Thursday, December 31, 2009


In a world obsessed with Social Networking, I thought I’d make my post Twitter friendly today (since everyone’s busy, busy, busy with New Year's Eve festivities!). Here’s my life in 2009 in a nutshell, twitter-style.

*"Sadly, future as an Olympic Walker is not to be. Knee surgery and NO MORE WALKING FOR EXERCISE sealed the deal. What am I going to do?!"

*”Book 2 in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series comes on Feb 2, 2010! Other books being shopped now. Articles coming out. More info on developing writing career @ Working on Bare Naked Lola now. Fun!”

*Favorite books of the year: “The Help; The Sugar Queen; Outliers. Too many to choose just one!”

*Favorite movie of the year: “I think it will be Nine or Sherlock Holmes. Also loved Gran Torino. Great Hero’s Journey. I admit, I really liked Avatar, too, though I’m not a Sci-Fi girl. Want to see Nine.”

*”Am teaching again with SMU’s Continuing Ed Writing Program. Don’t like the commute to Dallas, but love teaching.”

*”I’ve learned to stand up for what I believe. It’s not always easy, but it’s a good thing. I'm too old (43) and opinionated to turn a blind eye.”

*"Favorite mystery: The Thirteenth Tale. I think it came out the year before, but I'm always slow on the uptake with trends and what's H.O.T."

*"Hopes for 2010...BOOK DEAL for Quiz Girl, Sister Charms, and continuing the Lola Cruz Mystery Series."

*"For family and and happiness. Can't ask for more than that!"

How about you? Anything stick out about your year, twitter-style? Favorite mystery book? Favorite book? Things you're looking to change for 2010?

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Resolutions, Part Deux

Evelyn David’s post on Monday got me thinking about what I will resolve to do this coming year. I think it is an exceptionally good idea to take stock at the end of every year and vow to accomplish one or two good things in the coming year, even though I also know that most New Year’s resolutions are broken by the middle of February. There have been a few years where I have vowed not to make New Year’s resolutions and have stayed true to my word for the entire year, but this year is different. So, for all to see, this is what I promise to do:

1. Lose that 15 pounds. Thanks to a wonky thyroid that ceased working around May of this year, I have packed on quite a bit of poundage that no dieting has helped to erase. Your thyroid can go one of two ways: hypo, in which your metabolism slows to a snail’s pace, and hyper, in which it runs at the speed of a hummingbird’s wing. I, unfortunately, fall into the former category and had felt sluggish, lethargic, and slowed down. Way down. But all that changed when I found the delightful and brilliant mystery-loving Dr. K., who diagnosed and fixed the problem in a relatively short period of time. Things are stabilized and now I can focus on getting this rather doughy body back into fighting shape. Or at least the best shape one can be after several different types of cancer treatment have been administered and the dreaded middle age has set in. Check back for frequent updates on my progress. I’m looking to you to hold me accountable. And I promise not to turn on you. Maybe.

2. Focus on the positive. We’re going with only happy thoughts in ’10. Well, we’re going to do our best. I figure I have to take the advice I always give my kids: it takes far less energy to be positive than negative. And at my age, we need all the energy we can get.

3. Write more, procrastinate less. I learned a valuable lesson from Rachel Brady, fellow stiletto wearer, at Crime Bake this past November. Rachel participated in NanoWrimo, an exercise in which you write 50,000 words—any words will do—in the month of November. December is for revision. I figure if I can set a goal for myself of writing a certain number of words every week, regardless of whether they make sense or advance the story, I’ll be in good shape. October through December will be for revision, and by that time, hopefully, I’ll have what amounts to a reasonable first draft of book 6 in the Murder 101 series.

4. Avoid the United States Post Office at all costs. See #2 above.

5. See more movies. My husband loves movies. Me? Not so much. You see, you can’t talk during the movies and one of my favorite activities is talking. But in honor of the greatest man/husband/father who has ever lived, we’re going to do more of what he likes and less of what I like. Which is talking. Did I mention that I like to talk?

6. Laugh more, fret less. See #2 above.

What have you resolved, Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Church Christmas Dinner Big Success

Despite the nightmares I had about oversleeping and not getting my turkey into the oven on time, I managed to bake my 17 lb. turkey, make two big trays of dressing, two with the "green bean casserole", and one tray of yams with marshmallows ontop.

Hubby carved the turkey and we hauled the food over to church. The room was all set up with red tablecloths, candy in little dishes on each table, and poinsettia plants here and there. One table held a coffee pot, another container of punch and one with hot cider. Another table had all sorts of homemade deserts, pie, cakes, cookies and even fudge.

The serving table was loaded with ham, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, yams, green salad, rolls, and sweet bread. Some of us stood behind the table and served up what people wanted. Others brought more food out from the kitchen, while others quickly prepared or brought out more of whatever dish we ran out of.

The paper had a notice in the Christmas morning addition and there was big sign inviting anyone who needed a place to go for Christmas dinner out on the highway. The dinner was to start at 1, but we began serving people at noon.

Many of the people we fed were the workers--and lots of members of my family since I usually have Christmas dinner at my house. However, we had many people come we've never seen before. And it was obvious they really appreciated (and needed) the Christmas dinner. We delivered 8 meals to people who called asking for them, and one family was picked up and brought to the church and taken home afterward.

It was a lot of work--but it was also a joy. What a great way to spend Christmas day! My daughter-in-law, son and grandson helped serve the food and enjoyed themselves. My granddaughter put people's names on name tags.

I hope we do it again. I'm really proud of our tiny church, it is definitely a church with a big heart and I think we truly showed our Christmas spirit.

(I'm a terrible photographer--frankly I took these photos and then totally forgot to take any more. Of course most of the time I was behind the serving table, dishing up food for people.)


Monday, December 28, 2009

Resolved: 2010 will be healthier, full of laughter, and a book or two (poo, poo)

It’s that time of year again for a little extra contemplation and planning for the next twelve months. What do I hope for 2010 – personally, professionally? Let me stipulate, with plenty of poo, poos that the original Evelyn would insist upon, that I wish that 2010 be a healthy year for myself, my family, my friends, and all Stiletto Gang followers. Happy? Sure that would be great – but you first need healthy.

Beyond that, you bet I have some resolutions for the new year. Many have been borrowed from other sources, including t-shirts which seemed to have captured the essence of what I intend. Here are my top 3. What did I forget? What’s on your list?

Life’s short, eat dessert first.
Now I take this maxim both literally and figuratively. While on my recent medical journey, I’ve developed an intolerance for salads, so lettuce has been off my shopping list for the last four months. Frankly no major loss as far as I’m concerned. Had it been a chocolate intolerance – I would have insisted on some major telethon to discover a cure.

But beyond my love of chocolate, I want to remember in 2010 to savor the good stuff of life. Sure, we all have obligations and responsibilities – but I want to make sure that I deliberately choose to celebrate the simchas (Hebrew for joyous occasions) and focus on the affirmatives. It’s important to be realistic – but it’s probably more important to be a dreamer. In 2010, I want to be sure that the balance is to accentuate the positive.

Not only do I not want to write The Great American Novel, I don’t want to read it.*
I realize that there are a list of books that are considered classics that anyone literate has read – and I’m declaring publicly that I probably will never read any of them. That even includes some legendary mystery authors whose works are considered sacred. And you know what – I don’t have to!

I want to write (with the Southern half of Evelyn David) more of the books I enjoy reading. I like cozies and I’m not going to apologize or mumble when I say it. I like stories with happy endings, where the good guys win. Goodness knows in real life that doesn’t always happen, but in 2010, I’m passing on books and movies that show the seamy side of life with no hope of redemption. I’m not burying my head in the sand to the harsh realities of this world – but I sure don’t need to read/watch it as entertainment.

* I read this line a couple of years ago on Crimespace.ning. I wish I knew who wrote it, but kudos to the author. It captures my feelings exactly

If you’re going to laugh about it someday, try laughing about it now.
I’m not looking for a career change doing stand-up comedy at bars (although that might be an interesting challenge??). Nor am I minimizing the real problems in life. But I am going to try and see the irony, humor (wry and otherwise) where I can and laugh at myself and my foibles with ease. Too often I take myself too seriously – and that’s a waste of energy that could be better spent.

What about you? What are your resolutions for 2010?

And to all, best wishes from both halves of Evelyn David and all the Stiletto Gang for a Healthy, Happy New Year!

Evelyn David

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holly Jolly Christmas!

No fair. I have the Christmas post. Pressure!

To make up for last month's long post, I'll keep it short this time and simply wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, no matter what you celebrate.

