Friday, January 29, 2010

You Know in Your Heart You Want this Skittle

Think back to the last time you surprised yourself and accomplished something you weren’t sure you could pull off. Maybe you did it last week.

Maybe it’s been a few years. Regardless, I’d wager that all of us can come up with something, maybe several things.

I’m in the middle of one right now. On New Year’s Day, probably sometime around lunch, I logged onto my Facebook account and saw that a friend had posted: “I haven’t had any junk food yet this year.”

I smiled. The year was about as young as it could be. I hadn’t had any junk food yet either. As far as 2010 was concerned, I was a clean, nutritiously balanced slate. I’m not the resolutions-type, but this one caught my fancy so I ripped it off.

Today it has been twenty-nine days since I’ve had chips, desserts, sodas, candy, or anything with grease. I’m not on a diet and this isn’t about weight loss. In fact, my weight is the same as it was on January 1st. I eat as much food as I ever did, it’s just better food.

I didn’t eat many of those things before January 1st anyway, so this might not seem like much of a sacrifice, but you’d be surprised. The hardest part is passing on the homemade brownies and cakes that co-workers leave in the conference room.

Just Tuesday, my supervisor brought in a glorious tray of huge assorted cookies.

Anyone who experiences an afternoon “brain sludge” at work might relate to my temptation.

Last weekend, my nine-year-old held up a blue Skittle: “Come on, Mom.

You know in your heart you want this Skittle.”

She knows me well.

But I’d committed: No Junk.

Though my goal was arbitrary, my mind was made up, and I passed. This started me thinking about other things I’d done once my mind was set. I made a list to include here so I could make a big, terrific point about what huge things we can accomplish if we really, really want to.

But then I tossed it.

Compared to personal hurdles others have tackled, my list is small. But it’s mine. In my opinion, it’s less important what’s on our lists than that we have one, period.

Everyone should know the joy and pride that comes from accomplishing something they believed was impossible. I worry sometimes for those among us who are too afraid to try.

In making my list, I realized I’ve done some remarkable things. That sounds egregiously egotistical, but what I mean to say is that I’ve done several normal things that seem remarkable to me because at one time I didn’t think I could. Why’d I think that?

Only recently have I learned that I can take on those big goals as long as I do them one at a time. It seems incredibly obvious, but Type A’s like me are thick sometimes. We have a long list of stuff to do, we desperately want to do it all, we really want to do it all well, and there is an overriding feeling that if we don’t do it now, we might never get another chance to try.

I’m learning to let my goal list be dynamic, to let it ebb and flow. I’m learning that balance doesn’t mean putting everything on the tray and finding a place where it doesn’t tip. In my case, everything does not fit on the tray. Sometimes I have to take an item off, just for now, and put it back later, when I’m finished with something else. Otherwise, all it takes is one blue Skittle to bring the whole tray crashing down.

I propose that sometimes it’s a good idea to challenge ourselves, no matter how frivolous. Tell me how you’ve surprised yourself by putting your mind to something, big or small. What’s next on your list?

Rachel Brady

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Countdown is On!

We are mere days away from the release of the second Lola Cruz Mystery, Hasta la Vista, Lola! (4 1/2 stars from RT Book Reviews!), and the buzz is building. Yesterday, the Book List review came in.

“In Ramirez’s second novel featuring the feisty Latina detective, Dolores “Lola” Cruz is investigating her own death. That is, she is trying to find out why a woman who stole her identity ended up dead. With sexy reporter Jack Callaghan—her on-again, off-again love interest—by her side, Lola finds out that the other Dolores is actually Rosie Gonzalez, a single mother, whose young son has been missing since his mother’s death. Now Lola’s search turns to finding the young boy, which leads her closer to home than she expected. Fans who fell for Lola in Living the Vida Lola (2009) will welcome her smart and snappy return. The suspense here revolves as much around the will-they or won’t-they romance with Jack as it does with the missing boy and mysterious death, leading up to a shocking ending that ties everything together.”

Needless to say, I'm thrilled by the great response to this book. It takes a lot of patience and good luck to build a series, and I feel like Lola Cruz Mysteries finally has some momentum.

A lot of you probably haven't met Lola. First, let me say that you do not have to read book one (Living the Vida Lola) before you read book 2. You can, of course, but it's not going to mess you up if you do. Go HERE to see more about both books.

In order to introduce you to fledgling detective Lola Cruz, I've put an excerpt up. You can be introduced to all of the characters at On-Line Dating with Lola's Crew.


Chapter 1, Hasta la Vista, Lola!

I can’t even begin to count the number of times my grandmother told me that she would die a happy woman if only I’d join the Order of the Benedictine Sisters of Guadalupe and live a chaste and holy life.

To which I always nodded, smiled, and said, “I want you to die happy, Abuela, pero I’m not going to become a nun.” There were several problems with me and a pious life. If you asked my mother, she’d say I’d sinned over and over and over again, beginning with premarital intercourse [which she suspected but had no actual proof of], and ending with my job. In my mother’s eyes, being a detective necessitates questionable actions and an ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy.

