Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Truth About Fashion Bites

by Ellen Byerrum

Thank you, Stiletto Gang, for inviting me here today!

For those of you who may not know, I write the Crime of Fashion mystery series featuring Lacey Smithsonian, a fashion reporter who solves crimes with fashion clues, and also comments on the daily fashion contretemps of Our Nation’s Capital. I am thrilled that readers have stayed with me through the latest in the series, Death on Heels, which is the eighth book.

But today I want to talk about the Fashion Bites, which are included in my books, as well as snippets of Lacey’s newspaper columns, and why they are there. The truth is they were not my idea. But this is how it happened. In my original manuscript, I had included a paragraph or two of Lacey’s articles, just to give a flavor of her writing. I thought a little taste of her fashion sensibility would suffice. And that’s when it happened.

 My first editor said, “You know what would really be fun?” (I have learned to be skeptical when someone, anyone—particularly an editor—suggests to a writer that something would be really fun. Fun = a lot of extra work. For the writer, not the editor.) “I think it would be fun to include the actual columns in the books,” she said, and she proposed that said fashion columns (which turned into Lacey Smithsonian’s “Fashion Bites”) should do three things: advance the story, be humorous, and actually offer real fashion advice. My editor said, “That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

It IS too much to ask, I said!
Fashion truly BITES! I bled!
It is not fun! I pled and pled.
I will not write them in my head,
I will not write them in my bed,
I will not write those Bites, I said!

I won’t, I won’t! I’ll cry, I’ll crawl
I will not write them on the wall,  
I will not write them in a shawl,
I will not write them playing ball,
I will not write them in the fall.
They are not fun to write at all.

I lost, of course, as writers will.
They are a sweet and bitter pill.
I slay my victims with my quill,
Dispatch my villains with a thrill,
And spill their blood in dishabille.
But Fashion Bites? I cannot kill.

My Fashion Bites: I love them and I hate them.

In agreeing to write the Fashion Bites, I gave myself a conundrum, eerily like Lacey Smithsonian’s own. She gets no respect on the fashion beat at her paper because she writes about fashion, and because of the Fashion Bites and my books’ allusions to fashion, I also get no respect, from some people. They do not believe my books are serious, and that there is subtext and social commentary and nuances of character. But I am also a playwright, therefore there is always subtext. Even in the Fashion Bites.

Some mystery readers have even informed me, to my face, no less, “I’m never going to read you! I don’t like fashion, I don’t care about clothes, and I wouldn’t open a fashion mystery if you paid me.”

And before I can say, “My, those are lovely sweatpants you’re wearing. . .” they’ve high-stepped away on their orthopedic athletic shoes. Before I can explain that my books are not about supermodels and catwalks, they are simply about the stories we tell with the clothes we wear.

On the other hand, there are other readers, who tell me the Fashion Bites are their favorite parts of the books.  Really, but what about the cool mystery and the gruesome murder? But no, they would like to see more Bites.

So far, I have written 37 of Lacey’s Fashion Bites for my books and included a few other snippets from her “Crime of Fashion” columns. I try to make them funny, and useful, and they usually advance the plot. They are written in first person, from Lacey’s point of view, and ultimately, they work to give more insight to her character and her voice. They’re hard to write, but I have learned to live with them, because they’re part of Lacey, and part of my Crimes of Fashion series. And some people seem to love them.

I’d love to know what you think.


Ellen Byerrum writes the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in bustling Washington, D.C., The City That Fashion Forgot. While researching fashion, Byerrum has collected her own assortment of 1940s styles, but laments her lack of closet space. She has been a D.C. news reporter in Washington, a playwright, and even though she has moved to Colorado, she holds a Virginia P.I. registration.She is currently at work on the ninth book in the Crime of Fashion series. Visit her web site at

In Death on Heels, Lacey Smithsonian is forced out of her comfort zone and into the Wild West when her ex-boyfriend is accused of murdering three women, all found barefoot on lonely country roads. Lacey travels back to Sagebrush, Colorado, where she cut her teeth as a reporter. Caught between two men, with a vicious killer on her trail, Death on Heels is a whole new—and potentially fatal—frontier for this fashion reporter. 

ENTER TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF DEATH ON HEELS!!!  Ellen Byerrum has generously agreed to give away one autographed copy of her latest Crime of Fashion Mystery. Just leave a comment with your first name and email address on Ellen's guest post by midnight tonight.  The winner will be randomly drawn from all entries, and we'll announce the lucky Stiletto reader once we've made contact.  Happy commenting and good luck!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Me time???

by: Joelle Charbonneau

While talking to a friend the other day, I was asked the question, “When do you have time for you?”

Time for me?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. But it did. Which probably isn’t good. Most days, I’m so busy taking care of my son, making sure the house doesn’t dissolve into complete disarray (notice I didn’t say keeping it pristine), teaching voice lessons, getting dinner ready for my family, spending time with my husband and somewhere in the middle of all of that getting writing done. Who has time to take time for hair cuts or movies or anything else that might be considered “me time”?

Now that I think about it, I realize that the time I’ve always considered “me time” is actually writing time. For years, writing felt like a hobby. I sat down and wrote stories. No one was paying for them. Heck, aside from my family and a few brave agents no one read those stories. Was it work to create them? Yes. But the lack of income made me rationalize that the time spent on those stories was time spent on me. It made me feel less guilty when I was writing instead of cleaning toilets or scrubbing the floor. Good plan, right?

Then. Yes. Now…not so much.

Almost three years ago, I transitioned from writing as a hobby to writing as a job. But I never transitioned from thinking about my writing as time spent on me to time spent on my work. And that’s a problem. I mean, we all need time to recharge our batteries. Right? We need to get a haircut (which I only remember to do one or two times a year) and a manicure (which I’ve only done once because my mother insisted I had to) or a massage (which some day I plan on doing). No matter what job you are doing, and how much you define yourself by that job—you need time away from it in order to be the happiest, healthiest person you can be.

