Saturday, June 23, 2012

Musings by Shirley Wetzel

Shirley Wetzel began writing poems and stories as soon as she could hold a pencil. She has had a number of historical articles and personal essays published in academic journals, newspapers, and anthologies, including a story in A Cup of Comfort for Weddings. Three of her short stories, Feels Like Home, Meeting Miss Bettie, and Sarah Hornsby’s Dream, have been published in anthologies written by her writing group, The Final Twist, published by L&L Dreamspell.

by Shirley Wetzel
My musings today come from that treasure house of wisdom, Facebook.
            A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies
             The man who never reads lives only one.”
                      George R.R. Martin

            Reading gives us a place to go when we stay where we are.”
                        Penguin Books

Books have given me the chance to live many lives, and to go to places I’ve never been. I started reading before I got to kindergarten, and I discovered Nancy Drew not long after. To heck with Dick and Jane, I wanted to ride around in a jaunty roadster and solve crimes with my peeps Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I got to try out the medical profession with Cherry Ames, R.N., and decided that was not for me. When I was around ten I discovered Agatha Christie, and I never looked back. Dame Agatha led me to Dorothy L. Sayers and the other greats of the Golden Age, and turned me into an Anglophile.

Fast forward a few decades. While I was in graduate school studying archaeology, Elizabeth Peters began her Amelia Peabody series. It was great fun to read about the fictional versions of the archaeological greats of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages while studying them for real in class. Ms. Peters, aka Barbara Mertz, is an Egyptologist with impeccable credentials, and knows how to make dusty old history come alive. I can’t go on digs any more, but Mary Anna Evans lets me tag along with Faye Longchamp on her explorations. The wonderful Lyn Hamilton, who became a friend before her untimely passing, took me to foreign climes like Easter Island, Africa, Mexico, the Orkney Islands, and Thailand. In a delightful bit of serendipity, her book The Thai Amulet made use of The Royal Chronicles of Ayudhaya, which had been translated by one of my professors and typed by – me!

Speaking of Thailand, it is one place I have been. Thanks to Uncle Sam, I lived in Bangkok from 1972-1974, and it was a magical time. These days I can walk those exotic streets again with Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty. If I want walk on the gritty side, I turn to John Burdett. If I want to have a lot of clever fun with my mysteries, there is Colin Cotterill’s new series featuring sassy reporter Jimm Juree and her eccentric family, trying to run a motel in a small village in southern Thailand. Eric Stone has taken me to Cambodia, Hong Kong, and other Asian places, tackling some of the major problems of the day.

Reading has turned me into a time traveler, with no help from Doctor Who. Mary Reed and Eric Mayer gave me John the Eunuch, who solves crimes in ancient Constantinople. Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder opened up the world of the Roman Empire. In another instance of serendipity, Steven’s grandfather and my grandmother were cousins, and I was able to thank Steven for his grandfather’s kind act of giving my widowed grandmother a job at his hotel in Goldwaithe, Texas. Who knew being a mystery fan would lead me to such amazing places?

Barbara Hamilton writes a series featuring Abigail Adams as an amateur sleuth in Boston when it was on the brink of revolution.  Rhys Bowen won my heart with her Constable Evan Evans series, set in modern day Wales, and she continues to entertain me with her Lady Georgina (34th in line to the throne) Royal Spyness series and her Molly Murphy series, set in turn of the century New York City. The late David Thompson introduced me to James Benn’s Billy Boyle World War II mysteries because he knew I was enthralled with that era, and I am so thankful he did. I recently discovered a new writer, Graeme Kent, whose two novels, Devil-Devil and One Blood, are set in post-WWII Solomon Islands. One can’t get much more exotic than that.

In more recent history, Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri takes me back to Southeast Asia just after the Vietnam War. Dr. Siri is a seventy-something Laotian physician forced into becoming the national coroner because there was nobody else to take the job. I must admit this is my favorite series. The characters are –well, real characters, and I and many other fans have come to love them. Dr. Siri and his best friend Civilai remind me of the grumpy old men in the balcony of the Muppet show, but there is much more to them than grumpiness. The crimes are often dark, but the prose is gentle and funny, making the harsh realities of the aftermath of the war easier to take. Sharon Wildwind’s Vietnam veteran series brings back memories of a pivotal time in my personal history. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Rev. Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries are the first I’ve read that address the aftermath of serving in the latest wars.

There are so many other authors who have enriched my life. Jeff Cohen and Chris Grabenstein have given me a new appreciation for New Jersey. Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale know how to write Texan, in very different ways. Other favorites: Dean James, Charlene Harris, Cornelia Read, Leann Sweeney, Gillian Roberts, Carolyn Hart, Patricia Stoltey, Kerry Greenwood, Lee Child, Alafair Burke, Lillian Stewart Carl, Susan McBride, Rick Riordan, Betty Webb, Simon Wood, Pauline Baird Jones, all the talented authors at Berkley PrimeCrime … there are many, many more, but I’m sure I’m running out of space. A year or so from now, I will be adding the gracious and generous Kaye Wilkinson Barley to the list. I look forward to that day. Thank you all for allowing me to live so many lives, travel through time and space, and be richly entertained while never leaving my house.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Shirley, my friend - Welcome!!!! I always love thinking about your smiling face while you're visiting Meanderings and Muses. One of these days, we're going to have a lovely little visit sitting in your gorgeous Texas Bluebells. Eating Blue Bell ice cream - Can't Wait!!!!!

Hugs, sweetie!

Unknown said...

Great post, Shirley!

Anonymous said...

Shirley, your thoughts came also right out of my own head in many ways!!! I worry about the future non-readers who live inside those little teeny devices - how will they ever stretch their horizons? Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences.
Thelma Straw in Huge Manhattan

cathy said...

Enjoyed reading that, Shirley. Thanks.

Patty said...

Marvelous post -- great list of authors, some I've read, some I've got on my list to read and some new to me authors. Love posts like this it gets me fired up to read other new series. I believe I need to retire now and never buy another book or add another author to get everything read -- ain't gonna happen.

Earl Staggs said...

Very interesting, Shirley, and a great reminder of the opportunities we have to tour the world simply by turning pages.