Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Right Thing to Do

Forgive me for getting political. Here at the Stiletto Gang, we try hard to write entertaining and informative posts about a variety of topics. For instance, this week, my choice for a topic was between “Spanx” and “health care.” As you’ll see, I’ve chosen the latter and I apologize, in advance, for ticking anyone off, something I apparently have gotten very good at lately.

It seems that you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing the words “health care” or “health care reform.” Never has a topic, in my lifetime anyway, engendered such passion and heated debate and I was born a year before the Civil Rights Act was passed. I don’t remember this kind of inflammatory discussion when brave men and women were shipped across the sea to liberate a little country called Iraq. But hold the insurance companies’ collective feet to the fire, or offer health care to a child, or someone with a “pre-existing condition” and we get threats and potential violence against our lawmakers.

Is the health care bill perfect? Not by a long shot. But neither was the Constitution. That’s why we’ve got amendments, people.

Some other things that weren’t perfect? Medicare, the Social Security Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the ERA…need I continue?

A few friends were over the other night, including a friend who has muscular dystrophy. He recounted that because of the arcane system under which we are all laboring (and getting sick), he cannot get treatment because he has the dreaded pre-existing condition. Yes, he’s had MD since he was eighteen. Did it exist before that? No. He already had it when he became an adult, though, and when he went on his own insurance. So he can’t be treated with certain drugs that could possibly minimize the discomfort that he feels from his illness. The insurance company won’t let him. He hasn’t quite figured out how to get around this Catch-22 and he’s forty-five years old living with a chronic disease that he’ll be living with for the rest of his life.

Then you’ve got me. Five years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma, a deadly diagnosis at best. There was one surgeon with whom we consulted who would even attempt to remove the tumor from my groin. He felt that the operation would be successful, unlike the other surgeons we consulted. He felt that he could cure me. The only catch? The hospital where he performed my surgery didn’t take my insurance. The cost? Upwards of six figures.

Fortunately, I come from a family with the means to help me pay for what turned out to be a life-saving surgery. The operation was successful. Not a day goes by, however, that I don’t think about the mother, sister, aunt, or daughter who has to make the decision either to not have the surgery or go with the surgeon with the shaky hands who isn’t confident that he or she can get the tumor out never mind have the patient survive the surgery. I met that surgeon, incidentally, and he didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Can you imagine having to make that choice?

The Iraq war will cost the American taxpayers close to three trillion dollars by the time we finally get out. I haven’t heard a peep about how much the war is costing the average “Joe and Jane,” but I hear about how we’re going to be paying for someone else’s health care for as long as we live and into future generations. Guess what? We’re paying for it now. Just because we’re not currently insuring the uninsured, we’re still paying when they have an x-ray, or go to the emergency room, or have a strep test at a clinic. We pay every single time.

By the world’s standards, I’m a pretty rich person, even if by the standards of this country I fall solidly into the middle class. It is because I’m a pretty rich person that I am here today. I have the means to pay for the best health care money can buy and I’m not even one of the “Cadillac plan” holders. Without health insurance, and the ability to pay for the difference between what my insurance would cover and what my doctor would accept to take out a five centimeter lump from my groin, I would be dead.

That’s not putting too fine a point on it. That’s the truth. And I can’t bear to think of anyone saying to one of the most sought-after cancer surgeons in the world that they’ll have to pass on the surgery that could save their life because they can’t afford it. I can’t even think about what it would be like to sit around and wait to die, because that would have been my fate. I would not be writing this post—and possibly ticking you off—if I hadn’t had health care. I wouldn’t be here.

Back in 2000, I watched a debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, both of whom were vying for the Democratic nomination. I had always been a Bradley fan and hoped that he would win the nomination, an outcome that was not to be. I remember one of the moderators asking him why we should strive for universal health care in this country. Why, the moderator asked, should we insure the uninsured?

His answer? “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

The plan isn’t perfect. Politics prevail, and not in a good way. As a nation, if we focused on the saying “because it’s the right thing to do”—and made our decisions based on it—as opposed to which side of the aisle someone sits, we’d all be better for it.

I promise to write about Spanx next week.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Passover and Easter

This is the garden at the bookstore where I did a signing this weekend--thought it looked appropriate for Spring.

Not being Jewish, I don't celebrate Passover, though I certainly know the Passover story. As a Christian, and a Sunday School teacher, I've read the Bible and heard about and taught what happened the night the Jewish people put the blood of the lamb on their doors, and the angel of death passed over and none of the Jewish children died when the first born of the Egyptians did.

I'll be celebrating Easter on April 4th. Our little church always has a Sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. Suprisingly, we always have a crowd despite the cold and the early hour. We see people who never come to church, but want to participate in an Easter sunrise service. We sit outside and our praise team leads us in Easter songs and our pastor gives a short sermon. Afterward, we enjoy a breakfast provided by different members of our church. At the usual times, Sunday School and our regular worship service begins.

Again, because it's Easter, we'll have folks turn up to the regular service who haven't been to church since Christmas and even a few new people who are just looking for a church to attend on Easter.

In earlier days, women wore new dresses and often a fancy new hat. Now it's different, people come as they are. Little girls might have a new outfit, but not even many of them do. That's something that seems to have gone out of favor--or maybe it's because our church has so many poor people who belong.

I'll probably have to figure out something to fix for Easter dinner--something easy, because I won't be up to cooking anything big since I'll be up so early to go to the Sunrise Service. (Since I first wrote this I ordered a honey-baked ham and plan to make potato salad and macaroni salad. Invited family members to bring something to share.

Tell me about what you do for Passover or Easter, if you celebrate one of the other. Or any rituals that signify Spring for you.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Welcome to the Matzoh Ball

Tonight is the first seder. I’ve been cooking and cleaning for weeks. Even the recent Noreaster that tore through my town and left me without power for five days couldn’t put a dent in my holiday spirit. I confess I was momentarily panicked when the lights first went out. I had gallons of chicken soup in the freezer. I could put up with reading by candlelight, freezing showers, and indoor temps of 40 degrees. But lose my soup? Heck no. Thankfully a friend had an extra refrigerator in her basement, an empty freezer, and best of all, power. Passover was saved.

This year we are having 25 family and friends join us for the first seder, 14 for the second one. It’s a bit daunting, but the part that keeps me going is the joy and love I feel when I look around the room. I delight in all the singing, praying, laughing, and eating! I kvell, Yiddish for swoon, at the wide-eyed enchantment on the faces of the children.

The search for the Afikomen (a piece of matzoh that is hidden during the seder) is one of the highlights of the night. The matzoh is put in a little pouch, made by one of my sons when he was in nursery school, and then hidden by the adults. Once the kids find it, they hold it “ransom” because according to tradition, we cannot complete the seder without it. “Heavy duty negotiating” ensues, until a “fair price” is set – usually either a few dollars or a small gift. As the kids get older, you’ll see the teenagers “help” the younger ones hold out for a good prize. My husband and I often joke that we knew two of our sons would be good lawyers given their Afikomen negotiating skills!

And the food – Oy, the food. Five courses and my kids would seriously object if I attempted to eliminate any of them – even if they personally don’t eat some of the delicacies. Two of my four wouldn’t touch a piece of gefilte fish with a six-foot pole, yet they’d be the first to express horror at the very concept of omitting that course from the seder menu. Listening to my kids, I can almost hear the chorus from Fiddler on the Roof singing “Tradition!” I ask you, Stiletto Faithful, regardless of which holidays you observe, do your children cling more to tradition than you do?

