Saturday, December 31, 2011


To all those sitting at home tonight, here’s a way to stay happy.

As writers you must be familiar with the comic poet Ogden Nash. If not, look him up, you’ll be delighted. Nash was famous for rhyming his poems, but not necessarily using meter. For instance, here’s a short one:

Adam had’em.

Here’s a longer one:

Call me an unAmerican hellion. This year I’m going to disconnect everything electric and spend Christmas like Tiny Tim and Mr. Pickwick.
You make me sickwick.

And here’s one that has both rhyme and meter, as well as being apropos:

Come, children, gather round my knee,
Something is about to be.
Tonight’s December thirty-first.
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark, it’s midnight, children dear,
Duck! Here comes another year.

My Christmas present from hubby was a Kindle. Yes, he bought a B&N Nook for my birthday in July, but he’s buying lots of books and reading them. The three I wanted aren’t available on the Nook yet. One was DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James (I am a fan of Phyllis Dorothy’s mysteries) in the style of and with characters from Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, etc. The C.S. Monitor ran a glowing review of it, including their last line, “I couldn’t have liked it more unless I was drenched in chocolate and Colin Firth read it to me.”

Surprisingly, of 81 reviews noted by Amazon, the book got no 5-star reviews, one 4-star and the rest 3.5 or below. My book COLD APRIL got three 5-star reviews and a 4-star. Since when am I a better writer than P. D. James? Perhaps some readers expected something else, maybe more violence, especially if they were younger readers. But I haven’t read it yet myself.

The book was published in the UK and now by Alfred Knopf (Random House) and they want $15.99 for the e-book. For $3 more I can get the hardcover, so I will. While waiting I’ll get Anne R. Allen’s THE GATSBY GAME which is on Kindle.

Anne R. Allen
P.D. James
Death Comes
Ogden Nash
Colin Firth

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I’m taking a couple of weeks off from my Blog for the holidays, but hope to be back on January 8th. Meanwhile, to keep busy, I suggest you try my recipe for PECAN PUMPKIN PIE. Everyone who comments on this site will get a recipe via e-mail so there’s time to make the pies and serve them at your Christmas dinner. In addition, I’m giving away seven copies of an anthology of romance short stores (one of which is mine, of course) and one each of my three most popular books.

Is this Pecan Pumpkin Pie really good? Well, I take them to our family dinner every year; and when I walk in the door, the first question I’m asked is, “Did you bring the pies?”

Furthermore, when my son was getting married and I asked what he wanted for a wedding present, he said, “Your pumpkin pie.”

I’d love to say it’s easy to make. And it is--sort of. But there is one thing to watch out for, and I’ll illustrate that by telling you what happened the first two times I tried it.

As you’ll see when you read the recipe, the pumpkin filling goes in the pie plate first and the “crust” goes on top before baking. The recipe called for lining the pie plate with waxed paper, so that, when you turned the pie upside down, it would slide out of the plate and you’d just peel off the paper for cutting and serving. Well, not quite. The problem was I had used a glass pie plate and no way would that pie come out! We ended up cutting portions anyway, and guests had to peel off bits of wax paper from their slice.

But I learned. I told myself that the reason the pie didn’t come out was because the glass pie plate was inflexible. The next year, I bought two of those foil pie plates from the supermarket and put the filling in those. But, when the pies were ready to go into the oven, I discovered the foil pans were too flexible and they collapsed. Yes, I had pie filling all over the oven, plus the oven door as well as the kitchen floor!

The trick (after two more pies had to be made): put the foil pans into glass pans first, then line the foil with wax paper, fill with batter, add the magic crust ingredients, and bake. Not only does that keep the pies intact for baking, but also for carrying them easily to grandmother’s house.

So that’s a Christmas present from me to you, and I hope your holidays are Merry. Come see me in the New Year and learn what Nora Roberts and I have in common. (Hint: it’s not money.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


This is a special blog to celebrate KISS OF DEATH DAY. KOD, as we lovingly refer to it, is the Mystery/Suspense Chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and is a fantastic place.  Although I haven't sold a specific "romantic suspense" novel yet, I often put elements of suspense or intrigue in my books and Lethal Ladies have helped tremendously. They are the best. And now--drum roll please--my very first straight mystery, EYE WITNESS, will be published next July by Mainly Murder Press.  Thanks again, KOD.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I’ve joined the Indie Publishing revolution and am very excited about it. In fact I have put three books up on Amazon within this month and Smashwords has sold two copies already.

Of course, most of my books have been available as e-books from their various publishers for a few years already, and usually my royalty statements show more e-book sales than trade paper. But this time I’ve done it myself (well, hubby did it actually, but I’m technologically illiterate, dontcha know).

The books Smashwords has sold are NORTH BY NORTHEAST and THE GREEN BOUGH, both for $2.99. Today he put up ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, and I priced it at 99 cents to see what would happen. Didn’t I read that some guy had sold a million copies of his 99-cent book? Plus the local newspaper book page listed two 99-cent books on their best seller list recently (and they were not by famous writers like Stephen King or Sue Grafton).

