Friday, January 30, 2009

Confession of a True Crime Writer

Phyllis Gobbell, co-author of An Unfinished Canvas (Berkley, 2007), is Assistant Professor of English at Nashville State Community College. She received the Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Literary Award in 2006, and her portfolio is featured on Southern Artistry: Her new website will be up and running in a few weeks at

I didn’t set out to write true crime. It seems I’ve written everything but true crime, as I examine my manuscripts on file:

· A multi-generational saga that fills a banker’s box. The word count is probably 500,000, but I’d have to count the words manually. I wrote it using an old Word Perfect program, on 5-inch floppies from the era of Magnum, P.I., so the chances of resurrecting my epic novel are next to zero.

· A “literary” novel, revised five times in fifteen years, pitched by four agents. It came so, so close, but . . . . Can you believe I’m writing a sequel?

· Another “literary” novel that is not as good - but I’m not ready to shred it.

· A collection of short stories, to which I add periodically. Actually, several of these have been published.

· A mystery. A woman traveling in Provence, an architect (I was married to one); a lovely little village; art theft, car chases through narrow, twisting streets; murder, romance - you get the drift. I thought my heroine would travel the world over, solving mysteries. I almost had a publisher for this one, too - but the small press folded.

· A collection of creative nonfiction pieces. The death of my mother, brother, and sister in a short period of time triggered these intensely personal writings, and in some ways, creative nonfiction has been the most successful for me. But I can do only so much of this.

· A collection of poetry written during the time my brother was dying. Some of the poems have been published individually, but I doubt this collection will ever go anywhere beyond the chapbooks I made for family members, and that’s OK.

· A children’s book about seatbelt safety, published when I had small children. (Those children now have babies of their own.)

· Two books from the same time period, published by a religious publisher.

Do you think I have a problem with focus?

Back to true crime and how An Unfinished Canvas came to be written.

Two high-profile cold cases in Nashville were finally solved. The first involved the mysterious 1996 disappearance of Janet March, young mother and artist, married to a prominent lawyer, Perry March. Everyone believed Perry killed her, but there was no body, no sign of murder. Perry moved to Mexico and started a new life. Nine years after Janet’s disappearance, Perry was deported from Mexico and indicted for murder. After he went to jail, the plot took more twists and turns than a fiction writer could ever make up.

Another writer and I decided to put out feelers because we knew somebody would write about this fascinating case. We sent queries to three agents who immediately asked for more, so we wrote a book proposal. As we waited for responses, 48 Hours did an episode on the March case. Next day, we received a call. The agent had seen the show. I can imagine her digging our proposal from the bottom of a stack taller than I am. Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. CNN and Court TV televised the trial, and we had a book deal shortly. My co-writer and I wrote our first true crime.

And about that second high-profile cold case - I’m working on it.

I might say the story chooses what it wants to be. There’s some truth there. But it’s probably more truthful to say I’m still trying to decide what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up.

Phyllis Gobbell

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Road to Love Is Murder - Part II

A week from now I'll be on the road to Chicago to the Love is Murder conference. It will probably be the second day of my drive – since I just can't seem to make myself drive more than 6 or 7 hours in one stretch. Also weather will play into my travel plans. Snow and ice will move the start of my journey up a day.

For the past week I've been sorting through my promo items and figuring out clothes for the trip. I always pack too much and then I have to cart it all into the hotel with me. I found the Rosemont Hotel (where the conference was held the last few years) very warm even if the outside temps were subzero. My wool suit jackets were uncomfortable, but this year the conference has moved to a different hotel. Maybe I can wear the wool. Decisions … Decisions.

This week's blogs on the Stiletto Gang have been about procrastination in one form or another. I'm good at procrastination too. I've got a half-dozen things I need to get done before I leave and instead I'm watching NetFlix movies. (The last season of Foyle's War is now available).

Back to procrastination - when I really don't want to do something I make a list about all the things I need to do. Somehow making the list makes me feel less guilty for not actually doing anything. I'm a good list maker. The first thing on my current list is to make a list for things I need to pack for Love is Murder.

I'm lucky enough to be on a Saturday panel about team writing. So on my to-do list I need to add "be sure and pack materials for the panel": a copy of each of my books for display, as well as bookmarks and any give-away items I'm going to pass out to the panel audience. Usually three panels are running at any one time at Love is Murder, so you never know how large a crowd you'll have – depends on the competition. For instance if John Grisham was appearing on a panel next door at the same time – even I would have a hard time listening to me!

I love mystery panels. Before (during and after) I was an author I was a reader. A big reader. I still get a thrill listening to some of my favorite authors speak – put Charlaine Harris and Nancy Pickard on the same panel and I'll be in the front row every time. They're fabulous writers, but also lots of fun to listen to. I met a new author, Rosemary Harris, last year at the conference. She's a lovely person and I'm looking forward to seeing her again. She's sponsoring a hospitality room this year to promote her new book, The Big Dirt Nap. Sounds like a gritty mystery, doesn't it? I'm joking. Last year Rosemary gave me a pack of Daisy seeds as a promotion for her debut book, Pushing Up Daisies. Do you think this year she'll … Just kidding, Rosemary. Anyway, I'll be picking up a copy of her new book while I'm there.

That's the other wonderful thing about attending conferences – besides meeting authors, you can find their latest books. Love is Murder has a book room and booksellers set up their wares on tables. Since I'm driving, I don't have to worry about weighing down my suitcases with too many books and getting penalized by the airlines. Last year I came home with all of Charlaine Harris's vampire series and her psychic series. I also purchased books by Luisa Buehler, Craig Johnson, and Margaret Maron.

Did I mention that Evelyn David will have two new books at Love Is Murder this year? We have a short story, Riley Come Home, in the Echelon anthology, Missing. We also are giving conference attendees an opportunity to purchase an advance copy of Murder Takes the Cake, the sequel to Murder Off the Books. Murder Takes the Cake's official publication date is May 2009, but Echelon did a special printing just for Love Is Murder.

If you're at the conference, hunt me down and I'll sign a copy for you. I've also got some plastic "wedding ducks" to give away to buyers of the first twenty copies of Murder Takes the Cake. Hey, wedding ducks, that's not something you see everyday!

Note to self: Add gaggle of ducks to list of things to pack.

More next week from the road!

Evelyn David

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In the Kingdom of Procrastinators

It seems like procrastination is the theme of the week. Let me share some of my time-wasting secrets and tricks to avoid writing.

1. Cleaning: This is a good one because it makes you feel virtuous while you are clearly procrastinating. The minute writer’s block hits, I decide that it’s time to strip all of the beds, put all of the fancy attachments on the vacuum, and get out the Swiffer. Everyone in my family usually knows when Mom has writer’s block or is just plain old wasting time: the house is immaculate.

