Friday, April 30, 2010

How Sexy Shoes Will Write This Book

Rachel Brady

I've just started my third novel. Historically, these things take a while for me to finish. Four years for the first, two for the second. It'd be really nice to do this one in a year like normal writers.

My friend Laura is at the beginning of a project too. Check out her blog, One More Thing to Feel Guilty About. The woman is hilarious, and unfortunately that becomes frightfully important when you see where this story is going. Anyway, we agreed to keep each other honest this year as we muddle through our first drafts. Over dinner, I told her I was contemplating the idea of paying her a fee if I didn't hit my word count goal each week. She favored the idea, but having already run it by my husband, I knew that he did not.

"Then I'm going to have to do something to humiliate myself if I miss the count," I said.

She said, with a touch too much enthusiasm, that she'd like to participate in choosing what that humiliating thing would be. I'm afraid of her. Which is exactly why I said that would be fine.

At one point during the meal, I had a better idea:

"Maybe if I miss my word count, I won't eat for a day."

"Like, a whole day?"

"Yes, I'll starve myself. I'm sure if I starved for a day I would never miss my word count again."

"I could do that too. We'd be looking pretty hot."

"The less we wrote, the better we'd look."

We decided that the use of fasting to incentivize writing could potentially be a conflict of interest.

Somewhere between my second and third enchilada, Laura asked me about the Stiletto Gang and wanted to know if I actually, in fact, owned a pair of stilettos. I couldn't just say yes or no, because the answer turns out to be quite involved. (Hang with me, it becomes important.)

Last April I attended the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference for the first time. On the evening of the Agatha Awards banquet, I changed clothes and joined everyone in the lounge area, where I found them all to be wearing full-up evening attire. I was in a casual dress. No big deal, I still had fun, but I did take note. Embarrassment leaves an impression, no?

Flash forward to my first Bouchercon World Mystery Convention last October. Now initiated, I shopped for some nice evening attire as soon as I sent in my registration check. This time, I'd fit right in. Got a cute LBD (little black dress) and some smokin' black stilettos. Packed them up for Bouchercon . . . where the banquet required a ticket that cost something like a mortgage. I did not attend, nor did my LBD or sexy shoes.

"So you see," I concluded, "I do own a pair, but I've actually never worn them."

None of that matters for now, but just store it in your short term memory for a sec.

Laura and I returned to the topic of how best to humiliate myself. I said, "Maybe I'll ask my blog followers and Facebook friends to suggest horrible things." Most of you reading this fall into one of those camps, so I'm sure you can imagine how colorful those suggestions would likely be. "Whoever chooses the winning punishment could name a character in the book they shamed me into writing."

This idea, we agreed, had merit.

But then after dinner, walking to our cars, Laura said, "What if you had to wear those stilettos to work?"

And we both kind of looked at each other like they do in the movies when the montage music gets cued.

"I didn't tell you the best part," I said. "They're strappy sequin stilettos!"

She burst out laughing. "People will think you have no taste."

Turns out, I actually don't have much, but it's easier to hide that when a girl wears business casual to work every day. Maybe it becomes more apparent when she adds sequin black stilettos to khakis and a polo.

"Of course," she added, "I would expect photos for proof."

"Can you imagine?" I said. "Stilettos and my NASA badge, in the same outfit?"

She feigned a pose. And so it was born. Either I'm getting a book out of this arrangement or you're getting pictures.

Fun starts May 1st.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cramming a Ton into One Weekend

What a whirlwind weekend. First, I have to say, I LOVE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA!!! There’s something about that city that speaks to me. I have city lust, big time. Don’t know if I’ll ever live there, though one of my dreams is to own a pretty house near the water.

Tonya Kappes, fellow Goddess at The Naked Hero, and I were invited to give a workshop at the Lowcountry RWA chapter meeting. Any excuse to visit Charleston! We flew in Friday, did our workshop Saturday--followed by a book signing set up by the fantabulous Amy Fagley of the Lowcountry chapter. Shout out to Amy, Sharon, Sharon Marie, Tina--who's not actually a Lowcountry member, but who is awesome!!--Florina, Nina, Dorothy, and the rest of you fun gals!

Tonya did a running blog about our adventure (which you can see here and here). Our workshop was on Stripping Down the Hero Archetypes. A totally interactive, mutli-learning modality experience which everyone LOVED (you can see snippets of the workshop videos here).

I wrote so much on the plane ride there and back that I want to take a plane trip every week just to up my word count.

Then, icing on the cake, Tonya, who used to own a bead company (sold it for beaucoup $$$$ so she could write... OMG!) taught me how to bead! Got home, took my daughter to the bead shop in a nearby city which was closed, headed to Hobby Lobby, which was also closed (they don’t care to do business on Sundays apparently), and ended up at Michael’s spending WAY TOO MUCH $$$ on beads.

BUT we each made our first bracelets yesterday and we’re hooked on beading. Or should I say toggled on beading? Strung on beading? Whatever. WE LOVE IT!

To top off the weekend, I finished the chapters of my cozy proposal! That is to say, I finished the first draft of said chapters. Still have to revise, but that’s okay. I love revisions. I can dig into revisions. The meat is there, and it’s all gravy now.

Icing on the cake was record numbers of people visiting and entering to win FREE BOOKS over at Books on the House (and the kids/teen site). This week, Brenda Novak, gearing up for her online auction which begins MAY 1st (to benefit diabetes research) is giving away totes of books and gift certificates for the auction. My son has the disease and I'm thrilled to help Brenda however I can. The Stiletto Gang has donated signed books, too!

All in all, it was a great weekend (minus the hour+ I spend unsubscribing from all these email lists I somehow managed to get, for the last time, I DO NOT NEED VIAGRA, and I’m a writer and DO NOT WANT A CAREER CHANGE TO MEDICAL TRANSCRIBING!!!

Food for thought: How do we get ON these email lists in the first place? Are you a beader? Been to and love Charleston? Have great productivity on an airplane? Enjoy interactive workshops?

Let’s hear it!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Running the Race

It’s great to have old friends if only for the shorthand that being acquainted for so long brings.

Case in point: my friend, Dr. Pantz. How she acquired that nickname is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that she is a doctor of theology and her surname is not “Pantz,” even though that’s what our entire family calls her. Pantz and I went to high school together where our maiden names both started with “S-C” and meant that we sat in the same formation for all the years we spent together, me one desk in front of her. Pantz once said that she did the academic side of school very well while I did the social side of school very well. In reality, we both managed to do a combination of both, but reflecting back on our high school selves, that’s a pretty apt description. She encouraged me to take up running, something I never excelled at, and I encouraged her to…well, I’m not sure what I encouraged her to do except blow the pop stand that was our high school in her junior year for early admission at one of the Seven Sisters schools where she continued to excel academically.

