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29 posts from July 2006

July 31, 2006

In the Dark

In the Dark

by Susan the Electrified

We forget sometimes how spoiled we are and how much we take for granted:  drinkable water running from our taps, telephone service we carry around in our purses and pockets, even computers that fit into the palms of our hands and connect us to the world.

Oh, yeah, and electricity, the stuff that makes everything hum:  the AC, fridge, lights, washer, dryer, toaster, PC, water heater, curling iron.

My condo is all-electric.  And, when I wrote this piece in my trusty spiral notebook, it was completely unelectrified.  I had no power for two days in July.  Forty-eight hours without the AC, and I felt severely voltage deprived.

I brushed my teeth by candlelight because the bathroom has no window.  I couldn't get online to connect with friends or answer questions posed by the students in my EarthlyCharms.com workshop.  We had to toss everything perishable from the freezer and fridge (but not before I ate the melted Minty Chocolate Chip frozen yogurt).  I told Ed it was a good thing we hadn't made a shopping run before the storm, which left mostly spoiled yogurt, soy canola mayo, various juices, and hot cheese to dispose of.  (If Dominos didn't deliver, we would often starve.)  The beer was okay, however, which made Ed very happy.

Storm As I update this piece, it's a week post-storm, and at least 100,000 people are still without power.  That's a lot fewer than the estimated 545,000 who were without electricity at one point.  The houses of my parents, my brother, and so many others went black as the 40-80 mph winds blew through late on Wednesday.  Ironically, my condo made it through the worst of it just fine.  My lights didn't go out until the next night when a transformer blew behind the local Bread Co.  (Eileen Dreyer called to see if I was okay, as she had lights, being that her grid also supports a hospital and two fire stations.  She told me that a Bread Company and Kinkos going down didn't quite carry the same weight.)

I awoke at 3 a.m., some time after the power went out, thinking I should turn the thermostat down (which I always keep around 80 degrees, which doesn't make Ed as happy as the beer).  Only when I flipped the hall light on...well, it didn't go on.  I looked out the window at my neighborhood and pretty  much saw pitch.  I moaned loudly, and Ed asked, "What is it?"

"Power's out, and it's a hundred degrees," I whined, as he got out his battery-powered laptop and played Nelly's "It's Getting Hot in Here."  Computer dudes.  They're hilarious.  Somehow, we both managed to get back to sleep, despite the heat.

The next morning, while he headed off to his air-conditioned office, I stayed home, dealing with phone calls involving the house closing and the condo sale, sweating, watching the cats pant, and feeling relieved when another storm rushed through and briefly dropped the temp.  It had been triple digits in St. Louis, like everywhere else.  I'll admit it.  I like my AC when we hit 100 degrees, much as I like my lights.

I remember thinking, as a kid, that the lights going out was fun.  Candles were cool.  Candle Drinking milk before it spoiled and eating melted ice cream rocked.  Since when did growing up mean getting so dependent on being hard-wired?  How could I ever imagine that having no power for two days would mean feeling so disconnected?

What I discovered was surprising.  How quickly I stopped worrying about emails and blogs and whatever was happening on the 'Net.  Since I couldn't use the treadmill, I went up to the local high school with my mom and zipped around the track in the sun, while she walked back and forth in the shade of the straight-away.  Ed and I sat and talked by candlelight at night, without the boob tube blaring.  Folks who generally emailed actually called on the phone, and I realized how nice it was to hear their voices.  My neighbors were out and about instead of being closed-up inside with their air-conditioning.  We could hear conversations through the open windows, which was oddly entertaining.

Then the lights went on unexpectedly, and things picked up right where they'd left off.

I consider the victims of horrific natural disasters, and I know how miniscule any temporary discomfort was in the scheme of things.  But it did make me realize how much about my life I take for granted, how much more connected I can feel off-line when I don't spend so much time on-line, and how glad I am that all I lost were lights.  My family was safe.  Few residents of my city were injured, and fewer died.  Hopefully, by the time you read this, everyone has had power restored and can fill up their fridges again.

Sometimes there is a bright side to being left in the dark.

Cheers,

Susan

P.S.  Good news on the book front:  As a result of some very serendipitous events, I'll be writing a YA (non-mystery) series for Random House/Delacorte about debutantes in my old stomping grounds of Houston, Texas, sort of along the lines of the "Gossip Girl" books.  Ah, another chance to dredge up high school memories!  Should be a hoot!  Also, thanks for all the good wishes for the Anthony Award nomination for THE GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER.  What a truly nice surprise!  Oh, and we closed on the house and started moving in...hooray!  If I'm off-line a lot these days, you'll know why (um, yeah, I should be writing but I'm probably at Lowes or Home Depot).

