Monday, April 30, 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.

A Detailed Man by David Swinson ~ Half of DC Police Detective Ezra Simeon's face is immobilized from a persistent case of Bell's Palsy--he must drink through a straw and eat carefully to avoid chewing through his own cheek. He has been detailed from robbery to the cold case department while he heals. "How odd to dream with one eye open, like having one foot in reality," Sim muses in the dark, bluesy vein that is typical of his Chandler-esque narration. "That's what makes dreaming dangerous and why I moved my gun farther from the bed." Detective Simeon's half-frozen world begins to heat up when a friend from his Academy days drops dead of a heart attack, and Sim is tapped to replace him, detailed now to homicide, where he inherits the high-profile case of a murdered escort he alone thinks may be the victim of a serial killer.

A Detailed Man is a true cop tale. It’s credible, extremely well written, and told by a man who clearly knows what he’s talking about. Being a highly decorated member of the Metropolitan Police Department has given the author the ability to give this book the authenticity you don’t normally find in books of this type. The detail that he provides when relating the struggles these man face each and every day while trying to solve cases makes  you feel as if you’re sitting in the squad room with them, as if you’re a part of the force yourself. His descriptive picture of life in DC is so vivid that you might as well be walking by his side as he roams the streets of DC in search of a killer. Each chapter is taut with suspense and expertly crafted. While the action doesn’t speed down the track like a runaway train, the story will suck you in and pull you along on a slow ride that you will thoroughly enjoy, hoping it never ends. There better be more of Ezra Simeon in the future. 

Murder on Fifth Avenue by Victoria Thompson ~  Sarah Brandt’s family is one of the oldest in New York City, and her father, Felix Decker, takes his position in society very seriously. He still refuses to resign himself to his daughter being involved with an Irish Catholic police detective. But when a member of his private club—the very exclusive Knickerbocker—is murdered, Decker forms an uneasy alliance with Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy to solve the crime as discreetly as possible.
Malloy soon discovers that despite his social standing, the deceased—Chilton Devries—was no gentleman. In fact, he’s left behind his own unofficial club of sorts, populated by everyone who despised him. As he and Sarah sort through the suspects, it becomes clear to her that her father is evaluating more than the detective’s investigative abilities, and that, on a personal level, there is much more at stake for Malloy than discovering who revoked Devries’ membership—permanently.

Murder on Fifth Avenue is the 14th book in the Gaslight Mystery series (see Murder on Astor Place, Murder on Sisters’ Row) featuring turn of the century mid-wife Sarah Brandt and the Irish Catholic Frank Malloy who has caught her eye. With each book, the feelings between Sarah & Frank continues to grow, and with this latest installment, it appears that even Sarah’s father, Felix, is warming up to the idea of the two of them getting together.  It appears as if Felix is asking Frank to investigate this case as not only a way to solve the mystery of his friend’s murder, but also as a test of some sort. I have a feeling we will finally see Sarah & Frank come together VERY soon. Victoria Thompson has the amazing ability to bring the turn of the century to life with her accurate descriptions of the way things were back then. From the horse drawn carriages used by the upper-class to the struggles a mistress will face when she no longer has her “protector,” the images of life in those times is vividly painted for the reader in a way that makes us feel fully invested in the story.  Murder on Fifth Avenue is a wonderfully told, first-rate Victorian mystery.

Titanic 2012 by Bill Walker ~ Best-selling mystery novelist Trevor Hughes has no idea that attending his twentieth reunion at Harvard will forever change his life. Persuaded to go by his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Dr. Julia Magnusson, he meets up with three old friends: Solly Rubens, a self-made Wall Street millionaire; Ken Faust, a successful software entrepreneur; and Harlan Astor, New York real estate tycoon and the glue that holds their circle together. That afternoon, over drinks at the Harvard Club, Harlan drops his bombshell: He is doing what James Cameron did not -- he is rebuilding the Titanic, and sailing the ship on the hundredth anniversary to honor those who died, including his great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor IV. Only Trevor is intrigued by Harlan's audacity. Touched by his friend's interest and concern, Harlan invites him on the maiden voyage to serve as the official chronicler. On April 10, 2012, Trevor journeys to Southampton and, along with the hundreds of handpicked passengers, boards the Titanic. He is awed by the immensity of the ship and the feelings that well up in him. His friend has made his grand dream a reality. During the journey, armed with his iPod Touch and a miniature wireless camera hidden in his glasses, Trevor interviews both passengers and crew, eager to learn the reasons why they chose to sail on the reborn ship. Nearly every one of them claims to have been profoundly affected by Cameron's film, wanting to recapture the magic for themselves. And some of them are dying -- their last wish to be on the maiden voyage of the new Titanic. Trevor is touched that his friend has allowed these people to come aboard, and is unprepared when he meets Madeleine Regehr, a beautiful, free-spirited woman who resists his entreaties to be interviewed, intriguing Trevor all the more. Slowly, and inexorably, Maddy draws him out of his shell, allowing him to love deeply and completely, for the very first time in his life. But Trevor soon discovers a darker purpose for the voyage, a purpose that threatens to destroy him and the woman he loves. In a race against time that pits friend against friend, Trevor must stop the unstoppable or risk a horrific replay of history...

