Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cool and Lam: My Choice for a TV Show

(I've been dealing with a lot of personal stuff this week and I don't have anything new or profound. Yesterday, on Keith Rawson's Facebook page, he asked what book you'd like to see adapted into a film. I immediately gravitated towards the Cool and Lam books by Erle Stanley Gardner. I'd love to see a TV series with them. It could be done and it would get viewers. So, to honor that, here is a review I wrote back in 2008 when I first discovered this pair of PIs.)

Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. If my research is any indication, they are two truly forgotten detectives created by one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century. How could that happen? Oh, right. Erle Stanley Gardner, the man who created the mismatched team of Cool and Lam happened also to create the world’s most famous defense lawyer, Perry Mason. Easy mistake to make. It’s kind of like remembering that George Lucas also wrote the movie “Willow,” except, you know, “Willow” wasn’t very good.

Not the case with Cool and Lam. I pondered starting this series with the first book, The Bigger They Come. I even asked around and folks like Bruce Grossman over at Bookgasm assured me that these books could be read in any order. Since I am still a freshman at the University of Crime Fiction, I decided to trust a couple of tenured professors, Charles Ardai and Max Phillips of Hard Case Crime. If such a university existed, the books published by Hard Case Crime would be required reading. You can tell what Ardai and company think of Cool and Lam: the third book they published was Top of the Heap, a 1952 book that was the thirteenth in a series that ran twenty-nine books. Deferring to their knowledge, I read Top of the Heap.

Boy, was this book fun! I haven’t enjoyed a book like this since The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow. After reading The Case of the Velvet Claws, the first Perry Mason book, I thought I knew what to expect from Gardner. Not even close. I guess this is why he chose to write the first few Cool and Lam books under a pen name, A. A. Fair.

Like any good story, it’s the characters that make this story. Bertha Cool is not obese but she wears her one hundred and sixty pounds well. She’s a widow (something I picked up in research because it’s not mentioned in this novel) and her voice is imposing and you can tell from the prose that she fills a room with her mouth, if not her body. And she loves money. At least twice in the first chapter, her eyes are described as “greedy.” And she’s got a new case, one that Lam notes must be worth a lot of money because he heard the tone of voice she gave to the new client. Lam “knew from experience that it took cold, hard cash to get Bertha to assume that ingratiating manner and that cooing, kittenish voice.”

If Bertha Cool is like Oliver Hardy, Donald Lam is Stan Laurel. He couldn’t be more opposite of Bertha if he tried. In fact, Bertha, late in the book, nicely describes her partner: “You little two-bit, skinny-necked, flat-chested, dimple-waisted, beetle-browed, double-crossing bastard.” Oops. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back and see how it all started.

John Carver Billings the Second comes into the offices of Cool and Lam looking for help. It seems that Maurine Auburn, the girlfriend of a gangster, “Gabby” Garvanza, has disappeared. Gabby is recovering in a hospital with too many bullet holes in his body. Maurine, not worrying too much about Gabby, was seen at a party with an escort a few days ago. Unfortunately, she ditched the escort and left someone else. No big deal for most people. Except for Billings. He was the ditched escort. But, not to be outdone, Billings, that same night, found two other girls with which to spend time. This new trio crashed at a motel and, by morning, the two gals had also gone. Now, Billings, thrice stood-up, needs an alibi for that night so the police don’t go suspecting him of having anything to do with Maurine’s disappearance.

Simple case for Bertha: find the girls, keep the $300 Billings already paid in cash and collect a $500 bonus. Not so simple for Lam, who immediately has reservations and questions that can’t be easily answered. Bertha, the smell of greenbacks filling her nose, sends Lam out of the office to find the girls. It’s not giving anything away to say the more Lam discovers, the more complicated the case gets. What started out as a small case with just one objective explodes up into a larger case involving murder, money, misunderstandings, and mining assets.

The entire story is told in Lam’s first person voice. And he is a smart-ass. A funny smart-ass, but a smart-ass nonetheless. The writing style is quite different than the prose Gardner uses for the one Perry Mason novel I’ve read. Granted, Top of the Heap was published nearly twenty years after The Case of the Velvet Claws so, undoubtedly, Gardner honed his writing skill.

Lam’s voice is fresh. He gets his secretary to tag along as they case the motor court where Billings passed out in the room with the two girls. You can get a taste of the relationship between Lam and Elsie Brand, his secretary, in these lines.

