Friday, December 31, 2010

Rachel's Letter to Teen Me

by Rachel Brady

My friend, author Bekka Black, recently wrote a letter to her teen self, and I thought that looked like some fun, so I've jumped aboard.

Dear Teen Me,

I have more than twice your life experience now.

I considered telling you how much smarter you'll be in twenty years, but the truth is that you're already smart about all the important things. So instead I'll tip you off about some minor points that will really help you out.

Your dad is right. There is no movie star on late night television whose interview is more important than a full night's sleep. Please turn off Arsenio Hall and go to bed. You'll feel so much better in first period English tomorrow.

I'm sorry to report that your struggles with driving are not due to inexperience, as we thought, but are genetically encoded into you. Lower your insurance deductible now. In 2003, a moment will come when you are shopping for a minivan. You will decide that those little backup sensors in the rear bumper aren't worth the money. Please reconsider.

Lately you spend inordinate amounts of time worrying over whether to major in English or engineering. You'll end up going with engineering and you'll love your career. In about twelve years, you'll try your hand at writing and finish a book. (I know! Crazy!) The book will get published! Sorry to ruin that surprise, but I want you to understand that sometimes in life, huge choices are not necessarily mutually exclusive like they seem at the time. Have the cake. Eat it too. You just might have to wait to eat it.

Speaking of which, the answer to your question about whether there is any fish in the world that does not taste disgusting is Yes! Tilapia. You won't know that until you're in your thirties. For now, stick with chicken.

Keep running. That will turn into a lifelong thing for you. One day, your best friends will be people you met on the trails.

Stop poofing up your bangs until they stand up ten inches in the air. We have an ozone problem now.

Tell your grandfather how much you admire him. By the time you're mature enough to understand why that's important, you will have missed your chance.

The boy in study hall likes you too. You'll date for a couple of years, but he isn't the One. Actually, you're headed for a string of guys who aren't the one. There is something important to learn from all those relationships, though, so love fully and love hard because it's time well spent.

You will become a mother to three amazing kids! When you worry about whether you're parenting them well enough, try to remember: Make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time. Yes, you will look back and wish you'd done better here or there. But if you can look back and know you did the best you could with what you knew at the time, it's a lot easier on your Mom Guilt.

In fact, let that be a guiding principle in all your choices.

Looking back at the choices you're making now and how they've influenced the me of today, you should know you've done just fine.

Oh, one last thing. Your Thermodynamics professor will screw you on the final exam. She's not going to grade on a curve like she says she will. Brush up on standard enthalpy.

Good luck. Grow out your bangs.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me!

It's my anniversary today. 20 years. Yowza!

My mother is a forever fan of my husband because he convinced me (read: ultimatum) to stop smoking (I was a high school/college Virginia Slims smoker...bad girl!).

My father is a forever fan of my husband because he sees a bit of himself in my man... namely the ambition and determination it took to rise out of poverty, become educated, and pursue his dreams.

I'm a forever fan of my man because of his utmost devotion to our kids, our family, and me! He's a great guy. His support throughout my writing career--through rejections, submissions, revisions, and everything in between-- has been the thing that has kept me going.

He's the wind beneath my wings. (Hehehehe! Not sure he'd like that phrasing, but, oh well. One thing he doesn't do is read my thousand blogs!)

So, as the new year approaches and I:
I'm grateful for my man, my marriage, my family, and the fact that I spend everyday doing the thing I love doing most of all...

...Weaving tales of mystery and mayhem, and writing them down to share with the world (or with whoever actually reads them).
As 2010 comes to a close, what are you most grateful for, and what are you looking forward to in 2011?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Of Blizzards and Resolutions

Back in August, my mother, daughter, and I visited my sister in Savannah for the weekend. When it was time to leave, our first flight home was cancelled. Our second flight home—the next day—was also cancelled. And so on and so forth until we got a three-connection itinerary that took us to some of the most delightful airports south of the Mason-Dixon line before we were desposited, twelve hours later, in New York City.

We were lucky. It was summer and we didn’t have anywhere to be, and I work for myself. We stayed calm. Others among us—namely the other passengers on our first flight—all must have been heart surgeons with actual hearts in their carry-on luggage because everyone needed to get home ON THAT DAY. No ifs, ands, or buts. We watched in amusement as people plugged numbers into their cell phones with such force that we were surprised that the phones didn’t break on contact. We watched as every single passenger berated the ticket agents for this inconvenience, as if the ticket agents were responsible for the fifty mile an hour winds in New York. We watched as husbands yelled at wives, and wives yelled at children, and children played in the aisles, blissfully unaware that their trip to Hilton Head had been extended by one, or maybe two, days.

It all came back to me as I watched the news coverage of the “Blizzard of the Century” these past days. Oh, and since the century is only a decade old, should we have trotted out that moniker too quickly? So willy-nilly? Surely there will be other blizzards in the next ninety years; what will we call them? Anyway, many reporters worked through the night to bring us this news: “It’s snowing. A lot.” But pity the poor reporter who was stranded in LaGuardia Airport—a hell hole on regular days—to talk with travelers who had just a slim hope of getting home before New Year’s Eve or in this calendar year. Amazingly, they were all extremely calm. One woman, carrying her Port Authority-issue mat with her in case she needed to sleep on the floor again, spoke of washing up in the rest room, eating lots of healthy airport food instead of junk, drinking water, and waiting it out patiently. She knew that there was nothing to do but be positive, and as a result, was incredibly calm and poised. She even had on makeup! I don’t know about you all, but the first thing to go in the face of life’s inconvenience is makeup. But this woman was all made up, dressed fashionably and appropriately for the weather, and had every hair in place. She talked about the beauty of the snow and the kindness of airport employees. Jim and I looked at each other in awe, wondering where this Zen-filled woman had come from. And if she would ever make it back there.

