Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Romance Is In the Air

My granddaughter who lives next door and is in and out of the house several times a day had big news for all of us last Sunday morning. Her boyfriend of two years proposed and gave her a ring.

That morning in church, Juan announced to the whole congregation that he'd asked Jessica to marry him and she'd accepted. Everyone applauded. The pastor (who happens to be my son-in-law) called Juan, Jessi and her mom (my son was working) up to the front and they all prayed.

Jessi and Juan met in their freshman year in high school. He was immediately enamored, but Jessi wasn't ready for a boyfriend. They had many of the same classes and when it came time for the Christmas formal, Juan asked Jessi to go with him. She wanted to go to the dance, so agreed. That was the extent of their dating until the next big dance came along. Again she went with him. That continued for two years. His persistence paid off, because Jessi began spending more time with him.

Both played soccer for the high school and some of their dates consisted of practicing soccer together.

When Juan started coming to church every Sunday and then helping Jessi with the Sunday School class she teaches, we all knew the friendship had developed into more of a romance.

Now Jessi is planning her wedding which won't be until next March and her father is moaning about what it's going to cost him.

Our pastor won't marry anyone until they've been counseled. The first step is for each of them to fill out a questionnaire without speaking to each other about it. She's done it already and I'm sure Juan won't be far behind.

I'm glad I'm the grandmother and don't have to be in on the planning. It's fun to hear all of her ideas, just glad I don't have to execute any of them.

For my eldest daughter, we planned the wedding together. She made her dress and helped the bridesmaids who didn't know how to sew make theirs. Daisies grew all over the neighborhood and we picked them for the baskets the bridesmaids carried. We had the reception in our family room and back yard and I prepared all the food.

My second daughter had a small wedding and again I prepared the food for the reception which was again at our house. Eldest son went to Vegas and married,the reception was at our house and I prepared the food. Years later, this was repeated when he got married the second time. Youngest daughter did all her wedding planning, reception was in eldest daughter's back yard. I prepared the food.

Youngest son had a church wedding and the reception was in our house and I prepared the food. Years later he had a second wedding in Vegas, and I know you can guess where the reception was and who prepared the food.

Thank goodness I can just sit back and enjoy the one that's coming.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, March 30, 2009

Paul Newman Rocks


I don’t often get to swoon about my day job, but this time…sigh.

I’m writing a Young Adult biography of Paul Newman. Other than writing mysteries, does it get any better than penning the life and times of the man with the piercing blue eyes?

The younger generation may only recognize Paul Newman as the face of organic popcorn. Although there is a whole generation under the age of six who recognize Newman as the voice of Doc Hudson from the animated mega-hit, Cars.

I’ve just started the research, but as I wrote in my book proposal, this is a man who was constantly reinventing himself. He was an actor, director, racecar driver, political activist, businessman, philanthropist, humanitarian. He took his love of cooking and transformed it into a hugely profitable business that donates ALL profits to charities. I knew about Newman’s Hole in the Wall camps for children with cancer, but was touched by the story of donating a bus to the Hope Rural School in Indiantown, Florida so that the children of migrant workers, who too easily slip through the educational cracks, could safely get to a school that was created to meet the needs of families on the move.

I envision spending hours watching – and rewatching – Paul Newman movies. I know. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it! While he once took out an ad apologizing for what he thought was his wretched movie debut in The Silver Chalice (and I confess I haven’t seen it), who could forget him as Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus (could those eyes get any bluer?), Brick Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (ooooh, the unadulterated sex appeal and probably my favorite film), and Henry Gondorff in The Sting (Paul Newman in an undershirt, swoon)? The range of the man was phenomenal, but the range of his humanitarian outreach was even more extraordinary.

He wasn’t a saint, often drank too much, met more than his share of heartache. What I find fascinating is Newman’s ability to tackle life head on – and bounce back when he failed. I am impressed by his acknowledgment that it takes hard work to succeed. “I had no natural gift to be anything,” he insisted. “I’ve worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me.” I like the idea that he had a second, third, even fourth acts in his life, taking new risks and enjoying new challenges.

The next six months will be a hectic time alternating between the murder and mayhem of the third book in the Sullivan Investigations series – and learning more about the man whose nickname was King Cool.


Evelyn David

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fear of Sewing

Jeri Westerson grew up on the mean streets of Los Angeles and so always had a thing for noir. She also always had a thing for the Middle Ages. Her debut novel Veil of Lies; A Medieval Noir combines both loves. Read an excerpt at www.JeriWesterson.com.

It’s not something I generally do. I mean, I’m pretty comfortable playing with my sharps, my daggers and sword. But facing a sewing machine is a bit scary.

Yeah, I’m all wrong as a girl. I always like playing the boys’ games rather than the girlie stuff. I’m glad to see it’s finally paying off with my novels. VEIL OF LIES is my debut medieval mystery with a protagonist who is all man. Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight eking out a living on the mean streets of 14th century London as a private detective. His life on the Shambles, the butcher’s district, is less than desirable, but because he committed treason against the newly enthroned King Richard II, he was hardly in a position to argue. His life was spared but his knighthood, lands, and place in the world were banished. Gone is the courtly life he was used to. And now he must live amongst people he would scarcely have given the time of day let alone live with.
And so I get to use my knowledge of weapons and other manly pursuits while filling out the backstory of Crispin’s life. It’s a lot of fun, as you can imagine.

But as far as promoting the book, I have to get a little more down to earth. Those who like medieval mysteries are very keen on their history. And I thought I might have to make a few appearances at Society of Creative Anachronism events (you know, those re-enactors who do battles and jousts and Renaissance fair-type gatherings?) That’s where the sewing machine comes in.

I’ve made the occasional Halloween costume for my son (though my motto has always been, “If I don’t glue it, I don’t do it.”), but here I was going to create an actual 14th century gown for myself, complete with head piece. Was I nuts? Firstly, I never remember how to wind the bobbin, and no matter how gentle I am with the foot pedal, it always runs away from me. The seams bunch up, I get the wrong thread in the wrong place, and what the heck is “facing” anyway?

