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25 posts from July 2005

July 31, 2005

Report from the Rock Tart

Rock, Rock Till You Drop

I meant to post this morning from Chicago, but my borrowed computer did not take a liking to The Lipstick Chronicles and wouldn't load the site.  But I'm back home with my report from the Def Leppard concert in Schaumburg, IL (just outside Chicago), as I know you're dying to hear how things went...well, Lori and Adrienne, anyway!  Gates opened at Alexian Field at 5:30 on Saturday night, and by the time Jim, Kim, Molly, Allison and I got to the parking lot and shelled out $20 to stow the Explorer for a few hours, at least several thousand folks were already in line, waiting to get into the minor league ballpark.  So we bided our time by looking for mullets and counting tattoos (way more tattoos than mullets), then finally made it onto the ball field to plunk ourselves down in the afternoon sun, as close to the stage as we could, despite the masses who'd beat us to it with blankets and beer.  I figure we were equivalent to being in the 30th row. 

The opening act dude was good, but I can't even remember his name (Randy Coleman, I think).  By that time, drunken gangs of thirtysomething guys standing in their socks on picnic blankets were shouting for Def Leppard.  At about 7:10, per my cell phone clock, the Leps took the stage and the sold-out stadium went nuts.  My sister, Allison, and I--as well as newly acquired buddies Kelly and Kristy--pushed up a little closer to get a better vantage point to take in Joe Elliott and the boys, who did not disappoint.  They looked hot and sounded great, despite Joe's gravelly voice having lost a little range since I'd last heard 'em live.  For an hour and a half, they jammed, hitting all the right notes with faves like "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Armageddon It," "Animal," "Women," "Photograph," "Rock of Ages," "Foolin'," and a couple tunes penned by other artists on their new CD of cover hits, like Badfinger's "No Matter What."  But then, y'all knew I'd be blissed out, didn't you?  It was awesome, baby! 

The other show was going on right in front of us. Three couples who'd consumed enough beer to finance horsefeed for the Budweiser Clydesdales for a year, stumbled around, dirty danced (girls with girls, girls with guys), smoked like proverbial chimneys, took cell phone pics of each other acting stupid, shot pics of Molly, Allison, me and Kristy rocking out, then took more pics of each other after pulling up their shirts and shoving the camera toward their boobs...oh, and did I mention the stumbling?  If any of them even saw one minute of Joe singing or Phil playing the guitar, I'd be genuinely shocked.  I hope next time I'm at a Def Leppard concert, those bozos stay home...or take it to a strip club.

Yeah, and there will be a next time.  My editor got us tickets to see Def in Chicago on September 4, during Loopfest, right on the tail-end of Bouchercon.  So if you're at the Sheraton downtown and see me grinning all of Labor Day weekend, you'll know why.

Sorry, Dusty, but Def Leppard rules!

Hysterically and Euphorically Yours,

Susan (or maybe I should have a better rock chick name, like Misty or Tawny...hmmm!)

July 28, 2005

Celebration in the Lux Box

We have lift-off!  Go to fullsize image Not just the space shuttle, but my career, which has been back rumbling on the launch pad these last several weeks.  Those of you who have been waiting for word with bated breath? Fearing the worst for poor

Nancy

? Well, I finally have a new book contract. I will be writing two more Blackbird mysteries for NAL/Signet, an imprint at Penguin.

I wrote a proposal, and my agent took it from there.  She is tough.  I mean tough!! But she’s also hilarious, not to mention very smart, very widely read, and I’m lucky to have her on my side. She has a very good sense of what’s new, what people are looking to read, how to out-smart the trends, not be a clone, how to give good ideas an even fresher spin. She’s bored by repetition. Irritated by explaining. Likes to read the ideas on the page, not listen to anyone blather. She challenges me. Urges me to take chances, write more layers and nuance. Like the good strategist she is, she bided her time with the publisher, waiting to strike at the right moment.

That moment came when my editor—gearing up for the RWA conference and stymied by a Power Point presentation--was too distracted to put up a fight, so we feel we got the best deal we could.  It’s a hard/soft deal with a nice bump in my advance and included an increase in my royalty rate, some bonuses attached to sales performance. Best of all, it’s a chance to write books I love to work on. I can’t wait.

My editor is a gem, too.  We share a common sensibility, and I trust her story judgment, her obsessive perfectionism.  (I know I’m going to shock her when I write certain kinds of scenes, which gives me great delight as I work.)  She knows I always want to improve myself and my books and am willing to work very hard, so she’s demanding, too.  We’re a good team.

So. New contract. Now what? 

Well, maybe I’ll go to a baseball game.  (Your cue to roll your eyes and say to yourself, “What roundabout nonsense is

Nancy

going to take us through this time before making her point?”)

Let me assure you I’m not a real baseball fan.  Barely understand the game, in fact.  It’s un-American, but there you have it. Ask me about polo, show-jumping or even dog shows, but I just don’t have the baseball gene.

But I love going.  Particularly because…and I know I should be ashamed to admit this….we watch baseball from the luxury boxes. 

My husband is a banker, and he gets the bank tickets once in a while to entertain (woo?) customers because that’s what the tickets are for.  If somebody cancels at the last minute, I’m the stand-in. From time to time, we are also invited to another box by my college roommate who’s now a VP at a Fortune 500 company that isn’t officially the owner of the team, but they are part of the owner’s consortium (you don’t really believe one guy can own a whole team, do you?) so we get to hang in the owner’s box right behind home plate.

They aren’t boxes at all, really, but more like rec rooms high in the stadium on a level where you can stroll to the really nice restaurants they have hidden up there or to the upscale ice cream stand or the bars with umbrella tables that overlook the field.  That’s if you feel like rubbing elbows with other people.  If you’re in the mood to be cozy, you stay in the box and chat up the 11 other guests who’ve been invited.

The box itself has a cherry-paneled living room with a buffet, a kitchenette, a very nice private bathroom (manly with marble and brass, no flowered wallpaper, thank you) a coat closet so you don’t clutter up the place, leather sofas and upholstered chairs where I sometimes lounge to read the newspapers (they’re free) or look through the lovely books of photographs lying around on the coffee tables or watch the big screen TV. (I’m perverse.---I like to tune the channel to a soap opera or maybe Oprah.)  The host of the box usually has a meal catered---ribs, pasta, sometimes steaks, a cheese plate, a fruit display, maybe ice sculptures if the guests are bigwigs, but also hot dogs with kraut and big Dagwoods and of course fresh popcorn.  Beer and soda in the fridge. Sometimes there’s waitstaff, but not usually. Help yourself.