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING is the second romance novel I wrote, way back in the early 1980s and was published by Kensington for their short-lived Precious Gems line. It was set in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Two of the characters in the book are 85-year-old twin aunts of the hero, and on two different occasions I was told by readers that they knew those ladies and wondered how I came to know them. The truth was I didn’t. I thought I had invented them. Small world, isn’t it?

Because my hubby did it for me, I can’t boast about how easy it is to self-publish like this, although many other authors have said so. However, reading the blogs of Anne R. Allen, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and J.A. Konrath convinced me this is the wave of the future and I hope to be there.

Besides, I have my own horror stories about publishers who literally held my books for years: one for 26 months and another for 35 months before returning them. Another published my book but went out of business before paying me. Still another wanted the rights for the life of the copyright. I didn’t sign with them: I may be technically challenged, but I’m not stupid. I also rejected a contract that offered me a “generous” ten percent discount on any of my own books I might buy. And one which charged writers $35 to enter their annual contest. One publisher--a woman--claimed to be suddenly hospitalized and asked her authors to please buy a bunch of books so she could pay that month’s bills. (I fell for that one; found out later she did it every year.) One male publisher wanted to put his name on my book as co-author. (Oh no, that was an agent.) But my agent stories will have to wait for another day and another blog.

Hey, writers, does any of that sound familiar? Have you had your own problems with publishers? I’d love to hear about them, and maybe we can laugh through our tears together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Since most romance readers (and writers) are women, I think it’s safe to blog this week about something I did a few weeks ago, which all women do. I went shopping for a shirt. Well, actually I tried to buy a shirt, a “top” to go with the black pants I would wear in the musical COME TO THE CABARET in which I appeared last month. The shirt was to be a solid color, besides, and I had only one such top, which I wore in a previous musical.

I occasionally shop at Draper and Damon’s, but have done less recently due to (1) their sizes run large, requiring me to buy Petite-Extra Small, whereas I normally wear a plain “Small,” and (2) they always sell out of PXS sizes before I get there. However, I also receive their catalog so a sales person told me that, if I see a shirt I like in the catalog, I should order it or come into the store immediately.

So, needing one for the musical, I opened the D&D catalog the moment it arrived and saw a red shirt that I thought would do. It was priced at $39.95 and the catalog had a sticker on the front for $5 off any item costing $40 or more.

You guessed it already, didn’t you? I went to the store that very day (after phoning to be sure they had one in my size and color) and tried it on. It was still a wee bit large, but (as I’ve done before) I decided a wash in hot water and dry in a hot dryer would probably shrink it just enough. At the checkout desk I asked for the discount and was told the computer wouldn’t allow it. I suggested that, for a difference of five cents, they could give me the discount anyway, but the clerk insisted she couldn’t.

“I have to follow the rules.”

I replied, “That seems unfair. When you price an item five cents below the amount that’s eligible for a discount, it appears you have no intention of actually giving the discount to the customer.”

“I don’t make the rules,” she said.

“Then speak to someone who does make the rules, because this one has just cost you a customer.” And I walked out empty-handed.

Did I do the right thing? I think so. I grew up believing “The customer is always right,” and it seems bad business to me to treat a customer so shabbily for a matter of five cents. Have you ever walked away from a deal you thought was unfair?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I’ve just read the first three pages of a novel (Amazon and some publishers let you look inside a book before deciding to buy it) which shall remain nameless. The British author is a man whose well-known mother wrote a book years ago that I loved. The mother should have edited her son’s book before he sent it out, but apparently her celebrity was enough to overcome his poor writing skills.

Okay, it's just my opinion, but the things I found in less than a thousand words at the beginning of the story, have been listed dozens of times in writing articles and books on “what not to do.”

To begin with, he starts with the weather. From what I’ve read, that cliche died with Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Item number two. We’re told, “Don’t describe your point-of-view character.” Yet, right there in the first paragraph are sentences with the viewpoint character finding “...tears on her rosy cheeks...” followed by, “...nipping at her brown eyes...” and “...hat pulled over her short hennaed hair.” Like she knows her cheeks are rosy, or thinks about the color of her eyes and what she does to her hair at that moment? Give me a break.

But there’s more. Being the first page of the first chapter, there’s only space for two more paragraphs and then we’re on page two, where the author writes: “...she asked concernedly.” What? The author thinks her question, “What’s the matter?” doesn’t show her concern, and he has to point that out to the reader?

The top of page three contains the following:

“...shook her head incredulously.”

“...he glared contemptuously at her.”

Pardon me, but didn’t I learn not to use such adverbs, but to let the dialogue and action convey the attitude of the characters?

Is it any wonder I stopped reading at that point? Why didn’t the editor stop there too and throw the book in the “Return to sender” basket? Because his mother is So-and-So, that’s why. But couldn’t they at least have cleaned up the prose?

What’s worse is that this novel was published by one of the Big Six traditional publishing houses in the U.S. What hope is there for me or the rest of us who follow the rules? Apparently, if you know the right person, the rules don’t apply. Like it wasn’t hard enough already to get published.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Last week, I made the mistake of ranting about bad punctuation to a group of fellow writers. I was, rightly, reminded that e-mails are often written hastily and not proofread, so I should have allowed for that. I later realized that I was probably cranky because I was facing another surgery due to skin cancer on my face. I apologized, and my friends kindly accepted it.