How we react to life’s inconveniences really shows our true colors, don’t you think? I know it’s easy to go with our first instinct, which for me is to rail at the injustice of it all. But by taking the high road along with a deep breath, accepting that things sometimes are out of our control, is not to relinquish the upper hand. It’s called ‘going with the flow’ and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to do that whenever I can. (I can hear my family members laughing heartily at this proclamation but I’m going to give it my best shot; I’m proven myself to be spectacularly pig-headed and not flow-going.) This resolution will prove to be challenging and will definitely take me out of my Type-A comfort zone but hey, it’s worth a try. And it will be far less challenging than sleeping on a Port Authority-issue mat in the middle of LaGuardia airport. That, my friends, takes a force of will I just don’t have.

How did you weather the storm, Stiletto friends? And what are your resolutions for the new year?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Above is a photo of great-granddaughter Kay'Lee who served as Santa Christmas Eve and passed out the gifts at the Christmas Eve get-together at our house. Mainly it's my son's crew, his wife and two sons (Kay'Lee belongs to the youngest)and son's daughter, but we also have our youngest daughter's son who lives with us and of course, hubby and I.

We had a Honey-Baked Ham, green bean casserole, cheesed broccoli, and buttered baby red potatoes. Granddaughter made a fancy cake and we had lots of cookies.

At 3:30 a.m. Christmas morning, I heard someone in the house, no, not Santa Claus, but it was my son. He came to help me get the 20 pound turkey out of the refrigerator and into the oven. (Hubby just had cataract surgery and was told not to lean over and pick up heavy stuff so he got to sleep through this.) Once the turkey was tucked into the oven and on it's way to being cooked, both son and I went back to our own beds.

Daughters who live in Southern California gave me a fancy coffee maker, so daughter-in-law and I enjoyed cups of coffee while we started on our contribution to the church's Christmas dinner. We made candied yams, lots of stuffing, and two big pans of green bean casserole. The turkey came out looking beautiful, but together, daughter-in-law and I sliced it up and put it in a big roaster. At 11, with son's help we hauled it over to the church.

By noon all sorts of roasters and crock pots had arrived filled with mashed potatoes, lots more turkey, ham, yams, gravy, etc., green salad and broccoli salad and the biggest array of desserts including apple and pumpkin pies, assorted fruits, brownies and fudge.

Those of us who intended to help serve went ahead and ate. Yummy! More people trickled in and ate and the fellowship hall began to fill. We fed lots and lots of folks, but mostly our own church family, despite the fact posters had been put up all over town, plus a big sign on the highway.

More than a dozen take-out dinners were delivered to seniors and handicapped folks. (We have a low-income apartment complex for same in town.)

We had so much food left-over, guess what we did? Sunday, after church, we had Christmas dinner all over again. Nearly everyone who attended, many who hadn't been there on Christmas, got to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Will we do it again next year? I have no idea, but it really was a fun way to spend Christmas.

From 12/25/2010 through 01/02/2011, readers can take 20% off all Mundania Press, LLC ebook and print titles purchased directly from the Mundania Press website. At checkout, use discount code: SANTA. All my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries are available at Mundania.

And all you new Kindle and other e-reader owners, most of my books are available on all the devices too—including the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, under the name F. M. Meredith. And others of my books under the name everyone knows me by, Marilyn Meredith.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Evelyn's Holiday Movie Picks!

Here are our all time favorite holiday movies. Please share yours.

Rhonda -

A Christmas Story - Ralphie gets his bb gun and his tongue stuck to a lamp post. What could be better?

While You Were Sleeping - Warm family Christmas movie with Sandra Bullock at her best.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Great songs and characters.

It's a Wonderful Life - Can't do better than Jimmy Stewart, any time of the year.

Die Hard - okay, not a traditional pick, but a fun hero movie and it is set at Christmas.

Marian -

The Shop Around the Corner, 1940. Just watched it and it's lovely. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, plus Frank Morgan who two years earlier was the Wizard of Oz. You've Got Mail was the modern remake, but not even close.

An Affair to Remember- 1957 - cheesy but good. Can't go wrong with Cary Grant, Christmas and the Empire State Building

It's a Wonderful Life - 'nuff said

White Christmas - Danny Kaye as the buffoon is marvelous, Rosemary Clooney sings like an angel, Bing ain't bad, and who ever saw Vera Ellen after this movie?

Meet Me in St. Louis - worth it just for Judy Garland singing, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy 2011!

Rhonda and Marian
aka Evelyn David

The Sullivan Investigations Mystery Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake - Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books - Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - ebook series
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah
- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah
- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries
- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Giveaway! by Misa Ramirez

Christmas traditions center around the magic of holiday stories. It's a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Olive the Other Reindeer, Gift of the Magi, 101 Questions about Santa Claus, The Christmas Box... I could go on and on. What better way to celebrate than by means of a holiday giveaway!

This week, I'm giving away one of the following
(winner's choice!)
  • ~a bag of books
  • ~signed copies of Living the Vida Lola and Hasta la Vista, Lola!
  • ~or a $20 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble
All you have to do is download a copy of ONE of the three e-books I have available, then leave a comment here that you did!
That's all it takes to be entered into the drawing!

You don't need an e-reader, remember! Downloads can also be read right on your computer in PDF form, or you can download the Kindle or Nook app for your computer.

For extra entries, help spread the word!:

~tweet this post (and let me know you tweeted)

~Facebook the post (and tag me @misa.ramirez and/or @Author-Melissa-BourbonMisa-Ramirez/)

~download more than one of the books ~ one entry per book/story!

As always, thanks for loving books and reading!!

