Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Club Triumphs and Failures

by Maria Geraci

First off, I need to apologize for missing my post last Thursday. I started to write it then got pulled away from the computer and then hurt my back. Had to spend 2 days in bed taking muscle relaxants. Not. Fun. At. All.

So, back to book clubs. I've been amazed at how the book club phenomena has really taken off in the past decade. Book clubs are a terrific way for women (and men) to get together, socialize, and talk about a common interest.And yes, I belong to a book club. Let me tell you a little bit about us.

My book club started a few years ago when a couple of the nurses I work with (nursing is my "day" job) decided it would be fun to form our own group. I don't know about other professions, but being a nurse for many years I would say that in my observation, nurses as a general rule are prolific readers. Finding members to join our little club was no problem.

The problem came with recommending which book to read.

I don't remember exactly how it came to happen, but the first book our club read was The Shack. Oy vey. We nearly imploded at our first meeting. A few members loved it (cried when discussing it) some members were "it's okay, I guess" (I was in this group) and some members threatened to leave forever if this was the kind of book we were going to select. Lesson learned: Stay away from books that resemble The Shack.

After our debut debacle, no one wanted the pressure of recommending another book.Since I'm a writer and the author of three (soon to be four) published books, people turned to me for suggestions. Talk about pressure...

So after a little "book club" research I recommended we read The Time Traveler's Wife.
Conclusion: Much better than The Shack! But... what really happened in that strange scene when our time traveling hero "meets" himself as a teenager and is caught by his father in the "act." Even after several drinks, no one could figure that scene out. But I wasn't pelted with hot rocks during the meeting, so I guess I did okay.

From The Time Traveler's Wife, we went on to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yeah. What was I thinking? Personally, I loved it. Everyone else? Not so much. It didn't cause the near riot that The Shack did, but most of the other members couldn't get through the book and it was an expensive book (because it had just come out).  So this taught me a lesson. Before I select another book club pick, do some research. Our best book selections are books that have been out for a while (thus are already in paperback form or readily available from the library) and have nothing do with religion or zombies.

Some of  our "best" selections have been Water For Elephants, The Weird Sisters (although this was a sort of expensive book because we read it when it first came out), The Help, and The Hunger Games (probably our biggest book club hit thus far). Currently, we're reading Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and I definitely think I'm safe. At least, I hope so.

What about you? Do you belong to a book club? Who picks the books you read? And what have been your biggest flops and triumphs?

Maria Geraci writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction with a happy ending. The Portland Book Review called her novel, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, “immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous.” Her fourth novel, A Girl Like You, will be released August, 2012 by Berkley, Penguin USA. For more information, please visit her website at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I need a recommendation, please

A friend of mine is moving into a co-op in New York City and has been asked by the co-op board to provide four letters of recommendation to prove that she is, in fact, a good neighbor.  She has asked me to write one of the letters because beyond the fact that we were “neighbors” all during high school—our maiden names both starting with “Sc-“ made it so N, my friend, stared at the back of my head for four years—she moved into our neighborhood ten years ago and stayed here until recently deciding that she and her husband wanted to be back in New York City.  I’m biased—she was one of my best friends until our respective paths separated us for many years—so what can I say beyond the fact that she doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have crazy parties?  That she’s the smartest person I know?  That she and her husband speak so softly that I can often not hear what they’re saying?  That her leisure pursuits consist of running, reading books that require a forklift to get off the bookshelf, and playing with her cats?  Or that if you ever find yourself in a real pickle—say with a diagnosis of Stage IV melanoma—she’s the only person you want at your side besides your spouse?  All of those things seem irrelevant to what the co-op board may want to know about my friend, but I’ll include most of it anyway.  I don’t know how often she takes out her recycling or if she’ll be needing a parking space or even if she cooks curry at weird hours, but I know she’s a good person and someone you’d want living beside you to celebrate the good and weathering the bad.

The requested letter of recommendation got me thinking about recommendations in general.  What do we really want to know when we ask for recommendations?  Generally, is the person a hard worker?  A suitable neighbor?  An upstanding citizen?  But more to the point, what should we want to know? For instance, when I was looking for a new babysitter, what I should have asked, besides the obvious (have any children died on this person’s watch?), was “will this person clean up after themselves after making a thick ragu of beef, veal, and pork with onions to spare?”  Or, will this person say to me, a new mother, that she knows more about childrearing than I do and to learn from her?  (Trust me, that’s something you don’t want to hear after commuting two hours and working a ten-hour day.)  What about the new marketing manager that you’re hiring?  Ask that person, “will you make promises to people that you cannot keep without me pulling every string and three straight all-nighters?” rather than “How many copies of book x did you sell during your tenure at your former company?”