However, some friends commented that ranting has its good points, so--in the interest of getting a few things off my chest, as it were--I decided to rant a little more today.

Daylight Savings Time (DST)

This week we changed from Daylight Savings back to Standard Time, and I think I’m not the only person who hates that. It apparently seemed like a good idea when it was proposed in 1895, but scientists now tell us it’s not good for our health to mess with bodily rhythms and interfere with our sleep. We’re not the only country which does this. Some countries have never used DST, and some have tried it and stopped. Even here in the U.S., not every state changes the time twice a year. I believe Arizona and Hawaii don’t, plus one county in Indiana.

Once, traveling in Europe, I ran into a two-hour change, which was really mind-boggling. As I boarded a tour bus in the early-morning darkness, the man in front of me commented, “I didn’t know I was going to see so many sunrises.” (True story, but I put that in my inspirational romance, ROMAN HOLIDAY.)

That aside, who likes having to adjust our wristwatches and every clock in the house? To say nothing of our computers, TV sets and recording devices. Some years ago manufacturers of VCRs added a built-in automatic switch, but then the government changed the effective dates, producing an even worse foul-up. If Congress were really smart, they’d fix things that bug us, instead of starting wars.

Delivery Room Visitors

Dear Abby’s column--in which a mother-in-law complained about not being wanted in the delivery room at her grandchild’s birth--inspired this rant.

I admit I’m old, but when did the practice of inviting people to watch a woman give birth begin? I bore three children, and only the doctor and nurse got to see me sweating and straining and half-naked. That is not a look I want to be remembered for. Why can’t the relatives wait a few minutes, let the poor mother have some privacy and “ooh and aah” when Mom has her hair combed and the baby is cleaned up and cuddly?

Enough for today. Maybe I should take a cold shower. But feel free to comment, even disagree with me. I don’t have a monopoly on ranting.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I’m really going to try to write in this blog every week from now on. After the six posts I did about the Titanic, I was so involved in rehearsals for a musical in which I sang three songs, I had no time or energy left. But my musical career will now take a hiatus while I go back to writing. Except for one more thing having to do with Titanic.

The musical, titled COME TO THE CABARET, was not only chock-full of songs that were once sung in cabarets here and in Europe since 1881, but a peek into what was going on in the world during those years, because cabarets were places that sold liquor and were frequented by poets, composers, writers and artists. As you may remember from the musical CABARET which became a (slightly different) film with Liza Minelli and Joel Grey, they were also places where misfits hung out, where protest songs--and protests themselves--often got their start. The songs often told stories, and telling stories is just what we writers do, isn’t it? We just tell ours in prose, not in music and rhyme.

One of the songs I performed was called “Something Cool” and I had never heard of it before. It was supposedly written about Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams’ award-winning play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. As you know, Blanche was a deeply troubled person, but I’ve always had much sympathy for her, because her life did not go well. The young man she loved didn’t love her in return, and as a result she made mistakes. Then other family members took advantage of Blanche’s vulnerable nature, ending with the rape that sent her into madness. In a few lines at the end of the song, I tried to portray her as a lost soul who was rejected once again. Singing that was acting, and a abrupt departure from the light-hearted music before and after my “bit.”

So, what was the one last thing about Titanic?
Glad you reminded me.

A reader of my novel COLD APRIL, set on said ship, asked about the third class accommodations on board and then suggested I tell my Blog readers about that. It has to do with bathtubs. In third class--also called Steerage--there were only two bathtubs, one for men and one for women. And there were 706 men, women and children berthed in Steerage.

Not to worry. In the first place, the voyage was to last only a week, Wednesday to Wednesday, and in those days (this was 1912 remember, a hundred years ago next April) it was not unusual for families to take a bath (in an iron tub on the kitchen floor) only once a week. Probably Saturday night in order not to offend the churchgoers on Sunday morning. At that time, many people in the lower classes thought even bathing that often was unnecessary and many believed it was even hazardous to their health. So a real bathtub was a luxury and, furthermore, the users could have clean water, not what was left over from their parents or six brothers and sisters who washed before them.

I’ll leave on that note and hope you’ll make a comment or two about CABARET, STREETCAR or bathtubs.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Many films were made about the tragic event, but--inasmuch as Director James Cameron made his after the ship was located under water--his is probably the most accurate. He’d seen the latest documentary aired on television and “tried to get it right.” Not that he totally succeeded. I’ve watched my DVD of the film many times, and this is my own opinion of whether or not he was successful.

First, he admits he exaggerated some things for the purpose of telling a gripping, “must-see” movie. As I mentioned earlier, he showed locked gates, whereas testimony denies there were any.

Second, he admits that, after the bow broke away from the stern, the angle of the ship changed and was not as steep as before. So his scenes of the stern at a 45-degree angle--and passengers sliding and falling down the steep incline--were done to heighten the moviegoer’s feeling of desperation, and not because it was true. Passengers in the lifeboats who watched the actual sinking and were interviewed during the two inquiries that followed, told a different story.