But I managed. I found the right pattern and didn’t even have to worry about a hidden zipper (uh, no thanks!) as I made it big enough to slip over my head.

And after all that preparation, I’ve worn it exactly...once. Camping. Doing a medieval feast for my friends. And wore it for a total of ten minutes as it was hotter than blazes were we were. I’m not the type to show up at a book signing wearing a costume. I just don’t. So I imagine that one of these days, I will don the thing again and make a proper appearance. I suppose.

In the meantime, I’d love to show you my collection of medieval weaponry. I have a story or two about my daggers and sword. And yes, you can try on my helm. But don’t swing the flail. You can put an eye out.

Jeri Westerson

If you’d like to see a few of those articles on weapons, slide on over to my blog http://www.getting-medieval.com/ or peek in at my website for the first chapter of VEIL OF LIES by going to http://www.jeriwesterson.com/.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March Madness

I usually don't watch sports on television – I make an exception for March Madness and the women's tournament.

I got my first basketball in the sixth grade. I loved playing. I would have loved playing on a team even more, but that was back before schools believed they had to provide equal sports opportunities for girls. Some schools offered basketball for girls, most did not. The grade school I attended didn't think it was necessary. The sixth grade boys had a team that competed with other schools. The sixth grade girls got to play basketball at recess. Big whoop. That was 1971.

On June 23, 1972, things changed. Title IX was enacted. The new federal law stated, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

In other words, "Schools, if you want federal money, stop discriminating based on sex."

The biggest area of discrimination? Sports.

In 1972, the school I attended had a girls' basketball program.

We didn't get the facilities, the locker rooms, the uniforms, the playing times, or any of the extras that the boys' teams took for granted, but we had a team. And after having nothing before, we were ecstatic.

Today, I look at how far women's sports programs have come and I'm very envious. All kinds of opportunities are out there for girls of all ages. Even with schools cutting back because of budget constraints, if they offer boys sports, they have to offer girls sports. There have been many challenges to the law, many disputes over what constitutes equal, and many complaints over adding girls sports if it meant cutting a boys' sport in order to be able to fund a sport for the girls. And what the schools can't afford, private organizations can and do. Girls' softball, volleyball, tennis, fencing, and yes, even basketball community or club leagues are common

Are men's and women's sports treated equally? Are they equally funded? Equally supported by their communities? No. But I have hope that someday they will be. We have come a long way since 1972.

As I write this blog, I think of one of my heroes, Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee women's basketball head coach. She started as an assistant coach at the university in 1974, having grown up during the time when girls' sports was an oddity, not a given. A lot of the respect women's basketball has achieved in the last 34 years has been due to Pat Summitt's efforts.

The other night I watched her mostly freshman team lose in the first round to Ball State. Although the Tennessee team and coach were visibly disappointed, along with the pundits and fans, I couldn't help but think how lucky they were. Win or lose, their destiny is determined, not by their gender, but by talent, hard work, and desire.

March Madness? Sure. Sixty-four teams of talented, athletic, smart young women playing a team sport, their games broadcast on national television.

Quite a change from the time when girls were lucky to touch a basketball at recess.

Bring on the madness.

Evelyn David

P.S. - New interview with both halves of Evelyn David is up at Ask Wendy - The Query Queen's blog - Check it out - Ten Questions by Ask Wendy – The Query Queen

Evelyn David interview http://tinyurl.com/EvelynDavidinterview

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dating in the Modern World--Not for the Faint of Heart

My Stiletto sisters of Monday and Tuesday have given me plenty of food for thought and I was debating between the “first date” post versus the “guilty pleasure” post. Since writing about my guilty pleasures could take a lot longer than it should, I’ll start with first dates or just dating in general.

I didn’t go on too many first dates, luckily. I was fortunate to meet my husband in college where we first became friends in one of our shared French classes. I was struggling a bit with the material and our teacher—a woman who was truly a Fairy Godmother to me and Jim—suggested that this younger man help me with my studies. Suffice it to say that the only things I can say in French are,“I need more wine, please” and “Where is the bathroom?” but I found my soul mate and the love of my life. So who cares if I confuse the words for factory and pool in French?

For some reason, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about dating mores in the modern world. I find myself having made the acquaintances of younger women and am in awe of what goes on the in the world of 21st century dating. Texting, email, Facebook, Blackberry communication…it’s daunting. Doesn’t anyone use the phone anymore? Or talk to each other face to face? Although back in the day, some of us were known to sit by the phone for hours on end waiting for that special someone to call, is the instant access of today any better? What happens if you text a paramour and don’t hear back from him/her instantly? To me, that seems much worse than staring at a non-ringing phone, willing it to trill. Knowing that everyone is plugged in twenty-four/seven and not receiving a text back would make me nuts. And I think I can safely say that that goes for the women I know out there in the dating world.

Several of my younger friends also do online dating, which I thought would be a good resource until I heard about how many potential dates post pictures of people other than themselves to draw dates in. And of course, I’m a mystery writer, so all I think about is meeting a stranger in a bar for a drink or a cup of coffee and how that scenario could go so wrong. But I also know three friends who met their spouses online; all are happy, well-adjusted, and giant proponents of online dating.

It’s the speed of everything nowadays that gives me pause. A similarly-aged friend and I were talking to a much younger friend who is attempting to embark on a new relationship. This new couple is still sorting things out—the “dance,” so to speak. My advice? Take it slow. Let it marinate. My friend’s advice? Look for a companion. Look for someone to do things with that you like to do. Have fun together. Decide what it is that is a deal breaker and what you can live with, because guess what? We’re not all perfect. Don’t expect him to hang on your every word, or vice versa. Go from sixty miles an hour to thirty and see how that feels.