Hop on over to
Books on the House for book giveaways EVERY WEEK!

HaPpY HoLiDaYs!!

(Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win our Stiletto Gang holiday Amazon giveaway!)

* note: prices for Cursed and The Chain Tree have not yet been reduced to $2.99 at B&N, but soon!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The George Bailey Effect

In 1994, I was a new mother with a new job at a new company. The Director of Marketing—someone with whom I would be working closely—was a stunning, blond, six-footer named Lauren Ward. I was immediately cowed. And then impressed. Within four weeks of meeting her, I learned that this is a woman who does not take “no” for an answer. Next thing I knew, I was disco dancing on a stage in a massive ballroom (by myself) in front of a group of about one hundred sales reps, imploring them to sell our product in a highly-competitive market. When I think back, I laugh about it. Let’s just say that my agreeing to dance for my supper, so to speak, is a testament to Lauren’s incredible ability to sell anything to anyone at any time. (I believe I wasn’t able to eat lunch until I had finished my presentation which also included singing.) Everything Lauren did was designed to benefit everyone, however, and that quality was what made me respect her even more.

We lost touch when I left the company, but through the grapevine, I heard that Lauren had had a baby and things hadn’t gone well. More to the point, the world had almost lost this force of nature to preeclampsia, a dire medical condition that affects pregnant women and that can be fatal for both mother and child. Lauren and I reconnected on Facebook after she came through her ordeal and I learned she was writing a book about it. Just this past Thanksgiving, I purchased a copy of Zuzu’s Petals, a remarkable story of her journey—one that fortunately for all of us, ends in a very happy place.

If you want to laugh, cry, be uplifted, and then rejoice, read this book. You can go to to order it. Proceeds support blood donation, preeclampsia, water wells in Sudan, and There With Care. See? Everything Lauren does has far-reaching effects. Even her making me disco dance for my supper.

We are grateful to have guest blogger Lauren Ward Larsen join us today. And I am grateful to call her my friend.

Maggie Barbieri

The George Bailey Effect

While reading the paper one morning, Manuel, a thirty-something Mexican immigrant, learns that there’s a local blood shortage. Having never donated blood before, Manuel decides to “help my fellow Americans.” Afterward, he describes the experience as “incredible,” and from that day forward, Manuel is a regular blood donor—every eight weeks.

A new mom goes into multiple organ failure and uncontrollable bleeding shortly after an emergency caesarean section is performed to save her baby’s life. Pints of blood are pumped into her body as fast as her veins can accept them. One of those pints is Manuel’s. Several weeks later, Manuel’s next blood donation appointment comes up and—again—the new mom receives his blood. She leaves the hospital after six weeks with a new mission: help recruit more volunteer blood donors so that others can be given the same second chance at life she was given.

In 2004, the new mom returns to the same hospital that had treated her and walks into a room filled with news cameras and people. Seated in the first two rows are twenty-two of her actual blood donors from years earlier. Among them is Manuel, who has a bouquet of flowers in his lap—a gift for the woman whose life he helped save. When he’s called to the podium to meet the recipient of his blood, he embraces her, then her husband, and then their daughter, now four years old.

Years pass and the recession hits, forcing many to foreclose on mortgages they can no longer afford. Among them is Manuel. The stress over losing his family’s home manifests itself as serious physical ailments, and he is hospitalized. His wife pleads with him to forget the home—the health of their family is more important than any material possession, houses included. He remains despondent, but there is one memory that pulls him through his darkest days: giving a hug to that little girl who has a mother—thanks to him. It takes months, but Manuel is able to overcome his health issues and move on with his life.

That Christmas, the new mom receives a card from Manuel announcing that he’ll soon be a grandfather. She sends baby gifts for him to pass along to his pregnant daughter, but when they arrive, Manuel sets them aside. “I’m saving the gifts for the baby shower,” he writes to her. “Before giving them to my daughter, I’d like to tell everyone how our two families are connected through blood donation.” The new mom reads this, and cries. Yes, she thinks, we are connected. Then she laughs as she pictures everyone at the baby shower all heading down to the local blood center together to give blood when the party ends.

Thinking back on this story, I am reminded of the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life—my all-time favorite movie—in which George Bailey begins to understand the depth of connection he had to so many people, and vice versa. “Strange, isn't it?” his guardian angel, Clarence, says to him. “Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

This is a lesson I know well—ever since receiving more than 200 pints of blood ten years ago during the birth of my daughter, Clare. And I’ll forever be grateful that Manuel’s life touched mine.

Lauren Ward Larsen


Lauren Ward Larsen is the author of Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, © 2011), which chronicles her experience with near-fatal preeclampsia and the unexpected life that unfolded as a result. She is also the president and chief ambassador of the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers, which supports independent blood centers that collect half the U.S. blood supply. Leaving the corporate world in 2000, Larsen became an international speaker, advocate, and fundraiser for preeclampsia research and education, volunteer blood donation, and clean water initiatives in Sudan.

For all of her grassroots efforts to promote blood donation, Larsen was awarded the 2001 Larry Frederick Award from America’s Blood Centers. She was also the recipient of 2006 Outstanding Achievement Award presented by AABB. And recently, Larsen was named one of the “100 Most Inspirational Alumni” in the 75-year history of the U.C.L.A. Anderson Graduate School of Management. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from U.C.L.A.

Larsen and her husband, Jeff, daughter Clare, and dogs, Gigham, Duke and Jack, live in Boulder, Colorado, where they laugh often and take nothing for granted.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Christmas Traditions

We're talking about our Christmas or holiday traditions this week.

I've had so many over the years (remember, I'm the ancient one of this gang) starting with my childhood tradition of waiting until Santa came and then not being able to get into the living room and our gifts until our folks woke. Believe me, we did everything to wake them up.