After the film came out, some critics complained that--when the iceberg appeared and the First Officer called, “Hard A-Starboard”--the steersman turned the wheel the wrong way. However, as was explained in my earlier post, that wasn’t true. Cameron got that right.

At about the same time, however, Cameron shows Rose and Jack on the deck, talking and kissing, and she is wearing a short-sleeved party dress. Moments before, he showed Fleet and Lee in the crow’s nest, shivering in their heavy coats and caps, but Rose is gaily walking about outside when the temperature had dropped to below freezing.

Not everyone who sees the film will be as concerned as I was about the fact that all the women on board the ship were wearing bright red lipstick. Did no one tell Cameron or the makeup department that simply wasn’t done in 1912? I wrote a memoir of my husband’s aunt, set in 1913-14 (THE GREEN BOUGH), and while I was interviewing her, she assured me that “nice” women did not wear “lip-rouge,” as they called it then. Only actresses on the stage (and they were considered a lower class) wore it.

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve watched two other black-and-white films set on the Titanic, one with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, released in 1953. The filmakers thinking the ship went down in one piece is an understandable mistake, but showing Clifton Webb buying a ticket from a person in third class because the ship was full is inexcusable. There were many empty cabins and the wealthy man could certainly have found one in first class.

The other, a British film starring Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller, was titled A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and was more accurate in spite of some minor errors due to the ship not having been found at that time, as well as some cinematic “license.”

It’s been my pleasure to provide information about Titanic that you might not have known, and I hope you will read and enjoy COLD APRIL.

Monday, September 26, 2011


On April 25, 1912, firemen from Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, refused to work on the ship because of insufficient lifeboats and caused a strike. The company insisted that the collapsible boats they provided had been tested and were adequate, but the men picketed, saying those boats were old, formerly used on troopships. Furthermore some collapsibles refused to open and one man had put his hand through the canvas side. The firemen were accused of mutiny, but the magistrates refused to fine or imprison them. When faulty boats were replaced, the strikers returned and the ship sailed on May 15.

on learning of the Titanic’s sinking, a U. S. Senator from Michigan, William A. Smith (not to be confused with E. J. Smith, captain of the Titanic) called for an inquiry, the results of which were to be a reform of the laws governing ocean travel. In addition to requiring enough lifeboats for everyone on board, other safety measures were adopted. More ships were outfitted with double hulls, and watertight compartments had complete bulkheads. Crews were required to be proficient in the handling of lifeboats and passengers required to attend a boat drill where they would learn how to don a life jacket and which lifeboat to board. Cruise ship passengers still do that today.

North Atlantic shipping lanes were moved forty miles south during winter if there was any danger of ice, and ice patrols were formed to keep ships out of the path of icebergs. This became our present day Coast Guard.

One of the most important changes in England came about gradually, but the Titanic disaster is often cited as the beginning of the movement. That was the end of the belief that Steerage passengers--the lower class--were expendable. They resented being considered less worthy of living than wealthy passengers, and they began to insist on respect and the ability to rise above the station into which they’d been born. The lesson of the Titanic and, later, of World War I, taught them that leadership was not an exclusive possession of the rich. They changed their attitude and took more control of their lives.

Yes, the U.K. still has a queen, princes and princesses, Lords and Ladies. Yet immigrants continue to come here because of our Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...”

* * *
A little-known but interesting (to me) result of the sinking of Titanic was because it allowed a woman to be reunited with her children. A French couple with two small children was having marital problems and they separated for awhile, the wife taking their little boys to her mother’s home. The husband decided to kidnap the children and take them to America, so he pretended to want them only for the Easter weekend.

His wife agreed, but instead he went to Southhampton, used another name and boarded Titanic. When the ship was sinking, he couldn’t board a lifeboat and passed his two children over the heads of other passengers to give them to women already in Collapsible D. The husband perished, and the children, aged two and three, who knew no English, were called “Waifs of the Sea.” However, their picture appeared in many newspapers, their mother recognized them, and the White Star Line sent her to New York to get them and bring them home. It was a kind of happy ending. A recently-published book, DANGEROUS AFFAIRS, by Gardner Brooks, is basely loosely on that true story.

There will be one more Blog in this series and the subject will be a few films made about the Titanic tragedy. Please check it out next week.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Earlier that evening, before Titanic struck the iceberg, wireless operator Phillips had been feverishly sending messages, trying to catch up on what had accumulated while his equipment was down. These were forwarded through the relay station at Cape Race on Newfoundland. Though the operators were also required to (and did) send shipping messages to the bridge, they worked for the Marconi company, not the White Star Line. Passengers’ messages were a priority since they were paying for them.

At 11:30 p.m. Phillips was suddenly interrupted by the voice of the Californian’s wireless operator. “Say, old man, we are surrounded by ice and stopped.”

It was considered rude to interrupt another ship’s messages without asking permission first, and Phillips--who had been working for almost twelve hours straight and had just spent a large part of that time repairing his system--snapped back, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m busy. I am working Cape Race.”