Of course, now that I’ve worked that out, I have no idea how to set aside time to spend on me. This is where you come in. I need help. Lots and lots of help in figuring out how to make this happen. How do you do it? How do you spend time with family, do your work, make sure the house doesn’t disintegrate into chaos and still carve out moments to do something you enjoy just for you? Trust me when I say, I will be waiting anxiously for your thoughts!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lori's Book Sense

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 French Girl by Felicia Donovan ~ The heartwarming story of a young French girl, Etoile, raised in a world of prejudice and despair, who becomes orphaned and is sent to live with her distant cousin and her cousin's partner. Embraced by their love and warmly welcomed by their community of lesbian friends, Etoile slowly discovers the true meaning of family – until the state abruptly threathens to take her away.

The French Girl is a beautifully written story of one little girl’s journey from inattentive mothering to unconditional, without reservation, instantaneous bonding. The author writes with such passion, such heart, that it is so easy to get caught up in this magnificent story  that it becomes not about whether there are two mommies or  two daddies, or a mommy and daddy in the home, but rather about the love, compassion, understanding, and guidance that the child is given. And that it truly does take a village to raise a child. The author does an amazing job of telling a story with such a difficult subject matter that you can actually feel the character’s joy, and your heart will break with their sorrow.

 You will remember this book long after you finish the last word. 

Before She Dies by Mary Burton ~ In death, they are purified. Holding his victims under water, he washes away their sins as they struggle for their last breath. Then he stakes their bodies to the ground, exposing them for what they really are. Witches, sent to tempt and to corrupt. No one knows about defence attorney Charlotte Wellington's murdered sister, or about her childhood spent with the carnival that's just arrived in town. For Charlotte, what's past is past. But others don't agree. And as a madman's body count rises, she and Detective Daniel Rokov are drawn into a mission that's become terrifyingly personal.

Before She Dies brings together a diverse cast of characters.  Along with Charlotte and Daniel, there is Grady, the owner of the carnival that comes to town, Sooner, someone from Charlotte’s past she never thought she’d see again, and Daniel’s Russian grandmother, a seer – the one person who truly can see and know things others can’t; making her a wonderful addition to the story.

 While I was able to figure out the culprit fairly easily, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book at all. Instead, I quickly raced through the pages to see if I was correct, and to figure out just how the author would bring us to the explosive conclusion. Before She Dies is an electrifying thriller that clearly defines romantic suspense.

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult ~ In the wild, when a wolf knows its time is over, when it knows it is of no more use to its pack, it may sometimes choose to slip away. Dying apart from its family, it stays proud and true to its nature. Humans aren’t so lucky.

Luke Warren has spent his life researching wolves. He has written about them, studied their habits intensively, and even lived with them for extended periods of time. In many ways, Luke understands wolf dynamics better than those of his own family. His wife, Georgie, has left him, finally giving up on their lonely marriage. His son, Edward, twenty-four, fled six years ago, leaving behind a shattered relationship with his father. Edward understands that some things cannot be fixed, though memories of his domineering father still inflict pain. Then comes a frantic phone call: Luke has been gravely injured in a car accident with Edward’s younger sister, Cara.

Suddenly everything changes: Edward must return home to face the father he walked out on at age eighteen. He and Cara have to decide their father’s fate together. Though there’s no easy answer, questions abound: What secrets have Edward and his sister kept from each other? What hidden motives inform their need to let their father die . . . or to try to keep him alive? What would Luke himself want? How can any family member make such a decision in the face of guilt, pain, or both? And most importantly, to what extent have they all forgotten what a wolf never forgets: that each member of a pack needs the others, and that sometimes survival means sacrifice?

Another tour de force by Picoult, Lone Wolf brilliantly describes the nature of a family: the love, protection, and strength it can offer—and the price we might have to pay for those gifts. What happens when the hope that should sustain a family is the very thing tearing it apart?

It is clear that Ms Picoult did her research when writing this book. The understanding of the wolves and the lives they lead is incredibly detailed, right down to the positions the wolves take when feeding on a recent kill.  The info related to traumatic brain injury, the options families have, and what happened to some that were deemed incurable who have made remarkable recoveries is fully explored. With each chapter written from the perspective of a different character, Lone Wolf is the story of one family’s destruction and a tragedy that could bring it back together again. It’s the story of parents choosing sides, brother versus sister, life versus death, hope versus revenge, and finding forgiveness from those that matter the most. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Top Ten List of Happy(s)

Do you remember that Peanuts' song about happiness? The one about tying shoes and holding hands for the very first time? Even now--with the passage of nearly four decades since I first heard that song--I can still sing along (in tune). And it still makes me, well, happy.

In the event you may not remember, I'll share a few of my favorite lines from the song (humming along as I do)...

Happiness is--finding a pencil,
pizza with sausage,
telling the time.

Happiness is--learning to whistle,
tying your shoe for the very first time.
Happiness is--playing the drum in your own school band,
and happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is--two kinds of ice cream,
knowing a secret,
climbing a tree.

Happiness is five different crayons,
catching a firefly,
setting him free...

Honestly, I could keep going, sharing verse after verse simply because each one makes me smile. Why, you ask? Well, because for a bunch of little kids, the Peanuts Gang was really smart. They got the fact that happiness isn't the big, expensive things in life. They got the fact that happiness happens in the simplest of moments--if you let it.

So I'm gonna take a page from their book (or, rather, a note from their precious song) and share some of what means happiness to me...

*Happiness is a hug from my daughters.

