Monday, October 1, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Kill

RHYS: As a writer I've never had any problem killing in wicked and devious ways. I've shot, stabbed, poisoned people. Hit them over the head with blunt objects, pushed them off cliffs and out of boats. I've even shut someone in a steam room and turned up the heat to maximum.

But for some reason when it comes to real life I have a complete aversion to killing. I don't mean people. Most of us have that aversion. I mean things that others kill without a second thought. Insects, for one thing. I am terrified of spiders but I can't kill one. I have to drop a glass over it, slip in a sheet of paper and then carry it safely to the garden. This is sometimes a stupid thing to do. When I was up in Sedona I inadvertently carried a Brown Recluse carefully out of the house with only a sheet of paper between me and eternity.

Now I know all the other Jungle Reds are fabulous gardeners. Their gardens look like show places with banks of color, appropriate to the season. Mine looks neat and tidy with no color for most of the year. Of course things are harder to grow in California with all the deer and the lack of rain, but another reason is that I can't dig things out when they need to be replaced. I simply can't kill a living plant. I've read all those articles on plants sending out distress signals to each other. Take a look at the pathetic specimen in the pot that should have been replaced ages ago. I keep hoping it will revive. It probably won't because it lives on my hot deck and I'm away so much. But I'm too soft hearted.

How about you, Reds. Do you find it easy to kill? (In real life, I mean.)

LUCY BURDETTE: You STEAMED someone to death Rhys? That's rich! I'm pretty soft-hearted but I do have my limits. One of them is the house centipede or Scutigera, as I learned it's called. I just finished Googling to find the name and learned that they feed on other insects, including bedbugs. Even so, they give me the creeps so bad that I have no trouble pounding them with whatever shoe is handy. Ditto, anything eating my indoor lime tree. I don't like to use pesticides so one summer I talked my stepson into helping me hand squash hundreds of little green aphids. By God, we won too!

And I do have a plant that I have asked my hub to remove to the trash. It's been in decline for years (maybe because I haven't watered it:), and now's the time....

HALLIE EPHRON: Ooooh, that is one creepy centipede that lurks in Roberta's pipes. It's something out of a Stephen King novel. I do carry spiders carefully out of the house. Ours are pretty harmless but fierce insect eaters and lovely web builders, and invariably we get a raft of baby spiders each spring. Charlotte I, Charlotte II...

I squash flies and clap fruit flies to death. Mash pantry moths, should they dare to appear, to a black paste. Boil live lobsters and clams.

You can't kill a PLANT, Rhys? What do you eat??? Our garden would be a jungle in about ten minutes if I didn't weed and transplant. Meanwhile, our compost heap is busy turning all that lovely plant matter into lovely rich soil.

In my books, people die but I rarely kill them off.

RHYS: Okay, Hallie, I know I'm a hypocrite. I know someone else harvests everything I eat. Just as I know someone else kills the adorable little lambs for the chops I love so much. But the plant looks at me and I decide to give it another chance.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: One little word. Earwigs. Oh, my gosh, I hate them. Let me just say first that when an ant comes into the house, I scoot it onto a piece of cardboard and carry it outside. (Parenthetically, I always think about the ant lore that could come out of that--as the ant tells the story of how he was swooped up on a big white magic carpet, and carried through the air by a giant..well, anyway.)

Those pantry moths? I delightedly crush into powder. (What're they made of, anyway? Nothing?)  Moths? Inside? Sorry, hate 'em and will mercilessly kill. Spiders, I ignore and hope they go away. 

But earwigs? I am homicidal. They get into my gorgeous dahlias and then creep out when you bring the flowers inside. It's horrible, but the only way to kill them is to drown them in soapy water, and then throw them into the spinning garbage disposal. Hey. They shouldn't have gotten into my flowers.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: First the axilotyl, then the scutigera. Lucy is helping me make up for all of those bio classes I cut in high school!

I have a hard time tossing plants on the compost pile. I always think I can save them. Shrubs and understory trees I inherited from the previous owner sometimes have to go. But I've lived in my house for 20 years so I'm taking my time. I've got two sick trees which i've been trying to nurse back to health all year.

Interestingly enough, I've taken a break from killing people in my novels, but slugs? I used to be squeamish about them but now - SQUISH! And I go outside after it rains to look for them. Is that weird?

