Monday, June 30, 2008

The Movie or the Book?

I've always been one to read the book before seeing the movie or television series spinoff; thus I'm usually disappointed in the movie. There have been exceptions of course. A good actor or actress can tip the scales.

My top ten for where the movie or television series was better than the book:
1. Jaws – the cast, the visuals, the music. That was some movie!
2. Lonesome Dove – loved the movie, never made it all the way through the book.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird – the movie was beyond wonderful; the book was merely fantastic. Okay so I love both but I've seen the movie more times than I've read the book.
4. The Client (the movie was one of Susan Sarandon's best roles. Loved the banter between her and Tommy Lee Jones) – The book was good but I didn't care for the television series
5. A Time for Killing – (the movie was better than the book.) The book was one of my least favorite of John Grisham's list. I didn't care for The Firm in either the book or movie version.
6. The Awakening Land (loved the miniseries although Conrad Richter novels are very good)
7. The Hunt for Red October – excellent movie, good book
8. Silence of the Lambs - Jodie Foster is and always will be "Clarice."
9. The Shining (although that's a close call, Jack Nicholson makes the movie stand out.)
10. The Godfather – the cast was perfect.

My top ten for where the book was far better than the movie or tv series:
1. Patriot Games – the plot in the book was much more exciting
2. The Kathy Reich novels – I just can't get into the Bones tv series
3. Jeffery Deaver's Bone Collector series – the books are excellent, the movies are exciting, but not nearly as interesting as the books.
4. In Cold Blood – the book was much scarier than the movie. The book Helter Skelter was also scarier than the mini-series.
5. The Little House On the Prairie books – when the tv series aired I couldn't get over the fact that Mary wasn't blind. Even at ten or eleven I was comparing the show to the books and finding the show lacking.
6. Da Vinci Code – I know some people don't like the book but I enjoyed reading it – the movie not so much. Tom Hanks seemed totally miscast.
7. Contact – I had such high hopes for the Jodie Foster movie and was so disappointed.
8. Cold Mountain – the book was much better than the movie.
9. Jurassic Park – I liked the intricacies of the book's plot best, but I have to admit the movie was exciting. I'll call that one a toss-up.
10. The Stand – couldn't make it all the way through the mini-series. The book was very good.

If you've seen the movie and read the book, which do you prefer? Do you think it makes a difference if you read the book before seeing the movie?

I've always hoped for a movie or tv series from Nevada Barr's books. I can't understand why some producer doesn't see the potential.

Do you have a favorite book you'd like to see made into a movie or tv series? Of course my first choice is Murder Off the Books. My co-author and I would love to see "Mac and Rachel" on the small screen every week. We're just not sure who we'd want to play "Whiskey." Suggestions?

Evelyn David

Friday, June 27, 2008

Searching for a Starry Night

Evelyn David interviews Christine Verstraete, author of Searching for a Starry Night.

1. Who is Christine Verstraete?

A kid who never grew up! Seriously, I enjoy creating, whether in writing or by doing a hobby like miniatures. I have more ideas in both areas than time to do them!

2. Tell us about Searching for a Starry Night? Do you own a Dachshund? If not why choose a Dachshund for a character in Searching for a Starry Night?

I confess that my dog is much bigger, a Malamute mix. I think Dachshunds are cute, funny dogs. I was doing a newspaper story on “Wiener Dog Races” and I got such a kick out of them. I fell in love with them. So Petey the Dachshund in my book just kind of came to me.

3. Why do you write? As opposed to some other creative venture? What was the event that spurred you to write your first piece of fiction?

I “have” to write. It’s a way to make money and a creative release. Of course, if someone paid me enough to make dollhouses or miniatures for a living, maybe I’d consider it! I don’t think there’s one specific event that drew me to fiction. I’d tried writing short stories a while ago, but it took me awhile to feel comfortable with fiction writing and to “unlearn” some of my nonfiction writing style. It’s been fun to come up with an idea and see where it leads instead of having to write the facts, just the facts.

4. What books do you like to read? Do your reading preferences affect your writing style?

I’m a reading chameleon. I like historical fiction, mystery, suspense, and horror. I’m a Stephen King and Dean Koontz fan and have been reading a lot of Debbie Macomber lately for a change. I love mysteries with humor, too.

5. If you could meet any writer in the world – living or dead – who would it be and why?

Wow, do I have to pick just one? Ha! Hmm, I’d love to meet Stephen King or Dean Koontz and talk shop. In the past, I think Laura Ingalls Wilder would be interesting to meet. A girl with spunk. Or Louisa MayAlcott. I loved “Little Women.”

6. Your book is just out – do you have any personal appearances scheduled? Where? When?

I will list events at my website at I also add fun new collections and items at my blog Candid Canine, You can also find news and an appearance schedule at , click news. Check my blog and website for a special contest open to July 4, 2008.

7. What's up next for Chris? Are you working on another book?

I am always working! I am trying to finish an adult mystery and have a young adult fantasy-mystery I’d like to outline and work on. That’s the plant for now, anyway. I may have a few more ideas that hook me first.

8. What's your favorite pair of shoes? Why?

Ha, great question! If I had to pick, it would be sandals - definitely platforms. Being just near five –foot tall, I was ecstatic when they came back with platform and wedge shoes. And they’re still in style. I already saw a couple new pairs I have to get! And even if they go “out” of style again, I don’t care!

Christine Verstraete

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Babies Having Babies

Time magazine reports that 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting. The moms-to-be are just 16 years old. Some younger. Apparently they made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. The sperm donors, since I scarcely can call them fathers, include a 24-year-old homeless man.

I love being a mother. I can remember the first time John, my boyfriend (eventually my husband), and I talked about having kids. We were just beginning to get serious, but I blithely announced that I wanted six children. John has admitted that his first inclination was to walk, very fast and very far away. We ended up with four kids, which was the perfect size for us.

But what was clear to me long before I had these little darlings is that once you have them, um, you have them. I could envision dumping husbands (singular or plural), but there's no divorcing kids.

Which is why I'm always astonished at couples who have no hesitation to procreate, but are worried about making a commitment to each other. To me, marriage was easy, and quite frankly, fixable if it was a mistake. But kids? Like it or not, and certainly all parents will agree that there are moments which are not blissful (I'm a writer so I dutifully checked for a synonym for my first word choice: ghastly), having children is a no-money back, lifetime commitment. Sure there's nothing like new baby smell, which if they could bottle it, I'd buy a case of the stuff. But there's also nothing like wall-to-wall baby poop, which the little one has smeared "everywhere" upon awakening from his "10-minutes I'm done for the day" nap.

I'll take Brad and Angelina (do they need last names?) at their word that their refusal to marry is based on principle. They insist they're committed to each other and their burgeoning brood. Of course, Angie's already been married twice and Brad's batting 0 for 1, so it's hard to be sure that principle is the only reason why they're avoiding the wedding cake dessert.

But what about P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, whatever? I've got nothing against the man. He certainly seems to take financial responsibility for the five children he's fathered with three different women. But as to any strolls down the aisle, it's not going to happen soon. "I have to be ready to get married," he insists. Ready for what? I mean you have to be ready to raise kids too, and that's more than writing a support check every month (although that's obviously preferable to not writing one).

