Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crime Doesn’t Pay: An Early Lesson from Dick Tracy

by Kate Kelly

If you love mysteries and grew up reading the funny papers, chances are that you followed the adventures of Dick Tracy, a comic strip that first appeared in 1931. Dick Tracy introduced professional crime-fighting to the comic pages for the first time.

The inspiration for the strip came to Chester Gould, its creator, because he lived in Chicago and was tired of watching gangsters like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly get away with what they did.

“I decided that if the police couldn’t catch the gangsters, I’d create fellow who could,” said Gould.

Enter Dick Tracy and more wham-bam fights than the comic strips had ever seen. Gould saw the strip as a lesson for the “bad guys” since Dick Tracy always wins. Gould said: “The first wrong step might be the last. Bullets don't recognize first offenders.”

Though Dick Tracy was created for a different era, the effect of Gould’s comic strip is still seen today. Consider:

1. Dick Tracy popularized the police procedural. Without the success of Dick Tracy we might have had to wait a long time before deductive crime-solving went mainstream. While readers had to wait until 1956 before Policewoman Lizz Grove (nee' Worthington) was added to the police force, she arrived and stayed because she had what it took to be a great crime-solver.

2. Gould was prophetic about technological advances.The two-way wrist radio, introduced in the strip in 1946, was a forerunner of our cell phones that give us real-time communication no matter where we are. Ditto the portable surveillance cameras that Gould introduced in 1948. Today surveillance cameras are almost everywhere and help to solve numerous crimes. “Electronic telephone number pick up” was something Dick Tracy used in 1954; today call-tracing is an important part of all types of police work.

3. Today “crime stopper” organizations exist in most communities and owe their start to Dick Tracy. In 1947 Tracy’s adopted son, Junior, announced that he and his friends wanted to be Crime Stoppers; they would find ways to occupy street kids who had little supervision and not enough to do. By the 1950s, Gould had incorporated a “crime stopper” tip as part of the opening panel on Sundays, and the police chief in Gould’s hometown of Woodstock, Illinois decided to create a local crime stoppers club for kids in the area, holding regular Saturday meetings. Other communities began to copy it. In 1976 a police officer from Albuquerque, George MacAleese, approached Gould to ask permission to use “Crimestoppers” (one word) for a program he wanted to organize. Because of MacAleese’s plan, today there are thousands of local organizations that enlist the public’s help in solving crimes. “Tips” lines are an important feature, and many also post descriptions and video online in case the public knows something about a particular crime. (Search "Crimestoppers" and your community for an example of what exists nearby.)

Dick Tracy still runs in many newspapers and online. He has appeared in comic books as well as in advertising and in film and on TV. Clearly, Chester Gould’s creation will continue to uphold the law.

Comic strips offer a fun and interesting lens through which to view American culture. Visit my site to read about Brenda Starr, Beetle Bailey, and Olive Oyl, and if you’d like to receive future comic strip profiles by email, please send me your address: kate@americacomesalive.com with “Comics” in the subject line. I also welcome suggestions as to the characters you would like to read about.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lori's Book Sense

Lori's Reading Corner

Welcome to this months edition of Lori's Book Sense.
I hope you enjoy these great titles I've chosen for you this month.

The Last Word by Ellery Adams ~ Olivia Limoges and the Bayside Book Writers are excited about Oyster Bay's newest resident: bestselling novelist Nick Plumley, who's come to work on his next book. But when Olivia stops by Plumley's rental she finds that he's been strangled to death. Her instincts tell her that something from the past came back to haunt him, but she never expects that the investigation could spell doom for one of her dearest friends...

Ellery Adams is at her best in The Last Word, the third book in the Books by the Bay series (see A Killer Plot & A Deadly Cliché). Ellery possesses the incredible talent of not only keeping the books each of the Bayside book writers are writing moving forward, but of writing an amazing story as well. It’s been such a joy to see the progress Olivia has made from being a rich, closed-off recluse to now having and sustaining wonderful relationships. Ellery has done a remarkable job of retelling a part of history that many aren’t familiar with and making the reader feel as if they were experiencing it first-hand. The reader is 100% completely drawn into the story.  I had such a visceral experience when reading this book; I could actually feel the wind on my face, taste the salt of the ocean on my lips, and hear the waves crash upon the beach. The Last Word made me laugh, made me think, made me smile, and made me cry. The Last Word – in one word – AMAZING!