The return to Titanic is every bit as poignant as the original voyage. The author brings you right aboard the ship with his extremely descriptive narrative, making you feel as if you were sailing along with the characters. While I understand the route the author took with the ending, I found it to be a little to perfect for me. I would have preferred something a little less expected, but still found Titanic 2012 worth the trip.  Titanic 2012 is an emotional journey that will pit friend against friend, bring closure to some, bring lovers together and possibly tear some apart.  

See you next month ;)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Social Infusion

By Laura Bradford

When the kids were little, I spent a good deal of my time volunteering at their school. I read one-on-one with struggling readers, I decorated bulletin boards, I chaperoned hot lunches, took more than a few turns at playground duty, etc.  And when I wasn't needed there, that's when I wrote.

Now that the kids are older (high school and middle school), the makeup of my day is quite different. Instead of volunteering with a side order of writing, I'm writing all the time. Which means my days are spent alone...with a computer. There are no co-workers to compare fashion with over the office copier, no water cooler to stand around while hashing out the latest episode of Survivor, and no gab fests while eating lunch at whatever cafe sounds good that particular day.

In a word, writing can be rather isolating. Unless, of course, you have a cat who believes the careers of writer and doorman are one and the same. ;)

So when a work event--such as the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference--comes around on the calendar, it's a treat. Suddenly, the isolating part of my chosen career is shed in favor of spending time with readers and fellow writers. We talk books in the hotel lounge (our version of the water cooler, I guess), we have meetings with our agent and editors (this is the cafe part), and we are forced to get out of our pajamas and wear professional attire.

In short, it's a change. A big change.

This year, I'm looking forward to Malice more than ever for several reasons...

*I get to ride to and from the conference with The Stiletto Gang's own Maggie Barbieri.
*I just typed "The End" on my latest manuscript (which, loosely translated, means I can chill--except for edits).
*There are a number of fans I haven't seen in almost two years and I'm anxious to collect some hugs.
*I'll be passing out goodies to promote my upcoming series--The Amish Mysteries.
*I'm hosting a table for my fans at this year's Agatha banquet.

Oh, and when I get back, I'll have more to say to the cat than just, "you want to go out?/you want to come in?" :)

So tell me, what's a favorite perk of your job?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Thousand Shades of Viral

by Maria Geraci

I'm not going to get into the Fifty Shades of Grey debate. You either like the book. Or you don't.

What I want to talk about is how this book got so darn popular (Okay, so it's a different sort of Fifty Shades debate.) And if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you must be living under a rock because almost everyone I know has either read or is currently reading this book. Even my dog is reading this book. (That's a joke, but honestly, any minute now I expect Truffles Geraci to come trotting out to the living room with a copy clutched in her paws).

I first heard about this book on a well known writer's blog. A writer I happen to adore and think very highly of. She was confused by how many of her friends (none of whom regularly read romance or erotica) were reading this book, talking about this book and actually recommending this book to others.

Naturally, being the curious writer that I am, I had to read the book. And yes, I did read all 3 books because the books' author, EL James cleverly broke her story up into 3 smaller books so that in order to read the complete story, you'd have to buy all 3.

After reading the books, I have to confess to being confused. Did I love the books? No. Did I hate them? The answer to that is also no. There were parts I liked, parts I skimmed, and parts, well, that made me blush. But overall, it wasn't my cup of tea.So is my taste so out of tune with the rest of America? How did these books become what seems like, an overnight cultural phenomena?

Is it because the original story (titled, Master of the Universe) was Twilight fan fiction? Is it because Good Morning America labeled it "mommy porn" sending the housewives of America into a twitter? Heck, the book has been mentioned on everything from NPR to Dancing with the Stars. It's... well, like I said it's a phenomena. One that has me scratching my head, because I'd love to know how this thing went uber viral.

Maybe Malcom Gladwell can shed some light on it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Support Emily Asher-Perrin!

or It's Hard to be a Tough Girl if Your Butt is Pointed at the Enemy
by Bethany Maines

Last week put out a blog about the proliferation of movie posters and book covers of women prominently displaying their backsides while pretending to look tough. Like this classic from Alias...

Someone else’s sudden explosion into rage as the straw breaks the camel’s back is usually quite funny and this was no exception – poor Emily Asher-Perrin has quite clearly had enough of the hyper-sexualized caboose-first posing tough gals. But it got me to thinking – how many tough girls are there… really?  I know it’s a gray area, but I’m kind of thinking that if you end up with a butt shot on the poster, the odds are that you’re not all that tough.  Here’s my list of women I think might be tough enough to survive the apocalypse and tell a PR dude where he can stick his idea about a poster featuring her hind end.