The younger woman stared at us, dubious, but I did remind her that we have a combined 30 + years of marriage between us, so we can’t be all wrong, right? I know things are different, but are they truly that different?

What’s going on out there in the dating world? Your thoughts from the trenches, please.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Going to movies is one of my guilty pleasures--guilty because of the money it costs to go to the show nowadays and the fact that we usually end up eating out either before or after. The last movie we saw was Knowing which hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed. People are calling it sci-fi, but it really is religious with multiple subtle clues throughout.

Another of my guilty pleasures is reality TV shows. I'm delighted that Dancing With the Stars is back on. My daughter-in-law and I watch together. We've sucked hubby into watching it too. I also love Survivor and have watched it faithfully since it's inception. My eldest daughter and I discuss it along with the Amazing Race via e-mail after each episode. (Yes, I also like Celebrity Apprentice, but I'm usually asleep before the firing.)

My biggest confession is my husband and I watch General Hospital together in the afternoon. (If we miss it we watch the episode on the computer.) Frankly, sometimes we both go to sleep when it's on. It's amazing to me the things they do with the plot that an author could never get away with. I also have a good friend who is a General Hospital fan and hubby and I have been invited to her home for tea and to watch an episode,

I have other TV shows I really like--Medium and The Mentalist are wonderful. By the time evening comes around, my brain is too tired to tackle any writing chores and a little mindless entertainment seems just right.

Oh, and I like McDonald's vanilla flavored iced coffee too. (Fortunately we're 17 miles away from the nearest McDonald's.)

Now, I've confessed--what are your guilty pleasures?

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Mating Game

Listening to son number three rant about the dating scene made me realize that even if it’s been a million years since I was unattached, first dates are still the pits.

A recent example.

He’d met an interesting woman who was a friend of a friend of a friend. They’d chatted by phone, exchanged a couple of emails, and agreed to meet for a drink. This generation – and I just aged myself by a hundred years, but at least I didn’t refer to them as the young un’s – don’t want to invest any real time or money in a first date. You meet in a public location, just for drinks or coffee so it’s a limited time frame, and if worse comes to worse, you check your Blackberry and announce that you have to go back to work because of an unexpected crisis. Who’s going to argue in this economy when work calls?

From what I understand, the meet and greet over beers went well, they shared a few laughs, discovered they both like films, and before the evening ended, agreed to go to a movie.

Danger, Will Robinson.

The movie you choose can mean the difference between marriage and a lonely life of celibacy.

Ever the gentleman (I raised him well), he permitted the young woman to choose the flick. Now, if I had been advising her, there are a couple of parameters I would have suggested in choosing a film for a first date.

1. Skip all Chick flicks.
We may all be able to recite verbatim numerous scenes from Steel Magnolias and have the soggy tissues to show for it, but if the movie has the girl dying for love, it’s a pass for a first or even fifth date.

2. Pass on any movie with subtitles.
Sure there are lots of fabulous films made in Japan, Italy, France – but at this point, you’d like subtitles for what your date really means when he says, “I’ll call you.”

3. Avoid at all costs any films that have an IMPORTANT message.
AKA, you’ll walk out depressed because life sucks and there’s no point in even hoping that there is a happy ending to, well, anything because men are pigs.

Here’s what happened. They met at 9:30 pm for a quick coffee and cupcake. So far, so good. Sure it’s late for me, but they’re young. The movie was at 10 and it was a World War II movie in a frozen tundra with Nazis – not a lot of laughs to say the least. In fact, not only did many of the good guys die in the film, but the epilogue then made clear that even those who survived suffered more tragedies in life.

As he pointed out, you're not supposed to end a first date thoroughly depressed. Since it was midnight and both had early meetings for work the next day, they parted within fifteen minutes -- never to meet again.

What the worst first date you ever had?

Evelyn David

P.S. We've been Kindle-d. Murder Off the Books is now available in Kindle format. Murder Takes the Cake will not be published in paperback until May, but is already available in Kindle format. TechnologyRUs!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Writing the Query Letter

Today we have a Q & A with Wendy Burt-Thomas. She is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her third book, "The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters" hit stores in January 2009. To learn more about Wendy or her three books, visit www.GuideToQueryLetters.com. If you have a writing-related question, you can also post it on http://www.AskWendy.wordpress.com.

Can you tell us about your book?

The book was a great fit for me because I'd been teaching "Breaking Into Freelance Writing" for about eight years. In the workshop, I covered a lot of what is in this book: writing query letters to get articles in magazines, to land an agent, or to get a book deal with a publisher. Since I'm a full-time freelance magazine writer and editor with two previous books, this was incredibly fun to write because it didn't require tons of research. I was lucky enough to receive lots of great sample query letters from writers and authors that I use as "good" examples in the book. I wrote all the "bad" examples myself because I didn't dare ask for contributions that I knew I'd be ripping apart!

In addition to the ins and outs of what makes a good query, the book covers things like why (or why not) to get an agent, where to find one and how to choose one; writing a synopsis or proposal; selling different rights to your work; other forms of correspondence; and what editors and agents look for in new writers.

It was really important to me that the book not be a dry, boring reference book, but rather an entertaining read (while still being chock full of information). I was thrilled that Writer's Digest let me keep all the humor.

Why are query letters so important?

Breaking into the publishing world is hard enough right now. Unless you have a serious "in" of some kind, you really need a great query letter to impress an agent or acquisitions editor. Essentially, your query letter is your first impression. If they like your idea (and voice and writing style and background), they'll either request a proposal, sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. If they don't like your query letter, you've got to pitch it to another agency/publisher. Unlike a manuscript, which can be edited or reworked if an editor thinks it has promise, you only get one shot with your query. Make it count!

I see a lot of authors who spend months (or years) finishing their book, only to rush through the process of crafting a good, solid query letter. What a waste! If agents/editors turn you down based on a bad query letter, you've blown your chance of getting them to read your manuscript. It could be the next bestseller, but they'll never see it. My advice is to put as much effort into your query as you did your book. If it's not fabulous, don't send it until it is.