Heart of a Killer by David Rosenfelt  (Release date, Feb 14th) ~  Jamie Wagner is a young lawyer who is happy to be flying under the radar at a large firm. It’s not that he isn’t smart. He is. It’s just that hard work, not to mention the whole legal thing, isn’t exactly his passion. Underachiever? A little. Content? Right up until the firm puts him on a case that turns his whole world upside down.

Sheryl Harrison has served four years of a thirty-year murder sentence for killing her husband, who she claims was abusive. The case is settled---there shouldn’t be anything for Jamie to do---except Sheryl’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Karen, is sick. She has a congenital heart defect and will die without a transplant. Her blood type is rare, making their chances of finding a matching donor remote at best. Sheryl wants to be that donor for her daughter, and Jamie is in way over his head. Suicide, no matter the motive, is illegal. So with Sheryl on suicide watch, Jamie’s only shot at helping her and saving Karen is to reopen the murder case, prove Sheryl’s innocence, and get her freed so that she can pursue her plan on her own.

Heart of A Killer is an emotion-packed, intense thriller that will take you on the ride of your life. The intensity starts from the second you hear about Sheryl’s heartfelt plan to save her daughter’s life, to the emotion-filled, final pages that had me in tears. And in between all that there is mystery, laughter, flirting, deceit, murder, and love. This book clearly defines the lengths a parent will go for their child – literally willing to die for them.  Heart of a Killer will tug on every emotion that you have, and then some. 

Mortal Deception by Liz Roth ~ A mix of deceit and lies rocks the world of a dying child, an ex-cop on a mission to clear her dead husband's name and an anesthesiologist who desperately wants out of a loveless marriage. To save her nephew's life, the young widow seduces the doctor accused of murdering his wife. But even as she collects evidence that proves he's the killer, she can't stop her heart from falling for him. Until the game turns DEADLY...

Combining the murder of Nathan’s wife, the need to clear Johnny’s name, and the desperation to save a little boys life, Liz Roth puts together on hell of a mystery, while at the same time creating a beautiful story about the importance of love, family, and truth – no matter what the cost.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Close To Home

By Laura Bradford

Ever have one of those Ruh-Roh moments ala The Jetsons?

Well, I just had one when I realized it was Friday and I was up for a post here with my fellow Stiletto babes.

In my defense, I truly had no idea it was even Friday, let alone the fourth Friday. You see, my nose has been pressed to the keyboard for the past few weeks as I churned out yet another book. This one was a romance with a subject line very near and dear to my heart. And as I'm writing this post, I'm finally realizing why I found this book so exhausting (Ruh-Roh moment #2).

It wasn't that I didn't love it...because, in fact, I do. But I guess, since I could relate to the main character in so many ways, it called on more of me to get it done. Not the me who was typing, or the me who was creating, but the me who gets it on a very different level.

When I was diagnosed with M.S. in 2006, I was heavy in denial. So much so, it took me a full year before I found the courage to start the meds. But even over the next few years (I can't believe I'm coming up on six), I always wondered if the experience would find its way into a book.

Well... Surprise! It found its way into a book.

Only it found its way in via a character with a very different story than mine. Still, as I wrote the book, I felt what she felt. I got the parts that scared her. And I finally see now, why I struggled with this book right up until the last edit...when everything suddenly clicked.

Hmmmm.  Little did I know when I had my Ruh-Roh moment about posting today, I would finally figure out why the writing process of this book was so very different for me. Wow.

So tell me, have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Either writing or, perhaps, even reading something that hit a bit closer to home than normal? Does it change the writing/reading process for you?


P.S. I'm off to go sledding with dozens of middle school aged girls as part of a Girl Scout weekend this afternoon. Not exactly the post-book sleep fest I was looking for, but it'll do! :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Punctuation saves books

by Maria Geraci

I have to admit to getting a tickle out of this. I ripped it off a friend's Facebook status and discovered that there is an entire Facebook page devoted to the love of punctuation and all things wordly. Yep, it's right here.

All of which is extremely appropriate for my current state of mind because I just handed in the reviewed copy edits for my latest novel, A Girl Like You, which comes out this August. All I can say is: Thank you, professional copy editors of the world. Without you, I might indeed be "eating grandma!"

