A Quilt Stitched with Teardrops


[This essay was published twenty years ago when my church, Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, displayed panels from the AIDS Quilt for the first of what would become many occasions. Much progress has been made on treatments for and prevention of HIV/AIDS, so it’s easy to forget that this battle is far from over. World AIDS Day is December 1.]

by Taffy Cannon

In the end, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is simply about love.

It is about beloved people gone too soon, and about those left behind to mourn.  It is about memory and pain and confusion and catharsis.  It is about more than 80,000 individual attempts to wrest sense out of staggering personal loss.

It is also a celebration of those commemorated, a recognition that their lives were precious and meaningful and touched others in ways that mattered.

When the first grave-sized panels were sewn in 1987, nobody dreamed that the Names Project Quilt would come to cover two dozen football fields eleven years later.  That the combined panels laid end-to-end would run more than fifty miles.  That the quilt would become a sort of touring road show because at the end of 1998, no end to the AIDS epidemic would be in sight.

Covering the sanctuary walls of a North County church on a late November Sunday morning, a hundred panels all but reverberate with joy and sorrow.  Sewn together in groups of eight, each combined section measures twelve feet square.

The panels themselves have been designed and created by those left behind, and they are as wildly varied as the folks they remember.  Some are meticulously crafted with professional flair, others cheerfully funky.  Some are subdued, others flamboyant.  Some are achingly plain, starkly listing a name in huge, defiant letters.  Others are cluttered with the detritus of lives richly lived: favorite clothing, stuffed animals, athletic jerseys, matchbooks, photographs of pets, an Illinois license plate saying SKATER.

The panel for a fashion designer features a coat he created.  Another holds an actual quilt in shades of soft brown.  There’s a bird of paradise and an eagle soaring above purple mountains.  A large heart is inscribed within: Love Is All There Is.  Many fea­ture heartfelt final messages from parents, siblings, lovers, friends.  One states simply: In memory of those who have died . . . hiding.  Another notes: I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance.

The people represented on these panels were musicians, teachers, soldiers, paramed­ics, actors, busi­nessmen, doctors, lawyers.  They were fathers, mothers, sons and daugh­ters.  They loved cars and beaches and rainbows and sports and art and music and each other.

What they mostly shared, besides the hideous disease which killed them, was brevity of life.  On panel after panel, the numbers tell the story: 1959-93, 1961-89, 1949-88, 1957-95, 1962-93.  The math is at once both simple and appallingly hard.

On Sunday, a section of the quilt was gently unfurled by young people not yet born when physi­cians and microbiolo­gists began puzzling over an inexplicable new illness in the early 1980s.  Any one of these teenagers might have received a tainted blood transfusion during those early days, might now be memorial­ized on a panel of the quilt they unfolded so carefully.

At almost any moment in America today, somebody is at work on a panel for the quilt.  The quilters gather in living rooms and church basements, faculty lounges and company conference rooms.  Often groups of people work together, in the histori­cal tradition of quilting.  Far too often these panels are sewn by mothers griev­ing children they never dreamed they would outlive.  Creation moves hand in hand with catharsis.

Every panel is, of course, as unique as the person it represents.  And yet throughout there runs a single and overpowering common thread.

Each and every panel is stitched with teardrops.

A Wish List for America 🇺🇸

american-flag-clip-art-free-2There seems to be a lot going on in America. You’ve probably noticed.

Despite our 24-hour news cycle, the report from the heartland is not all bad. America continues to be a land of opportunity and promise, a place where civil rights are mostly respected, where despite too many guns, most people don’t shoot each other. Where we tolerate differences and our neighbors’ penchants for motorized vehicles. Where your religion is your own business. And who you vote for doesn’t make you enemies. There is reason for optimism.

However… This is also an election season that, whoever you’re rooting for, there seems to be something to dislike. Plus there is violence in our streets, a heat wave, forest fires, tempers flaring, emails leaking: it must be summer. This exceptional year has provoked in some of us here at the Muse a wish for an improved country, a better America. We aren’t policy wonks or futurists. Just some seasoned writers with seasoned opinions.

We love you, America

… land of the free and home of the brave. And we want you to continue to be the greatest experiment in democracy. What can we do as citizens to make our country better? At the very least we can make some constructive suggestions. Here’s our wish-list, in no particular order, for America 2016 and beyond.

