Thursday, March 31, 2011

Survival of the Smartest

Last October, I attended the Novelists Inc one day conference in St. Petersburg. It was a panel style workshop comprised of industry professionals and the topic was the future of publishing. I'm happy to report that yes, publishing does have a future. It's just a different future than some of us might have envisioned ten years ago. E-books are here to stay and they will take over print books. Like it or not, it's a reality. Twenty years ago the only people who had cell phones were doctors and drug dealers. Now, even ten year olds have them. Technology is growing at an exponential rate and E-readers were one of the hottest selling items last holiday season. People are not going to stop reading. They are just going to use a different medium and we, as writers, have to adapt to that medium or see our futures in publishing go the way of those big old fashioned stationary rotary dial phones (remember them?) Yeah, there's a whole generation out there who have no idea what I'm talking about.

This past week I've been following the Amanda Hocking story. If you don't know who she is, don't feel bad. I didn't either until she started making publishing headlines. Although apparently, plenty of other people did know who she was. She's the chick who self-published her novels, selling them on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and has made 7 figures since putting up her first book last year. Yes, you read that correctly. According to this NY Times article she's made almost 2 million dollars. The interesting thing is that she made news recently because despite all her mega success in the world of self-publishing she's just signed a huge deal ($2 million) with St. Martins Press for 4 YA novels, the first scheduled to debut next year. You can read about the deal right here.

In an interesting twist, Barry Eisler, a best selling author of traditional published books, has turned down an offer from the same publisher (St. Martins Press) to self-publish. He thinks he'll end up making more money in the long run, by going it alone. I have to say, he makes sense. You can read his reasoning right here on Book Beast.

This all takes me back to last October, sitting in that big conference room listening to the panel talk (one of the panelists, by the way, was self-pub guru Joe Konrath) about the future of publishing. I think after the events of the past couple of weeks, I can say that almost anything can and will happen. We have to adapt. We have to write smarter and be smarter businesswomen. Our books are our merchandise and we have to get our merchandise in front of people to read. Any way we can.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When Technology Goes Bad

I was going to write about my building excitement for the royal wedding, but will save that for next week. Today, instead, I write about the horrors of technology and wonder how you, Stiletto faithful, deal with dead laptops, frozen flash drives, and assorted other problems that befall the innocent in this technology-enabled world.

It all started last week when my trusty PC, the one that I've been working on for over six years, turned itself off and wouldn't turn back on.  It was as if it was saying "go on without me; I'm just so very tired," while I was screaming, "Don't you die on me, PC!"  (Did I mention that I don't back up my documents as a general rule?)  I walked past it several times during the day, disconsolately pushing the "on" button to see if it would come back, even just for one day so I could gather some of the work I had been doing.  No chance.

I did what anyone would do and called my friend, Susan, the baker, to lament my problem.

"No problem!" she said cheerfully.  "My cousin is a tech wizard!"

And indeed he was.  I brought him the laptop, he recovered everything and also installed all sorts of new bells and whistles so that the thing runs like a top.  And there was joy across the land.

While I was waiting for the PC to return, I decided to buy a Mac, having had my fill of computer-killing viruses.  I had heard wonderful things about Macs and decided that the time was nigh. I bought a fun, little 13" laptop (the 17" was $600 more and I didn't want to spend the extra money).  While I was waiting for the new modem so that I could install the wireless internet capabilities on the Mac, I used the kids' computer, otherwise known as "Old Faithful."  Old Faithful has served us well, now being into its second decade.  Sure, it's slow, but it's dependable.  I'm working on a new book and made some headway, not having the distraction of the internet to help me veer off course.  I had made great headway, and had twenty pages written...some of them even good.  Today, after catching up on work, I plugged in the flash drive, the new book being the only thing that I had backed up, hoping to write another five or so pages.

The flash drive was dead.  It won't load, it won't open, and none of the documents seem to be on there anymore.

I went through several stages of grief, but thankfully, never broke down as completely as I wanted to.  It's just twenty pages, right?  They might not be any good, yes?  It may be the writing gods' way of telling me to start again.

I'm not buying any of it.  The flash drive is now in the capable hands of Susan the baker's cousin who hopefully, will work his magic.

In the meantime, if you hear the rantings of a mad woman in your neck of the woods, it is just I wondering why we need all of this stuff in the first place when paper and pen served us just fine for centuries.

Horror stories, please.  They will make me feel better.  And the ones with happy endings will really make my day.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Goodie, goodie, the mind candy TV is back!

By the end of the day, in fact once I've cooked and eaten dinner, I'm not good for much of anything except relaxing in front of the TV.

I'm delighted my reality shows are back especially Dancing with the Stars. My daughter-in-law always comes to watch with us, and hubby is much better at seeing the missteps than either of us. We're always enthralled with the great costumes. It's also fun to watch the chubby ones shed the pounds.It doesn't take us long to choose our favorites either. I'm rooting for Kristi Alley.

That's not the only one I watch, Amazing Race is well...amazing. I can't believe what those people have to do. They'd all do better if they took the time to read the directions through before dashing off through the foreign city they've found themselves in. I have a granddaughter and her husband who are determined to do the Amazing Race. She's a speech therapist in a public school, her hubby a deputy sheriff. They have two young kids. They are grooming the grandparents (my daughter and son-in-law) to be ready to take over if and when they get to go.

Oh, and there's also Survivor. Now this one I can't watch when it's on because I have my writers' group to go to on Wendnesday nights, but I can watch it on my computer the next day.

I try to watch Celebrity Apprentice (can't believe how rude and obnoxious all those so-called celebs are) but I usually fall asleep before it's over.

My sister (she's old like me but tapes everything and watches the next day) and my eldest daughter are also addicted--and I can count on them to tell me the outcome in case I don't stay awake until the end of any of these shows.

My excuse? Where else can you observe such interesting characters?


Monday, March 28, 2011

Moink and Ooo

Being a Grandma is absolutely delightful and positively exhausting.

A couple of days ago, I babysat from 4 to 7:30. When I arrived, my son announced that Ms. Riley, age 9 months, hadn't had an afternoon nap (and only a 30 minute one in the car in the morning). Even Riley, the perfect child, is not so perfect at that time.

I decide to take her for a walk in the stroller - she likes it and she usually falls asleep - except when she doesn't because she likes to look around. It was a beautiful day and she enjoyed the neighborhood stroll. To be fair, she finally did sleep, for all of 20 minutes because she woke up within 15 seconds of my stopping and I wasn't up for another 45 minute walk.

So we came inside and played…and played…and played. I fed her dinner which she thoroughly enjoyed, especially the part where she squished the banana slices in her fingers before struggling to make the transfer from sticky fingers to mouth. Often the dexterity eluded her, which meant banana in the hair (hers and mine) I gave her a bath, again lots of fun, even if Grandma was drenched by the end. But it was clear that she was fading fast.