These are the intangibles, the things that I wished I had the foresight to ask.  As a closet perfectionist (ok, maybe not so closet), I try to anticipate every last thing in order to be prepared, but what I have found is that I can never anticipate everything, and even if I come close, I’m usually off by a detail or two.  So, I’m now just trying to go with the flow, something that doesn’t come naturally to me and that feels like I’m wearing an ill-fitting dress when I try it on for size.  I wish my friend’s co-op board was doing the same, but for obvious reasons, I guess we’re glad that we’re not.

What are some of the things you wished you had foreseen, Stiletto Faithful?  What is one question you wished you would have asked?

Maggie Barbieri

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lori's Book Sense

Lori's Reading Corner

Welcome back to Lori's Book Sense.  

Since it's Memorial Day Weekend, and the official start of summer, I thought that instead of providing you with some reviews of the books I've read this past month, I'd share with you some of the amazing books that will be coming out this summer. 

I apologize in advance if this list makes any of your TBR piles topple over. 
(All my reviews will be posted on or about the publication date at the request of the publishers)

15 Seconds: A Novel by Andrew Gross (release date July 10th) ~ 15 seconds can tear your life apart . . .
Henry Steadman didn't know what was about to hit him when he pulled up to a red light. A successful Florida plastic surgeon, he is in town to deliver a keynote address at a conference when suddenly his life becomes an unrelenting chase to stay alive.
Stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation, the situation escalates and he is pulled from his vehicle, handcuffed and told he is under arrest. Several other police cars arrive and the questioning turns scary, but just as Henry is released and about to move on, a blue sedan pulls up and the officer is suddenly killed. As the car speeds away, there is only one suspect left behind–Henry. In that moment, his idyllic life becomes a free fall into hell as he becomes the target of a police manhunt, as well as being pursued by a cunning, unnamed perpetrator bent on some kind of vengeance.
When Henry turns to a close friend for help, and he, too, ends up dead, Henry realizes he's being elaborately framed. But in a chilling twist, the stakes grow even darker, and he is unable to go to the police to clear his name, without bringing on dire and deadly consequences.
With breakneck pacing and nonstop action, 15 Seconds shows what can happen when even the best life is turned upside down in an instant. It is also the story of an innocent man, framed for murder, who has to save the person he loves the most, all while being drawn closer and closer to an inevitable face-to-face standoff with a man determined to destroy his life.

This book was AMAZING!!!! 

A Different Kind of Normal by Cathy Lamb (release date July 31st) ~ This novel is about a kid with a big head, a hospice nurse and a surgeon, a family of witches, spells, spices, herbs, a greenhouse, and basketball.
It’s about a woman named Jaden, with one blue eye and one green eye, who does what’s right, and wears some kick – butt boots while doing it.
It’s about her son, Tate, who shows courage and strength in the face of enormous adversity. It’s about an outspoken soap opera actress and a muscled single father of four who creates original floral bouquets.
It’s about family.
I went way back in the Bruxelle family’s history to build the story: From England and a torch wielding mob, to South Carolina pre-Civil War and the Underground Railroad, to the difficulties of the Oregon trail…and on to the modern story out in the country in Oregon.
The old, white house, built by Jaden’s ancestors, and surrounded by the flowers and herbs that this family has planted for centuries, has its own story to tell, as do Tate and Jaden, who, in the end, truly need a little magic and a miracle.
This is my next up. I have adored every other book Cathy has written, so I know I won't be disappointed with this one.

Don't Say A Word by Beverly Barton (release date July 31st) ~  Cross Your Heart. . .
One by one, they will die. He has waited patiently, planning their final moments. Their tortured screams, their pleas for mercy--all will be in vain...
And Hope. . .
Homicide detective Julia Cass has witnessed plenty of crime scenes. But the murder of a Chattanooga judge is shocking in its brutality. Teamed with FBI agent Will Brannock, Julia delves into an investigation that soon unearths more bodies--all mutilated in the same way, all left with a gruesome souvenir of a killer's ruthless rage. . .
To Die. . .
The only way to stop the slaughter is to predict the next victim. But when you're dealing with vengeance at its most ruthless, one wrong move can make you a target. . .and the next word you utter could be your last. . .

