Monday, November 28, 2011

Lori's Book Sense ~ November

Lori's Reading Corner

I'm doing things a little different this month. I have just one book I am going to share with you. The reason being is that it is, hands down, one of the best books I've ever read! And it wouldn't be fair to any other book I happen to recommend in the same space.  The only problem is (for the rest of you) is that the book doesn't come out until January 31st.

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.
When I closed the last page of this book, I sat there and went "woah".  I couldn't believe the journey the story that I had just read had taken me on. The story is that of a Andy Barber, an ADA in Massachusetts, who decides not to assign another prosecutor the case of a fourteen-year-old boy found murdered in a local park, but to prosecute it himself, despite the fact that others feel he should step down since his son went to the same school as the victim. He doesn't feel there is a conflict of interest, as his son claims not to have known the murdered boy. But, when his son is arrested and charged with the murder, Andy is forced to step down from the case and suddenly finds himself on the other side of the courtroom.

This book deals with issues of nature vs nurture, and how much your upbringing vs your DNA factor in to the person you become. Can the sins of your families past (nature) become the person of your present, even if you never knew about them (nurture)?  How blinded can you be when looking at your children? Do you really only see what you want to see? Does unconditional love truly know no bounds?

What follows is an emotional story that is part courtroom thriller, part mystery, and part family drama. All of which combine to create an emotionally packed tale of one families struggle to not only believe in their child, and what's he's told them, but to find a way to save him, and their family unit. At any cost.

I'll have my full review up on my blog soon, so make sure to look for it.  In the mean time, pre-order this book - TODAY! I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

By Laura Bradford

If you've ever seen the movie, A Christmas Story, you know that Ralphie wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun in the worst way. It didn't matter how many people told him he'd shoot his eye out. He wanted one. Plain and simple.

So Santa did what all good Black Friday shoppers do...

He obliged.

Now, for the sake of today's post, we're going to set aside Ralphie's Life Lesson (remember the incident in the back yard after he got his prized Red Ryder BB Gun???) for just a moment and take a peek back at some of the toys that had Santa rushing to the store for me back in the day (and the Life Lesson I invariably learned frome each one)...

When I was about three-years-old, I apparently wanted a baby doll of my own. So Santa obliged, bringing me one that cried when it was squeezed. I--being the placid child I was-- freaked when I went to hug my new baby and it began to cry.

Santa must not  have liked my reaction because he took it back to the North Pole, sending me a new slip in its place. (Life Lesson: Sometimes fear is best kept to one's self)

Then, when I was a few years older (I'm thinking maybe 7 or so), I wanted a Baby That-A-Way in the worst way. And how could I not?!? The commercials that played over...and over...and over again during the months leading up to Christmas made her look so cool. I mean, she could crawl!!!!  Crawl, I tell you!!

That Christmas morning, I raced downstairs to find my Baby That-A-Way waiting under the tree! I flipped on her switch, set her down, and watched her crawl across the room...sounding like a coffee grinder--as my older brother so happily pointed out--the whole way. (Life Lesson: Sometimes boys can be so stupid) 

Who could resist the idea of baking something all by yourself?? Not I, says the eight-year-old me. So the EZ Bake Oven was the request of the year that Christmas. My first concoction? A yellow cake with chocolate frosting that I slaved over for a good thirty minutes or so...only to have my grandfather eat it in one bite. ONE BITE!!!!  (Life Lesson: It's okay to have a stash of treats and not tell anyone)

And then there was Growing Up Skipper. You know, the sister (or was it, niece?) of Barbie who grew boobs with the pump of her arm. She was the "it" present when I was about 11 or 12, I think. After the fascination of watching her boobs appear and disappear began to wear off, Skipper became rather depressing over time.  (Life Lesson: Pumping one's arm again and again and again doesn't work for all girls)

Now it's your turn. What were some of your must-have toys...and the lessons you learned from them??


Thursday, November 24, 2011


by Maria Geraci

Happy Turkey Day everyone! I hope your day is filled with good food, good company and many blessings. I'll be spending today with my family in central Florida right here. Yep, just a hop, skip and jump from Disney World, shopping, and lots of golf (for the guys), so everyone will be happy.

Despite the fact that I won't be home, I'll still start out my Thanksgiving morning the same way I have for decades. By watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV!

Now, I love parades, but there is no finer parade than the Macy's parade and Thanksgiving without it would be like... well, like a Thanksgiving day without turkey. So I thought it would be fun to dig up a few parade stats.

For example, did you know that:

The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was in 1924 and was actually called the Macy's Christmas Day parade (although it was on Thanksgiving Day).

The first parade featured real live animals from the Central Park Zoo (no big animal balloons!)

The parade was cancelled in 1942, 1943 and 1944 due to WWII.

In 1927, Macy's introduced their world famous giant helium balloons. The first balloons were of Felix the cat and the toy soldier.

Macy's is the world's second largest consumer of helium. The US government is the first (for some strange reason, I find this fascinating).

Originally, the giant balloons were released in the air at the end of the parade. The balloons had a "return label" on them and anyone who found one and returned it to Macy's, received a prize.
In 1932, an aviator almost crashed his plane after attempting to catch the Cat balloon. As a result of this near disaster, the parade discontinued the practice of releasing the balloons.

Due to a helium shortage in 1958, the balloons were brought down Broadway on cranes.

