Friday, October 29, 2010

Greater than the Sum of the Parts

by Rachel Brady

Disclaimer 1: The following opinions are entirely mine and do not necessarily represent those of NASA or its employees.

I work for a NASA life sciences contractor. This week, my company had an All-Hands meeting. Usually at these things, they entice attendance by offering us snacks and interesting guest speakers. At Johnson Space Center there is no shortage of remarkable people with fascinating stories to share. I always learn something.

This week’s guest speaker was NASA’s Director of Space Medicine, Dr. J.D. Polk. He spoke about his role in the rescue of the Chilean miners and geared his talk toward those of us in the room, all cogs in the wheel, really, to remind us that the whole is more than the sum of the parts... that our contributions at the lab level really do matter.

I’ll tell you some of the neat things he said, and then as usual I will offer my parallel about how yet another thing I’ve experienced appears to be a metaphor for Life.

Disclaimer 2: I didn’t take notes. Assume all these facts are wrong. It’s the gist that’s important.

The miners, he said, had been isolated for seventeen days before they were found. They were surviving on something like a tablespoon of tuna every two days, only fifty calories a day. They were starving, and for medical reasons I can’t remember, if you feed a starving person too quickly, you will kill him.

NASA had simmed this (our language for “simulated this”) for an old Hubble mission. Back then, the aim had been to prepare for a scenario in which crewmembers were stranded on orbit in a disabled vehicle. Weeks might pass before the next Shuttle could launch. How would we ration supplies? Our scientists had all the original data, including the spreadsheets and graphs that showed how much food to give a stranded crewmember in conditions like these. The folks on-site in Chile were able to bring the miners back to health successfully, thanks largely to the fact that NASA could so quickly produce the data they needed.

The next concern was what kind of health problems each may be suffering. The question was posed, “Which test do we do on-orbit that provides the most comprehensive information about a crewmember’s health?” It’s a urine test. Through urine tests, half of the miners were found to be in the early stages of kidney failure due to severe dehydration. Docs got to work on specific plans for each patient to turn this condition around.

Sometimes the NASA doctor and the NASA psychologist disagreed. It can be as important to care for a crewmember’s mind as it is to care for his or her body. The mental effects of long term isolation are ones I can hardly comprehend (most Space Station missions are six months long – the Russians have gone way longer). Anyway, at one particular juncture, the conversation was not about isolation but about smoking cigarettes. The miners wanted them. The doctor couldn’t abide. But the psychologist rallied on behalf of the miners. Polk said, halfway joking, that the argument was that otherwise they all would have killed each other. I thought this was an interesting example of professional compromise between two specialists focusing on different parts of the total Human.

Orthostatic intolerance is a cardiovascular effect commonly seen after spaceflight. My understanding of the condition is that, upon returning to earth, the cardiovascular system is now unaccustomed to pumping against gravity and can’t always do this effectively. Consequently, blood pools in the lower extremities and folks are prone to passing out. Usually, if a person passes out, they end up horizontal, and this works out fine because now the heart and brain are on the same level and the brain can get the oxygen it needs.

In the case of the miners, I believe Polk said they came up through a tube about 21” in diameter. No one was sure how long it would take to make the trip from the mine to the surface, and orthostatic intolerance was a huge concern. In this configuration, should a miner pass out, they would not go horizontal and the consequences could be devastating. Returning crewmembers are instructed to fluid load to counteract the effects of orthostatic intolerance. They also wear compression garments on the lower extremities to try to force body fluids to go upstairs. I was once a test subject and had an opportunity to wear these “compression garments.” Let me tell you. It is like squeezing your leg into industrial-strength pantyhose made for something the width of your wrist! Spanx can’t touch these things.

The flight docs were very familiar with the fluid loading and compression garment protocols and were able to share this information with the crew at the site. It was another example of how NASA’s experience with sustaining life in extraordinary conditions came into play in the rescue.

There was one other thing. Fuzzy memory here. Something in the body was depleted, I want to say it was some kind of vitamin or electrolyte, who knows… not important. But when this is depleted, and alcohol is consumed, again, death is assured. Just trust me and go along with it. Everyone knew that when these guys came up, there would be some serious partying. So the doctors went to great care to basically dose them up on whatever was required to save them from their sheer, unadulterated, partying joy. I kind of liked the thinking ahead part of the happy ending.

The intention of his talk was to encourage us. Each of us in our various labs contribute in ways that sometimes feel insignificant and he wanted to remind us that yes, the work matters.

Throughout the talk, he had one slide up in the background, and it wasn’t even a picture of the miners. It was a picture of a boy, about ten years old, with the most poignant blend of grief and relief on his face. Polk said, “Because we do what we do, this kid still has a dad.” I’m tearing up again just thinking about that.

Disclaimer 3: I heard nothing in his talk that tied the work of my particular lab (Neuroscience) to the Chilean rescue, but I cried like a girl anyway.

So I’ve been mulling over this speech for a few days and realizing that so much of life is this way. We see through our own lenses, and reach only our own small circles of influence. But when your circle of influence overlaps with mine, and mine overlaps with his, and his touches Oprah’s… well, you see what I mean.

We all have unique strengths, some of which may seem insignificant to us but are enormous to another person. The only way to optimize our gifts in life is to share ourselves.

Carpe diem, friends.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Twisted Sisterhood or Small Acts of Kindness, by Misa

Recently, I was on my way to Dallas to attend a Texas Beef Council special event hosted by a fellow blogger (shout out to June Cleaver Nirvana Holly Homer!!). My daughter had been having a horrible time adjusting to 5th grade. She wasn’t sleeping, was angst-ridden over EVERYTHING, was so unhappy with her body (she’s 10!!! This worry and seeking of validation from others starts WAY too young), and was obsessing about middle school (which is still a year away).

I heard Katherine Schwartzenegger on a radio show, talking about her new book, Rock What You Got. I sat in my car and listened as she expressed how she’d felt exactly what my daughter was feeling. Needless to say, I stopped by the bookstore on the way home and picked up Rock What You Got. We’re reading it together and it’s really helping! Amazing.

Today I heard Kelly Valen talk about her new book, Twisted Sisterhood. It goes beyond the issues discussed in Rock What You Got (and I’m anticipating needing it as my girl gets older), tackling the complicated relationships women often have with one another, including passive aggressive behavior, mean girl behavior, bullying (anyone hear about Joy Behar on The View with her “comic” bullying?), and other layers of complexity and judgement within these relationships.

I see them starting now with my daughter, and while it’s great to observe and use in character development, it’s definitely not good for a girl trying to figure out who she is, what she believes, and where her validation comes from.

All this got me thinking about why it is we (meaning our culture) work so hard to tear others down instead of build them up.

I’m absolutely of the simplistic mindset that little acts of kindness go a long, long way, and shouldn’t we spend our energy on that kindness instead of on negativity?