    “How’s Bertha?” [Elsie said]
    “Her same old irascible, greedy, profane self. How would you like to act the part of a falling woman?”
    “A fallen woman?”
    “I said a falling woman.”
    “Oh, I see. Present participle. What do I do?”

Grammar jokes in a mystery novel. Couldn’t get away with it in 2008 mainly because the general public doesn’t even know what a present participle is. But in 1952, this line probably garnered a few chuckles. And I certainly wanted more from these two. Perhaps in other books.

All kidding aside, Lam is a small man who uses his brain like a chess player. If he has a hunch about something, say the actions of Person A, he goes to great lengths to get his answer. In order to verify his hunch before meeting Person A, Lam will talk with Person B. Then, he’ll go to Person A and, using information acquired from Person B, find new clues that he needs when he talks with Person C, the real focus of the investigation that you, the reader, probably didn’t even pick up on. He’s very smart but his brain gets him into trouble.

Unlike other PIs in literature, Lam can’t fight his way out of pretty much anything. And he gets scared along the way. He bends the law to meet his needs, even bending the truth at times. But his actions get him into some potentially hot water. If a hunch fails, he’s on the outs with the cops and the bad guys. This vulnerability made Lam instantly more real to me and, frankly, more relatable. He’s a bit like John Blake, the lead character in the two Richard Aleas (pen name of one Charles Ardai) books published by Hard Case Crime, Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence. They get by with brains, not brawn. I love my tough guy PIs, but Donald Lam is a nice change of pace.

What surprised me was Bertha’s absence from this story. She was in chapter one and the last chapter. I expected more. Again, maybe she’s featured in other books. A nice note I learned about the series, which started in 1939, is that Lam goes off to fight in World War II and returns after the V-J Day. That’s very cool to me: having a fictional lead character actually leave the stage for a few books.

What I Learned As A Writer: The puzzle and the summation. Like I mentioned in my review for The Case of the Velvet Claws, Gardner is a master at creating a puzzle. It’s intricate and Gardner’s lawyerly mind really shines at the end when Lam lays out the final solution. As with the Perry Mason book, I re-read chapter one after I finished the book. It really is all there. Fantastic.

And it’s in these ‘summation’ scenes where a certain style of Gardner’s prose comes out. He lets Lam basically just stand there and talk. There were sections of sometimes half a page with Lam just talking. There were paragraph breaks but no extra prose, no “he said” or “he smoked a cigarette,” or “he walked across the room.” Nothing but dialogue. In my own writing, I’ve been so accustomed to putting in these little elements that some of the force of the dialogue is lost. Gardner’s way is much more direct. And there’s certainly some merit to it. I don’t know if that kind of prose will fly nowadays but I’ll certainly try it.

Speaking of trying things, I’ll be avidly searching for the other Cool and Lam books out there. I flat out loved this book. I’ve already started my search. It turns out I didn’t have to look far. In a big box of books—mostly westerns—I inherited from my grandfather, I found a couple of Cool and Lam books. Thanks, Grandpa. Guess he liked them, too.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Onion Street

By Russel D McLean

Russel is currently down with man-flu and drinking horrific amounts of hot fluids. He did have a post planned for this week but its in no fit shape yet. However, he'd like to share a recent review he did for Crime Scene Scotland with you. The review is for Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman, which will be released on 18 May from Tyrus books and is the penultimate in Coleman's Moe Prager series. If you haven't read the Prager books, Russel recommends you start right now.

have always said that I prefer series fiction to have a natural ending, that I’m not a fan of those series novels that play out indefinitely with no end in sight, except that brought by a decline in sales or the author’s interest slowly fading.

But the idea that Onion Street is the second last book to feature Reed Farrel Coleman’s incredible creation, Mo Prager, makes me feel somewhat sad.

The end was always coming, of course. Ever since we learned that Mo is ill, that his own body is working against him like a ticking time bomb, its been inevitable that an end is in sight.

So it feels only right that the second to last Prager novel should come almost as a breather, a chance for us to catch our breath. In essence, Onion Street seems like an extended flashback; giving us a glimpse of Mo Prager in the days before he joined the police force, in the days where he was still figuring who he was and what kind of man he wanted to be.

This is very much in keeping with the general them of the series. The past and the present have always been intertwined, not just for Mo but for those around him. When he worked as a part time PI, Prager often found that events from the past had often inevitable effects upon the present.

And so Prager, finds himself at the funeral of an old friend. Death is on his mind, of course. It has been since his diagnosis.