Sarah Conner from Terminator 2 is the first to spring to mind. And you know what happened to her, don’t you? That’s right, James Cameron told her to buff up, get tough, and then left her for a softer, younger model and so he could bring us overly long movies with the emotional depth of Petri dishes. Life is not easy for a tough girl.

Sigourney Weaver looked tough, was tough, kicked ass, took name and apparently learned from Sarah Conner that the secret to tough girl stardom was holding a big ass gun.

Or then there’s Vasquez from Aliens!  Oh, wait she died.  Because… Vasquez Always Dies.

Hermione Granger. I know, she didn’t carry a gun, but she was arguably the toughest and smartest person in the books and it was a relief that Hollywood didn’t screw that up.

MMA fighter turned actor Gina Carano from the recent movie Haywire managed to find a director who wanted to translate her power and skill to film and all without a butt shot!

Franka Potente in Run Lola Run ran her ass off and contended with gangsters to save her boyfriends life not once, but three times and looked impossibly awesome in that red hair. Which is why it was such a disappointment when she died in the first reel of Bourne 2. Why? Did it really add anything to the story? No, you just wanted to free up Jason Bourne to date the CIA twinky? Yeah… ok, whatever. 

Milla Jojovich may be high on the sex appeal list, she’s definitely a tough girl because… well… her list of movies (Fifth Element, .45, Ultraviolet, Resident Evil, The Three Musketeers) speaks for itself and she’s never had a shot of her rear end plastered all over the front of a movie theater. Clearly the girl loves action flicks, and as an ex-super model, what’s a girl supposed to do say, but… “Sure I can wear thigh-highs and kill zombies – that’s just how tough I am.”

Does anyone else have any nominations for tough girls that just said “NO!” to the derrière poster?  I’m always ready to add to the list!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pitching the Great Books

I'd like everyone to welcome the fabulous and talented Linda Rodriguez! She is not only an amazing friend, but one heck of a writer. If you don't believe me, her novel Every Last Secret is out TODAY! Trust me, you'll want to check it out. In the meantime, Linda has an excellent challenge for all of us today! Take it away, Linda...

Recently, I served as a judge on a panel billed as “American Idol for book pitches—without the Simon Cowell.” Four of us judges listened to twenty-five aspiring authors give one-minute pitches for their books as if we were editors or agents they’d met at a conference. We then gave the authors feedback designed to help them improve their book pitches, and the author we decided had the best pitch was later connected with an appropriate agent and editor in the book’s specific field.

This event was so entertaining and educational that people paid just to come in and watch it without participating. It gave me a new appreciation of the power of a good book pitch. I wrote a blog post about the event, and a commenter lamented what book pitching would have done to Melville’s Moby Dick. This left me wondering how some books I’ve read would be pitched in today’s competitive market. See if you can guess the author or title of the books being pitched below. Then, in the comments, try pitching some book you’ve loved.

Book 1

In this great noir novel, Ethan’s secret love for his wife’s sweet cousin and nursemaid, Mattie, grows daily as his wife becomes more ill-tempered and demanding. He struggles with his desire and his conscience. When his wife decides to send Mattie away, Ethan can no longer bear it. He tries to run away with her and fails, so Mattie suggests a suicide pact. Ethan agrees, but at the last minute, will he be able to carry this off, or will his weakness cause him to fail yet again and pay a grim price the rest of his life?

Book 2

Mystery upon mystery fills this novel, and it ends with one of the most suspenseful chases in literature. A great lady has a great secret, but Tulkinghorn, her wealthy husband’s lawyer, ferrets it out with the intention of blackmailing Mrs. D. to do his bidding. Tulkinghorn has other plots, as well, forcing a retired soldier, George, to tarnish his honor and ruining him anyway, using a discarded French lady’s maid as a cat’s-paw with a promise of a job and threatening her with deportation when she calls in his promise. In the midst of all these crimes and plots, a police detective, Bucket, keeps an eye on the main players, especially Tulkinghorn. When Tulkinghorn is murdered and George arrested for it, Bucket searches for the true murderer all the way into Mrs. D’s boudoir. But even if Bucket finds the killer, can he keep a greater tragedy from occurring?

Book 3

A poor but beautiful girl is violently raped by a wealthy man and left pregnant. After her newborn dies, she tries to start a new life where her sordid history is not known. She falls in love and marries, only to be deserted by her husband when he learns of her past. With her father’s death, she and her family become destitute and homeless. Finally, she is forced to become her rapist’s mistress, only to murder him when her husband returns to find her. Her landlady sees the blood seeping through the ceiling and calls the police. Will our heroine escape to freedom with the love of her life or be caught and executed for the murder of a brutal aristocrat?