I didn't want to put her to sleep because if she went to bed before a final nursing with her Mom, she'd wake up in an hour, refreshed from her nap just about the time the adults in the house were ready to call it a night. So I just had to hang on for another 30 minutes and the cavalry, e.g. her mom, would be arriving.

At this point, her only comfort was me holding her (all 20 pounds of that cute bundle), swaying back and forth (while ignoring growing lower back pain), and most of all, singing her favorite song. Now this little ditty was written by my daughter-in-law, as an accompaniment to a rather oddly designed stuffed animal that Riley adores. It is affectionately called Pig Cow, which is in fact what it looks like. The song is as follows:

I'm a little pig cow, pig cow, pig cow
I'm a little pig cow, pig cow, pig
Pigs say oink
Cows say moo
I say Moink
And sometimes Ooo.

I was up to about my 2,000th rendition of the song, when it struck me that, with just a little minor variation, it's exactly the same tune as the childhood classic, "I'm a Little Teapot, Short and Stout, Here is my handle, Here is my spout."

I decide to change it up, and launched, with much bravado, into a full-out rendition of this new ditty.

The Queen was not amused.

She looked at me like I had belched, loudly, at Buckingham Palace.

Her face screwed up, her tears were big and plentiful.

I apologized profusely and immediately switched back to the Pig Cow tune (which I'm humming now even in my sleep).

Temporary peace was restored, although it was clear that trust had been breached.

What could I do to restore the sunny disposition of this wondrous child? I still had ten minutes to kill. It was time for the last resort.

Have you ever heard of Mum-Mums? I have raised four children and until a month ago, had never heard of this delicacy, each box of which costs about the same as a new car. They are rice rusks, organic of course, with a touch of sugar, and the equivalent of Godiva chocolate in the baby world.

Interrupting the Pig Cow song long enough to explain to Ms. Riley what I was about to do, I said, "Riley, honey, there may be sugar in these Mum-Mums, but don't worry. Your Mommy and Daddy will buy you braces when you are a teenager. Grandma is going to get you a Mum-Mum right now."

All tears, even hints of tears, stopped. Did I mention that the child's only vocabulary right now consists of Mum-Mum and Hi? Clearly I was on the right track.

Peace reigned. We sat on the steps, child contentedly eating her treat, me continuing to murmur Moinks and Oooos.

Mom arrived. Grandma gave big kisses and headed for home, exhausted but triumphant.

Would all the problems in the world be so easily fixed with a little Moink, Oooo, and Mum-Mum.

Grandma, aka Marian the Northern half of Evelyn David

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why My First Draft is Like a Poorly Planned Paint Job

by Rachel Brady

Interesting development here.

I was making decent progress on my new manuscript until I shared the first half of a first draft with my editors.

Quick question--have any of the writers here ever shared early pages with an editor and been told, "I love it! Keep going!" right off the bat? That has never happened to me. I get that it's not realistic. (If this actually has happened to you, please consider my question rhetorical and we can remain friends.) Still, a little bitty part of me always hopes . . .

But no. Probably the most acute form of momentum-stopping buzzkill comes when I hear (and agree) that there are major issues with my project.

Here's why.

It takes me a really long time to write a book. I jump over external obstacles (full time job, three children, fill in the usual excuses here) and internal obstacles (motivation, self-doubt, high propensity to procrastinate) to get those words down. Understanding that many will be re-worked, several times, feels like I imagine it would feel to cross a marathon's finish line and hear an official say, "We're sorry. No one saw you run the first ten miles of the course. We're gonna need you to run those ten again."

Recently, I used the analogy of painting a large room. You prime one wall and then paint it. The color is all wrong. Now there is a decision point.

Re-prime and repaint that wall and make sure you like the new color before going on? That's a lot of work. Or go on and prime the other three walls and then re-prime the one you just screwed up? If you do that, the whole time you work you must suffer in the knowledge that the first wall is still there, all wrong, waiting for you to make your way back around.

It kind of mocks you.

It's a weak analogy. Who primes just one wall? Normally we'd do the whole room, then go back and add the color.

So why is it so dang hard to finish a first draft after realizing that what I have so far will need to be re-worked? If I think too long about all the work I'll re-do, it is paralyzing. So nothing gets fixed in the draft. And nothing new gets added either.

Ultimately, I decided to prime the whole room. Now I have to walk past those early pages every time I come around with my paintbrush.

Moving on in a story without fixing its base is hard. I pretend that the early stuff is already fixed and that all is fine. All the while, I know that when I finally type THE END, it won't be. I still have a wall to go back and repaint.

And that's just to get a first draft!

All the "You missed a spot" and "You dripped over here" and "Don't forget the trim" and "Really? Cornflower blue?" remarks from the editors are still months away.

It would be so much easier to hire a good looking handyman for this job.

When you guys read this on Friday, I'll be away at Left Coast Crime and probably unable to chime in on any discussion that follows. But I will be with you in spirit, and so will this handyman.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Favorite Sports Movies

I'm not a big basketball fan, but I have to admit that I've succumbed to March Madness. Partly because I can't escape all the basketball going on in my living room as my husband enjoys our brand new 47 inch LCD tv (yes, up until just a few weeks ago, we still had the old box tv) but mostly because my beloved alma mater, the FSU Seminoles have gotten to the sweet 16 (Go Noles!)

It's been thrilling to watch every dramatic, suspenseful, nail biting second of the games and as I sat down to write the other night I thought about how movies that revolve around sports make such great stories.

And that led me to think of some of my favorite sports movies and what I loved most about them. So I picked one favorite movie from each sport:

Basketball: Hoosiers. This one was a no brainer for me. The absolute best basketball movie of all time for me is Hoosiers. Set in the 1950s in small town Indiana starring Gene Hackman, Dennis Hooper and Barbara Hershey. It's got heart, soul and romance. I get teary eyed every time I see it.

Football: The Replacements. This is about a bunch of ex-players and semi-losers who fill in for the real players during a pro football players strike. Coincidentally, it also stars Gene Hackman, along with Keanu Reeves. It's got heart, soul, laughs, and romance.

Hockey: Mystery, Alaska. If you've never seen this movie, then run out and rent it. I fell in love with Russell Crowe while watching this! It also stars Burt Reynolds. This film has heart, laughs, and romance (did I already say I fell in love with Russell Crowe in this film?)

Baseball: Bull Durham. This is probably the sexiest sports movie you'll ever watch. And the funniest. I'm a huge Bull Durham fan (as a matter of fact my first novel- Bunco Babes Tell All- has a Bull Durham subplot to it). It stars Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon and has probably the best lines of almost any sports movie ever.

So what about you? What are some of your favorite sports movies?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of...Photoshop?

If you pick up the April issue of Good Housekeeping—the one with Dr. Oz on the cover—and turn to page 59, you’ll find a full-page photo of yours truly.