I better back up a bit, we also went to family friends to go Christmas caroling and have homemade clam chowder and mulled apple cider.

On Christmas morning, after we opened all our gifts, we headed over to my Grandparents for dinner and more gifts.

When our kids were little we did much of the same, heading down to my parents the night before Christmas, and the same routine. We veered off course a bit the year I was expecting my third child at any time--then everyone came to my house for Christmas dinner. Not sure if I was the one who cooked. Baby arrived on the 28th.

One year I had to work a split shift and the kids opened their gifts before I got home. I was really unhappy. We ate dinner out. The only Christmas dinner we ever had in a restaurant.

When most of my family moved up here, grandparents had passed away, we had Christmas Eve at our house complete with Santa and a gift for everyone, including the ladies I was caring for by that time.

We soon out grew even my big old house and held Christmas Eve in the rec room where one of my nephews and family lived in a mobile home park. I think we were probably up to about 60 people by then.

My sis and her entire family moved to Las Vegas and that ended our Christmas Eve get-together.

The adults at our church always have a Christmas party where everyone brings one ornament and we kind of fight over them and of course we have goodies to eat.

Another tradition that's been going on probably about 20 years is the writing critique group I belong to will have dinner together in one of the nicer restaurants, spouses invited.

Hap and I retired from the care business, but we still have family around. So this is what happens now: Son and his wife and his two grown sons and another grandson who lives with us will have a nice dinner Christmas Eve and open gifts.

On Christmas Day I'll cook a big turkey and some big containers with dressing, candied yams and green bean casserole and take it all over to the church. This is our second year to invite anyone who has no place to go for Christmas dinner--no charge. We had a great time last year and are expecting an even bigger crowd this year. Posters have been put up all around town. My son and his wife, granddaughter and her fiance have already volunteered to help.

So Merry Christmas to you all, and be sure and enter our contest.

Happy Holiday $$$ Giveaway

Win a $70 Amazon gift certificate from the Stiletto Gang! Just leave a comment on weekday posts starting on Friday, December 17 and ending Friday, December 31, 2010. Each comment earns you one entry per day. Following the blog and Tweeting about the contest can earn you another two! So that's up to 12 chances to win! Winner will be drawn randomly on January 2, 2011, and announced on the blog on January 3, 2011. So happy reading! And good luck


Monday, December 20, 2010

Tis the Season to be Jolly

My co-author and I have very different holiday traditions. A couple of weeks ago Marian posted about Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Now it's my turn to tell you how my family celebrates Christmas.

Christmas was always one of the best times of the year when I was a child. When my grandparents were alive we would spend part of the holiday with each set. We usually ate two Christmas dinners!

My paternal grandmother was the most excited of everyone. She loved decorating cookies and opening presents. I'm not sure if everyone else opens presents on Christmas Eve, but that was absolutely the longest she could wait. So she'd urge the kids to begin asking our parents if we could open presents early and before you knew it, wrapping paper was flying. Santa, well Santa's gifts appeared on Christmas morning. My brother and I pretended to believe in Santa at least a couple of years after we knew he didn't exist. We didn't really care, but we knew the big presents came with Santa so we BELIEVED. The other thing my grandmother loved was working crossword puzzles and word scrambles. In her honor, Evelyn David challenges you to play a holiday game! To win you'll need to know Christmas related "stuff" and the names of Evelyn David characters.

Complete all correctly and e-mail results to before noon Eastern time on December 21. One entry per email address. Get all correct and you'll win a Brianna Sullivan Mysteries e-book or a Sullivan Investigations Short Story (winner's choice of Kindle, ePub, or PDF version). We'll post answers in the comment section of blog when we announce winners the afternoon of Dec. 21, 2010. (Note: if no one gets all the right answers, the one with the most right wins. In case of ties, all with the most answers correct will win.)

24-Hour Christmas Word Scramble














Clues - 3 Christmas songs, 2 phrases, 5 things found in home at Christmas, 2 things you can wear, 1 name, 1 weather event. Note: At noon Central time one correction was made to list item #9. One letter was deleted and another added.

Evelyn David Character Word Scramble











aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David


Happy Holiday $$$ Giveaway

Win a $70 Amazon gift certificate from the Stiletto Gang! Just leave a comment on weekday posts starting on Friday, December 17 and ending Friday, December 31, 2010. Each comment earns you one entry per day. Following the blog and Tweeting about the contest can earn you another two! So that's up to 12 chances to win! Winner will be drawn randomly on January 2, 2011, and announced on the blog on January 3, 2011. So happy reading! And good luck!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Memories

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up (my dad worked for IBM, aka I’ve Been Moved). So every few years, we celebrated the holidays in a different place. My mom was good about keeping up traditions so that Christmas was Christmas, no matter where we lived. Sometime after Thanksgiving, she’d pillage packing boxes marked “Xmas Stuff;” and once she got going, there was no stopping her. The scent of evergreen permeated the house as she wrapped boughs of it tied with red bows up and down the banisters. Other decorations crowded table-tops, bookcases, mantles, and the piano. Mom’s mix was eclectic: an elaborate nativity set from Italy, trees made from tuna cans, sculptural metal angels, and paper-mache snowmen. No surface remained free of holiday cheer.

But before any counting down of days ‘til Christmas could commence, we had to do two things: (1) Bake my great-grandmother’s shortbread cookies (that had at least 150 ingredients and all had to be iced in appropriate colors), and (2) Get a real tree. The cookie part was almost easy compared to the tree trip. Mom had to bundle up three kids in enough layers to nearly render us immobile then we’d pack into the station wagon, bound for the nearest lot. My dad would grab the first tree he saw and ask, “How’s this?” A half hour and two dozen trees later, my mother would nod and say, “That’s it!” She always liked the biggest, fattest balsam that took eons for them to tie up. Once home, Dad stuck the tree in a bucket and prayed the water didn’t freeze overnight. The next day, he’d stuff it into the stand and put the lights on, and Mom would spread the skirt beneath. Ta-da! Let the tree-trimming begin!

