Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Book Mania

Murder Takes the Cake, the second book in the Sullivan Investigations Mystery series by Evelyn David, has an offical publish date of May, 2009. That's tomorrow!

Actually it feels like Murder Takes the Cake has already been out for six months – that's how long we've been promoting it. Longer still if you consider we had the concept and title picked out two years ago.

We've designed and ordered bookmarks promoting the new book, the series, and The Stiletto Gang. We've sent charity promotion baskets featuring our series to Bouchercon 2008, Mayhem in the Midlands, Murder 203, Malice, etc.

We've sent out emails and flyers to readers and WorldCat-listed libraries who purchased the first book, Murder Off the Books. We've blogged, twittered, myspaced, and facebooked about the book. We've called into radio station programs featuring books about animals.

We did a sneak peek sale at the Love Is Murder Convention in February. We've sold a few advance, autographed copies through our website – and Amazon has been taking pre-orders. But this weekend at Malice, Murder Takes the Cake will be officially launched.

Now the real work begins.

We have to approach bookstores, libraries, clubs, civic organizations, basically anyone who would like a speaker or workshop for their organization and in turn, will give us an opportunity to promo our books. We're busy booking events from now until 2010. If you'd like Evelyn David to speak to your group, email us at

You can see some of our scheduled events listed on the lower right side of this blog. For a full listing check out our website at

My co-author and I love speaking to library groups – nothing like talking to a group of people who love everything about books. We have a listing of all the libraries we've visited on our Library Hall of Fame section of our website.

On the Saturday before Mother's Day, I'm trying something different. I'll have a small table at Reasor's Grocery Store in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From 9 am – 2 pm, I'll be competing with the "food sample lady" and the "special on aisle 5" for shoppers' attention. Hey, maybe I could join forces with the "food sample lady!" No, scratch that – I don't want barbeque stains on my book pages. On the other hand someone might think red stains on a murder mystery was a plus. I'll have to think about it.

Wish us luck! The new book mania begins.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Off to Malice

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I spend an inordinate amount of time in my attic. My office is located up there, a little alcove that is filled with books, manuscripts, and shoes (we’re short on closet space in this almost one hundred year old house). But for the first time in my writing career, I’m heading to Malice Domestic this weekend with the northern half of Evelyn David, my good friend Marian Borden, who has schooled me in the ins and outs of attending the convention. And thank god she did, because I had no idea what to expect.

As she mentioned in Monday’s post, we have both been invited to participate in Malice Go Round, a mystery convention version of speed dating, where we have the opportunity to do a two-minute presentation on our latest books—mine being Quick Study—to groups of fans. I was told by the person chairing the convention that it is nice to do a little giveaway, a bookmark, post card, some candy. Well, suffice it to say that BJ’s needs to restock their candy aisle because I bought more candy than I’ve ever bought during the Halloween season, and still didn’t make my goal of making it last through one hundred bags. I’m on eighty, with a goal of preparing one hundred and fifty. So it’s back to BJ’s this week. I hope they’ve restocked.

Marian and I had a quick lunch to go over the details of the convention. My concern? That I’ve been in the attic so long that I’ve forgotten how to behave in polite society. If your day in the “office” starts at eight and ends somewhere in the vicinity of twelve hours later—after brief interludes of making sandwiches, doing laundry, NOT cleaning the bathroom, and preparing chicken cutlets for the fifth time in a week—and you’re by yourself with only Bonnie, the very emotionally needy Westie, to keep you company and talk to, you’d be nervous, too. I’m guessing that mystery conventioneers don’t respond to the same verbal cues as Bonnie and won’t get all excited if I ask them if they want a treat. I’ve been practicing my convention small talk, and watching myself in the mirror as I introduce myself to someone else. (That hasn’t been going very well. I’m starting to look like someone who needs anti-anxiety medication. When you introduce yourself, I guarantee that your smile shouldn’t include ALL of your teeth. Molars shouldn’t be part of the introduction equation.)

Marian and I are looking forward to the opening night reception (see previous paragraph on small talk, introductions, and smiling) and the banquet on Saturday night, though I am in a dither as to what to wear. If I wait long enough to pack, that will become a non-issue and I’ll just throw something in my suitcase that will have to do. I have a longstanding aversion to packing since my editorial job where I had to travel three months a year. Packing meant leaving and leaving meant not seeing husband and child number one for at least a week, if not longer. I’m trying to think through what I need, but know that I’ll be throwing items in a suitcase on Thursday morning, moments before I’m supposed to leave, confident that there is an underground mall beneath the hotel for anything I’ve forgotten.

I expressed all of the anxiety I was feeling about traveling down to the convention in a recent post. But something recently dawned me: I’ll be in a hotel room, by myself, for three nights. That, in itself, sounds fabulous. And if I do have any anxiety about mixing and mingling, I only have to remember the inimitable words of fellow poster, Marilyn Meredith: “Everyone’s in the same boat. Just smile and start talking.”

I’ll do that. I’ll just have to make sure that I keep my molars to myself.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My View on The L.A. Times Book Festival

We got back late Sunday afternoon and I've had time to reflect on my two days at the L.A. Times Book Festival.

First, the pluses. It's mind-boggling. So many people all in one place, and so. The UCLA campus is beautiful, the buildings are old and wonderful. If you love books, there were millions of them. The white tent booths are packed in a large area--book stores, authors, special interest groups, religions of all varieties, ethnic groups, college bookstores (not just UCLA's), radio stations, food--people selling all sorts of things had booths. There are also many interviews of famous writers and celebrities who have written books, and performances going on in auditoriums and in large tents.

I met so many people and even ran into old friends. I handed out lots of cards and even managed to sell a few books--mainly in the L.A. Chapter of Sisters in Crime booth.

This is my third time attending and I realized that it takes a toll physically. It's a long, long walk from the parking garage to the area on campus where the festival is held. And it seems even longer if you're hauling books, even if they are in a rolling conveyance. There are lots of stairs. Lines for the bathrooms were long. There is lots of competition because there are so many authors signing books--many much more well-known than I am. You must work to sell your books--by working I mean really connect with people and be able to describe your book in a quick and succinct manner.

And of course, if you're from out-of-town you must drive and stay in a hotel. Less expensive ones aren't in the best parts of town. Also driving in L.A. can be scary and confusing. (I learned to drive in L.A., but so long ago and things have changed so much.)

All in all, though, I had a great time.

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

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Road and Loving It

This is a busy week. On Thursday night I’ve been invited to the Burlington County Literacy Volunteers Dinner with an Author , at Braddocks Tavern in Medford, NJ. As a writer, I celebrate those wonderful volunteers who “change lives word by word.” There will be an author at each table, and we’ll have the opportunity to sell our books after the dinner. It’s such a noble cause and if you’re at the dinner, please stop by and say hello.

Immediately after the event, my husband and I will hit the road heading South, stopping somewhere for the night when he gets too tired of driving. I’ve got to be in Arlington, Virginia by 11 am the next morning for the kickoff of Malice Domestic . Along with fellow Stiletto Gang blogger Maggie Barbieri, I’ll be part of Malice-Go-Round, a sort of speed dating for mystery writers and fans. The authors move from table to table, with two minutes to give a short spiel about their book(s). You’ve got to grab the fans’ attention, while summarizing your book without giving away too much of the plot. What I do give away is candy (what goes better with murder and mayhem than chocolate?).

Once Malice-Go-Round is finished, I’ll have plenty of time to schmooze with other Malice-ites, as well as attend the fabulous panels and fun banquet. I’ve created two bountiful baskets for the charity auction, one for Evelyn David and the other for The Stiletto Gang. There’s chocolate, alcohol, and mysteries involved in both – sounds good to me!

