November Newsletter, Vol. 2



Left, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Me and My Pal

During the Great Depression, the humble jigsaw puzzle was a staple of home amusements — along with sing-alongs and gin rummy. Jigsaw puzzles were cheap and entertaining distractions during the years of hardship and poverty. By 1933, the puzzle fad reached mania proportions — with 10 million selling each week.

As a kid, our family of three had a Christmas Day tradition of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. We’d stretch out on the floor in front of the fire and spend hours laboring over a snowy winter scene or a cluster of hot air balloons in flight. This memory was one of the reasons I included a scene with a young girl assembling a jigsaw puzzle in my murder mystery.

A film with Laurel and Hardy, my favorite comedy team, alluded to the jigsaw mania of the times.  In Me and My Pal (MGM, 1933)  it is businessman Ollie’s wedding day. Best man Stan arrives at the Hardy home with a thoughtful wedding present: a jigsaw puzzle. The Boys, along with the butler, a cab driver, a cop and a delivery boy, become so engrossed in the puzzle, Ollie misses his wedding…and the piece at the center of the puzzle is missing. As a kid, I thought this was hilarious. I still do.



Beach's (2)

For much of  my childhood, my father sold poultry feed to farmers in central and western Ohio. He had a roster of regular customers. Rolling up a dirt lane to take an order, he’d soon be checking out the flock with the farmer and discussing everything from poultry diseases to average rainfall.

My dad always carried Beach’s “Common Sense” Travelers’ Expense Book to keep track of his mileage and overnight stays at various rural motorcourts. As a kid, I found the fellow on the cover, with his suit and traveler’s bag, very dapper.

That is one reason I included this detail in my murder mystery. Ed, the new deputy sheriff, wants to be seen as a professional by the town folk and so buys a Beach’s in which to record his case notes. My dad, who was always a smart dresser, would be pleased.





wind trees

Photo by Rachel Cobb from her book, Mistral: The Legenday Wind of Provence

The plowing under, by farmers, of the thick prairie grass hide of the High Plains and a severe drought helped create the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However the relentless winds also did their part.

The winds of this period were legendary…with varying accounts of speeds of 40, 60 and 100 miles per hour. Yet, without their payloads of dirt and dust, the winds would have been largely invisible.

I thought of this when I came across this review of a striking photography book, Mistral: The Legenday Wind of Provence. In his review in Lensculture, W. Scott Olsen notes:

Living in wind requires physical acts of patience, resistance, courage, creativity and sometimes resignation.

The sample of Rachel Cobb’s photographs that accompany the review are remarkable in that they capture the wind and its interplay with trees, surf, men and women. They reminded me of the many photos of the Dust Bowl I have studied over the years.

In his introduction to the book, Bill Buford writes, “I like all of Cobb’s pictures mainly because they make me feel the wind. My favorites seem to imitate its force, its blurry, primary-colored disorder. I can’t think of a higher piece of praise than that, after studying them, they make me want to rub my eyes. I feel grit on my skin.”

wedding wind

Photograph by Rachel Cobb

New Podcast: “So Let It Be Written”

Matthew McGmatt1evna, author, poet and teacher, now adds another line to his bio — podcast producer. “So Let It Be Written” features Matt’s interviews with writers of all stripes including poets, journalists, PR practitioners, academics, novelists and comedians. I am honored to be his first interview in the series

Matt has the voice, curiousity and conversational style made to listen to. Please check out our interview, but, more importantly, tune in to his podcasts. You can find them on his website,, and on SoundCloud.