Past and Present

by Sheila Connolly

It’s the first Monday of a new year, so here’s my kick-off for the year.

While our daughter was home for Christmas, we watched the 2013 movie Inside Llewyn Davis. I remember reading reviews of it when it came out, but somehow we never think about going to movies, or even watching movies at home (and my husband has a tendency to fall asleep in his chair after the first hour or so anyway). Not that choosing a movie for three people with very different tastes is easy. I think we looked at everything that On Demand offered, and by the time we’d read all the titles, we couldn’t remember what had sounded good when we started.

Finally -we settled on Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen brothers. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s about a musician in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, back when the folk movement was just picking up steam. I lived in suburban New Jersey back then, so I’d hear about that scene occasionally, but I was too young to venture into New York on my own, at least until I turned 18. (Okay, I was too chicken to even try.) But I knew about it—among my school friends, it was always pronounced reverently: The Village.

Anyway, whether by design or by coincidence, the movie turned out to kind of mirror our daughter’s current gypsy lifestyle, if you substitute theater for music. I don’t know if she knew that when we chose it, but she didn’t disagree, and we all enjoyed the movie.

A week later, I was driving along Route 44 from Plymouth. Driving alone in the car is about the only time I get to listen to “old” music, and believe me, I sing along. I decided on Peter, Paul and Mary’s album, A Song Will Rise. (Confession: I have every album they ever made, bought new, up through  Peter, Paul and Mommy, and I’ve purchased several of the earlier ones on CD for the car. Yes, I still have a turntable so I can play the records.) The album was released in 1965. Yikes, that’s fifty years ago. Way to feel old fast!

PPM A Song Will Rise

One of the songs on that album is “Wasn’t That a Time,” and I’ve heard it a few thousand times. But this time one line stood out to me:

“There is no freedom in a land/Where fear and hate prevail.”

Pete Seeger

Okay, a brief history of the song: it was written by Lee Hayes and Walter Lowenfels, in 1948, at the height of the Cold War. Hayes and Pete Seeger were both members of the singing group The Weavers, and Seeger made it one of his signature songs. He and Hayes were both forced to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, as suspected Communists. The original lyrics for that stanza went:

“There is no victory in a land/Where free men go to jail.”

Someone changed the lyrics along the way—I have no idea who. But the point is that Peter, Paul and Mary chose to use a modified version, which they released in the midst of the Vietnam War.

Maybe they were thinking about Vietnam when they recorded that song, but their version still rings true today. Look at us now. People—ordinary citizens—are buying guns because they’re afraid that they’ll find terrorists at their door or their school or their mall. Large blocks of our population want to ban immigrants from our borders. I keep yelling at the debates and commercials I see on television, “but we were all immigrants once!” My grandfather came from Ireland in 1911. He arrived in New York, got a job, worked hard, married, bought a house, had kids, and lived a respectable life. Should I point out that there were plenty of “terrorists” in Ireland at that time? Should the authorities have turned him away?

Why should we, one of the most powerful and successful nations in the world, believe we are threatened in our homes? Or on a city street? (And why at the same time are towns and cities cutting police forces because they can’t afford to pay them, and the voters don’t want to see their taxes go up to cover the cost? But that’s another story.)

It makes me sad. It’s why I like to spend time in Ireland, particularly West Cork, where the crime rate is very low, and where even the police don’t carry guns (unlike in Northern Ireland). And I think it explains why we at Wicked Cozy Authors choose to write cozies. There are plenty of suspense and thriller writers who are very talented—and very successful. I admire them. But I find more and more I don’t want to read their books, even though I’m pretty sure the main character will live to fight another day—after leaving a trail of carnage behind. Who needs the anxiety and stress? Yes, there are deaths in cozies, but we write about ordinary people who seek and usually find justice. And cozies sell because our readers want to believe in small safe communities where people care about each other, and care about doing the right thing. I’d like to think such places do exist.

It should be an interesting year.

And nCover A Turn for the Badow the pitch: A Turn for the Bad, the fourth book in the County Cork Mystery series, will be released February 2nd.  It’s about high-dollar (or euro) international smuggling (surprised?), but it’s also about people helping each other, at their own risk, because the people–friends and relatives–matter.


20 Thoughts

  1. I think you’re right, Sheila. Anyone can read the news articles to get their fill of the horrors of reality. That’s not what readers want. I love cozies, but, I also want character development in the backstory, which is sometimes lacking. I know word count must be kept down, but I hope publishers will realize that a good story could be a great story if authors were given a bit more freedom to create and expand backstory. I read your “Apple” series for the MCs relationship development as well as the plots.

    1. Thank you (for reading and for seeing some depth of character). I like to write about characters who aren’t always sure of themselves but keep trying anyway. Yes, sometimes it is a challenge to keep the pace moving (and get the body in early) when you’d really rather let your characters just talk or think.

  2. Bravo, Sheila. You touched a lot of ideas here–most of all, the power of art to move and touch people in times of trouble or anger, or to comfort and allow escape during those same times.

  3. Thanks, Sheila. We were raised with the recent memory of the McCarthy hearings – folk singers accused, really? – but some of the mud slung against Obama reminds me of that era. Grateful for cozies, always.

