Friday, May 30, 2008

Don’t go to Dayton in February and Other Lessons Learned on the Road

The Stiletto Gang is delighted to welcome Rosemary Harris. Rosemary is the author of Pushing up Daisies, the first in the Dirty Business series. Visit her website at

First off I should say that the folks in Dayton were wonderful. All four of them who showed up for my signing at Books and Company during an ice storm that had me crawling into my rental car on the passenger’s side because the driver’s side door was frozen shut.

When my debut mystery, Pushing Up Daisies, finally came out I was over the moon. It had been almost two years between that long-awaited phone call from my agent and my launch party. That night was almost as good as my wedding night (I said almost, honey...)

The next morning I flew to Phoenix. Through Dallas. Of course there was a delay so I arrived much later than I thought I would. Lesson two, try not to arrive in a strange city late at night, especially when it’s filled with still-hungover stragglers from the SuperBowl. Of course I was smart enough to have purchased a TomTom, a GPS device. But I wasn’t smart enough to test it out a few times before I left home. To this day, Tomasina, the voice of the Tom, thinks home is Phoenix. After checking in I settled in for a few hours of work against the backdrop of Law & Order. Lesson three, wherever you go, at any hour of the day or night some version of L&O will be on television. Embrace it. Theirs may be the only friendly voices you’ll hear for hours.

Lesson four – assuming you’re not Janet E and aren’t staying in five star hotels, pick a hotel that has a free breakfast buffet. Most of the time you’ll just want to grab a coffee and a little something, not wolf down a full lumberjack breakfast.

That day I learned to use the TomTom and “dropped in” to every bookstore that Joe Konrath had visited (see Newbie’s Guide to Publishing), did a live television interview – sandwiched in between the native dancers and a hurricane expert – and was I feeling pretty good. But it was still hours before my signing at Poisoned Pen.

Lesson five – if you find yourself with a few hours in an unfamiliar city and either don’t want to work or can’t - get a manicure. Or better still a blowdry. They’re generally inexpensive and like barbershops used to be for men, beauty salons are social centers filled with women who like to chat. That first day, it was a great warm-up for me. Everyone in the salon treated me like a celebrity, I handed out daisy seeds promoting the book and left feeling like a million bucks.

By that time the free mini-poppy seed muffin I’d had for breakfast was getting lonely in my stomach so I decided to stop for a bite. Except nothing near the store was open. I peeked into the darkened Café Monarch and saw three men cleaning up. I told them I had a signing at the bookstore in 20 minutes and didn’t have time to drive around looking for another place to eat, so they turned some of the lights on, lit a few candles, and whipped up a cold chicken pesto salad which was just delicious. It was like something out of a movie. All alone in this cute café looking across the street to where I’d be having my first signing. Later on I signed hundreds of books and had a lively conversation in the round with soon-to-be fans including the fab Lesa Holstine. It was great. I thought – I love my life!

The next weekend I flew to Dayton. What can I say? Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t. The most difficult journey had to be my Philly-Chicago-Detroit-Denver-NY trip. On paper this seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And it might have been if I hadn’t lost my drivers license somewhere between the hotel in Philly and the airport in Philly.

Somehow, without being subjected to a strip search, I talked my way onto the plane in Philadelphia. I felt pretty smug about that until I looked around the airport and wondered who else had talked themselves through security. Lesson six – always carry two forms of i.d.

Once in Detroit, I couldn’t pick up my rental car, because I had no driver’s license. But that was okay because there was a blizzard and I wouldn’t have been going anywhere anyway. No planes were going out either so instead of spending one night at the glamorous Hilton Garden Inn at the airport, I was there for three nights, with dozens of flight attendants who were clearly doing more than watching Law & Order in their rooms at night. The Hilton offered a full warm breakfast (not free, as I recall, but under the circumstances, I loved it.) Unfortunately there was no other food available during the day except for microwaveable burritos, and a spinner rack full of individual sized portions of dry cereals. Lesson six – bring food. I now pack envelopes of tuna, protein bars, and occasionally Cheerios, which I had never eaten before but learned to love at the Hilton Garden Inn.

My husband Fedexed my passport and I was eventually able to get out of Detroit. I thought I’d catch an earlier flight to Denver (I was getting cabin fever in my tiny room.) Lesson seven – always leave half an hour earlier, even if it’s five-thirty in the morning. Who knew so many people would be leaving Detroit at six fifteen? Was there an evacuation notice that I hadn’t heard about? No, just the vagaries of the flight schedules made the airport really busy at the ungodly hour.

I finally arrived in Denver, no lost luggage, no more drama and a few lessons learned. And I’m still learning. What lessons have you learned from the road?

Rosemary Harris

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Call to Arms: Parades Just Aren't Enough

Full Disclosure: Next month, For Service to Your Country, my book on veterans benefits, will be published. But this blog isn't about selling books. Instead it's about honoring those who have risked their lives to serve our country in the armed forces of the United States of America. This blog is a call to action in support of the Webb-Hagel-Lautenberg-Warner G.I. Bill, the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act."

George Washington said: The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.

Two weeks ago the Senate, in a bi-partisan effort, passed a bill to expand the educational benefits provided to veterans who served at least three years in the military following September 11, 2001. The bill closely resembles the educational benefits provided to veterans returning from World War II. President Bush has promised to veto the bill, warning that it's too expensive and would affect the military's retention rate, e.g., soldiers will opt out of the armed forces to go to college rather than re-enlist. Last week, Senator Webb added a provision to the bill that would permit servicemembers to transfer their educational benefits under the GI Bill to their spouses and/or their children. President Bush, in his State of the Union address, also insisted that any improvement in the GI Bill must include transferability of benefits.

Many of us have parents or grandparents who directly benefited from the original G.I. Bill (called the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944), signed by President Roosevelt just two weeks after D-Day. Historian Stephen Ambrose said of the G.I. Bill, it was "the best piece of legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress, and it made modern America." This comprehensive bill, besides providing healthcare for returning veterans, had a landmark feature that transformed this nation, socially and economically. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explained, the education component of the G.I. Bill meant that "a whole generation of blue collar workers were enabled to go to college, become doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and that their children would grow up in a middle class family…In 1940, the average GI was 26 years old and had an average of one year of high school as his only education, and now, suddenly, the college doors were open." In its first year, the VA processed more than 83,000 applications for educational benefits. Eventually 7.8 million WWII vets used these benefits in some form.

Historian Michael Beschloss believes that the G.I Bill of 1944 "linked the idea of service to education. You serve your country; the government pays you back by allowing you educational opportunities you otherwise wouldn't have had, and that in turn helps to improve this society."

America got its money back. For every dollar invested in World War II veterans, seven dollars were generated.

Today's vets receive benefits administered under the Montgomery G.I. Bill. It was a program designed for peacetime, not wartime, service. The current benefits often don't even cover the cost of community college tuition. Because the benefits are so inadequate, many returning veterans take jobs to support their families, rather than pursue higher education.

But under Webb's bill, veterans in an approved program of education would receive payments up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public school, plus a monthly stipend equivalent to housing costs in their area.

The Defense Department argues that the Webb bill will adversely affect retention rates, by as much as 16 percent. But another government study reveals that better benefits will attract new recruits, by about 16 percent.

Three former Presidents, a dozen U.S. Senators, three Supreme Court Justices, fourteen Nobel Prize winners went to school on the G.I. Bill. Don't we owe it to the next generation of soldiers to provide them with the education they need to lead our nation?