At the big window, there’s a bar with stools for watching the game in air-conditioned comfort, or you can stroll out through the sliding glass doors to the seats, which are pretty much like the ones in the rest of the stadium except adjacent to other boxes where the women carry Gucci handbags and well-behaved men wear pressed khakis and loafers with tassels.  The kids are all giggly, though, darting back and forth to the fridge to grab more Pepsis. They often wear their Little League shirts, and they have sunburned noses.

Halfway through the game, a truly handsome young man Image Previewcomes knocking on the door.  The look in his eye says he has even more temptations to offer besides his splendid body.  With a seductive smile, he invites us out onto the walkway to see---take a deep breath, now---the dessert cart. You have never seen such a sight as the stadium dessert cart.  I’m talking about a vehicle the size of a pickup truck and with more oozing chocolate than…well, my pantry. Just looking at it can be an orgasmic experience. Everybody gets something gooey.

The last time I was there, one of the kids—he was maybe 10 and having a wonderful day--chose the most gigantic candy apple I have ever seen. It was more like the size of a small pumpkin and coated in a thick layer of caramel, then rolled in M&Ms and dusted with sprinkles.  The kid’s eyes were spinning as he took his first bite, his grin full of delight.  When I asked him if it was delicious, he clutched it with both hands, caramel stuck to his cheeks and cried, “It’s INSANE!”

Here I find plenty of good material for my books.  Our fellow guests are always interesting people. Good conversationalists. They discuss ideas. Cutting-edge insights into business, politics, social issues. They’re smart. Witty. Sure, there’s the occasional vapid young trophy wife, but you might be surprised to discover that there are very few assholes in the boxes. We all talk about our kids.  Who’s going off to college, what their summer jobs are. How their parents are enjoying retirement, how they volunteer in the community, the special events they organize to raise money for good causes. Sure, we watch a little baseball, but that’s not the only reason to be there.  It’s social. It’s business. It’s stimulating. It renews your appreciation of your fellow man.

Flashback to a September Saturday long, long ago: My parents requested I put on a tweed pants suit (I was 15!  Who owns a pants suit at that age, you ask?  Well, that’s another blog.) and we drove several hours to a famous hunt club.  We spent the day watching steeplechasing.  People tailgated with linens and crystal and silver.  Bentleys parked in the grass. Beautiful horses. People speaking other languages.  At least one private helicopter.

The previous night I had been drinking MD 20-20 with my hometown pals, probably smoking something too, out in an abandoned strip mine doing stunts with 4-wheel vehicles that luckily didn’t get us killed. As I recall, my “date” had recently lost his front teeth in a motorcycle accident.

The steeplechase was another world.  And once I glimpsed it, I knew which world my parents wanted for me.  Like that kid with the caramel on his cheeks, I was dazzled. 

Also challenged. My family is not big on giving stuff to children. I received a college education for free, for which I am very thankful, but mostly they showed me possibilities. The rest was up to me.

So I’ve worked really hard to get this new contract.  I’ve been to the lux box.  I want to stay there. I know The Big Time doesn’t come looking for me, that I have to make it happen. I’m setting out to write the best two books of my career because it’s not luck that got me where I am.  It’s hard work that puts all my wits and skill to the test. Fortunately, it’s work I love, love, love to do.

Thanks to NAL/Signet, my editor and super agent Meg for allowing me to do it again. I’m gonna knock your socks off.

Nancy

July 27, 2005

Sing Me Away

Sing Me Away

I am fiercely right-brained and numbers-challenged enough not to have balanced my checkbook in twenty years, if ever.  There’s something about math that makes my mind go blank.  How I was ever a card-carrying member of Mu Alpha Theta—the math honor society—is a freakin’ mystery, ranking right up there with black holes and Donald Trump’s hair.

Not surprisingly, I’ve always gravitated toward the arts, though my attempts at expressing myself through any means other than words produced less than spectacular results.  As an artist-wannabe, I drew hands well but never faces (go figure), dabbled in acrylics, and constructed a metal sculpture that my sister incredibly assumed was made by our very talented architect uncle.  She dug it out of a box in Mom’s basement and admired it so much that she put it on display in her apartment only to have me exclaim, “Oh, God, that’s ‘diving boy’!  I did that in seventh grade!”  I was far more excited than she.

Despite my failures, I’m still a huge fan of visual arts and attend as many art fairs and festivals in St. Louis as humanly possible, visit the Art Museum to see the latest exhibits, and pine over gorgeous abstracts that I’d long to own if only they didn’t cost as much as my car. 

My right brain also adores the Symphony, as there’s nothing so glorious to the ears as a Mozart piano concerto or Yo-Yo Ma on the cello.  But my biggest love is rock.  Always has been.  Despite my lifelong affection (affliction?) for Talbots and Ann Taylor--though Suzy Gorman made me swear never to wear another sweater set, so help me God--I am a closet rock ‘n’ roll groupie.  (See my “rock chick” photo at the end of this piece, courtesy of Suzy.)

Case in point:  I’m heading off to Chicago this weekend to see Def Leppard in a sold-out concert at a minor league ballpark in Schaumburg, and I’m giddy with anticipation.  I would be Joe Elliott’s love slave if asked, even with his slight beer gut and double chin.  His voice and the music feed something inside me like nothing else.  A few notes of “Photograph” or “Kick Love Into Motion” pushes all the right buttons and conjures up so many moments from my past, good and bad.  Falling in love, breaking-up, sad times, glory days.  I will never again hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me” without recalling a trip my sister and I made to Germany, so I could visit a guy I liked who was stationed in Stuttgart.  I listened to Hysteria over and over on my headphones and would break into song on the street: “I’m hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet, yeah.” Until even my wild-child sis would shush me because we’d attracted a following, like the Pied Piper, only with male Euro-trash, not rats (okay, same difference). 

