Monday, August 31, 2009

Ace High

I have a sordid little confession to make.

I think I’m a closet gambler.

Can you be a gambler if you don’t spend money?

I’ve discovered online, free Texas Hold ‘Em poker games. Playing with somebody else’s fake money is incredibly liberating. I’ve gotten bold, fearless, willing to push the envelope, up the ante, even when I’ve got bupkus in my hand. Because some folks will just plain fold their hands because I’m daring them to take big risk with their cash.

On the other hand, I’ve also lost a couple of fortunes when the computer calls my bluff and discovers that I got nothing.

Maybe there’s some metaphor for my writing -- even my life -- in all this risk-free gambling.

Maybe the lessons I’m learning are:

* Fake it till you make it. Or as Anna in The King and I reminded us:

Make believe you're brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are.

* Put on your game face, that may be good enough.

* Most people don’t know more than you do, they’re just better at selling cow manure as perfume.

Of course, the other lesson might be: a fool and his money are soon parted.

But I assume that it’s okay to be a fool and part with my money if there is no actual moola involved.

In the meantime, cut the cards and deal.

Evelyn David

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Atkins Editing: Thick Meat, No Bread

Rachel Brady is celebrating the release of Final Approach this week with five days of freebies at her blog. Click through to Write It Anyway and enter to win your choice of prizes. Today’s the last day!

Lately I’ve been thinking about revisions, but more on that shortly. First I’d like to thank the Stiletto ladies for inviting me back. I feel like a lucky freshman invited to sit with the cool seniors in the school cafeteria. Our lunch conversation today has to do with how editorial comments are like food. Slide up your tray and have a seat.

Not long ago I found a post about critiques in which the sandwich technique was explained. The suggestion was to structure a critique the way you’d build a sandwich—in this case, with constructive criticism sandwiched between two positives.

For example: “I like the story idea, but your characters could be fleshed out more. Nice use of dialogue, though.”

Or maybe: “Nice hook. You might consider condensing the restaurant scene . . . it ran on a bit long. But I liked that paranoid waiter.”

You get the idea.

I favor this approach and promise everyone reading this that I will remember and apply it forever, now that I have experienced Atkins Editing.

Earlier this month, my editor looked over the early pages of Book 2 and served up an enormous, Dagwood style, meaty sandwich. Turkey! Ham! Pastrami! Salami! (For purposes of my story, let’s pretend these are bad things.) Only problem with the sandwich? No bread.

My first reaction was to eat cookies but finding none in my house, I self-medicated on pretzels instead. Calorically speaking, this was lucky. Where editorial feedback is concerned, I later decided, cookies should be treated like handguns. Let’s put a 24-hour waiting period between revision comments and cookies. At least in my house.

Enter irony.

The same day I got the pages back, an interview I’d done for Novel Journey ran. Upon learning of my writerly depression, my friend Cathy was quick to send back a quote from my own interview. She’s sassy that way:

NJ: What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?

Me: Trust your editor. Accept that writing and editing are different skills. A talented editor can make your work shine if you’re willing to step back and seriously consider her suggestions. You both want the same thing: the best story possible.
I read the words and wondered who in her right mind would say something thing like that. But that was the problem. I wasn’t in my right mind again yet. The high protein, zero carb non-sandwich was still too deli fresh for me to think straight.

There is a happy ending.

The next day I received an e-mail from my editor explaining that she’d jotted her notes on the manuscript hastily before leaving town, intending to use them as reminders to herself later when she wrote my revision letter. The marked manuscript went into the office mail before she elaborated on her notes. This misfortune resulted in my unwrapping all that ham.

Her letter was very reassuring, altogether kind, and gave me the same warm feeling as joining Maggie, the Evelyns, Marilyn, and Susan at the cool table. There was a sandwich afterall. It started with, “While there is much to like I am uneasy on several counts.” Bread.

It helped to understand her intentions: “This second novel is always the hardest to write, and by far the hardest to sell. Everyone cuts the author a break with a first novel and comes out with knives sharpened for the second. You don't want to give anyone grounds for disappointment or carving up the book.”

My favorite was, “I hope you don't think I'm negative about your work, I like it. I’m trying to help you dodge the critical traps that beset most authors.” Bread with mayo—technical advice coupled with mentorship and foresight.

There are lessons here.

Trust your editor. Embrace carbs. Bon appétit.

Rachel Brady

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Deal or No Deal?

Deal or No Deal! I don't know why I watch that television game show. I surf past it, intent on moving on, but invariably it sucks me in and spits me out with a nasty thump.

I've never managed to watch one of the episodes where there was a big winner and I always manage to feel bad for the contestant who "loses" even when they win decent money. When a million is on the table and you only walk away with $20,000, that $20,000 feels like a loss to them and to the audience. And that's just crazy.

If you've been lucky enough to avoid the show and have no idea what I'm talking about – let me share the basics.

Howie Mandel hosts the show. Remember him from St. Elsewhere? Wonderful actor.

Contestants play for a top prize of $1 million dollars on the hour long version of the show, or $500,000 on the half-hour long version.

It's a game of odds and chance. There are 26 "models" or sometimes "regular" people from the audience who stand on an elevated stage similar to bleachers. Each person is in charge of a numbered briefcase. The briefcase contains a sign with a certain about of money on it. The range is a penny to one million dollars. Once a suitcase is opened, the money amount in it is out of play.

The contestant is given a locked suitcase at the beginning of the game. He or she can choose to keep their case or exchange it for one of the others. Once that decision is made, the game begins.
The contestant must pick a pre-determined number of cases – trying to avoid the ones with the larger amounts of money in them. After each set of cases is opened (or taken out of play), the contestant is offered by a mysterious banker an amount of money to end the game. The amount is based on the number of remaining cases and the amount of money still in play. "The Banker's" offer is usually about 1/3 of the amount that's possible at that particular time. Howie Mandel asks, "Deal or No Deal?" The contestant takes the deal or continues playing; hoping the next offer is higher. Of course if in the next round, the contestant opens a case with the top amount in it, then the next offer will drop like a stone. The contestant keeps playing until he accepts a "deal" or there is only his case and one other left. Without a "deal," the contestant will walk away with the contents of his case – the one given to him at the beginning of the game.

The interesting part of the game is always the contestants. They come from all walks of life, young, old, male, female, bold, timid, smart, not so smart – you name it they've all been on the show. You never really know who the risk takers are going to be until about mid-way through the show. And you never know who is going to win big or go home with a penny. The problem I have with the game is that those who deal out early, will probably regret what might have been if they'd held on for one more round. And they don't have to guess what would have happened. Howie asks the contestant to play it out for fun, asking which would have been their next case, they open it, the banker makes an offer, etc. I've seen a few people win millions under the "what-if" scenario. Now those people really feel bad. They paste on fake smiles and say they are happy with the amount they cut a deal for, but it's easy to see they are going to be kicking themselves or their spouses for months.

But then again, those who refuse a large offer (maybe twice their yearly salary) in the hunt for that million dollar payday can walk away with nothing. And that hurts too.

I think one of the reasons I don't like this show's premise is that there is no skill involved. The contestant randomly picks cases. The game really falls flat when the first case that's opened holds the million dollars. And often increasing the odds doesn't help anyone. I've seen shows where as a special event, they have five cases with a million dollars. I never saw anyone walk away with a million.