The teen years are a time to study, have fun with your friends, do crazy (but safe) stunts, and simply put, grow up. Sure, having a child puts you on the fast track to adulthood – but what's the rush? Babies having babies is wrong for the mothers and their offspring. And teens getting pregnant, as part of some bad initiation rite, is a club no girl should be joining.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Week in Review

I’m leaving for San Francisco on Saturday and for all of you West-Coasters/Bay Area denizens, please stop by M Is for Mystery in San Mateo, on Sunday, June 29th, at 2:00. I’ll be signing, reading, chatting, and having a great time talking about my second Alison Bergeron mystery, “Extracurricular Activities.” I hope to see you!I’ve been in that frantic pre-trip frenzy, getting ready to leave for a week. I’m leaving the computer at home and am wondering just exactly how I’ll stay in touch with the world. But whatever—I’ll be in San Francisco, the city that ranks right behind my hometown, New York City, as the best in the world. (And, oh yeah, Paris. And of course, Miami…I’m fickle.)

But in the midst of all this preparation, I’ve been thinking about the past week and had a few thoughts on a couple of topics/people. Ready? I thought so.

1. The death of George Carlin: OK, God, you took Russert, and now Carlin. I can’t even imagine who’s next and am not going to name names in case it gives you any ideas. You’ve got the smart guy, and now the funny/smart guy. No more. And by the way, I’m sure you have access to YouTube up in heaven; couldn’t you have contented yourself with watching old bits from Carlin and left him with us for another twenty years? Favorite bits: STUFF (your house is just a big receptacle for all of your STUFF); driving (why is the guy going slower than you a moron and the guy going faster than you a maniac?); intelligence (think about the average American and then remember that half of the population is dumber than that). That’s all I can think of for now and of course, I’ve taken literary license. We’ll miss you, George. Hope you got to meet Joe.

2. And speaking of Russert: Tom Brokaw subbed on “Meet the Press” this week and it sounds like he will be the guy until the election (and hopefully after). We needed Brokaw back. I’m just sorry it came about the way it did but his presence on television can only be considered a positive.

3. Michelle Obama: I never watch “The View” (I’m working, people!). But I took time out last week to watch her just to get a sense if all of those maniacal talking heads who have branded her a militant (the way that word is used…in the words of the Northern half of Evelyn David: Oy!), caustic, rigid, fist-bumping terrorist were right. Not only were they wrong, they now look like fools. She was warm, gracious, real, and unpracticed (or maybe that’s just my gullibility showing). She’s got a husband who she’s crazy about, despite the fact that she initially did not want him to run for president. She’s got two adorable daughters. And that dress she had on? Perfection. If I had a muscle in my upper arms, I would go out and buy it. Never did a $119 dress look so perfect. Go, Michelle.

4. Cindy McCain: Beer heiress Cindy showed her humanitarian side last week. And I liked it. Who’s with me that the women are going to outshine the men in this election? One can only hope…

5. Following your dream versus getting a job: A friend read my post called “Perception versus Reality” a few weeks back and then attended her son’s college graduation. The speaker was a young broadcast journalist who we all know who implored students to “follow their dreams.” My friend, who’s had enough of dream following to last a lifetime, reflected on my post and wrote me to chat about it. Very gratifying. But it got me thinking: what happened to that idealistic college grad that I was back in 1800? I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a dream killer, I just think you should have a job while pursuing your dream. Spoken like a mother, right? I’ve sold out. I’m THE MAN. I’m BIG TOBACCO. I’m THE ESTABLISHMENT. When did that happen?

And on a strictly personal note, thank you to all of you who read and comment on these blogs. I was talking to a fourth-grader the other night who told me that her dream is to be a writer and she asked me what it takes. While I said,“write every day,” her mother chimed in with “read everything you can get your hands on.” Those are the two main keys, certainly. And by allowing me to blog every week about any variety of topics, my writing has become clearer, sharper, and more focused. I’m writing more than I’m reading, admittedly, and that’s fine. I’m building up those Stephen King “writing muscles.”

I’ll catch you up on my trip when I return. Now I’m going to try to tackle packing a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on bag. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rats, and I do mean rats

In real life these four legged critters with long tails are nothing like the cute little guys in the movie Ratatouille. Near the bathroom that’s being remodeled–a project that ought to be done, but isn’t–there’s a storage closet that juts into the backyard.

One of our cats, Squeaky, wanted to go in there in the worst way. Hubby asked her what she wanted in there, opened the door and she immediately trapped a rat. My grown grandson and hubby managed to get rid of it, started looking around and found four nests! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!

After lots of work, they were sure they’d gotten rid of them all and cleaned up all the mess. That was yesterday. Today I was hard a work in my office at the far end of the hall from the closet. I had a box inside of a box next to my desk that I planned to pack some stuff in. Squeaky was poking around in it and I thought she wanted to get inside, so I lifted out the smaller box. What did I see? A big rat! I went screaming outside to get hubby.

He is not fast enough moving for me–needless to say, I did not go back into my office for a long, long while. Squeaky kept the rat trapped, husband disposed of it. More yuk! Later on in the day, something crashed down the hall. Yep, Squeaky had another one of the monsters cornered. Again, I called my husband and disappeared for awhile.

He has assured me that all of the rats have been taken care of, and Squeaky is taking a much deserved nap, but I’ll probably have nightmares tonight. We have two other cats, but they don’t seem to have the same instincts Squeaky does.

I’ve been trying really hard to finish the book I’m working on, but it was difficult to concentrate today.

Hubby says when you live in the country you have to expect to have critters now and then. Well, I’m not afraid of spiders, which we have plenty of, nor am I afraid of rattlers–not that I mess with them, but I don’t scream in horror when one decides to visit. I can kill a scorpion and catch a lizard and put it outside. But rats? I’m sure the neighbors heard me screaming even though none of them live very close.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Watching the Olympics

Two days ago I watched the U.S. Women's Olympic gymnastic trials. I haven't kept up with the sport since the last Olympics, so I didn't recognize any of the competitors. The faces were different; the scoring was different; but the excitement was the same. The Olympics is now on my radar! August will be here before you know it.

The first Olympics that I can remember watching was the one held in Munich in 1972. I'm sure I saw others before, but they really didn't register. Munich was different. Maybe it was my increased attention span or maybe it was because the television coverage began to highlight each individual's story instead of the teams as a whole. I was always easily hooked by a well-told tale! It may also be that I remember that Olympics because it depicted both the best and the worst humanity had to offer.

Munich was where Belarusian Olga Korbut changed women's gymnastics forever. The tiny, pig-tailed girl with the big smile did her incredible backflips and inventive routines making her an audience favorite and a gold metal winner. After Olga, the female gymnasts would all be younger and more athletic.

U.S. athletes Mark Spitz broke all records by winning 7 gold metals in swimming; Dave Wottle, coming from behind, won the 800 meter run; and Frank Shorter won the marathon. I watched it all with edge-of-the-seat excitement.

I also watched in horror as Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and took eleven Israeli athletes hostage. For almost two days, the games took a backseat to the life and death struggle between innocent athletes, governments, and terrorists who were determined to use the event to further their cause. The hostages were either killed directly by the terrorists during the standoff or later during the rescue attempt. Some of the shine of the Olympics was gone forever.