Or will you?

My 11-year-old’s first reaction? “Mom, this doesn’t look anything like you.”

I beg to differ. It looks exactly like me. Only better.

Let’s backtrack. A few months ago, I was contacted by Good Housekeeping to be interviewed about a powerful, and effective, new cancer drug. It was an immunotherapy and the one that I had taken. It was the one that saved my life, because having been diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma in 2006, my chances for survival were slim to none. I entered a clinical trial for a drug called tremelimumab (say that three times fast) and had an immediate, positive response to it. My tumors, which numbered in the hundreds, began to shrink and fade (many were bluish and on my skin) and were eventually eradicated. It was nothing short of a miracle.

The cousin of this drug, ipilimumab, will be approved by the FDA for use in metastatic melanoma patients this Friday and believe me, this is an occasion for celebration. Now, there is hope for people who once had little hope for survival.

But back to the photo. After I was interviewed and the story was edited, I was asked for some photos of me and the family. Trouble is, we don’t have too many photos, so the Barbieri family started photographing each other, with limited success. Here is an example of one of the photos we took and submitted to GH.

After sending the editor at the magazine a bunch of photos, she called and said that they would be sending a photographer to me to take a photo. Little did I know what that entailed.

The photographer was a wonderful guy named Rob Howard who couldn’t be nicer or more respected and well-known in the photography world. He was accompanied by his lovely wife, Lisa, a professional hair and makeup stylist named Birgitte, and the shoot stylist from Good Housekeeping, Bill. Of course, because they were coming from a housekeeping magazine, I vacuumed, dusted, and had my friend, Susan (from the wonderful Baked by Susan—“like” it on FB!) make scones. They were duly impressed.

Until they moved my couch.

As I sat getting my hair and makeup done by Birgitte, I heard Rob, who has photographed kings and OPRAH (!) ask, “Does Maggie have a vacuum?” At his uttering of those words, my hair, formerly poufed and teased, fell just a little bit. Why, oh why, Rob Howard, did you have to move the one piece of furniture that I haven’t vacuumed behind since the Clinton administration?

Once the house really was clean, thanks to Rob and his team, it was time for my photos. Three hours and about two hundred photos later, they had their shot. And here is it.

Yes, I am a little airbrushed, and no, my teeth aren’t that white, but I think it’s a pretty good representation of my overall look. The one thing that makes me very happy is that it is a photo of my laughing, which really reflects my overall outlook on life and the spirit of this article. I was nervous that my joy at overcoming a diagnosis like Stage IV melanoma wouldn’t be adequately expressed, but it is. And this photo really illustrates the happiness I feel every day that I am still here to discuss something that at one point, had a very questionable outcome.

I hope you’ll pick up this month’s issue of Good Housekeeping magazine even if it’s only to see how clean my house is.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Income Tax, Grrrr!

I have always done my own income tax, even in the days before there were tax programs that did all the mathematics.

A confession here, I am no good at arithmetic. My adding skills are lousy--even using a calculator. Despite all that I still did my own income tax. I was good at reading and understanding the instructions and often sent for the extra booklets and studied them. When something had to be added up I handed it to my husband, he has all the mathematical skills in our relationship.

I've never been audited, though I have received letters questioning me about things which I easily answered and cleared up without a problem.

Years ago when I was in the residential care business, when there was a question about a certain section in the tax law about people who took care of others and were paid, I was the lucky one chosen to go to the main Income Tax office and explain their own law to them. This resulted in my taxes being scrutinized and several phone calls from that office asking me questions about how I did this or that. A bit nerve-wracking, but they came over to our side.

Now for the first time I'm stymied and am going to have to see a professional tax person.

It has to do with a mutual fund we cashed in which lost more money for us than it earned. I have all the paperwork--though it took me forever to figure out exactly what it was--and now I don't have a clue how to put the information into the tax program I have. I've tried, believe me I've tried, but I'm not doing something right.

I'm losing sleep over it, so I give up. Why on earth do "they" have to make everything so difficult?

So that's my rant for this week. Hopefully, when next Tuesday rolls around I'll have the problem solved.

Now back to your regular scheduled and much lighter programming.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Sidestep

Here's a confession from the Northern Half of Evelyn David. It's important to distinguish who is talking here because as you will learn, there's a real schism in this partnership.

When I drive, I listen to Sirius Radio, specifically I listen to On Broadway (channel 75) with Seth Rudetsky and Christine Pedi, self-described as "a couple of dueling divas." Truth is, I want them both to shut up and just play the music. I also listen to 40s on 4 – the era of the big band sound. I'll flip to some classical music if the Broadway tune is too depressing or atonal. I switch over to AM radio to catch the traffic conditions and news on the hour. Great, thoughtful discussions on topics arcane or newsworthy? Not so much. I have what is best described as middlebrow taste – verging on low brow. And I have no apologies for any of it.

In contrast, the Southern half of this writing combo listens to NPR with a dedication that borders on religious fervor. I could no more tell you the host of All Things Considered than she could hum a few bars from Fiddler on the Roof.

But I'm not here to discuss our drive-time taste.

The truth is I don't listen to NPR, just like I don't watch much of what's on the public TV stations now that my kids have outgrown Mister Rogers (a national treasure, may he rest in peace). But I do believe in public funding of the arts, even when the nation is in the midst of an economic crisis, because art, in all its forms, is as necessary to the life of a democracy as clean air. George Washington in 1788 declared the arts "essential to the prosperity of the state and to the ornament and happiness of human life." If it's good enough for George, it should be good enough for Representative Doug Lambon, a three-term Republican from Colorado who introduced a bill that would block all taxpayer dollars that NPR might receive.

Representative Lambon has glommed on to the sting operation organized by conservative activist James O'Keefe. Was the fundraiser for NPR who criticized the Tea Party to a potential donor absolutely wrong to make such a comment? Sure. Was it absolutely wrong of O'Keefe to play gotcha by setting up this undercover sting? You bet.

But I'm even more irritated with Representative Lambon. Because I know he knows that NPR receives only 2 percent of its budget from Federal funds. He knows, as the New York Times editorial points out, that his bill is "unattached to a budget measure, it will never survive the Senate or a presidential veto." It's what I call "posturing." Doesn't really intend to do anything for the current budget crisis, doesn't really impact NPR, doesn't really address any issues, but is designed to put his name in lights, maybe draw some attention and money to his political career. What a waste of time and energy when there are bigger, more important problems facing America and the world.

Do you remember the movie, based on a Broadway show, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? One of the most delicious scenes is Charles Durning, playing the governor of the state, who sings and dances to The Sidestep, able to take whichever position on an issue makes him popular. It's a show-stopper and the audience responds because it's not only clever (and Durning is fantastic), but also because too many of us believe that is what most politicians on both sides of the aisle are doing.

