Friday, August 29, 2008

Don’t Hate My Amygdala: The Reality of Violence

Julia Buckley is a mystery writer who lives in the Chicago area. Her first mystery, The Dark Backward, was released in June of 2006; her next book, Madeline Mann, received glowing reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. Julia is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, and RWA. She keeps a writer’s blog at on which she interviews fellow mystery writers; her website is She is currently at work on a new mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth and English teacher.

I have two sons. The other day, I asked the little one (ten years old), if he’d like to go for a walk. He agreed that would be fun, but said he wanted to leave a note for his older brother, who was not home.

The note, in his sweet childish handwriting, said this:

“Ian: Mom and I went for a walk. I killed Winston.”

The last part was jarring; I knew that he had to “kill” people in his video game, but I didn’t realize what a matter of pride it was that he had finally achieved this particular murder. There is some honor attached, apparently, since Winston is “bad.”

As a mother, I’m always a bit torn about video game violence and my sons. On the one hand, they are boys. Even if I gave them only soft dolls to play with, they would pretend those dolls were guns or bombs (believe it). Their level of testosterone has grown to the extent that, while they tolerate me and love me, they are jubilant when their father gets home and they can all mock-attack each other with various made-up martial arts.

On the other hand, I hate to think that by letting them play violent video games with words like “kill” and “assassin” in the titles, I am somehow warping their minds. A study posted here suggests that there is actual evidence in brain scans that shows the amygdala (the tiny emotion center of the brain) is highly affected when young people play violent games.

A part of me is suspicious of this study. It seems, in a way, as though they are trying to prove that these video games are bad—and yet it’s common knowledge that the amygdala is affected when we feel ANY strong emotion. No one took a brain scan of me after I stubbed my toe yesterday, but I’ll bet it would exceed the red area of the kids who played these games.

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite telling my sons not to play violent games when I write violent books. In my first mystery, which was labeled a cozy by many reviewers, a woman died when a lit torch was thrown into her car. A man was shot at close range. Another woman was shot through her screen door. None of this violence was gratuitous, in my opinion, but what if a study was conducted about mystery writers and their amygdalas? Would we all be told to stop writing violent books because it could warp us as human beings? If so, it’s probably too late.

When my brothers were kids, they didn’t have tons of violent toys. They made up for this by creating violent games. In one game, which my brother Bill called “Stalk,” they pretended to be carnivorous jungle creatures seeking prey. In another, which was merely called “Tackle,” the brothers yelled “Tackle!” at the top of their lungs, and this was a sign that little sisters should run away, screaming, if they didn’t want to be pummeled into the ground. Those boys had plenty of violent imaginings and they worked them into their games.

Violent video games, although more visual, seem to me to be the technological equivalent of the “Stalk” instinct. People like my brother grew up, learned to design software, and said, “What would boys (and many girls) like to play?” They are tapping into the basic human desire for conflict.

As a final note I must admit I have not seen the MOST controversial violent games, and I wouldn’t buy them for my sons. The games they have contain plenty of violence, and it seems to be enough to satisfy the flow of testosterone.

At the end of the day, though, my sons are still willing to sit next to me, put an arm around me, and say “I love you.” I am watching carefully for any signs of antisocial behavior, but so far they seem like really nice people. It just so happens that after we hug, sometimes they go back to thinking about killing Winston, and I try to think up another murderous plot. But try not to judge us by our amygdalas. If the truth were to be told, I think violence finds its way into every human life—I’d prefer that ours be mostly in our imaginations.

Julia Buckley

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fresh Apple Cake

Do you have some recipes you'd like to share? Here is one of my family's favorites.

Fresh Apple Cake

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup apple sauce

Mix items above in a large bowl and beat until smooth.

3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Sift items above and add to apple sauce mixture. Mix on medium speed.

Add 1 cup chopped pecans and 3 cups finely chopped red delicious apples.

Pour mixture into a greased and floured 9x13x2 pan. Sprinkle generously with sugar and cinnamon just before putting cake in oven.

Bake at 350 degree open for approx. 1 hour.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Murder Takes the Cake - Coming May 2009

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back to School!

When did it become so complicated to go back to school?

I’m not talking about medical school, college, or even boarding school. I’m talking about fourth and ninth grades, the grades being entered by my children. It should be easy; we’ve done it before. But all things in life have become much more complicated, and going back to school is one of those things.

When you take into account the laundry list of school supplies that must be procured before the little cherubs head back to school, you may be tempted to keep them home and school them yourself with just a little blackboard and an abacus to help educated them. (Just tempted--I haven't completely lost my mind.) Back in the day, I was given a leather messenger satchel—the likes of which I would kill for right now—with the insignia of St. Catherine’s school on the front, a new box of crayons, a few pencils and I was sent on my way. (Oh, let’s not forget the frozen bologna sandwich and equally-frozen Devil Dog that resided in my paper lunch bag. THAT combo is definitely a blog for another time.) Today’s children—namely, child #2 in the birth order—are sent home with a list of items that includes pencils, markers, highlighters, dry erase markers, pens, calculators, dictionaries, index cards, notebooks by the dozens (spiral AND marble-covered), and loose-leaf paper. AND NO TRAPPER KEEPERS!

Did you hear me? I said NO TRAPPER KEEPERS.

I didn’t even know Trapper Keepers still existed and I am still wondering why the ban. Seems like for your garden-variety disorganized fourth-grade boy this would be the ticket to order and calm. But they’re on the banned list, along with a host of other items that in my day, were considered de rigueur for school. (I think frozen bologna may be on the list, but I'm not 100% sure. Frozen Devil Dogs definitely are; if thrown, they could blind another child.)

I went to a large store yesterday whose logo is a bulls-eye and did hand-to-hand combat with the other harried mothers in the “Back to School” aisles. One mother was talking so loudly to her children (you know the type—she talks loud, trying to either a) show how good a mother she is by buying little Freddie and Flossie everything they want or b) how she is more frazzled than everyone else or c) enlist you in her running monologue on her life) that it occurred to me to scream “Stop talking! I can’t think! I can’t find low-odor dry erase markers with your constant chatter! Can’t you see that?” But I’m way too civilized for that, so instead, I walked through the giant circular area with its giant cardboard storage containers of supplies muttering to myself like a crazy person. Which I suppose I am.

Child #1, who is going into high school, needs fewer supplies. However, she plays field hockey, and Monday was the first practice. She left in the morning after procuring two used mouth guards from her brother for both herself and her best friend, A. (who couldn’t find a previously-used one in her own brother’s room), boiled them to get his cooties off and headed over to practice. She wasn’t gone ten minutes when I received a phone call.

D.: Hi, Mom? I need that medical form and permission slip or else I can’t play.

Me: (Disgusted and exasperated having just gotten to work in her home office) What? What permission slip? Where is it?

D.: In my room.

After doing a complete search of her room and not turning up the form, I called her back.

Me: Not there.

D.: OK. You have to go to the high school, get a new one, fill it out, and bring it to me at the field. Otherwise, I WON’T BE ABLE TO PLAY!

Me: (More disgusted and exasperated than earlier) I’ll be there in ten minutes.

I left my office, went to the high school, tracked down the form and with another exasperated father, began to fill it out on a narrow slice of counter. When I got to the signature part, it all started to look very familiar.

Me: Hey! I already filled this out!

Dad #1: (perusing form more carefully) Me, too!

Me: And I already handed it in!

Dad #1: Me, too!

Me: Then why are we filling it out again?!

Dad #1: Because they said we had to!

I drove over to the field in a fit of pique and confronted 1) several Moms in mini-vans throwing the form out the window at their own daughter, 2) a few dejected field hockey players whose Mom’s hadn’t arrived yet, and 3) two girls who were vacating the field completely because their mothers weren’t home to re-fill out the forms and bring them over to them. To her credit, as I flung the form out the window, my daughter called after me, “I love you!” which unless you’re cruel and cold-hearted, will assuage any feelings of ill will.