Which is not actually my philosophy. I do things by the book, and let my conscience be my guide. I was God-fearing so I tried to toe the line, but I was also a driven, independent woman walking a tightrope between modern American culture and my parents’ old-fashioned male-oriented Spanish culture so my conscience didn’t always know which way to go when I hit a fork in the road.

Case in point. It was a brisk Friday night, downtown Sacramento was lit up with twinkling white lights, I was all dressed up, and even though I had no one to go salsa dancing with, joining those crazy Benedictine Sisters still never entered my mind. The nuns might enjoy their celibacy, but I was one hundred percent positive that I wouldn’t embrace a lifetime of abstinence. Hell, I’d just spent the better part of two hours photographing acrobatic sex in a back ally [which had left me un poquito hot and bothered]--all in the name of being the best private investigator I could possibly be--and I was okay with my decision.

I was almost to Camacho and Associates, the small PI firm where I worked. I dialed Reilly Fuller, the Jill-of-all-trades secretary of the office--and my homegirl. I wanted to go out dancing tonight and I knew I could count on her to have my back.

She picked up on the third ring, breathing heavy and almost out of breath. “Lola!”

“Hey, chica. How’d you know it was me?”

“Call waiting.”

I frowned. The phone company had effectively destroyed kids’ innocent prank call fun--not to mention obsessed stalker-girls calling and hanging up on a guy just to hear his voice [not that I’d had any experience with that type of juvenile behavior].

“Lola, I’m in the middle of something,” she said. She panted.

“I’ll call you back, okay?”

I’d never known Reilly to willingly break a sweat, so I was curious. I checked the time. 8:40. An odd time to be using the treadmill--if that’s what she was up to. “Are you exercising?”

But electric blue-haired Reilly couldn’t answer me because she’d already hung up.

Huh. My long night loomed ahead of me and dancing wasn’t going to be part of it. Looked like it was going to be me, a container of Mapo Tofu from Schezwan House (my favorite restaurant of all time, coincidentally right next door to Camacho and Associates), my camera hooked up to the office computer, and a whole lot of sex pictures uploading. One at a time.

I turned onto Alhambra and immediately spotted my boss’s truck in the parking lot. I slid my little red CRV into a space right beside it. Apparently Manny Camacho didn’t have plans for Friday night, either. Hard to believe. He was puro Latino machismo Greek God material--dark and brooding and scary in an I-could-do-things-to-you-and-make-you-scream-for-mercy kind of way.

I couldn’t help sneaking a quick peek in the rearview mirror. Low cut filmy dress, Victoria’s Secret Ipex cleavage, clear olive skin, salon-highlighted copper strands framing face, MAC O lips. I would not be put out to pasture because of a roguishly sexy reporter who disappeared for days on end and who I did not want to think about right now.

I grabbed my cell phone, the Nikon, my note pad with the Zimmerman case information, and my new favorite accessory-- courtesy of Ebay--my Sexy Señorita drawstring bag. Shoving the notepad into the coral-colored purse, I headed toward the office.

In your face, Callaghan. I had options. Dark and brooding suddenly held a new appeal.

Just as I reached the office, Manny pushed open the door. “Dolores?”

My wedge heels teetered on a crack in the sidewalk. Maybe appeal was the wrong word. Dark fascination? Sadistic curiosity?

Fact is, Manny flustered me without even trying. Not many people could do that. I’d solved my first big case as primary investigator a few months ago. I chided myself. It was way past time to get over the nerves that shot through me when I was around him.

He looked at his watch, then back at me. “¿Que onda? Are you working?”

I nodded. “The Zimmerman case.”

He held the door, apparently waiting for me to continue.

I held up my camera. “Got some great pictures.” Especially if I had contacts at Playboy or Penthouse, which, unfortunately, I didn’t.

“Pictures of--?”

“Of Mrs. Zimmerman, um, making-out with her personal yoga instructor.” Making out might have been understating Mrs. Zimmerman’s activities, but it was the safest answer.

“How’d you get them?”

“I followed them after yoga class.”

Manny’s eyes narrowed as he looked me up and down. “Are you supposed to be undercover?”

My dress was a far cry from yoga-wear, but there was nothing wrong with in looking good on a surveillance job. “They changed after class then went to dinner. Lucky for me I’m a yoga junkie and very flexible--” Maybe not as flexible as Mrs. Zimmerman, but her sexual creativity was in a class by itself-- “and have decent cargo room in my car.”

Manny seemed to ponder this, his expression unreadable. “And the photos?” he finally asked.

“After dinner they went around the corner from the restaurant.” Totally classless. Who screw--er, got down and dirty--out in public? “I was across the street. Excellent telephoto capabilities on this camera, by the way.”