JAN BROGAN: Like Ro, I've taken a break from killing people in novels. Or at least murdering them. But after having a beam of a porch destroyed by carpenter ants, I squish the first one I see each spring and immediately have the house treated. I figure if I actually hire someone to do the killing, I'm still killing.

I also used to save spiders, until I heard an NPR story about someone who got bit in her bedroom by a "brown spider" and spent a lifetime with MS-like symptoms. Since I don't know what a brown spider is, I kill all spiders except Daddy Long Legs, which I kindly eject.

And those pantry moths - I don't know what they are made of Hank - but I hate them. I see one and I got on a serial killing spree, opening every cabinet and wapping everything in sight.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One word. COCKROACHES!!!! I HATE them. Will smash them with anything and enjoy the crunchy splat. Lucy, you must have them in Florida? Not even Wall-E softened my heart towards roaches. Mosquitos, if I'm faster than they are. Spiders I admit I will kill in the house, because they bite me, and I had a friend die from a brown recluse bite years ago.

Outside, we don't kill anything. Totally organic garden for seventeen years. One year, we had an orb spider spin a web on our front porch window. We left it all summer and into the fall, even though our house looked like a haunted house. The web was so beautiful, and the spider so fascinating to watch.

We have loads of birds, bees, butterflies, moths, and quite a few frogs and toads, of which I am very proud, as they are so threatened in today's environment.

RHYS: So do tell, dear readers, can you kill without a second thought?

Tuesday: I wish I'd written that.
Wednesday: An interview with Aunt Agatha's bookstore on their 20th anniversary
Thursday: Thoughts on Halloween, costume parties and celebrating the birth of my new e-story called MASKED BALL AT BROXLEY MANOR.
Friday: Do you believe in love at first sight?
Saturday will be our report from the convention
and Sunday our beloved Kaye Barley makes her monthly appearance.


  1. We didn't even get to mice... which we don't kill. We just trap them and relocate them to a park about a half mile away.

  2. Daddy Long legs are free to roam here. Bay leaves in flour, etc. take care of the pantry moths. Vinegar, water and dish soap take care of the fruit flies. Mice, rats are fed well with that blue stuff that is blood thinner! Carpenter ants are treated to whatever it is that makes them go away - some killer I'm sure! Dee

  3. Sometimes in late summer the cats pick up a few fleas despite all our monthly treatments. If I find on my leg, I pinch it and drown in water in the sink. HATE fleas. And flour moths and their larva. Uck.

    The same cats also make sure we never have a mouse problem indoors and do away with a goodly number of voles outdoors, as well.

  4. Mice . . . those little beady-eyed things are the bane of my existence and should one ever dare to scurry its little feet anywhere near me, my husband is summarily dispatched to GET RID OF IT!

    Things I can deal with . . . and dispatch to bug heaven without a second thought: mosquitoes, flies, spiders, ants, moths [but bay leaves dropped into the flour will keep the pantry moths away]. Ladybugs in the garden do the aphid-dispatching. When we lived in California, the cockroaches were a bit of an issue [and they were fair game for squishing] but we hardly ever see them here in the Pine Barrens.

    Now, about that habit of killing off people in mysteries . . . steaming to death just cracks me up, Rhys! What a great idea!

    [My next nominee for dispatching is the dreaded captcha . . . five times and still trying to post this.]

  5. I never used to worry too much about bugs, since I never really had much problem with them (except when I lived in an apartment with a FILTHY neighbor, but we won't go there). However, recently we had major carpenter ant problems, so in desperation I called an exterminator.

    They came and sprayed, inside and out, and will continue to do so every three months. Suddenly, no spiders, no *shudder* Scutigera, no ants. The guy said the spraying should also vastly reduce any potential mouse invasion (we get them very occasionally), because the mice like to eat the ants. EEEE! Who knew?

    The drama going on inside our walls astonishes me!

    See you all at Bouchercon. Looking forward to the Feud!

  6. Rhys, steaming someone to death? Like a lobster? Wow!

    I'm with Hank on the earwigs. THEY. MUST. DIE.


  7. I hate bugs! Hate them. I don't think I could ever live in the tropics, or even southern US. I have an understanding with them, though. They can survive as long as I don't see them. Come into MY living area and you're dead!