Last night a school teacher was offered $41,000. There were only a few cases left in play, one of them had $500,000 in it. The teacher turned the offer down, instead going for more money. The next case he opened had the $500,000 in it – meaning that amount was out of play. The next offer from the banker? $9,000.

The teacher took it. I felt terrible for him. I'm sure when he gets home and thinks about it, that $41,000 is going to look much bigger than it did while staring at a possible half million. He turned down a year's salary. I don't think it was greed. I think he wanted to act boldly, to take a risk. Our society admire risk takers. But ...

Sometimes taking a risk, is just... risky. It's not admirable or bold or ambitious. Maybe it's just me, but I scream at the television, "Don't listen to the audience! Think what you could do with $41,000!. That amount could pay down your mortgage. Or buy you a new car. Or send you on a trip round the world. Take the deal!"

They never listen to me.

And the $9,000 the teacher did win? He probably feels bad about it.

$9,000! Wouldn't you be thrilled to win that?

Or would you only remember what you lost?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Contrary to popular belief, THIS is the most wonderful time of year. It is reflected in the commercials we see on television (one even uses the wonderful Christmas song to illustrate this point) and in the faces of moms and dads around the country. What time is this, you ask?

It’s time for school.

This is the time of year, for me and many others like me, when it feels like we’re turning over a new leaf. New Year’s Eve and Day? They’ve got nothing on the beginning of a school year. New backpacks are purchased with promises extracted from their new owners that this year they will not, under any circumstances, lose them; new clothing is bought, with again, promises extracted that they won’t be worn until the first day of school (I’m looking at you, child #2, in your bright-white sneakers purchased from the Nike outlet by a very suggestible grandmother); school supplies are purchased with promises made to fill them only with intellectually-stimulating material generated by invigorated teachers.

All lies, I promise you.

But this is the time of year when people like myself (those who work in their attic and never see the sun and/or those sending a passel of kids back to school) decide to make some resolutions about how life is going to be different after a regulation-less, schedule-less summer. Here’s what I have planned:

1. I will go outside every day, even if it kills me. I live so close to the Hudson River that it would be a crime not to. I also have a good friend who has just quit her job, and has purchased two new kayaks. There is no reason, besides my incredibly dysfunctional work ethic which dictates that I should be in my office all day every day, to not enjoy the beauty that surrounds us here in the Hudson Valley.

2. I will get dressed every day. Now let’s not get the wrong idea. I’m not undressed every day, just dressed in a way that might suggest to you—if you happened to run into me at the grocery store—that I’m either between homes or don’t care about my appearance. Maybe it’s the “What Not to Wear” marathon that I watched that convinced me that even though I work at home, I should take some time with my appearance. Once everyone goes back to school and I’m on the hook for going out more in public (i.e. back-to-school nights, PTA meetings, church events, going into clients' offices) I need to spruce up a bit. The summer of baggy, linen pants from Target (which are a dream come true, by the way), un-styled and un-dyed hair (no that gray can’t pass for sun streaks—everyone knows I haven’t been outside since the end of June), no make-up, and seen-better-days tee shirts are over. You heard it here first.

3. We, as a family, are going to eat healthier foods. Oh, why bother? It’s a lost cause. I’m really the only one interested in anything green that grows outside.

4. I will not worry. It’s worth a try.

5. I will work less. Won’t happen.

6. I will write at least 500 words every day. I'd better. The manuscript is due in four months.

So, there you go. What are your resolutions for the “new year,” loyal Stiletto readers? What do you have in store for school year 2009-2010, even if you don’t have kids going back into the classroom? Let’s all turn over a new leaf together.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Hubby and I were invited to spend the weekend with Lorna and Larry Collins to help them celebrate two events for the launch of their mystery, Murder...They Wrote. We met Lorna and Larry four years ago in San Antonio at an Epicon. (Conference for electronically published writers.)

We've since spent time together at subsequent Epicons and kept in touch through e-mail. They've invited us several time to come visit them at their home. It's a long, long drive to where they live through L.A. traffic and we had never accepted their kind invitation before. This time they asked me to be part of a Fine Arts Festival being put on by the church; to have a table with my books and give a talk about How to Write A Mystery.

We also found out that we shared the same birthday which was yesterday. So of course we packed up what we needed for a weekend and headed down to San Juan Capistrano. Mrs. Magellan, as my husband calls our GPS, guided us right to the Collins' front door.

Lorna met us with this greeting, "The books haven't arrived."

Oh, my, I've been in this predicament myself before and I knew exactly how she felt--and I told her so. After a consoling hug and learning about her frantic calls to her publisher and the post office, neither giving her any encouraging information, we brought our suitcases inside and sat down to talk about the situation.

She did have other books to sell at the festival and I suggested she make out some forms for people to use to buy the books and when the time came she could either mail or deliver them to the ones who lived close by. She quickly made an order form with a copy of the book cover in the corner.

Doing all that could be done for then, we all went to dinner, still hoping the books might show up the next day. They didn't.

Because Lorna was in charge of the festival, my husband helped Larry do all the set up. We both sold some books and I met a lot of interesting people, and had fun giving my talk. After it was over and everything was back in order, we took the Collins' to dinner this time as a celebration of our birthdays.

After church on Sunday, was the launch of the book. Of course the invitations had all been sent out so the party went on despite the lack of books to sell. The Collins back yard is gorgeous with a beautiful waterfall so tables with umbrellas and chairs were set up in the lovely beach weather. Lorna decorated each table with a Bird of Paradise and sea shells. (The book is set in Hawaii and has a Bird of Paradise on the Cover.)

Many guests arrived to be told there was no book as yet, but nearly everyone pre-paid for a book and filled out one of the order forms. (Taking care of all that was my job and I was glad to do it.)

Wonderful refreshments were served and the conversation was lively. I don't think anyone felt deprived because the books weren't there--except for Lorna and Larry, of course.

That evening, Lorna used the left-over meatballs and made pasta for our last meal together, and we talked about what a wonderful time we had together despite the lack of the new books.

We certainly got to know this lovely couple much better and enjoyed their hospitality, and I feel that we helped make the weekend go a bit smoother.

When "Murder...They Wrote" finally arrives, I'm sure they'll have many more venues to introduce it to mystery lovers.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine

For the last six weeks, I’ve been on an unexpected medical journey, but with the help of phenomenal doctors, a fantastic family including my saintly husband, John, and the support of incredible friends, especially the remarkable women of the Stiletto Gang, I am on the road to recovery (poo, poo).

I’d like to include in that pantheon of appreciation, a toast to Anne George. I fell in love with her Southern Sisters mysteries back in the 1990s. They feature Mary Alice Tate Sullivan Nachman Crane, “Aunt Sister,” six feet tall and admitting to 250 pounds, the wealthy three-time widowed older sister (although she decided to start counting her birthdays backward when she hit 66), and Patricia Anne Hollowell, “Mouse,” retired school teacher, five-feet one, 105 pounds, and still perfectly happy with her first husband, her real age of 61, and her naturally gray hair. If their parents hadn’t sworn that both girls had been born at home, Patricia Anne was convinced that one of them had been switched at birth.

There are eight books in the series, which ended prematurely with the author’s death in 2001. The warmth, humor (sometimes gentle, sometimes laugh-out-loud), and clever plots have been a soothing balm in choppy waters. Ms. George, who was also a Pulitzer-prize nominated poet, creates complex main characters that drive the action, but also a finely-honed supporting cast that has the reader anxious to learn more about them as well.