He let the door to the office close while I accessed the pictures on the digital camera. I froze when his arm brushed against my back. The touch had been as light as a breath, but any physical contact from Manny Camacho could send a woman into premature orgasm. He moved behind me to look over my shoulder. A zing shot through my body and I gulped. Looking at X-rated pictures with my boss was muy uncomfortable.

I tried not to think about how flexible he might be and whether his slight limp or his cowboy boots would interfere with the Kama Sutra position in photographs three, twenty-seven or thirty-one.

When we’d gone through all the pictures, I stepped away, trying to ignore the charged silence. “Open and shut,” I said. “She’s clearly cheating on her husband.”

“Good work.” His voice sounded strained. I shoved aside the idea that it might be because of the photos, particularly what Mrs. Zimmerman had been doing in shots ten through eighteen.

My PI gene kicked in. Why didn’t he have plans on a Friday night? He had the hottest girlfriend this side of the Rio Grande. Maybe this side of anywhere. Her only competition was the phantom ex-wife who nobody had ever laid eyes on.

Neither were in sight. “You’re here late,” I said casually. “Where’s Isabel?” I pronounced the name in Spanish: Ee-sa-bel.

“Not here.” The corner of his mouth notched up. “Where’s Callaghan?”

There was a good chance that Manny Camacho, ex-cop-turned-super-detective-who-seemed-to-know-everything, knew exactly where Jack Callaghan. Then again, maybe not. He wasn’t psychic, after all, and I hadn’t let on that Jack had been MIA for almost a week now. “Not here,” I said, then quickly changed the subject. “I’m going to upload the photos and write my report for Mr. Zimmerman.” Which brought to mind something else. “I’m ready for a new case.”

Manny pressed a button on his key ring. Two beeps sounded from his truck, a white, lifted kick-ass 4x4. It wasn’t the most unobtrusive vehicle on the road in Sacramento, but it certainly had style. “The report can wait until Monday. We’ll talk about the caseload then.”

I started to stick my phone into my purse and to retrieve my set of office keys. The straps slipped off my shoulder and the bag fell. Manny was right. Uploading the pictures could wait till Monday, but since I had nothing better to do tonight, there was no reason to put it off. “I like to finish what I start,” I said as I bent down to grab the straps of my bag. “I’ll do the report tonight.”

As I straightened, he gave me another slow once over. “Callaghan’s a fool.”

A shiver swept up my spine and I shifted uncomfortably. Reality bit me. I didn’t think I could cross the line into fraternizing with my boss after all and I certainly wasn’t ready to write Jack off, even if he had a few secrets and the annoying habit of disappearing. He probably had a very good reason for dropping off the face of the earth. Again.

He’d better, damn it.



“I said you’re going to break your phone.”

I started. He had? I was? I loosened the death grip on the device, but dropped my purse in the process. “I, um, need to call my mother. See if she needs anything.”

¿Por qué, mi poderosa? ¿Qué pasa?

Ay, ay, ay. Manny had taken to calling me “strong woman”. Now he was calling me his strong woman? I gulped and stumbled back a step. I might be a good Catholic girl, but I wasn’t immune to temptation. “She’s home sick. I, um, think I should buy her some medicine and Ginger ale.”

“Can I help?”

Manny as nurturer? It didn’t compute. “No, no, no!” I just wanted to go upload the Zimmerman pics and go home to my empty flat. Above my parents’ house. That I shared with my brother. “I mean, I’m fine. I can handle it.”

He pressed the button on his key ring again, reactivating the truck alarm. “I have some more work I can do. I’ll stay with you.”

My hackles went up. I thought about jabbing him in the chest and reminding him that my Salma Hayek curves didn’t mean I wasn’t Xena, Warrior Princess, through and through. I didn’t need a protector--or a babysitter.

Thankfully--since it wouldn’t have been a good idea to chastise my boss--or touch his chest--I was stopped by the sound of a horn blaring behind us. A sporty silver Volvo pulled into the parking lot. Jack! My heart immediately slammed in my chest and I caught my breath. ¡Mi amor!

He stepped out of his car, all tousled brown hair and swarthy Irish complexion. His gaze swept over me and an angry dimple pulled his cheek in. My heart lurched again. I could imagine what he thought. I was dressed for a night on the town and Manny wore black and gray, his burnished skin and onyx eyes contemplating Jack with harsh scrutiny.

I took a small step to the side, putting space between Manny and me. No need to stoke the fire.

Not that it mattered, I reminded myself. Jack had up and left for a week--without a word. If he had issues with Manny, that was his problem. You snooze, you lose. I side-stepped back to where I’d been.

Hasta la vista, Dolores.” Manny’s voice had turned gruff.

“Right. See you later.”

His black alligator-skin cowboy boots clapped unevenly against the sidewalk as he walked to his truck.

Jack came toward me. He dipped his head in an almost imperceptible nod at Manny as they passed, and then his eyes flicked to the bodice of my dress.

They lingered and his face tightened, not in the I want to ravish you kind of way I would have liked, but more in a what the hell are you wearing around him kind of way.