Think about these scenarios. What would you do if:

  1. You’re on a two-way surface road driving south and there’s a lot of traffic, including a line of cars coming the other direction, in their turn lane, trying to turn left across your lanes. Do you stop before the intersection and let the cars make their turn, or do you block the intersection? (As I drove to a class I teach in Dallas tonight, I watched as car after car after car stopped in the middle of the intersection, blocking those cars who were trying to turn. When I approached the intersection--and mind you, traffic was slow up ahead so it’s not like I was blocking traffic behind me--I stopped so the cars could turn. But cars in the lanes on either side of me kept going, edging forward. It took a good minute or two before the cars in the other lanes stopped so those people could make their turn).
  2. You walk down the aisle at the market and come across something that had fallen from a shelf and is on the floor. Do you pick it up and put it back on the shelf, or leave it? Time after time, I watch as people walk on by. My kids do it at home. Walk ON the pillow instead of picking it up! ARGH!!
  3. People are coming out of a concert. You’re in a hurry. Do you wait your turn, or dodge people, cutting them off as you dart in front of them? Why not slow down and just wait?

I wish we could all be just a little more kind, because the reality is, you never know the impact your small act of kindness will have on someone else. Case in point, I got an email two days ago (at exactly 9:51 am :) and it changed my whole day.


OMG! This book [Cursed] was good. It's a good thing that I DVR'd my shows, because I could not put this book down. That twist with the brothers, I did not see that coming. This was a great read.

I'm starting The Chain Tree tomorrow. I anticipate another giving up the TV show for this one as well.

Again, what a great story.

I think the fact that this reader took the time out of her day to tell me how she loved my book is amazing. She didn’t get anything out of it (except my everlasting devotion), but her message made me smile and feel giddy inside. It made my day (still is, in fact, two days later). I’m sure she had no idea how her message would make me feel.

Small acts of kindness. Isn’t that what we should spend our energy on, rather than the complicated twisted sisterhood relationships we focus too much time on? I imagine we’d all smile a lot more, don't you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Election Season

In another week, life as we know it will return to normal.

Why? You ask.

The election will be over.

I know I say this every year, but I have never seen so much mud-slinging as this season of the mid-term elections has brought. In New York alone, we are assaulted by negative campaign ads—apparently the only kind that exist anymore—on a continual basis and when we’re not being forced to watch those, we are receiving robo-calls every hour imploring us to vote for a certain candidate.

In my opinion, they all stink.

In the governor’s race here in the Empire State, we have a Buffalo bazillionaire running against a rather bland, yet effective, Attorney General. We have several people running for State Senator, none of whom I know a lot about except for the fact that one has recently lost a lot of weight and was featured in a Vogue spread. I don’t know how that’s going to affect the things that matter in our state if she is elected, but at least she’ll look good making some changes? I’m grasping at straws here.

We have another candidate running whose campaign placards around the village boast “Women 4 Ball.” If you couldn’t guess that his last name is “Ball” you might wonder what the women of my village were actually supporting. I, for one, am not supporting ball of any kind, except maybe Jet football. (We’re 5-1…go Jets!)

Then, because I’m lucky enough to live in the tri-state area, we’re subjected to negative campaigning that relates to the races run in Connecticut. So, if I get bored with Ball or the bland, yet effective Attorney General, I can watch former WWE chairwoman Linda McMahon beat the verbal stuffing out of some guy who pretended he was in Viet Nam but was really only a reservist stationed in Nova Scotia or some hotbed like that. Newsflash: Peggy’s Cove is not as dangerous as Dien Bien Phu so don’t try to pretend it is. We, the people, are a little smarter than you give us credit for.

Then, there’s the gubernatorial race in California with candidates Jerry (I dated Linda Ronstadt) Brown and Meg (eBay) Whitman. The only thing I know about these two candidates is that they, or their political operatives, have both used a derogatory word to describe the other and that it rhymes with “bore.” Nice.

It has gotten so bad that I don’t know who is running for what or what their platform is or even if they have a platform beyond “Hey! That guy stinks!” This election season is bringing out the worst in everyone with any single message being diluted. There seems to be an incredible amount of anger in the country, which to my thinking, is about six years too late, but that’s a post for another time.

Is there an honest politician left in this world? Is there someone who can run a campaign with integrity without resorting to calling the other guy/gal schoolhouse names and dredging up a missed credit card payment from their college years? Is there any basic decency, not to mention courtesy, left in American politics? It would seem not. And that, to me, is even more disappointing than a candidate who doesn’t know that yes, Christine, there is a separation of church and state in this great land. And because of our Constitution—a masterpiece of tolerance and acceptance—you can practice wicca, free from fear of persecution.

What’s going on in your states, Stiletto faithful? (And you Canadians on board can comment and laugh at us…I give you permission.) Is it as disgusting, and off-message, where you are as it is here?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do I Really Write Cozies?

When I was first invited to be on this list, I think it was because it was assumed I was writing cozies. Every time I read the definition of a cozy, I don't think my books quite fit that category.

In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, of course Tempe is a resident deputy sheriff. Most deputies don't solve murders, but she lives in a small town in the mountains--the Southern Sierra in California to be specific. She covers a much larger area than the town, including the local Indian reservation. Often times, just the fact that she is Native American is the reason she is involved in murder investigations.

The Rocky Bluff P.D. series, set in a small beach community, revolves around the lives and families of the members of the police department and how the job affects the families and what's going on in the family affects the job. Of course, there is always a murder.

In neither is the sleuth a non-professional with a hobby or job that is what seems to constitute a cozy.

What might qualify my books as cozies is the fact that I don't use any bad language and I shut the bedroom door.

In any case, I've been with the Stiletto Gang since the beginning, and I love hanging out with all these bright young women.

My latest Tempe Crabtree mystery is Invisible Path. Tempe is taken away from planning her family's Christmas celebration by the murder on the reservation of a popular young Indian man which somehow seems connected to a para-military group with a compound hidden high in the mountains. Mundania is the publisher.


Monday, October 25, 2010

A Note from an Old Neighbor

I loved the old house the moment I saw it. There was an elegance to it. It had, as the realtor reminded me, "good bones," despite the old-fashioned kitchen and bathrooms that we had no money to update. But it had seven bedrooms, a Palladium window on the landing of a staircase that would have enchanted Scarlet O'Hara, and a back stairway from the attic down to the kitchen (for the maids who undoubtedly lived in the attic when the house was first built). It was way too big for our family of three, soon to be four, but I loved it.

It wasn't until we had moved in, however, that I learned what I really loved about this old house – the neighbors that came with it. Right next door was a sweet retired couple, Jean and Raymond. He had been the librarian of the Divinity School, and in a cruel twist of fate, had developed macular degeneration. By the time we knew them, he could no longer read. But his wife, a kind, gentle lady who did beautiful cross-stitchery, could. I can still hear her reading to him as they sat on their enclosed screen porch, throughout the spring and summer months. When I had the baby I was carrying when we first moved in, she made totally impractical, but absolutely gorgeous cross-stitched bibs. I still have them. And for the "big brother," she made a tin of chocolate chip cookies on which she had written, "Charlie's Cookies." I still have that too.

Next to them lived another lovely couple, Kathleen and Achille. He was the assistant superintendent of schools, while she taught hospitalized children. They had five kids of their own, but all were grown except the youngest son, who was a senior in high school. They were devout Catholics. She attended Mass every morning, but never failed to send me a Rosh Hashonah card, even after we moved out of state. Christmas in their own home was a wonderful mix of faith, traditions, and just plain fun. They collected crèches and every surface in the house, during the season, was covered with manger scenes, large and small. My favorite, and I think theirs too, was the one their son had made when he was a preschooler: the three kings were Fisher Price little people and the animals around the baby Jesus were from the Fisher Price barn set. Achille was a master baker and spent one afternoon teaching me the rudimentary basics of cake decorating. On the dining room table at Christmas would be a gingerbread sleigh that he had made, filled with home-made gingerbread men, women, and children. It was a family comfortable in and comforted by their faith.

