Friday, July 25, 2008

Smoking and Not Smoking

Kaye Barley is an avid mystery reader and Dorothy L poster who lives in the beautiful North Carolina mountains with her handsome husband of 22 years, Donald, and their faithful companion, Harley Doodle Barley - the cutest Corgi on God's green earth.

I’ve quit smoking.

I think.

Just taking it one hour at a time. But I think I have it licked.

The Stiletto Gang has invited me to talk about it, so I’ve decided to come clean with why I decided to quit.

During a conversation with a girl friend living in Maryland, a bell went off in my head when she mentioned that Maryland was becoming a totally smoke-free state. I’m going to be in Baltimore for a week. In a hotel. Unable to smoke. For a week. EEK! This is when I started having the same nightmare night after night.

Imagining myself at Bouchercon - finally meeting writers I’ve admired for years, being nervous, of course. But not able to have a cigarette. Finally meeting folks from DorothyL, which might also make me a little nervous. Unable to have a cigarette. Nervous and unable to have a cigarette tends to make a smoker a bit grumpy. So there I’d be. Nervous, wanting a cigarette, knowing I couldn’t have one, making everyone around me miserable, turning into a raving lunatic woman, ending up in handcuffs and dragged off to the hoosegow for being disruptive and disorderly, and still not being able to have a cigarette. Oy - what a fun trip this could be.

It just seemed easier to try to quit.

And so I did.

When Evelyn invited me here, I decided to do a little light research, which meant a stop at to see what books I might be able to find to start me off. I found “No Smoking” by Luc Sante, which is an interesting book whatever your views and feelings are about smoking. First of all, the packaging had to have been thought up by a marketing genius.

Secondly, I think the book gives a fair, fun and interesting picture of what an important part of our culture cigarettes once were. As “No Smoking” points out, there was a time when the whole world smoked.

My parents are both from large families and to the best of my recollection, everyone smoked except my Aunt Belle. My earliest memories include huge family get-togethers with kids running wild in big backyards while the grown-ups sat at picnic tables eating, drinking and smoking. Each of them keeping a close eye on all the kids, each of them always available for a hug, and each of them recognized as a constant source of deep affection, offered up in equal parts of nurturing along with life lessons, and rules to be learned and followed.

These are treasured childhood memories that come to mind often, and always bring a smile. They’re times my family recall with love and laughter.

At the head of one of the tables my much adored grandfather, Pop-Pop Wilkinson, would preside with either a cigar or a pipe, and it was his attention we all vied for.

Cigarettes were everywhere. Were there any movies made in the 40s or 50s in which people weren’t smoking? How many of us still think some of those were the greatest in the history of film? As opposed, maybe, to the graphic blood and guts violence we now see in movies? Is watching that healthier for us and our children than seeing Audrey Hepburn smoke a cigarette in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

And it wasn’t just the movies. Great mysteries had good guys and bad guys smoking up a storm. Nick & Nora Charles “wore” their cigarettes as part of their elegance. We have a few protagonists smoking in today’s mysteries, but most of them, like Elaine Flinn’s Molly Doyle, and Kathryn Wall’s Bay Tanner, are in a constant battle with themselves in an attempt to quit. In I. Van Laningham’s short stories, Andi Holmes successfully quits. Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective starts out a smoker. If the protag isn’t trying to quit, he/she is most likely one of the bad guys, as is the case of Ken Lewis’ Curt LaMar, in “Little Blue Whales.”

Who can imagine Frank Sinatra on stage singing those torch songs without that cigarette? We may not see singers on stage with a cigarette in hand any more, but does it really mean they’re all living a cleaner, safer lifestyle? And why is it the world’s business anyway?