Dead or not, gone is gone. It’s what happens to friends: they fall away. Time erodes them into fi ne grains of powder carried by the wind to alien places to teach or to start up a business or to settle down or to just run away. Me, I’d never strayed too far from Coney Island, but I suppose we all had to kill time somewhere before, in the end, time killed us. In the scheme of things, it didn’t much matter where that time was spent.

The funeral – and the thought of friends gone – sparks old memories in Mo, and we are pulled back into the past along with him, to a world where Mo couldn’t conceive of the pain that is to come in his life, of the things he might achieve or the challenges that would await him.

By going back to this pre-formed Mo, we gain a deeper sense of who he is. Often, flashback origin novels can feel hokey or unnatural; events are often given a false sense of foreshadowing or the narrative winds up winking to the reader but, hey, you know this. Luckily for all, Coleman’s too smart a writer to try these kind of tricks, and what he does is tell a story that feels so utterly of its time and place that it is not so much the events but the themes of those events that carry into Mo’s later life.

Personal responsibility.



These are what define Mo to one degree or another, and here we see the first time that he starts to question all these qualities of life, the first time that he is forced to make truly terrible decisions that will wind up affecting not just himself, but everyone around him.

The novel proper begins in 1967. Moe’s in college, still trying to find who he is. There are radical groups on campus, and when one of Moe’s friends seems too close to some of their more dangerous activities, Moe is spurred into action to protect his friends and his current girlfriend, whose behaviour is, from Moe’s point of view at least, become stranger and more erratic as she moves deeper into other circles.

The sense of time and place in the novel is, as one would expect, utterly convincing. Coleman seems incapable of writing a dull sentence, and here he manages to balance the naivety of the young Moe Prager with the more worldly narration of his older self. There’s a sense here of a dual narrative, of the older Moe trying to connect with his younger self, to rediscover and understand who he – and by extension his old friend Bobby – was.

But among all that, the plot rockets forward with a compelling pace. Coleman lays out a number of disparate threads, only to masterfully pull them together as the novel heads for its retrospectively inevitable climax. The action scenes are handled well, but more than that Coleman never loses sight of the fact that character is the heart of the Prager novels. His mysteries are those of motivation and the unknown burdens that can make someone act in a way we might not understand at face value.

Onion Street serves as a reminder of who Moe is, and what it is that he stands for. It lets us breathe before the inevitable, serving as a way to better understand the man whose life we have found ourselves a part of for eight previous novels. But more than that, it is a brilliant 60’s set thriller that makes the politics of the era personal, that shows the lengths people are willing to go to for what they believe in, that shows us people at their worst and more importantly at their best. The Prager novels are not noir in the most cynical sense. They are philosophical crime novels, explorations of people and motivations. They allow us to get a real sense of the complexities of moral choices. And more than that, they are beautifully written.

I don’t want to say goodbye to Moe.

But Onion Street convinces me that Coleman will find the right way for us to say goodbye.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Art Envy And Validation.

By Jay Stringer

There's a phrase I've long hated in comic books. "Graphic Novel." I feel like throwing up a little each time I hear it.

I'm sure I will have made this argument at some point before in the (almost) four years of DOING SOME DAMAGE. (It would have been somewhere around April or May 2009 when Weddle said "I have this idea...") This isn't a post focusing on comics, but I'll make my point again to carry it through into an another argument.

Comic books are comic books. Some of them are amazing works of art, and some of them are terrible. What the best ones do, at their absolute purest and finest, are to show what the medium can be. They show the best of the format. But somewhere along the way, the industry decided that it was not taken seriously enough, and coined a phrase to compare itself to another medium. They'll stop laughing at us, they thought, if we come up with a wanky name that makes us sound like novelists. The correct response would have been to point out that, no, thankyou, we're comic books, and at our best we are amazing, and critics can like that or ignore it. People of DSD, I put it to you that Watchmen -one of the greatest works of storytelling of the 20th century- was a comic book. And it was supreme at being a comic book. It was designed specifically to be one, and told a story that really only works in that format.

I used to say that we don't see other formats doing it. That we don't see cinema call it's best products "filmed stage-plays" and the music industry doesn't call an album "Blind television."

Recently I realised that's wrong. We do it for everything. We've all had the conversation in which a certain TV show has been praised as being "more like a novel than television." The script for a movie tends to be called a screenplay.

It seems like the only way we feel we can validate something as having artistic merit is to compare it either to a novel, a play or poetry. Like, something is only important if it's written in the format that was used by Shakespeare, Dickens or Poe.