These wonderful stories allowed me to escape to a sweet, soft, albeit deadly community, with cornsticks and egg custard pie, and expressions like “common like pig tracks,” which, I've decided,is the perfect description of some of what I see on reality TV.

In an interview with, Ms. George was asked:
Do you see humor as a means of coping with these sorts of problems?

She answered: I have been blessed with a family who uses humor as a means of dealing with problems. It's a "might as well laugh" attitude and it works.

She’s right. Humor, even in the darkest of moments, can sometimes be the perfect medicine.

I also loved her description of her mysteries. “Let's face it, these are definitely not hardcore mysteries. My son explains them as "nobody gets autopsied."

And that’s okay too. All the CSI-gadgets in the world are no substitute for well-drawn characters, smart plotting, snappy dialogue, and a healthy sprinkle of humor.

If you’re looking for a delightful series, I recommend Anne George. She does the body good.

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Children Allowed

Timothy Hallinan has written ten published novels under his own name and several others under pseudonyms. BREATHING WATER, which will be released by William Morrow on August 18, is the third in his new series of Bangkok thrillers that feature an American "rough-travel" writer named Poke (short for Philip) Rafferty and the family he has assembled in Bangkok -- his wife, Rose a former bar girl in the notorious Patpong district, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, who was a street child until they took her in. In BREATHING WATER, she's ten going on 28. The series has received excellent reviews, including some of the elusive trade review "stars," and the first two books, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART and THE FOURTH WATCHER, made Ten Best lists both here and abroad. Additionally, all three books have been singled out by the country's independent bookstores as either monthly picks or notables. Hallinan, who also wrote a six-book series Los Angeles PI series in the 1990s, has lived part of each year in Bangkok since 1981.

It wasn't until I came to Internet mystery discussion groups that I realized that a large percentage of readers want to read series in order. It had always been my assumption that one goal of writing a series should be to write individual volumes that can be picked up in any sequence. Book Number Three should be a terrific read even for someone who's never opened Books One and Two.

My first series of novels, featuring the uselessly overeducated LA private eye Simeon Grist, could be read frontward, backward, or sideways. A reader could have picked up Number Four without even knowing there was a Number One.

There are good reasons for series books to work as stand-alones. Let's say you're browsing and you pick up a book by a new author. You flip through it and think it might be worth a few hours. And then you realize that it's the fourth in a series, and you ask yourself, “Am I going to have to read three other books just to get to this one?” That's enough all by itself to stop some people, but suppose it's not suppose you look for the first three titles in the series and they're . . . not . . . there. Guess which book, out of the four you're toting, is going to wind up back on the shelf. (By the way, this is the main reason many booksellers don't like series.)

I'm hoping the information that follows will help some poor writer who is thinking about creating a series and would like the books in his or her series to be true stand-alones. A series that booksellers will love.

If so, here is one thing you do not, under any circumstances, want to do.

Do NOT include a child among your primary continuing characters.

When I decided to write a series of Bangkok thrillers about an expatriate American rough-travel writer named Poke Rafferty, I thought it would give him a deeper relationship with Thailand if he'd created a family there. I also thought that doing that would get me away from the lone-wolf private eye stereotype. Within about 30 seconds of making that decision, I realized that Poke came from a broken family, that he had been scarred by his father's abandonment, and that the family he has pulled together in Thailand is the most important thing in his life.

It's an unorthodox family, to be sure. His wife, Rose, is a former dancer in Bangkok's notorious Patpong red-light district. (Yes, “dancer” is a euphemism.) Their daughter, Miaow, was adopted off the Bangkok streets, where she'd been struggling for a living since she was three or four. She's eight or nine (no one knows for sure) in the first book, A Nail Through the Heart, and she's going on eleven in the third and newest one, Breathing Water.

And there's the problem. Those particular years would be a huge amount of time in any kid's life, but when she's gone from being a semi-literate street child to being a desperately wanna-be middle class kid in a school where everyone is fancier, richer, and more sophisticated than she is, it's a geological era. And because the family is at the heart of all the novels – I think of the thriller stories as rites of passage for the family – the installments in Miaow's development comprise a continuing story, and it can really only be read in one order.

In fact, Miaow's growth and development comprise the most important element in the family's life. In the first book, she's barely off the streets, still learning to read and trying to get used to living eight stories above the ground instead of in doorways and abandoned buildings. By the time of the current one, BREATHING WATER, she's at the top of her class in international school and vaguely ashamed of ever having lived on the street. In the one I'm writing now, THE ROCKS, she's playing Ariel in a school production of Shakespeare's “The Tempest.” And Rose and Poke, as her adoptive mother and father, are deeply involved in all of it.

If I'd realized then the impact Miaow would have on the series, I would have gone ahead and written her anyway, because she's more fun to write than anyone else in the books.

Tim Hallinan

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reason on Life-Support

I've been listening to the health care bill "shake and shouts" this month and I've come away concerned about the status of "education" in the United States. Yes, I said education. Apparently the ability to think, to reason, and then to debate differences of opinion in a civil manner has been lost.

I would blame it on the past eight years of teaching to the "test," but the individuals I see parroting conflicting statements in a loud and uncompromising manner at these town hall meetings can in no way be considered a product of the last ten years of the public education system. They are too old. Some of them are our elected representatives. Some are special interest group shills. Many are retired seniors who have been frightened into spouting gibberish.

No matter what your political leanings, reason shouldn't be the first victim when times get tough. I think we can all agree that times are tough.

Death Panels? Nazis? How did end of life counseling done at the patient's request become akin to forced euthanasia? Come on people! Think!

I don't know if the "public option" insurance is a good thing or a bad thing. At this rate I never will. I get very suspicious when people don't want me to hear what others have to say. I begin wonder if the people shouting down the others have a financial interest in things remaining the same.

I know that we already have government run health care – it's called Medicare and Medicaid.

I know that we already pay for those who don't have health insurance – it's called Emergency Room treatment (much more expensive than any other kind of medical treatment) paid for with our tax dollars.

I know many people, through no fault of their own, can't afford any health care insurance or are severely under-insured.

I know many businesses can't afford to offer health care insurance to their employees. Even state governments, the provider of my health insurance benefits, find each year that they can afford less and less coverage for the funds available. When the costs of health benefits increases between 20% & 30% in a twelve-month period, we all have a problem. It's easy to say, "Leave me alone, I'm happy with my insurance." But if things continue as they have, you won't be happy for much longer.

I know we have a problem that needs fixing. Regardless of your politics, you know we have one too. We just disagree on how to solve the problem.

A lot of people are involved in the "noise," but I don't know if there are any smart, well-informed people being heard.

I haven't "heard" any. How about you?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don't Miss This One!

I had the pleasure of getting away on my birthday last week to see “Julie and Julia” with a friend, followed by dinner. I have to tell you, dear readers, if you haven’t seen it, run—don’t walk—to the theatre to see this delightful film. From the moment the credits came on until the lights went up at the end, I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s that good and it’s that uplifting.