Santa Claus closes out the parade every year, except in 1933 when he led the parade, but my favorite part of the parade is without doubt, Snoopy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Raining on My Car

Why I'm Thankful
by Bethany Maines

So it’s the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house…  Yeah, Thanksgiving eve doesn’t quite have the same storied tradition as Christmas, does it? The kids don’t get giggly in excitement waiting for the giant turkey to burst out of the oven and give them the gifts of candied yams. (Although, now that I mention it, how fun would that be?) 
Not that the night before Thanksgiving doesn’t have traditions. There’s the frenzied run to the store.  The scrambling for some sort of dinner because the entire refrigerator is jammed with Thanksgiving food. The eating of the sacrificial pumpkin pie (ok, maybe that one’s just me). And of course, since it’s Thanksgiving in the Pacific Northwest there’s a down pour of rain. And now apparently, at my house, there’s the tradition of re-roofing the carport. Frankly, I was expecting more baking and less hammering with my Thanksgiving. But as my husband and I were discussing the additional strain on the budget, and the seriously lame prospect of roofing in the rain I realized something. While it is a serious inconvenience to be relocating all the cabinetry for our upcoming bathroom remodel to middle of the kitchen, well, we have a kitchen. And a bathroom. And a living room. And bedrooms. None of which are leaking. 

When my husband and I moved into our house, we’d spent a month sprucing it up, painting, and remodeling. Then, the night after we officially moved in, I was, shall we say, “released on my own recognizance,” a victim of our new economic reality. I was more than a bit concerned that we were going to lose the house. And now, a little over two years later, I’m worried about the car-port roof leaking like a colander. You know what? I’ll take it. 

The economy has pushed a lot of people who thought they were safe to the brink and every day more people lose their jobs or visit a food bank that never thought they’d be in that situation. The fact that my husband and I aren’t among them is purely due to the grace of God, unemployment and the unending support of our family and friends. So if the night before Christmas is for hoping for presents, then the night before Thanksgiving must be for counting your blessings. I know I’ve been given a boatload of them, including a great virtual group of friends here on the Stiletto Gang.  So to all of you out there in internet land, thanks for being part of my world. I hope you are all safe, fed, and with your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remember when I said...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Ok, so remember a couple of weeks ago?  I said I didn’t use recipes when I cook.  Well, for the most part that is true.  Of course, I make exceptions to that rule when I bake because – well, baking is more of a science.  No recipe means flat cookies, dense cakes and not so tasty treats.  Does that mean I always follow the recipe to the letter of the law?  I confess that I tend to add a sprinkle of this and a dash of that just for kicks. 

Because I am so thankful for all of you, I am going to share one of my favorite recipes.  I promise it is easy to make and tastes amazing.  AND – it makes your house smell divine when it bakes.  If you haven’t decided on what dessert you’re going to have after the turkey on Thursday (besides pumpkin pie – because you have to have pumpkin pie) give this one a whirl.  You won’t be disappointed.

Apple Cinnamon Cheesecake
1cup crushed graham crackers

3-4 TB butter

3 TB sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Cheese mixture:

 2 packes of cream cheese - softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs


 4 large granny smith apples sliced thin

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup halved pecans

Preheat oven to 350

Mix graham crackers, melted butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Press mixture into a 9" spring pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together. Add eggs one at a time - beat until creamy. Pour mixture on top of crust.

Toss apples, sugar and cinnamon together. Place on top of cheese mixture. Sprinkle pecans on top.

Bake for 70 minutes. Remove from oven and use a knife around the edge. Wait for the cake to cool before releasing the spring pan. Chill before serving. Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.  I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be allowed to call the readers and writers of this blog my friends.  Have a blessed and happy holiday week.  Much love to each and every one of you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let Us Give Thanks

One year, my third son was to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. A Bar Mitzvah is a Jewish rite of passage and marks the moment when a 13-year old boy is considered an adult member of the congregation. (A Bat Mitzvah is the ritual for girls). It's a religious ceremony where the youngster leads prayers at the Sabbath morning service, usually followed by a luncheon for family and friends at the synagogue. We then planned to invite guests to our home for coffee and dessert and hold a party for kids later that night. But even with keeping everything relatively low-key, you can imagine that there was a fair amount of work involved, plus out-of-town guests to feed, cooking, baking, readying the house…you get the picture. I tell this story because that year I suggested to my immediate family that we eat out at a restaurant on Thanksgiving.

This was followed by dead silence.

And that was followed by an explosion of surprise and dismay. The concept of eating Thanksgiving anywhere but in our home, with the traditional turkey and trimmings, was absolutely appalling to my husband and kids. It was Thanksgiving, didn't I know that? Was I suggesting that we each make our own peanut butter sandwich for the main course? Why not go through the drive-through at McDonald's? (Actually that didn't sound like such a bad idea to the five-year old.)

As it happens, I'm not a huge turkey fan. I could, and often have, made a meal of the stuffing, side dishes, and of course, desserts. Nonetheless the family wanted the whole shebang. But what I realized is that while they wanted the traditional foods on the table, they mostly wanted the traditions they associated with our family's celebration. While no one should be a slave to tradition, part of family glue is to do certain things the same way every year, building a treasure trove of family memories.

A couple of years later, we journeyed out-of-town to have Thanksgiving with extended family. The food was superb, but when we came home, my kids clamored for "our own" Thanksgiving. And so, the Friday after Turkey Day, we had another traditional T-Day meal, although this one was one of those supermarket deals where we got the bird, stuffing, sides, two kinds of pies, gravy, and cranberry sauce, all for $50. And the hubby and kids slurped up every last crumb. But what everyone remembers, besides the fact that we ate two banquets in a row, is that, as in years past, we went around the table and shared the blessings of our lives, we laughed, we teased, we had fun, we were "us."

I know that our expressions of thanks should never be limited to one day a year. Still I'm happy to take a moment out of our busy lives to say aloud to those I love how very grateful I am for my life with an extraordinary family and incomparable friends. I am blessed indeed.

From both halves of Evelyn David, and all members of the Stiletto Gang, best wishes for a happy holiday full of joy and peace. Please share your favorite Thanksgiving memory – sweet, funny, poignant, you choose.

And may I add my thanks to the anonymous author who wrote of Thanksgiving:

The thing I'm most thankful for right now is elastic waistbands.

