Friday, October 30, 2009

A Halloween Ball Murder

Thanks for playing - the Scavenger Hunt is over now. Winners to be announced on Nov. 2, 2009 at noon Eastern time.

The Stiletto Gang


Cast of Characters

Heroine - Milla Adams – private detective
Sidekick - Fletcher Jones – police detective

Victim - Carla Jordan – deceased, personal assistant to G. Winston Howard

Suspects -
G. Winston Howard – millionaire, host of Halloween Ball
Buffy St. James – librarian, current girlfriend of G. Winston Howard,
Walter Jester – aide to Carla Jordan
Alana Carter – groundskeeper
Liza Barrymore - hired by Diana Trent to do costume makeup for party
Amazing Harry – escape artist hired by G. Winston Howard for Halloween Ball
Mayor Juan Reyes and his wife Sonya – guests at the Halloween Ball
Steven McCall - owner of large construction company, friend of Howard family
Julius and Frieda Rosen - they run Rosen Catering, the catering company
Dr. & Mrs. Paul Trent – Diana is the first ex-wife of G. Winston Howard.

It was a full moon. The man in the mask waited just outside the door, the dim silver light glinting off the metal blade in his hand. He was patient, much more so than the detective chasing him.

The woman inside the house paused, her hand on the doorknob. Fear etched her features. It was obvious that she knew the odds were against her. She was chasing a serial killer. The blood from his last kill was still fresh on her mind … and her shoes.

Red stilettos.

Milla Adams woke up with a start. Her television was still on. The late night slasher movie was on its third or fourth airing in a row, some kind of a Halloween marathon. It wasn't the screams that had awakened her, or the mixing of reality with fiction in her dreams, it was her very loud telephone.

Time to go to work.


Milla checked her makeup in the lighted mirror on the visor of her red Porsche Boxster convertible. The car, the shoes, the perfect makeup - she had an image to protect, even when it was inconvenient – like when making a 3 a.m. call to one of her wealthier client's mansion.

Ducking under the yellow crime scene tape, she spied a familiar face. "Fletcher? How's Lydia?" With her trade mark red stilettos adding three inches to her tall frame, Milla was almost eye-level with her old friend. They had gone through the police academy together more than twenty years ago. He'd married another recruit and made a career of the police department. He was the lead detective on the murder investigation.

"Sleeping, which is what I was doing before the police chief called and told me I was catching this murder. Who called you?"

"G. Winston Howard, himself. He told me he was about to be arrested for the murder of his personal assistant." Milla had spent ten years working as a police detective before leaving to open her own private high-dollar detective and security business. By the time she'd turned forty last year, she'd established a reputation for discretion and quick results. She'd need both on this job.

"Seems like he'd have been better off calling his lawyers."

"Oh, he's done that too. But he thought if the real murderer could be discovered before Monday, he could avoid some of the adverse publicity. His friend the mayor thinks so too."

"Figures. The mayor was one of the guests at Howard's party. He fancies himself a cop because he played one on TV." Fletcher frowned. "I wish the police chief had mentioned he was being overruled by the mayor on this case. I could have stayed in bed and let you sort it out."

"Not party – ball. Halloween Ball. It’s an annual charity thing. And I'm not taking over. I'm just here to make some inquiries." She gestured towards the doorway. "Will you show me the crime scene? I'm on deadline, no pun intended."


She pulled out her voice recorder and spoke softly into the tiny gadget.

"3:30 a.m. Friday, October 30, 2009. Residence of G. Winston Howard, multi-millionaire, or depending on the time of day and the stock market – billionaire- adventurer, and well-known philanthropist. At approximately 2:10 a.m. Miss Carla Jordan, aged 35, was found dead in Mr. Howard's greenhouse by a groundkeeper … note to self—these are rich people so greenhouse might be called something else. Miss Jordan was Mr. Howard's personal assistant. Detective Fletcher Jones reported that approximately 30 people attended the annual Halloween ball as guests. In addition, the caterers brought a staff of ten to dole out the food and drinks. According to his preliminary report, Detective Jones has eliminated all but thirteen as suspects in the murder. Second note to self—make sure to cross-check their alibis against each other."

Milla leaned over the body for a better look. Clicking on her recorder she added, "The victim is in costume—dressed as a giant sunflower. Brown leotard, yellow petaled headdress. Not a particularly attractive look for her. Her hands are dirty – like she was potting some plants. Several of her fingernails are broken. Blood is pooled on the floor near her chest and right hand. The coroner has yet to determine time of death, but witnesses put her alive and well on the dance floor at 1:30 a.m. The cause of death appears to be the large knife sticking out of her chest."


To read the rest of the mystery visit Evelyn David's website for the full text.

Hallopalooza - The Reveal

Dear Reader –

Hopefully you have visited all the participating blog sites and you've returned here to solve the mystery.

Put on Milla's stiletto shoes and solve the mystery. If you've visited all the blog sites, you have all the clues necessary to reveal the killer. Put your mystery solution into an email to or leave it as a comment on this blog. (All comments are being moderated during the Scavenger Hunt so that solutions won't be posted until after the winner is announced. If you choose to leave a comment, remember to provide a contact e-mail address in the body of your comment. Please submit only one mystery solution per individual. If you send more than one solution, only the first one received will be considered.)

E-mails and comments must be received by 5 p.m. ET, Sunday, November 1, 2009, to be eligible for prizes.

Prizes for solving the mystery are as follows:

The grand prize is a $50 gift certificate that the winner can use for books from any online or bricks and mortar bookstore (winner’s choice of bookstore) plus autographed books.. If multiple readers solve the mystery, we will have a drawing to select the grand prize winner.

Runners-up will receive a book from one of the authors of The Stiletto Gang. If there are more than 10 Runners Up, then there will be a drawing among the Runners Up for the books – maximum number of books to be awarded by The Stiletto Gang is ten (10).

Winners will be announced at noon ET on Monday, November 2 at the Stiletto Gang blog site.

Thanks so much for participating! Happy Halloween!

The Stiletto Gang

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Warning: Nudity

I’m going with a theme this week with blogging. Nudist resorts. Ever been to one? Want to? Would you if it was essential for research (or some other aspect of your life)?

I’ve been to a nudist resort, all in the name of research. See, in the currently-being-written third book in the Lola Cruz Mystery Series, Bare Naked Lola, Lola must go to a nudist resort to solve the case she’s working on. The question I’m faced with is: Will she, or won’t she--get naked, that is? Now, if you’ve read Living the Vida, Lola, you might be able to give an opinion on this. I know what my gut says, but I haven’t been faced with writing that particular scene yet so I can’t say for sure which way I’ll go with it.

I sort of imagine it as a Lucy and Ethel scene from I Love Lucy...all darting behind bushes and holding big leaves up!

But before I could write a single scene about a nudist resort, I had to go there and visit. And go I did. It was October, so the place was actually pretty quiet. People walked around with their shoes on and a towel slung over their shoulders (the towels are to sit on where ever you go, something I wouldn’t have known about had I not visited). Women are allowed to cover their bottom half during a certain time of month, but otherwise, if you are there, you are expected to be unclothed.

As I mentioned over at Good Girls Who Kill For Money Club on Monday, one of the most hilarious aspects was Nudestock (ala Woodstock)--and no, the bands didn’t have to be nude, although it was encouraged. Maybe Nudestock isn’t so different from the free-loving original, but still, it is something to see.