For those of you who might not be writers, let me explain what I'm talking about. After you hand in your *polished* manuscript to your editor, she/he asks for revisions or rewrites. Once you and your editor agree on the completed manuscript, it then goes to the next stage: the professional copy editor. This is the God/Goddess who goes through your 90,000 plus word manuscript with a fine tooth comb to correct typos, misspells, grammar and punctuation. You (the writer) then review the copy-edited manuscript and make any last minute changes/corrections, etc...

When I wrote my first novel for Berkley (just four short years ago), the copy-edited manuscript came to me via UPS in paper form and copy-edits were done in long hand. Thank God we're more civilized now and the copy-edits come back via the air waves in the form of Word and the copy-edits in Track Changes.

Just for giggles, here are just a few of the snafus on A Girl Like You. In my defense, I will say that when I'm writing I'm concentrating on content. Plus, I know there is this terrific copy-editor that is watching my back...

Torie is not a classic beauty, but she gets hit on more than Kimberly and I combined.

Torie is not a classic beauty, but she gets hit on more than Kimberly and me combined.

This is the first of my books written in first-person, present tense. Boy, do I now know the difference in using "I" and "me."

Luckily, it is at this moment that the crowd begins to hoop and holler,
Luckily, it is at this moment that the crowd begins to hoot and holler,

Um, I guess crowds don't hoop, do they?

"So then I ask her if she’ll take a breathalyzer test..."
"So then I ask her if she’ll take a Breathalyzer test..."

And last but not least, here's one that was particularly embarrassing considering I'm referencing one of my personal favorite movies:

I like to imagine myself as the Rosalind Russell to his Cary Grant (think My Girl Friday)
Copy Edited:
I like to imagine myself as the Rosalind Russell to his Cary Grant (think His Girl Friday),

So, while in my case punctuation probably does not save lives, it definitely saves books.

Thank you, copy editors of the world!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

V-Day is Upon Us

And You Should Pass the Chocolate
By Bethany Maines

The ads for that certain holiday have started already. You know the pink, frilly, and frequently scantily clad ads I’m referring to. They also come in diamond and/or chocolate covered versions, but they all say pretty much the same thing: buy, buy, buy and if you don’t buy, or someone isn’t buying for you, then your life sucks. Number one, I generally have a problem with ads that try to make me feel bad about myself. And number two, I think it’s possible that I was born with a genetic disorder referred to as Lowdramatitis. For the record, problem number three is that I think it’s rude to show someone chocolate without instantly providing some.

Anyway, back to my genetic disorder. People suffering from Lowdramatitis have a tendency to say things like “Seriously?” during key moments in dramatic films, snort loudly at just about anything teenagers say, and exist in a state of incomprehension during a friend's monologue about their dating life. (Apparently, “So… you can’t just call him?” is never an appropriate question.)

So every year, as the hype of Valentine’s Day rolls around, I also find myself rolling my eyes. Which is why I thought for years that I suffered from Lowromantitis. I thought my impatience with the stupidity of others was an indication that I didn’t like romance. This, my friends, is not true. I like romance. I like it when my guy brings me flowers and says sweet things and what-not. I quite enjoy the what-not. What I don’t like is when the girl trips in a horror movie simply because someone wanted to put in that piece of music where the string section goes eeeeee-eee-eeeeeeeeee. I just hate inconsistent character development, if nothing else.

Along that same topic, I recently read a blog about the ratings system for Romance novels. (If you’re dying to know… It’s Time to Revamp our Sensuality Ratings) It was an interesting glimpse into a genre that I rarely read, and that hinted at the genre politics boiling away over there in the Romance section. Which is always funny when you write for another genre and not in the least bit funny when you do. But it got me to thinking that while I rarely read romance and I get seriously impatient with adult characters that act with all the impulsivity and sanity of teenagers (Yes, Three Weissmans of Westport, I’m looking at you), and I’m not sure I want to read books that need a rating system on a regular basis, I really do prefer books that have an element of romance in them. Which is probably why I write genre benders that mix in a little mystery, action, and romance all at the same time. I could try to explain why I added humor to the mix, but we’d probably be here all night and someone would have to call Freud. What they would call him, I don’t know, but they could call him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trusting your gut

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I have a sick tot. Friday he was fine. Friday night he coughed himself awake until morning. By Saturday at noon he had a 102.0 temperature. Now, I’m not a worrier by nature. I know fevers can run high for kids. (Heck, I still spike a high temp when I get the sniffles.) I gave him some Ibuprofen and settled down with the kid on the rocking chair and watched The Wiggles as we waited for the medication to kick in. The meds didn’t put a dent in the fever. And I started to worry while feeling stupid for worrying. I mean, all my friends with kids were talking about some bug going around with high fevers. We just needed to wait it out.