For more information, visit Senator Webb's website. You can also go to the American Legion web site to find out how you can help insure a brighter future for our nation's veterans.

Marian Edelman Borden aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writer's Block

I’m dealing with an intense case of writer’s block. I am so fearful of putting pen to paper that I have started and stopped writing this week’s blog about fifty times. (Wait until I finish the first one I started on television shows…that will surely put you to sleep and make you hope that my writers’ block continues for a long, long time.) I have been reading Evelyn’s daily recaps of Mayhem and wondering how in the heck she’s going to seminars all day long and then coming back to write. (And actually making sense, to boot.) So instead of wallowing in my writer’s block haze, I’ll describe some of the things that I do to counteract writer’s block and see if any of them speak to you fellow writers out there.

1. I perform the “one-woman show.” It is performed by one woman—me—and viewed by one being—my dog. (Except for the time I didn’t realize the contractor had come back to sand the spackle that he had put on the walls. He is still talking about how much he enjoyed my rendition of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”) It consists of dancing, some singing, and the occasional monologue, the general subject being “Why Can’t I Write Today?” Interpretative dance with lip-syncing usually opens the show—seen bi-weekly in my attic, or more frequently depending on when a manuscript is due—with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” being a personal favorite to get things rolling. The end of the show usually consists of a slightly out-of-breath blocked writer falling into her desk chair and turning off her computer with the one finger that she can still use after all of the gyrations that went on during the one-woman show.

2. I read every cookbook I have, cover to cover, searching for that perfect coq au vin recipe. I haven’t actually made coq au vin yet because I usually get so hungry reading the cookbooks that I end up walking into town for a chicken salad on rye.

3. I call every friend I have who I know will either be at their desk at work or at home. Most of them have caller ID now and don’t answer the phone when they see my number come up.

4. I read. But not anything that is similar to what I write because I fear that I will start sounding like someone else. So, I read the manuals that came with my stove, dishwasher, and dryer; the tags on my pillows (some of which I have ripped off, despite their warnings); the back of shampoo bottles (there’s a lot more on there besides ‘lather, rinse, and repeat,’ you know); and papers that I’ve already read. I know a lot about what happened last week, but sadly, not enough about what’s going on right now.

5. I shop online. And yes, I do realize that if my writer’s block continues, I won’t be able to shop online because I won’t have an income. Interesting conundrum, yes?

6. I watch television. Interestingly, I just took a break from writing this blog and turned on the Food Network where, much to my surprise and delight, Anthony Bourdain (who I love about as much as anyone can love a chef who eats gross things for a living) was talking about writer’s block. He was sitting in front of his computer typing the words “chicken and ribs…chicken and ribs…chicken and ribs…” over and over again while attempting to write an article on his trip to St. Martin. God bless you, Anthony Bourdain for letting me know that I am not alone.

So, what do you do? I know what Evelyn does and I know what the writers in my writers’ group do, but I’m interested to hear your coping mechanisms. And if anyone writes back with the advice to just “shut up and write,” I promise you will receive an unflattering characterization in my next book. It might be just the thing to end my writer’s block, though.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mayhem in the Midlands

Evelyn has given her take on Mayhem, here goes with mine.

What I like best about Mayhem in the Midlands, always held in Omaha on Memorial Day weekend, is the many mystery fans. Oh yes, there are lots of mystery authors but the readers far out number us.

Unfortunately, there was a snafu with the hotel who over-booked the meeting rooms, causing all sorts of problems, especially for the book sellers. It’s never a good idea to upset the booksellers. Because I’ve attended Mayhem eight years in a row, hubby and I have made a slew of friends. One who we always look forward to seeing is Pat Lang, a teacher, resident of Omaha, and serves on the Mayhem committee. Mom and daughter, Sara Weiss, from Texas, like Pat, have also been friends of ours since we started visiting Omaha.

We got to see some of our favorite authors too, like Jan Burke, who is a sweetie, and Twist Phelan, one of my hubby's favorites--take a peek at her photos on her website and you'll see why.

Omaha is one of our favorites towns, and Ahmad’s Persian Restaurant, our favorite place to eat. However, we tried some other places this year too including the Bent Fork, an Indian place, and a Brewery–all had wonderful food. Because the hotel where the convention is held is right across from the Old Marketplace, there are lots and lots of shops and wonderful restaurants. (Because we don't have many good restaurants near us--eating out is a big treat for us.)

While I’m at Mayhem, I make it a point to meet new people–especially readers. After all, how can a reader know about you and your books unless you tell them? I also like to single out people who seem to be all alone and invite them to sit with me and whoever I happen to be with for a meal. I’ve been to cons where I had a hard time meeting people–and I don’t want anyone to feel like I did then.

It was a pleasure to see Evelyn David again and I watched her in action on a panel about the taboo against killing animals in books. She did wonderfully well, up against some formidable authors. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to really visit her as much as I would’ve liked to.

And if I’m able I certainly plan to return to Mayhem in the Midlands.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Are You Kidding Me?

There are some books that are sacred. I'm not talking about the Bible or the Koran. I'm referring to those classic mysteries that I believe it's damn near sacrilege to change so much as a comma, let alone the storyline. But that's exactly what happened a few days ago. There I was, comfortably ensconced on the sofa, Diet Coke in hand, popcorn at the ready, all set to watch one of my favorites: Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library.

Of course, I'd read the book. Of course, I'd seen Joan Hickson's 1984 version. So I was psyched to see a remake, this time with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. But suddenly Ms. Marple, who has been transformed into a 21st century feminist sleuth, appears to have been dropped into a very dumb episode of All My Children, except in this version Susan Lucci has a British accent. I mean the tele-movie used all the names of Christie's characters, but somebody, and I'm looking at you screenwriter Kevin Elyot, had the gall to change everything else. Somehow Ms. Marple found herself in the midst of a lesbian triangle. Hell, even the murderer had been changed.

Have you no shame Mr. Elyot? What's next? You've decided to rewrite Gone With the Wind? Scarlett O'Hara undergoes a sex-change operation and become Sam O'Hara, owner of Tara, a tranny bar in Greenwich Village?

J. W. Eagan, and try as I might I can't find out who this pundit is, once said: Never judge a book by its movie. More power to the screenwriter who succeeds in preserving the essence of a beloved book while transforming it to the big (or small) screen. All hail Horton Foote who took Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and wrote a screenplay worthy of that powerful novel.

I confess. Both halves of Evelyn David regularly play the casting game for Murder Off the Books. I'm envisioning a 30-years younger James Garner as Mac, and maybe Karen Allen for Rachel. My Irish Terrier Clio thinks she has the style and wit to play Whiskey and no one will notice that she's 80 pounds lighter and five feet shorter. Dreams were made of lesser things. The Southern half has her own casting choices. Should we ever be lucky enough to sell the book (we're looking at you Hallmark Channel) – well, I hope that our literary integrity would withstand any financial incentives (but I'm not putting all my money on it).

But Dame Agatha? Maybe the executors of her estate are laughing all the way to the bank and aren't offended at all by the changes in her immortal plots and words. But this fan is "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." You don't mess with my Aggie.

Evelyn David

Saturday, May 24, 2008

More Mayhem! May 24, 2008

Mayhem in the Midlands – Saturday – May 24, 2008

It's mid-afternoon in Omaha. Just finished my panel on "Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries." The moderator was Sean Doolittle (author of Dirt, Burn, and Rain Dogs). Others on the panel were Pat Dennis (comedian and author of Hotdish To Die For), and Marilyn Victor (co-author of Death Roll).