Answers: Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton; Bleak House, Charles Dickens; Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Linda Rodriguez, author of Every Last Secret, blogs about books and writers at She reads and writes everything, even poetry, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Q&A with Author Stefanie Sloane

The Stiletto Gang had a few questions for romance author Stefanie Sloane, who kindly visited the blog today to answer them.

Stiletto Gang: Why did you choose to write romances? Were you a romance reader first?

Stefanie: I didn’t set out to write. Originally, my plan was to either be a museum curator or a music journalist. But when I fell asleep in my first college art history class and realized that writing for Rollingstone would more than likely involve lots of late nights drinking, being offered various drugs, and getting hit on by everyone but the lead singer, I changed my mind. Running a bookstore seemed more my speed, which is how I ended up at Yes, it’s a virtual bookstore, but the job still offered retail experience and a crash course in surviving a start-up—an experience I’ll never forget.

And when not one of the editors volunteered to cover the Romance category? I jumped at the chance. After over five years of working with publishers and writers, I figured out that being an author was a pretty sweet deal.

Stiletto Gang: Are love scenes difficult for you to write? Or are they the most fun part of the book?

Stefanie: Honestly, it’s the worst! I think it’s in the mechanics of the scene. As an author, you not only have to consider the sensuality and general fabulousness of the lovemaking, but you also have to pay attention to each move your characters make—literally. And when you slow the scene down in order to analyze and double-check, well, it kind of strips all the sexiness away. The hope, though, is that you do your job and the reader only sees the glorious, glittering scene on the stage rather than the chaos underway backstage.

Stiletto Gang: What's The Saint Who Stole My Heart about (in a nutshell)?

Stefanie: A notorious scoundrel, the right Honorable Nicholas Bourne has spent years in the East Indies amassing a fortune through questionable means. Still, his loyalty to his older brother Langdon and his dear childhood friends remains true and trusted. But when Lady Sophia Southwell, the woman promised to his brother, seeks his help on a dangerous mission, he is troubled—and torn. Unable to dissuade her from her quest to find a killer, he vows to keep her safe. This makes his mission the hardest test of his wits, honor, and skill. For Sophia is the secret love of his life.

For years, Sophia has planned her daring act of revenge against her mother’s killer. She has painstakingly prepared herself by studying the criminal mind. Now she knows the moment is right and that Nicholas is the man to help her. But she doesn’t count on the reckless temptation of his rugged sensuality or the captivating intensity in his deep eyes. When desire and emotion intoxicate her as they venture together into the darkest corners of London’s underbelly, Sophia must contend with a yearning even more powerful than vengeance: love.

Stiletto Gang: How was it going from the Amazon Books editorial department to being an author? Did it help as far as dealing with reviews?

Stefanie: I think it helped in every way. Authors are expected to not only know how to write a book, but sell it. The time that I spent working with publicists, marketing, buying, editorial, etc… gave me valuable experience that directly relates to what I’m doing now. I possess an edge that someone outside of publishing and bookselling wouldn’t necessarily have.

Stiletto Gang: What's next for you?

Stefanie: I’m just starting work on the sixth book in my Regency Rogues series, tentatively titled The Wicked Widow Meets Her Match. Here’s a bit about the book:

Langdon Bourne, the Duke of Stonecliffe, sees little left in life to recommend itself. He’d loved Sophia Afton and she’d left him for his brother, effectively destroying all that was to be Langdon’s future. Such betrayal finds him weighing the worth of what he’s devoted his time to, namely the Young Corinthians—and coming up short. Until his brother and former fiancée ask the impossible of him: Track down the man who had ordered the killing of Sophia’s mother fifteen years before and finally secure the peace they’d all longed for nearly their entire lives.

Langdon cannot deny that he’s wished for nothing else his entire Corinthian career, and so he agrees to undertake the task armed with the little that is known about the man and one strategic ally: the infamous Dr. Rupert Crowther’s widow, Grace. Rumor has it that the lady’s father lost her in a card game to the dastardly doctor and her fortune had only deteriorated from there. Crowther was a brute made even more so by his involvement with a nefarious gang known as the Kingsmen. And when he dies in their bed, a small stipend from a distant cousin is all that stands between Grace and the poor house. Faced with such a future, she reluctantly agrees to supply Langdon with what she knows of the Kingsmen.
Grace could not be any more different from Sophie Afton if she tried. Exiled from polite society and wiser than Langdon feels he is himself, the widow is heartbreakingly vulnerable yet surprisingly resilient. Her strength and weakness call to him like a siren’s song, forcing him to realize that he’s never really known love—until now. Grace attempts to resist temptation, having sworn off men forever. But the earl speaks to her body and mind like no other, urging her to give herself completely to him.

Despite the stalwart support of the Corinthians, Langdon and Grace find themselves caught in a deadly web that threatens to consume them alive. Will they escape to realize the love that can save them both?