*Happiness is seeing a new cover.

*Happiness is my husband's smile.

*Happiness is a warm chocolate chip cookie with a glass of cold milk.

*Happiness is hearing my friend's voice on the other end of the phone.

*Happiness is an extra salty hot pretzel at the ballpark.

*Happiness is sitting on a rock in the sun with nowhere to be.

*Happiness is the sound of my nieces' squeals.

*Happiness is a memory of my grandparents.

*Happiness is snuggling into a corner of the couch and reading for hours.

See? Makes you smile, doesn't it?

So now it's your turn. Tell us one, two, five, ten of your happy (s).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What's your guilty pleasure?

How did February get away from me? I absolutely blanked out that I was supposed to blog last Thursday and it wasn't until I was sitting in my hair dresser's chair late this morning that I realized that today was Thursday and that meant I had to blog. Argh! Blanking out 2 Thursdays in a row is completely unacceptable :(

So, back to the blog at hand. I was sitting there in my hair dresser's chair, trying to wrack my brain on what to blog about, while my fabulous hair stylist, Krystal, talked about what we catch up on every time I come in to get my hair done--and that's our favorite T.V. Shows. Not the really good, high quality T.V. shows, like Downton Abbey, which I love. No, Krystal and I talk Bachelor Talk. Yes, my guilty pleasure number one is The Bachelor, with Survivor and Revenge coming in a close second and third.

Have you been watching The Bachelor this season? Or rather, have you like me, been snoozing through The Bachelor? As much as I liked Bachelor Ben during Ashley's season, he's become a real dud this time around. Ben is so boring, that the only excitement comes from the numerous cat fights between the evil Courtney (one of the last girls standing) and the rest of the girls in the house. It will be interesting to see how this one ends.

How about you? What's your guilty T.V. pleasure?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making Characters

Or How to Go Pleasantly Crazy
by Bethany Maines
A few weeks ago I set out to write about my character development process, but got somewhat distracted by cheese. I don’t apologize for that – cheese is great. It’s not an obsession or anything; it’s perfectly natural to like cheese. I don’t have a problem; I can quit any time I want to.  Stop staring at me.  Anyway, I promised I would really get back to the topic of character development in today’s blog. 

When I first start my characters, I like to start with a template I developed that includes these basic statistics. (You can check out some condensed versions of my character dossiers on my website.)

NAME: Nikki Lanier
DOB: 22 April (25 years old)
HEIGHT: 5’4”
HAIR: red
EYES: grey

Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “Why start with physical stats? Can’t I just start writing?” Of course you can! I frequently discover many excellent things about my character as my story progresses. But I think a story really only gets good when the facts of the plot collide with the facts of the character. The conflicts between plot events and character drive action, and the better I know my characters, the more realistically I can depict their reactions to events.

You’ll notice in my example, that I don’t put a year on my Date of Birth. The reason for this is purely practical. While it is important that you know what was going on while my character was growing up, my experience that if I put down 1987 for my 25 year old heroine, that by the time I get done editing and get the book into print that my heroine could be 34. My advice? Don’t mess with maths. Within the text of the book, just say that your character is 25 and leave it at that. 

I also know a lot of writers who struggle with the height and weight aspect when building a character, particularly when it comes to the opposite gender. To that problem I offer you Mixed Martial Arts, or really any sport that lists fighter stats. I personally love the UFC website. Using their fighter pics allow me to get a look at body types and more closely match height & weight to the character in my mind. I also usually add about 10 pounds to my character since the weights listed are “fighting” weights and even the fighters don’t live at those weights.  Another option is to use one of the multitude of free on-line BMI calculators that allow you to play with height & weight to build a person.  (Note to dude writers: asking women friends their weight is not a good option. Danger! Danger! Avoid!)

Once I get the basics filled in I add a couple of other items to my dossiers. Favorite swear word, favorite Super Bowl food, nick-names or aliases, scars, favorite band, and favorite color are a few the common selections on my character template.  From there I usually branch out into character exercises, write up a brief outline of a characters back-story, and sometimes put together a Pinterest board of things the character would love. My goal is to make my characters as real as I possibly can.  Sometimes, when they wake me up or won’t leave alone until I write something down, I think maybe I succeed too much.  But I’m ok with that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Raising a New Baby

The newest baby in our family is Julius. His daddy, my grandson, Nick, named him after a character in a football movie. Nick lived with us from the time he was 11 until he turned 22. When he was in high school and playing football, he was crazy about this movie and played it over and over. The main character was named Julius.

In this particular photo, Julius is out to breakfast with his Grandpa Matthew--our youngest, and it does look as though he's choosing what he wants to eat from the menu. Since he's only 6 months old, I doubt that's what's happening.

Back when I had my first child at 19 I really had no idea how to take care of a baby. Oh, I'd babysat a lot but that didn't mean anything. I followed whatever instructions the moms gave me.

My baby was born 3000 miles away from where my family lived so I didn't have any of them to rely on. What I did have was a Better Homes and Gardens Baby book and believe me, I did everything that it told me to do. One of the instructions was to feed the baby every four hours.

I was a nursing mother and I followed the 4 hour rule until I finally couldn't stand the fact that the last hour my baby cried and cried. In tears myself, I called the doctor and told him my problem. He gave me a two word answer, "Feed her."

After that, within a reasonable amount of time, if the baby was dry and she began to cry, I fed her. Worked very well. Yes, I did still follow "the book" about a lot of other things and most of the time the baby and I benefited.

I didn't rely on "the book" for the next four babies--in fact I felt like an expert. Looking back though, I was way too busy to really enjoy those babies. Remember, there was no such thing as disposable diapers back in my day. Diapers had to laundered and hung up to dry. I washed clothes every day, usually four lines full. You have no idea how long all that took.

