Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Doc Haydon and the Fayette County Medical Examiner of 1879

The Fayette County Medical Examiner's Office no longer exists as an independent agency, but in 1877, when the office was founded, the medical examiner did not fall under the county coroner's office and there was no state medical examiner's office.

All we know about the office of medical examiner is that the county set aside the sum of $1000 as an annual payment for his services. The records of the board of commissioners states that the position would be filled by a trained physician who was a resident of the city of Lexington. The medical examiner was to investigate all unexplained deaths in the county and report his findings to the county coroner.

To me, the most interesting part of the commissioners' record was the authority given to the medical examiner. In the investigation of death the medical examiner was afforded the same dignity, respect, and immunity from suit given any judge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In essence, the county created a position that was free to investigate without fear of legal reprisals.

I have no idea of who held the job, nor do I know whether the actual medical examiner was as forward thinking as Dr. Haydon. When I started writing the Fayette County Medical Examiner I didn't even call him Dr. Haydon. The fictional Dr. Haydon was created because my boss and dear friend Dr. Richard Haydon wanted to be the doctor in my book. Even explaining that the character I was writing drank heavily, loved to gamble, and was going to cut someone's throat before the end of the book did not deter him from wanting to be a part of my fictional world.

Gradually, the fictional character took on some of the traits of the real Dr. Richard Haydon. He is a man of science, someone who is pushing the city of Lexington toward the future. Like his 21st century counterpart, Doc Haydon loves the latest technology. Although there is no computer or electricity in his office, the modern fountain pens, typewriters, and cameras are his technological wonders.

Doc Haydon subscribes to the American Journal of Forensic Medicine, and most of the other top journals of his day. His office is a mess, but his mind is organized and focused on his work. He is fascinated by advances in science and engineering, and strives to incorporate the latest skills into his work. Doc Haydon doesn't assign blame, but chafes at the corruption in town, particularly the graft inside the police department. He yearns to see Lexington get the telephone and lobbies for a water company. Most of all, Doc Haydon delights in sharing his passion for learning with others. In this way he is most like his namesake.

The real Dr. Haydon lost his long battle with cancer on Sunday. In a few minutes I am going to be leaving to say good-bye to my dear friend. In the last few months of his life, he got a great deal of pleasure in showing Circle of Dishonor to his friends. I don't think he ever read the book. It didn't really matter. He was just happy to live on in my imagination. I am just happy to have had the chance to know him and work with him for more than a decade. Dr. Haydon was a wonderful teacher, a brilliant doctor, and a great friend. I miss him more than I say.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing about Worry

Today on my Facebook page I mentioned that I was having trouble working on my new novel because there were too many other worries getting in the way.

One of my friends suggested that I write about worry and see if that got me past my writer's block.

I am not sure that what I have is writer's block, so I didn't take him up on the suggestion at the time. What I have is an inability to keep my mind in my book.

Today, I was determined to keep plugging away at my manuscript until the story came alive in my head and characters started to cooperate. The characters simply are not going with what I had in mind for them. I need to hear their voices, see what they are feeling. Instead, like me, they are just going through the motions of life.

It is late here in Kentucky. I only managed to hammer out about 800 words today. It is time to try something different. So here are my worries.

The number one worry no amount of writing will make less difficult. A very dear friend is in the final stages of cancer. Most of the time he is heavily drugged. In the moments when he is awake, he may or may not know who I am. I worry about him, his family, our mutual friends and colleagues. I agonize with him, and for him. Sometimes I just stand at his bedside and worry about the gaping hole his passing is going to leave in my life...the hole it is already making in my life.

I worry that I am not spending enough time with my own family. My mother is pushing eighty and recovering from knee surgery. I took a few days off when she most needed help, but I am sure she could do with more of my time. I worry that the grandchildren are growing up too fast. My daughter is so busy taking care of them that she doesn't take enough care of herself. Then there is my spouse, who is doing a lot of my work around the house so I can go out and promote my current book.

Yes, family is a huge worry. My guilt works overtime on that one. There aren't enough hours in the day to do the things I need to do at home. I don't mean chores. Housework is never really done. I am missing some of the important stuff, the smiles and hugs, the special family moments that I can't ever get back.

On the rare second when the bundle of worry about the people I love is not occupying my mind, I worry about the painfully slow rate at which this book is coming together. I slog through the middle and wonder if the first draft will ever get done. Then I start thinking that it will not be any good, and worry about that.

I don't know if saying any of this is going to help me get past the stuff that has my brain tied in knots. I can't do anything about most of it except worry.