We moved oh too soon, but kept in touch with annual cards that would bring each of us up-to-date on the families. Kathleen was the one who told me in her annual Rosh Hashonah card about the passing of Jean and Raymond. I learned of Kathleen's death when Achille sent me the annual card, saying he wanted to honor Kathleen's tradition of staying in touch. His card was late arriving last year, but when it did, I learned that he had cancer, had had seven operations that year, but still wanted to wish me and mine the very best. When the card didn't arrive this year, I feared that the tradition had ended. Today I learned that Achille had passed away in the spring.

I only knew these four remarkable individuals for a few years, but they left a lasting impression on me. They taught me about grace in the face of adversity; of generous spirits and genuine kindness. And I know that my life has been richer because I was blessed to have known them all. Rest in peace – and thank you.



Evelyn David's new e-book series is debuting another volume of the Brianna Sullivan Mysteries today. The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah is a novella featuring "Brianna" the psychic who planned to travel the U.S. in her motor home. Instead she's gotten stuck in Lottawatah, Oklahoma dealing with ghosts, murder, and a local detective who may or may not be the one to keep her tied down. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Read more about the series and our other books at

Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Ten List of Why Amateur Sleuths...

Thanks to the Stiletto Gang for inviting me here today.

Since my new release, Swift Justice (St. Martin’s Minotaur, 12 Oct 2010) is a humorous, soft-boiled private eye novel, some readers who know my amateur sleuth books (I write the Southern Beauty Shop series as Lila Dare) have asked why I’ve made the switch from amateur sleuth to PI. I’ll tell you: it can strain an author’s creativity to keep coming up with *good* reasons for an amateur to poke her nose into murder investigations. It’s much easier to have clients come to a PI and pay her to investigate.

Readers of amateur sleuth mysteries kindly turn a blind eye most of the time, not questioning why an elderly woman in Maine would trip over a body every time she bikes into town (would you move to Cabot Cove with its murder rate?), or how come knitters and scrapbookers drop dead so frequently. And don’t get me started on the number of customers who end up murdered in food establishments: coffee shops, caterers’ kitchens, bakeries, tea shops, cheese shops, cookie/cupcake emporiums. It seems like one in every twelve restaurant customers gets bumped off. If Applebee’s had stats like that, they’d be out of business in a week.

With tongue only slightly in cheek, I offer this Top Ten List of Why Amateur Sleuths Involve Themselves in Murder Cases:
10. The soon-to-be-sleuth is the police’s main suspect.
9. Her spouse/ex-/friend is the murder victim.
8. The murder occurs in the amateur sleuth’s place of business.
7. The main character is a nosy old biddy with nothing better to do with her time now that she’s retired, unemployed, or dead (a nod to Carolyn Hart’s mystery-solving ghost).
6. The protagonist needs a good way to meet hunky cops, EMTs and firefighters, and figures hanging out at crime scenes is a better way to meet men than joining a Jane Austen book club.
5. The amateur sleuth wants to one-up her cop or reporter boyfriend/husband by solving the case before he does. Note: This approach does not result in relationship longevity.
4. The main character is a reporter who knows that the obvious suspect—the guy or gal the cops arrested—is never the real killer. The silly cops are almost always led astray by clear motives and actual evidence.
3. The murderer is after the protagonist and s/he must identify the killer to avoid becoming the next murderee.
2. The sleuth's life is so humdrum that she appreciates the shot of adrenaline she gets from stumbling over corpses, dodging bullets, and getting arrested.
And the Number One reason an amateur sleuth gets involved in a murder case is . . . Her feline companion sticks his curious nose in, leading his mistress from clue to clue, and identifies the villain (probably saving the world and all humankind in the process) just in time for kitty kibble and a nap. What other reasons are there for hairdressers and librarians and booksellers to get involved in investigating murders? Best idea gets a signed copy of Swift Justice.


Laura DiSilverio spent 20 years as an Air Force intelligence officer--serving as a squadron commander, with the National Reconnaissance Office, and at a fighter wing--before retiring to parent and write full time. She resides in Colorado with her hubby, tweenage daughters and dog, and is currently working on the second Charlie Swift book. Visit Laura at

Swift Justice: When Charlotte “Charlie” Swift, former Air Force investigator turned barely-solvent Colorado Springs PI, confronts an armed woman in her office Monday morning, she knows the week is going to suck. And when she finds out she must accept the intruder, Gigi Goldman, as her partner in Swift Investigations, she hatches a plan to get rid of the pampered, mid-fifties socialite who has none of the qualifications or abilities, Charlie’s sure, to succeed as an investigator. As if having to deal with Gigi weren’t enough, Charlie must also solve a missing person case involving an abandoned infant, a long-ago adoption, and a client who wants to offload her grand-child on the daughter she’s never met. Huh? And, of course, there’s a murder . . .

Reviewers wax enthusiastic about this series debut:

“Swift Justice . . . may appeal to fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and Lula. DiSilverio deftly mixes light, zany humor with the darkness of the crimes. Readers will leave this one impatient for the next book in the series.” Booklist, Starred Review

“This is a delightful series debut, full of zany humor and female bonding. Sure to attract fans of soft-boiled and chick lit mysteries.” Library Journal

“A winning debut . . . with an engaging community of characters readers will want to revisit.” Publishers Weekly

Thursday, October 21, 2010

10 Things I learned This Week, by Misa

I had an array of experiences this this week, had a slew of emotions to go with them, and learned quite a bit.

Here are ten things I learned this week:

  1. Having a deadline is pressure
  2. Missing a deadline is even more pressure
  3. Especially when you can't quite figure out how to wrap up a story
  4. Sitting at a computer for hours on end makes your buttocks/bum/derriere really hurt
  5. Knowing you can't do anything about said aching buttocks because you have to stay at that computer and get the book done makes it hurt even more
  6. Pushing through the pain (pertaining to both deadline pressure and throbbing gluteus maximus) is HARD
  7. But rewarding...after the fact
  8. Your child's broken heart is your broken heart, too
  9. A broken heart (& the plethora of emotions that come with it) is not a good thing to have when you're trying to write
  10. But at least you can be surprised by who the killer turns out to be in your own book, incidentally NOT who was planned
I managed to get through the writing of the manuscript, figured out the ending, and am really happy with it, new killer and all.

Regarding #s 8 & 9, I remember having a broken heart. I remember it vividly, in fact. I know nothing I say will take the pain away. But, holy mackerel, I never expected my boy's emotional reaction to be what it was, and my tired, stretched-thin state-of-mind didn't help me help him very much, I'm afraid.

So I have only one question. How do you help your child get over a broken heart, which includes not only the loss of love, but the loss of a best friend?

~ Misa

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I’ve become very attuned to reviews of any kind. Movie reviews, shoe reviews on Zappos, clothing reviews of items on my favorite online store. Having become a student of the review, I’ve come to the conclusion—way too late for my self esteem—that they are all completely subjective.

I know—I’m late to the party. Everyone apparently knew that but me.