And it’s not just the age-old traditions. I mean the ones that I added a couple of times over the years and have now been informed are set in concrete. Luckily, I looked back at my blog from two years ago and found a recipe for Persian Charoset – something I had entirely forgotten, but which son number two told me was always a family tradition (um, what family was he in?). Anyway, I’m making it, as always!

All best wishes for a Zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover) – and a wondrous spring.

Marian (the matzoh ball-making Northern Half of Evelyn David)

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

Friday, March 26, 2010

In My Mind, I Run Like a Kenyan

Rachel Brady

Lee Child made what I thought was an interesting remark at Left Coast Crime earlier this month. Paraphrasing, it was that the fun part of writing is the daydreaming, and that the hard part is getting the words onto the page.

Ain’t that the blazing truth.

I’ve been thinking about that remark for weeks. Somehow I’ve had the notion all this time that getting words onto the page is easier for everyone else than it is for me. Given a choice, I’d rather visualize scenes hundreds of different ways than actually sit down and write one down. Why? Because the version I choose might not work, and then I’d have to cut all those pages.

I know: “Get over it.”

But still.

It takes a long time to put down thousands of words. Cutting them is hard. Why not decide first how I want the book to go, by daydreaming through dozens of plot lines, and then writing down the version I decide is best? For me, daydreaming is oodles more fun than typing words. Many writers say they have to write, that they are addicted to writing. Not me. I’m addicted to daydreaming.

A few years ago, David Morrell shared an interesting story about daydreaming that I’ll never forget. Coupled with this new statement by Lee Child, I grow hopeful now that my Writer Imposter Complex might possibly be unfounded.

The keyboard does not call me. I don’t get a charge out of putting down the words. My charge is always in the imagining.

In this regard, I fervently hope that my future as a writer will parallel my history as a runner. There was a time I did not enjoy running. The only thing I liked about it was how I felt afterward, and fortunately that feeling was good enough to keep me lacing up and coming back. Writing, the actual act, is a little like that for me now. Making a synopsis, staring at a blinking cursor, struggling for a word, or figuring out the best way to express an emotion is often frustrating. As with my running years ago, writing is frequently painful while I’m doing it. But, like the running, I feel an indescribable sense of accomplishment when it’s over. Huge. It’s the buzz that keeps me coming back.

Twenty years later, I’m still running. Now I actually love the run while I’m doing it. I feel disappointed when I miss a run and I’m always looking forward to the next one.

Today I’m daydreaming about a time when writing will feel like that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

70 MIllion What?

I saw this video last week and loved it. I posted it on The Naked Hero and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to share it with The Stiletto Gang, too! It's by a band called Hold Your Horses, and the song is called 70 Million (lyrics are below).

What I love about this video is the imagery. The were SO amazingly creative in how they used the they became the artwork...and that alone makes it a standout to me.

But then they also talk about novels and heroes... and novels and heroes are two of my favorite things!

Hope you enjoy!!

70 Million by Hold Your Horses ! from L'Ogre on Vimeo.

Hold Your Horses! 70 Million lyrics

And it hardly looked like a novel at all,
I hardly look like a hero at all
And I'm sorry, you didn't publish this
And you were white as snow; I was white as a sheet

When you came down in this black dress
In your mom's black maternity dress
And so,
Though it hardly looked like a novel at all,
And the city treats me, it treats me to you
And a cup of coffee for you
I should learn it's language and speak it to you

And 70 million should be in the know
And 70 million don't go out at all
And 70 million wouldn't walk this street
And 70 million would run to a hole
And 70 million would be wrong wrong wrong
And 70 million never see it at all
And 70 million haven't tasted snow

And we dance dance dance like the children dance
Imply thought are we taking the chance?
With the light still on, and will we ever reach the tower

And after you came down in this black dress
I don't know what took so very long
And this,
And this isn't a war, we don't have to ration
Now wave white flag, and you kept it at home
And words I wrote from a foreign land
You're holding my no longer foreign hand

And 70 million should be in the know
And 70 million don't go out at all
And 70 million wouldn't walk this street
And 70 million would run to a hole
And 70 million would be wrong wrong wrong
And 70 million never see it at all
And 70 million haven't tasted snow

So, how many paintings did you actually recognize in the video? Do you have a favorite?

Happy Thursday! Oh, and don't forget to stop by Books on the House and Books on the House for Kids and Teens!

~ Misa

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Oscar "Curse"

Sometimes I think that we haven’t come very far in the fight for equal rights women. Then, I see something like a high school production of Annie Get Your Gun, and I am reminded of just how much has been accomplished since 1946, when the play was first produced. Annie, however, was pretty prescient in its treatment of the celebrity marriage with all of its ups and downs.

For those of you who don’t know the story—and I didn’t before seeing the show—Annie is a girl from the country who is illiterate but can shoot a gnat off a pig’s nose without hurting the pig. She meets up with “show biz people” in the form of sharpshooter Frank Butler; his snotty sister and assistant, Dolly; and Buffalo Bill who produces and bankrolls the show. Naturally, she falls in love with Frank, but in order to get her man, must hide from him the fact that she is a way more talented sharpshooter than he’ll ever be. But what’s more important? Fame or love? Accolades for one’s accomplishments or the warm embrace of a guy in a white satin Western suit? You can only imagine which Annie chooses.

Throw in a bunch of politically-incorrect “Indians,” who sing monosyllabic songs of love and act as something of a Greek chorus and you have the makings of the most racist and sexist show I’ve ever seen. Annie makes last year’s production of South Pacific seem like “Do the Right Thing.”

Child #1 played in the orchestra pit, as she did last year. I asked her about the content of the show and she responded that all of the kids—from the actors to the orchestra members—were commenting on just how ridiculous the show’s plot was. How it was racist and sexist. At least the kids have the good sense to know what’s what.

Child #1 said that it was hard to believe that people actually believed that a woman should hide her talent to spare the feelings and ego of her partner. Although I’d like to think that this kind of behavior is no longer common place, consider the “Best Actress Oscar” curse, as it is called.

Seems that almost every Best Actress winner from the past decade has seen her marriage or relationship break up shortly after receiving the highest award an actress can be given for her film work. There was Halle Berry who kicked sex addict Eric Benet to the curb after winning for “Monster’s Ball”; Julia Roberts, who broke up with hunk Benjamin Bratt shortly after winning her Oscar for “Erin Brockovich”; Charlize Theron who ended it with Stuart Townshend shortly after being recognized for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos. And who could forget Hilary Swanks’ tearful acceptance speech where she thanked everyone from her cleaning lady to her dental hygienist and forgot poor Chad Lowe, her husband a talented actor in his own right? Had he not been such a talented actor, he never would have been able to stand by her side for one red carpet interview after another remarking about his wife’s talent and how it was really ok that she had forgotten to thank him at the Academy Awards. But a frozen smile and a clenched jaw are dead giveaways, and that was a man who cared.

The list goes on. Talented women with husbands who can stay in the shadows for just so long. Our most recent example, Jesse James, betrayed America’s sweetheart Sandra Bullock, revelations about his extracurricular activities (available in paperback at bookstores near you!) coming to light from a woman who can probably hear the clock ticking on her fifteen minutes of fame as I write this. According to the tabs, Sandra has moved out and if she has any sense, she won’t move back in. (Side note—saw a celebrity psychologist on television talking about the James-Bullock marriage and she said that the only way they could come back together is if he reestablishes trust with Sandra. To which I say a big, fat, “DUH.”)

Maybe we haven’t changed all that much since Annie Get Your Gun came out. Is it just show biz marriages? Because I know plenty of married couples who share in the excitement of one another’s accomplishments. Isn’t that part of the deal?