This is a serious time. The crises we face here and abroad are real and scary. Stop wasting time crafting bills that don't address the real issues. Quit dancing The Sidestep.

(Nice that I could end this little rant with a reference to a show tune.)

Marian (the Northern half of Evelyn David)

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Winner of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER by Laura Spinella!

Laura has drawn a name from the list of commenters on her Friday post, and it's Carol M! Carol, you've won a copy of Laura's debut, Beautiful Disaster. We'll try to get in touch with you to get your mailing address for her. If you see this first, please email Congratulations!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Glass Slipper in a Stiletto Heel

by Laura Spinella

When the fabulous Susan McBride invited me to guest blog at The Stiletto Gang, I was intimidated. I haven’t owned a pair of stiletto heels since—well, frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever owned stiletto heels. Not by lack of desire, I simply have feet more akin to a duck than a diva, and therefore have never been a candidate for sexy footwear. But considering I was to lead with my writing and not my wardrobe, I figured I could muddle through.

I suspect there’s every chance you’ve never heard of me, Laura Spinella, or my book, which was released in January via Penguin Group. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is Southern set women’s fiction with a heavy thread of romance. And by heavy thread, I mean there’s a chapter or two where stiletto heels and all the connotations fit like a glass slipper. It’s my debut novel, which makes me new to publishing. However, not so new to writing or life; I have plenty of experience there. I’ve made a modest living freelancing, but I didn’t write a novel until I was flirting with forty. I always knew I’d write a book; I just didn’t have a timeline in mind. You know how it goes. First there was one kid, and then there were two. This was followed by moves from sun-baked states to places where snow on April Fools’ Day is no joke. Eventually, I glanced down and there was a third kid. Today, he and I meet eye-to-eye, though I still find myself asking, “How did you get here?”

The truth, in part, is that I didn’t sit down to write a novel until public education took over childcare. But, mostly, I didn’t do it earlier because I didn’t know enough about life. When you write book you have to think for a lot of people. Inherently, novels involve conflict. It’s the author’s job to craft an entire world from scratch, filling it with characters and issues and outcomes that will satisfy the reader. Before forty, I had enough trouble doing that for real, never mind in a book. So here I am, at a beginning.

A debut novel can do a lot of things. It can satisfy a dream, make you Uber-popular in the car pool line, and incite opinions from strangers. Odd as it is, those strangers will decide if you’re the next Alice Hoffman or if the Author’s Guild should confiscate your laptop. It’s interesting when a debut novel skyrockets. Reviewers and readers will talk about it as if the author never hammered out a single sentence before penning their breakout novel. A book like that is often viewed as an epiphany. That or the writer cracked their head on the bathroom sink, grabbed a Ziplock bag full of ice, and proceeded to a computer where the debut novel bled from their head onto the page. I’d bet you every pair of stilettos in the Jimmy Choo collection that said author’s book had more than one inception, preceded by numerous novel attempts. And knowing the amount of attempts it takes, I feel fortunate to have made it this far. Ten weeks in and I’ve experienced some of the highs and lows of a being a published author. I’m invested now, carefully constructing my sophomore effort. Hopefully, it won’t suffer a sophomore jinx. Either way, one thing is for certain, in front of me is a debut novel with my name on it.

Thank you for having me, ladies. I don’t know if I’ll be a writer in my next life, but I’m definitely coming back as a 7 ½ narrow. For more info on BEAUTIFUL DISASTER or other inane tidbits, visit my website,

Laura is giving away a copy of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER to one lucky Stiletto Gang reader! Just leave a comment on her post through Sunday at noon. She'll randomly pick a winner on Sunday afternoon! Plus, if you visit her blog and post a comment any time through March, you'll get another chance to win!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Signings and the Midlist Author

by Denise Swanson

Phew! My newest book, Murder of a Bookstore Babe, came out March 1, and I’ve been on the road promoting it for the past two and a half weeks. Writers have to be a bit schizophrenic. We spend the majority of our time alone, in front of a computer with only a cat for company (okay, not every writer has a cat), then for six-eight weeks, when our new books hit the shelves, we suddenly need to become Oprah, or at least Dr. Phil. I’ve heard publicist tell authors they need to be warm and friendly, but still maintain an aura of celebrity. I’m not sure what that means exactly, and the concept of a midlist author as a celebrity makes me laugh so hard, I nearly have an asthma attack.

Writers go from wearing our sweats and jammies day in and day out, to getting gussied up in our best outfits for two months straight. The good part is we get to go shopping because, of course, we have nothing to wear . Our publishers want us to charm the booksellers, librarians, and readers, but caution us about being too pushy. Okay, I know what too pushy looks like—I once saw an author slip his (yes, it was a he) book into an unsuspecting shoppers basket. Like the shopper wouldn’t notice an extra $25 on her bill. But I’m not sure about charming. The best I can hope for is amusing.

In my eleven years of doing book signings, I’ve had turnouts of well over a hundred people to as few as eight (I’m hoping that was because it was the day before Mother’s Day and everyone was busy buying fabulous gifts for their moms). Still, that kind of experience makes every book signing terrifying. A little like, will I get the lady or the tiger?

So why do I do book signings? No one is convinced signings increase sales. My publisher only pays my expenses for a fraction of the appearances that I make. So, again why? Because there is nothing like meeting the people who read your books. Getting a chance to interact and hear their questions is what revs me up for the next ten months of staring at my computer.

When a day of writing feels like I’ve had to open a vein, I remember the teenage girl who had her father drive her all the way from North Dakota to Minneapolis to meet me. When I can’t figure out what’s wrong with a story and want to give up, I remember the grandmother, mother, and daughter who showed up at one of my signings and recalled more of the details from my past books than I did. And when I think the whole thing isn’t worth it, I think about all the people who are trying so hard to get their books published—because even though it’s been eleven years since my first book came out, I’ll never forget just how lucky I am.

Denise Swanson, the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author, decided she would rather write about villains than encounter them in her daily life. She was also shocked to discover that getting a book published was nearly as difficult as vanquishing scoundrels. Her books are set in Scumble River, a fictional small town in Illinois, and feature Skye Denison, a full-figured school psychologist-sleuth who is torn between a handsome police chief and an urbane coroner. Murder of a Bookstore Babe is the lucky 13th book in her Scumble River Mystery series.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Glass Half Full

With so much death and destruction in the world, I look to find any glimmer of hope in the news of the day.

I found it last week in the New York Times where an article discussed a recent study which reported a 20% rise in cancer survivors in the United States. I, for one, was thrilled. More people surviving cancer is a good thing, right?

I thought so until I posted this new, thrilling fact on my Facebook account and found that at least one person didn’t think it was very positive. Instead, that person wondered if that statistic was inflated because more people are being diagnosed with cancer. This person, a “friend,” went on to wonder if this statistic was even legitimate. “What about all the people who get diagnosed every day?” he wondered.