This panel was unstructured and allowed the audience and the panel members to discuss the issue of the killing of animals as a plot device in mysteries. There were as many opinions voiced as there were people in the meeting room (about 25). Many readers would not read books where animals were killed. Many would not read books where animals were killed without a very good reason. Many would not read books where animals were killed if they had developed any emotional investment in the animal character. Others were fine with animals being killed as long as the book was well written and the deaths advanced the plot. One aspiring author in the audience worried that her almost-finished book on a serial pet killer would be a non-starter with publishers. After almost an hour of conversation, both pro and con, the best advice the panel could give her was to write "her" story and see what happened.

Personally, I think expectations have much to do with whether or not a reader will accept the murder of animals in a work of fiction. I say "murder" deliberately because the intentional killing of an animal evokes a different reaction than if the animal dies of disease or old age. If the author is going to market his/her book as a thriller, then the expectations of the reader are different than if the book has been advertised as a cozy or traditional mystery. Thriller readers are more likely to accept killing an animal as part of the plot. Cozy readers may or may not, depending on the animal involved and their personal attachment to the fictional character.

It was an interesting discussion. Killing fictional animals is a dicey proposition. On the other hand, no one had any angst about killing fictional people. There's more than a little irony in that.

Tomorrow I head home!

Happy Memorial Day to all.

Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mayhem Diary

Mayhem in the Midlands – Friday Morning – May 23, 2008

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska yesterday evening. Had an uneventful drive from Muskogee, Oklahoma – 450 miles give or take. Rented a car with good gas mileage for the trip (my old Ford Explorer is a heavy gas drinker and is better left in the driveway for now). I hope gas prices don't double before I leave on Sunday.

The Omaha Public Library puts on a great event. I attended last year and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and well-coordinated conference. Mayhem in the Midlands is held in the Embassy Suites – Downtown. The hotel staff is friendly and very helpful with dealing with everything from internet connections on my laptop to helping me get all my luggage and important "stuff" from the car to the room. Couldn't ask for a nicer location.

The first panels start at 9:00 am. I'm hoping to get my act together and sit in on a few (several dealing with crime lab information and analysis) before my panel at 3:00 pm – Casting Call: Creating Real Characters.

More later. Right now I need some breakfast – or at least coffee. I also need to check out the silent auction baskets (Evelyn David donated one) and leave some bookmarks at the bookstore.

Mayhem in the Midlands – Friday Evening – May 23, 2008

Just got back to my hotel room. Ready to kick off my shoes and drink a Pepsi One (I brought some from home and loaded the hotel room refrigerator.)

This year Mayhem is doing something a little different by running a series of panels concerning "real life" crime labs. The first panel I attended was entitled, "Crime Lab/Crime Scene: Behind the Scene, the Real Crime Scene." Jan Burke (author of the wonderful Irene Kelly mystery series) and Chicago author Alex Kava interviewed David Kofoed, the head of the Douglas County Crime Lab. He talked about processing a scene and how what he and his team do that is different from the tv CSI show. It was very interesting to hear how his job has changed since he began in the early 1980s. DNA is a big factor now, but because of the expense and backlog for testing, much of the best crime scene analysis is done with photography, blood splatter analysis, and meticulous observation and documentation of every detail of a crime scene.

The second panel I attended was entitled, "Crime Lab/Crime Scene: Inside a Real Case File: The Jessica O'Grady Case." Leigh Ann Retelsdorf, Douglas County Attorney and Prosecutor, and Dave Kofoed gave a presentation of a real Omaha case where the victim's body was never found but they were still able to get a murder conviction. It was a fascinating look at a real crime scene and how it was processed. They used a power-point presentation with actual photographs of the crime scene. I learned a lot about blood splatter analysis and building a murder case.

At 3:00 pm I sat on the panel: "Creating Real Characters." I spoke about Murder Off the Books and the characters in Evelyn David's fictional world. My co-panelists were: Craig Johnson and Debra C. Thomas. Suzanne Arruda moderated. Craig Johnson writes the Sheriff Walt Longmire novels. His latest book Another Man's Moccasins will be released by Viking Press on May 29. Debra C. Thomas writes short stories that have been published in Great Mystery and Suspense Magazine. Suzanne Arruda (a former zookeeper and science teacher turned writer) is the author of the Jade del Cameron historical mystery series. Her books are set in Post World War I Africa.

The panel was informal and fun. The audience asked lots of great questions. After the panel, I autographed copies of Murder Off the Books and answered questions about when the sequel would be published. Right now, we're hoping for fall 2008.

Star Watching: While going to and from the panels I spotted Charlaine Harris, Jan Burke, Chris Grabenstein, and two of the nicest women you'll ever hope to meet – Honora Finkelstein and Susan Smily (co-authors of The Chef Who Died Sautéing). I also caught up with fellow Stiletto Gang blog sister, Marilyn Meredith. She and her husband always look like they are having a good time!

Tomorrow I'm on another panel – "Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries." Should be interesting!

Stay tuned.

Evelyn David

True Confessions

Mary C. Donnery is the librarian of the Croton Free Library in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Welcome Mary!

When Maggie asked me to be a guest blogger, I thought, does she think I’m a Qwilleran, snapping off 1000 words on any subject?!? Just give us a librarian’s perspective, she said. Anything you want to say, she said. So, I’ve decided to use the opportunity to finally admit that I pretty much read only mysteries, and very little else. Not an earthshaking revelation, except that I’m a librarian in a small but busy library, and not a day goes by without someone asking me if I’ve read this or that piece of serious fiction, some good book that I, of course, should have read. There is a presumption that my literary choices must be of a higher caliber (when the only caliber I’m interested in is that of a murder weapon). The truth is, I’m a mystery fan, and I have eyes only for the New Mystery shelf. I get a little rush when I see the latest installment in a favorite series (Anna Pigeon and Magdalena Yoder are waiting for me even as I write this).

The appeal lies in the fact that mysteries most often appear in series, and liking the first one generally means liking the rest. The characters become more familiar with each time out, until they feel like old friends. I’ve been from “A” through “T” with Kinsey Milhone and Emma Lord; mentally consumed a million calories with Hannah Swensen and Goldy Baer; fished on Martha’s Vineyard with J.W. Jackson, and gone back to school with Alison Bergeron. A new entry in a series is like that ubiquitous Christmas newsletter, only way better; it’s a lot more fun to hear what’s been happening with Kate Shugak in Alaska than, say, the old high school pal you haven’t actually seen in 20 years…

Mysteries make great travelogues, too. Skip Langdon’s New Orleans provided a great preview for my trip to the real Crescent City. Seeing Boston from Carlotta Carlysle’s cab was much easier than driving myself. I haven’t yet made a trip to California, but I feel like I’ve been to San Francisco with Sharon McCone and Berkeley with Jill Smith. Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, London, the Cotswolds, Texas, and Maine are all the locales of favorite series, and it feels like returning home when I settle in for a good read.

I have a special fondness for mysteries that revolve around food. As an inveterate cookbook collector (my personal holdings are getting close to the 2000 mark), I just love following the misadventures of caterers like Madeline Bean and Faith Fairchild, both of whom can’t seem to carry of an event without finding a corpse between courses. Savannah Reid solves her cases only after indulging in full-fat, sugar-laden southern desserts. And nobody does Kansas City barbecue like Heaven Lee, even as the body count rises. Very satisfying reading…

By now, you’ve gotten my drift. There are as many reasons to love reading mysteries as there are mystery series to read. And, as much as I should want to read the much-acclaimed must-read serious works of fiction that the literati tout, I find myself reaching for yet another mystery with that little tingle of anticipation I get each time.