Though I’m making a list for the iPod I’m planning to buy as soon as I get these revisions done (and, for which, a friend and I keep compiling a never-ending list of our favorite songs of all-time), I still love my Sony Walkman.  I wear it on the treadmill and switch the radio dial constantly.  I still get excited when I hear a beloved song play, out of the blue; one I thought I’d forgotten.  The other day it was a threesome of Night Ranger, “Sister Christian,” “When You Close Your Eyes,” and “Sing Me Away.” Whenever Kansas’s “Point of No Return” comes on, or Rush’s “Fly By Night,” I’m in heaven, if only for three and a half minutes at a time.

I still associate anything from Van Halen’s 5150 with a college fling that didn’t last.  Ditto .38 Special’s “Hold On Loosely,” which reminds me of Senior Prom and realizing Robert Maxwell and I were on the verge of breaking up…again.  These days, without Def Leppard, I couldn’t survive a road trip (ask Letha Albright or Laura Durham.)

It might surprise you to know that I don’t listen to music as I write, because it’s too distracting.  I have a rhythm in my head when I’m putting words on the page, so I keep my RealOne Player off.  But, when I’m not writing, there’s nothing I like more than filling my house with tunes and singing at the top of my lungs.

I asked a few friends about music and their lives, and I got some fun responses I’ll share.  Like this tale from Harley: 

Whenever I hear one of the songs from the jukebox at Phebe's, a restaurant where I waitressed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I'm reminded of that time in my life. Closing up at 4 a.m. and helping ourselves to what was behind the bar, then walking home to my apartment on the Lower East Side, falling into bed, and waking for a 9 o'clock acting class at NYU. I was having an affair with a guy from Rome and desperately in love. (The affair lasted 16 years, on and off.) I learned key Italian phrases, such as, "N. ha detto che io sono la ragazza piu bella di Nuova York" and "non ho capito nemmeno una parola che hai detto," which have served me well in life. The jukebox songs were Stevie Wonder's “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” Miles Davis's “Kind of Blue,” Steely Dan's “AJA,” and anything by Boz Scaggs.

Ah, Harley, those were the days, huh?  Though I’m curious about the Italian phrases.  Will they have the censors breathing down our necks?  Oh, what the heck.  We’ll just blame Nancy, as always.

Speaking of Ms. Nancy, the sauciest Book Tart admits that, while she prefers complete quiet when she writes, she does use certain CDs "as soundtracks to my various books.  Often it's Gershwin stuff (trying to be sophisticated for the Blackbirds). But, for the last book, it was Lyle Lovett.  Right now I’m hooked on Mark Knopfler, formerly of Dire Straits, but a brilliant songwriter--often very witty--and a quirky, always interesting performer. I love movie soundtracks, too.  The one for Much Ado About Nothing is always in my car. A song that reminds me of a specific moment?  Okay, get this:  Last year I had to take our beloved Dalmatian, Dolly, to the vet to be put down. She was a beautiful dog full of personality and my nearly constant companion for 14 years, but her heart was giving out and she was fainting all the time and clearly dizzy and frightened every waking minute, so it was time.  What a trauma.  When I got out to the car afterwards, bawling my eyes out, the music in my CD player was Enya.  So I associate Enya with dog funerals.  I can't stand to listen to her.”

Note to self:  Hold off on sending Nancy that CD of “Enya’s Selected Hits for Pet Funerals.”

Seriously, I can’t stand “The Wind Beneath My Wings” for a similar reason.  I’ve heard it sung (too many times off-key) at a record number of memorial services.  Although Mario Frangoulis did such a beautiful rendition at his Sheldon performance that he almost made me like it.

From my Texas buddy Leann Sweeney:  “I like a mixture of things ... Dave Matthews, Train, Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Clay Aiken, Josh Grobin ... all of those inspire me to write because the lyrics are so good. But when I'm writing, I like classical--especially piano concertos and violins. It seems to do something to my brain, which is odd because if I put classical music on in the car, it almost puts me to sleep. Rather tricky driving while asleep. So I listen to books in the car.”

As Eric Stone discovered when he was in town last weekend and I played tour guide, my car is full of Def Leppard. Well, I’m gearing up for the concert and already envisioning myself and the other aging rock dudes and chicks acting like idiots, merrily reliving our misspent youths and mouthing lyrics we’ve had memorized for years.  I’ll probably get beer spilled on my feet (like I did at Eric Clapton), or maybe even have to dodge flying bodies as the one-armed drummer tosses his sticks into the crowd (which happened at Bon Jovi and my sister was almost trampled).  I will sing at the top of my lungs to “Armageddon It,” “Animal,” and “Love Bites,” and I’ll lose my hearing for several days after because I stood too close to the amp tower.  And I will love every minute of it, rock tart that I am, deep in my heart.

Sing me away, baby.  Sing me away.

Suenewphoto_1 Rock on!

Susan

P.S.  Check out the July 15 Library Journal piece about chick lit, as Harley and I pop up in the mystery section.  And, while I’m on the subject, David Montgomery has hilarious tips on how to write chick lit mysteries on his blog.  I think he’s working on a stand-up routine for B-con, but don’t tell him I told you.  It’s a secret.

July 26, 2005

Motherhood, Jugs & Speed

I gotta get me a hook. Either that or a bigger pair of jugs and a better body to stick 'em on.

That's right, it's publicity time. That craven season in a book's life when the book itself seems somewhat incidental. What's really important is not my upcoming book, The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, but suddenly - me! That's what interests Big Media and if I don't have a hook then who am I really? Why, I'm nothing but a Vermont housewife who's written seven books apparently. Next!

Am I a celebrity who has trouble putting verb with noun but who excelled in the porn biz? Does my book offer professional oral sex tips? Have I had breast reduction/breast enhancement surgery and have I slept with heroin-addicted rockers? Check no for sleazy ho.

Have I finked on a former, famous bitchy boss (or bosses) by writing a tell all blessed by a divine title? Nope. Have I been in rehab? Jail? Did I nearly die from alcoholism on the streets of San Francisco only to be discovered as an unlikely and unwashed beacon of truth? Nuh-uh. Damn.

That makes me a writer without a platform and that makes me ho-hum in the publicity world. Though don't let that stop my fantastic publicity department at Dutton. My publicist there, who has often worked behind the scenes on my behalf before taking me over as one of her authors, somehow managed to get me a blurb in People magazine last spring. I don't know what she says to these editors, but I get the sense she plays up any personal element about me that they might find remotely interesting. (Former crime reporter who toyed with serial killers while she interviewed witnesses! Wrote Barbie spoof that nearly got her sued by Mattel!)