In book two of the my series, Hasta la Vista, Lola! (coming out in just 3 short months!), Lola didn’t have to do anything outrageous (other than breaking and entering, babysitting two nephews and a niece, and keeping her hands off Jack Callaghan), but there’s something so fun about putting your characters through something you’d never in a million years do. It tests you and your own boundaries and it can definitely make for hilarious scenes.

So here’s my question. What outrageous things have you done (in the name of research, or otherwise)? Would you visit a nudist resort? Just how daring are you?!

XO Misa

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Then

It’s that time of year again, when many little children (except for the ones who have parents who think that Halloween is for pagans; I, myself, worship at the feet of the god of chocolate) don costumes and roam the streets, looking for candy. And thank goodness they do! Mama needs a 100 Grand bar to satisfy that sweet tooth.

It’s not like the old days, though, when we used to get up early, particularly if Halloween was on a Saturday like it is this year, put on our flammable costumes, and roam the streets in groups, hoping not to be picked up by a serial killer, get an apple with a razor blade in it, or worse. I remember my mother sending us out, me in charge by age seven, and going up and down every street in our development, hitting every house until our environmentally-unfriendly plastic bags were bulging with candy. The rule? When your bag was too heavy to carry, you went home. Nobody in the group was carrying your bag for you (and yes, I’m looking at you, Colleen) so if you couldn’t heft it, you were out of luck.

To illustrate just how different Halloween now was from Halloween then, I’ve brought along a few family photos. Captions will explain who is who. Enjoy.

1. This is my grandmother. She took us trick or treating this particular year; I think it’s 1968. She thought it would be funny to wear one of her dead husband’s suits and put a bag over her head. It wasn’t. She scared half of the children in the neighborhood, not to mention the grownups. We left her home the next year.

2. We call this one “Bride of the Living Dead.” This is my sister, Tricia, at four years old. I don’t think my mother was going for “recently exhumed corpse” with this look, but that’s what she got.

3. Shazam! (Need I say more?)

4. Shazam revealed! (Fooled you, huh?)

5. This one is from the “When Bad Costumes Happen to Good Children” collection, currently on display at the Smithsonian. Again, my sister and her friend, Janet, look far more sinister than I think either of their mothers intended. (Notice Tricia’s lovely bridal corsage; that definitely looks like it’s been underground for some time.) Let’s just say that my father knocked off of work from the police department early and came home only to see these two lovely creatures before they set out on their candy grab. He ended up running screaming from the house thinking that trolls had gotten loose from under a bridge.

6. I think this might be a real gypsy. Note my sister’s concerned expression in the background. I think she’s been shaken down for all of her candy but she’s not sure how or why.

7. And here I am with two of my three siblings, further cementing my youngest sister’s contention that there are NO PICTURES OF HER.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween!

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trick or Treating Past and Now

Halloween was always my favorite holiday. You'll see why the past tense when you get to the end of the blog. As a kid, I was the last one to come in from trick-or-treating. Once I learned where the homemade cookies, popcorn balls and candy apples were being handed out, I was off like a streak. I didn't have to be with anyone else--my goal was to gather up as much good stuff as possible. For those who don't know, I was a kid during World War II and sugar was rationed. Treats were hard to come by--trick-or-treat was the opportunity to stock up.

The closest I ever ran into trouble was about five blocks from home and it was about 9 p.m. When I knocked on the door a man came out with a shotgun aimed right at me. He said, "Do you know what I do to trick-or-treaters?" My "No sir," was squeaky and I was sure I'd soon be dead. He said, "I give them candy." He dumped a whole bunch into my sack.

When my kids were young every costume they had was homemade. I can't remember them all. When my first one was a baby, she was dressed in white and I said she was the little cloud who cried--she did because all the scary costumes scared her. That didn't stop me from collecting the treats though.

One of my sons suffered being dressed like a girl when he was six. We created a bookworm costume once. The girls were good at putting on lots of bright skirts and raiding my jewelry box to become gypsies or princesses. Through the year I collected bits and pieces that could be turned into costumes. Half my hall closet was crammed with various costumes we concocted.

For those coming to our house trick-or-treating, we often thought up some scary way to hand out candy. One time they had to put their hand in a box to get the candy which was handed out by a very grizzly hand.

When the kids came home with their loot, we wouldn't let them eat it until we checked everything for problems like hidden pins or razor blades--and we ate one or two of the best treats.

We had lots of Halloween parties too over the years for kids and grown ups. For the kids we usually had a darkened haunted house to go through, and grizzly things to touch, like cooked, cold spaghetti that we called guts. Hubby would rattle chains outside the window and wear a scary mask. The grownups tried to outdo one another with their costumes.

Now we live where all the houses are far apart and ours is down at the end of a very dark and long lane. No one comes to our house trick-or-treating. When we first moved here we had twin girls who lived next door and they were the only ones brave enough to come knocking on our door at night to say, "Trick or Treat."

We have a granddaughter and her husband who decorate their front lawn every year with the spookiest stuff imaginable. Tombstones, coffins with lids that open, ghosts fluttering in the breeze. They live in a neighborhood full of kids--everyone looks forward to seeing what he'll come up with every year.

Celebrating Halloween for us will be limited to watching scary movies on our TV. It's okay, I have great memories of past Halloweens.

Celebrate Halloween with the Stiletto Gang this year by going on the scavenger hunt to follow the clues and maybe win some prizes.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick or Treat

Chanukah brought presents – eight nights of presents (although I always argued that socks did not a present make). But Halloween brought candy, oodles and oodles of candy. It was the one night of the year that all nutritional discussion was suspended. There was no need to make the inevitable dinner bargain of “eat your vegetables” and you can have dessert (inevitably jello with fruit cocktail). A chocoholic from birth (I literally took my first steps when a cousin offered me some chocolate cake) – Halloween was, without question, my favorite holiday.

When I had my own kids, Halloween meant months-long discussions of costumes. Still wearing bathing suits, my kids always had grand plans for creative get-ups that required the costume department of Paramount Pictures to execute. I remember one year, son number one wanted to be a knight. He had visions of a full-suit of body armor, but settled for being wrapped head-to-toe in aluminum foil. I loved the year when one of the kids decided to be an undercover FBI agent – which meant wearing his father’s trench coat, an old felt fedora, and hand-printing an ID badge that he flashed at the neighbor before announcing “trick or treat.”

I adored it when my kids brought their friends back here for the “sorting the candy” ritual. I hovered at the edges of the great swap meet, happily taking the rejects, occasionally making a plea for an Almond Joy or two.

Now my job is just to hand out candy to the neighborhood kids who visit. Like the postman, neither rain, nor sleet will stay the rounds of children on Halloween. I’m already fretting if I have enough goodies – and pennies for Unicef.

And of course, this Halloween will be extra special with the kickoff of the Stiletto Gang’s First Annual Hallopalooza. The first clue will be found right here, and you'll have a fun trip through a maze of mystery blogs, each one providing a clue to an amazing mini-murder mystery. You’ll have the opportunity to win lots of prizes – so don’t miss Hallopalooza, Friday October 30 through Sunday, November 1.


Evelyn David

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can My Shorts Get Me a Novel Deal?

Chelle Martin is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, The Cassell Network of Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She’s a past Vice President of Sisters in Crime-Central Jersey and creator of the Clued In Press Award for short mystery fiction. Chelle has also been a mentor for MWA’s Mentor Program and a judge for RWA’s Golden Heart and other writing contests. She is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the New York Chapter of RWA’s Love & Laughter Contest. She is currently working on a humorous mystery novel series.