I was never one of those people who fantasized about “if only I could quit.” In my mind, my future was me being this feisty old woman flicking ashes on anyone who might even suggest I put my cigarette out while in their presence. Driving my scooter hell bent for leather all over the Wal-Mart parking lot, daring anyone to get in my way, smoke billowing around my head like it once did Pop-Pop Wilkinson’s

To those of you who don’t smoke - believe it or not, there are some people who don’t want to quit. That’s their choice. And there are the people who are trying desperately to quit but just haven’t yet been able to. I’ve been one of the lucky ones, I think. I’ve had tons of support. Lots of phone calls, and some awfully nice cards, and notes and email from people offering encouragement. It’s meant a lot. It also meant a lot that of all the people who took the time to write, no one preached at me. Praise glory and thank you for that.

If you’re a non-smoker and want to help those you care about stop smoking, try huge doses of patient kindness. I can promise it’ll work a lot better than a constant negative pounding. Smokers already feel like the latest in a long line of persona non-grata. The lowest of the low. The only one lower might be a person who smokes while wearing a mink coat. Let’s all feel free to stone that poor dumb clod to death. And while I’m on this little rant (I love to rant), why has the government, at any level, gotten involved in our business about this? To protect the health of non-smokers? I’m sorry, but really. Smoking laws coming from a government who can’t clean up the air or water from industry pollution? Let’s see. The EPA was created when? 1970? Gloriosa, don’t even get me started.

With the help of a prescription written by my doctor, it really hasn’t been too tough. Not as tough as I thought it might be. Tough enough though, that I hope I make it this time ‘cause I’m not sure I’d do it again.

So, you people who think the whole world needs to hear what you’re saying into that cell phone of yours? If you see me smoking – please try to have this number handy - 1-800-424-8802. That’s the number for the EPA National Response Center. It’s the number you call to report an environmental emergency. Better to do that than tap me on the shoulder to give me your opinion about my smoking.

Kaye Barley


  1. Kaye Darlin', I really enjoyed this. It's the Belle of Boone at her sparkling, charming, feisty and lovable best, and you just don't get any more delightful than that. Stay cig free, but promise me you won't change in any other way.

  2. Dear Kaye--Hang tough, sister! I'm not going to preach (I ate way too many Trader Joe chocolate chip dunkers last night to judge someone who likes a smoke or two) but will offer my unconditional, 100% support. Good luck...and thanks for blogging with us. Maggie Barbieri

  3. I know...who can forget Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager..when he sticks two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them both and gives her one? Yikes.
    But - of course - that's not real life.
    Way to go for trying to quit! Just remember, every day your lungs are getting pinker and fluffier.
    Good luck!

  4. Kaye, you are so clever and such a wonderful writer. I enjoyed reading your blog posting. You have definitely shared a fascinating perspective on smoking and its history. With all of that, it makes me see what a remarkable amount of strength you're demonstrating by quiting as you have. Just know that we are pulling for you.


  5. Oh What Fun!

    thanks everyone for stopping by, but mostly - thanks a million for all the support. It means the world.

    I knew I could count on my buddy, the adorable Earl Darlin' Staggs. Gals? This is a man who can give a woman's ego a boost like no one else in the whole world. Good thing his sweet wife has him well in line, or the world of womanhood would be in big trouble.

    Maggie? I'm not even going to tell you how much chocolate I've been indulging in since putting down the cigarettes. Putting on my big girl panties is taking on a whole new meaning. Thanks for having me - this is fun!

    Ro?! Hey! Thanks for coming! Pinker and fluffier. My lungs are gonna look just like my pink bunny bedroom slippers?! oy!

    Terri. you made me cry, sweetie. Y'all - meet my girlfriend Terri!

  6. Great post, and good luck! FWIW, though, Nero Wolfe never smoked, and especially abhorred cigars. Inspector Cramer chewed cigars, and does smoke a cigar in one of the early stories, and Archie smoked in the beginning but quit by the end, but Mr. Wolfe... never.

    Did I mention, good luck? And great post?

  7. Thank you, gs! What a perfect excuse for me to re-read the Nero Wolfe books! I'll get it right (maybe; hopefully!) next go 'round.
    I appreciate the support.
    very much.


  8. Kaye, I'm so thrilled for you. As an ex-smoker who's fallen off the wagon more than once, I KNOW just how hard it is to quit. What you've done is a major, life-altering accomplishment that took the strength of ten women. Congratulations, and keep it up.