What do you think, Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Celebration of the Whales

This past weekend, hubby and I were in Oxnard, CA--our old stomping ground. Yes, back in the day we did do quite a bit of stomping. Hubby was in the Seabees, stationed at Port Hueneme Navy Base for many years. We lived about two blocks from the main gate for over twenty years in the same neighborhood with many other servicemen, police officers, and firemen. (Most of us bought our homes for $100 down. Now you can figure out how many years ago this was.)

The occasion that brought us there was the Celebration of the Whales at Channel Islands Harbor. Every weekend there is a Farmer's Market at the harbor, but on this particular weekend they had a craft fair, and that was why I came, to sell my books. We always jump at a chance to do any activity in or around Ventura County as we have two daughters who still live in the area with their families.

We arrived at our eldest daughter's home on Friday afternoon. Had a great visit, Saturday morning we met youngest daughter and granddaughter at the movies, and all of us went out to dinner together that night.

Early Sunday morning we traipsed down to the harbor and the area where the Celebration of the Whales is held. The place bustled with cars and trucks and people putting up their tents and displays. We had the same spot as the year before and quickly set up. Actually, we're not very good at the tent, but someone always comes and helps. The rest is easy, two chairs, a table, tablecloth and my books. I always do well with the Rocky Bluff P.D. series in Oxnard because the books actually came to life because of the Oxnard P.D. While we still lived in Oxnard, our son-in-law was an Oxnard police officer and always told me tales about what went on. And of course we were also friends with our neighbors who were on the Oxnard P.D. and their wives--all material for that series. The latest, of course, is An Axe to Grind.

Before the starting time of 10 a.m., people began strolling by. Hubby and I took turns asking people if they liked to read mysteries and handing out cards. For a good while, though it was an overcast day, it was fairly warm. We talked to many people and sold enough books to pay for the spot and then some.

Eldest daughter, hubby and Archie, their golden retriever, arrived to keep us company. Wasn't long after that the wind came up and blew in off the ocean and it turned chilly. That was the end of people being interested in books--or much of anything else. We packed up about an hour early and headed back to our daughter's.

Was it worth it? Of course. Hopefully I'll have made new fans for both my series who will seek out the other books.

Besides, we had a great time while we were down there.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Some Basic Rules

I know that my daughter (and yours) already understands these concepts, but apparently Rielle Hunter did not, so I’ll spell them out.

1. If you take off your pants in front of a photographer, he’s not shooting a headshot. It makes you look even dumber than dirt when you then complain that his focus was elsewhere.

2. If you have an affair with a married man and get pregnant, don’t then tell the world in an interview that he wanted you to have an abortion. It makes you heartless when you consider that an already rocky, if not impossible, father-daughter relationship will forever be tainted by the information you provided. (Corollary Rules: anything put in print is in print forever; if it has ever been on the Internet, it can always be found. Kids, stop sharing stupid photos on Facebook).

3. If you have a child, and this applies to homewreckers and politicians alike, don’t photograph her for a magazine spread as part of a campaign to “humanize” you. That’s not your kid’s job. Bad enough she has to grow up with the craziness of two self-centered parents.

4. If the man is still married, don’t describe your love affair as “till death do you part.” It’s just tacky (although you may not have a clear grasp of what’s tacky).

Since I’m in a judgmental, but helpful mood, I'll add the following: if the rumors about Jesse James, husband of recent Oscar winner Sandra Bullock are true, here’s a tip: if your intended extramarital love object has more tattoos on her face than eyes, don’t expect her to be discreet. Corollary Rule: If she is featured on an adult web site, don’t be surprised if nothing is “sacred” between the two of you.

And last rule for the day for those who stray: If your annual income has more than six figures (or you’re married to someone who earns that much), and you troll in bars for company, here’s the bottom line: money talks, fast and loud. Are you listening, Tiger? There may only be fifteen minutes of fame allotted to those who have sex and tell, but they can be a lucrative 900 seconds if you play your cards right. Ugh.

Judgmentally yours,
Marian (the Northern half of Evelyn David)

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Life Should Be More Like Hockey

by Susan McBride

I’ve been going to hockey games ever since my first date with Ed, which was five years ago this November. I used to think of the sport the same way Carla Moss does in The Cougar Club:

“You’re equating hockey with fun?” Carla looked at Kat like she’d lost her mind. “Watching a bunch of overgrown boys pummel each other with sticks? Do any of them still have their own teeth? How does that saying go, ‘I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out’?”

Since Ed has season tickets to the St. Louis Blues games and since he plays in a local league, I’ve seen more hockey than I ever thought I'd experience in a lifetime. I still don’t understand all the rules completely, but I do get why so many love the sport. And the better I grasp the finesse involved, the more I think the world would be a saner place if it borrowed a few rules from ice hockey. I know, I know, that sounds bizarre, but stick with me. Listen to my suggestions, and I think you’ll see the logic, too.

First off, dealing with other human beings can be tough as not everyone’s on the up and up. Life is a giant playground where bullies thrive on ruining everyone else’s fun and plenty of folks try to skirt the rules. The older I get, the more I'm convinced that most adults aren't grown-ups any more than Alexander Ovechkin is a choir boy (he plays for the Washington Capitals and got a two game suspension for smashing a Chicago Blackhawk against the boards, breaking the dude's rib and his collar bone). Two politicians from opposing parties can’t stand within spitting distance without name-calling these days. I’ve watched parents fight over hard to come by Christmas gifts in Target. I've seen grown women cry after board meetings where finger pointing has replaced honest debate.

At least hockey players are outfitted for the rough stuff, unlike the rest of us who don’t suit up before we leave the safety of our homes to interact with society. We'd be smart to put on pads and helmets before we get in our cars and deal with idiots on cell-phones behind the wheel who seem determined to run us off the road. Or to confront the "ladies" in the supermarket who learned cart etiquette from the demolition derby and seem intent on running over our feet or banging into us, no matter if we're sticking to our side of the aisle. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a ref on the road or in the produce department who could blow a whistle and call a foul when appropriate?

Instead of hearing that so-and-so lied about you or whispered nasty gossip behind your back, wouldn’t it be great to just throw down your gloves and start pummeling each other until there’s blood drawn or someone ends up on the ice…er, the floor? It would feel so much more sincere to just man-up and take care of business face to face; then, once you’re finished, you get up, shake it off, and go back to the rat race. No harm, no foul (unless one of you is uber-nasty, then it's five for fighting in the penalty box).

And for times when folks are just taking the game of life too danged seriously and need to lighten up, how about a little intermission, like in hockey when the Pee Wees appear on the ice and skate around to “Peanuts” music? Maybe we should all be forced to take a break and run around with pre-school kids who haven’t realized how stressful their lives are going to get once they graduate, get jobs, get married, have kids, get fired, lose their house, et al. A couple quick games of hopscotch or a few times across the monkey bars, and perhaps we’ll remember that life should be FUN sometimes. It isn’t all about working and struggling and trying to prove ourselves. We can listen to their laughter and remind ourselves what joy and passion feel like and vow never to lose them.

See what I mean? If the real world were more like a hockey game, we might all have less angst to carry around in our over-sized purses. Just remember to dress appropriately and, if you break any rules or just plain don’t cooperate, you will be tied to the middle of the ice and flattened by the Zamboni.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sleeping on the Job

Do you ever get so overwhelmed that you can barely see straight ahead of you? Mountains of laundry, kids home for spring break, taxes, bills, family visiting, a disaster of a house, yard work, teaching a new class, and, oh yeah, writing! These are the things filling my days. And nights.

Sometimes I can remember what was for dinner the night before, or what we even did that morning! Time seems to blur and the days pass and there's nothing significant that is accomplished.