I'm reading this book now and am savoring every word. Ms. Barton passed away suddenly in April of last year, and this is her last book. I have always been a huge fan and will miss her books tremendously.

Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain (release date Aug 7th) ~ Nothing makes Portland detective Archie Sheridan happier than knowing that Gretchen Lowell—the serial killer whose stunning beauty is belied by the gruesome murders she’s committed—is locked away in a psych ward. Archie can finally heal from the near-fatal physical and emotional wounds she’s inflicted on him and start moving on with his life.

To this end, Archie throws himself into the latest case to come across his desk: A cyclist has discovered a corpse in Mount Tabor Park on the eastern side of Portland. The man was gagged, skinned, and found hanging by his wrists from a tree. It’s the work of a killer bold and clever enough to torture his victim for hours on a sunny summer morning in a big public park and yet leave no trace.

And then Archie gets a message he can’t ignore—Gretchen claims to have inside knowledge about this grisly murder. Archie finally agrees to visit Gretchen, because he can’t risk losing his only lead in the case. At least, that’s what he tells himself . . . but the ties between Archie and Gretchen have always been stronger, deeper, and more complex than he’s willing to admit, even to himself. What game is she playing this time? And even more frightening, what long-hidden secrets from Gretchen’s past have been dredged up that someone would kill to protect?

At once terrifying and magnetic, “Beauty Killer” Gretchen Lowell returns with a vengeance in Kill You Twice, Chelsea Cain’s latest razor-sharp psychological thriller.

It is impossible for Chelsea Cain to write fast enough for me. I adore Gretchen and Archie. And since Gretchen is a female Hannibal Lecter and I'm a huge SOTL fan, it's no wonder I love these books. Kill You Twice is the best one  yet! (Oh, and rumor has it, they're turning the books into a TV show. Sweet!)

Pulse by John Lutz (release date July 3rd) ~ The killer's depravity is insatiable. What he does to his victims is unthinkable. Homicide detective turned P.I. Frank Quinn has seen this M.O. before. A demented ritual, it's the work of Daniel Danielle - a notorious serial killer who blurs the line between male and female, human and monster. Danielle disappeared ten years ago. Is a copy cat repeating the crimes? Or has Danielle made a deadly return? Either way, this time the killing won't stop.

This is the 7th book in the Frank Quinn series, and each one gets better and better.  Full disclosure ~ this book should not be read on a full stomach. 

Pies and Prejudice (A Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery) by Ellery Adams (release date July 3rd) ~ When the going gets tough, Ella Mae LaFaye bakes pies. So when she catches her husband cheating in New York, she heads back home to Havenwood, Georgia, where she can drown her sorrows in fresh fruit filling and flakey crust. But her pies aren't just delicious. They're having magical effects on the people who eat them--and the public is hungry for more.

Discovering her hidden talent for enchantment, Ella Mae makes her own wish come true by opening the Charmed Pie Shoppe. But with her old nemesis Loralyn Gaynor making trouble, and her old crush Hugh Dylan making nice, she has more than pie on her plate. and when Loralyn's fiancé is found dead--killed with Ella Mae's rolling pin--it'll take all her sweet magic to clear her name.

I can not WAIT for this to come out. This is the first book in Ellery's new Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery series.  I know it will be a hit! 

Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense by Alafair Burke (release date June 19th) ~ Sixteen-year-old Julia Whitmire appeared to have everything: a famous father, a luxurious Manhattan town house, a coveted spot at the elite Casden prep school. When she is found dead in her bathtub, a handwritten suicide note left on her bed, her parents insist that their daughter would never take her own life.
But Julia's enviable world was more complicated than it seemed. The pressure to excel at Casden was enormous. Abuse of prescription antidepressants and ADHD medication ran rampant among students; an unlabeled bottle of pills in Julia's purse suggests she had succumbed to the trend. And a search of Julia's computer reveals that in the days leading up to her death she was engaged in a dangerous game of cyberbullying against an unlikely victim.
NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher is convinced the case is a suicide, but she knows from personal experience that a loving family can be the last to accept the truth. When the Whitmires use their power to force a criminal investigation, Ellie's resistance causes trouble for her both at work and in her personal life. As she is pressured to pursue a case she doesn't believe in, she is pulled into Julia's inner circle—an eclectic mix of overly precocious teenagers from Manhattan's most privileged families as well as street kids from Greenwich Village. But when the target of Julia's harassment continues to receive death threats, Ellie is forced to acknowledge that Julia may have learned the hard way that some secrets should never be told.