  9. I was waiting for someone from the Murderati group to drop by, 'cause I wanted to let The Stiletto Gang women know that there was a little nudge activity going on over there today. Murderati has a gracious nudge posted sending folks this way to pay The Stiletto Gang a visit. Don't you love the kind of support you see amongst the writers in the mystery world?! I think its great.

    Y'all - JT has been a big time cheerleader during the hardest part of the "I'm gonna quit" process. I love her. (Love her writing too!)

    Thank you for stopping by, cutie!

  10. Kaye: I think it's time you "come out of the closet" (minus your ciggies, of course) as just a reader, because you are definitely a writer, too! And thanks for mentioning my character, Curt LaMar, The Drug Czar. He was one lean, mean, smokin machine, wasn't he? Hey everybody, you can LISTEN to Kaye talking about her experiences with kicking the habit on the first episode of NETDRAG, the Crime Fiction Podcast. Here's a link. Or, just do a search for "NETDRAG Crime Fiction Podcast."

  11. You go, Kaye! Congratulations.

    Nothing harder than breaking a longtime habit--especially one that's chemical-based. But you can do it, and you'll be so happy and so proud of yourself. And healthier. And you won't wind up with that smoker face..

    I tried smoking once in college. I coughed, choked, tipped over my roommate's ashtray and burned two HUGE holes in my bedspread. That was the end of that.

    As I reporter, I spent years and years in closed newsrooms where EVERYONE else smoked. Now--everyone just yells. (But I don't think it's because they're not smoking.)

    So--does the Baltimore reference mean we'll see you at Bouchercon? Hurray. Celebratory drinks on me!

  12. Well, y'all - this is just getting funner and funner!

    And there's my buddy the Chief! Hi Kenneth Honey! Some of these nice people would be terrific additions to your NETDRAG podcasts.

    If any of you have not heard Ken's interviews, DO take a listen. They're very good, and they are VERY fun. (Mine, of course, is the goodest and funnest - grin).

    Hank. You crack me up. I'll bet the reason all those people in the newsrooms are yelling IS because they're not smoking! I started smoking my sophomore year in college. If only I had had the same sort of Keystone Cops experience you did - I could have saved myself all the grief of the quitting process!! (That is a FUNNY story.)

    and yes, I will be in Baltimore and I'd love to take you up on that celebratory drink!

    oh boy, oh boy . . .


  13. Kaye,

    What a great post! I love the image of you on the scooter, flicking ash at people. Roger Ebert once wrote a great column about smoking in the movies, and he concluded that people have forgotten how to smoke stylishly--how to smoke sexy. He grew up seeing smoking as glamorous, but somehow now, he says, even when they smoke in the movies it's not the same. It probably has a lot to do with context--where we are now and where we were then.

    But Kaye, I'll bet you looked damn sexy with a cigarette. Still, I'm proud that you gave them up. Thanks for a most entertaining post! And have fun in Maryland--I wish I were going to be there to meet you at long last.

  14. Hi Kaye,

    Thanks so much for blogging for us today and bringing all your friends! It's beginning to feel like a party! I'm off to buy wine coolers, chips, dip, and barbequed cocktail wieners!

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  15. Great post, Kaye. As you know, I quit smoking just over a year ago and there are still moments when I miss it: not in a real I-need-a-smoke-or-my-head-will-explode kinda way, but just in passing.

    Watch those big girl panties, though! My big personal reward while quitting wasn't sweets, it was shellfish. (How shellfish of me!) For the first six weeks or so, I "invested" all of what would have been spent on my former habit on crab, mussels, clams, etc. And when I'd feel a crave coming on, I'd think about the amazing Thai mussel dish I'd make in a few days. Whatever works, right?

    Good luck with it, Kaye: fight the good fight. And remember: it's done now. The hard part is behind you. The twinges you feel now are just the healing. And thanks for sharing.

  16. snort.