Catching my reflection in the window pane, I immediately saw what had caught his attention. It was my 34Cs--in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction. My dress was askew and part of my right breast plumped out of my demi bra. ¡Ay caramba! No wonder Manny had given me a slow burning look after I’d picked up my purse.

I straightened it as Manny pulled out of the parking lot. Shit! Manny had gotten an eye-full of my assets, and he hadn’t uttered a word.

From the way Jack looked from me to Manny’s truck and back, I suspected that he was thinking the same thing. “Purple, huh?” he said when he steadied his gaze back on me. His voice had that low, sexy tone that created instant yearning in the pit of my soul.

“It’s called Lavender Ice,” I said cooly.

“For him?”

“Well, it’s not like you’ve been around, Callaghan.” I ran my hands down my front in full temptress mode. Jack’s gaze smoldered as it followed my actions. Slow torture. God, sometimes it was so good to be a woman.

His gaze finally found its way back to my face. “I go away for one week and you start dating your boss. Nice, Cruz.”

I kept my gaze steady. “You went away without a word. That was not nice, Callaghan.”

He stood like a statue, then like a blip during a film, he shrugged. “I had something I had to take care of, that’s all. It’s no big deal, Lola, really. Sorry,” he added with a contrite smile.

Not a big deal to him, but it had been a pretty big deal to me. I waited, thinking he’d offer more of an explanation but he gave me nothing. Finally I jammed my hands on my hips and stared him down. Fine. I was just going to have to drag it out of him. “What kind of thing?” I should have left it at that, but damn it if my mouth didn’t have a mind of its own. “You might as well spill it. You know you can’t keep secrets from me.” I pointed at myself. “Private investigator, remember?”

“How could I forget?" he muttered, and he took a small step toward me.

His musky scent. His six feet of hard body. His tousled hair. His crooked little smile. Ay carumba. Jack Callaghan sent me into a tailspin. Rooting out his secrets could become one of my favorite past times if he didn’t infuriate me so much.

I backed up. Distance. He would not sweet talk me into forgetting why I was mad. “Where’d you go?”

“I had an emergency I had to deal with, Lola.”

The way he rumbled my name made my knees go weak and diluted my anger. “What kind of emergency?”

He took a panther-like step toward me. “Unfortunately, it was the kind I couldn’t say no to.”

“Is that your explanation?”

“It’s the truth,” he said.

In a half-truth kind of way. “What kind of emergency couldn’t you say no to?”

He backed me up against the window of Camacho and Associates.

“You really want to talk about this now?”

I breathed in. God, he smelled fabulous. Forget about dancing. The musky pheromones were sending promises of acrobatics. “Y-yes.”

“I missed you.”

“It’s going to take some serious convincing to make me believe that.” My eyelids fluttered. “You didn’t call--”

His hand slipped behind my back, a feather-light touch that sent whispers of desire up my spine. “The battery on my phone died.”

“Come on, Callaghan,” I breathed, summoning my self-control. “You can do better than that. No charger in your car? No money to buy a new one? Ever hear of a pay phone?”

“Couldn’t find one, bellísima.”

Ooh. Low blow. And good memory. I’d taught him the word for beautiful and now he was using it on me. “Pulling out all the stops, eh?” I pressed my palm against his chest. “Spill it, guapo. You can’t just sweet talk your way into--”

The corner of his mouth crept up wickedly and his hand moved to my hip. “Sweet talk my way into what?”

My skirt. My heart. My...

Dios mío. His chest felt amazing under my hand--all hard and muscled and-- What was I mad about again?

He bent his head and brushed his lips against my neck, trailing them to my collarbone.

“Mmm.” The moan slipped out. Reality or not, his charm was second to none.

“Mmm-hmm,” he echoed.

I jumped when my cell phone belted out the chorus of La Bamba. Reality came flooding back into my brain. He’d left without so much as an adiós, that’s what I was mad about.

Grabbing the phone from my bag, I flipped it open. Holding it to my ear, I tried to ignore how close Jack was to me, how the miniscule amount of air between our bodies sizzled with heat. “H-hello?” My voice croaked and my eyes fluttered closed. I dropped my purse on the ground.

The line was dead. Thank God; a misdial. My grip on the phone became limp. The camera I still held by the strap dangled loosely from my other hand. I was putty.

The heat from Jack’s mouth radiated through my body. I gasped as his hands slid up my sides and his fingers spread wide on my ribcage. His lips sought out my mouth. I wanted him. Right here. Right now. I just hoped no one was lurking around a corner taking digital photos of us.

I was going to have to go to confession for this. Maybe twice. Those Benedictine Sisters would never have me now.

“You taste like heaven,” he said.

“Mmm--” I broke off when my phone rang again. My eyelids flew open.

“Hold that thought,” I said, and I flipped open the phone. “Hello?”

No one spoke. Chaos echoed on the other end of the line. I tried to make out a sound. Something identifiable. Jack’s mouth settled in against my neck again, but a cry that sounded like an injured animal, followed by a primal scream, assaulted my eardrums. My nerves crackled. “Who is this?” I demanded.

