Friday, February 26, 2010

Just Say 10 Words and Shut Up.

My friend Carrie and I ran a half marathon together on the beach this month. It was her best race ever and my worst. Afterward, I told her that if anyone asked me how I did, I would say, “I finished strong and felt great at the finish.” Not a lie.

I was sick that day, so I took the whole thing easy. Really easy. Almost-walking-easy. Therefore, I had plenty of gas left in the tank at the end. “In fact,” I added, “I’ll tell them I ran a negative split.” Also not a lie. She laughed at me.

“Negative split” is runner lingo for completing the second half of your race faster than the first. It’s a good thing. In my case, I’d jogged that whole course at a consistent snail’s pace and then punched it at the end, only because the race photographers were there and I try to look fast for them. So if we’re splitting hairs, my second half really was faster.

You see, it all depends on what you want to focus on.

We sat down to eat some post-race snacks and started talking about her upcoming iron distance triathlon. Each leg of the race (swim, bike, run) has a time cut-off, and if you don’t make it, your race is over. This will be Carrie’s first iron distance tri and she worries that she might not get back from the ride in time for the run. “If that happens,” I told her, “I’ll start introducing you as my friend who just swam and cycled a personal best in an Ironman tri.” We kind of liked the way that sounded.

This is when the light came on. We could transform our lives, one problem at a time, by keeping things short and sweet. It's about choosing the right sound bytes.

Someone asking personal questions?

“How are things in your marriage?”
Sound byte: “We saw a very funny movie yesterday. We laughed sooo hard together.” Enough said.

Nasty reviewer? “The plot was confusing. It took me in a new direction on every page and left me confused and aching for more explanation. The characters were clichés and the dialogue was flat. I was expecting something replete with depth and emotion, but instead I got the worst surprise of my life! I’ll tell all my friends about this miserable waste of time and advise them to steer clear of this author!”

Sound byte: “The plot . . . took me in a new direction . . . left me . . . aching for more. Characters . . . and dialogue . . . replete with depth and emotion. Surprise of my life! I’ll tell all my friends!”

A few days passed. Carrie e-mailed to ask if I’d join her for a long run and training swim that weekend. I expressed interest but saddled my response with a long explanation about my family’s schedule and a general desire to remain non-committal for a few more days. Carrie pointed out that, in sound byte format, the correct answer should have been, “Maybe. If I feel like it.”

So true.

Restructuring the things I say into sound bytes has been a good exercise in spotting the bright side. It’s marvelous practice in not being apologetic for saying what I mean. Sound-byting has been liberating and fun, if not slightly misleading and self-delusional, and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay. Highly recommended for those seeking self-improvement with a side of good laughs.

Rachel Brady^2

Post script: I signed this "squared" because Carrie's other friend Rachel Brady (yeah, she really knows two of us... no, we've never met) came up with this great blog title. I don't think it's plagiarizing if the guy you steal from has exactly the same name as you, but I appreciate the sweet title just the same. Thank you, Rachel Jingleheimer Brady. Your name is my name too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I am not a Sci-Fi girl. At all. My few exceptions to that are that I loved Ender’s Game. But not enough to read the sequels. I love Star Trek, and, of course, Star Wars (but that’s mostly because of Harrison Ford).

So when my man wanted to go see Avatar, I was less than thrilled. But I’m a good wife, and like any good wife, I went with him to see this 3 hour movie. (I should say that had Nine been out, I would have fought hard to see that instead, but husband is a pretty good sport for the most part, so I figure I can sit through Sci-Fi heaven.)

Avatar. I had NO idea what to expect. I hadn’t seen trailers, or read anything online. My only frame of reference was the cartoon Avatar that my kids watch, and that did not appeal to me.

I had no idea, for example, that Sigourney Weaver was in the movie. She’s such a great actress, and plays badass heroine archetypes. That was a perk I hadn’t expected. And the hero Jack Sully, played by Sam Worthington, was appealing, and even more so when he became his Na’vi Avatar.

Even the the animated characters, the indigenous humanoids, were nicely developed overall. Neytiri has a few gut-wrenchingly emotional scenes, no small feat for computer animation. The story itself plays along predictable lines; it’s the special effects that make the movie something special. It’s a spectacular event, and writer/director James Cameron uses every opportunity to make bold statements. He purportedly planned this movie in the mid-90s, but needed to wait for technology to catch up with his vision of what he wanted it to be. He succeeded. Avatar is the top grossing movie of all time (and Cameron is in the top 5 twice--the other movie is, of course, Titanic) and there are rumors of a sequel.

Jake immediately elicits sympathy because he’s a former marine and he’s paraplegic. He’s the quintessential lost soul, searching for how he can ever belong or be whole again. He’s damaged, and the way he’s defined himself no longer fits. He’s in a wheel chair, self-sufficient, but unhappy and wanting nothing more than to have the surgery that can fix his legs.

His brother is dead, and Jake is taking his place on the planet Pandora. Avatars are made especially for the human host, and Jake’s brother, his twin, and he shard the same DNA. Instead of waste the millions (or billions, or whatever it cost) to create his Avatar, Jake is brought in to take his place.

Dr. Grace Augustine is vehemently against Jake going in to make contact with the Na’vi. Jake is not a scientist, is not trained in working with an avatar, and is motivated by his selfish desires, not by a desire to understand the indigenous people of Pandora or to truly help build diplomatic relations with the Na’vi.

Turns out, of course, that Grace and Jake come to a great understanding of each other, and grow to have a mutual respect. That was a nice development and I liked seeing their friendship grow.

I plan to see Avatar again, and take notes on the Hero’s Journey. That is something James Cameron knows how to do with a character. Each character, in fact, is the hero of his (or her) own journey in Avatar, and the steps are quite clear. This makes the movie emotionally satisfying, Sci-Fi or not.

Avatar is a super popular movie. Did you see it? What did you think of Jake as a hero? Was it a satisfying ending for you?


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From Confessions to Closets

I have a confession to make: I don’t always pay attention during church.

You can basically boil down the tenets of my faith to two things: God is love and the old do unto others as you would like done unto you plea. But for some reason, some of our preachers feel that twenty minutes on the intricacies of the Gospel are necessary for the flock to hear, despite the fact that there is more than one lolling head in the crowd. As a family, we began sitting up front so that we could sit in rapt attention and avoid distraction. This “front of the church” position resulted in my husband’s continuing embarrassment over one of the nastiest bouts of “church giggles” that had ever befallen me. By the time I excused myself from the pew, tears were rolling down my face and I almost had to be escorted out of the building by one of the ushers, who thought I was overcome with grief over something to do with my then-illness. I didn’t have the heart to tell him—or the courage to reveal—that I was really laughing because the woman behind me was singing off-key and an entirely different song from the one the rest of the congregation was singing. After that, we moved to a side pew, where it was less likely that my giggling and my son’s chattering would be overheard or remarked upon by anyone. Because anyone sitting in a side pew is there for probably the same reason as we are and isn’t there to judge. Jim has found that separating me and our son from the general congregation has its benefits as well as its disadvantages. For me and our son, it just gives us a more private area for our deep discussions. One week, he and I had a discussion on what would happen to his teeth if he continued not brushing on a regular basis, a non-habit that I feared would result in the loss of all of his teeth. He told me that he had two options: 1) he would wear wooden teeth like George Washington or 2) he would wear plastic Vampire teeth for the rest of his life. (He was completely serious, by the way.) Another week, we had a spirited discussion about his science project and the lack of data and/or progress, all the while clapping our hands in time to “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” if not exactly singing all of the words.