It’s hard when you’re a writer, or anyone else whose work is critiqued regularly, to remember that. As far as I am concerned, the good reviews are great, but the bad reviews carry more weight. So for every positive thing that I have heard about one of my books, I only carry around in my head the ones where the reviewer was critical. For instance, I’ll always remember the one where the reviewer claimed I was ‘not funny’ (that’s a dagger through my heart…really) or the one that accused me of not resolving a plot point (I had…it’s called ‘subtlety’). When things get really bad, I’ll conjure up the rejection I got from an agent who said that while she loved everything—everything!—about my story and my characters, she just didn’t like the way I wrote. Lordy.

I started thinking about this as I chatted with my mother a few weeks back. My mother and three girlfriends have a weekly date for lunch and a movie. When I say that they have seen literally every movie produced by a major movie studio, I’m not kidding. They have disparate tastes, but the idea of getting together dishing the dirt either before or after the movie over a plate of hot wings is really the draw for all of them. As a result, the one who hates violence has suffered through some horribly violent war and suspense pictures, while the one who loves World War II movies has sat in silence through a sappy Katherine Heigl movie or two. My mother, however, is happy watching anything. In all of the years that I been privy to her movie reviews, only one—“Four Weddings and a Funeral”—stands out for being a film that she didn’t like. And if I recall correctly, that was a film that was universally loved for its happy, sappy storyline and Hugh Grant’s tousled mop. I thought it was a great movie. Mom hated it.

When I reflected on my mom and her friends’ movie-going habits, one thing became clear: they don’t see movies based on reviews. Nor do they shy away from movies based on some critic’s comments about it not having a good plot or good acting. They see the movies that they want to see and don’t pay attention to what Roger Ebert is saying or any other reviewer. If the movie looks good to them, they go. If it doesn’t, they pass on it or see something else. My mother has told me repeatedly that she doesn’t give any credence to what a particular reviewer might say; if a movie or its plot line speaks to her, she’ll see the movie and for the most part, usually ends up liking it, because if there’s one thing she knows, it’s what she likes. And she’s not going to let anyone who sees movies for a living tell her any differently.

We in the “cozy” or “traditional” mystery world have a lot of fans like my mother, I would guess. They read our books because they know what they like and look forward to spending time with old friends, as one fan recently characterized my main characters. So why do I care if a trade publication doesn’t like the latest installment? (Although I did get a nice review in PW, so that did make me happy for a bit.) I write for myself and for the people who read my books and not for the critics. After all, it’s all subjective, right? There are certain authors out there whose books I don’t like and I don’t read them. And then there are others who I love and wait patiently for their next work. As my friend Annie would say, “That’s why we have menus. Everyone has different taste.”

Ok, remind me of that when new book--Third Degree--comes out on November 23rd, please?

Thoughts, Stiletto faithful?

Oh, and PS--happy 48th anniversary to my parents!

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Bouchercon Report

I took this photo while on a cable car tour of San Francisco, showing one of many steep, steep streets in this most beautiful city and the setting for this year's Bouchercon.

Bouchercon is the largest mystery con there is and I've been to several in various cities: my first was in Monterey, CA, and hubby and I went together to Madison and Milwaukee, WI, Austin TX, and a couple of other places I can't really remember right off. One of the pluses is visiting places you might never choose as a destination.

If you ever wanted to meet a particular famous mystery author Bouchercon is the place to do it. This year some of the greats in attendance were: Lee Child, Laurie R. King, David Baldacci, and someone spotted Sara Paretsky, and so many more.

However, that's not the reason I went to Bouchercon. I also didn't go to sell books as I knew the competition would be horrendous. There's nothing worse than attending a signing with long lines heading to Michael Connelly (yes, he was there) and sitting alone and forlorn with no one waiting for you to sign a book. In order to have books in one of the bookstore displays, I would have had to bring mine. This year, I decided that I wasn't going to worry about selling books, though I did hand out my card with my latest book cover on it to new people I met, my main purpose would be to have fun.

Having fun I did, from the 3 hour cable car tour all over San Francisco on cable cars that had been transformed into busses, to attending the Private Eye Associations award dinner where Marcia Muller was given an award. (Marcia Muller was the first author I ever met in person years and years ago.) She was in attendance with her husband, Bill Pronzini.

With my roommate, Gay Kinman, I walked all the way to the hotel from Chinatown at 10 p.m. at night. Fortunately, the road was downhill all the way. Also with my roommate, I toured the wharf area and all the shops and ate delectable meals in some upscale restaurants.

The Sisters in Crime, No-Cal MWA branches Hospitality Room was a great place to meet people--as was the bar. I was invited to eat breakfast with people I didn't know-and soon became friends.

I participated in a Continuing Conversation titled Procedural Pros with DP Lyle, Robin Spano, Michael Black, Dennis Palumbo, Laura Caldwell and Michael Norman. Though I've never considered myself a pro, I think I held up my end pretty well.

Yes, I had a good time. One really big plus was meeting a fellow Stiletto Gang member, Rachel Brady. We had a short chat when the cable car made a brief stop.

Going to a Bouchercon is an experience. It is not necessarily a great place for a small press author to promote books, but it is a place to meet a lot of people, talk about mystery writing, and have a really fun time.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Grandma at Four Months

By Evelyn David

She's rolling over now. She burst into tears the first time – shocked at the turn of events that had her on her back reaching for a stuffed animal, and all of a sudden, she was on her belly facing the wrong way and no stuffie in sight. Plus, how to get back to where she started?

But now, Riley, age four months, is rolling like the proverbial river.

And I'm growing more confident as Grandma. From the first second I knew my daughter-in-law was pregnant, I was in love with this little baby. But when Riley was born, I'd forgotten how tiny, fragile, even scary these little people can be. Despite raising four children of my own, I found myself worried that I couldn't meet her needs. A set of baby tears was enough to prompt me to shed a few myself.

But then came the smiles – and wow, I'm willing to do cartwheels to get a grin from this little one.

So here's how I knew I had passed the Grandma test.

I was to babysit for one hour starting at 7 pm. As an experienced parent, I know that is nobody's finest hour. Riley normally goes to bed at 8 pm, so she would be getting tired in any case, but her Mom told me upon arrival that the baby hadn't slept a wink the entire day. I believe the correct response is: OY!

Now the rule of the house is that the television is off when Riley is in the room. She's absolutely mesmerized by the colors of the huge TV hanging on the wall in the family room. I respect that. Heck I limited TV viewing when raising my own kids.

But as the hour progressed, Ms. Riley began to fret. I walked, swayed, sang – you get the drift. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would comfort her for more than 15 seconds. I changed her diaper; then offered her a bottle of breastmilk, which she promptly spit out, clearly the wrong vintage, or at least the wrong nipple. She refused all pacifiers. And of course, most of all, she refused the one thing that would have helped – she wouldn't so much as close her eyes lest she actually fall asleep.

And then I whispered what I'm pretty sure my mother and mother-in-law both did when watching my kids (including Riley's daddy). I said, "Riley, this is Grandma talking. How would you like to watch "Wheel of Fortune?"

I clicked on the TV and silence descended. She sat transfixed in my arms.

I had hoped to turn it off before her mother returned, but alas I was busted.

The little one gave a huge smile when her Momma reached for her. Upstairs, a brief nursing session, and Ms. Riley was asleep for the night.