I was dumbfounded, as were several of my other Facebook friends. Several of them immediately commented, taking this person to task for 1) his insensitivity and 2) his glass-half-empty view of the world. He recanted, obviously chastened, and removed the offending comment from my post. He didn’t know that I was a cancer survivor, not that that really mattered in responding to my update.

To me, there was no way you could read the NY Times piece and see any downside. If there are more diagnoses, it still means that there are more survivors. And in my opinion, that can only be positive.

It just brings me back to that eternal question of just how optimistic can we be? Should we be? There is a lot of talk these days about optimism, the so-called “happiness” gene, one’s emotional outlook, all of the above and their relationship to physical health. Maybe my Facebook friend was having a bad day, or maybe he just isn’t optimistic. Maybe he knows someone who has just been diagnosed and isn’t seeing any value to a study. Hard to tell. But I always find it interesting to see how two people can take the same information or circumstance and look at it in an entirely different way. It makes me wonder: is it the way we’re wired or a choice we make?

I don’t think we’ll ever know for certain, but the latest issue of Oprah magazine does tackle the question of how beneficial positive thinking actually is, citing a study that says that cancer patients who explored their feelings about their illness and talked about it with others had to schedule fewer visits to their doctor. It goes on to say that there are a few things within our control like the quality of our diet and our commitment to exercise, but also our level of optimism. So it is something we can control and something we can unleash when necessary, like when we’re faced with a dire diagnosis and few options.

There are a few secrets to living an optimistic life including expressing yourself, meditating, seeking help if necessary, using your friends to help you, and looking on the bright side. The idea though, expressed simply, is that it is within our power to choose an optimistic mind-set and that we can practice to train ourselves to see things in a positive fashion rather than going negative at the outset.

Sure, we all fall victim to the doubts and the negativity, but I find it interesting that by doing a few simple things, like naming your adversity and identifying the consequences, to name a few, we can train ourselves to look at the bright side.

If you read the Stiletto Gang with any regularity—and because I’m a positive thinker, I’m going to assume that you do!—you know that optimism and positive thinking are two things that I think about and write about a lot. As a result, I was interested to take the quiz in the magazine which would score my level of optimism. I was happy to find that from my perspective,” things usually work out.” I am not “highly aware of potential disappointments,” nor do I “plan for the worst.” Optimism and its effect on health, according to the article is now a “scientific certainty” so in a world gone mad, we have the power to control how we feel and to focus on what’s good despite being constantly bombarded with the notion that the worst is yet to come.

With all that is going on in the world, though, how do you, our Stiletto faithful, keep a positive outlook?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Take on What's Going On at Home and Abroad

The reason I put the cover of my latest book, Angel Lost, up today is because I like it and it makes me happy to look at.

What doesn't make me happy is all the scary stuff going on all around the world with the Japan earthquake and tsunami being at the top of the list right now--but who knows what will be next? My heart goes out to the Japanese people. What's happening over there is far worse than any horror movie or story. Who would believe an earthquake of such magnitude followed by tsunmai traveling 500 miles and hour? Nuclear reactors exploding and now a volcano erupting, it's all too much to even grasp.

I'm not even going to get into the wars and rumors of wars.

What I'm going to write about next seems petty to all of the above.

I'll move onto something far smaller-daylight savings time. I'm an early riser and I'm not thrilled with it being so dark for so long in the morning. I know that I'll get used to it and as summer approaches it will get light earlier.

Last week I had a couple of disappointments. The big one was the cancellation of Mayhem in the Midlands. This is a convention I eagerly await each year. Because hubby and I are getting older I was wondering how many more we'd get to attend with flying getting more difficult each year. Now, it seems, we may have already gone to the last one. It's like finding out a family reunion has been canceled. I'm not going to see any of the wonderful friends that I've made over the years at Mayhem, nor will I be able to share wonderful meals with them at the various ethnic restaurants in Omaha.

So as not to lose the money completely I'd lost on the non-refundable ticket (the trip insurance I bought didn't cover the cancellation of an event) I decided we should go to Killer Nashville. I registered for both of us (this is a non-refundable fee) then called the airline to buy the airline tickets. To make a long and very frustrating story short, the new tickets, even deducting the old ones, are twice as much as the first pair.

A two day event I was going to attend for the second time (the Jane Austen Fest) was canceled and I might not have even found about it if I hadn't run into one of the organizers and told her I'd see her in a few weeks. Fortunately, I did get the money back for that one, and the hotel I planned to stay in for two nights cancelled my reservation without a fuss.

I then signed up for a one day event right here in my home town, certainly not nearly as elegant and you can see that by the name, The 50th Jackass Mail Run. It cost 1/4 what the Jane Austen Fest. It's outdoors which means putting up a tent, hauling table and chairs and my books--but what the heck, it's close by, I won't have to pay for a motel room.

My problems seem pitifully small compared to all the global happenings, but they are problems I can deal with.

And on the positive side, the reviews for Angel Lost are beginning to come in and so far have all been great.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunamis of all Kinds

Tsunamis, Nuclear Meltdowns, Earthquakes, Grassfires, Union Busters, Protesters, Crazy Dictators, Crazy Actors, Crazy Politicians ....

And that was just last week.

In between crises (Or is that crisi? What's the plural of crisis? Cause we don't just have one crisis at a time anymore.) Anyway, in between, I did my income taxes (I'm officially getting $5 back from Uncle Sam), held a public meeting on new regulations for my day job, published a new Evelyn David ebook to multiple on-line platforms, and worried about Oklahoma's state budget and how the current crop of legislators are going to try to make the numbers work. One of the proposed ways (being debated today) will cripple the agency I work for in ways too many to count. None of the proposals will save money. But, hey, sometimes a press release on consolidating agencies is all a politician can hope for. Real solutions take time, research and require reconciling facts with aspirations. Not something the average state politician wants to tackle. And I'm not even going to mention all the new federal environmental policies being forced down the states' throats. No time to make new laws, just change the policies, and try to enforce those like laws until the courts kick them back. Maybe it's not just state politicians who don't have time to do it right.

But leaving my personal "crisi" aside, I feel so bad for the Japanese people. Evelyn David has a slight connection to Japan. Our first book, Murder Off the Books was published there in a Japanese edition and we've nothing but good things to say about our experience with the Japanese publisher and agent. We wish them and the Japanese people well during their recovery from the earthquake and tsunami.

I hope this week is better than the last one. I don't know about everyone else, but my world has gotten just a little too frantic.

If you want to escape, try our new e-book, Love Lessons. Eleven romantic short stories guaranteed to make you smile.

We also have a new cover for our 4th Brianna Sullivan mystery. Undying Love in Lottawatah now features a minor character on the cover - Leon the bulldog. He was such a hit, that we've had to give him a full time gig. Look for him in the upcoming, A Haunting in Lottawatah.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Romantic Short Story Collections
Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Don't I Write about Sex?

by Ellery Adams.