We’re almost there, though. I am missing three marble notebooks and one package of multi-colored index cards and then they’ll both be set to go. This morning, I gave child #1 a blank check—which I’ve decided is really my name…hello, my name is Blank. Blank Check—to purchase $93.00 worth of “practice” field hockey gear, which in my day, were called “tee-shirts” and “shorts”.

They couldn’t possibly hit me up for anything else before they go back, could they?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Amazing me at least

I'm amazed by what interests some of my fellow bloggers. Shoes. Of course this is the Stiletto Gang, but all I care about in shoes is that they are comfortable and decent looking. Yes, I know, it's all because I'm the ancient one here.

I had a momentous birthday on Sunday. My great-grandson said, "You look pretty young for 75 and you even walk good." I reminded him that since he's a sophmore in high school now, I sort of have to be old. He's the oldest of my greats--but I have a granddaughter who is the same age. None of this may seem amazing to you, but it does to me. I can hardly believe I'm at this point in my life.

The other day I retired from a job I've had for over ten years, being the training chairperson for an organization for residential care providers. Sometimes it seems I've lived several lifetimes.

I began working when I was 10, babysitting all sorts of kids and an invalid woman. In high school I did inventory for a department store and worked for a hot-rod store.

Married the fall I graduated from high school, traveling by train all the way across country to do so. Shocked by how it was in the south (this was in the early 50's) and very glad when hubby and I moved back to California. (We moved back to Virginia again when we had two kids but didn't stay long.) Experienced a couple of hurricanes.

Back to California, raised our five kids, said goodbye to Seabee hubby three times as he left for Vietnam and greeted him enthusiastically when he made it home in one piece, worked as a telephone operator on and off for years, had a Camp Fire group for 10 years, was a teacher in a school for child development for 10 years, worked in day care centers in the ghetto, planned weddings for my children, greeted grandchildren, moved from our long time home on the coast to the foothills of the Sierra, owned and operated a licensed facility for 6 developmentally disabled women for over 20 years, and all the time I wrote and wrote and wrote, finally getting published.

Now, really retired, I'm putting all my energies into writing and promoting. Well, not quite all, I'm still teaching Sunday School and various other things that I won't go into. When you have as many kids and grandkids and greats as I do, there are some family things to do also.

Shoes aren't really top of my priority list though it was fun to read about them in the previous post.

That's all for now--think I'll run around barefoot for awhile.


Monday, August 25, 2008


I am a shoe whore. I love the smell of soft leather and the look of shiny patent. I worry over the question of open toe or closed like it was a question that involved our national security. I delight in espadrilles and flats; sandals and loafers; and even though my stiletto days never were, I still have a few super-high heels that I bought because...well, just because. My husband can’t fathom why I would ever buy another pair of black shoes since my closet is already bursting at the seams with black footwear. But like a mother with identical sextuplets (oy!), I absolutely can tell them all apart.

So it was with an extremely heavy heart that I discovered that my personal shoe heaven has now been shuttered. May I have a moment of silence for Filene’s Basement.

Fie on you who say: Wait! Filene’s Basement still exists. Sure that’s true if you believe that Cool Whip Lite tastes the same as Whipped Cream made from actual heavy cream. Filene’s Basement, in its present incarnation, is a perfectly nice discount store chain. You can find some good deals, but where’s the sense of adventure – and the educational component – that was part of the original Beantown bargain store?

Let me tell you the sorry tale.

In less than two weeks, my daughter is off to Scotland to spend the semester at The University of Glasgow. (Yes, I know. We all want to come back as our kids.). So, my thought was to grab a few days once her summer jobs ended, and head off to Boston for a weekend of theater, good meals, and shopping. We would bond over my credit card. We landed in Beantown a little after noon, and within fifteen minutes, headed over to Downtown Crossing, the location of Filene's Basement.

For those who aren't familiar with this cultural landmark, here's the basic concept. Filene's Basement was literally the bottom two floors of Filene's, a traditional Boston department store. It bought up odd lots of high-end merchandise from manufacturers and other large department stores. But the fun - and that's what it was - the fun was in the pricing system. The price tag for every item in Filene's Basement included the date it was first put on sale. The original sale price was usually significantly lower than what you'd pay at most other stores, but there was the promise of even better deals. Fourteen days after the article entered inventory, if it hadn't sold, the price was reduced by 25%; 14 days after that, the price was reduced by 50%; 14 days after that, the price was 75% of the original sale price. And if it still didn't sell, then after 14 more days it was donated to charity.

At the age of seven, my daughter learned how to do fractions by calculating the savings on a pair of designer shoes that I could at last afford because they had been stuck on the shelf for 28 days. I still remember the day I found a set of 800-count, queen-sized blue sheets and matching pillow cases (and there will someday be a blog on the luxury of high-count sheets) that were just $20 because they had languished in the Basement for 42 days. Ah, those were the days.

But all good things come to an end, I guess. It was a traffic cop who took us aside to explain the brutal truth. Filene's Basement had closed last September. The building was undergoing a massive renovation that was to last two years. It's supposed to reopen in 2009 -- but the owners have made it clear that they are under no legal obligation to do so. Sigh.

It took me a little while to figure out what it was I was going to miss. Does this make sense? We all have to shop for the basic essentials in life. Some of us enjoy it; many don't. I probably fall in the middle and my patience when shopping usually wears thin far sooner than my daughter's. But Filene's Basement made it a game. I probably didn't need the sheets -- but the price was too good to pass up. It was a win-win for the store and for me. I won't say I didn't need the shoes, because well, just because I always need shoes. That's the way it is for shoe-a-holics.

But mostly, I think I'll miss the fun I had rummaging through the piles with my daughter. Calling out to each other when we found an item, even if we hated it, that was 75% off. We might not have bought it, but we enjoyed the hunt.

RIP, Filene's Basement. We'll miss you.
Does anyone know of a similar bargain store??

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

Friday, August 22, 2008

Collaboration in the Stygian Swamp

Marilyn Victor - In her real life, Marilyn is an administrative assistant for a construction company. She started her writing career in grade school, penning Dark Shadows, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond stories for her friends, none of which she ever finished. It wasn’t until years afterward when she started brainstorming on how she could combine her love of writing and love of animals that she and Michael came up with the Snake Jones mystery series.

Michael Allan Mallory - Michael works with computers in the Information Technology field, which must be amusing to his old college professors because he has a degree in English Literature. He also managed to sneak out a degree in Electronics, much to the consternation of those who tried to peg him as only a liberal arts kind of guy. He studies and teaches wing chun kung fu in Minneapolis and trains in Chen style tai chi. His favorite mysteries come from the classic period of the 1930s and 1940s, although he enjoys a good yarn no matter what era it was written

Marilyn: "Hey, our guest blog is due for the Stiletto Gang. What should we write about?"

Michael: "What? Don't you have an idea? I'm blank."

Marilyn: "You can't be blank. We're writers. Creativity is supposed to flow from us."

Michael: "Yeah, well, my flowing days are long gone. I got nothing."

Marilyn: "Me neither."

Michael: "We're so screwed."

Marilyn: "We should be able to talk about our writing. Like how rich and famous "Death Roll" has made us.

Michael: "Except we're not famous-well, perhaps less obscure. We're almost recognizable in the vast stygian swamp of authors. And rich? Let's not go there. Too depressing."

Marilyn: "Stygian swamps, huh? You like those murky metaphors. Okay. There is a Nancy Drew thread happening on the site. We could talk about that."

Michael: "Um. I've never read Nancy Drew. Have you?"

Marilyn: "Does it have horses?"

Michael: I don't think so. She had a dog, Togo and a cat, Snowball. They didn't show up very often.

Marilyn: When other girls were reading Nancy Drew, I was reading Misty of Chincoteaque, King of the Wind and The Black Stallion.

Michael: I bet our own heroine, Snake Jones, grew up reading Nancy Drew. Snake is spunky, resourceful-

Marilyn: And she has a dog.