First of all, thanks to Rhonda and The Stiletto Gang for allowing me the opportunity to be a guest blogger. I love writing short stories and it’s great to have the opportunity to encourage others to write as well as read them.

From a writer’s standpoint, short stories have many advantages over novels as recently discussed by members of the Yahoo Group, Short Mystery Fiction Society. Writing shorts allows a writer the occasion to explore various genres. A short story takes much less time to write than a novel. And shorts also allow writers to change characters and setting and use a different voice.

Additionally, the turnaround time can be shorter and you can see your name in print a lot sooner.

Before you wonder if you could actually make a living writing nothing but short stories, look at author Edward D. Hoch, who over five decades published over 900 short stories. Most impressive is that for the last 35 years of his career, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine published one of Hoch’s stories every month from 1973 until his death in 2008.

My first short piece was published in an anthology called Romance Recipes for the Soul by Pisces Press. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see my name in print. Our publisher also hosted a signing party at our local Borders Books. It’s quite a feeling of accomplishment to see people buying your books and asking for your autograph. The fact that I was signing with a dozen other writers made no difference.

Getting that first publishing credit opened the door to other opportunities. After joining the Short Mystery Fiction Society, I discovered editor Michael Bracken was looking for mysteries for an anthology called Small Crimes. After selling my first mystery story to him, I was invited to submit to another anthology of private eye stories called Fedora III. I’d never written a PI story before, but gave it a shot and sold that story, too.

I had won a writing contest online and the prize was my own page on a website for writers. There I met writers and publishers from all over the world.

From that point, I established quite a resume with contest awards and publishing credits with various small presses. I’m now published nationwide.

Once when discussing writing with Mary Higgins Clark, she told me she got her start writing short stories. I told her I found them easier to write than a novel. She suggested looking at writing a novel like writing a bunch of short stories—each chapter should convey a beginning, middle and end of that portion of the novel. I’d never thought of it that way, but it made the idea of writing a novel less intimidating.

Another advantage to short stories is getting your name out there, especially if you find your story in an anthology with well-known authors. I live in New Jersey, yet I’ve networked a great deal in California with various Sisters in Crime Chapters. The San Joaquin chapter knows me quite well. I’ve taken second place twice in their annual Dead Bird writing contest.

While the publishing market is shrinking, there are still some good places to submit your shorts. As in novel writing, be sure to follow submission guidelines.

Chelle Martin

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hey, You Got Romance in My Mystery!

In my inaugural post here at The Stiletto Gang, I want to start out by giving the high-heeled ladies a big high-heeled shout out.

I’m so thrilled to be here! They are such a great bunch of women, fabulous writers, and I’m happy to be in their company.

And now, here’s a little snippet of...

What a die-hard romance reader might say of a hybrid mystery romance: “Hey, you got mystery in my romance!”

What a die-hard mystery fan might say of a hybrid romance mystery: “Hey, you got romance in my mystery!”

Brings to mind a certain Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial of by-gone years, doesn’t it?

Depending upon how you look at it, a mixed genre book starts out as one thing, then something else gets sprinkled into it. I don’t know what convensional wisdom says about mixed genre books; I just know what I like. A little romance makes the world go ‘round.

I love having romantic tension infuse a character’s growth.

I thoroughly enjoy reading (and writing about) characters who don’t exist purely in the vacuum of solving a mystery.

For me, a mystery book is made all the better when love enters into to. And if it’s a series where love grows, all the better. I want to spend time with the characters and grow with them, experience the blossoming of their love, and feel the satisfaction when they’ve committed to one another on the heels of solving whatever mystery is in their lives and potentially keeping them apart.

I also think that this type of hybrid book is a harder sell. Finding a home for Living the Vida Lola was a challenge for just this reason. It isn’t traditional mystery. Nor is it traditional romance. Publishers didn’t quite know what to do with it or how to market it. But it did find a home and since its publication, I’ve read quite a few mixed genre mystery romances. What the big deal is with marketing, I’m not really sure, but readers have made it known that they like a little romance in their mystery, or... a little mystery in their romance.

How about you? Are you a traditionalist? Like your mysteries and romances pure, or does mixing it up give you a thrill?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Top Chef Effect

As all of you faithful Stiletto Gang readers know, I love tv. Especially reality tv. But one of my favorite shows is Top Chef and right now, we’re in the middle of Season 6 which seems to be barreling toward a finale including both Voltaggio brothers, Jen from Philadelphia, and Kevin with the pig tattoo. It’s scintillating stuff if only for the fact that includes two of my favorite things: a) food and b) tension. What could be better than sixteen chefs battling it out to find out who will be Top Chef while living in a house with total strangers for several months? It’s a perfect storm, if you ask me.

But in addition to being a totally enjoyable viewing experience, I have noticed that Top Chef is seeping into other portions of my life, namely my cooking habits and my dining out experiences. For instance, while cooking dinner, I try to invent a “flavor profile” while preparing my dishes. I still don’t know what that is, but right now it consists of more butter, extra salt, and a little more cheese on the pasta. Nobody here seems to mind. Next, I try to plate creatively. So, rather than dump the spaghetti right onto the plate, I try to artfully arrange it into an interesting pattern to create a visual experience for the diners, one of whom is a vegetarian, one who only eats smoked and cured meats, and one who is on a low-roughage diet. Doing the artful plating makes me forget that I’m making three separate dinners every night and still not pleasing anyone in the process. And digging into the artfully plated food helps drowns out the sighs and moans of the diners who are being served these dinners, many of which they don’t like. So, as you have probably guessed, food and tension are both integral parts of my everyday life which further illustrates why I love of Top Chef.

Top Chef has influenced my dining-out experiences as well. Husband and I went to dinner the other night at a place I’ll call “Ye Olde Inne” or YOI for short. YOI has a great reputation around these parts yet we had never been there and were anxious to try it. The plan was to have dinner with friends who live on the other side of the county, so YOI seemed like a good halfway point for both couples to meet. Ambiance was lovely, server was hysterically funny and more than competent, but drinks? Eh. Food? More eh. Price? Over the top expensive for what we were served.

Here’s the thing: when I go out and order a cocktail, I want a cocktail. My urinary tract health notwithstanding, a glass of cranberry juice masquerading as a cosmopolitan just does not cut it. Jim’s scotch and water looked just like water—no amber hue evident in that ice-filled glass of a supposed stiff cocktail. My salad of arugula, beets and goat cheese was pretty good because how bad can you mess up goat cheese and beets? The menu promised locally-grown tomatoes and since we’re into fall, I was skeptical. (Turns out I should have gone with my gut; the tomatoes were on their last legs.) And to look at? The plate resembled the remnants of a salad once picked over and pushed to the side, with the arugula sitting in a sad-looking mess under a half moon of beet and a dollop of goat cheese that had fallen off the center of the plate and listed toward the edge, desperately trying to hang on while being transported to the table. I thought about my own attempts at plating and decided that even my half-hearted, misunderstood groupings of spaghetti looked better than this mishmash of ingredients, thrown together in a professional kitchen.

My friend and I ordered two glass of chardonnay to have with dinner. We were served pinot grigio. Twice. (The bartender looked kind of surly so I was afraid to bring this error to his attention.) Dinner was acceptable, but not overwhelmingly fantastic. The bill, on the other hand, bordered on overwhelmingly fantastic in terms of its total. Seems that YOI is fine with serving mediocre meals at an exceptionally high price.