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David


Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Twister - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Missing in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Sullivan Investigations Mystery - e-book series
Murder Off the Books Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Murder Takes the Cake Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Word Thief

by Susan McBride

I've been reading with interest information regarding the latest case of plagiarism in the literary world.  A novelist named Quentin Rowan writing as Q.R. Markham has admitted to stealing passages from various novels in order to compose Assassin of Secrets, a modern day James Bond-type book published recently by Little, Brown & Company.

Once caught, Quentin wrote a letter to one of the authors whose words he stole, trying to explain. Here's a bit from his email to spy novelist Jeremy Duns, rationalizing away (or is that irrationalizing?):

“Once the book was bought, I had to make major changes in quite a hurry, basically re-write the whole thing from scratch, and that’s when things really got out of hand for me. I just didn’t feel capable of writing the kinds of scenes and situations that were asked of me in the time allotted and rather than saying I couldn’t do it, or wasn’t capable, I started stealing again. I didn’t want to be seen as anything other than a writing machine, I guess. Some call it ‘people pleasing.’ Anyway, the more I did it, the deeper into denial I went, until it felt as if I had two brains at war with each other.”

A tiny piece of me feels sorry for the guy.  Having been under the deadline gun dozens of times myself, I understand the sense of pressure.  But to resort to plagiarizing?  Honestly, my only response is WTF???

It isn't easy writing a book, and it never gets easier.  I have the utmost respect for writers who sit down and compose a draft, accept the editorial letters they in turn receive requesting changes, and sit down again to revise like a madman (or woman).  It's what we do, and we learn to bite the bullet and get it done because that's the only way we're going to write the best damned book we can write.

What a cop out it is to hear someone say, "But revising was too hard!  I couldn't do it!  I had no choice but to borrow words that other authors slaved over and tweaked and revised."

Am I crazy, or does it sound even more complicated to plagiarize?  I can't imagine having to read through book after book, locating specific passages that would fit into the scenes I'm working on, and do that enough times to complete a 300-page manuscript. Yipes. I think I'll stick to what comes out of my own brain, thank you very much.

I know I sound mean--I'm feeling a little like Simon Cowell here--but the literary world seems to be taking quite a beating lately and I hate seeing another scandal that detracts from all the good stuff going on. My advice for Mr. Rowan: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the publishing kitchen.

If you can't write your own books and you can't conjure up descriptions and narrative and dialogue from your own imagination, please ask for a ghost writer.  Look at the Kardashian sisters, Lauren Conrad, Hilary Duff, that mom and daughter team on "Selling New York," or Snooki, for Pete's sake.  They don't write their own novels either.  Their publisher pays someone else to do it for them.  Someone who (hopefully) doesn't resort to stealing other authors' words.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Art of Being Crafty

Where did November go? As I write this, we have just crossed over the half-way point of the month, which means next week is Thanksgiving and after that, it's all over. As in, the downhill slide toward Christmas begins.

Every year, sometime in mid-summer (you know, when all those clever shop keepers begin their "Christmas in July" promotions) I make a vow that this is the Christmas in which I will finally have my act together. My house will be spotlessly clean, closets organized, pantry shelves will be stocked (and labeled!), Yuletide decorations will be abundant (yet tasteful). Although this seems like enough to keep anyone busy, this Pioneer Woman fantasy of mine is not complete without my annual Christmas Holiday craft.

I don't know when (or why or even how) this tradition started because my own mother is not particularly crafty. With the exception of the one lone holiday season she decided to make homemade candles as gifts and turned our family den into a candle factory. No joke. I remember she used all sorts of everyday household items as "molds" like milk cartons, and empty soup cans, stuff like that. I also remember a lot of glitter being involved and this was great fun for my sister and I who were probably about 9 or 10 at the time.

After the Big Candle Christmas (as I lovingly refer to that year) Mom gave up on being crafty around the holidays. "Too much stress," she said. That obviously didn't sink in because every year around this time I start to plan my big "craft" and while a part of me knows that starting the Big Craft in mid-November is probably too late, I still do it anyway.

In previous years, my Big Craft have included: making hand sewn Angels for the top of the Christmas tree (got this idea from a woman's magazine), jingle bell necklaces, hand made Christmas Cards (none got sent out because I couldn't finish them in time and February seemed a tad too late) and personalized gift baskets (that ended up costing me a fortune). So, while a part of me knows that the Big Craft is in some ways, doomed, I can't help myself from starting one each year.

This year the Big Craft is personalized painted cloth canvas rugs also known as floorcloths. I drool over these every time I see them in a store and vow that I will start making them myself. I mean, if Martha can do it, then why can't I?

How about you? Any big craft plans this holiday?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lowering Your Expectations

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I have had the pleasure of hosting the past several dinners here at Chez Barbieri.  This year, we will play host to hubby’s family—twelve of us in all—and perhaps a friend and her family for dessert.  My turkey is known in the family for its moistness and fabulous flavor, success attributed to the brining process that takes several days.  My mashed potatoes are laden with butter, garlic, and sea salt, and although not the same recipe as the one that comes from Jim’s family, a crowd pleaser nonetheless.  I apparently also make great green beans, and for Jim’s brother-in-law and me, I make roasted brussel sprouts, a dish no one else would touch with a ten-foot pole but which he and I love.

I guess I’m what you would call a pretty serious home cook.  It is the rare dish that requires me to follow a recipe and I’ve become more adept over the years with complicated vegetarian dishes in order for child #1, an avowed non-meat eater, to get the nutrients she needs.  Baking is not really my forte, but only because I don’t like to measure and child #1 works at a bakery.  Problem solved.  There is one thing, however, that I’ve never mastered and that is gravy.  Can’t do it.  Have tried and failed repeatedly. And there’s nothing worse at a Thanksgiving meal than putting out an entire meal and then standing over the stove attempting to get the proper amount of roux to make a thick, but not gelatinous, gravy.  There’s something about the preparation of gravy that makes me anxious, and I think that’s because gravy is a staple of many meals, Thanksgiving being the most important.  My entire culinary reputation is riding on it and that’s just not a chance I’m willing to take.