Please add your own ideas. We need all the help we can get. wishlt

  • Change election day to Sunday. The lack of voter participation makes democracy even harder.
  • Make mail-in ballots the norm, like several states already do. Or at least make voting by mail simple for everyone.
  • Return to the practice of teaching civics in school, so that our citizens better understand the concept of “separation of powers” and how that is supposed to work.
  • Appoint a defense spending czar who will once and for all make defense contractors tow-the-line, no more million dollar showers stalls that electrocute our troops.
  •  National health care that covers everybody, period.
  • Or at least the public option, essentially Medicare for those under 65
  • Standardize voting throughout the country. Everyone uses the same method of counting ballots.
  • Add mandated civic responsibility and participation–and not just hours of community service that might look good on a college application.
  • Repair the nation’s antiquated and crumbling infrastructure, with a system like the WPA, which enabled our immigrant grandfathers to support their families during the Depression.
  • Strict limits on electoral spending at all levels, financial campaign reform that vaporizes the PAC system
  • End all corporate participation in elections. A corporation does not vote.
  • Restore arts and music funding to our schools through defense spending cuts
  • Repurpose military funds and personnel by closing down unnecessary bases around the globe and removing mega-corporations from the military trough. Soldiers can peel their own potatoes, for example, just like their fathers and grandfathers did.
  • Appoint a civil rights commission formed by leaders of black and other communities of color, police departments, activists in all social justice fields. Provide local outreach for dialogue, reform, and education.
  • Fix all the gun control loopholes: shows, online sales, waiting periods.
  • Fund our mental health facilities, especially at the Veterans Administration, but also in community mental health everywhere. Provide funds for in-hospital stays for the indigent.
  • Expand public housing. Provide tax breaks for redevelopment of slums. Provide incentives for low-income residents to own and maintain their homes.
  • Train physicians without tuition fees. Give every high school graduate two years of tuition-free college to train and study.

d50f23c4-206c-4d26-9460-96e1ace6b47b–Wish-list contributors: Gary, Taffy, Kate, and Lise

If there seem to be a lot of free things on this list, there are. Your government should help you, that’s what it’s for. It’s not a place to make money. You pay taxes so that the government works for everybody. Nobody is going to be giving out cash soon or paying off your mortgage. But it should help you live a decent life, in relative comfort with freedom from hunger and the elements, with medical care, and if necessary, a leg-up to improving yourself. It should provide relative safety from crime and fire and dreamer1-298x300disaster, and help when tragedy strikes.

You may say we’re dreamers, but we aren’t the only ones, right?  What’s on your wish-list for the USA?

It’s going to take all of us, together, to get this done.


The Broken Bus, Dead of Night, Gone to Prison Blues

by Taffy Cannon

A funny thing happened on the way to prison.

I awoke at four-thirty in the morning in Southern California’s Tejon Pass and discovered that the bus on which I was riding was no longer moving.

We seemed to be parked on the shoulder, as enormous semi-trucks whooshed by at dizzying speed, often shaking the bus as they hurtled north. The trucks passed in nearly-constant blurs of light and sound, sometimes edging left a bit but often remaining in the far-right lane. That’s the lane trucks habitually use to cross this notorious pass on Interstate 5 through the Tehachapi Mountains, known as the Grapevine. It’s the primary route between Northern and Southern California.

I sat up right away.

Eighteen-wheelers were passing what seemed like inches from my head, the head that had been sleeping peacefully on a pillow propped against the bus window. Okay, maybe not inches. They were probably passing feet away, though you wouldn’t need more than one hand to count how many. And maybe not sleeping peacefully, either. We were, after all, on a bus going to prison in the dead of night.

The other occupants of the bus were mostly the children of women incarcerated in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, nearly 400 miles north of their San Diego homes. We were participating in the Get on the Bus annual Mother’s Day trip to briefly reunite these kids with their moms in prison. For many this would be their only visit of the year. I’ve written about Get on the Bus previously, and it’s a program dear to my heart. Started by nuns with a prison ministry, it focuses on the youngest and most forgotten victims of crime, children left behind when a lawbreaking mother winds up behind bars. At least one child on our bus had been born in prison.

Chowchilla is midway up the agricultural Central Valley and home to two major prisons, a company town where the product is Corrections. Chowchilla is also remembered as the site of a kidnaping of a busload of children in 1976 by three rich kids. A busload of children. Hmmm.

I’ve participated in Get on the Bus many times, but I’d been mildly queasy about this trip for several days, without any logical reason. Now I had a pretty good idea what had been bothering my subconscious. I could only hope that my earlier anxiety did not also include a next act in this drama, something like the bus exploding after being struck from behind by an eighteen-wheeler going 65 uphill.