Why don’t I?

Because I’m no good at it.

Wait, that came out wrong.

When I began writing mysteries, I focused on the puzzle first. I’ve always been a bit of a jigsaw puzzle geek and now I even do cryptograms when I’m waiting a long time (at the doctor’s office, for example. Why do we make appointments just to sit for thirty-forty minutes anyway? They should just hand out numbers like they do at the deli counter).

Next up, I turned my attention to the characters. From that point, the setting came into play. I steered away from romantic entanglements because I could never write them as well as the other stuff.

Now, with my Books By the Bay mysteries, I start with the characters and they drag me by the hair, this way and that, in true caveman style until the book unfolds like a rose. Thus far, none of them have shown an interest in getting naked. Great. I get down to the other elements and don’t have any R-rated sex scenes to worry about.

My heroine, Olivia Limoges, is a haunted, cynical, independent heiress who refuses to be swept off her feet by anyone. What a relief! Still, I can’t leave her on the shelf forever. I mean, the woman’s got needs. I can do a closed-door fling with the charismatic bookstore owner for now, but eventually, the man the readers sense Olivia belongs with is going to do something so heroic that she’ll have to defrost long enough to well, disrobe.

But not yet. I can hold off for another book. Because when that scene happens, it has to be right. It’s Olivia’s first time, after all. At least, it’s her first time being put on display by me.

This moment has to be as deftly executed as the clues woven into the plot. She has to be ready. I have to be ready. How much do you want to see in your mystery? Tell the truth now. Do you want your couples to go inside and shut the door? Or do you want to peek through the keyhole?

*Feel free to stop by my website. I am giving away a 3G Kindle on March 8th to celebrate the release of A Deadly Cliché and it’s not too late to enter the contest! Thanks for having me, ladies!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One Writer's Story

--Leann Sweeney

First, thanks to the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to stop by. My new release in the Cats in Trouble Mystery Series, The Cat, The Lady and The Liar, will be released April 5th.

Every book is like one of my children, each with its own personality, each connected to events in my life—some events good, some bad, some truly terrible, some absolutely wonderful.

The first book an author publishes is always different, and like a first child, seems like a miracle. How did this ever happen? I remember thinking. Holding a "real book," as my husband likes to say, with my words between the pages, was something almost as memorable as the day my son came into the world. Almost.

My real life kids had weddings within about a year and a half of each other, and in between, I wrote ... wait for it ... A Wedding to Die For. No surprise I felt like I could have actually murdered someone during that time. To be honest, I think it was the funniest book I've written. Truly a happy time, if not stressful.

But life doesn't always treat you kind, and after I turned in my third book, the notes back from my editor started out with something like, "This book is so sad. You have to make it funnier." I'd been diagnosed with Lyme, so yes, the sadness was there. And perhaps fear as well, fear that the illness would cost me my dream job—mystery writer. My editor is quite good at reading the subtext, and at that point the subtext was pretty heavy. I worked hard to make that book better and to this day, it is one of my favorites.

After writing eight books, I've pushed through the arrival of grandkids, Lyme relapses, a terrible reaction to a simple surgery that nearly killed me, having to take early retirement from my day job because of my illness and so much more. How can those events not seep into the pages? They do, of course, and in unexpected ways.

When my editor asked me to write a new series with cats front and center, I was excited. But unless I could write two books a year, I had to say goodbye to Abby Rose, of my Yellow Rose series, at least for a while. That affected me more than I ever expected. See, I don't have the stamina to write two books a year. Abby's a part of me and it was like I left town and bought a new house somewhere far away. I still miss her ... and one day I am sure she will visit me and everyone else again.

That tiny bit of grief over "losing" Abby, filtered into the first cat mystery without me even realizing it. More notes from my editor about a "sad book." I sure had to examine the novel-- and myself. My editor was right, of course. Then I faced the biggest rewrite ever. That sure wasn't fun! But in the end, I have grown to love my new story people. Creating a town from pure imagination was literally and figuratively new territory. The Yellow Rose books are set in Houston and the landscape was already there for me to explore. I thought it would be easy to create fictional Mercy, South Carolina. Not really. But the cats—Merlot, Chablis and Syrah—came with their personalities already set. It seemed magical, really.

So there you have a tiny bit of my story, and I'll bet every Stiletto Gang writer has their own journey—different and yet the same. But one thing we all have in common—we were all readers first. We are readers, just like you.

Leann Sweeney is the author of five Yellow Rose Mysteries and the Cats in Trouble Mysteries, with book three in the series due out next month. She lives in Texas with her husband, her three cats and the mini-labradoodle who thinks she's a cat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Of Spring and Things...

I’ve been mulling over what I was going to write about today and I came to one conclusion: not Charlie Sheen.

Haven’t we all seen enough of this most public of implosions? I, for one, continue to wonder where his parents, siblings, friends, and yes, even exes, are in this mix. Can’t someone forcibly commit this man if not for his own well being then for the sake of his five children? The whole thing is really sickening.

Rant over.

Let’s focus on the positive. For one thing, spring is on the way to the East Coast. Yes, the weather people say that we may get a big dump of snow on Thursday, but the best thing about March storms is that if they come, they are over quickly and the snow melts within days, if not hours. After having a snow drift on our front lawn that was close to five feet high, we can now see our grass. It’s a little worse for wear, but it can be saved with a little grass seed and a little love. The next thing we’ll look forward to is seeing buds on the trees which will signal that the winter of 2010-2011 is a thing of the past.

With spring comes one of my favorite traditions in the village in which I live: the outdoor farmer’s market. Of course, we do have indoor markets but they just don’t feel the way an outdoor market feels. In a few short weeks, within walking distance of my house, I will have fresh vegetables, pies, breads, cakes, and quiches available to me, all made by local growers and producers, all within a fifty-mile radius of my house. Sometimes, a local vineyard will come and sell wine which makes the farmer’s market a one-stop shopping expedition for this vegetable lover and oenophile.

Another wonderful spring tradition is Little League. Child #2 is still of an age where he can play on the “Majors,” which is essentially a group of boys (and some girls) between the ages of 9 and 12. The “Majors” have their games on the field smack dab in the middle of town, complete with bleachers and lights—when they’re working—to illuminate the field when the sun has set on an early spring night. We can walk through town and get pizza on the way home and if we’re feeling virtuous about our exercise for that day, ice cream. Sitting in the outfield for our last year of Majors is bittersweet and I’m going to savor every yawn-inducing game just so I never forget the sight of my son in permanently stained, formerly white baseball pants, his hat cocked to the side, trying to catch mosquitoes in the outfield.

We also have a new season of Mets’ baseball to look forward to, but if history has shown us anything, it’s that we should gird our loins for disappointment.

