Monday, May 31, 2010

A Change of Pace

I’m not whining. Really, I’m not.

But I hate unloading the dishwasher. I don’t mind loading it. Heck, I don’t even mind washing dishes by hand. But I can’t stand opening the dishwasher door, with the unexpected steam facial, and putting away all the clean plates and silverware.

I know in the scope of tough things in life, this doesn’t even qualify to make the list. I should be grateful (I am) to have a dishwasher. I should be grateful (I am) that I have food to make those dishes dirty in the first place.

But after a million years of marriage (all wonderful, I assure you), and raising four kids (to steal from Garrison Keillor, all good looking and above average) – I am tired of household chores. Sure whoever is at home helps, but I'm still the captain of this cruise ship. Absolutely, my husband does more than his fair share (he’d probably argue that it’s waaaay more than his fair share), but let’s just agree to disagree.

But unless we’re prepared to eat takeout food on paper plates with plastic forks (and risk the wrath of "save the earth fans" the world over) – I’m looking for some invention (or person) to do the following tasks:

1. Unload the dishwasher and put away the contents in a timely fashion (within an hour of the completion of its cycle). This is to avoid the “who can wait longest to see if somebody else will do the job.”

2. Carry upstairs from the basement and distribute to the appropriate drawers, all the clean laundry I’ve done. I point out that it doesn’t count if you merely plop the clean clothes on the bed, to be pushed to the floor before crawling into the sheets, which will necessitate either refolding or washing the clothes again because the dog with the muddy feet has walked on them.

3. Put away the groceries. I don’t mind shopping for food, sometimes at more than one store to get the best bargain, I'll even lug the bags into the house. But I hate to put the foodstuffs away. Yes, there is a pattern here. I sometimes fantasize that if I only had a walk-in pantry, then putting away dishes and groceries would be a snap. But since I don't have a pantry, walk-in or otherwise, putting these things away involves much squeezing and rearranging, always doubling the time of the original task.

4. Iron tablecloths and t-shirts. Yes, I know about wrinkle-free tablecloths, but mine are never unwrinkled and if I’m going to the trouble of putting a cloth on the dining room table, it’s an occasion and should look nice. When I iron, it does not….look nice. Same for summer t-shirts which are grabbed right out from the dryer and still look like they have shrunk two sizes, with permanent creases. (Of course, as a writer, I never see anyone so who cares).

5. Mark the sheets so that it’s clear which way they fit. On a twin, this is never a problem, but on our Queen-sized bed, I inevitably put the bottom fitted sheet on the wrong way and have to start over again. I’d also add that I’d like sheets that didn’t pill or shrink – and as long as I’m asking, I’d like someone else to put them on the bed in the first place. Actually, to take a step back, I’d also like someone else to fold all fitted bottom sheets, a task I've reduced to rolling them up in balls because I can’t get them to fold flat.

What chores would you like to dump, er, exchange with a loved one?


Friday, May 28, 2010

Because I Feel Like It

Rachel Brady

Last week I took a shine to doing things just because I felt like it. It started with painting my toenails glittery orange. Then there was an impromptu trip to the beach with my little boy. Soon I reversed course and started skipping certain things I didn't feel like doing. I walked past the dishes in the sink and let the unfolded laundry wait for later. I deleted a few events from my calendar. Decided I'd rather do something else instead.

Gotta say, I liked where this was headed.

Some of you may wonder what the big deal is here. Aren't we all free-thinking folks with the ability to choose a course for ourselves? Sure. But something about my internal wiring has left me forever reluctant to hop on board the train to Changed My Mind. Seems like any time an activity has ever hit my To Do list, it has been cemented there.

Normally, I wouldn't have made that beach trip until all the other undesirable chores were finished first. Ditto for settling in at night to read a book or work on my manuscript. Those things feel too leisurely, as if surely some punishment must be completed first. All this stems from my responsibility gene, I've decided. The same one that has me attending social functions out of a sense of duty and obligation, even if I'd rather be somewhere else. I'm starting to change my mind about all kinds of things lately, and in most cases I don't even feel apologetic about it anymore.

It began with a comment from my friend Carrie last February. After asking me to go running with her on the upcoming Saturday, she told me it was okay to just say, "Maybe. If I feel like it." No yes or no required.

Strangely, this response would never have crossed my mind had she not put it out there. I'd have either said "yes," and honored that commitment, or I'd have said "no," and then felt obligated to offer up a really good explanation of why not. And I never would have been so rude as to remain non-committal like she was suggesting. But having her permission, I took her up on it. And I discovered that I liked leaving my calendar open to make last-minute decisions depending on whether or not I felt like doing something.

It started spilling over.

Carrie was the only person in my cast of friends to offer this carte blanche approach to planning, but I started using it with everyone else around me anyway. I said no to requests for volunteer work (don't judge me!), turned down invitations to do local races with friends, and even (yes... Mom Guilt here) set boundaries with my family.

I learned a few things. My young son can dress himself and brush his own teeth. My daughters can put away laundry and pour their brother's cereal in the morning. And somebody else around here has been feeding all the pets because I stopped doing it a long time ago and, as yet, none are dead.

What do I feel like doing instead? Writing.

For years, I waited until everyone in my family was asleep before I started to write. I made all their lunches, loaded the dishwasher, picked up toys, and did laundry--all after bedtime--and then turned on my laptop at nine or ten o'clock and wrote if I had anything left to give. I don't feel like doing it that way anymore.

I want to write a book this year. A whole book, not a few disjointed chapters spread out wide over the course of months and years. So, twice a week I've been leaving and going to my local library for about three hours at a time to write. Alone.

Do I feel guilty? You bet.

Is it stopping me? Nope.

Somewhere in here, there must be a balance. I'm still looking for it, just like everyone else. The day may not be far off that I'll decide my new M.O. is selfish and then revert to my old ways. I'm open to that possibility. But this year I'm serving others less and writing more.

Admittedly, I'm having a little rebellious streak right now. Still, I hope the Stiletto Faithful will also consider what you'd most like to do in life. Once in a while, I hope you'll pursue those things too, because you feel like it. No apologies required.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

I’m really not a big TV watcher. But when I'm down, or just need to relax, or when I'm a little stuck on my WIP, I do turn to what I call my comfort shows. There are a few of them.

Supernatural is one of my top favorites.

Once in a while I watch Southland.

Love Love Love Project Runway.

But these are all done, and now so is American Idol.

Last night Lee DeWyze won and all is good in Idol world.

I’ve written about Friday Night Lights--my other TV love.

(and it’s on NBC again so I can see the whole season!) Yes!!

But I really love another show.

g l e e

Raise your hand if you’re a Glee fan. Go ahead, all the way up.

Things I love about Glee:

  • The singing--of course!
  • The head-on approach it takes with toughissues like not blending in or being true to who you are.
  • The homage to pop culture.
  • A whole show paying tribute to Madonna.
  • Special Guest star Olivia Newton John.
  • Sue and the Cheerios.
  • Gaga day.
  • The melodrama. It’s over the top and God how I love it!
  • Kristen Chenowith.
  • Kurt and Finn trying to be almost brothers.
  • The angst.
  • The emotion.
  • The truth underneath the theatricality.
  • The cheerio, Brittany, who said, “Did you know Dolphins are just gay sharks?”