Pantz has studied abroad and made quite a name for herself in both theological and medical circles due to her research on medical ethics and specifically, harm to patients. We lost touch after high school until I discovered, by chance, that she was living right around the corner from me, here in our small Village.

We try to get together from time to time, but this year, haven’t been entirely successful. We haven’t seen each other since her annual New Year’s Day party and there she was today, sashaying into the local grocery store at exactly the same time I was. She informed me that she had run a half-marathon yesterday, and I resisted the urge to ask her exactly how many miles that was. It took me a few minutes to remember that it was thirteen miles, not the same distance as a 5K, but the thing with Pantz is that because she’s known me for so long, she knows that although I can’t divide twenty-six by two, I have other find qualities that have allowed us to be friends for over thirty years, with a little break in the middle for things like getting married, having kids, and establishing careers.

I approached the asparagus, which seemed obscenely cheap and asked her if the price could actually be $1.99. The man behind her smirked at me as I realized that it was $1.99 a pound, not a bunch. But Pantz didn’t blink because just like over thirty years ago when she was coaxing me through geometry, she knew that I would never be able to calculate the price of asparagus. I turned to the man and told him that yes, we went to high school together, and no, it didn’t matter to her that I can’t calculate the price of vegetables in my head. Calculating for me has been an integral part of our relationship and to her, it’s second nature.

Pantz is the person who told me, when I had received a Stage IV cancer diagnosis that the “longer you live with cancer, the longer you live.” She is also the same person who made sure that a very special chaplain at Memorial Sloane-Kettering said a prayer with me just hours before I underwent surgery. She is also the person who tirelessly researched every drug I was on and every trial I was to enter, letting me know how successful they had been and never telling me if they had proven unsuccessful in any way. She listened to every fear that I had and countered it with scientific fact. She never placated, but she always made sure the facts were on hand and translated them into information that I could understand. She is both a scientist and a woman of faith.

She is the one who told me when I developed lymphedema in my leg, post-surgery, that that was a battle scar and an indication that I had won the battle and the war.

So to say that every time I see Pantz I get a lift is an understatement. She is someone that I run into far too infrequently, but the shorthand is there. I will always remember how she could have run faster in the three-mile race that we did together as sixteen-year-olds, but she hung back so that I wouldn’t finish alone. To me, that is the perfect metaphor for a good and lasting friendship.
Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Scorpion in my Bed

Sounds like a book title, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's the truth.

When I went down to my bedroom last night and turned back the covers, there was a scorpion on my side of the bed. No, I didn't scream. I thought it was dead--if I knew it was alive, I'd have killed it right then and there.

I decided to tell my husband and ask him if he'd put it in my bed. (I knew he hadn't but was trying to be funny.) By the time I got him and came back to the bedroom, no scorpion. The daggone thing was alive!

We tore the bed apart, shook everything out, no scorpion. My first thought was to sleep somewhere else, but decided my bed was far too comfortable, if the scorpion was still there, he'd just have to scoot over.

Slept the night through with nary a problem.

Before you all freak out let me tell you I live in the foothills of the Sierra in a very old house. I've had encounters with scorpions before and usually dispatch them with ease--but I thought this one was dead or I would have taken care of it.

We have lots of spiders too, some really big and ugly ones, but they don't bother me either.

Lizards love to sneak inside when it gets really hot. Haven't seen any this year yet. They are hard to catch and herd back outside--usually leave it up to the younger generation.

Never had a snake inside, though there are plenty around outside during the summer, including rattlesnakes. I'm not afraid of them either, but do have a healthy respect for them. I leave it up to others to take care of those critters.

We had a rat infestation when our bathroom and bedroom were being remodeled because the workers left all the doors open. We had to keep the cats shut off in the other part of the house, not wanting them to leave, so they were no help. Hubby and a grandson managed to dispose of the unwanted creatures except for one that managed to make it into cat territory and that was the end of him.

Oh yes, and there are skunks. I've never had an encounter, but my poor daughter-in-law did one night when she was leaving our house.

Living in the foothills has its downside, but there is plenty to make up for it. The scenery is gorgeous especially this time of year when everything is still green and the snow is plentiful on the mountains. We live on a hill above the Tule River and when I was younger I joined the kids in the swimming hole, now I just watch and listen to the water rushing over the rocks on its way down to the lake. At night, the stars are gorgeous.

This is the most popular time of year around here too, last week was the Jackass Mail Run, this weekend is Rodeo time. We're a stone's throw from the rodeo grounds so can hear everything that's going on. I've been many times, but I'm skipping it this year. From the front yard, I can watch the parachutists jumping out of airplanes to land in the arena of the rodeo grounds--that's enough.

During the month of August, there'll be a barbecue and dance every Saturday night at the rodeo grounds to raise money for next year's rodeo.

All summer long, there'll be free concerts in the park too.

I think I can manage to share my space with all the critters who were here before me.


Monday, April 26, 2010

The Sunny Side of the Street

I’d already written a blog for this week, but something happened that made me shelve it for the time being. I know you all want to know why I think Hugh Hefner actually made sense, but you’ll just have to wait for that bit of wisdom.

Instead, I was backing out of my driveway and saw a tiny cardinal hopping across my front lawn. It was just going about its business, but for me it was definitely the harbinger of spring, a time of renewal. I know both Passover and Easter have passed, and all the rituals that signify a new season, but that little bird made me smile and think about the little things in life that bring me so much pleasure and hope. Let’s assume that husband, kids, and friends do indeed bring me much happiness year round – but I’m talking about what’s the bomb diggity (to date myself endlessly) right now.

1. Pink tulips bulbs planted on a gray October day, when the skies matched my mood, that have now blossomed into heavenly multiple pink blooms. Given to me by a friend who wanted me to keep the long view in mind when going through a tough time, she reminded me that when things were bad, I should just think of the pink tulips to come. And indeed, she was right. They have popped out of the ground when my mood is so much lighter. (And kudos to friends who find such wonderful ways to offer comfort and support).

2. New recipes that are easy, healthy, and most of all tasty. I like to cook, but I'm often in a rut when it comes to dinnertime. Found a new web site that’s a delight because it’s food, family, and fun. If you haven’t stopped by the The Pioneer Woman, give it a try.