July 30, 2006

Samurai Sudoku and Other Addictions

Sudoku_july_2006_1
Let's face it, we all have our addictions.  Chocolate, caffiene, nicotine, narcotics, green M&Ms, moonshine - whatever it is, we've got to have it.  For those of us with truly addictive personalities - and you know who you are - the only thing keeping us from living in a refrigerator box under the bridge is finding socially acceptable addictions.  I've got so many, it's hard to keep track, but none of them are criminal, at least as of the last time I checked The New York Times. 

Cautionary note:  If the Supreme Court is in session; things could change at any moment.

One of my addictions is puzzles.  I've done puzzles all my life.  My favorites have always been logic puzzles.  Hold on for the literary connection: Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll is widely credited with popularizing logic puzzles known as syllogisms in a book called The Game of Symbolic Logic.  It had to have been the drugs. 

My most enduring favorites are the Logic Grid puzzles - you know, the ones where you get clues like:
  1. A taxi carrying five friends is taking them all home.
  2. Betty and the teacher do not live on the same street.
  3. Debbie's last name is not Smith.
  4. The sun is in their eyes.
The question is: Who lives in a red house?

OK, that's not a good example, but you know which ones I mean.  There are other kinds too, like Battleships and Knights and Knaves.  I love them.  I carry books of them with me and get funny looks at the pool.  I don't care.   My only real beef is that it's getting harder to find them on nice paper - I don't like doing puzzles on that cheap newsprint paper.

So I was delighted when I discovered Sudoku over a year ago.  At first glance, Sudoku looks like a math puzzle, which I hate.  It is not.  It is pure logic - even the hardest of them can be done with no guessing.  I hate guessing.  It upsets the balance of my universe.  I spend enough time battling uncertainty in my real life.  When I turn to my puzzles, I want to know they can be mastered with thought and reasoning, not luck or chance.  When designed properly, there is only one perfect solution.  I like that - perfection achievable through brain power.

Anyone can do Sudoku - just because it involves numbers and not letters, doesn't make it harder for people who don't have a math brain.  I'll say it again: there is no math.  It's a matter of placing numbers in grids so that the numbers 1 -9 appear only once in each column, row, and box.  No division.  No square roots.  No integers.  Just numbers - they could be letters or symbols or cupcakes, or shots of booze.  In fact, you can find Sudoku puzzles that are done with all of those things.

Like all addictive personalities, I soon tired of the straight up Sudoku and needed a better rush.  I tried the Super Sudoku with the 16x16 grids.  I tried the ones that mix numbers and letters.  I was satisfied for awhile with the Squiggly Sudoku, Squggly_sudoku_july_2006 where the boxes are not square, but are oddly shaped, forcing the eye and the mind to think differently.  I found myself starting in the back of the book and finding no challenge, setting off for another.

I was ready to give it up, and then I found Samurai Sudoku.  It's five Sudoku puzzles in an interlocking grid.  Just looking at it was a thrill.  It shouldn't be any harder than just doing five puzzles, but it is. Perhaps it's the visual, or the thought that there is more than one level of reasoning required.  Whatever it is, it's a good fix, at least for now.

So what's your fix these days? 
Samurai_sudoku_july_2006

July 29, 2006

Alison Gaylin

The Tarts welcome Alison Gaylin, author of the Edgar nominated HIDE YOUR EYES, not to mention first rate blogger at First Offenders and who has a deliciously intriguing day job . . .   

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Last year, I finally realized a longtime dream and became a published author.  My first two books--HIDE YOUR EYES and YOU KILL ME--both came out from Signet in 2005.  And HIDE YOUR EYES was nominated for an Edgar. When I tell most people this, they're happy for me. They say things like, "That's great." Or, "How exciting for you," or, "What's an Edgar?" But the truth is, they don't care that much. They don't want to engage me over my mystery writing career. They don't want to sit me down and buy me drinks and pick my brain for hours . . . Until I tell them about my day job.

For the past three years, I've worked as an articles editor at In Touch. For you intellectuals out there, In Touch is the one you see in supermarket check-out lines.  "(Your magazine's right next to the candy, Mama!" says my very impressed five-year-old.) It's not a tabloid; it's a glossy celebrity weekly, much like US or People, only it has the distinction of being only $1.99.  (We like to call it Cheaple.) As articles editor, I spend all day reading raw reporting files and crafting them into 200-500 word articles about Brangelina, TomKat, Jen and Vince, Britney and K-Fed . . . you name it. That means I get all the gossip first. And I can't tell you how popular this makes me at cocktail parties.