So as you can see, I am a worship multi-tasker.

Last week’s homily had put me into a semi-stupor and my mind naturally went to the problem of the lack of closet space in the house. It started out with something like “the space Jesus inhabits in your heart” which took me to “space” and then to “lack of closet space” and then the thought of all of my clothes jammed into a small, under-the-stairs closet that I share with child #1 and her smelly field hockey uniform, cleats, and equipment. It’s closet hell, really, if we’re going to stay with the religious theme.

All of a sudden it hit me. There’s a little alcove in son’s room and it would be the perfect size for my wardrobe and fifty pairs of shoes. I even thought about the little pocketbook/scarf/belt rack that I would hand along one wall to hold my impressive collection of such items. I looked around the church, hoping I could share this revelation (and there’s another one!) with someone and saw my contractor sitting in the back row. Eureka! Using my powers of telepathy, I tried to relate to him that I would be needing an estimate on a new closet as soon as possible, but unfortunately, he had fallen into a deep sleep. With his eyes open. His slack jaw and gently bobbing head were a dead giveaway, though. His wife nudged him awake but he didn’t seem to understand that I was trying to tell him something very important.

I tried to return my attention to the sermon but it was for naught. Thrilled at the thought of my new closet, I kept imagining what it would be like to be able not only to see all of my clothes but to take them out, unwrinkled and not smelling like field hockey sweat.

I caught the tail end of the sermon and it was something to do with love thy neighbor, which I felt I had already accomplished because the love I was showing my contractor by giving him another job was just another notch in my belt of holiness, right?

A Jewish friend, who is also a brilliant architect who we affectionately call “Mike Brady, the architect” as an homage to the Brady Bunch dad, came over yesterday and I took him to show him where I might put the new closet. He was impressed. “Great idea. When did you come up with that?”

I confessed that it was during the homily at church.

He burst out laughing. Although he wouldn’t cop to dreaming up travel itineraries, or reconfiguring the kitchen to be more user-friendly, or even thinking about what his wife was cooking for the break fast during Yom Kippur services, his glee over my worship multi-tasking led me to believe that daydreaming during services is an endeavor not relegated to Christians.

I’ve already made my peace with going to hell, but I’d love some company. What are you thinking about when you’re supposed to be praying about your immortal soul, Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trying Something Daring

My Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novels (rated PG) are available on Kindle. I suggested to my publisher that we sell the e-version of the latest, An Axe to Grind, written under the name F. M. Meredith for $1.98.

Granted, that's much cheaper than most other e-books, but I thought it was a good way to acquaint readers with the police officers, their wives and families who inhabit the California beach town of Rocky Bluff. Maybe reading this book would convince them to buy the others in the series.

Will it work? I have no idea, but after doing a bit of promoting about the low price for Kindle owners, I've already received e-mails from people I know who have downloaded it.

Of course, the trade paperback version the publisher and I will be selling at its regular price of $12.95.

Promotion for that will be what I've always done: book launch (2 this time in separate towns), a blog tour in March, library talks, book and craft fairs, mystery and writers conferences and conventions. Of course I'll promote on Facebook and Twitter and other social networks.

I'm always ready to try something new, after all I keep writing these books, I'd like more people to read them.

Marilyn who also writes as F. M. Meredith

Monday, February 22, 2010

Call Me Old-Fashioned

I guess Mazel Tovs are in order. Nicole Richie announced on The Letterman Show that after two kids together, she and Joel Madden have decided to tie the knot.

Marriage-phobia to me is weird. You get married, and if you don’t like it, you get divorced. I’d like for folks to take it a little more seriously than Brittany Spears first Vegas 25-hour nuptials, but assuming no children are involved, it’s paperwork.

I can even understand those couples who take a principled, anti Prop-8 stand and declare “we’re not getting married until all couples have that choice.”

Where I get confused are those men and women who feel like the commitment to each other is harder than a commitment to a kid(s). Frankly, without children, you never have to see each other again. Once you have a baby, if you intend to be an involved parent, you’re going to be seeing a lot of that other person for the rest of your life. And if you really are committed to being a good parent, that means not bad-mouthing your ex- no matter what a jerk he/she may be. Are you listening Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin? How about you Sherri Shepherd? Putting kids in the middle is always, always wrong – period.

Sean Combs, of Puff Daddy/P Diddy/Diddy fame, delayed marriage until “the time is right.” He made that declaration while his long-time girlfriend, Kim Porter, was pregnant with twins. As he carefully explained, “I have to be ready to get married.” So, in the end, Kim and he split, and he’s the father to five kids by three different women – but doesn’t have a divorce paper in his safety deposit box. Now maybe he’ll get the Father of the Year award, but I have to wonder about anyone who gives his sixteen year old son a $360,000 car as a birthday gift. Actually, I’ve got questions for anyone who gives a car of any vintage or price to a 16-year-old. Maybe he didn’t want the kid to practice on his Rolls?

But the point is, parenting is more than money – although obviously, I expect all parents to financially support their minor children. I’m not even going to say Bravo, Sean, for working out child support arrangements with all the mothers. He’s supposed to do that.

Nor am I suggesting that having kids precludes divorce if the marriage is unworkable or unfixable. (I understand that for gay couples, marriage, and therefore divorce, is not yet an option is most states). But a clear, strong commitment between parents pre-kids would certainly be on my list of prerequisites prior to deciding to have kids. If nothing else, it tells your children that commitment to another person is not only possible, but wonderful.

But in the meantime, is Nicole registered at Bed, Bath, and Beyond?

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Getting By with a Little Help from my Friends

by Susan McBride

Oh, boy, it's been a very interesting three weeks since The Cougar Club came out. I was tempted at first to write about a few less than pleasant incidents that completely blind-sided me (let's just say, the word "Cougar" inspires, er, different reactions in different people). But then I remembered my New Year's resolution to stay focused on the positive and shove the negative into the garbage like wilted spinach. So I'll babble instead about upbeat stuff, like friendship (which is what The Cougar Club is about after all) and good news.

I used to block off at least three months after a book's release to do promotion. I would try to hit every book festival, convention, and writer's conference within flying distance. In between the weekends I was gone, I'd schedule stock signings, school talks, library events, book club discussions, and anything else I could logically work into my schedule. But I was single then, and now I'm married (two years next Wednesday--yeeha!). I hate leaving home. I don't want to go anywhere that Ed can't go. So with Cougar, I tried very hard to stick around St. Louis. Luckily, the local TV stations think the word "Cougar" is hot and wanted me on to talk about my book and about the Cougar phenomenon in general (like I'm an expert, accidental Cougar that I am!). It's been great doing BlogTalkRadio from home and working a virtual book tour from the comfort of my own computer. I only had to drive across town a bit to tape a podcast for LipsticknLaundry, and I'll head out for stock signings next week, which gives me a chance to say "thank you" to area booksellers who've been so great supporting me, no matter what genre I'm writing.