So I’m wondering: am I more critical because I have a virtual dining experience every Wednesday night and have learned a lot about what goes on in a restaurant and in chef’s minds? Or have I become more particular in my old age? Hard to say. But I will say that I’ve gotten more protective of our hard-earned cash so that when we decide to go to dinner and it is to a place with a reputation for quality, I’m disappointed when the owner and his staff are mailing it in. After all, I had put on Spanx and high heels; I meant business. Why didn’t they?

Is there a Top Chef effect? Has Top Chef and the like made food/restaurant critics of us all? Or is a bad meal just a bad meal?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No, I'm Not Wonder Woman and I Don't Wear Stilettos

Think of this as a confession.

I was recently interviewed on another blog and the interviewer made me sound like Wonder Woman. I can assure you I'm not.

What I am is a great-grandma, grandma, mom and wife who does know her limits. In order to do the writing and promoting that I want and need to do, I've given up some things that once were a real part of my life. I no longer shop all year long for Christmas presents. I've opted out to give money--and not a whole lot of that. Same goes for birthdays. After all, I have way too many to give to.

The decorating I do for Christmas is now minimal--it takes far too much time to put it all up and take it down. Hubby used to be really good about helping but now he rebels. Easier just not to do so much.

I still invite people over to dinner because I like to cook, but it's usually spur of the moment now. I no longer set the table with my good China--we use paper plates and I serve buffet style.

Parties were something I loved to put on--we used to have one at least once a month. No more. Not just because a party is a lot of work, but I couldn't stay up for the end. I get up early these days and I'm early to bed. Oh we do go to parties we're invited to, but we're nearly always the first to leave.

At mystery and writers' cons, hubby and I disappear long before the bars have cleared and the clutches of writers have disbanded.

Promoting takes a lot of time. This month I'm on a blog tour for my latest book, Dispel the Mist, which means I have to let people know where I am every day. Thank goodness for Twitter, Facebook and the like.

I'm also doing physical things like this weekend was the Apple Festival. I always sell a lot of books, handout many cards, and talk to interesting people, but it is a lot of work and tiring. We put up the tent on Friday afternoon, had to be there on Saturday and Sunday a.m. and all set up by 8 a.m. and you must stay until the end or you're not invited back. Exhausting.

Coming up is a weekend away. I'm giving an hour long talk on novel writing, but it's a four hour drive to get there. We'll be staying over--that's also tiring though I enjoy it.

And now about the stilettos.

A woman wore a snazzy pair at the Apple Festival. They had zebra striped heels. How she managed to walk up and down that mile long street to look at all the displays I have no idea. Years ago I wore high heels all the time, but they were never stilettos. As an old lady, I'm far more comfortable in flats.

That's my confession for the day.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Unfettered by Conscience

For someone who writes murder mysteries, I don’t really understand evil. Ironically, I get murder. Given sufficient motivation – power, love, money, rage – I can build a story around why someone goes to the extreme step of killing another human being. I certainly am not saying it’s right; but I can follow the rationale, even if it’s wrong – and I confess I can even imagine circumstances when it might even seem right (not legal, but justifiable).

But what overwhelms me, what leaves me at a complete loss, is unadulterated evil, the kind that enjoys torture and suffering, the complete disregard for human life, the sense of entitlement to the thrill of murder.

What prompted me to wander down this ugly path was the essay in O Magazine last week by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine teenage killers. She too is at a loss for how her son became someone she literally did not know. She insists she had no idea that he was suicidal or that he was plotting with Eric Harris to commit such an atrocity. According to the FBI, only the teens' ineptness at explosives stopped the tragedy from exceeding the death toll of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Dylan Klebold boasted that the carnage would be “the most deaths in U.S. history.”

Ms. Klebold’s essay led me to an article in Slate, published back in 2004. The author, Dave Cullen, interviewed mental health experts who served on the FBI special task force on the incident, and their conclusion was that Klebold and Harris were two radically different individuals. Klebold was “hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people.” The difference is critical. They theorize that Klebold was a troubled kid who, had he not hooked up with Harris, would, at some point, probably have gotten caught for some petty crime, gotten help, and might have led a normal life. Perhaps that gives his mother some comfort, although it doesn’t help the families who lost their loved ones. Was it all a cruel twist of fate that these two teens met and created such havoc, whereas individually they couldn’t have pulled it off?

But it was Harris who was the scarier of the two adolescents. The experts agree he was a psychopath. “Harris was irretrievable. He was a brilliant killer without a conscience, searching for the most diabolical scheme imaginative.” Psychopaths, as defined by Dr. Robert Hare in his book, Without Conscience, “are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.”

For me, writing is fun, creative, and even when creating murder and mayhem, taps into a happy zone, because in the world I create, the good guys always win. It’s why I couldn’t have written The Silence of the Lambs, or any other book where the motivation is beyond ken, and the only mystery is whether the detective/cop can stop the killer before he strikes again. I don’t want to get that close to pure evil to write about it.

Evelyn David

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Crime Fiction Couple Tells All to Kaye Barley

At midnight an unnamed source provided the Stiletto Gang with a copy of the following interview, conducted by Kaye Barley, owner of Meanderings and Muses - one of those subversive blogs mentioned only in hushed whispers behind closed doors. The Stiletto Gang reprints this interview in the interests of justice and as a public service. Note: No names were changed to protect anyone. (Because of the late hour we were unable to reach Kaye Barley for confirmation that these are her words and that the meeting described below actually took place. Calls to her residence elicited only a "no comment" from an individual identified only as Harley.)

Two-on-Two Interview of Crime Fiction Couple by Kaye Barley

I, Kaye Barley, being of sound mind and body, caught up with Robert W. Walker and wife Miranda Phillips Walker in Kill Devil Hills, NC in a shady, seedy dark dive that specialized in exotic drinks and an ocean breeze, as the bar amounted to a garage door that opened and closed on the sea. You know the type of place where seagulls and pelicans pick apart the leavings from your table? Where paper towels stand in for napkins? Where tattooed servers look like meth heads? The Walkers were doing research, and it was the only time I could see them for an interview before they left NC. I found them in a jolly, receptive mood here at Buck’s Gunshop and Oyster Bar.

My initial question broke the ice as I sat across the picnic bench from the infamous crime writing duo, asking, “So how have you two managed to only kill off fictional characters with two crime novelists under one roof?” Rob, whose latest is DEAD ON, Five Star Books and Mianda;s latest and first is The Well Meaning Killer from Krill Press, turned to one another and smiled wide.

Rob sardonically replied, “Both our books are enjoying rave reviews. No reason for any ahhh…in-house bloodshed, right dear?”

Miranda nodded appreciatively. “The wonder is that the dogs in both our books also managed to survive.”

I asked, “I understand your son, Stephen, did the artwork and cover design for Dead On, and it is a fantastic cover.

Rob perked up at this. “The kid’s got his own graphic arts biz, and he’s a genius at it. How many publishers do you know who go with a cover designed by the author’s son?”

Miranda smiled proudly. “Stephen’s helped us with promotion material and business cards as well. It’s all in the family. And while my cover art is not designed by Stephen, it’s pretty hot, too!”

Recording the answers, I next asked, “What’re you two hoping to find here in the Outer Banks? I understand you’re doing research for your next book?”

Miranda shouted, “Oh, oh—this one’s for me. My sequel to The Well Meaning Killer is set here, and while we’ve visited the area before, Rob says there’s nothing like firsthand research for a book—especially if I’m footing the hotel bill.”