The connection cut out. I pushed the END button with my thumb then pressed another button to check the phone number. I froze.

Jack’s blue bedroom eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong?”

Panic lodged in my throat. “My parents. Somebody was crying and screaming.”

I hit redial, but the line beeped incessantly with a busy signal.

I snatched my purse from the ground and fumbled inside. “I have to go.” My hands shook and I couldn’t grab hold of anything. “Where the hell are my keys?!”

Jack grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward his car. “I’ll drive.”

There was no point arguing; I didn’t think I could maneuver a vehicle in a straight line with the panic that was seizing my insides. With runway model balance on my wedge heels, I jumped into Jack’s super cool Volvo.

He gunned it out of the parking lot and raced down ‘H’ street toward my parents’ midtown house.

To learn more about Lola Cruz Mysteries, go HERE.

I'm also smack in the middle of a KILLER blog tour. Follow along. There are lots and lots of chances to win books along the way!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bad Mommy

A friend, and one-time guest blogger, Tina Jordan, just turned me on to a great blog that is carried by the New York Times called “Motherlode.” There, author Lisa Belkin expounds on a variety of parenting topics, often employing guest bloggers herself. Thanks, Tina. Now I’m really not getting anything done. See, it’s one of those blogs that is alternately fascinating and informative. I don’t really feel like I’m wasting time, because often I learn something. And there are also those times where I’m screaming “AMEN!” at the computer, because here I thought I was alone.

Did I mention that I hold the title of “Meanest Mom Ever”? True that. I told the child who bestowed the honor upon me that I strive to be the best at everything I do, and that includes being the meanest. Ever.

I visited the site the other day, which you can access at and read with interest about one of my favorite topics: snacking. Let me give you a little back story: years ago, when I quit my in-house job to stay home with child #1 while gestating child #2, I started frequenting the local playgrounds and parks, if only to counteract the incredible boredom that comes along with leaving a high-paying, exciting job that offers you the company of fascinating people (hindsight is 20-20 after all) to spend your day with a four-year-old who, previously, has been coddled and mentally stimulated (for a small fortune, of course) by a nanny with only one charge. After my one thousandth game of “Candy Land,” I decided it was time to branch out. After lunch one day, I went to a park within walking distance of our house dragging only me, my kid, and one single, solitary, warm juice box, in the event that said kid would get thirsty. I’m not so worried about hunger, but I do worry about thirst. We got to the park and the kid went off to play, while I sat amidst other moms who were surrounded by coolers full of perishable food, not to mention a cornucopia of dry goods like pretzels, Cheez-Its, Rice Krispie Treats, and a host of other carbohydrates. Child #1, upon gazing at this Bacchanalian spectacle of little kid food, immediately pronounced, “I’m hungry.”

“She couldn’t possibly be,” I protested to the women who had turned their collective suspicious and derisive gaze toward me, “She just ate two slices of pizza. And she only weighs thirty-six pounds.” It never even occurred to me to bring food to the playground. Weren’t we there to play?

But my protestations were in vain. I was “bad mommy.”

When I was a child, we ate three meals a day. We occasionally came in looking for other sorts of treats, but they weren’t to be had. Nobody was cutting up oranges for us to consume at halftime during our CYO basketball games. Dare I say I even went to school a few days without even having eaten breakfast? The horrors. Today’s mothers and fathers are constantly monitoring their children’s food intake, making sure they are sated and hydrated with such fervor one would think that food and drink is scarce.

I was in the post office a few weeks back waiting on an interminable line behind a very pregnant woman with a barely-two-year-old little boy. He made one peep and she started digging around in her very big rucksack for food, offering him oranges, pretzels, water, juice, milk, a half a sandwich, and crackers. Once he made his decision of oranges, she wiped his hands with hand sanitizer (did I mention that he was sitting on the floor in the United States Post Office?) and gave him his snack, which he promptly dropped on the floor, picked up, and shoved in his mouth. When he was done with the oranges, he drank the milk. Then, he started on the crackers. By the time he was done, I think I had gained three pounds just from watching.

Okay, maybe the kid was hungry. Maybe he had hadn’t eaten since the day before. Maybe the mom knew something about his blood sugar that I didn’t. But I can tell you that no child that I know has ever been that hungry that they needed to eat a small meal in the post office a half hour prior to the dinner hour. Where did parents get the idea that kids need to be fed constantly? It’s baffling to me.

Back at the playground, someone eventually gave child #1 a pretzel rod or some such treat and she went off to play, something that the children who had the four-course meal awaiting them at the park bench seemed not to do. They circled like vultures, eating everything their parents had packed up for them, instead of swinging on the swings and playing on the slide and running on the basketball court. Eventually, I succumbed to peer pressure and began bringing a half-eaten bag of whatever snack was in our house, if only to show that I wasn’t completely cruel and heartless mother who denied my child her god-given right to eat a six-foot Italian wedge in between games of hopscotch.

