Cozy Appreciation #4: Miss Felicity Lemon

To return to the occasional appreciation of the cozy genre, I today would like to pay tribute to Miss Felicity Lemon. As limned by Dame Agatha, this woman is tres formidable, to put it mildly. Consider this passage from the opening page of Hickory Dickory Death:

[Poirot’s] voice held incredulity. For Miss Lemon, that hideous and efficient woman, never made mistakes. She was never ill, never tired, never upset, never inaccurate. For all practical purposes, that is to say, she was not a woman at all. She was a machine–the perfect secretary. She knew everything, she coped with everything. She ran Hercule Poirot’s life for him, so that it, too, functioned like a machine. Order and method had been Hercule Poirot’s watchwords from many years ago. With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method ruled supreme in his life. Now that crumpets were baked square as well as round, he had nothing about which to complain.

I’m not sure Agatha Christie had a soft spot for Miss Lemon, but I do. The world needs more people like her: low maintenance, supremely efficient, with the highest standards for herself and her employer. She does share her first name, and a generally high level of office competence, with my own Miss Prim, but the similarities end there. Where Miss Prim is warm, Miss Lemon cannot be bothered with the finer points of human frailty. Where Miss Prim is given to emotion (particularly where her family is concerned), Miss Lemon is independent, a true lone wolf who can never be counted on to suffer fools gladly.

And yet… I see a humanity in Miss Lemon, a soul who has armed herself against a tough world by presenting a steely exterior. I have created an extensive back story for her in my own mind, and I understand why she is the way she is. In a world of incompetence, she is the ultimate in competence — and that is quite a rarity. She doesn’t apologize for having high standards, doesn’t care how she is perceived in social media, and in general refuses to cast her pearls before swine. Though we don’t know much about her relationships (in one book, she does express concern about her sister), I suspect she would be a very loyal friend to anyone upon whom she chooses to confer that privilege. She’s the kind of person who’ll do what’s right but unpopular, difficult but fair. She doesn’t have an inferiority complex or insecurities; she knows who she is, and that’s good enough for her. She wouldn’t want to work for anyone who doesn’t appreciate her, because she wouldn’t respect that person–and respect is essential in any relationship Miss Lemon might undertake. In short, to me, she is one of those unsung heroes who keep the world running while keeping the drama to a minimum. So, long live Miss Lemon!


Ode to a Maven (With a Nod to E. A. Poe)

We all know what the Internet is, and, if you’re like me, you take it for granted. It’s just there, except when the lines go down, at which time society grinds to a halt.

I haven’t ever really thought about what happens behind the Webpages that I happen to be visiting – all the work that goes into the interface, and the delivery systems, and the networking. I guess the Internet is like a good book: One just appreciates it without thinking about everything that went into it.


But at Deadly Ink I met David Herst (and his wife, Andrea), who works behind the scenes on the technology we have all come to rely on. He was once with a consulting firm specializing in the “middleware” that drives much of the Net.  He and his colleagues called themselves “Middleware Mavens.”  David had written a sort of tribute to middleware and to the firm, basing his poem on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”  Of course I asked to read it, and it’s a treat! David has allowed me to share it on this blog, so I proudly present:



Ode to a Maven
by David Herst
Twitter: @DavidHerst
Linked in:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
O’er a vexing SQL query glaring from my monitor,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, tapping at my office door.
“‘Tis the janitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my office door,
Wanting trash, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, ’twas a frosty, bleak December,
Countless dying Camel embers smoldered on my office floor.
“Build a system,” they had tasked me. Specs and reqs they soon had faxed me.
Reading them did not relax me as I saw what lay in store:
Hopeless challenges galore.

“Link our many databases, resident in far-flung places.
Build a web app that replaces all the apps we had before.
Make it fast as summer lightning” – here I felt my chest a’tightening –
“Fast, secure, transactional, like all the apps we had before,
Make it just as functional as all the apps we had before,
Only better than before.”

As I thought about it longer, all my fears grew ever stronger.
C++, some scripting, native APIs and little more:
All the tools at my disposal weren’t enough for this proposal.
Which thought led me to suppose I’ll need a miracle before
I can build a system like nobody’s ever built before.
A miracle (or three or four).

So I labored on that system. Bugs? Too numerous to list ’em.
Deadlines? I routinely missed ’em; they were easy to ignore.
Furiously did I write plumbing code until my mind was numbing,
Picturing myself succumbing to the terror at my core,
Struggling to speak, as I lay wasted on my office floor,
One word only: “Nevermore.”