There’s so much to love about Glee. It’s a guilty pleasure... and one I’m not afraid to admit.

So here’s my question:

What’s your guilty pleasure?


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Free Children?

Lenore Skenazy is a writer who I have followed throughout the years, having read her column faithfully in the New York Daily News when it ran there. She writes about life in the city as a parent and working mom, and I have always found something to relate to in her essays. She is a good writer with a great sense of humor with whom I always manage to find common ground when it comes to parenting, marriage, or living in the Metropolitan area.

Her latest book, Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), sounds like a book that I would like to read. Rather, it sounds like a book I SHOULD read because as anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a worrier of the first order. If worrying were an art, well, I’d be Michelangelo. In the book, Skenazy contends that we should stop worrying about our kids, stop holding them “captive,” and start letting them live. Let them discover the world. In her case, that means allowing her nine-year-old to take the subway by himself. In my case, that means allowing my eleven-year-old to walk three houses up the street to play with a friend. Baby steps, people, baby steps. I visited her Amazon page to read more about the book and was impressed with her sixty-six five-star reviews and complete lack of one-star reviews. She almost had me.

Until “Take Your Children to the Park…and Leave Them There” day.

While publicizing the book, Skenazy put forth the premise that kids should be allowed to go to the park and play, an argument that I actually agree with. She contends that children spend too much time indoors and argues that nobody is really allowed to go outside and play anymore. All reasonable. All true. Today’s parents, myself included, spend too much time thinking about what our kids should be doing, managing their time to the very last second, without allowing them to do anything but bend to our social will. These days, when child #2 asks me if he can play in the woods behind our house, my answer is, “Not without a friend! Stay together! And make sure you check yourself for ticks when you get back in! Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen! How many brussel sprouts do you want with your grilled chicken?” as opposed to, “Sure! Have a good time! Don’t come back until I call you for dinner! We’re having all the foods you love!”

What I don’t agree with is the age that Skenazy thinks is the best time to try out the theory that kids should go and play and meet other children, all without the watchful eyes of their parents: seven or eight. Seven or eight? Those are ages that I just can’t get behind.

Believe me, I know children at the tender age of seven or eight who appear very mature, more mature than I sometimes am. Downright adult-like. But in reality, they aren’t. They are little kids who might have enviable communication skills or a higher level of maturity than say, some forty-year-olds but they are still children who live in a world that is populated by many wonderful and kind people but some not-so-great people. Some of these not-so-great people are even other children. I have had the pleasure of sitting beside a playground the last several weeks at child #2‘s Little League games and I eavesdrop on the shenanigans that go on while children are playing, and sometimes, these shenanigans are not terribly positive. Back in the day, we would have called them “character-building,” but in today’s “everyone’s a winner!” world, they are just downright mean.

Yes, I know: it’s all part of growing up. But the idea of dropping a seven-year-old at the park, particularly one in New York City where Skenazy lives, doesn’t seem safe. I think I could get behind a twelve-year-old being allowed to roam free, but when I (hopefully) get there, we’ll need a lot of xanax to keep me mellow as the newly-anointed “independent” child goes off to explore the world.

I think Skenazy ultimately has the right idea but to me, but we differ on the execution and the details. She’s right that we over-manage everything about children’s lives and that we need to back off. We put too much pressure on them to achieve in school and give them anxieties about life and their future that they just don’t deserve, in my opinion. But when it comes to freedom, we need to stress to them—and by “them,” I mean children over seven—that that freedom comes with responsibility. That responsibility includes being safe, being kind to others, and being respectful of everyone you encounter. And knowing when to involve an adult. I think there’s a happy medium between Skenazy’s world where children I consider too young can rule the world and my world, where my kids who have their learner’s permits still have to text their mom when they arrive at the library, just a ten-minute walk away.

What do you think, Stiletto readers?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Next Up, Something Different

My next book is going to be a departure from my usual mystery. It's a story I wrote long ago that was inspired by a family tragedy.

My son-in-law, who inspired me to write about law enforcement, was killed in the line of duty. Some things happened right after he was killed that made us all realize that his spirit might still be around.

As time went on, I decided to write a story based on some of what happened. Of course the characters are different, and the outcome as well. In some ways, I think the writing was a way of helping me through the loss of a young man I loved like a son.

(I have to mention that this was a horribly difficult time for my daughter who lost her husband of 15 years and had three young boys to raise on her own. This is not her story, though I borrowed a lot from what happened after she lost her husband. The fictional story grew out of her experience of course--but it is fictional.)

I wrote that book long ago and it appeared only as an e-book. After several years, I broke my relationship with that particular publisher. After I signed on with Oak Tree Press for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the publisher asked if I had any older books I'd like to put on Kindle. One of the books I gave her was Lingering Spirit. She fell in love with the story.

This year she asked if she could turn it into a trade paperback. Of course I said yes. So in June, I'll have a romance with a touch of the supernatural coming out.

Honestly, I'm surprised by the turn of events. It'll be quite different to be promoting a romance.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Books in Waiting (or the pile on my sofa)

Some of you know I just had eye surgery on both eyes. It's been a long six months of weaning myself off my gas permeable contact lenses so that the eye surgeon could figure out what strength of corrective lens to implant. During this process, I haven't had great vision and haven't read very much for pleasure. But now the surgery is over, my eyes have healed, and I can see again!!! I'm ready to dive back into the wonderful world of reading.

I have a nice stack of books on my sofa. These are the books I have just read, or I'm currently reading, or I intend to read over the summer. Of course as soon as I pick one of them up, I feel guilty for not spending the time writing. Oh, well, I'll just have to deal with the guilt.

Damaged by Alex Kava
I had never read any of Ms. Kava's novels before but I really enjoyed this advance copy. Wonderful characters and lots of excitement as the serial killer is tracked. I love the female Coast Guard rescue swimmer character and hope this wasn't her last appearance.

Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich
I'm hoping to read this thriller soon. The plot involving a Doctors Without Borders surgeon and his double agent wife sounds great!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – all by Stieg LarssonI may be one of the few who haven't read these books, but I'm determined to cure that oversight this summer. I'm just a few pages into the first of the three, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I'm hooked.

Last week I went shopping in a real brick & mortar bookstore for books for my Dad's birthday gift. I found him a non-fiction book about George Custer's last stand and two thrillers whose titles escape me at the moment. The important part of this story – (insert smile) is that I also found a couple of books for me. Isn't that amazing the way that works? I encourage everyone to shop for gifts in bookstores. I purchased The Ark by Boyd Morrison – a mystery concerning the search for Noah's Ark. I'm about a chapter into it. So far someone has tried to kill the heroine twice in three days. I'm seeing a pattern and suspect foul play. I also bought the wonderful Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning. I read her last one set in Kansas and loved her writing. I'm anticipating great things from this new book!