2. Check out the blogs: I start my morning by reading my favorite blogs, starting with the Stiletto Gang, except for Wednesday, obviously. This usually takes a solid twenty minutes. After all, where would I find out about the television shows that I missed the night before? Or what 684 commenters said about said shows? After I’m done checking out the blogs, I go to the New York Times web site to find out where the international markets closed. (I have no money, know nothing about money, yet find the ups and downs of both the domestic and international stock market fascinating. Go figure.)

3. Hang around on Facebook: This can waste, collectively, a good four to five hours a day, depending upon how serious I am about procrastinating. If I’m really in the mood, I even respond to those requests to post “25 Things Nobody Knows About You.” I’m an open book; if my friends don’t already know everything about me, I’d be surprised. Yet, here I go, listing things like “doesn’t like onions,” “thought Barry Manilow was sexy and her future husband when she was twelve,” “sings in the car.” Stuff like that. I figure I owe it to the other procrastinators out there to post interesting tidbits like this. How would they procrastinate otherwise?

4. Call Annie, Ceil, Carrie, Tina, and/or my mother and any other combination of friends and relatives: Most of them have caller ID. A lot of the time, they don’t answer the phone. Clearly, they are not procrastinators.

5. Look at shoes online: Doesn’t matter where…Zappos is a favorite, however. They have probably a million different pairs of shoes on their site, plus free shipping and returns. I can spend hours looking at different types of mules, sling backs, or pumps. Let’s not remember that I don’t cause or occasion to wear anything but sneakers and clogs. But having a website that you can peruse for hours that only has shoes is a godsend. Especially to a champion procrastinator.

6. Surf the web: Where else would I have learned that the remains of Gene Roddenberry (creator of “Star Trek”) and his wife were going to be shipped into outer space? Or that New Mexico has toughened its collection on used car sales? Or that David Beckham’s soccer team is negotiating to keep him? Next time you’re at a cocktail party and drop one of these juicy nuggets of information into the conversation, you can thank me and my endless procrastinating.

These are just a few of my techniques. Thanks to the tough love of my friend and fellow Stiletto gal, Susan McBride, I no longer a) check my book’s “number” on Amazon; b) Google myself; c) read reviews of my books online. But I’ve found other ways to waste time that are just as fulfilling.

What do you do to avoid the task of writing or anything else, for that matter? Procrastinating minds want to know…

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Muse was there, So was everyone Else!

I've been working on my next Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel (still bordering on cozy since I don't use bad words or have graphic sex scenes) and I've been struggling.

I know how it's going to end, and some of what it's going to take to get there, but it wasn't jelling.
Everyone was going to be away on Saturday (we not only have a grown grandson living with us, but my son, wife, granddaughter and her girlfriend live right next door and they all use my computer to access the Internet) and I thought it would be a perfect day to write.

Started out wonderfully. I wrote about two scenes while getting some great ideas for others.

The phone rang. It was my daughter who lives nearby wanting me to order something for her on the Net. (We're in a lousy area for Internet access. I've got a little satellite dish on my roof from my computer company that brings the Internet in.) She came over and I took care of her order. She's the mom of the new grandchild and we talked awhile about the baby.

She left and I did some more writing. Got another call from a friend who wanted to tell me all about the cruise he went on with his parents, his mom is 70 plus like me, and his big news was she was the first to go on a zip line through the jungle. (Believe me, that's something I'll never do.)

He hung up, back to the computer. Another good friend and loyal fan who wanted to sell me tickets to the annual chamber of commerce banquet wanted to stop by. I had a book she loaned me and one to loan her, so I agreed. She came, we visited.

By that time, I'd given up on the writing.

I'd like to say I'm going to get with it tomorrow, but I probably won't because I got a new mini laptop with wireless access to take with me on trips and I'm going to take it down to my computer place to have them get it set up with the Internet.

I had a friend email me and tell me she'd gotten up at 4 a.m. to start writing. Maybe I'll do that--or maybe I won't. Since I've been retired it's awfully nice to stay in bed until I wake up--which is usually about 6:15.

All my notes for the book are stacked beside my computer--I know the muse will get back to me.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Procrastination, Thy Name is Evelyn

Let me rephrase that: thy name is the Northern half of Evelyn David.

I’m what is politely known as “between assignments” – or more bluntly, unemployed.

Last week I handed in the manuscript for my latest nonfiction project, The Everything Baby’s First Year Book. It will be published later this year. Loved the topic. There is a sweetness about even the virtual smell of a newborn – and it’s a lot easier to write about colic than to live through it. If anyone, however, doesn’t think I paid my dues, let me introduce exhibits A, B, and C – my sons, with whom I walked hundreds of miles in my living room as I desperately sought to comfort them during the colic era.

But, anyway, I should have, while hip deep in research on baby topics, also been immersed in a dozen other subjects so that I had book proposals for consideration already in the hands of editors. Ideally, there would have been a seamless handoff from one project to the next. Instead, I am breathlessly awaiting the greenlight on some fun book ideas – keep your fingers and toes crossed.

I do have several mystery projects already underway with the Southern half of Evelyn David. One is a short story that has a paranormal element and when it is not scaring the you know what out of me – I’m having the time of my life integrating ghosts and whodunits.

Or at least, I’m having fun thinking about a ghost with a serious cat allergy – but writing it, not so much. Instead, for every three sentences that I manage to eke out, I either do laundry, search for chicken recipes, or most brainless of all, play Spider Solitaire, which is my new online addiction.

I know writers who have removed all computer games from their hard drives; others who refuse to answer e-mail, talk on the phone, or go out to lunch until they’ve turned in their manuscripts. Of course, I also know people who can be offered a brownie and firmly turn it down – a concept that is absolutely foreign to my way of thinking.

But I think what I’m saying is that I lack self-discipline. In my defense, I’ve never missed a deadline and I’ve written 12 books, countless articles, and now, a weekly blog. But I need to find something to jumpstart me back into the fiction writing habit. The Southern half is threatening to send me an e-mail virus that destroys only computer games – and I’m half-tempted to encourage her to do so.

But before I delete Spider Solitaire from my computer – what’s the best score you’ve ever gotten – and are there any tricks to winning?

Shhhh – don’t tell anyone that I asked!

Evelyn David

Friday, January 23, 2009

Excuse My Manners (or Lack Thereof)

by Susan McBride

I don’t claim to be an expert on etiquette. Everyone in my family has probably caught me talking with my mouth full once too often (although I try not to, really!). My Midwestern mother worked hard to instill a sense of etiquette in me, and I can still quote the infamous ditty about “Mabel.” If you're unfamiliar, it goes like this: “Mabel, Mabel, if you’re able, get your elbows off the table.” I can’t imagine asking for anyone to pass the pepper without prefacing the request with a “please.” No, I was never sent for lessons in How to Use the Proper Fork like my debutantes in THE DEBS, or even to Little Miss Manners classes like Andy Kendricks, the debutante dropout in my mysteries. But I do know that one’s bread dish should be placed on the left and one’s drink on the right (something I remember by making a “b” and a “d” with the thumbs and fingers of each hand, a trick learned long ago).