Oh, they play smart with me at first. "I never read that stuff," they said.  ("Neither do I," I reply.) "Why does anyone even care?" they say. ("I have no idea.  But it pays for my health insurance.") Then there's that long pause, the probing look. And the questions--the real questions they've been dying to ask--come flying out in a torrent:  "What the deal with Tom and Katie?" "Will Jessica and Nick ever get back together?" "How could Denise do that to Heather? They were best friends!"

I am their guilty pleasure.

The fact is, if the people I meet at cocktail parties really saw what I do in the course of a day, they'd be bored to tears. I sit in a cubicle in Englewood Clifs, New Jersey, trying to create breathless prose about Angelina's skinny arms or Britney's baby bump, thinking, "health insurance, health insurance, health insurance . . . " Sometimes, they give me one line of reporting--maybe Jessica Simpson looked a little down while shopping at Barney's--and I have to stretch it into a 550-word cover story about how her heart is broken forever.

I make mountains out of celebrity molehills on a regular basis.  Hell, some of the "big" stories--the ones that play out for months in In Touch's covers--don't even seem all that earth-shattering when you really look at them. Take Brad/Je/Angelina.  Brad and Jen were married for four years. They had no kids, and by most accounts, they were both such workaholics they barely saw each other. Brad met someone else--someone he had more in common with--so he and Jen decided to get a divorce. Sorry, but big, fat freakin' deal.  More scandalous stuff happens in my hometown every day of the week. But because all three of these people look as if they've been sculpted out of fine marble, it's the biggest story of this past year. Everybody I meet is asking me about it. My daughter's pre-school teacher needs to know what really happened on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. My mother is thisclose to sending Jen a sympathy card.

Or Jessica Simpson. She was married to Nick for two years about she's about 12 years old. You can't tell me hers is a heartbreak that will last forever.

Yes, In Touch covers with Brad and Angelina or Jessica on them routinely sell a million copies. And, deep down, I understand why. Seeing people like that--people who have that kind of money and fame and sheer physical perfection--act like, well, human beings. That's what's really shocking. That is the real guilty pleasure.

One final note: There really is some outrageous celebrity gossip out there. I've heard stories that would melt your jawbone. But that stuff we can't print because we're a family publication. That stuff . . . with poetic license, of course . . . is what I'm saving for my next book.

(Alison's next book, TRASH, is a standalone about a reluctant supermarket tabloid reporter who uncovers the seamy and murderous underside of Hollywood. It'll be out from NAL in September, 2007.)

July 28, 2006

It's All About the Book Clubs

It's All About the Book Clubs Blog_women_reading_2
I love my Book Clubs, both as a bookseller and a reader.  My oldest, now in our 11th year, is made up of women lawyers.  We read mainly mysteries, but we also read other things, if they come highly recommended.  As a reader, I've read books and discovered new authors I might never have known without my book clubs.  Great books like:
  • The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte and Margaret Jull Costa;
  • The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey; and
  • Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie.
I met the one and only Nancy Martin at our book club.  And I met our beloved Bubbles Yablonsky, then later Sarah Strohmeyer through our book club.  Before Lisa Scottoline became a big time author, we read "Everywhere that Mary Went" - her first book - for our very first book club meeting.  Lisa still comes to see our book club whenever she tours.  We've combined book club meetings with continuing education courses featuring other lady lawyers like Lisa, Amy Gutman and the wonderful Michele Martinez.  This fall, we're doing one with Twist Phelan.

For authors, it's a great way to get some real feedback from a manageably-sized group that represents serious readers, as well as a way to sell more books.  For a bookseller, it's a way to treat existing customers to the thrill of meeting an author, and to - hopefully - get new customers in the door.  For a reader, it's the best of everything - great recommendations, the chance to have fun with people of like interests, and the opportunity to talk to wonderful authors.

There are so many book clubs out there - not just for mysteries, but for readers of romance, sci fi, foodies, gardeners, dog lovers, people with purple hair - you name it, and there's a book group.  Publishing statistics indicate that there are tens of thousands of book clubs in the United States alone, including the mega ones like Oprah and Kelly Ripa.  Tons of people have attended at least one book club meeting.  That is the kind of info that makes me happy - sure we've got more crackheads than ever, but we've got more readers, too.  It's not all bad news out there.

Sometimes at book club we really discuss the book and the issues raised therein.  Sometimes, we tell jokes and talk about the movies we saw since we last met.  We have dinner together, and we talk.  Grown-up, interesting talk. It's not just the books - it's the fellowship and the friendship.  The same kind of thing I'm finding here on The Lipstick Chronicles.