It's helped a lot, too, dreaming up events where I'm not going solo. I can only take myself babbling about writing and the book biz for so long before I get tired of my own stories (is anyone ever tempted to make things up so they sound more exciting? Just curious!). Two of four scheduled Cougar gigs thankfully included buddies, like the panel at the McClay Road Library in St. Charles with Angie Fox, Bobbi Smith, and Sharon Shinn. The best part of getting a bunch of girls (who get along!) together is having a fun conversation that leads in all kinds of unexpected directions.

This past Wednesday, Sharon and I did a "Girls' Night Out" event at the St. Louis County Library, and it was a hoot. I've known Sharon for four or five years, and we've talked about our writing over many lunches and emails. But it was remarkably funny and spontaneous discussing books and the publishing biz in front of an audience and asking each other questions we'd never asked before. For instance, what type of books wouldn't we ever want to write? For me, it was science fiction or fantasy where I have to totally create my own worlds, or base a story on some myth or legend that so many other people know about (and probably know better than I). For Sharon it was the opposite: writing fiction completely set in real-life. She remarked that she doesn't want people telling her all the things she got wrong. Ah, good point!

It's aweseome, too, when things you hadn't expected to work out actually happen. Growing accustomed to disappointment in the book biz is part of the game, I'd guess, for many of us who have high aspirations for our literary babies and take all the "mights" and "coulds" to heart. So I have to pinch myself this time around, knowing that one arrow hit its mark (no pun intended!). Target selected The Cougar Club as a Bookmarked Breakout Title and they've got it stocked on (most) store shelves in a special promotion from Valentine's Day through April 11. I don't think my books have ever been in Target stores before (online, yes, in-store, no) so this is a big deal for me. Needless to say, I was giddy when I heard Cougar would be part of this program. So today, not only did my mom go checking our local Target's shelves (her report: they had two left, and she bought one!), but my mother-in-law went of her own accord sometime after and noted there was only one copy left. Both asked the associates when they'd get more in and were reassured it would be a matter of days. I heart my moms!

Another cool bit of news that came to pass: the Midwest Booksellers Association selected Cougar as a February Midwest Connections Pick. I'll be attending an author reception during their March meeting in St. Louis, and I can't wait. Indie bookstores were the first to support me with my mysteries, and I love supporting them back. Besides, there's nothing better than hanging out with a bunch of booksellers. They might have to pry me out of there with a crowbar before the night is over.

Other high notes for me these past three weeks are more personal. For the kindly chums who calmed me down after my frantic emails when I spotted anti-Cougar rants online, you rock. And thank you, too, for sharing your stories about less-than-stellar experiences of the rabid kind. Not only did they make me feel better, they also made me laugh. Laughing instead of crying is a very good thing, indeed.

For those of you who invited me to guest blog or to inaugurate a wonderful new site (shout out for Books on the House!), you made my day(s)! Aw, gosh, now I'm sounding like a gushing actress accepting her Academy Award. So I'll stop before you start barfing.

Still, all this positivity has me grinning like a fool, the icky stuff forgotten (or, at least, banished to the trash can with that wilted spinach). There are so many nice people out there that it's a shame when we let any bad stuff stick in our craw (where is the craw exactly?). So think about ways friends have helped you out lately--and little things definitely count--and don't let the ickies get you down, okay? Now go out there and have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Building a Community of Readers

A writer’s goal is for her book to be discovered and loved by readers.

A reader’s goal is to discover and love new books and authors.

But in the world of publishing, it can be tricky to achieve these goals. There aren’t a lot of publishing dollars spent on marketing an author or promoting her book, particularly if you’re not already a bestseller (read: bread and butter for the publisher). Sure, a few lucky writers are anointed and co-op, advertising, and other promotion happens at the publisher’s expense, but by and large, it’s up to authors to promote their own books, and to try to reach their potential audience.

This is a challenge for authors, no matter the genre we write in. Social networking is a whole new world, allowing for exposure in a brand new way. Twitter, Facebook, Stumble, Digg, and so many more let you connect and network with strangers who may be potential readers.

But still, it’s hard.

I’m making yet another dent in the fabric of the World Wide Web. This last Monday, I launched Books on the House and Books on the House for Kids and Teens. These two sites are all about building a community of readers. The goal is to bring great books to readers, and to help readers discover great books.

Every Monday, a new book and author are featured. There are video interviews (this week, Jane Kurtz talks about her upbringing in Ethiopia, her passion: Ethiopia Reads, and her new books, Lanie and Lanie’s Real Adventures, the 2010 American Girl Doll Lanie Holland books; 6 copies of these books will be given away Monday!), Q & As with the authors, and more. Enter each week to win. That’s all there is to it! What better way is there for a reader to discover a new-to-them -author, and what a great way for a writer to gain exposure for their book.

Our own Susan McBride is the inaugural author on Books on the House! 3 copies of The Cougar Club will be given away on Monday. Her YouTube interview is posted, as well as a Q & A in which she lets us in on some exciting news she has.

I’m so excited about Books on the House and Books on the House for Kids and Teens and the potential for the sites to really help build a community of readers. We have some fabulous authors and books lined up including:

Alexandra Bullen with Wish

NY Times Bestseller Allison Brennan with Original Sin

NY Times Bestseller Jane Yolen with her new graphic novel

Mystery Writer Jennie Bentley

NY Times Bestseller Brenda Novak

and so many more!

Check out Books on the House and Books on the House for Kids and Teens. Tweet about it! Spread the word! Help build our community of readers.

=) Misa

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One (Wo)Man's Junk...

I got a call from my friend, Tina, about a week ago. She reported that on her way back from the grocery store, she observed an extended family cleaning out a small, tidy house on a main corner in our town. The former inhabitant, a lovely woman of about 90 or so, had passed away right around Christmas. We surmised that the family was getting ready to put the house on the market and was in the process of discarding sixty or more years of the woman’s belongings.

Tina, never one to pass up another’s treasures, or what some of us call “junk,” screeched to a halt in front of the house and asked the family if the contents of the house, which they were putting at the curb, were hers for the taking. They assured her they were; everything inside the house was being thrown out, no ifs, ands, or buts. They were keeping nothing from the home or from the woman’s personal possessions. Tina opened her trunk and threw in two lamps, a recliner, a couple of end tables, and two big, black plastic bags filled with jewelry. She donated the furniture to our local library for the new teen room that is being constructed. And when she got home, she called me to tell me what she had found. I raced over to see what she had claimed.

On her dining room table were the personal possessions of a woman who clearly liked jewelry and took pride in her appearance. Tina separated a few pieces out and pointed out the fine work on two rings, in particular. The two of us went through years and years of costume jewelry, some art deco pieces, shoe clips, dangling earrings, some beautiful necklaces, and two sets of pearls which we thought may be real, but couldn’t be sure since neither of us own a real strand of pearls. Tina held up a little box and her eyes filled with tears. “And this is why I couldn’t bear to see the stuff at the curb,” she said, opening the box. Inside was a volunteer pin from the local hospital where I had given birth to both of my children. “I couldn’t let them throw this out.”

I took a couple of funky necklaces which I need to bathe in jewelry cleaner, as well as a giant Peace sign on a linked chain for my daughter. Tina set about picking out the pieces that she would take apart and glue to a plain simple frame, which is a craft she excels at, not to mention, enjoys tremendously. We both stared at the cache on the dining room table and were sad when we thought about ninety or so years ending up at the curb to be picked up with the regular trash. It just didn’t seem right.