Never Tell is book four in the Ellie Hatcher series and will knock your socks off.  Teens, secrets, drugs, and money. Could you ask for anything more?

Murder on the Half Shelf (A Booktown Mystery) by Lorna Barrett (release date July 3rd) ~ Stoneham, New Hampshire, is a haven to bookstores, including Tricia’s own mystery shop, Haven’t Got a Clue, but is sadly lacking in bed and breakfasts. Pippa and Jon Comfort’s Sheer Comfort Inn opens its doors to the public in a week and the couple has offered some locals a free night as a trial run.

But what should have been a pleasant overnight stay for Tricia becomes a nightmare when she makes two startling discoveries: Pippa’s murdered body in the backyard, and the fact that her husband Jon is actually Harry Tyler, a man Tricia loved—and believed dead—for nearly twenty years.

Now Harry is the prime suspect, but Tricia doesn’t believe him capable of murder, regardless of her own feelings toward him. And even though Harry’s led a life of lies, Tricia’s learning that Pippa had her share of secrets that some people may have not wanted revealed…

A mysteries series (this is book #6) set in a town filled with could you not want to read them?  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this and I have two more books to go before I start it. YAY!

Hearse and Buggy (An Amish Mystery) by Laura Bradford (release date June 5th) ~ Claire Weatherly has fled a high-stress lifestyle for a slower pace—in Amish country: Heavenly, Pennsylvania. She only planned a short visit but instead found herself opening an Amish specialty shop, Heavenly Treasures, and settling in.Claire loves her new home, and she’s slowly making friends among the locals, including Esther, a young Amish woman who works in the shop. So when the store’s former owner,the unlikable Walter Snow, is murdered, and the man Esther is sweet on becomes a suspect, Claire can’t help but get involved.
Newly returned Detective Jakob Fisher, who left Heavenly—and his Amish upbringing—as a teenager, is on the case. But his investigation is stalled by the fact that none of his former community will speak with him. Claire’s connections make her the perfect go-between.
As Claire investigates, she uncovers more than she wanted to know about her neighbors. And suddenly, everything she had hoped to find in this peaceful refuge is at risk . . . 

This is the first book in the Amish Mystery series and I am really looking forward to starting it.  It's in my mini-mini TBR.

You Don't Want To Know by Lisa Jackson (release date Aug 1st) ~ Two years ago, Ava's two-year-old son Noah went missing, and his body has never been found. Ava has spent most of the past two years in and out of Seattle mental institutions, shattered by grief and unable to recall the details of Noah's disappearance. Now she's back at the family estate she once intended to restore to its former grandeur. But as Ava's mind comes back into focus, her suspicions grow. Ava can't shake the feeling that her family and her psychologist know more than they're saying. Unwilling to trust those around her, Ava secretly visits a hypnotist to try and restore her memories. But the strange visions and night terrors keep getting worse. Ava is sure she's heard Noah crying in the nursery, and glimpsed him walking near the dock. Is she losing her mind, or is Noah still alive? Ava won't stop until she gets answers, but the price may be more than she ever thought to pay...

Is Noah alive? Or is Ava losing her mind?  Creep factor times ten.  Sounds like a sure-fire hit to me!

The Playdate by Louisa Millar (release date July 3rd) ~ You leave your kids with a friend down the street. Everyone does it. Until the day it goes wrong.
For the past few lonely years, Suzy has been the only one to reach out to her neighbor, single mother Callie, and her frail daughter Rae. Suzy welcomed them into her large, apparently happy, family, and has been a rock and best friend to Callie. But it’s time for Callie to find her own way, and going back to work is the first step towards rediscovering her old confidence. But why does she find it so hard to tell Suzy about her new job? And who will look after Rae while she’s gone? Callie’s return to work precipitates a chain of events that reveal the isolation, turmoil, and dark secrets behind the doors of a seemingly peaceful neighborhood.
     The Playdate is a gripping psychological thriller—a chilling evocation of modern life, where seemingly longstanding friendships are superficial, and overwork and exhaustion lead parents to make impulsive decisions about the care of their children. This is a debut thriller from a striking new talent readers won’t soon forget. 

Bet you'll think twice before leaving your kids with a friend again. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Owe It All To One Man

By Laura Bradford

I have a bit of a confession to make.

I've always had a few fears, you know, things that make me cringe--bees, bugs of just about any kind, rodents, and anything I see as potentially harmful to my kids. But those kinds of fears I can deal with. I don't like them, but if I have to take care of them myself, I can and I do.