Finally on Sunday, at 12:30, I’m on the panel, “I Hear Voices,” moderated by Patti Ruocco (mystery fan and librarian), with authors J.B. Stanley, Kate Carlisle, and Clyde Linsley. I’ll be talking about character development – and learning a lot too! Can’t wait.

If you’re going to be at Malice, please let me know. It would be great to meet and greet!

Evelyn David

Friday, April 24, 2009

Late Bloomers

Of course, it’s all relative as to what constitutes a late bloomer. In the garden it can mean late spring, late in the season, or late in the year. Last week millions of people were introduced to the world’s most famous (at least right now) late bloomer – Susan Boyle, she of the viewed 35 million times Youtube/Britain’s Got Talent video. I accounted for four of those views myself, each time blubbering like a baby.

There were lots of reasons the video was such a phenomenon. Yes, she has angelic voice and yes, her appearance might suggest otherwise (although all she really needed was a Tweezerman and a little makeup.) And the television program she appeared on delights in embarrassing people and – for some reason I cannot fathom – people don’t mind making idiots of themselves on a global stage.

I prefer to think the reason for Susan’s success was at that the ripe old age of 47, she clung to her dream long enough to make it come true. And we got to watch. And maybe believe that some of our dreams might still come true. I don’t know anyone so cool (or so cold, really) who didn’t share in her triumph. Why should the precocious get all the attention - those scary little tykes with the oversized lungs who shriek into microphones and hope to be the next (lord help them) Miley Cyrus?

Or maybe I loved the video because I too am a late bloomer. I didn’t even start writing until I was past forty. By that time most successful writers have a few books under their belts, even if they’ve been toiling away in anonymity waiting for their breakout book to happen.

But that does not seem to be the case for mysteries. Hallelujah! Looking over the list of Agatha nominees for Best First Novel, none of us is anyone’s idea of a spring chicken. (I know all of those gals and think I can write that without getting clobbered in Arlington!) When I wrote Pushing Up Daisies, I wasn’t even thinking about publication, I just wanted to finish the darn thing. Then the other stuff came..agent, book deal.. second book deal. And now an Agatha nomination. And it’s all mighty fine. Maybe even sweeter since it’s a second act and there aren’t supposed to be any of those.

The point is, why let the Simon whatever-his-name-is type of person convince you it’s too late to live your dream. Unless, of course, your dream is to play shortstop for the Yankees, swim the English Channel or play guitar like Eric Clapton, in which case, it probably is too late if you’re past forty. But other than that, why not go for it?


Rosemary Harris is the author of the Dirty Business Mystery series from St. Martin’s Minotaur, Pushing Up Daisies, The Big Dirt Nap, and Deadhead (2010.) She’s the president of Sisters in Crime New England, a board member of MWA-NY Chapter, a member of the Garden Writers of America, and a Master Gardener in the state of CT. She’s still over forty.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Plotting in Your Sleep

The great American author, Edna St. Vincent Millay, once wrote that she couldn’t get the woman onto the porch. What she meant, of course, was that she couldn’t figure out an organically sound reason for the character to do as the plot demanded.

I struggle with this situation all the time. Plotting a mystery is, for me, a combination of architecture and sleight of hand. I lay the foundation, plan the structure, and use language to entice my readers to pay attention to something over here while something else is happening over there, unnoticed. In order for this complex process to flow seamlessly, I need to create characters whose actions mesh with the plot’s development.

It’s hard. If I have a boorish man, for instance, who blusters and creates awkward moments, certainly my readers will focus on him. But if, later, the plot demands that the character finesse something, I’m sunk. A boorish man who blusters would never finesse anything. Reconciling these two needs—a solid, architecturally sound plot and actions driven not by the plot’s needs but by the characters’ personalities is, for me, the most challenging part of writing.

How do I do it? I don’t know. I don’t know why, when I’m mentally outlining the plot, I know that a certain female character is well-dressed and socially savvy. The fact that she is, however, becomes important later in the plot—she hosts a ladies’ luncheon. It’s a good thing she’s that sort of woman because I needed her to host that event—but I didn’t know that the luncheon would occur when I started to write the book—at least not consciously.

I’ve concluded that much of the intricacy of plotting occurs on some unconscious level. For instance, I know that when I need to resolve something, I get the problem clear in my head just before I go to sleep, and when I awaken—I have the answer. Sleeping on it, for me, actually works when I need to figure out how to get the woman onto the porch.

Maybe it’s that my cats sleep on my pillow—sometimes on my head. Here’s Angela, my love bunny, at the foot of the bed.

Jane Cleland

Jane K. Cleland writes the multiple-award nominated and Independent Mystery Booksellers Association best-selling Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series, set on the rugged New Hampshire coast, [St. Martin’s Minotaur], an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. Killer Keepsakes is the fourth in the series. Ms. Cleland chairs the Wolfe Pack’s literary awards and is on the board of the Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter. “Josie” stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Her apartment (along with her husband and cats) was featured in a recent New York Times Habitat article.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dear Mr. President

I just read an article in the New York Times that described how, in the White House, it is one person’s job to cull ten letters from the tens of thousands that are received weekly for the President to read. The President reads them, and responds with a handwritten letter of his own to the ten that are chosen. In one, he asked the mother, who had written the letter about her son who was about to be deployed to the Middle East, to thank her son for his service. She was touched that President Obama used her son’s first name in the letter and took time to respond in writing.

According to the article, the President tears up when reading some of these letters. The letters that are chosen are designed to make the President “uncomfortable” with their messages, to show him how hard it is out there to be an American in these daunting economic times. It got me thinking, though: what would I write to the President? What message would I want to send him, if I had the inclination to write him? I feel like he’s on the right track so far, just shy of his first hundred days, and I’m willing to give him a little more time to make all of this work out. But if I were going to write him today—right now—what would I say? Just a little sampling:

1. Dear Mr. President: Could you please make the Department of Motor Vehicles a nicer place to visit and work? Could you please make it so the people that work there aren’t as miserable as human beings can be and happy to assist you with your learner’s permit, your license renewal, or even your picture? Could you please make it so that the camera at the DMV doesn’t make you look like you’ve just spent twenty-five years in the Gulag for a crime you didn’t commit?

2. Dear Mr. President: I’ve noticed that even though the price of gas has dropped considerably since last summer, our groceries, clothing, sundries, and other consumer-based items are still sky high. As a matter of fact, I spent nearly $200.00 on groceries yesterday at the store, and I’m a pretty savvy shopper. Why has gas come down, yet everything else stayed so high? Weren’t we told that the reason we were paying more for everything was due to the price of gas? What gives?

3. Dear Mr. President: Please get our troops out of Iraq. Toute de suite.

4. Dear Mr. President: Please make our waterways safer for Merchant Marines. Pirates? What the heck is up with that? I’ve been warning my kids for years that if they didn’t eat citrus, they would get scurvy, like pirates. They would always remind me that pirates didn’t exist. Suffice it to say that we’ve got a bunch of orange-eaters around here now so I guess something positive has come out of the recent headlines.

5. Dear Mr. President: Please thank your wife for planting that vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House and for making healthy eating an initiative. We’ve got too many overweight children, too many fast-food alternatives for people who don’t know the joys of fresh food, and too many children with food and weight-related illnesses in this country that could be managed by diet. Thank her for thinking of our children and making them a priority.

6. Dear Mr. President: Please make our environment a priority. Please find alternative fuel sources for our gas-guzzling society to use instead of fossil fuels. Please find someone for your staff—anyone—who can make clean air, clean water, and conservation a top priority and make Americans believe that that’s the only way to go if we’re going to live long, healthy lives.

7. And last but not least…Dear Mr. President: Can you please find out why my tax return has been delayed?

P.S. And, of course, “Why didn’t you get a Westie?”