Personally, I think Riley was relieved that the contestant figured out the final puzzle. I'm pretty sure that she had. It said:


Please share your favorite Grandma stories (whether as a grandparent or grandchild).

Grandma Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries -- short stories available for Kindle and Nook
Murder Off the Books
Murder Takes the Cake
Murder Drops the Ball -- Spring 2011

Friday, October 15, 2010

Another Year Older

Tomorrow's my birthday (na-na-na na-na-na!), and I'm gonna have a good time! Well, at the very least, Ed and I will go to dinner and a movie after dropping by Antony John's get-together of local authors, which will be fun in itself.

I'm okay with turning a year older. I don't cry and curse Father Time, nor do I feel particularly ambivalent, thinking that another 365 days has come and gone with often only hard work--and a few extra wrinkles and/or pounds--to show for it.

To me, birthdays are like holidays, another excuse to celebrate being alive and loved. Maybe they mean even more to me now after surviving a health crisis, because I'm so much more appreciative of everything I have (and more cognizant of how quickly things can change when you least expect it).

The only thing I even mildly freak out about is that age-old question from my husband and family members: "What do I get you?" Argh. That's always hard for me to answer because I feel like I have everything I need (and anything else will just end up as clutter).

So when this comes up, it makes me even more intent on celebrating everyday. If there's something I want to do or want to get--and, I'm talking, like, a new bird feeder, a dinner out, or a donation to the local animal shelter--I just do it. I don't wait. I've even told my husband more than once, "Every day should be like a birthday." I'd rather have him surprise me with flowers or a new cartridge for my laser printer (well, they're expensive!) "just because," rather than wrapping something up on specific days of the year.

Besides, the only person who truly deserves gifts on my date of birth is my mother. I mean, she worked hard for it.

So here's my birthday request of you all: do something kind/fun/good to yourselves or for someone you love, or give to a charity you support. And if anyone asks you, "What's up? What's so special about today," you can tell them "It's Susan's birthday, and this was on her wish list."

Now help me blow out all these candles so we can get to the cake and the ice cream. Woo hoo!

P.S. I got carded today buying beer for Ed! Not bad for an almost 46 year old chick. ;-)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can You "Make" A Bestseller?

by Catherine McKenzie

I read recently that book sales are generated by 7% of books and that most books released every year sell less than a thousand copies. I can’t vouch for the validity of these statistics, but if they’re even partly true that’s a pretty scary prospect for most of us writers who are lucky enough to get a book deal.

But is there something we can do about to tip the odds in our favor? I wasn’t sure, but I kind of wanted to find out. So, inspired by the Betty White Facebook SNL campaign, I started a group on Facebook. I called it “I bet we can make these books bestsellers” (OK, I didn’t think that long about the title). As my first experiment I chose two books by Wyoming author Shawn Klomparens: Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain (you can read some great reviews of these books in the discussion section of the group).

Five months later, the group has over 2,400 members including prominent authors like James Frey, Tom Perrotta, AS Winn, Jane Green, Sarah Pekkanen, Leah Stewart, Julie Buxbaum, Katherine Howe, and Therese Walsh to name a very few. And, of course, we have literally thousands of readers in the group, and readers, dear readers, are what make any of us authors a success by any measure (and by “success” I mean people outside our immediate families actually reading our books).

And through sheer interest and a bunch of giveaways, lots of people have read the books I picked (and bought them too). So on the level of spreading the word about and author and two books I enjoyed, the group has certainly been a success.

But can you “make” a bestseller? Should you even try? I mean, should you try if you’re not Oprah? These are questions that I, frankly, don’t have an answer for. But should you recommend books that you love to others? Absolutely. The more readers, the better. So, come join us if you’d like. We’d be happy to have you.

I bet we can make these books bestsellers.

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill University (B.A. ‘95 in History (Hons)) and McGill Law School (BCL & LLB ‘99), Catherine practices law in Montreal. Her first novel, SPIN, was published by HarperCollins Canada in January, 2010. It debuted at #15 on the Globe & Mail Canadian best-seller list. Catherine did a happy dance upon learning the news from her editor. Her second novel, ARRANGED, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in January, 2011.

Follow Catherine on Twitter: @CEMcKenzie1
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sklompar
Catherine’s website:
Shawn’s website:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some Thoughts on Space

And I'm not talking the NASA kind of space...sorry, Rachel.

Here at Chez Barbieri, we are fans of two shows that air on our beloved HGTV: House Hunters International and House Hunters, the domestic version. They air, conveniently, every night after dinner, and we hunker down together to see different houses and their inhabitants.

The concept of each show is deceptively simple but fascinating: a person or couple is interested in moving, buying for the first time, or investing in a vacation property and are shown three possibilities. We, the viewers, are given a tour of each house just like the person or people on the show and are told what it costs. We then make a decision based on the information we’re given, and in this family, turn it into a game where we guess what the prospective buyer(s) will end up with. Ultimately, we are voyeurs, looking into the lives of the people who own the property and the prospective new owners. At the end of the show, the choice of the buyer(s) is revealed and we see what decorating touches are put on the new abode.

I am happy to say that I am almost always right in my guess as to which house or apartment will be picked. Patrick comes in at a close second, leading me to believe that the kid has a knack for real estate.

House Hunters International airs first. In this edition of the show, buyers are usually looking abroad: a British couple looking for a pied-a-terre in Paris, say, or an ex-pat American looking for a home in Scotland due to a transfer. What is astounding to me about the international version is how little people want or expect from their home. They are more interested in the particular appointments or fittings in the abode, like a beautifully tiled, river-rocked shower, or a gorgeous bay window overlooking the Seine, or maybe a lovely “garden” (aka back yard) where the children can frolic in the Provencale sun. There is no talk of “stainless steel applicances” or “three-car garages” or “square footage” like there is on the American version of the show. People are concerned with “granite countertops” or the size of the master bedroom suite. They are certainly not concerned with Jacuzzi tubs that spray water at you from all angles or the pool or the hot tub that may or may not fit in the back yard. All they are really concerned about is basic comfort and beauty, not the size of anything.

It’s interesting to watch the two shows back to back because they truly contrast the way we look at how we live here and abroad. It’s evident from watching the two shows that many Americans are concerned with size and lavishness with basic creature comforts taking a back seat. Perhaps many people think that size and comfort go hand in hand, but after watching people in Europe search for the perfect living situation, it appears to me that they do not. I’ve watched as European couples stand for several minutes eyeing beautiful and delectable olives that hang outside a rustic kitchen window, whereas in the domestic version of the show, you might see this very same tree removed to make room for a larger patio or a “water feature” beside the in-ground pool. The large garage, with space to store items that probably will go unused until the next move as well as several cars, is essential to many of the home buyers. And each child needs their own room, obviously, whereas in the overseas version, we see people sharing small spaces in order to live in great, picturesque neighborhoods or bucolic idylls.

I always say that my own house would be perfect if we had one detached garage space, another shower, and an office for me that had a door (and wasn’t housed in a cramped attic space that has become the repository for all unwanted family items). Four of us live in fifteen hundred square feet and share one shower and two toilets. Whenever the kids complain about waiting their turn to get into the bathroom, I remind them that we’re living the “European way” and to quit their belly aching. We’re close to the village, we can walk everywhere, and our neighbors always know if something suspicious is going on. There’s something to be said for that, right? Who needs a Jacuzzi when you have all that?

