Heavy Traffic Got You Down? It’s Worse Than You Think!

While channel surfing the other day, I happened to land for a few moments on a program where a lovely twenty-eight-year-old Pakistani woman named Nelufar Hedayat was being interviewed. She spoke about a series titled The Traffickers on the Fusion Channel. My interest was aroused, as I had just finished the fourth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery series.

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In my book, titled Spine Damage, a fifteen-year-old Portuguese girl goes missing from her home on an Azorean island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after she makes the mistake of accepting an invitation to a yacht party.

I can’t reveal here what happens to my character, a lovely, naïve and headstrong teenager named Liliana Ferrera, as that would be a spoiler, and the book isn’t due for release until May of 2017. What I can say is that I wish more attention were being paid to the devastating impact every sort of illegal trafficking makes on countries around the world, including the United States of America.

Not once during the recent, seemingly endless presidential campaign, did I hear a candidate express a workable solution to the problem of trafficking, whether the merchandise is drugs, stolen art, rhino horns, or human beings (often children) who are sold for purposes of slave labor or for sex. Nor did I hear any reference to the illegal trade in black market organs.

Yes, there was mention of building a wall. Of course, Paul Revere could have reminded us that not all invasions come by land. A wall will not stop drug boats from reaching our shores, or freighters from docking in our harbors laden with containers (only a fraction of which are searched). And how many airplanes touch down in our country on remote landing strips? What about autos and foot traffic arriving from the north? Will we build a second wall from coast to coast along the Canadian border?

I hold the fictional answers to lovely Liliana’s fate, but what of the thousands of real-life human souls who have been taken from their homes and forced into a black-market world, or the flood of other illicit trade that feeds the appetites of criminal buyers in this country and others throughout the world? For more on this subject, watch Nelufar Hedayat on the Fusion channel on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m..  http://fusion.net/page/the-traffickers/

Will an innocent, trusting young teen be rescued in time? Find out when Spine Damage, book four in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, is released in May of 2017. And in book five, we’ll continue the theme with a mystery surrounding illegal organ harvesting. Meanwhile, the first three books in the series are available in print and e-book versions by shopping online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or upon request at your local bookstore.

DO THEY COME ALIVE AT NIGHT? ASK A TAXIDERMIST.

CIMG1315It is possible that the practice of taxidermy dates all the way back to the beginning of man. Although there is no clear record of its start, it is known that the art form has  been around for centuries. A mount of a rhinoceros in a museum in Italy, believed to have been done in the 16th century, is said to be the oldest in the history of taxidermy.

Long before that time, Egyptians were mummifying their cats, dogs, and other animals at their death. This practice was actually a form of taxidermy.

CIMG1319Outdoor sports enthusiasts who enjoy fishing and hunting make up a large part of the taxidermy business. Many invest enormous sums of money and risk life and limb in remote and treacherous parts of the world.

In some cases, a hunt is a means of eradicating an animal that is doing great harm, as in the case of feral hogs that now do two billion dollars annually in agricultural damage and related problems. As one hunter explained it, “Taxidermy helps to preserve the memory of an experience that may happen only once in a lifetime.”

Hunters and fishermen are not the only clientele of taxidermists. Moviegoers who have enjoyed the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM franchise will recall the vast assortment of animals that came to life each night. Museums give taxidermists a great deal of business, and will continue to do so.

CIMG1321Modern taxidermists use forms placed inside the preserved skin of the animal instead of the original method of stuffing with straw or other materials. The forms have realistic shapes that are designed to look how the animal would appear if seen in the wild.

Taxidermy remains an art form that people continue to enjoy, either as reminders of memorable hunting and fishing experiences, or as displays in museums.

A word of caution though. It’s probably best to exit the museum well before closing time. That wild boar isn’t looking too happy.

Taxidermy plays a role in CHECKED OUT, book two of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series. Published by Camel Press, it is available both in print and ebook format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by order from your local bookstore

Discovering the Azores

When I bring up the subject of the Azores Islands in conversations about vacation destinations, most people I know respond with a blank look. They may have heard of the archipelago, but in most cases, have no idea where the islands are located.

Manadas shoreline

That response changes when conversing with someone of Portuguese descent. Portuguese Americans whose great- or great-great-grandparents emigrated from the Azores know exactly where the islands are. They’re situated in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, somewhere in the vicinity of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. More than one theorist has explored the possibility that the Azores Islands are the remnants of Atlantis. But that’s another story.

