Two men and their bears

This post originally appeared on the Jungle Red blog in August, 2017. I'm reprinting it here in honor of what would have been my father's 91st birthday.  

When I first spotted a photo of Michael Bond holding a Paddington Bear who adored him, I gasped. It was the noise that might result from being slugged in the stomach, but I'd been punched in the heart. Or had it squeezed so hard that sound spurted out.

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I couldn't figure out a way to tie my need to write about the death of Paddington Bear author Michael Bond with a blog about Mystery and Thriller writing. But I couldn't think about anything else.

 Michael Bond died in June 2017. My father had died weeks earlier. Born six months apart, they grew up in the Great Depression and served in World War II. And both had bears they loved, with photos to prove it. Both had enormous respect for children and bears and were dispensers of the unconditional love some people connect to only in dogs or stuffed animals.

 My relationship with Paddington is a meandering one. He wandered into my life several times. At age eleven, inching beyond the age of wonder but with one foot still firmly anchored in childhood, I discovered the Paddington books. I don't remember the text so much as the illustrations, which looked nothing like bears, as far as I was concerned. With his ears covered by a slouchy hat and a nose that was far too pointy, I thought Paddington resembled a porcupine or muskrat more than a bear. I wrote to the author and told him so. I don't remember receiving a response, but Paddington was a refugee in London and as such needed a hat to keep his ears warm and dry. He's also not the sort of bear who worries about keeping his hair coiffed, or who bothers about spilled marmalade.

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 Eight years later, I embarked for a year at a British university. While I immersed myself in academics, I didn't skimp on sightseeing or gastronomic exploration. I made friends and became part of a community. When I left, I was given a stuffed Paddington, which had recently taken toy stores by storm. The shopkeeper instructed my friends that his boots were "specially made for him by Dunlop." My housemates were quite taken by Paddington's wellies, and by the idea that "when you have children, they can wear them." At 19, the idea of offspring was terrifying, but in little more than a decade, my kids stomped around in Paddington's wellingtons. (Paddington was happy to share.)

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 Paddington now supervises my writing desk. He kept me company in the days following my father's death, when creativity and sleep escaped me. Bond knew similarly difficult days and credited Paddington with pulling him through, “There is something so upright about Paddington. I wouldn’t want to let him down."

 Which brings me to my father's bear. I don't know whether he had a favored soft toy as a child, but he certainly honored those my brother, sister, and I chose as companions. He conversed with them and instructed them to watch over us. He solemnly tucked them in at night when he put us to bed. Many years later, when my husband's mother was diagnosed with dementia, my father suggested a stuffed animal might provide comfort. In her case, we chose a snuggly elephant who protected her when she was in the hospital among strangers and surroundings that were stranger still.

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 A year or two later Dad's memory began drifting. His hallucinations included gang members who lived in his living room and threatened my mother. As his doctor struggled to find a medication that would banish the gangs, I lived a continent away and scrambled for ways to help. In the wee hours one morning, I decided Amazon could provide a bear to protect my Dad from his demons. (My stuffed Paddington supervised while I logged into my Amazon account. Paddington hales from Peru, which is home to the Amazon River. Coincidence? I think not.)

 Did my Dad believe the bear I sent him was real? I don't think so. But, partly to entertain me, he spoke to him in "bear language" and made sure he was tucked in at night with a view of the front door he guarded. When I learned my dad thought 24-hour protection service might be too arduous a chore for one bear, we adopted a friend. The second bear was smaller, fit under my Dad's chin when he slept and became known as Rusty. On a dark, rainy night when my Dad fell out of bed, we called paramedics to tuck him back in. When they handed him Rusty (with all the respect a proper bear companion deserves), raindrops shed by their turnout gear had dampened Rusty's fur. My dad noticed. "Rusty! You're all wet! What happened to you?" Full of concern, he dried Rusty gently with a corner of the sheet. "He gave Firefighter Jim a hug," I told him. "Jim's coat was wet because it's raining outside."

 "Ah," said my father to Rusty. "Well, you're safe now."

 Years ago, I learned many law enforcement officers stash bears in the trunks of their squad cars to give to youngsters in trouble. In comforting stuffed toys, children feel stronger. And while a child might not admit her fears to a stranger, she might be willing to reveal the terrors stalking her bear.