Please feel free to chime in with your own bad mommy stories, Stiletto faithful.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Angel Encounters

Last week I wrote about Angels and was asked to tell about an Angel encounter.

Here's my favorite.

A young mother I knew was coming home after attending a retreat, and was driving over a mountain pass. As I recall her telling of the event, the weather was bad and her car veered off the road, landing in a ditch. She was thrown out of the car and landed with her head back at an angle which made it almost impossible for her to breath.

A man came along and held her head up and gave her encouraging words. When the paramedics arrived a long time later, she asked to thank the man who'd been holding her head so she could breathe.

The paramedic told her, "Ma'am, no one was on the scene when we arrived."

She was told it was a miracle she hadn't choked to death on her blood.

That was an angel who kept that from happening.

Another encounter happened to my daughter and son-in-law years ago when they were very young and before cell phones. They were on a seldom traveled, narrow mountain logging road. They were with another couple and for some reason that I no longer remember, the women were in one car and the men in the other. The men were driving too fast, and the car they were in went off the side of the road. Horrified, the women stopped. The men's vehicle was about halfway down a ravine.

The women didn't know what to do. They were too far to walk anywhere to find help. All of a sudden two men in a truck came by. They went down to see if the husbands were okay--they were hurt but not seriously. The strangers had what was needed to pull the car back up on the road, checked to see if it ran--it did.

Before anyone could ask who the men were, they jumped back in the truck and drove off. They were angels. Skeptics might have other answers, I prefer to believe that angels are here watching out for us.

I bet other people have stories they could share.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Missing Person Alert: Where's Ina?

For a bunch of writers, I notice that we all watch a lot of television. So no surprise that this entry is not only about television programming, but a complaint about its delivery.

In my town, you have two choices for cable television. If I choose one, then I can’t get MSNBC. Not acceptable. If I choose the other, which I did, for the last three weeks I couldn’t watch The Barefoot Contessa or House Hunters. Cablevision and Scripps were engaged in mortal battle and in the meantime, both the Food Network and HGTV were not available. Heck I could give up Keith Olbermann, but Ina Garten? Grrrr

There was a third alternative, but I’m hoping that environmentalists and historians will applaud my decision not to subscribe to DirectTV. Here’s why. We actually did use their services, quite happily, until we made the fatal mistake of upgrading to one of those big TVs with High-Definition, which means I can see the pores and plastic surgery scars of actors on crime shows, and my husband and kids can watch sports ad nauseum, constanly murmuring that it was better than if they were in the stadium (for one reason, there's no cost for constant snack service). So once the new television was delivered, I called DirectTV and was even perfectly willing to pay the premium for the upgraded service. I was only mildly annoyed when it appeared that they had cancelled the appointment without telling me. But in fact, they hadn’t cancelled the appointment, they had, in effect, cancelled me. It appears that the 200+ year old tree in my front yard was blocking the necessary reception for the upgrade and I had only one choice. Cut down the tree (horrified gasp) or change providers. They were astonished I chose the latter and continue to inundate me with constant entreaties to come home again, albeit treeless.

Of course, like more than 50 percent of cable-TV watchers, I see no program during its original showing. I DVR anything of interest and watch it at my leisure. Or if I just want to watch the highlight that is being discussed around the (virtual) water cooler, I check out YouTube. First, I rarely stay up late enough to see any of the better dramas – and a device that lets me skip ads – worth its weight in gold.

A far cry from when I was growing up. Then you built your week around the television shows you wanted to watch. If you missed an episode, you were resigned to waiting months until it was shown in reruns during the summer. Then came VCRs, and while I never did master the art of scheduling a taping, I was still able to amass a small library of tapes of my favorite shows. Of course, then the guys in suits (almost all male) realized that folks were willing to actually pay to buy a tape(s) of entire seasons – and if they threw in a couple of commentaries by the director or stars (who often seemed surprised at the episodes in which they appeared) – there were big bucks to be had.

Which brings me back to my original whine. Until late Thursday night, it appeared that I was going to have to put Ina Garten on a milk carton in order to find her. Even if she adores fennel – which I loathe – and even if she has never met a stick of butter she didn’t use or a tablespoon of salt that she didn’t add – I adore her recipes (modified as necessary) and her style. I love that when asked by actress Jennifer Garner, another fervent fan, if she could appear on her show – Ina, size 24 and proud of it, politely declined and said “Only my real friends appear on the show.” And how about House Hunters? Despite the fact that the couples inevitably pick the ugliest house of the three they’ve been shown, I want the opportunity to yell at the television set in the vain hope that they’ll change their minds and buy themselves a house that doesn’t have an “open floor plan” where everyone in the living room can see their dirty dishes.

I was ready to rent a billboard with this warning: Scripps/Cablevision – get this settled or things are going to get ugly in the Evelyn David (Northern half) household. Don’t make me tell you again or it’s on your head that a perfectly healthy old tree will be kindling.

Another victory for tree-lovers everywhere.