In contrast to today’s typical island tourist traps, the Azores are relatively untouched by commercialism and have retained their charm. Tourists are welcome and find it very easy to enjoy the many lovely features of these islands. A four hour flight from Boston brings visitors to a refreshing world of islands with diverse vacation pastimes. Hiking, swimming, sailing, whale watching, or simply lying on a pristine beach under a Mediterranean sky.

Hydrangea Hedges

The visual feast alone is worth the trip. Green hills bordered by giant hydrangea hedges, rocky slopes dropping to a shoreline dotted by rustic villages untouched by time. Harbors filled with yachts making this ideal pit stop on their way to or from faraway destinations.Horta Marina

The gustatory feast is one to be savored and remembered long after the experience. The subtle green wine and the cheeses made from the truly happiest cows on earth would be enough to sustain most travelers. But that’s just the beginning. There is nothing as delightful as Portuguese cuisine. Fresh-baked breads, chicken prepared in succulent recipes, myriad seafood dishes, of course, and roast beef flavored with secrets handed down for who knows how many generations? Perhaps from the inhabitants of Atlantis.Atlantis

For folks who dream of finding that mythical location, the Azores Islands might be the next best thing.

The Aimee Machado Mysteries feature a protagonist whose parents have retired and moved to the island if Faial in the Azores. They are very happy with their new life. So far, they are unaware of Aimee’s tendency to get caught up in solving murders that involve her job as a hospital librarian in northern California.

Many websites feature visits to the Azores. One good example is www.visitazores.com.

JOURNALISTS IN JEOPARDY

Journalists in Jeopardy

The New York Times reported on August 14, 2013 that Mick Deane, a cameraman for Britain-based news network Sky News, was killed in Cairo. This is a tragic reminder that the life of a journalist is not all glamour and ego. The chilling truth can be a far different thing.

In Due for Discard, the first in my Machado Mystery series, I needed a back story about a Parisian woman television journalist killed on assignment. My research led to a Paris-based site called the World Association of Newspapers. More recently, a New York Times article about Mick Deane led me to discover another organization, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Both organizations keep records of the numbers journalists killed in the line of duty or targeted because of their work. An in-depth visit to these sites is well worth any writer’s time. It is a stark reminder that those who would deny others their basic human rights do believe the pen is mightier than the sword.

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The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, or WAN-IFRA, reports  21 media employees have been killed so far in 2013 as of August 15.         www.wan-ifra.org

The  Committee to Protect Journalists reports 33 journalists killed so far in  2013. http://www.cpj.org

 

 

 

Research at the Gun Range

Writers are told to write what they know, and to research what they don’t know. Aimee Machado, the protagonist in Due for Discard, met her problematic boyfriend, Nick Alexander, at a gun range. How to write about that when my experience with firearms was limited to the single shot Daisy BB gun of my childhood?

I had never been to a gun range before, so I asked my son to take me for shooting lesson. I came away with a new sense of reality about what it’s like to fire a weapon. I discovered that it involves four of the five senses. The gun was heavier than I expected, the sound was louder, the shell casings flew faster and farther than I expected, and, of course, the smell of gunpowder lingered in the air. Come to think of it, that smell was so strong I could almost taste it.

But the best part was seeing the look on my son’s face and hearing him call me “Deadeye” when 10 of my eleven rounds hit inside the little green box in the center of the target.

It turns out Aimee Machado is a crack shot with a semi-automatic 22 Smith & Wesson.  That might come in handy. The hospital where she works as a forensic librarian has more than it’s share of intrigue, and the rural northern California county where she lives has more than it’s share of crime.

Gun Range 2Gun Range 1

 

How do llamas and horses drink water?

thI watched an animated movie about a horse called Spirit a few years ago. The children watching with me were enthralled with the story, and I was pleased because I’d been a horse person all my life. Then the whole experience came crashing down. The animators depicted the little foal trotting to a stream, bending his head down, and lapping water like a dog. The children were young enough to forgive this transgression, but I was surprised that the filmmakers had not done their homework. The project was first-rate in every other respect, but this error was hard to ignore. Every horse person who watched it would immediately cease suspension of disbelief. The point here is that horses do not lap water, they suck water. So do llamas. In general, carnivorous animals lap water, and herbivorous animals suck water. Writers who make assumptions in areas outside their expertise, and let those assumptions enter their work, are doing their readers and audiences a disservice, and giving what could otherwise be a prize-winning project a black eye. Whether it’s how animals drink water, or how to determine the age of a skeleton, do your research. When in doubt visit a research librarian at your local library. An intriguing question from a fiction writer could make her day. Or his.