I’m interested to hear from our Stiletto faithful—how do you live and do you think you need more space? Could you do with less? What are the most important aspects of your home, those that make you feel great about your space? Let us know.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How Not to Win Fans

Last week I told about my time at the Valley Authors Event and mentioned that afterwards, several writer friends and I went to dinner together.

One of the conversations was about authors each of us would never buy another book from because of their actions. Everyone had a story.

One told about hearing an author at a conference, enjoying hearing, buying the book and taking it to her to sign. The woman was in the book room at a signing table talking to the author next to her. She took the book, signed it and handed it back without interrupting her conversation or even acknowledging the person who'd bought the book.

Another told about a rather well-known author who won't even talk to people even those she's met before.

And yet another, bad-mouthed authors from small presses and blamed them for a smaller turnout than anticipated at a large mystery conference. Hello, small press authors buy books too.

And then there are those who can't stop talking about their own books and greatness when on a panel, never giving anyone else an opportunity. This is really bad when that person is the moderator.

I'm sure we've all had those experiences.

On the other side of the coin, some of the most famous and well-known authors are friendly to everyone.

Years ago I met Mary Higgins Clark at a small mystery conference. Nearly twenty years later I saw her at a cocktail party in New York during Edgar week. I spoke to her and told her where we'd met, she insisted she remembered me and introduced me to her at the time new husband. She also asked how my writing was coming.

Any time I run into Jan Burke she's as friendly as can be. We once spent a long afternoon in an airport together with our husbands waiting for weather to clear and had a great discussion.

William Kent Krueger is another author who always remembers everyone he's met, or at least acts like it, and if he really does know you, you'll probably get a big hug.

Our own Susan McBride is another one who is always friendly--a joy to see at any time.

I've also met 1/2 of Evelyn David who is sweet as can be.

I'm heading to San Francisco for Bouchercon tomorrow, I hope I mostly run into friendly authors.

I could name lots more authors who are always charming whenever you have the opportunity to meet them.

Of course I'm not a famous author, but I do hope people perceive me as a friendly one. I honestly love to meet new people and I'm thrilled when they buy one of my books and even more so when they let me know they enjoyed reading it.

Have you got any stories about authors whose books you won't buy any more because of how they acted? Or how about the other side, authors who make you feel like they are your friend.


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Brave New "E-Book" World

Electronic Books? E-books. Have they arrived? I think so.

It wasn't that long ago that electronic mail was new and strange - a novelty instead of a daily communication tool. Not anymore. I don't remember the last time I wrote a personal letter. A note maybe to go along with a package. But a letter? Like it or not e-mail is the way of the world now. Just as I think e-books will be in less than five years. The number of e-books on the market is exploding. The number of e-readers (the devices and the people) is increasing every day. Publishing contracts today include electronic rights along with foreign and domestic print rights. Yep, e-books are here to one form or another. (Hey, I'm old enough to have lived through 8-tracks, cassette tapes, cds, and digital downloads for i-Pods - so I know nothing is forever!)

But not to be left behind on the e-book super highway, my co-author and I have recently published a short story collection - I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries and a single short story - Riley Come Home at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It was quite a learning experience. And we are still trying to figure out some of the formatting tweaks. My co-author says that learning how to do a clickable "Table of Contents" has become a point of pride with me - not something that we absolutely have to include in our e-books. She's right (she's right a lot of the time but let's keep that fact just between us). I admit that I have developed an obsession with figuring it out. (Yes, I know there are people out there making a living whom I could pay to do it for me - but what's the fun in that?) I will conqueror the problem as I do most things - through time, trial, whining, and error. Lot's of whining and error.

On the bright side, did you know that on-line bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders have their own software applications that can be downloaded free to your e-reader and/or your PC (desktop or laptop)? You visit their site, search for e-book software applications (if you don't see an ad for one staring right at you when you arrive on site) and click on the download button. It loads itself and all you need to do is set up an account (if you don't already have one there for all those print books you've been buying for years) and start buying e-books. You can be reading in seconds on your computer without actually purchasing a Kindle (although the current price of $139 is becoming very tempting) or a Nook (Barnes & Noble's popular e-reader). You can also buy e-books for the Apple i-Pad from the on-line Apple store. Tony Burton, publisher extraordinare, has an on-line store, The Digital Bookshop. You can find lots of great e-books and print books there (including Evelyn David's Sullivan Investigations mystery series).

And here's another surprise - there are free e-books to be had. Free! Amazon and Barnes & Noble have free e-books offerings. All you have to do is download them.

Now be warned, my co-author and I aren't giving away our books. (Are you kidding after all that blood, sweat, and whining?) But if you're counting your pennies, buying e-books can save you money. Our short story collection, I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries is priced at $2.99. Riley Come Home is a mere 99 cents. The Kindle versions of Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake are $5 each at Amazon versus the very reasonable just over $9 price tag for the trade paperback editions.

So here's my question? Have you tried an e-book yet? If not, why not?


(Oh, and if anyone wants to give me some tips about that clickable "Table of Contents" thing, I'd appreciate it.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

With fall in the air, and the weather getting chillier, we decided to explore a warmer topic in this month’s Stiletto Soapbox: random acts of kindness. It can be as simple as someone opening the door for you at the post office when your arms are full, or a stranger giving you a smile when you need it most. Anyway, here are our favorite tales of kindness, and we’d love to hear yours, too, if you’d like to share with us.

Susan: The act of kindness that sticks out in my head isn’t exactly random, but it’s very special to me. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to go through six and a half weeks of radiation therapy, my mom and mom-in-law stepped up, offering to alternate driving me five days a week for the entire span of treatment so “you will never be alone.” I wasn’t yet married to Ed, and the fact that his mom wanted to pitch in like that still astounds me. That my mother would do it was sweet enough. Even as I type this and think of “my two moms” being there for me, I tear up. If I ever need a reminder that there is goodness in the world, I just look at them and know, “yep, there is.”

Maggie: When you're going through something difficult, it’s sometimes hard to ask for help. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn't want any help, but discovered the only way I was going to get through it was to open my heart and accept all the love and support that was offered to me. I had to put aside my feeling that accepting help was weak; I have found the opposite to be true. The first thing I received was prayer, in the form of a beautiful service that was held at my church. That buoyed me as I embarked on a chemo regimen. After that night, three nights a week for two months, meals would arrive at my door from local angels. There were countless other kindnesses that were shown me and that continue to be shown to me.

The lesson I learned was this: just as there is grace in helping others, there is grace in accepting help. How can we feel good about the times when we reach out and help if there is no one to graciously accept our support?

Rhonda (the Southern half of Evelyn David):

The other day this guy who had just fueled his truck at a service station offered to pump my gas, actually reached over and unhooked the gas pump nozzle for me before I could even get out of my car. I said no thanks, smiled, and waved him off. Truthfully, I was afraid to get that close to him with my credit card. Didn't help that his appearance screamed "chain gang escapee." Does it count if you're too afraid to accept random acts of kindness???