I hate that feeling! I like to check things off my lists. Of course, I have lists scattered all over the house, so I can't always find the one I'm looking for, but you get the idea. I like to accomplish things. Concrete things that show I've done something productive, made strides toward a goal, or at least put in the effort.

I've been lagging in the accomplishment arena lately. Organization is a big issue for me. I try. I envy those who are super organized. I have organization envy. But no matter what, I just can't seem to orchestrate my life or my house in the organized way I'd like. It's like it's not in my genes, only it IS in my genes. My dad is super organized. That's the only way he knows how to be. Why, oh why, didn't a smidgeon of that rub off on me?!

So that's my goal for the summer. Get my house, and my life, organized.

If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tales from the Crypt: I'm a Ghost Writer

Alison Hendrie is co-author of the non-fiction book, LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD MOMS (Rodale 2004), the story of the Million Mom March, and ghost writer most recently for the non-fiction lifestyle book, THE CR WAY (HarperCollins 2008), already in its fifth printing. As a freelance writer, her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times and The New York Post as well as national magazines. She has also written several children’s books for the Trumpet Club imprint of Scholastic.

I’m used to being invisible. After all, I’m a mother of four active, social children who have somehow managed to reverse the old adage: it is now moms who should be seen and not heard. And preferably not seen, either, at least in front of their friends.

This may explain why I love ghost writing. One of the most valuable tools at a writer’s disposal is the power of observation. And what better way to soak in the color and language and vibe of your surroundings than from behind the cloak of invisibility? From this vantage point, the view is unobstructed and incredibly honest. Just as my ability to fade behind the steering wheel of the big, red mini-van allows me to catch up on all the middle-school gossip from my oblivious passengers, I find it easy, and even satisfying, to loosen my grip on my own, opinionated self in order to gain access to whatever project I ghost. Not quite as juicy as 7th Grade social Darwinism, but rewarding nonetheless.

It’s not that I don’t have an ego, don’t get me wrong. In fact, it takes a pretty strong, secure self-image to immerse oneself completely in someone else’s story, to literally get inside their heads and tease out just the right voice, exactly the correct phrasing. When Meryl Streep dons a wig and accent, she is no longer Meryl Streep but Julia Child or Anna Wintour (oh come on, we all know it was her). And so it is for the ghost, tapping into the author as character and writing from that perspective. See – told you I had an ego!

Like fiction, finding the right voice is perhaps the most important element in ghost writing. But unlike fiction, the voice already exists; instead of tinkering with a character’s motivation or background to uncover it, the ghost simply tunes her already sensitive ear to the author’s voice. This can be frustrating when you want to take the story in one direction and the author veers off in another. I mean, you are the writer, after all. You know how to string beautiful words together, to breathe life into a dull or arcane subject. Alas, it is not your story, no matter how closely attached you become.

What I find to be the most fun is the chance to explore and write about a topic I may never have imagined. It’s like getting paid to go to grad school. And by placing myself in the author’s shoes, the topic suddenly takes on new meaning, becoming interesting, important, urgent. For example, I would hardly call myself a health-nut and I certainly like my wine and pasta and dessert. But when I ghosted a book about calorie restriction, a controversial and still experimental method for extending life beyond the norm, I was suddenly fascinated with the way the body adapts to near-starvation. Images of cells and glucose and SIR2 genes danced in my head and if I had the will power to just say no to pizza, I might have jumped aboard. As it is, I think I gained weight while writing that book. But I never could have achieved this level of interest, never mind translate it into consumer-friendly copy, if I hadn’t adopted the persona of the authors.

A collaboration of this nature requires trust – both on the part of the author, and the ghost writer. Honesty, facts, and clarity are what I ask of an author. In return, I give insight, language and, I hope, a manuscript that connects a reader with an author in a personal and genuinely exciting way.

Ghost driver, aka mom, on the other hand, requires only my patience, silence and superb driving record. But then again, I get to be a part of my children’s lives. Even if they don’t know it.

Alison Hendrie

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ins and Outs of a Blog Tour

I'm on a blog tour right now for my latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel, An Axe to Grind.The book was supposed to be out in January and I knew that there might be problems, so I set up the blog tour for March. Guess what? The book just became available last week.

As I've done before, I hired Pump Up Your Promotions to do the tour and the quickly arranged for the blogs to appear appear weekday during the month of March--and some of the blogs required books to review. All of them have different requirements for what they want for the blog--though all ask for a photo and a book cover. Most want a bio and a blurb about the book, others want more information about me as the author, why I wrote the book, what inspired me, that sort of thing.

A few blogs are more interested in the writing process and ask for advice for aspiring authors.

Though all this writing must be done ahead of time, I find it's a lot of fun to come up with new ways to talk about my book. After all, if someone actually follows along on the tour I don't want them to be bored with the same information over and over.

Every day when a new blog is up, I make a point to go visit and offer my thanks. I also go back two or three times during the day to read comments people have left--if there are any. Sometimes people make such nice comments, I leave another of my own.

Another requisite is to promote where you are visiting each day by letting people know. I'll put the blog's URL on all the listserves I'm on as well as Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Yes, it is, but it's work I can do from home and then get back to my writing.

Does it result in sales? I'm not sure, but I do know my Amazon numbers go down when I'm on a blog tour, and that's a good thing.

I also do a lot of in-person appearances. Since I'm usually selling my own stock, I know right then how that works out. The big difference is that when I have to leave home, I can't do much of anything else, and often I have to stay overnight somewhere. I do enjoy talking with readers and about writing, so that has a plus side too.

Oh, I also have a video about An Axe to Grind

If that doesn't work, you can go to my website and watch it.


Monday, March 15, 2010

My Common Cold Diary

Friday – March 5, 2010
The world gave me several signs that I should never have gotten out of bed. A dropped contact lens, a broken glass … One of a set I purchased at and have had to buy a replacement set. Love the way they look, but if you even tap them with disrespect, they shatter. I hate to give up on a relationship, but … Skipping ahead to my drive to work – four blocks from my destination, the radio went dead. I thought it was probably the radio station. NPR always has transformer problems and it seems like it's time for a pledge drive. I hate that week. I always feel really guilty for listening without making a donation. But it wasn't the radio station that was the problem. Only seconds after the radio stopped, so did my turn signals, my power windows, and my fuel gauge did a happy dance. I avoided my usual stop at McDonalds for coffee and headed straight into the office parking lot. So in summary, by noon my day was less than stellar. A highlight was my Dad who came and fixed my car (needed a new alternator). Thanks, Dad. During the afternoon I worked on a powerpoint presentation I was giving the following Wednesday. Little did I know that the secretary helping me, the secretary that everyone thought was recovering from a mild case of the sniffles, was really "Typhoid Mary" in disguise. Cue ominous music.

Saturday – March 6, 2010
The term "post nasal drip" didn't really describe the drowning sensation I was experiencing. Raiding my medicine cabinet I brought out my supply of Mucinex, Sudafed (the good stuff they keep behind the pharmacy counter so the meth-heads can't get at it. I understand the "protect the stupid" principle but it seems totally unfair to regular sinusitis sufferers), and Afrin nosedrops. I also had a new bottle of Robitussin. Early implementation of this anti-cold arsenal should have been enough to fend off the "common cold." It wasn't. By the time I'd made my weekly grocery store run and my regular 6-week root touchup at the salon, I knew I was in trouble.

Sunday – March 7, 2010
I woke up every two hours all night long – sneezing, coughing and filling up two trash cans with Kleenex. (Soon I'd used all the Kleenex and moved on to rolls of Charmin – even the "squeezable-ly soft" kind rubs your nose raw after a few hundred yards are swiped past it.) My throat was sore, my lungs were filling, and if I were anything but vertical, I risked instant death. I warned my co-author via a virus checked email that when someone came to search for my body, they should look under the pile of used tissues. She was more worried about where my notes were for the third Sullivan Investigation mystery.