The Californian’s operator fell silent, sent no more messages about ice, shut down his equipment and retired for the night. Did this confrontation have anything to do with the later refusal of the ship to come to Titanic’s rescue?


More than twice as many people perished in the Titanic sinking compared to those who survived, but it needn’t have been as bad as it was. My research turned up a few things that may have contributed to the death toll.

First, everyone agrees there weren’t enough lifeboats. That was obviously the fault of the White Star Line which should have provided more. However, Titanic actually held more than were required by law. Unfortunately, the law was written before shipping companies began building ever larger vessels to accommodate the surge of immigrants to the new world, as well as the desire of wealthy people to travel back and forth to Europe. Titanic had davits installed for forty-eight lifeboats to be stored on the Boat Deck, but providing that many actual boats was vetoed by J, Bruce Ismay, among others, who felt they would “clutter up the deck” and obscure passengers’ views.

Besides, with the newspapers calling the ship “virtually unsinkable” (The White Star line advertising never said that.), more seemed unnecessary. The sixteen required standard lifeboats, plus the four collapsibles could have saved 1178 lives if they’d all been filled to capacity. But many--especially the earliest ones to be launched from Titanic--were not. For instance, Boat Number One left the ship with twelve people instead of forty.

Why the reluctance of passengers to get into the lifeboats and save themselves? There are several reasons. Due to the sound of the impact and the stopping of the engines, most passengers knew fairly soon that something had happened. Parties had been held that Sunday evening, so many partygoers were still dressed in their finery. They took to the decks to see whatever they could and to discuss the situation with one another. Participants at two tables of Bridge in the smoking room barely looked up from their game.

Some stewards, not wanting people to panic, made light of the problem. Many passengers were told it was merely a drill and they could soon return to their staterooms. The band was encouraged to keep playing (the new ragtime music), and lights blazed all over the ship. Furthermore, it was so cold on deck that many chose to retreat to warm rooms instead of get into a relatively tiny lifeboat which (in the beginning at least) would lower them some sixty-five feet into the icy, black Atlantic.

Since more third class than first class passengers perished, many believed at the time that it was deliberate discrimination. True, it wasn’t easy to get from third class to the boat deck, but that was a requirement of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1907. (see Sparks’s Titanic FAQs for details). Not only were there several ways up, stewards were supposed to help passengers find those routes. However, it was a new ship, many stewards were just as new, and--with the sudden necessity of lowering and manning lifeboats, those extra duties were easily overlooked.

Even Cameron’s film shows locked gates that kept steerage passengers below. but everything I’ve read disputes that. The London Independent, in an article published April 11, 1998, states that the Public Records Office carries a report that “third class passengers were not prevented from getting to upper decks by locked doors or anything else.”

There are at least two other reasons for third class passengers’ higher death rate. Many immigrants did not speak or understand English. Then, when finally convinced they must abandon the ship, they wanted to carry all their possessions (literally all their worldly goods) with them. Some narrow stairways leading to upper decks couldn’t accommodate the luggage and, in other cases, the material created bottlenecks.

When it became obvious there weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, the call went out for “women and children first.” Many wealthy men, including John Jacob Astor, watched their wives leave the ship and stood resolutely at the railing assuring them they’d meet up with them “later.” Mrs. Ida Strauss, however, wife of Macy’s department store owner, deliberately stayed behind with her husband.

Those were the scenes--while writing COLD APRIL--that always brought tears to my eyes. I had to ask a man in our critique group to read that chapter aloud, because I couldn’t trust myself to do so without breaking down. Yet, I must add, unlike Cameron’s film, my hero and heroine--although sorely tested--survive. At least one reviewer admitted she shed tears while reading the book. If you did, I’d love to know.

Monday, September 12, 2011


If the blunder alleged by the woman author had actually occurred, and Titanic crashed head-on into the iceberg, a different outcome might have emerged. The bow was probably the strongest part of the ship, perhaps in anticipation of the more likely chance it would take the brunt of any collision.

But, even in 1912, the officers and passengers knew the iceberg had caused severe damage to the starboard (right) side of the ship. After Robert Ballard found the vessel, inspections were done and studies made providing more accurate information. Namely that the steel used in ship construction at the time did not deform under the blows it received, but fractured. That was especially likely under extremely cold conditions, and the water temperature that night was twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the collision caused rivets, which held the side plates together, to pop out and some rivet heads to be sheared off.

Another reason why so much water filled the ship so quickly was that the sixteen watertight compartments were actually not totally watertight. The bulkheads dividing them rose only partway up, like partitions separating cubicles in some office buildings. Some bulkheads rose only to D Deck, others to E Deck, barely fifteen feet above the waterline. As sea water entered and filled a compartment, it was able to flow over the top of the bulkhead and enter the next compartment. And so on.

The captain ordered the lifeboats to be lowered and asked the Marconi operators to send out the distress signal, CQD. Interestingly, that old Morse code was sent at first, but later they used the “new” code--SOS--which was easier and faster to transmit. The Titanic’s use was said to be the first in history. The Cunard liner, Carpathia, fifty-eight miles away, responded and began its four-hour journey to the site.