I didn't even have a dryer until my fifth child was born and my grandfather took pity on me and and gave me a dryer. I never hung up another piece of clothing on an outside line after that.

When I quit nursing I sterilized bottle and mixed formula. (No dishwashers or microwaves back then.) That took a lot of time too.

With my first baby I had no car. There weren't any snazzy strollers. I had a cumbersome baby carriage that I had to haul up and downstairs. I pushed it all over town with the baby in it--and whatever I purchased. I went to church that way too.

I hope the young mothers I know are taking the time to enjoy their babies--they should, they have more time to do it.

As a great-grandma, I no longer babysit the little ones. I do have one granddaughter who is now nine who once in a blue moon will come here after school if her mom is working. She's a delight, reminds me of me at that age--very bossy and has a big imagination. She also likes to write. And, she can use the computer like a whiz.

 I'm enjoying hearing all about Susan and her "pea pod" now identified as Emily. I know Susan will take the time to enjoy this little one when she becomes a part of the family.

It's fun to write and think about something about the promotion of my next book which is what I should be doing instead of writing this blog post.


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Spirit Moves Me

By Evelyn David

Excuse me.

This blog is a bit all over the place, but I assure you that it's all connected – though maybe just in my head.

Fellow Stiletto Gang member and person extraordinaire, Maggie Barbieri, has been raving about the positive effects of acupuncture. Intellectually, I've always believed that there is value in alternative medicine, especially in conjunction with traditional Western treatment. For the past six months, my normal level of general anxiety has been inching up, impacting on my daily life. Plus I have a litany of other small physical ailments that have also begun to take a toll. So I made an appointment with the acupuncturist.

In the middle of the Big Apple, with buses and trucks roaring by, horns honking, people crowding the sidewalks, on the ninth floor of a skyscraper, there is this tiny oasis of peace. Quiet except for the trickle of a small fountain, I felt calm just walking into the waiting room. Quite the contrast to my normal blood pressure spike when I enter a doctor's office.

The acupuncturist was as kind and gentle as Maggie had promised. I have but two things to say about the treatment. First, the needles don't hurt, not even a little bit, not even a smudge. Second, I had listened with a whole lot of doubt as the therapist explained the basic underlying concept of acupuncture, with the emphasis on what each of the organs of the body do to our "chi." She described how our liver and kidneys hold the key to anxiety and that she would be placing needles on my back above each of the organs. But to my shock, about halfway through the treatment, I could feel a current going down each leg. I imagined it was my anxiety passing out of my system. There was no electricity attached to the needles, it was simply the sensation I was feeling.

Now let me add another layer to the whole experience. The acupuncturist placed the needles and explained that she would leave the room and wait in the hallway, but would come back in ten minutes. To my surprise, she never left. At the end of the treatment, she asked if I prayed to a female version of God. I said I didn't (all those years of religious school has left an indelible impression of a male figure). She apologized and explained that she strongly felt the spirit of motherhood in the room and it told her not to leave.

I was somewhat confused, but feeling so good, that I immediately made an appointment for another visit. I felt like I was finally taking control of getting back to me.

As soon as I described the experience to my husband, he started to laugh and then immediately, so did I. Of course, there was a spirit of motherhood in the room. Hasn't she always been there to protect me even if she has been gone from this earth for 23 years? My mother's spirit has visited me twice since she died, both times to make sure that I was alright. Surely she would be there (and approve) of my taking a course of action to feel stronger, more in control.

I know I write paranormal mysteries, and joke constantly with the Southern half of Evelyn David, about not believing all this woo-woo stuff. What I do believe in is the power of the original Evelyn – my Mom who has never let a little thing like death stop her from protecting her child, even if this child is now a Grandma!

May you all find peace.



Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle (Exclusive at Amazon this month)
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
Good Grief 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, February 17, 2012

What's in a Name?

For many years—and many books—I’ve had the pleasure of naming characters. It’s sort of like the appetizer of the writing process, at least for me. It’s something I do early on, when I’m still conjuring up what the story’s about. And it’s fun, too. What’s better than picking the perfect moniker for your protagonist and the entire cast surrounding her?

I’ve never plundered a phone book or a book of baby names (although I know other writers who rely on them). The right names always seem to appear magically. Almost as if the characters name themselves.

But before this pregnancy, I never had the opportunity to name a real person. Oh, I’ve named plenty of cats (fur-babies, I call them). But human kids? Nope. Not until a week or so ago when we found out the sex of our child on the anatomy scan (it’s a girl!).

Like many women on the planet, I had favorite names stuck in my brain. It’s so wonderful that now I can actually use my most favorite of all: Emily. Pretty, huh? And her middle name will be Alice, after Ed’s mom. Emily Alice. How nicely it rolls off the tongue!

I’ve already had a friend remark what a good old-fashioned name that is, and I told her that old-fashioned was back in style. Anyone else watch “Tori & Dean?” They named their daughters Stella and Hattie.

Tori and Dean aside, most celebrities don’t seem to go for anything usual. Take Jerry Seinfeld and his wife Jessica who named one of their children “Shepherd.” I remember at the time someone on “The Today Show” remarked that, in Hebrew, “Shepherd” meant “Yes, please, I’d love a wedgie.”

Rob Morrow from the TV show “Numbers” has a child named Tu Morrow. Get it? I’m envisioning her playing the lead in a Broadway production of “Annie” one of these days.

The Naked Chef Jamie Oliver and his wife must’ve gotten into the cooking sherry when they stuck a daughter with “Daisy Boo.” Their other child, “Poppy Honey,” was likely inspired by a salad dressing.