    In the garden, I kill everything I touch. No green thumb at all.

    I hope all going to Cleveland have a marvelous time. How wonderful to spend time with so many talented writers! I look forward to the review later this week.

  8. Like Brenda and Hank I believe in Death to Earwings.

  9. Yes I forgot about mice too. I was insisting on no-kill traps UNTIL we went away for a while in the winter and came back to my car leaking gas. The mechanic told me the mice had set up a two-room condo in the innards of the car--one side stuffed with seeds and edible items, the other cushioned with dog hair and insulation. The kitchen and the bedroom, all in my vehicle.

    Now it's all out war...

  10. Any old bug can go, unless it's pretty or useful, like the big spiders that clean the house of creepy crawlies. I have no problem fishing, but can't hunt, not even those nasty wild hogs, but I do give a hunting lease on my property to friends. I always shoot down mistletoe when I go hunting with others. Shot a rooster once after it attacked me, but never killed one to eat. Raised meat goats and sold them to others I knew would slaughter them, but couldn't do it myself.
    And, like every pet lover I've known, I've had to say yes to euthanizing a loved one in pain.
    What Byzantine structures of categories we can construct to justify our ethical contradictions!

  11. Really Gram?
    Bay leaves in flour and in pantries? That's an awesome tip.

    just a reminder: LIZ MUGAVERO - please contact me at so I can get a copy of KILLER SHOW to you.

    (Or if anyone knows Liz, please tell her for me, thanks!)


  12. When we had dogs, we had a kennel in the garage with a doggy door, and the field mice used it freely. One -- or more -- got into my car and ate some cables. Not good. I also left a bag of groceries in the back seat by accident, and within an hour, they'd torn their way into a bag of flour. I hope it killed them. :)

    I'd much rather carry a live bug outside than clean up a smashed one, with one exception: Earwigs sometimes hid in the rims of go-cups or other cups and glasses. One of those in the mouth is more than enough to make me a killer. And Hank's right -- you can't wash 'em down the sink. You've got to grind them up in the disposal!

  13. Any creepy-crawly in my house gets smushed. Period. Ewwwwwww-yuck!

  14. The bay leaves work to an extent, but the best thing to keep them away is to put everything into airtight containers. Those Indian meal bugs (which is what they're actually called) can chew through paper and plastic. If you have them, it's best to just pitch everything. Blech, eggs in the flour.

    Plants: I have a green thumb. To illustrate the truth of this statement I offer Exhibit A: a 6'-tall and wide croton that I have nurtured for more than 38 years (and it was several years old when I got it). The problem is that it is now too big for my house, and I have no idea what to do with it. I've offered it to the local conservatory and they don't want it, and the guy at the place with the ginormous greenhouse has not returned my call. It would kill me to give it to someone who won't take care of it.

  15. I'm with Deborah. I hatehatehate cockroaches. I work in NYC and, well, ewwwww, they're everywhere. And to think one day they'll inherit the earth. What the heck is with that??

  16. My philosophy regarding critters: if I did not invite it into my home or car -and believe me when I state that I would NEVER do that - then it does not deserve to live. NO exceptions!

    I am terrified of spiders. When I was five, I had a serious allergic reaction to spider bites. I still have nightmares about spiders decades later.

    A childhood playmate told me that if you kill ants, their relatives will come after you for vengeance. I will take my chances.

    A couple of years ago, one of my sisters had a rough time with a bite from what her doctors all said was a brown recluse spider. Supposedly,they are not to be found here in the northeast. However,even the wound care specialist that she was referred to said that's what bit her. After the first day,the back of her hand looked as though she had a flesh eating bacteria problem. I have no tolerance for beings that can do that to someone! Kill them all! Take no prisoners!

    Other than this,I am a gentle person.

  17. Jan:
    You can also keep your flour from becoming infested by freezing it for forty-eight hours, then storing in a canister with a tight-fitting lid . . . or store it in the refrigerator [where it will not spoil].

  18. Problem with "air tight" containers and pantry moth larvae... I think the larvae actually come IN the grains... they don't chew their way in from outside. Somehow even 'air tight' there's enough air that they can hatch out. My strategy: DO NOT buy in bulk. Dump and clear out regularly.