The nice thing about working in my library is knowing that a couple hundred of my best customers feel the same way.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Omaha Bound

No airplanes for me this year. I'm driving to Omaha, Nebraska. Mayhem in the Midlands breaks out tomorrow as mystery writers and fans from all over converge in the land of wonderful steaks and Cornhusker Football. Mayhem in the Midlands is being held at the Downtown/Old Market Embassy Suites, 555 S. 10th Street, in Omaha, during May 22-25, 2008. Check out the Mayhem website for more details and the full schedule.

This will be my second year to attend. By the time you're reading this I hope to be at least a hundred miles closer to the conference. Hopefully I've remembered to put in the Evelyn David Auction Basket for the event. I've never put a gift basket together before. I purchased three different wicker baskets before settling on one that was the easiest to pack with Murder Off the Books promotional items, an autographed copy of the book, two Murder Off the Books t-shirts, and a garden gnome! (Those who've read the book will understand the significance of the gnome.)

Evelyn David will be appearing on two panels at Mayhem: Friday 3:00 pm - "Casting Call: Creating Real Characters;" Saturday 1:30 pm – "Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries"

Murder Off the Books will be available for sale at the conference. I'd be happy to autograph a copy for you.

The Guest of Honor at Mayhem this year is Alex Kava. The Toastmaster of Honor is Jeff Abbott. An outstanding list of mystery authors are scheduled to attend including two of my favorites, Jan Burke and Charlaine Harris.

I'll be blogging throughout the conference. Check back for updates daily.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bathing Suit Season

God, I hate this time of year.

It’s time to start thinking about bathing suits, a time that is met with a collective sigh of dismay from most women (except all of those size twos who apparently don’t shop at Old Navy, leaving us size 10/12 [depends on the day] to go through racks and racks of their leftovers). I just received two of my favorite magazines in the mail and cracked them open only to find that it was that time of year again. Time to talk about bathing suits! Yay! And then, one of my favorite clothing lines sent me an email. Guess what time it is? Time to look at bathing suits online! Double yay!

Magazines now feature the ubiquitous article entitled something along the lines of “which suit is right for you?” (Answer: none) Are you big-busted? (Yes) Small-busted? (Never) Pear-shaped? (More like oboe-shaped) Short-legged? (Yes) Muffin-topped? (Yes) Double-chinned? (Yes) Fat of ankle? (Sometimes) Well, then we’ve got a suit for you!

My sister, who recently shed close to twenty pounds (yet I still talk to her), and who won’t have a problem donning a fashionable suit this summer, summed it up very nicely by asking: What if you have multiple problem areas? In other words, what if you are small busted, muffin-topped, double-chinned, and fat of ankle? What then?

I have a multitude of problem areas, or so my brain tells me. I think the reality of the situation is far better than I think yet I cling to this notion that one’s body must approximate perfection before one puts on a bathing suit. So, what to do? Short of dressing in a burka—and I have given it some thought—I have a couple of suggestions. The first: I’ve embraced the idea of the kaftan, which apparently, is making a comeback. (Cue chorus of angels, please.) I haven’t tried it out yet but I do have one on order from the same online catalog that had the headline screaming the approach of summer and bathing suit season, replete with “women” (and I use that term loosely—my nine-year-old son has more curves and he weighs a few ounces more than fifty pounds) cavorting in bikinis. Because, let’s face it, if you can wear a bikini and play volleyball without rupturing something, you are a “cavorter.”

The second: I have also purchased a pair of UV-protectant “swim tights” and a matching rash guard with a mock turtleneck. Both are made from a stretchy kind of material that can get wet while protecting you from head to toe from the sun’s rays. While both would suggest that I am avid swimmer and can be found frolicking in the surf, this is not the case. Can’t swim. Never frolick. But I want to be able to sit on the beach and watch everyone else swim and occasionally get my feet wet, so I need something that allows me to go into the water yet keeps me protected from the sun. I tried both pieces of swim apparel on and have to say, I don’t look terrible. Which, in my world of bathing suit self-loathing, is a rave.

Bottom line? I’m not going to go to the beach in jeans and a t-shirt, as I’ve done in summers past. I am determined to at least go to the beach in swimwear even if I don’t go into the chilly Atlantic, content that I’m not going to make a splash with my swimwear. And I’m going to be content knowing that the all-flattering suit does not exist and that almost every other woman on the beach has had the same experience that I’ve had over the years—this one’s too small, this one’s too big, the leg holes on this one were made for a stripper, the one with the skirt makes me look like a Mom from 1965, and on and on. But ladies, I confess: I do look at all of you on the beach, but I never judge. Your bodily imperfections look perfectly okay to me as they do to everyone else. Our imperfections are mostly in our own minds and we need to get out of our own way and enjoy ourselves. Even if we are wearing a kaftan, swim tights, and a mock turtleneck rash guard, all at the same time.



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Charles Manson

Probably one of the scariest men still alive is Charlie Manson who is spending his retirement years in Corcoran prison–not too far from where I’m living now.

Back when my family and I lived in Oxnard CA, Charlie was up in the hills with a bunch of young people. This was in the 60s during a time of major drug use. What’s so frightening about all this is at the time, is Charlie had complete control of these young people. They began by entering people’s homes and crawling around on the floor, even in bedrooms while people were sleeping.

This same bunch came into Oxnard to get food out of the garbage bins behind the grocery stores.

Of course, they went on to kill movie star Sharon Tate and four other people who were in their home and a couple named Bianco. They wrote words like PIG on the walls using the victims’ blood. The book, Helter Skelter, which was also made into a movie, tells all about what these sickos did.

Charlie and his followers holed up out on the desert, and after all these many years, the authorities are checking to see if there might be some bodies buried around their hideout.

There’s no doubt that Manson is crazy. What is hard to understand though, is why these young people were so mesmerized by him to the point of killing people by his direction.

Needless to say, while all this was going on, finding out that Charlie’s bunch had been living only a few miles away, certainly gave us the heebie-jeebies.

All sorts of weird things happened while we lived in that house in Oxnard. My husband spent three tours in Vietnam with the Seabees, and one New Years Eve while he was gone once, I babysat all the neighborhood kids along with my own five. Everyone was in the living room except for my three-year old son who was sleeping. All of a sudden he came running, “Mommy, a man is in my bedroom!” I grabbed a baseball bat and went charging into the bedroom, hollering, “I’m going to get you,” and arrived in time to see a man disappear out the sliding glass door. Don’t think I slept at all that night.

Whether that had anything to do with the Manson bunch I have no idea – but it was during the right time period.


Monday, May 19, 2008

I ♥ Geeks

Sigh. I still crush on the geeky ones. I think pocket protectors can be sexy.

My newest heartthrob is Richard Wolffe, a Newsweek columnist and commentator on Countdown with Keith Olbermann (who I could crush on a little too). Wolffe is British and has a little lisp, but he's so damn smart, with a particularly dry English sense of humor, that I can't help but gush and blush a little when he appears on my screen.