Monday – March 8, 2010 I needed to go into the office to practice my powerpoint presentation. I was schedule to speak for an hour on Wednesday to representatives of two federal agencies and several of my staff – you never want to embarrass yourself in front of your own staff. But besides the fact that my voice was now gone, I just didn't care that much anymore about my career. I just wanted to make it until Tuesday – a scheduled appointment with a new G.P. I hoped to talk him into an antibiotic for the sinus infection, tonsillitis, or ear infection that I knew was headed my way like an out-of-control Prius.

Tuesday – March 9, 2010
My new doctor doesn't have a great office. (My HMO suggested him – he was close to my house and accepting new patients). The waiting room needed a good vacuuming and I might have been his only non-Medicare patient, but the doctor was unexpectedly nice. He took my medical history himself. He listened to what I was saying without any hint that I was taking up too much of his time. He prescribed a "Z pack" and advised me to stop chasing the Sudafed with Robitussin. I went home, took my first dose of "Z" and tried to rest. My co-author warned me that I probably shouldn't be considering leaving my house on Wednesday.

Wednesday – March 10, 2010
I got no sleep. There wasn't enough makeup in the world to disguise my Rudolph red nose or dark circles, but my hair did look nice. As one of my last acts, the trip to the salon was well worth it. Baptists have open caskets and good hair is important. But back to my powerpoint presentation – I did it. The audience was attentive even if everyone kept their distance. I managed not to sneeze too much. I had a big roll of Charmin in my purse and I used most of it in the first four hours. But later in the afternoon, I could tell I'd started running a temperature and I was doing a lot of mouth-breathing. At about 3:30 pm, I called it a day and made the 45 minute drive home from Tulsa and crawled into bed, ignoring the phone calls from people wanting to know how sick I was. I was plenty sick - and no, there was nothing anyone could do for me. It was just the common cold, after all.

Thursday – March 11, 2010
The meeting I was attending was a two day event. But not for me. I had moved into the "coughing up my toes" stage of my "common cold." I stayed home and proceeded to do just that - in private and to my heart's content.

Friday – March 12, 2010
I'm still on sick leave from work, but I can breathe again through my nose. Okay, I'm holding a heating pad to my chest when I cough now (can people really break ribs from coughing?) but I feel so much better. No fever. No headache. The one thing that really worries me is that tomorrow, Saturday, is my last day for "Z." My antibiotic pack will be emptied. Sunday could be the first healthy day of the rest of my life or the day the sun went black. Either way I'm uploading this blog on Saturday for a Monday posting date.

Leave me a comment and I'll let you know how I'm doing Monday – if I can.

The Southern "overly dramatic" half of Evelyn David

p.s. - I know this blog entry is way too long. But, hey, be grateful I cut out most of the really gross descriptions of my illness. There is nothing pretty about the "common cold."

p.p.s - Just when are scientists going to spend some time developing a cure for the common cold? I'm just saying … Maybe that's a health care change we could all believe in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

At Witt's End

Mayhem is on the rise at the Witt’s End Resort, especially Cabin 14, where no guest ever leaves alive. To make matters worse, Sadie Witt must untangle a murderous web while struggling to prevent an unscrupulous sheriff’s deputy from shutting down her lakeside resort.

When guests arrive at Cabin 14, they’re stunned to learn Sadie is their conduit to the hereafter. Clad in outlandish outfits—clothing typically reserved for those without sagging body parts—and sporting hairdos that make bystanders want to look away but can’t, Sadie realizes one of the guests has been murdered and works against the clock to prevent further chaos.

Beth Solheim is the author of the Sadie Witt Mysteries Series. At Witt’s End is the first in the series.

“To market, to market to buy a new book
Whether mysteries or romance, I must take a look.”

That’s what a book reader utters on their way to make the perfect book selection.

“You expect me to do WHAT?”

That’s what an author says when they realize writing the book is only the first step. It’s not just going to the market, it’s creating the market. Most authors understand this before they submit their manuscript. It’s a business venture. Not a hobby. Authors are expected to be professional, build credibility and promote, promote, promote.

With that said, I repeat, “You expect me to do WHAT?”

Gone are the days of the high-end book tours and endless promotional dollars. So, as the ink dried on my book contract, I knew I had to get my hiney in gear and determine a plan of action.

My schedule is tight because I work full time, so I divided my evenings and weekends into segments. Thank goodness the man living with me, aka husband, took this flurry in stride and offered encouragement. The noun ‘book’ quickly became a verb. I learned how to book a blog tour, a book launch, television and radio interviews, library speaking engagements, book fair and book store appearances, newspaper and journal interviews, book club discussion sessions and time to work on the next book in the series. I developed a website, joined Twitter and Facebook and designed a bookmark and brochure for my book and ebook promotion. At Witt’s End launched in February and I plan to be running strong right through Christmas.

“You expect me to do WHAT?”

“To market, to market!

PROMOTE - Push Rip-roaringly Outstanding Material of Tremendous Entertainment

What’s your description of PROMOTE?

Thanks to Rhonda, the Southern half of Evelyn David, and the Stiletto Gang for inviting me.

Beth Solheim

Like the main character in her Sadie Witt mystery series, Beth Solheim was born with a healthy dose of imagination and a hankering to solve a puzzle. She learned her reverence for reading from her mother, who was never without a book in her hand.

By day, Beth works in Human Resources. By night she morphs into a writer who frequents lake resorts and mortuaries and hosts a ghost or two in her humorous paranormal mysteries

Raised and still living in Northern Minnesota, she resides in lake country with her husband and a menagerie of wildlife critters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Trip Down Fashion's Memory Lane

Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

Among the perks of living in Los Angeles are sun-kissed days, bumping into George Clooney at the dry cleaner, and mouthwatering carne asada. Among the downsides are smog and not enough bookstores. Among the befuddlements are busboys who whisk away your plate when there are still lovely bits of mashed potato on it; and (courtesy of Botox, Boniva and Bikram yoga) many --oh-so-many -- women of utterly indeterminate age.

You see them, with their perfect bodies and shiny hair, everywhere from Venice Beach to Silver Lake. It's a little weird, these 50+ fembots who looklike 16 from behind, sashaying around in their high heels and jeggings. A pair of which -- to my great chagrin -- I recently purchased.

What, you may ask, are jeggings?

These are a jean/legging hybrid made from cotton, polyester and spandex,which mimic the painted-on look of super-skinny jeans without compressing the internal organs and creating the dreaded muffin-top effect. The saleswoman promised me that with my brand-new jeggings, I could finallyachieve the elusive dream of eternal youth. Is this, however, what I really want? To join the army of the feminine undead, dressed exactly like their sixteen-year old daughters? Shouldn't the dignified among us be dressing more like our mothers -- in pantyhose, pumps and a nice, figure-flattering, A-line dress?

Perhaps the jeggings were a mistake. Not that I haven't made mistakes before. Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we, and visit some of myfavorite fashion faux-pas of the past.There was the purple suede fringed vest and matching mini I received for my10th birthday, selected to complement my mother's navy blue leather jacketwith purple suede cuffs and my father's Nehru-collared black leather jacket with purple silk lining (no, we were not performers; yes, it was the L.A. in the seventies; and of course we all had matching beads).

And the white, hip-hugging, lace-up, bell bottoms I bought at the May Company when I was thirteen, which my mother forced me to return because, being entirely see-through, they were not appropriate for school.