3. A fun new mystery series by C. S. Challinor. Two of my kids have studied in Scotland and a third lived in Jacksonville, Florida for a year. To find a mystery that combines the two locales is probably beating the lottery odds, but it was a delightful, fun read.

4. Working – and enjoying it. I’m writing a biography of a good guy and I love the research. I feel like a detective, hunting down clues and following leads – some of which are red herrings that lead nowhere. Hmmm, could be why I’m thrilled to be writing a new mystery with Rhonda. Just hand me a deerstalker hat and I’m off.

Tell me what’s making you smile lately?

Marian (the Northern half of Evelyn David)

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Before and (Almost) After

by Susan McBride aka Mrs. Fix-It

By special request, I'm back to (almost) finish up my home improvement tales. The to-do list has gotten rather skimpy, which makes me quite proud; although I still have a little ways to go on my re-vamping of the guest room project. Still I thought I'd share some "before" and "after" pics to show you what's been done. Okay, first, an old pic of the minty green room:

The Victorian chair is to the right-hand side (I know, you can barely see it!). It's covered in a really pretty leaf and lily pattern that just didn't work with the new color scheme. The ottoman's in front of the window since the cats used it as a perch to look outside. It doesn't match the chair except that it's green. I bought it for about $10 at a really dusty "antiques" shop near where my grandmother lived. You can also see the white-washed dresser bought for about $60 at an antiques mall, when I just needed something pronto to fill the room and to store away old manuscripts. Also, the window has no curtains, just a mint-green sheer I got for about $5 at Linens-n-Things and draped around a little metal rod.

Now for the re-done chair, for which I used Waverly fabric that was on sale for $15 a yard (and I needed three to cover it and the ottoman). Happily, since the curtain panels are Waverly, the dye lot in the chair fabric and the curtains work together great! Note the matching white paint on the ottoman's feet. I tell ya, that epoxy spray paint for appliances has the perfect sheen! What a lucky mistake using that turned out to be.

Not bad, eh? You can kind of see the toned-down color of the green paint on the walls behind it. Below, you can glimpse the curtains that hang from the re-purposed wooden curtain rod I spray-painted. And there's the rehabbed dresser newly dark-green and now with feet! I think I mentioned before that the "feet" were made from a pair of drapery finials I got at Lowes for under $4. Ed cut the pointy tips off, which worked beautifully!

The dresser isn't quite finished yet. It has a spot on the back where you can tell some type of molding used to sit. I remembered my mom had a piece of molding to put over a doorway and had never used. So she donated it to my cause, and here's what it looks like, although it needs to be cut down (it's 62" long!) and painted. But when it's done and attached to back of the dresser, it's going to be gorgeous!

It's amazing what you can do with a little elbow-grease, paint, and fabric...and a creative mind! I can't wait to get the room completed. Another weekend of work, and I think it'll finally be done! Weeeee!

P.S. The dresser is finished! Here's the proof:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cozies versus Suspense/Mysteries

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the difference between a traditional mystery verses a suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery) and a cozy mystery.

For me, understanding the differences has been key as I craft a proposal for a new cozy series. I’m the type of person who needs to really process through things and understand the foundation, and once I have that firm foundation, I can build the house, making changes as I go. If the foundation is strong, then changes as I go won’t make the house collapse.

Here are the key differences as I see them:

Mystery (cozy) verses suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery)

  • Narrow World View
  • Larger World View

By this I mean that the detective in a mystery focuses on a smaller community, a collection of suspects, unraveling the secrets and lies within that community, in order to get to the truth.

In a suspense the action leads the hero to a larger, sometimes international, world which is where the clues lead.

  • Traditionally, the detective is not the center of the drama or action
  • The hero/heroine is the at risk him/herself and that is at the center of the drama

Especially in the mysteries of old, the detective doesn’t have personal growth or, put another way, he/she doesn’t go through a hero’s journey. More contemporary mysteries, particularly cozies, do have sleuths who undergo change or growth.

In a suspense, the center of the story is the hero/heroine. He/she is the one in danger and that is what drives the pursuit of justice (or the defeat of the villain). The hero/heroine is not on the periphery as the sleuth often is throughout a big portion of the cozy.

  • Who committed the crime? Will the puzzle be put together
  • Will the hero/heroine survive against a smart villain?

This is fundamental. In a mystery, will the detective put the pieces of the puzzle together in time before another death (sometimes the sleuth by this time) occurs? In a suspense, the question is really based on tension that is built from the danger the hero/heroine is in. Whether or not the villain will win is the driving force of the story.

  • Keeping the detective ahead of the reader.
  • Keeping the reader ahead of the hero/heroine.

In a mystery, the detective must be smarter than the reader! The puzzle has to be complicated or crafted well enough to fool the reader and keep him/her guessing, yet not too complicated or convoluted. In a suspense, or hybrid, the reader is really ahead of the hero/heroine because we know the danger that’s coming and we’re on the edge of our seats hoping that the hero/heroine is as smart as we are.

I’ve realized that I prefer the cozy model better. For starters, I don’t like to be on the edge of my seat in a heart-pounding scary way.

Blair Witch Trial?


Hercule Poirot?


So I’m curious, which type of mystery speaks to you? Do you like being ahead of the game as in a suspense, or a few steps behind the sleuth, hoping to put together the puzzle by the end?


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It’s a tough time to be a Catholic.

I speak from experience. Having been a practicing Catholic all my life—with a brief “lapsed” period in the 80s and 90s—I have been trying with all my might to reconcile the basic tenet of the Catholic Church (love thy neighbor) with the horrific abuses that we have all read about over the last decade or so. I have found that many of my fellow parishioners and friends have been questioning why we stay in a church that is filled with abuse of power, a disconnect from its faithful, and an unwavering commitment to antiquated thoughts and practices that only succeed in keeping good people from serving in a meaningful way.

I was speaking with a friend last night and we lamented that after identifying yourself as a Catholic to someone who doesn’t know you, you have to do a lot of backpedaling and assert that you believe in the power of the laity, the value of women, and probably in the idea that a priest can and should marry if he (and hopefully, SHE, at some point) so chooses. We are assumed to be monolithic in our identity and beliefs, and that is just not the case.

I remember being a little girl and my mother showing me pictures of a friend of hers from high school, Sister Leonore, nee Noreen. Sister Leonore worked for years in Africa trying to bring education and hope to an impoverished people. Her work was endless, and for all I know, she’s still there. She entered the convent out of a desire, I assume, to make the world a better place for people who had little and lacked the basic necessities of life. Yes, she probably wanted also to convert them to the faith, as missionaries are charged to do while working with the poor. But every once in a while I think of a young woman who devoted herself to the poor while still a teenager and wonder if it was hard for her to do so, knowing that the leaders of our church have always lived in opulence and grandeur while sending their minions to the ends of the earth, all in the name of God.