Does anyone know who Shannyn Sossaman is? She’s supposedly an actress, but I have a feeling she got more press from the announcement that she’d named her baby “Audio Science.” My bet was on “Compact Disc,” so I lost about fifty bucks on that one.

Of course, there’s always Apple Martin, daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. I heard they really wanted to call her “Apple Martini,” but they were just one letter shy. Dang it. I hate when that happens. A good alternative would’ve been “Doc Martin,” but did they listen to me? Nooooo.

Bob Geldof of “Live Aid” fame and his wife Paula Yates might have chugging apple martinis when they came up with these doozies for their darlings: Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, and Little Pixie. You have to wonder how those kids felt when their teachers called their names to check them into class.

A recent study showed that kids with the easiest names to pronounce are more likely to succeed in life. I can see how that could be helpful.

Sometimes I think George Foreman had it right. Just name every kid “George,” and you’ll make it easy on everyone. Although you have to wonder what happens at Thanksgiving dinner when someone says, "Hey, George, pass the gravy!" Do they all dive for the gravy boat at once?

P.S. For more on celebrity baby names, check out this page on the Babyfit web site.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Real Things that Have Happened to Me (or that I've Done)

In another attempt to avoid working last week, I reflected on a few real things that have happened to me or that I’ve done. I’ve decided that we’re going to call this blog, No Regrets Wednesday here at the Stiletto Gang.

In another attempt to stretch out the work avoidance for as long as possible, I then decided that I would sit down and list these real things that have happened to me or that I’ve done to see if anyone has had similar experiences and if you would like to share one or two similar things so that we could all have a good laugh.

Here goes:

1. I once got in a cab in New York City when I was in my twenties and after I told the cab drive where I wanted to go, he said, “Wow, you’re beautiful. After blushing from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, I confessed that no, I was not a model and thanked him for the wonderful compliment. He said, “It’s ok. I didn’t really mean it. I ask every woman who gets in my cab so I can get a big tip. You’re ok looking, though.”(He did not get a big tip.)

2. I once had to open up and then relinquish a foiled-wrapped sandwich in the security line at JFK because nothing says terrorist like chicken salad on a roll and an almost middle-aged textbook editor. They did not confiscate the sandwich, but I didn’t feel like eating once I got on the plane.

3. I once saw a woman walking in Times Square with her entire skirt tucked into the back of her underpants.(My mom can vouch for this.) I stopped her, made her stop talking on her cell phone, and told her that about three million Japanese tourists had just seen her bootie and many had taken pictures. She thanked me and went on her way, happy that there was a woman in the world who was brave enough to tell another that her behind had been displayed on the Jumbotron outside of the Good Morning, America, studios.

4. I once wore my husband’s boxer briefs to a job interview because I was too lazy to do my own laundry.

5. I once told my kids that I was getting my own apartment. (Actually, that happened more than once.)

6. I once laughed so hard that I wet my pants. And my husband’s pants.(In the interest of full disclosure, I was nine months pregnant with child #1, who turns 18 today!)

7. I once got lost driving home from a grocery store in a neighboring town.
It took me ninety minutes to find my way back. Yes, the ice cream had melted.

8. I once told a client that he had to buy what I was selling because I was nine months pregnant (see #6) and ‘baby needs a new pair of shoes.’It worked.

9. I once wore pajama pants to class because I hadn’t washed any real pants. I know this is commonplace now but back in 1865, it was positively scandalous. Although I got a talking to from the dean of students, I also got a date with a really cute guy who I married five years later.

10. I once ate an entire bar of Velveeta cheese. I then proceeded to realize, almost immediately, that this was a really bad idea.

Ok, so it’s No Regrets Wednesday at Stiletto.

Fess up, Stiletto faithful.

Let me know one thing you’ve done that you’ve carried around in your heart for all these years, unable to reveal.

I’m counting on you.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day makes me...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Valentine's Day makes me sigh. No. That isn’t in a heart fluttering, wow isn’t that romantic kind of sigh. It’s a why do we do this to ourselves kind of sigh. That isn’t to say I don’t love romance and all that jazz. I do. I think romance is wonderful. I just don’t find Valentine’s Day all that romantic.


I’m guessing it my feelings go back to high school days when some organization or another sold flowers to commemorate the day. You’d buy a carnation for a dollar, choose the color and fill out the card for the person you wanted to send it to. There were red, pink, yellow and white carnations. During the week before Valentine’s Day the flowers went on sale and then on Valentine’s Day itself the flowers would be delivered with the card during the school day to the recipient’s classroom.

Harmless, right?

Wrong. Because some kids got dozens of flowers. Others got none. I never lacked for at least a couple of flowers, but I had to feel bad for the kids who didn’t get any. The kids who for lack of money or because their friends thought the flowers thing was stupid didn’t get a single carnation. The lack of flowers didn’t mean they were loved any less than the kids who had fistfuls of the half-dying, poorly dyed carnations. But the look in their eyes and the snide way they talked about how stupid the flowers were told their own story. And it made me sad.

Which is probably why when helping my son do his Valentine’s Day for his preschool, I found myself proud of my kid who wanted to give everyone that he ever met in his life a Valentine. The kid tirelessly wrote his name on the front of his Dora Valentine’s (that he picked out all on his own!) and after each one wracked his brains for the next person that needed a card.

So in honor of my son’s method of celebrating the day, I want to let you all know that you are incredibly special to me. I am always amazed and honored that those of you I know personally and those I only know from this blog are kind enough to be my friends. You are all amazing and I hope you take the time to not only celebrate the special people in your lives today, but that you also celebrate yourself.

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends. May it be filled with happy sighs and lots of chocolate!

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Extraordinary Life

***Breaking News - Good Grief in Lottawatah has been published at Amazon,, and Smashwords. This is the 8th volume in the Brianna Sullivan Mysteries series. ***

By Evelyn David

Jill Kinmont Boothe died on Saturday. I never met her, but she was one of my few female heroes growing up.