Recently, though, I've developed what can best be described as a phobia...of steep steps and/or elevators. I've upgraded it from a fear to a phobia because of how intense it's gotten and the fact that I can't "take care of it myself" the way I do with a bee or a bug.

I know exactly when this phobia was born. And I know (at least the rational part of my brain knows) it was an isolated incident. But for some reason, that part of a person's brain that regulates reaction can't seem to wrap itself around the whole "isolated incident" notion just yet.

The event that started it all off involved a very steep escalator at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, and an older gentleman with a cane.

For whatever reason, he felt the need to hightail it onto the escalator in front of a bunch of people (myself, included). Once he boarded, I stepped on behind him. The problem came when he fell backward as the escalator began to rise. I saw him falling, did my best to move out of the way and grab him at the same time, but I got pinned. Folks came running to help and managed to get him upward, but my leg (and the position I was in) made it next to impossible to right myself (and, mind you, the escalator is continuing to do its thing at the same time).

By the time we reached the top, I was back on my legs, but they--along with me--were shaky.

Since that day, I've found myself leaving a step or two between myself and the person in front of me on any and all escalators. Even in places like Grand Central Station where spacing isn't always an option, I create some. And I do so with a pounding in my chest and a little clamminess in my hands--both of which has surprised and quietly embarrassed me.

A few days ago, though, the quiet embarrassment wasn't an option when hubby and I went hiking up Mt. Olga in Vermont. The hike, itself, was fine. I loved it just as I always do. But when we reached the summit, we came across a fire tower capable of providing a spectacular view...if you could climb to the top.

I couldn't.

I tried to climb up, I really did. But after I reached the top of the first set of stairs you see, I freaked out and had to come down. After about ten minutes I was so ashamed of myself I was determined to try it again. Unfortunately, that determination did me little to no good as I made it up to the top of the second set, only to turn around (in a total panic) and clench-arm it all the way back down.

The hardest part is the fact that I want to climb it, yet, when I try to, the panic becomes so severe that it completely overrides my determination.

So there you go. I've become an escalator-riding-steep-step-climbing nutcase.

Do you have any true phobias? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

by Bethany Maines

Anddddd… we’re back from NYC! After a week long trip to the Big Apple where we sampled the food, the night life, the culture and of course, the shopping, I realized that I may possibly be the only vactioner who includes signs as part of my list of tourist attractions. I’m not talking the big important monuments, I’m talking about the little tragedies of government signage or the er… “modifications” that have occurred to everyday signs.

As I back-tracked through the subway to capture this beauty about the Essex Street subway stop, I received strange looks from locals and my friends a like. Personally, I think this sign “correction” shows a flare of genius! The sign artist had to capitalize on the multitude of “wet paint” signs that were at a previous stop and apply them to the Essex St. sign without getting caught by the MTA employees and without committing the cardinal New York sin – getting in the way of people trying to get on the subway.

The Essex St. sign is second only to the series of masterpieces I captured while on honeymoon in the Virgin Islands. The Dip Series showed not only a one-time creativity, but the extended oeuvre of the artist. And while the Dip Series artist might not have been faced the threat of law enforcement the way the Essex St. artist was, his/her odds of getting run over were much higher.

A second category of sign that I much appreciate is what I term “unintentional art.” It’s a category exemplified by this little gem discovered in Brooklyn. Yes, that’s a New York City Department of Environmental Protection truck, and yes, it wants “Gasoline Only.”  Because gasoline is what environmental protection is all about, right?

Then there’s this classic from a previous trip to New York. Yup, that electrically lit sign is indeed telling you that it’s conserving electricity.

So as we march through life looking for the next “important” thing to look at, I think it’s also imperative to remember the advice I once got from my mother as I pushed a pull door – “Stop and read the sign.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All hail technology

By: Joelle Charbonneau

The age of computers and the internet is a wonderful thing.  Facebook and Twitter, blogs and e-mail allow us to keep in touch with friends and family in way that weren’t possible before.  I, for one, am thrilled because I’m pretty bad at writing letters.  Well, actually the writing part I did pretty well.  I sat down with stationary, got out my pink (or green or chartreuse) pen and started scribbling.  Sadly, unless I’m being really careful, my penmanship looks a lot more like I went to school to be a doctor than a singer.