So - here's the idea - let's start our own, online Book Club.  The first thing we need is a catchy name - more on that in a minute.  Each month, we'll pick a book, give everyone some time to read it, and then discuss it on the appointed Friday.  Once we get rolling, we can announce the books in advance so you'll have plenty of time to read them.

Now - the name of the Book Club - the Tarts tossed around some ideas, but couldn't come up with one that thrilled everybody - so we're having - wait for it -

                                        A CONTEST!

Name our Book Club!  The winner will get a box of goodies, including autographed copies of some of the Tarts' latest books, and other cool stuff. Margie says she has a few things to contribute which frankly, scares me.  Not to worry, one of the Tarts will supervise.

Here's how you can enter - simply submit your suggested name in the Comment section, and we'll get in touch with the winner.  If you're shy, just e-mail me directly by clicking on my e-mail address: RebeccaBookseller@verizon.net.  Or, you can e-mail your favorite Book Tart through her web page or e-mail address.  The contest will end on August 12th, and we'll have our first 'meeting' on September 1st.  Our first book will be (drum roll please):

Blog_cinderella_pact_1 The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer

We picked this book because - first and foremost - it's a terrific book.  Plus, we figured most of you have it already, and if not, why?  If you have it, read it - or re-read it if you wish.  If you don't, you've got plenty of time to get it before September 1st.  You can get an autographed copy by going to:

http://www.mysterylovers.com/detail.asp?Product_ID=0525949577 or by calling (888) 800-6078.

Now - start thinking up good names for The Lipstick Chronicles Book Club, and in the mean time, please tell the rest of us about your favorite Book Club.

July 27, 2006

Revisions

"Dear Editor:  Enclosed you will find my finished manuscript. I know you'll read it with your usual thorough diligence. Please be ruthless! As always, I want to produce the best story possible, and I am eager to do whatever's necessary to make the book the best it can be.

Yours, Nancy

Those are the words I type in the letter that accompanies my "finished" manuscript when I turn it into my editor every year. I want her to know that I'm willing to make as many revisions as needed to make the book wonderful.

But what I really want to write is, "Here's this f$%!ing stupid manuscript.  I never want to see it again. If  you don't like it, shred it or burn it and scatter the ashes over Staten Island.  Just don't send it back to me because if I'm forced to read this shit again, I may climb the nearest clock tower and lay waste to--"

Well, you get the idea.

This year, I tried to finish a manuscript while doing a driving tour of several states to promote HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO. (Which is still selling well, thank you for asking.) I know there are authors who can write in coffee shops, baseball fields and maybe speeding rockets and certainly hotel rooms, but I'm not one of them anymore. I need silence. In fact, I need days and days of serenity to gather my thoughts sufficiently to write a book. My brain just can't take more stimulus than a cup of cold tea.

This year's resulting manuscript was . . . not great. I usually don't turn in a manuscript until I know it's worthy, but this time I simply ran out of steam. Not to mention time.  My editor, always polite, was getting nervous, I could tell. So I turned it in against my better judgment and waited for the revision phone call. When it came, my editor's tone of voice tipped me off immediately. She didn't like it. Not at all. The book was too dark. The plot didn't make sense. The characters were lackluster. The final chapter included a colossal cheap shot. I had lots of work to do.

Nothing she said surprised me. I knew most of it already and appreciated hearing her suggestions for fixing the problems.  The rest of her criticisms I was grateful to hear, too.  I know she's someone who really wants to help me make the book better.

So . . . I had major revisions to do for the first time in many moons. As I dug into the book, I came up with even more changes I felt needed to be made. The biggest challenge for me is cramming the whole story and all the language into my head at one time so I know that if a detail appears on page 6, I must be sure it matches the corresponding reference on page 387. I must grasp the whole story in one gigantic mental document, and I need all my poor wits to do it.

Then my best friend died, my elderly mother broke her wrist, both daughters graduated from their respective schools (hey, good stress is still stress!) and I came down with pneumonia. In July. With the clock ticking, I struggled to do the re-write. I tried to be witty and amusing during a stretch of personal lousiness. I had no choice. I had to do it because the book is due in production next week. My dear husband took a 5 day motorcycle trip in 90+ temperatures to give me complete peace, and I worked 16-hour days the whole time he was gone. I wore the same bathrobe for days and ate tuna fish from cans, alternating with Wendy's mandarin chicken salads. And an entire pound of peanut M&Ms. Plus lots and lots of Rolaids. My garden withered. The Book Tarts sent me encouraging emails. My neighbor phoned to make sure my corpse wasn't rotting on the living room floor.