How about you? What are you reading? What do you plan to read this summer?

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Business of Rejection

by Susan McBride

It feels as though I've spent my whole life writing (and I have, in one form or another). I've been a published author for 11 years this month, starting at a small traditional press and ending up at two very big NY houses. For as many years before that I was struggling to get published, composing a manuscript a year and following all the advice laid out in Writer's Digest in order to achieve my dreams. As you can imagine, in that decade-plus before I signed my first contract, I suffered plenty of rejection. Maybe I'm a bit of a masochist, but I saved every letter. If I'd wanted to, I could've wall-papered the small guest bedroom I just re-decorated with those rejections, probably with some to spare.

I know I've said it before but it's worth saying again: the publishing biz isn't for sissies. Most of us don't have insider contacts or celebrity names (hello, Tyra Banks, Lauren Conrad, Tori Spelling, any of the Real Housewives, etc., ad nauseum), so we have to go about things the slow and arduous way: write, rewrite, polish again for good measure, research agencies that represent our genre of fiction, submit a query, wait for a response, submit chapters or a full manuscript upon request, and wait some more. More often than not, we're told "it's just not right for us at the moment." We're instructed not to take rejection personally. It's all about sales and numbers and branding and platforms. We shouldn't take "no" to heart. As if!

Writers are kind of like Tootsie Pops: hard shell on the outside but with a softer candy center. After pouring our hearts and souls into our novels, they mean more to us than mere words on paper. They're part of us, our children, and we want everyone to adore them as we do. When we're doing the Hopeful Dance of the Unpubbed, we try anything to get a leg up, often turning toward published authors for advice (something that was much harder to do before the Internet). A few times, at book signings or at an RWA meeting, I sucked it up and asked for help. Yes, I was one of those, pulling out a manilla envelope with three chapters inside, begging, "If you have time, could you maybe take a look at this and see if I don't suck." If Poor-Put-Upon-Author agreed, I was thrilled. If I got an encouraging note returned in the SASE I'd enclosed, I practically wept with joy. Only no one ever said, "Hey, can I forward these fabulous chapters to my agent?" Dang it. But I kept plugging along, ultimately winning a small press contest that resulted in publication. When I had modest success with that first published work, it gave me the confidence to get out there, do lots of public speaking, and meet more and more people. I made wonderful friends who didn't even flinch when I asked things like, "Is your agent taking on new clients?" and/or "Might you consider blurbing my next book?" Happily, I found the support I needed, but not everyone said, "Yes." No matter if it stung a little, I couldn't let those rejections deter me any more than the stack of letters. It's the nature of the beast; and if we let it beat us, we lose.

Fast forward a few years to when several of my Debutante Dropout Mysteries sat on the bookshelves and I'd ultimately signed with an agency I adored, one that was interested in my career, not just one novel. I worked harder than ever, promoted like a demon, wrote the best stories possible, and kept building on my foundation of readers and colleagues and honest-to-God friends, all of which propelled me forward, if not by leaps and bounds then at least by baby steps. I watched as publishing houses merged and restructured, creating a scary ripple effect throughout the industry. I realized then that just staying in the business isn't always easy. Times change, markets shift, trends come and go, and sometimes survival isn't based on talent as much as adaptability. It's like being Madonna and adjusting your image. If she'd stayed in the '80s like a virgin forever, we probably wouldn't care about her latest boy-toy or wonder about her age-defying plastic surgeries. We would've forgotten her already.

Recently, I read about a book edited by Bill Shapiro called OTHER PEOPLE'S REJECTION LETTERS. (Oh, Bill, you should've called. I could've given you a dozen of 'em. Er, make that a gross.) Here are few prime examples contained within:

Have you seen the letter Andy Warhol received from the Museum of Modern Art rejecting his gift of a drawing due to "severely limited gallery and storage space"? What about the 1962 letter from Jimi Hendrix's commanding officer recommending that he be immediately discharged from the army because he "can't carry on an intelligent conversation"? The gifted writers who penned the screenplay for Casablanca were told that their work wouldn't make the cut because it was "unacceptably sex suggestive." Gertude Stein received a mocking rejection letter from a publisher that read, in part, "Only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one."

Did you know that Kathryn Stockett, international best-selling author of THE HELP, received over 45 rejections before her book was sold? Or that Jasper Fford suffered 76 rejections for THE EYRE AFFAIR? And Judy Blume received "nothing but rejections for two years?" (For more enlightening stories of famous authors who were told "no" a ton before they succeeded, check out this bit on Inky Girl.)

Just out of curiosity, anyone want to share the most memorable rejection they ever got? The one that stands out in my head was a returned query letter that had "NO!!!" scrawled across the bottom in red pencil. Ah, yes, I remember telling myself the poor sod probably had a rotten day (and then I quietly wished a heart attack upon him).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Who'll Be the Next American Idol?

I’m an American Idol fan. My kids and I started watching the show the year Carrie Underwood won. It was a good year to start. Carrie has a powerful voice and a strong presence. She’s sure of herself, and even now, throughout all her success, she seems (from the outside) to be sure of herself and to know who she is.

Then Daughtry came along. I liked him, but haven’t bought his music. What struck me most about Daughtry was his marriage and his commitment to his wife. He’s been on a good ride from what I’ve seen, I like his music, and I hope he’s still with his wife and that fame hasn’t compromised his values.

Last year, Adam Lambert took the spotlight. His success has been phenomenal. He’s been clear about his goal--fame. He’s super talented, has his hit song, One, and is still riding his skyrocket to superstardom.

It’s all good, but this year I’m rooting for Lee DeWyze. I like Casey and Crystal, but Lee’s humbleness and his transformation from shy to confident has been great to watch. He seems like a genuinely nice person (as they all do), and his authenticity makes him so likable. Like Daughtry, he seems to be so grounded and is truly astounded by his own journey and success so far. And his version of Hallelujah was really phenomenal. I love his husky voice and the emotion which comes through his singing.

Lee's safe for another week, and may end up being the American Idol. We'll know in a week whether it'll be him or Crystal, but regardless, they're all winners and all three of the final contestants are worthy and authentic. Heck, I'll buy all their Cds.

American Idol is fun, but what I like most is seeing real people who appreciate the opportunity they’ve been given and are moved by moment they’re living in.

Are you an American Idol fan? Who are you rooting for?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Marriage Gene

I recently read an article in the New York Times in which research about what it takes to have a happy marriage was detailed. The article posed the question “is there a fidelity gene” as well as “what makes a happy marriage”? The research is seemingly inconclusive, but I do know that a) I am happily married and b) according to the test done in this article, I shouldn’t be, based on my answers. (It was something to do with filling in the blanks in words and of course, I come up with the one that says I have a flirting gene. So what? So does my husband, apparently, who gave the exact same answers that I did.)

Oh, well.