Rob leapt in with, “She’s seriously researching, and I’m seriously on R&R—came for the beach, the sun, surf, Buck’s Oysters, the Wright Brothers museum, the nightlife. But I think a setting with the name Kill Devil Hills in itself tells a reader to be on the look-out.”

“I see, so this will be a continuation of Megan McKenna’s FBI casework, eh?” I asked.

“That’s right, and I bring on some new characters to kill off! Bringing back some characters, who didn’t die in The Well Meaning Killer.”

Rob piped in with, “I think only Max, the dog, survived that last one, hon.”

“Nooooo! Some people survived that book as well.”

“Here I thought you were trying to trump my body count,” Rob joked and sipped at his Blue Moon.

At this point, I felt I should ask another question or order a drink. I did both. “Rob, you don’t intend to use Kill Devil Hills in a sequel to Dead On or another title?”

“When I set a book in New Orleans, I do NOT use Anne Rice’s cemetery, and I also steer clear of anything smacking of James Lee Burke, so as to make my New Orleans unique. Using Kill Devil Hills on the “heels” of Miranda Phillips Walker, no way. Colorful place but no way.”

Miranda muttered in his ear, “That’s OK, Rob, if he wanna use the location in the future sometime.” Rob pouted and said it was spoiled now for him.

“Will you two ever collaborate on a book?” I asked and man did this break up the bit of bickering.

They looked like two deer caught in the headlights. And both said at once, “No, no, no,” as in a chant. Then they added, “Maybe, maybe, maybe.”

“We love one another too much for that,” Miranda suggested.

“Family is far more important than fame, fortune, or any of that sort of nonsense,” added Rob, the two of them talking over one another in a rush. “However,” added Rob, “never say never. If the right idea came along, and if we can put our egos on the shelf, who knows?”

“Stranger things have happened,” added Miranda. “But honestly, we do read over one another’s work, and we do take good direction from one another.

“Yeah we do help one another throughout the process,” added Rob, “but more importantly, we maintain a respectful relationship toward one another in all we do.”

“Well this has been splendid but time’s run out for me.”

“That sounds like a line in a gangster movie…Curtains for ya…time’s run out for ya, Blackey,” joked Rob and Miranda grabbed him by the arm and tugged him to her. I left the couple in high spirits and laughter amid the music of Buck’s Gunshop and Oyster Bar, but the partners in crime fiction insisted on walking me safely to my car. Outside, the three of us strolled along a thumping, withered old wharf, surrounded by sea oats, below a huge moon over the ocean. At my car, we said our good-byes.

“ I surely wish to thank you and it’s wonderful you two know how to enjoy yourselves in wonderful North Carolina! I never knew this place existed.”

“You gotta go so soon?” asked Rob.

Yeah, the night’s young,” added Miranda.

I slipped into my car with photos taken and recording done wondering if I could sell this thing on eBay or even to Writer’s Crack Me Up Journal, unsure really what I had just faced, but on waking the next day and reviewing my notes, I realized wow, an interesting review overall and I figure Meanderings and Muses could use an infusion of the Walker mystique

For more info on Robert find him on the web where writers hang out and at

For more info on Miranda find her on the web where writers hang out and at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hallopalooza Is Coming!

On Oct. 30, 2009 at 8 AM, the 1st Annual Stiletto Gang Hallopalooza begins. Or at least we hope it's going to be an annual event. Everything depends on you, our readers!

What is Hallopalooza? It's an on-line mystery scavenger hunt. Twenty-three of the best, most interesting, coolest blogs on the net have agreed to participate. There will be lots of great prizes! Lots of fun! Lot's of clues!

Yes, clues. The Stiletto Gang has written a short story – did I mention it's a murder mystery - just for the event.

How do you play? Thanks for asking.

Let's start with when you play – the Scavenger Hunt starts at 8 AM Eastern on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009. It ends at 5 PM Eastern on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009. Winners will be announced at noon eastern on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009.

What are you hunting? A killer! Okay, really you'll be hunting clues to the killer's identity and motive. You will move from blog to blog reading the mystery and gathering clues. Each blog will give you a link to the next blog in the Scavenger Hunt line-up. You will start here, at The Stiletto Gang, then move to the next blog. There are 23 blogs in the chain. The winner is not the one who finishes first, just the one who finishes by the deadline with the correct answer. So you can come and go as you please during the three days of the event. Go Trick or Treating! Toliet paper a house! Party with goblins and witches! Then come back and celebrate with us.

What are the prizes? The Stiletto Gang is offering a grand prize of a $50 U.S. gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice – on-line or bricks & mortar. If you're not in the U.S., we'll send you an Amazon gift certificate and let you figure out how to use it.

If more than one person qualifies for the Grand Prize, then all winners will be put into a drawing for the $50 gift certificate. Runners-up will win an autographed book from a Stiletto Gang author. We will award up to a maximum of ten books. If there are more winners than books, we'll have a drawing among the Runners-up for the books.

And, here's the special part – you can win prizes on the individual blogs during the hunt too! The participating blogs will have contests/drawings for great stuff! Autographed books, promo items, and other "I won! I won!" things to make all your friends envious.

There is no charge to play or win. You don't have to buy anything. You just have to participate, solve the mystery, and tell us about it using the comment feature here on The Stiletto Gang blog site or by sending an email via the contact link to the right.

Watch for more details as Halloween draws near. If you want to map out your route ahead of time – check out the following blogs, in addition to The Stiletto Gang (that's us):

1. Jungle Red
2. Marilyn's Musings
3. Meanderings & Muses
4. America Comes Alive
5. Type M for Murder
6. Boomer Chick
7. Yeah, But Houdini Didn't Have These Hips
8. Ellen Byerrum
9. Nancy Cohen
10. Write It Anyway
11. The Blog Cabin
12. Lipstick Chronicles
13. The Lady Killers
14. The Killer Coffee Club
15. Lesa"s Book Critiques
16. Erica Ridley
17. Fang Place
18. Morgan Mandel
19. Mysterious Musings
20. Mystery Fanfare
21. Poe's Deadly Daughters
22. WOOF
23. The Book Resort

Gather your sleuthing clothes – Hallopalooza is coming!

Evelyn David

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brand A or Mango? Help me decide...

For the fifth time in as many years, I’m shopping for a new computer to replace the one that no longer works, otherwise known as “their computer” which is the opposite of “my computer.”

And I’m getting darned tired of it.

I have stuck with the same PC company for all of these years, but I’m nothing if not astute. Perhaps I should switch brands/platforms? Because the five computers that I have owned have all been replaced, one after another, by newer, faster, and sleeker models all because their predecessors have bitten the dust in one way or another.

Horrible virus that wipes out your hard drive? Check.

Computer won’t start? Check.

Computer freezes to screen saver page but won’t allow you to open any applications? Check.

Internet won’t connect and gives you a notification that tells you what your problem is in numbers only? Check.

Computer instructs you to call technical support? Check.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think that computers should be disposable. Why is it that computers, like cars, depreciate in value once you open the box and set them up? Why can’t they last for say, oh, three years or even past the warranty date?

PC companies would have you believe that if you switch to the company with the fruit name—let’s call it Mango or “Mang” for short—that nothing you do with other PC users will be applicable, something I’ve come to find is a complete falsehood. (I’m highly suggestible.) The PC companies would also have you believe that their products are much more affordable. This is true. Know why? Because Mango’s computers don’t have to be replaced every year! And Mango’s computers are safe from most viruses! This is important to me because my computer(s) have never met a virus they didn’t like. Every time a new virus is identified and word gets out to concerned PC users everywhere, I usually already know because I’ve already dealt with the virus and am dealing with the guys at Geek Squad who swear they’ve never seen a virus as bad as the one I’ve brought in. (That’s always comforting.)