Evelyn David

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Deep Dark Confession and Zombies

Paul Tremblay is the author of The Little Sleep (Henry Holt, March 3, 2009). His second novel, No Sleep till Wonderland is forthcoming (February 2010). He is a two-time nominee of the Bram Stoker award and has sold over fifty short stories to markets such as Razor Magazine, Weird Tales, Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three, and Best American Fantasy 3. He is the author of the short speculative fiction collection Compositions for the Young and Old and the hard-boiled/dark fantasy novella City Pier: Above and Below. He served as fiction editor of CHIZINE and as co-editor of Fantasy Magazine, and was also the co-editor (with Sean Wallace) of the Fantasy, Bandersnatch, and Phantom anthologies.

I’d like to thank the Stiletto gang for giving me the forum to make a public confession. No, not that (and quiet, you).

Here it is: I didn’t want to write, never intended to write another book featuring my lumpy, grumpy, reality-challenged, narcoleptic PI Mark Genevich. There, I said it.

I even told my agent after finishing The Little Sleep that I wasn’t writing any sequels or follow-ups. My agent said, “Right on. Anything you say, Paul. By the way, you’re so handsome and talented.”

There’s nothing innately wrong with book series, of course. It’s just that I tend to be a little ADD as a reader and a writer. When I first started writing I wrote horror short fiction, but now I like hoping from genre to genre when I can (and when it suits the story). As a reader, I seek out as many different types/styles of story as I can, and consequently, I generally don’t read series. I know, I’m weird.

So there’s that (, and there’s how I tend work as a writer. I’m a character first, plot second kind of guy. For The Little Sleep I had Mark, and then I built the rest of the story and other characters around him. He was my starting point. So after Henry Holt kindly paid for two Mark Genevich books, and when it came time to sit down and write the second, I subconsciously and not-so-subconsciously rebelled. I kept saying to myself, “Self, I already wrote Mark’s story.” Further, I have to admit, writing with a deadline and contract over my head for the first time added new pressures. I’m really a delicate flower and need to be treated as such.

Regardless of my delicateness, my publisher expected me to sally forth. So. Book two. Okay. First, I considered mixing in zombies, zombies that wear high heels, zombies that wear high heels in South Boston in the winter! just you know, to keep everything fresh and hip. But zombies aren’t big right now, so I’m squirreling that idea away for later.

Other than zombies, I was kind of stumped and frustrated. I had a hard time getting over the I-already-wrote-his-story roadblock. So I started simple, went back to the first book, and thought about its themes, about why I wanted to write it, about why Mark was who he was. The Little Sleep is really about the mystery of Mark, and ultimately, the mystery of self; of reality, memory, and the past, and how malleable they all are. So yeah, thematically The Little Sleep was about Mark learning who he was through his past.

Consequently, Mark Genevich’s present became the theme of No Sleep till Wonderland. The book is less about the unreality of Mark’s dreams and is more rooted in his daily grind, how he tries to live and cope with his narcolepsy. No Sleep till Wonderland zeroes in on what’s missing from his life in the here and now; friends, love-life, general companionship, the want and need to be more than the self. Like The Little Sleep, there is a mystery that Mark has to solve, but it’s very much tied to Mark. His personal stakes remain high: can he learn to trust others if he can’t even trust himself? The mystery for Mark (and the reader, hopefully) is other people this time around.

So yeah, the actual writing of No Sleep till Wonderland was a challenge, but I learned a ton about myself as a writer, and more importantly, I’m very happy with the book. So happy with the book and the overall writing experience, in fact, I could be talked into writing a third Genevich novel.

If there is a third book, there will totally be zombies. I promise.

Paul Tremblay

Headshot photo credit - MJ Maloney

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kill 'Em

We kill people for a living--or at least an approximation of a living, in my case, since my books pretty much pay for my own book addiction and not much else!. But I digress.

We kill people or a living, but do you ever find yourself holding back and not killing off someone who really and truly should be done in, and quickly? A writer friend of mine (Tonya) made the hard decision to kill off a beloved aunt in her WIP. "I had to do it," she said in her Kentucky country girl twang. "She had to die." Sometimes it's tough, but, like Tonya said, sometimes you just have to pull the plug. I have occasionally found myself in that precise situation, and when I do, I now have something to turn to (besides chocolate) to put my job back into perspective. Behold, the YouTube Video Kill 'Em, by Parnell Hall. I believe it speaks for itself.

Tell us your favorite bit from Parnell Hall's Kill 'Em. We're dying to know. Mwahahahaha....


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Way Things Are

Yesterday I attended a PTA meeting at a local coffee shop, where a few members gathered to hash out some details about an upcoming fundraiser for our high school. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the young woman working behind the counter, who happened to be the fifteen-year-old daughter of a good friend. We chatted for a minute about the long weekend we had just enjoyed and school in general.