****Stefanie is giving away all four of her Regency Rogues books to one winner. Leave a comment for a chance to win!

A native Northwesterner with the pale skin to prove it, Stefanie credits her parents’ eclectic reading habits—not to mention their decision to live in the middle of nowhere—for her love of books. A childhood spent lost in the pages of countless novels led Stefanie to college where she majored in English. No one was more surprised than Stefanie when she actually put her degree to use and landed a job in’s Books editorial department. She spent over five years reading for a living before retiring to concentrate on her own stories. Stefanie currently resides with her family in Seattle.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Late, Late, Late Night Programming (aka This Is A Paid Advertisement)

by Susan McBride, Pregnant Insomniac

I just can't seem to sleep through the night any more (as if I ever did).  Nearly eight months pregnant, I plump three pillows beneath my head and have three smaller pillows positioned at various spots to support belly, back, and knees. Inevitably, I have to get up to pee and disentangle myself from said pillows and covers. By the time I return to bed and reposition everything, I'm often wide awake.

So that I don't keep bugging Ed, I put on slippers and glasses and head downstairs. I free the cats from the basement, feed them, and fix myself a bowl of cereal (yes, even if it's four o'clock in the morning).  Then I plunk myself in front of the boob tube, snuggled in a blanket, hoping somehow I'll fall asleep on the couch.

Instead, I find myself fascinated by all the advertising. I'm trying to figure out what all the endless half-hour and hour-long commercials say about our society since most focus on a few things:  our weight and getting into shape, our undergarments, and stopping that dreaded process of aging.

If I was so inclined, I could order the Pilates chair for which "All My Children's" Susan Lucci is the spokeswoman. Or I could call 1-800 to purchase any number of Zumba fitness packs, weights that vibrate, or that all-in-one gym that Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley swear by.

But perhaps I don't need all those workouts, not if I listen to the infomercials that insist my lumps and bumps are purely the result of ill-fitting undergarments. Apparently, if I order some magic bras--and a whole lot of Spandex to suck in the rest of me--I will lose several dress sizes without doing any exercises except those required to tug all the too-tight undergarments over my lumps and bumps.

And have you seen those T-shirt extenders that come in four different shades?  You pull them up to your waist so they cover the butt crack and belly exposed by your low rise jeans. With one of those belly bands wrapped around you and your shirt atop it, no one will ever know that your pants don't fit. They'll just think you're super trendy, going for that layered look.

My favorites of all are the lotions, potions, creams, and cosmetics that swear they will take years off our faces, remove spots, tighten saggy skin, and turn us into Cindy Crawford. Not only does Cindy peddle her own formula--created by some fabulous dermatologist in France that she's been seeing for twenty years who grows magical melons--but she's got lots of celebs endorsing it as well. I've seen Leeza Gibbons (formerly of "Entertainment Tonight") and Joan Lunden (once co-host of "Good Morning, America") espousing the virtues of skin pick-me-ups, too. And then there's Victoria Principal, who tells us about her "Principal Secret," which I think, by the looks of her, has little to do with moisturizer and more to do with lots and lots of cosmetic surgery.

Though I have been tempted by that shampoo-less shampoo called Wen that Alyssa Milano swears by, I've managed to refrain from ordering anything during my late, late night TV viewing. Now if there was an infomercial for instant home delivery of chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream with bananas on top, I'd have that number on speed-dial.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


by Maria Geraci

Oops. Today was my day to blog and I'm woefully late. I will blame it on my day job (or in my case, my night job) and say, mea culpa!.

Since my last post, I've been busy. I have a new website. You can see it right here. And I've put up an excerpt for my new novel coming out in August, which you can read here.

I'm also doing a big giveaway that ends tonight at midnight. So if you're interested in winning this fabulous Lilly Pulitzer insulated beach bag full of books and a Season 1 DVD of Downton Abbey, please stop by my blog and leave a comment by midnight tonight.

NOTE: The Authors in Bloom Giveaway is over, but my own personal giveaway (photo above) is still open till midnight tonight (4/19).

Best of Luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If I don't need it, why do I have it?

If I don’t need it, why do I have it?

If you checked this blog two weeks ago and I wasn’t there, I have a very good excuse. 

I forgot.

Because I was having my gall bladder out the next day.

See?  A reasonable excuse, but an excuse nonetheless.

Back in December, I started noticing that certain foods were becoming problematic for me:  short ribs, butter, peanut butter, dairy in general, to name a few.  (The gall bladder is responsible for digesting fats, so from that list, you would guess that I needed to stay away from those particular foods.)  I would have what are termed “gall bladder attacks” which amounted to a very dull, but very persistent back pain that I couldn’t get rid of by walking, laying down, marching up stairs, or anything else that you would think might move whatever it was to wherever it needed to go.  I knew, from frequent CT scans that I endure as part of my long-ago cancer diagnosis, that my gall bladder was “sludgy,” a term that means “nice and ripe to house numerous gall stones”.  Although I knew at some point my gall bladder would erupt in furious objection to the housing of the gall stones, I figured I would wait until that happened until I actually did something about it.