Michael: We do have one thing in common with Nancy Drew. More than one author wrote the books. The stories were outlined by one person and written by another. Several others as I recall.

Marilyn: Hey, I thought you said you never read Nancy Drew.

Michael: You’ve heard of the Internet?

Marilyn: Ah, instant expertise. Hmm. Does that mean if our Snake Jones mysteries become a huge success, that forty years from now some other author will be writing them and calling themselves Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory.

Michael: You wish.

Marilyn: Along with a million other authors. Sigh. Ok back to business. Thinking back on all those animal books I read as a kid, it makes me think of how animals have played a part in the genre since the beginning of the modern mystery.

Michel: Good point. Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue featured an orangutan---or ourang-outang as Poe called it. Then we have the title character there’s the horse in the classic Sherlock Holmes tale Silver Blaze. And Toby, a blood-hound, appears in the Holmes stories several times. In the 1920s and 1930s the popular Philo Vance novels by S.S. Van Dine included The Kennel Murder Case and The Canary Murder Case, which leads us to there’s Dashiell Hammett's masterpiece: The Maltese Falcon. (And will you please stop editing what I’m writing.)

Marilyn: That’s what co-authors are for. Besides, we’re going over the word count. And that wasn't a real falcon in the story. It was a statue."

Michael: Still counts. The falcon iconography lends the story intrigue and a sense of danger, like the real bird. Who'd get excited about a book called The Maltese Bunny? The use of animals in the title or as a character helps create a mood.

Marilyn: True, true. (Revenge is not sweet, Michael. Knock it off)

Michael: Hey, you edit me, I edit you, hopefully it makes for better writing.

Marilyn (ignoring him): But things changed in the ‘60s when Dick Francis published Dead Cert, his first horse racing novel. After that, animals often became more than background characters. Stories often centered around them.

Michael: You know what my theory is on that? It coincides with the environmental movement in the late '60s and '70s. Since then, people have become more aware of the planet and its wildlife. They care more about animals and what happens to them.

Marilyn: I like that. Which reminds me….

Michael: What?

Marilyn: I have to go feed the dog.

Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Sign of the Twisted Candles

Last night I read my mother's well-worn copy of The Sign of the Twisted Candles. She'd been given the book as a young girl. The copyright date inside the battered cover is 1933. Coming from a family with limited financial resources and lots of siblings, she didn't own many books as a child. She's treasured this one for almost 60 years. I'll be returning it to her bookshelf this weekend.

My mother introduced me to Nancy Drew when I was in the third grade. Many of the words were strange Рcommodious, oculist; the phrases unusual Рjolly friends; the foods strange - jellied consommé. But I still loved the book.

"Oh, Nancy! I'm afraid to go any farther, and I'm afraid not to. Won't you speed the car up!"

Nancy Drew smiled grimly to herself, despite the awe-inspiring situation with which she had to battle. (The Sign of the Twisted Candles, Carolyn Keene, 1933).

Teenaged Nancy Drew wasn't afraid. She seemed to thrive on meeting challenges head-on; her confidence in herself and the power of good to triumph over evil was indeed "awe-inspiring." An only child of a wealthy criminal lawyer and a deceased mother, Nancy is often on her own or having adventures with her two best friends. She gives free reign to her curiosity when she and her friends take shelter at a crumbling Civil War-era mansion that has been converted into a combination restaurant and inn. There is a mysterious old man in the tower room, an overworked, ill-treated foster child, an evil innkeeper and wife, and strange happenings galore. Asking questions, watching people, and following the clues, Nancy solves the crimes and plays fairy godmother to the foster child.

Last week I read Nevada Barr's latest book, Winter Study. Anna Pigeon, Barr's heroine, is a 40-something, National Park Service Ranger. Anna was recently married. But in her words, "They’d been married four months. They’d been together ten days of it." In Winter Study, Anna is temporarily assigned to the wolf population study at Isle Royale on Lake Superior. The survival of the wolves on the island might be threatened, but it's the humans who are doing the dying. As usual Anna uses her experience, survival skills, and keen powers of observation and deduction to solve the murders.

When I decided to compare the two books for my blog entry for Nancy Drew week, I ignored the issue that one series is written for children and the other is written for adults. Although Nancy is around 16 or 17 years old, the themes in the Nancy Drew books are ones that a 10-year-old would enjoy most. Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon books are definitely for older teens and adults. Was a comparison of the 1930-heroine with the 2008-counterpart fair? Do they have anything in common?

Freedom for a woman in Nancy's day (1930s) was accomplished by being upper class, having inherited money or a generous parent, having a supportive yet distant family who gave you time and space to solve mysteries, and an extraordinary inherent confidence in your own beliefs and intellect.

Freedom for a woman in Anna Pigeon's day (now) is accomplished by hard work and earning your own money, pushing back against stereotypical female roles, having a supportive yet distant family who gives you time and space to solve mysteries, and an well-earned confidence in your own beliefs and intellect.

In both books there is "good versus evil" theme, with "good" winning in the Nancy Drew books and if not winning in the Anna Pigeon books, at least a rough justice is achieved.

Both heroines solve mysteries by using their powers of observation, understanding human nature, and their own personal courage. Both Nancy and Anna walk out into the night alone to confront the unknown. They are both smart, curious, creative and willing to take risks. As my co-author says, "Independent women were revolutionary in the 1930s. And perhaps they still are."

What do you look for in your favorite "mystery" heroines? When you examine the fine print – are they all versions of Nancy Drew?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Literary Best Friend

Distant father…housekeeper slash surrogate mother…pretty-boy boyfriend (according to the northern half of Evelyn David)…a trio of interesting girl friends, one a tomboy, one an obsessive eater, one a giant fraidy-cat…these are my adult recollections and interpretations of my favorite sleuth and heroine, Nancy Drew.

But when I was a child? She was literary gold. I had received a few of the 1959 editions from my older, goddess-like next-door neighbor, Maureen. If Maureen recommended the Nancy Drew books, then by golly, I was going to read each and every one of them. (And for proof of Maureen’s regalness, you need only know her nickname from her five brothers: “Maureen the Queen.” They shared one bedroom in the small Cape Cod next door; Maureen had the other bedroom, complete with canopy bed. But I digress.) She dropped off the books, now too old to enjoy them, and told me to start with “The Secret of the Old Clock.” I think I was about nine at the time. I finished the book and I was hooked.

A couple of thing struck me about Nancy:

1. Nancy drove a roadster. A what? Figuring out that it was just a sporty car didn’t take too long but I wondered why Carolyn Keene didn’t just call it a car. Then I grew up and became a mystery writer myself and realized that there are just so many ways to say that so-and-so “got in her car and drove away.” I’m trying to figure out a way for Alison Bergeron to refer to her car as a roadster but I haven’t been able to quite work that out yet.

2. Nancy eschewed all things in bad taste. Remember when those irascible Topham sisters were mean to the sales girls at the department store? Or when the aforementioned sales girl gossiped to Nancy about Josiah Crowley? Nancy looked down on both. Me? I am never mean to sales girls but do enjoy idle gossip. Alison Bergeron, for one, wouldn’t be able to solve mysteries without idle gossip, conjecture, or jumping to conclusions. Nancy frowned on all three.

3. Nancy loved a bargain. When one of those infernal Topham sisters ripped one of the dresses in the department store, Nancy asked for a discount. And got it! 50% off the retail price! That girl had some shopping cojones.

4. Nancy pretended that her father was fascinating. Sure, it was one way to get the information she so needed to solve the case but, boy, could this girl massage a man’s ego or what? Just read one passage of her dining with good old Carson Drew and you can see why he was putty in her hands. And why he gave her access to everything she needed to solve her cases.

5. Nancy was multi-talented. She possessed basic first aid skills, was a strong swimmer, could sail, and considered herself a “dog tender” (see The Bungalow Mystery). Nancy had an impressive intellect and a sharp wit. Was it the function of hanging around her widowed father and middle-aged housekeeper or was she just born that way? I never could figure that out.