I realize that everything I need to know about etiquette I learned in kindergarten, or at least by grade school. The basics my mother taught me way back when still seem to apply pretty well to almost everything I do, like these golden oldies:

**Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve (er, unless you can’t find a Kleenex and the hem of the tablecloth won’t reach that high).
**Don’t blow your nose in public (particularly if you honk like an elephant).
**Don't put peas up your nose (hmm, I'm noticing a recurrent "nose" theme).
**Don’t swallow your gum, or it takes seven years to digest (I believe Wrigley’s did a study on this using the Doublemint Twins as guinea pigs, God rest their twisted intestines).
**Always wear clean underwear, because you never know when you may be in an accident (hence, my request for Victoria’s Secret gift cards last Christmas).
**Don’t run with scissors (though it did work for Augustine Burroughs, didn’t it?).
**Never sit with your knees apart (someone should tell Britney Spears about that one).

For the most part, these are excellent rules, and I break them only in extreme cases (say, if I can't find a Kleenex). As a published author of 10 years who tries to be as well-mannered as possible, I've developed my own set of "Road Rules" for promoting books which I'm happy to share. Granted, I’m no Letitia Baldridge or Emily Post. More like Marge Simpson (whose directness I admire). If my pearls of wisdom seem obvious--or odd--well, it was late when I wrote this and my nightly cocktail of chamomile tea and Benadryl had already started to kick in, so cut me some slack.

**Cleanliness is next to Godliness. I don’t know how often the Man Upstairs (or Goddess Upstairs) showers, but I’ll bet it’s everyday, and almost certainly before a book signing. I can’t guarantee that smelling like Irish Spring will draw the buying hordes, but it makes a far better impression than reeking like unwashed gym socks.

*Be polite to fellow airport dwellers during travel delays. I figure it's okay to talk to these strangers, as the people at your gate have already been prescreened to some extent. If they’re allowed to fly, you know they’re not on the terrorist watch list, and they’re not packing lighters, bottles with more than 3 ounces of fluid, or other weapons of mass destruction in their carry-on bags. And you never know whose conversation will become fodder for your writing some day. A layover in the Columbia, SC, airport years ago allowed me time to chat with an author from Mississippi who happened to be on her town’s debutante selection committee. Without her, I never would have heard the terms “debu-tank” and “debu-trash,” which I promptly stole for my DEBS series about Houston debutantes. See what I mean!

**Never rearrange a bookseller’s display to more prominently showcase your titles, unless you’ve got Nate the Decorator from “Oprah” with you and he’s re-doing the space on Ms. Winfrey’s dime. I know, I know...word on the street is that turning your covers face-out at every opportunity is mandatory. But it’s more polite to approach the bookseller and offer to sign any available stock (upon which “autographed” stickers will promptly be slapped), practically guaranteeing that your books will be turned cover-out or even moved to more expensive real estate, like an end-cap. Think about it: when booksellers visit your home, they aren't allowed to rearrange your furniture. So fair’s fair.

**Always say “thank you” any time that people have gone out of their way to help you. If you don’t like writing notes on monogrammed stationery then a gracious email will suffice. Like my great aunt Gertrude always said, “A thank you is worth a thousand peas up your nose, so long as your legs are crossed and you’re wearing clean underwear.” That Gertie was a wise woman.

P.S. Thanks again to the fabulous ladies of the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to join their ranks. I look forward to posting the first Friday of the month from now on. And I promise to be on my best behavior or you can tattle to my mother.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preparing for Love Is Murder - Part 1

In a few weeks I'll be attending Love is Murder for the third time. The author, reader, and book conference may not begin until February 6th but I'm already preparing mentally and organizing my "stuff."

First of all I paid my registration fees and booked the hotel room months ago. Not that I'm that organized, but more that I was afraid if I waited, I'd back out of going. Believe me attending a conference in Chicago in the dead of winter takes real determination. That decision is best made in the fall when the weather is nice and you can talk yourself into the possibility that Chicago might, just might, have an unusually early spring.

Last month I made my decision on whether to fly or drive. I'm driving. Yes, flying is quicker – by a day – but more stressful. I flew to Chicago the first time I went to the conference. The conference was wonderful but the travel to and from was a nightmare.

The Tulsa airport is about 90 minutes from my home during normal weather. The worst winter weather in Oklahoma typically happens in late January and early February. The weather guys were predicting an incoming storm the night before I was to fly out. So to play it safe, I drove to my parents' home (about 30 minutes from the airport) and spent the night there - just to be sure I could get to my early morning flight on time. The first sign of trouble was when my Dad knocked on the guest room door wanting to know where my spare car keys were. Huh? Good soul that he is, he had gotten up earlier than me, fetched my keys from my purse, started my car and scraped about 3 inches of ice off my windshield. He'd had the car defroster going full blast and was standing outside the car chipping ice, when the automatic door locks kicked in. My spare set of keys were at my home along with all my knives, weapons, extra makeup and the hundred and one other things I'd dumped from my purse to facilitate my chances of clearing airport security without a pat-down.

I didn't have time to fetch the keys and make my flight. AAA was called and my Dad drove me and all my bags (I'd luckily taken all of them inside the night before) in his car to the airport. The roads were bad – snow on top of a thick layer of ice. As we pulled in at the curbside drop off, we got a cell phone call. My brother had driven his car into the ditch on his way to work. AAA got a second call, my Dad headed home to deal with that crisis, and I lugged my two bags, laptop, and large purse into the terminal.

For the next thirty minutes I made my way through the security lines, in my sock feet, coat over my arm, laptop out of the bag, blackberry and purse in a tray, and tried to center my thoughts on how much fun it was going to be to hold my first book for the first time.

A couple of hours later I was at O'Hare airport, both hands full pulling two rolling suitcases, my laptop bag over one shoulder and a large purse over the other. The taxis were a floor below the baggage claim area. The only way to get from the baggage claim to the taxi area was an escalator.

Have you ever stepped onto an escalator without being able to hold onto the railing? I was standing at the top, trying to find the courage to make that first step, wondering what the odds were that I was about to kill myself, when an airport worker literally grabbed one suitcase from me and yelled, "Follow me." She went down the escalator without a backwards glance. I had no choice but to follow – she had the bag with all my promo stuff!

Next Thursday – less about the travel and more about the Conference as I countdown to February 6.

Love is Murder Con
February 6-8, 2009
Westin Chicago North Shore
601 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, IL 60090

Evelyn David

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Someone to Watch Over You

I sat, mesmerized, last Thursday as the saga of Flight 1549 from New York to Charlotte, unfolded on the television. A few things struck me as I, and the newscasters, got new information:

1. All 155 people and 5 crew members survived, despite having been subjected to the dreaded “water landing” which you hear a lot about in the pre-flight instructions from the flight attendant yet you think you will never partake in.

2. That the plane was taken down by a Canadian goose. Up here in the New York area, we curse Canadian geese for what they do to our parks and patches of grass every spring and summer (suffice it to say it is not pretty and you never get used to it). Little did we know that just one Canadian goose could take down an Airbus.