But I did it. I finished the sucker.

Hey, it was hard work.  But it wasn't standing on a street corner in Fallujah watching for suicide bombers or even passing mandarin chicken salads out the drive-up window at Wendy's in the blazing hot sun.  It's the work I choose to do.

When, in a blaze of triumphant glory, I sent the revised ms yesterday, I immediately received two out-of-office auto replies--one from my agent and one from my editor. They're at the RWA convention listening to writers wrangle about what romance is and isn't. I could have revised for another week instead of breaking my neck to get it done. But, no.

C'est la vie.

During all this angst, my daughter Cassie was studying for the bar exam--that horrible, awful, very bad test that all lawyers must suffer. This grueling rite of passage takes two days to complete, and they don't even get the results for 8 weeks. It's killer pressure because their careers hinge on successfully preparing for and taking this one incredibly difficult exam. And my daughter--what a trooper!--studied without exhibiting any of the melodrama she grew up observing at home.  (That would be . . . uh, me.) She was self-disciplined to the n-th degree and managed to keep her sanity, too. Her marriage stayed together. She didn't have a meltdown. Best of all, she thinks she passed.

So in my post-deadline glow, I'm reminded that this is what a writing career is--showing up and getting the work done in time even when you're sick of it and would rather watch Oprah and eat mango popsicles. You stick your butt in the chair and keep it there until the damn thing is finished. And then you do it all over again.

Damn, Nancy, you're thinking. Another lecture about self-discipline?

Uh, no. Today I'm celebrating letting go. Trusting your reader friends or your agent or your editor to step in and point out what needs to be done. And doing what they tell you to do because they're the ones who are thinking straight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to clean up the Post-It notes that are ankle deep here in my office.

July 26, 2006

You Killed Him

By Elaine Viets

"I’m so upset," a mystery lover told me. "My favorite series has been cancelled. I love his work."

She named a writer I’ll call John D. Christie.

"I have all his books," she said. "Now there won’t be any more. It’s so sad."

"Where did you buy his books?" I already knew the answer.

"At that cute used bookstore near the tea shop. Why?"

"You killed him," I said.

She looked shocked.

"I know you didn’t mean to, but every time you bought a used book, you put a nail in his career coffin."

"But I heard John D. speak at the library. He said he didn’t care where we got his books, as long as we read them."

"We all say that. We’re too polite to tell the truth: ‘Thanks for buying my books used. I love not getting royalties.’ "

"Oh," she said. "I didn’t think about that."

"Here’s something else you didn’t think about. John D.’s publisher looked at his sales figures and cancelled the series. Used book sales don’t count. John’s series was killed because he didn’t sell enough paperback originals."

The publishing news has been particularly depressing lately. A critically-acclaimed writer was told by her editor to write a new series – under another name. An award-winning author’s series is on hiatus. He’s writing a standalone. Two hardcover authors I know are now writing paperback originals. And paperback original authors are getting dropped.

The reason? Not enough sales.

I know you can’t buy every book new. I sure can’t. I read four or five mysteries a week, and I’d go broke buying them all.

But if you can’t afford to buy new, do the next best thing: Get them at your library. That way, the author will have some sales.

Writers are an endangered species. Only you can save us. Here are some things you can do:

(1) Don’t share books.

We love it when you talk up your favorite authors. But make your friends get their own

books. You know you won’t get your signed copy back – not without coffee stains. Besides, your friends can afford a seven-dollar paperback. They get hours of entertainment for less than a double latte.

If they can’t buy the book, there’s always the library. Or give them store gift cards for birthdays and holidays. The books they’ll buy will always fit them.

(2) Don’t send books.

These words make writers wince: "I loved your new paperback. I sent my copy to my mother in Seattle. She gave it to her sister in Springfield, who sent it to her daughter in New York."

You’ve spent nearly five dollars to mail a seven-dollar book.

(3) Don’t buy ARCs.

Authors hate Advance Reading Copies. Reviewers get ARCs so they can write about the books before they hit the stores. Booksellers get ARCs as a selling tool.

When you buy an ARC, you don’t get the book that’s sold in the stores. An ARC is riddled with typos. It’s not supposed to be sold. The first clue is that "Not for Sale" on the cover.

Unfortunately, plenty of ARCs wind up on eBay. When you buy them, you deprive your favorite author of a book sale. Eventually, you’ll deprive yourself of a favorite author.