In addition to the wireless distress calls, Quartermaster Rowe took eight white rockets from a locker on the poop deck and brought them to the bridge, where, at regular intervals between 12:45 and 1:30, he set them off. But no response came. During the official inquiry, crew and passengers reported having seen lights from what they assumed was another ship between eleven to twenty miles away and kept expecting it to come to their rescue, but it never moved.

However, there was a ship, Californian, whose own log showed it to be at about that position, having stopped at 10:30 because of the large amount of ice ahead. Later, officers on board the Californian testified they had seen the rockets, but received no orders to do anything. The captain denied having seen Titanic and said it must have been a different, smaller ship, which soon disappeared. To this day, there is still controversy about whether the captain, Stanley Lord (not to be confused with Walter Lord who wrote A NIGHT TO REMEMBER about the tragedy), was derelict in not going to Titanic’s aid.

Read my next blog for more about that “mystery” ship and why so many died that April night close to 100 years ago.

Monday, September 5, 2011



On September 22, 2010, the newspaper, London Telegraph, published an interview with an author, Louise Patten, who claimed to know the real truth about why Titanic struck the iceberg. Patten, the granddaughter of Titanic’s Second Officer Charles Lightoller, revealed a secret told to her by her grandmother. In her interview, Patten says Lightoller told his wife that he lied during both inquiries into the disaster, that striking the iceberg was actually caused by a “blunder” by Hichens.

In 1912, ship steering was changing from the Tiller system (sail) to the Rudder system (steam), and the two systems were the complete opposite of one another. Under the Tiller system (used on Titanic) “Hard a-Starboard” meant to turn the wheel to the left. Under the Rudder system, to turn it right. (Seamanship in the Age of Sail by John Harland) The steersman (Hichens) supposedly panicked and did the wrong thing.

Lightoller, the most senior officer to survive the sinking, told no one except his wife, who later told her daughter and granddaughter, and they kept this secret so as not to damage his, or the White Star Line’s, reputation. Patten revealed it in a book, GOOD AS GOLD, a novel she published in 2010, just in time for the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking. And conveniently at the very time of her newspaper interview.

In fact there was no “blunder.” Overseen by Officer James Moody, who stood behind him, Hichens turned the wheel correctly and the ship turned to port in front of the iceberg. Turning the ship the wrong way would have meant it would either crash head-on into the berg or pass it on its port side. Yet the gaping holes were on the starboard side of the ship. Ms. Patten explains that by saying the “blunder” was “corrected” almost immediately, but by then it was too late to avoid the collision.

Except to sailors (even those with small boats), the tiller system is confusing, and Ms. Patten may be excused for not understanding. However, it’s one thing to rewrite history in a novel, and another to report it to a newspaper as if it were true. Perhaps Lightoller did tell that story to his wife, and she, her daughter and granddaughter all kept the secret. But, meanwhile, all, except Ms. Patten, have died.

Furthermore, the records show that Charles Lightoller wasn’t even on the bridge during those crucial moments, and Patten, with her book, is far from an unbiased source. Ms. Sally Nilsson, the great-granddaughter of Robert Hichens, (who, after the collision, was assigned to Lifeboat #6 and therefore survived) has written a book about Hichens’ life to be released by The History Press in November, 2011. (May be pre-ordered on Amazon.)

In her remarks to the Telegraph, Ms. Patten also alleged that Bruce Ismay persuaded Captain Smith to continue sailing after the crash and they did so for ten more minutes, thereby causing more water to enter the ship and hasten its demise.

This contradicts everything I’ve read, particularly official inquiry accounts from the testimony by crew and passengers, which state that the captain came on deck “just seconds after the impact,” that he inquired if the watertight doors had been closed (they had). He ordered, “All stop,” and Murdoch rang the message to the engine room. Smith then asked Officer Boxhall to inspect the ship, and after that, a carpenter rushed up to the bridge stating that water was coming in. Chief Officer Wilde appeared next, saying the situation was serious, and Smith asked that Thomas Andrews, the architect, be asked to come up. It was only then that Bruce Ismay appeared, “wearing carpet slippers and a suit over pajamas” and Smith informed him the ship was damaged.

No testimony from the official records says Ismay told Smith to keep sailing. His family has rejected the idea that he would have done so and resent the slur that he was responsible for so many deaths. Testimony from the official inquiries states that the ship never moved forward under its own power after striking the iceberg, and there’s no report the engines started up again.

As for why Titanic struck the iceberg, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around. But why did so few passengers survive? I’ll cover that next week. Meanwhile, what do you think about this report by Ms. Patten. Did she make it up to sell copies of her new book? Would you do that?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Titanic Strikes Iceberg - Why?

It seems that tragic events usually have more than one cause. If this hadn’t happened, and that hadn’t occurred at the same time... Such was the case on the night of April 14, 1912.