I overheard this conversation recently;

-"And then he said to me, Dylan wasn't a poet, and I was, I was all 'what?'"
-"He was the best poet of the 20th century. Every word."

It's in the same vein as people who feel the need to say that Bill Hicks was more than a stand up comedian, he was a preacher, a troubadour, he made great coffee. 

I call shenanigans on this whole bloody thing.

We need to start loving our art forms by holding them up for what they are, and start praising the best artists for what they achieve, not for how we perceive their work to still be ever-so-slightly inferior to the generic format of another  medium.

Bob Dylan is not a poet (ignoring for a moment that he is and that he has published poems.) What his songwriting does, in it's best moments, is to show the magic that can be achieved with songwriting. We don't need to think that the moment someone shows brilliance in songwriting they instantly morph into something else. No. He's a song writer, and he's a fucking amazing one at that. 

Bill Hicks was not a preacher. Not a troubadour. He was one of the best examples of a stand-up comedian. He was one of the people to raise the bar of that art form. Don't sully that by comparing it to something else.

Each time we do that, we cheapen the thing we claim to love. We're saying the best of comics can only aspire to being seen as novel. We're saying the best song writers can only aspire to being compare to every poet. That all stand-up comics can hope for, at their best, is to be seen as spreading religious dogma or travelling medieval Europe singing songs and limericks. 

Each great piece of art, and each great artist, has found a way to exist in that format that is better than most of everything else in the field. We should laud and celebrate them for that, and on those terms. 

To quote our man Chandler, "There is only art, and precious little of that."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hilary Davidson: The EVIL Interview

By Steve Weddle

First, consider looking into some Red Cross First Aid training.


Pleased to bring back one of our most frequent guests, Hilary Davidson, who has the world's largest Pinterest page.

Hilary's been here a number of times, including the MacGyver post, the NoirCon post and the Series Characters post. Plus, of course, 39 other times.

This week, she stops by to talk about her new Lily Moore novel, EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES.

"Davidson knows how to write a galloping page-turner, 
and the plot twists are plentiful."—Quill & Quire

In this third Lily Moore book, the setting is a hotel in Acapulco, where guests check out, but can never leave, as the song says.

We first met Lily in THE DAMAGE DONE and saw her later in THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. Now she's back.

DSD: This series is known for the exotic locales, the fashion, and the movie-buff fun. What are the blessings and curses that come along with this? Do you find yourself reaching readers who might not otherwise pick up detective fiction?

Hilary Davidson: The exotic locations have certainly lured in a lot of people who claim they don’t normally read mysteries, and the Peruvian tourism board has bought boxes of my second book, The Next One to Fall, to give away at trade shows. I was worried they’d hate me for killing a tourist at Machu Picchu, but it turned out they didn’t really mind. (I don’t think the Mexican tourism board will take to Evil in All Its Disguises the same way, though. There’s too much real-life Acapulco crime that ended up in that book.) My love of old movies and vintage clothes is something I got from my grandmother, so it thrills me when readers connect with that. The downside has been that a few people think exotic locales + fashion + old movies = cozy, old-fashioned mysteries. The books are tough to pigeonhole, but they tend to be dark, so I’ve heard from a few disgruntled cozy fans.

DSD: How have the characters changed, especially Lily?

Hilary DavidsonLily Moore has been evolving through the three books, and she’s become a tougher, resilient character. Before The Damage Done, she tended to run away from her family and relationship problems, rather than confront them. But her life changed dramatically in the course of that book, and that forced her to change. In The Next One to Fall, she was dealing with grief and struggling to pick up the pieces of her world after everything fell apart. In Evil in All Its Disguises, she’s recovered from some of those wounds, but she has a lot of baggage from the past that she’s dragging around with her, and she starts to understand that unless she confronts it, she’ll always be chained to it.

DSD: How difficult is it writing an amateur sleuth? Don’t you sometimes wish Lily could get a search warrant?

Hilary Davidson: Definitely! That was one of the great things about writing Evil in All Its Disguises. On the one hand, Lily is trapped at an Acapulco hotel that has armed guards who won’t let anyone leave the grounds. But being trapped means all bets are off inside the hotel, so Lily isn’t worried that they’re going to call the cops on her for breaking into someone’s room. Lily’s got a “bad girl” side, and that really came out in the latest book.

DSD: Are book tours necessary in the age of Twitter and Facebook?