Then I think about a family from our church who took their three children and went to South America to be missionaries. They stayed for several years before returning to our lovely Village, having done what they considered ‘the Lord’s work.” When I see them at church, I look at them with awe. They are ordinary people, just like the rest of us in the pews, but answered to a higher calling.

And recently, a group of high schoolers from our local high school went to Nicaragua and built houses in a small village. This was the third year they went on this trip. Many come back saying they feel “changed,” but unable to express what that really means.

I have never really identified with the church hierarchy because I have never felt that they inform my faith. I’m sure that that statement alone is probably considered heresy. As a friend last night pointed out, they are almost like Goldman Sachs in terms of bureaucracy, and now, abuse of power. Interestingly, while I am aghast at what they are purported to have done, I don’t see them as part of my “church.” I see them as ordinary people who have ascended to power and who are completely disconnected from the everyday Catholic, those of us in the pews. Sister Leonore, the family from church, and the high schoolers, however? They are the “church.” They are the people living their faith. And they are the people I want to follow and emulate.

But don’t take my word for it. Read Nicholas Kristof’s essay from this past Sunday’s New York Times entitled “A Church Mary Can Love,” in which he discusses the people doing the hard work, the work that, as Catholics, we are implored to do. Because we are a faith built on a foundation of social justice and many of the people executing the work of a man who lived many centuries ago are…wait for it…women. The same women who are not allowed to celebrate Mass, become deacons, and who have been relegated for hundreds of year to a supporting role—at best—in the Church doings. Along with the people mentioned above, these women are transforming the world, one act of kindness at a time.

So, to my fellow Catholics out there whose heads droop lower and lower by the day with each passing news report on new abuses and new scandals, I say: deal with your anger. Channel your anger into doing good and changing people’s perceptions as to what Catholics are and what Catholics do. Do what we were implored to do all those centuries ago: Love thy neighbor. If you do nothing else, it’s still more than enough.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Great Grandkids and Sports

This past weekend, my daughter and hubby drove their motor home from California with their two of their granddaughters to a big track meet in Arizona.

Years ago, both their son and daughter participated in both the shot put and discus events in high school track.

Now their son's daughters who are both in middle school are doing great in these two events.

The younger one with the darker hair made first place in discus. The older one came in fifth but there were 43 others competing. So I'd say that was pretty good.

Grandpa (my son-in-law) has been coaching these two whenever he has been around to do so.

Needless to say, my daughter and son and law are pleased as can be.

Great-grandma and pa are pretty proud too. We don't get to see these kids as much as we'd like to as they live rather far away. Even though we're all in California, it's a long drive. Thank goodness for the Internet and the ability to send messages and photos.

Okay, I won't brag about great-grandkids anymore--at least not for awhile.


Monday, April 19, 2010

The Good Stuff in the News!

I'm ready to spend some time talking about "Good News." Let's talk heroes, good deeds, major accomplishments, and random acts of kindness.

I was impressed this week with the story of the James King who found the missing eleven-year-old-girl in the Florida swamp. He said God led him straight through the mud, thigh-high waters, alligators, and dense vegetation to Nadia Bloom. Nadia has Asperger's Syndrome and had been missing four days. Since during the last ten years or so, I've become very cynical, my first thought was not to praise the rescuer but to want an full accounting of his whereabouts in the days leading up to him "finding" the child. The thing about enjoying "good news" is you have to be willing to accept it at face value. So until it's proven otherwise, I'm willing to accept this as a miracle and a selfless act by a concerned citizen who had nothing to do with the girl's disappearance.

Actor Sean Penn continues to be relentless in his quest to save lives in Haiti. Rainy season is almost here and survivors are still living without real tents in areas where mudslides will almost certainly occur. Like his movies or not, he cares about the world.

L.A. Lakers player Pau Gasol gave up some time to make a 4-year-old fan, Ezra Frech very happy. Ezra was born with malformed limbs on his left side. He has an artificial leg that allows him to play basketball. He loves, loves, loves basketball. And he's very good at it!

On a personal note – my good news is that as of last week I've finished with surgery on both eyes and can now drive without contact lens or glasses! Alas, reading and working on the computer will still require corrective lenses of some kind. I've got a dozen pairs of drugstore reading glasses in various strengths that I'm using until I'm cleared by the surgeon to visit the optometrist.

What's your favorite "good news?"

Rhonda (wearing a 2.0 magnification for computer work).
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Love the Smell of Paint Fumes in the Morning

by Susan McBride

I've been on a home improvement kick of late, fueled by the long To-Do list on the side of our refrigerator that's ever-growing. With so much going on since Ed and I bought the house almost four years ago (deadlines, health crisis, getting hitched, et al), I've put off unfinished projects around the house and yard. So long as things seemed clean and neat, I ignored what could be ignored in support of my sanity. But with promo for The Cougar Club winding down and a little time on my hands before a new deadline dropped in my lap, I could finally tackle what I'd been putting off. Like the human tornado I am (or, at least, my husband thinks I am!), I jumped in with both feet.

I went for the easy stuff first, like sanding and touching up paint on door thresholds shredded by Max the Cat (who thinks the entire house is his scratching post). I put two coats of Haze--aka, light tan--on the bare white vanity in the upstairs guest bath to match the walls (hey, it breaks up the white between the tiles and the sink, and I'm a woman who likes color!). I've mentioned to Ed that it'd look really good to cut molding to frame the oversized guest bath wall mirror (something I've seen them do on HGTV)--and would I kill to replace that old "Hollywood" style lighting fixture, too!--but since hubby's the one who wields the table saw, the mirror-framing will have to wait.

My mother dropped by last weekend to help paint the guest room, another thing I'd been meaning to do and hadn't. The rest of the house had a color makeover long ago (well, all except Ed's "man cave" in the basement which was "Bisque" and still is). The third bedroom was always a vivid mint green, kind of like toothpaste, which matched my old comforter set well enough so we left it alone. Ed got a little sad when I said, "Time for the minty freshness to go!" He remarked that glancing in the room always reminded him to brush his teeth. Ha ha. I found a more neutral shade of green with a hint of gray in it, and it looks gorgeous. The old comforter set got laundered and taken to Goodwill. Rather than buy something new, I dug into the linen closet for a quilt my grandmother made me long ago, with scalloped edges trimmed in olive green and a circle of pink flowers and green leaves at its center. It looks perfect on the guest bed and the cats have already taken to burrowing beneath it (something I'm sure my cat-loving grandma would appreciate!).