    1. We belong to a time when we were instructed to hide beneath our wooden desks at school, to protect us from the atomic bombs being lobbed by Evil Russia (who actually thought a wooden desk would save us from an nuclear blast?). I’m always mystified by why people love to hate–they always find some target, even though the target changes over time.

  4. My grandfather also came over from Ireland and worked hard and brought his family over…my Mom was 6 months old at the time, so I know whereof you speak. Looking forward to #4.

    1. It always makes me sad that when Irish families waved goodbye, they knew there was a good chance that they’d never see that person again. Maybe they’d send much-needed money home, but they seldom returned to Ireland. I know my grandparents worked to make a good life for themselves and their children over here, and brought more than one family member after them.

  5. I think our 24 hour news cycles make it seem like there is something to fear everywhere. My mom and I recently had a talk about “the good old days” (Hi, mom) and were they really so good. The sixties were certainly a time of upheaval for our country. It seems like we are in another such phase.

    1. The business of news is…to find news, which I think leads to a lot of exaggeration. ABC national news seems fascinated by extreme weather, but maybe that’s better than devoting long segments to war and other violence.

  6. Our family story is that my great-grandfather sailed to America from Germany for political reasons. He didn’t like what was going on at the time (the rise of the Nazis). (I won’t discuss the horse thief on the other side of the family who left England to escape the sheriff.)

    But our stories are quite different from the couple in San Bernadino who planned on committing terrorist acts. (Yes, I know he was an American citizen to begin with.) Or the thousands (millions) coming over the Mexican border illegally, who are not only Mexicans but people from the Middle East and China and who knows where else, some of whom are crossing specifically to commit terrorist acts. My heart aches for those who are running for their lives at this time, but I can understand why Americans are afraid.

    My church will be sponsoring several Syrian refugee families this year, as they’ve sponsored families from other countries in the past. I doubt any of them will cause trouble. Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion or argue the merits and disadvantages of immigration.

    I do agree about cozies. I, too, avoid reading thrillers lately. There’s enough fear and heart-pounding action in the real world. I’d much rather retreat to a small town where the people are friendly and justice prevails.

  7. I have family who helped found the State of Israel, and I have cousins who are still serving in the military as reservists. I have friends here who ran for their lives from Muslim countries leaving homes and businesses behind. I guess it’s a person’s individual background that sets the way we feel about the current batch of Muslim refugees coming in. One of my Sephardic friends (Syrian Jewish) had a Muslim family move into the house next to them. Now mind you, this house is in the heart of the Sephardic Jewish neighborhood where my kids attended Religious Day School. When my friend asked why they moved to this particular area the wife answered. TO BE SAFE! They felt safer living among Jews then their own people.

    My neighborhood has had a large mixed Muslim community for over twenty years. We hope it stays peaceful and stable since there are both Shi’ites and Sunni’s.

    On your other story… Sheila, Sheila, Sheila, you missed out on so much. By the time my friends and I were 18 we were regulars at some of the stores, restaurants and clubs in both East and West Greenwich Village. One of the boys could get us into his uncle’s club which served liquor so we could hear the groups. The head shops were so much fun to visit and the posters they sold were totally outrageous. On the next spin of your cosmic wheel you really need to kick loose more. LOL LOL

    Happy New Year to you and yours.

    1. I feel I need to apologize for living in a homogeneous and rather affluent New Jersey community–I could count the number of people I knew who belonged to a non-protestant religion on one hand, maybe two. And I was such a boring kid! My senior year there was a transfer student that most of us girls labeled “Mod Bod” and it was rumored that she went to the Village on weekends. But my friends and I never talked to her.

      1. Sheila, you have to remember that I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s and 60’s. We lived in East NY till I was 12 (with a year in Fl. so Mommy Dearest could get a divorce). Back then kids roamed the streets without fear. I had a transit pass (NOT A BUS PASS) that allowed me to go anywhere I wanted to. Times change, mores change and safety has become the pre-eminent issue of parents for their children. I raised mine the way I was raised, making them street smart and watchful. Oh, I hope I get to “bump” into you again some time.

  8. Interesting, Sheila, and I agree: I read some of the others in my review blog capacity, but I write cozies because I’m interested in what would cause an average person ( not psychopath) to cross the line and feel they must take another’s life. And please email me about a guest spot on my crime review blog for your new book!

  9. The world is very complicated right now. Unless we are willing to talk and listen to each other instead of demonize the other side, we won’t make any progress. And sometimes there are hard temporary decisions to make. But the instant the name calling and mud slinging comes out, we lose any chance to make progress. Unfortunately, our current politicians on all sides are more interested in making political points by name calling than actually behaving like adults. And the news media is trying to help them.

    I think I’ll go bury my head in a cozy to get away from the real world for a while. I’m reading one by an author you might have heard of named Liz Mugavero.

    1. Absolutely, Mark. I think a lot of our politicians these days come off like boys on a playground, just calling each other names without even thinking. What ever happened to intelligent discussion of issues? Boring, right? Nobody listens, and your poll numbers tank. But why should we believe that a candidate will change once he (or she) is elected?

  10. Whew! You said a mouthful, Sheila. I agree that people turn to cozies for comfort in a confusing times. Through them, by illustrating people who live and work together despite their differences (and who listen, as Mark says above), we can show another, better way.

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