Or how about Chuck Todd? Political director for MSNBC. Slightly overweight, weird goatee, same haircut that he had in his high school graduation picture, but with a brain that can crunch numbers faster than NASA engineers. But here's what makes him swoon-worthy. He has the ability to explain in words I can understand just what all those exit polls really mean (if anything at all). Plus he seems to have the patience of a saint. He has yet to reach through the screen and throttle Chris Matthews, the pundit who won't let anyone finish a sentence. See, that's what makes Wolffe, Olbermann, and Todd my homeboys. They know they're smarter, even if Matthews is louder.

I've always liked the ones who could walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time. Forget the World Wrestling Federation. I envision caged verbal matches. Let me see my boy Richard versus Bill O'Reilly. Let me tell you who'd be wearing that gold, championship belt.

It's why I'd choose Hugh Laurie over Brad Pitt; Han Solo over Luke Skywalker. I loved a short-lived tv show: Beauty and The Beast, and had no trouble figuring out why the heroine would opt for the sewers and the hairy monster over all the studs walking the streets above. For West Wing fans, I hearted Josh Lyman over Sam Seaborn, and always preferred Toby Ziegler, the dark, brooding, but balding speechwriter over all the pretty boys.

It's not an either-or proposition. You can get brains and good looks (ahem, I married one of those). But to quote that great philosopher Judge Judy, beauty fades, but dumb is forever.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Gourmet Girl’s Un-Gourmet Son

Jessica Conant-Park lives in Manchester, NH with her chef/husband, Bill, and their son, Nicholas. Jessica writes the Gourmet Girl mysteries with her mother, Susan Conant. Their cozy, culinary, chick lit series is set in the Boston restaurant included!

I come from a food-oriented family, no question. My parents have been cooking up gastronomic treats for as long as I can remember, learning from Julia Child’s television show in the ‘70s and experimenting in the kitchen with their own recipes. I grew up on meals from across the globe and eagerly visited local ethnic shops with my parents, browsing through the Greek market for spanikopita and tabouhli. I was bitterly disappointed with the disgusting cafeteria fare offered by my college and spent vacations home devouring all the good food I could get my hands on. I even stayed true to my love of food by marrying a very talented chef, my husband Bill. He wooed me with culinary delights and I fell madly in love with him and his cooking. I even started writing the Gourmet Girl mystery series in honor of my food obsession.

When I found out I was pregnant, my husband and I immediately started planning how we would make our own baby food and raise a child who ate more than macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. I must say, we were full of smug superiority knowing that our child would be born with a genetically enhanced palate. We would take him to restaurants and order him honey-glazed chicken with olive risotto, Vietnamese noodle dishes covered in vegetables, or shrimp gumbo!

The first time I fed him that icky baby cereal was a monumental event for me and I distinctly remember feeling that, despite the blandness of the food item, this was the start of a lifetime of gourmet eating! When it was time for more advanced foods, I followed the pediatrician’s advice about starting him on vegetable purees before fruits so he wouldn’t get too interested in the sweet fruit and reject the vegetables. All went well and Nick loved the spinach, squash, and even the lentils! I just knew it! How many babies love lentils? I thought.

Ha! This is what you get for being so full of yourself: our son, Nicholas, couldn’t have cared less about our pre-natal predictions for his culinary enthusiasm. The post jarred-food days are when things started to go downhill. Aside from his love of Chinese dumplings, Nick refused to touch anything out of the ordinary. My pasta salads that were loaded with beans and finely diced veggies were hurled at the wall. The organic fruits were tossed at the dog and the scrambled eggs full of turkey and cheddar were simply mashed up on his highchair.

To make matters worse, he developed a milk allergy and I had to remove all dairy from his diet for a few years. I can’t say I was a big fan of many of the soy products, but despite my creativity in offering up interesting meals, my kid wanted nothing to do with my cooking. Even when the milk allergy resolved itself, Nick simply refused to eat what Bill and I ate; one taste of that orange mac and cheese and all hope was gone! (I’ll never forgive Bill for making that…)

Nick is seven-years-old now and continues to eat the tiniest variety of foods! I could probably list on one hand what he’ll eat and none of those things include anything vaguely resembling a vegetable; in fact, God forbid a fleck of parsley show up on his plate. “What’s that green thing????” he’ll scream in horror.

My husband even came up with a game he calls Food Fear Factor; he closes his eyes and lets Nick feed him mystery items and then they switch roles. Poor Bill has suffered through mouthfuls of black pepper followed by pickled beets. (Um, why we have pickled beets in the fridge, I have no idea…) When it’s Bill’s turn to feed Nick, he usually picks something mundane like plain, unseasoned chicken breast. No matter what boring item Nick gets in his mouth, his turn in the game is invariably marked by wails of disgust and a variety of gagging noises. So much for Food Fear Factor.

The pediatrician reassures me that he will, in fact, grow out of this. Apparently my chef husband was actually the same way as a child and was extremely picky about what he ate, so I do have hope for Nick. He is growing like a weed and his doctor estimates he’ll be about 6’ 2” so he is obviously getting what he needs from his limited diet. I refuse to get into food struggles with him and so continue to offer different things with the belief that one day a light will go off and he’ll discover the joys of fancy Italian pasta dishes, fresh seafood baked in foil packets with herbs and vegetables, and upscale delicacies like foie gras and lobster. How humiliating that the son of a culinary mystery writer and a chef has zero interest in consuming anything beyond peanut butter sandwiches and grilled cheese! For now, I have accepted that this Gourmet Girl has a son whose greatest culinary interest is suggesting new titles for my series. So far, his top choices are Eat That Chicken and Kill That Turkey. I think both of those come from seeing a copy of Nancy Fairbanks’ Turkey Flambe lying next to my bed….but, hey, it’s a start!

Jessica Conant-Park

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Mother of All Blogs

As you know if you’ve read either of my books and have seen the jacket copy, my father is a retired New York City police officer. Interestingly, this is the primary thing that most people who talk to me about my writing want to talk about. The few interviews I have had—some in print, one on a local cable station—have started out with the request to “tell us about your father.” This has become something of a family joke—hey, Maggie, how are the books doing and how are their sales affected by Dad? Do you have any upcoming interviews? Will the interviewer want Dad to be there?

Dad, of course, is extremely flattered.

But my mother, I fear, is starting to feel left out. During one of these joke-fests, my Mom finally blurted out, “What about the mother?! Doesn’t anyone want to know about the mother?!”

Indeed, what about the mother? Let me tell you a little bit about my mother.

My mother was the second of two children. Her brother, John, is without a doubt one of the kindest, nicest men you’ll ever meet. (One day I’ll write about his not-so-dangerous stint in the Air Force during the Korean War. It involves cooking, gymnastics, and R&R in Osaka.) His sister/my mother? The same. I don’t know what my grandmother did to raise two such wonderful people, but she did. And I thank her for it.

My mother raised four children on a shoe-string budget, sent them to Catholic school, and attempted—even though she will admit that cooking is not her forte—to provide a nourishing meal every night. She once told me that her goal was to serve a protein that cost no more than $3 a dinner. Now I know we’re going back thirty years or so, but $3? I don’t remember eating cat food, but this was a woman who could stretch a budget.

But this is not a woman who could sew. My father, the cop, needed new patches sewn on his NYPD shirts. She sewed them on—upside down. He was the laughing stock of the precinct. There was many a time when the hem on my plaid uniform skirt was hanging only to be repaired with a staple or two or a strip of Scotch tape. The nuns were not amused.

Nor could she sort laundry. My father—yep, the cop—was driving to work one day, wearing what he thought were his uniform socks. He had pulled them from his drawer one dark winter morning and donned them quickly, in a rush as he always was at four or five in the morning. He got about halfway to the George Washington Bridge when he realized that the circulation was completely cut off in his ankles and calves. The reason? He was wearing my uniform socks. And I was in the third grade.