Thirty-six years later, this summer's Olympics are being held in Beijing. Security will be tight. There are still terrorists who would love to disrupt the games and take over the world stage. There are governments who will try to use the games to make political statements. But there are also still athletes who are determined to achieve their dreams, who have sacrificed much in the name of competition and the quest to be the best in the world.

Whether you prefer to chalk up your hands, tie on your running shoes, or dust off your ski poles, which Olympics touched your heart? Which Olympian do you remember best?

Evelyn David
- who never had a Dorothy Hamill haircut but thought about it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Rodney Dangerfield of Literature

Elizabeth Foxwell despises Moby-Dick; serves as managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection, the only US scholarly periodical on mystery and detective fiction; and won the Agatha Award for her short story “No Man’s Land.” She blogs regularly on mysteries and other literary matters at

The phrase most likely to irritate me?

“Transcends the genre.”

The assumption is ubiquitous: mysteries are just something writers do until they see the light and produce a “real” book. I suppose the corollary is: mysteries are something readers read until Moby-Dick whacks them in the head, they repent the error of their ways, and read only The Mill on the Floss forever after.

Snort. The favorite writer of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kui is not some painfully serious author-with-message, but Georges Simenon, the creator of Inspector Maigret.

There are times too numerous to mention where I’ve read a review in Publishers Weekly and thought, “Sounds like a mystery,” but the book, because of some perception of the author in the pecking order rather than a desire for accurate description, appears in the tonier “fiction” category. Yet PW noted in its December 31, 2007, issue, reporting on Bowker data, that mystery/detective was the most popular category for book buyers from January to September 2007.

I detect a dichotomy. Unwilling to be deemed mystery, but more than happy for people to buy it as such?

I’ve referred to mysteries as “the Rodney Dangerfield of literature”—that is, they get no respect, especially from some segments of academe—and find this state of affairs, appropriately enough, mystifying. Writing mysteries is no work for a dilettante. There are background settings to be researched, characters to be developed, crimes to be plotted, clues to be planted, investigations to be conducted, and plausible solutions to be devised—all without, according to the rules of Monsignor Ronald Knox, resorting to Chinamen.

Consider Arthur Conan Doyle, who thought he would be remembered for his historical novels, rather than for what he deemed to be slight stories featuring a character based on his former professor. Today, the universal sign for detective, across cultures, is a tall, thin figure in deerstalker and Inverness cape—a certain sign of immortality. Who reads Micah Clarke these days?

So the next time condescension over the mystery’s place in literature rears its pompous head, produce the following short list:

Nicholas Blake – creator of sleuth Nigel Strangeways (modeled on mystery lover and poet W. H. Auden), better known as British poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis

Madeleine Brent – wrote romantic suspense works; better known as Peter O’Donnell, the creator of Modesty Blaise

G. K. Chesterton – creator of sleuth Father Brown, eminent British man of letters, and Catholic theologian, who once wrote that detective stories are “the earliest and only form of popular literature in which is expressed some sense of the poetry of modern life” (“A Defence of Detective Stories,” The Defendant 158)

William Faulkner – mystery fan and god of Southern literature; wrote the mysteries A Rose for Emily, Intruder in the Dust, and the collection Knight’s Gambit that features lawyer Gavin Stevens.

Graham Greene – Revered for works such as Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair, but delighted in writing what he called his “entertainments,” such as Stamboul Train and The Third Man.

John P. Marquand – won the Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley, served on the Book of the Month Club selection panel, created Mr. Moto.

Mary Roberts Rinehart – one of the earliest US female war correspondents (in World War I), appeared on the bestseller list 11 times between 1909 and 1936, created Miss Pinkerton, made more than $9 million in the 1920s from her play The Bat.

Glen Trevor – wrote Was It Murder? , a mystery set in a boys’ school; better known as James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon, Random Harvest, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Respect indeed.

Elizabeth Foxwell

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Me and Sally Field

I like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman, confident in my abilities, aware of my limitations. So how come I'm reduced to a sniveling wuss when it comes to my fiction writing?

I write nonfiction books for a living. I've got 10 books to my credit, two will be published this year. Unlike mysteries, you almost never write the entire nonfiction book before you have a contract. Yes, you have to do enough research to make the case to an editor that that you have a unique idea that will appeal to a large segment of the book-buying public, but generally you haven't spent the better part of a year or more finishing your life's work—only to have it rejected.

I never take it personally if a nonfiction book proposal is rejected. I might be disappointed, but I don't immediately launch into a weeping rendition of the "I'm never going to work in this town again" blues. I, Ms. Rationality, am able to discuss in modulated tones how the market for this topic has changed; or conversely it's been done to death (even if I could have done it better); or the editor wouldn't have the good sense to recognize a great idea if he were on the Titanic and being offered a life preserver. In other words, it's not me that is being rejected, but instead it's a bad concept or maybe just bad timing. As Michael Corleone would say, "it's not personal, it's business."

But my fiction? Whether it's a short story or a novel, I crave feedback and unless I hear the equivalent of a marching band playing the Hallelujah chorus, I'm crushed. When I read a favorable review, I break into my best Sally Field impersonation, announcing to the world "you like me, you really like me."

Conversely, even a minor criticism or less-than-enthusiastic comment, and I'm ready to turn in my Mystery Writers of America membership card in abject humiliation. As my mother, the original Evelyn, would say, OY!

I'm amazed at the authors who insist that they never read reviews – the good ones or the bad. I'm impressed by their self-confidence and self-restraint. Not only do I read the reviews, but I parse each sentence and search for intonation and nuance.

Do you think this need for outside validation is because I'm still relatively new at the fiction game? Does Mary Higgins Clark still worry when she publishes a new book? Did Agatha Christie care what the reviewers said?

Tell me the truth. Is this an affliction of a newbie or do all writers need public confirmation of their work? Is it "this too shall pass" or "learn to live with it; it goes with the territory?"

Evelyn David

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bye, Tim

Believe it or not, two or three weeks ago, I began writing this blog and typed the words, “Is there anybody better at calling b.s. on people than Tim Russert?” But being as we here at the Stiletto Gang are a bipartisan, non-political bunch who don’t talk about politics, religion, or sex (at least not in polite company), I shelved the post, thinking that I would come back to it at some point when I felt a little more impartial on the subject.

It was meant to be an homage to my Sunday-morning boyfriend, Tim Russert, but I figured I had time to work on it so as to cast the proper light on one of my favorite pastimes, watching “Meet the Press.” But Scott McLelland was the guest the morning that I began writing the post and let’s just say that I don’t feel impartial about him in any way, shape, or form.

And then the unthinkable happened. My hero, Tim Russert, died suddenly last Friday of an apparent heart attack. And all I kept thinking was “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Except I did know what I had. What I had was a Jesuit-educated, Irish-Catholic political junkie who became the go-to guy for all things fair and impartial. He was our mouthpiece, the guy to call b.s. on all of those politicians, pundits, and spin doctors. He was one of us, but way, way smarter. He was a son, father, brother, husband, uncle. He was an Everyman from Buffalo, New York. He was a giant of journalism, keeper of the proving ground for candidates and elected officials alike. I have watched many Russert interviews over the years, but the one that got me started on this post a few weeks back is one that will stay with me for a long time. It was a butt-kicking of the highest caliber, but done in Russert’s always polite, always respectful way. It was the interview he did with weasel numero uno Scott McClelland.