You're also a magazine editor. What is your biggest gripe regarding queries?

Queries that show that the writer obviously hasn't read our publication. I'll admit that I did this when I was a new writer too – submitted blindly to any publication whose name sounded even remotely related to my topic. One of the examples I use was when I submitted a parenting article to a magazine for senior citizens. Oops! A well-written query pitching an article that's not a match for the magazine isn't going to get you any further than a poorly written query.

There's an entire chapter in the book about agents. Do you think all new writers should get agents?

Probably 99% of new writers should get an agent. There are lots of reasons, but my top three are: 1) Many of the larger publishing houses won't even look at unagented submissions now; 2) Agents can negotiate better rights and more money on your behalf; 3) Agents know the industry trends, changes and staff better than you ever could.

You've been a mentor, coach or editor for many writers. What do you think is the most common reason that good writers don't get published?

Poor marketing skills. I see so many writers that are either too afraid, too uniformed, or frankly, too lazy, to market their work. They think their job is done when the write "the end" but writing is only half of the process. I've always told people who took my class that there are tons of great writers in the world who will never get published. I'd rather be a good writer who eats lobster than a great writer who eats hot dogs. I make a living as a writer because I spend as much time marketing as I do writing.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions that writers have about getting a book deal?

That they'll be rich overnight, that they don't need to promote their book once it's published, that publishing houses will send them on world book tours, that people will recognize them at the airport. Still, you can make great money as an author if you're prepared to put in the effort. If it wasn't possible, there wouldn't be so many full-time writers.

What must-read books do you recommend to new writers?

Christina Katz (author of "Writer Mama") has a new book out called "Get Known Before the Book Deal" - which is fabulous. Also, Stephen King's "On Writing" and David Morrell's "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing." Anything by Anne Lamott or my Dad, Steve Burt.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned as a full-time writer?

Seize every opportunity - especially when you first start writing. I remember telling someone about a really high-paying writing gig I got and he said, "Wow. You have the best luck!" I thought, "Luck has nothing to do with it! I've worked hard to get where I am." Later that week I read this great quote: "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." It's absolutely true. And writing queries is only about luck in this sense. If you're prepared with a good query and/or manuscript, when the opportunity comes along you'll be successful.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Writing the "bad" query letters. I've read – and written! – so many horrible ones over the years that it was a little too easy to craft them. But misery loves company and we ALL love to read really bad query letters, right?

What do you want readers to learn from your book?

I want them to understand that while writing a good query letter is important, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. You can break it down into parts, learn from any first-round rejections, and read other good queries to help understand what works. I also want them to remember that writing is fun. Sometimes new writers get so caught up in the procedures that they lose their original voice in a query. Don't bury your style under formalities and to-the-letter formatting.

What great info! Thanks, Wendy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Library Love

As my co-author and I are gearing up to promote the May publication of Murder Takes the Cake, we're discussing our favorite way to reach mystery readers and sell books – events at public libraries.

When you give a presentation in a library, your audience is filled with people who love books, love talking about books, and want nothing more than to hear what you have to say. Some even have dreams of writing their own books. Your family may have grown weary of hearing about your writing, but go to a library and you have a room full of fresh ears.

On more than one occasion, I've found that a one hour event has turned into two as audience members ask questions about the books and the road to publication. That's the best part – the questions. You never know what someone is going to ask. During my first library presentation I got a question from an elderly woman. She declared that she'd buy my book if I could assure her that no animals or people got killed in it. I told her no animals were killed but that it was a murder mystery …. The audience laughed, even the questioner.

This year "Evelyn David" will be offering "talks" on crafting mysteries, developing characters, and writing a series. We have presentations suitable for all ages and a few just for teens. We try to provide handouts – bookmarks, lists of "how-to-write" books, and a list of links to on-line writers' groups. The door prize drawing is always a hit.

If an author is scheduled to speak at a library in your home town, go and check it out. You'll have fun, find something interesting to read, and lend some much needed support to your local library system.

And if you're a librarian in Oklahoma or New York (or a surrounding state) and would like a guest speaker, send us an email at evelyn@evelyndavid.com If you'll check at our website in our "Libraries Hall of Fame," you can see which libraries we've visited in the last two years. We're setting our speaking schedule for the summer and fall of 2009 now and we'd love to add you to that list!

Evelyn David

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Few Words on Michelle (and you know who I'm talking about)

This week, New York magazine dedicated several pages—and its cover—to our new First Lady, Michelle Obama. Very famous writers were charged with trying to find the reason she has gone from almost-reviled to now-revered. Remember the “this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve been proud of my country” comment and the ire it inspired? Or the fist bump? (Something I do with my kids for every good grade; if they knew of its radical connotations, they would probably be fist-bumping me every chance they got. Or getting straight A’s every semester.)

What is it that has caused this transformation in the public’s opinion? I, of course, have a theory or two.

She’s a mother with two small children: Many took issue with the fact that this woman was calling herself “Mom-in-Chief.” Me? I have no problem with that. The family does have two children. With a high-profile father—probably the highest-profile father—and the demands that go along with living in the White House, I respect a woman who would acknowledge that despite the Presidency and all its trappings, there are children to raise. Children who deserve a normal childhood. Children who need to go to school, participate in after-school activities, do homework, practice their instruments and most importantly, play. Michelle Obama recognizes this and seems to be doing her best, including asking her mother along for the ride, to make these things happen for them.

