tissue box! I was disappointed until I realized the cardboard piece covering the hole was a different color. I removed it to find a stuffed animal inside.

My brother and I bought books for each other, the Whitman TV-tie-in novels with the cheap pasteboard covers. Of course we each read the book before wrapping it up. One year my parents gave me the first two books in the Trixie Beldon series, the first mysteries I ever read—I never got a Nancy Drew book, although my brother received Hardy Boys mysteries.

The highlight of the season was perusing the special Christmas mail order catalogues from JC Penney, Sears and Montgomery Ward (at one time my home town had physical stores for all three companies). I’d read the toy section in the back and make out my wish list. I ignored the adult clothing in the front pages.

We attended the special Christmas Eve service at church that started at 10 or 11 p.m. I had a hard time staying awake that late. The large youth choir put on both the Christmas Eve and Easter sunrise services. I was blessed to attend a large church with a great music program.

When I was in my 20s I had a part-time job as Mrs. Claus at a mall. I was on the lower level of the shopping center, away from Santa and tucked away in a corner where few people found me. I helped kids write letters to Santa. My job ended when the mall closed at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve. Before my shift that day I’d packed a suitcase in my car, and as soon as I finished work I hit the highway for the five-hour drive to see my family. Ah, the energy of youth.

But as the years past, Christmas lost its charm. Eventually Mom could no longer drive at night, so we missed the church service. Dad didn’t hang up the stockings anymore and soon the artificial tree didn’t go up either. For various reasons my siblings stopped buying gifts for each other.

My parents sold their house and moved into an assisted living facility, which was perfect for their needs but didn’t lend itself well for family gatherings. My siblings were spread out geographically, so we couldn’t all make it for Christmas anyway.

I was living in the Midwest, so winter consisted of storms, freezing cold weather, walking in slush, digging out from snow, and driving on ice. Not fun at all.

I grew fonder of Christmas when I began devising new customs to replace the old traditions. I bought my own decorations to spruce up my home. I purchased holiday jewelry to wear (but no ugly sweaters). I collected CDs of Christmas music and recordings of my favorite TV holiday specials.

Christmas became for me not a family crowding into a small house but a quiet time of reflection and rest away from the workplace and the world.

Now I live in SoCal and no longer have to put up with snow—although last year we had a deluge of rain. I enjoy the crisp, cooler temperatures and the early evenings that bring on a cozy feel. I’m not into outdoor sports, so staying inside suits me. A cup of hot cocoa, a good book, a favorite DVD, a snug blanket, a cat on my lap and I’m a happy camper.

Over the years I tried to find a Christmas Eve service like the one I remember, but that formal style of worship in Protestant churches has gone out of fashion. I now attend my parish “midnight” Mass that actually starts at 10:30 p.m. Most people attend the earlier children’s and family Masses, so the later Mass is not as crowded, which suits me.

So Christmas—and any celebration—is what you make of it in the here and now. How do you make Christmas or Hanukkah a special time?

Career is king in “La La Land”

I love the classic movie musicals, so I was interested when critics claimed “La La Land” was a throwback to that golden age. But after viewing it, LLL resembles a millennial version of “All About Eve” more than an homage to “Singin’ in the Rain.”

If you haven’t seen either film, you may want to do so before reading on as this post is full of spoilers.

LLL, like “Eve,” had a record 14 Academy Award nominations and won six, with Best Picture to “Eve.” Both films were written and directed by one man.

The theme in both movies is chasing success at all costs, and was the winning worth it.

“Eve” tells of a young actress who resorts to flattery, deception, lies and blackmail to gain stardom. She gains the dream she wanted, but in doing so loses her friends. She ends up lonely, unhappy and tired. The trophy she longed for is carelessly left in a taxi, having lost its appeal.

LLL is about Mia, young actress and Sebastian, a musician, who ruin what could be a heavenly relationship in pursuit of their dreams. The film is labeled as a “romance,” but the characters are in love with their dreams, not each other.

LLL is much like the city of Los Angeles itself—full of flash and glitter on the surface but superficial underneath, with no heart.

Halfway through LLL I realized I didn’t like or care about Mia or Seb. They have no personality. We know little about them except for their singled-minded fixation on making it big in the industry. Frankly, they act like jerks.

The film is an ode to the selfie generation. LLL opens with drivers stuck in freeway gridlock getting out of their cars and dancing. What a nice way to release the tension! But when the traffic moves, the drivers pile back into their cars (they can’t use mass transit?) and to their own radio music and bubble, no longer part of a community.