May you enjoy your family and friends, get some rest and good eats, and enjoy a few laughs at these links.

Happy Holidays,
Rachel Brady

Thursday, December 24, 2009

12 Heroes of Christmas

Today wraps up the 12 Heroes of Christmas over at Chasing Heroes, the other blog I hang with. We've spent 12 days profiling our favorite holiday heroes and hunks, and there have been prizes galore! Today is the big kahuna. We have a gift basket with books and a whole bunch of other goodies. All you have to do is visit and leave a comment. Maybe you'll wake up tomorrow a Chasing Heroes winner!

Everybody's full of anticipation for tomorrow and I'm the lucky one who gets to wish you all a Merry Christmas on Christmas Eve. I love that! I've been so blessed to have spent part of 2009 here with the Stiletto Gang, and I'm looking forward to an exciting 2010 with them. My new release, Hasta la Vista, Lola!, will be out in just over a month, I have more exciting things in the works, and life is good.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, A Blessed Kwanza, Happy Hanukkah, and a Very Joyous New Year to all our readers here at The Stiletto Gang!

XO ~ Misa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's only weather...

This past weekend, all up and down the Eastern seaboard, we were under a “Winter Weather Advisory” or depending on where you lived south of us, a “Winter Storm Warning.” For the uninitiated out there, that means that we were getting a snowstorm. Interestingly, here in the Hudson Valley, we got less snow than say the Jersey Shore, but we had to shovel five or six inches. But the way the television news and their meteorologists (who used to be called “weathermen”) got all charged up, you would have thought that Armageddon was a-coming. Precipitation, even here in the precipitation capital of the world, is treated as a life-changing event. It’s not. It’s water that’s frozen and falls from the sky. Pretty magical when you think about it, but not cause for the alarm that was sounded here for two solid days prior to one flake falling.

I used to get worked up about the weather—both hot and cold—until I talked myself off the ledge and realized that one, we were not going to run out of food even if I didn’t go grocery shopping prior to the big “snow event,” as it was being called, and two, we would survive regardless of how long the storm lasted. According to the weather reports, I should have stockpiled enough food to last a week and one of us would definitely perish unless extreme precautions were taken.

There are a host of other pieces of advice. I list them below with my take on them.

1. Dress in layers. Needs no elaboration, you would think. Unless you’re child #2, who wears a short-sleeved tee shirt under an unzippered winter coat, and ankle sweat socks inside his boots. Are the meteorologists targeting child #2’s demographic, a group of 10-year-old boys who don’t feel the cold? I wonder about that all the time.

2. When shoveling, bend at the knees. I’ve been bending at the head. Is that wrong?

3. Don’t drive if you don’t have to. Unless you’re towing three hundred pounds of sand and wearing a DPW vest, I think this is very good advice.

4. Make sure you look in on elderly neighbors. Again, good advice. They’ve got all the stockpiled food. My grandmother, who died in 1981, was still using the sugar supply that she had stockpiled during World War II until the day she passed.

I made the mistake of going to a local drugstore chain on Saturday afternoon to buy Christmas lights. We were putting up the tree, and of course, only half of the lights were working. The snow hadn’t started yet, the start time being revised hourly as the storm passed us by and hammered our neighbors to the south and east. But the people at this local strip mall apparently hadn’t gotten the memo. Driving through the parking lot to find a spot, the panic was palpable. Did I mention that this strip mall houses a gourmet grocery store, the aforementioned chain drugstore, the post office, and most importantly, the liquor store? Frankly, I saw more bottle-shaped bags being hoisted in the parking lot than bags containing groceries. Jack Daniels, it would seem, is a much better companion, and a much better stockpiling option, than disposable razors or paper towels. Hushed whispers about snowfall totals punctuated my long wait at the drugstore.

“Did you hear? It could be TWO FEET!”

“I know! I had to come out and buy milk! We won’t get out until Monday, if we’re lucky!”

People, we live on the East Coast. We have had snowstorms before and we knew for an entire week that this one was heading our way. We will not be snowed in, despite what the meteorologists tell us. If we’re stuck inside for twelve hours, it will be a lot. My guess is closer to eight. (In actuality, it was more like…two.)

And as for those meteorologists, I know that they’re supposed to be smart people. But the one who was rabble rousing on our local channel this weekend once did an interview with Miss Puerto Rico, who just happened to be marching in the Puerto Rico day parade in New York City, and was conveniently wearing a sash across her ample bosom that read “Miss Puerto Rico.” His question to her?

“Where are you from?”

If I’m going to get my panties in a wad about the weather, I’m surely going to trust someone who can read cues better than this guy.

Happy holidays, Stiletto faithful!

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oh, My Goodness, it's Tuesday Again!

Tuesdays seem to sneak up on me. This is my day to post. Sometimes I write something ahead of time, but at others I forget and even have had to be reminded. But you must realize I'm way much older than all these other young women authors--anyway that's my excuse.

On Facebook, another author friend said she wanted to be me when she grew up. Reminded me of that commercial where a woman says, "When I grow up I want to be an old woman." Well, I'm there and isn't as much fun as it's cracked up to be.

Oh, yes, there are those who respect me because of my age and even ask for my advice. Then there are the others who suspect I might have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, as the saying goes.

What makes me the most unhappy is how fast time goes and that I can't accomplish as much as I used to be able to do. The end of last week was a bugger. First, our well water pump quit working. We live in the country and that's the only way we can get water. No water, you don't do the laundry, wash dishes or take showers. Hubby went over to the church and filled up many containers with water so we could at least wash ourselves and had some water to drink.

Finally, on the third waterless day, a new pump and pipes were installed. Took all day though.

To add to this fun, a feral cat sneaked in the house on the first day of this dilemma. (We have three inside cats and way too many feral cats. We've managed to catch two females and have them spayed, but that's all.) This kitty didn't want to be in the house and meowed his displeasure, but do you think we could catch him to put him out? But we did our darndest, running around trying to corner him. He also left us little treasures here and there to clean up--not easy when you don't have a faucet to get water from. The same afternoon, we finally had water, working together, hubby and I managed to steer him toward the door, open it and let him out. (We couldn't just leave it open or the inside cats would've left and no telling how many feral cats would've come in.)

Phew! Then it was shower time. Wonderful. We were supposed to attend a Christmas party that night and I'd even managed to make a dessert to take with us. I looked at my husband and said, "Do you really want to go to that party?"

I read the answer in his expression. "Not really."

We called our regrets, sent the dessert along with our daughter, and we settled ourselves on the couch and watched the last DVD of "The Ladies #1 Detective Agency." Then we went to bed.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Confessions of a Last Minute Shopper

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - again.

As I get older the holiday seems to come around faster and faster. Between my day job, family, and writing, I can't seem to find the time to just sit and think. Or plan. Or shop.

For the past month I've picked up odds and ends, but my major gift shopping will be done in the next two days. Yes, I'm one of thooooose people – the most pitiful of creatures - a last minute shopper.

I wasn't always this way. Ten years ago I would have had all my gifts purchased, if not wrapped, by the end of the first week of December. But as it got harder and harder to find gifts that friends and relatives would actually like, I began delaying my shopping. I caught the procrastination bug.

Note: I stand in awe of those people who have that special shopping gene – you know, the people who shop all year long for gifts, storing them in a closet for the big day when they'll be given to their intended recipient. Actually I'm in awe that they have an empty closet to keep those gifts in for twelve months.

Okay, back to me –

Adding a complication to my suffering is the fact that I've never liked crowds. I don't enjoy people invading my personal space, pushing and shoving to get merchandise, no matter their holly jolly holiday mood. My worst nightmare is being at a Wal-Mart on a day when a snow storm is predicted to come rolling in. Everyone stampedes to the store to stock up on groceries, toilet paper, ice scrapers, rock salt, dvds, and batteries. The only shopping carts left are the ones with wonky wheels – not that you can get a shopping cart down the packed aisles. And the checkout lines? Expect at least 30 minutes in the check-out line. (I've learned to carry my beloved Blackberry and check e-mail during the wait – it keeps me calm.) Can you imagine the crowds with a "white" Christmas? The same stampede with the added pressure of choosing gifts?

Enough of my whining, back to happy shopping themes –

My favorite seven places to shop are:
  1. Amazon – No lines, great selection, and they always have Evelyn David books.

  2. Barnes & Noble (the brick and mortar stores) – Great coffee and Evelyn David books.

  3. Lowes – Gifts for guys (and ladies who know how to use a hammer)

  4. Bath & Body shops – Love the body splashes. The only downside is they're located in malls and finding a parking spot at a major mall is almost impossible this time of year.