    Rhonda - Don't forget the sausage balls! A southern party just ain't a party without those sausage balls! And its funny you mentioned "party." J. D. Rhoades had a "virtual party" at Murderati this week to celebrate the launch of his newest book (he writes great books), and I'm still suffering with a virtual hangover from that one. So I'll take it easy on the wine coolers at this party (remind me, please that I said that!).

    Julia Buckley! Sweetie! I'm so glad you stopped by. Of COURSE I looked sexy smoking a cigarette - but that's the only time in my life I've managed the "look sexy" thing - WHY do you think it was so hard for me to give 'em up?!!


  17. Gloriosa! It IS a party!

    Linda - HEY! You shellfish girl, you - thanks for coming.

    Everyone? Linda sent me a list of things to live by while I was trying to quit. And honest to goodness - and this is NO kidding - it was huge and important and instrumental in helping and I still pull it out every now and again to remind myself how important certain things are. If any of you are smokers, and are thinking about quitting let me or Linda know so we can share what I call my "Linda List."
    Right, Linda?


  18. Hi Kaye,

    Sausage balls are over there on the buffet table next to the pickled okra and the three kinds of jello salad!

    Congrats on your success at giving up smoking!

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  19. I didn't write it, though. The list. And when I was quitting, I called it "the document." Very helpful. It's in an easy-to-find location on my computer and I can send it out if anyone wants it.

    And sausage balls? What the hell are sausage balls? I didn't even know sausages had balls.

  20. So glad to hear you're hanging in there with the nonsmoking, Kaye! The parents of my best friend, both chain smokers, died of emphysema and lung cancer. And her father was a radiologist, so he clearly knew the risks (just like we all know the risks of our poor lifestyle choices. For me, it's inconsistent exercise). I was so relieved when my mother finally quit after several false starts, but I never "busted" her when I'd find the rogue cigarette butt hidden in the planter!

  21. Sausage Balls are pretty much ground sausage, shredded cheese, and Bisquick - mixed together, formed into balls and baked. You can use hot sausage, different kinds of cheese, but the Bisquick is pretty much a constant. Check here for a basic recipe.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  22. Great blog Kaye!
    Your point about how the whole world used to smoke is so true. The ladies I've been sitting at the pool with every summer for 20 plus years discussed that very thing earlier this month. What got us started was one of the "girls" had a house guest coming who smoked. What to do what to do....should she ask her to go out side to light up? (The consensus was yes.) Should she create a sort of smoking area for her? (Again yes.) But then the most basic of all problems became apparent. An Ashtray. The hostess has none any longer and no one sitting at the pool that day did either. We all remembered having them, where we kept them, when we used them etc, but no one actually owned one any longer. Finally it was decided that she could use a small sand bucket sitting next to the table and chair (with sun umbrella) that was being arranged on the far corner of the deck for her.
    So how many of you have an ashtray anymore and if you do, do you know where it is?

  23. There ya go! Linda - do try Rhonda's recipe. YOU will love 'em.
    I can't leave a good thing alone, so I throw in more sharp cheddar cheese than the recipe calls for, and usually I'll double the recipe (they freeze very well). And I make BIG sausage balls. My gal pal Vic does this also, and calls them sausage cojones.

    Hey Caryn!!! Welcome!
    I do still have ashtrays.
    And I'm probably one of the few people left in the whole world who doesn't give a flip if people smoke in my house or not.
    Donald is trying to quit. Doing pretty good, but having a tough time of it. Am I going to tell my husband he has to smoke outside?! pfft. No Way! Its his home too and if he never stops smoking, he's still gonna be my hubbie and best buddy, and I love him to distraction. Smoker or non-smoker.