6. Nancy is true to her friends. She never tells her female friend, George Fayne, to knock it off and go by her given name, Georgia, nor does she tell plump friend, Bess Marvin, to lay off Hannah’s scones and jam. Helen Corning, who appears in the first book in the series and then, later on, takes an extended jaunt to Europe, doesn’t have the stomach for sleuthing but Nancy never brings it up. Just imagine those girls on “The Hills” being so accepting of their compadres. Nancy is the alpha girl but never lets it show, never lauds it over her posse. She’s the smartest, the hippest, and wears all of these characteristics with grace and class.

Maureen the Queen and I discussed every Nancy Drew that she had given me after I had read them once. And when I was done, I read them again, because this was in the days before the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble or the easy access that Amazon affords us modern-day folk. My 1959 editions are dog-eared, a little water-logged (the flood of ’73 that soaked everything in our basement saw to that), and yellowed from age. But the memories that I get when I crack open one of the three that are left on my bookshelf cannot be described, even by me, the writer. It’s memories of my older and cooler friend, Maureen, it’s memories of finding a girl to whom I could relate, it’s memories of a time gone by when we played outside from dusk ‘til dawn, when we read books over and over again and committed them to memory.

So her father was distant, she was raised by a housekeeper, and she had a curious gaggle of friends. Didn't matter and never will. Nancy Drew was and always will be my literary best friend.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nancy Drew in the Dark Ages

Believe it or not, even though I am the ancient member of the Stiletto Gang, Nancy Drew was popular when I was a girl. I received Nancy Drew mysteries every birthday and Christmas and had them read before the days were over.

Like many others, I imagined myself doing all the things Nancy did on her adventures. Her tales fueled my imagination, causing me to suspect our neighbors of all sorts of suspicious doings, from being spies to kidnappers.

I babysat for a police officers two children and the foolish man left a loaded gun in a drawer in case I had to protect his kids from bad guys. Once I was sitting and someone actually tried to get into the house. The person shook the doorknob and rattled the door. I grabbed the gun (I was all of eleven being a seasoned sitter since the age of 10) and went to the door. “I have a loaded gun and I’m pointing it right at you.” Whoever it was must have believed me, because it became quiet.

I put the gun away, called my dad who lived two doors away. He was in bed so had to get dressed before he came up to look around the property. It took him so long, of course no one was to be found.

WWII was going on when I was a kid. Every house in the neighborhood was different. Back in those days, kids were allowed to roam without adult supervision. I loved to ride my bike to new places. Once I discovered a multi-turreted three story home built into the side of a hill. I imagined someone being held hostage inside or at the very least, it was filled with a bevy of ghostly beings.

I often pictured myself as the heroine who would come to the rescue or sound the alarm. I knew if we were invaded by the enemy I’d be recruited as a spy. After all, who would suspect a kid of being a spy?

Back in those days, I wrote my own mystery stories. By the time I’d outgrown Nancy and moved on to adult mysteries (often ones my mother told me not to read), I was putting out my own magazine reproduced on a jelly pad. (It had another name beginning with an h which I can't remember, but it had a resemblance to hard jelly.) Since I wrote all the content, there was always at least one short mystery starring a young female sleuth.

As you can tell, Nancy Drew had a huge influence on me. When the movie came out I could hardly wait to take a couple of great-granddaughters. I enjoyed it much more than they did.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Girl Power

I wanted a little blue roadster – even before I knew what a roadster was. I knew for sure that it was cooler than my Dad’s Plymouth.

I didn’t want Ned Nickerson. He seemed like a vain pretty boy who just got in the way of the real star of the show.

I did want a friend named George who wasn’t embarrassed to be a tomboy, but still went to all the dances. My best friend was Myrtle (and while she was great at hopscotch, she didn’t have the curiosity of a hedgehog.)

But most of all, I wanted to be the heroine who was smarter than all the grownups in town and had thrilling adventures where she rescued herself from danger. Who didn’t want to be Nancy Drew?

My childhood library didn’t stock Nancy Drew mysteries, although for some reason, you could find student nurse Cherry Ames who also solved mysteries. Still I managed to accumulate my own shelf of the blue and yellow mystery books, anxiously determined each time to crack the case before Nancy revealed the answer to the whodunit in the last ten pages.

My daughter, on the other hand, had zero interest in Nancy Drew. She loved the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce, that featured a fierce young woman who disguised herself as a boy to enter training as a knight. She found this fantasy series far more exciting, but also more realistic than the Nancy Drew mysteries. “Alanna got her period, had trouble with boys, stuff that happened to me even if I wasn’t a knight-in-training.”

So why my personal fondness for Nancy Drew? Was she my inspiration to write mysteries? Probably. I recently re-read The Secret of the Old Clock, the first book in the series. It had been reissued in 1959, cleaned up of any of its original racist references. The mystery is slight, at best. But even as an adult, I’m struck by the creation of a young girl heroine who is resourceful enough to rescue herself from a locked closet – look out Macgyver. I am delighted that her father Carson Drew doesn’t try and stop her from investigating the mystery, but instead encourages her independence and declares, “I’m glad you have the courage of your convictions.”

But if Nancy Drew was the spark, it was Mary Stewart, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rex Stout who fanned the flames of my early interest in mysteries. I quickly realized that their protagonists were more layered, their mysteries far more challenging, and their storytelling more sophisticated and intriguing.

Still, let me raise a toast to Nancy Drew. She filled a void in my childhood for a female adventurer who didn’t need a boy to give her the answers. She taught me that the search for solutions could be as much fun as the end result. And she gave me the confidence to say that I too could solve mysteries – or even better, create them!

Marian the Northern half of Evelyn David

Friday, August 15, 2008

Desperately Seeking

Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor who now writes mysteries and plays blues guitar. Sweet Man Is Gone, featuring sexy blues-singer sleuth Maxx Maxwell, is just out from Five Star/Gale/Cengage. Visit her at .

Agatha Christie was in her thirties when she hatched Miss Marple. But other than Christie, I doubt whether any female mystery writer has created a female sleuth who is older than the writer herself. My sleuth is thinner, blonder, and younger than I am, and I like it that way.

Sure, writing can be an exercise in vicarious living--and genre fiction more than most. Robin Hathaway once said that she loves writing her Jo Banks novels because when else can she be a thirty-something again, and a motorcycle-rider at that?

My sleuth, Maxx Maxwell, is a thirty-five-year old singer in a blues band. She lives in a funky apartment in Hackensack, New Jersey, modeled on my first apartment, one room and a kitchen in San Francisco. She rehearses and plays gigs with her band in scruffy rehearsal studios and sleazy bars in New York City. And she has a hopeless weakness for guitar players, especially her unfaithful ex, Sandy.

I wouldn’t trade my comfortable house in suburban New Jersey or my sweet, loyal husband for anything--not even to be thirty-five again. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be the broken-hearted relic of a failed romance. So what, aside from the vicarious thrill of feeling young again, leads us to lop decades off the ages of our sleuths?

Young people are at a stage of life when the big questions are still to be answered, the questions about love and work, and the all-important “Who am I?” Questions like this can provide rich and interesting subplots in our stories--and even explain how our sleuths happen to find themselves in crime-solving situations in the first place.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Desperately Seeking Susan. I think I had it in mind subliminally as I wrote Sweet Man Is Gone.

The NPR program “What’s the Word?” featured an interesting commentary on Desperately Seeking Susan the other night. The speaker, a professor of film studies, pointed to the contrasting worlds in the film: stodgy northern New Jersey and hip lower Manhattan. And she saw desperation as a key theme. But, she said, there’s desperation and then there’s desperation. The desperation of the Rosanna Arquette character, the New Jersey housewife, was the desperation that comes from fearing one has made all the choices one is going to make in life. The result might be settled middle-class comfort, but if something seems missing, it may be too late to rectify the lack.