I love the word hyperbole. It's so much more civilized than saying exaggeration or fish tale or major fib.

Right now, my publicist tells me, there is a writer for Big Media who loves my books and who is dying to do a big feature. (Stop me if you've heard this before.) We're just waiting for the O.K. from the boss (whom, I hope, she has not finked on) to sign off and then, baby, it's The Big Time. With this piece in Big Media I have a shot at making the other Big Medias - USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, People and, gasp, maybe even TV.  (And we're not talking about the Wayne's World cable shows with the fake plastic plants on which I've been a familiar feature in my see-thru Bubbles outfit.)

"Has she read Secret Lives?" I, like a numbnut, eagerly asked the publicist.

"Well, 'er, no. But I sent her a Bubbles and she loved it."

Hold on. All this time I've been writing Bubbles with scant publicity and suddenly Bubbles is leading the show for a book about rich Ohio housewives who dabble in scandals? How did that happen?

A friend of mine has an agent who told her that seven-figure advances are impossible to get these days in this crazy business without the writer having a platform. Listen, I don't want a seven-figure advance. Okay, that's a lie.  I do. Scratch that.

Honestly, right now all I want is for The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives to have a shot. I want readers to read about the book in Big Media and say, "Hmm, that's something I might relate to. I'll have to give it a look when I'm at Barnes and Noble." And then - oh, to dream - when they get to Barnes and Noble in October for them to actually see the book upfront (instead of shoved in the ghetto, like my Bubbles books). At which point they'll say (stop it, Sarah, you're hallucinating), "Gee, I think I remember reading about that." And then they'll pick it up, be so captivated by the opening pages of Top Ten Lists for Hunting Hills Wives that they'll take it to the counter, buy it, read it, love it and recommend it to their friends. I pray they won't loan out the book.

This won't happen, though, not unless my wealthy sisters in law who were an inspiration for Secret Lives (invaluable word, inspiration) decide to sue me and therefore provide me with an instant, newsworthy platform. Stupid me for not trashing their families and revealing their truly personal secrets, for taking care in writing so that no one would be the wiser about who was really sleeping with whom. Who was popping amphetamines like Tic Tacs. Then again, I did hang a character on a certain notorious Cleveland stockbroker. Stockbrokers sue, don't they?

I can only hope he files before my pub date and that he has a suitable photo and a halfway decent on-air presence. Please oh please oh please may he have a really obnoxious lawyer who wears a cowboy hat and a string tie.

Sarah

July 25, 2005

Lipo, Lipo, Lipo

It all started in Costco.

Nancy Martin suggested Costco therapy, and Nancy never gives bad advice, so off I went. Guess what’s new at my Costco. A skin patch for weight loss. My friend Wendy spotted it. “Look,” she said. “The Slim Farm patch.”

“Slim Form,” I said, squinting at the label. “Forget it. I can’t wear a patch, my children would pull it off and stick it on themselves and they don’t need to lose weight. Not that it would work. Nothing over-the-counter works. Now, a slim farm—that I’d go for.”

The Slim Farm patch was next to The Brand of Diet Pill that Anna Nicole Smith is a Shill for. Which doesn’t work either. What do they take us for? Hey, I applaud Anna Nicole’s comeback, I attended her trial in bankruptcy court years ago, but does anyone really believe she lost a billion pounds by taking the 21st century equivalent of No-Doz? I’m not saying she didn’t use the product, I’m just suggesting that her bottle of pills may also have contained a treadmill, personal trainer, chef, prescription drugs, and perhaps a religious experience.

There’ve been allusions to a “no eating disorders” rule here at the Lipstick Chronicles, but we’re more anarchistic than that and anyway, I’m not talking eating disorders, I’m talking that ten pounds (or six pounds or two hundred thirty-six pounds) that a substantial percentage of American women want to lose to get to that magical place where they feel at the top of their game. It doesn’t take an advanced case of anorexia nervosa to harbor this ambition. The magic number is personal, arrived at by a complex calculation based on something once said to you in ninth grade gym class, an old photo, your height, some dress you have in the back of your closet and the date of your next high school reunion. The weight at which, even if nothing else is going right, even if work sucks and you’ve accidentally thrown a diaper in the washing machine (Huggies, not the cloth ones), and the dogs met up with a skunk, and CNN is too disturbing to watch, you can say, “At least I’m wearing my skinny jeans.”

Okay, maybe this is a disorder.

And not a universal one. Plenty of people may read this and think, “she’s nuts.” These include people under the age of twelve, people who didn’t grow up in America, Amish people, people battling illnesses or other real life crises, spiritually evolved people, naturally skinny people, and heterosexual male people.

So anyway, Wendy and I, having resisted the pull of the diet patch, were standing in the Costco checkout line, when she announced my goal weight was too low. “That was fine when you were twenty,” she said, “But now you need a little fat or you’ll look old. Fat puffs out wrinkles.”

Wrinkles. Or fat. “I choose wrinkles,” I said.

“No. Choose fat.”

“I can’t. Heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension—my family’s riddled with them.”

“Yes, but you’re not. What part of your body do you want to change?”

“My stomach,” I said. Housing thirteen-plus pounds of twins there three years ago left me with the
stomach of a chubby Shar-pei. I want to be a skinny Shar-pei.

That’s when Wendy said the “L” word. “Liposuction.”

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I screamed.

Call me a traitor to Hollywood. Call me a radical feminist. Lipo, face-lifts, eye jobs—it’s all the same to me. I can’t pay a team of medical professionals to slice me open and do things to my body that would make me vomit if I were awake to see them.

I’m not a Christian Scientist. I actually enjoy anesthesia. I’ve had one c-section, which I’ve subsequently watched on video, and two bunionectomies. If I were disfigured in an accident, would I use cosmetic procedures to fix things? In a heartbeat. If I’d been born with the nose Nicole Kidman wore in The Hours, would I alter it? Maybe. Breast reduction? Absolutely. But erase my wrinkles? Lose the ability to frown?