What we were told by the bus drivers and what I could overhear was not reassuring. One of the alternators had gone out, they told us, and they hoped to get a push start from the tow truck they kept calling. The truck was taking its sweet time showing up and was based seven miles north, or maybe fifteen south. There might also be a bus that could come up from San Diego (or, ideally, someplace closer) if the push-start didn’t work, but there was no indication that alternate transportation was being arranged. It was all disturbingly vague and the semis just kept roaring by, shaking us over and over again.

Also, nobody seemed terribly sure where we were.

Three green-and-white highway signs stretched across the road too far ahead for any of us to read them, taunting with the prospect of civilization and help. My phone locator showed us just south of 138, the Lancaster Highway, and the general consensus seemed to be that we were somewhere around Gorman. Landmarks were no help, however, since it was pitch black except for the lights on the passing trucks.

It never occurred to me until much later that we might have stopped on the side of  a precipice, though I found it very disconcerting when we coasted downhill a bit to edge slightly farther onto the extremely narrow shoulder. But I did spend a lot of time figuring out the best and fastest way to get everybody off the bus in a hurry should we need to. Like when some trucker drifted absentmindedly and smashed a semi into the bus’s rear end.

Once the engine was going again, the drivers told us, we would get to Chowchilla with no trouble. Absolutely. Guaranteed. Furthermore, the braking system was entirely unaffected by this problem, so going down the far side of the pass—a much steeper grade than the incline where we were now stuck—would be no problem.

Time passed.

Mercifully unaware of our predicament, most of the kids on the bus slept soundly through it all. The adults accompanying them—mostly caretaker grandmothers—sat upright, wide awake and calm, with the dignified resignation of people who learned a long time ago that they have very little control over their lives.

More time passed.

The sun began to rise, briefly bathing the surrounding hills in soft rosy light. Alas, that soft rosy light revealed other issues that I hadn’t noticed when we boarded the bus at 1:30 am. The rest room, for instance. Previous travelers had crammed the toilet cavity full of tissue, so the toilet was unusable, though on the plus side it didn’t smell too bad. The rest of the bus was filthy and strewn with trash. When I pulled down my tray table, a wad of garbage fell out. And the seats themselves had basketball-like protuberances in the lumbar area.

We served the now-awakening passengers brown-bag breakfasts we had brought, and after a couple hours—yes! a couple of hours—the tow truck showed up. It was a pretty good-sized vehicle, but not remotely capable of pushing a bus full of people uphill, much less fast enough to push-start its engines. I’ve owned Volkswagens, and I know about push-starting. You want to be pointing downhill with a tail wind.

Once the mechanic began performing last rites on the engine, the official call for a replacement bus went out. Around then, we also learned that we weren’t the only Get on the Bus vehicle having engine trouble. Another one was broken down seven miles ahead of us. Or maybe fifteen behind. (You know, by the home base for the tow truck.) We plotted how to cram everybody into the replacement bus.

And where, you may be wondering, were the police during the three hours that this bus full of sleeping children teetered by the side of a mountain pass as the goods of America roared past to market?

The Highway Patrol, responsible for Interstate traffic in California, showed up just as the second bus arrived. Three hours after our abrupt stop.  It was never clear why they hadn’t come a whole lot sooner, or when they learned there was a broken-down bus filled with children and grandmothers in the Grapevine. That bus, come to think of it, had anonymous black windows and might well have been filled with cadres of terrorists.

When the replacement bus arrived, suddenly everything was all a-scurry. We emptied the dead bus down to the bottle of hand sanitizer we’d duct-taped to the wall of the nasty rest room, and transferred everything and everybody onto Bus #2. This bus turned out to be clean and comfortable, featured a working engine, and didn’t even need to be shared with the other broken-down bus passengers. I’m not sure what happened to them. Maybe they hitch-hiked.

Did I mention that it was raining on and off through the entire trip? At one point the wipers on Bus #2 shut themselves off during a torrential downpour, but Replacement Driver stopped for gas and made a mechanical adjustment to the wipers, which behaved for the rest of the trip.


Our prison visit was the customary fusion of heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Our group of volunteers had originally been slated to arrive first and was assigned to take informal group portraits as mementos for both inmates and family. We actually arrived last, but slid into the second shift of the photo booth operation. I shot dozens of pictures against two backdrops that tantalized with desert and garden scenes unknown here behind the miles of razor wire, and I loved every minute of it. These pictures would be all that remained at day’s end—sometimes posed seriously, sometimes clowning, always brimming with an agonizing blend of joy and loss.