I find as I get older—and have been through some stuff (that which we shall not name and all)—that I can’t take movies that have any kind of violence, but particularly violence against women, children, and animals; a focus on the end of the world and complete destruction; or anything in which a character develops, deals with, or god forbid, dies of, cancer. Any kind. If that makes me a wimp, well, so be it. (I still can’t look at the Statue of Liberty up close. Why? The last scene of “Planet of the Apes” where Charlton Heston escapes from the apes, runs down to the ocean, and finds the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. He’s been in his own country all along, a country that’s been overtaken by apes. The visual has stuck with me all these years and is something of a joke in my family. But it’s not a joke to me. The memory of the final scene in that movie—seen when I was a young child—makes me sick to my stomach to this day. Heck, I’m getting a little queasy just writing about it!) So, with all of those requirements, it’s been well over a year since I’ve stepped foot in a movie theatre. When I saw the advertisements for “Julie and Julia” on television, I told my husband that I wasn’t going to miss it.

One of the most refreshing things about the movie is its positive depiction of marriage, particularly the marriage of Julia and Paul Child. These were two people who cared about each other, supported each other, loved each other, and had a very voracious and healthy sex life. What could be better? They had their hardships—many moves between Europe and the United States, infertility, Paul’s job insecurity and subsequent questioning by members of HUAC—but they seemed to get through everything with laughter, a good meal, and each other’s support. I know: it’s just a movie. I’m sure that they hit their bumps in the marital road. But isn’t this just a bit more refreshing than watching couples deal with infidelity and any one of a host of other problems in the movies that seem to come out weekly?

The “Julie” portions of the story weren’t quite as uplifting, but charming nonetheless. Her marriage was on shakier ground than “Julia’s” due to her obsession with her blog and cooking her way through Julia’s cookbook, but things resolved nicely and left me with a positive feeling about her and her husband as well.

One piece of oft-recited advice: Do not go to the movie hungry. The cooking scenes are numerous, realistic, and intense. I have never wanted to eat boeuf bourguignon so badly in my life but that’s a tough dish to find in a sleepy suburban village in New York in the middle of August. So we settled for dinner at an Italian restaurant and the chicken special to take the edge of the hunger exacerbated by the movie.

This is one not to miss.

What movies would you recommend, now that you know my requirements for a good feature film? And please, make sure the Statue of Liberty doesn’t take up residence on a sandy beach far, far into the future. That’s rule number one for my viewing pleasure.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Happened to Our Time?

Or I could have said, where did our day go?

The older I get the shorter time seems to be. Now by the time I get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, do a few things on my list, it's time for lunch. Same thing with the afternoon, it disappears and it's time to make dinner. Evenings are much shorter too.

When I was kid a day lasted forever. Summers seemed like they went on forever. We had time to play, visit friends, ride our bicycles, zoom down the hill on skates lickety split and crash into the neighbor's garage door to keep from killing ourselves. When we were teenagers, our group took turns hosting evening get-togethers at our homes and served homemade cookies and lemonade or Kool-Aid. We walked home in the dark. Not the least bit scary. I wrote and put on plays with the neighborhood kids. We had a girls' club that met in the play house my dad built for me when I was younger, but was big enough for us to get-together and have secrets from the little kids.

And of course, I had plenty of time to read those ten books I got from the library each week. I was writing too. One summer I put out a magazine and charged five cents a copy.

We did chores too, but I have to admit, it was mostly doing dishes every night. I washed and my sister dried and we cleaned our rooms on Saturday.

We always went to Sunday School and Church on Sunday. Most Sunday's we came home and had a big dinner. Afterwards we often visited with one of our relatives, my grandparents, or my aunts and uncles and all their kids.

We had wonderful birthday parties--usually two, one with our friends and then another with our cousins. With the cousins it was usually a picnic at one of the big parks.

Before TV we listened to the radio. I always listened to all the scary shows as well as Lux Radio Theater that had dramas with all the movie stars on them. Mom and I would go to the radio station to watch and then afterwards I'd get the stars autographs.

After my father built the first TV in our neighborhood, we had a lot of company in the evening who came to watch the magical box with us. Evenings lasted a long time too, I always had a project that I wanted to do.

Even after I had a family, once the children were all tucked into bed, I had my own private evening. Now, I'm the first one into bed.

Don't get me wrong, I still cram as much as possible into every hour I'm awake, but those hours just don't seem to last as long.

Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I don't think so. I listen to what one of my married granddaughter does during her days, she's a speech therapist at a public school and has two kids, a pre-schooler and a second grader. This summer, besides their vacation where they rode the rapids, yes, with their kids, camped, bicycled, rode an old fashioned train, the boy went to karate lessons and both kids took swimming lessons, the girl plays the violin and does that Irish dancing, and in the meantime, my granddaughter was taking a class for her profession. Her husband is a deputy sheriff and of course he helped with all this, but he also took a cake baking class and turns out he loves doing it and is now the official birthday cake baker for the family.

That's the way my life used to be, jam packed with activity, now I can't imagine even trying to do all that.

Now that I've written all that, I guess I'm just thankful that I can look back at all those great memories and be grateful that I still am able to do as much as I can.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Into the Wild

by Susan McBride

Today I'm filling in for the Northern half of Evelyn David, and it's my honor to do so. I decided to tell y'all the story of the cardinals who live in our yard, and I do mean the actual birds. If we had a pair of Cardinal ball players nesting in our pear tree, I have a feeling even animal-lover Tony LaRussa would not be too happy about it.

Let me start at the very beginning. When Ed and I bought our house three years ago, the yard had been neglected for quite awhile. The bad kind of honeysuckle had grown rampant in our backyard, and Ed practically had to go out wielding a machete to chop it back (and we still have more chopping to do--that stuff doesn't die easily, does it?). I unearthed lots of brick garden surrounds and added more so I could plant like a maniac. We cut back ivy from the patio and found the loveliest stone border. The side yard, which we labeled "The Wasteland," was regraded with help from a landscaping crew. A flagstone path was added with liriope on either side. Our rose bushes came back to life, and things started looking healthy and happy again.

The front yard was no better than the back. We hired Ray's Tree Service to tear out a HUGE forsythia bush that had morphed into a 6' x 6' blob. Half of it grew over the driveway, which made it hard for Ed to put his car in on that side until he'd hacked it back to the grass. We managed to trim down another forsythia, and we demolished weeds that had grown over the gas meter and a downspout. Six other overgrown shrubs sat in the second tier of a "garden" directly in front of the house. We pruned them as much as we could, but still the tallest stood about 8' or 9' and even the flatter bushes went half-way up the frames of our nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. We finally decided to have those torn out as well after finding damage to the wood window frames and realizing rain-water was leaking into the basement down that outside wall.

I'm glad I was home the day Ray's crew showed up to cut those suckers down. Just before they hauled the 8' or 9' shrub to their truck, I noticed a nest within and two baby birds practically falling out. I removed it, worried the babies were dead already beacuse they were SO tiny and pink. It was cold that day, sunny but with a blustery wind. I had no clue what to do with them. I stuck the nest in the only remaining bush nearby: the saved forysthia. Then I ran inside and called my mom.

Thank goodness, Mom remembered there was the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Overland, which wasn't too far from where we live. I called the place first, asking what to do, and they basically advised I leave the nest in the forsythia bush so the mother could find her kids. Well, I sat behind the storm door for an hour or more, watching Mama Cardinal frantically hop around, chirping, looking for her babies. She flew all around the front of the house, but the wee cardinals obviously weren't making a sound. So she couldn't find them.