Hilary Davidson: I love Twitter, but I don’t think it can replace a book tour. It’s wonderful for meeting people and getting into interesting, sometimes crazy, conversations. I treat it like my virtual watercooler because I work in a corner of my living room, and I have no coworkers unless you count the incredibly squawky blue jays in the courtyard behind my building. But would be a mistake to think that most of the people who follow me on Twitter are into my work. Some people are just there for recommendations of gluten-free restaurants or for the llama photos, which is fine with me. A lot of people are on Twitter just to promote their own work, and they don’t care what I’m doing — they’re only following me in the hope that I’ll follow them back so they can sell me their stuff.
I’m a big believer in book tours, even though I know a lot of writers who disagree with me on this front. I don’t believe touring is for everyone. For starters, are you the kind of person who will turn into a resentful rageball if you see there are only five people in the audience? Don’t go on tour. Touring gives you the chance to hang out with booksellers and librarians, and to meet up with bloggers and other authors. Generally speaking, local media won’t cover your book unless you’re visiting the area on tour. I think there are a lot of ways to connect with readers — Alafair Burke’s video chats come to mind as an excellent idea I want to steal next time around — but there’s nothing better than meeting in person.

DSD: What’s the biggest mistake you made as a debut author? Or what’s one thing you’d change if you could “debut” all over again?

Hilary Davidson: I would take all of the ARCs I sent to media outlets and give them to booksellers and librarians instead. Because I’d worked in magazines for years, I was obsessed with media coverage, and I didn’t realize how much more important it is to get your book into the hands of book pushers.

DSD: Publishers Weekly mentioned the “Poe-like” creepiness in EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES. Where’s the Poe in this one? Is there someone buried in one of the hotel rooms?

Hilary Davidson: Well, actually… no, wait, I shouldn’t be all spoilery. But there’s always some Poe in my books. In Evil, a lot of it is tied up in the Hotel Cerón itself. When I started writing it, “The Fall of the House of Usher” was on my mind, and I pictured the hotel crumbling from within, and its rottenness being a metaphor for the people running it. But as I got into writing the book, I realized that the story was really about revenge, and that almost every character wants vengeance on some level. That includes Lily, even though she denies it to herself. Revenge brought me back to another story by Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado,” and it worked its way into the book. Mind you, when that reviewer made the comparison to Poe, they might have just had the subterranean passageway filled with rats in mind. Or maybe the snakes? It’s hard to say.

DSD: Some readers have seemed torn whether to classify this newest Lily novel as a cozy because it has some stronger elements than the previous books. Is this a fair reading of the book? Does it matter?

Hilary DavidsonBookPeople’s Scott Montgomery has told me how hard my books are to categorize. From a marketing point of view, this is a bad thing, because it’s easier to sell a book you can put into an easy-to-recognize category. A lot of people who read the phrase “amateur female sleuth” expect a book to be cozy. I don’t really mind how the books are categorized, unless readers feel cheated or disappointed. I know a few cozy readers hated the dark ending of The Damage Done, and others who were disturbed by Lily’s suicidal thoughts in The Next One to Fall. I don’t have a sense yet about what they think of Evil. It’s by far the most romantic of the books, in spite of the rats and snakes and the creepy Poe-like atmosphere. Honest! (Hey, come back, cozy readers! Why are you running away???)

DSD: What's the one genre novel you'd love to write but probably won't?

Hilary Davidson: I’d love to write science fiction. One of my all-time favorite authors is Harlan Ellison, and I think I learned how to write a short story by reading his. I don’t really see it happening in the near future… but you never know.


And now for a little something for you. Caption this photo of Dan O'Shea and Hilary Davidson. The best caption wins a copy of EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES. Post your captions -- and your whatevers -- in the comments. No wagering.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

42 - eh

by John McFetridge

A new biopic about Jackie Robinson breaking the major leagues’ colour-line in 1947 opened last week and, as with Argo, there has been a lot of talk here about how the Canadian aspects of the story have been minimized.
Maybe they have been, maybe we Canadians overstate the effect of Montreal on Robinson’s 1946 season with the Royals, I’m not sure, but I am sure that we should stop whining about the way Hollywood cuts us out of their stories and start telling our own better.
There was a TV movie about the events in Argo made by Canadians that aired in 1981 called Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper, but I don't remember there being much 'caper' in it. It was certainly a serviceable, straightforward movie. Maybe it stuck too closely to the real story. In its review, Variety said:
 "... a detailed logistical account of the rescue may have been avoided because those events were in fact fairly mundane.
They resulted in an unsatisfying climax — the Americans simply answered a few questions at the airport and boarded their plane out of Iran.