Continuing on my "Design on a Dime" theme, I had Ed cut the old wooden curtain rod from our master bedroom (left behind by the former owner) so it would fit the guest room window. I spray-painted the rod and finials white (accidently using appliance paint which smells awful but covers beautifully!). Ed hung it up last night, and now I'm dying to go buy curtain panels, which I want to coordinate with new fabric to recover the old Victorian armchair and ottoman (er, I kind of got white paint on the green ottoman seat when I was spray-painting the feet!) Okay, so one project seems to lead to another, but it's all going to be gorgeous when I'm finished!

My home improvement crusade wasn't limited to the inside. Nope. I tackled a few outdoor projects as well, starting with clearing out leaves from flower beds and the basement window well off the patio where I encountered a garter snake that had the nerve to hiss at me! Geez, his head was as big as my pinky so I was less afraid than I would have been if I'd run across a giant spider. Animal lover that I am, I used a dustpan to scoop him up and toss him into a patch of ivy. Ed and I saw him again on Easter before heading over to my folks' house! He slithered across the driveway and let Ed take his picture before he disappeared through the grass. I'm sure it was his way of saying, "thanks."

But I digress. My yard work continued with some trimming and weeding, and I dug up a dead bamboo bush growing near the back fence, replacing it with a trellis and jasmine plant. I can't wait for the jasmine to cover that sucker and create a wall of yellow flowers and vine! FYI, the "bamboo" bush wasn't really bamboo at all. It was some kind of distant relative to a houseplant and didn't ever live up to the promise of growing to 6' x 6' within three years. In fact, it didn't grow but a few leaves beyond its original 1' x 1' self. A rotted trellis in another garden bed was replaced by a metal trellis, and now the clematis is growing thickly on it. I planted viney flowers that are supposed to naturalize in an empty area of that same bed, and I trimmed out dead branches on a pear tree and a maple (well, the ones I could reach that smack Ed in the head when he mows).

Getting out of my desk chair and moving like that has tugged on muscles I forgot existed. I've enjoyed transforming pieces of my world inside and out (although the tree pollen's about to kill me! Benadryl, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...although you seriously make me crave a nap). Ed's afraid that if I don't chain myself to my keyboard again soon, I'm going to build a room addition to the house. Hmm, not a bad idea. Maybe that screened porch I've been daydreaming about, one with a comfy chaise so I can lounge and read while the cats watch the birds at the feeder....

Er, does anyone have Mike Holmes' phone number handy just in case I need some help?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: E.J. Copperman

E.J. Copperman is a New Jersey native and the author of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, which begins the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime June 1. This is E.J.'s first novel, but not the last--two more Haunted Guesthouse Mysteries (at least) are on their way!

The first thing people ask you when they find out you write a mystery series about a haunted guesthouse is an obvious question: "Do you believe in ghosts?"

It's a tricky thing. If, as the author of a book called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, in which a woman finds two ghosts hanging around her newly-purchased Victorian, which she plans on converting into a guesthouse, you say that you believe in ghosts, the next logical question will be, "Why?" The reader, or interviewer, or transient who happened by, will want some evidence--some personal experience you've had--that made you so certain of your position.

But if you tell them you DON'T believe in afterliving visitors, you're liable to disappoint, or worse, to completely shatter the questioner's belief system.

It's a lose-lose situation. So I'm going to definitively state my core belief here, and let it stand for the record.

I don't know.

No, that's not a dodge. I've never had a life experience that made me certain someone from beyond the grave was trying to communicate. Unlike Haley Joel Osment, I DON'T see dead people. None of my departed relatives or friends has left a message on the spectral answering machine. No mysterious chills up my spine at appropriate moments. No "sensing a presence" in the room. It just hasn't happened to me.

On the other hand, I have no evidence that such things don't happen. I have friends whose intelligence and sanity I can personally vouch for who tell me they have experienced just such phenomena. And just because it hasn't happened to me doesn't me it doesn't happen.

In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, Alison Kerby (extra points if you get the reference) discovers a talent she didn't know she had--she can see two spirits inhabiting her house. It's not an ability she's been wishing for, and in fact, Alison finds it a major inconvenience. See, the two ghosts in her Jersey Shore guesthouse want her to do them a little favor: They want Alison to find out who murdered them.

Alison doesn't believe in ghosts until she starts seeing Paul and Maxie. And she would prefer not to see them now, truth be known. But once she realizes that this isn't the result of head trauma or insanity, Alison does her best to avoid doing any investigating. But circumstances--let's leave it at that--make that impossible.

So off she goes, and there will be a good number of surprises for her (and hopefully for you) along the way, including the fact that Alison is not the only person around who can see her two spectral guests. And that the person (or persons) who murdered Paul and Maxie might be getting wind of Alison's investigation--and targeting her to be the next ghost haunting the house.

Alison, if nothing else, becomes a true believer in ghosts during NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED. It's hard for her to deny the existence of two people who are making her life miserable--and exciting.

For me, the jury's still out on ghosts. But I'm wondering, from a reader's point of view: Does an author have to be a true believer to make the story work? I'd appreciate your opinion.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Parenting: Working without the Manual

If you are a parent, or even if you’ve been subjected to the ranting or misbehaving of a child in close proximity to you, I suspect that you’ve had the urge to spank. I know I have. Fortunately, because I never felt that physical punishment was a solution to misbehaving, I never gave into the urge to give my kids a swift whack to the bottom. Lord knows, sometimes it was hard. But now there is evidence to support the feeling held by many parents that spanking is not the solution.

Researchers at Tulane University have studied 2,500 children and the effect of spanking on their behavior. Their findings? Children who were spanked frequently at age 3 became more aggressive by age 5. This, as well as other findings of the study, support a recent Duke University study that said that infants that were spanked at twelve months—and let’s face it: twelve-month-olds are infants—scored lower on cognitive tests than those children who hadn’t been spanked. In addition, the children in the Tulane study were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction, get easily frustrated, have temper tantrums, and exhibit aggressive behavior toward others.