Swapped out the Ibuprofen for Tylenol and prepared to watch the thermometer drop.


For the next 48 hours we tried every trick in the book. Alternating the meds every couple hours. Cool baths. Wash cloths on the forehead. Nothing broke the fever. Yep, I was worried even when people told me it would probably be fine by morning. Most of the time I would have said the same thing. But this time something felt “off”. My gut told me something more was going on even when I finally got the fever to break last night before midnight.

This morning my mother went with me and the tot to the doctor. The kid’s fever was almost non-existent. He was perky and greeting everyone who walked into the doctor’s office with a cheerful smile and a happy dance. The kid looked fine. Minus the cough he sounded fine. The chest x-ray told us that he wasn’t fine. Diagnosis – pneumonia.

It’s a mild case. We have drugs and hopefully by the end of this week this experience will be behind us. However, I did realize that no matter how much I told myself I didn’t want to be the parent who freaks out at every snuffle, I have to trust my gut. In fact, trusting my gut is a lesson I need to remember both in parenting and as a writer.

This summer, I took a crack at writing a young adult novel. (For those keeping score, this is THE TESTING that will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring of 2013) I zipped along telling the story enjoying every minute of typing then came a moment where my gut told me I had done something wrong. I was at 85,000 words. Just a chapter away from THE END. And yet – I knew something was “off”. The character was in exactly the right place I needed her to be in to write that final chapter. I told myself to just forge ahead and wait to critique my work after had hit the final page.

But I couldn’t. I was stuck. My gut told me there was something wrong and that while my character was physically in the exact place I needed her to be, how she got there was more important than where she was. (Does that even make sense to anyone but me?) So I started scrolling back through the pages to where my gut told me I’d gone off the rails. I highlighted almost 8000 words and hit cut. I pasted those words in a separate file and started anew agonizing over the new pages for days. I had been so close to the end and then hit the square on Chutes and Ladders that sends you sliding back to where the finish line looks like it will take dozens of spins to get there.

The thing is – I was right to go back and start where I felt I’d gone astray. The new pages were very different. The heroine finished in the same place, but she was not the same person when she got there. I trusted my gut and the story was better for it.

Thankfully, I trusted my gut today in that same way and got the tot in to see the doctor. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this he’ll already be better for that decision.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Who Defines Me?

By Evelyn David

I was talking to a friend whose oldest child is in the midst of the college admissions/decision process. Needless to say, it's very different from when I was a senior in high school. Granted that was a minimum of a million years ago, but if you weren't going to the state university, you applied to three or four schools in the fall, and come April, you got your letters: fat envelopes signaled acceptance; thin ones were polite no's. It was probably the only time when being fat was a good thing.

By the time my oldest was ready for college, things had ramped up. SAT prep was a given. Students applied to many more schools. But a dozen years later, when my youngest was in the college mode, there had been a sea change. Among other things, the whole application process was now online. No stamps were involved on either end. College admissions had become a multi-million dollar industry, with private college admissions counselors charging as much as $40,000 for their services.

But here's what hasn't changed, even from when I applied to school.

Rejection still hurts. Whether it's from your first-choice college or it's from a publisher who has decided that your mystery doesn't fit their needs – it's painful to the core to be told that you don't make the grade. There are usually lots of reasons for the rejection that have absolutely nothing to do with you or your work. But when you're in the midst of it, when you've gotten the real or virtual "thin" envelope, it's very personal and the wound can run deep.

Most writers are full of self-doubt. Being rejected merely confirms your worst fears about your talent. You can sell 100,000 books through Kindle Direct Publishing, make more money off your self-published mysteries than you ever did through traditional publishing houses – and you're still looking for outside confirmation that you're a "real writer."

Or is that just the insecure me talking?

I can remember when my oldest got deferred from his first-choice college (the decision on his application was put off until the regular admissions cycle). He was hurt; I was devastated. But when I pulled myself together and thought it through, I was able to tell him what I need to remember myself.