We’re currently down to one computer, the one on which I work and write, and that just isn’t going to work for a family of four. When everyone is home, that means that they lay in wait until I take a bathroom break and then line up beside my desk like cars waiting to cross the Canadian border, just waiting for the opportunity to check their email. Scintillating exchanges occur like “r u home?” or “I’m lol-ing” or “what r u doing?” all of which could be discussed at length by using the more reliable but far less technologically-cool landline.

I live in fear that my trusty laptop will die and we will have no computer at all. And then I’ll have to run to Mango to purchase something as soon as possible, always a recipe for disaster. I’ll probably get talked into a 50 inch monitor with web cam and complete mani/pedi capabilities and that’s never a good thing. I’ll over-buy. Because that’s what I do in panic situations. (See Bluetooth capable car with no Bluetooth-capable cell phone as an example.)

So I’m asking you, dear Stiletto Gang readers, what do you suggest? Stick with generic-PC company, also known as Brand A? Or switch to Mango (Mang for short)?

We Catholics have a patron saint for everything. I think we need one for computers. I’d feel so much better if I could pray for my computer’s continued health.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting Old is a Pain

Truly thought I'd written my blog for today--and was reminded that I hadn't. Only one of the many things that I've forgotten along the way.

It always makes me happy when some younger person tells me he or she is forgetful too so I can think for awhile that it's not old-age creeping up on me.

Yesterday I went to the doc's for my annual physical. The parking lot was packed and I had to go find an alternate place to park--a vacant lot--and walk back. The waiting room was standing room only with several people sitting outside on benches. Several of the folks wore masks. I always go prepared for a long wait and had a good book to read.

I learned the reason for the crowd was people wanting flu shots. I was called in for my time with the doctor. I was chatting with him about the "pleasures" of getting old and mentioned that a lot of things that I saw my mom go through I have experienced too. I said, "My mom and my sister both had kidney stones, but I haven't." He said, "Then you have something to look forward to," and laughed.

He's a charmer though, the whole time he was doing his exam, he asked me questions about my writing, including if I could sit down and have lunch with any writer who would it be? I have the good fortune of knowing many writers and having lunch with quite a few of them. But thinking about the question now, I think it would be great fun to have lunch and a good visit with all the members of the Stiletto Gang.

What author or authors would you most like to have lunch and visit with?


Monday, October 12, 2009

Elastic Waistbands and Gourmet

I don’t read Vogue, even for free in the beauty salon. The clothes are designed for women who are six inches taller than I’ll ever be, 50 pounds lighter, and priced at 200 times my average purchase. And frankly, none of the outfits have elastic waists. Plus the models always wear heels – ‘nuff said.

So why was I struck with sadness to note the closing of Gourmet magazine? It’s not like I was ever going to make one of their 15-step recipes, with ingredients that can’t be found within a 25-mile radius of my home, and cost more than my weekly grocery bill? But for me, Gourmet was Vogue for cooks, but with all that butter in the recipes, understood that elastic waists are a given. I didn’t actually want to cook anything in the magazine, but they made food look gorgeous and inviting. Sort of like a designer showcase house – you don’t actually want to live there since there probably isn’t a comfortable chair in the place – but it’s fascinating to see the different decorator visions.

I like to cook. I find it relaxing and creative. So it’s no surprise that Rachel Brenner, the co-star of Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake, enjoys preparing meals. Her pantry always has the makings of something good, even when unexpected guests show up at six in the morning. For Rachel – and me – cooking touches a primeval instinct to provide for family.

My mother, the original Evelyn, had zero interest in food preparation. She had a full-time job and my Dad traveled three out of four weeks in the month. So my childhood dinners were some broiled overdone meat and two cans of vegetables. Throw in an iceberg lettuce salad, and dinner was on the table in under 10 minutes and consumed in under five. In contrast, however, our holiday meals were always bountiful and delicious – because she insisted that the best way to create a holiday meal was to buy it. The emphasis was on being together –not being stuck in the kitchen.

And that’s actually the part that Evelyn, the original, Rachel, the character, and I share. While I enjoy puttering around the kitchen, what I really love is seeing my family and friends around the table with me (in my elastic waist slacks!).

Au Revoir, Gourmet magazine. You will be missed.

Evelyn David

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Death Will Help You Leave Him

“If the cops say it’s murder, ‘I’m sorry’ is the wrong thing to say.”
- Elizabeth Zelvin

The quotation above is one of my favorite lines from my new mystery, DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM. I take no credit for it. My protagonist, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, sits there on the inside of my head and thinks these things up. But he’s put his finger on the problem of codependents, who compulsively apologize for everything, whether they’re responsible for it or not.

The codependent in this particular case is Bruce’s sidekick Barbara’s friend Luz, who becomes the prime suspect when her abusive boyfriend is found dead in her apartment. I usually describe Barbara as a world-class codependent. She is always sorry, but she’s also always controlling and helping whether you want her to or not and sticking her nose into everybody’s business. It makes her a terrific amateur sleuth. She’s even found a way to channel her compulsion to rescue and fix everybody around her by becoming an addictions counselor. And she goes to Al-Anon, not only for help with her long-term relationship with recovering alcoholic Jimmy, but also to try to develop some boundaries. She tries really hard, but she’s always backsliding, which is what makes her so much fun to write.

Anyhow, Luz is Barbara’s Al-Anon sponsee, and her abusive boyfriend Frankie (the dead guy by the time we meet him in Chapter One) is a typical addict (he’s been to rehab, but his motivation is questionable) who controls the relationship by concurring with his codependent girlfriend that everything is all her fault. That ill timed “I’m sorry” is not Luz’s confession, but her apology for calling Barbara in the middle of the night and inconveniencing her—and Jimmy and Bruce, whom of course Barbara drags along as she gallops to the rescue—by asking for support with cops in the apartment and her lover dead on the floor.

I’ve been writing and lecturing about codependency since long before I wrote any mysteries about recovery. Neither Bruce nor I made up the line about how when codependents are drowning, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes. It’s a well known phenomenon. Codependents also apologize when somebody steps on their toes. They go through agonies of guilt about saying no to anyone, whether it’s a panhandler asking for a dollar or the boss demanding they work overtime on their birthday. One of recovering codependents’ mantras is: “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Easy to say, but very hard to do if you’re addicted to caring what other people think. If whoever said, “Never apologize and never explain,” (Disraeli?) had said it to a codependent, the codependent would have tied him- or herself into knots explaining why even though it was wonderful advice, they personally could never do that—and they were so, so sorry.

Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist. Her second mystery, DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM, is available for preorder and will be in stores on October 13. The first in the series, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, was a David award nominee, and a related short story was nominated for an Agatha. Another story appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and a third will appear in A GIFT OF MURDER, a holiday anthology to benefit Toys for Tots. Liz’s author website is at She blogs on Poe’s Deadly Daughters.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

International Dog of Mystery

On Tuesday the collective Evelyn David received a pleasant surprise. We got a look at the cover of the Japanese version of Murder Off the Books, the first book in the Sullivan Investigation series. We can't wait to get our hands on an actual copy. We found it interesting that the title has been slightly altered: It's Murder Off the Book (singular) for the Japanese audience.