I remember the callus on side of my right index finger that developed from years of forcing up zippers on the tightest designer jeans I could squeeze myself into.

And the look on my younger sister's face when she visited me at the Alpha Phi sorority house at Berkeley half-way through freshman year, and saw me disguised as a preppie in a knee-length kilt, a cable knit sweater, and penny loafers.

I remember being twenty-one and deciding my hips were too big and the best way to camouflage them was by tying a sweater around my waist (a thin sweater, of course, the ideal material being either pima cotton or a silkblend), and color-coordinating it to my outfit as if it were a sort of nether-region scarf.

Oh, god, are we done yet?

No, we are not.I remember the Pepto-Bismol-colored, stretch lace, Little Bo Peep-inspired Betsey Johnson mini-dress I wore as maid of honor at the wedding of a friend who made out with one of the bridesmaids between courses at the rehearsal dinner.

I remember the summer I wearied of blowing out my hair and decided to wear a turban instead, thinking this made me look like the Bain de Soleil girl, especially when I wore my strapless jumpsuit and caked on the Guerlain terracotta bronzing powder to simulate a St. Tropez tan.

I remember my black rip-stop nylon parachute pants with the multiple zippers. Though these were originally meant for break-dancers, I wore them with stilettos, giving me the proportions of a balloon animal.

I remember bicycle shorts.

I remember stirrup pants.

Which, when you think of it, are merely jeggings by another name. Which means, yes --it's back to Mom jeans for me. Thank you, Jessica Simpson.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Am I Doing, You Ask?

Rather well, I must say.

I think I made a rather bold proclamation at the beginning of the year and it had something to do with weight loss.

If you think my silence indicates failure, you would be WRONG.

As of this writing, I have lost 14 pounds since January 1, and some of it is actually fat! OK—so I’ve got 11 to go, but I am more than halfway toward my goal. (Even though I’m starving and can’t do math, I can still figure out half of 25.) How did I do it, you ask? Let’s start with the best weight-loss program around, in my book: Weight Watchers. Although it is more of a “lifestyle” than a “diet,” it is a program that makes complete sense to me. You start your day with a certain number of points, and every time you have a meal or snack, you subtract the number of points you consumed (1 point = around 50 calories) until you have none left for the day. And then you have these floating points—around 35 a week—that you can use for anything you like. I’d like to say that most of my floating weekly points are consumed by melon or cantaloupe or the “good fats” but in reality, they are used for something that starts with chard and ends with “onnay.” Let’s let that be our dirty little secret.

I do have a few things that have helped me reach this weight loss milestone, though, and I’d like to share them with you:

1. Trader Joe’s Chocolate Yogurt. I know. It sounds counter-intuitive. Chocolate yogurt? I’m here to tell you that while it’s no slice of Junior’s chocolate layer cake, it is pretty darn satisfying. It packs 25% of your daily calcium requirement into one small container, and in WW world, is only 3 points. A little more than I would use for a snack, but in a pinch, it’s great. It satisfies those chocolate cravings, and is good for you! What could be better?

2. Campbell’s Select Harvest Soups. These are a lifesaver. Not to mention delicious. The most highly-caloric of them only burns 3 points and the lowest? 0-1. What could be better than a 1-point lunch? Maybe a slice of Junior’s chocolate layer cake, which incidentally, carries a 20-point rating. Since I only get 21 points a day, that would eat up a bunch of points, no pun intended. But if I stuck to Select Harvest Soups, and didn’t drink any wine, I would have enough points to splurge on a piece of chocolate cake. Hasn’t happened yet, but might. You never know.

3. Black beans. Love, love, love them. And they are low pointage. My good friend Jolene, also known as “City Pixie” in the online world when she blogs about homemade baby food, told me to saut√© up a little garlic and oil, dump in some black beans, add chicken stock, orange juice and some salsa and let the whole thing come together in a simmer. Yesterday, besides a little peanut butter on toast, this is what I ate all day. Beans are great because they fill you up, are healthy, and don’t require too much pointage. In my new world of eating less and moving more, they are the perfect energy food.

I’d love to hear what you do to eat healthy. What tricks do you have? (And I’m looking at you, Vicky, because I know you’ve got a few up your sleeve.) Help me out with some of your favorite healthy recipes. Because although I’m loving the black beans, woman cannot live on them alone. And if anyone has the secret to making low-cal chocolate cake, I’m all ears.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Back From New Orleans and Epicon

We left at 3:30 a.m. to go to the closest airport to us, a small regional airport in Bakersfield. At 6:15 a.m. we left and arrived in Phoenix where we not only had to change planes--but also airlines. Which meant leaving the terminal, catching an airport bus to go to a different terminal, and going through security again. None of this was easy. We'd chosen to take two personal items apiece rather than sending anything on through for fear of it not getting to our destination, so we had to haul these bags with us everywhere.

From there we flew to Houston, where we changed planes once again. We had very little time in-between any of these transfers. Finally we arrived in New Orleans and we took a taxi to the hotel. (Set fee of $33 one way for two people.)

The hotel was lovely and no sooner did we get out of the cab when we ran into a couple we knew. However, by this time, all we could think of was getting to our room, unpacking and finding someplace to have dinner and going to bed.

The next day we spent sightseeing (or eating our way through the French Quarter) until the first Epicon event began that evening. Of course we ran into many people we knew.

Though the con was well-planned with lots of good presentations, not many people took advantage of what was going on because the draw of the nearby French Quarter was too much.

I gave two presentations, "How to Write A Mystery" for the adults and more or less the same thing for the New Voices students the following day. That was truly a highlight of the trip. I had so much fun with the two kids who attended. Together we planned a mystery and what great ideas they had.

On Friday night, many of us went on a dinner cruise in a steam boat up and down the Mississippi River. After eating, hubby and I sat out on the deck and watched with amazement the many freighters and tug boats lined up one after another. We walked there and back--on the way back, hubby was afraid I wouldn't be able to find our way. No fear--it was easy.

Of course Saturday was the big banquet and awards ceremony--this was well-attended. We sat at the table with two of the other authors up for the same award as I was--best mystery-thriller e-book. I knew in my heart who was going to win and I was right, Michael Orenduff for his wonderful mystery, The Pot Thief. The first in his series.

The next a.m. we were up at 4 a.m. so we could catch our flight home at 6. We almost went through the wrong security line--realized it before we got too far. Finally got to the right spot for our plane in enough time to breathe--then the same wild trip back, only this time we flew to Georgia first then to Phoenix where again, we had to exit the terminal, catch a bus, got through security again and then we had a long, long walk to find the place leaving for Bakersfield and just go there in the nick of time. Phew!

Were we ever glad to get back into California and climb into our car and head for home.

We've made up our minds we'll never take such a complicated trip again. We're too old for all that running all through the airport loaded down with luggage to get from one airplane to another.

Despite all that, we did have a great time and the French Quarter looks just like it does in the movies.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Cheez Doodle Fingertips

I bet you know someone like her…or maybe YOU are her. The woman who can walk into a room full of strangers and not immediately head for the punchbowl in the corner. Of course, now that we’re growunups instead of eighth graders, there really isn’t a punchbowl in the corner, along with potato chips and onion dip. Instead if you’re lucky, there’s a bar so that at least you can get some liquid fortification to help you during the dreaded cocktail hour (I miss the onion dip).

