Friday, October 28, 2011

In High Cotton

By Maggie Toussaint

On a recent trip to the North Carolina shore, I enjoyed seeing the snowy whiteness of field upon field of ripe cotton. The plants appeared to be about knee-high, with generous mounds of fluff at the end of each stem.

I live in coastal Georgia, and history tells us that cotton used to be a big cash crop around here. To my knowledge, there’s not a single field of cotton grown in my county now, but apparently, cotton is a Big Deal in North Carolina.

These days, cotton havesting and processing at mills are done by machines.

There are many uses for cotton – clothing, medical gauze, bandages, towels, baby diapers, sheets, drapes, book covers, toys,shoes, glove liners, just to name a few.

In late fall the plants are tall, yielding the phrase High Cotton. The Urban Dictionary has three definitions for the phrase: well off in terms of happiness or wealth, having a lot of money, and coming into very good circumstances.

Fun cotton facts:

Fragments of cotton fabric dating back to 5,000 B.C. have been excavated from Mexico and Pakistan.

Wikipedia estimates 25 million tons of cotton are grown annually.

This wad of raw cotton was on the side of the road.
I think it looks a bit like a dragon or the
Loch Ness monster
China grows the most cotton.

The U.S. exports the most cotton.

During the late medieval period, Europeans believed imported cotton grew on plant-borne sheep.

About ¾ of an acre will yield 500 pounds (1 bale) of cotton.

Samples from cotton bales are tested and categorized into 14 grades of cotton based on color, fiber length, micronaire, strength, and other properties.

Harvested cotton is cleaned, combed, graded, spun, packaged, and shipped out without ever being touched by human hands.

Raw cotton and first drafts

On the left, smooth cotton from my vitamins.
To the right is my lumpy roadside cotton.
Big difference in appearance & texture.
Because I’m also wrapping up a first draft, I was struck by the similarity of a raw manuscript and fresh off the bush cotton. Both need a good bit of cleaning, combing, and grading before they’re ready for public consumption. Some cotton/manuscripts don’t make the grade. A high quality product has a special sheen and luster that is immediately apparent.
Here’s hoping we’re all in high cotton for the forseeable future. Hey, anybody seen my manuscript comb?

Maggie Toussaint
DEATH, ISLAND STYLE coming Feb 2012

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mysteries: crimes of passion, opportunity, or premeditation?

Whodunit is often-asked as readers settle into a murder mystery, but the challenge to figuring out whodunit is to first identify why the murder occurred. What reason did someone have to commit the murder?

First, let’s think about the different types of murder motivations.

A crime of passion occurs when the act happens because of a sudden strong, overwhelming impulse. Some call this temporary insanity.

A crime of opportunity happens when the perpetrator sees a chance to commit the act and seizes it. Such acts have little or no premeditation.

By contrast, premeditated murder involves wrongfully causing the death of a person through careful consideration and planning.

In summary, murders are conducted as a result of careful planning, a found opportunity, or temporary insanity. Until this post, I thought my books contained varied murder motivations, but my mode of operation has been to vary the cause or emotion (power, revenge, greed, envy, etc.) behind the premeditation.

Spoiler Alert

In my Cleopatra Jones series, the victim in book one, In For A Penny, was killed in a premeditated manner for monetary gain. In book two, On The Nickel, the victim seemed to have been killed via opportunity, but the cold-blooded killer’s revenge included framing two scapegoats.


Are murders in cozy mysteries are all premeditated? Any mysteries with crimes of opportunity or passion come to mind? Are the root motivations varied in police procedurals or other types of crime fiction? Are premeditated murders more interesting?

Be sure and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

MORE FUN!!! Scoot on over to my friend Ryder Islington's blog where she also dishes about this same subject - here's her addy:
Maggie Toussaint
Blending romance and mystery into compelling fiction

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Confessions of a catalog shopper

Tis the catalog season
I'd like to say it's the glossy pages or the stylish clothing or the unusual stuff, but the truth is, I don't know why I love catalogs. I just do.

This time of year, the great fall migration, most of them fly right into my mailbox and take up residence. I thumb through the slick pages, imagining what I'd do with a pair of leather boots that top my knees or a gift-wrapped tower of fruit or this year's version of a denim shirt. I imagine myself looking thin, blonde, and jetting across continents in my new versatile travel wardrobe. I wonder how many bathrobes a person truly needs, then I remember I own two.

I'm drawn to the dark jewel tones of fall - the midnight blues, the burnt umbers, the hidden lakes. I ponder the strategic placement of darts and ruffles, of beading and buttons. I wonder how to get my comfy body into the tailored-looking pieces I'm drawn to. I worry about clothing looking too young or too old. I worry if people can tell I buy separates on clearance and hope they will match something, sometime, somewhere.

Pages with fleece entice me to linger. Fleece is a special weakness of mine. Gotta have it. Socks, shirts, pants, gloves, jackets, robes, scarves, coats. I love to buy it for myself and as gifts. I can't tell you how excited I was to procure my infant grandson's first fleece jacket!

Back in the days of fulltime employment, I turned to catalogs for Christmas. With a list of sizes and color favs, I knocked out my extended family list in a couple of hours, and that was before the ease of internet shopping.

When I began writing, I cut out catalog people and saved them as characters in my books. That tough looking guy in a Rolex ad? Supreme bad guy. That funky gal in cowboy boots sitting in a giant martini glass? A lost fairy godmother.

Catalogs - they're the gifts that keep on giving.

Have a favorite catalog story? Please share!

Maggie Toussaint
Catalog shopper and sometimes writer