Marian (the Northern half of Evelyn David):

I couldn't figure out why I was having trouble coming up with examples of Random Acts of Kindness. Certainly I've been blessed by the kindness, generosity, sensitivity, and caring of family, friends, and even strangers. But what finally struck me is that while I am touched and thankful for these acts, great and small, I’m not surprised by them. What surprises me are Random Acts of Meanness. Fundamentally, I believe that people are basically good; that their instincts are to be helpful or at least not deliberately unhelpful. News of cruelty is so shocking because we don't expect humans to behave that way.

Anne Frank, hidden in a cramped attic for two years to escape Nazi detection, wrote in her diary: "In spite of everything that has happened, I still believe that people are really good at heart." I want/need to believe that too.

Marilyn: Years ago I belonged to a sorority of married women that seemed mostly to be about having parties. I learned about a family with three young kids, one developmentally disabled, and the father had lost his job. They would have no Christmas. I told the sorority gals, and we decided to provide Christmas. Each one of us purchased gifts for every member of the family, wrapped them, and provided the ingredients for a complete Christmas dinner, a Christmas tree and ornaments. We loaded everything into my old station wagon and delivered the goodies to their address. A man was working on a car in the driveway of the apartment house and asked if he could help us. When we told him where we were headed, he said, “That’s my address.” He helped us carry everything upstairs. The whole family was there and watched wide-eyed as we brought everything in. We said “Merry Christmas” and started to leave. The man said, “Wait. Where did all this come from?” I said, “You have heard of Santa Claus, haven’t you?” And we left, grinning all the way downstairs. I still feel good when I think about that day.

Misa: Once when my husband, who was a teacher at the time, was camping, he lost his wedding ring (which was my grandfather’s ring given to us before he died) in the lake. He spotted one of his students at the lake just as he was leaving, and he told the boy and his family about the ring, knowing he’d never find it. The following Monday at school, the boy came to school and proudly held up a gold wedding band. “Is this your ring?” he asked my husband. It was. The boy had spent hours diving and searching the shallow sandy bottom of the lake. And he found the ring! It was so random and so giving.

Just as the mystery community is stepping up to support Kate Collins*, these little moments remind me how loving and generous people can be, how people can band together for a common goal, and take action as an individual or as a group can impact others. I’m proud to be part of a community that supports its members in times of trouble, and I’m proud to adhere to a philosophy of random kindness and caring for others.

*Kate Collins very recently lost her husband, and we want to help her out in this difficult time. She has a newly released title from her Flower Shop mystery series just out: Dirty Rotten Tendrils. Perhaps you could buy a copy for yourself and a second copy for someone you care deeply about or even a library you love in honor of her husband. Here's the Amazon link:
Dirty Rotten Tendrils Flower Shop

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday Morning with Marilyn Brant

I'm so happy that Marilyn Brant can join us today! She's a great friend of mine, and she's got a brand-new novel out called FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE, which revolves around three forty-something friends who regularly meet for coffee and talk about everything under the sun. I figured to go along with the theme, I'd do a little Q&A session with Marilyn for y'all to read as you sip your morning caffeine. So here goes!

Susan: Tell us about your most recent novel in 30 words or less.

Marilyn: FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE is a modern fairy tale about three suburban moms who each begin to question whether they’d married the right man or were living the right lives.

Susan: Okay, now more details, please!

Marilyn: Each Friday morning at the Indigo Moon Café, Jennifer, Bridget and Tamara meet to swap stories about marriage, kids and work. But one day, spurred by recent e-mails from her college ex, Jennifer poses questions they've never faced before. What if they all married the wrong man? What if they're living the wrong life? And what would happen if, just once, they gave in to temptation?

Soon each woman is second-guessing the choices she's made--and the ones she can unmake--as she becomes aware of new opportunities around every corner, from attentive colleagues and sexy neighbors to flirtatious past lovers. And as fantasies blur with real life, Jennifer, Bridget and Tamara begin to realize how little they know about each other, their marriages and themselves, and how much there is to gain or lose when you step outside the rules.

Susan: What was your favorite scene from the book?

Marilyn: One chapter I had a lot of fun writing in FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE was an adults-only Halloween costume party in the middle of the book. It made for a long, complicated chapter (I felt as though I practically had to choreograph it), but it’s a major turning point in the story for all three of the women. Some very serious things are happening in regards to each of their marriages, but those dramatic moments are juxtaposed against an absolutely absurd party setting, which made laugh whenever I tried to visualize the event.

Susan: What was most important to you in the writing of this story?

Marilyn: I’m always trying to be honest about the complexities of human emotion, particularly in regards to relationships. I would say with FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE, the biggest issue I wanted to explore was not so much the concept of “cheating” as a theme but, rather, the far less titillating subject of “choosing.” That a woman can really only be in a relationship fully -- marital or otherwise -- once she understands how and why she’s chosen to be there. That she has to look closely enough and listen deeply enough to know who she is and what she wants. And that in every romantic relationship or good friendship, she chooses over and over again (either consciously or unconsciously) whether she wants to stay. I believe that’s true of all of us, and I wanted my characters in this story to move from unconsciously living very unexamined lives to consciously, actively making a choice about where they were headed.

Susan: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Marilyn: From conversations I overhear, things my friends tell me, funny stuff that happened in my family, incidents I’ve observed out in public, stories I’ve read in books or seen on TV and those endless “what if?” questions writers always ask themselves.

Susan: What's your favorite thing about being a writer?

Marilyn: Getting to do something creative every single day! Truly, that’s been such a gift. Even when the plotting of a scene is giving me fits or the synopsis doesn’t seem to make sense at all…I love knowing that I have a place to play with these characters and storylines. My hope is that by writing about women’s dreams and experiences as honestly as possible, I might get closer to helping readers recognize truths about their own lives. It was this sense of “recognition” that my favorite novelists gave to me, and I'll always be grateful for that.

Susan: What's your advice for writers looking to get their novels published?

Marilyn: Don’t follow trends just because you think it’ll be an easier sell. And write the books that fit your voice. If what you love writing happens to be a hot-selling genre, great. If your writing voice happens to be perfect for the genre you want to write in and love to read, that’s awesome, too. But--if not--write long and hard enough to find what DOES fit you and your style best. Because then, even if it takes longer to make that first sale than you expect, you’re writing the kinds of stories you most enjoy, and that passion has a way of working itself into the projects you’re creating.

Susan: What's next for you?

Marilyn: I’m in the process of beginning blog tours, library visits, book-club chats and other public events featuring FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE, which is a Doubleday Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Club selection for October 2010. I'm also still doing some fun Austen-related promo for my debut novel, ACCORDING TO JANE. I’ve just turned in my third novel (the title is still up for debate!), which will be out next fall, and it’s a modern “A Room with a View”-like travel adventure. It has characters that play chess, Sudoku and Mah-jongg, eat lots Italian gelato and linguini, and spontaneously sing Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and other musical-theater selections. Finally, I’m starting the writing process all over again for my next women’s fiction project, which I’m really excited about. I’ll, hopefully, be able to share more info on that story soon!

Marilyn Brant has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn's debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart® Award. When not working on her next book, she enjoys traveling, listening to music and finding new desserts to taste test. Readers can visit her website at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Defense of the Busy Signal

I miss the busy signal.

Remember the busy signal? The steady, annoying beeping sound that signified that the person you were calling on the phone was on the line with another person? Quick—without thinking—tell me the last time you actually heard the busy signal. It has probably been a long time, right? Well, if you miss it, you can call us here at Chez Barbieri. I’m convinced—as are my technology-starved children who share a dsl connection with their mother—that we’re the only family in America who doesn’t have call waiting.