Still, I was great at putting pen to paper and writing line after line of chat.  When I was done, I’d happily put the paper in the envelope, print the name of the lucky recipient on the front and put it to the side with the intention of digging out my friend’s address and mailing it the next day.  Only, the next day never seemed to come.  At least, not for the letter.  The poor thing would sit there like an abandoned toy.  Waiting for someone to put it to use.  When I finally did remember that I was supposed to send the letter, several weeks or months had passed which meant I needed to write the thing all over again because my news was outdated.

Yep.  I was the person that e-mail was created for.  Sit down.  Type out a message.  Hit send.  No street address or stamp required.  Hurrah!  Let us all worship at the altar of technology.

Or not.

While I understand e-mail and mostly get how Facebook, Twitter and this blog work (I say mostly because much to my dismay the internet elves keeping changing the rules on those programs) there are certain pieces of technology that have me baffled.  With the upcoming release of MURDER FOR CHOIR, I was encouraged by those who are smarter than I am to put some clips of my singing up on YouTube.  They reasoned that since my amateur sleuth is a classically trained singer, it might be nice for the internet using public to see where I got some of my inspiration from.  Since everyone I talked to said it would be easy to pull some clips off of a DVD and stick them up on YouTube, I agreed to take a whack at it.

And another whack at it.

And another.


So much for easy.

I guess one person’s easy is another person’s tension headache.   

However, despite the headache, seven or eight hours of shaking my head at the computer screen and a bunch of reboots later – I am happy to report that perseverance and dumb luck won out. 

Of course, now that I am sitting back basking in the glow of my accomplishment (which I am not sure I know how to repeat) I am wondering – what types of technology have you struggled with that everyone else claims is easy?  Please share!

Oh – and in case you are interested…here is one of the videos I managed to upload.  Here is hoping that it works!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hello, I Must Be Going

by Susan McBride

I've been part of the Stiletto Gang for just about four years, and it's been an absolutely wonderful experience. When Maggie asked me to guest blog in 2008, I had no idea that it would turn into a regular gig. I had once sworn I wouldn't do blogs again because it involves more time than you'd think; but she convinced me that twice a month at Stiletto was completely doable.  Oh, yeah, and she assured me the group was comprised of the nicest bunch of women you could ever hope to meet.

She was definitely on the money about the "nicest bunch of women." It has been a real pleasure dealing with such a helpful, considerate "gang," and I have so enjoyed getting to know everyone better, through emails and through the always entertaining and insightful daily blog posts. I'm not sure I'm going to miss writing my two posts a month (with Emily coming along and deadlines galore, it was getting hard coming up with fresh ideas to expound upon!); but I will miss being a Stiletto chick. Luckily, the Stiletto ladies have become friends whom I intend to bug even after I'm officially off the blog as of June 1. So I won't give them a chance to miss me!

Thanks also to my friends and dear readers who've commented on my posts through the years and who've supported me behind-the-scenes in so many ways. I feel fortunate to have connected with you through my words, and I hope to see you elsewhere, perhaps on Facebook or just via emails now and then. It is reassuring to know how many kind and caring people there are in the world when sometimes reading the daily news headlines makes me wonder how much goodness still remains.

For now, I'm looking ahead to Emily's birth in June, to October (aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month) when my HarperCollins e-book about my breast cancer experience is released [In The Pink:  How I Met the Perfect (Younger) Man, Survived Breast Cancer, and Found True Happiness After 40], to February of 2013 when my next women's fiction book for HarperCollins, The Truth About Love and Lightning is out, and so much more. Even when I try to calm things down, life feels crazy-busy, and I'd like to savor each moment as much as possible. I'm fortunate that I'll be able to stay home with Emily while I work and, when I need to get out, we've got both grandmas in town. So we're pretty well set!

My heartfelt thanks and best wishes to the ladies of the Stiletto Gang. You have made my time on this blog something special, and I will always think of it fondly. Hugs and kisses!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Multi-Talented Artist

The Stiletto Gang is pleased to welcome Elizabeth Zelvin. Author, therapist, singer, Liz has lots to share about her new book, new CD, and so much more!