  5. – Unique items and reasonable shipping costs. Love their dishes.

  6. – A little bit of everything. Cute jewelry.

  7. Wal-Mart – You really can't beat their prices if you're on a budget (and these days who isn't?) But make sure you go on sunny days, midweek and midmonth.

Two questions for you:

  1. Where do you like to shop? Tell us your favorites.

  2. If a sales clerk fails to remove the defective (defective in that it didn't sound an alarm when you left the store) security device from some article of clothing you've purchased for someone – do you really have to go back to the store and have it removed? Can you just gift wrap that coat (including the sales receipt) and let the recipient deal with taking it back to the mall? I mean really, isn't it the thought that counts???

Happy Holidays!

Aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

by Susan McBride

In my last post I bemoaned Scrooges so my intention today was to write something filled with sugarplum fairies and sparkly snowflakes and "it's the most wonderful time of the year" sort of things. Only it didn't quite pan out. I blame it on The Fray. You see, I had my iPod on shuffle while I treadmilled, and The Fray's "Over My Head" began to play, and I started thinking of how much there always is to do and how I so often feel like I'll never keep on top of things. I don't even have a January deadline this year (merely a proposal to write and my debut in women's fiction coming out on January 26!). Still, all the things I'm working on behind the scenes--plus getting ready for the holidays--are enough to make me hyperventilate.

In fact, on Sunday while personalizing mailings to some of my favorite library peeps around Missouri, I had a near melt-down. It had just been one of those days...make that one of those weeks low-lighted by a very strange and surreal situation (let's just say, some people don't see the line between reality and fiction as clearly as others). Anyway, as I worked on the mailings, the cats kept racing across my desk, scattering paper and scaring me to death; and I kept messing up the letters, wasting toner and holiday stationery. Nothing life or death, but it was enough stress on top of stress that I popped. Luckily, Ed managed to talk me down quickly enough. Having dinner at my Mom and Dad's also helped, as did trimming their tree and watching my three-year-old niece puke up blue frosting from a kiddie birthday party earlier in the day.

But it got me remembering how I'd promised myself I wouldn't do this frantic routine anymore or worry about what I couldn't control. During my breast cancer ordeal, I kept saying, "I will never let stupid s**t drag me down again. I will learn to take things slowly. I will accept that I can't handle everything alone. I will let myself breathe." Whoops. Somewhere along the road, when I got to feeling awfully close to back-to-normal, my attempt to be Zen fell by the wayside and my impatient must-do-a-million-things-every-minute side took over again.

The lovely Maggie mentioned in her post on Wednesday how she felt anxious after sending off her latest manuscript, only to remind herself that the most important things in life have nothing to do with reviews or online numbers. Having your health (especially after losing it for even an instant!), having a family who loves you, living your passion: these are what matter. How right she is (honestly, this Stiletto Gang is full of wise women--I have a long way to go in that department!).

So I've been reminding myself of the great philosophy that "whatever happens, happens." Once I began to let go, the bad started fading away and the good took its place. On Monday, I heard from my agents and editor about a good review for The Cougar Club in Publishers Weekly (and the fab Misa has a nice review for Hasta La Vista, Lola in the same issue!). On Tuesday, I received even more amazing news (I'll share it as soon as I'm able!). It was more proof to me that positive energy flows when I stop worrying and trying to control everything. You would've thought I'd learned by now that stressing myself out only harms me (and makes my family concerned). Nothing good comes of negativity. Period.

I do get it. I really get it. And since I'd like to keep it, I'm going to practice my mantra of "peace, love, and chocolate" during the Christmas holiday. I'm not even turning on my computer unless it's absolutely urgent. I always feel so much calmer and more grounded when I'm fully in my "real-life" as opposed to when I'm doing my "crazed-author-trying-not-to-miss-a-beat" routine.
So in case I'm not around much in the coming week, I want to wish everyone a very happy holidays, whatever you celebrate. May you get off the Internet long enough to really enjoy your friends and family, read a good book or two, listen to music, or find a quiet space to think. And here's hoping we all learn new ways to free stress from our lives in the year ahead. That's one New Year's resolution worth repeating!

P.S. On a very positive note, my kick-off event for THE COUGAR CLUB on January 26 will be a fundraiser for Komen St. Louis! I'd like to put some baskets together to raffle with signed copies of books by cool authors. If you're an author and are willing to donate a book or two, please email me. And thanks in advance!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Mighty Tiny Tim

Vincent H. O’Neil ( is the award-winning author of the Frank Cole murder mystery series (Murder in Exile, Reduced Circumstances, and Exile Trust). His short story “Finish the Job”, about a father-daughter team of art thieves who don’t know when to quit, was recently released in the anthology Quarry: Crime Stories by New England Writers from Level Best Books ( His short story “Blood Tells”, about a money launderer who feels unappreciated, will be released in the anthology Bad Cop-No Donut from Padwolf Publishing in the spring of 2010.

Recently, I had the good fortune to have two short stories included in anthologies. So when The Stiletto Gang (I have to work that name into one of my mystery novels) offered me the chance to guest blog for them, I decided to try and write something in praise of the short story.

Considering the season, I was not surprised when the image of Dickens’ Tiny Tim came to mind during my brainstorming. Not only is Tiny Tim short in stature, but he also employs a marvelous economy of words. “God bless us, every one!” is, I believe, his only line in A Christmas Carol and yet it sums up the story and its spirit quite nicely. It also ranks up there with “Bah, humbug!” as the most memorable line of that Christmas classic.

Tiny Tim’s kind of pithiness is an absolute must in short story writing, where the dreaded word limit sometimes suggests that we might have to sacrifice important elements. While it’s true that we don’t have a limitless number of pages for things such as character development, this in no way lets us off the hook. Just as Tiny Tim manages to cap Scrooge’s long night using only a few words, in the writing of short stories we have to look for more concise methods of communicating our ideas and information.

Although it’s taken from the world of theater, here’s an example of how a few actions and limited dialogue can yield a big result: On stage, a young woman is nervously hosting her father-in-law, who has dropped by the newlyweds’ apartment unannounced. The young woman offers the father-in-law some coffee, and leaves him in the living room while she goes into the kitchen. As soon as she’s gone, the father-in-law quickly and efficiently goes through the newlyweds’ mail, which was sitting on the table in front of him. He puts the letters and bills back in exactly the same place just before she returns, and is sitting there as if he’d done nothing in her absence.

The director providing this example described it as an efficient way of getting the audience to ponder many different possibilities regarding the character of the father-in-law. Is he merely a snoop, or is he worried about the young couple’s finances? Is there something in his son’s background that prompts him to be watchful? And why is he so good at snooping in the first place? All of these ideas and questions were conjured up in the minds of the audience by a few actions on stage, just like the space-saving devices we use when writing short stories.

To continue the topic of brevity, one of my instructors at The Fletcher School was noted for the pithiness of his class lectures. Commenting on that topic, he once said, “If you want me to speak for five minutes, I’ll need a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for a half an hour, I’ll need a day. And if you want me to speak for an hour, I’m ready right now.”

This was a comment on the demanding taskmaster that is brevity. In a seeming contradiction, it can take longer (and involve more work) to communicate your point in a single sentence than by using several paragraphs. It was also an observation that bamboozling an audience for an hour requires little preparation, while doing the same thing in five minutes is almost impossible. The requirement to organize our thoughts, and then express them succinctly in a convincing presentation of short duration, can be a very difficult task indeed.

And that’s why I like short stories. They’re the literary equivalent of the five-minute speech that takes so long to prepare—but hits the nail directly on the head.

Just like the mighty Tiny Tim. God bless us, everyone.

Vincent O'Neil

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Drafts

I have the distinct honor and privilege of having had my fourth book published last week and my fifth book, which will be published next year, done and submitted. It is called “Third Degree,” and I finally let go and sent it off yesterday. Although I’m overjoyed by the publication of “Final Exam,” which so far, has been well received, I’m a nervous wreck having submitted the new manuscript yesterday. You’d think that a day as joyous as that would leave me relaxed and serene.

Far from it.

Let the nail-biting begin.

Thanks to fellow Stiletto-wearing Susan McBride, I’ve stopped (kind of) engaging in risky behavior once a book is published. To wit: I no longer Google myself. I no longer read reviews unless my publisher sends them via email with a cover letter that’s either filled with glee or comes with a warning to not open until I’m sitting down (hate those, by the way). I definitely don’t check my Amazon numbers. These are all very wise instructions from a very wise, and not to mention, fabulous, writer.