Here’s something else writers love to hear: "I bought your hardcover used online for five bucks. That’s cheaper than the paperback."

And you wonder why your favorite hardcover author is suddenly in paperback? Your bargain cost that author his career.

Can you buy any books secondhand?

Sure. Any writer in the top ten on the New York Times bestseller list. You aren’t going to hurt Dan Brown, James Patterson or John Grisham. Pass their used books around to all your friends. Mail them from San Diego to Saskatoon.

Buy dead authors’ books used. Agatha Christie is long past caring if you buy her books new.

But if you want to keep reading the rest of us, buy our books new.

Don’t love us to death.

July 25, 2006

The Green-Eyed Monstress

By Sarah

There should be a rule that all talented bestselling authors - especially those who hit The List first Jealousy time out of the gate - must be morose and ugly or at least have spent most of their lives being miserable until that moment when they wrote The Big Novel. I'd be okay with that.

Petty? You bet. Because as much as I've fought this urge, convinced myself I wasn't, that my mother's daughter couldn't be, I have to admit that I am easily made, swallow, jealous. And this is a very bad thing to be, especially in this business.

I don't have to tell you, loyal and noble readers of The Lipstick Chronicles, that jealousy is wrong on Jealousy_230x150_m all sorts of levels. Jealousy is an evil emotion. It corrodes the soul. It turns you into one of those bitter, smoking, hard-drinking, scowling authors at conferences who sneers at the young prodigies bouncing onto the dais to receive his/her award. Jealousy makes you nasty.

But worst of all, it ruins your writing.

If you're jealous, you're focused on something else besides your characters/plot/setting when you're sitting down at the computer. (Or writing in my head while painting the hallway, as I've been doing this week. At least that's my excuse.) If you're jealous, you're not supporting your fellow writers in the roller coaster world of publishing. You're not creating good Karma, a word my husband says I liberally - and incorrectly - toss around like salt on buttered corn. He's probably right.

That lecture over, it is so hard not to be jealous. I remember when I first started sending out my stuff, i.e., first started getting rejected, and the authors I used to admire suddenly transformed into mockeries. How come they got published? What do they have that I don't? (By the way, don't answer that question about yourself - ever!)

It didn't stop after I got published, either. The moment of joy was fleeting when I learned there were such things as sell-throughs. Suddenly, I found my name on all types of lists. Barnes and Noble. Ingram. Borders. Waldenbooks. Amazon. These were lists my publisher had every week, lists that compared how my book was doing to everyone else's. Whether I moved up or down on the list was virtually out of my control once the book was published, yet I was supposed to answer for its actions. All I knew was that there were plenty of writers above me. Writers readers liked more. Writers my editor would mention, asking in a curious tone why they were doing better than I was.

And I was expected to be happy for their success? Was I not human?

That was eight books ago (eight books?) and since then I've learned to deal, grown up a bit. I've had great role models, including the Tarts, who've taught me that the growth of fellow writers is something to celebrate, not envy. Nancy Martin, an international bestseller, is always gracious when someone hits a list or goes into multiple printings. And I've enjoyed, really enjoyed, watching Elaine go from paperback to hardcover and hit #1 on the Independent Mystery Bookstore Association bestseller lists with MURDER UNLEASHED. While Harley's ad in the NEW YORK TIMES for DATING IS MURDER and DATING DEAD MEN was so thrilling, it could have been for my own book.

Still, there will always be Emily Giffin. I've read all her books now and it's been torture. Never mind that she hit the New York Times list with her debut, SOMETHING BORROWED and that she's freaking gorgeous and thin. (This, I've decided, is just plain cruel.) But she can also, sigh, write. Shit.

Okay, this is my most ugly secret, the jealousy thing. And now that I've confessed it, I hope you Bliss_1 won't breathe a word to anyone. Because I would be mortified if it got out that Sarah Strohmeyer is a petty, jealous writer. Really, I'm working on it. The only reason I told you was because I knew you'd understand. Thanks for keeping mum,

Sarah

July 24, 2006

In Search of Hot Sex

The Tarts welcome author Bob Morris, who has given us hours of--uhm--pleasure.  We also want his freelance job, which often requires arduous research on luxury cruise ships or trips that require him to review Caribbean restaurants. Go ahead.  Check out his website.  The beach photo is our fave:             

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Shortly after my first novel, Bahamarama, came out, I got a call from my mother.  She'd read the book--hey, she's my mother--and so had some of her friends who live in the small, formerly rural, Florida town where I grew up. They'd all gotten together to talk about it.

"Everyone loved the book.  The setting and the characters were wonderful.  It was funny and smart," my mother said.  "But..."