1. Where does your new book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, pick up the story of Bruce Kohler?

Bruce got sober at Christmas at the beginning of Death Will Get You Sober. In fact, waking up from a blackout in detox on the Bowery on Christmas Day was his wake-up call, or as they call it in AA, hitting bottom. The short story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” takes place when he’s 90 days sober, which is a big milestone in recovery. He’s still in early recovery in “Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down.” There’s an unpublished novella (formerly a novel) that covers Bruce’s first sober summer. Death Will Help You Leave Him takes place in the fall. “Death Will Trim Your Tree” covers his one-year anniversary Christmas. And his sobriety is well established in the latest story, “Death Will Tank Your Fish.” So Death Will Extend Your Vacation tells the story of his second sober summer—long enough for him not to worry much about drinking again, no matter what’s going on, and ready for a girlfriend, if he can only get to first base with Cindy, the attractive and slightly mysterious woman who’s one of his housemates in the clean and sober group house in Deadhampton (Dedhampton on the tax map) where everybody has at least one secret. Bruce’s, by the way, is that the beautiful housemate whose body they find on the beach is the first girl he ever almost slept with when he was fifteen. Actually, he’s keeping another secret from his best friends Jimmy and Barbara, because he thinks they’d kill him if they knew. But you’ll have to read the book to spot it.

2. Has your writing routine changed since the publication of your first book, Death Will Get You Sober? Tell us about a typical day.

The nice thing about my typical day is that there’s nothing typical about it. I have, not one, but two careers that let me spend the day at the computer in my jammies: writer and online therapist. I usually say “sweats and bunny slippers,” but in fact, it’s usually one of a collection of ankle-length sleep T-shirts—very, very comfortable. My prime writing time is in the morning, but since the morning is my best time overall for anything that requires a lot of focus, I don’t always use it to write. I see my therapy clients regularly, but none of them is on a fixed schedule. One of the advantages of online therapy is its flexibility. For example, a client who lives in the UK is five hours ahead of me, so I have to see her during my afternoon, her evening; but when she goes on vacation to Australia, we can meet at my 8:30 AM, her 10:30 PM. And if she’s visiting her dysfunctional family for three weeks, believe me, she doesn’t want to skip her therapy sessions. Anyhow, I start the day with stretches. I run for an hour every day, usually around the Central Park reservoir. And when I’m in the zone with the writing, I might take a little nap on the couch in the afternoon (ah, the joys of not having a day job!) so I can go back to the computer with zest. But the best thing about an unstructured day is that I allow time for my mind to be in that relaxed state in which the characters start talking to me, the mist parts, and I can see where I’m going, at least enough to go forward. It frequently happens when I’m running or in the shower, but the best time is when I’m lying in bed, definitely awake but not yet ready to open my eyes and get up. If I had to leap out of bed to the jangling of an alarm, the way I did when I was working full time, my muse (or whatever you want to call it) would be a dead duck.

3. What have you learned from your fans?

The best thing I’ve learned from my fans, to my grateful astonishment, is that I can write the kind of characters I love to read: endearing characters who feel real to the readers. I’ve also learned that book club readers pay very close attention to details: the members of two book clubs—one mostly women over 50 and the other women in their 30s—noticed a problem with the age of the victim in Death Will Get You Sober. Guff, the déclassé aristocrat with the dysfunctional Park Avenue family who dies unexpectedly in detox on the Bowery, setting off Bruce’s sleuthing career, is supposed to have gone to Viet Nam just before the end of the conflict in the early Seventies. Then, when Barbara reads his medical chart, it says he’s 47, which these two groups of ladies pointed out didn’t make sense. They were right. I had a good excuse: the six years between when I started sending the manuscript out and when the book actually got published. I spotted many needed changes—for example, when the book was in galleys, I realized I couldn’t have the patients smoking in detox any more—but I missed that one.

4. Tell us about your new CD, Outrageous Older Woman?

This is a project close to my heart. I’ve been singing almost as long as I’ve been writing, I learned to play guitar when I was 13, and for the past half century or so I’ve been writing songs and performing them for my friends with an occasional coffee house gig. Over the last two years, I finally recorded them, singing lead vocals myself but getting some terrific musicians far more skilled than I as backup. The result is Outrageous Older Woman, which is available in CD or mp3 download form on my music website at as well as CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon. If you go to my site, you can hear six of the songs in full and previews of all sixteen. If you’re in New York this weekend, I’m performing live with a couple of those musicians on Saturday May 19 at 8 pm at the People’s Voice Cafe, details on my music site. What are the songs about? A very nice review by John Lindermuth said, “Love is a consistent theme, though only three of the songs actually deal with love.” He got that exactly right. The title song is about empowerment, and there are songs about Internet dating, aging, family, alcoholism and recovery, abuse and healing, moments of decision, and characters who have inspired me. As with my books, I want to make the listener laugh and cry.