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One of My Favorite Jobs

Over the years I've had lots of jobs, some of them great, some not so great.

I started babysitting when I was 10 and continued on through high school, I did housework for neighbors, cared for the bedridden, worked in an auto parts store, took inventory in a department store all before I was 18.

After I was married, hubby was in the Navy and I went home to live with my parents while he had tours of duty out of the country. During this time I worked in the office for the telephone company and then became an information operator. This was in L.A. That office was fairly modern since the Information calls came in through a headset and all you had to do was look up the number in several phone books, or on charts with the most frequent called numbers. (Remember, this was a long, long time ago.)

When hubby and I moved to Oxnard, I went to work for General Telephone. That office was a bit more backward as you had to use a switch board to get the calls. I also had to learn how to be a long-distance operator, a bit more complicated than finding phone numbers for people. At this office we were told if we knew the answer to any question, we could give it. People called and asked what the weather was like, and I'd look out the window and tell them what I saw. If they asked how to cook Chili I told them.

Long distance was more fun. We sat at a long switchboard and took the calls as they came in. There were a lot of movie stars living in nearby Thousand Oaks and we took care of all their long distance calls. I must confess that we listened in to a lot of them. Guess what, their conversations were about as exciting as any of ours.

I worked at that telephone office between babies. Hubby would come home from war--or wherever he happened to be--I'd get pregnant, work until they wouldn't let me anymore, have the baby, stay home with the kids. I'd go back to work, Hubby would leave for a tour of duty, come back home, I'd get pregnant and so on.

Fifth baby, we broke the cycle. Hubby retired from the Seabees and I got a different job.

I was reminded of all this when I visited our little museum. One of the women who helps with the museum and has lived in Springville her entire life, used to work on the first switchboard when she was a kid--because it was in her house. She and her mother were the operators. That switchboard is now one of the exhibits in the museum.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Teacher Affects Eternity*

Carolyn Rosenberg was my first grade teacher. What do I remember? She was pleasingly plump, white haired, and at least 120 years old. Of course, in retrospect, she was probably still in her 50s, if that.

The rest is a pleasant blur. While I don’t remember any specific lessons, I’m fairly certain that she taught me to read. But what I recall with vivid clarity is that I felt safe. Mrs. Rosenberg made school a haven. In her classroom, nobody’s feelings ever got hurt; you never felt foolish, stupid, or silly. I loved being in her class. By the time I became a mother, I hoped that each of my kids would find a Mrs. Rosenberg in their school careers.

Our local school board just announced teacher layoffs – including several who have tenure. It’s yet another reflection that times are still tough (despite the glimmers of hope that are being touted). I shouldn’t be surprised, but of course, I am. Good teachers are the key to society’s future. They can be transformative. I still remember Miss Thompson, my eighth grade English teacher. She made me believe that I could be a writer. Her encouragement set me on a career path that may not always have been lucrative, but has always been fulfilling.

John F. Kennedy once said: Modern cynics and skeptics... see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

Ain’t it the truth.

I’m the daughter of one of those great teachers. My mother taught high school business classes, and then switched to teaching adult education. Her work continued outside the classroom. She taught more than technical skills. She worked tirelessly to place each of her students and the rewards were more than a paycheck – for them and for her. She was building character and confidence. As Mastercard would tell you: Priceless.

I know that layoffs of teachers is probably inevitable. It's heartbreaking when they are good teachers. On the other hand, I can name a few teachers who should have been laid off years ago -- even if the economy were booming.

Please share your memories of teachers who made a difference in your life.

Evelyn David

*This quote is from educator Henry Brooks Adams, who was also a member of the political Adams family

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Surest Poison's Jaz LeMieux Talks

We welcome guest blogger Chester Campbell, who has a mystery novel just out titled The Surest Poison, first book in his Sid Chance PI series. The plot involves Sid’s efforts to locate the man responsible for a toxic chemical dump behind a plant near a small town west of Nashville. The current owner faces the costly cleanup of the mess caused by a previous occupant years ago. Three seemingly unrelated murders occur as Sid is tailed and threatened. When his part-time associate, Jaz LeMieux, offers her help, she is awakened by an explosion behind her mansion. Chester has interviewed this remarkable woman for The Stiletto Gang.

Chester: Would you state your full name and occupation?
Jaz: What is this? Are you trying to play detective?

Chester: Just answer the question, please.
Jaz: Oh, all right. I’ll play along. My name is Jasmine LeMieux, a.k.a. Jaz, and I’m chairman of the board for Welcome Home Stores, a chain of truck stops headquartered in Nashville. I’m also a newly-minted–licensed, that is–private investigator.

Chester: And a very attractive one at age forty-five.
Jaz: Thanks, I guess, but you didn’t have to go into that age business. A lady needs to keep a few secrets.

Chester: Sorry about that. I hear you’re working with another local PI named Sid Chance. Is that correct?
Jaz: I wouldn’t call it working, exactly. It’s more like a lark to me. It’s a chance to play cop.

Chester: Weren’t you a Metro Nashville policewoman at one point?
Jaz: Until my mother died and my father was nearly killed in a car wreck. I quit the force to help nurse him back to health.

Chester: Your career choices up to that point caused a bit of consternation with your family, didn’t they?
Jaz: You’re being kind. Actually, I was kicked out of the family. My mother was a snobbish Southern Belle. She went ballistic when I dropped out of college and joined the Air Force. I was young at the time and quite determined. I had been a star point guard on the basketball team. When they brought in a new coach who berated my style of play, I got mad and quit. In the Air Force I was assigned to the Security Police under a sergeant who was a former Golden Gloves champion. He worked out regularly with me in the gym. When I left the service, he offered to train me as a boxer. I went professional, and my mother erased my name from the family ledger.

Chester: Didn’t you become a lightweight champion?
Jaz: I did, but it didn’t pay enough to live on. That’s why I became a cop.

Chester: From the looks of this French Colonial mansion you live in, I’d say you weren’t hurting for money now.
Jaz: I’m doing okay. My dad came to Nashville as an ambitious young French Canadian. He built Welcome Home Stores into a lucrative business. When he regained his health after the accident, he asked me to come to work for him. I went back to school and got a computer science degree, plus an MBA. He left me controlling interest in the business when he died.

Chester: How do you find time to play cop, as you call it?
Jaz: I keep close tabs on the company, but I’m not involved in day-to-day operations.

Chester: Weren’t you responsible for getting Sid Chance in the PI business?
Jaz: I was looking for somebody to run an investigation for Welcome Home Stores, and a mutual friend told me about Sid. He had a wealth of experience in law enforcement but got shafted by small town politics. He’d run off to a cabin the woods and was playing hermit. I looked him up, talked him into coming back to take my company’s case. He did such a great job with it that I offered to help him get into the PI business.

Chester: Did you have anything to do with Sid’s taking on this toxic chemical pollution case?
Jaz: I recommended him to a lawyer who does work for my company.

Chester: It sounds like you think pretty highly of Mr. Sidney Chance. True?
Jaz: If you mean do I think he’s one very sharp detective, quite true. He’s also one gorgeous hunk of a man, a little rough around the edges, but honest as the day is long. He’s totally devoid of pretense, someone you can always count on to come through for you.

Chester: In addition to your helping with Sid’s case, he got pretty heavily involved with your problem at home, didn’t he?
Jaz: Yes, there’s a dear couple who lives with me. They’ve been family employees since I was a kid. When their grandson got into trouble, Sid came to the rescue.

Chester: Do I detect something a little more than a purely business relationship?
Jaz: We’ve become very close friends. And this part is off the record. I wouldn’t object to pushing the relationship to a new level, but I think Sid needs to find some inner peace before he’s ready to break out of his shell. He needs to come to terms with his past.