The desperation experienced by the young is a different kind, no less painful, in fact maybe more so. It’s the desperation of knowing one is in the very act of making the choices that will shape one’s future, the sense that one is standing at a crossroads; once one path is chosen the other will forever be left behind. Sometimes the necessity of making crucial choices like this results in paralysis--or a frantic and even self-destructive lifestyle designed to distract one from the ever-present nagging voice that demands commitment to something.

But all this is great fodder for the novelist--and a good reason to ignore the passing of time and keep one’s sleuth young forever.

Peggy Ehrhart

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Save My Show

He had a boyish charm, a sweet smile, and a terrible sense of fashion. Some found him boring.

Me? I fell in love with Fred Rogers the first time I met him in the neighborhood.

Which is why I was so upset when I heard that PBS will stop transmitting Mister Rogers Neighborhood as part of its daily syndicated lineup beginning in September. Local public television stations can still choose to broadcast the program daily, but they are less likely to do so without the program being included in PBS’s syndicated feed.

Kids lose.

Unlike Sesame Street which never captured the attention of any of my children, low-tech Mister Rogers with his trolley and hand puppets was must-see tv for years. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like PBS was the only station that was programmed on our television. My kids watched the same crap that everyone else, including Mister Rogers, decried. Violent cartoons? Sure. Stupid sitcoms. Bring ‘em on. World Wrestling Federation? Sigh, yes. I confess, I even took two of my kids to a rumble at the County Center (and boy, was I the coolest Mom for at least three days).

But Mister Rogers was the perfect counterpoint. With his familiar routines and comforting songs, he spoke to my children and taught them more than all the clever 30-second educational scenes that flashed on Sesame Street. Mister Rogers reassured them that “the very same people who are good sometimes; are the very same people who are bad sometimes.” He taught them that make-believe is a land you should visit everyday. He made it clear to each child, “It's you I like; It's not the things you wear. It's not the way you do your hair, But it's you I like.” He wanted children to love themselves and others.

Son number two adored Fred Rogers. For his fourth birthday he wanted nothing more than a zip-up sweater like Mister Rogers wore every day. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. He also wanted wrestling action figures, a new baseball mitt, a bike, and an assortment of other toys that had zero educational value. But, he did desperately want that sweater. I searched high and low for a mini-Rogers sweater and the look of sheer delight on my son’s face when he opened that present is still vivid all these years later. He promptly ran to get his dress shoes and faithfully re-enacted the shoe swap that Fred Rogers did at the start of each show, then zipped up his new sweater with a flourish.

Without bells and whistles, Mister Rogers dealt thoughtfully, gently, and age-appropriately with the fundamental themes of childhood. Write to PBS and tell them that Mister Rogers Neighborhood belongs in all our homes.

For more information, check out:

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Comfort Zone

It’s been a long time since I can say I went “clubbing,” but this weekend, I actually think I did. (It’s been so long that I’m not sure what I did or what it’s called.)

I find that as I get older—and I am now officially middle-aged as of this past Sunday…if I live to be ninety, that is—I can find a host of excuses to turn down invitations; many of them are outside of my natural comfort zone. The activities in my natural comfort zone, as you know if you read this blog, run from vacuuming to reading with some personal training thrown in just so my body doesn’t become flabby and mushy. I usually turn to some of my tried and true excuses to invitations that would take me outside of my comfort zone, which are generally 99% true (thank you, John Edwards for that apt equivocation): “Oh, I don’t have a babysitter.” (Yes, I do; she’s fourteen and a half and lives with us and can take care of her brother ably.) “Oh, I have other plans.” (Only true about 10% of the time.) “My lumbago is acting up.” (I don’t know what that is, but it got several family members out of many a family event, and I’m sure I’ve got at least a mild case of it because as I mentioned, I am middle-aged.) But I have made a vow that if something sounds like fun and I don’t have plans or a flare-up of my lumbago, I’m going. Enough of this hanging around the house, waiting until eleven or twelve o’clock at night to find out whether or not Michael Phelps won another gold medal or if any one of the female beach volley players has busted out of her very tiny swimsuit. (Hasn’t happened yet, but don’t let any man tell you that’s he’s not waiting for that with baited breath.)

So when I was invited down to the lower East Side of Manhattan to see a friend’s band play, I accepted, thinking that this was a perfect excuse to venture out of my c.z. (aka comfort zone). I invited a friend, C., who after two glasses of chardonnay, was a willing partner. The day after the invitation, in the light of day, C. called me. “The place we’re going…that’s in the Bowery, right?”

Images of sooty-faced men playing dominoes in the street next to a soup kitchen floated into my mind. (And yes, all of my references date back to the 1920s and every Shirley Temple movie I’ve ever seen.) I mustered up all of my enthusiasm and responded, “Yes! It’s on Avenue B!”

“That’s in the Bowery, right?” C. asked again.

“I think so,” I said, not exactly sure. I hadn’t been south of 34th Street since 1986. “But I’ve been reading that the lower East Side isn’t like the lower East Side anymore.”

“Ooohhhkaaayyy,” C. said, not believing me.

To make matters worse, the friend who invited me to the band performance wrote and said, “We checked the place out. It’s a dive. Wear jeans.”

C., who wanted to get the most out of a purchase of a summer linen tunic with beading, was disappointed, now having to go back to her closet to plan her revised outfit. We met each other at the train station in the prearranged jean/tee-shirt ensembles and headed downtown, trying to mask our nervousness—and our suburban Mom status—and headed down to a part of town that was once known for its extreme seediness.

“We’ll get off at Bleecker and head east,” C. said with complete confidence as we boarded the 6 train.

“Ok,” I said, reminding her of my lack of travel experience below 34th Street. We traveled downtown, getting off at a stop completely unfamiliar to the two of us. I started to head up the stairs, but C. smartly decided to stop at a map and take a look. It indeed looked like we needed to head East for several long blocks, but it looked doable.

We emerged from the subway, ready to fend off the catcalls of the sooty-faced men playing dominoes in front of the soup kitchen. Instead, a massive Whole Foods rose up before us, hipsters and clean-faced moms and dads going in and out of its shiny silver doors with their recyclable grocery bags filled with organic chickens. Small boutiques and cafes abounded. We walked off in search of a restaurant and found one that had been opened a month, served tapas-style food and ate enough to feel ready to drink pints at the “lounge” where our friend’s band would be playing.

Divey, yes? Friendly, certainly. We walked in and purchased a couple of $5 pints, which if you don’t live in New York and don’t know about our consumer-unfriendly pricing, was a steal. The bartender was lovely. Our friends were already there and we headed into the back room where the band got set to play. Two more delightful servers waited to take our drink orders, smiling and clapping along with the music.

This place was safer and more congenial than my own home when the kids are hungry. I considered moving in. The only drawback was the toilet with no toilet seat, but I figured that lent the place a little “atmosphere” as I looked for something to hold onto in the airplane-sized bathroom. (Which, incidentally, opened right up onto a pool table.)

The band, Lieder, was fabulous. (And if you want to check them out, go to

C. and I left around 10:30 which in Mom world is officially one hundred o’clock. We rolled back into our town a little before midnight, exhausted but thrilled that we had done something that we hadn’t attempted since we were young, childless, and adventurous.

C. looked at me when she dropped me off. “Hey, that was fun,” she said. “You know, that’s something we should do more often.” I opened the door and got out of the car.

“Sure,” I said, getting out of the car. I had a thought and leaned into the car. “You wanna go to Whole Foods when the kids go back to school for some organic chickens?”

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movies, Casino, Camping, Festival, Oh My

While my eldest daughter and hubby were here visiting (the tail end of a long trip for them) we went to the movies twice. We saw Swing Vote which we loved and Mama Mia which we also enjoyed. At the end of the movie while the music still played, both my daughters danced down the aisle.