But when you turn a manuscript in, there’s nothing left to do but wait. I hemmed and hawed about this latest manuscript’s “doneness” for far too long. Let’s just say that after repeated calls to the only other member of my writing group, the supremely-talented, Alison (no relation to Bergeron), to get assurance that I could indeed send it in and not be embarrassed, I hit the ‘send’ button. Honestly, I thought that I would be happy and relieved that I had beat my deadline by not one, but TWO, weeks. But instead, I feel anxiety.

Why is that?

I’m sure that the venerable Stiletto Gang ladies and all of our faithful followers can weigh in with a variety of theories. I’m fairly sure that they’ve all felt what I’m feeling right now in varying degrees during their writing careers. You worry that it isn’t as ‘done’ as you had thought. You have separation anxiety, thinking that with just one more day, or one more edit, it will be perfect. You have concern that your agent and/or editor won’t ‘get it’ and that they will look askance at you like “what the heck were you thinking, girlfriend?” You fret that it’s just not good.

But after four books that have gone into the interwebs and to my editor and agent, I can tell you that a variety of these things happen, sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in batches. It may not be perfect or they may not ‘get it.’ Or they get it, but it needed one final edit. Or some parts are great, and others just don’t work.

When all is said and done, it’s a first draft and you’ve been treating it like a printed book.

You’d think I would have avoided this pitfall because as you all know, my day job is an editor. But the wise counsel, hopefully, that I give to the authors with whom I work apparently doesn’t apply to me. It takes some getting your mind around but everything that one puts on the page is not brilliant the first time around. That’s why we have editors, and agents, and trusted friends who tell us the god’s honest truth when something just isn’t that good.

Until that time comes, however, I’m going to revel in the wonder that is good health, a wonderful family, a fulfilling career, and an overall feeling of happiness and well-being that a perfectly-constructed mystery can add to but can never bring totally.

Best wishes, Stiletto faithful.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas is Coming, Tra La Tra La

Thought I'd show off one of great grand-daughters in her Christmas finery. Her daddy brought her to church yesterday and I thought she looked really cute. She's six going on sixteen. She has beautiful curly hair and informed me that she'd straightened it.

That reminded me of when my girls were young they wanted their hair to be straight (no one really had curly hair but they wanted straight hair like the Skipper doll) and so they took turns ironing each other's hair, putting waxed paper over it and ironing it with a regular iron. Things are much easier nowadays to make oneself beautiful.

Frankly I think Kay'Lee's hair looks great curly, but I'm only her great-grandmother, my opinion doesn't count. We took her and her dad out to lunch after church and she seemed to know everyone in the restaurant, her school bus driver who came in to get a to-go order, a fireman who was standing outside with other firemen when we went in, and others who came in. (That's sort of the way her dad is too.)

You may have guessed, I just wanted to write something a bit lighter than what we've been reading and hearing lately. I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday time and for those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you've finished decorating, bought most of your gifts and have your Christmas cards ready to go.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,


Monday, December 14, 2009

Your Momma Taught You Better than That – I Hope

Bottom line: It’s none of my business if Tiger Woods has slept with 1 or 100 women during his marriage. He took a vow to be faithful – and he clearly skipped over that part without nary a nevermind, as my mother, the original Evelyn would say. So what happens between the sheets (or anywhere else for that matter) – is really between Tiger, Elin, his wife, and what appears to be a host of lawyers all salivating at the big bucks to be made for lurid stories.

Shame on them all.

But here’s where I’m going to be judgmental. Yep, I know 'tis the season to be forgiving and indulgent of transgressions – look for the good in mankind, yadda, yadda, – but actually let me make it clear I’m talking woman-kind. Frankly, these party girls are trolling the Internet, sharing the intimate details of their sex lives with a guy whose only claim to fame is that he can hit a golf ball far and accurately. He did not, I repeat, find a cure for cancer. And these women? They intend to make big bucks by sharing their sordid stories. Hmmmm, this sounds suspiciously like the old story told about Winston Churchill.

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

Because the truth is – even if Tiger Woods is the sleaze of the Western World. Even if he is motivated by sex addiction, opportunity, an ego the size of Sweden or Florida – even if he totally amoral and has absolutely no compunction about screwing anything that even remotely interests him – Women, you still should know better. You should still have your own moral compass. You should still tell a man who has two children under the age of three, that whether or not his wife understands him (and who the hell cares if she does); even if his wife is thrilled that he’s found some outside interests and hey this all just a business arrangement (and try explaining that to a three year old!) – any woman given the opportunity to sleep with Tiger Woods should have sent him packing faster than a New York minute because it’s just plain wrong. Not fuzzy-fuzzy wrong, not even close to where anyone should wonder on which sides the angels will come down – nope, put two kids in the mix, and the deal is over. You want to fool around, Tiger, get out your prenup papers, figure what it’s going to cost you, and get a divorce – then fool around with whatever idiot who is willing to put up with you.

And women – you’re not entitled to money for putting out. You can dress that up any way you want to try – but at least my Momma knew exactly what that was called – and it ain’t pretty. Being sexually liberated doesn’t mean you can take advantage of another woman’s family or life. Go find your own man – no matter what story some guy is peddling.

I can write on and on about how this is a media bonanza comparable to Tickle Me Elmo in terms of sales. But the truth is deeper. We need to respect each other’s lives – and in this case – I haven’t seen a sense of honor among any of these thieves. For shame!

Marian aka the Northern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Excerpt from "Final Exam" (Murder 101 series)

In this latest entry in the Murder 101 series, Alison Bergeron, college professor/amateur sleuth finds herself living in a dorm on campus, taking the place of missing Resident Director, Wayne Brookwell. When she arrives at the dorm, she finds that the suite she was promised is really more than two tiny rooms accompanied by a decrepit private bath that has seen better days. We pick up with moving day, her devoted Bobby Crawford by her side, as they survey the premises and wonder how Alison is going to survive living in her new digs until the end of the semester or until she finds Wayne Brookwell, her main goal.

I leaned in and discovered my suite was basically a long, narrow room with hardwood floors and one window next to a twin-sized bed. The suite part, I surmised, was the small living area to the left of the bedroom that contained a desk, an old musty chair, and a book shelf that was separated from the bedroom by rather nice French doors. A bathroom was next to the bedroom and while I’m a fan of period detail, the subway tile that encased the shower looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since it was installed in what I guessed was the 1940s. I looked and Crawford and said, “Get me some Comet.”

“You’re not even in the door,” he said. “Let’s go in and see what else you need before I go to the store.”

“Besides a blow torch to burn this place down?” I asked, sitting dejectedly on the bed. A puff of dust flew up around me and I shivered in revulsion.

“Is there a laundry area in this building?” he asked, pulling me up off the bed and placing me in the doorway between the bedroom and living room. He pulled the bedding off and threw it onto the floor. “I don’t want you sleeping on Wayne Brookwell’s dirty sheets,” he said.

“That’s Wayne Butthole, to you.” I leaned on the door jamb. “Forever more, he’s Wayne Butthole.” I crossed my arms, and continued my visual reconnaissance of the area. “I hate him.”

“Laundry?” Crawford repeated.

“No idea,” I said. “I assume it’s in the basement but I can’t be sure.” Although I had parked outside of this building for the better part of a decade, I had never been inside, save for the lobby. The building was five stories high, with men housed on all but one floor, a floor that had been reserved for the overflow of female students in any given year. But Siena was still known as the men’s dorm and had been since I had been a student here, years previous. It looked pretty much the same as I remembered it—ornate, varnished mouldings; marble floors; heavy mahogany doors stained a dark, cherry brown. It smelled of Pledge and floor polish and decades’ worth of smelly gym socks and young adult hormones.

Crawford picked the pile of dirty bedding up and started down the hall, his sneakers making a squish-squish noise as he proceeded. I back went into the bedroom and sat down on the denuded bed, surveying my surroundings. I couldn’t imagine spending one night here, never mind five weeks, but that was my lot and I had to suck it up. I don’t want to suck it up! I wanted to yell, but I made an attempt at maturity and swallowed whatever feelings I had. The one thing I couldn’t ignore was my bladder, which obviously was past the point of no return. I got up and went into the bathroom, looking around as I did my business, taking in the rust stains in the porcelain pedestal sink, and the dirty ring around the tub. There were a few squares of toilet paper left on the roll and I made a mental note to tell Crawford to get toilet paper, too.