And so begins the post I started on June 2, one day after McClelland appeared on “Meet the Press”: Is there anybody better at calling b.s. on people than Tim Russert?

I had this past Sunday morning free and as luck would have it, “Meet the Press” was beginning just after I had finished preparing a lovely sandwich of leftover chicken sausage on a roll and poured myself a big glass of Diet 7UP. I settled in to find out who Russert was hosting this day and it turned out to be turncoat extraordinaire, Scott McLelland. For those of you who don’t pay close attention to the best-seller list, politics, or lying mclyingpants in general, Scott McLelland is a former Bush White House Press Secretary, and by his own admission, someone who repeatedly lied to the American people during his employment. A sample? The administration, namely, the President, lied about the circumstances (e.g. WMD’s, link to Al-Qaeda) leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. McLelland, good boy that he was, stood at the White House press secretary podium and laid out the case for going to war, invoking the very lies he had now laid out in his new book. What else? He/they lied about leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity to the media. He/they screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina. And the list goes on.

But I don’t want to write about politics or how I feel about these lies and screw ups. What I want to write about how Tim Russert, a.k.a MY NEW HERO, questioned little Scott McLelland, a man who is now profiting from the lies he presented and perpetrated after being on staff for seven years serving the President. My moral outrage wasn’t enough, nor was the sausage sandwich I was eating. What I needed McLelland to endure –and exactly what he got—was a televised tongue-lashing from Russert, the beauty of which can be seen here: What you’ll see is McLelland in all of his glorious, double-talking duplicity. And Russert with all of his smart guy, “you sure you want to play it that way?” questioning style.

I was initially entranced with the whole Q and A but became even more mesmerized by the astounding amount of research that went into Russert’s line of questioning. For every equivocation, there was footage of McLelland at a White House podium, contradicting what he just said. For every statement of McLelland fact (what we normal folks call “lies”), there was a shot of him embracing the President, or Karl Rove, or Scooter Libby, people who he now claims lie without losing a moment’s sleep, who have put the lives of American servicemen and women in serious jeopardy . For every time I said, between mouths of sausage sandwich, “ask him this!”, Russert did. And not in a nanny-nanny-poo-poo, gotcha kind of way, but in a matter-of-fact, “let’s see you get yourself out of this one” way.

But when all is said and done, Scott McLelland sold a ton of books that day, but hopefully, after a stint on “Meet the Press” feels just a wee bit guilty about it. Because he’s profiting from the lies and Russert, in his polite, yet firm way, let him know that.

We need more Russerts and fewer McLellands. We need guys—and by “guys” I mean men and women—who write books revering their fathers, books that talk about the struggles of the middle class. We need less lying, sniveling, turncoat rats and more people committed to truth and justice. I don’t care who we get it from—Democrats or Republicans. All I hope is that someone thinks about a guy like Russert, a stand-up guy at that, and thinks, “that’s who I want to be like.”

Bye, Tim.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plans Often Go Astray

My plan for the weekend was to leave early Friday morning with hubby and all the paraphenalia to have a booth at a Flea Market in Temecula CA–about a 4 plus hour drive from our home. We were to meet at our eldest daughter at our granddaughter’s home for lunch. We left in plenty of time, just a bit after 6 a.m.

When we drew close to the bottom of the road over the mountains (I-5, the main connections from the San Joaquin Valley to Southern CA) all the cars slowed to a stop. Accident, we thought. We expected to eventually be guided around it. Instead we were detoured off the highway, around a big loop and back to the main highway going back the way we came. Like sheep, we followed all the trucks and cars figuring they, like us, needed to find an alternate route.

We had a pretty good idea of where we needed to go, up to Tehacapi and down to Mojave, and then we hoped our Magellan would guide us the best way to get to Temecula. By this time we learned via the radio that the problem was a hazardous waste spill on I-5 and no one was going through for a long, long while. Our Magellan wanted to take us back to I-5 through Palmdale but since we had no idea where the spill was we didn’t want to take a chance.

Finally, the mysterious voice on the GPS led us to San Bernardino and on to Genie’s. Of course daughter had already left for home as they had other plans. Genie and Mark are always gracious overnight hosts and we had a great time visiting them and their two little kids.

Before our hosts were awake the next morning, hubby and I headed off for the Flea Market. We thought we left plenty early, but the park where it was being held was already packed. We found a place to leave the car and began hauling the Easy-Up tent, tables, chairs and the pull-alongs with all my books.

I was the only author–something I’ve found to be a good thing–and began attracting attention from the other vendors. Though I didn’t sell a ton of books–I made my fee for the spot back, plus quite a bit more. I also handed out lots of cards and bookmarks and talked to lots of people. By three o’clock the wind came up and vendors began packing up–so we did too.

We programmed in grandson Patrick’s address and followed the voice to his house. There we visited with his wife and three kids. We took them out to dinner, then Patrick, hubby and grandson all went to the motorcycle races. I stayed home with the girls and we watched a chick flick and did a lot of talking.

Once again we left before our hosts were up and about. Left a thank you note and headed for home. Told the mysterious Magellan “best use of freeways” and ended up driving through downtown LA. Not too bad since it was Sunday–however next time I’ll put in “shortest distance” which would have taken us a better way. This time, the drive was uneventful and we arrived home just in time for a barbecue cooked by our son for Father’s Day.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Summertime and the Living Was Easy

Do you remember when summer used to be half the year? I don't think I noticed that it was only three months until well into high school. Summers meant swimming, softball, staying up late, sleeping in, odd jobs for spending money, and reading – reading as many books as possible. Summer was wonderful.

In grade school I loved westerns (covered wagon stories, Kit Carson, and all the Zane Grey novels I could get my hands on) and mysteries (Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden.) My best friend and I cleaned a motel swimming pool one summer for a little cash and free use of the pool. We cleaned in the mornings and then sat by the pool during the afternoon, reading. When we'd had enough chlorine and sun, we'd go over to the motel restaurant to drink large cokes and eat chips and salsa.

In high school my reading tastes shifted a little. I discovered biographies. My favorite subjects were Abraham and Mary Lincoln, Golda Meir, Amelia Earhart, Mary Queen of Scots, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Yeah, I was all over the place, but that was half the fun. I also discovered true crime (In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter) and the bittersweet romance of Danielle Steele. Ms. Steele made me cry every time.

I worked one summer for the National Park Service. I'd spend a couple of hours in the morning at the lake, swimming and reading, and then I'd get ready for work. I had the 3:00 pm to midnight shift at a campground. I was supposed to collect camping fees and make sure nobody disturbed the peace by playing their boom boxes too loudly or engaging in public screaming matches with their spouses. I also had to keep the campground kiosk open in case someone had an emergency and I needed to radio for help (this was pre-cell phone days folks.). But it was a slow summer, the springs at the campground were dry and the tourists preferred the lake. Mostly I sat alone in the kiosk, a small rock building with windows on all sides. People could see me, but because of the forested darkness outside, I couldn't see them. I sat there, night after night and read the scariest stuff Stephen King had to offer. That was a great summer!