Chester: Didn’t you introduce him to some good law enforcement contacts?
Jaz: You refer to the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club. We meet irregularly with a Metro homicide detective, a patrol sergeant, a retired newspaper police reporter, and a former Criminal Court Judge. They’re great friends, and Sid has found they can be quite helpful.

Chester: And what’s in store for Jasmine LeMieux as a private investigator?
Jaz: That depends on Sid. I’m only interested in working cases where he needs my help. I have resources he doesn’t possess, including computer savvy to dig out information not easily accessible.

Chester: I’m sure he’ll find ample opportunity to use your services in the future. Thanks for talking with us, Miss LeMieux. I wish you much success.
Jaz: Hey, speaking of which, you won’t mind if I succeeded in selling a few books, would you?

Chester Campbell


Chester will hold two drawings to give away books during his blog tour. If you post a comment on today’s interview, you’ll get your name in the hat for the drawings. To see other places he will visit, go to .

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pirates & Cell Phones

Two things have been on my mind this week - okay more than that - but I'm going to blog about two - pirates and cell phones.

The summer before 9/11 my brother and I visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We had a great trip. One day was spent on Ocracoke Island – one of Blackbeard's main ports. One man's thief is another man's folk hero. Depending on whose ships he was robbing, he was either praised or decried.

Pirate legends – as depicted in books and movies are romantic. As a child I saw the movie – A High Wind in Jamaica. The plot involves children captives on a pirate ship – a great sailing adventure for all involved.

Johnny Depp has the pirate persona down – or at least Hollywood's latest version of a pirate. I wonder if that will change now that real pirates are in the news.

On Easter Sunday, the nation received the news of U.S. Navy's rescue of ship captain Richard Phillips. Three Somali pirates were killed in the effort. One pirate was captured – reports have him as too young to be prosecuted as an adult in the U.S. I don't fault the Navy for their heroic actions – the pirates left them no reasonable choice.

Pirates are holding about a dozen other ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the Malaysia-based piracy watchdog International Maritime Bureau. Hostages are from Bulgaria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tuvalu and Ukraine, among other countries.

I don't understand how the situation has been allowed to get to this point – unarmed commercial cargo ships being hijacked by pirates in speedboats with armed with rockets and AK-47s. Why in the world would cargo ships carrying millions of dollars of supplies be unarmed?

The U.S. Navy won't be able to be in right spot at the right time to protect all American cargo ships. The ship companies are going to have to step up and defend themselves. Today's pirates are young, poor, and fearless. They have nothing to lose, which means they are too dangerous for us to ignore them – or Somalia - anymore.

Now for the cell phone part of this blog - I had to upgrade from my beloved Blackberry Pearl to a Blackberry Curve. I say "had to" because I wore the trackball out on my Blackberry Pearl and when I went to T-Mobile to replace it, I found "my" phone was out-of-stock. I don't know how long it would take to find another Blackberry Pearl like my old one. Apparently the world of cell phones has moved on. I didn't want a flip phone version. And I'm not ready for a 3G phone. But I did need a new phone - and quickly. I carry my phone everywhere. If I forget and leave it at home, I have to drive back and pick it up. I admit it - I'm a Blackberry addict.

So getting the new phone was traumatic. As I moved my memory card from my old Blackberry Pearl to the strange phone that arrived by Federal Express, I had a lot of regrets at retiring my old friend.

The new phone doesn't feel the same. Sure, it's easier to type on and the screen is bigger, but ... it's not my Blackberry yet.

Evelyn David

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Get Out Your Wallets--It's Baseball Season

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but here in New York, we’ve got two new sports stadiums: a new Yankee Stadium and a new Shea Stadium for the Mets, called Citi Field. Both are brand, spanking-new, boasting food that one normally wouldn’t see at a ball park (pulled-pork sandwiches from the gourmet barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke as well as sushi, and host of other culinary delights), shopping, arcades, and hot tubs, to name a few. And let’s not forget the new, “green” urinals. They don’t use water! They use something else that I don’t understand to get rid of beer-infused urine! It’s all very exciting.

I love watching baseball—namely my New York Metropolitans—at home. Why? Because here in the New York metropolitan area, it’s hard to get anywhere by car, subway, or bus. It takes a long time to do anything. To go to a 1:00 p.m. Met game, we would have to leave here at around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. if we were to drive. Same if we took public transportation. So, it’s been years since we have been to Queens to see a game. We usually huddle up in the living room, eating the foods that one would normally find at a game—chips and guacamole, hot dogs, beer, hamburgers—and watch our team blow a big lead in the bottom of the ninth. We’re fans. That’s what we do.

But all of this talk of Citi Field and its amazing amenities got me thinking that just once this year, we should go to a game. I thought the best thing to do would be to find a game that we could present to Jim as a Father’s Day present. I went on the web site, amazed at all of the wonders of this beautiful new ball park—because let’s face it, Shea Stadium wasn’t exactly a baseball Shangri La—and instructed the web site that I wanted four tickets for a Saturday afternoon game, for something called “best available.”

Well, it certainly wasn’t referring to the “best” price. Well, maybe if you own stock in Citi.

The computer clicked away and came back with four seats in one of the upper mezzanines for a grand total of $1560.00. I quickly pushed away from the keyboard, afraid that if I touched anything, a credit card that once had been stored in the computer after buying a pair of shoes would be charged for the tickets. After my heart stopped racing, I went back to the computer and tried to buy a cheaper set of tickets. Basically, I came up with four tickets at about $300.00 (if we wanted to actually see the game and not be sitting in the stratosophere) and started calculating our time at the ball field. With parking, food, a souvenir or two, we would be looking at a day that costs the family over four hundred dollars.

I’m sorry. That’s just criminal.

Isn’t baseball America’s pastime? Isn’t it the thing you did as a kid with your family that didn’t cost all that much, that took up an afternoon or evening, that was loads of fun and not a sock to the pocketbook? I know that sports has been like this for a long time—don’t even talk to me about what it costs to go to Madison Square Garden to see a Ranger game—but the fact that our under-achieving Mets have a new ball field sponsored by a company that is going bankrupt and still has the audacity to charge what they do for tickets and food just galls me.

We will probably go to a game over the summer. I’d like to see the new ballpark, see my team play, and sample some of the new food that’s being offered. (Because let’s face it, if they have food and it’s good, I’ll go anywhere.) But the fact that the cheapest seat at the stadium is $36.00 is just sad. How does a family of four or more go to a game without taking out a home equity loan? Particularly in this economy? I feel bad for all of the kids who won’t get to see a game at the ballpark, who won’t get to see David Wright take batting practice, or Johan Santana throw his warm-up pitches, or Carlos Delgado in the on-deck circle. Or, like my son, bring his glove because maybe—just maybe—he’ll catch a fly ball off of Carlos Beltran’s bat. Or have a hot dog loaded with yellow mustard and maybe some sauerkraut washed down with a watered-down soda. Heck, I feel bad for the adults who won’t be able to do all of these things.

So, how about it Major League Baseball? How about we forget about the fancy stadiums and fields and pulled-pork sandwiches and bring back $5 bleacher seats and $2 hot dogs?

Oh, that’s right. Because we have to pay some steroid-user sixteen million dollars a year to strike out in the playoffs. I forgot.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mayhem in the Midlands and Panel Assignments

Hubby and I have attended Mayhem in the Midlands every year but one--the very first and I hadn't heard about it. Since we've been going, we've fallen in love with Omaha. The restaurants are wonderful, and our favorite is the Persian Restaurant. The owner always recognizes us and greets us with "California" and a big hug and a kiss for me. There are so many great restaurants we try to make our rounds.

Another plus is the people we've met who are regulars like us. Many of them are authors, but we've also got fans we're anxious to see again. Actually attending Mayhem is a bit like going to a family reunion.