I felt awful, like a baby bird killer. Plus, here in St. Louis where the baseball Cardinals rule, it would have been sacrilegious to let newborn cardinals die. So I called the Wild Bird Sanctuary again (okay, and again and again), until they finally said, "Just bring 'em down here!" I was advised to fill a baggie with warm water, put it in a shoebox, then set the nest on top of it. I covered the whole thing with a soft piece of T-shirt. And I drove to Overland to get the babies into caring hands tout suite.

I was told the babies were a day-old at most, and I worried about them all night. I had promised my mom and my husband that I wouldn't call and check on them. So, the next day, I started to dial a few times but made myself hang up. Until I couldn't stand it anymore and rang the Sanctuary once more, asking as soon as they picked up, "How are the babies? Did they live through the night?" I realized the first 24-hours were the most crucial so when I was told, "They made it, and they're keeping us busy today!" I breathed a huge sigh of relief. And, no, I didn't call again. That was enough for me. I firmly believed they would live.

With the overgrown shrubs gone, (thankfully) the Mama Cardinal and her red hubby moved into the backyard. We put out a feeder for them filled with wild bird seed (which Squirrelly Squirrel likes to hang by his toes and enjoy way too often--he's already pulled it down twice). Best of all, I saw Mama Cardinal gobble at the feeder and then fly into the pear tree. Soon after, I heard chirping and could just barely see her feeding a wee cardinal. Ed and I witnessed several more tiny bird-lings hopping from branch to branch inside the pear tree not long after. It warmed my heart to think that Mama and Papa Cardinal had another batch of babies after the two lost to them (but saved from the tree shredder). Yeah, I'm a sucker for a story with a happy ending.

P.S. We're on our second feeder (a "squirrel-proof" one this time) after Squirrely Squirrel knocked the first one down for the third time and broke it for good. Muhaha, we humans aren't as stupid as we look, Squirrely Squirrel!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Perils of Public Speaking

Hannah Dennison began her writing career in 1977 as a trainee reporter for a small West Country newspaper in Devon, England. While the English countryside would always be home in her heart, she yearned to see the world on a grander scale. For more than a decade, she traveled the globe working as a flight attendant on private jets, while dreaming of someday landing in Hollywood to pursue a writing career. After an inspiring conversation with Steven Spielberg during a flight to the Middle East, Hannah decided to take his advice and follow her passion. Without a net in sight, she took a leap of faith and moved from England to Los Angeles, with her daughter and their two cats in tow. Once in Hollywood, she worked as a story analyst for several motion picture studios, while producing a hefty stack of her own screenplays. After enrolling in the UCLA Writer’s Program, Hannah decided to focus exclusively on writing long form narrative and began the Vicky Hill mysteries. Her first book, A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE! was published in March of 2008 with SCOOP! in March of 2009 – and the third, EXPOSE! will follow in December 2009. Hannah still has a demanding day job. For the past ten years she has worked as an executive assistant to the Chairman of a west coast advertising company. She is married to a fellow writer.

Call me naive, but I had no idea that public speaking would become such a huge part in my life as a published author. It’s one thing pretending to be someone else on stage or playing charades at Christmas, but being myself and trying to be witty and entertaining in front of strangers is mortifying. I can cope with simple book signings where spelling a name is easy enough; I can even handle a five-minute carefully rehearsed introduction, but it’s the bookstore appearances with a lively twenty-minute pitch that gets me hot under the collar. Taking part on a panel is only a tad more bearable because a) I am with kindred spirits and b) with luck, questions will have been sent over in advance—even though the Q & A that follows can sometimes be unpredictable.

You’d think I’d be more confident having published two books in the VICKY HILL mystery series with another coming out in December. I’m certainly better than the very first time I read aloud wearing a skirt above the knee. My husband said the audience was captivated by the speed at which my kneecaps were moving.

The worst is the after-dinner speaker gig that really sets my nerves on edge. My first humiliating experience came when I was guest speaker at a local mystery club with a three-course meal thrown in. No, I didn’t get plastered and fall off the podium in a drunken stupor but I was so anxious, I couldn’t eat a bite. When nervous, I make a habit of taking my eyeglasses on and off. On this particular evening—accompanied by the loud grumblings of an empty tummy—I thought I delivered my speech quite well. People seemed entertained. They were laughing. It was only on my way home that I discovered the large clump of strawberry cheesecake stuck in my hair above my right ear. I’d accidentally put my eyeglasses down in my dessert.

But now all that is about to change.

At a recent Los Angeles chapter meeting of Sisters in Crime, award winning Toastmaster maven, Susan Mayberry, and professional pitch consultant and author, Donna Sozio, gave us some great tips on the art of public speaking.

In a nutshell, it’s very cheering to know that listeners only pay attention to 5% of the actual words spoken, 38% to the tone of the voice and the remaining 55% to the presentation. The key is to be energetic and make eye contact with your audience. My favorite tip when reading aloud from a lectern is to type the excerpt in 18 pt font using only the top third of each sheet of paper. This means a quick downward glance keeps you on track. There is no shaking of papers with trembling hands and you can still maintain the all-important eye contact.

I was so excited by the sound of Toastmasters that I decided to go to a meeting. It was a lot of fun, not remotely daunting and membership will not break the bank. Each week there are assignments that you can take part in or just observe until you feel confident to give it a go. Generally, there are prepared speeches between five and seven minutes and a “table-top” topic (a spontaneous off the cuff presentation) running around two to three minutes.

Each week, members are encouraged to volunteer for various roles. The Wizard of Ahs must pay attention to the number of ah’s, um’s and word repetitions uttered by all speakers; the Grammarian is responsible for grammar and sentence construction; the Timer holds up various colored coded cards to ensure speeches are kept to the correct length and the Master of Chuckles is self-explanatory! Evaluation is offered in a way that I found surprisingly nurturing and supportive.

I signed up immediately. With my next public speaking engagement only a few weeks away, I’m looking forward to reading aloud, wearing a skirt above the knee and devouring everything on the menu.

Hannah Dennison

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August Fun in the Ozarks

I usually end up taking my vacation from my "day job" in August. I say from my "day job" because I'm not sure writers ever take a vacation from writing or from thinking about writing. I'm still officially on vacation until Tuesday. I'll spend the remaining days doing some home maintenance and plotting out a new stand-alone novel.

As I'm writing this blog, I'm eyeing the unpacked bags stacked on my living room floor. A few hours previously, I'd returned from a three day trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with a side trip on Tuesday to Branson, Missouri. A three day trip required two soft-side suitcases, my laptop, my camera, an ice chest, and a tote for miscellaneous stuff that wouldn't fit into one of the other bags. I hate lugging so much stuff in and out of the hotel and car, but I just can't seem to do with less. I count this last trip as a success since I didn't forget to pack anything vital and I didn't leave anything behind. (Note: whoever was staying the cabin 1003 before me left behind a green cotton t-shirt – sized small. It's still hanging in the closet if you're looking for it.)

Speaking of cabins, my brother and I stayed at a cabin at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Last year we stayed in regular rooms in the hotel proper. The cabins were a much better experience! I love visiting old buildings, but I like sleeping in new ones with air conditioning and updated plumbing. The cabin we stayed in was wonderful – two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, fireplace, deck, three flat screen televisions, excellent satellite reception, and wireless internet. With the floor to ceiling windows on the side facing the valley below – it felt like we were staying in a very elegant tree house.