I’ve been married long enough and have taken enough Cosmo quizzes to know not to put too much stock in the results of magazine or newspaper questionnaires. Just this morning, I took a test in a favorite magazine to see if I was left-brained or right-brained when it came to organization. According to the results, I am decidedly left-brained and should have the most organized house on the planet as a result. But just because I say that I like a place for everything and everything in its place, that doesn’t mean that I’m successful on the follow-through. Case in point: as I write this, I’m surrounded by fourteen manuscripts, about thirty pairs of shoes, two empty tape dispensers, and three half-empty cans of hardened paint. Does that sound like a left-brained mind to you?

But back to the happy marriage research. I decided to do my own, decidedly unscientific research into what it takes to have a happy marriage and surveyed some of my girlfriends who are in longstanding, happy unions. What makes a happy marriage? was the question. I told them, they couldn’t say “chardonnay,” because that’s already been taken.

Some of their responses:

“Separate vacations?” (I loved the question mark at the end, because apparently this friend was undecided as to whether or not a) she could say this, b) it was true, or c) both a and b.)

“Find a man who’s honest.” (This from a friend who says her husband will go back to a store to return 50 cents if he has received it in error. Sounds like a keeper. And my separated-at-birth twin.)

“Learn the art of communication.” (Friend who says that her husband, like many men, is unemotional to the point of being “Spock-like.” She has learned to temper her emotions and he has learned to become more sensitive.)

“Compromise…know when to give in…leave the ego at the door. We’re in this together and sometimes you need to give in.” (As far as I’m concerned, that works in theory, as long as he’s the one doing the compromising…I KID!)

“Keep the funny in a marriage not just by doing “fun” things but by keeping a sense of humor and by acting silly sometimes.” (Friend who reported this said it works with kids and pets, too. I haven’t found that to be true, but I’ll keep trying.)

Besides “chardonnay,” I got nuthin’. But I will say that marrying the easiest person in the world to live with (and I’m not talking about me here) definitely helps. As does marrying someone who likes to do the chores you abhor, like emptying the dishwasher, or taking care of outside stuff. There is also the sharing values thing and the ability to watch the television program that the other thinks is scintillating (which is why my husband knows all of the names of the “Real Housewives of New York City” and even knows that one of them isn’t really a housewife).

I have parents who definitely enjoy each other’s company and that, in itself, was the best model for happy marriage I could have. Sure, sometimes my husband thinks he married a woman with the brain and viewing habits of a fifteen-year-old boy based on my movie choices (“Dude, Where’s My Car?” anyone?) but we still prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s. That, and the fact, that we both fail quizzes that test one’s compatibility and adaptability to marriage is really all we need, I guess.

Chime in, Stiletto faithful (and I use that term loosely if you failed the fidelity quiz) with your secrets to a happy relationship.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Good and the Bad About Living in A Big Old House

We've lived in our home here in the foothills for 29 years. The house was old when we moved in. It was in the days before disclosure and there were many things wrong that we found out after the papers were all signed and we were settled in.

Along with the house we took over a residential care business which meant we lived in and cared for six women with developmental disabilities. This was a job my husband and I loved and we did it for 23 years--until we felt we were too old to do the job the way it needed to be done and life became complicated. Hubby and a son got sick at the same time and our focus needed to change.

A few feet away from the main house is a guest house which has been home to many over the years. First to live there were my mom and dad. My dad passed away and my mom decided to move with my sister to Las Vegas.

For a short while, my middle daughter and her husband lived there.

Next to move in that house were my granddaughter, husband, and three kids.

Now the little house is occupied by my son, his wife, and another granddaughter.

Before they lived there, when that granddaughter was in grammar school she lived in the big house with us during the week so she could go to our little neighborhood school.

We had two grandsons living with us during the time we had our care home. One went back to be with his mom, the other we had from the time he was 11 until he was 20 and went off on his own.

And, guess what, we have another adult grandson--different family--living with us again.

Most of the time everyone eats with us, probably a good thing because I have no idea how to cook for 2 since I've cooked for eight or more for years. Daughter-in-law helps and she always cleans up after dinner. Because the dining area is big and we have a round table that seats 12, we host most of the holiday dinners too.

Whether having all these family members under our roof is a plus or a minus depends upon the day. (I'm kidding.) Actually, now that hubby and I are getting older it's kind of nice to have younger, stronger folks around to help out.

Over the years we've done a lot of remodeling: added car ports, extended the living room and built a bedroom and bath upstairs, did over the kitchen, and once our ladies had moved on to other homes, we changed a little sitting room into my office and did over two of the bedrooms the women used into one bedroom for us and modernized the bathroom. And of course we've had to fix all sorts of things from the water well to bringing in natural gas instead of using a wood stove to heat the house. (Yes, we did and what a chore that was.) We also have solar to cut down on the electric bill which has always been huge with so many people living here.

Besides the relatives who've resided with us over the years, we also have a resident ghost. Everyone who has shared our house has said so, some little ones insisted on sleeping with us rather than one of the many empty bedrooms we've had from time to time.

Doors open and close on their own, cupboard doors pop open, I hear someone come into the house and call out, but no one is there. Does this scare me? No. I don't think ghosts can hurt--only frighten if you're so inclined.

This has been a great house to write in. When we took care of the women, I had a small office in what used to be a sun porch. When the gals went off to their day program I wrote all morning while doing the laundry--something that had to be done every day. Now I have a larger office with lots of storage.

The first year we lived here, I received my first acceptance letter. I've belonged to the same critique group since my first year here. I'm known as Springville's author--a plus of being in a small town.

I love the area where we live--we're surrounded by hills and can see huge mountains which are still snow covered and will be for awhile. The Tule River flows right by us and we have a great swimming hole which all the family uses in the summer time.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries are set in a place like Springville though I've renamed it Bear Creek and moved it up in the mountains another 1000 feet. People who live here recognize places I write about and love it. We're near an Indian reservation and I include it in the books too--though again changed the name to the Bear Creek Indian Reservation. Ever so often a Native American will come up to me when I'm at craft festival and say, "You're the lady who writes about us."

Yes, I love where I live--the house and the area--both have been an inspiration for many of my books.


Monday, May 17, 2010

KJ Roberts' Pieces of the Star

Ex-cop and brain tumor survivor, Vincent Maxwell has been recalled for a special assignment: Capture a killer. With no obvious common links or clues, Maxwell must work fast before another body turns up. What he discovers suggest more than his reputation is at stake. Wrapped up in an unbelievable world of superpowers, he’s dragged in deeper with a connection he never thought possible. Can he use the information to his advantage and stop the killer? Or will death strike before he finds answers?

Read an excerpt from Pieces of the Star
Leave a comment for a chance to win a free e-book copy.

Blood oozed from the corpse's ear. Vince stooped down to examine the body. Foul death odor filled the air.

The man's mouth gaped open and his eyes were wide in terror. Something horrible had happened to him, yet only a small gash existed in his right ear.

Vince looked around the area. The local police force hadn't found any clues since five o'clock this morning when he'd gotten the call. Now the sun had begun to rise and people gathered around the yellow tape, murmuring worries about a possible serial killer.