But this is a woman who can love. She nursed me through two pregnancies, a life-altering surgery, a long and protracted illness. She held my hand when my grandmother—her mother—died. And she has listened to me cry about a myriad of woes concerning my various jobs, my childcare situation (or lack thereof), my children, my house, my friends, my dog…you name it. And she always had sage advice. She’ll cry with me, but always remind me that whatever I’m experiencing, I’m blessed. I could have it much, much worse.

So, you want to hear about my mother? This just scratches the surface. She’s all this and more and I don’t tell her enough how much I love her. Let this blog serve as a valentine, a belated Mother’s Day wish (I still owe her a card and a present!), and a happy birthday all rolled into one.

And to all of the Mom's out there--happy belated Mother's Day. One day isn't enough but it will have to do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Public Safety Writers Associations Conference

This was the book table at the PSWA conference. My husband is back there with the PSWA treasurer. If you look closely, you can see the "hunky firemen" on the table cloth.

We will be returning to Las Vegas in June of 2009. And we're going to ask for people to suggest presentations or panels they'd like to do or be on. Because many of the people who come are involved with law enforcement, we've already had a forensic expert volunteer. But we also don't have any requirements about publishers as far as who can be on panels and everyone can have their book(s) for sale.

I've been reminiscing about how much fun I had at the PSWA conference. Do hope some of my fellow mystery writers will join us next year.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Summer Jobs

My daughter comes home from college on Wednesday. She's got two internships this summer, but unfortunately only one pays even a small stipend. Usually my husband and I encourage her to take jobs where she can earn enough to cover her personal expenses during the school year. But she's a film studies major and we agreed that these two summer opportunities in the entertainment industry were too good to pass up. In today's job market, employers definitely check what kind of career-building internships an applicant has held. We see this summer as investment in her future. If we're lucky, her stipend will at least cover her summer expenses.

I wish I could say that my summer jobs were career building. Frankly, I usually never gave jobs a thought until I'd been home a week or two from school. At that point, my exasperated parents would slam into my room one morning around eleven and yell something to the effect that (1) money didn't grow on trees and (2)there was no way in hell I was spending the summer partying at night and sleeping in the day and I'd better haul myself out of bed and find some summer employment or else. Which could explain the boring, dead-end, 'don't bother to list them on the resume' positions I held every summer.

My daughter and her friends started their job searches last Christmas. The competition for good internships is more intense than trying to get into Harvard on a full scholarship. For the unpaid internship she has, there were 1000 applicants, 200 students were interviewed, and 15 were chosen. I guess we're lucky we didn't have to pay for the privilege of no pay.

But sometimes dead end jobs teach you as much as these career builders. The summer after I graduated from high school, I got a job in the Baltimore City water department. I don't want to tell you how old I am, but let's just say that they were still totaling district water bills with electric adding machines. Summers in Baltimore are charitably described as hot and humid. Sweat, not perspiration, but sweat is a constant companion. Real men, apparently, didn't need no stinkin' air conditioning, stinkin' being the operative word.

Anyway, the work was deathly boring. Whenever you had finally finished a huge mass of water bills, there was always a hundred more piles to do. But what I remember the most about that summer is the old man who'd been in the department for thirty years. He was as thin as a rail and literally bent in half. His body was permanently bowed at the waist, from what I assume was a severe spinal condition. His job was exactly the same as mine: To add up an endless pile of water bills. But while I would be leaving in the fall for college, this was his permanent position. He would be doing it until he retired.

Spending a long, hot, boring summer in the Baltimore City water department taught me more than almost any other job I've ever held. While I'd been able to effortlessly tune out all those parental lectures on the importance of an education, the image of the bent man adding up water bills was enough to send me off to school that fall with a new sense of urgency.

How about you? What were your summer jobs?

Evelyn David

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Dad's View of Mother's Day

Austin S. Camacho is the author of the fast-paced Hannibal Jones mystery series, starting with Blood and Bone (Echelon, 2006). His newest book, Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century (Intrigue Publishing), was published in April. Visit Austin's web site at

Considering the name of this blog site and the holiday coming up in a couple of days, I kind of knew what I had to write about today. That was a little intimidating. After all, what’s left to say about Mother’s Day? But then my lovely wife Denise bailed me out, as she so often does, with this comment about this weekend’s special day:

“I don't mean to make it sound like I don't appreciate it, it’s just that sometimes the kids make me feel pretty unimportant in their lives and on this particular day it would be nice if they made an effort. Sounds pretty selfish I guess, but I think all moms want to feel special on Mother’s Day. Do you feel the same about Father's Day? Does it matter to you at all?”

Well, her question about Father's Day got me thinking. After a while I realized that at one time Father’s Day was very important to me. I remember wanting so badly for my little girls to realize how hard I worked at raising them. Not just the canoe trips or Disney World tickets, but the skinned knee tending, tolerating the slumber parties, the days I turned a blind eye to small misdemeanors and the nights I chased the bad boys away.

Of course, they never did appreciate all I did, not until years after I was finished doing all I could for them. And why should they? After all, my love was never unconditional, the way my wife's is. I criticized the goofy hair styles, crazy fashions and shady friends. She, God bless her, accepted them exactly as they were, and loved them for exactly who they were.

Today, I’m not really being a dad to those kids. They’re on their own, using the tools I gave them to build their own lives. The old dog has learned, and I no longer expect kids to appreciate the work I put into them. Besides, I'm not really a friend to them the way my wife is. I think maybe fathers can be friends or they can be teachers and caretakers. We men just don’t have the goods to be both at once. And I think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes mothers so special. You see, even the best of men can only be in one place at a time. Only your mother can lead you, stand beside you, and get behind you, all at the same time.

On the other hand, it seems to me that guys don’t care that much about getting gifts and such either. The only thing I'd really appreciate on a day like Father's Day would be for the kids to just call or come by and say thank you for trying and for caring what happens to them. The rest is form and artifice, like Christmas wrap and tinsel, which also mean very little to me. And I know that makes me a Scrooge and ruins it for everyone else, so I try to keep it to myself.

By the same token, Mom will make every flower, every card, every little gift bought with your allowance seem like solid gold and just what she was praying for. She’ll make you feel good just by appreciating your effort and a little thought. And I can’t say how much of that reaction is for your benefit, how much of it is tradition, and how much is Christmas wrap and tinsel.

But, just in case, no matter what else we do, we should all be sure to go to Mom on Sunday and say thank you for trying and for caring.

It’s a small price, I think, for unconditional love.

Austin Camacho

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Your Own Facts - I Don't Think So!

There's spin and there's lying. And there's a difference between the two. You know it and I know it, but reporters and politicians don't seem be acquainted with the difference. The worst thing is that the public has come to accept the lies as business as usual.

Well, I'm tired of liars not being confronted. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Yes, I'm going to talk about the elephant (and the donkey) in the room - politics.

I was listening to the political pundits on CNN the other night – they had a panel of "experts" and a moderator who acted as more of a pundit than a moderator. The Obama side had a couple of talking heads and so did Clinton. And just to round out the group there were three or four experts who claimed to be neutral. One pundit would make a statement, claiming it was a fact. One from the other side would claim that statement was untrue. Then they began talking over each other – the goal being to drown out the other and win the sound bite. The moderator did very little to redirect or focus the discussion.