I still like to read all kinds of fiction, although I read less since I started writing. I was shopping on Saturday for a Father's Day gift and books were at the top of my list. I picked up the latest Lee Child novel for my Dad and couldn't resist grabbing a paperback mystery for myself. The book, The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid, had a lake scene on the cover and a blurb from one of my favorite authors promising it was "irresistible."

If I get a sunny afternoon this next week, I might play hooky from work, lay in a lounge chair in the backyard with my book and pretend I'm on summer vacation from school. No bills to pay, no career to worry about, no deadlines looming. I won't even notice that the lawn will need mowing again and that my deck could use a coat of fresh paint. I'm going to ignore all that and do a little time traveling – back to when summers lasted half the year.

Evelyn David

Friday, June 13, 2008

Outstanding in My Field

Vicky Polito is a screenwriter currently working on a novel entitled “Our Safety Is Our Speed”. This photo is Vicky to the core: always looking elsewhere with a mix of suspicion and fascination.

Writers are the independent type, in several ways. The most common: independence of mind. The least likely: independence of bank account.

Until a decade ago, I’d nearly always had another full-time job. Writing was something I did mostly nights and weekends. Aside from practice, which has value, I didn’t get much done. I also seldom made money writing. The fact is that if my husband hadn’t said when we were going to buy our house “look, if you really want to write full time I’m with you and you should quit your job now so that we don’t go out and get a mortgage based on two salaries”, I’d still be floundering. He saw the writing on the wall of what writing on the page might pay and faced reality with great generosity. Since then, I’ve made some money from screenwriting, but that’s still a curvy road and I’d rather write my novel, which for now pays nothing.

When I quit my last day job I was working in IT as a programmer/analyst, far from my degree in Journalism. After I quit, someone complimented me, saying, gee, that was brave to give up a good salary just to try writing. But, I had a safety net. One that didn’t just earn the money, but backed me up all the way, encouraged me and tried to understand my work. So, my question is, just how independent am I?

The answer is in other parts of working as a writer. Trust me, when the first time you’ve spoken to a human since breakfast is when you answer the phone at four in the afternoon, you get it. Writing is a job done mostly alone, but it’s not lonely most of the time. The bigger problem is that you start to lose your grasp on the mainstream world because you take yourself out of it to write. I’ve got to plug back in periodically to ground myself.

And then there’s my frequent liberation from basic hygiene—the days when I realize it’s quitting time and I still haven’t showered. Or my freedom to take a punch from someone who smiles condescendingly and says, “Well, you don’t work” in response to anything I’ve said about having time to cook or clean or making sure to get enough sleep or having just finished reading a good book. You name it, and apparently the reason I have 48 hours in a day to everyone else’s 24 is because I “don’t work.” It’s always a treat to hear people sum you up that way.

My most treasured but also sometimes most painful independent streak? It’s that oddness of personality that I believe most people feel, but that writers feel acutely. It’s that gnawing, frustrating sense that you are always, always somehow apart from everyone else. Writers operate at a different elevation from sea level. We take in everything out there with a perspective that differs from that of the crowd. It’s like being a lightening rod in a field of wild flowers. But, oh, the view!

So, I fight the not so pretty aspects of my independence and cherish the good. I tell myself, sometimes with a sigh, that it doesn’t matter if no one gets me, so long as someday someone gets something I write. That’s why we stand out in that big field of flowers, taking in every breeze, ray of sun, and bolt of electricity, and then write it all into something we hope others can be struck by, reveling in that few moments of connection between our worlds.

Vicky Polito

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Love You Dad

I should have written something for Mother's Day because I really adored my mother, the original Evelyn. She was smart, feisty, independent, hysterically funny, and the original feminist. So Mom, I owe you a blog.

But next Sunday is Father's Day. The kids and I will celebrate the wonderful Dad that my husband indeed is. But I want to take a moment to honor Carol, my father. He died much too young. He's been gone more years than we had together. And yet, that bedrock of love he gave me as a kid accounts for much of the person I am today.

First, the name. He spent his life explaining it because Carol is usually reserved for girls. But the family lore is that it was supposed to be Carl, the hospital got it wrong, and my immigrant grandparents didn't want to argue with authority. So Carol it was.

He was intelligent, kind, gentle, generous, good looking, with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of humor that often saved the moment (especially for an over-dramatic teenage girl). It was Dad who took me to the library every week. He'd get a stack of books (always including a couple of mysteries!), while I carefully picked out my own selection. He traveled for business, probably three weeks out of every month, but never missed a recital, a holiday, or birthday.

We weren't poor, but money was usually tight. Dad was a product of the Depression and for him, spending money was always a gut-wrenching experience. When I was in college, I begged to go overseas to a summer program at Oxford University. The cost was prohibitive, but his hesitation, I think, was primarily because he would miss me. Still, my heart was set on a summer in England and he reluctantly agreed. I bought my cheap charter plane ticket and headed off. Within two weeks, I was back home. I'd been in a motorcycle accident (don't ask, I was just incredibly stupid). I'd lost a few teeth, my face was banged up, I looked a mess. But once Dad had been assured by my doctor that I was okay, he paid for a full-fare ticket for me to return to Oxford. "You have to go back," he insisted. He didn't want me to be scared to travel or to miss this unique opportunity. It was a magical summer, despite the temporary bite plate!

Now that I'm a parent, I realize how terrifying it must have been for him to let me go. Not to mention how hard it must have been to pay for that expensive plane ticket. But Dad knew what I needed, even if I didn't.

From him, I learned parenting lessons, long before I had kids. He never spanked me (Mom took a swipe or two), but Dad just looked disappointed when I misbehaved and that would be enough. He said spanking just meant that he was bigger than me, not necessarily that he was right. He taught me to always tell the people you love that you love them – never assume they know. By his example, I learned what a real father should be and I wanted that (and got it) for my own children.

This Sunday, my husband will laugh at the funny cards his kids have given him, smile at the thoughtful gifts they've brought, and mostly, just revel in the company of his children. Carol won't be here, but I'll hear him in the laughter of his grandchildren. Love you Dad.

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Perception versus Reality

It’s that time of year again when college graduates flood the job market in record numbers, only to be subjected to dire pronouncements of media talking heads warning of the dearth of suitable employment for our country’s best and brightest. That’s one problem. The other is that it is also the time of year when those same college graduates have to readjust their thinking—that is, take their diplomas, swallow their collective pride, and take a variety of jobs that have little or nothing at all to do with their major course of study. It’s the old perception versus reality conundrum. Your perception—the job market’s reality.

As an English/French major back in the 80’s, it never occurred to me that there were few, if any, jobs out there at a level I thought I was suited for available to someone like me. Sure, if you were a nursing major, like the majority of students at my college, you could have come out of college and begun nursing immediately. If you majored in accounting, you probably landed a job that involved crunching numbers. And if you were smart enough to be a computer science major back then…well, we know where you are now. Counting the cash from your Microsoft stock splitting a billion trillion times since graduation. But if you graduated with an English/French major, your options were limitless and limiting, all at the same time. You were qualified to do a broad spectrum of things, probably, but just not what you thought. I wanted to be a writer. But unfortunately, none of the writing stores were hiring.