We both went on our merry ways and I forgot about the jewelry until Tina called me a few days later. She works right around the corner from the famed New York City jewelry district, where Jim bought my engagement ring and wedding band two decades ago. She reported that she brought all of the jewelry that she thought might be worth something to her favorite and most trusted jeweler. He examined everything, pronounced a few pieces to be platinum, one an emerald, and the two strands of pearls to be real. He handed her a sizable wad of cash and sent her on her way, assuring her that he would clean and reset a few pieces and then offer them up for sale.

Tina went back to her office, put a call into our local caring committee which services the elderly, sick, homebound and poor in our little Village and told them that they could expect a check in the coming days. She asked that the lady whose jewelry she had sold—whose identity we put together after a little detective work and found out was Mrs. C—be named as the donator of the money. We both felt better knowing that if her family didn’t want her things, the value of them would live on in supporting a good cause right here, a place she lived for most of her adult life.

I thought about all of the things I’ve collected over a lifetime half as long as Mrs. C’s and wondered what would happen to them after I’ve gone. Would my life be reduced to a couple of black plastic garbage bags filled with my high school ring, my diamond stud earrings, and some costume jewelry that I can’t part with at this point in time? I hope not. I don’t know why Mrs. C’s family didn’t have the patience to sort through her belongings; perhaps they had a good reason. But thanks to the eagle eye of my good friend and collector, Tina, Mrs. C’s legacy will be in the good work that can be done with the cash her treasures produced.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm Late, I'm Late, I'm Late to a Very Important Date

Goodness, I'm seldom late to anything, in fact I'm usually early. My husband is the late one.

I thought I'd already written a blog for today and had it waiting in line. Wrong. I received a reminder from one of my fellow bloggers.

I love writing blogs with this bunch of gals--they make me feel so young. I'm probably thirty years older than most of them. I was a kid during World War II, married the cute sailor I met on a blind date the same year I graduated from high school, we raised five children, and I led a Camp Fire group for ten years--until they graduated from high school.

Through the years, I had various jobs. When the kids were little, I worked as a telephone operator off and on. Hubby, a career Seabee, was gone as much as he was home. When he finally retired, I went to work part time as a teacher in a pre-school for kids with developmental disabilities and began college.

Three of our children married, grandkids began arriving.

Hubby wanted to move to a smaller town and we found the perfect place, the foothills of the Sierra. We purchased a licensed residential facility for developmentally disabled women, moved in and took over. (A much more complicated process than that.)

Though I'd been writing all along, I didn't get published until the first year that we lived in our new place. After our ladies left for work, I wrote for about three hours--and as the years passed, more books were published.

We had our facility for over twenty years and finally decided it was time to retire.

Now I'm writing nearly full time--though life interferes at times.

That's just a quick overview--but you can see I've been on this planet much longer than the other members of the Stiletto Gang. I love them all, and they certainly brighten my life and I bet they do yours too.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Very Taxing

Turbo Tax and I have started working on my 2009 income taxes. I say "started" because ever since I added "fiction writer" to my resume my taxes have gotten complicated.

Oh, I always itemized. But my "items" were few and simple – mortgage interest, property taxes, interest income and a couple of other things. Click a few keys, hit print, then send and my refund would arrived in 2 to 3 weeks.

Now I have a "home office." I have to sort through a drawer-full of crumpled receipts. Promotion expenses are the worst – I have receipts for tiny rubber ducks (they were wedding ducks used in the promotion of Murder Takes the Cake). I also have actual "cake" receipts. My co-author and I ran a promotion last summer for librarians – "Have Your Cake & Eat It Too." Very successful, if expensive. We sent Smith Island Cakes to a half dozen very happy librarians.

There were also flyers and bookmarks. Not cheap, but deductable. And the postage to mail all those flyers and bookmarks, yep I've got piles of those receipts. Just need to find my calculator and total them up.

And books. Note to the public and authors' relatives – authors at small publishing houses (and many large ones too) don't get a lot of free authors' copies of their novel. So when a reviewer needs a copy or a charity wants to raffle off an autographed copy, it's more likely than not, the book being supplied is one the author purchased. The costs of those promotional copies also get itemized.

I attended the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago last February. I drove so there's a rental car receipt in that file drawer somewhere, along with the hotel receipts. And gas receipts. Note to self - include the fuel costs from Oklahoma to the Windy City.

What's next? Website hosting fees? Nope, my co-author paid for that. I paid for the Constant Contact newsletter service. I've got those receipts in my desk drawer, along with copies of my annual dues payments to Sisters In Crime and Romance Writers of America (don't ask – at some point I was considering writing romantic suspense).

Then there's the toner costs, paper costs, posters, poster frames, a folding table and two folding chairs for book signings, and the cost of some netting material to stuff those little yellow rubber ducks into.

Since authors usually only get two royalty statements a year, adding up the income is easy. I'm sorry to say I don't even need a calculator for that.

Sigh. Nothing like tax time to discourage an author.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Books are read
Violets are blue
Thanks, Stiletto Gang readers,
for being so true!

Happy Valentine's Day!

The Stiletto Gang

Friday, February 12, 2010

Do What You Love & Love What You Do

by Lena Austin

Recently, I went to my critique partners with a problem. Sales were down, and my reviews were less than stellar. I believed this was directly related to the fact that I no longer enjoyed what I wrote. Frankly, I was sick of the stories I'd been telling. So much so I think my disgust showed in the writing.

Every word was pulled out of me like a reluctant tarpon from the sea, fighting every inch of the way. Writing had become mechanical, boring and a chore. I found myself resenting the obligation to sit down and write, knowing another deadline approached. I missed those glorious days when I sat at my keyboard with joy and tore pieces of my soul out to place on paper without a care in the world. I longed to find that piece of me I'd lost.

Perhaps some blame might be attributed to my anal-retentive attempts at perfection: Stimulus-reaction-perception-emotion-response, check the balance, check for passive, what's the next GMC step in relation to the plot points, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Perhaps I'd gone too far, and stopped writing books I enjoyed in favor of the elusive goal of perfection. I may have come close to mathematically reconstructing the flower while missing the beauty of its flaws. Where was the fun in writing if I didn't enjoy the books I wrote?

The last statement was so profound to me that I pondered the implications most of a day. Did I laugh insanely and toss my plots to the winds in shreds? Don't be ridiculous. I'm not that strong. LOL! What I did was stop obsessing and let the characters speak. I listened to the small, quiet muse and found a new voice inside.

Her name was Madge Majesty, and she demanded that I step outside my usual genres and write a mystery. For months, I read and studied what made mysteries so intriguing. Surprisingly enough, I found myself hooked. Madge and her genre became a passion. I loved my story again!

I learned a lot from Madge and her friends. I hope to return to her world someday, and help her solve another crime.

Lena Austin

Note: Lena Austin's books are published by Changeling Press E-Books. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults only due to sexually explicit scenes and adult language.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

In Love with Austen

by Marilyn Brant

Thanks to Susan and everyone here at the Stiletto Gang for letting me visit today. Happy (early) Valentine's Day, too!!

My debut novel, ACCORDING TO JANE, is the story of a modern young woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head, giving her dating advice. The number one question I've been asked since the book came out this past fall is: "Why Austen? What is it with everyone choosing HER to write about lately?!"