Romances have the “meet cute” moment, but here it’s a “meet ugly.” Mia uses the traffic jam time to read lines for an audition. She’s so absorbed in herself she doesn’t pay attention to the other cars. Seb, parked behind her, grows impatient. He speeds around and blares his horn. Mia responds with a finger, even though she’s the one blocking traffic. Nothing says true love like a rude gesture.

Digression: how does a struggling actress buy a Prius and an out-of-work musician afford a cool convertible? I also want to point out that when Mia and Seb watch the film shot on the movie lot, they are standing far too close. In real life, sawhorses would be placed several yards away to keep out the looky-loos.

Mia’s an actress but we never see her act except in some film auditions. Her crying scene and the audition song moved me, but the bland nurse-and-cop roles she read were cardboard characters. Even in her big one-woman show we never see her talent, just her going onstage and off. Is she really good or just a wannabe with stars in her eyes?

If Mia wants to act, why doesn’t she act? L.A. has dozens of small theaters where actors ply their craft. The pay is minimal, but it’s great experience and exposure. But Mia can’t play with others. She must be the only star in the sky, so she produces a one-woman show. In real life, a show by an unknown would play at a 99-seat theater, not a huge venue like the Rialto (a real theater in South Pasadena). But Mia is too full of herself to realize she can’t fill seats by herself.

Even in her big movie audition, she isn’t reading lines with other actor but doing a monologue, because it’s all about her!

Sebastian is no better. He’s appalled that Mia doesn’t share his love for jazz. Instead of sharing in her interests, she must conform to his. He immediately takes her to a jazz club where he talks over the band playing instead of letting Mia listen to the music. He doesn’t love jazz but rather his superior knowledge of the genre.

Seb takes a piano gig at a club where the manager tells him to play only Christmas music for the patrons. Seb argues that he doesn’t want to do the set list. Then why did he take the job? If someone hires you to play Santa, you don’t show up in a Dracula cape.

Seb grudging obliges but eventually sneaks in his own song. When the manager fires him, Seb argues again. Then Seb storms off in a huff because he wasn’t allowed to do what HE wanted instead of doing what he was paid to do.

On his way out of the club, he bumps into Mia, who’s entranced by his music. In a classic musical, he’d stop and apologize. But Seb is so focused on his feelings and nobody else that he just storms off.

The two meet again at a pool party where an unhappy Seb is performing with an ‘80s cover band. Why doesn’t he get a job in another field if he’s too much of a “purist” to play the music other people like?

After the party, Mia and Seb have a lovely dance together when her cell rings. Does she let it go to voice mail? No, she takes the call. The person on the line is more important than her dancing partner.

Mia moves in with Seb, but this arrangement seemed more like two tenants sharing a space than lovers. I never felt any chemistry between them.

Seb then takes a high-paying gig with a fusion jazz band, grumbling all the way to the bank. When he asks Mia to join him on tour, she claims she must stay behind to work on her one-woman show. She can’t postpone her show by a few weeks?

If they want to build their relationship, why not write a show together—she the story/dialogue and he the music? But then they’d have to share spotlight. They don’t know how to listen, compromise or be empathetic.

Regarding the band tour, Mia berates Seb for not following his dream. Yet when her one-woman show bombs, she runs straight from the stage door to her parents’ house, swearing that she’s finished with acting. She doesn’t follow her own advice? And who wants to root for a protagonist who gives up?

Seb is so unprofessional he “forgets” about a band photo shoot scheduled the same night as Mia’s play—and he doesn’t bother to call or text her. Can’t he set up reminders on his cell—or tell Mia ahead of time of his commitments?

Then again, Mia “forgets” about a dinner double date she had scheduled when she agrees to go to a film screening with Seb. She couldn’t cancel the date or at least call/text Seb? People in L.A. are always cancelling events at the last minute. But the dinner was true to life, at least the ones’ I’ve attended: the others gab about something superficial while ignoring Mia.

Mia finally makes it and goes to Paris to shoot a movie. The next scene is “five years later.” She’s married to another man and has a child. Whoa! What happened? She and Seb never called, texted or wrote each other in five years? Who is this husband? We learn nothing about him. How did she connect with him? Does Mia really love him?

Seb’s ego shows up again when he’s introducing his jazz club. Instead of playing with the musicians on stage, they stand aside as he performs a piano solo. Dude, jazz is a collaborative art.