And then it was time to leave, as always too soon. We boarded the bus and headed south into our own realities while the mothers we had visited were strip-searched and locked back in their cells.


We stopped for a fast-food dinner just north of the Grapevine, and I noticed that southbound traffic appeared sluggish as it began the climb. Still, it was Friday afternoon and I’d just learned that even Fresno has rush hour traffic, so I didn’t pay too much attention as I turned my phone on for the first time since sunrise.

I stopped cold at a Google News headline announcing that the Grapevine had been closed mid-day in both directions, following a flash flood and mudslide. Flash flood! Mudslide! Two more potential problems I’d never thought of in the dead of night as we waited for the tow truck and the bus and the Highway Patrol and maybe also Godot.

But by now we were back on I-5 and climbing, albeit slowly. And if we were going to be detoured off the Interstate there wasn’t much we could do about it anyway.

The northbound lanes across the median were eerily empty, with occasional maintenance vehicles pushing around rocks and debris, and stretches showing giant wet brush marks on the pavement where previous work was complete. Up ahead, we saw northbound traffic being routed off the road at Highway 138, the same Lancaster Highway exit near where we’d stopped fifteen hours earlier.

Moments after we passed the first of the stalled northbound traffic waiting to head out onto its lengthy high desert detour, the bus driver turned and pointed.

“That’s your bus over there,” he said. And by golly, it was.

It’s been almost two weeks now. I hope somebody has finally gotten around to moving it, or at least to checking it for terrorists.


by Taffy Cannon

I have been outed by the Danbury Mint.

I have no idea how this happened, but one day last week a remarkable piece of advertising arrived in my USPS mailbox. It is far too slick to be called junk mail, and it is personalized beyond all reason.

The necklace it offers is called “Forever Together.” This 14K gold-plated, heart-shaped pendant features both partner names and Swarovski crystals to identify their birthstones. A sprinkling of diamonds tops the heart and an “elegant” storage pouch is included for only $69 plus shipping.

Names are involved, indeed integral. This mailer is personalized to identify the two halves of the heart as “Amy” and “Taffy.” The copy begins: “From the moment you first met her, you knew you were destined for each other. Express the depth of your eternal bond with a pendant that truly celebrates your love. A gift that says Taffy and Amy will be … Forever Together.”

They’ve even gone to the trouble of writing in our names on the order form in tidy printing worthy of a 1950s grade school teacher. Both names appear at least ten times on the supporting letter and order form and flyer, which suggests on the address page: “Taffy, Give Amy a gift she’ll remember forever!”

Amy & Taffy.jpgIt’s a lovely sentiment, and the Danbury Mint is to be congratulated on being so in touch with the times. There’s only one small problem.

Amy is my cat.

Yes, we are close, and I love her dearly. And all that sparkly stuff would undoubtedly be gorgeous against her sleek black fur. I’m even pretty sure that, as the letter suggests, “Amy will surely be delighted by such a unique and thoughtful gesture.”

However, this is a girl who climbs trees and removed her post-hysterectomy cone of shame in exactly fourteen seconds. A pendant on an eighteen-inch chain—what could possibly go wrong? And how do we explain all this to Rebecca, the other participant in our ménage a trois?

Or to my husband, with whom I just celebrated 42 years of marriage?

I didn’t ask for any of this. I have never purchased anything from the Danbury Mint and have no idea how they got on to me and Amy. Are operatives lurking outside my bedroom window?

I don’t even want to think about what kind of solicitations may follow.Amy by Ditty


The Golden Age of Mystery Bookstores

by Taffy Cannon

Part of the magic of any Golden Age is that while you’re in the middle of it, you tend not to recognize just how remarkable it is. So it was with the Golden Age of Mystery Bookstores, which flourished through the 1990s and early 2000s.

The first mystery bookstore in the country was Murder Ink in New York, which Dilys Winn opened in 1972 with a stunning concept: all mysteries, all the time. Over the next couple of decades, the ranks grew as bookstores opened and thrived from San Diego to New England and Seattle to Miami. By the time my own first mystery was published in 1993, a wide and wonderful network supported both mystery writers and fans from coast to coast.