Ordinariness of the conclusion was compounded by a series of quick cuts from scene to scene that robbed viewers of a well-defined struggle to the goal of freedom, and gave them only a few suspenseful snatches of that journey. ..."

Well, that does sound pretty Canadian, doesn't it.

When it comes to Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball, though, it would be tough to give Robsinon's year with the Royals, "an unsatisfying climax." They won the Junior World Series in six games, three straight at home, against the Louisville Colonels. After winning the first game in Louisville the Royals lost the next two 3-0 and 15-6 and limped back to Montreal as underdogs. The comeback victory topped a season in which Robinson faced death threats, constant taunts, stayed at different hotels than the rest of the team, ate in different restaurants (or hotel kitchens) and... well, you know the drill. I haven't seen 42 but I imagine all that's in there when Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers the next year.

But I still say if Canadians are unhappy that the support Robinson was given by the people of Montreal isn't in the movie, they should blame Canadian producers for not making their own movie.

I spent most of the 1990s trying to sell a script I wrote about Robinson's year with the Royals and never got any interest from Canadian producers. Of course, my script may have been terrible. Still, the real events in Montreal in 1946 should have been enough to at least get a nibble and then maybe a better writer to do a better draft - happens all the time in Hollywood. I finally managed to sell the story as a 60-minute CBC radio drama which I co-wrote with Michel Basilières.

In the meantime, I used Robinson and the Royals as a plot point in a short story I wrote a few years ago that was published online in Demolition Magazine. It’s called Barbotte and it's available for free here.

And one last thing. I’m very excited about the Spinetingler nomination for my novel, Tumblin’ Dice, a real surprise to me, so the publisher, ECW, has lowered the price of the ebook to $1.99 for April. The book got some good reviews when it was published but disappeared pretty quickly. And I noticed when I checked to see that the sale price was in effect that it has also received some very bad reviews, so be warned, it’s not for everybody. Another good reason for the free samples of ebooks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Some short crime films

We're in the middle of a move so I don't have a real post for today. I've written about short crime films before. Here some I watched recently.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Getting rid of baggage

by: Joelle Charbonneau

In the midst of writing, running after a 5 year-old and attempting to beat back this strange, unending strain of pneumonia I managed to contract, I a'm also moving to a new house.  The timing is not ideal, but hey—when is moving ever the ideal thing to do.  The house, however, is wonderful.  We’ll have a big back yard and I’ll have an office with a door!  Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that.

The thing I love about moving is that this is a perfect opportunity to purge from my life all sorts of things that have just been hanging around taking up space in my house.  Clothes I haven’t worn in years…old computers that once upon a time we thought we’d have refurbished…6 Christmas cookie jars that have never once been taken out of the box. (3 snowmen, 2 Santas and a Holiday Teddy Bear…um…I like to bake, but not that much!  And does anyone actually put cookies in cookie jars anymore?)

While packing, I ask the question – do I want to move this?  If the answer is no—off to Goodwill it goes.  Hurrah!  Boxes and boxes of stuff that has been taking up space are now gone.  Off to grace or take up space in someone else’s life.

It’s so easy to hang onto things that we don’t need, but after a while those things really do take up more than physical space.  Just seeing clutter or knowing there are lots of things you not only do not need, but do not want in your house can start to wear on your soul.  Because you have to dust it or because you wish you didn’t have it but haven’t found a good reason to get rid of it.  Or you feel you can’t because a family member gave it to you and you don’t want to hurt his or her feelings.  But moving is the perfect opportunity to get rid of just about anything.

And the thing is—the more stuff I get rid off, the better I feel.  I love knowing I have less.  Less clothing.  Less books (gasp!).  Less stuff that I know I don’t need taking up mental space in my life.

So despite the energy and time it takes to pack up our lives and move down the street (well, not quite down the street, but not really all that far from where we are now) I am filled with great joy.  Because with every object or article of clothing I remove from our lives, I feel lighter.  Less encumbered.  Delighted to lose some of the baggage that I didn’t realize was weighing me down.

So, for all of you feeling a little blah or a little weighed down by life – I challenge you to go through your house and pack a box of stuff that you don’t need.  Things you haven’t used in years, but for some reason or another haven’t removed from your space.  Pack it up. Give it away and while doing so give away some of the weight that you feel hanging on you.  I bet you anything you’ll feel better when you’re done.

***And if you’re like me and have lots of books that you’ve read and are ready to pass to a new home—consider donating those books to your local library.  Even if they don’t end up on their shelves, most libraries have used book sales that allow them to fund special programs or buy new books.***