Could anyone blame them? This was the second killing this month. Both victims had the same cut on the side of their head, but so far, they seemed to have nothing else in common.

"There you are."

Vince turned around to see Captain Spinner and another cop standing behind him.

"This is the guy I was telling you about," Captain Spinner said to the other guy. "Sergeant Elder, this is the famous Vincent Maxwell. Ex-cop, turned private investigator. Vince, this is Sergeant Fred Elder."

Fred stuck his hand out, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping open like he'd just seen a celebrity or something. Why, he didn't know, but Vince shook his hand anyway and nodded. "It's nice to meet you, Sgt. Elder. Captain, can I ask why you called me so early in the morning?"

"Maxwell." The Captain wrapped his arm around Vince's shoulder and walked him to the side. "How long have we known each other?"

"A long time." Vince couldn't remember how long exactly. Ever since his surgery, he'd had trouble retaining dates. "Seven or eight years."

"And in that time frame, I've watched you grow as a man and a cop. But here lately you've become the best detective I've ever seen. You have a gift, and I have a madman on the loose." He sighed and scratched his forehead. "We have no leads or clues. I can't link the two victims, and I need your help." Spinner looked around and lowered his voice. "Before there's another stiff."

"What do you want me to do? I gave up homicide." After facing his own death and a long recovery, he wanted to work with the living.

"Yeah, I know, but you can't enjoy following cheating spouses for pennies."

True, the work bored him to tears. The men he trailed were reckless and they left clues like breadcrumbs. All he had to do was lay in wait and snap a few photographs. Assignment finished and on to the next job.

Plus, something odd had happened to him after his tumor had been removed. He couldn't explain it, but his senses had grown sharper. Cases had become clearer, and he'd learned to predict the perpetrator's next move effortlessly.

Spinner chewed his nail as he waited for an answer.

Physically fit and able to handle the mission, Vince craved the excitement. However, he'd grown accustomed to life without a boss.

"Okay. I'll do it, but I'll handle things my own way. And I work alone."

"No problem." Spinner held up his hands to indicate he'd back off.

* * * *

Spinner watched Maxwell walk back to the crime scene. He turned to Elder and motioned for him to come over.

"Elder, Maxwell’s taking the case. I have no doubt he can handle the work. However, I'm a bit worried about his physical condition. Keep an eye on him. He's a good man and a better cop. I'd hate to see something happen to him."

"No problem, Captain. I've been dying to watch Maxwell in action."


Country girl born and raised, KJ Roberts has been writing for longer than she can remember. It’s a natural part of life to her. Indiana native, her stories are usually set in the Hoosier state. After a ten year stent in the military, she moved to Mississippi with her husband and two kids. She loves reading, listening to her son play guitar and watching her daughter dance. Check out her blog.

Pieces of the Star
Buy from FIDO publishing
Buy from Amazon

Friday, May 14, 2010

Define Cheating

Good heavens. What is the world coming to when I’m quoting Hugh Hefner?

“When you get married, you make a commitment. I had a lot of girlfriends, but it’s not the same as cheating. I don’t cheat. I am very open about what I do . . . I think that when you are in a relationship, you should be honest. The real immorality of infidelity is the lying.”

You know, he’s right and I sort of feel like I need to go take a shower, having admitted that. Although to be fair, I used to snicker when I would hear how guys read Playboy for the articles. But now that I’m doing a Young Adult biography of a celebrity, some of the best insights I've found on this movie star have been in a couple of interviews he gave to Playboy. Hmmm. Don’t judge a magazine by its centerfold?

Anyway, to go back to Hugh’s comments about honesty in a relationship, I think he’s zeroed in on a critical issue. So much of a strong marriage is based on a fundamental trust between the two partners. I don't care what the rules of a relationship may be, as long as both partners willingly buy into them. Personally I don’t understand the appeal of “open marriages,” but if two consenting adults want to live that way, then it’s none of my business.

But what is never okay is when one partner unilaterally changes the rules that both have agreed to live by. Pardon the earthquake analogy, but surely infidelity is considered pretty high on the relationship Richter scale. Once you shake up the foundation, it’s possible that the “house” can stand, but you sure would want to bring in a contractor (or in this case, a marriage counselor) to work on the cracks that have inevitably been opened up.

Now I’ve got a question for the Stiletto Faithful. Do you consider it cheating if there isn’t any contact between the two people? Is internet flirting a form of cheating? For me, infidelity doesn’t have to have a physical component. In fact, the idea of emotional cheating sounds more destructive. But what do you think?

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

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

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: The Little Pink Book That Could

by Anne Milford and Jennifer Gauvain

When our friend—and fellow St. Louisan—Susan McBride invited us to guest-blog at the Stiletto Gang, my co-author Jennifer Gauvain and I were thrilled. It’s an honor to be in the company of such great female authors!

As we write this, we are in a post-launch-week fog. Our book, How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy, hit shelves nationwide last week. Between media interviews, a 22-city radio tour, and our launch party, we are exhausted. But it’s a great kind of exhausted.

We had a sense of déjà vu on Friday night as we rolled out the wedding cake, fluffed the tulle bows and set up the bar at our one of our favorite indie booksellers—Pudd’nHead Books. Hadn’t we just done this? Indeed, just twelve months earlier we had celebrated the launch of our self-published version (How to Marry the Wrong Guy) with a pseudo-wedding reception in the exact same spot.

What a year it has been! Writing a book has been one of the most wonderful, ego-crushing, exciting, and insecurity-laden experiences of our lives. Both versions of the book share the stories of women who knew their marriages were mistakes as they were walking down the aisle but continued anyway. As a therapist (Jennifer) and a women who almost married the wrong guy (Anne), we were obsessed with uncovering the reasons why so many women ignore their gut feelings and say, ‘I do,’ when they really want to shout, ‘No, no, I really don’t!’”

Last summer we were thrilled when our little self-pubbed book received lots of local—as well as some national—media attention. While we knew our work wasn’t over when we finished the book, we grossly underestimated what it would take to sell it. We spent countless hours doing our own promotion and marketing. We booked speaking engagements, networked, tweeted, and “Facebooked” like maniacs to build a fan base. We did whatever it took to promote “our baby.” To say we were obsessed would be an understatement! (Just ask our husbands.)

Both of us sold books wherever we went: in the carpool line (10 books!), at the swim club (at least 40 books!), at the dentist’s office (three books—one to the hygienist and two to the ladies eavesdropping in the waiting room!). Both of our minivans contained at least two cartons of books at all times. Jennifer took the prize for selling two books at the OB/gyn’s office—while in stirrups! The above doesn’t even include the time we spent packing, shipping, bookkeeping, and standing in line at the post office.

Why did we do this? Because we wanted to help women have better, happier, and healthier relationships. We felt it was worth the time and effort if we helped women get “unstuck” from the wrong guys. It was thrilling to receive grateful emails from readers and we were excited to hear about four weddings (that we know of!) that were canceled as a result of our book. However, after battling distribution challenges and one too many phone calls telling us that a bookseller said our book was “out of print,” we became very discouraged.