Thankfully, twenty-three years ago this month, I left college lucky enough to have a job in pocket when I processed across the stage. Sure, it only paid $13,000 a year, and sure, I wouldn’t get any vacation time for a year, but one thing was certain: I had to take it because not taking it would mean that I couldn’t live in my old bedroom in the family homestead. I could come back home but I had to be gainfully employed. Now that I’m older (and a mother), I can say that that sounds eminently reasonable. Back then? Well, I wasn’t thrilled. It was one of those jobs that I never thought I’d have to do; it involved typing, filing, answering phones, and being an all-around girl Friday to an editor-in-chief at a publishing house. I never had to get his lunch, and he was the nicest man in the world, but I did spend many day hunched over a broken down copy machine, looking for the paper jam that it proclaimed I had produced. I should have known that this was the only type of job I was qualified for after graduating with my liberal arts degree but I was sure that I would interview at a few places for this type of position only to have the interviewer say, “There must be some mistake. You are completely overqualified for this job. You are brilliant! A gift to the literary world! We will make you an editor right away!”

I remember wandering the streets of midtown Manhattan at lunchtime for the first few weeks eating hot pretzels from street vendors (because that was all I could afford) and reminding myself that I was a writer, not an assistant. It became something of a mantra.

But you know what? I worked with a lot of “writers not assistants” and they were all extremely bright and talented people, and much happier in the job than I was. What did they know? Were they just broken down? Had they completely supplanted their dreams and aspirations? Maybe. But they were a great group and I made good friends. Vicky Polito, Friday’s guest blogger, is one of them. I ended up having a lot of fun at my job, met some interesting people, learned some amazing things. I worked with writers and at that point in my life, that was enough to help stoke the fire inside of me to keep writing. I stayed in the field, in house, for fifteen years, and after that, another nine as a freelancer. Turns out I really liked what I did. And I was good at it. I eventually rose to the rank of editor and when the demands of that job became too great for me, I started freelancing. And writing again. It all came full circle.

If there are any liberal arts college graduates reading this blog, take it from me: if you have a passion, like writing, you’ll find a way to do it. But you have to be gainfully employed. It’s no fun being a starving anything, particularly a writer. Because if you are weak from hunger, you won’t be able to pick up a pen never mind sit in front of a keyboard for hours. However, if you are employed, even at a job you think is beneath you, it will all work out. You will dance, paint, write, act, or do anything else that your liberal arts degree prepared you to do. Maybe not right now. But someday soon.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Planning Towards Next Book Promo

In my book that will be coming out towards the end of August, Kindred Spirits, my heroine, Deputy Tempe Crabtree heads to Crescent City, CA to see if she can find out some information about a murder victim. While there she meets relatives of the victims, who are also Tolowa.
As a presenter in a writers conference at the college in Crescent City, I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful Tolawa woman, Junie Mattice. She told me fascinating stories about her people, Big Foot, and some of the horrors the Tolowa have endured. Besides the fact, the white man did a wholesale slaughter on them in the 1800s, President Eisenhower decided since there weren’t many of them left, they shouldn’t be considered a legitimate tribe. So no Tolowa receive the benefits other Native Americans do. What a travesty!

Within the boundaries of Crescent City are redwood forests–gorgeous enormous trees that were growing before Christ was born. They cut down a whole section of the forest to build the infamous prison, Pelican Bay. They’ve also cut down many of these magnificent trees to clear the land for houses. Also sad.

I’ll be going back to Crescent City in September to promote my book. I’m not sure how well I’ll be received as I’ve portrayed the Tolowa and how they are treated now in a factual manner.
We’ve been invited to stay with friends who are enthusiastically planning the promotion for the book. I met the wife years ago when she attended a writing class I was giving. She is married to a minister who is now retired and they chose Crescent City as the place they wanted to live. She’s hoping to line up a library talk, a bookstore appearance over the border in Oregon, and most exciting, an appearance at the Tolowa coffee house run by Junie Mattice. Of course I dedicated the book to Junie.

One of the most fun parts of the book is some references to Big Foot. The Tolowa are great believers in Big Foot. In the book that comes after this one, Dispel the Mist, Tempe encounters the Hairy Man, the Yokut’s counterpart of Big Foot.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Garden Variety Adventures

Twenty years ago when I purchased my house, I was thrilled with the idea of getting out of the apartments I'd lived in since college. But along with the house came a rather large back yard and a postage stamp-sized front yard. Most of my actual gardening experience to that point had come from watching my grandparents and parents plant and tend both vegetable and flower gardens. My role in their endeavors was reluctant "weed-puller" and "vegetable picker."

My interest in gardening increased when I had my own patch of dirt. I approached gardening like I did writing; full steam ahead with the research coming later when things didn't quite go as expected.

My backyard came with six trees – two peach, a plum, two apples, and one overgrown evergreen something. I cut the evergreen down within the first four months and added a deck in that location. Best decision I ever made – it really opened up my backyard and I was immediately able to enjoy "my" outdoors. The fruit trees were about ten feet tall when I moved in. I admit it – I really didn't like the fruit trees. There were too many of them for the size of my yard and fruit trees take a lot of time and attention if you intend on eating the fruit. Webworms, molds, diseases - you name it, fruit trees are afflicted. I wanted those trees gone with a passion, but people gave me the "what, are you crazy?" look every time I mentioned it. I couldn't just cut them down. It took a number of years, but God finally took the decision out of my hands via several storms. The last of the fruit trees toppled two years ago during one of Oklahoma's worst ice storms. I don't miss them at all. The neighbors' trees provide all the shade I need and I have a very nice crepe myrtle (planted some ten years ago) left.

Another plant that came with my mortgage was a very healthy vine on the west side of my yard (full-sun location), running along the top and sides of a chain-length fence. Medium large green leaves, hard green berries, strong pencil thick vines, and no flowers. When clipped and controlled, it's a great privacy feature. Leave it alone two weeks in the summer and the battle is on! I have no idea what this vine's real name is. Anyone have any ideas? I call it my "monster vine." It can grow five feet overnight, choking everything in its path.

My area of Oklahoma is known for its azaleas. Muskogee has an Azalea Festival every April. Most of the yards on my block are filled with glorious azalea blooms each spring. Not my yard though. I tried for five years to get azaleas to grow in my "dirt." No go. After a month the azalea would turn rusty brown and I'd feel guilty for sacrificing another plant.

My success stories – and there are some – involve hydrangeas, a variety of Rose of Sharon species (Hibiscus syriacus), shrub roses, and lilies. I have at least three different types of Rose of Sharon in my yard today. One variety is more like a tree than a shrub (up to 8 feet tall) with pink, white or purple blooms from late spring through fall. They require no care other than pruning. One type has plate sized blooms, but it only blooms for about six weeks and bugs love to chew on the flowers.

If you've never tried shrub roses, you're missing out. They have a wonderful fragrance and I've never had to use any pesticides or fertilizer on them. They're very hardy plants having survived the worst of Oklahoma's weather. Other hardy plants are hydrangeas. Mine are a brilliant blue when in full sun, paler in the more shaded areas.

I love lilies and usually plant new ones each year to replace some of the ones I lose to moles or hard freezes. Some of new varieties are just gorgeous.

Peonies, hollyhocks, and lilacs are great additions to most gardens but I've had problems with them. Peonies are beautiful but need perfect light for the blooms to last more than a couple of weeks. I haven't found a good location for them yet. Hollyhocks, another of my favorites, need a protected area from the wind and insects are a problem. Lilacs need lots of room and light. If you crowd them, they won't grow, won't bloom, and develop all kinds of leaf molds etc. I've given up on them for my yard.