Well, the short answer is that for me, anyway, Austen-love was in no way a recent phenomenon. I was first given PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as a 14-year-old high-schooler in English class, and I raced through the novel way ahead of the reading assignments. I loved both the story and Austen’s writing style immediately. She was so insightful about the way human beings thought and acted. Her characters were fascinatingly flawed, multidimensional and very real to me, and their stories timeless and universal. Reading Austen's work instantaneously changed the way I perceived the behavior of everyone around me, and I spent the rest of freshman year (and much of the 1980s) trying to figure out which Austen character each of my friends and family members most resembled. I, of course, was the beloved and witty Elizabeth Bennet--at least in my imagination--LOL!

Even years later, as a teacher, when I found myself encountering difficult administrators, staff members or parents, it helped me to think of what Jane might have said about them. How she would have instructed her most heroic characters to deal with these frustrating individuals. So, my love and appreciation for the author started decades before any kind of zombie/sea-monster/vampire craze and it even pre-dated the famous Colin-Firth-as-Mr.-Darcy version of the P&P film!! (Although, who wouldn't be inspired by seeing him all wet from jumping in lake, hmm?!)

I also spent a fair amount of time during my dating years thinking about how beneficial it would be to get romantic advice from such a wise and perceptive woman like Miss Austen, not to mention one who was a respected author and the person who'd written my all-time favorite love story. So when, as an aspiring writer myself, someone asked me which classic author I'd most want to borrow a few plot points from, I thought first of Jane. I wasn't a historical writer by any stretch of the imagination, so I found myself wondering what a modern girl's P&P experience might be like... What would Jane have advised a teen (one who was sort of like me or my friends) to do in tricky situations if, let's say, she were witnessing prom night maneuverings or an evening at a local pick-up bar.

Since I was thinking about this and writing the first draft of the story in 2004, there were only two examples of modern Austen re-imaginings that I'd seen way back then: "Bridget Jones's Diary" (the film and the novel) and "Clueless" (the film). Those were both certainly influences--and I loved them!--but films like "The Jane Austen Book Club" and wild novel spinoffs like PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES had yet to be released. And, though I'd read some Regency continuations, I hadn't come across anything else in the contemporary realm back then, even if it might have been available.

I suspect that degree of unawareness wouldn't be possible now. With so many sequels and variations on Austen-related books and so very many movie remakes, it would be incredibly difficult to avoid them these days. Had I known just how many writers were working on something Austen-esque during the time I was writing mine, I might've been too overwhelmed or intimidated to continue. I didn't even know that Austen fan fiction existed until after my book was under contract--and there are thousands of avid fans writing it!

For someone like me who can't get enough of Austen, though, being a reader and a movie-goer during this current boom of Jane books and films has been awesome. I think interest in her work reached a tipping point and crashed into the mainstream, largely because of the attention the stories got onscreen. With actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and many others playing leading Austen heroines, and Anne Hathaway playing "Jane" herself in "Becoming Jane"--not to mention the allure of good-looking actors like Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Matthew MacFayden, Jonny Lee Miller, etc. jumping in to take on the roles of the heartthrobs--it's not surprising that Austen's characters started to appeal to a wider audience.

So, I guess that's my longwinded way of saying that even though I had no idea there would someday be such a huge Austen craze, I'm still very glad to be a tiny part of it!

My next book, though, takes a different women's fiction turn and doesn't follow any of the Austen novels. It comes out on October 1st and is called FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE. It's a modern fairy tale about three very different forty-something women, their three very different marriages and what happens a decade or two after the "happily ever after"...

And, because Susan's my friend and the most excellent author of THE COUGAR CLUB, I'll add that there's one hot cougar-ish scene in my upcoming book that I had a blast writing!! My husband rolls his eyes whenever I talk about this male character, but I find the guy to be very charming (as figments of the imagination often are) and I wish I could meet him in real life. Plus, unlike my (pretty wonderful) husband, my hot fictional man COOKS! For me, this is an element of fantasy that I'd love to see more of in reality--LOL! What about you all? Do any of you have a fantasy trait like that? One you wish your mate would surprise you with?? If so, do tell!

May you all have a fun and romantic Valentine's weekend. Thanks again for letting me spend a little time with all of you ;-).

Marilyn Brant lives in the Midwest where, before she became a full-time novelist, she worked as an elementary school teacher, a library staff member, a freelance magazine writer and a national book reviewer. She’s blessed to have a genuinely supportive husband and son, a loving family and a truly amazing group of friends, all of whom keep her grounded, sane and away from dangerous things like chocolate martinis (usually). She’d love to say she also has killer abs but--so far--this is still a fantasy.

Marilyn, thanks so much for visiting us today! We loved having you, and we can't wait to read FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE! As an early Valentine's Day surprise, Marilyn's giving away one signed copy of ACCORDING TO JANE to a lucky reader who comments today. So comment away, and Marilyn will randomly draw a winner! We'll let you know if it's you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's a Wild, Wild Life

Gentle whitecaps cresting on a sandy shore. Beautiful birds of prey—eagles, hawks, falcons—diving in and out of the murky depths to catch fish. River glass scattered along the shoreline, waiting to be picked up and dusted off. Kayaking on a tranquil summer’s day, the sound of your oars hitting the water the only thing you hear.

Oh, and rats. I forgot about the rats.

I live close to the Hudson River and enjoy everything about river town living. Except one thing: the rats.

Let me back up. It was a peaceful Wednesday night a few weeks back, all of us settling in to watch our new favorite show, “Modern Family,” when child #1 announced that she had no clean clothes and needed to do laundry. She was barely on the top step of the basement when I heard her scream and retreat into the kitchen, dropping her laundry basket and fleeing for the safety of the living room. Once there, she stood before me, shaking, and recounted the mouse that she saw flitting across the basement floor. As she was demonstrating how big it was—the distance between her hands indicated that it was a mouse the size of a newborn baby—I heard Jim call, “It’s not a mouse! It’s a rat!”

And so began a weeklong journey into rodent hell.

Jim frantically paged through the local phone book looking for a 24-hour wildlife service because I assured him that if the rat wasn’t gone by midnight, I was checking into a hotel. He managed to find a service who directed him to a private contractor of rat extermination, who I have dubbed, “Tom, the rat whisperer,” the kindest man I have ever encountered. He couldn’t come that night but promised to be at the house by one o’clock the next afternoon. He explained to Jim that rats can chew through old foundations to escape the cold and that was probably what had happened. He also admitted to being somewhat dubious to our contention that there was only one rat. Rats, it seems, do not travel alone.

My blood ran cold.

We all slept somewhat uncomfortably that night, tossing and turning, imagining that the sounds in our almost one-hundred-year old house were rats in the wall, rather than the sounds of old pipes and settling. I ceased eating. So by the time Tom, the rat whisperer, arrived, I was starving, sleep-deprived, and anxious beyond belief. He took one look at my haggard, exhausted expression, and set off to the basement.

He came up several minutes later and said, “Yep. You’ve got rats.”

“How many?” I asked.

“No telling,” he said, “but I do detect droppings and the smell of rat urine.”

And all this time, I thought it was the scent of my laundry detergent.

He led me around the house, pointing out all of the possible points of ingress. After a few minutes of this, I said, “I have to sit down.”

He lugged up the twenty-pound bag of dog food that we keep down there because there’s nowhere else to store it. “See this?” he asked, pointing to a small hole in the bottom. “Rats.”