For me, it was always a decision fueled by my rational, intellectual mind: hitting a child would get their attention, but ultimately, not their continued compliance. I always assumed that spanking the offending child might make me feel better and get the child’s attention, but would eventually end up with both of us crying—me for losing control and them for being physically and emotionally hurt. I instead favored the “time-out,” which has come under some criticism for not being a strict enough punishment. Personally, I like the time out very much, so much so, that I sometimes put myself in time out, if only to get a hold of my emotions or think something through. Research has found that the time out has the same effect for a child, but only if you stick to your guns, something that is very difficult to do with a wailing child sitting in the “naughty chair” or whatever location you choose.

My pediatrician told me when my daughter was an infant that the best piece of advice he had received as a new parent was “once you say no, the answer is no even if you’ve made a mistake and the answer could be yes.” Because, like animals, kids can smell fear. They can also smell dithering. Once you have said no and then change the answer to yes after repeated queries, the child knows that they can have their way with you. And then it’s all downhill from there. You’ll never have the upper hand again because you’ve been outed as a “mind changer.”

My friends and I often lament that parenting is hard and the manual for what do in most situations is nonexistent. We have only each other to rely on to get a sense of whether what we’re doing is correct, sane, and will guarantee that our children will reach adulthood. We spend an inordinate amount of time as parents making sure our children are safe, and any remaining time that they are good citizens capable of making good decisions. You have to parent when you are sick, tired, stressed, and at your wit’s end and you have to do all of it while making snap decisions on the fly. When you think about it, it’s amazing that anyone does it well. Or at all.

I am not trying to paint a picture of myself as the sanest, most patient mother in the world. Au contraire. For instance, I am thisclose to giving a stern talking to the little girl who sits in front of us at church (and who I don’t know) who scratches her bare hiney during the priest’s sermon when she’s not beating her brother over the head while her mother blissfully ignores her. And the little boy who threw a fork at me during dinner at a local restaurant? Well, I’d put him in time-out before the fork had even left his hand; I can sense bad stuff before it happens, especially if my kids are thinking about it. I’m gifted that way. For that kid, time-out would take on a whole new meaning. When my kids were smaller and would beat the stuffing out each other night after night, I would calmly pick both of them up and place them in their beds for the night, despite the fact that the sun hadn’t set. Fearful of another sixteen hours in their beds, the nightly fisticuffs soon stopped. If nothing else, my kids are pretty astute, getting the whole “if-then” relationship.

Basically, my parenting style reflects the credo of the Mafia: find out what they love—from free time to television to their handheld electronics—and make it go away. Works like a charm. Who needs spanking?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Thing After Another

When you have a family as big as mine, there's always something happening.

We've had our share of divorces--and I've seen what happens to the poor kids when mom and dad finally split. Fortunately, I've also seen how the kids have managed to become decent adults after a few mishaps along the way.

Recently touched base with a grandniece (yes, I have a bunch of those too) whose parents divorced when she was a kid, and she's had four kids who are now 10 and under. She's working on her GED because she wants to go to the police academy. Her goal is to have a decent job so her kids can go to college and she can retire sometime and not be like her parents. Her father is remarried and raising a new six year old of his and his new wife's as well as her two teenage daughters. He has his own business, but has to work really hard to make ends meet. Retirement isn't in his near future. The ex-wife still works as a bartender.

Seems like things go along fine for awhile, then we hear some scary news about someone--an accident or a bad diagnosis, or someone has decided to end a marriage, or one of the grandkids has gotten into trouble. Once in awhile, it's a new baby on the way.

In some ways it's almost like living in a soap opera except we're related to everyone. Maybe that's why hubby and I like to watch General Hospital, the soap opera, worse things happen to those folks than what happens in the extended Meredith family.

You might ask if I've ever used any of our family drama in any of my books--of course I have, not that anyone would recognize it. But how could I not use such a wealth of material when it's unfolding right in front of my eyes. Usually I don't use it while it's fresh--but someday, sometime, one of those incidents will be the perfect element for a story I'm writing.

And of course, having relatives in law enforcement gave me the desire to write about police officers and their families.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh for Goodness Sakes

Fair warning: Another judgmental blog.

According to Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse James may have simply been searching for "something different" outside his marriage to Sandra Bullock. On her TV show, The View, she explained, "Hey, listen, I did it five or six times ... Yes, I screwed around. Yes, while I was married. I made those mistakes too, yeah. It happens sometimes. It happens. Maybe he was trying to find something different too."

Well, okay, then. As long as he found what he needed, then the detritus left in the wake of this marital betrayal, the humiliated wife and devastated children, are just unfortunate casualties.

We’ve all been subjected to way too much information about men in the public eye and their mistresses. I’m always left thinking that these guys have too much time on their hands and too much money to waste. I’m not naïve enough to think that men working two jobs and still barely making ends meet aren’t capable of cheating. But maybe if you didn’t have so much household help that frees you from the necessary, but not glamorous jobs required to keep the home fires burning, maybe you’d have less time to dream up loathsome costumes for you and your honey to wear. And please Mr. James, don’t tell me how your Jewish godfather gave you the Nazi hat, so that makes it okay. Rule number one: it’s never okay to wear Nazi uniforms or tattoo swastikas on your body. No exceptions.

When my kids were little, my husband and I spent our evenings doing homework with them (Oy, that second grade project of the planetary system hanging off a wire hangar mobile); or arguing with them over what constituted a sufficient number of green beans that needed to be consumed by children under ten at dinner; or making hundreds of rice krispie treats to be sold at bake sales that would finance something (a class trip, a charity, the school play). In other words, being covered in marshmallow goop was time-consuming, messy, and yes, sometimes fun, but in any case, always used up any spare time that might have been spent on outside nookie.

And not only have these men found the time to fool around, but heck they’re going for world records in having multiple mistresses simultaneously. And the subtle implication that Mr. James was lonely because his wife was in Alabama filming what would turn out to be the biggest role of her life – um, if you’re lonely, pick up a book and read it. Or better yet, pick up several and read them to your kids.

But in any case, I think I can safely speak for many of the Stiletto Faithful when I ask, nay demand, that all these folks should shut up. I don’t want to hear any more public apologies, nor do I want to hear any more demands for personal apologies from mistresses who feel betrayed by their lovers. None of this should be played out in the media – and nobody should be making a buck from this sordid mess (hear that Gloria Allred?).

Indignantly yours,

Marian (the Northern half of Evelyn David)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Good News & Bizarre News

The good news is that the third book in my Dirty Business mystery series, Dead Head (Minotaur Books) will be released next week. The bizarre news is the story of a Virginia man who bought a guinea pig in a pet store and then went home and made a hat out of it – which he wore around town until someone called the cops and he was arrested for animal cruelty.