 And that brings me full circle, back to talking about writing, characters, and the community we all need to feel safe and connected. Community arises spontaneously among humans even in the direst situations because we all feel that need to give and receive comfort. My mysteries look at what happens when our sense community takes a damaging blow, and what members do to restore the balance between good and evil. While my characters aren't based on real people, I strive to make them seem authentic. Michael Bond felt the same way about Paddington,  “Unless an author believes in his character, no one else is going to."

 Both my father and Mr. Bond respected bears and people, particularly people in danger of being overlooked. In 2014 when tempers erupted in Europe regarding the influx of refugees, Bond said, "Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.”

 Bond didn't shy away from Paddington's illegal entry into the UK. In the books, the bear's adopted family is ever aware of his risk of deportation. (Paddington reached London after stowing away on a steamer from Darkest Peru.)

 After my father's death, friends, neighbors and former co-workers wrote to my mother. Nearly all of them penned some version of this description, "He was a kind and genuine man who helped me when I needed it most." I think the same was true of Michael Bond and any man who is beloved by a bear. My Dad and Mr. Bond had a capacity for unconditional love and the ability to embrace the imaginary world that means they both will live forever.

Books on a Budget

Photo by feedough/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by feedough/iStock / Getty Images

Amazon and other book outlets encourage you daily to spend money on books. For the book addicted, it's an easy sell.

So, how do you resist when you're a book lover with limited funds?* What budget-friendly moves are a bad idea? Read on!

Hard-copy readers:

Join a bookstore book club. Many independent bookstores offer these clubs and give members a 10% discount. Other stores offer frequent buyer's discounts.

Get a library card. Put books you'd like to read on reserve, even before they're released. Many libraries take recommendations from patrons for new purchases and allow those recommending books to check them out first. Check with your library to learn about their programs. (Libraries buy books and authors like them because they introduce us to new readers.)

Create a book swap group with friends. You each buy the books you think you'll love the most, but then you share them. Authors and publishing companies benefit from the initial purchase and word-of-mouth promotion, and you get to read lots of books at a lower overall expense.

Recommend and review your favorite authors and their books on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, etc. This makes it easier for new readers to find them.

See also "Book Bub" recommendations below. Book Bub alerts readers to new releases and sales of ebooks, but doesn't require you to make a purchase, nor do they care what format you buy in.

Consider becoming an official reviewer Authors need reviewers. If you like writing reviews, consider joining NetGalley (see www.netgalley.com) or other review services that provide early reviews for authors. Many authors cultivate their own early reviewers–keep an eye on their Facebook feeds to see if your favorites are among them. Be warned. Providing perfect reviews is not required. Writers need honest reviews and know that every book is not every reader's cup of tea. But trolls and/or rude reviewers are seldom invited to review another book. 

Used Books—Meh Because I'm an author, I'm not a big fan of used books. Writers don't make a penny on a used-book sale. On the other hand, I'm also a book addict. So if the used books you're buying help out a library, bookstore, or other charity, or if they give you a chance to try out a new author at a low cost, you have my blessing. To appease the fates, muses, and your favorite authors, try to remember to review the book online.

 

 

e-format readers:

Don't feel guilty buying ebooks. Though the price is generally below that of the hardcover or paperback, the percentage royalties paid on ebooks is often higher. You're still supporting both author and publisher.

Book Bub. Book Bub is the king of bargain book services. They send you a daily email in accordance with your reading preferences, promoting ebooks that are on sale. They'll also alert you when your favorite author releases a new book. If your taste in books is more fine-tuned than BookBub selection criteria allows for, search the internet for another bargain book service. There are many specialized ones that focus on mysteries, romances, young adult, Christian novels, or other distinct swaths of publishing. If you know just where to look on a library shelf or bookstore for your favorites, there is certain to be a book service designed to bring you selections of books on sale that you'll love.

Check your library. Many libraries subscribe to services that allow you to borrow ebooks for a limited time. If you're new to ebooks, consult a librarian to help you learn to use the service and work out the kinks. (If the librarian is too busy to help, ask if there's a class you could take or if there's a quieter time you could come back. )

Amazon group plans. If other family members love the same books you do, set up a family group on Amazon so you can share all your ebook purchases. (The instructions for doing this are on the Amazon site. If you find them too complicated, call their customer service line. I've found them very helpful!)