The pundits weren't giving opinions so much as they were asserting "facts" - contradictory facts. Back and forth it went. The moderator never called either pundit out; never made either justify or prove the statement they'd just made. And all "facts" could not be correct. Someone was lying. Not spinning. Lying.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being lied to. And I'm tired of the reporters, the politicians, and the pundits thinking that the American public is stupid. We're not stupid, but sometimes we've got all we can handle just dealing with work, home, and family. We expect someone else to deal with the damn ringing phones. We expect our government to take care of the big problems, but more and more the government is the big problem: disaster responses, illegal immigration, the rationale(s) for the war in Iraq, airport security, the care of our wounded soldiers, voting machines, etc.

We know that just because someone – be it your child or the "would be" President – says something loudly and repeatedly doesn't make it a fact. But often it's just too much effort to do any research or object. It's easier to just ignore the lie – and accept the liar. We've become complacent. We ignore the noise. At this point in America's history, we've become used to lies; we don't expect the truth, not from the government, and not from anyone running for office.

We need to wake up.. We need to write letters to the editor. We need to communicate our feelings to our legislators. We need to get involved. We need to answer that phone until we can get our government working the way it should be

And for heaven's sake – don't forget to vote in your local, state, and national elections. We need to elect smart, honest, hardworking men and women to start working on some of those big problems.

I know there have to be a few of those rare souls out there – somewhere.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Guitar Zero

My son got a Wii for Christmas this past year. It was the only thing he wanted and thank goodness for that, because a Wii is an investment. He’s been playing it nonstop since Christmas vacation and has practically worn out the nunchuck controllers.

He just had a birthday and announced prior to turning nine that he wanted Guitar Hero III. Not Guitar Hero I or II…it has to be III. I don’t know why, but it just did. Fortunately, my husband, who follows the world of electronics much more closely than I do, knew exactly what he was talking about, went out and bought it and had it wrapped before his actual birthday.

My son was elated when he opened it up and immediately went up to the playroom to set it up. Even my daughter went, too. And I haven’t seen either of them since. And that was over a month ago.

Because you know those goofy Wii commercials where the whole family is playing the Wii? Apparently, it’s pretty realistic. After watching the kids play “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses for three hours straight, I had to see how this was done. They were dubious. My son asked me if I even knew who Guns n’ Roses were. I do. He then asked me if I knew who Slash was. Not only do I know who Slash is, I know his real name. (It’s Saul Hudson.) And I know that he plays on a Les Paul. I also know that Axl Rose, the lead singer, had a long and tumultuous relationship with Victoria’s Secret model Stephanie Seymour. (I have a head full of useless information like this; this is why I always forget to buy milk at the grocery store, even though it’s on the list. My brain is just too full.)

Then, in an attempt to really convince them of my electronic wizardry and hipness, I also informed them that we were the first family on our block to have Pong, the first video game in existence. I told them that it wasn’t easy trying to hit that giant circle with the square blocks on either end; it got faster as the game went along.

The kids looked at me as if to say, “who are you and what have you done with our mother?”

Why do kids think that their parents are one-dimensional figures whose main jobs including cooking, cleaning, and nagging? We are well-rounded people who have back stories, who were once (maybe) hip, who danced at Xenon and Danceteria before there was no longer a market for 80s-style dance clubs or shoulder pads.

They still didn’t think I had anything approaching street cred, let alone Guitar Hero III cred, but my daughter reluctantly gave up the controls and handed them to me. I strapped on the faux guitar, chose their favorite song, and attempted to play. It went something like this:

Me: I used to be pretty cool, you know. (I said, putting on my glasses so I could see the buttons on the guitar.)

Daughter: Yeah, right.

Son: You’re not cool, Mom. Sorry to break it to you.

Me: (ignoring their disdain and disbelief) How do you do this? (voice raised over the pulsing bass beat)

Daughter: You have to push the buttons and strum the strummer.

Son: Not like that! (pointing at the guitar strapped across my chest)

Daughter: Hit the red button!

Son: Strum!

Daughter: Now green!

Son: Strum!

Daughter: Hit green!

Son: Hit green and strum at the same time!

I was now worked up and had beads of sweat coming down my face. I looked like one of the senior citizens that I’ve seen on every news program talking about how the Wii is being used to get the elderly moving. And I still hadn’t made it through one song. The electronically-created crowd in Guitar Hero III started to boo vigorously.

I begged for another chance. The kids looked dubious.

Daughter/Son: Ok. One more chance. And then we get it back.

Son: Give her an easy one.

I asked them if they had “Tiny Bubbles” by Don Ho. They looked at me as if I had been taken over the body snatchers.

They put on a song that I didn’t know and chaos ensued once again.

Son: Strum!

Daughter: Hit the green button! The GREEN button! Not the red one…you’re not very good at this.

My son approached me and like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” put out his hand and said, “Hand it over. You can’t handle Guitar Hero III.”

I left the area, dejected. I went downstairs, put a roast in the oven, nagged them to pick their clothes up, and put a load of laundry in the washing machine. Just to remind myself of the old days, I jumped up on top of the washer and sang “Rio” by Duran Duran. Or at least the words I could remember.

Maybe they have a point.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Frank Sinatra

This post will definitely show my age. When I was asked to be part of the Stiletto Gang I was surprised–and pleased. Surprised because I haven’t worn shoes with high heels for two decades. Pleased because such an invitation was certainly flattering.

Our local newspaper had an article about the timelessness of Frank Sinatra’s music in the magazine section. My mind was flooded with memories. When I was a young teen and attending junior high, I belonged to a teen club called Calling All Girls (associated with a teen magazine by the same name) sponsored by a large department store in downtown L.A. Meetings were held once a month and new on the scene entertainers attended.

A very young and skinny Frank Sinatra, complete with bow tie, was one of these entertainers. Frankly, I don’t remember too much about it except that it was exciting and when he sang we all screamed just like the girls do today. My younger sister was with me and she remembers us as all being rather silly.

As the years passed, of course Frank and his songs became more and more popular. When I met my husband-to-be, a really cute sailor, he reminded me of Frank Sinatra. Besides being skinny, he had a lock of black hair that hung in a curl over his forehead, much like Frank. My hubby also played the piano, including some of Frank’s songs. Needless to say, I was smitten.

After we married, when hubby was overseas, I could look at Frank Sinatra’s picture and superimpose the image of my husband and also do the same with Frank’s movies. As Frank aged, and hubby did too, the resemblance faded.

To this day, though when I hear Frank sing, memories of those first feelings of love for my husband flood my memory. So, now you know how ancient I am.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Batter Up!

It's spring! Besides my allergies kicking into high gear, this is also the time when Little Leaguers are swarming through town. Every Saturday, you see scads of kids with grass-stained knees, wearing brightly colored t-shirts marked with the name of their team's sponsor.

Once in a while, the volunteer in charge of shirts doesn't check carefully and a typo is immortalized for the season. For example, one year my son's team was sponsored by Ray's Cantina, which everyone thought was a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, Ray Catena is a high-end luxury car dealership who thought they were spreading goodwill, not nachos, through their sponsorship. But as they say, shirts happen.

I confess that I once got snookered into serving as Commissioner of the Kickball division of Little League. It's not a job for the faint of heart. Even then, you had some parents trying to stack the team with ringers – you know, the kid who has a late birthday, is really 14, and can kick a ball through goalposts in the next state.

The scores at these games were always 100-100, since everyone gets up to bat, each team has at least 15 kids, and nobody can make an out, even when they are holding the ball and only have to step on the bag in front of them. The multi-part concept is too much for the kindergarten set.