Do you have a flower garden? What are your favorites?

Evelyn David

Friday, June 6, 2008

I Love Cemeteries

The Stiletto Gang is delighted to welcome Casey Daniels, author of the spookily delightful, hysterically funny Pepper Martin mystery series.

I love cemeteries.

No, really. I’m serious.

Think about it: a cemetery—I mean a really old cemetery, not these new “memorial parks” where every headstone is flat to the ground and they all look the same—is really a museum without walls. Take a peek, and you’ll find interesting architecture, sculpture and art. There are stories, too, everywhere you look. One memorial can give you a glimpse into generations of family history. Another might suggest tragedy. Still others speak of undying love, precious memories, interesting lives and valorous deaths.

I’m lucky, I live near Cleveland, Ohio, and we’ve got some great old graveyards here. When I’m looking to hobnob with the city’s former movers and shakers, I head to Lake View Cemetery to visit the likes of President James A. Garfield, John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness. When I want something a little more down to earth (every pun intended), there are small country burial grounds that hold the remains of the settlers who tamed the lands of the Western Reserve.

In fact, I was in a cemetery when I got the idea for the Pepper Martin Mystery Series. Here’s the story: I began my publishing career back in 1992 with my first book, Twilight Secrets, a historical romance. I published somewhere around 15 historicals as well as a number of category romance, single-title contemporaries and even young adult horror novels. But the whole time I was writing romance, I was reading mysteries. And I was itching to write one. Trouble is, I never could find a hook that appealed to me. Interesting setting? Unusual protagonist? Fascinating time period? There are so many possibilities, it’s enough to make a writer’s head spin!

Then I got a job interview at a cemetery. They were looking for a part-time tour guide. I was looking to get away from my computer a couple days a week to remind myself there is life beyond writing (even in a place where just about everyone is dead).

I didn’t get the job, but I did get the idea for Pepper Martin, a cemetery tour guide whose enthusiasm for graveyards does not equal my own. Things really got interesting when I decided to add a little oomph to Pepper’s sleuthing resume—she just so happens to be able to see and talk to the “residents” of her cemetery.

Having ghosts and cemeteries in the mix adds an interesting dimension both to the writing and research. The book I’m plotting now (#5 in the series) involves the restoration of an old cemetery, so I’ve been in touch with a group that’s revitalizing Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland.

This dedicated group of volunteers gathers before Memorial Day to place flags on veterans’ graves. Sound easy? Not when old cemetery maps are inaccurate, records contain any number of misspellings, and tombstones are toppled, worn and hardly legible.

I had the time of my life, and it was gratifying to think that because we took the time to search and study and lay on our bellies to decipher just-about-unreadable gravestones, many veterans who’ve never had a flag before got one for the first time.

Thanks to Pepper, I’ve also taken classes in the paranormal, participated in ghost hunts and shot some amazing photographs at a “haunted” bed and breakfast, pictures that just might prove Pepper isn’t the only one who’s been in contact with the dearly not-quite departed.

Casey Daniels

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Now that I Know, What Should I Do?

My mother used to say, "just because everyone is jumping off the bridge, you don't have to." Actually, my mom, the original Evelyn, never said that. She would just give me her patented stare, which was far more effective and conveyed the same sentiment. I always got the message loud and clear, or to put it another way, "my momma didn't raise no fool."

My point?

I plunged into despair when I read the Sisters in Crime report of the Publishers' Summit (and btw, everyone, and I mean everyone, should join Sisters in Crime, whether you're a writer or a female). Yes, I can be a drama queen, but I confess to a bit of a moment when I read that one publisher had firmly pronounced that the cozy mystery was dead (pun intended).

This same publisher also opined that thrillers and paranormal books were flying off the shelves.

So after I finished weeping and wailing, gnashing my teeth, and checking the wants ads to see if there were any jobs for cozy mystery writers, I took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to do next. And then I recalled a second adage. My mom didn't say this one either, but I'm pretty sure she would have given me another of her Evelyn looks which translated to mean, "duh, of course that's right." (Needless to say, at no time in my mother's life did she ever say, duh.). In any case this pithy bit of truth is from Christopher Columbus Kraft, NASA's first flight director. He said, "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything."

How does this apply to the current authors of Murder Off the Books, and the forthcoming Murder Takes the Cake (and hopefully even more in the Sullivan Investigation Series)? It means that just because someone believes that the cozy mystery has passed its expiration date doesn't mean that I have to change what I write. Look, as I said, my momma didn't raise no fools. So of course I think it's important to understand the current marketing trends. But if I start writing to the fad, rather than writing what I do best, then it will please no one.

As it happens, the Southern half of Evelyn David and I have been kicking around a story for more than two years that features a sleuth who talks to ghosts. But, and here's the kernel of truth that I've learned, it's all about the characters. If they're believable, you can capture an audience. If they're not, then it doesn't matter if they talk to your mother, you won't buy the concept.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, "reports of the cozy mystery death have been greatly exaggerated." I'm not ready to don any sackcloth and ashes just yet.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Being Green

To borrow a line from my old friend, Kermit, “it’s not easy being green.” And it’s not easy going green. But dang it if we’re not giving it the good old college try in my house. I’ve been reading a lot about what it takes to have a greener household and I’m doing my best—as well as encouraging the rest of my family members—to join me in this pursuit. Here are a few of the things I’ve been doing that supposedly, if done en masse, will have an effect on the environment. And here are some of my musings about these suggestions.

1. Driving a more gas-efficient car. As you know, if you’ve been keeping up on our humble blog, I traded in my gas-guzzling station wagon for a hipper, more stylish, and way more gas-efficient Mini Cooper. I’m getting thirty miles to the gallon and loving it. And frankly, the kids and dog aren’t all that squeezed into the back seat. They’ve each got their own cup holders—the kids, not the dog—and that seems to mitigate any discomfort they feel in having their legs wedged up against the back of the seat when my husband, he of the long legs, is driving.

2. Using those new-fangled light bulbs. Can’t remember what they’re called because it’s so dark in here I can’t read the package. But I installed a few of them. I’ve noticed that they don’t turn on quite as quickly as regular old light bulbs and they definitely don’t throw as much light (which, if you are of a certain age like me, works beautifully—I look ten years younger in our living room). So, could I install lower-wattage light bulbs and get the same effect? Not sure. But my daughter informed me that although these new light bulbs last longer, there is now some evidence that there is not good way to dispose of them. Once again, you can’t win.

3. Walking instead of driving. This one sounds great in theory. But we’ve entered “cute sandal season” and that impacts the suggestion to walk instead of drive. You can’t walk any measurable distance in a three-inch wedge heel. Trust me. Instead, I’ve decided not to leave the house which is in its own way a reasonable sacrifice to make, don’t you think? And truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the outdoors in general.

4. Eating one non-meat meal a week. Try getting your kids to eat quinoa. Enough said.

5. Taking three minutes showers. Works for me because if you’ve read #3 and #4, I don’t really work up a sweat. Doesn’t really work for child #2 who plays lacrosse on muddy fields. But he’s a gamer. He’s given it a try. Suffice it say he’s just not that clean.