I tried for years to make the right gravy, standing beside my mother and mother-in-law, watching what they did and trying to replicate it.  It just doesn’t work.  So, for the past few years—and with full disclosure to my holiday guests—I buy gravy at the local gourmet store where it is made fresh from the turkeys that they roast and which I serve it in my china gravy boat.  It’s delicious and the right consistency every time and all I’m required to do is heat it up.  Voila!  Perfect gravy.

Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s just that my usual perfectionism just doesn’t translate to pan drippings, but I’ve decided that I’m going to make things easier on myself in order to enjoy the holiday. I’ve also decided the same will be true for writing because no matter how many times I decide I’m going to write the perfect first draft, trying to follow some self-created recipe for writing, it doesn’t happen.  (I bet you didn’t think I could connect gravy and writing but YOU’D BE WRONG!) You’d think after six books, I’d be smarter and know that the perfect first draft is an urban legend, kind of like the multi-city author tour or the alligator that lives in the New York City sewer system.  Or that everyone can cook gravy.

Starting a book without a roux—which is basically an outline or some kind of detailed plot diagram—is pretty scary but it is something I do every time I write a book.  (I’ve only written one outline in the past decade and it’s for a book I’ve yet to write.  We’ll see how that goes.)  It usually works out ok, though, with me figuring out halfway in whodunit and why.  The problem I have is that I hate every word I’ve written before I sit down to write again and I want to revise everything, every day, before I start again, kind of like how I always mess with the home-cooked gravy until it is the aforementioned gelatinous mess.  I can’t leave well enough alone.  This kind of self-critique, I’ve found, is detrimental to the process and just slows things down.  So with this latest book—the seventh in the Murder 101 series—I’ve just taken off the breaks, or to continue with the metaphor, bought the store-bought gravy, and am just dumping everything from my head into the gravy boat and figuring out how to make it work later. (I know…the metaphor is getting a little thing, but stick with me.)

So far, so good.  I have about 40,000 words to write to finish this book—piece of cake!  But lowering my expectations about what constitutes perfection has been a great lesson for me.  Interesting that after writing for all these many years, I’m still learning new things with every book.  I don't have to make perfect gravy and I don't have to write perfect first drafts.  That's what the delete key is for.  What about you?  Anything to share on the topic of the perfect first draft?  Gravy?  Thanksgiving?  Let it fly!

Oh, and in honor of the release of PHYSICAL EDUCATION next Tuesday, one lucky commenter will be chosen at random (my cat will do the picking) to win a signed copy. 

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Planning for Thanksgiving

It's my turn to do Thanksgiving Dinner once again. Last year we traveled to Southern California to our youngest daughter's big, beautiful house and I didn't have to do a thing. Plus I got to spend time with grandchildren I don't have the opportunity to be with very often. When I go down there, I miss out on sharing Thanksgiving with the family that lives nearby.

Everyone who knows me, knows I really enjoy cooking. Turkey is one of the easiest things there is to do and have come out delicious. If everyone comes I've invited, we'll have a crowd, and this year I'm asking everyone to bring something so I don't have to do it all.

I have much to be thankful for. I've had no major health problems and my hubby (and best friend) of 60 years, though he's slowed down considerably, is doing well health-wise too. I've been blessed with a big family, many grandchildren and great grands. No, things don't always go smoothly, do they ever with a big family? We have drama at times, but I've learned not to get too excited, or worried. Praying works far better.

As for my writing, I've had over thirty books published and I still enjoy doing it and am thrilled when a new one comes out. I like promoting because I love making new friends--and I've made many over the years, other writers and readers. We've had the opportunity to travel to places we'd have never thought of going to thanks to mystery conferences. Together we went to Hawaii when I was invited to be an instructor at the Maui Writers Retreat. Alone I went to Alaska twice and made good friends with a Native family that I'm still in touch with. Being a writer has offered me many opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise, and I'm thankful for that.

Back to the dinner, now it's time to plan my shopping list and decide exactly what I'll be cooking and what I'll ask others to bring. There are certain things I always make--everyone loves dressing, and there are a few including me who want candied sweet potatoes, and there are the kids who think it isn't Thanksgiving unless we have the green bean casserole. What about you? What has to be on your menu?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Creating Lottawatah, Oklahoma

Despite what readers from eastern Oklahoma believe, Lottawatah, Oklahoma doesn't exist except in the Brianna Sullivan Mysteries series. I've given several library talks concerning the reluctant psychic stuck in a small town, adjacent to Lake Eufaula, just south of Interstate Highway I-40. Everyone thinks they know exactly where it is, some are certain that they've been there.

But, really guys, Lottawatah doesn't exist. I made it up. Well, sort of. There is a road named "Lotawatah" (note: we changed the spelling so we'd have deniability in the case any angry Lotawatahians showed up, offended and seeking compensation for the pain and suffering our portrayal of his/her road had allegedly caused.)

Anyway, the real Lotawatah Road intersects I-40 a few miles west of the lake. Anyone who has driven I-40 east from Oklahoma City to Ft. Smith, Arkansas has seen the road sign. I've driven by it hundreds of times. I loved the name, I loved saying the word. And believe me, if an author loves something, it's going to show up in a book.