It happened on December 20, 2011.

I came back from a lovely walk, this being the most mild winter we had seen in the Northeast in memory, and decided that what sounded good was a big glass of water followed by two pieces of toast slathered with peanut butter.  (I know.  Stupid.)  Within minutes, I was prone on the bed, crying, screaming for hubby to take me to the Emergency Room.  I had two kids without drugs, had a major cancer surgery seven years ago that left me held together by one hundred staples, and now I was screaming for him to take me to the ER?  He knew that this had to be bad.

I called my oncologist, the lovely Dr. P., and cried to her that I was dying.

“It’s your gall bladder!” she screamed into the phone, trying desperately to talk me off the proverbial ledge. 

“It’s much worse!” I cried.  “It’s like I’m dying! Or having a heart attack!”

She got a nurse walking by to join in the chorus.  “It’s your gall bladder! Get to the ER!”

So off I went. 

You know how you hear a noise in your car and take it to the mechanic, only for the mechanic to say, “I don’t hear it”?  Well, that’s what happened.  By the time I got to the ER, all was well, I was not in pain, and I was starving.  The gall stone had passed, although I had never seen it come out.  But you go to the ER, you don’t get to eat and you get tests—a lot of tests.  And the tests came back with a positive diagnosis. I was having my gall bladder out.  When was the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I guess this is the point in the story where I tell you how much I hate surgery.  (Does anyone like it outside of the women in the Real Housewives’ franchises on Bravo?)  I told the doctor that I needed to wrap my brain around this—which in Maggie-speak means “I’m going to put this off as long as I can”—and left the ER.  I started polling people who had had their gall bladders out, who knew someone who had their gall bladder out, who knew surgeons who performed gall bladder surgery.  All returned with the same conclusion:  gall bladder surgery was a “piece of cake.” They all actually used the exact same cliché to describe a procedure in which four holes are punched in your stomach, with a camera and a long pair of scissors being inserted into two of the holes, and the gall bladder being pulled out the third.  (I’m still not sure what the fourth hole is for.  All I know is the belly button I went in with doesn’t look like the belly button I came out with.)  Everyone assured me that you don’t really need your gall bladder; it’s vestigial.  I went into the surgery thinking “piece of cake,” “vestigial,” “don’t need it…”

And woke up to excruciating pain.  This was the “piece of cake” that everyone referred to?  Liars, one and all.  I awoke to a recovery room nurse screaming in my ear so loudly that I thought maybe she had mistaken me for a patient who had just received cochlear ear implants.


Where am I, I wanted to ask?  Where are you?  Because that’s where I am.  I wisely bit my sore tongue (the one that had just minutes earlier had an endoscope atop it) and said, “NYU.”


“Why are you yelling at me?” was the reasonable question, but I responded with “2012.” Satisfied, she went back to writing notes in my chart, probably to the tune of “patient doesn’t do a good job shaving her legs” or something like that.  It was ten o’clock in the morning.  I was sent home at three.  This is what is called “ambulatory” or “outpatient surgery.”  I was neither ambulatory nor well enough to be an outpatient but home I went where I spent the next several days in a painkiller haze, watching episode after episode of “Curb Appeal: The Block” and dreaming about what Chez Barbieri might look like if I actually had the inclination to go outside and plant anything.

So, I’m rambling.  Those are the aftereffects of general anesthesia.  (Just ask my extended family.  They showed up for Easter dinner—the one I invited them to— only to have me ask them why they were there.) But let’s put it this way:  any thoughts of having my tummy tucked, my chin fat sucked out, or my eyes lifted are now gone the way of the wonky gall bladder, never to be seen or thought of again.  Because the piece of cake that is supposedly laparoscopic surgery is anything but.  As a friend who once had it said to me, “Mags, they poke holes in your stomach.  Trust me. That’s not pain free.”  I guess I’m glad I was lied to, though, as it saved me months of agitation over something that is now safely in the rearview mirror.

I’ll just have to remember this next time I think about having a facelift.

Maggie Barbieri

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dark Shadows

Rushing home to watch Dark Shadows after school was something my children all did--and I watched it right along with them. Oh, it was cheesy but so much fun. Barnabas Collins was creepy and scary. We could hardly wait to see what happened next.

We had so much fun with it, when my high school Camp Fire Girls were earning money for a trip to the Grand Canyon, we wrote and put on a musical called Dark Shadows. My oldest girl played Barnabas Collins and was effective enough that when she jumped down into the audience to bite one of the audience members on the neck, all the kids screamed and a few tried to run away.