Hanging the ornaments was a huge honkin’ deal. My mother made sure the whole family was present before she put out eggnog and placed a holiday album on the stereo. While my sibs and I unearthed equal parts hand-made doo-dads and delicate glass baubles from the tissue stuffed cavities of cardboard boxes, Nat King Cole crooned of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I loved glass birds with clips for claws so I could stick them on the ends of branches, like they’d flown in and were just resting. I adored silver orbs that reflected every color in the rainbow. But one pair of ornaments remained the most special for years: a burlap man and woman my sister and I had named “Speed” and “Trixie,” after the characters in Speed Racer. Every Christmas, their ink faces rubbed off a little more and their yarn hair disappeared, but Molly and I couldn’t wait to place them on the tree next to one another so they could chat about Spanky and Racer X.

Once the ornaments were up, it was tinsel time! We were tinsel-flinging fools back then. Despite Mom’s instructions to put it on one piece at a time—“like a dripping icicle”—we’d toss fistfuls at the higher branches and see what would stick. By the time we’d finished, our tree looked gaudier than a Vegas showgirl.

We had our big family dinner on Christmas Eve. The menu echoed our Thanksgiving meal: turkey, spiral ham, green bean casserole, corn casserole, cranberry mold, and fat black olives that my sister plucked off the garnish tray and stuck on each fingertip. After dinner, we opened one present from a far-away relative before we put on our coats to attend Christmas Eve service. I loved to warble with the choir on “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and sit in silent awe as the star vocalist belted out “Ave Maria” and “Oh, Holy Night.” Once home and sleepy, we’d set out cookies and milk for Santa, glance at our empty stockings, and head up to bed. Before I nodded off, I’d listen for reindeer on the rooftop (I swear, one night, I heard them!). At the crack of dawn, I’d awaken and fling on my quilted robe as the rest of the house slowly roused. My dad would bark a reminder not to go downstairs until he had his camera ready.

While Dad played Spielberg and Mom sipped coffee, my siblings and I tore through whatever Santa had brought, usually something like Tonka trucks, games, and trains for Jimmy; stilts, a slide-making kit, and a baseball mitt for Molly; a rock tumbler, dolls, and books for me. Always books. My favorite part of Christmas, once the chaos had ended (and it was always over quickly), was curling up somewhere quiet with Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, or Laura Ingalls Wilder. Bliss!

Much about the holidays has changed since my childhood as my husband and I strive to keep life—and Christmas—simple. We don’t go heavy on decorations and never get the biggest tree in the lot. I don’t bake shortbread cookies with 150 ingredients, and I’m not much for turkey. But, as long as I have a pulse, two things will never change: the pleasure of being with family and the joy of un-wrapping a book. Honestly, was there ever a better gift?

Any favorite Christmas memories you'd like to share?

P.S. And don't forget to leave a comment today and on each weekday post through December 31 to be entered to win a $70 gift card at Amazon! See the right-hand sidebar for details. And good luck!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why Set a Mystery at a Trade Show?

Why Set a Mystery at a Trade Show?

The quick answer: because it’s almost the perfect setting for a mystery.

A trade show is a cross between a three-ring circus and Christmas Eve at K-mart. Okay, so actually it’s an event where a large group of vendors of a particular product category get together to display their product lines to retail buyers, the trade press, and other dealers. They’re usually huge affairs, held in large convention centers or merchandise marts, often over a long weekend. These are important events for the exhibiting vendors because those retail buyers don’t go shopping very often, so when they do they tend to buy product in enormous quantitites.

Many product manufacturers make the bulk of their sales at a show or soon after. There are only a few of them a year in any given industry and they may be the only opportunity the vendor has to impress buyers. Exhibitors drag out every trick in their arsenal to be sure that buyers will come by their booth and be impressed by their products. They’ll erect elaborate and eye-catching booths, display their products with as much panache as possible, serve fabulous food and drink, give away lots of trinkets bearing their logo, have contests for bigger prizes, set up huge video displays, and even sponsor live shows. Just about any gimmick you can think of to attract attention has been done.

The very first time I attended a trade show, I was struck by how so many of elements were in place for a terrific mystery story. The stakes are high for most of the attendees, since their business success or failure can ride on it, adrenalin runs high, the time is short, and the interaction with others heavy and charged.

In the exhibitors, you have a group of people who know each other, who may be friends, competitors, bitter rivals, and sometimes even lovers. They have a lot invested in the outcome of the show both financially and emotionally. They’re usually away from home, which can mean changes in their normal behavior patterns.

The show itself confines the events of the story to a single place and a short time period, since most shows are held in a single large exhibition hall over a long weekend, or sometimes a week. If you set a murder mystery at a trade show, you have built-in suspense because the time is so limited. If you don’t find the killer before the end of the show, the odds aren’t very good you’ll solve it later.

And the stories I’ve heard! Amazing things go on trade shows and not all of them are directly related to commerce. I hope to use this one in a book some day, but at one show I attended, I was told a story about the president of one company actually hiding beneath a cloth-decked table at a rival’s booth in order to eavesdrop on the deals the rival was offering their customers! On the other hand, if I put that in a book some people might complain it was too far-fetched.
None of the people, companies or events in my first trade show mystery, A GIFT FOR MURDER, are real. But they’re built from my experiences in that environment. It was a great ride writing the first one. I hope readers will find it equally fun.