She seems to dig her husband—a lot: I like having a couple in the White House who genuinely seem to like—even dig—one another. Of course Ron and Nancy Reagan were madly in love for all those years but they were so much older than I was when he was in office that they seemed like my grandparents. I couldn’t relate. Hillary and Bill? Should I even go there? And George and Barbara Bush? More grandparents. W and Laura seemed to have a good thing going but not in any kind of relatable way. The Obamas are a different breed of married compared to the last four First Couples. There was that romantic dance to Etta James’ “At Last” at the inauguration ball, and of course, the aforementioned fist bump, a romantic gesture in context. They don’t do the public displays of affection of the googly-eyes, but you can just tell. She speaks of his bad morning breath and the fact that he’s not so good about picking up after himself, but the way she talks about it is in the most affectionate way. I’m sure in the privacy of the East Wing or the Lincoln Bedroom she might not be so circumspect or accepting of his flaws, but when she speaks of him in public, she makes it seem like his habits are endearing. (And we all know that they ARE NOT. Even if he is the damn President.)She’s tall—I love a tall girl. I’m five foot eight and she’s got at least three inches on me. That’s tall. And she wears heels. That’s what tells me she’s comfortable with her tallness. Gone are the days of the petite flower—the Jackie Kennedy’s and Nancy Reagans. We’ve got a woman who is tall, curvy, and looks like she actually likes to eat. Gotta love that.

Basically, she’s just like us. And that’s what I think many of us are responding to. Although she doesn’t have to worry about what to make for dinner anymore, she still rides her kids about making their own beds and eating their vegetables. And she shops retail, mostly; an outfit that caused a stir was one she wore on David Letterman and which she had bought at J. Crew. She’s concerned about military families and literacy and all of the things that we should all be concerned about.

And she’s got great arms. We know that. But to get those great arms, she has to get up at 5:30 to work out with her husband. That’s where I draw the line.

Maggie Barbieri

What are your thoughts on our new First Lady?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

One of my fondest memories is the one and only time I was in New York and while searching for a place to eat, came upon four rather inebriated Irishmen singing outside an Irish pub. Of course that's where we chose to eat--great food and all the wait staff was Irish with wonderful Irish accents. On that same trip, an Irish conductor rescued me when I dumped my luggage when I was trying to get on the train. He scooped everything up and settled me in my seat. When I arrived at the D.C. train station, he had a cart waiting to deliver me and my friend to the taxi he'd called ahead for us. He also had a wonderful accent.

I've been really busy the last few days--gave a talk at a library. Fun and great crowd. While there, the librarian downloaded one of by books on his Kindle, took about 20 seconds. This weekend, we went to Camarillo and Oxnard (CA) to visit my youngest daughter and family, then the eldest and her husband. On Sunday, we had a booth at the Celebration of the Whales (I was the only author--that seems to work well), sold a lot of books, talked to many folks, and handed out lots of cards.) Great weekend--but tiring.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
http://valleygirlmusings.blogspot.com/ today's stop on my blog tour--much easier than the physical stuff I do.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Frugal Are You?

The economy is in the pits, the publishing business has gone south, and it doesn’t take long to balance my checkbook since there’s not much in there …yadda, yadda, yadda.

I know I’m preaching to the choir.

Like most people, I’m thinking long and hard about every purchase and eliminating many of the extras in our daily lives. My husband is packing his lunch most days. I brew my own rather than indulging in an over-priced cup of coffee from the local Starbucks. We’re borrowing DVDs from the library rather than renting from Blockbuster. In a two-fer, I do most of my errands on foot which saves gas and is actually a healthy move for a sedentary writer. We eat enough chicken that cluck is our second language. I’m still buying books – but there’s a certain self-interest in contributing to the publishing industry.

I’ve also spent way too much time searching the Internet for web sites that will tell me how to be more frugal. To be honest, it’s just a cheap procrastination technique, but I have learned a thing or two. Many sites offer great coupons for discounts on everything from groceries to clothing to auto repairs. I won’t go to a store without checking to see if there is a coupon available.

Most of these sites also have tips on how to cut your living expenses to the bone. Brand loyalty? Pffft – a thing of the past. To be honest, I’m willing to use generics for most products – heck even on pharmaceuticals. But I like Tide Laundry Detergent and Bounty Paper Towels. I feel ashamed to even admit that I’m spending $$$ on these hyper-advertised products. I know I could be making my own laundry detergent with a little washing soda, Borax and Fels Naptha soap. But that’s not going to happen. I know I shouldn’t use paper towels regardless of the brand in order to save the environment. Sigh. It’s hard to be cheap, environmentally conscious, and lazy.

What’s the biggest change you’ve made to save $$$ since the economy imploded? Is there anything you just can’t give up, even if there is a cheaper alternative?

Evelyn David

Friday, March 13, 2009

Secret Messages & Mysterious Codes

Mr. Stratton straightened. His smile faded. “Now, who is to be spokesman?”

“I am,” said Trixie. Jim was co-president of the Bob-Whites, but Trixie usually did the talking.

“Trixie, the School Board doesn’t want secret societies to exist in Sleepyside schools, when clubs – really gangs – can be the source of so much trouble. The board feels…that your club will have to disband.”

“We couldn’t!” Trixie almost shouted…

Most people can think of a book that impacted them. In my case, Trixie Belden forever changed my fiction reading, and especially #7, The Mysterious Code. The section above is from the back cover. The series, first from the 60’s and 70’s, featured spunky Trixie, her brothers, their wealthy friends, lots of horseback riding and the crimes they solved in their Sleepyside town. Trixie had a crush on Jim, and in #7, he gets her a corsage for a Valentine’s Day event. Here began my love of a few things including romantic suspense and codes.

The Trixie books seemed more real than Nancy Drew, as Trix made lots of mistakes and got in trouble a lot. She was terrible at household chores. I won’t say why that seemed more real. No one can say these books are multicultural or politically correct, especially the Asian brothers portrayed in #7, but it was a beloved series for me and many other. Author Denise Swanson has a Trixie Frayne (what her name would have been had she married Jim) in her series as a tribute. I even saved up the back page ads of those books when I was young for a t-shirt. I see those now on Ebay for big bucks.