I am giving it up for tonight or this morning (it is past midnight here). I'm going to bed. Perhaps, when it is daylight again, I will find that writing about all the stuff that drives me to distraction has made it somehow less difficult. Now that I have put it into words on this electronic page, just maybe, I can turn this page and be back in my work instead of just worrying about finishing it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Notes on an All Day Event

1. Arrive early. The check-in lines are shorter. Half an hour after this photo was taken authors were standing eight deep at check-in.

2. Knitting does not sell books, but it does attract other knitters.

I shared a table with an author who was knitting a scarf during the book fair. While she knitted she missed lots of people who would probably have bought her book if she had shown more interest in them. Other knitters stopped by and talked to her about what she was knitting but I never once saw her use that attention to talk about the book she came to promote.

3. Keep water, mints, and anything else handy that will help your throat when you do an all day event. Eight hours of continuous talking is hard on your voice. I must have spoken to at least a thousand people about my book. Only a handful bought a copy, but a lot of readers were interested in learning more about me and my writing. I answered every question, passed out cards, and talked until I sounded more like a frog than a person. Most of all, I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent with readers.

4. Attract attention. Stephen Zimmer has this one down. His presentation featured a huge banner, postcards, bookmarks, and lots of books. Books were stacked on every inch of his table. Readers could find him easily in the crowd and spent some time with him.

5. It is great to have friends. Several of mine from the Ohio River Valley sisters in crime stopped by to wish me well. Some of them met up at my table and posed for a picture, before going off to lunch together.

6. Speaking of lunch, don't expect to have time to eat. My pals may have lingered over lunch, but I was taught that it is rude to talk and eat at the same time. The staff of the Kentucky Book Fair brought lunches to our tables. Mine sat there while I continued to talk with readers. The moral of this story is that if you are going to do an all day event, make sure you eat breakfast.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Kentucky Book Fair

Next weekend is the Kentucky Book Fair. On Friday afternoon, November 12, librarians from all over Kentucky will be choosing books by Kentuckians or about Kentucky to place on their shelves. On Saturday, November 13, the Fair opens to the public and authors will be there signing copies of their latest book. The organizers of the event refer to the fair as the premier book event in Kentucky. Authors from all over the state will be gathering in Frankfort to participate in this year's fair. For the authors, it is an opportunity to get their books into state libraries, and a great place to meet fans.

What I was surprised to learn is that many fans think the Book Fair is a great place for writers to make money. It is not. Proceeds from book sales at the Kentucky Book Fair go to support the fair and to provide grants to state libraries. Authors are donating their time, traveling at their own expense, and working hard to make this event a success.

I am proud to be a part of the Kentucky Book Fair. Last year the fair had more than 5000 visitors. More than $150,000 was spent on books. All proceeds of the fair went to pay the expenses of running the event and fund such worthy projects as increasing student literacy, providing social science books to an elementary school library, buying high interest books for reluctant readers, and adding a biography section to a rural library.

The organizers of the Kentucky Book Fair must choose between dozens of needy libraries to award a hand full of grants. Last year, only seven grants were issued for the kind of projects listed above. Those seven libraries are the lucky ones. In my hometown the public library is a new addition. It is not large, well funded, or likely to survive without support from the reading public.

If you are in Kentucky, come out, buy a book or two from your favorite Kentucky author and help us keep Kentucky reading.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A First Novel at Magna cum Murder XVI

Magna cum Murder XVI is behind us. I have had a solid night's sleep to clear my head. It is time to put down a few thoughts about what it was like to be at Magna with a first novel. The fans were awesome. They packed the room for the First Novel panel and asked great questions about the plot, characters, and the history behind Circle of Dishonor. Some of them sought me out to ask more questions later in the day. A few even came to the next panel with me just to hear more about my writing. It was a great way to start the day.

After lunch I did my first TV interview. That's an interesting experience. I had never sat down with a talk show host and answered questions before. It went very fast. Nancy Carlson, the host of "Voices in Mystery," is very good at putting her guests at ease. I am looking forward to seeing the results of my interview when the show airs in February.

One of the things I liked best about attending Magna is that the conference is intimate enough to allow authors and fans to have excellent conversations. It is wonderful to sit and talk to writers that understand the problems in the industry and the ins and outs of promoting a new book. It was also great to meet authors that I hadn't seen before and talk about books, writing, publishing, and anything else that came up.

Saturday night's costume party was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed dressing as Baby Face Nelson, and Sarah was outstanding as Gangster Moll Darla. It could have turned to gangster war when the two of us were beat out for best costume by Bonnie and Clyde. We was robbed! I contend that the real Bonnie never wore skirts that be fair, I don't think the original Bonnie had legs as good as her 21st Century fan. I could be wrong though. Bonnie wasn't in the habit of showing her legs to everyone in the room.