Almost every major city had at least one, and major metropolitan areas often featured several. The Los Angeles area had so many that at any given moment you might need both hands and a spare foot to keep track. Each served a particular community or geographical area. Book ‘Em was in Pasadena, The Mystery Bookstore in West LA, The Mystery Annex in Venice, Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, Book Carnival in Orange, Grounds for Murder and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. Lots of others came and went in other neighborhoods, sometimes so quickly that a place might open and close between my own publication dates.

These stores’ mystery-related names were more clever than wince-worthy. Accessories to Murder. Aunt Agatha’s. Black Orchid. Booked for Murder. Big Sleep Books. Capital Crimes. Clues Unlimited. Deadly Passions. Foul Play. Grave Matters. Murder by the Book. Mystery Loves Company. Once Upon a Crime. Partners & Crime. The Raven. Remember the Alibi. Scotland Yard. Whodunit?

Most stores developed special programs to accommodate the interests and desires of their customers: discussion groups, seminars, books of the month, teas, newsletters. Those newsletters also served as major pre-Internet sales tools, and I loved to find the ones from Rue Morgue and Poisoned Pen in my mailbox. They’d let me know which new books were out, who was new and exciting, and what was going to be published soon.

Sometimes they even included nice reviews of my own books.


Book signing schedules were grueling in those olden times, and not just because being charming in public requires an entirely different skill set from writing.

It was not uncommon for an author in SoCal to visit three mystery bookstores in a single, exhausting day, and those three were likely to be scattered all over the place. New York publicists unfamiliar with Southern California geography had a tendency to schedule back-to-back crosstown signings that would barely have been possible if they’d also provided a helicopter.

Most of us weren’t working with publicists, however, at least not as much as we might have liked. Most of us couldn’t even get our alleged publicists to return phone calls. So authors bore the primary responsibility for scheduling their own signings, and a newby quickly got to know local booksellers, their stores, and their foibles. It was expected that you would sign at all the reasonably convenient bookstores, promote those signings, and do it all on your own nickel.

Before the Internet, publicizing a new book included hundreds of postcards sent with each and every publication to mystery booksellers, indies with strong mystery sections, and everyone you had ever known in your life. These cards were also handy to announce signing schedules.

Sisters in Crime offered mailing lists, published the member-written Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies, and provided a connection to a Virginia printer who could set you up with the requisite piles of paper: bookmarks, flyers, postcards, posters, and more. He’d also handle addressing and bulk mailing, though most of us did the clerical work ourselves. By the time I got off this particular train, my mailing list was in Access and my tongue always tasted like stamps.


The stereotypical mystery bookseller was a lady of a certain age who loved to read, fully intended to learn more about business one of these days, and had a cat named Agatha sunning in the window. The reality, of course, was far more complicated and eclectic, and might be a burly male with a shop heavy on private eye books or the preternaturally savvy Barbara Peters, whose Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale fairly reeked successful business methods. The common denominator, of course, was always a passion for crime fiction.

These stores succeeded for a long time because of the symbiotic relationships between booksellers, authors, and readers. If you loved mysteries, you were finding a home, a place you might not have even imagined possible. Here you could find all your favorite authors and every book they’d ever written, along with new authors you might not have discovered if an informed bookseller hadn’t told you about them. These people knew their stock, and recognized that if you liked Ellis Peters, you’d want to read Sharan Newman.

Any weekend in America, dozens of mystery bookstores featured signings of new books attended by fans eager to buy those books and meet their authors in person. The format was generally the same: a brief author chat, questions from the audience, signing and schmoozing. The bookseller was almost invariably gracious—hovering, asking questions when the audience was shy, making conversation when things were slow.

Most stores had a group of regulars, and many authors had dedicated followers who’d arrive with bags full of multiple copies. I always liked to set up signings with one or two other writers. This would bring out more people, cross-pollinate fan bases, and give me somebody to talk to if nobody showed up. Often there were cookies, and frequently parting gifts as well: mugs, pens, paperweights, keychains, magnifying glasses.

Sometimes real life intersected with fiction. I once did a signing at The Mystery Bookstore in LA with Anne Perry, right after the story of her unfortunate teenage brush with firsthand crime became public knowledge. Her line snaked out of the store, and she was fantastically gracious to supportive fans, even when she had to repeatedly correct them about the name of the movie which had outed her own indiscretion. Meanwhile James Ellroy, the son of a murder victim, waited in the back room wafting testosterone. His signing would immediately follow ours. I remember him having a bull terrier at his side, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t.

You quickly learned that when people started drifting into a store during your signing and positioned themselves around the back walls, it wasn’t because the parking lot was really full or they were late. It was because you were the two o’clock, with Michael Connelly up at three.