Ten years ago, when I was starring in a TV series, a d.p.—director of photography—suggested I “have some work done.” I told him I preferred to hang onto my repertoire of facial expressions, and if they wanted a younger actress, or one with no circles under her eyes, displaying only the “positive” emotions, they could probably find one. (My makeup artist was more succinct: “Light her better, creep.”)

Employability is one reason I can’t judge my friends for doing what my friends are doing. Plus, an
argument can be made for cosmetic surgery being the logical extension of facials, dyeing one’s hair, and capping one’s teeth. An expensive, life-threatening bikini wax, if you will.

But for me, it crosses a line, my line in the sand, as personal to me as that magic number I aspire to. It’s not just the Ick Factor. It’s not just that it’s at odds with values I try to impart to my children, that Snow White’s beauty is nice, but being kind to Dwarves is what it’s all about. It’s the violence being done to a body, perpetrated by skilled and dedicated physicians, in order to deny that we’re doing that thing we’re all doing: aging.

Home from Costco, Wendy is sending me e-mail chants: “Lipo. Lipo. Lipo.”

Because Wendy is not a shallow starlet, but a soulful, intelligent woman, a Buddhist with a poem hanging on her dining room wall written to her by Allen Ginsberg, because she’s a friend with my
happiness at heart, and there’s nothing I can tell her about politics or morality she hasn't already
considered, I e-mail back a response she might find meaningful.

“Michael Jackson. Joan Rivers. Cher.”

Happy Monday. Beware of Costco.
Harley

Dscn0060

Who dreams of a slim farm

July 24, 2005

Cake For Breakfast

It’s been a lousy week for the Book Tarts. A daughter went off to visit a scary country. A parent is in pain.  There was a death in Susan’s family. A dear friend faces a health crisis. And a talented, wonderful friend died tragically.

Go to fullsize image

I'm not even going to mention Eygpt or London or Iraq or the looming Supreme Court disaster. It's been bad enough on the home front.

So we figure we’re due for some fun. Cake for breakfast, if that’s your pleasure. When my husband travels and I have the house to myself, I usually use the time to get a nice long stretch of writing done. But sometimes---like this week--my brain just isn’t capable of functioning, so it’s time to put on my jammies, pull out GROSSE POINT BLANK (oooh, John....) and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby for a night of guilty pleasures. I leafed through Architecture Digest and talked on the phone with a longtime pal, read some pages of LITTLE CHILDREN by Tom Perrotta. (Whoa. Great stuff.) Just let myself go for an evening.

Sometimes I like to wander around the Target store. Not that I buy much of anything but extra shampoo and maybe some magazines. (I love Vanity Fair.  Okay, I really love The New Yorker, too, but VF is a guilty pleasure, right?) I like listening to the families who shop together.  Usually, nobody’s getting along.  There’s lots of squabbling and bawling and moms with stern faces, fathers who have zoned out.  All that strife and noise used to bug me. But now I think everybody’s just focused on themselves, that’s all.  Mom wants to imagine what she’d look like in that purple lace teddy, the kids are yearning for new toys and Dad would just like to wander around the electronics aisle in peace. Hey, we should all get some alone time, even in the Target, just to commune with our ids.

This morning I’m packing up a picnic and to take up to the rehab hospital for my mother's lunch. Some strawberries. A pint of raspberries. (Her fave.)

Turkey

sandwiches. Some Pringles and Diet Coke. Maybe a brownie to split. Why not live dangerously? We’ll sit on the patio outside her room in the sunshine if she’s allowed to get into a wheelchair today. Maybe work the New York Times crossword together and talk about her garden or maybe the book she’s reading. (Last I looked, she was reading a Rhys Bowen, but I just finished 1776 and gave it to her yesterday. We’re big McCullough fans.  Have you read his Johnstown Flood book?) So maybe we’ll talk about George Washington.

Next week when she’s allowed off the reservation for a few hours, I’ll take her to see Crash. (Have you seen it yet?  I was expecting a downer, but it’s really, really good.  I just heard somebody call Batman porn for gay men, which made me laugh. But Crash is excellent in so many ways. )

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Or maybe we’ll see the Penguin movie. She lives in a small town with no movie theater, so this might be a nice treat for her if she can stand to sit in a theater seat for a couple of hours. I doubt my mother will have popcorn because she’s a disciplined person and is careful about what she eats.

Me, I’m all about guilty pleasures.

So we’re taking suggestions here at The Lipstick Chronicles.  What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?  The ones that are legal, anyway. 

Nancy

July 22, 2005

What It's All About

What It's All About

I know people who can quote their Amazon numbers on an hourly basis, who know how many copies of their titles Ingram has sold this year (because they call the CECIL hotline more often than their mothers), and who can name-drop like a pro (so that they’re convinced that you’re convinced they’re someone special).

When I’m around these folks—who are better endured in small doses—I can’t help but wonder, “Is that it?  Is that what it’s about?”

I hope not.  I really do.  But, for some, I think it is, and it makes me sad for them, because I get the sense they don’t truly enjoy any part of this business we’re in.  Maybe they don’t really enjoy their lives in general, not if numbers and names mean so much to them.

I tend to drift toward people who laugh a lot, who share experiences and conversation with no strings attached, who adore their jobs, who like themselves, and who don’t believe that in order to succeed, others must fail.  These are the friends who advise, “For God’s sake, don’t pay attention to online numbers, ignore those mean Amazon reviews, don’t Google your name and don’t call Ingram!  It’ll only drive you nuts.  You’ll never win that game.  Never in a million years.”

And they’re right.  For so many, it is a game…a battle of one-upmanship. It’s establishing a pecking order, hanging with the right clique at the conventions, and being the BMOC. 

Basically, it’s like junior high, all over again.

There are a lot of Peter Pans out there; plenty of people who never grow up and who never stop competing.  It’s all about winning, accumulating, and besting.

It sounds very tiring to me.

The older I get, the more I try to avoid these sorts.  They’ll charm the pants off you, for sure, but it ain’t real.  They tell you it’s all about you, when it’s all about them.  They’re draining to be around, and they’re poison to your system.  Their priorities are themselves and always will be.  You are important to them so long as you can help them somehow.  So don’t try to convince yourself otherwise.  You’ll be wrong, and you will suffer for it.