As a writer who works from home—but not in her pajamas as some often assume—I spend a lot of time indoors. Seasonal affective disorder is always around the corner on a dreary day and I think most of us who work from home have a nodding acquaintance with it. So, to see the sun at hours it hasn’t been seen in the past few months is a mood elevator better than any drug and to think of fresh peaches, wine from the Hudson Valley, and Little League baseball at just days away, I, for one, have quite a spring in my step. Pun intended.

What do you look forward to come spring, Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

And Off We Went

A very good friend of mine who now lives in Arizona (and is 80 plus) planned her next book tour for California. She had it all worked out, mainly hitting all the California Writers Clubs in the middle of the state beginning with Ridgewriters who are located in the high desert town of Ridgecrest. Inyokern and Trona are the only two other town anywhere around--bet you never heard of them either.

Ridgecrest is the home of the China Lake Naval Air Station--the home of many jet fighters, a battalion of Seabees along with all the Navy pilots and everyone who is there to maintain the base and the operations including many engineers. Oh, and as my husband always reminds me, a contingent of Marines for security.

Besides the families of all these people, a lot of retirees make their home in Ridgecrest, including those who retired from jobs on the NAS.

Somehow while my friend and the program chair of Ridgewriters were making their plans for the appearance, the dates got messed up. Ridgewriters expected my friend last Wednesday and she thought she was supposed to come this Wednesday.

At the last minute my friend asked if I could possible step in for her--and I said yes. (As it turned out, she'll be going tomorrow anyway--they are going to have two meetings this month, but they'd already publicized this first meeting.)

The drive to Ridgecrest takes about 3 plus hours (we always make a couple of stops on the way) but it's an easy drive with good roads and not much traffic--and great scenery. To get there we first must drive through the Tehachapi mountains (the home of the wonderfully engineered Tehachapi Loop where freight trains go round and round a large hill and the front end passes the back end--really fun to watch) and then we head out over the desert. There are abandoned houses, lots of Joshua trees and sage brush, sandy vistas that go on and on ending at mountains on either sides, and for a short while, a gorgeous vista of colorful cliffs.

Once we arrived in Ridgecrest, Mrs. Magellan guided us to our hotel which was a bit off the main road. Called Heritage Inn it had the grandeur of hotels from an earlier age with a huge lobby with comfortable chairs and couches and a wide, sweeping staircase to the second floor. Our room was large, nicely appointed and clean.

Next we asked Mrs. Magellan to take us to the restaurant where we were to meet some of the members of Ridgewriters for dinner. (We rely on Mrs. Magellan a lot--we no longer use Mapquest or even maps and we no longer argue about which way we should go.)

This is my fourth visit with this group which now meets in a retirement home, an upscale and extremely nice one. Only about 12 people showed up (obviously the word had gotten out that I was the replacement) and a couple of those were people who lived in the facility. My talk was about blogging and blog tours and those who came were quite interested in the topic and asked great questions.

Two of the attendees were young people (the rest were not) and I think they knew most of what I had to say, though the young man took lots of notes. Afterwards he told me that the last time I'd come had given him the incentive to keep on writing and he's since been published. That made the whole trip worthwhile.

And yes, I sold books--only 6, but that's pretty good when you think about how few people were there.

I truly like this group, the drive is enjoyable and I was happy to help out.

The hotel was the quietest I've ever slept in. Breakfast was free and you ordered off the menu in the restaurant of the hotel.

So all in all, it was a good time all around. I'll go there again if they ask.


Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Succeed in Business

The truth is he can't sing particularly well; he's a so-so dancer; his comic timing is off; and as an aside, I had no idea he was that short.

So why did I leap to my feet at the end of the show to give Daniel Radcliffe and the cast of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying a standing ovation? Because the finale was a show-stopper and most of all, because I was in awe of the risk this 21-year-old kid had taken.

Sure it's easy to try something different and risk failure when you're a gazillionaire, but this was putting himself "out there" in a very public way and nobody, not even gazillionaires, likes bad reviews.

After seven, going on eight, Harry Potter movies, the chance of being typecast is basically a sure thing. But in the last 18 months, Daniel Radcliffe has deliberately chosen to project a new image and expose himself literally in Equus, as well as figuratively. He made a conscious decision to reinvent the public persona that his role in the blockbuster movies has made.

All of which gave this author pause. It's easy, as you age, to become risk averse. Stick to what you know and what you know will sell.

Write a successful cozy. Write another one.

Heck, even simpler. Serve a recipe that's worked for the past 20 years – and never bother to change the menu. Jalapeno peppers? Never bought one. Have no clue what I would do if I did.

But there I was, in the darkened Al Hirschfeld Theater, just steps from the gleaming lights of Broadway, and I pondered, for a change, not How to Succeed in the mystery business, but how to shake things up and change on a bigger, pardon the pun, stage.

As Goethe told us: "The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety."

I've been in a comfort zone when it comes to writing. It's time to take some risk. I made a start when Rhonda convinced me to write the Brianna Sullivan series. I didn't like, to be honest was afraid of, the paranormal. But exploring the world of ghosts has made the world of the living all the more exciting and fun. Next up is a series of short stories about love and romance. Should be published in e-book formats in the next week. If they sell, wonderful. If they don't, I have no regrets. I tried.

And that's how it should be. The point is not whether Daniel Radcliffe or I succeed. What's important is that we walked out there and risked failure. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."

Marian, in search of Jalapeno Pepper for dinner

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake- Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books- Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, March 4, 2011

News of the Weird

by Susan McBride

I remember when weird news was often tacked onto the end of a nightly broadcast, usually in the vein of "stupid criminals" clips where a bank robber wrote his stick-up note on the back of his own deposit slip or an "aw, shucks" tale with an orangutan adopting a baby tiger at the local zoo. You know what I mean.

Now every time I turn on the TV or click on an Internet newspaper, it doesn't take much searching to find news of the absurd. It's front page headlines. Journalism has turned into "Entertainment Tonight," and that's not a good thing.

So far this week, all I've seen is Charlie Sheen's face everywhere, professing his fabulousness, when it's pretty clear he's got problems even bigger than his ego. I saw an article that said a lot of stars who got in trouble this past week owe Charlie a big favor for keeping them off the cover of People magazine. Like Christina Aguilera who ended up in the drunk tank with her boyfriend after a bender. And Galliano, the Dior designer (er, ex-Dior designer) who made more than a few anti-Semitic remarks caught on someone's cell phone camera. I don't even know what Mel Gibson's up to lately because Charlie's superseded his baby-mama drama by a mile.

Oh, yeah, and there are revolutions galore going on in the Middle East. And we're still in a recession with all sides of the political aisle at war because everyone seems intent on helping themselves instead of fixing things.

But, oh, no, let's hear more about Charlie and his "goddesses" aka the porn stars who live in his house with him and help him "take care" of his twin boys. Oops, nix that. His almost ex-wife (whom he was accused of threatening to kill) has gotten the kids back, thanks to a court order and the LAPD. Wow, I just can't keep up with all the Sheen-anigans! It feels like an A&E "Intervention" marathon without an ending.