My introduction to Jill Kinmont was in 1975 through one of two movies made of her life - The Other Side of the Mountain. I was in high school at the time and it seems to me looking back that some of the most significant influences of my life were the books, films, and music I encountered during my teen years. Okay, it was probably the hormones that made everything seem more intense, more real, but regardless the cause, those outside influences had a huge impact on my life.

To me, now and then, Jill Kinmont's story was the very essence of why you should never give up on yourself or give in to other people's expectations.  This was a very powerful message for a female high school student in the 1970s when everything was changing for girls and women.

As I'm getting older, and the people whom I admired while I was a teen are now passing on, I feel the loss of each as though a little bit of myself was being worn away. My co-author suggested that this blog shouldn't be so much about my loss, but the world's loss of a great woman. I agree with her, so I'll tear myself away from my impulse to keep venting about all the significant people of my formative years that are leaving us.

In 1955 Jill Kinmont Boothe was the national women's slalom champion, about to qualify for the U.S. Women's Olympic ski team. The week she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she fell during a race, crashed into a tree, and broke her neck. She was paralyzed below her shoulders. She was only 18 years old at the time.

Medical options for spinal injuries were limited in 1955. Ms. Kinmont had the use of neck and shoulder muscles and learned to write, type, and paint with the aid of a hand brace. But she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. The two movies about her life depicted her injury and recovery, but the important part of her life story was that she lived beyond the limits of her injury and beyond the limits society tried to impose. Her life didn't stop with that 1955 crash, although it would have been so easy for her to give up.

Jill Kinmont graduated from UCLA with degrees in German and English. UCLA rejected her application to the school of education, deciding that her physical problems meant she could never be a teacher. Thirty years before the American's with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted, Ms. Kinmont had to fight for the education and profession of her choice. She graduated from the University of Washington and began teaching remedial reading. But even after proving her value as an educator, some school districts wouldn't hire her.

It would have been so easy for her to have given up, but she didn't. She led a long, rich life. She had 57 more years after that crash in 1955. She made the most of them. She lived, not an ordinary life, but an extraordinary one. I applaud her.


Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle (Exclusive at Amazon this month)
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
Good Grief 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, February 10, 2012

For the Love of God, Just Hit Send!

Miss Dawn's room, circa 1991

By Laura Spinella
I never cried when I dropped a kid off at nursery school. I was happy to help them pack for college, happier still to move them into a dorm room and say, “See ya!” You probably think this makes me a bit of a cold fish. But I don’t think so, having logged enough hours and put in enough time to figure out why. I always felt a great sense of accomplishment in my children becoming their own person.  That process began twenty years ago when I dropped Megan off in Miss Dawn’s room, continuing right through her college days and two more kids.  My theory even has proof, not only can she tie her own shoes, she’s also enrolled in a rigorous graduate program. Physically, emotionally, mentally, I know I had something to do with that, so yay for me in that regard. On the other hand, that’s where it ends. Sink or swim on your own.  Maybe I am a little different in that I don’t particularly view them as an extension of myself, but as their own person and I’m okay with that. 
Megan, post Miss Dawn's room
Children, for me, are NOT like books. I know that’s the opposite of what most writers say, their work invariably summoning the same emotions they feel for their children.  I get that, I really do. But as I prepare to hand off this new manuscript, I feel nothing but throat-clenching angst, hands wringing raw.  I never felt this way about a kid—even the one that had an entire colon removed (A page-turner for another time).  I think most of that boils down to control and responsibility. When it comes to human beings, even if they’re the ones you gave birth to, there are too many outside influences. Yes, it’s my job to oversee those influences, but eventually, whether it’s a temper tantrum over building blocks or the decision to invite a boy to college for the weekend, it’s up to them. I’ve always felt there was a little thing called consequences that should factor in.  You don’t get that luxury with a book.  Sink or swim, the consequences are mine. Children become adults who, if your gene pool isn’t too screwed up going in and you pepper them with enough common sense, in all probability will turn out fine. Try that with a book and you’ll soon discover that a party of one is providing all chromosomes and character traits. So the question becomes, is it enough? Did I do it right?  It will never think for itself; it will never answer the question. Agents and editors and the book buying public get to decide that one. And that’s where I get stuck.  For this manuscript to do anything more, become anything else, I have to let it go. Rationally, I’ve worked too long and hard to shove it in a desk drawer—Okay, so we all know it’s a USB drive, but the imagery of 370 dog-eared, coffee stained pages is far more evocative. I say rationally, but I think I left rational back on page 132, when on a third revision I looked Aidan Royce in the eye and said, “Well, finally, there you are!”
When I dropped Megan off at nursery school, I remember feeling excited for her, excited for the two and one-half hours that I was going to have to myself. As I work up the nerve to detach and send, I know the safety zone of this WIP will be gone. Empty hours will follow with a fair amount of dread, as I suspect I will only sit and wait for somebody else to tell me how it’s going to turn out.

Laura Spinella is the author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. What would you risk for a love that is greater than honor or friendship or the passing of time? Best First Book, NJRWA, 2011,, Favorite Book of 2011.  Visit her at     

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I Like Cozies

by Nancy J. Cohen

Malice Domestic, a conference for cozy mystery fans, defines cozies as “mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”

If you’re a mystery fan and you want to hear about murders, turn on the evening news. Here you’ll learn about the despicable things people do to other people. As you may already know, we are our own worst enemies. Why, then, would we want to read about these horrible acts as a form of entertainment?