The Crescent Hotel is a famous destination for weddings and – since being featured on Ghost Hunters – a hot spot for ghost tours. We were there for the ghost tour. Last year's tour was wonderful – this year's not so much. Have you noticed whenever something really good also becomes very popular, the quality almost immediately goes down? The first time there were about 20 people taking the tour. This week's tour included almost three times that number. Everyone was stepping on each other in the narrow hallways, snapping photos of the back of someone's head, and trying to hear the tour guide over the murmurings of the crowd. I'm sure the ghosts found better places to hang out – about halfway through, I did too.

But even with an absence of ghosts, the time I spent sitting in a rocker on the hotel veranda, watching an evening thunderstorm roll in, made the whole trip worthwhile.

On Tuesday we drove to Branson and went through the Titanic Museum. The self-guided tour included many interactive exhibits. Nothing like sitting in a lifeboat and listening to the stories of survivors of the sinking to put an Atlantic chill in your bones. Don't confuse this museum with the traveling Titanic exhibits with items salvaged from the ship. The Titanic Museum in Branson offers fun doses of history and replicas of some of the ship staterooms and radio telegraph equipment, but no recovered items from the actual sunken ship. This museum is a great destination for history buffs and kids of all ages. I really wanted the "Rose Doll" (modeled on the character in the Titanic movie) sold in the gift ship, but I refrained. My house already has too many dolls – and I hardly ever play with them!

I did buy a book while I was away, In the Woods, a mystery by Tana French. I'm about a 100 pages into it and I'm hooked. Can't wait to finish it.

I hope everyone managed some type of vacation this summer – even if it's just a few hours on the deck with a good mystery!

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I was recently talking to a friend—a mother of four daughters ranging in age from 18 to 5—about her departure for London, which would take place the next day. Her oldest daughter is starting college in the fall so the family decided it would be a good time to take one last “family vacation” before life got more complicated and her oldest daughter either spent extra time at school or toiling away at a full-time job.

I asked her what time the car service was picking up the family. She seemed surprised that I asked. “We never take car service,” was her response. Her husband drives everyone to the terminal, drops them off, and then travels to some remote location on the border of Queens and Long Island and parks the car in long-term parking. That’s four children, one mom, six suitcases, and six carry-on bags. And because they’re going to London, six umbrellas. He returns to the terminal, hot and sweating and shaky from the excursion, hoping that he can reconnect with the family on the ticket line. “How do you usually get to the airport?” she asked.

“Car service,” I explained. There is no way in hell that I’m attempting to drive me, or god forbid, me and the family, to JFK. Driving to the airport in the New York metropolitan area is akin to being stabbed to death by ten thousand paper cuts. It’s long, it’s tortuous, and it never ends well. But for my friend, whose family could afford the luxury of car service, taking said service is a non-negotiable. It’s just not something that they do. They’ve always driven themselves to the airport and always put the car in long-term parking and that’s what they’ll continue to do.

My friend and I started talking about the non-negotiables in our lives and decided that we had a few in common one being the combined ATM/Visa card. I received one of these recently from our bank and promptly put it in a drawer. Why? 1) Because I didn’t order it from the bank and 2) because I only want an ATM card that dispenses money when I need it. I don’t need any more credit. I also don’t want to complicate things by not knowing if I’m debiting or charging or both. I want to use my debit card to take money from my account and my separate Visa card to charge things for which I don’t actually have the money for on that given day. My husband, Jim, asked me about the combo card the other day, having fielded a call from the bank. “Did you get your combined ATM/Visa card?” he asked, innocently enough. After the diatribe he received from me about how I didn’t ask for it and would never use it, his eyes went glassy and he said that I could talk to the bank the next time they called.

Another non-negotiable? Paying ATM fees. I will walk a thousand miles before I use an ATM from a bank that is not my own and that will charge anywhere from $2.50 to $8.00 to take my own money out of my own account. It’s not that I can’t afford the charge but it just bakes my scrod to give another bank money to use my money to pay for something.

One more non-negotiable: getting my hair dyed professionally. I am a $6 box of hair dye girl and by all accounts, do a pretty darn good job. I just will not pay $50 or more to sit in a chair and have someone else dye my hair when the $6 bottle does just as good a job as the $50 or more colorist. And if you need proof, ask the northern half of Evelyn David; she’s always complimenting my dye job and although she’s a good friend, I don’t think she’s lying. (Are you?)

However, I won’t drive even two miles from home to get cheaper gas. If I need gas, I pull into the nearest gas station and purchase it, regardless of cost. And since I live in an area that is notorious for higher-than-usual gas prices, chances are that I’ve spent in excess of five hundred dollars or more over the last twenty years purchasing expensive gas. But I just don’t care. It’s not worth it to me to make an extra trip or drive further than I need to. My mother is always asking me, “What do you pay for gas?” just so she can hear me say (I’m convinced), “I don’t know.”

I know that not paying an extra $2.50 to get money from a non-sanctioned ATM does not jibe with someone paying extra for gas, but as I said, this post is about non-negotiables which basically boils down to what we can and cannot stand for. I’d love to hear what your non-negotiables are. Do you abhor cheap wine? (I love it.) Or do you not buy generic or less-expensive brands of toiletries? (I buy a lot of Suave products but just so I can hear child #2 ask where the “SWAVE” body wash is.) Weigh in, dear readers.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Attempt to Think Up Something For My Turn on This Blog

Everyone who posts on this blog comes up with such clever topic ideas. For some unknown reason, my mind has drawn a blank. Not that I'm ever that clever, but it does seem like something would pop into my mind.

Because I'm so embroiled in planning the promo for my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Dispel the Mist, that's all I can think about. Though the manuscript has been through the editing process at my publishers, I'm now waiting on the galley proof to go over. For some reason, galley proofs never seem to arrive in a timely manner. With my very first book the galley arrived on a Friday with instruction to have them back by Monday. This was long before email and it was an impossibility to get them back that fast. I sent in my corrections, but the typos were all still there when the book came out.

Last year, I had a big book launch planned for Kindred Spirits, out of town and in a Bed and Breakfast with pre-sold tickets for a luncheon. I sweated bullets. I got the books about four days before I had to leave for the event.

With Dispel the Mist, I don't have anything quite so lavish planned--though I do have events nearly every weekend and I'm hoping I'll have books by then.

This is the way it is with every book I've written. I'm told when the book will be out, I make plans, then I go through the nerve wracking process of whether or not I'll get the galleys, have enough time to proof (very necessary) and get them back for the whole printing process.

I'm truly eager for Dispel the Mist since one of the characters is the Hairy Man, an Indian legend who may or may not still be roaming the mountains above the Tule River Indian Reservation (Bear Creek Reservation in my books). The cover has a very realistic rendition of the pictograph of the Hairy Man on the Painted Rock on the reservation.

I had a great time writing this book and my heroine's encounter with this legendary creature.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Vacation Memories with a Smile

We took our summer vacation last November. When folks ask us where we are going this summer, we’re happy to whip out 50 of our best photos from our trip to visit our daughter in Scotland last Thanksgiving. I notice that people tend not to pursue the conversation further.

I once did an article on traveling with children and an expert I interviewed advised parents not to think of those trips as vacations. Rather, it’s just experiencing family life in a different location. She had a point. No matter where we went, there was always laundry to be done, meals to be figured out, and squabbling to contend with.

Family vacations take on a mythic lore only after you are back home. Then the minor inconveniences (or major ones like the time the entire backyard of the house we rented was covered in tiny cacti!) are the stuff of family legends. Some of our family trips make the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation look like an expensive guided tour.

