20, No. 7, Oct. 5, 2000
Dorothy and Sid Rosen: Plotting
murder together keeps them young
Mabry, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
|A step back in
and Dorthy Rosen are having a great time researching and writing
their ongoing mystery series starring Belle Appleman, a Jewish
immigrant who lives in Boston's West End during the 1930s.
play bridge. Some cruise the Bahamas. And others study genealogy.
Dorothy and Sid Rosen connive and plot murders.
And the readers of their two published mysteries are glad they do. "Death
and Blintzes" and "Death and Strudel" feature a Jewish
heroine who tacks belt loops onto pants for a living in a Depression-era
clothing factory set in the West End of Boston.
The drudgery of her work is overshadowed, however, by the excitement
of murder mysteries that need to be solved.
For the Rosens, writing these books is a shared enterprise that keeps
them at the computer, plotting, researching Boston and Depression-era
history, and remembering much of their own lives as young adults.
Sid Rosen, a UI professor emeritus of astronomy, grew up Jewish in Bostons
West End, and his father worked in the garment industry. Dorothy grew
up in Hartford, Conn. The two of them spent their late teens and early
20s struggling with the poverty that visited so many households during
the Depression. They met on a blind date in college in the late 30s
and dated until after World War II, when they married.
The authors have been married 56 years and live in Champaign in a home
that they built soon after he came to the UI in 1958 to teach physical
science. Sid has a doctorate in the history of science from Harvard
University. Dorothy has a degree in composition from Mount Holyoke College
in Massachusetts and a UI masters in English as an international
She started writing mysteries first. Her hero was a college professor,
based on you-know-who. Several chapters into it she decided the professor
was too boring, but he had a devilish aunt that she loved. She made
the aunt younger and Belle Appleman, the heroine was born.
Sid joined her effort after Dorothy went to him many times with technical
questions, such as how long does it take blood to clot? He was good
at plotting too, she said, so they began to devote their days to the
joint task of writing books.
They work in their office mornings and afternoons, Monday through Friday.
They take a break mid-day for a 20-minute swim at IMPE and a brown-bag
lunch with former colleagues of Sids from the astronomy department.
They like to keep the work schedule, and say that the greatest benefit
of their writing effort is that it keeps them physically and mentally
active and alert.
Plus, it gives them the chance to revisit the music, politics, news
and fashions of the 1930s.
"For both of us, the 30s was a unique period in American
history," Dorothy said. "I suppose you could sum it all up
in the term the Depression. That colored everything, every phase of
life because most people were poor. We were poor. America didnt
have much of a middle class. We knew that there were ultra-rich because
we went to the movies and saw them pictured there, but most everyone
was poor. The big escape and our heroine uses it a lot
was the movies."
"Belle Appleman sees everyone through the eyes of Hollywood,"
Sid said. "Shell meet a man and think hes a regular
Nelson Eddie. Or she bats her eyelashes in a Mae West flutter or she
has a Bette Davis voice. One reviewer said that he felt that our heroine
went through life as if in a movie of her own."
Their books have gotten very good reviews. The latest one, "Death
and Strudel," was just released about two weeks ago.
Their first mystery, "Death and Blintzes," caught the attention
of UI journalism graduate Gene Shalit, and the two were invited to appear
on the "Today" show with Shalit in 1985. That resulted in
an invitation from the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
to be part of an advertisement for the over-50 group. So Sid and Dorothy
agreed and were flown to Hollywood where they took part in a commercial.
There was a long delay between the first book coming out in 1985 and
the second, but thats mostly because of internal problems at the
publishing houses. Dorothy and Sid have finished their third book, "Death
and Chicken Soup," but havent submitted it to a publisher
"Each book is better, we think, than the one before," Dorothy
Belle is a member of their family now. Shes a first-generation
immigrant who struggles to speak English correctly, and shes recovering
from the death of her husband, a pharmacist who died young. Shes
a character rich with history and personality, Dorothy said. Often she
comes up in their conversations "What would Belle think
about that?" "What would Belle do about that?"
The couple has no visions of making a vast sum of money from their books.
In fact, money is not a motivator at all. Mostly, the two enjoy the
daily challenges of sitting down and writing. Their goal is to see the
next one in print.
"I think you can say as much about human nature in a mystery as
in any other kind of fiction," Dorothy said. "Because it isnt
really the mystery thats the intriguing part, its the people,
"People whove written critiques of our books on Amazon.com
have indicated what charms them is bringing back the old West End of
Boston and the period," Sid said. "One person said this is
something we should all remember, and yet we tend to forget that it
Its fun to take on the challenge of crafting a book, the couple
"Its great," Dorothy said. "Its the most
fun I know of. I mean, how else can you sit down and be in another world?"
"Oh yeah," Sid agreed. "Its like inventing a new
world in which you play a part. And you can control the part you play."
Other books by Sid and Dorothy Rosen
Sidney Rosen wrote the popular childrens book "Galileo and
the Magic Numbers," published in 1958 and which still remains in
print and in libraries all over the country. His second childrens
book, "Dr. Paracelsus," about the father of chemotherapy,
was published in 1959 and was runner-up for the prestigious Newbery
Medal. Other childrens books include "The Harmonious World
of Johann Kepler," a famous astronomer, and "The Wizard of
Dome," a biography of architect R. Buckminster Fuller. That book
was awarded the Clara Ingram Judson memorial award for the most distinguished
book for young people in 1970.
Rosen also has a series of childrens science books that have been
widely displayed in libraries around the country and Asia, such as "Where
Does The Moon Go?," "How Far Is A Star?," and "Can
You Find A Planet?"
As a team, the two wrote a series of historical novels for 10- to 12-year-olds,
including "The Magicians Apprentice" and "The Baghdad
Mission." Dorothy also wrote a biography of Mary Lyon, the founder
of Mount Holyoke College.