I got it. We had rats. They had come in from the cold and were eating our needy Westie’s “Sensitive Systems” dog food. The one that promised a shiny coat and easy digestion. There were some well-fed, not to mention shiny-coated, rats living among us. Tom spent a few more minutes laying some rat poison in the basement—the one that makes them thirsty and yearn for the cold outdoors where there is a water supply—handed me a bill for far less than I would have anticipated and promised to be back in two weeks.

Because I am a “public sharer,” I posed this travail on Facebook (to Jim’s chagrin), and to my amazement, found more than a few friends had had the same problem. My friend, Susan, had one in her garbage shed. Two doors down, Ingrid and Bob wrestled three in two years, finding one beneath their dishwasher only the week before the still-surviving members of the rat population moved into my basement. Seems that our proximity to the river, in addition to wooded areas in close proximity, bring out our rodent friends. I had no idea. We’ve lived here for twenty years and have not seen a rat outside of the confines of the riverside park where we hang out in the summer. The thought of an extended family in our basement was just too much to bear.

It took me a week of living in complete paranoia—as well as lugging everyone’s clothes to the Laundromat—to conquer my fear and descend to the basement. Jim, brave soul that he is, had been down several times, only to report that there was no corpse in a trap, and no trace of anyone with whiskers and a long tail. I have since done several loads of laundry—the maiden load done with a hearty dose of liquid courage—and haven’t seen anything myself.

But if I do see anything that resembles a rat, you can rest assured that there will be a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn and we will be moving to a dee-lux apartment in the sky.

Tell me your wildlife stories, Stiletto faithful.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And a New Book for Me

Before the month is over, I'll have copies of An Axe to Grind, the latest in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

Unlike my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, these tales are told from multiple points of view--officers of the Rocky Bluff P.D. and members of their families. Rocky Bluff is a fictional beach community located between Santa Barbara and Ventura on the Southern California coast.

The story begins with the discovery of a headless corpse. The victim turns out to be a stalker and the suspects include the father, brother, and boyfriend of the young girl being stalked, as well as the victim's foster father.

The romance between Detective Doug Milligan and Officer Stacey Wilbur is put on hold because of the investigation. Maria Navarro continues to have a problem with her mother-in-law.

Stacey is called on to investigate the report of a child molester. Barbara Strickland, a mother and the wife of the handsome public information officer, learns something surprising about herself.

During the investigation Doug disappears and Stacey sets out to find him.

Though this is a series, I've written each book so it can be read as a stand-alone.

Because the Rocky Bluff P.D. is small, they don't have all the modern equipment larger cities have and most investigations are done the old-fashioned way. Asking questions, following clues.

I've had a great time writing about all these folks and have come to know them as well as I know any of my friends, and Rocky Bluff is as real to me as any of the many towns I've visited.

Having a son-in-law who was a 15 year veteran of a similar police department gave me the incentive to write this series. I really wanted to show how the job affects the family and what's going on in the family affects the police officer on the job. I also wanted to show something my son-in-law pointed out to me, the police never work on one case at a time, as shown on TV and in the movies.


Monday, February 8, 2010

A Little Respect Please

Wow, this year there are ten movies nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – and I’ve seen exactly one, Up. I loved it. Did you know that it’s only the second time that an animated feature has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? Can you guess the other one? I actually think that one was more deserving of one of those gold statuettes.

Like most kids, I grew up on animation – when there were artists who actually sketched each cel, and computer-generated graphics hadn’t been invented. Think about how labor-intensive each animated movie was. Lady and The Tramp is beautifully and lovingly drawn, with a story to warm the cockles of the hardest hearts. Is there a child who hasn’t cowered under the seat at Maleficent transformed into a dragon in Sleeping Beauty? Many a youngster (and Mom) cried when Bambi’s mother is killed (and what is Walt Disney’s problem with mothers?). But I always found the scene in Dumbo, when Mrs. Jumbo is chained and unable to comfort her baby at least a two-hanky sob fest.

Animated features, like comic books and now graphic novels, still seem to be the illegitimate children of cinema and literature. And yet, some of the best stories are to be found in these media. Graphic novels have captured an audience of young readers, especially boys, long lost to more conventional books. Graphic novels are among the highest circulating collections in public libraries. Today graphic novels cover a broad range of subject matter – fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, fantasy, almost every classification found on library shelves. The 1986 publication of Maus, by Art Spiegelman, may have been told in comic book format, but the subject matter was anything but comic. In using this format to describe the horrors of the holocaust, Spiegelman forever changed the impact that this type of literature could convey. It won a “Special” Pulitzer Prize – but today, I wonder if it wouldn’t have competed with conventional books for the Literature Prize – no need for a special category.

Whatever you like to read and watch – I guess short of porn, but then I shouldn’t be judgmental on that either! – is a personal decision. Enjoy the escape!

Marian, the Northern Half of Evelyn David

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

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Mid-Life Dating Game

by Susan McBride

Promoting The Cougar Club has me thinking (and talking) a lot about dating in mid-life. It's a fascinating subject, perhaps because it's not something most of us imagine we'll ever do, not when we're in high school and crush-worthy subjects are abundant. Worrying about possibly being single for the rest of your life isn't even a big deal when you're out of college and embarking in the real world, becoming bridesmaids in your friends' weddings and pursuing your dreams instead of Mr. Right. Then all of a sudden you're forty, and your mother's bemoaning the fact that she may never have a grandchild. Or worse, she makes comments like, "If you get pregnant by that adorable guy you're dating, it's okay. I'll be there for you. In fact, I can babysit whenever you need me." And she does it with a straight face.

Initially, I didn't dwell much on the fact that I was still single when I crossed the big 4-0. After ten years of working like crazy to get published and several more after that building the foundation for my career, I was just thrilled to be writing mysteries for Avon that were selling well. I loved being on the road, hanging out with writer friends, and meeting fellow book lovers across the country. It felt like heaven to me.

So while I was too busy to worry about becoming a notorious cat lady, my relatives apparently weren't, something I realized at any/every family gathering. I believe it was at my brother's wedding that a male cousin asked if I might be a lesbian. When I told him, "No. I like men," he nodded and leaned in to whisper, "But it would be all right if you were." Thank you, Dr. Phil. My sister (who is a year older and still single) never seemed to get as much scrutiny about her love life. Perhaps because the myriad dating stories she theatrically shared (she's an actress at heart) made everyone afraid to comment or ask questions! By the way, she's the real Cougar in the family, having dated younger dudes since high school. My family calls her "free-spirited." As a kid, I imagined she'd grow up to be a go-go dancer or a magician's assistant. Not the kind of gigs that demand marriage and stability.

I, on the other hand, had a lot expected of me. I was the responsible one, the driven one so I expected a lot of myself, too. I was all about setting the bar high and meeting my career goals, not sitting at bars trying to meet men. Besides, the guys I ran into at book-related events, in airports, or through set-ups weren't ever people I could imagine spending two dates with, much less the rest of my life. Wasn't there a study that said women over forty have a better chance of being killed in a terrorist act than they do of getting married? Let me tell you, dating when you're over forty sometimes feels like a terrorist act, especially if you're looking for guys your own age. Here's Kat Maguire's Facts of Life for Women over Forty from The Cougar Club, which sums up the situation rather neatly:

The older you get, the harder it is to find a single man your own age who isn't either: (a) married or gay; (b) divorced with insurmontable baggage; (c) looking for a girl half his age.