The closing dance number is copied straight from the 17-minute ballet sequence that concluded “An American in Paris.” But unlike that movie, the hero doesn’t get the girl. Mia sees Seb at his club and leaves with her husband. No classic “guy gets gal” ending. But this being L.A., she might divorce her hubby for him or just keep Seb on the side as a secret lover.

Even if Mia and Seb were together, would they be happy? Would they be willing to scale back their dreams to have a family? Or could they bicker as they did before? Who knows? Who cares?

You may think I’m being too hard on the film, except that a friend told me he knows people just like Mia and Seb—their career is number one and nobody else is number two. LLL is a cautionary tale that achieving one’s dreams may still leave one unfulfilled. If you stake your entire self-worth on your career, who are you when the gigs stop coming?




Time for an update

How the year flies. Hard to believe 2017 is already a quarter past. Soon (but not soon enough) it’ll be time for put up the Christmas decorations again! Yes, I’m a Christmas junkie. I wouldn’t mind noelling all year long.

Meanwhile, in the first part of this year I was preparing for a talk I gave March 28 titled “Thou Shall Not Kill: A Mystery Writer Looks at Sin and Redemption.” The lecture was part of the annual University Series, an adult education program held in Lent at 12 Catholic parishes in L.A. and Ventura Counties. I did a great deal of research on the topic and a friend help set up a PowerPoint presentation for me.

In the talk, I started by explaining the legal definition of murder. I looked at the Old Testament prohibitions on murder and murders in the Bible. And interesting fact is that according to Jewish law, in a murder case two or more witnesses were needed to convict a suspect—the testimony of one person wasn’t sufficient. This no doubt kept malcontents from sending innocent persons up the river.

I also discussed the psychological aspects of evil, why people commit crime, Satan, original sin, and the dark side of Nancy Drew (and you thought she was perfect). I ended by examining the worldviews of the mystery subgenres.

Cozy mysteries are somewhat similar in outlook to Christian faith. In cozies, a “perfect” society of routine and order is disrupted by the presence of evil (murder). By solving the crime, harmony is once more restored. God created a paradise in Genesis. Sin arrived, and the rest of the Bible describes how God restores harmony between him and humans until Revelation, when a new perfect world arrives.

About 33 attended my talk and response was overwhelmingly positive. I’m glad I gave it, but the lecture took a lot of time away from my writing.

Now that the class is over, it’s full steam ahead on my next book, a hybrid of sorts: cozies meet the Cold War. It’s 1967 and a spy agency recruits an actress in a small town to help with a mission while she’s also trying to solve a murder.

My other writing project this year is a short story. My publisher is producing an anthology of stories from the Cozy Cat Press authors. I have in mind a tale with my series character, Sandy Fairfax. He’s a guest star on a children’s TV show and the puppeteers have something wicked up their sleeves.

I’m still blogging monthly at Ladies of Mystery and writing the Roots of Faith column for the Acorn Newspapers.

Something new this year is that I’ll be selling and signing my books from noon to 1 p.m. Sat., April 22 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC campus. The Friends of the Moorpark Library has chartered a bus, so I will be traveling stress free.

Looks like a busy year ahead.





A song and a laugh to brighten the day: TV variety shows

Whatever happened to TV variety shows?

Sure, they were cheesy, silly, predictable and full of mush as the host gushed over each celebrity guest star. But they were entertaining, just the solace for weary families at the end of hard day.

Variety shows combine musical acts and comedy sketches performed by guest stars, overseen by one or more permanent hosts. I don’t include most late night TV shows, as those programs are mostly talk and interviews with occasional music and comedy.

The variety show is a direct descendant of the once-popular vaudeville show, the traveling collection of lowbrow comics, singers, bands and other assorted acts that provided entertainment in the days before mass media. Many vaudeville acts later found success in radio, movie and TV.

Variety shows appeared in the earliest days of network TV, from the 1940s and into the 1980s. One of the earliest and most successful was “The Ed Sullivan Show,” running an impressive 23 years from 1948 to 1971.

What made the so work was its vast array of talent for all ages and tastes. If you didn’t like the current act, something different was waiting in the wings. When The Beatles appeared on the show, Sullivan wisely included other acts to placate the parents of the teenyboppers who tuned in for the Fabs.

Unlike most hosts on other programs, Sullivan never performed on his show. He couldn’t sing, act or even tell a joke, but he was a genius at programming talent.