Call me slow, but what I’m learning, too, is that what’s most important isn’t the noisemakers or numbers.  It’s the simple things, the moments we take for granted because they’re so ordinary.  The people who spend their days doing for others in such quiet ways that no one really “sees” their unselfishness until they’re gone. 

It’s hard sometimes to ignore the growing cacophony around us and to focus on why we’re here.  For me, it’s the writing.  I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and it’s always been my passion. It’s who I am, in many ways.  Before I was published (and it was a long ten years of struggle), I wrote for pleasure, for myself.  Never for anyone else.  Now under contract and bound by deadlines, I’m still writing for the same reasons.  Every story I create must entertain me, feed me, satisfy that part of my soul that craves language and word play and the rhythm of phrases. 

A fellow writer, whom I admire and who's also a great friend, confessed recently that, as he writes, he wonders, “What will my readers think of this?  Have I gone too far?  Have I not told enough?”  I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.  When I admitted that I don’t do that, don’t ever think about any reader but myself as I’m composing, he thought I was kidding.  But I wasn’t.

I have a feeling writers who constantly worry about what others think during the process must be more prone to block.  What pressure that has to be!  I admire anyone who does that and gets through it successfully.  It sounds way too tough.

If I endlessly fretted about the nasty fellow who publicly dissected a sentence from THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER and declared I couldn’t write worth a shit; if I constantly worried about the woman who announced that BLUE BLOOD was in her DNF—did not finish—pile; if I concerned myself with what anyone else thought of a scene I was creating during the process, I would be too paranoid to write a single sentence.

I write for the pure joy of it.  I write for love.  I write for self-fulfillment.  I write because I cannot imagine my life without words, just as I can’t imagine life without people in it who feel the same passion for whatever they do, for their families, for each day with blue skies, and every smile they create on someone else’s face. 

I write to release emotions I don’t know how to handle any other way.  (To my aunt Doris, I already miss you.  The world has lost a truly good soul, but you left such an imprint on so many hearts—and mine is only one—that you will never be forgotten.)

I will not think about numbers or mean people today, not for a while.  I have other more important things and people on my mind, and I don’t want to waste a single minute.

Peace,

Susan

July 21, 2005

Thirteen Events of My Life

I was asked to review Jane Smiley’s September release, THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE NOVEL,

Go to fullsize imageso I’ve been reading the ARC and wondering what I could possibly say about this work that could do it justice.  Getting inside the mind of a novelist I so admire has been an intimidating, yet exhilarating experience.  If you’re a fan of her work, you know Ms. Smiley’s skill and craft are superior to 99% of what’s published these days. Her ideas are always thought-provoking, her stories emotionally compelling.  Getting into her head to learn the origins of her own books and her analysis of 100 novels she read during a post 9-11 bout of writer’s block is riveting reading for someone who takes writing seriously.  So I’ve been glued to her pages, challenged, enlightened, cowed and of course impressed all over again by her talent, intellect and spirit. Everybody who sees writing as a journey of self-exploration as well as a means of making a living is going to be talking and thinking about this book in a few months. 

While reading, I also prepared for my mother’s hip replacement surgery and the family hullabaloo that goes along with relatives converging on my household.  Plus I was finishing the revisions of my spring 2006 release, a Blackbird mystery called HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO, which, as you might imagine, is rather at the opposite end of whatever scale measures literary merit. 

My revision process involves following my editor’s advice, almost point-by-point, but also taking a last, technical look at my work.  I spent a couple of weeks fine-tuning the story, clarifying characters, planting another red herring or two—stuff that makes the story better and more complex.  I did the self-edit thing, too (which I should do more carefully on this blog, I know!) to clean up my writing. 

But in the final push of the revision marathon, I sit down and cram the entire book into my head in one 18-hour period.  I need to know every comma, every word, every nuance of behavior.  I soak the whole thing into my brain so that I can be certain of simple stuff like not using the word “snog” in chapter two and again in chapter twelve because it’s just too unusual a word to appear twice in the same American mystery novel. I reassure myself that structure is okay, that all the scenes have a dramatic arc, that there’s something witty on every page, fresh ideas, a moral center, truth, and an ending that’s set up to be truly satisfying, yet hooks the reader for the next book because, after all, it’s a series and I want people to come back.

It’s also the last time I will take the emotional journey with my protagonist, and that’s the hard part.  After reading Nora’s story in a single day, I went to bed in a sweat of exhaustion.  I was shaking, unable to sleep.

Why was I so undone?  Well, I had practically the whole night to figure it out.

In college, I trained as an actor.  Okay, certainly not the kind of training that our own Book Tart Harley has. (When, oh, when is she going to tell us all about The Actor’s Studio??) I took most of the classes offered by our modest drama department before I figured out theater just wasn’t the place for me and switched to the all-purpose English major.  Before my departure, I did study The Method.  It’s been a long time ago, so perhaps I’ll get this wrong and Harley can set us right, but I learned to use sense memory to create behavior onstage.  If my character was supposed to suffer a terrible tragedy, say, my job was to recall some ghastly event from my own life and substitute my emotional response to make the character believable. 

Since I came from a pretty sheltered background, my own 19-year-old tragic depths included the day my birthday puppy was run over and killed by the grocery delivery truck, so you can see why the English department welcomed me with open arms. Go to fullsize image

But since those days I’ve had a few ups and downs like everyone else, and I’ve discovered a lot of sense memories that can be put to good use in my writing.  (Those of you who have actually read my books may recall a scene in SOME LIKE IT LETHAL in which Nora’s dog is run over, and you have to admit it’s pretty real. Now you know why!)  I dig up my emotional past when it comes time to writing how Nora feels. Her emotions come from my life experiences.

Which is why I was such a wet noodle after absorbing her whole journey in one sitting. All over again, I had experienced the life-threatening illness of my daughter, a car accident that was my stupid fault, a series of foolish and much regretted choices, betrayal by a friend I admired and thought I could trust, learning of my father’s death while trapped at a hotel room hundreds of miles from the rest of my family and in the midst of an idiotic convention, my own struggles with addiction. And a miscarriage.  Not to mention the glorious and hilarious emotions of other, more gladly remembered events.  Epic moments from my life, twisted into usefulness in my work. 

No wonder I was exhausted. 

We mine material where we can find it and tell stories we hope will be just as compelling to a reader as the actual events were to us when we first experienced them.  Jane Smiley will say this much more eloquently, so plan on buying her book.