The idea of finding a soul-mate sounded oh so appealing, but how to locate the pearl among the swine? I soon learned what I had to do was open my eyes a little wider. I needed to chuck the list of "must-haves" that I used to judge potential boyfriends in high school and--not settle--but realize that maybe lack of fashion sense isn't the kiss of death, that a doctorate in computer science is far more valuable to a writer than a doctor of medicine, and that humor and wit outweigh bulky muscles by a long shot. I should have written a book about my epiphany before someone else did. (Because it's too late now. I just heard about a book this morning called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which is really about looking for potential, not settling. It's written by a 42-year-old single woman who had a baby via a sperm donor because she set her standards so high she blew off every guy she might have/could have/may have loved).

I feel extremely fortunate that I met Ed at a time when I was satisfied with the direction of my career and feeling very happy with myself. I still look back and shake my head, amazed at how events lined up so fatefully in 2005, leading to the introduction to my husband. So many "ifs" could have taken us in separate directions: if my mom hadn't sent in an email to St. Louis Magazine asking them to consider me and my sister as "top singles" for that year's issue, if they hadn't selected me, if I hadn't filled out the questionnaire, if I hadn't made friends with Jeremy Nolle (Ed's former co-worker) at the magazine shoot, if I hadn't been talking to Jeremy when Ed showed up at the Contemporary Art Museum for the party the magazine threw...if so many little pieces of the puzzle hadn't come together perfectly, I would have missed finding my own Mr. Right. (Ed and I honestly think that our deceased grandmothers had a hand in things somehow, meeting up in Heaven and saying, "Oh, your grand-daughter is single?" "Wait, you have a grandson?" You know the drill.)

I had always felt independent--lived independently--so much so that I imagined it would be very hard once I fell in love with someone I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. My family used to tease me about a comment I made long ago that even when I married I'd want a duplex so I could have one side and my husband the other. "I need time alone!" I would insist while they quietly chuckled. My mom even mentioned this in her toast at Ed's and my rehearsal dinner. As it turned out, I never feel like Ed and I have enough time together. We'll be celebrating our second wedding anniversary on February 24, and I love him more now for all the things we've been through together than I did when we were at that dewy "OMG, I could just suck face all night" falling-in-love stage.

If I hadn't been part of the mid-life dating game, I wouldn't have married an amazing man (who just happens to be younger)...and I would never have written The Cougar Club. The moral to my story: ladies over forty, it ain't over 'til it's over! Or maybe it's that there's always a book in everything. Hmm.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mysteries Fill the Bill

Georgia Davidis Malone lives happily in a Philadelphia suburb with her fantastic husband and wonderful (most of the time) children. While having practiced as a civil litigator, Georgia now works as a chauffeur, housekeeper, laundry service and cook (a/k/a stay-at-home mom). The chauffeur part of the job enables her to indulge in her second love (after family), reading mystery novels. Thanks to her family for understanding that, sometimes, dinner is takeout because Georgia became so engrossed in a book (just reading it, not even writing it) that she lost track of time.

Donna Parker. Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. These were the first mysteries I remember reading, teenage sleuths who lived lives filled with adventure and danger. These three sleuths provided a respite during the teenage angst years. It was to mystery that I escaped and mystery which still provides my solace. Whether legal, historical, English country house or humorous, police procedurals, female detectives, and romantic suspense, to name a few categories, mysteries are my “drug” of choice.

Mysteries assist in learning about life. Dame Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple lived in a small English village for all her “life” and yet she understood people better than many others who had traveled the world. According to Miss Marple (and I’m majorly paraphrasing here), one could see all manner of human behavior in a small village, which psychology could then be transferred to the world at large.

Mysteries provide resolution. In a mystery, particularly a “cozy” (my favorite type), the problems presented in life can be solved. At the end of a few hundred pages, all the loose ends are tied up and answers to all questions provided. If only all the problems of life could be so easily answered.

The books, especially those written during the Golden Age of mysteries (mostly the 1920s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s), provide puzzles that can be solved by the reader. In the mysteries I love, whether in a country mansion or an academic community, there is a finite list of suspects for whatever the crime happens to be. Like Sudoku and crossword puzzles, the mysteries exercise one’s mind but there is always an answer provided at the end (not necessarily found in real life, though).

Mysteries are a great place to escape, whether to revisit a place I’ve already been or to discover somewhere I’ve never visited. I’ve traveled the world through mysteries, to places I’ll probably never see (whether the Botswana of Alexander McCall Smith, the Africa of Suzanne Arruda or the Australia of Kerry Greenwood) and to places I’ve seen and love to visit time and time again (the England of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Anne Perry, G.M. Malliet or the Greece of Mary Stewart).

There are so many writers whom I adore reading, including the writers of the Stiletto Gang (two [Maggie Barbieri and the northern half of Evelyn David] of whom I was privileged to meet, at the 2009 Malice Domestic, and who are really fantastic people and authors). Some of my other favorites include the writers I’ve already mentioned, as well as other writers whom I met at Malice Domestic: Louise Penny (who is also a wonderful person and fantastic writer), Ann Parker (who is especially nice and very modest), Cathy Pickens (whom I saw on a panel and who had me and my sister in stitches for the entire time), Elaine Viets, Rhys Bowen, JoAnna Carl, Krista Davis, Dana Cameron, Mary Jane Maffini.

(And now a plug for Malice Domestic, which was an awesome experience. As I tell people, it was like the Hollywood of the mystery world -- at least for me -- and I was thrilled and agape the entire time at the lineup of authors who attended!)

There are then writers whom I wish I could have met but who were before my time: Georgette Heyer, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Mortimer, and Rex Stout. Finally, there are those writers whom I still may have the chance to meet and, in the meantime, heartily enjoy and anticipate their books: M.C. Beaton, Elizabeth Peters, Jacqueline Winspear, Margit Liesche, and the list goes on and on.

In an age where the greatest mysteries, both big and small (whether Osama bin Laden will ever be caught, whether my house will ever approach the cleanliness of my mother’s) remain unsolved, it’s nice to be able to escape to a different life, but with a story that will always provide answers. Mysteries fill the bill perfectly.

Georgia Davidis Malone

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why I Don't Outline

Toni L.P. Kelner never knows how her days will end up--maybe it's because she is writing in several directions at once. In mysteries, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in her "Where are they now?" series, is just out. In urban fantasy, she edits anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Death's Excellent Vacation is due out in August. In short stories, she has her first noir story coming out in March in Carolyn Haine's anthology Delta Blues and a paranormal courtroom drama in the MWA anthology Crimes by Moonlight. Kelner has won the Agatha Award and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, and has been nominated for two other Agathas, four Anthonys, and two Macavitys. She lives north of Boston with author/husband Stephen Kelner, two daughters, and two guinea pigs.

People often ask me if I outline my novels. I do if the editor requires it, but I may as well not bother. I’m not good with advance planning.

Even in real life, my days rarely end up as expected. The day I thought I'd finish a short story turns out to be the day I have to nurse a sick daughter. The week I meant to knock out the first few chapters of a novel, my other daughter had half days because of mid-terms. The interview scheduled for a time when my husband could get the girls to their clubs? He went to Australia.