Sid Caesar was another groundbreaker with “Your Show of Shows” (1950 to 1954) and “Caesar’s Hour” (1954 to 1957). Some of his writers, including Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, went on to fame in their own right.

The first female variety show host (hostess?) was Dinah Shore (1956 to 1963).

“The Andy Williams Show” (1958 to 1971) was the springboard for the Osmond Bothers (6-year-old Donny made his TV debut here), who went to host their own TV series and specials.

The golden era of variety shows began the 1960s with “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967 to 1975), “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” (1969 to 1972), and series hosted by Carol Burnett (1967 to 1979), Danny Kaye (1963 to 1967) and Dean Martin (1965 to 1974).

Martin’s show was unique in that in his contract, the entertainer was not required to attend rehearsals but only show up for the taping! Obvious Martin didn’t even look at, let alone memorize, his lines—thank goodness for cue cards.

Variety shows hit the jackpot in the 1970s when almost anyone with a hit record was signed up, including Sonny and Cher (71 to 77), Tony Orland and Dawn (74 to 76), Shields and Yarnell (77 to 78), Donny and Marie (76 to 79), The Captain and Tennille (76 to 77), The Jacksons (76 to 77) and Sha Na Na (77 to 81). Even the Brady Kids got in on the action with “The Brady Bunch Hour” in 1977.

Flip Wilson was the first African American variety show host (1970 to 1974).

One of the most successful variety shows ever was hosted by a green felt frog puppet. “The Muppet Show” (1976 to 1981) became a worldwide smash in syndication. The guest stars played along with the illusion, and the puppeteers put enough humanity into their characters to make them “real.”

For rural folks, “Hee Haw” provided country music, cornball jokes and pretty gals in skimpy outfits. After a mediocre network run (1969 to 1971) the show thrived in syndication (1971 to 1993).

Surprisingly, the longest running variety show ever is Saturday Night Live (1975 to the present), remarkable since the show has always relied on guest hosts instead of one personality; the cast of comics is constantly changing, and the show surpasses the limits of good taste and decency.

With so many hit series, why is the variety show a dead art form?

One answer is the rise of cable in the 1980s and the fragmenting of audiences. Networks no longer had to produce shows that appealed to everyone. The plethora of cable networks gave each age group and interest had its own channel.

The Big Three networks also discovered that reality shows were far cheaper to produce than programs that required musicians, dancers, costumes and big salaries for celebrities and below-the-line union workers.

With YouTube and social media, young performers no longer need exposure on network TV to launch their careers. Then again, is there anyone in Hollywood who would be crazy enough to want to produce a “Justin Bieber Goodtime Comedy Hour”?

Personally, I feel the networks are no longer interested in creating sunny, optimistic, feel-good shows. Most programming today is dark, violent, rough, controversial and graphic.

Maybe someday someone will start up a channel of all-variety shows, re-running the old classics. The world needs some fun and laughter.







The past isn’t what it used to be

My older brother recently sent me an email about his 50th high school reunion in our small Midwestern hometown. I haven’t been back in years, so he described the changes since our childhood.

The drive-in teen hangout was gone and the family sit-down restaurant had expanded. My elementary school building had been razed years ago, and my high school—which was brand new in the 1970s when I attended—had been demolished for an even newer building.

The streets now have two roundabouts—why, I don’t know. It’s not as if the town ever had gridlock or even heavy traffic.

The city library I frequented, although the same on the outside, has changed inside, I’m sure. Computers have replaced the old card catalog I rifled through. Harry Potter and other newer books are probably on the shelves that once held the Sue Barton books I read.

The grand brick-and-stained-glass church building where my family worshiped is a mattress store. The congregation moved into a newer building that resembles a barn.

Most of the old stores are gone. The downtown movie cinema is now a community theater playhouse, and a movie multi-plex has sprung up in the commercial district on the edge of town.

Every now and then, when I’m tired of the incessant traffic, high prices and nanny laws in SoCal where I live, I think about my hometown, at rather, an idealized version of it.

A few years ago I had an urge to move back. But why? When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave for the “big city.” I never ate at the drive-in, and was bored by school (no AP classes for gifted students). Shopping choices were limited to a handful of mom-and-pop stores, especially after the Sears and JC Penny moved out.

Physically my classmates have changed, but not so much socially. I had few close friends when in school, and by now those who still live in the hometown have their own social circles. I couldn’t break in.