When I took my place at the table that the early-arriving members had snagged, I ended up sitting in a seat facing the window of the coffee shop which just happened to face the driveway where deliveries for the stores in the strip mall are made. As we discussed a fundraiser that we’ll be sponsoring at the end of February, I noticed a young man walk over to a collection of bags, blankets, and other personal belongings, reach into one of the bags and take out a container of jam which he proceeded to eat with his fingers. I became completely preoccupied with the sight, missing most of the PTA discussion. I finally asked the other members of the board to look out the window and asked them if they, like I, thought he was homeless.

We all agreed that that was the case.

A few years back, while volunteering at a local soup kitchen, I had the occasion to try to help a young man who was completely without any sustenance or shelter. I spent a few minutes calling the local police department and then the Volunteers of America to find out where in our affluent community and county one could send someone who had no place to go. I was told that there was only one drop-in shelter in this county and that it was about twenty miles south of here in a very tough neighborhood in a pretty tough city. Our options limited, we opted instead to send the young man to a shelter north of here at a monastery, hoping that they would take him in even though the focus of the shelter was on rehab and recovery, not plain homelessness. We prayed that this would work out, because by the looks of him, he wouldn’t have lasted an hour in a rough shelter, besieged by mental illness and a host of problems we probably didn’t even know about.

Knowing that our options were limited, I approached my friend’s daughter at the counter and asked her and her coworker how long the man had been living outside; they thought it had been about twenty-four hours. They thought that the owner of the shop—who had gone home hours before and was not coming back—was aware of the situation as well. I asked them to give him a call to find out what, if anything, he wanted them to do upon closing. I was a little concerned about a fifteen-year-old and her not-much-older counterpart closing up shop and departing with someone living on the grounds in their path. I was jumping to conclusions, but my mind was racing at this point as to what to do or how to help this man. I didn’t want to call the police because truly, he wasn’t bothering anyone. I also knew that if the police got involved, he would end up in the rough shelter and that might not be the best thing for him. I wondered if I should talk to him to find out his story and help him find somewhere to stay. In the end, I decided to go home and get the wise counsel of Jim.

I left the coffee shop and noticed that the man was surrounded by a group of people, one of whom seemed to be sharing the food and shelter with him, bringing our current total of homeless up to at least two, if not more, judging from the group. They were young, happy, and seemingly having a great time; one of the group's members had a laptop, I noticed curiously. I got into the car and went home, my first phone call going to my friend, the one whose daughter worked in the coffee shop. She was alarmed and immediately called the coffee shop owner to find out what was going on and what we should do, if anything.

Turns out that the homeless men were part of a group a young woman who lives in our town had befriended overseas while visiting a youth hostel. The men were from Brazil and headed there; she planned on accompanying them. She brought them back to town without telling her parents, promising them a place to stay while they regrouped before the next leg of their trip. Her parents, none too pleased with this turn of events, denied her request to put them up and told her to find somewhere else for them to stay. They’ve been camping out as well as couch surfing, and the makeshift set-up they had next to the coffee shop was erected for them to air out their camping equipment.

Ah, youth.

I travel into New York City on a regular basis and see so many homeless people that it almost absolves me from doing something for each and every person I encounter. I also know that the infrastructure in the city for dealing with homelessness exists in a far more structured sense than it does here, as evidenced by my quest to find a bed for a homeless man at the soup kitchen. But to see someone in my own town who may be without a bed and food was a new sight as well as one that I didn’t know quite how to deal with. The average age of a homeless person in the United States today is NINE. And I think we’re going to see more people in the places we live struggling for survival. I feel like yesterday’s experience was a test and has allowed me to figure out exactly what I will do when confronted with homelessness again. Because with the economy, joblessness, and poverty becoming more common-place, it will not be IF the situation happens again, but WHEN.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ghosts and Angels

Anyone who has known me for anytime at all has heard about all the haunted places hubby and I have stayed or visited: The Queen Mary, Room 17 in the Bella Maggoire Bed and Breakfast, the hotel across the street from the Alamo. Just this weekend we went on a ghost tour and visited the haunted Ventura Courthouse (while wandering around in the dark halls of the jail I'm positive I glimpsed a wraith) as well as other old hotels in the area.

My grandkids sincerely believe our house is haunted--and it may be, we have doors that open and close on their own. I have my own theory about ghosts, I think they maybe no more than echoes from the past. If you think about the fact that their might be another dimension, what went on before could very well still be hanging around.

Angels are a whole other story. Because I am a Bible student, I firmly believe that angels are surrounding us all the time, many examples are in the Bible, Old and New Testament. Good ones, those who look out for us, and the fallen angels (demons) whose agenda is totally different.

I've heard far too many miracles where angels intervened. According to the Bible, angels sometimes take on human appearance--hence the stranger who helped out at an accident and saved someone's life and then disappeared before anyone could find out who he was. (And yes, I do know some personal stories where this has happened, but it would take far too long to recount them.)

Anyone who believes in ghosts ought to believe in angels too. Ghosts are fun to think and talk about, but the angels are the ones who actually intervene on our behalf.