My co-author and I have written seven Brianna Sullivan Mysteries. (Yes, seven, the last one, Missing in Lottawatah, is going to be born later this week. It was a long, difficult pregnancy, and at one point we feared we'd need drugs and metal forceps to get it out, but it's done.) The first book in the series, I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries, had psychic Brianna stopping in Lottawatah for gas and fried pies – not in that order. A ghost hopped in her motor home, begging for her help with a kidnapping. Brianna made the mistake of trying to convey that information to the local police, met the surly but handsome Cooper Jackson, and the rest is history.
Creating the town of Lottawatah was done one or two businesses at a time per book. As you leave I-40 and drive into Lottawatah proper, you'll pass by Tiny's Diner. It's your typical small town diner; abeit a little more rundown than most.
Good EATS…World Famous Apple P…rust Me. The diner hadn't had any glory days, even in its glory days. The linoleum was butt ugly when it was first installed, maybe 30 years earlier. Flecks of brown on a tan background. Maybe the idea was to hide the dirt…it wasn't working. I slid onto the cracked red vinyl stool at the Formica counter and looked expectantly at the guy with a stained t-shirt, standing behind the counter.
I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a piece of their world famous pie, then surreptitiously rubbed the grease from the menu on my jeans. I briefly wondered if they sold wine, but decided that a healthy glass of Maalox would be the perfect beverage to accompany my dinner.
The next place Brianna visited was the Lottawatah Police Station.
I shifted on the chair and finished the last stale peanut in the cellophane bag I'd purchased from the station's only vending machine. 10 pm. I'd been waiting more than three hours. Most of the police force, all 8 of them if you include the secretary and maintenance man, had been marching in the Fourth of July parade over on Main until about an hour ago. I'd been stuck with the pregnant staff sergeant whose swollen ankles precluded her joining the Independence Day celebrations.
Even in a small town, a girl has to go somewhere to get her roots touched up and find clues about whodunnit. Sheer Artistry Hair Salon was just the place.
Margo stole a side glance at Sunny, before turning back to me. "Candy and I had a little chat while she did my nails this afternoon. She mentioned you'd been asking around about me and Martha. You're a smart woman Brianna. Sheer Artistry is the place to go to find out where all the bodies are buried." Darn, Beverly. Between her and Candy, the women were unstoppable gossip machines. The whole town probably knew my business.
Since Brianna arrived in Lottawatah in her motor home, she needed somewhere to park it and a part-time job to cover expenses. She found both at a resort on Lake Eufaula.
Ghost or no ghost. Cooper or no Cooper, it was time to get to work. I pulled on my uniform, a pair of khaki shorts and a green polo shirt, with LEC in block letters next to a pine tree and a fish. I thought it suggested that the area was full of dead fish lying next to trees, but Jack Fulsom, the owner, testily informed me that I was missing the high concept nature of the design. High concept my behind! But in exchange for a free full hookup for Matilda, and a commission for every time-share sale I made, I was more than willing to sing the praises of this new, promising condo and cabin lakeside resort. And that meant wearing the cheesy t-shirt. I walked out of air-conditioned Matilda into air so thick you could chew it. The sales office was down a pine-canopied path near the water. I might be getting a free hookup for Matilda, but I wasn't getting a lake view.
Jobs in Lottawatah don't last too long. By February, Brianna was working at a new job and our fictional town of Lottawatah got another new business.
If I was late for my job at Pearl's Soak and Spin one more time, I'd be unemployed and would almost certainly have to hit the road in search of gas and food money. Lottawatah's economy, if it ever had one, had crashed long before the rest of the nation. Jobs, as Miss Pearl had reminded me, didn't grow on trees.
Even though Tiny's Diner was the local hotspot, every town needs more than one place to eat.
By the time Will Dobson let me answer the phone, we'd pulled into the local barbeque joint's parking lot on the edge of Lottawatah. Actually you could be at one end of town and almost see the city limits on the opposite side. Will Dobson had decided that we were going to get on I-40 and head west towards Oklahoma City. The shortest route was right through Lottawatah.
Will just laughed as I struggled with the dog. He didn't notice I snagged my cell phone off the truck floor during the fracas. Outside, I bent down, like I was going to set the dog on the ground, but instead I ran, Leon under my arm like a furry football. I managed enough for a first down before sliding out of bounds under Arnold–the six foot high concrete pig, beloved mascot and icon of the Pig Palace Barbeque Joint. Will Dobson got off one shot. Arnold lost his manhood, but Leon and I just kept sliding until we buried up in a snow bank.
That's all the time (and word space) that I have for our short tour of Lottawatah. To learn more, check out the books. Or you can take that exit off I-40 and see if you can find it. I dare you!

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Twister - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Sullivan Investigations Mystery - e-book series
Murder Off the Books Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Murder Takes the Cake Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Beast of Chapter One

By Laura Spinella

Original Draft from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind

I had a different five letter B-word in mind for the title of this blog, but I heard Susan McBride whisper in my ear, “Hey, Miss Laura, try to keep it civil and polite…” I defer to her impeccable manners. I think first chapters will do that, more so than any other part of a book, bring out the worst in you. This first chapter wasn’t an inception, but a revision, which I firmly believe to be more riddled with landmines than any initial attack. Sure, there’s the daunting prospect of blank pages and zero word count when you begin something new. But there’s also gutsy intuition and the promise of unabashed wordsmithing. This just looked like work. The initial first chapter of any book is a sketch. It has to be, unless you’re a writer who outlines every chapter on index cards, tacking them sequentially to a corkboard before turning on your computer. It’s the same methodology used by people who alphabetize condiments or coordinate their closet by color and season. It’s something Patrick Bourne would do, a character in my novel, who I happen to be in love with and also happens to be gay. But I assure you, along with Patrick, that organizational skill set escapes me.

Me at work

When I first considered the revisions for this book, I almost trashed the entire thing: switch from first to third person, rewrite the main character’s motivation, and match the tone in BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, which, apparently, I failed to do. But like BD, this book, these characters, convinced me to hang on, saving their lives and story in the process. So after I committed (or was committed, the insane never know they are) the first thing I did was chop off Chapter One. There was no point to it, not until I’d coerced and cajoled the other 375 pages into submission. Fast forward three months and I was there, ready to rewrite the first chapter. I will give myself credit; it was the right move, as those other countless changes left me a detailed blueprint. Of course, there’s a reason draftsmen get a flat fee while contractors get an inflatable check. Execution is everything, and if the foundation sucks, well, the rest of the project is essentially a house of cards.

