Learning New Things – Carolyn

Yesterday was our monthly Malice in Memphis meeting. We had a marvelous update on our fourth Malice in Memphis short story anthology. This time it revolves around Elmwood Cemetery, a historical old cemetery from the earliest days of Memphis, all through the yellow fever years and beyond. It is still in operation today.

Our president, Kristi, got everyone to vote on having a proposal for a short story in the April 1. The amazing thing is that most people met the deadline. We already have enough proposals to fill the anthology. When I recall how difficult it was to get anyone to commit to our first anthology, Bluff City Mysteries, it seems members have become not only better writers but more secure in their creative abilities.

As for me, I wrote my story. Didn’t like the ending. Yesterday morning at 6:00 a.m. the final kicker came to me. I didn’t exactly vault out of bed, but I did get up right that minute, go to my computer and rewrite the ending. Now it works. I also have stories from two of my critique members edited and done. It helps that this time we know what we’re doing.

Our speaker yesterday was fabulous! Tony Kail is a cultural anthropologist, ethnologist and writer with a list of publications considerably longer than my arm. His newest book, The secret History of Memphis Hoodoo, I plan to read this afternoon. He certainly is a fascinating and knowledgeable speaker. I must admit I thought Hoodoo was simply a corruption of voodoo (as in New Orleans). Not so. He’s written a very scholarly, but nonetheless entertaining book. Not only did he give us a history of the types of hoodoo, which is very involved with potions—love, accrual of money, even revenge, but he had samples of some of the herbs and potions he has collected over the years. All of this was right outside of my experience, as it was to most of the members at the meeting.

The entire sub-culture is riveting. And not obsolete. Apparently, it all goes on today, and Memphis is one of the focal points.

Several years ago at Bouchercon, we had a double session on poisons given by a nurse practitioner whose hobby was collecting actual poisons that she found in old pharmacies and even in antique stores. She brought in a large jar of prussic acid she had discovered casually sitting on the bottom shelf of a small pharmacy in Kansas. Several of the samples she had acquired were so dangerous (cyanide, for example), that she had them encased in blocks of acrylic. I’ve done quite a bit of research on poison for my mysteries, but I don’t mess with actual samples. Amazing how naïve most of us are, even when we think we’re not.

 

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