3. The skill, calm, and heroism of the pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Is this guy a stud or what? He knows the plane is going to go down, he’s flying over New York City, yet he manages—despite everything—to land the plane safely in the Hudson River. One passenger called it the “softest landing” he had ever experienced. I’m sure he was exaggerating, but seriously, people. If the pilot had gone any further, he would have crashed into the George Washington Bridge or worse, gone down in the ocean. Nobody would have survived either scenario. The fact that he was able to bring a plane with an 111-foot wing span down in a river that at its widest is only a mile across (and less than that where they landed) can only be called a miracle.

The most amazing thing to me about Captain Sullenberger is that he patrolled the aisles of the plane twice to make sure everyone was off. If that guy isn’t a hero, I don’t know who is. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t head straight for the emergency doors once we were down, but if 42 degree water was starting to flood in, I’m thinking that that’s where you’d find me.

I heard a pilot who had gone through a similar situation talking about Captain Sullenberger and how this situation could have ended much differently had he not been so calm, experienced, and adept at flying the plane. This pilot, Denny Finch, said that he is now a motivational speaker and when speaking, asks the audience three questions, to which they can only raise their hand to one: 1) “Do you believe in luck?” 2) “Do you believe in fate?” and 3) “Do you believe in God or a higher power?” I thought that this was extremely interesting and wondered how the passengers aboard the flight might respond. At this point, and after watching the developments—the “miracle on the Hudson” as Governor Paterson has taken to calling it—unfold. I believe in all three and I also believe in the marvelous skills of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

It’s been a tough several months in America and I, for one, was feeling a bit depressed at the billion dollar bailouts, the rising unemployment percentages, the falling Dow Jones. But mostly, I was feeling depressed for my fellow, less fortunate Americans, who are suffering. Watching the passengers get off that plane safely, the Circle Line passengers throwing them life preservers and the police boats circling and getting them to safety, made me feel good once my panic subsided and I realized that we were not experiencing another 9/11. Sully was watching out for his passengers. I hope someone is watching out for the rest of us.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Friday Night Lights

Hubby and I are thrilled that Friday Night Lights is back on the air–on Friday nights, of course.

Neither of us are really football fans, but we love that TV series. We didn’t watch it when it first came on the air, but were introduced through Netflix and watched all of the first three seasons. Best way to watch a TV series by the way.

Probably the reason we’ve become such big fans is going to Friday night football games when our grandson who lived with us was playing football. He was a the quarterback sometimes and half back others. Unfortunately, the team itself wasn’t great and seldom won a game–but we sat bundled up in the stands cheering them on for every home game. (Seniors got free passes to get in which was also great.)

We knew half the cheerleading squad (several had been grandson’s girlfriend at one time or another), and many of the other spectators stopped by to visit. We also saw a lot of the student body parading by us on their way back and forth to the refreshment stand or just to be seen.

We live in the foothills and grandson either rode the bus to school and back or was picked up by a friend. During football practice, there was a sports bus that would bring kids home afterwards. Sometimes grandson would miss that bus and we’d have to drive to town to pick him up. Usually he’d go sit in the fast food place across from the high school to wait since it took us about 20 minutes to make the trip.

When I watch Friday Night Lights it reminds me of those years we had that grandson living with us. We knew so many boys who remind us of the kids we see in that show. I guess it reminds us of a fun time in our life.

Later on, our granddaughter who lives next door, played soccer all four years of high school. We hauled our chairs to the soccer field and watched those games too. So far there isn’t a TV show about a soccer coach or team.

Of course I have favorite mystery shows I enjoy though I must admit Medium and Ghost Whisperer are up there among my favorites. By the time I’ve spent most of the day in front of the computer, I admit it, by evening I’m ready for some mindless and entertaining TV viewing.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Preserve, Protect and Defend

Tomorrow, at noon, Barack Obama will take the oath of office. He will swear, on the Lincoln Bible, to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” While it’s not part of the official oath, undoubtedly President Obama will add, following the tradition of George Washington, "so help me God."

I feel blessed to be witness to this moment in history. It is ironic that at a time when our country is at war on two fronts, when our economy is in dire straits, when the world is facing a global climate crisis – that I find myself more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time. I’m not crazy – or at least not more than usual. But whether you are a Democrat or Republican, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, John McCain, or Ron Paul – there is a sense that change is in the air. Even for those who disagree strongly with the new administration’s policies, there does seem to be a belief that we all must all work together because otherwise we are all doomed to failure. There is a quiet feeling that even while each of us worries about our own individual financial situation, that together “yes we can.” There is a sense of pride that young and old, rich and poor, White, Black, Latino, Native American, Asian-American – and people of every race, creed, and religion were energized in this election to take part, to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

I’m old enough and realistic enough to know that this honeymoon can’t last forever. That the differences that have been smoothed over or even ignored as we collectively struggle through these tough times, will undoubtedly resurface again. And perhaps that’s how it should be. But right now we need to ignore our differences while we concentrate on the problems we share.

So tomorrow, I’ll be glued to my television. I’ll hold my breath as President Obama and Vice-President Biden take their oaths of office. I might even shed a tear or two. Then I’ll grin as President and Mrs. Obama, perhaps even Malia and Sascha, walk proudly down Pennsylvania Avenue to the reviewing stands. You won’t see me in the crowds in DC, but I will be there, along with many of you, in spirit.

God Bless America.

Evelyn David

Friday, January 16, 2009

Keeping Faith

I once watched a wonderful British mini-series, full of galloping horses, lush landscapes, and inevitably, class wars. Poor orphan girl comes to the home of her rich, foul-humored uncle, and must decide if she loves her sensitive boy cousin, his swashbuckling wastrel brother, or the stable hand who is poor but sincere. Leaving aside the issue of whether marrying your first cousin is a good idea, I, of course, was rooting for the poor stable hand. To my delight, after much bosom heaving and weeping, she ends up with the guy with no money – which is okay because she has enough for them both.

I promptly went out and read the books on which this mini-series was based – and they were absolutely wonderful. A few years later I was delighted to discover a sequel to this saga. But to my horror, the author had decided that class will out. She broke up the marriage of rich girl, poor boy, so that the society b**ch could marry within her own class – her newly-reformed rich cousin. Ugh.

As defined in the dictionary, a sequel is “a literary work, film, etc. complete in itself but continuing a story begun in an earlier work.” So while I’m the first to agree that an author has the right to do whatever she wants, for me, this particular writer betrayed the basic premise of the first books. We had a deal: true love trumps fancy schmancy class distinctions. She broke faith with her readers (or at least this one). It’s as if Margaret Mitchell wrote a sequel to Gone with the Wind and had Scarlett subdivide Tara into a housing development of McMansions. Or Thomas Harris penned a sequel where Hannibal Lecter became a vegetarian.