I suppose it’s human nature to continually seek a non-existent Paradise where life will be perfect. When we’re faced with adult responsibilities, it feels good to retreat into a childhood where our biggest worry was returning a library book by the due date, or choosing the flavor of ice cream we wanted on the apple pie.

“The Twilight Zone” had several episodes about a man (why not a woman?) returning to his childhood home and finding he no longer belonged. This no doubt sprang from Rod Serling’s recollection of his upbringing in upstate New York. After moving to L.A. as an adult, he and his family made annual pilgrimages back to NY State for quiet vacations, away from the stress and egos of Hollywood.

When I get blue, I think about the opportunities I have here in SoCal. I could not have written my Sandy Fairfax series if I had not experienced the TV/movie industry and SoCal life for myself. I’ve seen some nifty museums and met some great people. I love my church and the clergy. I have a steady job. Although I miss the fall leaves and cooler autumns, I love not having to drive on winter snow and ice.

Perhaps childhood memories best belong in the past, because the reality is so much different today.






Travel with me on my blog tour

Today I’m kicking off a two-week Great Escapes blog tour to promote “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” Please stop by at any time and leave a comment! And please check out the character interviews; those were fun to write.


July 18 – A Blue Million Books – INTERVIEW
July 19 – Brooke Blogs – GUEST POST
July 20 – My Devotional Thoughts –  REVIEW, INTERVIEW
July 20 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too! – SPOTLIGHT
July 21 – Island Confidential – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
July 22 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST
July 23 – Lisa Ks Book Reviews – INTERVIEW
July 24 – Tea and A Book – REVIEW
July 25 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – REVIEW
July 26 – Bookjunkie’s Book Blog – REVIEW
July 26 – A Holland Reads – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
July 27 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW
July 28 – Queen of All She Reads – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
July 29 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – GUEST POST
July 30 – LibriAmoriMiei – REVIEW
July 30 – Reading Is My SuperPower – SPOTLIGHT
July 31 – StoreyBook Reviews – CHARACTER INTERVIEW


Sandy’s new adventure

Here it is, Sandy’s latest mystery, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper,” fourth in the series. I’ll be doing plenty of guest promotional blogs in the near future and you can read a blurb about the book on, so there’s no need to repeat a story summary here.

This book a little different from the previous stories in the series in that the murder, finally, takes place in chapter one. Some sages say mysteries must have the body in chapter one, or even on the first page, but nobody has complained about the late arrivals in my previous books. Generally I like to build the world first so the reader knows what’s going on, who’s who and can feel invested in solving the crime. I also avoid a lot of backtracking and exposition dumping.

Another difference is that the story seems, at first, to take place all over the place. The prior three books were set in a “closed community,” a finite number of characters contained in one location: a hotel, a movie studio or a cruise ship. “Quiz Show” settings include a college campus, a movie studio, an old art deco theater, a multi-million-dollar estate as well as various businesses and residences. And the cast list is never ending.

It may seem that the story is rambling both everywhere and nowhere in particular, but in the conclusion all of the subplots and suspects are draw together into one place. I’d been wanting to try my hand at such a story with seeming unrelated threads that eventually tie together into one neat bow.

The book also concludes a story arc begun in the first novel. Sandy’s been estranged from his parents, siblings and children. In book two he begins to make amends with his parents. Book three found him patching up old grudges with his sister.

In book four we finally meet his brother, Warren. Throughout the other books, Sandy had made insulting remarks about Warren and now we finally meet the man himself.

It’s the classic “prodigal son” parable: Sandy is the wayward son who left, indulged himself, and returned home a changed man. Warren is the good son who always behaved himself. He resents his scandalous brother trying to ingratiate himself back into the family. But circumstances force Sandy and Warren to put aside their feelings and work together.

Also in book one we learn about Sandy’s rocky relationship with his demanding father. That arc also reaches a comfortable conclusion in this book.

So what’s left for Sandy to do? At present my thoughts are to give him a rest and begin a new series that’s been on my mind for over a year. I can always return to Sandy at a later time if readers demand more. There are still a few more challenges he needs to face and always another mystery.


Fall update

Like the cobbler’s children who go barefoot, I’ve been too busy with other blogs to keep this one current. I post once a month on two group writers’ blogs, write a monthly newspaper column, do occasional blog guest posts, work a full-time job and somewhere find time to write mystery novels. Oh yes, and feed the cats.