Don't let someone else define you. Whether it's an admissions officer, an editor, or a reviewer, you can't let their decisions, be it reasoned or capricious, affect your sense of self-worth. You are who you are, valuable and worthy, regardless of whether they decide to let you in "the club."

I wish for each of you fat envelopes that say yes to your dreams. But if a thin envelope is delivered, don't stop believing or pursuing your passion. You may have to take a different route to achieve it, but your worth is never in question.

Marian aka the Northern, often insecure 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
Moonlighting at the Mall (short story) - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Friday, January 20, 2012

Four Very Important (and Sometimes Strange) Things I Learned from My Mother

By Susan McBride

I feel a little like a copycat after Laura Spinella wrote that wonderful post about her mother last Friday.  Not only was it Friday the 13th, but it was her mom’s 83rd birthday (hope it was a happy one!).  Tomorrow is my mom’s 75th birthday.  So that she doesn't feel left out, I figured I’d pen a piece in her honor, all about some very important life lessons I’ve learned from her.  Let’s just say, they’re invaluable (or at least chuckle-worthy).  Here goes!

Lesson #1:  Threats Don’t Work
I remember one particular time in my young life when I was furious with my mother…for what, I can’t remember.  I was about 10 or 11, and I recall very clearly telling her how she’d pissed me off and then letting her know I was running away.  Not only did she basically say, “Terrific,” I think she offered to help me pack.  I ended up leaving the house, racing across the lawn and down to the grassy triangle up the street, and climbing a tree so I could see the house.  I was certain she’d run outside crying hysterically and shouting at the top of her lungs, “Susan!  Sweetheart, I’m so sorry!  Please, come back!”  I don’t know how long I sat in that tree, waiting and watching for her, but it had to be at least an hour (which felt like days).  My pride wounded and stomach growling, I finally slunk inside and found her in the kitchen.  “I see you’re back in time for dinner,” she said. “It would’ve been a shame to give the dog your meatloaf.”

Lesson #2:  Don’t Troll Mom’s Bathroom for Empty Boxes
I bought what was surely a fabulous present for my mother one Christmas long ago but I needed an empty box in which to stuff and wrap it.  So, of course, I poked around my parents’ master bathroom (this was before The Container Store, you see).  Lo and behold, on a shelf in the linen closet, I found a cardboard box that was light blue with tiny white flowers all over it. Gorgeous!  It wasn’t until Mom unwrapped the box and began laughing that I learned the box once contained Tampax tampons. Not sure at that point I even knew what that meant. But she said that next time I needed an empty box, I should just ask.

Lesson #3:  When it’s Dad versus a Kitten, the Kitten Wins
We always had at least one dog in the house.  When I was really little, it was a cocker spaniel named Cindy.  As I got older, we had a couple of golden retrievers and a giant mutt named Puppy.  At some point after my sister and I were in grade school, we started asking for a kitten.  My mom thought that was a grand idea.  My dad was not so keen.  “It’s either me or a cat,” he very sternly told us all one night at family dinner.  My mom replied, “You’re going to lose there, buster,” then asked us, “So is it a kitten or your father?”  My sister and I looked at each other, grinned, and squealed, “Hooray, we’re getting a kitten!”  And we did.

Lesson #4:  Don’t Dump a Guy Just Because He Wears Weird Shoes
When I was a sophomore in high school, I dated a senior who was brilliant (he went to the Air Force Academy), talented (he played piano like a pro), athletic (he was a star on the soccer team), and hunky.  He also wore desert boots when no one else was wearing desert boots.  For some reason, that bothered me enormously. Superficial, I know. But then again, I was 15. My mom kept saying, “Don’t break up with this wonderful boy over a pair of shoes.”  But I did anyway.  Fast forward 26 years to when I met Ed. He used to wear this motorcycle jacket—a real one, with hard pads that made the shoulders stand out like a linebacker—only he didn’t ride a motorcycle.  (Oh, he had one. It was just not drivable and still resides in his parents’ garage because he won’t get rid of it.) My friends teased him about it unmercifully.  The meanies. But Ed wore it anyway.  He also had a neon-green striped shirt he donned for Christmas Eve dinner at my folks’ the first time they met him. The next morning, Mom asked, “So, what about that green shirt?”  I felt the same way about it as I did the motorcycle jacket.  Yuck.  But thank goodness I wasn’t 15 any more.  I recognized and appreciated all the wonderfulness of Ed that had nothing to do with his clothes.  To this day, I’m so glad I didn’t dump Ed over something as superficial as a silly jacket or a fluorescent green shirt.  I would have missed out on the best thing in my life.
Not sure what the moral is to any of this except that moms are sly creatures.  They know things—sometimes strange things—and we can learn from them if we pay attention.  Seeing as how I’m going to be a mom myself, maybe I really need to write more of this stuff down.  Or make up some new stuff. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Acceptance Awards do's and don'ts