Night and day for the past two weeks this is where I’ve lived, inside Chapter One. During that time, I made a whirlwind trip to Athens, Georgia, taught a community class on writing/publishing, and banished a 14-year old boy to house arrest after seeing his interim progress report. None of these were simple tasks, but none were as daunting as that chapter. I thought I knew these characters, I really did. But like a weak eyeglass prescription, you’re awed by the clarity when the proper adjustments are made. What I had was that sketch, the one to which I’ve already confessed. Now I have a hand slamming against my forehead, a voice (not Susan McBride’s) saying, “You idiot, why didn’t you see this the first time around!” I suspect it takes me longer than the average author to get to know my characters. I’ve no idea why—I’m slow to peel back layers or simply slow out of the gate. I often envision the entire writing community receiving an old fashioned telegram, complete with character instructions: Single woman, STOP. Tumultuous childhood, STOP. Fearful of her own sexuality,STOP. Lingering denial reaches impasse, STOP. There are a hundred more directives and stops, but you get the idea. Fluidly connect the stops and you've got a first chapter. A telegram is an antiquated analogy, but I like the idea of vital information being hand-delivered in a sealed envelope.

Fortunately, I appear to be on the downside of the first chapter mountain, my stinky pack mule having finally lumbered into camp with the goods. I am satisfied, to the extent any neurotic writer can be, that this Chapter One has its house in order. But in the end, we’ll see, because as we all know, the writer’s word is hardly the last one.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Felled by Fruitcake - Amy Alessio

Thanks for letting me stop by the Stiletto Gang today. I was thinking about Joelle’s great blog from earlier this week about the freedom to cook without a recipe. If she ever needs some cookbooks to get inspiration from, I have over 450 in my house. That’s right. And I won’t even count the Retro Crafting section.

I’ve been blogging about Vintage Cookbooks for the past five years, something I did to teach myself some new technology for my job as a teen librarian. ( My cookbook collection spans from Civil War through 1980, and I have some modern cookbooks as well. No, they aren’t arranged by Dewey. Having these older recipes means there is always Crisco in my house, though no Spam currently. I also collect handwritten recipes in boxes. I can’t stand to see someone’s prized clippings and recipes sitting lonely on an antiques store shelf when it could come be with lots of friends on my shelves.
Two years ago a friend suggested I do programs on my cookbooks “as you’re always talking about them.” True enough. I’ve now done over 100 shows on 23 different topics. Who knew so many people like Jello? This was supposed to be a little hobby to pass time while my agent sent my YA mystery around. I now have a VINTAGE WARDROBE. A month ago I had to give a librarian talk – and I didn’t know what to wear, since I was unable to don any of the polyester a-lines I am now used to wearing.  I now answer email about recipes folks want to track down or how to make retro crafts like woven oven mitts. Admit it – you still have some of these…
Amidst the Moon Pies and Fruitcake, I’ve managed some writing. My YA mystery, Taking the High Ground, will be out in 2013, and I have a new reference book out with another coming next year. I’ve also written some short stories about a woman who has a booth in an antiques mall. Alana solves local cases with the help of her smart teen son while trying unsuccessfully to cook some of the things in her beloved cookbooks.  Write what you know, right?
I’ve recently put up the Alana stories on Amazon for Kindle with recipes. The first story is Treasures, the second Missing Andy, and the third is Felled by Fruitcake.  In Felled, Alana is trying to find out what is in some mysteriously popular fruitcakes and what happened when a local church is robbed. A Valentine’s Day adventure with Alana will also be coming that will be published with novellas by Margot Justes ( and Mary Welk (   
As for Fruitcake, I serve it at my Vintage Holiday shows, mail ordered from an abbey in Kentucky ( . I’ve converted quite a few non-fruitcake eaters. My Grandma Curtin used to make it with the tiny amount of spare money she had.  She’d begin at Halloween and baste it with bourbon right up until Christmas, when she would give it to the neighbors. She left no recipe, but my Mom insists this one is just like hers.  That’s good, because while there are a lot of things I would do for this new career that came out of waiting for publication, but basting a cake with bourbon for two months is not one of them.

Amy Alessio is an award winning librarian and an author. She has presented at RT, ALA, RWA, PLA and more. Her young adult mystery Taking the High Ground will be published by 4RV Press. Her reference titles include the co-authored A Year of Programs for Teens 2 (ALA Editions, 2011) and Mind Bending Mysteries for Teens (ALA Editions, 2012). She is a regular contributor to Booklist, and Crimespree Magazine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Writing is Like Getting Punched in the Face

Your Sensei-ism of the Day

by Bethany Maines

A member of my writer’s group, who is at the relative beginning of her writing journey, recently turned in a story for critique and my response was that clearly the middle sucked and it needed to be totally restructured, but other than that the story was great. Or at least, that’s probably what I sounded like to her. She understood that I wasn’t trying to be mean, but, as another member of our group pointed out, she probably hadn’t been expecting a critique of that magnitude, and was probably more hoping for a stamp of approval, with maybe a “just change a few lines here or there.”  And then I had a sharp memory that I used to feel the same way (and occasionally I still do).