Mother’s surgery went well, by the way.  She’s a feisty lady, an avid golfer, always physically active. She was in a lot of pain last night, though, and I was helpless to fix that.  She was suffering and had to do it alone, and I could see her struggling to keep her composure, but she did it.  My daughter had come along to visit, too, and Cassie did a good job of entertaining Mother for an hour with her raconteur-like effervescence.  Both of them behaved so bravely that I realized had a lump in my throat as I watched them. But at last Cassie and I said good-night and stepped out into the hallway to leave.  Which is when Cassie keeled over in a faint.

At last there was something I could do.  A nurse named Kelly and I hauled my daughter into a chair, shoved her head between her knees, administered cool cloths to the back of her neck, reassured her she shouldn’t be embarrassed and otherwise coaxed her back to consciousness.  I drove her home, made sure she got into her house before driving myself home, whereupon I had a terrible fight with my husband and went to bed without speaking to him.  Today I’m putting a pot roast into the oven before I go to visit my mother again.  Tell me what this all means, because I don’t know. 

But I suspect I’ll use it someday soon. 

In other news, we Tarts are wondering if our readers have any questions for us.  We're looking for ways to fill our weekends here on The Lipstick Chronicles.  So if you have some question to ask, go ahead.  We reserve the right not to answer, of course, but we'd like to be responsive to you. Fire away.

Nancy

July 20, 2005

The Clueless Chick's Guide to Vaguely Improper Author Etiquette

The Clueless Chick’s Guide to Vaguely Improper Author Etiquette

I don’t claim to be an expert on etiquette. Too many friends have seen me talk with my mouth full.  Though I do believe my Midwestern mother taught me well enough.  I can still quote the infamous ditty about “Mabel,” which goes like this: “Mabel, Mabel, if you’re able, get your elbows off the table.”  And I can’t imagine asking for anyone to pass the salt without prefacing the request with a “please.”  No, I was never sent to “Little Miss Manners” classes like Andy Kendricks, the debutante dropout in my mysteries; but I do know the difference between an olive fork and a pickle fork, which comes in very handy when dining at Cracker Barrel.

The more I’m on the road promoting books, the more I realize that everything I need to know about proper behavior I learned in kindergarten.  Or at least in grade school.  The basics my mother taught me way back when still seem to apply pretty well to almost everything I do, like these gold standards:

**Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve...unless you can’t find a Kleenex

**Don’t blow your nose in public...particularly if you honk like an elephant

**Don’t swallow your gum, or it takes seven years to digest...I believe Wrigley’s did a study on this using the Doublemint Twins as guinea pigs, God rest their twisted intestines

**Always wear clean underwear, because you never know when you may be in an accident... hence, the large balance on my Victoria’s Secret credit card

**Don’t run with scissors...tho’ it worked for Augusten Burroughs, didn’t it?

**Don’t put peas up your nose...have you noticed a recurring “nose” theme?

**Never sit with your knees apart...someone should tell the Chippendales that one.

For the most part, they're excellent rules, which I follow faithfully every lunar eclipse.

After six years of road trips promoting my novels, I’ve jotted down a few notes on the subject of “author etiquette,” which I’m happy to share, as I think my advice could prove helpful to writers and civilians alike.  I’m no Emily Post, however.  More like Marge Simpson (whose directness I admire).  If my pearls of wisdom seem obvious, well, it was late when I wrote this and my Ambien had already started to kick in, so cut me some slack. 

Susan’s Tried and True Road Rules:

**Cleanliness is next to Godliness.  I don’t know how often the Man Upstairs (oh, sorry, Nancy, I mean, the Goddess Upstairs) showers, but I’ll bet it’s everyday…and almost certainly before a book signing.  I can’t guarantee that smelling crisp and clean like Irish Spring will draw the buying hordes to an event, but it makes a far better impression than reeking of dead fish left to rot in the sun.

**Don’t be afraid to accept new friends into your life, particularly if you’ve met them at the airport killing time between plane changes.  Figure that people in airports are already prescreened to some extent, like dates at Match.com.  If they’re allowed to fly, you know they’re not on the terrorist watch list (although, Sarah, aren’t you on that?) and they’re not packing Bic lighters, tweezers, toenail clippers, or other weapons of mass destruction in their carry-on bags.  Sure, a few will turn out to be psychos disguised in Ralph Lauren, but that’s why you have Mace on your keychain, sweet pea.

**Never write an email when you’re extremely emotional.  You might think you’re sending an innocent yet snarky message directly to a dear friend about some catty bitch you did a signing with the night before; only you accidentally hit “reply all” and everyone on DorothyL reads it, blowing your tea cozy image to hell and earning you a three-book deal writing noir for Black Lizard.

**Never rearrange a bookseller’s display to more prominently showcase your titles, unless you’ve got Nate the Decorator from Oprah with you and he’s re-doing the space on Ms. Winfrey’s dime.  I know, word on the street is that turning your covers face-out at every opportunity is a must, but resist.  Instead, offer to sign any available stock, upon which “autographed” stickers will be slapped, and your books will often be rewarded with a delightful perch on a table or end-cap.  Think about it: when booksellers visit your house, they are not allowed to rearrange your furniture without your permission.  So fair’s fair, sugarplum.

**Always say “thank you” after a formal event, a stock signing, or any time that people have gone out of their way to help you.  If you don’t like writing notes on monogrammed linen stationery like moi, then a gracious email is better than nothing.  Like my great aunt Gertrude always said, “A thank you is worth a thousand peas up your nose, so long as your legs are crossed and you’re wearing clean underwear.”  That Gertie was a wise old woman.  (More on thank you notes below.)

All right, enough of my made-up advice (though it was on the money, wasn’t it?). I've a few final thoughts to impart, stolen from A SOUTHERN BELLE PRIMER, one of my favorite research tools.  My copy was sent to me by the wonderful Irene Hendricks of Birmingham, Alabama, several years back (thank you again, Irene).  These ten commandments of civility could easily have come from the mouth of Cissy Blevins Kendricks, Her Highness of Highland Park and socialite extraordinaire, scene-stealer in BLUE BLOOD and THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER, though I’ve actually swiped them from Maryln Schwartz.  Pay attention, please.