Before the panel assignments, I got an email from one of the committee asking if my hubby would be willing to be on the Spouse Panel which is more or less the spouses telling what its like to be married to an author. Hubby was on one once before with Wm. Kent Krueger's wife and Jan Burke's husband. It was hilarious.

On Friday at 9 a.m. (some people hate this time slot but I like it because my brain works better in the morning) I'll be on a panel called "Not Just a Royalty Check: What you need to know about being published." Should be interesting. Everyone on the panel is with a small, independent publisher.

Having said I like morning panels best, I also have one at 3 on Friday. (Not too bad, I'll have had time to go to lunch somewhere wonderful). This one is called "Off the Beaten Path: Exotic locales and cultures." I do write about Native Americans which could fit the culture part, but neither the mountains of the Southern Sierra nor a small beach town fit exotic locales. But I won't have any trouble figuring out something to say. Usually what someone else says triggers an idea.

And last but not least, on Saturday at 10:30 (another good time) I'll be moderating a panel on "Causes and Casualties: Issue-driven fiction." One of the panelists is Radine Trees Nehring, one of the authors I'm looking forward to spending time with, and I've read her books. She writes about places in Arkansas. I haven't read the other two panelists so I've ordered their books in order to ask some intelligent questions.

Another thing hubby and I like about Omaha is the most wonderful zoo. We are arriving on Wednesday night so if the weather cooperates we'll go to the zoo Thursday morning before things get started that evening.

Years ago, before I'd ever been to Omaha, at a Bouchercon, I met Kate Birkel of the Mystery Bookstore in Omaha. She told me if I ever came to Omaha she'd give me the best booksigning I'd ever had. Foolishly I told her I'd never be going to Omaha. Ha ha, little did I know.

The very first Epicon was held in Omaha, after I signed up I contacted Kate and asked if she could arrange a signing for me on a free evening we were at the conference, she did, and believe me, it was definitely the best book signing I'd ever had, before or since. And that's when we first fell in love with Omaha.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, April 13, 2009

As Bees in Honey Drown

On Saturday, the family traveled in a driving rainstorm to Philadelphia to see As Bees in Honey Drown. Our daughter was the director. Proud Mama that I am, give me a moment to kvell. The play was marvelous; the casting sublime; the costumes, set design, music, in fact, all the artistic decisions were creative, brilliant, and so clever that Steven Spielberg might want to put my daughter on speed dial. In other words, the afternoon was a clear the bases hit.

Beyond all questions of maternal pride, the play was also thought-provoking. It asked: what would you do for fame and fortune? How much of yourself would you sell in exchange for at least fifteen minutes, if not more, of fame? The protagonist is a newly-published author. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. His book has gotten good reviews – but the financial payoff has been minimal. Hmmmm, also sounds familiar. (Brief BSP interruption – have you seen the review of Murder Takes the Cake in the Midwest Book Review????!!!!)

Okay, back to the discussion.

We first meet Evan Wyler (a pen name – hmmm), at a photo shoot where he is directed to take off his shirt – so he’ll appear “hot.” Hmmm, okay, not so familiar. I think it’s safe to say that neither half of Evelyn David has been asked to look “hot” for a promo shot…but you get the idea. Evan wants to wear a v-neck sweater leaning on a pile of books by Proust; the photographer knows that sex sells.

The plot, alternately serious and hilarious, follows Evan’s adventures and misadventures as big bucks are dangled in front of him at the cost of his sense of self and personal ethics. He whines that despite spending nine years writing his well-received novel, he still scrambles to pay the rent each month. Offered the opportunity to write a movie of Alexa Vere de Vere’s life for $1,000 a week, he’s eager to sign on despite the fact that he knows immediately that at least part of the tale she is spinning is an outrageous lie. Hollywood beckons.

So would I sell out for fame and fortune? Um, yes, faster than a New York minute.

No, no – I didn’t mean that. Sure the money was momentarily blinding; the photo spread I envisioned in People Magazine was tempting (tops on, of course). But I’d like to think I recognize what’s important in life and the inevitable cost when you trade ethics for dollars or power or even that photo shoot in People.

There's always a fine line between promotion and selling-out. For that matter, there's a fine line between promotion and boring people to death as you try to publicize your book. But as both halves of Evelyn David gear up for marketing Murder Takes the Cake, we'll keep As Bees in Honey Drown in mind (and our tops on!).

Evelyn David

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Kiss is Still a Kiss

by Ellen Byerrum

First, I’d like to thank the Stiletto Gang for having me over today. It is a real pleasure to say hello and talk about what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. Happily, those woods are looking pretty good these days.

The prettiest and most romantic time for Washington, D.C., is spring when she puts on frills—first come the blossoming Bradford pears, the magnolias and cherry trees, the daffodils and tulips. They are followed by dogwoods and azaleas and roses. The extravaganza of color complements the white marble of memorials and shows off the softer side of the Nation’s Capital.

Two weeks ago, as the cherry blossoms were just beginning to bloom, a film crew was in Washington, shooting exteriors for Lifetime Television movies based on two of my books, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover. The principal filming took place in Vancouver, Canada.

Of course I took time off my regular job and was able to observe a day of shooting on the city’s streets. It was a rare opportunity to see how the characters that I created will be translated to film. The memories that linger include the bitter cold but bright blue day and the actors playing out scenes that seemed to consist of a lot of kissing.

The comely couple playing Vic Donovan and Lacey Smithsonian—Victor Webster and Maggie Lawson—ended several scenes with a kiss. They kissed at the Tidal Basin in front of the Jefferson Memorial while tourists and a busload of middle school students looked on and applauded after the scene. They kissed in McPherson Square while businesspeople crossed the park and discreetly looked back at the scene. And they kissed in Lafayette Park in front of the White House, where Washington wonks wandered by while chatting on their cell phones.

That’s a whole lot of kissing going on for Washington, D.C.! I’m not quite sure the District can take that much public display of affection, but I found myself wishing my husband was around for some personal osculation resuscitation. Oh well, sometimes you have to save it up for later.

There are all kinds of kisses, the social kiss, the romantic kiss, the kiss of life, the kiss off, and we are reminded this time of year, the Judas kiss.

The language of kissing depends on a lot of things—where you kiss and where you don’t, whom you kiss and whom you don’t. Kissing is an activity defined by the participants. As the song says, “A kiss is still a kiss.” But is it?

When I am among theatre people and playwrights, it’s all hug, hug, kiss, kiss, and oh-so-very “Oh my dear, you look marvelous! How have you been? I just can’t wait to hear everything, every little detail, but I must run!” There are cheek kisses and air kisses. It’s all very friendly. It feels good, but you don’t take it seriously, because like the theatre, it may be just a performance.

When I’m among fellow mystery writers, a brief hug is acceptable, as is a brief kiss on the cheek, but we’re not terribly mushy. We laugh at danger, we don’t kiss it.

But for reporters in the Nation’s Capital, in their capacity as representatives of the Fourth Estate, there is no kissing. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is definitely no kissing in the newsroom. Sarcasm, cynicism, and smarty-pants one-upmanship is all okay. But sentiment? Now that’s dangerous.

You can count on kissing, however, in the upcoming Crime of Fashion movies. Killer Hair is slated to be aired Sunday, June 21. Hostile Makeover will air the following week, Sunday, June 28. If you want to read more about the filming from someone else’s perspective, check out this blog by photographer Kathy Freundel:

May all your kisses be memorable!

Ellen Byerrum is the author of the Crime of Fashion Mysteries featuring fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian who solves crimes with fashion clues. The latest book in the series is Armed and Glamorous.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Don't Knock on the Glass!

"Don't Knock on the Glass!" That was the sign taped to the emergency room office window. I stared at it for about six hours on Friday. No one knocked on the glass during the whole time I was there. I guess the sign worked.