So when an agent came a-calling we listened. A fairy godmother had placed our book in his hands and he liked what he saw. And we liked him. He very tactfully suggested changes to the original manuscript and helped us write a proposal for a larger publisher. We were thrilled with the possibility of bringing a revised edition to a wider audience. Our brilliant agent did a stellar job, so stellar in fact we had an auction for the North American rights! And on October 7 of 2009, we signed with Random House/Broadway Books.

It has been a whirlwind of rewrites and revisions. Between our editor, publicist, and marketing rep, we have a dream team at Broadway Books. We are excited about helping even more women. And while it has been gratifying to become published authors, the best part has been making a difference in the lives of women. Not to mention the wonderful people we have met along the way. And since old habits die hard, if you know anyone who is stuck in a dead-end relationship, we have just the book for them. In fact, if you can’t find it at the store, we may have a couple of copies in the back of our minivans!

Anne Milford and Jennifer Gauvain are the authors of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He the One or Should You Run? (Broadway/Random House, May 2010). Gauvain works as a marriage and family therapist and Milford is a freelance writer and editor. For more information visit their website at To order from booksellers, click here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I recently shared my upcoming manuscript—Third Degree—with a trusted friend who is also a book reviewer by trade. She pulls no punches. She always lets me know what she likes and what she thinks is not so great. (She still contends that Quick Study was her favorite, and to her mind, my best. I beg to differ. The best one is the one that just came out. Every single time.) I hold my breath until she finished whatever I have shared with her and this time, I was relieved that she really enjoyed the soon-to-be-published work. I also thought it curious her overall reaction: “I like that your characters live lives. They change. They make mistakes. They move on.”

I got to thinking about this because some of the mysteries I love best include characters for whom nothing ever changes. Nancy Drew never got any older (nor did she get to second base with Ned, a disappointing fact to the fifteen-year-old I once was). The Hardy Boys stayed just slightly post-pubescent (again, a major disappointment until I was able to visualize them as Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy). Miss Marple never married. Stephanie Plum remains in limbo, caught between two men, blowing up a new vehicle in each subsequent book in the series.

But in the Murder 101 series, mayhem ensues in terms of mystery and in terms of just living life because to me, Alison, Crawford, and the cast of characters are real and I can’t imagine them standing still. I recently mentioned to my editor—the fabulous Kelley—that I was thinking of taking Alison to Dublin to do some Joyce research in a novel down the road. I asked her if she thought that was a good idea. Her answer? “Only if everyone else goes with her.”

I see what she’s saying, but I wonder how realistic it is for Fr. Kevin, Max, Fred, and a host of other people in Alison’s “life” to hit the road with her and spend a summer in Dublin researching Alison’s dissertation subject, James Joyce? When it comes down to it, it really isn’t. So the challenge becomes how to keep Alison and her peeps interesting without taking them too far out of their milieu or just far enough.

It’s always been easy for me to write about Alison and the other characters because they live in a very distinct world that is not entirely unlike mine, except for the part where they occasionally trip over dead bodies or find heroin residing in their plumbing. My life is exceedingly routine: get the kids off to school, walk the dog, empty the dishwasher, do the laundry. Oh, and write. I’m supposed to write in there somewhere. I’m not complaining. It’s a great life. But there wouldn’t be a series if Alison’s life was just like mine. It also wouldn’t be a series if I didn’t create an alternate universe where my grown-up Nancy Drew finds the dead bodies or tries to flush a brick of heroin down the toilet. Nobody wants to read about my life, but some people want to read about Alison’s and the goal is to keep her life interesting.

I guess my question for you, Stiletto faithful, is do you like characters that live lives? Or are you more comfortable with characters who stay pretty much the same? How much do you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy your favorite amateur sleuth’s investigations?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's a Small, Small World

Last Saturday I attended the Central Valley Jane Austen Fest as a vendor. Frankly, I felt a bit out of place--though I wasn't the only one. Selling modern-day mysteries at an event celebrating Jane Austen didn't seem quite right--but the organizer insisted that I come. I'm glad I did because I really had fun meeting people, seeing the costumes some of the attendees wore, and talking about my books to the different people who stopped at my table--and I even sold quite a few books.

One of them came directly to me and asked, "Are you Marilyn Meredith who is part of the Stiletto Gang?" I assured her I was and she identified herself as Anjali Kapoor-Davis and she's related somehow to Misa. We had a super visit. I included the photo even though my eyes are closed--that's why I put in the one of me with my eyes open.

I had no idea so many people were so enthusiastic about Jane Austen and her books. Most of the people who came were women, but as you can see, even men came dressed in authentic clothing.

Most interesting was a group of teenage boys who stopped to talk for awhile. They were reading Jane Austen in high school and said they loved the books and their teacher suggested they come to the event.

Will I go again next year? Sure, if they invite me.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Mystery Conventions: To Go or Not To Go? That is The Question (or at least, the topic of this blog)

by C.S. Challinor

I just returned from Malice Domestic in Arlington, VA, featuring an all-star cast, including Mary Higgins Clar, Rhys Bowen, and Bill Link, co-writer and producer of, among other TV shows, Columbo and Murder She Wrote. “Malice Domestic,” a quote out of Shakespeare, is an apt name for the type of mysteries represented. Held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, this was the 22nd convention of that name for writers and fans of cozy mysteries, and is home to the Agatha Award. That it has been going on so long and is enthusiastically attended by hundreds of people is a testament to the popularity of the genre.

Writers go to these conventions to meet other authors and, more importantly, the readers, who are, after all, the lifeblood of the publishing industry. These loyal fans are the aficionados, the experts, the dictators of what publishers ultimately buy and agents acquire--so it was instructive to mingle with these VIP readers and run into this special elite in the elevators. I have a composite picture of My Reader. It is from my heart that I write, but She (it is usually a “she”) whom I aim to please--a pretty taunting task considering the range and scope of mystery novels cramming the book shelves and vying for attention.

At this point, I would like to give a shout-out to another important group: the volunteers and moderators, who work tirelessly to keep the convention schedule running like clockwork. Patti Ruocco, the moderator of my panel, “Murder in Paradise: Mysteries Set In Vacation Spots," clearly put a lot of thought, effort, and creativity into her task, casting herself in the role of Cruise Director and distributing leis. Fellow panelists were Aaron Elkins, Marcia Talley, and Kathryn R. Wall.

Of specific interest to me among the panels was the talk on poison given by Luci Zahray, a pharmacist in a Texas hospital. I use poison in Christmas is Murder and in the fifth novel in the Rex Graves series, so I was all ears for this one. (“Would you like some wolfsbane with your tea?”) Valuable tidbits can be gleaned from these lectures and panels, and it is worth keeping a notebook handy.