You could always tell the one who was the younger sibling. He'd already spent the better half of his short life in the bleachers, watching his older brother or sister play some game. Finally it was his turn: he was the one on a team. He'd swagger up to home plate and with great flourish, pull on his older brother's batting gloves. The fact that this was kickball was too subtle a point. He'd draw back and kick the ball with a ferocity envied by the New York Giants. Of course, sometimes, he'd hit nothing but air and it would take quick thinking on the part of the coach to avoid a full preschooler meltdown. Other times, the young athlete would barely touch the ball and it would dribble pathetically down the line to third base, while the entire assemblage of parents would cheer with enthusiasm rivaled only by the Dallas Cheerleaders. You could always tell the first-time parents by the decibel level they could reach if their offspring managed to connect foot to ball.

In any case, no matter where the ball was kicked, the entire opposing team would head, en masse, after it, while anyone on base would merrily circle the infield, sometimes multiple times, running up the score. Often coaches would mercifully call the game for darkness, which was the result of the adults putting on sunglasses and declaring, at 10 am, that it would soon be dinnertime.

I've been doing spring cleaning and recently focused on the stash of trophies my kids have been hoarding, proof of their hours on the field of battle. I've got four kids so the mantle in the family room is a mini-village of faux-brass miniature sports players. The math gets too complicated for me, but four kids, times three sports seasons, times countless years equals...? Since I don't think there is much of a market for recycling these homages to youth athletics, I'm tossing the whole bunch into green garbage bags and praying the trash men can heave them into their trucks.

I'd tell you that I miss those days...and since I'm a fiction writer, I could probably make it stick. But this is a mystery blog, so instead I'm trying to fashion a suspense-filled storyline from my experiences in the bleachers. How's this? It's bottom of the sixth. Bases loaded. Score tied. Championship on the line. And then....

Evelyn David

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Old Desert Island Scenario

Joanne Dobson is the author of the Professor Karen Pelletier mystery series, Quieter Than Sleep, The Northbury Papers, The Raven and the Nightingale, and Cold and Pure and Very Dead from Doubleday and Bantam, and The Maltese Manuscript from Poisoned Pen Press. Until recently she taught literature and creative writing at Fordham University. She is now at work on Death Without Tenure, available from Poisoned Pen Press in 2009.

If I were stranded on a desert island, what three books would I want with me? Okay, Evelyn David, I’ll take up the challenge. It’s a hoary topic, but if it’s good enough for a Malice Domestic panel, it’s good enough for me.

Just let me say—first of all, I wouldn’t be stranded on a desert island; the merciless sun can cause melanoma, sand in my shoes gets annoying, and I don’t particularly like coconut milk. I’d be blizzard-stranded in a cozy log cabin somewhere in New Hampshire, with a kerosene lamp, a month’s worth of kerosene, a winter’s stack of firewood, a wood-burning stove, and plenty of matches. I’d have a pantry full of cans and boxes and an outdoor cache of moose meat built high above the reach of wolves and coyotes, like Kate Shugak in Dana Stabenow’s Alaska mysteries. What am I forgetting? A cell phone charged sufficiently so that I could let the handsome local Forest Ranger know exactly where I am. That should do it.

That’s fantasy life. In real life, I truly was stranded in a blizzard, and I truly did have a stash of books. This was about fifteen years ago in early March. It was semester break and my husband and I were leaving for a week in Louisville, Kentucky from our home in Westchester County, New York. We were packed to go when I heard on a newscast some chilling (pun) words: Blizzard of the Century. You can imagine the marital disagreement for yourself, but when we got to the part where my husband said, “you are such a wimp,” I gave in—on two conditions. The first was that we stop at a local deli and buy a quart thermos of coffee, two huge roast-beef sandwiches and a stash of chocolate bars. The second, and more important, was that we also stop at the library. I took out six mystery novels, the maximum allowed. Praise all the gods of book-heaven for the latter, because we spent the next four days at a Holiday Inn in State College, Pennsylvania, eating (once we’d finished the roast-beef sandwiches) powdered eggs, instant mashed potatoes, packaged macaroni and cheese, tuna-noodle casserole—whatever the also-stranded hotel workers could come up with from the storage room.

And we read. When the power began cycling off and on, we read during the day and slept at night, woke up with the first sun and read some more. I’d chosen some favorites from familiar series, but the only title I remember for certain was Lindsay Davis’s The Silver Pigs. I remember that because it was the first in the Marcus Didius Falco historical series and it was so funny and the setting was so convincing, it transported me from a cold motel room in late-twentieth-century Pennsylvania with its closed-down Interstates directly to the Roman forum, first-century A.D. It was much warmer there.

So, going back to the desert-island, cabin-in-New-Hampshire scenario: how long would I have to be there? If it were to be forever, then there’s no question. Forget the three books, this is MY fantasy. I want every single one of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin stories—both the novels and the short stories. I want them for the food, I want them for the orchids, I want them for the town house on Thirty-fifth Street, I want them for the familiar streets of New York City—and I want them, most of all, for Archie.

Joanne Dobson

Author of the Professor Karen Pelletier academic mysteries
Forthcoming: Death Without Tenure, Poisoned Pen Press, 2009

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I said, "No Thank You."

I'm not sure who came up with the idea of auto-renewals of subscriptions. It probably started with magazine subscriptions or maybe newspapers. Talk someone into buying a subscription, then in the fine print put a line or two about how by subscribing once, you give them permission to keep charging you without notice when your subscription expires.

Today you will find auto-renewals embedded in the fine print of all kinds of on-line purchases – vitamins, diet foods, cds, etc. And some of the things you've previously purchased are now adding an auto-renewal feature. I say the word "feature" instead of "option" because often you aren't given a choice up front.

I regularly renew my subscription to a software program that corrects registry problems on my computer. The program works great - so great that I also purchased a copy for my laptop. I've never had a problem with renewing my annual subscription – they send me a notice that it's about to expire and then I renew by visiting the site and filling in the purchase information. I've done this for five years. The other day I was having problems with my computer at work so I purchased the program for my office computer with a license to use it on two other computers. I'd planned to buy the program for the rest of the field office computers if my co-workers found the program as useful as I had. (I would pay for the program and then be reimbursed by my boss).

This time when I purchased the program, everything worked the same except for the follow-up email I received confirming my purchase. How nice! It's always comforting to know that an internet purchase is actually being shipped. But in the fine print of the follow-up email I discovered that my purchase included the convenience of auto-renewal. Convenience??? You don't want to know the words I said aloud.

Okay, after I calmed down I clicked the link on the email that casually mentioned if I didn't want this "convenience" I could visit the website and change my account settings. Sounds easy enough? Don't you believe it! Finding my account settings was like a scavenger hunt without the clues. An hour later I worked my way through a series of titles and subtitles and found it buried about ten pages deep. Another twenty minutes and I located the place where you uncheck the box that authorized them to charge your credit card forever more. I un-clicked it. Immediately a pop-up appeared and warned me of the dire consequences of failing to auto-renew. I swore a blood oath (by checking another box) that I'd risk it.

Leaving the site, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Then my email program dinged. I had mail.

It was an email from the software company. They wanted me to confirm that I had declined the auto-renew option otherwise they would change it back.


Okay, actually the word I used was one that I've told my co-author I never use.

Buyers beware! And always watch for follow-up emails – sometimes they're not just spam.

Evelyn David