I saw a lot as I waited for news about my father's condition. He'd had some chest pains earlier in the day and we brought him directly from a doctor's office to the emergency room. He was taken behind the electronic doors into the locked ER exam rooms and hooked up to a heart monitor – while I parked the car in the nearest open parking space – about a half mile away on the other side of the hospital.

My mother stayed in the locked unit with my father and I stayed in the waiting room. There was a second sign, this one taped to the wall by the locked doors, warning, "One visitor per adult patient, two visitors per child patient. You must have a pass to enter exam area." This sign didn't work so well.

During my time in the waiting room, that visitor rule was regularly violated. Once I counted eight visitors for one guy. His wife, three kids in the middle school age range, plus her sister who had a couple of babies hanging on her, plus a mother-in-law, all went into to the unit without a pass. They just waited for someone to exit the unit and then while the doors were still open, went in. The kids came in and out with regularity as they made trips to the vending machines down the hallway and then back into the locked unit. No one ever challenged them.

You can learn a lot just by watching. I sat in a seat where I could see into the unit when the doors opened. Sometimes my mom would appear and give me the thumbs up signal and I would nod at her before the doors would close. One time an anxious forty-something man stood in the doorway with his weeping daughter hovering just to the side. By standing in the doorway, he kept the doors from closing. He stood there, trying to catch a glimpse of his son. Minutes before he'd been talking to the nurses behind the glass about his twenty-four-year-old son who had just been brought in by ambulance.

I know the son was twenty-four because the father's voice carried as he said, "He'd been with his son twenty-four years ago when he was born in this hospital and if he was dying, he wanted to be with him now." Without expression, the nurse behind the glass said the son wasn't in the computer system yet and the man would just have to wait. It would be about twenty minutes. Another nurse in the unit – I could see her through the open door – told the father that the young man was behind curtain twelve. The nurse behind the glass ignored her and repeated to the father that his son wasn't in the system yet and she didn't know where he was. The anxious man turned angry and tried to get the two nurses to talk to each other. No go. All this while the kids with their vending machine loot were going back and forth around the man, through the open doors.

After about five minutes of this, two uniformed city cops appeared (called by the nurse behind the glass). They approached the man, demanding answers. "What's your problem, buddy? Why are you creating a disturbance?"

The father never raised his voice, but he never backed down either. He told them he only wanted to be with his dying son. That he'd done nothing wrong; nothing to warrant the staff calling the police.

I heard one cop say, "They wouldn't have called us, if you'd done nothing."

I wanted to raise my hand and offer supporting testimony, but wisely refrained from getting involved.

Finally, a third nurse came out of the unit and joined the cops and the distraught family. She seemed very annoyed with the demanding father and abruptly dismissed his concerns about his son. She told him and the cops, "He not dying. He's sitting up and alert." She then walked away.

Why in the world that information about the son's condition couldn't have been shared with the family ten minutes earlier is beyond my powers of imagination. For some reason, the nursing staff didn't want this patient's family with him – maybe it was a drug overdose or some other reason they needed time alone with the patient. But instead of telling the family the truth, they blatantly lied and said they didn't know where the patient was. All that angst was so unnecessary.

A family came in with a very frail appearing, elderly woman. She was in a wheelchair, being pushed by her sixty-something Stetson-wearing son and his wife. The elderly woman's husband was beside her, very unsteady on his feet. The son and his mother were admitted beyond the electronic doors, while the rest of the family waited outside. Later the son came out, asked the wife to take his father down to the coffee shop, telling them he'd join them in a few minutes while the mother was receiving some tests. About twenty minutes later the son reappeared and headed down the hallway to the coffee shop.

Maybe ten minutes after that the elderly woman was wheeled out by a nurse and parked in front of a television. I guess they needed the space in the locked unit, and decided to leave her to wait for her tests in the waiting room. But her family wasn't there anymore. The woman got up from her wheelchair and shuffled two steps forward. I just knew she was going to fall. Before I could intervene, a middle-aged woman and her preteen son, who appeared to be leaving the hospital, stopped in front of the woman. I think the elderly woman had asked them where the ladies room was. I heard the middle-aged woman say it was quite a distance, down the hallway and around the corner. The old woman looked desperate. Before either woman could say anything else, the young boy, without any prompting, offered to wheel the elderly woman's chair to the restroom door. The elderly woman gratefully accepted his help. His mother smiled and went with them. The kid couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen, but he got my hero of the day award!

You can see a lot when you sit in a emergency room for hours and watch the people. One woman was wheeled into the emergency room by paramedics. She was curled up in a wheelchair, sitting on her feet, doubled over in pain. She was probably in her early 40s. She was yelling about her chest hurting. The paramedics parked her outside the glassed-in office and left. The nurse behind the glass was not impressed. After about ten minutes of the woman wailing about her chest hurting – instead of answering the nurse's admittance questions – the woman was moved into the locked exam room area. Ten minutes later, she was wheeled out and left in the waiting room. She continued to vocalize her distress, sometimes screaming, sometime moaning, but always doubled-over in her chair. This went on and on. Everyone in the waiting room was watching the woman; pregnant women with scared toddlers, elderly people fearful of what was to come, and family members wondering how "their" loved one was being treated.

I'm guessing the screaming woman was a frequent flyer and maybe she was in some stage of withdrawal. Or maybe she was in need of mental health treatment. Either way, I was shocked that the staff would leave her in the waiting room. Numerous doctors, nurses, and aides walked by the woman but never slowed. I wondered what would happen if I called 911 on my cell phone and reported there was a woman in distress. Probably nothing since the paramedics were the ones to transport her to the hospital in the first place.

The kids made another trip for soda pop and candy.

I'd had enough. I went and stood in front of the nurses' station and stared at the employees behind the glass.

I didn't knock.

I waited until they acknowledged my existence. Took at least five minutes.

When they asked me what I needed, I told them I'd like an update on my father's condition – that he'd been there a couple of hours and I was sure he was in their system.

The nurse-in-charge smiled and handed me a pass.

Evelyn David

P.S. The standard of care in the emergency room was matched by the rest of the hospital. Four long days later my father checked himself out of the hospital. He'd been observed, monitored, and stress tested. His blood was tested. He saw his assigned hospital staff doctor twice in the four days. Once when he was first checked into his hospital room and once more on day two for about five minutes. The last day, after waiting for more than eight hours for his doctor to appear and discuss his test results, he'd had enough too. He went home.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter Time and the Eating is Good

As I read Marian’s blog on Monday, I got to thinking about the upcoming Easter festivities that will take place here this coming Sunday. We do the eggs, too, but rather than eat them and enjoy them with the meal, we’ll color them, hide them, stick them in the refrigerator after they’re found, and eventually, make egg salad in a week or so when it becomes apparent that nobody who unearthed an egg would ever eat it unless I doctored it up with mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

And while I’m sure there are some wonderful culinary traditions for Easter that exist in many families, we don’t have one that I recall. Which is why I’ll be crashing Marian’s Passover dinner. (Just kidding. You can’t write about food like that and not expect me to covet an invitation.) Our family thought we had the tradition of roasted spring lamb but apparently it was a culinary tradition that left some family members cold. Sure, Mom would roast a leg of lamb when we were children, but it has come to light that many of the family members do not like leg of lamb with the exception of me and Mom, and most would prefer something else. This became apparent ten years ago on Easter Sunday when I gave birth to Patrick, child number two. Although I expected to be with the family around the table for the celebration, I was in labor. Mom had bought the biggest leg of lamb she could find—just for me (!) as I’m constantly reminded—and then I didn’t attend, having a baby taking precedent over my dining on lamb with mint jelly. (Which, I assure you, was so much better than the post-labor ziti and ginger ale I was served by a very surly orderly who wondered why I was so hungry at seven in the morning.) So, I find myself with the task of having to make up for the Easter where “we had to eat lamb and you weren’t even there.” Remember, we’re Irish Catholics. We hold grudges.