In the first place, was the ship traveling too fast? Day by day, as it crossed the Atlantic, it covered more nautical miles than the day before. Although Titanic was supposed to be the largest, strongest and most luxurious ship ever built, speed had never been its goal. However, J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, was on board, and rumors abounded that he urged Captain Smith to increase Titanic’s speed. What a coup for him if they beat the Olympic’s record and arrived in New York on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. Did the captain heed that advice? Whether he did or not, the ship was obviously traveling too fast for the conditions surrounding them that night.

There had been at least six warnings about ice during the day and evening, delivered by Marconigram. Titanic contained a special set of rooms on the Boat Deck for the Marconi Wireless Company and its operators. At about noon on Sunday, Captain Smith showed one such message to Ismay from the ship Baltic which stated that there were “icebergs and a large quantity of field ice” in the area they traveled. Ismay put the message in his pocket. But on Sunday night, the wireless set developed problems and Radioman Phillips spent four hours fixing it. By then he was swamped with messages from passengers that had to be sent. Did iceberg sighting messages go unheeded or unreceived due to that?

At the same time, the binoculars were missing from their usual place in the crow’s nest. When Fred Fleet and Reginald Lee, the two lookouts, took their turn at the watch, they complained to the second officer, Charles Lightoller, and a search was conducted but without success.

The night was bitterly cold, but there was no moon, and the sea was so calm it was later described as looking like “a piece of polished plate glass.” There was also no breeze to stir waves that might kick up at the base of an iceberg and reveal it.

Finally, at 11:40 p.m., Fred Fleet spotted something ahead. In seconds he recognized it as a huge iceberg, gave three sharp tugs on the bronze bell and grabbed the telephone connecting him to the bridge. He said, “Iceberg right ahead.” First Officer Murdoch shouted, “Hard a-starboard” to quartermaster Hichens (or Hitchens), then rang for “Full steam astern” (reverse direction) on both engines. Hichens immediately spun the wheel, and slowly the bow turned to port. As the ship glided past, they realized the iceberg had been hard to spot because it was a “blue” berg, recently turned over and still dark with sea water.

Thus, although the Titanic seemed to have missed the iceberg, the starboard side of the hull below the waterline scraped along the under-water mass of the berg. The tear, although more modest than originally thought, did immediate and irreparable damage, and over 1500 lives were doomed. However, in my next post you’ll learn about a woman who claims something else happened that night.

Reader: What do you think was most responsible for hitting the iceberg? Should the ship, like the Californian, have shut down the engines and stopped for the night?

Monday, August 22, 2011


In 1898, fourteen years before the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank, a book was published by Morgan Robertson, which seemingly predicted the disaster. The book was “FUTILITY, Or the Wreck of the Titan.”

Yes, Robertson named his imaginary ship the Titan, long before the British shipping company, White Star Line, named its second of three enormous ships Titanic. But the similarities between the fictional and the real don’t end there. The Titan was the largest ship ever built at the time and deemed “unsinkable.” Around midnight on an April night, while sailing between England and New York, it struck an iceberg on its starboard side and--due to insufficient lifeboats--took most of its passengers down with it. Sound familiar?

There’s more. In both cases, the ships were made of steel, had three propellers and two masts, and could accommodate 3000 passengers. In addition, many details were close, if not identical. The Titan was 800 feet long, the Titanic 882. The Titan’s horsepower was 40,000, the Titanic’s 46,000. Titan had 19 watertight compartments, the Titanic 16. Titan carried 24 lifeboats, Titanic 20. There were 3000 people on board the Titan, 2228 on the Titanic. Titan’s speed at impact with the iceberg was 25 knots, the Titanic’s 22.5 knots. However, whereas in the novel a mere 13 people survived, 705 survived Titanic.

I’ve read FUTILITY, and the plot of Robertson’s book is nothing like any of the other novels about the Titanic that I’ve read or James Cameron’s film. Aside from that, it’s not well written and no doubt sank quickly after publication (pun intended) rendering it all but forgotten by April, 1912, when Titanic began its rendezvous with an iceberg and the leap into history.

Inasmuch as next year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking, interest is mounting all over the world. At least two cruises to its gravesite are planned and even more books have been written about the possibly most famous ship ever launched. Robertson’s book was published in 1898 but I doubt it could be today. Who would believe a story in which (1) the largest and strongest ship ever built, (2) deemed unsinkable, (3) on its maiden voyage, (4) carrying some of the world’s wealthiest people (5) would strike an iceberg and sink in less than three hours?

In 1894 my grandfather, John Ashworth, emigrated to the U.S. via the New York, the ship which almost collided with Titanic in Southhampton in 1912, so I’ve had a lifelong interest in the ship. I wrote my novel COLD APRIL in 2008 and it was published in December of 2010. My extensive research led me to FUTILITY, along with many other facts that didn’t find their way into my book. This is the first of several Blog posts in which I’ll share them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I live in a large gated community of five thousand homes, where eighty clubs cater to every interest. After my husband and I moved in, I became involved in two activities. I wanted to join a writers club, but there not being one, I started it myself.

As a former amateur actress, I joined the Performing Arts Club and had a part in one of their plays. Two years later, I was voted Vice President of Plays and suggested we produce the famous play THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

Unfortunately, the president of the club didn’t like it and--as I discovered later--he and his wife, who were professional actors, wanted the leading roles in a different play that year. They passed out copies of that script to all board members and encouraged them to vote for it instead of the one my committee chose. Friends insisted I’d been unfairly treated.