"But what, Mom?"

"Well, we all agreed there just wasn't enough sex."

I can't remember exactly how I responded, but I think it involved a lot of mumbling. Then we started talking about her recipe for fried chicken and how it should always be cooked in an electric skillet not cast iron and always with Crisco from the can not Wesson oil.

But....

You're reached a curious juncture in life when your 80-year-old mom tells you that you need more sex. It causes you to, well, reflect. And fidget. And to re-think things.

So when I sat down to write Jamaica Me Dead, I took my mother's critique to heart. I set it at an anything-goes, all-inclusive resort modeled loosely after Negril's infamous "Hedonism II," a place I had recently visisted to conduct, uh, research. Only I called the fictional resort "Libido." It boasted such features as a naked flume ride, naked volleyball, naked yoga--naked everything--and a "Bondage Night," where women led their men around on dog leashes. The hero, Zack Chasteen, has to contend with two hot-to-trot gals from Tennesseee who are intent on jumping his bones at every turn.

Yes, compared to my first book, there was more sex. Or at least, more stuff that hinted at sex. And I would get emails from readers like, " You know that part where Zack chews on the bark from a tropical tree and it gives him a 12-hour erection? How did you come up with that?"

And I could honestly answer, "Well, I just wanted to make my mom happy."

Still, most of the sex was the kind of sex that guys typically write about: the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety. When things start to get hot and heavy, most guy writers figure it is time to cue up the next chapter, a chapter, most likely, where fights are fought and guns are fired and stuff explodes. Okay, a few guys are good at writing sex scenes. But just between you and me?  I don't trust 'em....

Still, from a mercenary marketing standpoint, I know how important it is for me to figure out a way to inject sex into my books. Women buy 70% of all books and, in this particular instance, it is abundantly clear what women want. And it ain't brilliant dialogue.

I've tried, really I have. In early drafts of Bermuda Schwartz, which comes out in February, I included some scenes where Zack Chasteen and his ladylove, Barbara Pickering, frolic in the way men and women were deisgned to frolic. I didn't actually break out in a sweat as I was writing these passages, but I thought I had done a fairly decent job. No, scratch that. I thought I had done a masterful job, combining my own astute insights into the man-woman thang and a sensitivity of endless bounds.

"Get rid of this crap," my wife said when she read it.

"Why?" I asked. "I thought the book could use a little sex."

"It can, but this isn't it."

"What's wrong with it?"

"Well, for one thing, it's kinda wham-bam, thank you ma'am.  And for another..."

"Yes," I said. "I'm listening.

"For another, I don't want people I know to read this and think that's how we do it."

"You mean, that particular technique?"

"Yes, that. Or any technique, for that matter."

"So what you're saying is..."

"What I'm saying is, maybe you ought to forget writing about sex."

But I think she needs to talk to my mom.

July 23, 2006

Global Warming: No shit, it's Real!

Global Warming: No shit, it’s Real

I don’t need to see the Al Gore documentary. I am here to tell you that Global Warming is real. Trust me on this - it’s the only explanation.

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Why am I so sure? Well, I’ll tell you - otherwise, there would be no point, now would there? I am sure because last weekend, I got a sunburn. North of the Mason-Dixon line in July, when I already have a decent base.

I don’t get sunburned. OK, there was that one unfortunate incident when I feel asleep at Myrtle Beach, but that really doesn’t count, since it was the first day of Spring Break, and I had no base tan and so forth - other than that aberration, I’ve been tanning since I was thirteen and I do not burn.

I have Mediterranean skin - my people don’t burn, we tan. We tan to a lovely shade of brown and stay that way as long as we are out in the sun. Yes, as I matured, I started using real sunscreen, as opposed to the teenage favorites of Hawaiian Tropic Royal Oil (it magnifies the sun!), or straight up baby oil and iodine or tea. How weird was that crap? These days, my daily moisturizer has sunscreen in it, and I use additional sunscreen when I’m outside, which is a pain in the ass, but I don’t want to die from skin cancer, so I do it anyway.

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This year, I was in Florida twice over the winter, and at the Jersey shore in June, so having a solid base, I felt no fear in spending the day at the pool, which was the only comfortable place to be in 100 degree weather.

So naturally, I was shocked when I got out of the shower that evening and noticed that my face was red. Not a nice coppery color, but red. Other parts were red too. What the hell is going on? To make matters worse, both kids were gone for the night, and my planned activities had to be cancelled because of the sunburn. My husband’s beard, normally a very attractive feature, became the source of potential pain. Pain just doesn’t do it for me, but if you’re into it, I’ll bet a sunburn would be just the ticket. Knowing what I know now, if I had fair skin, I’d be nocturnal.