We also went to Eagle Mountain Casino which is on the Tule River Indian Reservation near where we live--and the one that appears in my later Tempe Crabtree mysteries. Though I've spent quite a bit of time on the rez, I'd never been inside the casino and I wanted to make sure what I've written is accurate. Amazingly it is. Everyone played the machines but me, it isn't something I enjoyed.

After our company left we headed for the Angelus National Forest (the mountains above La Canada where Mt. Wilson Observatory is located) and a church camp that we haven't been to for years. Because my cousin and their children and grandchildren attend and a lot of people we've known from long ago, my sis and hubby and three grandkids were talked into going. We slept on hard beds in the nurse's cabin which fortunately had a bathroom down the hall. Everyone else had to use a communal bathhouse which is a walk from nearly everywhere.

Meals were great though it was about 1/2 mile up and down hills to the dining hall. We visited and laughed a lot and sat under a great shade tree with a cool breeze, I read a mystery all the way through, and played cards with a lively bunch of folks from 11 to my age--hubby and I were the oldest campers.

From there we headed to San Luis Obispo and the Women's Creative Arts Festival. During our emailing about the festival I asked if I need to bring anything and was told no. As soon as we arrived I knew I was in trouble when I saw people putting up tents and setting up tables. Fortunately, I spotted one of my friends in the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime and she had someone bring me a card table. My assigned spot was under a shade tree so that took care of the problem of no tent.

I actually made a lot of sales--as usual, the only way to do this is to stand and talk to everyone who passes by. I noticed not many of the vendors did this. Most sat behind their wares or visited with others in the booth or with other vendors. One of my sales was made to a woman who said she bought from me because I was the friendliest of all the vendors.

Despite the snafu about equipment (which I had a home) I did very well at this sale.

Now the "oh my" part. A good friend is planning a wonderful book launching for Kindred Spirits, the next in my Deputy Crabtree mystery series. It's going to be a luncheon at a Bed and Breakfast in Crescent City, CA. She was talking about the event at the historical society and a controversy was spoken about--one that is in the book but I had not been given all the facts by my resource person. Needless to say, it has to be fixed. I've alerted my publisher and since I don't have the edits yet, I can make the necessary changes. It could have been a horrific problem.

Last week was full, perhaps a bit too full, fun, exciting, surprising and a bit on the challenging side.


Monday, August 11, 2008


My co-author asked me the other day if I collected anything. Thinking of an old roommate who collected thousands of key chains, my boss's daughter who collected all the Beanie Babies ever manufactured, and my brother's TVGuide collection (the original size not today's version), I immediately answered, "No."

My dozen or so porcelain dolls don't qualify me as even a "novice" collector. My hundreds of books (okay, it might really be thousands of books but if I don't acknowledge the number I don't have to figure out how much money I've got invested in paper and words) might qualify.

I'm not sure total numbers is the key to collecting anyway. There has to be a certain intent to collect for collecting's sake. I buy books to read them. I don't buy "first editions." I don't focus on just one or two genres of books. I mix paperbacks with hardbacks. I don't have my books catalogued and properly displayed. So … I'm probably not a book collector.

Movies? Televisions Shows? DVDs? I like to have copies of my favorite movies on DVD. I have all of West Wing and the new version of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. But I watch them. I don't keep them in pristine condition on a shelf. A friend of mine's father collects movies and has them all listed in a computer file. He knows exactly how many he has and doesn't loan them out. He's a collector. I'm not even close.

What else? Clothes? I have three closets full of old clothes that I need to throw away. Or maybe find some poor soul who desperately wants a prom dress from circa 1977, some suits with Dynasty style shoulder pads, and lots of bargains that never saw the light of day after I brought them home. I don't think my inability to get rid of clothes I can't or won't wear means I have a collection. Collecting and hoarding are two different things.

I admit I'm a hoarder. But that's genetic, not a choice like collecting. I come from a long line of hoarders. Broken lawn equipment? Save it – you might need a part for another mower. Extra plumber's putty? Save it for an emergency. Left over paint? Save it (ignore the shelf-life issue). Rusted exercise equipment? Old mismatched dishes? Ugly drinking glasses? Odd jars? Stray screws? You get the picture.

I've been trying to overcome my genetic predisposition to hang onto junk. Did I say junk? I meant useful items that I'll need some day. As my grandmother always told me as she cut the hooks and eyes from old bras, "When times get hard again (i.e. the Great Depression), you'll have what you need to get by."

Yep. Hoarding is a good thing. Someday I'll need all those extra buttons, plastic butter tubs, twist-ties and tiny hotel soaps. I'm almost sure of it.

Don't laugh too hard. A couple of years ago an ice storm devastated the area where I live. Around three in the morning, during the worst of the storm, a limb fell and broke out one of my windows – a serious problem since I had no power and no heat. I needed to cover the broken glass quickly to keep the cold and rain out. Those old leaky, vinyl pool mattresses I had stuffed in a box in my utility room came in handy. The mattresses, a few nails and a lot of duct tape, sealed that window for more than a month. The insurance adjuster was appropriately impressed.

How about you? Are you a collector? Or a hoarder? How did you get started?

Evelyn David

Friday, August 8, 2008

Writing Long and Short

Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories appear in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER featuring Adam Kingston is available at most bookstores or online at, Amazon and B&N.

For a signed copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER or for a free copy of the first Chapter, write him at

“What’s the difference between writing novels and short stories?”

“One’s bigger than the other.”

I don’t mean a novel is bigger only in number of pages. The story is bigger. There are more characters, more depth in the development of those characters, more plot twists and complications, and there are usually sub-plots. The emphasis is as much on the characters and how the plot impacts their lives as it is on the plot itself, sometimes more so.

To illustrate this, let’s take a simple plot and outline it first as a novel. Then we’ll come back and use the same plot as a short story.

Here’s the simple plot: Betty Brown, a wife and mother, is murdered in her home. There are no signs of robbery, no DNA evidence or fingerprints in the house other than family members, leaving no obvious motive or suspects. Homicide Detective Todd Taylor is assigned to the case.

Bill Brown, the victim’s husband, automatically becomes the primary suspect. During his investigation, Todd learns Bill and Betty had marital problems, and Betty was having an affair with a neighbor, Steve Smith. Todd now has two more suspects to investigate. Perhaps Betty wanted to end the affair, Steve objected, and in a fit of rage, killed her. Steve’s wife, Sandy, may have found out about the affair and killed Betty.

Bill and Betty’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Brittany, left home because of the tension between her parents. Todd feels Brittany has crucial information about the murder and finds her living with a rough gang, drinking, and on the way to ruining her life.

In Todd’s personal life, his wife talks about leaving him, and his ten-year-old son barely speaks to him at all. Both claim he spends too much time being a cop.

Now we have a cast of characters, Betty’s murder as the primary plot with three viable suspects, sub-plots involving the runaway daughter, the extramarital affair as well as Todd’s problems at home.

How does it all work out? With information provided by Brittany, Todd proves Bill Brown killed his wife Betty when he found out about the affair, resolving the main plot. But what about those sub-plots? Todd helps Brittany get her life back on track. Steve and Sandy Smith divorce. After revealing looks into the failed marriages of the Browns and the Smiths, Todd takes a hard look at his own and resolves to work harder at it. He’s also seen, with Brittany, how children get on the wrong path without proper role models at home, and commits to being a better father. The sub-plots have provided a character arc for Todd.

To develop the same plot as a short story, only the main character (Todd) will have any depth and the plot is less complex. In a short story, while there can be exceptions, there is usually one event requiring resolution (the crime), the path toward that resolution (the investigation), and the resolution itself (the solution).

We’ll toss out the sub-plots involving Steve and Sandy Smith and Brittany except to say Betty was having an affair with a neighbor. The only sub-plot we’ll keep is that Todd’s wife nags him about spending so much time at work.

In our short story, Todd proves Bill Brown killed his wife because of the affair. He also comes to terms with his own marital problems and promises to be a better husband.

So there we have the same plot developed as both a novel and a short story. Same killer, same victim, same resolution. The difference is. . .