Like the stream that was described in the brochure as straight out of a Huck Finn adventure, which was instead 30 degrees in August, and didn’t come up to our ankles, once we dipped our toes in it. Or the hike to the top of the mountain in the middle of August that was advertised as experiencing winter in the summer (and why did that seem like a good idea?), which was instead, a sliver of ice between two rocks and more black flies than found in a stable of horses. Or the ski vacation in the Poconos, when we all attempted the bunny slope in the pouring rain. One by one the children went up the rope tow line, let go about half way up what they were describing as Mt. Everest, but was approximately a 20 degree angle and maybe 100 feet high. In any case, first son goes half way up the mountain, lets go of the rope, and immediately drops into a heap unable to get himself up. Son number three follows him, stops a few feet before him, falls into a heap, unable to get up. Son number two, daredevil that he was, holds onto the rope all the way to the top. Screams triumphantly, and immediately falls into a heap…unable to get up.

Father of this crew starts up the same rope tow line (see a pattern here?), falls into a heap – but flips himself over, takes off the d**n skis, and plods his way from one wailing kid to another, unbuckling skis, and standing each child upright to walk down the slope. Mother of the tribe was at the bottom, alternately a little concerned, but also trying desperately not to fall to the ground in hysterics at yet another family vacation gone to Hell in a Handbasket.

Family vacations are part of the glue that binds us to another. Who else will remember the trip to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory? All of us were atwitter at the concept of a free ice cone. The flavor of the day was Chunky Monkey. With no disrespect to a fine company that does good works, the banana flavor was gross. All six cones, including the one for the then year-old baby daughter, were immediately dumped into the nearest garbage can, with attendant wailing at pitches known to shatter glass. Only Nana, who had politely declined the freebie, and instead paid for her own delicious flavor in a cup, was happy. Obviously, the only solution was to buy ice cream cones for everyone. But now, years later, all anyone has to do to ensure guffaws all around is whisper Chunky Monkey.

This summer is a staycation. We’re enjoying reminiscing about our family forays – and planning a new one. Maybe we can find somewhere that has a rope tow to an ice cream factory?

Where are you headed this summer?

Evelyn David

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

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stink You Very Much

by Susan McBride

Last week, I read about an office in Texas where 34 people were taken to the hospital after a co-worker spritzed herself with perfume. I wondered what that perfume was--Eau de Skunk, perhaps?--and I started having flashbacks.

Years ago, I worked with a very nice woman in the transcription department at a medical practice. She loved Dollar Store perfume. Bear in mind that the "transcription department" was the two of us stuck in a walk-in closet with our computers and no ventilation. The moment she showed up for work and I inhaled the extremely sweet fragrance, I got an instant pounding headache. I tried to breathe through my mouth until I couldn't stand it anymore. One day I finally broke down and said, "I'm begging you, please, keep the cap on that perfume and use some Ivory soap instead!" She ran crying to everyone else in the place, and I was branded the Mean Girl.

Fortunately for me, she actually listened. She stopped wearing the offending scent. And I stopped getting those pounding headaches.

I recall a year or so back when another Susan McBride sued the City of Detroit after a co-worker's perfume and perchant for plug-in air fresheners caused illness in the scent-sensitive Detroit Susan. The lawsuit came after Detroit Susan requested that her fellow employee cease and desist with the stink. Although the co-worker said she could do without the air fresheners, she couldn't live without her perfume. I'm not sure what happened in this case (must Google), but I actually sympathize with Detroit Susan. Being forced to routinely breathe a powerful smell that makes you nauseous isn't pleasant.

One of my former high school beaus has a lovely mother who regularly doused herself in White Linen. If y'all know what White Linen smells like, you also realize it's a very strong scent. During car rides with that old boyfriend's family, I breathed through my mouth and didn't say a word. I never had the heart to tell Mom o' Beau that I couldn't stand to be in a tight space with her because the fumes near to killed me.

I used to wear White Shoulders to every junior high school dance, and I doubt there was a day during high school that didn't begin with my rubbing Ralph Lauren onto the backs of my wrists. But sometime around college I stopped enjoying perfumes and colognes, and I looked for really softly-scented soaps and body gels instead. That's when I began experiencing the joy of seasonal allergies, too, so I don't doubt there's a connection.

Have you ever gotten in an elevator with someone whose scent made your eyes water? Or run away from an overzealous perfume-squirting sales lady in a department store, screaming, "No, thank you!" Surely I'm not the only one with a sensitivity to smells (okay, me and my Doppelganger in Detroit).

My husband teases me, saying whenever we go out--especially to a sports venue--I'll always remark, "It smells funny in here." But then again, places like ice rinks where men play hockey for hours in stinky gear they've stuffed in bags in their car trunks (and refuse to wash until the end of the season) does make for a very special odor. Eau de Hockey Gear. Not exactly something the French will decide to bottle in lieu of Chanel No. 5.

Believe it or not, there are scents I adore: fresh strawberries, my mom's kitchen on Thanksgiving, a crisp fall day, sheets just out of the dryer, cookies hot out of the oven, baby powder, lily-of-the-valley, and newly-cut grass (even if it makes me sneeze!).

Something else that doesn't stink: my editor loved my revision of THE COUGAR CLUB. Hooray! I've got a sneak peek of my new cover, too (see the sidebar for a glimpse). Though the first attempt at cover art definitely had me pinching my nose, this one looks delish! ;-)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good Fences

I would never just walk into someone's house. Even if I'd known them for years. I do not take an open or unlocked door as an invitation to enter without permission. But that's not the case for many – especially in Oklahoma. To counter this, I keep my doors locked – all the time. I'd lock the gates to my backyard if I could, but with no alley, meter readers etc, need access.

My house sits on a long narrow lot, surrounded by smaller square lots. Which means instead of one house on my left, one to my right, and one behind me – I have two on my right, two on my left, and one way, way out back. In other words - I'm surrounded by lots of people.

To counter the feeling that anytime I step outside someone is watching, I've planted shrubs and trees and other thick foliage along the four foot chain-link fence that borders my backyard. You'd think this would be enough to ensure my privacy. But it seems like whenever I'm mowing, weeding, or doing anything outside, I have company. Kids who want to sell me candy or magazine subscriptions for their latest school fund raising project, strangers wanting to use the phone, strangers wanting me to pay them to mow my yard, strangers inviting me to their church, and neighbors just wanting to chat as I lug in my groceries.

I'm not a person who likes to chat. I don't want to know everyone's business. I'd probably be very happy living in the country with no neighbors playing loud music late on Sunday nights (what reasonable person parties on Sunday nights anyway?); no neighbors using power equipment outside at 8 am on Saturdays; and no neighbors having abusive midnight conversations with their soon to be ex-spouses as they make their way from slamming front door to slamming car door (note: if you're leaving forever, for heaven's sake just do it and shut up about it.)

My day job requires me to talk to all kinds of people all day long. Sometimes I spend most of the day on the telephone dealing with problems. I've done this for more than 25 years. I only have so much goodwill to give each day. When I come home, I want to do the Greta Garbo thing – I want to be alone.