Although I'm knee deep in copy edits that are due back to my publisher by Friday (yes, tomorrow, that Friday) I still took a break last Sunday night to watch the Golden Globe Awards show.

I'm such a sucker for these awards shows. I love watching the stars in their glittery gowns, seeing the men in their tuxs, listening to the acceptance speeches, etc.

As per my own tradition, I kept a running list of my personal likes and dislikes:


DO invite British comedienne Ricky Gervais to host the show again. Despite his acerbic and rather insulting wit, I find him funny. Apparently, so does someone else because he's done it 2 years in a row now.

DO have a great acceptance speech set up. Even if it's an obviously pre-rehearsed skit. You people are entertainers, so entertain. Best acceptance speech of the night? The Modern Family gang, accepting their award for Best TV comedy. Love that Sophia Vergara, who looked absolutely stunning.

invite back sexy film stars who are classy and look drop dead gorgeous in a tux. Namely, Mr. Darcy, er... I mean Colin Firth (sorry, he will ALWAYS be my favorite Mr. Darcy!)

Now for the DONT'S:

Is it just me or was I the only person in America who couldn't take their eyes off these star's arms? I mean, yes, Angelina Jolie and Madonna are beautiful women, but enough working out is enough. They need some meat on those arms! Or at the very least, cover them up. Apparently, no, I'm not the only one who thinks this either. So does Piers Morgan.

And lastly, my personal awards show biggest no-no. Stars who go over their limited time in their thank you speech.

This year's biggest offender? Meryl Streep.

Now, don't get me wrong. I LOVE Meryl Streep and think she deserves every award she gets. I can forgive her for looking as if she's just crawled out of bed and thrown on her bathrobe here, but I can't forgive her for sounding like a flustered ninny on the stage.

Meryl, you have to know that whenever you are nominated, there is a GOOD chance you will win. Prepare a speech, for God's sake, and rehearse it.

So who's looking forward to the Oscars?

Maria Geraci

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When Salsa and Writing Collide

I have to learn to salsa dance.  By Saturday.  While wearing heels.

I can’t reveal the reason for this challenge but suffice it to say that the continuation of life as we know it depends on me being able to remain upright while dancing to Tito Puente.  Oh, and did I mention that fifty percent of the people there will already know how to do this?  It’s definitely a pride thing with me and it all goes back to the fact that no matter how hard I try, I still can’t figure out how to do the Electric Slide. Having stood silently against the wall while everyone slides around to the verses that talk about “it’s electric…boogiewoogiewoogie” is not the way I roll and I’m determined never to let it happen again. So salsa I will, even if it’s the last thing I do.

I’ve downloaded several salsa tunes and even accessed a video on YouTube where a lovely couple demonstrates exactly how to dance salsa like a pro.  Hey, even Victor Cruz of the New York Giants can bust out salsa moves after scoring a touchdown; just how hard can it be?  Very, apparently.  I’m still working on it and may even have some video to post next time I post, so stay tuned.  It may be a thing of beauty or so embarrassing that it becomes a YouTube sensation.  You know I’m not shy—I’m the first person to don a lampshade on my head if the situation calls for it—but this may even break my gregarious spirit.  We shall see.

But all of this talk about salsa dancing got me thinking about writing.  Really.  (Wait for it; I'll get there.)  I’m a fairly good dancer—some would even say that I have good rhythm—but trying to stay true to traditional salsa has proven hard for me because I fancy myself more of an interpretative dancer, allowing the music to dictate where I go and how.  Following specific steps and not deviating from those steps, while staying true to the salsa tradition, would not allow me to stay true to myself as an “artist” (and yes, I mean that in a tongue-in-cheek way).