I post at The Cozy Cat Chronicles, a blog for my fellow authors at Cozy Cat Press.

On the first Monday on each month I post at Ladies of Mystery, an eclectic group of women mystery authors of various genres. It’s been challenging but fun to think of new topics each month and not talk about my work constantly. Our posts are suppose to deal with “mystery” in one way or the other and I’ve been discovering novel ways to push the envelope as to what constitutes a “mystery.” Frankly, the whole writing process is a mystery to me. When I finish a piece I ask myself, “How did I ever do it?”

As for books, I’ve started the third draft of the fourth in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” I may be the only author to use the letter “Q” not once but twice in a book title. This one was a toughie. In the first draft, I threw out the first 50 pages and rebooted with a different approach. I almost gave up but my publisher encouraged me to finish. The book’s looking better now and has what I consider the funniest scene I’ve ever written. I’m anticipating the book’s release in early 2016.

After that I’ll give Sandy a well-deserved rest and start a new cozy series set in 1967. Far out! I have a number of ideas in place with an interesting female protagonist, an unusual small town setting and an exciting, unique concept. Stay tuned!

This fall I started a new writing project, a monthly column, Roots of Faith, for the Acorn Newspapers, the umbrella title of five community newspapers serving Western Los Angeles county and Eastern Ventura County in Southern California.

The challenge is to write articles that appeal readers with a wide range of religious beliefs. I can’t evangelize, although I stay in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and I keep clear of controversial topics; I’m not interested in fielding emails from readers who disagree with me! So far the response has been positive; even the priest and a deacon at my parish have liked my articles.

I’m writing more now that I ever have in my life (except maybe all those grad school papers). What’s gratifying in my work is getting published in paper and via Internet instead of generating rejection slips-I’ve had my fair share of those.

So if you don’t find a new post here, I’m probably blogging or writing somewhere else. But in future I’ll try not to be a stranger on my own blog.



An Ode to “Batman ’66″

The release earlier this year of ABC’s Batman TV show on DVD and the Batman ’66 comics based on the iconic show have spark a revival in Batmania.

I recently rewatched the show’s first two seasons (I’m not a fan of season three because Batgirl does nothing except show up to throw a kick or two, and losing the cliffhangers ruined the show). Here are my observations.

Law enforcement: A college communications professor told me that Batman portrayed the police as clowns. During the peace and civil rights protests of the 1960s, the cops beat, gassed and hosed down unarmed citizens. The police enforced segregation laws and threw blacks into jail for, well, being black. No wonder law enforcement was viewed with suspicion and contempt.

Batman played out this anti-fuzz attitude with a police force so incompetent it couldn’t arrest a jaywalker. Chief O’Hara did nothing except wait for the batphone to ring. Several times Commissioner Gordon asks O’Hara if he felt capable of stopping the latest crime wave. O’Hara hangs his head in shame and shakes his head. The police only show up at the end of each episode to arrest the crooks after they have been subdued by the dynamic duo.

The villains: If the police are dopes, the arch criminals are little more than pranksters. They only steal; they don’t kill, rape, maim or commit arson. A few kidnappings occur, although the victims are never physically harmed and a few are not even tied up during their captivity.

The crooks only take from banks and jewelry stores, which are insured, or from the wealthy who can afford to lose a million or two. Sometimes the baddies will spray dye on citizens but otherwise they cause no serious danger.

Why do Gordon and O’Hara panic when these overgrown bullies show up? Why can’t the police pull out their guns and order the crooks to surrender?

The villains are stupid in that they always leave blatant clues signaling their next move. If they were more secretive, they would never be caught. But given the brightly colored, outlandish outfits the crooks wear, obviously they want attention.

If Gotham City suffers so much crime, why do people choose to live there?

Whey is the batcave so well guarded yet stately Wayne manor directly above is a crime trap? Criminals constantly walk the grounds, enter through unlocked doors, and steal from hidden safes that they know about. Can’t millionaire Bruce Wayne afford an alarm system and security guards?

If stately Wayne manor is so huge, why do the occupants use the same room all the time (besides the fact that building more sets costs the studio money)? And why don’t we ever see the people eating in a dining room? Or using a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom?

How was the batcave built without anyone knowing about it? Did Bruce Wayne blindfold the builders and drive them to the construction site? How did he purchase and install a nuclear reactor without government regulators finding out?