When I flushed the toilet, a torrent of water, toilet paper, and various other bits of flotsam and jetsam that had been residing in the toilet since the Mesozoic Age came spewing up at me from the filthy bowl, and I put my hands over my face to protect myself, a little too late. The front of my shirt and my jeans were instantly soaked, and water poured onto the tile floor and puddle around my feet. I spit a few times, wondering exactly what I had almost ingested. I grabbed a less-than-clean towel from the towel bar and wiped off my face and hands. I looked at the floating detritus on the floor and stifled a gag.

Crawford returned and knocked softly on the bathroom door. “Everything okay in there?”

“No!” I called back while attempting to open the door with the ancient door knob. I finally got it open and gave him a view of what the bathroom looked like.

“What the hell happened?”

“What do you think happened?” I asked and threw the soaked towel at him, catching him squarely in the solar plexus. “We are not off to a good start here.”

He went into the bathroom and threw the towel on the floor, attempting to sop up the mess from the exploding toilet. I riffled through my suitcase, finding a clean pair of jeans and a tee shirt. I stripped off my clothes and put them in a pile by the door. Once I was redressed, I stopped by the bathroom. “I’m going to go down to the laundry room and throw these clothes in, too.” I watched as Crawford raised the toilet seat and stared solemnly into the toilet. I had no idea whether or not he was handy and I wasn’t sticking around to find out. “It’s in the basement, right?”

He didn’t turn around but put his hands on his hips, surveying the damage. “Right.”

I padded down the hall toward the grand staircase which led me to a laundry room that was much nicer than my new accommodations. Six new, state-of-the-art washers and companion dryers lined one wall, the other wall lined with vending machines with soda, candy, and snacks. There was a change machine, and a machine to buy bleach and detergent. It was clean, well-lit, and modern with signs advertising its wi-fi access. I looked around enviously. My basement was musty, dusty, and home to more than one mouse, I suspected. Okay, so things were looking up. A little bit.

I threw the dirty clothes into the wash that Crawford had started and returned to the lobby floor, which was still empty. I had forgotten to ask Merrimack if any students were staying on campus during Spring Break and made a mental note to send him an email once I unearthed my computer from the mound of my possessions in the middle of the little patch of floor between my bed and the dresser.

“Do you want to get Chinese food, Crawford?” I asked, back upstairs and going through items in my open suitcase. He didn’t answer. I guess I owed him an apology for biting his head off and throwing the dirty towel at him but I didn’t expect the silent treatment. “Crawford?” I went to the bathroom door and found him kneeling on the floor in his undershirt, the toilet off its seal, the top removed. His shirt was draped over the side of the tub and he was dirty and wet, his dark hair flopping over his sweaty brow. “Crawford?”

He leaned over and stretched out, ending up on his right side, his left arm disappearing into the gaping hole of the upended toilet. He came out with a ziplock bag filled with something that I knew wasn’t Mrs. Brookwell’s famous home-grown tea.

He looked up at me. “Call Fred.”

Maggie Barbieri

Final Exam at Amazon

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Seven Deadly Sins Sure Come in Handy

Leann Sweeney writes the Yellow Rose Mystery Series set in Texas and the Cats in Trouble Mystery Series set in South Carolina, both published by NAL/Obsidian.

Once I finish a book and it goes to the editor for that first read, my thoughts turn to the seven deadly sins. No, Tiger and I are not hooking up in Vegas, but I could make a case for him having committed all seven of those sins. I couldn't mention sins without mentioning him, could I? But this isn't about golf at all. It's about the secret. Not the book The Secret, the secret at the center of every mystery.

As soon as that manuscript goes to NYC, I begin thinking about the next plot, the next book. What will the secret be? I love the thinking part of starting a new novel because it makes me feel like a child again. I love to make stuff up. Thank goodness I found a profession where I'm encouraged to do so. (Otherwise I might be in jail.) Part of my process is to pull out those seven sins--wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony—and ponder each one. What motive this time? What fun can I have with each of these sins? (Sins I have never, ever committed myself, mind you.)

You might think a few of these sins would be difficult to create an entire mystery around. But that's what so great about the vices. They are the basis for most, if not all, books. Think about it. I'll wait.

See what I mean? Wrath and greed may come to mind first when it comes to crime fiction, but sloth and gluttony can be about so many things. The challenge of coming up with something that hasn't been "done to death" (excuse the pun) is a test I fully embrace. And I must enjoy myself in the process, because if I don't, my readers won't enjoy themselves either. You only need turn to the Bible and the Book of Proverbs to come up with the best list ever for creating an intriguing plot. To quote via that wonder of wonders, Wikipedia, test out these plot teasers:

Haughty eyes
A lying tongue
Hands that shed innocent blood
A heart that devises wicked plots (uh oh I in trouble?)
Feet that are swift to run into mischief
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies (don't you love those old "eth" verbs?)
Him that soweth discord among the brethren.
Isn't this great? A plethora of ideas in one small list.

I just agreed to a new contract for two more books in the Cats in Trouble Mystery Series and after a truly grueling rewrite of the book that comes out in May, The Cat, The Professor and The Poison, I came up with a plot, thanks to my "puruse the sins" technique involving a motive I do not believe I have used before—at least not as the big secret that pushes someone to murder. Am I going to tell you what that sin is? Your odds of guessing correctly are one in seven. But I won't be taking bets in Vegas. Apparently what happens there doesn't really stay there after all. Here's a hint: the working title is The Cat, The Lake and The Liar.

Leann Sweeney

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Idle Threats

I was making the bed one morning, the television tuned to a morning program on a national station, when James Patterson’s voice implored me to buy his latest book or he would “kill Alex Cross.” Oh, really? You would? This advertisement from the thriller-meister has generated a great deal of talk on DorothyL, a listserv that I and many of my Stiletto brethren subscribe to. People fall firmly into two camps when it comes to expressing their opinions about this ad: brilliant versus schlocky. I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

The first thing I wondered is exactly how much does it cost to get thirty seconds worth of air time during “Good Morning, America”? I’m sure it’s more money than I have but I wonder nonetheless. Second, I wondered how many people actually believe Patterson. Is there a contingent of die-hard Patterson fans out there who would trudge to the bookstore (or to their computer keyboard) to order the book just because he said so? Obviously, Patterson is being tongue-in-cheek. But I’m curious to know how successful an ad like that is in generating sales.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read an Alex Cross novel, so I don’t know whether to be chagrined or not that he might travel to the great unknown in Patterson’s next novel. Is Alex Cross the guy that Morgan Freeman always plays in the movies? If so, please don’t kill him, Mr. Patterson. I love Morgan Freeman and want him to have work well into his 80’s, some 50 years after it is unacceptable for women to have a decent leading role.

Let’s remember that Patterson began in advertising, something that’s been pointed out several times on DorothyL. According to one of the posters—our friend and fellow mystery writer, Chris Grabenstein—the sign on Patterson’s door to his band of ad copywriters was “Startle me.” I actually have a friend who worked for him, and by all accounts, he was a master at the game. So it’s not surprising that he would pull out all of the stops to sell books, which got me wondering (once again…I do a lot of wondering), “Just how far would I go to sell a book?”

Conclusion? Not far.

People know what they like to read and they are not usually persuaded to go outside of their comfort zones, in my opinion. I think back to one of the first book signings I ever did, as the guest writer featured during our middle-school’s Barnes and Noble fundraiser. I sat, all alone, at a table in the middle of the store, smiling and trying not to look as uncomfortable as I felt. A woman approached me and asked me what kind of book “Murder 101” was. I gave her a rambling synopsis of the plot, and she took the book over to where she was sitting to look through it to see whether or not it was worth the twenty or so bucks B&N was charging for it on that particular day. She walked back to me a few minutes later, her face stern. She handed me back the book. “I don’t think I want to read this,” she said. And instead of screaming, “Buy this book or I will kill Alison Bergeron!” I bid her a nice day and sunk a little lower in my hard-backed chair.

I used to work in college textbook publishing and one of my jobs was to support our sales reps in the field by traveling with them and making sales calls. I have to say, I was pretty good at closing the deal. And I will admit I once used the old “baby needs a new pair of shoes” line to a professor who was considering one of our books. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and he was so surprised by my cheekiness that he ordered 150 copies of a $40.00 book on the spot. Yes, that’s $6000 worth of business in a five-minute call. All this to prove that when necessary, I can sell. But there’s something different when it’s a book that you wrote, that your blood, sweat, and tears went into, that came from your heart. The hard sell just doesn’t seem to apply.

All this to say that I applaud Mr. Patterson. I won’t buy his book (“I don’t think I want to read this”) but I will probably buy a copy for a family member for Christmas. Because in a thirty-second ad, Patterson piqued my interest. People obviously care enough about Alex Cross as a protagonist that killing him off would upset them greatly. And that makes me wonder.