It’s kind of like writing.  I know some of the steps and can even put them together in a cohesive package that looks fairly attractive and has some rhythm.  (Based on some of my reader mail this week there are some who would beg to differ that point.)  But try to adhere to a formula? Well, the wheels fall off the bus for me.  Learning to salsa correctly, following the intricate steps, is the equivalent of starting a writing project with a complete and thorough outline, something that goes from point A to point Z in a straight line.  I can’t do it.  What I can do is jiggle to and fro to the music in time while salsa dancing, making a passable attempt at mimicking the steps and everyone who knows how to do salsa well.  In writing, I can do the same, going back and forth, to the future and back to the past, over something a thousand times to make sure the words say what I want them to say, and doing it all again the next day and the next with no pattern, no particular flow, no organization. 

I will probably never win a salsa dancing contest nor will I ever win the Pulitzer, at least until I stop writing about bumbling college professors, sly nuns, and people who kill in the heat of the moment, but for now, I’m content to sway to the music and let the words that I want to write come out in one interpretative jumble until I can put them in an order that makes some kind of sense.

Writers out there, how do you do it?  And can anyone come over and teach me to salsa before Saturday?

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Bit from the Older Woman of the Gang

Reading Laura Spinella's post about her mother made me realize once again, how much older I am than all the other members of this Stiletto Gang.

As I wrote in the comment to Laura's post, I know her mother still feels young inside no matter how many years she's been on this planet, I know I sure do.

I was born at the tail end of the Depression and when I was a kid heard a lot of tales from my older family members about how hard it was--but they always laughed while they were telling about cooking cabbages that had fallen off a truck, and eating rabbit my dad shot in the backyard. (They lived in South Pasadena, not in the country somewhere.) For awhile, dad didn't have a job and we lived in a house that belonged to my grandparents and I guess we were poor though I certainly didn't ever feel like we were. We were rich in family.

The top photo is when I was the flower girl in my auntie's wedding--and she made the dress.

Digressing a bit, the only store bought dresses I had when I was in grammar school my grandmother bought me, mom made the rest. And yes, we wore dresses to school, and in Junior High and High School, sweaters and skirts or skirts and blouses. Mom bought what she thought I needed, with babysitting money I bought what I "had" to have.

I planned to go to college, I certainly had the grades for it, but I fell in love. See that cute sailor, that's about how he looked when I met him on a blind date. Wasn't love at first sight, but it didn't take but a few dates to know we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

And here we are on our wedding day. I traveled clear across the country by train with my mom and she and Hap's dad were our only witnesses. We lived in Norfolk VA for awhile, then I went back to Cambridge MD where I had my first child. It wasn't long before we headed back to Los Angeles because Hap was going over seas.

Over the years we had five children, our oldest boy died of cancer a few years ago. This photo was taken last year at one of our granddaughter's weddings.

Hap did lots of traveling during his 20 years in the Navy, I stayed home and raised the kids, mainly in Oxnard CA. I was PTA president four years in a row, and had a Camp Fire Girl group for 10 years. I had a lot of jobs to help make ends meet: telephone operator, teacher in a a preschool for developmentally disabled kids, managed to get my AA in Early Childhood Development, taught in day care centers for disadvantaged kids, and all the time I was writing. Hubby finally retired from the Navy.

We moved and took over a licensed 6-bed  facility for developmentally disabled women. My first book was published in 1981. Besides everything I did for my ladies including the required paperwork, I wrote nearly every day and got published again--and again. I went to some mystery writing conferences and then hubby and I went together to mystery conventions all over the country. After 22 years we retired from the residential care business, but we're still going here and there. I must confess, I can't get nearly as much done in a day as I used to, nor can my hubby--but inside I feel as young as I ever did.

This year we celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary on a cruise to Mexico.

And my mother said it wouldn't last.


Monday, January 16, 2012

This Old House

By Evelyn David

My house is almost a hundred years old. We bought it from the estate of the woman who, with her husband, had it built. Just walking in the door, I could feel the good karma. The parents had raised seven children here. As we wandered through, the realtor described the festive family parties with children and grandchildren.

I was originally hesitant because one daughter had remained in the home, caring for her mother, who died at 90+. I worried that we were displacing this poor elderly woman who had never lived anywhere else since her mother was pregnant with her when the family moved in. But as we were inspecting the house, my husband discovered a sporty, two-seater Jaguar in the garage and we realized that this wasn't any shy, reclusive old lady with cats. Turns out that this house was just home-base. The daughter worked for an airline and traveled all over the world.