6. Turning off your computer. I’m going to use this excuse come December 31st when my next manuscript is due. (It’s late?! I was trying to save the planet!)

7. Growing your own food. See #3.

8. Buy a composting toiler. I discussed this several posts ago. It’s an idea that really hasn’t taken hold here at Chez Barbieri.

So, what are you doing to go green? We here at the Stiletto Gang offices would love to hear your suggestions for anything you’re doing to help the planet. Or walk in three-inch wedge heels.

We have our priorities, after all.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Honoring One's Ancestors

Years ago, my sis did our family genealogy–and was generous enough to make a book for all of us which included copies of old photos. While reading about the family line, immediately questions popped up. On my father’s side, my great-great grandfather John Crabtree at 17 married a 12 year-old-girl. This was after the Battle of New Orleans. From that time on they moved from one state to another, and having children in each one.

Finally they left Brownsville TX, and with several children aged 7 to 18, crossed the Rio Grande and from Monterrey they traveled across Mexico to Mazatlan. There they caught a steamship that took them up the coast to Monterey, CA. Because of a small pox outbreak on board ship, no one was allowed to go ashore, so in the middle of the night, the Crabtree family jumped overboard and swam ashore.

They lived in Monterey for two years, then they traveled across the San Joaquin Valley and finally settled where Springville is today. In the late 1800s they were awarded a 640 acre land grant from President Grant. I wrote an historical family saga about the family called Two Ways West which has sold wonderfully well, especially here in Springville.

Eventually, they ended up selling most of the land, thanks to being unable to pay their taxes–and the town of Springville came about.

The town park was recently redesigned and renovated by volunteers and Friday night a dedication ceremony was held. The idea was to have a Native American hand over the deed to me and my family (representing the Crabtrees)–unfortunately the Indian was there, but left when the ceremony didn’t take place on time, so the whole thing began with me. I then handed it over to the next family who actually owned the parcel the park is on today, and then to the next person who owned it, and so on, until finally the deed was given to the town.

I managed to convince different members of my family to show up for the occasion and stand up with me, my next oldest daughter, her oldest daughter and her daughter (four generations of us) and my son’s daughter along with my youngest daughter’s son who now lives with us. It only took a few minutes, but I was pretty proud of my family.

There was a huge crowd (for Springville) because they had a concert in the park immediately afterward with dancing. It was the first time anyone was allowed on the newly planted grass. Folks brought folding chairs, picnic suppers, etc. and made an evening of it.

That’s the kind of excitement that goes on in the little town I live in. Saturday night, hubby and I took tickets for Cellars and Chefs another outdoor event held in the parking lot of the local inn. Seven wineries and about the same number of restaurants were on hand with samples. Most people managed to make their evening meal out of the offerings. It’s an annual fund raiser for the Chamber of Commerce. I belong but don’t do a whole lot, so this was my contribution. Hubby just got roped in like he does for most everything--but had a good time anyway.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Rescue Annie & Me

Ten days ago I was in Omaha, Nebraska at Mayhem in the Midlands learning how to read murder crime scenes. Six days ago I was in Wagoner, Oklahoma at the Oklahoma Department of Mines learning how to save lives. The irony doesn't escape this mystery writer.

I just completed my required annual First Aid refresher class for my "day" job. For each of the past 23 years I've variously enjoyed, endured, or multi-tasked my way through six hours of First Aid training. So far I haven't had to use anything I've learned - other than advising friends, family, and co-workers about everyday bumps and sprains. Here's where I knock on wood or spin in my chair three times or find some salt to toss over my shoulder.

For anyone who has taken CPR training, Annie is a well-known figure. A training mannequin used for teaching Cardiopulmonary resuscitation for more than 40 years, Annie has been around the block more than once.

Wikipedia lists two urban myths associated with the mannequin's distinctive face: (1) Annie's face is modeled on the death mask of a young woman who drowned in the Seine River in the 1880s; (2) She's the deceased daughter of the doctor who invented her. Apparently neither really happened but adds a bit of mystery to the much-saved victim.

Annie and her offspring, Baby Annie, offer would-be rescuers an opportunity to practice rescue breathing, chest compressions, and abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) without worry of injuring a live person. In addition, now Annie is used to demonstrate the use of the increasingly popular, Automated External Defibrillator (AEDs).

As I found out last week, AEDs are easy enough for a typical grade-schooler to use and are fast becoming a staple of First Aid supplies in airports, schools, and public buildings.

I'd recommend that everyone take a First Aid class. It's not the same information you received when you earned your Scout badge! It's not the same as you received even a couple of years ago. For instance, rescue breathing is no longer recommended (unless you have protective mouth guards), just chest compressions. And forget checking for a pulse. Most people confused the pulse in their own thumb or fingers for the victim's. Instead check for signs of breathing (look, listen, feel). Look for chest movement, listen for the sounds of air being taken in or let out, and feel with your hand or face next to the victim's face for air movement. If the victim isn't breathing, start chest compressions. 100 a minute. Do two sets of 30 compressions then check for signs of breathing again. Start CPR first, then call 911.

Another tip: what do you do if you're alone and having a heart attack? Besides calling 911, you should start deep breathing and coughing – hard, deep coughs. Every two seconds. One deep breath. One deep cough. Keep going until you feel better or help arrives. Apparently the action of coughing squeezes the heart and keeps blood circulating. The squeezing pressure may also help the heart regain its rhythm.

Take time out this year to meet with Annie! Be prepared to save lives.

Evelyn David

Oh, My Goodness!

No matter how hard you go over edits or galleys, mistakes creep into our books. I don’t even have the copies of my latest, Kindred Spirits yet and I’ve found a glaring error!

No, it’s not in the content of the book–this is worse. The person who actually gave me the first seed of an idea for the story is the one to whom I dedicated the book, Junie Mattice. Unfortunately, in the dedication, her name is printed as Junie Mahoney.

Of course I didn’t notice it when I went over the edits–because it wasn’t in them. What it was in, and I should have noticed then, was the dedication page in the galley.

Where did the name Mahoney come from? It’s the last name of one of the main characters in the Crescent City part of the book–one that was inspired by Junie. Junie has such a multi-faceted personality, I actually based two major characters on her. All I can think of is the spell-checker changed the name from Mattice and Mahoney. Of course I’m the one who is at fault for not noticing it.

In my defense, I was hard-pressed for time because I have to receive the copies of the book this week in order to have them to cart with us when we leave for Crescent City this week. I went over the content of the book carefully and obviously overlooked the dedication page.

What am I going to do about it? I’ve already apologized via email to Junie. I’ll hand correct the copies that I sell in Crescent City. It’ll certainly give me something else to talk about as I speak about Kindred Spirits–something I’d rather not have.

Do I have advice for other authors because of this? Sure, check out your dedication page when doing edits and going over the galley. Certainly from now on that’ll be the first place I check. Too late for 200 copies of this book. Hopefully it’ll be corrected for anymore that are sent out.

Will other mistakes slip by me and other authors? Unfortunately, that’s part of the process. Our eyes seem to correct mistakes and we don’t even notice them.

I hope Junie will forgive me–my intentions were to honor her. I have tremendous respect for this strong Tolowa woman who has for years stood up for what she believes in and continues to fight for the Tolowa people.

Kindred Spirits is available for order at