I treasure my privacy. I want to come home, roll up the drawbridge, and keep the world out. To achieve this, I try not to engage my neighbors in idle conversation. I wave from a distance and hope they do the same. Usually it works, but not always. I had one senior citizen neighbor who insisted on getting my mail out of my mailbox and holding it for me when I was travelling. Sometimes he did it when I was just late getting home from work for the day. This necessitated me checking with him whenever I returned to see if he had any of my mail. I finally got a locking mailbox and that solved one problem.

Now the neighbor to the right of me has moved out. He was one of my favorite neighbors. In twenty years, we'd only had three or four conversations: once when he broke my bathroom window with a rock from his riding lawn mover; once when he cut a tree down and it landed on my fence; once when I found a dying kitten in my backyard (since he had cats, I thought it was one of his. It wasn't but he took it anyway) and once when he let me know he was moving. Even with the accidents, he was my idea of a good neighbor.

New people are in the process of moving in. If I was a better person, I'd bake some cookies and take them over, but I wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea. Best to start the way I want to go on.

I'll smile and wave at them as I fill my moat and feed the alligators. Hopefully, they'll get the message.

Robert Frost had it right. Good fences make good neighbors.

Any neighbor stories you want to share?

Evelyn David

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bad News Abounds

There are certain things I just don’t do anymore (thanks to suggestions from my Stiletto posse) which include Googling my name, checking my Amazon numbers, or reading reviews (I’m in good company…apparently Philip Roth doesn’t read his reviews either). I’ve found that all are anxiety producing and I don’t need any reason to feel more nervous than I already do on a daily basis. But last night, after checking out the first ten minutes of the local news—something I do every evening at five o’clock—I’ve added that to my list. No more televised news. Ever—or until my resolve wavers.

We have had a particularly bad stretch of bad news in these parts, though I don’t think we’re unusual in that regard. In the past week alone, we’ve lost a local police officer (a father of three) to a gunshot wound to the face. A woman, inexplicably driving the wrong way on a local road, died in a crash as did her three nieces, her daughter, and three men in another car that she hit. A woman jumped to her death from a local bridge a few nights ago. A young dad walking through Central Park was hit by the branch of a one hundred year old tree and went into a coma. And we’ve always got the fluctuating Dow Jones Industrial, the now-bankrupt “Cash for Clunkers” program, the unemployment rate, and the fate of universal health care to make us remember that not too many good things are happening in the country or the world.

I’ve decided that a head in the sand approach is the best defense against all of this. Goodbye televised news. Hello glass of chardonnay and latest copy of chick lit book.

I made a decision years ago to not see any movies that might upset me. So as good as I hear “The Hurt Locker” is and how amazing the direction is, I’m not going to see it. People possibly getting blown up in Iraq? No, thank you. I thought maybe I’d cut my work day short on Friday and go see “Funny People” until I read in a review that one of the main characters has a fatal blood disease. That’s out. I’m thinking “Aliens in the Attic” might be my safest bet. If one of those aliens—or god forbid one of the children—in the movie meet an untimely end, I will be extremely perturbed.

We’re only a few days into the news moratorium, so I’m not exactly sure how long it will last and I’m sure curiosity will eventually give way. And I also have to admit that I’m still reading the paper every morning, even though I skip the nasty stuff and go straight to the “Hot Finds for Summer!” (it’s always sandals I’m too old to wear) in the Style section or the sports section, where the list of steroid users and their pathetic excuses grow by the day. As someone who has been on steroids for medical reasons, I can tell you this: anyone who would willingly take steroids without a necessitating medical condition is a moron. Plain and simple. Between the weight gain, the mood swings, and the hair sprouting up in places where hair shouldn’t grow on a woman (let’s leave it at that), I wouldn’t care if I could hit a ball a country mile. They just aren’t worth the trouble. (Unless you’ve got extreme intestinal distress, in which case, they are a god send.)

Is there more bad news than usual? Or have I just become extremely sensitized to it? On the plus size, we had the beer summit…and the beer summit…and…I can’t think of anything else. What’s the good news coming out of your neck of the woods these days? And what do you do to combat the weariness you feel after reading day after day of horrible news?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What I Like and Don't Like

Because I'll be off visiting my daughters in southern California when this blog comes out I decided to follow what my blog mates have been doing and write a list of things about me, namely what I do and don't like.

I don't like TV and radio commentators and reporters from either party who are mean. Being mean is NOT reporting the news nor is it going to change how anyone thinks.

I don't like people who presume I believe the same way as they do just because I don't blast my beliefs all over the place.

I don't like movies that are full of naked people, sex that doesn't do anything for the story, and coarse language that's only there for the shock appeal. (I know what people look like without their clothes and most look best covered up, after being married for 57 years I know all about sex and don't need lessons, and I'm offended by the use of bad language when it isn't necessary.)

I dislike negative people and avoid them--if I can't, I think of ways to put them in my next book.

What I do like is a good mystery--one that entertains me and keeps me guessing to the end.

I also like to eat a good meal whether I cooked it or someone else did.

I love being around my family and friends. Nothing more delightful than seeing how the kids are maturing and learning what everyone is doing.

I love being around my church family who I know I can count on for prayer when I need it.

I love good movies: funny movies, scary movies, romantic movies, exciting movies.

I like Facebook despite its addicting qualities.

I love writing mysteries, I love my characters who seem real to me, and I enjoy meeting people who have read my books.

I like more things than I dislike and I tend to avoid the things that I dislike. Life is too short to waste time on things you don't like.

Now you know more about me than you probably ever wanted to know, but my blog is done and I can go off and have fun with my daughters.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Clunkers for Cash? Not Me

I think there are two kinds of people in the world: those for whom a car is a work of art, to be studied, admired, and coveted. And those for whom an automobile is a way of getting from one place to another. Ours is a mixed marriage. The hubby grabs the automotive section of the paper first. Maybe even before sports. Me? I want to turn the key and go. What the car looks like is irrelevant. Reliable is all I ask.

Which is why my very favorite automobile is now 14 years old. We’ve jerry-rigged the air-conditioning. It doesn’t have a CD player. There are no heated seats. I’m not sure how many times the odometer has turned over, but I don’t care because this old car just keeps chugging along. Since I'm not interested in a new model, the clunkers for cash government program doesn't work for me. My husband says this antique of ours is no longer fit for long trips, but where am I going?

Some folks love the smell of a new car. Me? I love the fact that I can get into my car and remember the picnics held in those seats on days when it rained and we couldn’t stand being in the house another second. I smile when I think about the long talks I had with each of my kids as we barreled down the highway (and why do sex questions with teens always pop up when you’re going 60 miles an hour in heavy traffic?). I cringe slightly at some of the more heated arguments my husband and I had in the car – but sometimes it was the only place we could be alone and figure out a solution to a problem without the intrusion of children or dog. I relax when I’m in that car, recalling the naps taken during long drives to visit relatives in far-away states.

Son number two has been talking about needing a station car – and hinting, none too subtly, that my old clunker would nicely serve that purpose. He’s probably right. It would be an easy retirement for my faithful motorized servant. But I’m tempted to give him one of our newer cars (new being a relative term since we own no car less than five years old). They don’t have the memories or the old car smell.

For me, getting into my old car, with all the memories, is like Cinderella getting into the pumpkin. With a bibbity-boppity-boo, or a more mundane turn of the key, the transformation is complete. Both become gilded carriages – and we’ll both get to the ball (or supermarket) on time. But at least my pumpkin won’t break down at the stroke of midnight!

What's your car IQ?

Evelyn David

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