A Southern Belle’s Golden Rules:

  1. Never serve pink lemonade at your Junior League committee meetings.  It has Communist overtones.
  2. Always wear white when you walk down the aisle (even if it’s for the third time).
  3. Never wear white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day.  The only exception, of course, is if you’re a bride.  Bridesmaids, however, must never wear white shoes.  Bridesmaids’ shoes should match the punch.
  4. It doesn’t matter if you marry a man who doesn’t know the difference between a shrimp fork and a pickle fork; you can always teach him.  Just make sure he can afford to buy you both.
  5. Never date your sorority sister’s ex-husband until at least three years after the divorce.  You might need her to write your daughter a Kappa Kappa Gamma recommendation one day.  Just remember it’s a lot easier to find a new man than it is to get your daughter into Kappa.
  6. Never marry a man whose mother and grandmother owned silver plate instead of real silver.  He’s not use to quality, and he’ll try to cheat you on the divorce settlement.
  7. It’s never too soon to write a thank you note.  Some belles take the notes and a pen with them to a party.  In the middle of the evening, they go into the ladies’ room and write a thank-you describing how much they enjoyed the dinner.  Then they put the note in the mailbox as they leave.  The hostess receives it the first thing in the morning.  Sure, this is compulsive, but you’re going to have to be compulsive if you want to be president of the Junior League.
  8. Never show your bosom before evening and never wear an ankle bracelet before anything.  Girls who wear ankle bracelets usually wind up twirling batons.  There has never been a baton twirler who became Miss America, and there’s certainly never been a baton twirler in the Junior League.
  9. Never chew gum in public and never smoke on the street.
  10. Buy low.  Sell high.

Ah, I’m so glad I’m not the only one poking fun at debutantes.  And, yes, I know, so many rules, so little time to break them.  You’ll just have to sit up straight and try harder.

Cheers,

Susan

Smcbridesstrohmeyer P.S.  Here’s a photo of me and Sarah, on our best behavior at the SW-MWA conference in Houston.  I’m pretending to be Veronica Lake.

July 19, 2005

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Perhaps you, as a devoted TLC reader, have been asking yourself lately, "Hmm. I wonder how Sarah Bob20dylan201aStrohmeyer feels about Bob Dylan." Well today is your lucky day because I have had a revelation, considering I spent Saturday night with Mr. Zimmerman himself. Wait, make that twenty two Mr. Zimmermans, including a couple of Ms. Zimmerwomans thrown in for diversity. I do live in Vermont, after all.

One of the perks of being a published author in a small town (at 8,000 residents Montpelier is the nation's smallest state capital), is that you quickly reach local celebrity status without, really, having to do much at all. That is how I, along with an eclectic group of local and not-so-local celebrities, came to judge the Second Annual "It Ain't Me Babe... or is it?" Great Green Mountain Bob Dylan Wanna-Be Contest.

Now I like Dylan - I do believe that by state statute my Vermont driver's license would be revoked if I didn't. But only in small doses. I can't take too much whining about some woman being an idiot and him being a rolling stone blowing in the wind. I'm also 42, and, naturally, a bit resentful toward Bob Dylan's "we-were-so-freaking-principled" generation that preceded me. Geesh. My generation didn't even get a title or a letter. Somewhere between Baby Boomers and X is where we were squeezed, grasping for jobs as we listened to Supertramp and The Cars and The Knack.

Don't get me started.

Anyway, I was more than slightly chagrined to discover the night of the contest that the event was expected to last four hours.Twenty-two Bob Dylans, each allowed to sing a Dylan song of his choice including all the verses. Do you know how many verses are in the average Dylan song?

Frantic thoughts raced through my mind. Could I plead a sudden bout of the intestinal flu? Could I impale myself on one of the many harmonicas strapped to everyone's chest? Suicide seemed to be a fitting possibility, though we were in the Unitarian Church (like, duh.)

I was heartened slightly to meet the other judges who included Bob Yellin, a banjo player with the Greenbriar Boys of the 1960s and an acquaintance of the real Dylan. Michael Rispoli, an actor on The Sopranos - a very nice guy who with his, "Howyoudoin," never slipped out of character. (Though he did get us all Diet Cokes). There was also Mary Wheeler, an "actress and writer" and founder of Bitches Without Borders. (How great is that?) And finally, Marilyn Skoglund. Uh, make that, The Hon. Marilyn Skoglund, aka Ruby Ditch, who happens to be a Vermont Supreme Court Justice.

Marilyn and I have known each other for years, ever since she was a circuit riding judge in the north country and I was a news reporter. She's a single mother who's kind of vague about the times she's been married. She is blond and gorgeous.  Twice a week she sings with a band. She never went to law school (in Vermont a J.D. is not necessary to be a lawyer, isn't that awesome?), though she did go to college for sculpting. And she once slept with Bob Dylan. At least, I think she did. I'm not sure. She said I had to buy her a drink before she would tell me the whole story.

"It was the Sixties," she explained on Saturday night. "And he wasn't singing."

Suddenly, my life felt very boring.

And so it began. Dylan after Dylan. Most were men, most were not dressed up. What they were was passionate about his music, his poetry. Not one song was duplicated. There was not one Blowin' in the Wind, not one The Times they Are A Changin', though a very cute girl did sing Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door. There was an elementary school principal and a delivery driver and a lawyer and a meat inspector for the USDA - all aspiring to be Bob Dylan. One woman was a janitor who sang Maggie's Farm a capella, as she did while mopping the floors at a local school.

Few hammed it up - as I would have done. But the one who stole the show sang an obscure Dylan song that if you don't own - even if you aren't a die hard fan - you should download off of iTunes right now. At least when you're done with this blog. It's called Talkin' About the Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues and it's a riot. The hot, sweaty audience of standing room only burst into massive applause when he (they were all named Bob) was finished.Bilde

I finally got it. I finally got what Dylan was all about. I think it was the janitor who swayed me in the end.

When it was over and I was home sipping an ice cold margarita, I did what I never in a million years would have predicted I'd do after watching twenty-two Dylan impersonators. I played With God on Our Side - Dylan and Joan Baez. (Cringe.) And I made plans to buy his whole collection. All 1,000 songs.

I must be an idiot. It's a wonder I still know how to breathe.

Sarah