Cozy mysteries, unlike other crime novels, leave the gory details offstage. The focus of these stories is on the relationships among the characters. The heroes are real people, ordinary citizens like you or I, not a superhero singlehandedly aiming to take down a global terrorist ring or a villain bent on world domination.

The sleuth is your friendly librarian or hairdresser or knitting circle partner caught up in events beyond her control. Yet she has the courage, resourcefulness, and guts that many of us lack, and she is driven to learn the truth. We admire those qualities within her that we wish we possessed, and we live vicariously through her attempts to unravel the mystery.

The crimes in cozies are motivated by emotions we all share: jealousy, greed, envy, revenge. They’re what I call the negative motivators. Usually the victim is someone who’s offended the bad guy, or someone who usurped what he believes to be rightfully is, or just someone who got in the way of his distorted ambitions. These are people we can understand, because we all harbor those feelings inside. We can suppress them, however, and let the good within us predominate.

Meanwhile, the victim may be someone we love to hate. Lots of people have reason to want this fictional person dead. Who has the strongest motive, the means, and the opportunity? Therein lies the puzzle at the heart of a cozy. We are armchair detectives as we uncover clues along with the amateur sleuth.

As mentioned above, relationships are the focus of these stories instead of forensics details. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Patricia Cornwall said “I think we’re at a real shift in what we want from crime fiction. I have seen in my own work that I have had to focus more on characters and their relationships as opposed to writing a procedural.” Well, duh. This is what we cozy writers do all the time. We write about amateur sleuths who use their people skills to interview subjects, track down clues, and unmask the killer. Figuring out the interrelationships among the characters is what makes these stories so enjoyable to plot. We can create juicy personal secrets and relate them to the murder in some way.

Cozy mysteries also feature distinctive settings. My Bad Hair Day series stars hairstylist Marla Shore, who owns the Cut ‘N Dye salon in sunny Palm Haven, Florida. Many of my humorous stories include issues important to Floridians along with the goings-on in a busy salon. Other authors focus on crafts or cooking or shopkeeping. Stories are set in small towns with a unique ambience. It’s fun to read about these places and the folks who inhabit them. They serve as a microcosm of the bigger world. Through sensory details imparted by the author, we feel as though we’re there in this charming location.

Aside from setting and characters, the tone of a cozy sets these stories apart from other crime fiction. Often humorous and light, they offer an escape from reality. We can chuckle in the face of death and destruction because we know at the finish is a HEA (Happy Ever After) ending. Justice will be served. The villain will be caught. All is well with the world, unlike in real life. This sense of unreality, of fantasy, is another reason why I like to read cozies. I don’t want to read about the horrors in the daily news. In a cozy, people around the sleuth drop dead with regularity, but they’re often someone you dislike. The sleuth always unmasks the killer. Readers of this genre accept the conventions and cherish them.

Thus the reasons why I like cozies are multiple: the tone, the setting, and the characters blend into a story that keeps you guessing until you close the last page with a smile on your face.


Shear Murder

Who knew weddings could be murder? Hairstylist Marla Shore is weeks away from becoming a bride herself when she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things take a turn for the worse when the matron of honor ends up dead, the cake knife in her chest. Now what will they use to cut the cake?

Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star. Coming next is Warrior Prince, book one in The Drift Lords series, from The Wild Rose Press. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.

Find Nancy Cohen Online:

Leave a comment during Nancy's blog tour, and you'll be entered to win signed copies of Perish by Pedicure and Killer Knots.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


by Bethany Maines

My husband, a confirmed football enthusiast since birth, prefers to watch the Super Bowl with, at most, a select few of fellow football enthusiasts who won’t talk over the game and a large dish of BBQ pork with spicy-hot Chinese mustard and toasted sesame seeds.  My preferred way of watching the Super Bowl is with cheese. That’s not some Green Bay Packers joke – I just really like cheese and I don’t really care about football. I don’t object to it either; I just have a hard time working up a lot of enthusiasm for it. (I know, I know, my husband also claims that I have some sort of mental illness in this department.) As a result, our Super Bowl parties generally consist of the two of us, with him actually watching and me switching between the TV and my laptop. Which sounds like it should be a very cost efficient party, but I have to say that our two-person football party cost a ridiculous amount, and I have only myself to blame. 33% of the cost was strictly cheese.  This year there was the sharp and tangy, Isle of Man Vintage Cheddar, a local favorite Backcountry Creamery Havarti,  and my personal crack of choice Ski Queen Gjetost, a brown goat cheese that may look suspicious, but tastes oh so delicious.

So as my husband, hereafter to be referred to as Joe (because that’s his name), was noshing on pork slices and watching one of the Manning brothers throw a ball, I was nibbling cheeses and watching a British TV show called the Misfits on my laptop.  It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that our various habits were not something that generally gets mentioned in stories.  Outside of Wallace & Gromit, there aren’t many shows or novels where a key plot point is cheese. Which is probably as it should be, but my point is that as an author I frequently try to give signature traits to my characters – this one has red-hair, this one likes guns, etc – but it’s rare that I expand my imagination to include things like “she’s obsessed with cheese” or “that one signed up for cable strictly for the BBC.”  But why not?  

When I’m inventing my character I try to give them traits that are relevant to their development within the plot. I need that one to like guns so that later she can shoot people.  It’s not until later, when the characters are still kicking around in the attic of my mind that it occurs to me to wonder whether or not they like pork.  So I have now added “SB food” to my character template. When inventing a new character I’m going to ask myself not just how tall, how old, how much hair dye, I’ll be asking, “What would you eat on Super Bowl Sunday?”  Don’t worry, I’ll try to not let the answer always be cheese.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ways to Keep Your Mind Young

I would never tackle writing how to keep yourself looking young though I do think there are some things that help. One that really doesn't help are facelifts. Egad, some of the beautiful movie stars have ruined their faces and no longer even resemble themselves in their attempts to look young. But that's a whole other article. What's wrong with wrinkles anyway? Most of your friends know how old you are, so it's weird if you don't have any wrinkles. However, you can quit wearing the same hairstyle you wore back in high school, and I don't think it hurts to color your hair. If you are one of the fortunate ones whose hair turns a beautiful shade of white, leave it along, but mine is a most yukky mixture of grey and brown--and so I've decided to be a redhead.