“Final Exam” came out yesterday. If you like my kind of mysteries, I hope you’ll buy it. More than that, though, I hope you enjoy it.

And in the interest of blatant self-promotion, commonly called BSP on DorothyL, what I will do is offer an excerpt of “Final Exam” here at the Stiletto Gang on Friday. Please check back if you’re interested in finding out what kind of trouble Alison Bergeron gets herself into this time. Let’s just say it involves exploding toilets, drugs, aliases, and one very hot and bothered Crawford. Interested yet?


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Wonderful Christmas Past

Years ago I belonged to a sorority--no, not the college kind, this one was social--whose primary purpose seemed to be having fun. We had once a week get-togethers and a party once a month at someone's house which our husbands were invited to. There was always a theme and we usually danced. We also had get-togethers with other sororities in our area, ones where we wore long dresses.

During this time I was a teacher at a pre-school for developmentally disabled kids.

It bothered me that our sorority didn't do any service projects, I'd never belonged to anything where we didn't do anything useful for anyone else. One of the consultants who worked with the kids at our school told me about a family with three kids, one developmentally disabled, and the father had lost his job and they had no money for Christmas.

I approached the sorority members, told them about the situation and proposed that we provide Christmas for this family. The women thought this was a great idea. We found out the ages of the children and everyone bought gifts. We also got a tree and decorated it. (This was before they sold all the pre-decorated phony trees.)

We gathered all the food needed for a Christmas dinner including homemade pies and some extra groceries too.

We loaded up the back of my station wagon (I always had station wagons, after all, we had five kids) and four of my sorority sisters went with me on delivery day. We located the address, an apartment house. A man was working on his car in front of one of the garages. We called out and asked if he knew this particular family. He said that was his family.

"Great, we have something for you."

He looked bewildered, but started helping us carry everything upstairs to their apartment. He opened the door and we brought everything in. The mom and kids stared at us wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

When we'd deposited everything, the man asked, "Who did this? Where did this all come from?"

One of the gals said, "You have heard of Santa Claus haven't you?"

We left giggling all the way down the stairs and on the drive back home. What a wonderful feeling that was and I didn't feel quite so bad about belonging to a sorority that's primary goal was having fun.


Monday, December 7, 2009

The Search for Plots

Where do mystery plots come from? National news broadcasts, local newspapers, obscure blogs – they are all great resources for a mystery writer.

The following are some of the news bits that caught my eye recently.

A searcher dies: Robert Rines died at age 87. For 35 years he'd been spending his free time at Loch Ness looking for evidence of Nessie. As a biologist in addition to being a mystery writer, I've always been interested in the search for unknown species. I think Mr. Rines must have enjoyed the adventure and the thrill of the search; otherwise he would have give up the hunt years ago. Many books have been written with the theme of "the searcher." And many more will be.

A celebrity crashes his SUV: An expensive SUV driven by a sports celebrity strikes a fire hydrant and tree at the end of his driveway in the middle of the night. The air bags don't deploy. His wife uses a golf club to shatter the back windows and pulls her semiconscious husband out. Or at least that's the surface story. The next day reports of affairs fill the tabloid and mainstream news sources. Then the celebrity apologies for letting his family down and pulls out of scheduled events. Wouldn't be hard to pen a plot with this scenario.

A couple crashes a White House State Dinner: Had Evelyn David included an event like that in a mystery, readers would have howled, claiming it was unbelievable. Now we all know different. All the Secret Service agents, metal detectors and firepower in the world is sometimes not as effective as one strategically placed secretary with a guest list on a clipboard. The couple's totally inappropriate, even dangerous, actions have opened up all kinds of plot opportunities for writers who want to use the backdrop of the White House.

A murder trial in Italy: The American student studying in Italy is on trial for the murder of her housemate, a British student. An innocent, young American woman who is being mistreated by a foreign justice system? Or is she a monster who masterminded a sexual assault and bloody killing of another young woman? The jury just found her guilty and sentenced her to 26 years in prison. There's tons of material for a fictional mystery in this sad set of circumstances.

What kinds of non-fictional mysteries are you interested in? Which ones would you like to see used as the basis of a novel? Or do you tire of the ripped-straight-from-the-headlines, Law and Order type of scenarios and would rather not recognize the events when you read a mystery book? Is it cheating to base the story on real life and simply manipulate the ending you prefer? Or is all fair and game in the mystery biz?

Rhonda aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, December 4, 2009

To All the Scrooges Out There...Bah Humbug!

by Susan McBride

You'd think that with the world in such turmoil people would start being nicer to each other, but it seems just the opposite. I don't know why civility seems such a rarity these days, but it is (had a nice rant with Maggie on Wednesday about this!). Is it because technology has made it unnecessary to deal with people face to face? Is it that profit has taken such precedence over people that "customer service" has become as extinct as "Made in the U.S.A."? Is it because rudeness has become so commonplace that it's pretty much acceptable? What the heck's going on, and how can we fix it?

During hard times, people are supposed to band together, aren't they? Instead of sounds of cooperation, all I hear is political sniping. I am so sick of seeing grown-ups on TV, lying and arguing and acting like misbehaving children (paging SuperNanny!). How can we expect our kids to act polite if there aren't any role models of politeness to follow?

I'm feeling strangely nostaglic for my growing-up years. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but every new neighborhood we landed in had a similar sense of community. You knew all the families on your street and probably several more streets around you. Neighbors looked out for neighbors, and any families with kids became close friends. We shared dinners, played kickball or softball or Red Rover, and raced our bikes up and down the streets. I had a cute older boy once offer me a cigarette while hiding behind a bush during flashlight tag, and I realized after one puff that I never wanted a cigarette to touch my lips again! When I fell off the slide and landed on my head during recess (brilliantly trying to go down standing up in tennis shoes), my mom couldn't be reached. So Mrs. Butler next-door picked me up and let me lay on her couch and watch TV, eating Charleston Chews, until my mom got home hours later. It was awesome.

As I grew up and moved around a few times as an adult, I felt more of a sense of isolation in my neighborhoods. There's more distance between people, and everyone's so wary (perhaps, rightly so, considering the headlines on the evening news). Could be that all this fear and distance has made people less practiced in common courtesies. I'm rather stunned when someone opens a door for me these days (and it's usually an older man). I actually try to open doors for people whenever I can, just to freak them out.

And the uncivility doesn't stop with pedestrians. It's almost worse when people get in their cars. I dread having to go anywhere as no one seems to obey traffic rules anymore. Red lights don't mean "stop" for most. In St. Louis, if you have any sense, you wait about three beats for cars to keep going through a red light at an intersection before you can go on the green. Say the guy in the far left lane decides he needs to be in the far right lane. No problem. He just cuts across three lanes of traffic to make his exit. It's ridiculous. I don't say the f-word in public and only in private when I'm very frustrated; but somehow when I'm out running errands, it pops out of my mouth a lot. Were drivers always this bad? Or is it more of the rudeness thing? The "I don't give a s**t about anyone else but myself" attitude that seems so prevalent?

I know, I know. It's the holiday season. Everything should be all pretty lights and bows, but I can't seem to stop stumbling over Scrooges everywhere I go. Now that I've ranted, I'm going to say "poo poo to mean people" (did I do that right, Marian?). I am going to stick a smile on my face even if I'm pinned against the Wii display during crowded shopping days. I plan to say, "Happy Holidays," open doors, and be as pleasant as can be no matter how many Scrooges I encounter. If I'm nice then maybe it'll make someone else feel nicer, too, and so on and so on, like that old shampoo commercial. Pretty soon it'll catch on like the swine flu and become an epidemic! (And, no, I haven't been dipping into the loaded eggnog--yet--but that does sound mighty, um, nice!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Puck Does not Stop Here!

Nikki Bonanni has worked in the fitness industry for almost 20 years. In the 90’s she began as a Fitness Director at a small health club in Ithaca, NY, eventually becoming the general manager. While at that small club Nikki joined forces with a friend to open a personal training and consulting business which thrived for 6 years with over a dozen trainers working in both the gym and traveling to private homes. She is now an Exercise Physiologist in a new health club that is co-owned with a medical center, and is a part-time faculty member teaching at Ithaca College. In her spare time, she is working on her first mystery novel.

I am a true believer in doing things that make you happy. Trusting that if you want it bad enough there is always a way to make it happen. Realistically everyone needs to make a living and pay the bills. I am lucky enough to have a career that is also fun—I am an Exercise Physiologist in a health club that sits on an inlet to Cayuga Lake. Granted there are long hours and sometimes weekends, but the benefits far outweigh that. I get to see the water and wildlife, work with interesting people helping them become healthier, be active throughout my workday….and wear sneakers to work!