Now, this night, my heart grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my office door.
That I scarce was sure I heard you” – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Back into the office turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore. –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Maven, such as never seen before.
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched upon my monitor –
High above my storm of papers, perched upon my monitor –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Suddenly I felt so certain, he had come to lift the curtain
Hiding from me all the answers I had long been searching for.
“Tell me, Maven, tell me truly, how to tame this beast unruly,
How these crude technologies can now be used as ne’er before?
How these tools can build a system no one’s ever built before?”
Quoth the Maven: “Nevermore.”

Then to desk he floated downward and, commanding mouse and keyboard,
Showed me new technologies of which I had been unaware.
App containers that would proffer services I couldn’t offer.
Promises that left me breathless; I could only sit and stare.
“‘Tis a dream!” I told the Maven, “‘Tis but empty vaporware!”
Quoth the Maven, “Au contraire.”

Here were possibilities to handle all the “ilities” too.
Sure enough it was the answer I’d been seeking in despair!
“Maven, tell me,” I implored him, as I slowly leaned in toward him,
“What are these new miracles of which I have been unaware?
Name this sorcery of which I heretofore was unaware!”
Quoth the Maven: “Middleware.”

Then the Maven, with a flutter, took off through the open shutter,
Disappearing silently into the frosty midnight air.
Though he suddenly departed, I was from from brokenhearted.
Rather I was just elated, filled with joy beyond compare.
While the soundtrack to my happiness came wafting back across the air:
The Maven’s mantra: “Middleware.”

Armed with my new revelation, I proceeded to creation
Of a system that I humbly tell you was extraordinaire.
It did all the client asked for, everything that I was tasked for,
Not to mention that it sings and dances just like Fred Astaire.
(Please forgive me if I say again, it was extraordinaire!)
And the secret? Middleware.

Nowadays, I must disclose, I always hear it at symposi-
a and conferences and user groups and meetings everywhere.
Even in my deepest sleep, into my dreams it dimly seeps.
Warmth it brings into my heart, like sunlight to the summer air.
Like the sunshine melting clouds and warming up the summer air,
The Maven’s mantra: “Middleware!”

If Every Day Were a Convention

This year’s Deadly Ink convention was particularly fun, with nicely packed rooms on topics ranging from historical mysteries to cozies to short stories and writing process. Ah, if only life could be more like conventions:
1. We’d spend all our money on hotel rooms and books. (One category is a much better bargain than the other.)
2. We would have all of our meals prepared for us; and while they might be only borderline edible, they’d provide the basic nutrients required for life.
3. We’d learn great new terms, like “woo-woo” (something supernatural-ish that doesn’t sit right with readers) or “speaking forsoothly” (using archaic-sounding language to convey an “historical” sense to a book).
4. We wouldn’t get any more reading done than we usually do; and in fact we might actually get less done; but the trade-off would be worth it.
5. We’d be regaled with anecdotes of the “I can’t believe someone would say something like that variety.” Case in point: A reader telling Donald Bain that she couldn’t quite get over Jessica Fletcher’s resemblance to Angela Lansbury.
6. We’d wrestle (alongside the novelists) with the many decisions to be made when writing historical fiction, and realize that no matter how much we know about history, there’s much more that we don’t know.
7. We’d toss back a few drinks in the bar and trade crazy family stories that nobody would believe if we put them in a novel.
8. We’d find new plots in the other conventions going on at the same time (for example, a raucous wedding celebration with angry confrontations near the restrooms).
9. We’d always have someone to talk to, in person, about our favorite genres and books, in real time instead of on the Internet.
10. We’d be surrounded by literate, literary, polite, intellectually curious people; and we’d never hear the word “Kardashian.”

But, alas, everyday is not a convention; so back we go to earning our livings (or enjoying our retirement).

2014 David Winner: E.F. Watkins

Dark Music

The winner of this year’s David Award at Deadly Ink was E.F. (Eileen) Watkins, for her paranormal mystery, Dark Music.  This is the first in a series featuring Quinn Matthews, who buys a Victorian house in the suburbs only to discover something … haunting.

I have known Eileen for a long time – we are fellow New Jerseyans – and I’ve always been slightly in awe of her spirit of adventure. She was writing paranormal mysteries before most of us had even heard the phrase, and now she looks poised to lead the way. Congratulations, Eileen, and keep ’em coming!