  24. Loved the blog entry and the trip down Memory Lane. Congrats on your accomplishment, Kaye!

  25. Kathryn!! Hey There! I'm so glad you found us! You've already made me laugh out loud today, you know.
    I'm not sure I'll be able to look at a Victoria Secrets catalog the same way, ever again.
    I understand about busting your Mom.
    My mom "quit" smoking 11 years ago when she had a mild heart attack. So I just pretend I don't notice the ashtry in her oven, which you can CLEARLY see through the little glass window in the oven door. But you know. I'm sorry, but she's 83 years old, can out-walk me, and out-shop me at the mall. Am I going to fuss at my 83 year old Mother?! If you guys knew my mom, the fiestiest (did I spell that right?) woman on God's green earth, you would understand that no, I am not gonna scold her about smoking. And at what point, seeing as how she's 83 and in surprisingly good health since the heart attack 11 years ago, do you just decide "what the heck?"
    Know what I mean? I hate that so many of our loved ones, and loved ones of dear friends have suffered due to smoking. I do. But smoking related illnesses are not the only illnesses kiling us. And I understand that we shouldn't smoke, but well . . .Ooops! Wait! Read my blog!

  26. I smoked for years and loved it. Couldn't do anything without a cigarette. Learned to smoke by watching my favorite movie stars. Quitting was the hardest--and I did it more than once before it stuck.

    What I learned was I had to change my habits. I couldn't sit at the table with my cup of coffee--needed to get up and do something. Also learned to drink lots of water when I had the urge for a cigarette.

    I haven't smoked for about 30 years and once in awhile smoke in my dreams. Weird. Thanks for the post. I certainly could relate.

    (Part of the Stiletto Gang)

  27. Ohmigawd! Sausage balls sound wonderful. Are they a Southern thing?

    I thank you. Though, from the sounds of the recipe, my ass and hips may not.

  28. Kaye, I have enjoyed your blog, especially your description of your treasured childhood memories. I felt like I was there. You must be so proud to have decided to quit a very hard and enjoyable habit. You go girl!


  29. Oh Marilyn - you nailed it. That cup of coffee. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy my coffee the way I once did. Changing those habits, I think, is the key. I'm going to follow your lead and start doing more of the water drinking. This hopping up and grabbing an oreo whenever I feel the urge to light up is just NOT a good thing.

    Linda - you are cracking me up. Honey - quit worrying about your ass and your hips and have you some sausage balls. They very well may be a southern thing, I'm not sure. For many years, you could not go to a party in Atlanta - be it a glam affair, or a redneck throw-down, that didn't have sausage balls by the beezillions. Well, maybe not by the beezillions . . .
    Let me know when you whip some up, O.K.??

    Michelle!!! I'm so happy you dropped in! Y'all - meet another one of my Boone girlfriends. She and Terri listen to my rants in person and then stop in and listen to them again in the virtual world! How cool is that?!!

  30. Kaye,
    Loved your blog. Like the Chief said, you are a writer, whether you choose to admit it or not.

    I also liked the subtext - that regardless of the fact that you have quit (congratulations), you intend to stand by your still-smoking friends, come hell or high water, to the ends of the earth.

    Methinks there's a sermon or two buried in that thought.

  31. Kaye, Loved your blogpost and thanks for introducing me to the Stiletto Gang -- my blogroll keeps getting longer! Margaret Maron mentioned "sausage rice balls" in one of her books and I asked her (by email) about them, and she said she just imagined them and there was no recipe. The Bisquick ones sound like a good substitute and I will have to make some for my next soiree (meaning I'll have to invite a critical mass of non-vegetarian relatives as I have many of the other kind).

  32. Hi Kayester!

    So happy to see you are quitting! I know it takes a lot of courage. Good luck with it and have fun at B'con.

  33. Better late than never:-) Just now catching up with life on the internet.

    What a good post, Kaye! You're quite a writer, you know? And huge, HUGE, congratulations on kicking the habit.

    I'm with you on the cell phone thing too.

    Go on, have another sausage ball.

  34. Kaye, that photo of you posing as Audrey Hepburn is just too precious :-) Congrats on a great article!

    My mom smoked for years, then quit when I was 11. Now, I'm 52. To this day, while she doesn't smoke and has never relapsed, she says she gets a zing of craving after a particularly nice dinner at a restaurant--especially one with steak and/or drinks. The craving is mild, but still there. But she licked the habit, and I'm glad to hear you did, too.

    The gang is right--you are a terrific writer, whether you want to be or not. Way to go, Kayester!

    Shane Gericke


This is a comment awaiting moderation on the blog.