I love reading mystery series. It’s like meeting up with old friends. I want to know what has happened since the last time we were together. While I want a complete story that can stand on its own, I want to recognize the characters I’ve grown to love. I have no problem with personal growth in the characters, but they have to retain the essence of who they are. I promise when you read Murder Takes the Cake (due in May 2009), that the delightful Mac Sullivan, Rachel Brenner, and Whiskey are all back in prime form.

What’s the best – and the worst – sequel you've ever read (or saw if it was a movie)?

Evelyn David

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I saw the movie Gran Torino in the theatre last Sunday. The last movie I saw before that in a theatre was the recent X-Files movie. Both were good movies, but I almost walked out on both before they even got past the opening credits.

Due to a lack of time I rarely see movies when they first come out – instead settling for the convenience and economy of dvds and television. But sometimes, I just want to get lost in a dark theatre and totally focus on the movie, instead of the one hundred and one things competing for my attention at home. So a few times a year, I shell out the seven dollars for my ticket, the same amount again for a soda and popcorn, and find a "center row, half-way back" theatre seat and settle in for a couple of hours of escapism.

Maybe I'm just getting "old, old, old" (a saying I've picked up from my co-author), but during the last two movies, the theatre experience has been less than enjoyable. I've begun to have real problems with the "sound," starting with the previews of coming attractions.

The sound is too loud.

Much too loud.

Painfully loud.

Get out of my seat, find a theatre employee, and complain loud.

Why so loud? Is it a lack of care? An equipment issue? Do the theatre employees have too many other things to do? Too many screens to monitor at the same time? Is the sound level of the previews louder than the movie track? What's changed?

I know years ago there was someone in the film booth, running the projector and making sure that the film and sound were running smoothly. I assume that with the digital age, everything is now computerized. If so, then it seems strange that sound levels couldn't be maintained at a reasonable decibel. Trust me, I'm not complaining about just an annoyingly loud problem. I'm trying to describe a level that would be a violation if it occurred as a result of quarry blasting; a level that is an actual physical assault on your hearing; stomach churning, knife-through-your-head loud.

Last Sunday there were many long minutes, at least ten or fifteen, before the sound was lowered. I'm guessing there must be a set number of complaints a theatre owner must get before he acts. On Sunday, head throbbing, trapped in my "center row, half-way back" seat, I offered up a silent prayer for the senior citizens who can always be counted on to make the trek from their seats to the ticket booth demanding relief or a refund.

This past week I heard an award-winning sound engineer discuss how movie fans miss a lot by not having a sound system for their expensive high-definition televisions. He asserted that the speakers that come installed on televisions are inadequate and can't possibly give you that in-theatre experience.

I agree.

But maybe that's not always such a bad thing.

I love movies.

But I like hearing too.

Evelyn David

p.s. – Despite everything Gran Torino was a good movie.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Marvels of Modern Dentistry

I was one of those fortunate children who didn’t get too many cavities. I ate as much candy as the next sugar-obsessed cretin growing up in 1970s America, but every time I went to the dentist, I got a clean bill of health. (Unlike one of my siblings, who had every tooth filled by the time he was ten; the dentist told my mother that he had a “strong gag reflex” which apparently, was extremely distasteful to the dentist. It went into said sibling’s dental “permanent record” and has followed him from dentist to dentist, even though he outgrew this in oh, about 1982.) I suffered through two fillings and that was it. Nothing else.

Until recently. I had a toothache—as well as a host of other disgusting problems with what I found out was tooth #3 that I’ll spare you the details of—and decided that with my medical history, it wasn’t a wise idea to fool around with that. What if I got an infection, it traveled to my brain and killed me? (Don’t laugh…these are the things that I think of when I wake up in the middle of the night.) Certain death from infection—and the fact that half the tooth fell out into the sink while I was brushing one morning—propelled me to see my regular dentist, Dr. G., who took an x-ray and came back into the room holding the x-ray with a grim expression on his face, despite the fact that he was smiling. He always smiles; that’s why I love Dr. G.

“Don’t say it,” I said, knowing that a two-word diagnosis starting with “root” and ending with “canal” was coming. If only that had been the end of it.

“Don’t say what?” Dr. G. asked, smiling.

“Root canal,” I whispered.

He stopped smiling. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. “Well, you do need a root canal. And a little gum surgery.” He handed me a tissue as I began to cry. “I can recommend a dentist for both procedures.” He wrote out a card with the name of the root canal guy. And as for the gum surgery, he said, “We have a few options. Dr. C, our first choice, will put you to sleep…”“Stop!” I said. “We have a winner!” And as you know if you read my pre-holiday blog, Dr. C. is now known around these parts as the “gum surgery whisperer.” Root canal wasn’t as bad as I expected either. Although I would prefer not to have another one, it wasn’t the torture that I thought it would be. Dr. W. and his assistant, Susan, were lovely. But I hope I never see them again, something that I told them upon leaving the office.

I went back to see Dr. G., my regular dentist, yesterday to get fitted for my crown (and not the tiara kind). I told him that I was amazed at how far dentistry had come since I had gotten my last filling in 1977. (This while he held an impression in my mouth with his finger…I asked him why an electronic arm hadn’t been developed so that he didn’t have to stand there for two minutes holding the impression and he explained it to me. Suffice it to say that the electronic arm wouldn’t be as good as his finger.) He explained that most people are pathologically afraid of the dentist, but these days, there’s really no need to be. Did you know that they even have stuff to numb your gums before they shoot you full of Novocaine? (It’s way better than the stuff they used in 1977, but in my opinion, still not great. I think that we should all be given general anesthetic before we get any kind of shots or needles inserted anywhere in our bodies, but maybe that’s just me.) Or that you can drink a little teaspoon of liquid and go to sleep for your gum surgery, waking up in the car on the Taconic State Parkway and asking your husband how you got there? Or that you can watch “The View” while the endodontist drills away at your tooth and removes your tooth’s roots? I remember the days when they gave you a bullet to bite on before they pulled your wisdom teeth. Things have certainly changed.

Go to the dentist, people. I know there are many of you out there putting it off. And yes, I used to be one of them. Had I gone when tooth #3 initially started to give me trouble, I probably would have only needed a replacement filling. But I let it go and I’m a little lighter in the pocketbook and have undergone procedures that I could have only imagined. I am here to tell you that the host of tortures that we endured as children are long in the past.

But the sound of a drill boring into your enamel still sounds--and smells--the same.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Starting a New Book

My plan was to pretty much have my next Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel written by the end of February before my big time in person promoting begins for the one that is coming out very, very soon. That one is called No Sanctuary. I have another one finished for 2010, but I like have two ready to go in case I can't write for some reason or other.

Yes, I do the same thing with my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries. The next one is with the publisher and I have another nearly done. Just reading it to my critique group and polishing it.

I knew where I was going with the Rocky Bluff story, did some notes on what I wanted to happen through the book, know exactly how it will end. But for some reason, I just couldn't get started.

Finally, I wrote Chapter 1. Today I got nearly all of Chapter 2 done. Hopefully, now that I'm started I'll continue on without too many problems.