You can conduct all the studies you want - but I’m sold. There is something majorly screwed up with the atmosphere. Something that used to protect us from the sun and other dangerous shit is no longer there. There is something less between us and the great beyond than there used to be.

Thus, a message to Mr. Gore and others trying to get people to pay attention: know your audience. Most people are too shallow and self-absorbed to take it to heart when you warn them about ozone levels and the long-term impact on our environment. You need to hit them where it hurts - where it actually hurts. Sunburn hurts, man. Plus, you get Vanity Points if people realize they may not be able to get a suntan unless we figure out how to control Global Warming. Movie stars alone would jump on any bandwagon that might impact their fun in the sun and the subsequent golden glow. In no time, we’d have another version of those rubber bracelets and everything.  Yes, I know they're so yesterday, but I like them and I want them to come back.

Global Warming: It's not just for tree-huggers anymore.  This shit is real.

July 21, 2006

Vibrators Gone Mainstream

Vibrators Gone Mainstream

By Margie, left in charge while the Book Tarts take Friday off to enjoy the summer weather, so she decided to post whatever she wanted, since no one is here to check.

I knew if I was patient enough, I’d live to see the day that anyone could buy a vibrator at the gas station. It kind of puts a whole new spin on alternative fuels.

We’d already made such progress from the mail order days of the plain brown wrappers and the parking in the back of the scumbag XXX Video stores, that I didn’t dare hope for this kind of universal acceptance. The first real sign that we were getting somewhere was when catalogs like The Sharper Image and Time for You started carrying ‘personal massagers’. Who was kidding who? What part of your person do you need a cordless, C-shaped, waterproof yet easily sterilizable buzzing machine to massage? Anyone who could fit that thing anywhere else belongs in a circus (and P.S., call me).

By the mid-‘90s, a woman with taste could choose any number of nicely decorated stores to browse a selection of vibrators in various sizes, shapes and colors. You can mark the evolution of feminism any way you want, but I for one consider the opening of the higher class adult toy stores catering to women as a milestone.

The next step was thanks to Dr. Ruth, who came out said it:

Orgasms are important for better health.

(They cure headaches! They reduce stress! And my favorite: They’re great aerobic exercise! It beats the hell out of 20 minutes on the treadmill, I’ll tell you that.)

Dr. Ruth even recommended a vibrator. Of course, calling the Eroscillator just a vibrator is like calling the 1958 Ferrari 250 GTS California just a car. The Eroscillator is a scary looking thing at first blush, but friends who have it swear by it. Oh, the swearing they do - trust me, honey, you do not want to be in the next apartment if you have any sexual issues whatsoever. Really, it’s like a live taping of an Ellora’s Cave audio book. Do they make those? Hmmm, I may have to check that out later.

Then came the sex toy parties. Oh happy day! Now we could get together and drink with our friends and take home a party favor that’s ten times better than any tupperware container. No more leftovers, if you know what I mean. Plus, the demonstrations were informative and educational. There is nothing I like better than learning a little something - or a big something, depending on the mood.

Things were humming along nicely and then, a bump in the road. Who would have thought that national security concerns would have an impact on vibrators? Not my friend Carol, who was more than a little surprised to see someone waving her vibrator around in the carry-on luggage inspection area. More recently, many airport personnel will ask if you’d like to have your bags inspected in private. Too late for Carol, but maybe not for someone else.

The immediate response was the marketing of vibrators shaped like ordinary items you’d pack in a suitcase: lipstick, cigars, shop vacs, flashlights, baseball bats, laser pointers, that kind of thing. Heh - just wanted to see if you were paying attention. One of my friends carries one on her key chain, right next to the Swiss Army Knife. After the unfortunate Carousel incident of 2005, my policy is not to approach anyone holding either of those things in a way that indicates intent.

I thought we had reached the peak of vibrator accessibility, but what do you know -great ideas pop up everywhere. There, in the gas station mini-mart, is a vibrator cleverly disguised as a razor. The first time I saw it, I just laughed - who is going to fall for this - a razor, my ass - who needs a waterproof razor that vibrates? I’ll tell you who - people with nosy roommates. And people with kids who don’t want to have to answer a lot of questions. But mainly, it’s got to be people who have to travel a lot. Now, no matter what kind of battery operated companion you’re packing, you can duct tape a Lady Shick to the side and call it a razor. It’s freakin’ brilliant.

Come on and tell Aunt Margie - what keeps you buzzing?