Karen McCullough


Karen McCullough writes mystery, fantasy and romantic suspense. Her first in a new series of mysteries set at trade shows, A GIFT FOR MURDER, will release in January, 2011, from Five Star/Gale Group. Recent releases include a Gothic romance novella, HEART OF THE NIGHT, from Red Rose Publishing and a re-release of romantic suspense A QUESTION OF FIRE for the Kindle. She invites you to visit her website (soon-to-be-revamped) at and her site for the trade show mysteries,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leaps of Faith

I have been known to have flights of indecisiveness, particularly when it comes to things that don’t really matter or have little consequence. Chicken or steak for dinner? Cous cous or pasta? The blue sweater or the black one? Paper or plastic?

See what I mean?

But when it comes to life’s big decisions, e.g. buying a house, picking an oncologist, I have laser-like focus. When I watch shows like “House Hunters,” which you all know I love, I usually recommend that the buyers purchase the first house they see as it always seems perfect for the family. Why do these people need to see more houses? To see if something better exists? Who knows. All I know is that when it comes to the big decisions, I jump in head first.

Maybe I trust my intuition. Or maybe I’m just crazy. (No answer required.)

Malcolm Gladwell summed this type of thinking up in “Blink,” in which he asserts that all major decisions can be made within the first two seconds of looking. Basically, the less—but better—input we have, the better equipped we are to make the right decisions about just about anything. Interesting concept.

I was thinking about this the other day because I have been mulling over getting a new dog. You all know how much I love my little Westie, Bonnie, but sometimes I feel like she’s lonely. The kids are at school all day, as is Jim, and I’m up in the attic all day, a place she only dares to venture up to if she’s got a burst of energy. After all, it’s three floors up, and the loveseat is nice and comfy and warm. Worried about her mental health, I’ve spent a few minutes searching, where with a couple of search words, you can find the dog of your dreams in an instant. If I had gone with my initial instinct, with the blessing of my husband, of course, I probably would have already adopted a dog. But I have made the mistake of having everyone weigh in and of course, have heard my share of “bad dog” stories which has led me off the path of dog adoption and onto the path of showing Bonnie more love so that she doesn’t get any lonelier.

Yes, getting a new dog is a big decision, but is it really that big a decision? Jim and I saw five houses and made offers on two. I’ve been known to walk into a car dealership and walk out with a new car. I have made decisions that come with a host of possible negative consequences in an instant. Try this new melanoma clinical trial even though you may have ulcerative colitis or the rest of your life? Where do I sign?

So I am trying not to over think it. All of the major decisions that I’ve made in my life have been made in a split second and they have all turned out incredibly well. Heck—I decided to quit my job while driving over the bridge from work one night just because it was a beautiful night and the sun was hitting the Hudson a certain way. That was a great decision and I’ve never looked back. The only difference between that decision and the dog decision is that these other decisions might not have come with the predilection for barking or urinating on the floor. Or worse.

I’m going to stop thinking about this for a while. If the time is right, and Jim buys in, I’ll head to a shelter to see if someone begs me with their eyes to take them home.

Right now, however, I have bigger decisions to make as lunch is approaching. Peanut butter or chicken soup?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Biggest Fan

I know there are others, but the person I count as my biggest fan has also become a friend. We met at one of my book signings several years ago. She was in Springville looking for a house to buy.

At the signing, she bought a book and the previous ones in the series. Since then she's been to every book launch or signing I've had for any of my books.

Once she presented my books at a literary luncheon where each table was devoted to a book or a series of books. She decorated her table with Native American artifacts and dressed up like my heroine, Tempe Crabtree, going so far as to wear a black wig with long braids, a deputy outfit complete with badge. She gave a short talk about Tempe and her latest adventure.

We have something else in common, we love to go to movies--especially the ones like Harry Potter and the Twilight series. We've gone to all of them together and then out to lunch afterwards. My husband goes along with us though he's not thrilled with our choice of movies.

At Christmas time she invites us over to watch General Hospital, see her Christmas decorations (believe me, she goes all out) and serves us tea and cookies. Yes, you read it right, the three of us watch General Hospital--even hubby is hooked on it. Here it comes on at 2 p.m. and it's a good time to take a rest from whatever we're doing. However, if we have to go somewhere and miss out, all I have to do is call my biggest fan and ask her what happened.

My biggest fan wants me to make her a character in one of my books and her request is to be a murder victim. Not sure I want to do that. She's certainly interesting enough to make a character of some sort. I'm considering making her a suspect, not sure at this point, but after all she is my biggest fan.


Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Gleeful for Glee

by Evelyn David

I'm not a teenager. Heck, at this point, even my kids aren't teenagers. So what is it about Glee, the must-see TV show that has me glued to my DVR each week, humming top-40 hits that would be otherwise completely unknown to me, and scanning YouTube for videos of this ragtag group of fictional high schoolers? Yep, I've been bitten by the Glee Bug.

I was late to the party. I didn't tune in until my daughter moved home after college and immediately revised the family DVR taping schedule. Sure, the Barefoot Contessa of cooking fame is still on the list, but she's been supplanted in my affections by Glee, a weekly musical about high school outcasts who burst into song at the drop of a pencil.

It reminds me of those old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musicals of the 1940s, where a group of kids with marvelous voices all lived on the same block and were forever breaking into song or chirping, "let's put on a show." In those movies, unlike the television show of today, you didn't see the full orchestra playing backup. Here, a fun part of the conceit of Glee is that they show the professional musicians walking the halls of this high school to immediately back up any student who starts warbling. And Bob Fosse would swoon over the choreography on the show. In an interview I watched of the making of the show, it's also one of the inside jokes that the best dancer of the group is the actor who is playing the part of a paralyzed teenager and confined to a wheelchair.