As much as I miss the busy signal, I hate call waiting even more. Here’s my experience with call waiting: if I’m on the phone with a friend and someone else beeps in, invariably, the friend I’m talking to says they have another call and they’ll have to call me back later. However, if I beep in on a conversation that the same friend is having with someone else, their response is always to tell me that they’re on another call and they’ll have to call me back later.


Ellen DeGeneres once called call waiting “a mini People’s Choice Awards” and I have to agree. There is nothing to make you feel less worthy than someone a) jettisoning you from a conversation in progress or b) cutting you off to return to another conversation in progress—i.e. not taking your call—albeit at different times. Besides that, it’s rude.

I do think there are times that letting someone go from the original conversation is okay - someone else beeps in, say, your son or daughter is calling from a tank in Afghanistan. Or, your doctor is calling with results of your pregnancy test. Or, Fresh Direct is on its way to your house but doesn’t know your street number. Or, someone has forgotten their lunch and needs a nourishment, tout de suite. But if someone of equal or lesser value to you calls, it is the owner of call waiting’s responsibility to stay on the line with you because what you have to say is just as—if not more—important.

The worst offender is the person who calls YOU and then takes another call during your conversation. Oh, we’re done? I often think. There’s also the person who just sees the number on caller ID and makes an instantaneous judgment that the person calling them is more deserving of their time than you are. You can tell all of that based on a phone number?

I have changed phone carriers many times in order to get a better deal. They always offer me all sorts of free services just shy of the one where a Verizon technician will come by every day and walk my dog. (When they give me that one, I’m switching back!) Call waiting is always on the menu and I always say “no thanks” which mystifies the sales representative. If I’m on the phone with someone, we will decide mutually when the conversation is over. We will not be subjected to a beeping sound that indicates someone else wants our attention. We will behave like civilized, polite human beings.

Besides, I probably wouldn’t be able to figure out to use it.

But that’s a post for another time.

Weigh in, Stiletto faithful: what modern “conveniences” do you eschew? (I’m looking at you, Polito!)

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Big Valley Authors' Festival

Last Saturday the Big Valley Authors Festival sponsored by the Hanford Branch of the King County Library was held in the Hanford Mall. Hanford is only an hour and half drive from where I live and many of the authors who came are really good friends.

We were in a great place, tables and chairs all set up for us, but at first the foot traffic was slow. When it picked up I did quite well selling books, talking to people and handing out lots and lots of cards.

One thing I noticed with some of the authors, they didn't stay with their books, instead they were up and off talking with other authors even when people paused at their table. Afterwards, I heard some say sales were slow.

I've written blogs about this on my own site: if you want to sell your books at a book or craft festival you have to be available to do so. You need to engage people as they pass by and certainly if they are actually looking at your books.

One author came to talk to me and stayed and stayed--I finally told her someone might want to talk to her, she should go back to her table. She left mine, but moved on to the next author. I don't really understand this behavior.

Before the event began and I was all set up, I made the rounds and talked to each author. I even bought two books. Once the mall opened I stayed behind my table (except for potty breaks and when I was gone my husband was there and he's very good at talking about my books and handing out my cards--usually keeps people entertained until I return.)

I know I sold a lot more books than most people there--and not because my books are better, but because I was available to talk about them. I even sold a book to a Japanese family who could hardly speak English. They were charming and were excited to meet a "real" author.

I hope they repeat the event next year. The first one, last year, was held in a Veteran's Memorial Building and it was good too. The difference there was the people who visited came explicitly to see the authors as nothing else was going on that day.

After the event, a few of us went out to eat together--always fun. We had an interesting conversation about author behavior and those we probably will never buy another book from because of rudeness. That will be another blog post.

All in all, it was a great day.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Boy Meets Girl

By Evelyn David

In Murder Off the Books, Mac Sullivan and Rachel Brenner meet cute. He suspects that her brother is a murderer, which may be a turn-on for some women, just not for Rachel. The scene is set for lots of banter and passive-aggressive flirting. Even the putative couple’ pets have a love-hate relationship. Whiskey, the Irish wolfhound, and Snickers, the butterball feline, snap, hiss, and snarl their way through the book, only to reach a detente (with Snickers on top of the refrigerator and Whiskey eating kitty kibble) at the end.

Making a love connection, in fiction or real life, ain’t easy.

An eHarmony poll reports that 19 percent of married couples surveyed met online. Seems a tad high, but on the other hand, I personally know four blissfully wedded couples who did make their first connection through one of the Internet dating sites. Once you’re out of school, it seems like the opportunity to meet eligible bachelors and bachelorettes is drastically reduced. This may just be a nervous mother talking, but I always figured any man my college daughter met on campus was safe; if she met him in a bar, then I was immediately into hyper-alert, “is this a serial killer,” mode. Okay, I agree that I’m not always completely or even partially sane about my kids’ safety.

But actually where are you going to meet potential suitors? You’re not supposed to date anyone from work (complications, maybe even lawsuits, if you break up). But if you’re spending 10 or more hours a day at your job – it doesn’t leave much time for socializing outside the office.

So if it’s not a bar or the workplace or the Internet, what’s the new scheme for Romeo and Juliet to find each other (and hopefully have a happier ending)?

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring BIG NEWS.

Two fun, quirky, clever mysteries for the price of one! Check out I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries, two short stories by Evelyn David now available on Kindle.

Hell on wheels or a psychic in a travel trailer?

Brianna Sullivan gave up her job finding missing luggage for the airlines in order to seek the freedom of the open road. Her first stop? The small town of Lottawatah, Oklahoma. Using her psychic abilities, Brianna takes on a multitude of jobs to earn gas money, help out the local police detective, and direct some troubled souls towards the light. Volume 1 of this series by Evelyn David contains two short stories - I Try Not To Drive Past Cemeteries and Dead But Not Buried in Lottawatah.

Download it today here

Now back to your regular programming.

Speed dating. It’s Nascar for the lovelorn. My son, under pressure from a friend who had recently had a nasty breakup, agreed to join him for this race to find a match. The basics of the evening were simple: 15 men, 15 women. One more criteria: everyone had to have a graduate degree. Interestingly, you didn’t have to be employed, just have a master’s degree or better, to sign-up for a love connection. The women were seated at individual tables, and the men moved from station to station, spending six minutes with each woman to discover if they had enough in common to warrant a second encounter. After the evening, you ranked the six individuals you’d like to see again, and if both parties indicated an interest, the organizers then provided the personal contact info.

My son, in one of his first encounters, asked a young woman what she did the previous weekend. “Slept,” she answered. He tried a different tack. “What do you like to do for fun?” Another simple answer: “Sleep.” Okay, he thought, not much to work with here.

I confess that I met my husband in high school, took him to my junior prom (not by covered wagon as my kids assume), and married right out of college. I’d make the same decision today – but if one of my kids wanted to get hitched right out of school, I’d think they were crazy. So much to see and do before settling down. Times have changed, indeed.

But the old story of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back is timeless.” The only question is whether boy can be dazzled enough in six minutes to warrant a second look.

Stiletto Faithful – what’s the worst date you’ve ever been on (or heard about)?

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

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