Any time you traveled anywhere, you’d try to work in signings at whatever mystery bookstores were local or within striking distance. This had some tax implications but mostly was just smart business.

You’d get to spend time with the local bookseller, meet the local mystery community, get your name in the Books column of the local newspaper, and feel like a star as you met loyal readers who urged you to write faster. Sometimes if you hadn’t signed previously at a store or in a town, folks would turn up with piles of backlist books that had been purchased when you and your pen weren’t handy. Books ordered by customers who couldn’t make it needed to be signed, along with whatever stock remained unsold when things wound down.

It should be noted that in this signing-crazy era, many chain bookstores were also good about scheduling signings for local authors. These events featured more inquiries about restroom locations than actual book sales, though they did get your name in the paper. But they lacked the personal touch of the mystery bookstores, plunking a writer at a small table near the mall entrance, alone for two hours with a Dixie cup of water.

Sometimes they even got the basic facts wrong. I once arrived at a chain store signing for Tangled Roots to find a 24×36 poster announcing that Taffy Cannon would be signing Tangled Books.


The mystery fan convention scene was fairly limited during the Golden Age of Mystery Bookstores. Mostly Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and the upstart Left Coast Crime, with an occasional one-off for private eye authors and fans.

Each con featured an enormous book room packed with bookseller booths. All the local and regional mystery bookstores would be represented of course, along with faraway folks like Rue Morgue’s Tom and Enid Schantz, who routinely loaded stock into their van in Boulder and traveled great distances to cons around the country. Used, antiquarian, and out-of-print books were also available from specialty ooksellers who segued from paper catalogs to websites as the Internet grew.

Conventions were a great opportunity to meet booksellers from areas where you didn’t have travel plans or relatives, though this required a level of social energy that was often difficult to muster. Luckily I persevered. A lot of booksellers I met in the early 1990s remain my friends today, though we mostly see each other on Facebook.

Those convention book rooms bustled with activity and customers, and I was stunned to see how tiny and empty the 2014 Bouchercon book room seemed by comparison. Even more shocking was the realization that Maryelizabeth Hart and Mysterious Galaxy dominated the center of the room, the only participating brick-and-mortar retail operation.


The Golden Age of Mystery Bookstores, with its nonstop signing schedules and perpetual promotion, was stressful, exhausting, time-consuming, demoralizing, and exhilarating.

It was also doomed.

First the big chain bookstores muscled onto the scene, targeting independent booksellers who had proven that a market for readers with coins in their jeans existed in a particular area. Sometimes these big boys would also crowd each other out of an area, though by the time that happened, most of the indies had already been driven out of business. This included a lot of independent bookstores which featured strong mystery sections and sponsored regular mystery author signings.

The mystery bookstores mostly survived this shakeout because they were too small to be seen as threatening and their customer bases remained solid and loyal. Also, these stores could still bring in internationally acclaimed mystery writers to meet their customers, on a fairly regular basis.

Then the Internet arrived and moved in everywhere, whether or not it was invited.

We will skip most of the relevant history that features Amazon.com, save to note that discounts available online were simply never possible for mystery bookstores. Mystery bookstores began to close. Some lasted longer than others, and many became online only. A few are still in existence.

Twenty eight mystery bookstores remain today, according to the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. http://www.mysterybooksellers.com/member-directory/ I remember nineteen of them, and signed at six.

And I guess this is an appropriate spot for full disclosure. I actually closed several of those Golden Age mystery bookstores myself, along with a small indy or two. I was the first and only author to sign at a coffee and books shop that didn’t make it six months. Mostly, though, I attended going-out-of-business events with other authors. These tended to resemble subdued Irish wakes.

It never felt like an event to me when a mystery bookstore closed, however. It always felt like a knife in the heart.

Decoration Day

by Taffy Cannon

My grandfather called it Decoration Day, which seemed very old-fashioned.

Then again, so was he, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, which to a child in the fifties felt as distant as the French and Indian Wars. He had been in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, the farthest he’d travelled since leaving Mecklenburg, Germany, for Wisconsin at the age of four.

I knew, of course, that it was now called Memorial Day, and the important issue wasn’t nomenclature anyway. It was that May 30 provided a school holiday at a time when we desperately needed one, when the Chicago Public Schools still had a solid month left before closing down for the torpid summer. A kid gets restless after six months of Chicago winter. Continue reading “Decoration Day”