  19. Excellent advice, not to buy in bulk, Hallie. And especially don't buy grains at discount chains, where they have probably been sitting on various shelves for a long time.

  20. Yes, Hallie, they certainly do . . . that's why the forty-eight hours in the freezer --- it does them in! I bake bread a lot and buy flour in bulk. I freeze it for two days, then put it into a plastic [food grade] bag in my Tupperware canister, drop in a bay leaf, snap on the lid . . . and there are never any bugs inhabiting my flour, no matter how long it lasts.

  21. Bay leaves in flour? Gram, tell us more!

  22. OH, I see now...that'll teach me to instantly answer. Thanks, Gram! But does it make the flour taste like bay leaves?

    Yes, DebRo, ant revenge! I always wondered about that.

  23. Blessed are we in the PacNW: no earwigs or pantry moths or cockroaches. I kill fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes...But that's about it. Spiders, be free! Moths that get trapped in the house, be free! Slugs and snails that might get stepped upon, here let me move you! (That's weird, I know.) Sugar ants in the spring, I'll tolerate you for a bit and keep my kitchen spotless so you go away!

    I have a hard time with plants too, even the annuals that die anyhow...

  24. Lucy, that is one of my worst nightmares...that I'l be driving and a mouse (or tick or any creepy crawly) makes itself known while I am going 75 on the Merritt parkway.

    I'm from the "won't you eat this tasty blue stuff and then go off somewhere to die in private?" school.

    I can't believe Hallie relocates mice - you are too good to be true!

  25. I have a rule about spiders: As long as they stay in their space (behind the boiler, under the kitchen sink) I leave them alone. Come into my area and I will squash you without a thought.

    Ants and pantry moths, dead.

    I used to think I was squeamish about mice then we got them in our house. I trapped 3 of them with paralytic glue traps. My husband bashed their wee heads in with a shovel and entombed them in the concrete for our (then new) basement steps. Yes, we "Jimmy Hoffa-d" dead mice.

    I don't have any qualms about plants. Wish I could safely dispose of the poison ivy growing around the base of the tree in my backyard.

    I consider myself a Franciscan with a deep respect for nature - but I also know that *not* getting rid of these things can seriously jeopardize the health of my family.

  26. Rosemary, with me it's spiders. I'll be driving down the freeway and it will lower itself slowly down before my eyes heading for one hand on the steering wheel.

    And yes, Brenda, I'm afraid I did steam someone to death. I may look like a sweet and gentle person but inside whaaa haaa haaa...
    Just kidding. Sometimes I have to go to dark places where I'm not really comfortable for the sake of the story.

  27. Sorry for usurping this tune, but "I'd like to teach the world not to kill harmless insects."

  28. Karen in Ohio,

    Friends had a large houseplant that grew too tall and wide for any room in their home-and they have very high ceilings in their home which was built in the 1880s. One of them works in a hospital, and they initially offered it to the hospital, but the hospital turned them down. They eventually donated it to a prep school. I think they had a friend who had connections to the school. It has happily lived in the school lobby for nearly twenty years now. I am wondering if perhaps there is a hospital or nursing home or other institution near you that might like your croton?

  29. And I'm sitting here trying to think of new and original death traps for a new idea... but that's just me....:)

  30. I won't kill spiders. They're not only beneficial--they're sacred. Grandmother spider plays an important role in many indigenous creation myths. The few that can actually seriously harm humans are very shy and almost never found in living areas.

    I have a cat who's a great mouse hunter. Moths, cockroaches, fruit flies, house flies, and mosquitoes are all asking for death if they come into my house.

    Outside, I'm like Debs. My front and back yards have been organic for thirty years, and I use many native plants, so they're a sanctuary for lots of wildlife from tiny bees to hummingbirds and goldfinches to a redtailed hawk.

  31. All living things are safe with me.

  32. I have no qualms about killing bugs and spiders--especially spiders. I usually suck them up in the vacuum. The only spiders I couldn't kill were huntsman spiders in Australia. They're just too big. You'd have awful spider guts all over your wall. So those went into a container and were released down the street so they'd hopefully find their way into a neighbor's house instead of mine. :)

    I can't kill mice. My grandma once had one stuck in a mouse trap that was still alive. She wanted me to get a rock and club it to death. I couldn't do it. I took it outside and let it go--poor thing!