But for all the over-the-top humor, improbable plot lines, and subtle teasing of pop culture and its stars, the show has also shown a sharp insight into the concerns, interests, fears, and desires of today's adolescents. Bullying, teen pregnancy, sexual orientation, the show has dealt squarely with all of these topics and more. It's a modern day morality play – but with a hip-hop beat.

And as an added bonus, watching Glee lets me share something special with my daughter, an avid fan. It's a doorway into her world, into a world that on the surface I have outgrown. It makes me feel younger, "with it" (which by using that phrase, automatically banishes me from the cool kids table).

I don't know what will happen with Rachel, Finn, and the rest of the gang, but I'll be checking in each week to find out.

How about you? Do you watch Glee? Why?

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Drops the Ball (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake - Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books - Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home (short story) - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, December 10, 2010

Just Put the Word "Club" at the End

by Maria Geraci

First off, I’d like to thank Susan and the rest of the Stiletto gang for hosting me on their blog today. The minute I heard the name of the blog it brought a smile to my face, and I immediately knew the theme of my post. I’m here to talk about gangs (not the east LA kind. That would be a different post all together). I’m talking about the sort of gangs we women know and love--and that would be Clubs.

I looked up the word in my handy dandy online thesaurus because I was curious how many synonyms I could find for the words gang or club. There were roughly a few dozen. Here are some examples: bunch, circle, clan, clique, cronies, assemblage, pack, posse, bunch, clump, galaxy, squad and yes, even mafia. I could go on, but you get my drift. There are a lot of words to describe the same thing. The word gang itself has several different meanings, but the bottom line is this: it’s a group of people with something in common.

I think I must be drawn to gangs. My first two books were about a group of women who play Bunco. If you don’t know what Bunco is, I’ll tell you. It’s a fun, fast paced dice game usually played by women. Think men’s poker night but substitute the cards and the cigars and the beers with dice and gossip and frozen margaritas. What it really is is an excuse for women to get together. Women crave the company of other women. The phenomenon starts all the way back in preschool, when little girls are drawn to each other to play and hold hands and giggle and talk. That camaraderie is something I think we crave till the day we hit the nursing home. I also think it’s the reason why books with the word “club” in the title are so popular. As women, we love reading about the relationships we have with other women and the word “club” is keyed in our brain to trigger some sort of pleasant reaction (work with me here).

Here’s a few examples:

The Friday Night Knitting Club
The First Love Cookie Club
The Sex Club
The Babysitter’s Club (starting us out early with that theme)
The Joy Luck Club
The Hot Flash Club
(yes, this is a book and I just might have to go get it!)
The Professors’ Wives Club
The Coffin Club
(not one club I’d necessarily want to join…)
The Wildwater Walking Club
The Cougar Club
(great read!)

I could go on and on because there are dozens more literary titles that end with the word club. And while there are countless awesome synonyms that mean the same thing, somehow The Cougar Mafia or The Joy Luck Posse just don’t sound quite right.

So I’m hoping that my latest foray into literature, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, will be as successful as some of those books I just mentioned. It’s a romantic comedy about a woman who turns her dysfunctional book club into a boyfriend club, where women discuss the men they’ve dated comparing them to classic literary heroes and villains. I got the idea for the book while attending a friend’s book club meeting (book clubs--another great excuse for women to get together!) It’s getting some great reviews, but the one I personally like best comes from Julie at What Women Write, who calls it “Dorothea Benton Frank Meets My Big Fat Greek…er Cuban Wedding.” How perfect is that?

The Boyfriend of the Month Club
Berkley Trade Paperback
December 2010

At thirty, Grace O’Bryan has dated every loser that Daytona Beach has to offer. After the ultimate date-from-hell, Grace decides to take matters into her own hands and turns her dwindling book club into a Boyfriend of the Month Club, where women can come together to discuss the eligible men in their community. Where are the real live twenty-first century versions of literary heroes such as Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy? Could it be successful and handsome Brandon Farrell, who is willing to overlook his disastrous first date with Grace and offers financial help for her parents’ failing Florida gift shop? Or maybe sexy dentist Joe Rosenblum, who’s great with a smile but not so great at commitment? Unfortunately, just like books, men cannot always be judged by their covers…

If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, please visit my website at I’m currently holding a fabulous contest. Purchase The Boyfriend of the Month Club on or before December 12, and you can enter to win a grand prize of a $100 Amazon gift card, plus a bag filled with some wonderful autographed women’s fiction. There are also 5 runners-up prizes of a $20 Amazon gift card and a special edition Boyfriend of the Month Club desk top calendar. Contest details on are the homepage of my website. I’d also love it you joined my facebook page

**Maria, thanks so much for visiting our little gang (hee hee) today! We loved having you and wish you loads of success!!! Also, Maria is giving away signed copies of The Boyfriend of the Month Club and Susan McBride's The Cougar Club today on her Facebook page! All you have to do is comment to be entered!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sleazy Protagonists

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series. The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines. Her fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead, has just been released. All four novels are on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

Alcoholics, sex addicts, porn stars, thieves, and kidnappers. In today’s crime fiction, these characters are often the protagonists, and as a reader, I’m expected to root for them. I rarely can. I’ve put down many well written and well plotted novels lately because the main character was not someone I could relate to.

For example, in one story, the protagonist—a reformed criminal, living a good life—participated in a kidnapping to keep himself from going to jail. If I had not been reading the book for discussion, I would have put it down immediately. I skimmed through the rest, uncaring. For me, there was little point in reading about a protagonist I wanted to see caught and punished. Especially since I predicted the book wouldn’t turn out that way (and it didn’t).
In another story, the character was well developed, resourceful, and good-hearted and I really wanted to like her. But the world she inhabited was sleazy and everyone she encountered gave me the creeps. Despite the terrific writing, I finally gave up, because spending too much time in her world was a little revolting.