It was during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007, that we first received an e-mail from an agent in Japan. The agent contacted us through our website (If you're a writer, don't let anyone tell you that websites aren't important.). She was working for a publisher who was interested in acquiring the Japanese rights to Murder Off the Books.

Thrilled, we forwarded her email to our agent. He assured us that the agent was real, the interest legitimate. Can't remember a Thanksgiving that I've enjoyed more: turkey, dressing, family, and a possible Japanese sale of our novel – doesn't get much better than that.

Like everything in the publishing world, nothing happens quickly. It was spring 2008 before we signed our contract and received our advance. After that it was just waiting to see when the book would be published. We knew this summer when they asked for information about obtaining the rights to use the photograph of the Irish wolfhound on our cover, "Whiskey," that publication of the book was moving forward.

We're going to be keeping our fingers crossed that Japanese readers fall in love with Mac, Rachel, Whiskey, and the Sullivan Investigations gang. If so, maybe they'll want the second book in the series, Murder Takes the Cake.

Maybe in book three we'll send Mac and Whiskey on a trip to Tokyo. I hear they have Golden Arches over there now – anyone who's read our mysteries knows Whiskey loves McDonald's!


Evelyn David

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do I Care?

Lots going on in the world this week so I’ve taken some time to wonder “do I care”? Let’s find out, shall we?

David Letterman had “relations” with several staffers, none of whom were married. He was. Do I care? No. It’s his private life—as well as Mrs. Letterman’s and his young son’s—but really, does it matter to any of us? Do I care about the mea culpas and whether they were genuine, funny, sarcastic, or smarmy?

Not a whit.

Here’s the thing—if we find out that Letterman sexually harassed any of these women, women who worked for him, then we have a different kettle of fish to fry. (And yes, I’m the queen of mixed metaphors.) My “do I care” will turn to “I most certainly do care” in a heartbeat. Because using your power to manipulate those in a subordinate position to you is certainly a crime. Having an affair while involved with someone else—while reprehensible in my book—is not. The extortion plot? Also a crime. But Letterman’s dalliances are not my business and I would rather not hear about them anymore. Go back to stupid pet tricks, Dave. Or in your case, stupid human tricks.

Crime is crime, but bad moral character is just that. And I just don’t care if my 11:30 pm talk show host guy is a philandering s.o.b.

Roman Polanski was extradicted from France after thirty years on the lam for raping a thirteen-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and Qualuudes. Do I care? You betcha. As a woman, a mother, and a person living in a society where children should matter more than they do, this event tips the scales a little more toward goodness. She was not a consenting participant in this event no matter what Mr. Polanski—or his apologists, too many to even believe—have to say on the matter.

There’s a reason that the person holding the scales of justice is a woman. I hope Mr. Polanski is as frightened as his victim presumably once was. About this I care deeply.

Jon Gosselin has suspended taping of “Jon and Kate Plus Eight.” Do I care? No, siree. Well, let’s amend that; maybe I do care if only because now those poor, innocent children will finally be able to live their collective lives off camera. Maybe something positive did come out of this after all.

I’m thinking that this post makes me sound angrier than I intend but when I realized that I had to wade through several articles on the Letterman issue in the newspaper this morning—as well as the details as to whether Polanski will ever make it here to stand trial—to find out what really was going on in the world, I got my panties in a twist so to speak. And when I saw yet another celebrity come out in support of Roman Polanski, I got a little more irate. And when I saw the Gosselins on television yet again, I was near stroke. I want to know what’s going on in the world at large, the global community, and my world. And no, I don’t mean what Michelle Obama wore overseas to try to secure the Olympics for Chicago (which I kind of care about because that woman—same age as I—really rocks the shift dress). I mean what our government is doing (or not doing, as the case may be), how our troops are faring overseas, how close we are to figuring out how to give health care coverage to the majority of citizens in this country. Or how we’re going to help the one in four American families who have had a member experience job loss in the past year. And on the lighter side, who the Mets fired and why, whether Eli will be able to throw on Sunday, and how Mark Sanchez is faring after getting spanked by the Saints. The important stuff. The stuff that matters to me.

So do I care about David Letterman? Not so much.

Roman Polanski? To the extent that if he is found guilty, his butt is fried by both a court of law and the court of public opinion.

The Gosselins? Not at all. Except for eight little children who deserve a childhood.

Your thoughts? What matters to you? And what images or stories are you assaulted with every day that send you over the edge?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back from a Weekend in San Luis Obispo

I love the coast. I'm speaking of California's Central Coast. We lived in a beach community for over twenty years before moving to our present home in the foothills of the Sierra (above the Central Valley of California). Where we live now, we have real seasons--not as extreme as what some of my fellow bloggers experience, but the trees do turn color (in Southern California it's green all year around), it gets cold, rains, and once in awhile it snows and we can see snow all around us on the mountains during the winter. And spring is wonderful, though sometimes we only get two or three days before it's summer--summer is hot and lasts forever.

San Luis Obispo is one of those places near the beach and it stays green all year long. They think it's hot when it turns 80. Most of the time the weather is wonderful there. It was not on Sunday.

We traveled to San Luis Obispo to attend the Central Coast Author and Book Festival.
We stayed at the Apple Farm Inn, a place we'd always wanted to experience. Our room was small, but so darling, with a canopy bed, couch and chair, a desk, an armoire, a fake fireplace and a two fresh carnations in a vase hanging on the mirror in the bathroom. The Apple Farm has beautiful flowers everywhere. The restaurant has wonderful food and most of the wait staff are students at the nearby college.

Our first evening we met friends at an interesting restaurant that is by a creek and most of the tables are outdoors. It was chilly that night and I was afraid I would be too cold--but they had heaters all around and it was quite comfortable. Victoria Heckman Doust and her hubby were there--she's a fellow mystery author and I hadn't seen her since we roomed together in Anchorage AK at Bouchercon. Karen Kavanaugh is also a mystery author and a publisher and she's been a good friend for a long while. Needless to say, besides having a wonderful meal, the conversation was great.

The next morning, we arrived at the Central Coast Book and Author Festival about 8:30and found out our assigned spot. We were situated between the Central Coast Sisters in Crime booth and Madeline Gornell's booth, another mystery writer and friend.

People started wandering by almost immediately. It looked like it would be a great day. Unfortunately, a chilly wind began to blow. It blew so hard it turned some of the umbrellas we all had over our table upside down. Authors' decorations blew away. Picture frames fell over and glass broke. The wind seem to chase some of the interested people away too.

Oh, we all sold some books, but not as many if the weather had been a bit more cooperative. Despite all that, I felt the weekend was a success. A reader who bought a book from me at a book fest a couple of weeks ago, found me to get the next one in the series. I met a lot of people, handed out cards, talked about my books and visited with friends.

I have one more outdoor festival coming up in two weeks, the Springville Apple Festival. It's a two day affair and almost in my back yard. We'll be sleeping at home. I do hope the weather is a bit more cooperative.

For the writers who read this, what book selling venture did you attend that didn't quite go the way you hoped for?


Monday, October 5, 2009

Trust Yourself

I’ve been proof-reading the galleys of my newest project, The Everything Baby’s First Year Book, which will be published January 18, 2010. While it’s been quite a while since I had kids in diapers, it’s amazing how the excitement of those days, as well as the fears and worries flood back.

I hope this book empowers new parents because while there are experts on just about every baby topic you can imagine, the one thing moms and dads should know is that THEY are the experts of their child. Read the advice, ask questions, carefully evaluate what you’ve been told, learn the tricks of the trade from those who have been in the trenches, but trust your own instincts too. You know what works best for you and your baby.