How does Dick Grayson find the time to be an honor student, serve on school council, and still fight crime? Do the criminals only strike after school hours (in only one episode do we see Dick in school)? When he and Batman are caught in a death trap, how does he manage to escape in time to go to class the next day?

Why is concealing Batman’s identity so important? If people knew he was Bruce Wayne, so what? It would avoid the silliness and charades when Batman and Bruce Wayne are expected to show up together.

Why hasn’t Batman been arrested for child endangerment? What loving, responsible parent/guardian would allow a child to be beaten, tied up and harassed by criminals every week? Is Dick’s young, developing brain traumatized from this exposure to wickedness?

Why hasn’t anyone figured out their identities, especially since Batman and Robin make no attempt to disguise their voices?

I had the privilege of meeting Burt Ward a few years ago at a promotional event. In real life he talks the same he did as Robin, with that same “Golly gee whiz!” enthusiasm. Holy typecasting!

What are you thoughts on the “Batman” show?




Amateur Sleuths: Useful Crimefighters or Meddling Busybodies?

Amateur sleuths–are they a help or a hindrance?

In a recent review of my latest cozy, a blogger (who otherwise loved the book) was irked by my sleuth’s involvement in the case. He “sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong regardless of personal risk and requests of law enforcement.” True, but my sleuth identified the murderer long before the police had a clue

One of the requirements for writing in the cozy genre is that the protagonist must be an amateur sleuth, not a private eye, police officer, FBI/CIA agent, spy or even retired from the force. Those looking for such characters should turn to a thriller, police procedural, hard-boiled or noir.

What’s the attraction of the amateur sleuth? The AS is generally a woman (but more men protagonists are popping up in cozies), usually single (but not always) who often owns some kind of mom-and-pop shop in a small town. The AS is not trained in police work but somehow gets sucked into a murder case, usually because the AS knows the victims or the person suspected of the crime or the AS just happens to be hanging around the crime scene.

The charm of the AS is that the reader can identify with the heroine, who is an average person just like herself, more so than she can relate to a law enforcement professional. Often the AS is engaged in a hobby or occupation that interests the reader.

The reader can solve the crime along with the AS. The reader sees the same clues as the AS and the game is on to see if the AS or reader can sort out the red herrings first. Since the AS has no access to crime labs or highly technical police equipment, the reader and AS are working on a level playing field.

In a cozy, the AS is surrounded by parents, kids, crazy relatives, friends and eccentric townspeople. The reader loves to see how the AS handles her various relationships and can probably relate to some of the wacky characters.

In a cozy, the reader doesn’t need to decipher unfamiliar police terminology or try to assimilate into the close-knit culture of the thin blue line. The cozy reader doesn’t have to see the awful sights an officer sees at a crime scene.

So what is the value of the amateur sleuth? Can’t the police solve the case themselves?

Cozies are fantasies. Much of what happens in a cozy would never occur in real life. A cozy is entertainment, not a forensics textbook. The aim is to engage the reader in solving a puzzle and share in the family life of the protagonist, not to present an accurate depiction of police work.

The AS has access to and can communicate with people that the police can’t reach. The AS may find a clue a tired, overworked officer missed. The AS might look at a crime with fresh eyes and a new perspective. And in some cozies, the local law enforcement officers are not the sharpest tools in the woodshed.

My amateur sleuth, Sandy Fairfax, 38-year-old former teen idol, gets involved in cases because he’s the one who finds the body and some compelling reason forces him to start detecting.

In “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” the police suspect him.

In “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” the death occurs on a movie lot and the studio executives are more anxious in covering up the crime than in solving it.

In “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” the shipboard security is relying on land-based police to handle the case.

In my current WIP, Sandy finds the body in the offices of a close family member and the detective assigned to the case is pulled away to handle a high-profile murder.

Sandy has the type of personality that cases him to “stick his nose” into other people’s business. In his youth he was energetic and active, outgoing and not timid. He was reckless and often engaged in risky behavior. On his TV show he did most of his own stunt work, so he’s a daredevil and not fearful. he speaks his mind and is not shy at striking up conversations with strangers.

He’s not working steadily, so he’s bored and looking for something to stimulate his mind. He’s had run-ins with the police in the past, so he’s pleased to beat the cops at their own game.

And deep down Sandy has a strong moral core that seeks justice and wants to help the underdog. He feels guilty at squandering much of his life in drinking and inactivity, so solving a crime provides him with purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

What traits do you like to see in an amateur sleuth? What value do you see in an amateur sleuth solving a crime?