One of the other things I study, besides writing, is karate. Now, the first thing everyone asks is, “What belt are you?”  So let’s just get this out of the way now. I’m a third degree black belt. Most people have no idea what that means, but it sounds impressive, so they give enthusiastic nods. (Or if you’re that dillhole trying to date a black belt, you make an ineffectual grab and say, “What would you do if I did this?”  Um…. Throw you on the floor and then watch how you never call again?  Right, that’s what I thought.)  There are many belts between white (absolute beginner) and black, and each one is an achievement that is worthy of being bragged about. Sadly for poor karate students talking to random acquaintances, if it ain’t black, it ain’t nothin’.  So if you know a karate student and they say “green,” congratulate them on their hard work and, unless they’re six, please don’t ask them to show you anything. If they’re six, then ask away, because that’s just plain adorable. But, word to the wise, if you’re a dude protect your crotch (unless you’ve got the video camera rolling and want to win $10,000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos), because we all know how coordinated your average six year old is.

Anyway, back to the point (why does everyone always doubt I have one?). I’ve been a sensei (teacher) for long enough that I’ve started to see trends or traits in the course of a karate student’s journey. One of the most common beginner traits is that once a student has learned a technique, say reverse punch, they consider it complete. Why would we revisit the topic? And then I have to break it to them that I’ve been learning my reverse punch for about eleven years now. And I’ll learn some more about it tonight when I go into the dojo. Each time I cross the threshold and bow to the dojo, whether or not I’m teaching the class, I’m there to learn.

But when you’re a white belt, you’d really just like to get your reverse punch signed off so you can test for the next belt. Being told to go back and do it again can be very disheartening, but from the black belt perspective it can also be very freeing. I’m free to get the first one wrong (and the third, and the fifth, and the twenty-fifth) because I’m going to do it again.  With karate, and with writing, there is always the opportunity to go back the next day and do it again.

I know that when I started writing, I didn’t want to edit.  And then I rewrote my first novel 9.5 times.  And believe me, I wanted to stop at about 6.  But after awhile, I started to think that a novel is a fluid thing with endless permutations of how it can be put together. I can’t be hamstrung by the idea that the first draft has to be the finished draft; by accepting that I’m going to be wrong I free myself to create something better.

They say there are very few masters in karate, but many students – meaning that, while some may be more advanced, we are all still learning.  I believe the same can be said of writing. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A pinch and a dash

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I love to cook. There is nothing more gratifying that chopping stuff up, throwing it in a pot and watching it become dinner. So few things in life bring that same kind of immediate gratification. Hard work = payoff. Cool! So while many people treat cooking like a chore, I look forward to the adventure and I’m always beyond delighted when people love the food I make.

Until someone asks for the recipe.

Recipe? What recipe?

I mean, I understand the concept and I use them when I’m baking, but in every day cooking I tend to be a bit more freeform. I look in the fridge, pull out a bunch of stuff and throw it together with a dash of this and a sprinkle of that. I can always tell you what went into the dish, but the exact amounts – um – I haven’t a clue.

Which probably shouldn’t be a surprise. I love making to-do lists, but very rarely do I actually follow them. And while I’ve tried to follow an outline when I write, I tend to go off track somewhere around page 70 and the outline becomes obsolete. I love the idea of being prepared, but there is something about improvisation that motivates and interests me. Which is kind of a problem when I’m writing. I mean, I write mysteries. In theory, I should know where I’m going when I start. I should know who the killer is so I can leave clues. But even when I think I know what ingredients I’m going to add to a story, I find myself adding a pinch more pepper and a lot more basil and suddenly my initial vision is completely changed. Hopefully, for the better.

For me, cooking and writing seem to require a flexibility to go with what works as opposed to what is outlined or expected. Just because a recipe says you are supposed to add a teaspoon of something doesn’t mean you have to. Just because a mystery typically contains certain ingredients doesn’t mean you can’t change things up.

At least this is what I’m trying to tell myself as I work on my new manuscript and plot dinner for tonight. So tell me Stiletto readers and writers – do you use always use a recipe when you cook? And if you are a writer and use a recipe – do you also find you are inclined to use an outline to get the story from the beginning to The End? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sentimental or Silly?

I just had my dining room chairs recovered. Supposedly the material is able to withstand a full-scale assault of spaghetti sauce and chocolate. Durable was my primary criteria. The chairs are from my mother's house. I inherited the dining room; my sister took the living room set. Mom had "good" furniture, well-made and built to last forever. But I confess I didn't like the chairs as a kid, still not crazy about them as an adult. But recovering them was lots cheaper than replacing them with new, so it was an easy decision.

In other words, despite the fact that they are from my beloved mother, the original Evelyn, I could care less if I have the chairs, buffet, and table. I have no sentimental attachment to them. On the other hand, I have a slightly chipped, green square platter that I bring out for every special occasion because I remember my mother used it constantly when I was growing up. I love that platter and I could move from our house into a one-room apartment, and the platter would come with me.

This has all been swirling around in my head since several of my friends have recently downsized. Furniture, china, silver, have all found new homes or been donated to worthy charities. Got me to thinking about sentiment, what resonates, what doesn't.

Needless to say, every handscribbled note from my kids and husband, parents and sister, is a treasure which is tossed into an ever-increasing group of boxes marked, MEB Memorabilia. But I'm not sure why I have moved my father's old lawbooks to each of our five houses, since the man never practiced law. Still, he moved them cross-country when he made the decision not to be an attorney, so I keep thinking if they meant something to him, I should continue to schlep them around.

When we were breaking up Mom's apartment, my husband reminded me that none of the "stuff" was the essence of my mother. He's right, of course. But it's not only that I get comfort from seeing these familiar items on special occasions, but I feel like Mom, Dad, and my sister are actually with me, enjoying the moments that I know they would have cherished. So when Riley, my first granddaughter was being born, while sitting impatiently in the hospital waiting room, I would check the watch that my Dad gave my mother. It's the equivalent of an old Timex, but on my wrist, I had the two of them with me to share the joy.

Not sure if it makes sense – and maybe sentiment doesn't have to be rational. But this Thanksgiving, if you're at my house, help yourself to some turkey. It's on the green platter, of course.

Stiletto Faithful – are you sentimental? What's your green platter equivalent?


Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Twister - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Sullivan Investigations Mystery - e-book series
Murder Off the Books Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Fine Art of Juggling Time

by Susan McBride

Although I consider myself pretty adept at a lot of different things, balancing my time wisely is not one of them.  No matter how old I get--and how much wiser in other departments--I don't seem to have completely grasped the concept that you cannot agree to do 200 things in a finite amount of time and get all of them done. 

I always think I can do it.  Take this year, for example.  I told myself, sure, I can do revisions on Little Black Dress in the first few months, go through the copy edit, check the page proofs, and all else that the production schedule demands of me, PLUS write the first draft of Dead Address, the young adult mystery for Random House AND promote Little Black Dress upon release in late August THEN pen my next women's fiction book, Little White Lies, all by December 1.  Oh, yeah, and that's not counting all the real-life hoo-ha that comes in between (take my lovely encounter with skin cancer and Moh's surgery in May, for instance). 

Piece of cake, yes?

Well, I imagined it would be.  I mean, I kept reminding myself I'd written two books for my two different publishers while going through my boobal crisis nearly five years ago.  I know I'm not Superwoman (at least, not one who doesn't constantly trip on her cape), but I seem to want to play one on TV.  Or at least in my writing life. 

I used to always meet deadlines.  Heck, I'd turn things in early.  I was such an overachiever that at the first lunch I ever had with my agent and then-mystery editor half a dozen years ago, they remarked on how efficient I was.  "Like a robot," one of them actually said (though I can't recall which). 

But back then, I was single.  I had myself, two cats, and a condo to worry about.  It was like living on another planet.  Once I'd met Ed, bought a house with him, dealt with a health crisis, got married, and took on even more responsibilities, I told myself, "You aren't a robot.  You're human.  You can only do what you can do."  That's a mantra I repeat often, so I'm not sure why it hasn't completely sunk in. 

I still want to say, "yes, I can do that!"  Even if I worry that it's adding yet another ball to the ones I'm juggling.  "No problem!" I chirp when asked to do things spur of the moment when I realize I should be focusing on writing books and not scattering my energy and time all over the place.

In some ways, I have gotten better about time. I don't travel nearly as much as I used to.  I do say "no" when an event isn't doable.  I don't do Twitter (and never intend to), I'm not LinkedIn or GooglePlussed or anything besides Facebooked.  I'm on two group blogs with other incredible women authors who are busy balancing their real lives and writing lives, too.

And, still, I find myself in binds over and over, where I know at least one thing won't get done on time.  Where I realize I'll have to ask for an extension in order to finish my work and do it right.  Man, I hate that.

I'm learning.  That's all I can say.  Every year when I do too much, I understand the things that I need to cut out the next time.  It might be years before I'm a master at the fine art of juggling time, but I will get there.  So long as no one gives me a deadline.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Romantic Fiction...A Way to Deal With His Vanishing Act

By Lucianne Rivers
As a romance writer, I'm naturally interested in romance. Recently I became a member of an online dating site that sends out dating advice to its members in emails. One headline caught my eye, "Why Men Go Poof!" We've all experienced the disappearance of men we've been seeing. Suddenly they stop calling, or texting, or facebooking, or whatever. No reason given. Or the reason they give is some excuse you find hard to understand or believe. At the end of the day, if someone wants to be with you, they'll be with you, correct?

And yet. When a man goes "poof," I burn with curiosity. But whyyyyyyyyyyyyy did he just vanish? Was it me? I have a vivid imagination, so you can guess all the variations and possible explanations I come up with. In the last month, this happened to me. A week or so later I got up the courage to ask the man I'd been dating for his reason. And fair dues to him (as we'd say in Ireland) he let me know it wasn't me; that he is too stressed to think about included another person in his brain and life. And I believe him, weirdly.

Sure, men can vanish because you have a rabbit in your kitchen you're waiting to boil, or you because you have bad breath, or hate sex, or like it too much, etc, etc. But maybe sometimes they disappear because they have their own issues. Maybe it's not me or you. It's them. And that's why I write romance novellas, because when a man goes "poof" in a story, he always comes back.

Escape his vanishing act by delving into the romantic lives of Jane, Margo and Allison Caldwell as they search the globe for their long presumed dead father, Zach, finding love and danger on the way in, HOLD ME, THRILL ME, ENTICE ME.

Author bio: Lucianne writes romantic suspense for Entangled Publishing and Cobblestone Press. Born and raised in Ireland, she currently lives in New Mexico with her young daughter.
Formerly a stage and television actress, she now manages a non-profit and is NM State Champion in her weight class for Olympic style weightlifting. Long story. Recently she has taken up Crossfit, Jiu Jitsu and boxing.

ENTICE ME by Lucianne Rivers

Heartsick over the untimely death of her mother, Allison Caldwell is blindsided again by the secret revealed in her mom's will. Her supposedly dead father is alive, and she and her two sisters must find him in order to settle the Caldwell estate.

Robert Rivera, private investigator and former Navy SEAL, alerts Allison to new intel identifying her father as a P.O.W. in Afghanistan. With her sisters out of the country pursuing leads, Allison insists on heading to the war-ravaged country to find him. Robert doesn't want his naïve client to take the risk. He knows what danger lays in that godforsaken land he's lived through it. Barely.

But Allison is determined to go, and Robert can't let her travel alone. Reluctantly appreciative, Allison quickly realizes how much she needs his guidance and protection, and how deeply she longs for his love. Robert struggles to understand her effect on his battle-weary heart.

The path to Allison's father is blocked by terrorists, traps and treachery-all demons of Robert's past. Can he survive a second round with the enemy and keep Allison out of harm's way?

Title: Entice Me (Caldwell Sisters, #3)
Author: Lucianne Rivers
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: Novella
Launch Date: October 2011
ISBN: 978-1-937044-32-9

Buy links:
B&N, Amazon , Diesel