I just signed up for a mystery writers reception. Amongst the 200+ people in attendance will be editors and agents, as well as fellow authors. Should be a fascinating and fun evening except I never know what to do at these occasions. Put me at a table with a person to my right and a person to my left, and I can figure out how to make conversation that lasts through dessert. But a reception? Everyone seems to already know everybody else and are engaged in meaningful conversation that seems rude to interrupt. Sure I want to meet Mary Higgins Clark, but she’s undoubtedly chatting with Carolyn Reidy, President of Simon and Schuster, her long-time publisher. Do I break in to simultaneously gush about the longevity of Ms. Clark’s career and to beg Ms. Reidy to check out the newest manuscript of Evelyn David?

If I had any guts, I would do just that.

If I had to classify myself as an extrovert or introvert, I’d probably check “none of the above.” With friends and family, I can be the life of the party. But in a large social gathering, whether it’s a professional meeting or even a wedding, I am at sea, looking around for a lifeline of someone to talk to -- but not wanting to be a leech.

I was recounting my worries to fellow writer and Huffington Post contributor, Kate Kelly. She commiserated, but pointed out that she had recently met a well-connected New Yorker at a major event in the city. This lady also confessed that “sometimes I go to these things and know everybody; and sometimes I know no one.” And under those circumstances, she too gets the jitters.

So I ask faithful Stiletto Gang readers: what kind of parties do you prefer? And do you still get the eighth-grade flashbacks of fear that no one will ask you to dance and you’ll be left with Cheez Doodle dust on your hands and a Hawaiian Punch mustache at the end of the evening?

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

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

Friday, March 5, 2010

Down with Planet Barbie!

I know the title of this post is kind of weird, but I wasn't sure what else to call it (I almost named it "The Last Bastion of the Flat-Chested," but changed my mind). You see, while I watched the Olympics during half of February, part of what caught my eye wasn't the dazzling rhinestones on the skaters' costumes or the stunning accuracy of the shooting during the biathlon. It wasn't even my amazement that curling is apparently popular enough to be broadcast round-the-clock while so many of the other sports had hit or miss coverage. It had to do with the faces beneath the ski hats and the bodies in the Lycra outfits and my thrill at realizing the women actually looked like humans. Granted, they looked like uber-fit humans, but still...I didn't notice a single Pam Anderson among them.

So many celebrities these days have surgically altered faces and bodies that I'd pretty much gotten used to seeing females on-screen that resemble full-sized Barbie dolls. While at the doctor's office recently, I read the People magazine with "The Hills" reality star Heidi Montag on the cover, and I couldn't help but wince and whisper, "You poor, messed-up girl" under my breath as I learned about her Christmas head-to-toe makeover that had her under anesthesia for something like two days (okay, it was more like seven or eight hours, which sounds bad enough). Heidi had previously undergone a nose job and chin job, according to reports, before this latest Frankenstein-esque reconstruction that included Botox to multiple areas of her face, another nose job, cheek implants, chin chiseling, ear pinning, breast enhancement, liposuction, and God knows what else. The girl is only 23. Yet, she looks like a very well-preserved 40 year old porn star.

And the scariest part of all? (And, no, it's not the fact that her mother didn't even recognize her when she returned home to Colorado with a camera crew from "The Hills" tagging along.) It's that she doesn't think her newly-built DD boobs are big enough. She wants to go back for more. Gulp.

I am seriously afraid for girls today, thinking they're not worthy unless their chest sticks out so far that they can set a tray from Sonic atop it and comfortably eat. I heard just the other day that breast augmentation has surpassed rhinoplasties as the number one surgery. Something like 335,000 boob jobs were done last year, and it keeps going up. Every time I watch an awards show or a sitcom, for Pete's sake, all I see is cleavage. If aliens can get Us Weekly and People online, or if their satellites pick up "The Girls Next Store," "Dr. 90210," "The Bachelor," or any number of TV programs (or beer commercials), they'd think our gender was comprised of an army of plastic fem-bots.

I'd hate to be growing up now when there are such unrealistic body images. When I was in junior high in the mid-'70s, my feminine ideals were the stars of "Charlie's Angels"--Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, and Farrah Fawcett--who looked gorgeous and different from each other and natural, if you know what I mean. But today...geez, I can't think of an actress off the top of my head, other than Meryl Streep, who hasn't altered her face, breasts, or other body parts in some way. How sad is that?

Which is why the Olympics were so great. Not that female athletes look anything close to average (I would kill to have a figure skater's legs!); but they look strong and fit and, best of all, real. Not like they were taken apart and reassembled on a Beverly Hills surgeon's table.

My hope is that young girls who watched Olympics' coverage will see what I saw and will not only be convinced that women should come in various shapes and sizes; but that character and determination are even more important than large bazoombas and zero cellulite. Maybe they'll put up posters of Joannie Rochette, who won a bronze in figure skating days after her beloved mother died of a heart attack. Now there's real.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Too Wicked To Kiss

Breaking News: TOO WICKED TO KISS has been selected as a March book club pick for Barnes and Noble! Erica will be at the book club forum all month long, so please stop by to say hi or to talk about the book!


Hi Erica! So... how do you feel about murder?

Love it! The fictional kind, anyway. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be the next Stephen King... or write my own series of alphabet mysteries like Sue Grafton. I still love reading thrillers and mysteries and romantic suspense, and my taste in movies and TV runs much the same direction.

For example?

Dexter. I love Dexter! I would never *marry* Dexter, because he admittedly has issues, but as an antihero, he's perfect. That's one element that appeals to me so much about writing Gothic historicals--I can have a hero who's a little bit bad. Or even a lot bad. The more dangerous, the better!

Is Gavin Lioncroft dangerous?

It's common knowledge that he has killed in the past... although nothing was proven, and enough time has gone by that a few hardy souls are willing to overlook that peccadillo in order to attend a house party on his estate. On the first night, however, Gavin has it out with one of the guests... who promptly ends up dead. Gavin's the first to admit it would've been his pleasure to have been the one to do the honors--however, someone beat him to the punch. (As far as alibis go, perhaps he needed something a bit stronger.) Gavin's hunt for the true murderer is on!

Nobody believes he could be innocent?

Not at first. He eventually wins the trust (or at least the reluctant assistance) of Evangeline Pemberton, herself a guest with secrets she prefers to keep hidden. Along the way, the two of them learn to trust, fall in love, and team together to unmask a killer before any other guests wind up dead!

How many other books do you have out?

I am thrilled to admit that I am a debut author, so not only is this my first book, it's also release week! Too Wicked To Kiss is in stores nationwide. The second book, (with an even higher body count, muahahahaaa) hits the stands in 2011.



From the ravens circling its spires to the gargoyles adorning its roof, Blackberry Manor looms ominously over its rambling grounds. And behind its doors, amid the flickering shadows and secret passageways, danger lies in wait.


Evangeline Pemberton has been invited to a party at the sprawling estate of reclusive Gavin Lioncroft, who is rumored to have murdered his parents. Initially, Gavin's towering presence and brusque manner instill fear in Evangeline...until his rakish features and seductive attentions profoundly arouse her. But when a guest is murdered, Evangeline is torn. Could the man to whom she is so powerfully drawn, also be a ruthless killer?



Erica Ridley learned to read when she was three, which was about the same time she decided to be a writer when she grew up. Over the course of her school years, she graduated from self-illustrated stories written in crayon to dramatic sagas filling reams of spiral notebooks. Now, Erica writes Regency-set historical romances, often with a touch of paranormal. Since becoming active in the writing community, all of her manuscripts have finaled in or won various RWA chapter contests. Erica is also the webmistress of her local writing chapter. Her first book, TOO WICKED TO KISS, debuts March 2, 2010. When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.

Get to know Erica at:

Author Website:

Book Bonus Features:



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Weathering the Storm

This past weekend was the weekend of the “snowicane.” Yes, the National Weather Service has coined a new phrase to mean a boatload of snow. We got two and a half feet of the powdery stuff, but the worst part was the wind and freezing rain that followed it that, you guessed it, knocked our power out.