Most writers have an idea file. Mine is filled with newspaper clippings and the printed versions of online stories like the one about Guinea Pig Man – although he may be too strange to use. Who’d believe it? GPM sounds like a character from a Carl Hiaasen novel. If anyone else had written him, I’d have said the writer was trying too hard to be quirky.

Bizarre news story number two concerns two would-be bank robbers who called the bank they were planning to rob to explain just how they’d like the bills packaged. When they arrived, they were genuinely surprised to see the cops waiting for them. These braintrusts were from my home state of Connecticut. I’m not sure my editor would let me write characters that dumb. (Perhaps by book number nine in the series…)

Dead Head had its origins in a news story too. Not as bizarre as these, but one that was even more fascinating. About two years ago an upper middle class suburban woman was arrested when it was discovered that she was a fugitive from the law who’d been living a lie for decades. None of her neighbors or family members really knew who she was and might never have known if someone hadn’t informed. I was mesmerized by the notion of walking away from one life and starting another – and with over 100,000 missing persons in the US at any given time, it probably happens more than we think. And it had me asking myself – how well do we really know our neighbors?

Whatever the facts of that real case, I was off and running with my story which has amateur sleuth Paula Holliday hired by the woman’s family to find out who dropped the dime and why.

Who knows, maybe in two years I’ll be launching a book called Guinea Pig Man. What have you seen in the paper lately that’s made it into your idea file?

Rosemary Harris


Rosemary Harris was born in Brooklyn New York and now she, her husband split their time between Manhattan’s East Side and Fairfield County, Connecticut. A small item in the New York Times about a mummified body led to her first book, the Agatha and Anthony-nominated, Pushing Up Daisies, followed by last year’s The Big Dirt Nap.

“I love my heroine, Paula Holliday. People always ask how much of me is in Paula – some, but of course she’s the younger, thinner, more adventurous version of me. And she’s funnier than I am.”

Rosemary is vice-president of MWA/NY and past president of Sisters in Crime, New England. She’s also a member of Garden Writers of America and CMGA Connecticut Master Gardeners Association.

Visit Rosemary at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mystery's Strong Heroines

Moriah Dru’s weekend off with her lover, Lieutenant Richard Lake, is interrupted when Atlanta juvenile court judge Portia Devon hires Dru to find two sisters who’ve gone missing after their foster parents’ house burns down.

The latest winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, The End Game features a strong new heroine in a vivid Southern setting. Gerrie Ferris Finger puts a new spin on the classic mystery novel.

Since the Stiletto Gang are women writers on a mission to bring mystery, humor and high heels to the world, I'll write about the evolution of heroines in mysteries.

I'll compare my own Moriah Dru, heroine of The End Game to the women of mystery from the turn of the century to today. Dru wouldn't wear stilettos, although she might wear a pair whether I want her to or not. At six feet tall, she'd feel at home in a room full of basket ball players. With her intelligent blue eyes, ironic sense of humor and athletic prowess, she's be shooting hoops with the seven footers without turning a shapely ankle. She keeps her body strong because the world in which she exists is tough even for a man. Having left the Atlanta Police Department, she turned child finder. In The End Game she and her lover, Richard Lake of the APD, must find two young sisters before they are taken out of the country to be sex slaves.

Dru grew out of a succession of mystery heroines that began (in my opinion) with Mary Roberts Rinehart's "fem jep" heroines. Rinehart's female protagonists had to be rescued, or, in later days, had to rescue themselves. Her stories were of the "had I but known" school. Which inevitably leads to Agatha Christie and her Miss Marple, the eccentric, who believed all evil was reflected in someone she knew. She, like her male counterpart, Sherlock Holmes, solved crimes by cerebral analysis.

To me, Nancy Drew is the prototype for the modern strong woman in mystery. Created and written in the 1930s by a series of writers called Carolyn Keene, Nancy never met a dangerous situation she couldn't handle. She may have gotten into the "too stupid to live" camp by her tenacity, but she changed the perception of the "hero" in heroine.

Moriah Dru and her contemporaries share a passion for truth and justice and they understand human motivation and the evil that comes from lust or greed or any of the negative aspect of the human soul. These protagonists connect with victims, seeing them as individuals with personalities rather than puzzle pieces to be moved on a board. In The End Game Dru doesn't interact with the abducted children, she "sees" them through the neighbors and mentally connects to them by feeling the horror that awaits at the hands of people without conscience.

The modern heroine must experience change. In a stand-alone novel, the heroine has a arc – a slow realization or an epiphany that enables her to understand herself and her motivations. In a mystery series, the heroine has more time to grow and change. Miss Marple never changed; on the other hand, Christie, who had many personal tribulations herself, made Miss Maple so engaging that we understood her stock character and looked forward to the puzzle.

Today's mystery heroine can be found in every genre and sub-genre. At one end of the spectrum is the cozy. Our intrepid sleuth must have a dauntless streak without being obnoxious or wooly. She will hold fast to things she believes in. She can be an amateur caught up in murder or a professional who investigates and competes with men. At the other end of the spectrum, the hard-boiled heroine can be like tiny Munch Mancini, created by the late Barbara Seranella. Munch is a former prostitute and junkie who's trying to get her life on track by fixing cars. You feel her despair, but through her heroic acts and good heart, you root for her redemption. Now that's a strong heroine.

Gerrie Finger
Gerrie Ferris Finger is a winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband and standard poodle, Bogey.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Annual Ode to Sunscreen

Spring has sprung around these parts and with it comes the desire to be outside. And although most of you tuned in looking for my annual ode to Spanx, what you will get instead is my annual sunscreen screed to everyone who has spent all winter indoors and is now looking to get some “color.”

Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as a healthy suntan. Sure, you think you look better and if that’s the case, run—don’t walk—to your nearest health and beauty aids store (the place that used to be called the “drugstore”) and get yourself some spray tanner. I am not very adept at anything that requires you to get naked and spray on with a steady hand, so instead, I prefer the ghostly white look usually reserved for Mary, Queen of Scots and the like. From what I understand, spray tanner has come a long way and you can actually achieve the look of the sun-kissed with a little practice and all for under twenty bucks. What could be better?

While you’re at your local health and beauty aid store, pick up two additional items. One is Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer dry-touch sunblock with helioplex and an SPF of 55. This stuff is the best around, and not just for us gals. Men can wear it, too. It goes on dry and protects your face and neck from the sun’s harmful rays fifty-fives times longer than if you weren’t wearing it. It feels like your favorite foundation and has the added benefit of protecting you from sun damage or worse.