Distractions in the form of blogs and twitters are the biggest problems. I started a blog about the Rocky Bluff P.D. and now feel like I should put up something new every day. I already do that with my own personal blog. Once the new book comes out though, I'll probably slow that one down since I don't want to give away too much about the story.

Now if I could only concentrate on the book I'm writing and not head off on so many tangents.

The fact that two bedrooms downstairs very close to my office are being remodeled for my new bedroom doesn't help. Two grandsons are doing the work and they really want Grandma to come see their progress a lot.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Good News, Bad News

First, the good news.
The great flea infestation is over.

And the bad news.
Wildlife can still be heard in the walls.
There is now an encyclopedic understanding of wildlife traps including the pros and cons of glue traps versus slow-acting poison.
Two bikes have been stolen from the backyard.

On the other hand, my daughter hasn’t ridden a bike in 10 years.


She returned from her Glasgow adventure at the end of December. Spent the next three weeks in a frenzy of hometown reunions, shopping, and job hunting for both the semester and the summer. Finally, she headed back to campus, to 'The Burrow,' the nickname, borrowed from Harry Potter, of a decrepit townhouse that is now home to nine college students and an assortment of unwanted wildlife.

I think I’m getting old, old, old.

Is living in a hovel a rite of passage? Have I gotten soft in my old age?

She sees a well-lived in house. I see the Black Hole of Calcutta.

She sees an opportunity for 24/7 friends. I see a never-ending party with blaring music and no privacy.

She sees adventure. I see worry (mine, not hers).

But would I want it any other way?

Maybe a little less worry for me. But I would never want to dampen her enthusiasm, lessen her optimism, diminish her willingness to try something new or undertake a new challenge.

So I happily baked some cookies for 'The Burrow' residents (hopefully the two-legged ones only). Limited my lectures on safety. Reminded her to get enough sleep, eat healthy, and as always, have fun.

The house is a little too quiet now. But at least she’s only two hours away and in the same time zone. And in the meantime, the good news is that she’s healthy, happy, and growing. The bad news is that I miss her.

Evelyn David

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pets in Mysteries

A scientist by training, a romanticist at heart, Maggie Toussaint loves to solve puzzles. Whether it’s the puzzle of a relationship or a who-dun-it, she tackles them all with equal aplomb and wonder. Maggie’s cozy mystery from Five Star, IN FOR A PENNY, is about a terrible golfer trying to save her best friend from a murder rap. Her three other published works are pet-laden romantic suspense books, one of which won Best Romantic Suspense in the 2007 National Readers Choice Awards. Her day jobs include freelancing for a weekly paper and leading a yoga class. Visit her at

Readers love sassy felines and lovable pooches. In the mystery genre, pets are often instrumental in solving the crime. Whether pets hog the limelight or play the role of sidekick, their presence in a story is often sought-out by mystery fans.

Some writers employ an animal’s natural abilities, such as a cat’s curiosity or a dog’s keen sense of smell to solve the riddle of who-dun-it. These writers intuitively understand the affinity people have for animals. Readers may connect with pets on a physical and emotional level. In return, pets often display loyalty and affection for their humans despite the species language barrier. A few examples of dogs and cats in mysteries follow.

In my cozy from Five Star, IN FOR A PENNY, a grieving St. Bernard helps sleuth Cleopatra Jones run down the villain. Carola Dunn writes about a perfectly normal mutt, Nana, who finds a vital mystery-solving clue in MISTLETOE AND MURDER; Nana also finds the body in BLACK SHIP. In Glynn Marsh Alam’s upcoming March release, MOON WATER MADNESS, swamp dog Plato helps sleuth Luanne Fogarty by digging up a weapon. A four-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Baraka shines in Maris Soule’s mystery, THE CROWS.

Marcia James has a Chinese Crested hairless dog named Smokey, a DEA drug-sniffing dog, who goes undercover in AT HER COMMAND. (Janes includes Chinese Cresteds in all her books; her upcoming short story in TAILS OF LOVE benefits a no-kill animal shelter.) And who can forget Asta, the playful terrier tugging Nick and Nora Charles around in THE THIN MAN series? Tom Shreck has an adventurous Muslim basset hound named Allah-King in his Duffy Dombrowski series, of which TKO is the latest release. Shrek’s series was recommended by author Barbra Annino, who has a similar pet in her series, which is in acquisitions. Phyllis Humphrey is penning a cozy in which the dog’s behavior helps her sleuth solve the mystery.

But mysteries aren’t just populated with dogs. Felines Koko and Yum Yum from Lillian Jackson Braun’s THE CAT WHO… series solve crimes in book after book. Author CP Perkins recommends the five-book Dixie Hemingway Pet Sitter Series, written by Blaize Clement, in which amateur sleuth Dixie has all manner of interactions with her pet clients.

Other authors seek to up the stakes by adding a twist to animals in mysteries. They include an enhanced level of communication that goes beyond routine pet/owner interactions. This information exchange ventures into the realm of extrasensory perception, allowing direct thought transference between sleuth and pet or animal to animal. To illustrate, I’ve included a few titles from this subgenre of books.

Piper Rome told me about an upcoming pet series by Judi McCoy. In McCoy’s books, Rudy the talking dog communicates with Ellie the NY dogwalker. Look for McCoy’s titles to release soon: HOUNDING THE PAVEMENT (March) and HEIR OF THE DOG (October); McCoy reports that her books have been optioned into a weekly television series. Angie Fox writes a paranormal mystery/romance series, the first of which is THE ACCIDENTAL DEMON SLAYER, where Pirate the talking dog is a reader favorite.

Let’s not forget the cats. Rita Mae Brown has another installation in her sleuthing cat series, THE PURRFECT MURDER, coming out this month, where felines Mrs. Murphy and Pewter share duties with Tee Tucker the Corgi. THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE by David Wroblewski, a literary thriller, mixes fact and fiction as the dog Almondine communicates with a deaf mute boy.

Other authors change it up even more. They write about pets as sleuths. In Vic diGenti’s WINDRUSHER series, the story is told entirely from a feline point of view. Author Karen McCullough reminded me to include Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie series, where the cat is the private investigator.

Why are so many authors inspired to write pets in their books? I believe it is due to their experiences with pets. The unconditional affection of dogs and grudging respect of cats that occurs when animals and people cohabitate creates lasting feelings and memories. Pet stories speak a universal language, one that pet owners understand intuitively.

To put it another way, characters populate stories. Story characters have their own agendas, their own means, motives, and opportunities. Pets come pre-programmed with where they want to sleep, what they want to eat, when they want an adventure, etc. For writers and readers, an agenda-driven pet is pure gold.

Lists of pets in mysteries are available online. Here’s one such list that may provide more information:

My examples of mysteries with pets are by no means exhaustive, and I apologize if I’ve omitted anyone’s favorite. Be sure and add any omissions to the comments.

