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In the first book Calvin hated his name. He wanted everyone to call him Cracker, a childhood nickname based on the surname Graham, as well as his ability to crack codes. Teachers never complied, but family and friends were all on board, except when Jandy wanted to annoy him. They made a deal that if he she called him Cracker, he would call her "Sis," which she hated.

Back in Texas, Cracker is teased by kids who didn't know him before they went to Iran. Learning fun facts about the life of President Calvin Coolidge. he decides he prefers to be Cal the Cool, or just Cal. On the school bus in chapter 1, he calls Jandy, "Sis," and she retorts with the Texas slang, "Bubba." So they fall into their old comedy routine, with variations. Cal makes cryptic notes in his detective notebook, and Jandy comments that he's still a good code-cracker. The pair may not be as close since she turned 14, but a mysterious package on their back porch kick starts a new case to solve together--in between rehearsals for Alice in Wonderland. Too bad Maryam and Meshki (friend and dog they left in Iran) aren't here to help. Read More 
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Although I had lived there for a year, I needed to dig deeper into the history and culture of the land and people known as Persia, or Iran, in order to accurately portray a community of ex-pats in Khusestan province, at the end of 1978. My bibliography for SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE grew to 30+ books, as I eagerly gleaned tidbits to incorporate into the story. Then came the trickier task of keeping the narrative thread without bogging it down with too much detail. "Spread it thinly, like manure," is the advice often given at writers' conferences.

I thought a sequel would be easy! I knew most of my characters, and knew I was going to place them in a small town near Dallas, not unlike one I'd lived in. But again it would be set in a specific historical context. I should learn more about the immigrant experience for Iranians, which in many ways is different from mine as a GI bride from England. When the Islamic Revolution heats up, Jandy's friend Maryam flees her home and arrives in Texas, where it will be the Grahams' turn to help the Darabis feel welcome.

"Time for Tara Bahrampour!" I told the dogs as we headed for the day bed, a sunny reading spot in the spare bedroom of our last house, armed with my latest Amazon purchase, TO SEE AND SEE AGAIN: LIFE IN IRAN AND AMERICA. Then there was NEITHER EAST NOT WEST by Christiane Bird; PERSIAN MIRRORS by Elaine Sciolino; a couple more memoirs; and poetry by Rumi. My most recent research adventure was GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH by Mark Bowden - in case I decide to set the story in the fall of 1979, when the Embassy hostages were taken.

Sooner or later, I will finish RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR! I owe it to myself and all these authors who graciously shared their lives with me. Read More 
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Art is Jandy Graham's obsession. The first chapter of Secret of the Seventh Gate showed her walking home from school, hugging a sketchpad. Its sequel, Riddle of the Samovar, begins in a similar way. But now the Grahams are back in Texas, forced out of Iran by that country's Revolution, leaving behind her best friend, Maryam. The only bright spot for Jandy, as she readjusts to American life, is the opportunity to take art as an elective - but only if the counselor approves. Characters are not based on real people, but I do see a bit of myself and my daughter in Jandy's passion for art. It will drive the story and may help her solve another mystery with her brother, Calvin. Read More 
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Crabby's Classroom, Fag Cards, and the Lollipop Man

Surfing the Net one night, I came upon an article about a Victorian building in my hometown in England, scheduled for demolition. The high windows and natural stone in the photo triggered a memory of boys from Crabby Jones's class crouching in short grey trousers on the asphalt below and flicking "fag" cards. Without any other connotation in 1950s England, this was their term for collector cards issued by certain cigarette brands. The boys never shared their game, or marbles, or football with us girls. Around the corner in a separate playground, we had other amusements: cartwheels, trading beads, knitting with bobbins, French skipping with elastic bands around our ankles, and variations of tag.

This was Sandown C.E. Junior School, renamed the Broadway Centre, where I attended from ages 7 to 11, the equivalent of US grades 2-5. A nearby building housed the Infants, ages 5 and 6. Beyond the green gate, our "lollipop man" - so called for the shape of his official sign - escorted us across one of the town's main arteries, The Broadway, before and after school and at lunchtime. (Like most pupils, my sister and I walked about a quarter of a mile each way; very few arrived by car.) I'd remembered his name as Mr. Hunnicutt. Then I found an entry about him, complete with yellow-uniformed portrait, in an old exercise book. (See column on left.) It was Mr. Hunnywood.

I could fill a book with my Island childhood. I vowed to do just that as I jumped the waves in Sandown Bay at the age of 10. Birthday parties, carnivals, fetes, even shoplifting, already appear in my published works (ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, HOMEWARD TRACKS, TAPESTRY OF TIME, AREOPAGUS MAGAZINE, FRISCO POETS ANTHOLOGY). Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I write to keep alive the people and places I love. Writing pins down fleeting impressions of tactile experiences for family, myself, and perhaps a wider audience.

Fortunately, the decision about demolition of our old school has been deferred. But even if it goes ahead, no one can steal our memories - as I told my first "bosom buddy" Susan in a recent e-mail. Certain details are imprinted in our minds like indelible ink, though they may be different for each of us.

I like to think we could re-enter that building and hear the echoes of morning hymns, of multiplication tables and folk songs, of a teacher reading to us from Kipling and Twain. The two schools, along with Christ Church up the hill, where we performed our nativity plays and carol services, should all be preserved together. To me they are holy ground. Read More 

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There's a word for it?

Just days after giving up Facebook for Lent, bowing out of the Easter cantata, and going AWOL from two meetings, I chanced upon this snippet in Reader's Digest: "CANCELLELATION: The joy felt by someone who frees up his schedule by canceling an appointment or reneging on a social plan" (from WORDBIRDS, Simon & Schuster).

Yes! I've downed a quadruple dose of that feeling, and hope to do it again. After all, we are retired now, or semi-retired at least. How could my calendar fill up so fast? Have I become my own worst enemy? What happened to all those days that stretched ahead of me when I first moved to the country - time to paint, relax, dream, think, write, nap, read, or do nothing?

No one was depending on me to take a leadership role at the events I missed. Friends missed me, and a part of me missed them too, but, on balance, I knew I'd made the right choice. I owed it to myself. Much as I love people, I still crave periods of solitude. You might call them mental health retreats.

I still show up for (and enjoy) my part-time job, plus church activities and meals with family, but I look forward to less rushing from one meeting to another, and a lot more cancellelation. Read More 
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