The other item you should pick up is a good sunscreen. Around here, we like Ocean’s Potions (recommended by Dr. Anna, oncologist extraordinaire) or Bull Frog, both of which provide such good coverage that even I, seemingly a descendant of Mary, Queen of Scots, can sit out without risking a sunburn.

You know the rest: get a hat, limit your sun exposure, reapply sunscreen if outdoors for a long period of time or after exertion. Make an appointment now to see your dermatologist for a skin check Or, if you’re like me and never want to hear the word “biopsy” again unless it’s on an episode of “House,” invest in some UV-protectant clothing like my sexy swim tights or my mock-turtleneck swim shirt. Oh, you laugh. I can hear you. But I came back from tropical Bermuda last year with nary a red blotch on my fair skin and that’s saying something.

Over 60,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year and that’s not counting just your garden variety skin cancers. You can’t change what you did to yourself in the past, but you can change how you behave going forward. The environment has made it so that we’re getting more of the sun’s rays than ever before, but we are lucky to enjoy the scientific breakthroughs that allow us to enjoy the outdoors without risking harm to ourselves.

Be sun safe, Stiletto faithful!

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I started to write about different kinds of friends, but then I realized I'd gotten too specific about a certain type of friend who is kind of a downer to be around and realized she just might read this blog post. I would never ever want to hurt her feelings, so I'm going to try again.

What kind of friends do you have?

Over the years I've had some interesting varieties. One of my very best friends turned out to be what they call a fair-weather friend. I stuck by her through all sorts of her family crisis and a few of her personal ones, but when something tragic happened in my family she disappeared from my life.

Since that time, I've never had another "best friend." Instead, I've got many friends from all over. There are friends that I only see once a year when I got to a Mayhem in the Midlands--dear friends who are not writers but readers. I look forward to spending time with them and sharing at least one meal somewhere in Old Town. They are much younger than I am and I enjoy being with them.

I have dear friends who attend the same church with me, ones who I can count on to listen when I need a friendly ear and I'm there when they need the same.

And how about the friends we never see? Like the friends we've made on this blog. It's been a joy to learn more about each and everyone, to find out how they feel about things with a perspective much different than my own.

When I was much younger, I had an older friend who mentored me with my writing. In fact, I learned more from her about writing than any class I ever took or book that I read. She's moved too far for me to see her in person anymore, but she's still going strong nearing 90. And yes, we do email one another.

Many years ago, I worked in the nursery at church with an 80 year old woman who I truly admired. We became great friends and giggled about some of the silliest things while caring for the little ones.

Now I'm at the other end of the scale--being one of the older women--and I have friends of many ages and love and enjoy every one.

I am still careful though, I limit the time I spend with the complainers and the whiners--life is too short for that. But when you spend time with someone who is fun, can laugh at themselves, is loving and enjoys life--you feel so much better yourself.

Not sure there's a point to this, but it is what I felt like writing about today.

Anyone have any thoughts about their friends?


Monday, April 5, 2010

Abridging Freedom of Speech

I would like to offer up an amendment to the constitution of the United States. It would tweak the 1st Amendment to abridge the freedom of speech in the following ways and circumstances:

1. No individual or group, especially those claiming to have God on their side, are allowed to protest, disrupt, or interfere with a funeral. Don't believe it's happening? Click here.

2. No senator or representative is allowed to heckle the President of the United States during a State of the Union address.

3. Politicians, entertainers, sports figures, religious leaders, and other public figures are barred from making any public reference to any type of "rehab."

4. No mistress can insist on a public apology from her paramour because he lied to her. Lying is the very foundation of an affair. Corollary: No mistress can hire Gloria Allred to represent her interests in a public discussion of said affair.

5. The word "Maverick" and any form of that word is banned from any usage that doesn't directly involve livestock or James Garner.

6. The phrase, "Yes, we can" should be immediately retired from political statements and speeches. Just because we "can" doesn't mean we should or will.

7. [You fill in the blank. What words would you like to hear less of?]

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, April 2, 2010

Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes

by Susan McBride

Yes, I know I'm one day late for April Fool's (aka the unofficial birthday of Blue the Kitty); but I think the topic of fools is so timeless it needs no official date. I'm not talking about pranksters or the fools who nearly run you off the road while drinking Starbucks and yakking on cellphones. Nor am I alluding to the political mouthpieces who never seem to give their pieholes a rest. Nope. Instead, I want to discuss a trait that I envy more and more the older I get: being completely unafraid to act foolish in front of others, something I don't think most humans master until we're too cranky and tired to care.

For a long time, I lived under the false impression that perfectionism was attainable and if you achieved it--or came anywhere close--everyone would find you irresistible and would want to be fast friends. Although when you're born a smart ass (as I was), it's very difficult to curb your tongue when there's such an itch to add a punchline to everything. Shockingly, not everyone appreciates the fine art of wordplay, so I often found myself at odds with siblings and friends who didn't "get" my sense of humor. What's an impressionable girl to do? I tried my darnedest to refrain from saying things that might be miscontrued, no matter how much it pained me.

That training came in very handy in my sorority days and was invaluable once I became a real-live author at 34 (egads, eleven years ago next month!). When I was a newbie, fresh off the I-can't-believe-I'm-finally-published bus, I tried super-hard to behave. I was as nice as I could possibly be to everyone I met. But after a few years and a couple eye-opening incidents where something I said or did was taken the wrong way, I began to realize that, despite my best efforts, I was never going to: (a) say all the right things all the time; and (b) be seen as funny and delightful by all of those watching me. It was about then that I said, "To hell with this." I had to stop being afraid of every word that came out of my mouth. I wanted to live every moment fully and enjoy everything I did, even if there was a person or two (or three hundred) out there who didn't like my tone of voice or felt offended by my word choice.

I do believe that turning point came after I hit forty, which seems to be a magical line that, once crossed, gives you the freedom to be exactly who you want to be. I stopped worrying so much about making a fool of myself, and it felt like finally breaking out of a tightly laced corset. If life is high school then I'd rather have fun being the goofy class clown than the perfectly presentable prom queen. I'm not talking about disposing of manners, merely not taking things so seriously. One of the best parts about writing is feeling like I have no boundaries. I love concocting characters who don't always behave the way they probably should. I adore when they say things out of turn that crack me up. That's how I want to live my life and maybe why I have a plaque above my file cabinet that says "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

I'd like to propose a year-round celebration of the good kind of fools who aren't afraid to be themselves, even if that means looking stupid and screwing up once in awhile. Hey, as the song goes, "everybody plays the fool sometime." I think I'll do something foolish today, just so I never get out of practice.