Don’t get me wrong. I love crime fiction! And I’m certainly not a prude. I write a mystery/suspense series, and the first book is called The Sex Club. My main character is a homicide detective who’s a hardworking family man. Not perfect, by any means, but he’s also not a cynical, pill-popping alcoholic with dysfunctional relationships. I’m tired of that cop stereotype, and I want my character to be someone readers can relate to.

But it’s not a clear-cut issue for me either. Two of my favorite books this year had protagonists who were criminals…or at least they had been. In Beat the Reaper, the main character is an ex-hit man who becomes a doctor. But he’s trying to redeem himself, and it’s a terrific (and often funny) story. The Lock Artist, another novel I loved, is about a psychologically mute safecracker. But the reader knows from the beginning that Michael goes to jail and hopes to change his life. So I rooted for both characters all the way.

For me, good characterization for a protagonist, especially a recurring character, means creating someone readers will care about, like, and/or respect in some way. (I make an exception for Elmore Leonard’s stories, in which everyone is shady, but often likeable, and I can always cheer for a charming thief, especially if he’s played by George Clooney.)

I realize I may be somewhat alone in this thinking (except for the George Clooney part). In my book discussion groups, many other readers say they don’t have to like the protagonist to find the story compelling.

How do you feel about protagonists who are unlikable, deeply flawed, or simply not someone you’d ever spend time with? Does it spoil the story for you? Can you name a novel you thoroughly enjoyed even though you didn’t like the protagonist?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Time Is Now

Last week, I received a lovely note in the mail from the Assistant Principal at my former high school, asking me to be the commencement speaker for the 2011 graduation. I was beyond thrilled. My four years at this all-girls, Catholic high school were some of the best of my life; I just didn’t know it at the time. The heavy academic workload saw to that. Surrounded by some of the best and brightest the tri-state area had to offer, it was an intellectual hotbed of young women striving to be the best they could be. Seriously. I’m not joking. Many of us are still in touch years later and I am astounded by what these women have accomplished. Some are business executives; one is a doctor of theology and expert on the subject of medical ethics; another is the mother of five and grandmother of four; another works tirelessly on various fundraising activities, all on the volunteer level.

I have been thinking a lot about what wisdom I can impart to these young ladies and believe me, I’ll need every day of the next seven months to figure out what I want to say. Here are a couple of thoughts I’ve had. Feel free to add your own after you read this post. (I need all the help I can get!)

1. You’re thin enough, you’re beautiful enough, and gosh darn, you are smart enough. So stop sweating the small stuff! When I think back to my twenties and how I exercised for two hours every day and watched every morsel I put in my mouth, I shudder. I was slim, in excellent shape, with energy to spare, yet I criticized my own appearance every day when I looked in the mirror. As long as you’re healthy, you’re set. Enjoy your youth, because someone who is happy in their youth will look great as they age. (At least this is what I tell myself.)

2. Do it now. Whatever “it” is. Don’t put off gratification until a later date. I’m not heading down a morbid path here—although I could; I’m Irish after all—but there really is no time like the present. You’ll always make more money, there will always be time to work, but don’t underestimate the joy of travel, or writing, or singing, or dancing, or doing whatever it is that makes you happy. When we’re young, I think, we’re racing toward the next step in our lives instead of enjoying the life that we are leading at the time.

3. Don’t settle. For anything. Be it a husband, a wife, a job, a meal at a restaurant, you deserve the best and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You are the author of your story and it is up to you to make sure you live the best life you can.

4. Give back. Make sure that your life plan includes a healthy dose of volunteering, works for social justice, or just plain giving. Studies show that people who give back are healthier, happier, and may live longer. So look around, identify the need, and do something about it. The world will thank you for it.

Obviously, I’ll come up with more, but these are my top four for now. What words of advice would you give to a group of 18-year-olds, or to the 18-year-old who you once were?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Do You Do When You Have a New Book Out?

My latest book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series came out a bit later than expected due to something wrong with the way the bar code was printed on the back of the cover. It made things a bit crazy for awhile. My book launch had to be put off and because I had a blog tour planned and some of the stops needed reviews, those had to be put near the end of the tour to make sure the blog hosts had time to read the books.

Fortunately the reviews have all been terrific and I just found a new one on Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, do any of the rest of you authors check the numbers on your Amazon page? During my tour the numbers went way down (a good thing, though not sure it means people are buying books or just peeking at the page) on both the trade paperback and on the Kindle version. Now that the tour is over, the numbers have risen on the regular book, but have continued to go down a bit on the Kindle version. Whether this really means much I won't know until I get my royalty report.

In the meantime, I've sent off the next book in this series to the publisher which meant I had to come up with a short synopsis and a blurb for the back of the book. Leads to a bit of confusion since both books have the same main characters just different crimes to solve. I have to think a bit, "No, it's Invisible Path that has the murder on the Indian reservation and the para-military group in the mountains, this new one is all about bears and dementia."

Oh, and it's Christmas time. I've been squeezing in shopping, wrapping presents, and putting up some decorations so that people know I really am celebrating a holiday I love.

And back to the writing. I've just finished the next one in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, and it's time to seriously do some rewriting. This can all get a bit overwhelming at times. I love writing--but when ordinary life is busy too, it's sometimes hard to fit in all the things needed to do when your latest book is out.

I can remember when I got a contract for a book and hubby and I went out to celebrate. We haven't done that for a long time, maybe we ought to start doing that again. Would certainly be a lot more fun than checking Amazon ratings.