My favorite Sherlock Holmes is The Adventure of the Dancing Men. I still have an old copy of the children’s book Alvin’s Secret Code by Hicks. Puzzles and codes always fascinate me, and I busily made strips of paper to wrap around sticks with my friends when I was younger (to read vertically). I set some papers on fire trying to brown lemon juice messages on them.

While my handwriting now seems like a code to lots of folks, I miss the note passing and other forms of coding I did when I was younger. Texting is not the same! I was delighted that the cover of Missing is a jigsaw puzzle, and I promptly had a puzzle made from the cover photo when it came. Puzzles are the closest I get to my secret message days.

What got you into mysteries?

-Amy Alessio

Amy Alessio is a YA librarian and author. Her most recent short story is featured in Echelon Press's new mystery anthology, Missing. Amy has a personal blog, Vintage Cookbooks. She also blogs for the Love is Murder conference and for Echelon Press’s Teen Scene.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The First Review

It's an in-between moment that's hard to describe. It's the time after you know a review of your new book is there for all the world to see and before you actually click the link or turn to the magazine page to read it. You hold your breath, torn between wanting to know what it says and wanting to avoid it at all costs. (I mean, after all, what writer worth their salt doesn't believe they're a fraud and that at any moment, someone is bound to discover it?)

The first review of Murder Takes the Cake was posted on line last Friday night. You can read it here at armchairinterviews.com. I got the email about it from the editor and then braced myself to look at the review. My pulse raced and my fingers fumbled on the keyboard as I clicked on the site and searched for the title of the book.

The actual review can be exhilarating or crushing. Logically, you know that no review can give you confidence if you don't believe in your writing. But your heart yearns for other people's approval of the fictional world you've created. You want the readers – and reviewers are readers, whether we want to believe that or not - to love your characters, understand your plot, and when they get to the words, "The End," rush out to buy your next book.

Sometimes, even with a good review, the author spends way too much time searching for subtext and parsing words. A single word, the slightest turn of phrase, anything that could be construed in a negative way, will stand out like a neon light. And no matter how many flattering descriptions surround the one little criticism, that line will be the one the author can quote verbatim years later.

The worst review is not necessarily the one from someone who didn't like your book. It's the one where the reviewer not only didn't like your book and said so, but he/she didn't get the characters' names correct. You're left with the suspicion that the reviewer never read your book. And there is nothing you can do about it!

Or how about the review where the careless reviewer missed several vital clues and then claimed in print, or worse on-line for everyone to see forever, that the murderer's identity "came out of the blue." As the author there is nothing you want more than to post a scathing rebuttal, but you can't. It just isn't done. You have to let it go.

If I could ask only one thing from readers, it's to not take a single negative review too seriously, especially if it isn't representative of the other reviews of the same book.

And for authors, I'd advise the same. Not everyone will like your book – but that doesn't mean you haven't written a good book. Not every review will be good – learn from them if you can, if not clean the smelly goop from your shoes and move on. And for heavens sake, when the review is positive, enjoy it without "wallowing it around" and searching out potential bad spots.

So what about the review I mentioned in the beginning of this blog? It's fantastic! "Evelyn David" is ecstatic.

I think I'm ecstatic. Probably.

I need to read it again, just to be sure.

And yes, despite the advice I just gave everyone, I'll reread the review over and over until the next review is posted.

But I won't focus on individual words.

I won't.


Evelyn David

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

We are approaching that time of year when we elect two new trustees and a new mayor in our little Village. And like in years past, I find again that people who I thought I knew and liked become vicious and petty, all in support of their candidates and their personal agendas. You thought national politics was bad? You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve witnessed what goes on here.

On the one side, you’ve got a mayor who is technically a Democrat but who ran, and won, on the Republican ticket. On the other, you have a former trustee, a registered Democrat, who is vying for that position. Both men—with whom I both agree and disagree on a number of different issues—are to be commended for their willingness to throw their individual hats into this mudfest we call a “campaign.” At issue is the rezoning (according to the Democrats) or development (according to the Republicans) of a part of the Village that is virtually a ghost town, most restaurants and/or businesses having fled in the past several years for greener pastures or bankruptcy—we’re actually not sure which.

Both sides have good points. On the Democratic side, are we willing to just let this part of town founder and wither? On the Republican side, where will everyone park provided that the plan goes through to attract new businesses and increase the number of rental units? I would love to see both sides debate these issues with the facts at hand and decorum in full force. But we won’t get this wish because of the inflammatory nature of each argument. So what we get are accusations, recriminations, slander and libel.

I might be wrong, but aren’t we all adults? And don’t we live in a Village of 7,500 people where it is entirely possible that the person you wrote horrible things about on the local blog might just run into you at the Post Office?

This lack of civility in local politics—and I swear it is entirely more civilized at the national level—has me feeling very sad for our Village. It also makes me feel that someone who may be interested in becoming a public servant—and a good one at that—may see what goes in our local papers, online, and at various Village meetings and decide that they just don’t have the stomach for it. I can’t say that I blame them. A recent posting by a Villager on the local blog excoriated another poster for their opinion on a political issue related to this year’s election, ending his screed with an allegation of the other poster’s “drunkenness.” We can all disagree, and we do. But do we have to bring personal attacks into the discussion?

I guess I’d like to know from our Stiletto Gang readers if this type of behavior is rampant and exists all over the country or if what I am witnessing is an anomaly. I’m hoping it’s the latter. But at this point, all I can say is that I can’t wait for this election to be over. May the thicker-skinned candidate win.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Home from Epicon and Video for No Sanctuary

It was certainly a whirlwind time!

We left home early Wednesday a.m. headed for Las Vegas. It's about a 6 hour drive through the mountains and then the desert. First stop, my sis's. As usual, we had a great time gabbing.

Thursday afternoon hubby and I headed for Henderson NV, more or less a suburb of Vegas. Our destination, Epicon which was being held in the Montelongo Resort. What a glorious setting--like an Italian village overlooking Lake Las Vegas. Our room had a balcony--which we never used, because it was chilly most of the time.