A special thanks to Evelyn David and her friends at The Stiletto Gang for inviting me to be here today. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

IN FOR A PENNY, ISBN 9781594146466 (hardcover and large print) Buy it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ask your librarian to order it!

HOUSE OF LIES, Best Romantic Suspense, National Readers' Choice Awards ISBN 9781601540317 buy it: Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, Kindle

NO SECOND CHANCE, buy a book, help a horse ISBN 9781601541628 buy it: Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, Kindle

SEEING RED (ebook) Buy it at Fictionwise

Maggie Toussaint

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Counting Down

Misa Ramirez is the author of the Lola Cruz mystery series: Living the Vida Lola (January ’09) and Dead Girl Walking (2010) from St. Martin’s Press Minotaur. A former middle and high school teacher, and current CEO and CFO for La Familia Ramirez, this blonde-haired, green-eyed, proud to be Latina-by-Marriage girl loves following Lola on her many adventures. Whether it’s contemplating belly button piercings or visiting nudist resorts, she’s always up for the challenge. Misa is hard at work on a new women’s fiction novel, is published in Woman’s World Magazine and Romance Writers Report, and has a children’s book published.

The countdown is on...13 days until Living the Vida Lola, the first book in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series, hits the streets and I can hardly believe it. It has been such a long and winding road; so many times I thought I was living a pipe dream [still am, since just because the book will be out, there’s no guarantee that it’ll sell in great enough quantities to build a solid career, but I’m hoping!].

13 days until I hold my creation in my hands.

13 days until others see the books vibrant turquoise color and sassy figure of Lola.

13 days until...I start focusing on my current work in progress. Dead Girl Walking, the second book in the series, is already with my editor and in the editing stages.

The countdown is fun. It’s invigorating. We moved from California to Texas this year in part so that I could quite my day job of teaching to focus on writing full time, and here I am, less than two weeks away from seeing my first book in the flesh, so to speak. Having dedicated writing time is amazing, but what I’ve realized is that publishing this book is not a means to an end. It’s really only the beginning. The first baby step in the career I’m trying to build. I’ve got book signings lined up, I’ve got two release parties planned--one in California and one in Texas--and I’ve done blog tours and guest posts like this one. When you’re not already a bestseller and don’t have massive publishing dollars behind you paying for placement and ads, the future is uncertain and luck plays an awfully big part of it.

And so, while I’m still counting down the days, I’m turning my full attention to the third book in the series, Bare Naked Ladies. It’s part way done and so much fun to write [crime at a nudist resort, anyone?!]. I’m also going to continue to work on a new book that’s in progress tentatively called The Curandera and the Chain Tree, the first in a Curandera Mystery Series.

And, as if that’s not enough, I’ve also been contemplating a book and/or series for younger girls [8-10 years old], something my daughter would love to read. Just because I think it would be fun and I’d love to write something for her.

I have a lot coals in the fire, and am stretched thin at times, but I’m doing what I love. I am living the dream and it’s as good as I imagined it would be. So ¡Viva Lola! I hope you join me on the ride. :)

There’s a quote that goes something like: If you want something done, ask a busy person. What I’ve realized is that I need all the coals in the keeps me focused. The more free-time I have, the less attentive I am with the tasks I have to get done. Are you one of those busy people who, the less time you have, the more you actually get done?

Misa Ramirez

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Running Out of Food and Other Holiday Memories

The holidays are fading from our memories, the tree is down, the ornaments away, and the house is back to normal. Well, sort of; it’s never really normal around here. Here are my memories of Holiday Season 2008, just a few short weeks in the past.

1. Hosting Christmas Eve: Every year, I host a Christmas Eve party for my side of the family. Celebrating Christmas Eve in grand style has been a tradition since my brother and sisters and I were kids, because my dad usually worked Christmas Day and this was our chance to open presents and have him blind us with the flood light from the 16mm handheld camera that was so popular in the ‘60s and ‘70’s. (Don’t tell me that you don’t have movies from that era where everyone is squinting or shading their eyes from the light…is it any wonder that most of us wear glasses now?) I began hosting this event about five years ago after my parents downsized from our childhood home to a smaller place…which in actuality, is probably bigger than my place but that’s the excuse my mother used to get out of hosting twenty people every year and who am I to argue?

I had what looked like a twenty-pound beef tenderloin but in actuality was probably about eight or nine pounds. People, that’s a lot of meat. Trust me. I also had homemade macaroni and cheese, two Pyrex dishes of scalloped potatoes, brussel sprouts (nobody ate those), roasted butternut squash, peas, and bread. The main meal was served AFTER copious amounts of hors d’oeuvres, cheese and crackers, champagne, and nuts were served and inhaled. My husband and I did FHB (family hold back) and made sure everyone had eaten before picking up plates to go down the buffet line, only to find that there wasn’t a morsel of food left. Nothing. Well, the brussel sprouts were there but being as he hates them and I’m on a low-roughage diet (not a topic for any blog post), we looked at them sadly and kept walking. However, we surveyed our guests, who were happily chowing down on everything else, and decided that our hunger was secondary to their happiness and had extra dessert to make up for it.

The moral of this story: next year, either add a full tray of lasagna to the mix or buy two tenderloins. My family, apparently, comes very hungry to this event. I was a very embarrassed hostess, although everyone who ate assured me that it was delicious, they ate enough, and there was nothing to worry about. Just like family should.

2. Oral surgery: In the midst of all of the holiday hoopla, I had oral surgery. (And many thanks to the northern half of Evelyn David for talking me down prior to it. I was fairly hysterical going into it.) I was supposed to have it on December 19, but being as we were to have a “snow event,” as the weather people euphemistically call a heck of a lot of snow, I was told the night before by the office manager at the periodontist’s office that the procedure was cancelled. I celebrated with some Williams Sonoma toffee and a glass of chardonnay, knowing that when I eventually had the surgery, both of those items were out of the question. I woke up the next morning, saw no snow, and wondered if cancelling had been such a wise idea because I knew that I would never reschedule the appointment and live with the half tooth that was still in my mouth. Then the phone rang at 7:15 a.m. It was Dr. C., the periodontist, who also saw no snow, and said “come in by nine and I’ll have you home by noon.” Well, now I wasn’t mentally prepared. So, Jim drove me up there, and I cried the entire time, knowing what I was in for. I cried in the waiting room, I cried when he strapped on my bib, and I cried until I fell asleep from the medicine Dr. C. gave me. And then I was awake—a little ornery but none the worse for wear—and in the car, driving home in a blizzard (fortunately, Jim, the best snow driver there is, was behind the wheel). The snow did come, I did have the surgery, and to tell you the truth, driving home was worse than the actual procedure.

I saw Dr. C. the other day to get my stitches out and proclaimed him “the gum surgery whisperer.” The guy was amazing. My pain pangs were few and far between. I took two pain pills—one when I came home and one before bed that night—and then didn’t even have to take an Advil to get through the day after that. I have to go back for another procedure in another month or so and I promised him that I wouldn’t cry. And that I wouldn’t yell at him when I woke up from the anesthesia like I did that day. He took it all in stride like a good periodontist should.