I just wish someone would please stop the madness. Why does the media keep having this guy on when it's clear he needs serious help? I'm not sure how his delusions and obvious self-destruction constitute entertainment.

Then I think about the dystopian young adult best-seller THE HUNGER GAMES, which features teens killing each other all in the name of sport. I hope we never sink that low, but it does seem like we're turning people's misery into live entertainment, and it's even worse than "Jersey Shore" and "The Bachelor" combined.

As a J-School major, I'm disappointed at what counts for news these days. Walter Cronkite must be turning over in his grave. Give me stories that matter: about regular hard-working people who are making a difference, small businesses that are thriving despite the financial mess, research scientists working on cures for disease, and explorers unearthing new species or stars. And not the kind of "stars" that seem to rule television and the Internet ad nauseum. Those I can live without.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

High Heels & Me

Meredith Cole

I have a confession to make. I can’t wear stilettos. Hmm. I hope this admission won’t get kicked off the blog today. Perhaps it will help if I say that my sleuth in POSED FOR MURDER and DEAD IN THE WATER wears heels? I’ve tried to wear high heels, but I always feel like I’m walking on stilts. I’ve seen women who strut around in their heels looking sexy and strong. Unfortunately I just wobble along, and fifteen minutes into the evening ache all over.

Living in New York, an uncomfortable pair of shoes could absolutely ruin my entire day (or week, if they ripped up my feet enough). Walking absolutely everywhere on hard and unforgiving pavement, it was comfortable shoes all the way. Stilettos were, my friends and I fondly liked to say, “taking a taxi shoes.” I don’t think the women in Sex in the City ever tried to run for an N train in their sexy stilettos. They would have ended up with one of those shoes stuck in a grate and a sprained ankle – or worse.

My contentious relationship with heels began when I grew to be five foot four in the 5th grade. All the boys were six inches shorter. So my first pair of heels was just ½” high. I still felt like I was towering over everyone. I grew to be 5’8” but I frequently have people ask (or assume) that I’m taller. Good posture, I guess. It’s certainly not because I wear heels.

Occasionally when I go to speak to a group that’s read my book, I get a funny look. I usually have a good idea why. They’re expecting me to be a twenty-something, funkily dressed artist—just like my sleuth. But Lydia McKenzie and I are pretty different people. She’s young and single, and I’m married and have a child. She lives in Brooklyn, and I’ve moved back home to Virginia. She’s a photographer, and I’m a filmmaker turned novelist. And Lydia always wears crazy vintage clothes.

I’m not a dull dresser at all. I enjoy clothes, and love to shop at second hand stores. I love fabrics and color, and putting on outfits in the morning. But I like to be comfortable, too. There has to be an inner beauty that shines through when your toes can breathe, your arches are supported, and you don’t feel like you’re going to sprain your ankle when you take a step. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

So will Lydia ever learn to tone down her clothes? She’s a fictional sleuth, so she can walk on the wild side. She’s looking for murderers with her camera, stumbling over dead bodies, and running for her life, so wearing heels seems pretty safe in comparison. Besides, she can always kick them off now and then and give her feet a rest. That’s what I would do.


Meredith Cole started her career as a screenwriter and filmmaker. She was the winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic competition, and her book POSED FOR MURDER, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2009. She was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel in 2010. Her second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, continues the adventures of photographer and amateur sleuth Lydia McKenzie in Brooklyn. She teaches writing at the University of Virginia. Visit her website here

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

There is new research out that suggests that a) positive thinking really does have an effect on your life in general and b) being nicer to yourself—showing “self-compassion”—is really integral to a happy life.

Great. Something else to feel bad/guilty/unworthy about.

I found out about the New York Times article on self-compassion from the northern half of Evelyn David right after I had seen the report on “Good Morning, America,” about positive thinking. Apparently, by being self-compassionate, your diet and weight loss program will be more successful, and more importantly, you may have less stress, depression, anxiety and gain “more happiness and life satisfaction.”

I guess all of this news should make me happy as I consider myself a “glass is half full” kind of person but it just makes me worry. What if I’m not positive enough, not compassionate enough to myself, to keep things like stress, depression, and anxiety at bay? Does that make me a failure as a positive thinker? Do I need to work harder? Will I make myself sick because sometimes I let negativity get the best of me?

See where I’m going here? It’s kind of like when someone tells me to “relax!” Instead of calming down, it’s like some kind of caged animal has been released into the world. It’s the antithesis of relaxing.

Some of the research on positive thinking points to someone being “wired” a specific way, a way in which no matter how hard they try, their outlook will always veer toward the negative. To me, then, all of this new research begs the question: are we trying too hard to be what we’re not? How much stress are we adding to our lives by thinking about our personal mindsets and that we may be failing at the one thing we are born doing—thinking?

Curiously, there is no research on that, but I think some lip service needs to be paid to feeling what you feel when you’re feeling it. I come to this conclusion from having spent five years of my life pretending everything was just FINE! even though I was undergoing a very debilitating cancer treatment while working full time, writing, and being a mom and wife. I found that while pretending that everything was FINE! was great for everyone around me, it was not so great for me, because it masked the fear and sometimes hopelessness I had in my own heart while everyone around me felt great. The downward spiral would come when I beat myself up for not being more positive or for not being kind to myself or that thinking negatively was having an adverse reaction on my health—one that I couldn’t control. However, by just allowing myself to say “Wow, this stinks” and dealing with the fear or anxiety, the fear and anxiety would pass. Talking to a friend would also help. But trying to talk myself into a more positive mindset would have the opposite reaction. It would just make me feel more negative because I couldn’t feel more positive. It was an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum, or something like that.

I think these kinds of studies are important but I’m not sure where they lead or what, really, they tell us.

In reality, I’m all for positive thinking, but I’m interested to know if there is anyone else out there in the Stiletto world who feels that when they read these articles or learn of these studies they feel as if they are deficient in certain areas or that they need to work harder to change their particular mindset. Do you let your “wiring” dictate how you feel or do you make a conscious effort to work against feelings of negativity? And just how exhausting is that?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

And Then She was Married

It's been one month since granddaughter Jessica married Jerry. They are having a great time being Mr. and Mrs. I've been fortunate because for right now they are staying in her old room with her folks next door as they save for their next home.

Of course the first photo is her proud dad (and my youngest offspring) walking her down the aisle.

The second photo is Jessi with her brothers, Nathan and Nick.

Nick and Nathan both lived with us during a part of their growing up years--Nathan during middle school, and Nick was with us from the age of 11 until he turned 20. We had Jessi during the school week (because our little school up here in the foothills is wonderful) until her dad and mom moved into the house next door.

Just had to share, will get back to normal--if there is such a thing--next week.