Right as we stepped in the hotel lobby we saw two friends from the last Epicon who let us know what was happening and where. After unloading our stuff we returned to the lobby where we met lots more of our friends from earlier conferences. Lee Emory, Treble Heart Press publisher, was there and the three of us decided we should have dinner together--in an Italian restaurant of course!

The conference started with an Epic business meeting and breakfast. I did a class on writing a mystery series right at 9 a.m. From then on I was free for the day and took advantage of all the rest of the seminars. That evening hubby and I tried out an Irish pub.

Saturday morning I joined some other authors to present information to three young writers. That was great! Epic always has a New Voices contest for young people. In the afternoon there was a publisher's panel.

That evening was the wonderful Awards banquet--always great. Dan Reitz, publisher of Mundania Press, m.c.'d. The women looked terrific in their dressy clothes and some of the men even had on tuxedos--one Scotch publisher wore his kilt. I was the presenter for the Mystery category--fun because it's done like the Academy Awards.

Sunday morning was a great breakfast, lots of networking and of course, finally goodbye. We headed back to my sister's for the rest of the day and to spend the night.

Came home to piles of mail and email--rather daunting to go through.

Did have this new video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_du3UtWAYXw for No Sanctuary.


Monday, March 9, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

The good news: Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David will be published in May.

The bad news: Murder Takes the Cake by somebody else was published in September 2008 and Death Takes the Cake by yet another author was published in February 2009. Oy!

Book titles can’t be copyrighted.

The collective Evelyn David chose the title of our second book before it was ever written. We submitted synopses and titles for two other Sullivan Investigation mysteries back in 2006. And in case anyone is interested, we’ve got dibs (which is about as much legal protection as we can get) on An Outlet for Murder.

But I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Maybe we ought to consider some already established titles for forthcoming books. Would it increase our readership? For example:

Gone With the Wind
After a tornado touches down in Washington, DC, Mac Sullivan and Rachel Brenner investigate the case of a missing corpse. Whiskey searches for a box of missing dog biscuits. Are the two mysteries related?

A Tale of Two Cities
Mac Sullivan is from Washington, DC, but doesn’t know the birthplace of his Irish wolfhound, Whiskey. Will a cross-country tour of kennels unearth the mystery of Whiskey’s humble beginnings? And who is the corpse in the doghouse?

The Catcher in the Rye
Mac Sullivan has been hired by the Washington Nationals to find the star catcher of the team who was last spotted at a deli ordering a ham on…

Charlotte’s Web
Rachel Brenner’s best friend Charlotte has spun a web of deceit that's already left two people dead. Mac and Whiskey race to unravel a intricately woven network of lies, while battling an infestation of black widow spiders.

Other suggestions?

Evelyn David

P.S. Sniff. Barbie shouldn't make me cry, but this story, told by the Southern half of Evelyn David, made me reach for the box of tissues. Check it out for yourself, http://www.woofersclub.blogspot.com

Friday, March 6, 2009

Writing by the Seat of my Pants

by Susan McBride

If you didn't guess by the title of this post, I'm one of those writers who usually flies by the seat of my pants. I never worked with outlines while composing 10 novels that never got published; nor did I use one for my two small press books or the five Debutante Dropout Mysteries I wrote for Avon.

All that changed when I signed with Random House to do THE DEBS young adult series. My contract required I turn in an outline before each book. A detailed outline. And it had to be approved by my editor, which meant turning it in and getting her feedback before I got the thumbs-up.

You can't even imagine how bad my first outline was. I figure my editor at RH assumed I was drunk when I wrote it (and I don't drink). Or possibly that I let my cats' paws do the walking on my keyboard. It stunk because I had no clue what I was doing. Creating an outline before I could sit down and write felt foreign to me, almost like I was ruining all the fun. Somehow (thank God), it all worked out, and THE DEBS came out A-OK.

Over the course of two more YA books (LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS and GLOVES OFF), I got better at outlining. Not great, mind you, just adequate enough that my editor could make some sense of the plotlines I suggested. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea; but it doesn't freak me out anymore either.

Now, after turning in GLOVES OFF and doing the revisions lickety-split after getting notes back before January ended, I've gone into manic writing mode as I work on THE COUGAR CLUB for Avon. My deadline is May 1. Gulp. I've made fairly good progress, but I find myself hyperventilating now and then, realizing "I have no frickin' outline!"

I got so used to them that now writing by my gut again feels a wee bit scary. Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying the freedom of letting my crazy brain take me in all sorts of directions. I fall asleep at night thinking of what I've just written that day, and I wake up in the morning with new ideas that get my heart pumping.

But I'm nervous all the same. A part of me misses having that crutch of truly knowing what's coming next...and then next after that. Then I remind myself that once I get COUGAR done and sent off to my editor at Avon, I'll have an outline to write for Random House again.

So next time I'm at a panel and someone asks, "Which of you outline?" I'll raise my hand. And then when they inquire, "And which of you flies by the seat of her pants?" I'll raise my hand, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Common Business Courtesy?

I like people who do what they say they will, when they say they're going to do it. I like them a lot, especially since they seem to be an endangered species.

I must have missed the email that said it's okay now to lie about what you can and can't do.

I know I missed the message about deadlines being mere suggestions.

And when did returning business phone calls and responding to business emails become optional? I'm not talking about returning advertisers' emails or calls from strangers soliciting donations. I'm referring to communicating with people who are currently working for or with you. When you don't return my phone call or email within a few days, I get angry.

I seem to be angry a lot lately.

Everyone has a horror story about waiting for the cable guy who never shows. Who claims he was there and you were not – even though you'd stayed parked in a chair near the front door for twelve straight hours waiting for him.

Everyone knows that if you pick up your order through a drive-through window, you have to check the sack before you leave, because nine times out of ten, you are missing items you've paid for. Ever notice how extra items never land in your sack by accident?