5. What's new on the horizon for you? What projects are you working on? Another sequel? A new series?

Death Will Extend Your Vacation is just out, so I’m trying to spread the word about that and the Outrageous Older Woman CD. I’m also trying to find a home for Voyage of Strangers, a YA novel about what really happened when Columbus discovered America. It’s the sequel to my two short stories about Diego, a young marrano sailor with Columbus, which both appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. And Untreed Reads is publishing “Shifting Is for the Goyim,” an 11,000-word paranormal whodunit about a nice Jewish girl who’s a rising country music star and happens to be a shapeshifter. Either of those protagonists might be the star of the next manuscript. Or if Bruce and Barbara start talking in my head, the next story could be about them. But in fact, I’m currently working on an academic piece, revising my chapter on partners of substance abusers for the third edition of a friend’s book.

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York psychotherapist, a three-time Agatha Award nominee, and author of the mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, starting with Death Will Get You Sober.  The third book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, is just out, and “Death Will Tank Your Fish” was a 2011 Derringer Award nominee for Best Short Story. Liz has also just released a CD of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman. Her author website is  and her music website, Liz blogs on Poe’s Deadly Daughters and SleuthSayers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shop Local...If You Can

In the little village in which I live, we have two “business” districts.  I use that term loosely because for one area, there is no business to speak of, and any business that does exist in either zone is struggling mightily for its life.  There are a few brave souls who continue to try to make a go of it:  a guy who opened a shop for birders, a friend who opened a microbrew place, an intrepid hair stylist who has to stay open seven days a week to make ends meet.  This is not a town with a “big-box” store, or even a fast-food chain. It’s small, and by extension, so are the businesses.  But they are having a tough time surviving in this economy.

Enter a group who sought to “rezone” the first business district, the one closest to the highway and most accessible to our train station, a major hub on a major railroad.  Backed by the then-mayor, their idea was to take existing storefronts and modernize them with a unified façade while creating mixed-use space—that is, space for retail on the bottom and apartments on the top—thereby adding to the village’s tax base.

To say that they were meant with vociferous derision and negativity is a gross understatement.  Even the mayor who approved the whole shebang is now against the plan for reasons that are still unknown to me.

We are a village of about 7,500 people and if our local political landscape is any indication of what is writ large on the national stage, we are in serious trouble.  Reports of last night’s village board meeting seem to indicate incivility, rudeness, and a general indecorousness abounding, things shouldn’t exist in a town where your mayor is also your next-door neighbor, and your trustee’s kids play Little League with your own.  Where you ride the train with another of the trustees and inquire about his or her elderly parent.  Where, adjacent to the majestic Hudson River, we should all give thanks for the beautiful vistas that surround us as we nod a greeting to those we pass on our daily walk instead of seeing the person passing us as either someone “for” or “against” whatever development the majority sees as responsible and fair for our little burg.

This debate has resulted in a lot of shouting and a lot of hard feelings.  People who love the village and want to see the best for it scream about progress but also about blighting the landscape.  It’s hard to know what’s best because there is just too much noise.  Letters to our local paper abound and in about ninety percent of them, politeness has taken a flyer.

Have the days of dialogue and reaching consensus gone the way of the landline and dial-up internet?  Is it impossible in today’s world to have a conversation with someone and see their side, even if you agree to disagree?  As someone once famously said, “can’t we all just get along?”

In books, conflict is good; without it, your story is flat, your characters not compelling at all.  Conflict is what led me to make Alison Bergeron a divorcee with a dead body in her car.  If not for that conflict, no other story could have flowed freely about her life.  Sure, she could have been happily married, but what’s the fun in that?  Having an ex-husband to act as her annoying foil made the writing, and her journey, more fun.

In real life, however, conflict is an annoyance, a nuisance.  Constantly battling with people over issues large and small results in indigestion, and ultimately, a stalemate.  Agreeing to disagree means, in the case of our little village, stagnation.  No new business for the citizens to “shop local.”  No new apartments for people to enjoy what we long-time residents have enjoyed for many years.  No new taxes to help the rest of us stave off bankruptcy in the face of rising fees.

My advice to my neighbors?  Go to the local microbrew with someone with whom you disagree and get a pint.  Discuss “progress” and “change.”  See where you stand after ingesting a sudsy brew, one that was made special for you by a homegrown girl who came back to give back to her beloved village.  Then see if you can’t reach consensus.

Tell me, Stiletto readers, what are things like where you live?  Is it hard to get one decision made in your town or city?  Is stagnation—and noise—the order of the day?

Maggie Barbieri