3. Vacation: I took an actual two-week vacation. I haven’t done that in years. I turned my computer off on the 19th (the day of the dreaded oral surgery) and didn’t turn it on for days. It was a wonderful feeling and I wasn’t sure I could do it but I recommend it highly. I turned my attention to doing things around the house that I had been putting off—donating books to the library, going through the clothes and house wares and making a few trips to the Goodwill Store, organizing my office—which was extremely gratifying if you’re a Type A nut like yours truly. But it’s back to work this week and I feel rested and rejuvenated. Just in time to start writing Alison Bergeron #5, getting back to my other jobs, and getting back into the school/work routine.

So, holiday memories, please? What did you do? Anybody else run out of food? Have too much? I’m glad to be back blogging with the Stiletto Gang and am looking forward to hearing from you. Happy new year!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy to Be Back

It seemed weird not to be writing a blog for the Stiletto Gang on Tuesday. I’m glad to be back in the groove and hanging with my young gal pals.

We had a most extraordinary Christmas holiday time. We open gifts on Christmas Eve after our dinner. I do something different nearly every year. This year I cooked a turkey and all the stuff that goes with it because I hadn’t cooked on Thanksgiving. Our guests were my youngest son (who is not so young), his wife, grown daughter and two grown sons, my middle daughter and her husband, and the son of my youngest daughter who has been living with us. This was his first Christmas in five years–and it was great fun seeing his enjoyment. His mom had sent his presents home with us at Thanksgiving, and of course we also had gifts for him. He’s had his troubles over the years, but things are finally looking up for him.

Christmas day was a smaller group, and except for the fact that I cooked a standing rib roast, everything else was left-over from the day before–still yummy. Granddaughter’s boyfriend joined us this time. We all watched a movie after dinner. Then hubby and I went over to another granddaughter’s house who has three kids and an extra young man living with her and her husband. We had a good time admiring the kids gifts and visiting with everyone.

The following day, hubby and I used a couple of the movie tickets we’d been given and went to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. Good, good movie even though the theme is really death and dying.

Just to explain something about our family, we’ve always taken people in. Back when we had all of our kids at home, we had a foster boy for a year-and-a-half. At various times our kids brought home other kids whose family life wasn’t so great who ended up living with us for different lengths of time.

We raised one of our grandsons from the time he was 11 until he was 20 because his mom was not doing well. Now we have another.

Long after my middle daughter’s two kids were long gone she and her husband became the legal guardian for a teen-aged girl. There oldest daughter, the one with the three kids and her husband have taken in several teens over the years. A couple of boys from a foster home and gave them a place to live until they went into the service. Unfortunately, in California when a foster child reaches 18, they’re booted out on their own. Most of them don’t have families to go home to.

I’m proud of my family–and glad they are willing to share their homes with young people who need a place to stay. Of course everything doesn’t always turn out hunky-dory, but that really doesn’t matter. They did what they needed to do at the time.

That more or less brings you up-to-date on the Meredith family saga. And yes, I did make a New Year’s resolution, to spend more time on my work-in-progress and less fiddling around with blogs.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Got Crime?

My holidays were rich with family and friends, way too much food, way too little exercise, and a final read-through of the proofs of Murder Takes the Cake. As other authors will readily understand, there is always that niggling doubt, when you hand in a manuscript, that the story won’t hold up, that you’ve missed the mark, and it’s just 90,000 words going nowhere. So I was so relieved when I finished my proofing duties to discover that I like the book. If I say so myself – and I will – it’s a really good mystery that I think will delight and confound you. A sneak preview will be on sale at Love is Murder (where the Southern half of Evelyn David will happily sign copies), and in general release in May.

But news articles during the holiday season also gave me more than enough material for a dozen other books. It started me thinking about the relativity of evil. On Christmas Eve, Bruce Pardo dressed up as Santa and went on a murderous rampage against his ex-wife and her family. It wasn’t enough that he killed the woman to whom he had been married for barely two years. He also shot in the face an eight-year old little girl who answered the door in gleeful anticipation of meeting Santa. For that child, this killer murdered man and myth at the same time.

Earlier in December, the incredible Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff was finally exposed, but not before he had bilked investors out of 50 billion dollars. Now I have trouble conceiving of what you can do with a million dollars, so I am hard-pressed to figure out how Mr. Madoff spent all of his ill-gotten fortune. I mean just how many houses can you buy? How many tailored suits? Lobster and foie gras dinners?

Pardo’s horrific storm of terror ended with nine dead and the killer taking his own life, only because his elaborate escape plan failed. In contrast, Madoff’s quieter, but equally destructive tornado of greed has left hundreds of survivors penniless, one investor dead from suicide after being wiped out by the Ponzi scheme, and Mr. Madoff still on Park Avenue. Had he knocked over the corner candy store, he’d be doing hard time waiting out his trial on Riker’s Island. Instead, he is confined to his plush apartment, suffering only the indignity of an ankle bracelet.

For those who would argue that Madoff’s crime is only about money, I would counter that we don’t yet know the ripple effect of his deed. One investor committed suicide, but could it be considered murder since Madoff’s fingerprints are in effect all over the gun? And let’s take this relativity discussion a step further. It’s one thing, in my mind, for a rich man to steal from another wealthy investor. I could even allow that investors must shoulder part of the blame since they should have done due diligence, not glommed onto a get-rich scheme that was too good to be true.

But Madoff crossed the line when he stole $92 million from Hadassah Medical Center in Israel, an institution nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of its equality in treatment of Arabs and Jews, its ethnic and religious diversity, and its efforts to build bridges to peace. Madoff sinned when he wiped out the assets of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization dedicated to combating indifference, intolerance, and injustice. To me, stealing to provide food for your family is still wrong, but perhaps understandable. Fleecing the rich of some of their ill-gotten gains is also wrong, but maybe it is only money. Stealing from institutions who support the poor and downtrodden – suddenly I can see no excuses.

Life is not black and white, and there are shades of grey even in crime. That’s why you have degrees of capital crimes: premedidated like Pardo’s rampage; reckless when you’re driving drunk; justifiable when you’re defending your family. But while the Santa-dressed killer’s crime flashed across the front pages of the newspapers and dominated the airwaves, I’m reminded that Bernard Madoff’s crimes were equally horrific. It’s similar to the difference between the ground soldier and the bombardier. One can see the impact of his actions, the other cannot. But the swath of death and destruction caused by the bomb dropped from the protective cocoon of the clouds can be broader, wider, deeper than the foot soldier with a rifle.

In our books, Mac Sullivan, Rachel Brenner, and Whiskey confront evil, but you can be sure, they also always defeat it. The good guys will always win in the Evelyn David mysteries. Would that life be so simple. But as we begin a new year, I'm going to focus on the fact that there always have been and will continue to be, good people like the ficitional characters I help to create.

With a belief in the good of mankind, all best wishes for a happy, healthy new year.

Evelyn David