If you buy new tires and have them installed, be sure to check to see if all the lug nuts have been tightened. I've probably purchased five sets of tires in my life and twice I've had problems because the lug nuts weren't tightened.

Before I found my current hairdresser, I'd show up for appointments and the hairdresser would be absent. No one would have called to let me know not to come in.

It seems that business standards have disappeared from my world. Please, thank you, showing up on time, cleaning up after yourself, doing a good job, finishing the job on time – I guess those expectations are outdated.

What is the norm now? When did we become so accepting of bad behavior and substandard service, that we've lowered our expectations to almost zero?

Tell me what you expect from the people you do business with. Tell me about the companies or individuals who are exceeding your expectations. Anyone have any "service awards" they'd like to bestow?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's Time to Leave the Attic

I don’t know if it was the lengthy winter, the snow day we had yesterday, or just a general cabin fever that made me do something I never thought I’d do: sign up to go to two conferences. I admire my intrepid Stiletto co-bloggers; it seems that they are all headed somewhere all the time, while I sit in my attic week after week, content to work from dawn until dusk. But during the snow day yesterday, surrounded by husband, children, and canine companion, I decided that it was time to get out of the house and do something related to my mystery writing. (I do plenty related to my day job and those things seem to be eating up all of my time.) So, I consulted with the Northern half of Evelyn David and signed up for Deadly Ink in Parsippany, New Jersey, and Malice Domestic in Washington, D.C.

I used to travel a lot for the job I used to have, way back in the ‘90s. And I have traveled plenty for pleasure after leaving that job. But I haven’t traveled for “work” except to go to a presentation in Tennessee back in October—and that included one of my best friends as my travel companion. I used to attend at least four or five conventions when I worked outside of the house and when I say I knew everybody who attended those conventions, that’s only a bit of an exaggeration. Between all of my colleagues from work, and friends I had made at competing companies, and the authors I worked with, I knew just about everybody at a specific convention. What scares me about signing up for the two conventions is that I’ll only know one person (the Northern half of Evelyn David) out of everyone who’s attending. And that scares the bejesus out of me.

I’m not a shrinking violet by any stretch of the imagination but when I think about attending a convention where I only know one person (who has her own books to promote and won’t have time to hold my hand for 48 hours), I imagine that everyone knows everyone else and I’ll just be by myself the whole time. Intellectually, I know this won’t be the case. And as my husband always reminds me, “you can talk a dog off a meat wagon.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but I think he’s telling me that I won’t lack for conversation or companionship. I also think he’s referring to my ability to find out the life story of everyone I come into contact with. That ought to help me, right?

So, dear readers: will you let me know if you’re going to be at either of these conventions? And, if so, can I charge one of you with making sure that I’m not holed up in my room with Pay-per-view and the room service menu?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Now It's My Turn to Prepare for a Conference

I'll be heading off to Las Vegas (actually Henderson) for the EpiCon tomorrow. Epic is the organization for electronically published writers. http://www.epicauthors.com

Our first stop though, will be to see my sister who lives in Las Vegas. I love going to Vegas for conferences as I can visit my sis and write the trip off. We don't get to see each other often enough and we're the only two left in our immediate family.

I'm going to be giving a presentation on writing mystery series--good topic for me since I write two, the Rocky Bluff PD series and the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. I'm also on two panels that are going to be for young writers: one is about putting it all together and the other is on World Building or settings.

There will be lots of good presentations to go to also as this conference is really geared for e-publishing and promotion. The publisher of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Dan Reitz of Mundania Press, will be there and it's always good to be able to touch base with your publisher in person.

Like so many cons, I've gone to enough of them that I've made good friends that I'm eager to see again. Lee Emory, Treble Hear Books publisher, is a special friend and we've enjoyed each other at several Epicon. She bravely published my Christian horror novels. Of course there are many others I'm looking forward to seeing.

The conference is located at the Montelongo Resort and it looks like a fun place to explore. I'm not a gambler so that part of Las Vegas never appeals to me.

My books are already packed to the bookstore. Next, it's deciding what clothes to pack--always a major decision. I'll give my sis a call and find out what the weather's like--it'll surely be warmer than it is here.

The next conference for me after this one is Mayhem in the Midlands in May. I've already been contacted as to what kind of panels I'd like to be on. Mayhem is where I first met Susan McBride.

Now, back to packing.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Suspension of Disbelief

I’m as eager as the next guy to suspend disbelief. In fact, I do so on a daily basis. My daughter is in college and I prefer to believe that she is in her room at 7:30 pm, diligently working on her term papers, then accept the alternative that she is blithely walking the streets of her inner city campus. Seems a reasonable leap of faith.

How about the time that my mother took me to see the opera, Samson and Delilah. I was so caught up in the soaring arias that I ignored the fact that Delilah, the Biblical siren, outweighed the puny baritone playing Samson by a good 125 pounds.

My willingness to put on hold my rational brain may explain why I’m the perfect person to write cozy mysteries. By definition, these traditional whodunnits demand that, at some level, you park your common sense at the door. Cozies celebrate Ms. Average Citizen, the only person in town, regardless of her profession, who can figure out the who, what, when, where, and how of a murder mystery that has confounded the police. One of the reasons we love these stories is we want to believe that in a pinch, each of us would step up to the plate and do what needs to be done, even if it means putting Sherlock Holmes to shame.

Murder Takes the Cake, the second in the Sullivan Investigations series, will be published in May and is now available for pre-order. When creating it, both halves of Evelyn David wanted to craft a mystery full of red herrings and clever clues, with enough humor to make you laugh out loud, while avoiding the Jessica Fletcher syndrome. Remember? Jessica, a mystery writer, lives in a small town in Maine where there is a murder a week. Amazing that housing values didn’t plummet when potential buyers looked at the crime rate.

My job as an author is to write a story with enough believable elements and characters that ring true that the reader is willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. When the aria – or the mystery – is thrilling enough, that’s not hard to do.

Evelyn David