. . .one’s bigger than the other.

Earl Staggs

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Smart Women, Toxic Men

"He's a very engaging guy with big ideas...I trusted him completely."

That's a description of Clark Rockefeller, the faux-scion of the Rockefeller clan, who has maintained a variety of fictional identities for 20 years. But here's my question. Did his ex-wife know the truth? How did Sandra Boss, a smart woman earning in the high-six figures, marry such a cad? What drew her to a man who deceived her and then kidnapped their child?

And Ms. Boss is by no means the only intelligent woman duped by her man. Hillary Clinton, Silda Spitzer, Christie Brinkley, these are all women who have excelled in their professional lives, but ended up with men who lied, cheated, and betrayed them?

And they were the lucky ones. They’re still living. How about Stacy Petersen, now missing, but presumed dead, allegedly killed by her husband who, according to their pastor, had also killed wife number three. Or Jessie Marie Davis and her unborn daughter, murdered by her policeman boyfriend, Bobbie Cutts, Jr. Or Lacey Peterson and unborn son Conner – slaughtered by her husband, Scott Peterson.

But let’s talk about the less extreme situations. Smart women; caddish husbands. Why do they stay? Does the woman accept the bad behavior because she doesn’t think she deserves better. Is she convinced that she can change the bad behavior over time? Is she embarrassed to be in the situation and doesn’t think she can afford (economically, professionally, personally) to get out? Do the couple have an unspoken agreement that she will ignore the behavior as long as it doesn’t impact on her daily life? If he doesn’t get caught by outsiders, can she live with his dalliances or betrayals? Lots of things could play into the mix - religion, gender roles, power, education, personality type, familial history, learned behavior, ability to cope with stress, etc.

Or, and this is the one that troubles me the most, are some women genuinely surprised when they discover their partners’ secret lives and the world comes crashing down around them?

Look, there are certainly times in my life when you can call me Cleopatra, I’m the Queen of De-nial. Ask me about my weight, and I live in ignorant bliss. I don’t know (I literally don’t own a scale), and I don’t want to know. But I’d like to think that I’m honest with myself about the big stuff. I trust my husband with my life. I believe in him completely – but I assume so did these women.

So I open for discussion: Is it possible to live intimately with a man for years, and have no idea that he’s leading a secret life? Do you not know – or do you choose to not know?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Day on the River

Week three of Maggie’s return to physical fitness began yesterday with a trip down to the River to go kayaking.

I KNOW! KAYAKING! Amazing, huh?

If you recall, I’m not an outdoorsy gal. I much prefer staying indoors, watching television, working on my computer, cleaning out closets…anything that prevents me from going out in the sun. (And no, I’m not a vampire and I feel I must offer that admission since I’m knee deep in “New Moon,” the second book from Stephenie Meyer on the topic of vampires and love.) You can do plenty of physical activity inside—if vacuuming were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist—but I’m finding that to get the true benefits of exercise, going outside helps.

So, I expressed an interest in kayaking to a friend. She immediately put the word out in the local, thriving kayak community in my town that she had a new potential member and I got an email from another friend who we’ll call R., inviting me to join she and another friend this past Sunday for a couple of hours on the River. I accepted readily, via email on Saturday morning, and then had twenty-four hours filled with regret and second thoughts. I approached R. after church on Sunday and said, “I have two things to tell you: one, I am a spaz. And two, I can’t swim.”

Bless R.’s heart because she didn’t bat an eye at the spaz part, nor the inability to swim part. And I was grateful because having admitted to a few other people that I can’t swim, I have found that their reaction is akin to my admitting that I can’t read. Or walk. “What!? You can’t swim? Why not?” I just can’t. There’s nothing to say. I didn’t have a near-drowning experience—though I did spend a few seconds too long underwater as a kid and that frightened the heck out of me—and I although I am spaz, I’m sure I could learn to move my arms and legs simultaneously while submerged. But I have had a few other things on my plate over the years and learning to swim has always taken a back seat.

And of course, because one has to swim in a bathing suit, that complicates things. Is there anything more unflattering or uncomfortable than a bathing suit? That alone contributes to my reluctance; I don’t see putting myself (willingly) in a position of being taught how to do something while not wearing jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt with a hoodie tied around my waist.

But back to kayaking. R. and H.—who claims to be 110 years old but who is really an incredibly fit and gorgeous woman in her sixties—picked me up and we went down to the “put-in.” The put-in is at the end of the train station parking lot and prior to my engaging in my new favorite sport, I referred to it as “that place at the end of the train station parking lot.” The put-in was jammed with cars, people, kayaks, and other water sporting equipment. R. advised me, after we hoisted the three kayaks out of H.’s car, to crouch, get my center of gravity, and leap as quickly as possible into the kayak and onto the seat. Easy, right? For R. She, too, is incredibly fit, graceful and athletic.

I stumbled on my first attempt to locate my center of gravity but after that, I managed to throw myself into the kayak’s small seating area without capsizing, although I did almost violate the town’s “NO WAKE” admonishment, sitting just a few hundred feet away. Fortunately, we were in two inches of water, so even if I had, I hopefully wouldn’t have drowned. R. was kind enough to bring a life jacket for me anyway, so even if I did overturn—my greatest fear—and I didn’t knock myself unconscious, I would have been okay. And oh, did I mention that R. is a nurse practitioner! Who can swim! We had every emergency covered.

R. put my oars together and we set out. I went in a circle a few hundred times but then found my rhythm and we took off down the River and under the highway and into an area of my town I didn’t even know existed until this past Sunday. It is a place of overhanging trees, mild rapids, beautiful birds, and tranquility. I’ve been here twenty years and had no idea that this three-mile offshoot of the River existed. We cruised along, R. staying by my side, making sure that I had gotten the hang of it. I had. I was kayaking and immensely proud of myself.

I looked to my left and saw a cluster of kayakers returning to the put-in, already having finished the three-mile loop. One of the kayakers—about fifty feet away from me—put his paddle across his kayak and even with the distance between us and the sun in my eyes, I could tell he was squinting at me and trying to figure out if I was indeed who he thought I was, his shut-in of a neighbor. He turned to his wife, a few feet behind him and muttered something. She, too, stopped and put her oars across her kayak, shielding her eyes from the sun.

Finally, he called out across the water, “Maggie? Is that you?” he asked, still unsure.

I waved back. “It’s me!”

His wife, still shielding her eyes, her face screwed in a mask of disbelief kept her eyes on me. “That’s not Maggie. Is it?”

Now I was starting to get indignant. Ok, I don’t leave the house very often but a girl can kayak if she wants to, right? And is capable of doing so with the proper instruction and safety precautions, correct? I called out that indeed, it was Maggie, I was outside, on the water, in a kayak and doing it with aplomb. (So said R., so I have a witness. Or just a very kind friend who wouldn’t hurt my feelings.) My friends passed by, still waving, still not completely sure it was me and floated back to the put-in where they stood for a few minutes trying to ascertain why Maggie—someone who has been outside a total of thirty-seven minutes this whole summer—was in a kayak in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

I came home wet and exhausted and told Jim about what great time we had. Like the aftermath of one of my training sessions with S., I can’t lift my arms, but I figure that with enough practice, that will gradually become a thing of the past and I might just end up with the upper arms of Michelle Obama, my upper-arm icon.

The only thing I have to figure out is how to transport a kayak—which I’m determined to buy before the summer’s out—on top of a Mini Cooper. That might be a problem.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blogging, Promoting, Random Thoughts

I’m writing this blog on Saturday because I know I’ll be busy next week and may forget. Things have been wild around here. First, the bathroom is finally done, but next we want to do some remodeling in the two bedrooms next to the refurbished John, which means moving lots of stuff around. When you move things, cleaning follows.