When it came down to a decision, it seemed easy. I could feel the good karma, there were enough bedrooms that each kid could have his or her own, and we could almost afford it. The fact that the kitchen only had one electrical outlet (on the other hand how many did a 90+ year old woman need?), or that the only bathtub in the house was in the attic and I had a little baby, didn't stop us from plunking down our money and moving in. Changes to the house came slowly. A few electrical outlets were added to the kitchen in the first year. A bathtub was added to the main bathroom later. It was years before we renovated the kitchen.

But like all of us who are growing older, this house needs maintenance. The bones, as my friend the realtor tells me, are fantastic. But let's just say that the old body is showing its age. The windows are original, the furnace is probably close to 50 (it had originally been coal-fired), and even the changes we made when we first moved in aren't shiny new anymore.

Which brings me to the perennial question of empty nesters? Do we stay or go? If we stay, how much should we invest in maintenance? Minimal as long as it's safe and comfortable for us? Or more with the hopes that we recoup it when we sell?

My basic rule of thumb has been that anyone who moves in will want to re-do the kitchen eventually (it's now 16 years old), but will be satisfied that there is no urgency to the project. Same thought applies to re-doing the bathrooms. The master bath is small, but again, I envision new owners would break through to the small room on the other side and make one of those master suite spas I see in the magazines (heck, I want one of those). But do we recarpet the threadbare steps and if so, how much do we invest – cheap neutral carpet or something a little snazzier, with extra bucks for every bit of snaz? If we're here for another five years, what's a worthwhile investment and what's not?

No answers yet. Just lots of questions as we begin to figure things out.

I was right the first time I walked in this house. It was more than just a building. For a wonderful family before us; and for my wonderful family now. I know that you can't measure good karma in dollars and cents. I don't need any ruby red slippers, nor do I need to click my heels. Every time I walk through the door, I know that I'm home.

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
Moonlighting at the Mall (short story) - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Love Lessons - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ellery Queen

by Jeffery Marks

Why I am going with Ellery Queen next…

Way back when (or during my teen years, as I prefer to call it), I fell in love with mysteries. Not a passing fancy or a crush, but head over heels with the genre. In the 1970s, when I was first introduced to the world of mysteries, I was working at a roller disco at $2.10 an hour. On this meager income, I had two choices for my book buying pleasure. I could buy a new paperback, which cost $1.99 at the time or I could buy used paperbacks at $0.25 apiece.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to see which option I chose and why. So I had stacks of book, mostly by authors who had been writing in the 1940s and 1950s. Their books were much more likely to be used and forgotten – but not by me.

When I started to think about writing a biography, my thoughts immediately turned to the heroes of my youth. I began with Craig Rice about whom next to nothing was known. The idea of an enigma wrapped in a guffaw was too much for me to resist.
My work on her book begat Atomic Renaissance, which was a group biography of other women authors who are largely (and sadly) forgotten today. Some of them had actually contributed to my biography of Rice and later passed away before its publication. I felt a tribute was needed.

All of that led to my biography of Anthony Boucher who had praised all of these women a half century before I wrote Atomic Renaissance. The book was shorter than most, as he had sadly passed away young and had moved to editing and reviewing towards the end of his life.
That problem was remedied with the biography I’m currently completing. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote over 140 books and 600 short stories and novellas. There’s no shortage of material here. Adding to that is Gardner’s lust for life. He lived hard, and worked himself harder. His accomplishments take up a large part of the biography here.
All this leads me to my recent decision to write a biography of Ellery Queen. First, Ellery, the character, has always been one of my absolute favorite detectives. From his earlier works to the 1970s TV show, I’ve been a fan. So much so that my late Scottish terrier was named Ellery. The books, especially the early ones, are incredible problems of deductions. The books may overreach at times, but Queen never fell into a rut or failed for not trying.
Ironically, Anthony Boucher wrote a profile of the two cousins who wrote as Queen. I am amused that I’ll be using the materials created by one of my biographical subjects to write about the latest biographical subject.
Sadly, of all the authors I’ve profiled, Queen has fallen into obscurity further and faster than the rest. I hope to change that with a new biography of one of the masters of the genre.