I have read in novels about snarkiness among authors at conventions, and was glad not to encounter anything of that sort at Malice, and certainly not among my fellow Midnight Ink authors ;). They proved to be the friendly lot I expected from having read some of their work and perused their blogs. It was a particular pleasure to meet Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli, my partner-in-crime in the Malice Go Round; the irrepressible Sue Ann Jaffarian (three series and a full-time career as a paralegal); and Deborah Sharp, who lives in Florida, as I do; and also Elaine Viets, who writes the Dead-End Job series set in South Florida for NAL/Signet. Malice Go Round, incidentally, is where a pair of authors fly around a room, alighting at 21 tables, and speed-pitch their novels to a handful of readers. It’s thirsty work, but people came to my signing based on that event and on my assigned panel, so it was definitely worthwhile.

Probably the crowning moment of the convention for me was talking to Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark, whose memoirs, Kitchen Privileges, are a page-turner in their own right and reveal gems regarding her personal path to publication. This lady is a class act. My book signing coincided with hers. She'd been signing for the better part of an hour, and I asked her how her hand was holding out. She smiled and said, "Just fine. Authors love signing books!"

Too true!

C. S. Challinor was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and educated in Scotland and England. She now lives in Southwest Florida. She is the author of five titles so far in the Rex Graves Mystery series featuring Scots barrister-sleuth Rex Graves. Visit her on the Web at

"A must for cozy fans."--Booklist starred review for Christmas is Murder.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Different Meanings of Success

by Susan McBride

I had originally written a post about rejection that was set to go up today. But with all the disasters in the news of late, I decided that topic seemed too depressing! So I wanted to talk about something more positive, like how we define success. It's very subjective, I know, and means different things to different people. So I'll meander on about how the idea of "being successful" has changed for me through the years, and I'd love to hear what it means to you.

When I was growing up and moving about with my family, we always settled into a fixer-upper in an upper middle class neighborhood (my mom tried valiantly to place us in the best public school district available), where we'd rub shoulders with folks who often had a lot more than we did, materially anyway. I got a lot of insight into what it took to try to keep up with the Joneses, and for a time--probably through high school--I bought into the notion that having things with pricey labels proved to the outside world that you'd achieved something in life. Don't get me wrong: I also realized being smart, making good grades, and having responsibility was important. But having a Polo man on your pocket (and your socks, too) seemed like a popular way of letting people know you were worthy.

By my freshman year in college, after being around plenty of sorority girls, frat boys, and debutantes whose behavior made me question if money = worth after all, I understood it was a bunch of hooey. Even without a trust fund, anyone with a credit card could buy expensive cars and clothes. Although it made for a prettier facade, it didn't mean anything, not really. Some folks may define success as having more $$$--or at least borrowing more!--and showing it off, but I didn't want my adulthood to be all about accumulating stuff. I wanted to write books, and I knew I wasn't going to get rich off that (not anytime soon!). With that decision made, my idea of success changed. On the everyday front, it meant having a job that would allow me to write as much as possible and pay for postage to send off queries and manuscripts with SASEs. Being successful meant doing what I loved and being happy, regardless of how much (or how little) stuff I accumulated.

My goal initially was to be published by a traditional press--whether small or big, I didn't care--and I did that eventually. At 34, I won a small press contest where the grand prize was publication. When AND THEN SHE WAS GONE came out, I was thrilled. And so was everyone who'd ever known me who realized how hard I'd worked for over a decade to reach that point. I sold something like 150 books at my first-ever signing, and, holy cow, I felt like a million bucks! Then I signed with an agent, got a deal with a big NY publisher, and my idea of success shifted again. Sure, I wanted to hit the New York Times list as much as anyone (seriously, what writer doesn't?), but that wasn't a deciding factor in whether or not my career was successful. I dreamed of being able to support myself writing, and by age 40, I was doing that as well.

I remember saying to a friend back then, "You know, I have everything I could possibly want. I'm passionate about what I do, I can't wait to wake up every morning, I love my friends, I have a cozy condo, my car is paid off, what else could there be? I'm about as happy as they come!" I didn't have a lot, but I had all I needed. That seemed like the penultimate success to me. And then I met Ed, and I realized, "Ah, this is like the cherry atop the icing atop a really amazing cake!"

Ed is someone who also appreciates simple things over material things. His definition of success is much like mine: being able to do what you love for a living and sharing your life with someone who understands and appreciates you. He reminds me everyday of what's important, and I feel beyond fortunate to have him in my life.

When I was worrying about THE COUGAR CLUB and how it would do, since it was my debut in women's fiction, and wondering if I would get another contract for more women's fic books and what I would do if that didn't happen (well, with the economy the way it is, money is tight and publishers are being extra-careful). I thought about it and I thought some more, and I finally said to Ed, "No matter what happens, I will always write. No one can stop me from doing that, ever. And I will always have you. With those two things in my life, how could I not feel successful?" Yeah, that sounds terribly corny, but it made me feel so much better and less frantic to realize it.

Which reminds me of a gift-type book I wrote eons ago that one of my sister's long-gone artist boyfriends was going to illustrate. It was called YOU'RE NEVER A FAILURE IF YOUR SOCKS MATCH, and it listed a whole bunch of really simple things that make everyone "worthy:" You're never a failure if your dog loves you, your cat loves you, you love yourself...and so on. I wish I could find that danged manuscript. It's somewhere in a folder in a box in the basement. If I ever unearth it, I'll share it in a post. But the gist of the book was that being happy with who you are, wherever you are in your life = success. Truly.

So what makes you feel successful in your everyday life? Is it seeing the smile on your child's face? Watching the bulbs you planted last fall grow into gorgeous flowers? Is it volunteering? Completing a project at work? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Don Does the Dangerous Research

By Elaine Viets

Potato chips orange as a traffic cone. A sandwich that would defeat a slew of Certs. An omelet that looked like an accident scene.

My husband, Don Crinklaw, ate these foods and more. I wrote about these culinary delights in “Half-Price Homicide,” my ninth Dead-End Job mystery.

I do the job research for that mystery series. In “Half-Price,” Helen Hawthorne and I worked at a designer consignment shop. I buttoned shirts, hung up shirts and dusted pricey knickknacks. The only real threat was when my butter fingers handled the breakables. I managed not to drop anything the whole time I was at the store.

Don did the gut-wrenching research. Helen’s future husband, Phil, is based on my Don. Both have blue eyes and silver hair. Both have shadowy backgrounds as spies. Both adore foods blacklisted by the Heart Association.

Phil and Helen have dinner at the Floridian, an old-style diner on Las Olas, in “Half-Price Homicide.” It’s hard to escape many Las Olas restaurants without a bill the size of a mortgage payment. But the Floridian, affectionately known as the Flo by locals, serves generous portions at reasonable prices.

These are meals for “serious grease abusers,” as I wrote. “If you were in the right mood, the Flo was friendly, funky and affordable. If you weren’t, you could turn up your nose and decide the place needed a good scrubbing. In that case, the Flo hoped you’d order braised quail with kumquats somewhere else. It didn’t need your business.”