This year, Dad wants filet mignon. Mom wants lamb. Husband will eat whatever I serve. We have an assortment of children between the ages of two and fifteen who have their own mealtime idiosyncrasies with at least one vegetarian and one chocoholic in the mix and another who joneses for Diet Coke like it’s nobody’s business and would eschew food in favor of carbonated beverages. Henceforth, I’ve decided to go with what we affectionately call the “combination plate” here at Chez Barbieri: filet mignon, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, a variety of vegetables, a meatless ziti, and a lasagna. Oh, and bread! Because if there is nothing that pleases this crowd more, it’s bread, more bread, and lots of butter.

See, here’s the thing: we’ve all supposed to have been doing some sort of fasting and abstinence for the last forty days of Lent, the holy season that precedes Easter. Sunday’s upcoming Bacchanalian festival of eating, otherwise known as a very holy day in the Christian faith, is intended to make up for how hungry you ostensibly are or should be. This tradition dates back to ancient times and is supposed to usher in our season of planting and harvest (did I get that right?). But let’s face it—how many of us are ever truly hungry? We may get a hunger pang that indicates “oh, it’s lunch time” but for many of us, true hunger is not something we experience on a regular basis. That’s something I’ll think about as I serve more food than my ten guests could ever eat and give thanks for the bounty that our country affords us.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone should just be happy with the spread, and I promise you, they will be. If they know what’s good for them.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cop, Gangster and Me

Actually, the cop is retired police officer Denny Griffin who is better known these days as the author of Cullotta, the Story of a Chicago Criminal and Las Vegas Gangster. I met Denny right after 9/11 when hubby and I flew back to Orlando for what was then called the Police Writers Club Conference. (Now Public Safety Writers Association.) Everyone was surprised we were brave enough to fly, but we knew it was safer then than at any other time. Denny's wife had come with him. The conference was small enough that all of us went out to dinner together. We sat with the Griffins and became great friends. Denny's wife, Faith, has since become one of the biggest fans of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series.

The gangster is Henry Hill of Good Fellas fame (the movie with Ray Liotta was about him). I sat next to and visited with him over lunch. (He's the one with the beard.)

The occasion was the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime meeting. Because I know Denny, I was asked to introduce him and somehow I ended up next to Henry. He is reformed, obviously, and regrets many of the things he's done. Actually, he's quite a charming fellow. He has quite a story to tell, from growing up in New York, wanting to be like the gangsters he saw around him, seeing some of his friends and fellow gang members being wiped out and knowing he was going to be next, becoming an informant, going into the witness protecting program, all the moving and name changes and how hard it was on his family, his marriage failure, and lots of tidbits about organized crime that still exists today.

This is not the kind of stuff I will ever write about, but it was one Sisters in Crime meeting that I drug my husband to that he really enjoyed.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith who is not in the witness protection program nor ever will be.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It’s that time of year again.

My house smells like chicken soup.

Wednesday night is the beginning of Passover. We’ll hold a seder, the feast that commemorates the Jews exodus from Egypt. I’ve been cooking and cleaning for weeks, and as I do, sweet memories of seders long ago come flooding back. I smile when I think of those who are no longer with us in the flesh, but whose love, warmth, and wisdom enriched seders of the past.

There’s very little variation in the menu from year to year. Homemade matzoh ball soup is a given. Gefilte fish, homemade in a local deli, is also always served. But since marriage is a blending of traditions, we serve hard-boiled eggs and potatoes as the second course. Why hard boiled eggs? According to some experts, the eggs symbolize the Jewish people. The more you cooked the eggs, the harder they become. So too the Jewish people – the harder their lives, the stronger and tougher they become. Another explanation is that eggs symbolize the circle of life, the salt water the tears of oppression, as well as the joy in freedom. My family’s tradition was just to serve hard boiled eggs. Hubby’s family served eggs and potatoes. I’ve searched to find an explanation for the potatoes, and I’m just guessing when I posit that it’s part of his Russian heritage. Anyone else know the reason?

We sing songs with traditional melodies, passed down from generation to generation. But we also sing songs that my kids learned in nursery and Hebrew school. While we say many of the prayers in Hebrew – we do most of the service in English so that all our guests can participate. We go around the table, with everyone reading aloud a portion of the Haggadah, the prayerbook for the holiday, which tells the compelling story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, from slaves to free men.

And then there are the family tales that are also annually recounted Here’s one of my favorites which happened when my husband was a child. Let me set the scene.

Picture a table of 20 family and friends. They’ve eaten a wonderful meal and now are finishing up the final prayers of the seder. They’re reached the song about Elijah the Prophet. According to tradition, Elijah visits every Jewish home during the Seder as a “foreshadowing of his future arrival at the end of the days, when he will come to announce the coming of the Jewish Messiah.” The custom is to stand and open the front door while singing this prayer.

The family stands and my husband’s Uncle Bobby opens the front door…and there stands a complete stranger.

Everyone’s heart skips a beat. Was it possible? Was this the Messiah arriving at Baltimore National Pike?

Nope, nothing quite so dramatic. From the doorway, Uncle Bobby quickly realizes that the stranger is drunk and looking for directions to the local watering hole.

But my kids still hold their collective breaths as we open the door in own home – will someone be on the other side?

Best wishes for a Happy Passover,

Evelyn David

Friday, April 3, 2009

Are We Done Yet?

by Susan McBride

Before I met Ed and we bought a house together, I didn't have cable. I never watched TV much so I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Once we put our names on a mortgage and combined our worldly goods (okay, mostly my worldly goods and a few of his that went into his basement Man Cave), I realized the addiction that is HGTV. I think the first weekend after Charter turned on our cable, I watched 12 hours of a "Design Star" marathon. Needless to say, I was totally hooked. When I went through my breast cancer stuff and was forced to take mandatory bed rest, I probably watched every HGTV show ever produced.

And it's like the "Harry Potter" movies for me: I can watch the same shows over and over and over. Scary, isn't it? I love to see ugly rooms transformed in under $2,000 ("Designed to Sell") or even under $500 ("Design Cents," although sometimes I think the folks who had the cheap re-do should ask for the money back). Never a fan of clutter, I adore when Tabitha on "Get It Sold" instructs hapless housesellers to pack up their crap. "Look, you can see the gorgeous hardwood floors!" she'll gleefully exclaim after boxes of plastic kids' toys and endless wedding photographs are sent to storage.

The bad thing is that all these shows keep inspiring me to whip our house a little closer to perfection. It's almost there, really. I'm just figuring out what to do about the large bedroom window now that we've gotten rid of a huge old armoire (and an equally huge old TV), moving a few things around so our room seems twice as big. Do I go for the $692 custom lined drapes with walnut rod and rings? Or do I go thrifty and order the $79 per panel silk dupioni drapes from Pottery Barn? (Honestly, I'm having trouble deciding! I keep telling myself the $692 would be helping the economy, right?)

Then there are the shrubs in front of the house that were overgrown when we moved in (I swear, the doctor who owned our house before us didn't trim a shrub or prune a tree in three years). I had Dave from Ray's come out last week and give us an estimate to cut the bushes off at their ankles and dig out the roots. Once they're out of here, we can repair the window frames and screens that have been smothered by evergreen boughs before the grinder comes and runs over my tulips and daffodils.

Oh, yeah, and I still want to remove the oven hood and spray it white with appliance paint (it's the only thing in the kitchen that's original and it doesn't match anything), and I'd like to get all the windows washed, inside and out.