I can't remember all the songs we incorporated into the musical or even anything about the plot. I know we had terrific sound effects, lots of thunder and the light being clicked off and on for lightning. What I do remember is the ending which more or less was that the whole reason they had so much trouble was that it was always dark, and the finale song was "Let the Sunshine In."

Now Johnny Depp is going to play Barnabas Collins in the Dark Shadows movie. I saw a clip and it look like it'll be great fun.

My daughter has asked that I plan to see Dark Shadows with her. I hope to do that. What memories it will bring back.


Monday, April 16, 2012

A Fish Out of Water

By Evelyn David
We pay a lot of attention to where we locate our mysteries. The Sullivan Investigation series, featuring the incomparable Mac Sullivan and his faithful sidekick, Whiskey, are set in Washington, DC. Truth be told, the Northern half of this writing partnership, went to school in our nation's capital, and then lived there for several years following graduation. When we wrote about Dupont Circle as "the physical embodiment of one of Dante's circles of hell," I recall with regret and frustration, trying to navigate around the area, especially since my first job was located at One Dupont Circle – oy!.

So when we first began the Brianna Sullivan, paranormal mysteries, the Northern half encouraged the Southern half to place these whodunnits in her home state of Oklahoma. She agreed but passed on setting the stories in Muskogee. Instead she proposed Lottawatah and you've got to agree that it is the perfect, melodic name for a fictional town that's got more ghosts than people. Lottawatah is actually the name of a road, whose exit marker can be found on I-44, near the very real Lake Eufaula which we mention frequently in the stories.

Then we wrote Zoned for Murder and set it in Milford, New York, a fictional town based on the real villages that the Northern half knows outside of the Big Apple.

But whether it's Washington, DC, Lottawatah, Oklahoma, or now Milford, New York, the common thread is that the main characters are like fish out of water. Not sure of their place in the world, even when they're still living in familiar surroundings. For Mac Sullivan and Maggie Brooks, they still live in the same town, but they feel out of place as "home" has changed. Mac is a freshly-retired ex-cop, newly-minted private detective. He no longer knows the exact layout of his life. Maggie Brooks is a recent widow and her home, as she envisioned it with loving husband, doesn't exist anymore. She's got to create a new home for herself and children, even if they stay in the same house. And Brianna, who has no permanent roots, who has been traveling the country in a mobile home, hesitantly begins to create a life for herself in Lottawatah, a place she could never have imagined would feel like home, but in fact, has become just that.

All our stories are classic whodunnits, but in each, the characters, much like the authors, are on a journey to find home. And what we've learned – as our characters also do – is that home is a state of mind as much as a place.

Where's home for you?

 Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David

Zoned for Murder - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

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 (Exclusive at Amazon this month)
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 (Exclusive at Amazon this month)
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, April 12, 2012