The Flo is a favorite of Helen and Phil’s. “Phil ordered a beer and a ham-and-cheese omelet with a side of chopped onions.” That dish was a little heavy maybe, but fairly reasonable.

Here’s where the meal crosses into the red zone. “When his omelet arrived, Phil smothered it in ketchup until Helen couldn’t see any egg, then topped it with onions and hot sauce.”

Phil ate the whole thing. So did Don.

One day, Don brought home a giant bag of cheddar-and-sour-cream potato chips. The chips were blaze orange – the color hunters wear to keep from getting shot. A color not found in nature.

"Ew,” I said.

“They’re pretty good once you get past the first bite,” Don said.

I couldn’t. He ate the bag alone. But I felt readers had to know about that death-defying feat. Phil ate the same chips in “Half-Price Homicide.”

Phil doesn’t have to worry about heart attacks in his fictional world, but I worry about Don’s eating habits. I tried to persuade him to eat healthier food. Later I discovered him eating a sandwich. A really smelly sandwich.

“What’s that thing?” I asked.

“Onion with rye bread,” he said.

“What else is on the sandwich besides onion?”

“Irish butter.”

“You’re eating a butter-and-onion sandwich?” I couldn’t hide my horror.

“You’re always telling me to eat healthy,” Don said. “This is a Bermuda onion. It has powerful antioxidants.”

“It has something else powerful, too,” I said, waving my hand. “At least it’s not Limburger.”

“I can’t find that cheese down here.” Don looked innocent as a puppy.

“Good,” I said.

Elaine Viets’ “Half-Price Homicide: A Dead-End Job mystery” received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Its food will never get gourmet stars, but the mystery is meaty. For more information, go to

Elaine and other authors from The Lipstick Chronicles have donated books to the Brenda Novack On-Line Auction to support Diabetes research. Click here to view the collection.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

She Said/She Said: Sixteen Degrees of Separation

She Said/She Said: Sixteen Degrees of Separation by Maggie Barbieri and Rachel Brady

We’re doing this blog a little differently today because I had the pleasure of sharing a hotel room this past weekend with the lovely and talented Rachel Brady. The song asks “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” and insinuates that it’s Mary Richards, but I’m here to tell you that it’s Rachel Brady. A more positive and uplifting person you will never meet. Besides the whole getting up in the morning to exercise thing, I thought we would be completely compatible as roomies.

I was wrong.

I checked into the room around dinner time on Thursday night after a five hour drive to D.C. The air outside was thick and muggy, unseasonably warm for a night in late April. When I entered the room, I felt as if I had entered a cabana in Belize, moisture dripping from the humidity affixed to the plate glass window overlooking the street below. Surely, Rachel wouldn’t want to be melting in this incredible heat, not to mention having her already-curly and gorgeous hair grow in size from just two minutes in the room? Before even stopping in the restroom (something I do frequently, if only to wash my hands, as Rachel learned), I headed to the thermostat and promptly dropped the temperature from seventy-four degrees to fifty-eight degrees. In about fifteen minutes, the room had that lovely arctic chill that I have come to expect in all of my sleeping quarters. (And yes, my husband sleeps in sweatpants and sweatshirts most of the time so as not to succumb to hypothermia.)

I immediately got into bed with a bag of pretzels and a glass of wine and proceeded to watch television until Rachel showed up a little after nine o’clock. As I had predicted to her when we first spoke, I was almost asleep even though she was still full of energy and ready to head down to the bar.

She was kind enough not to mention that the temperature in the room was akin to that in a meat locker and hastily retreated to the lobby bar where drinks—and heat—were in abundance.

I fell asleep as soon as she left, peaceful under the down comforter, and clad in fleece pajama pants. Some time around two in the morning, I awoke in a pool of my own sweat, wondering how the temperature in the room could have shot up so dramatically in such a short period of time. Now, Rachel’s hot, but was she that hot?

The next morning, I checked the thermostat, set to seventy-four degrees. After some tense interrogation, Rachel admitted that she had nearly frozen to death in bed and got up, using her cell phone as a flashlight, and turned the temperature to seventy-four.

We were sixteen degrees apart in the comfort zone.

We negotiated. I cajoled. Rachel cried. I think I passed out at one point. How could we reach consensus? Finally, we decided that we would set the temperature at sixty-four, even though that was way too hot for me and way too cold for her.

Did I mention that Rachel’s an engineer by day? Did I mention that I can only fiddle with things, or fix them, if I have a butter knife? I’m not accusing her outright, but the temperature was set at seventy for the entire weekend and I couldn’t figure out how to lower it.

Coincidence? I will let you decide.

~ ~ ~

Hmmm. Rachel here. That is not exactly how I remember it. Except for the complimentary parts. Let's go with those. (Thanks, Maggie! )

This is what really happened.

I rolled in sometime after nine on Thursday and f
ound Maggie cozied up in bed, watching TV in our room. We spent a few minutes catching up and talked about all sorts of stuff, but the only piece relevant here is her passing remark that she "could sleep with the window open when it is 35 degrees outside." She said it drove her husband nuts.

"You mean you leave it open a crack, for fresh air?"
"No," she said. "I pretty much leave it wide open. Then he closes it during the night and I wake up sweating."

Soon afterward, I went down to the bar to see which of my writer friends I could find. An hour or two later, I came back to the room. Maggie was sleeping.

And it was nippy.

My epiphany came on slowly. Under a thick comforter, in flannel pj pants and a cotton tee, and even wearing socks, at first I didn't know just how cold I was. Thought I could gut it out. Have you ever been so cold in your bed that you don't want to r
oll over because then you will have to warm up a new cold spot, and it's just too dang cold to suffer through that process again?

Most of me thought that the room temp was probably due to some glitch in the thermostat's auto timing feature. I didn't remember seeing my breath earlier when I'd brought up my bag.

But a small, kind of worried part of me feared that maybe Maggie hadn't been exaggerating about that 35 degree, open window remark.

What to do.

If it were an auto-timer glitch, I might shiver needlessly all night. If she'd done it on purpose and I switched it back, she would sweat all night instead.

Better her than me.

Maggie had a good sleep going. I decided to fix the temp and then just play dumb later if she brought it up. The room was pitch black, so by light of my open cell phone, I crept to the thermostat, aimed my phone at it, and was surprised and horrified to find it set at 64 degrees. Definitely, an auto timer glitch then.

I changed it to 74 and went back to bed. In the morning, I confessed all to Maggie. She said, "Oh that. I actually prefer 58 degrees but I thought I'd meet you in the middle."


I did math. "That means you think 70 is room temperature to regular people. This is sixteen degrees of separation."

A long discussion ensued, mostly through tears of laughter. We knew we had Wednesday's blog covered.

Maybe living in Texas has made me soft. But I offer this evidence in my defense, Maggie. Just sayin'.

I should also add here that Maggie is unequivocally the more gracious and flexible of the two of us, meeting me far to the right of Middle, usually at 70 degrees.

Interesting paradox there. One of the coldest room
s I've ever encountered, but one of the warmest friends.