Work isn’t the only thing that defines you, and I have many other interests. One that has been a part of my life since I was a kid is mysteries. From Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys to Agatha Christie I have always been an avid reader. For many years I also professed that I wanted to be a mystery writer. Thanks to Carolyn Hart and The Christie Caper I became aware of this real life conference called Malice Domestic.

One day years later I was training a client who was also a mystery reader and mentioned Malice. Sure enough she said she’d love to go with me. There it was, my first opportunity to become part of a different world. That led to investigating other conferences, and although it took awhile to get there I was starting to realize one of my dreams. For the past two years I’ve gone to a number of these GREAT events. I have also started to write, and have been overwhelmed with the generosity, help and friendship of other authors. If I had not taken that first step this thing that is now a big part of my life would never have happened.

As I said, I have a lot of interests, so there was still something that I loved that was missing. Sports. Throughout high school and college I played several varsity team sports. When you join the adult world, lack of time and opportunity often lead to athletes ‘retiring’.

One of my clients happened to be a goalie on a women’s recreational hockey team. Since field hockey was one of my sports I expressed an interest in maybe one day trying ice hockey. She invited me to an open hockey, and even though I told her I could only skate forward she insisted I go play. Needless to say it was a bit of a disaster! However, after a friend nicely told me I could not play hockey until I learned to skate, I decided that I did indeed want to do it.

It was a harsh reality for me to not be able to have the ability to do a particular sport; I am generally at least adept at most athletic endeavors. Skating was not so. It was beginner lessons for me, and even the little kid version of ‘wiggle your butt’ could not propel me skating backwards—I just ground holes in the ice.

If you want it badly enough, you can do it! At age 40 I really wanted to be good enough to play on a team, and after lessons, beginner women’s hockey and then spring league, I have done it now playing on two teams and having a blast!

So, since I have not actually published a book (yet), I do have a giveaway. Anyone that posts something they have done to follow their dream will be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Prime Time along with a cool tote bag! Thanks Hank!!

Nikki Bonnani

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

So You Want to Be in Pictures?

I read an article in the New York Times this weekend in which the writer estimated that in any given year, ten thousand reality-show contestants (actors?) grace our television screens. Ten thousand? I think that’s a conservative estimate.

As you faithful Stiletto readers know, I have partaken of a few reality shows myself. My son and I enjoy Survivor immensely and look forward to sitting together under a blanket (it’s almost winter here and I refuse to put up the heat until absolutely necessary) and criticizing each contestant’s game play. Then we talk about how long we would last on the show. (Me? One episode. Him? He’d win.) And I admit, I do enjoy the “Real Housewives of Whatever City They’re In” if only to bask in the glory that is my own lack of self-absorption and over-spending. The entire family enjoys The Amazing Race and have a new-found love for the Harlem Globetrotters after watching Big Easy and Flight Time run a very nice race against some very nasty competitors. We were sorry to see them go this past Sunday night because Big Easy couldn’t rearrange five letters to spell “FRANZ.” Oh, well.

By the way, if I ever make the Harlem Globetrotters, I would like my stage name to be “Paperback Writer.” I know—not original. But it’s better than “Can’t Make a Foul Shot” which is probably more appropriate.

All kidding aside, I have never had an urge to be a reality-show participant, but from what I glean from the Times article, I’m in the minority. That’s why it wasn’t a shock in one sense to read about the State Dinner crashers, a former Redskins cheerleader (if the wife is to be believed—no one on the Redskins’ cheerleading staff remembers her) and her equally fame-hungry husband. On what planet is it acceptable to crash a dinner at the White House? I guess if you’re dying to be recognized or to exploit your fifteen minutes of fame, it would be this planet.

There is so much wrong with this scenario that I hardly know where to begin. Breach of security? Check. Possible international incident? Check. Complete lack of class? Double check. In my humble opinion, I hope they are roasted like my Thanksgiving turkey when they sit before a select group of representatives tomorrow. And then, I hope they go to jail.

You want to be on television? Shoot a video and stick it on You Tube. Then, tell all of your friends to watch it and help you make it go “viral.” I assure you, some nightly news program will pick it up and televise it. Then you can live your lifelong dream of seeing yourself on the tube and we can all go back to our daily lives, secure in the knowledge that the Secret Service can focus on their job of protecting the President from the true crazies, not just the ones who think it would be a hoot to get on tv.

I wish I had something more cogent to say about these two knuckleheads, but as I am sitting here writing this, I realize that their actions raise more questions than I can answer in six hundred words. What has become of our country that people are so focused on achieving some kind of fame—however dubious—that they would put the President of the United States in jeopardy, not to mention his family and guests? They are an embarrassment to our country. I know that heads are going to roll for this stunt—and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t—from members of the Secret Service to select White House staff. I wonder how that makes the party crashers feel. You got your fifteen minutes of fame, but someone is going to lose their job during the holidays.

Well done, White House party-crashing wannabe reality stars. You’re famous. Or infamous…not that you care.


Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Giving Something of Ourselves

Today a new member of our church challenged us to give something of ourselves for Christmas. His proposal is that those who feel led to help put on a dinner for those at the church or in town who have no where else to go for Christmas.

Usually we give the fixings for a Christmas dinner for those who ask. We always do the same at Thanksgiving. This is something different though, this is a real commitment because not only do some of us need to cook, he suggested that there be greeters at the door, volunteers to transport people who might need a ride, someone to hand out name tags, and that we sit and visit with people we don't know. It also means giving up Christmas day at home.

As I sat in the pew thinking about it, I realized that our family, those who actually come to the house for the gift-giving, do so on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day we have the big dinner at one o'clock, the same time as this church dinner is being proposed. So--I could cook a turkey, make a big container of dressing and another of yams and take it to the church.

Since my son's family live next door and always come for Christmas dinner, I wasn't sure how they would react to this--but they were sitting on the same pew and heard the same proposal. After church we went out to eat together and I said, "I think I'm going to cook a turkey and some of the trimmings for the Christmas dinner."

My daughter-in-law said, "I think I'd like to be a part of that too. We can all go over to the church and have our dinner there. My granddaughter said, "I could do the name tags."

This is quite an undertaking as our church is really small. This morning I bet we only had about 30 people there--some were still off somewhere for the Thanksgiving holiday. Our little town is interesting--there are lots of rich retirees and there are a lot of down and outers, many of them live in what used to be a tuberculosis hospital that's been turned into low income housing for the elderly and handicapped. I suspect that's where a lot of people will come from.

You know what though, I bet this will turn out to be something we'll all love being a part of--and if it doesn't work out like we're hoping, well, we'll have tried.

And that's how the Christmas season is beginning in my neck of the woods--or should I say in the foothills of the Sierra.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Striking a Happy Holiday Balance

The official holiday shopping season has begun. Our family celebrates Chanukah, also called The Feast of Lights. The first of the eight candles will be lit the evening of December 11. Oy!

Our youngest daughter won’t be home from college until the holiday is actually over – so I plan to send some gifts to her at school, and save the rest for when she’s eating some latkes at the dinner table. Son number one and his wife live in Washington – so I need to get their gifts in the mail. If I’d been smart, I’d have had them ready and wrapped when they were here for Thanksgiving. Son number two and his wife, and son number three, all live in the area – so we’ll probably see them for at least one of the eight nights of the holiday.

I can give you the standard spiel, which is that Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday, never intended to duplicate the breadth of Christmas. No trees, no garlands, no ornaments – at least not when I was growing up. Today, there are tons of decorations you can buy – but there’s a not-so-small voice that echoes in my mind that reminds me that I’m not supposed to go for the glitz (much as I love Christmas decorations) when celebrating the Feast of Lights. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt. Desecrated by the forces of Antiochus IV, when the Jews retook the temple there was only enough holy oil to fuel the eternal flame for one day…but the miracle is that the oil lasted eight days, enough time to consecrate more holy olive oil.

Traditionally we eat latkes – potatoes fried in oil. In Israel they eat sufganiyot, jam-filled fried donuts. We play dreidel – a game with a spinning top with four Hebrew letters, Nun, Gimel, Alef, Shin, symbolizing the sentence, “Nes Gadol Haya Sham" -- A great miracle happened there.” Actually in Israel, the final letter is changed to Pei , to read “Nes Gadol Haya Po," -- A great miracle happened here.”