If I could give one piece of advice to new moms, it would be trite, but true. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’d give anything to get back the hours I fretted over whether child number one would ever sleep through the night (now a bomb could go off next to his head and he wouldn’t roll over); whether he would ever be toilet-trained (I assure you he was); whether he would ever write legibly (which is why they invented word processing); whether he would be friends with the most popular kids in the class (the answer was NEVER because they were little snots and he knew it, but I didn’t. He made his own friends which have remained tried and true through the years). I worried he didn’t go to his junior prom, in fact, had one heck of a row with him about it and he just brushed me off, stubborn (or one might say, confident) in his decision. And he was more than happy to go to his senior prom, when he was good and ready.

I would have learned to trust HIS judgment and my own. I would have believed – as of course I did when I had subsequent children – that each kid marches to his own drummer and you’ve got to listen to that beat, and not allow it to be drowned out by the others in the crowd.

What I did know then – and now – is that you can never love a child too much. I wasn’t worried about spoiling any of them by giving kisses and hugs, for reasons and no reason at all. I did have standards – even if the older kids all insisted that I had let the baby of the family run wild (their definition? I bought chocolate milk one day!).

So I read these galleys with a wistful smile and a fervent hope that new parents enjoy these precious days of childhood because they go by way too fast, even if you are so sleep-deprived that you can’t imagine surviving that first year, let alone thriving.


Evelyn David

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

Garanimals for Grown-Ups

by Susan McBride

I love October, and not just because it's my birthday month. The older I get, the happier I am when summer has ended. Since I shun the sun (how else can I keep my ghostly pale complexion?), I'm a lot less fond of shorts and bathing suits than I used to be. I long for crisp days when jeans and sweaters are the norm. And I'm thrilled that scarves are in, even with T-shirts. I've never worn scarves much before, except thick woolly ones to keep the cold at bay; but my fashion sense keeps changing as I, um, mature. When I go shopping now, I realize I'm drawn to items that I would've bypassed maybe even a year ago. I'm less prone to buy trendy things and more enamored of classics (although I'll never dress in Polo head-to-toe again as I did during my early college days!).

I guess I've got clothes on the brain as I desperately need to clean out my closets (more like purge) and sort out what fits, what I don't wear, and what I'm lacking. The last four years have kind of ravaged my wardrobe as I've gone through so many changes. Back in 2005, I had shrunk down to a size zero after eating healthier (read: going vegetarian) and trying (successfully) to get my cholesterol down. I had new author photos shot, and the photographer had sent me out with a stylist because "you're much cooler on the inside than you are on the outside," as she put it. I was advised that my hairstyle was too "anchor-woman-ish" and my sweater-sets had to go. The stylist definitely kick-started my interest in fashion again. I realized, too, that when you're the size of a clothes hanger, everything looks terrific. I had wonderful outfits that I wore with high heels to speaking engagements, conferences, social outings, wherever. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex & the City" (minus the cigarettes and the promiscuous sex).

Then came my breast cancer diagnosis in late 2006. The first thing I craved out of surgery was a hamburger (which I inhaled--God, it tasted good!--but haven't had since). I was told on no uncertain terms to eat more protein during radiation therapy so I consumed plenty of yogurt, nuts, fish, and chicken. My doctors were thrilled when I put on 10 pounds, and my friends and family breathed a sigh of relief, too. I hadn't realized until then that everyone thought my skinny (albeit very healthy and energetic) self had resembled nothing more than a "bobble-head doll" or a "human lollipop." Nice. As for my fashion sense during this rough period: I lived in camisoles and sweats. Comfort was key. I worried more about healing and feeling strong again and less about dressing like a magazine cover girl. So my chic little clothes and high heels gathered dust. Once I recovered from treatment and started working out again, I lost a few pounds as I got back in shape; but my size zero days were gone for good. Which meant I had a closet filled with clothes that didn't fit.

Once I donated some things to charity and gave others to petite friends and relatives, I was left with a wardrobe mostly comprised of various colored zip-up jackets with matching camisoles, jeans, and sweatpants. Perfect attire for writing, but not exactly how I want to dress when I'm doing a bunch of speaking gigs this month...or promoting THE COUGAR CLUB next February.

I wish there were Garanimals for grown-ups with colored tags that told me what went with what. It would make life so much easier. I find it amazing how my tastes have changed over time. I want to look good, but I need to be comfortable. I'd like fewer pieces that work together better. I want to wear heels on some occasions and flats on others, depending on what I'm doing. It's kind of like my changing wardrobe reflects the changes I've made in my life. I'm learning to focus on fewer things that are more important, to toss the bad stuff as fast as I can, and to celebrate all the good stuff. It's taken me awhile to figure out that it's the good stuff that never goes out of style.

P.S. I've done a MAJOR closet overhaul, donating three fat bags of clothes and shoes to charity. Whew. That calls for a little shopping to celebrate, don't you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Clothesline

Writing clothes has developed into a theme on the Stiletto Gang this week. I've been thinking of what I have to say on the matter. Unfortunately, it's not much. I write at night. So when I write, I wear whatever I wore to work that day minus shoes, jacket and jewelry. I pull my hair back in a ponytail, grab a Pepsi One, maybe some Strawberry Twizzlers, and I'm good to go.

Of course I do have to dress my "people." Descriptions of clothing can help define your characters. Anyone who has read Murder Off the Books can tell you what kind of clothes JJ wears.
"Can I help you?" A young woman in her late teens reluctantly looked up from her computer screen, then stood and stretched. Her short spiked black hair was shaved over her left ear, which sported a silver hoop earring the size of a tennis ball. A red plaid flannel shirt, cargo pants, black studded leather belt, and heavy work boots completed the receptionist's attire.
In Murder Takes the Cake, JJ's style draws her boss's ire:
"Hey, you already yelled at me once this morning. You don't pay me enough to put up with it all day long, mister."

Mac narrowed his eyes. After her outburst, JJ had actually flounced out of his office; a difficult feat for someone wearing an outfit better suited for a military grunt than a southern belle.

He obviously needed to establish some boundaries. She worked for him! "And buy some appropriate clothes for the office. Nothing in camouflage! A suit maybe. And no hobnailed boots. I'm tired of you scaring off the clients."

There! That was something he'd been intending to say for days.
And somehow when JJ does upgrade her style, she still stands out.
Edgar and the dog stared at her.

"What?" She didn't need to ask why they were staring at her. After Mac's order to change her wardrobe, she'd visited a consignment shop. Currently she was wearing a circa 1930s, knockoff, Chanel suit. Even though she'd had to re-sew the seams, the old suit had still cost her more money than she was comfortable spending–especially just to make a point. It was black wool with gold metal buttons. She'd added a white silk blouse. Around her waist she'd cinched a black leather belt to hide the fact the jacket was a little large. The four inch heels were already killing her feet and it wasn't even noon yet. She'd left her jet-black hair in its normal spiked style, but she'd replaced her large hoop earrings with fake pearl studs and a matching double strand necklace.

"You got one of those little hats with the black netting?" Edgar asked, waving one gnarled hand across his eyes showing where the netting would be.

"Maybe." She had seen one of those at the shop and thought about buying it. But she wasn't about to take fashion advice from the old man. "Why?"

"Widow's weeds. You could get a job as an extra at O'Herlihy's when Mac fires you. You know, as one of those paid mourners."
Do you pay attention to what characters are wearing in the novels you read? Is there a character you'll always remember because of his/her clothing?

Evelyn David