Here at Chez Barbieri, everything runs on electricity. I have an electric stove, an electric washer/dryer combo, and our heat and hot water runs on electric. Fortunately, when we lost power, at nine o’clock on Thursday night (immediately following Survivor’s Tribal Council), it was only Dea and me at home with our lovely and needy West Highland Terrier, Bonnie. Once the lights went out, after a transformer buzzed and flickered a sinister blue light through my bedroom window, we decided that it would be a cold night and hunkered down in my bed with the dog, hoping that we would be able to keep each other warm.

Ever try sleeping with a dog? Even a really nice, docile, and domesticated animal? Not easy. Every time I tried to turn over, she would growl at me. Heaven forbid I actually touched her with my foot. That action was met with a growl/snap/bark combination. By morning, I was exhausted from no sleep and hoarse from screaming at her all night. It never occurred to either one of us to banish her to another room so afraid were we that she would freeze to death overnight.

The next day, Friday, brought no relief from the unrelenting snow and still no power. And no sign of Con Edison trucks in the vicinity. What it did bring was more downed trees, falling so precipitously and often that we were afraid to go outside. It also brought a full-scale fire to my neighbor’s house, which she and her children weren’t aware of because her smoke detectors didn’t go off. I know! It was terrifying. Fortunately, Jim saw black smoke billowing from the house, alerted me, and the two of us set off to get the family and their four dogs out of the house. The kids took off for my house with one of the dogs, and the mom got the rest of the dogs out but not before she ingested a bunch of black smoke. Everyone is fine, but people: MAKE SURE YOUR SMOKE DETECTORS HAVE FRESH BATTERIES IN THEM! If this had happened during the evening hours, it could have been devastating because sleeping people and no smoke detectors equals tragedy.

The entire weekend stressed me out completely. I lost a day or so of work, which always causes consternation, and we eventually had to leave the house as the temperature indoors approached fifty degrees. Lucky for us, our good friends offered a place to stay along with hot water, heat, and food. As we were driving over to their house on the other side of town to spend the night, Jim looked at me and said, “No matter how bad or how inconvenienced we are, think of the people in Haiti who had nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and nobody to take care of them. We’re very, very lucky.”

Indeed we are. We have the resources and the connections to go where we can sit in the lap of luxury, in front of a roaring fire, with a couple of bottles of wine, chatting with good friends. A regular adult sleepover. We have friends and family looking out for us. Even our local Village government has called us daily to update us on the situation regarding the power and tree removal from power lines. Heck, if our power didn’t return for a week—as is the case with some people here in the Village—we could always check into a hotel. Life is easy for us, even when we don’t think it is.

I continued to stress out. How would I catch up on work? How would I finish the edits on my manuscript? Did everyone see the mountain of laundry growing in the rat-free basement? What if we didn’t get back home before Jim and the kids had to go back to school? What if? What if? Although I was trying to focus on how things could have been much worse, I continued to fret. I went to bed Saturday night, having worked myself up into a complete frenzy. Although Jim continued his mantra of how lucky we were, and I tried to convince myself, I couldn’t get out of my own way. Some time, while I was asleep, a friend who died last year came to me in my dreams. I asked her why she had come back if she was dead and she said, “I feel like you’re in trouble so I came back this one time to help you out.” And in her inimitable way, she told me to quit my bellyaching and work on the things I could control rather than fretting about those that I couldn’t.

Wise words.

On Sunday, I texted my neighbor, now safely ensconced in a hotel with her kids and dogs. She texted back that they were great. Safe and sound. Sure, all of her belongings will smell like smoke for a really long time, but that didn’t matter. They were all fine. The other stuff can be replaced. It’s just a minor inconvenience, right?

I’d like to say that I’ll never stress out again, but I know myself too well. But I will remember that I may miss a deadline, and my laundry pile will never go down completely, and I’ll never catch up on work but I have good friends (both alive and dead apparently!), and a support system that will never let me down.

Lucky indeed.

How do you weather snowstorms—and life’s storms—Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't Pay Any Attention to the Movie Critics

I don't know about you, but whenever a new movie comes out I always read what the critics have to say.

In the big city newspaper I take (Fresno Bee) the movie critic seems to hate most of the movies I like and loves the ones I didn't like at all. Obviously, we have very different taste.

We did agree on Shutter Island which hubby and I went to see on Saturday. The critic gave it a B+. I don't grade movies that way, my take was they did a terrific job making a movie that actually resembled the book. I read the book when it first came out and really wondered how it would work on screen.

My husband hadn't read the book and I didn't spoil the movie by telling him any of the twists and turns or the surprise ending. There was one BIG clue all through the movie that I did point out to him, anyone who would like to know what it was can email me privately.

By the way, he stayed awake through the whole movie and enjoyed it. Part of the reason may have been because we both met Dennis Lehane (the author of the book) at a Mayhem in the Midlands. He was friendly and fun to listen to. His name was more prominent in the credits on screen than any book author I've seen before.

Warning, the movie is dark and there is language in it I could've done without.

One of the movies the critic loved was Up in the Air. I didn't like it at all despite George Clooney being the star. To me, the whole concept and the side plots were down right depressing.

If a movie is heartwarming, the movie critic I read will never give it a good grade and will likely call it sappy or some other unflattering name. Frankly, I like a good heartwarming movie now and then.

I have to admit though, I just love movies. I like thrillers, romances, historicals, a horror if it's not gory. I'm not thrilled with movies too heavy with messages, usually we can get the idea without hitting us over the head.

How much faith do you put in movie critics?


Monday, March 1, 2010

Being Medal Worthy

Did you watch the Winter Olympics?

I did. I enjoyed watching most of the events even if I didn't like the way NBC broadcast them - here, there, everywhere.

Like reading a book, I prefer to start at the beginning and read each page – good, bad, or ugly. I never skip to the back. I even read Tom Clancy's mechanical descriptions. If I'm going to read a book, I'm going to read it – all of it.

If I'm going to watch an Olympic event, I want to watch all of it. I want to see all the competitors, not just the ones who NBC decides have "medal" potential. How can I judge how good the winners are if I don't see the losers? Hey, maybe today's losers will be the winners next time, and I was denied an opportunity to see them when they were inexperienced, awkward, and just starting out. And what about their mothers? Don't you think they wanted to see their kid on television?

I know there were more than 6 female figure skaters at the Olympics, but the "powers that be" decided I didn't need to see them. I don't even know what I missed.

What if "writing" was like competing in the Olympics? What if the major publishers were like the broadcast networks – they only promoted a few books – the ones they decided had "medal" potential? What if the newbie writers, like the young skaters, couldn't get seen unless they did the writer's equivalent of a triple axel, triple toe-loop? Or had a compelling story? A perp-walk? A comeback from a terrible injury? A "bad-boy (or bad-girl)" attitude?


Writing is like the Olympics. Sigh.

Good starts are vital. Keep a tight form, pay attention to detail, follow the rules so you don't get disqualified, keep up your speed, keep your cell phone turned on in case your agent/coach calls to tell you about your big break, and finish – always finish.

And it doesn't hurt to get in front of the camera every chance you get.


Writing is like the Olympics.


Evelyn David
(Off to sharpen her skates, uh ... pencils.)

p.s. Why do the bobsled athletes wear capri pants?

p.p.s. Please excuse a little self-promotion. Evelyn David won a mini-writing contest this weekend!! The short-short story had to be under 200 words. But don't be fooled by the length. Mac Sullivan doesn't need a dictionary to solve the whodunnit. Check it out at the Working Stiffs blogspot.