Is it any surprise that my books rarely end up as planned?

Here's a synopsis of Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, my second "Where are they now?" mystery:

Freelance entertainment reporter Tilda Harper has never had it so good. She's become the darling of every formerly famous star in the country hoping to become famous again. The editors know it, too, so the assignments arrive daily. The checks are rolling in--she's even shopping for a condo.

And she's never been so bored in her life.

If she'd wanted to be an industry shill, she'd have become a publicist. Still, as a freelancer, it's hard to pass up money, especially when it means getting rid of her latest roommate. If that means writing puff pieces about the former cast members of "The Ranchers," a long-running Western that was even cheesier than "Bonanza," how can she complain?

It's while researching something that really interests her--a piece about pinup gals of the fifties--that she finally gets a whiff of a real story. It turns out that squeaky-clean Ranch gal Paige Henrickson started out posing for girly pictures. At first Henrickson begs Tilda not to reveal her secret, but when Tilda points out how much money there is to be made selling pictures and memorabilia, Henrickson embraces the idea, and Tilda writes "Breast of the West."

Then Henrickson is found dead, and Tilda is determined to round up the killer.

Suspects include the man trying to open a dude ranch modeled on the fictional one from "The Ranchers;" Henrickson's family, who hated the idea of her becoming notorious; former cast members, and a frighteningly devoted fan.

Whoever it is, he's gunning for Tilda next, and he wants her dead, not alive.

Sounds pretty exciting, but it has nearly nothing to do with the book I actually wrote. And I can’t blame a kid or my husband for the changes.

First to go was the condo hunt. I decided that one successful story—the one I from in the previous book in the series—was not enough to make Tilda sought after. And without her being in demand, I couldn’t use the stuff about her being bored. Instead, I inserted a subplot about Tilda being offered a fulltime job.

I still wanted to write about pinup queens and TV cowboys, but I came up with a different fictional show that Tilda liked. (I don’t remember why I switched from “The Rangers” to “Cowtown,” but there must have been some reason.) The pinup queen story split off, and my murdered pinup had nothing to do with the cowboys.

Having Tilda trying to convince a pinup queen to go public slowed the pacing to a crawl. So I put the initial meeting with the pinup in as back story, introduced her briefly, then killed her off right away.

And that list of suspects? I lost interest in most of them. The family? Too obvious. I kept a niece, but the rest got relegated to a page. The guy starting the dude ranch? Other cast members? Now that the pinup queen was separate from the cowboys, that didn’t make sense. The freaky fan? Too easy. Time for a new set of suspects. I changed the murderer, too, more than once.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter if I outline ahead of time or not. The book never looks like I expected it to look. I like it that way—I never get bored.

Come to think of it, I think I meant this blog to be about guinea pigs.

Toni L.P. Kelner

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


How's your dream world treating you?

I've read some writers say that a dream gave them an idea for a book. I could never put anything I dream into a book. Not only are my dreams vivid, in color, but they are also weird.

After I quit smoking, for years I dreamed I was still smoking.

I dream about the house I grew up in--though I'm an adult in the dreams and the house was demolished for a freeway.

The house we had in Oxnard is often the setting for my dreams. We remodeled that house several times, and I've dreamed about it in all the different stage s of remodeling. The neighborhood around the house doesn't resemble the true neighborhood at all. The houses are huge, three and four stories and in stages of disrepair. I don't think I've ever seen any houses like that, yet I've dreamed about them many times. I'm usually trying to get somewhere.

One night recently I dreamed about a lady who goes to our church. She offered to take me home and we drove on a narrow mountain road (no, you don't have to take a mountain road to get to my house) and all of a sudden she drove down another steep road that went right into a huge lake. She couldn't stop and there we were. She couldn't swim so it was up to me to save her. I woke up and have no idea how that ended. I've turned the woman down a couple of times when she's offered to drive me home, just in case, but I finally rode with her and she managed to get me to my house without driving into the drink.

I've had a recurrent dream about driving high into the mountains and finding the road impassable because of snow and getting out and trying to hike to the place I needed to go. (I would never drive into the mountains on my own--and I'm not all that fond of snow so I'd never get out and hike in it.)

My most frequent dream is being in most any place: camping, a large hotel, someone's house and trying to find a bathroom. If I do find one, there's no door, or long lines waiting for only one bathroom, or a bathroom with no toilet. When I wake, of course I need to make a trek to my own bathroom.

I've dreamed that I could fly several times. All I had to do was stand in a corner, raise my hands over my head and off I went--and I could actually go right through the ceiling and up into the sky. (Sounds more like astral projection than flying.)

I dream a lot about writing conferences and not being able to find my way to where I'm supposed to be going. If I'm presenting in my dream, I can't find my materials, or they are all jumbled up.

Though I can certainly figure what sparked a lot of these dreams, others are a puzzle. Many of them border on nightmares, but I kind of enjoy them.

So what kind of dreams do you have? Do you dream in color or black and white? Can you figure out what your dreams mean?


Monday, February 1, 2010

The Impending Storm & Postscript

I have lots of thoughts for this blog but no cohesive theme – at least not yet. I'm writing this blog a little like I write fictional scenes. I'm going to start and let the words take me somewhere.

It's Tuesday night (January 26) and I have six days to get this blog done. I don't normally write anything that far ahead of a deadline, but the weather guys are predicting that within 36 hours my world is going to have an Armageddon of the icy variety. The guys with the color radar and storm model gizmos have proclaimed that by early Thursday morning (January 28) there will be enough ice to down power lines and close highways in Eastern Oklahoma.

I'm writing this blog early, because if I wait until the weekend, I might not have …wait for it … horror of all horror … no internet access! No internet, no posting of my Monday blog on February 1. Of course I might not have heat, light, or television either. I guess it says something scary that I worry more about dealing with the lack of internet than with how I'll keep my pipes from freezing. Sigh.

In the last few years more and more of my life has become entangled with computers and the superhighway. Many of my monthly bills are delivered to my computer inbox instead of the mailbox nailed to the side of my house. I pay those same bills with a point and a click. I get most of my news from the computer. I shop via the computer. I write with my co-author on-line. Many of my e-friends are waiting in yahoo groups for me to pop in and say, "hey." How will I do that if the ice descends and encases my life in frozen, electronic silence for days on end?

Is your life tied to a computer? Can you go for days without checking email? Do you bank on-line? Watch movies on-line? Can you go "cold" turkey? I may have to. So, I'm trying to prepare for the worst. I just scheduled on-line payments for the bills that come due early next week. So even if I have no electricity or cable, my accounts will be current. There's something ironic about that but .. oh whatever.

If the power is with me on Monday, I'll update this blog. If not, when you read this, think of me – trapped, alone in my house, wrapped in my snuggy, drinking hot tea made on a gas stove, and reading mysteries by candlelight.

I guess I shouldn't complain, but I will. I'll miss my computer soooo much. I'm already feeling withdrawal pangs.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

It's Friday night and the worst of the storm is over. I ended up with about 2 inches of ice with a 3-4 inch snow layer on top. Although there were power outages in the area, my town was spared. It will be a few more days before any melting occurs, but I think this crisis was averted. Probably due to all that money I spent on batteries, a weather radio, and canned soup. Sigh. (Kind of like washing your car to insure it rains.) Not that I'm complaining.