I confess I get caught up in the commercial holiday spirit because I love picking out gifts for loved ones and seeing their delight. And while I could certainly give presents other times of the year – and do – there is something fantastically fun about enjoying the communal spirit of shopping and giving – both on a personal and charitable level at this time of year. I'm a wrapping paper connoisseur, insisting on sharp tight corners on the package, and choosing just the right bow, because the original Evelyn insisted a present always required a ribbon. Who knew?

So I try to strike the right balance between the religious components and commercialism. And there is, of course, the thrill of the hunt – finding the perfect present at just the right price. I’ve never shopped on Black Friday – except this year, when I carefully combined coupons and promotion codes, and stopped by several online stores. Throw in some free shipping and this is one happy shopper. Might I remind all that books, especially mystery books, are always a perfect, one-size-fits-all gift!

So as the weeks move along during this holiday season, whatever you are celebrating, I wish for you the joy of giving, the delight of seeing those you love savor your thoughtfulness, and the importance of remembering those less fortunate at this time.

We’ll talk more in the weeks ahead. Enjoy!

Evelyn David

Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David

Friday, November 27, 2009

From the Trenches: When Every NaNo Second Counts

Monday, the last day of November, will end National Novel Writing Month, also called NaNoWriMo, or for those beaten down by its grueling schedule who can no longer manage the extra syllables, just NaNo.

Every November for the last ten years, crazy writers worldwide have undertaken Chris Baty’s challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Novels in their completed form, like the one you’re probably reading this week, are usually between 70,000-90,000 words and, generally speaking, many authors produce a book each year. So while 50,000 words is short by industry standards for book-length fiction, it’s gargantuan in terms of what most writers can swing in thirty days.

In his own 50,000 word book No Plot? No Problem! Baty explains how this mammoth task can be tackled. The book is a riot and I found it totally uplifting and inspiring. Even if you think you’ll never participate in NaNoWriMo I’d highly recommend his entertaining book for people who want to shake up their writing routines.

To summarize: During the month of November, writers put down 50,000 words—no editing allowed. He stresses that there is a time for writing (November) and a time for editing (December and onward). When we write passages that will never make the cut, rather than delete them, we are to italicize them. This is how we’ll know what to take out later. But for November, all the words stay in the manuscript because the name of the game is output, not quality.

Between you and me, I italicized thousands of words this month.

Professional writers fall on both sides of the NaNo fence. Some say it’s better to write carefully and well, editing as you go, because there will be less work waiting during the revision phase. Others embrace the stream-of-consciousness approach and say that there’s a creative part and an editing part to the writing process, and that when we’re being creative we must suppress our inner critic.

At Bouchercon, I talked to writers from both camps and told them I was planning to do NaNoWriMo this year. Half of them told me to go for it. The others cautioned that it was the worst thing I could do. But my mind was already made up.

I’d known about NaNoWriMo for years but had never tried it because in previous Novembers I’d always been in the middle of a project. The idea behind the exercise is not to write 50,000 more words of a project you’ve already started, but rather to start from scratch. As it happened, this year I finished the first draft of one project in October, which left November ripe for the picking. I figured all I had to lose was one month, and my writing output being what it normally is (not much) this was a no-brainer. I had nothing to lose and a potential story thread to gain.

The reason I decided to do it is because I’m a chronic over-editor. If I don’t force myself to move on in a story, I will tweak and improve and play around with early chapters forever, at the expense of not producing anything new. This doesn’t make the revision process faster, either, as those Bouchercon writers suggested it would. In the last book I wrote, for example, I massaged the early chapters until I thought they were absolutely perfect. Then my cherished critique partner convinced me to start the novel in Chapter Four. (He was right.) So where’s the economy in that?

No, the reason NaNoWriMo appealed to me is that I had a vague, general idea about what I wanted to write about in my next book. I wanted to write a mystery based on a love affair and I wanted to set it at a hockey rink. Being a mystery, someone would die, but I didn’t know who, or why, or how. This is not the sort of ambiguity upon which my editor looks favorably.

The first step of starting a new book is sending her a synopsis. In a synopsis, we basically tell the whole story to our editors in a couple of pages, including the twists, misdirections, and ending—none of which I had—and this way we can find out ahead of time if something major should be changed before we spend the next year wandering off into the weeds. So my reason for jumping into NaNo was to figure out what was going to happen in the book. I didn’t actually plan to use any passages I produced because I believed Chris Baty when he said, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap.” (I’m here to tell you he was right.) Rather, for me, NaNo would be a success if I came away with enough material to kluge a synopsis.

Enter real life. A few weeks ago, a colleague remarked that he thinks I organize my thoughts by writing. We were talking about the scientific papers we co-author, but his observation struck me as applicable for my fiction too. I decided that if I was lucky, I’d come out of NaNo with a 50,000 word outline, basically. I was willing to throw away all those words if my thoughts about the next book would finally be organized. Or even closer to organized.

But what about setting realistic goals? I work. Have kids. I’m training for a couple races. And there was my addiction to Facebook to consider.

I also had a lot of weekend commitments that took me out of town in November. So I modified my NaNo goal to 30,000 words. Before NaNo, a successful writing month for me produced 10,000 words of much higher quality so I thought that aiming for 30,000 words of drivel might be a fair compromise.

Finally, let’s not underestimate the convenience of letting our standards slide as things get tough. I draw upon my marathoning experience for illustrative purposes:

Before the race: “I’m gonna set a personal record!”
At Mile 10: “I feel so good. I’m invincible!”
Mile 19: “Guess I went out a little fast. If I finish as least as good as last year, that’ll be fine.”
Mile 22: “Why am I here? I hate running and all my friends are at the movies. I want their Junior Mints.”
Mile 24: “I’ll finish when I finish. Hell with it.”
Mile 26.2: “I missed my goal, but I’ve finished something most people will never start.”

That’s kind of how this month went for me. The New England Crime Bake conference over the weekend of November 13th and 14th set me back. When I came home, there was so much to catch up on, including kids’ activities and sports, and Thanksgiving events at their schools (that took up my lunch hours, during which I had been writing NaNo stuff before). Long story short, the words just weren’t coming as fast as they had earlier in the month. I decided to give myself a break on the word count and focus on just writing something every day, which is another thing I don’t usually do.

So how did I do? When this posts, I’ll have three days left, so I’m not done putting words down for this experiment. But at the time of this writing (Tuesday) I’ve penned 25,300 words on 95 pages, have a structure for the story, an interesting new character, and an idea about a motive. Whodunit details remain sketchy, and I won’t be using any of the words I actually put down. But over the holidays I hope to produce that synopsis.

I missed eight writing days in November. Ready for the excuses?
1. One day I was out of town for the Ft. Worth Mud Run.
2. The next day I just didn’t feel like doing anything. Happens.
3. One weekend I was at Crime Bake—too busy talking about writing to actually do any.
4. One day I got home from work and went straight to my daughters’ basketball practices, after which I came home and collapsed.
5. Another day I chose the gym over the keyboard. That was a sanity call.
6. This week I decided, rather abruptly, to paint my dining room. That took out another couple days.

Observations: Some days I wrote a couple thousand words, others I wrote a couple hundred. I wrote more longhand in November than I ever have before, scribbling words in a spiral notebook I carried around in my purse. I discovered that longhand works for me, and I’ll keep that notebook handy for long waits and unexpected downtime. I also learned that I can walk to a picnic bench near my lab and eat lunch outside while I write. I’ve never mixed business (day job) and pleasure (writing) in the same hours before, so this was a neat discovery, like stealing an extra writing hour out of the day.

By my admittedly low and sliding standards, NaNoWriMo was a success. My writing habits are more flexible than I once thought. I’d never written 4,000 words in one sitting and this month I did it twice. Before NaNo, I was unwilling to write flat dialogue or low-stakes scenes, so when I got stuck I left the keyboard, perhaps not to return for days. But by giving myself permission to explore a story in a rambling, blindfolded fashion, with no expectation of quality, I explored more possibilities. Several of them stuck and will stay in Book 3. Who knew?

Based on the last month, I’d say that if you are a disciplined writer who routinely turns out a word count with which you are satisfied, this is probably not something you need to explore. If you are that writer, then you already have a method that’s working for you. But if you’re like me, paralyzed to move ahead in your story unless you know what is supposed to happen next, then NaNo is a good exercise in pushing forward through the uncomfortable parts of a storyline. Recently I was one of several guests on a Blog Talk Radio show called What’s Write for Me. We talked about our experiences with NaNoWriMo and what it meant to each of us. If you’re thinking about NaNo or just curious how it went for other writers, click over and have a listen.

With luck, I’ll be between projects again next November because I’d really like to give this another go.

Parting words:
"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."
-- Leonardo da Vinci

Rachel Brady