Oh, my, I've really gotten off track, I really wanted to write about things that you can do to keep your mind young. Most of my Stiletto gang members don't have to worry about any of these things yet, but I think there might be one or two readers who are closer to my age bracket.

A big thing is to get out of the house once in awhile. For writers this isn't the easiest thing to do. Most of us would like to devote our days to sitting in front of the computer and hanging out in the worlds that we create. And the older I get, the more I want to do this.

Fortunately, I have a husband who likes to get away once in awhile too and we both love to go to the movies and have a nice meal out.

We also like to leave our mountain abode and head over to the coast once in awhile. Often it's to visit our kids who live in Southern California, at other times we'll go to the Central Coast, often for something to do with book promoting. We've made lots of good friends in that area of all ages who we like to spend time with or to be correct, with whom we like to spend time.

And that leads me to another point. It's important to have friends of all ages. When I was young, I had a lot of older friends, especially writer, writers I learned a lot from or (from whom I learned a lot.) Now I'm the older one and I have a lot of young writer friends. I hope I'm as helpful to them as my older friends were to me.

I belong to the same critique group I joined way back in 1981. Of course many of the faces have changed, but there are still two of us from the original group. We have three younger women now who are a delight to be around--plus they keep us on our toes, pointing out things hat have changed. Plus they are a lot of fun. We held a couple of our writing meetings at Starbucks recently and had a great time chatting before we got down to business.

Hanging out with kids helps too. I'm fortunate because I have a big family with lots of grandkids and great grandkids of all ages. I also teach a Sunday School class with kids from 2nd to 6th grade. Big range, but the older ones help the younger ones. It's a great way to learn what problems kids face today--much bigger ones than I faced way back when.

And then there's reading. I like to read all sorts of books though I'm partial to mysteries. I loved the Help, book and movie, brought back lots of some unpleasant memories of when I lived in the South. I also loved the three The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books, and all three of the movies--and the American version of the first one. I recently finished Stephen King's long, long story about President Kennedy's assassination, which was far more than that and yes I loved it too. I read all of those books on my Kindle, though I have a stack of paper books in my TBR pile.

I love blogging and Facebook--not so much Twitter, though I do tweet once in awhile. I've always loved e-mail. And I couldn't do without my Blackberry which I use for so much more than a phone. Hardly anyone has my phone number, just family. So I guess, the point here is keeping up with all the new gadgets and social venues helps too.

One last thing, being a part of The Stiletto Gang has been great fun for me. I enjoy reading what interests the younger generations and what my fellow writers are producing.

Anyone have any other ideas about how I can keep my mind young?


Monday, February 6, 2012

Life Lessons from a Toddler

By Evelyn David

I'm blessed with the smartest, prettiest, sweetest granddaughter on earth (I add here a poo, poo to ward off any evil eyes, per the original Evelyn), as well as the invitation for any other Grandma to question my definitive statement.

But what I've also discovered is how much I've learned from this little bundle of energy.

1. Naps are for sissies (and Grandmas). This child objects to sleeping. Doesn't need it, doesn't want it. Perfectly willing to entertain herself for 20 minutes in her crib, looking at books, but after that, there's a world to explore and time's a wastin. She's right about the world. I've been seeing it through her eyes and it is wondrous. (She's wrong about the sleeping thing, but that may be my old body talking).

2. With ketchup, anything is edible. She refers to it as "dip." With "dip," she's willing to taste anything. It's not a bad approach to life. I believe Mary Poppins might have sung, "a spoonful of ketchup makes anything go down."

3. "Den, pease." Quick Grandma translation. "You've read this book to me 1,000 times, but again please." Now I absolutely agree with this philosophy. I have books that I adore, that I can reread knowing full well whodunnit, or who ends up with whom, or that the happy ending is sappy. I love them, they give me comfort, and "den, pease," is right up my alley.

4. Winnie the Pooh beats Big Bird and Princesses can be firefighters. I confess that I've got a thing for Winnie the Pooh, especially the 1977 movie with Sterling Holloway as the voice of the bear. I've been singing the songs to my granddaughter and she loves them ("Deep in the 100 Acre Woods," "The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers," sigh). Big Bird bores her. Me too.

I am also glad to see that we've got a little feminist on our hands. The Disney princess figurines routinely drive her toy firetruck, fighting fires and rescuing cats with the best of them. Girl Power!

5. Don't ask a question you don't want to hear the answer to. This piece of wisdom had been in full force when my own kids were young, but I recently had cause to remember it. This little independent spirit has a very polite, but equally definite "no," in her repertoire and is given in response to many questions. Grandma: "Do you want to take a nap?" Quiet, definitive, "no."

The other day I gave her a bath. She was running around in her diaper and I was trying to get her into jammies. "Do you want to put on your snowman pajamas?" I asked sweetly, if tiredly. "No," came the equally sweet, definite response. Then it hit me. I swooped her up and declared, "That wasn't a question, honey." Pajamas on, she handed me "Night, Night Little Pookie," by Sandra Boynton, one of her favorites, mine too. I read it and she smiled, cuddled, and said, "Den, pease." No problem. The other lesson learned: Grandma is a pushover.

Marian, aka the Northern half of Evelyn David, also known as "Nandma"


Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle (Exclusive at Amazon this month)
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