I then decided that, since the couple had had the play they wanted, mine could be suggested the following year. It was, and the president protested again. During the day of voting--while I was in another state attending a family wedding--he suggested a different play and mine lost again. I had no reason to believe a third try would succeed, so the project seemed impossible.

Meanwhile, however, new residents moved into our community and two very talented actors became my friends. Karen (who I wanted to play the female lead), and Marty (a perfect male lead), were behind me and offered to help get the play performed. Together we approached another retirement complex nearby which had a performing arts club, and their board agreed to put on the play, the president of the club signing the Agreement.

A week later, he told me they’d changed their mind. I learned a member of their board was a good friend of our club president and he had probably sabotaged our deal.

Once more the project seemed doomed, but the idea that the play should be presented refused to go away. I was reminded of a little theatre in town which put on several plays a year, and spoke with their director. She was willing to rent the theatre to me and we set a date. Because the theatre was small, and I wanted to keep the ticket price reasonable, I realized the production might sustain a financial loss. However, I planned to use my personal savings if necessary.

Other problems arose. I had to become an "entity" which would "hire" the theatre for the play, which meant paying a county fee and publishing my fictitious business name in the local newspaper. Then I had to buy liability insurance for that entity. Two weeks later the theatre closed down altogether.

By now, even my husband, who had supported me, told me to forget the idea. However, in spite of now having been rejected four times, I continued to feel it was the right thing to do.

Karen reminded me that some of the writers in my writers club wanted to write plays, and suggested I go to their board and ask if they’d sponsor the play. Three days later, the association gave permission and we could do the play on our own stage.

The only dates we could get the theatre were June 10-13, and many residents leave the desert during the summer, but ten actors from the Performing Arts Club (hereinafter PAC) signed on. To complete the cast, I took a small part in addition to directing, and we included actors who didn’t live in our community.

And then more problems arose. The actor playing the butler resigned and I had to replace him. A month later one of the two main actresses backed out. Again I was told to forget the project: after all, tickets were not on sale yet. But Karen and Marty were still there and we had made four large posters and paid for advertising, so I kept on. Two weeks later, a friend from my writing club agreed to take the part.

Finally, twelve days before opening, one of the outside actors, who had a very important part, failed to come to rehearsal and we heard he had simply "disappeared." He didn’t answer his phone or e-mails. No one knew where he was.

I called every male actor I knew but none was available. Suddenly it was Wednesday, and the play was due to open eight days later, on Thursday night. I spent the entire day on the phone. I called the acting coach at the local college and phoned every man between the ages of twenty and sixty who was listed as a member of the desert actors network, but I spoke mainly to answering machines.

One man said he might do it if I paid him (no other actors were being paid) and, desperate, I agreed. He asked me to leave a copy of the script at the gate to our complex, but when I took it there, I discovered they were not allowed to hold things for people. I took it to the front desk of the clubhouse and told the actor to pick it up there. At five p.m. he phoned to say he had been to the clubhouse but the desk had closed at 4:30. He was no longer interested. I was home alone. I felt physically sick and couldn’t swallow. Tears ran down my face. Then, as if it were a voice, I heard the words, "Go forward."

Yes, we had a rehearsal at six, so I went to the theatre. In the middle of rehearsing act one, my cell phone rang, and it was one of the actors I’d phoned that day, returning my call. He said he might be interested and came over right away. He had acted in and directed many plays in the valley, and not only looked the part, he played it perfectly and knew all his lines by the next day. The cast called him a "miracle."

The show was a huge success. People leaving the theatre said it was the best play ever done here, and four people left their e-mail addresses and asked to be notified for our next one. The Writers Club, which paid all expenses, made a small profit.

What impresses me most is how every seeming setback along the way turned out to be a blessing. Had we done the play with PAC instead of my own theatre company, we could not have used the four experienced outside actors. Had we done it in the neighboring complex, it would have required traveling and working with a smaller stage. Had we done it at the little theatre, there would have been even more traveling, plus fewer people could have seen the play, to say nothing of the huge cost to me.

As for the actors who quit during rehearsals, the butler we used turned out to be far better than the original one cast. The actress who stepped in was far better than the first would have been; and the "miracle" actor at the end was not only better than our original choice, but better than anyone else I could ever have chosen for the part.

As proprietor of my acting troupe, Summer Repertory Players, I had joined the Desert Theatre League which is like the Broadway Tonys but for plays and musicals in this valley and, in October, they issued nominations for the 110 productions they judged that year. THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER received eight! On November 14th at the 23rd annual Desert Theatre League Stars Awards dinner, we won four! Not only was I not expecting to win any, we almost swept the Comedy awards. Marty won for Best Lead Actor, Karen for Best Lead Actress, John (our British non-resident) won Best Supporting Actor, and I won for Best Director of a comedy.

My dream of producing the play I loved came true in ways I could never have imagined. Once again, persistence pays.