For Future Reference

By Laura Spinella

Lucy would say to Ethel, “I have an idea!” Ethel’s eyes would bug like moon pies, the idea propelling the two into adventures that had her wearing the back end of a bull or wrapping candy with hysteria induced lightning speed. Of course, there’s the classic Harpo Marx mirror scene, and if Lucy were to get that coveted Richard Widmark grapefruit, it was up to Ethel to help her scale the wall.  Well, we all know none of those brilliant harebrained ideas came from Lucille Ball’s henna rinsed head.  They came from a staff of writers whose job it was to create twenty-two minutes of riveting, if not riotous, television.
            Even in black and white, fifty plus years ago, it was still all about the idea.  I like the concept of a team effort when it comes to television writing. It’s a natural path for a forum that thrives on timing, dialogue and the occasional pratfall.  The medium lends itself to a group effort.  Book writers, on the whole, aren’t of that nature. Of course, there is the exception to the rule, successful trends where big name writers, like Patterson, take on a protégé or sometimes an offspring. But as group, we work alone. It makes the idea portion a precious commodity.  Visualize the stereotypical writer, go ahead.  I bet we all conjure up the same scene: A haphazardly dressed, unshaven writer (man or woman, I’ll leave the hormonal issue up to you) staring willfully at a typewriter.  I don’t care if you don’t even remember typewriters,  It’s like separating Easter from chocolate. The two just go together. Inserted in the typewriter is the proverbial blank page, above the writer’s head an empty bubble. It waits with hemorrhoid like pain for an idea to insert itself.  As I said, a stereotype.
            Personally, the idea of approaching any keyboard with nary an idea scares the hell out of me.  Assuming we’ve replaced the typewriter with a computer, I’d be on Facebook in .03 seconds.  Ideas don’t come as a whole. They don’t even arrive in tasty chunks. For the most part, ideas are snippets and threads that, if I’m clever, weave into fabric.  If the scraps of ideas are good enough, eventually the fabric reveals a pattern that tells a story.
            Along with the blank page comes the proverbial author question: Where do you get your ideas?  When asked this, I tend to squirm, babbling nonsense that amounts to a message in a bottle. In truth, the answer is both so vague and tedious I find it impossible to answer.  I view it as an unfortunate fact, until I ponder people like Patrick Bourne. He’s a character in my WIP, not the main character, but the one whose presence assures me that snippets are where real ideas start.  A few years ago, I was doing a newspaper piece on a beautiful vintage property. The homeowner was there, a svelte gentleman for whom the word dashing was invented. He spoke only about his house, showing me period photographs of the Georgian manor.  He was fascinating, his mannerisms matching his bone structure, distinct and inviting.  I spent no more than five minutes with him.  He had to leave for work—he was an attorney. At least that’s what the housekeeper told me, a woman who left me to peruse the property at my leisure. I admired ornate woodwork, Italian art worth more than I made in a year, Chinese Chippendale chairs and Persian rugs.  I traveled room to room, or continent to continent, unable to get my mind off the man. I know that sounds like instant infatuation, which is plausible, as he was worthy. But that wasn’t it. There was something about him that simply captured my imagination. It intensified in his bedroom, finding his closet clearly divided and completely filled with men’s clothing. There was one photograph in the room, the man I’d met and an equally fetching African American man. I probably looked at the picture longer than I should have; it was hardly the point of my business in his bedroom.
Not long after, I went back to the newspaper and wrote a lovely Sunday feature about the grand manor and its historic ties to the community. Today, I couldn’t tell you what town it was in.  I couldn’t retrace my steps if you told me there was buried treasure in the basement. A few sentences back, I mentioned that the man had captured my imagination. For most people, that’s a disposable phrase. For a writer, it’s future reference. I won’t tell you that Patrick Bourne is the man I met that day. I didn't learn enough about him to possibly draw that conclusion. Our conversation was not personal; I don’t recall his name. Admittedly, I had privileged information, information that had time to stew and simmer in the back of my brain. All of this led to the snippets of thread that wove into fabric, creating Patrick Bourne.  Is Patrick gay? Yes. Is he an attorney?  Well, he is indeed. Are his mannerisms identical—they’re similar.  But more than anything, the blanks of his past, present and future were completely up to me, custom crafted to fit the man in my book. So while there is no team of writers, there are thousands of random yet cataloged snippets.  With any luck, a few will turn into perfectly wonderful ideas.        
BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is an RWA RITA Finalist for Best First Book, Wisconsin RWA Finalist for Best Mainstream Title and New Jersey RWA Winner, Best First Book, 2011. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER was voted a Favorite Book of 2011 at Visit Laura's site at 


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wait... I have an extra Aunt?

As the Wishkah Flows
by Bethany Maines

I don’t have that many shows that rate the “I have to be home to watch” treatment (aside from Castle), but I have to admit that one of the shows that I will make time for is the show about famous people researching their family tree – “Who Do You Think You Are?” I know that the stars researching their genealogy are spoon fed the information and I know that the show is pretty much just one extended commercial for, but I don’t care! It suckers me in every time! The stirring saga of generations, combined with the detective work makes for storylines I love. (Yeah, I’ve watched Thorn Birds, why?)

My mother’s mother does genealogy with even more fervor than she does crosswords; she’s got us tracked back to England where some ancestor we’re connected to some how signed the Magna Carte, thus setting a precedent for Democracy and striking a blow for freedom (you know, if you were rich). So up until last weekend I thought that a TV style reveal of a deep family secret was not to be because Grandma has got all our details pretty well sorted out. But I should have remembered… that’s for her side of the family; on my Dad’s side the details are a bit fuzzy.

Dad’s mother hated her hometown of Wishkah, WA and was notoriously evasive about her past, up to not “remembering” how many brothers and sisters she had. (How do you not remember that?) Dad had poked around, but he was never able to get very far. Then last week a friend pointed me to the Washington State Digital Archives. Between the archives,, and I managed to cobble together my Dad’s family tree and uncover a few family secrets!

The biggest secret began to take shape after a week of pulling at threads, and hunting down birth dates and maiden certificates. Between the records and a few hints from other family trees on I began to suspect that Grandma’s mother, Daisy, had been the victim of a serious crime. When Daisy was 12 or 13 (about 1898) she was kidnapped by her 53 year old uncle and they lived on the run from posses in the wilderness near Aberdeen for nine months before he was captured. By the 1900 census Daisy was 14 and back living with her parents and her baby, Ivy, and the uncle was living in the Walla Walla State Pen. By 15, she was married to a man named Walter (my grandmother’s father) and settling down to hopefully live happily ever after, but little Ivy is nowhere to be found.

If I wrote such things in a book, my editor would tell me to tone down the melodrama and try for a little more realism! No wonder my Grandma was slightly evasive about the number of her siblings; it’s possible Daisy never even told Grandma about Ivy or her origins.

I will continue to track down my mysterious Great Aunt Ivy – I can only hope this is one mystery that won’t be lost in time.