We’re expecting our eldest daughter and her hubby on Monday. They’ve been traveling all around in their motor home–to Kansas to a family reunion, South Dakota for sight seeing, back to Omaha for the Jr. Olympics because a granddaughter was competing, more sightseeing on the way to our house. I want to spend as much time with our visitors as possible. When they leave on Wednesday, we’re heading to the Angeles National Forest to a church camp where we’ll be spending time with my sister and my cousins and various other relatives until Friday noon. We’ve been to this camp before and it’s notorious for its bear visits.

From there we’re headed to San Luis Obispo for a Creative Women all day event on Saturday in the Mission Plaza where I’ll be selling my books. Also the members of the Central Coast Sisters in Crime will have a booth there and so I know I’ll be seeing a lot of my SinC sisters there. The whole point to this is I need to do my blogs ahead of time because I’ll be away from my computer. I will have my Blackberry so will be able to read my email. (I love my Blackberry. I used to have to look for computers in hotels where I could rent computer time.)

I have one other book selling event this month but will spend most of this month promoting on the Net. I’m gearing up for September when I’ll be doing one event after another because I’ll have a new Deputy Tempe Crabtree out.

My promotion begins with a talk at the San Joaquin chapter of Sister in Crime. I love this chapter and am one of the founding members.

I’ve only planned three booksignings at book stores and these are at independents, and at two of them I’ll be giving talks–which I believe works the best. I will be having a blog tour in September also. I’ll be presenting at two writers’ conferences–something I really enjoy.

As for my random thoughts, I’ve had a great time with the promoting part of being a writer. My husband and I have traveled to so many places we’d never have seen in order to attend mystery cons and other writing conferences–from Maui to Florida and lots of places in-between. On my own I’ve visited Alaska twice, and went to the Edgars in New York with a good writing friend–great experience. We’ve made wonderful friends all along the way. All-in-all, it’s been a most rewarding experience and I’m looking forward to even more.

Marilyn Meredith

Monday, August 4, 2008

New School Clothes

August has never been one of my favorite months. It always heralded the end of summer's freedom and the fast approaching school year. Even though it's been many years since I had to buy new school supplies and clothes, when the calendar page flips to August, the memories come rushing back.

This weekend was a "sales tax-free" holiday in Oklahoma. For two days shoppers were given the opportunity to purchase certain clothing and shoes free of state and local sales tax. To be exempt each item had to be priced at less than $100. For large families this benefit could mean saving hundreds of dollars. And it may mean a few more kids start school with at least one new outfit.

Do you remember how important it was to have that new outfit? Do you remember the confidence those new clothes gave you? In those new shoes or new jeans, anything seemed possible. As a kid my new school clothes were always "winter" clothes. Wool jackets and skirts, sweaters, long sleeved shirts, vests, etc.

When the new Sears or J. C. Penneys Fall Catalog came out, I'd pour over the fashions (this was pre-mall days), marking the pages that held the cutest clothes. I don't remember ever being able to order more than one or two items, my Mom and grandmother made most of my clothes. But the catalogs told me what clothes were "in" and what the normal pre-teen would be wearing when the leaves turned gold. But late August in Oklahoma is hot. Very hot. And when I was in school, the rooms were not air-conditioned. I wore my new clothes anyway, despite my parents' protests. The second day I'd be back in cooler clothes, but the first day was special. Okay, hot and sweaty, but special.

I saw on the national news this weekend a report about a school in Texas which plans to punish dress code violators by making them wear school purchased "prison-garb type" jumpsuits. I’m sure that will work out really well. Not. The kids are already talking about making the wearing of the jumpsuit some kind of rite of passage. And if you read the entire article you'll see the jumpsuits aren't just to cover immodest clothing choices – they're also a punishment for boys who wear earrings or have facial hair or wear t-shirts instead of the required collared shirts. Ever notice how dress codes always seem to morph from reasonable to super finicky really fast?

I guess this would be where the perennial school uniform debate would come in. But I'm not going to go there. I believe kids need to learn how to make choices and appropriate school attire is one of those choices.

Parents have to be involved with helping their "own" children make those choices. Often these strict dress code rules in public schools are less the result of the public norm and more the result of the "tyranny of the majority" on the school board. And when the makeup of the majority on the school board changes, the dress code changes. I imagine these jumpsuits will be gone by next year, if not sooner.

Do you think the school board has considered the cost of keeping all those school-owned jumpsuits cleaned and pressed? When schools have trouble paying for books and desks and fuel for school buses, is this the best use of public funds?

What about teaching kids to read? Improving math scores? Encouraging students to learn history, science, and geography? School boards and administrators have more important things than shirt collars to worry about.

And so do I.

Does J.C. Penneys still send out a Fall catalog?

Evelyn David

Friday, August 1, 2008

My Name is Karen & I'm a Publisher

I have never done a guest blogger spot before, so it seems silly for me to warn you to prepare to be dazzled by my brilliance. Then again you never know. I guess I should start in the usual manner.

Hello, my name is Karen and I'm… a publisher. I haven't always been. I used to be a slacker. I know, hard to believe, but true. I would gladly pay anyone to do anything to prevent me from having to do it myself. Now, I am a total control freak who cannot seem to delegate. I also used to be a writer, wait, author. And a bookseller. I am a much better publisher. I get to work with writers and I love that!

Why Write?

Because you love to. Don't do it for any other reason. Anyone can write. You sit down and you put words into sentences and tell stories, or express feelings and emotions. You paint pictures onto your chosen canvas with words. It is one of the most beautiful forms of art there is. I live for words!

Why Publish?

Because you want the world to experience the emotions of your art. Publish because you want as many people as humanly possible to read your work and to be moved by it. Whether with tears, laughter, or fear. If this is not your goal, then continue to write and leave the publishing to those who want to touch the masses.

The Top Five Things A New Author Needs To Know:

If you are an author, or are aspiring to be an author, here is what you need to know. This is YOUR book. Own it! Don't sit in the passenger seat and let someone else drive your work into the bad part of town.

Don't fall into the abyss of apathy. Just because you have finished a book, by no means is your job done. Now you have to make people want to read it. Apathy is not an effective sales tool. Trust me, this I know.

Don't confuse your peers with your market. I know, authors read too. I've heard it all before. Hey! Are you paying attention? You in the blue jammies, I'm talking to you. You're so busy hanging out on MMA that you haven't even updated your web site in four months. Shame on you! Other authors are only going to your web site to see what kind of mistakes you have made. They aren't buying your book, they are trying to sell you THEIR book. Come on, you know this! Make this about the readers and I guarantee you will sell more books.

Okay, I am only doing three things. I'm the guest I can do that. Right?

The Books On My Desk:

This is so funny. There are no books on my desk. There are lots of bills. Some junk mail. A Bead catalogue. Yesterday's lunch plate. 6456 sticky notes of things I was supposed to do. 37 or so pens, including my feathery pink Flamingo pen and my Tinkerbell Glow pen. The bra I was wearing yesterday, it is actually hanging from the drawer handle (it was bothering me so I took it off.) 10 contracts I need to file, and some unsolicited queries that I asked not to be sent via snail mail that need to be thrown away. Some festival contracts.

Which leads me to ...

My Favorite Things:


As a publisher, this is what I do for fun. Ask any of my authors, they can tell you that I am in my element at festivals and conferences. Don't believe me? Ask Evelyn David, Jeff Sherratt, Robert Goldsborough, Sam Morton, any of them. In February 2008 I went to Love is Murder in Chicago, the Southern CA Writers Conference in San Diego, and the Columbia Book Festival in SC. In March we discovered that while I was doing all that traveling, I was in heart failure and could easily have died. But even thought I was having a wonderful time schmoozing, being schmoozed and selling books, I was sick as a dog. Exactly one month after I had the %$#@% pacemaker/defibrillator installed, I went to CA for the LA Times Book Festival. I love meeting writers and readers. I especially love meeting readers. I am unstoppable!

Without the readers, I have no reason to travel. I have no reason to write. I have no reason to publish. They are the lifeblood of the industry. And don’t you forget it!

Karen Syed

Echelon Press, LLC