Avoid! 

There are fiends who launch illegal schemes to target book addicts, just as there are criminals who prey on those with other weaknesses. Most websites that offer opportunities to download books "Free!" are pirates.  Legitimate book promoters provide links to legitimate well-known book sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Kobo, Itunes, GoogleBooks, or Indiebound. Crooks ask you to download directly from their website after filling out a form. Don't be sucked in. These are typically phishing schemes--attempts to gain access to your personal information. You may be downloading a file containing a nasty virus, giving the crooks all your information plus access to your computer. And if you make the mistake of buying a 99c book from one of these goons, they'll also have your credit card number. Yikes. If it sounds too good to be true, it is! The worst thing? Your computer's operating system is in a complete shambles and your favorite author gets no royalties. It's disguised as a bargain, but is a terrible deal all round.

Bottom line?

Writers love readers. If you're sharing books and talking about books, teaching kids to read or encouraging those that already know how, you're helping us. And we thank you.

*If you're a book lover, I'm going to assume you also want to support authors and publishers and book distributers, and will lean toward those outlets that also benefit those that bring you books.

Mad for TV Murder Mysteries

 

We don't get the Hallmark Mystery channel, but my husband and I are convinced that when we're sick, injured or recuperating, PBS and Acorn mysteries are as important as chicken soup. They're like a warm hug. Most episodes turn out okay in the end, so they're not worrisome. 

Here are some of our favorites: 

Death in Paradise

George Gently

Midsomer Murders

Death comes to Pemberly

Inspector Morse

Inspector Lewis (please let there be a "Hathaway" series next!) 

Endeavor

Shetland

Brokenwood

800 words (not a mystery, but with the same comfort value)

Doctor Blake

DCI Banks

The Last Detective

The Singing Detective

Sherlock (except the last season and maybe the next to last, which were too weird)

Elementary

Forever

The Heart Guy (not a mystery, but still good) 

Father Brown

Grantchester

Foyle's War

Call the Midwife (not a mystery, but still good)

Bletchley Circle

Hetty Wainthropp

Silk

Maigret

Lord Peter Whimsey

Zen

Cadfael

Dalziel & Pascoe

Jonathan Creek

Rosemary & Thyme

River (This one has an unusual but endearing plot device. It's on the line between charming and chilling.) 

Here are some that we love, but that are rougher, so don't fit into the "chicken soup" category. 

Witnesses (It's in French with subtitles. Adds fun if you took French in high school)

Wire in the Blood

Bosch

Waking the Dead

Hinterland

Deep Water

Chasing Shadows

Broadchurch (both the US and UK versions) 

Luther

Crossing Lines

The Tunnel (both the UK and Netherlands versions. Didn't like the American version, The Bridge)

The Level

Wallender

The Escape Artist (very good, but very disturbing) 

Prime Suspect (We love this originally, but had to stop watching when we had little kids and they handled a child abuse case. Now that our children are grown, we've revisited them, and eagerly await The Young Jane Tennison)

Here are some that fell short of the mark for me, but that you might like:

The Fall (too disturbing for comfort)

Miss Fisher (The books are better. These can get too silly) 

Vera (We watched these, but Vera might be too flawed)

Agatha Raisin (Too silly for us)

Murdoch Mysteries (Seemed to be trying too hard)

Jack Irish (Too dark)

Newest Agatha Christie remakes (of COURSE we watched them, but they take a much darker turn than earlier versions, though they are true to the books.) 

New Tricks (I liked them, but my husband didn't. I can't remember why.) 

Lovejoy (We didn't like it, but it's very popular)

Still Life (I love Louise Penny's books, and might have enjoyed this if my expectations weren't so high.) 

Mr & Mrs Murder (My husband nixed this one. Too silly.) 

Thorne (too gritty)

Vexed (too silly)

Partners in Crime (too silly. Or maybe just not as I pictured my beloved T&T)

Cracker (Too dated -- my husband cares about production value, and this one doesn't have writing strong enough to overcome old-fashioned resolution.)

True Detective - this one is well worth watching, particularly the first season. But it had some down sides I can't reveal (without revealing plot) that prevent me from claiming it as a complete success. It has some great "guys talking in cars" scenes.