All the while, my husband keeps saying, "Are we done yet?" Which is kind of funny considering the list on the side of the fridge which is full of "future projects." Do men really think a house is like a steak? Is it ever really done?

Perhaps I can blame my drive to decorate, landscape, and fix what needs fixing on HGTV (or, as likely, the joy of having anything to distract me from a fast-approaching deadline). Whatever the cause, I'll promise this: when Clive and Tabitha and Lisa LaPorta finally beautify the last cluttered, paint-peeled, ill-landscaped house in America, I will take down the "to-do" list from the fridge. And we will be done. For real. Maybe.

P.S. I'm in Houston today at the Texas Library Association convention as you read this. I'm also signing stock at the Blue Willow Bookshop, shooting a segment for "Wild About Houston," and signing at Murder by the Book tonight at 6. So any further home improvements will have to wait 'til I get back.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Unwelcome Interruptions

Spring. It's here.

I think.

It wasn't here on the weekend – 6 inches of snow – but the temps in the high 60s during the day on Monday took care of any lingering chill.

As I write this blog – while watching Dancing with the Stars – the weather guys break into the show. Darn, I won't get to see Shawn Johnson or that Sex in the City actor dance. Note: I'm pulling for Rodeo Rider Ty to win. I'm guessing Hugh Hefner's girlfriend or the Microsoft guy will be the next voted off the dancing island.

Back to the weather. In Oklahoma nothing is certain as far as weather is concerned. Snow, rain, high winds, tornados - all in the last four days. The weather guys are on the tv screen. They don't dance. Okay, maybe some dancing around the subject. They are talking amongst themselves since their storm spotters don't have any good footage to send them. The consensus seems to be that even though the National Weather Service has issued the "Tornado Warning" (as opposed to a mere "Tornado Watch") the local guys don't really expect any tornados. But, with the "Tornado Warning" out, it's current policy for all the network channels in Oklahoma to cut from the normal programming to the high tech weather forecast centers. We're treated to the Doppler radar map and storm tracking projections. I might get rain in about two hours. Sigh.

Wait! Now they say the warning is going to expire! Yes! Yes! Now I can at least see Medium! Or most of it. Seems it's already started. As the weather guys fade from sight, Alison is having her opening dream sequence. The dream thing is my least favorite thing about the show – I know it's just a plot device for showing her psychic visions, but I don't care for it. Makes me tired for her. She never gets a good night's sleep, between her dreams and her kids. Hey, is there a show on television with better child actors than Medium? If there is, I haven't seen it.

My co-author and I have several "works in progress" featuring psychics. One of them actually has no dogs or cats. Bet you thought we couldn't write anything without four-legged furballs in it! Good psychic mysteries are harder to write than you might think. Your psychic hero or heroine can't get so much information from his or her sixth sense that the mystery is solved before it even gets started. The psychic clues have to be vague enough to leave room for the reader to get involved in the detecting, otherwise it's not really a mystery. I love Charlaine Harris's "The Grave Secrets" series. That psychic finds dead bodies. That's pretty much her whole bag of tricks so far. As with any good series, the characters grow and change. I can't wait to read her next one.

Medium is about half finished. The weather guys claim they are only interrupting commercials. Right! They are slow to get back to normal programming from each commercial and I'm missing the first few seconds of the show. Sigh. Reminds me of when I was living with my parents. My dad is the consummate channel surfer. He hates commercials with a passion. If you watch television with him, be prepared to miss part of your show after every channel break ends. He usually overestimates the length of the commercials and is slow to surf back to his starting place.

I've lost the thread of this episode. Maybe this blog too. The interruptions add up and it's easy to lose track.

Which reminds me of plots and subplots, present and past, dreams and reality – too much switching back and forth can lose your readers. I hate time shifts in books and film. But that's a subject for another day.

It's raining outside. Medium is over.

Wonder who scored the lowest on Dancing with the Stars?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On Marriage

Congratulations to Marilyn’s granddaughter, Jessi, on her impending wedding. With grandma Marilyn and her cute sailor husband of many years as role models, Jessi is well on her way to happiness with Juan. I can just tell.

Marilyn’s blog got me thinking about my own nuptials. Jim and I just celebrated our twentieth anniversary on the 18th of March. Why March in the Northeast when you have the beautiful fall foliage, the spectacular weather of June, or any other month that would do better than a dreary, cold, spate of days, you ask? Jim had just started his new teaching job and the school calendar dictated two weeks off at the end of every March. We decided to get married on the day after St. Patrick’s Day and with the little money we had, jet off to lovely Cancun for a week of R&R after the big day.

We had so little money to travel that my father, who had stayed up all night after the wedding so that he wouldn’t oversleep, picked us up at the new Hilton in our adjacent town and drove us to the airport. Nothing says romance like having your father drop you off for your honeymoon! We got to Mexico in good time, went through customs, and checked into our hotel room where we promptly fell asleep for what seemed like two days. We were very young when we got married by today’s standards (early- to-mid 20s) and didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about traveling. Or take into account that the last two weeks of March in Cancun would be filled with Spring Break revelers and not too many honeymooners. And extended American families with more than the requisite 2.3 children. But we made the best of it. Our room was nice, and everything was super cheap, a boon for a newly-minted teacher and his editorial assistant wife. Service was interesting, though—every morning between five a.m. and six a.m., a porter would come to our room, let him or herself in, and give us clean towels, despite the fact that we were sound asleep. We never did figure that one out and were never able to make them stop.

When I awoke after our extended nap, I realized that I didn’t pack a bathing suit, so our first moments of being awake on our actual honeymoon were spent shopping in downtown Cancun looking for a bathing suit that was a) not a bikini, b) not a string bikini, and c) not something my mother would deem “flattering” (the kiss of death). I settled on an $80.00 pink and black Speedo which was functional, but least of all, “flattering.” I held onto that bathing suit for a long time, despite the fact that the elastic in the leg holes went back in the early 1990s and I couldn’t wear it in public.

The week was wonderful. The weather was gorgeous, the water calm, tranquil, and warm. We even had the added bonus of running into some Spring Break participants who had graduated from our college and who were in awe of the fact that we, too, had chosen Cancun as our destination. We started to run out of money toward the end of the week and decided to chance the local fare, away from the hotel. That proved to be our fatal mistake.

The local food was delicious. We were careful about what we ordered. We assiduously avoided the water. We did everything we thought would keep us safe, eating in a country that we had heard might make you the recipient of Montezuma’s Revenge. We were doing great, enjoying local delicacies and culinary delights and had made it through the week, our budget intact. We headed off to the airport, a little sunburned, but relaxed after a week-long jaunt to tropical climes and got on the plane with all of the rest of the Spring Breakers, so happy that we were now able to start spending our life together.

We were somewhere between North Carolina and South Carolina—my best guess—when it appeared that I was bringing home either an intestinal parasite, salmonella, or some other exotic case of food poisoning. We managed to make it to our apartment just as my fever hit one hundred and four degrees and all hell broke loose. I’ll spare you the gory details.

Long story short? In the space of twenty-four hours, we had lived most of our vows, specifically the “in sickness and in health” part. I was sick for two weeks, but managed to avoid hospitalization. I stayed in pajamas the entire time, too weak to put on anything with buttons or a zipper. Jim went back to school, checking on me sporadically throughout the day, and coming home not to a home-cooked meal, but a can of Lysol, a sponge, and a bucket full of bleach to begin his nightly rounds of disinfecting.

OK, so maybe we shouldn’t have Jessi and Juan read this post lest they turn tail and run for the hills. But something tells me that they are a bit more savvy about the world than me and my husband were at the time. All I can say is that after that auspicious start, our marriage has been smooth sailing, which is what happens when you marry your best friend, your soul mate, and the love of your life. Not even a little parasite will get in the way.

Maggie Barbieri