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28 posts from September 2006

September 20, 2006

The Sugar Daddy Chair

By Elaine Viets

"Last night, my husband went shopping with me," I said. "I bought a terrific designer jacket. On sale, too."

My friends were shocked into admiration. "You got your husband to shop with you? How did you do it?"

Easy. I sat him in the sugar daddy chair.

When I buy good clothes, I want a second opinion. I don’t trust the salesperson. After all, I used to be one. I’ve lied to more women than any male heartbreaker. I trust Don’s opinion, and I know he has good taste. He married me.

Besides, I believe many men like to shop. They just hate to shop with women. It’s our fault, really. We’ve made shopping a terrifying experience for them.

Men know what happens when they truthfully answer that fatal question: "Does this dress make me look fat?"

Vague questions such as, "Is this color good on me?" make strong men weep with frustration.

I quit asking those a long time ago. I ask one simple question any man can answer:

"Does this outfit make me look like a dork?"

To make the shopping experience less frightening, I make sure he’s sitting in the sugar daddy chair.

The sugar daddy chair is the big, comfortable chair in the middle of a designer dress shop. The man sits there like an emperor on a throne, and the woman comes out in various states of undress and parades around in outfits. The guy in the sugar daddy chair gives them a thumbs up or down.

Sometimes, he shells out the cash for the clothes. Sometimes, the man delivers his opinion, and the woman does the buying.

Either way, a man usually loves the sugar daddy chair. It makes him feel rich, wicked and slightly decadent. Also, cared for. While I’m changing clothes, attractive saleswomen fuss over him, bringing newspapers, coffee and glossy magazines. The last thing they want is for a man to get up and look at the prices.

Here are a few things you can do to optimize the sugar-daddy chair experience:

– Don’t drag it out.

Men don’t have our shopping stamina. Don’t haul the guy around to twenty stores. Pre-shop, and narrow it down to one or two stores. Next, weed out the obviously bad outfits. Then show him five or six choices and ask his opinion.

– Speak his language.

Men are more direct than women. They don’t understand the nuances of "cute." They don’t want to hear that pink is the new black. They won’t discuss fabric and lapel widths.

Stick to the basics. Let him know if this outfit is for the office (less skin) or for evening (more skin).

Men like the sugar daddy chair. It makes them feel powerful and in control. Shopping becomes a manly experience. Also, a pleasant one.

Don is always eager to sit in the sugar daddy chair. He practically runs to the car when I ask him to go shopping.

Of course, it could be all that beer I buy him afterward.

September 19, 2006

My Blind Date With Jim McGreevey, Gay Governor

By Sarah

It was two a.m. when Renee, a kind of kooky reporter I worked with at a now defunct New Jersey newspaper, finally got me to agree to go on a blind date with Jim McGreevey. 160pxjimmcgreevey_1

I just wanted Renee to go to sleep. She wouldn't. She was afraid of sleep. She was also afraid an oncoming car on Route 27 would hit her if she drove home at night, which was why she was staying over in my apartment. She wanted to stay up and talk about her mother, about her psychiatrist, about oncoming headlights, about her fear of death and about Jim, a recent Harvard M.B.A., the brightest lawyer in New Jersey, she said, a guy really eager "to meet someone."

"Why don't you date him?" I asked.

"Not my type," she said.

That should have been my first clue.

I have not been on many blind dates with men who would later become governor of New Jersey and lead double lives in which they propositioned Israeli interns by pulling down their pants in limos. But that was one blind date where, upon seeing Jim waiting for me in a Perth Amboy union hall where he was finishing up a political function, I seriously considered turning tail and running home.

His tan Macintosh was slung over his arm like an elderly early birder, his platypus lips pouted as he checked his watch impatiently and he was short. He was, hands down, the most unappealing man I'd ever seen. I couldn't leave, however, because my mother had brought me up better. That would be cruel. Besides, maybe he had a great personality, like Renee said.

He didn't.

"You're late," he snapped, marching to the door. "We'll take my car."

It was dark, rainy and we were in the part of New Jersey everyone thinks of as New Jersey. Strip stores. Chemical plants. Sulfuric yellow skies. We were headed to Rahway.

"Why Rahway?" I asked as Jim clutched the wheel and sped through winding streets.

"Rahway Democrats. Just to stop by."

The Rahway Democrats? Just what kind date was this? A very bad one. Listen, I was twenty two and going to a Rahway Democratic Club dinner was not my idea of a spiffy Friday on the town. Plus, Jim and I could not agree on anything. I distinctly remember it as the night that a decision was reached in the CBS/Westmoreland trial. I was pro-CBS; Jim was anti CBS. In fact, my impression of him was that he was extremely conservative, right down to his devout Roman Catholic roots. How do you know a first date's bad? When you are disagreeing about abortion before it even starts.

And it only got worse. The Rahway Democrats met in a low red building in a neighborhood with lots of funeral homes. There was a band. A coat check. I did not want to check my coat. I wasn't staying. Jim said, "Check your coat." I checked it.

Then, taking me by the hand, he smiled and said, "Ready for show time?" And in a blink, Jim transformed into a gracious, charming and political, well, animal. The ladies gathered at the tables eating their chicken dinners squealed with delight and poked their husbands. "This is the young man I've been telling you about."

"This is Sarah, my girlfriend," was how Jim introduced me. We had known each other all of a half hour.

It was bizarre. I tried to discreetly slip my hand from his grasp. No. He held it firmly as he went from table to table, smiling, greeting and pretending to be a straight man with a girlfriend, a good Catholic boy who would get married and have six kids, their pictures all framed and displayed on his mother's white doily-covered piano. He had done this routine, I realized later, many, many times before.

He was desperate to be attached to a woman. One of his first questions when I got in the car was whether or not I was Catholic. Shocked, I told him I was Episcopalian and he frowned since, clearly, I would not fit the role. Later, I would derive perverse glee in learning that Jim and his lover, Mark O'Donnell, attend Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church where gays are welcomed.

Jim didn't hold a political office then. But five or six years later he would become mayor of Woodbridge next door and would win a seat on the New Jersey General Assembly. That blind date was my first peek into how early one needs to lay the foundation to establish a political career, including hitting up "the rubber chicken dinners," as Jim called them.

When I told him that I was going to get a cab and leave the Rahway Democrats, he whined about having paid $60 a plate for each of us, but acquiesced. We ended up at a nearby restaurant eating chicken tarragon. The place was practically empty. The minutes ticked by mournfully. The only point when Jim brightened was in talking about the next day: he had a six a.m. pancake breakfast with "the seniors."

Today is the on-sale date of Jim's memoir: The Confession. I might flip through it, looking for Mrs_mcgreevey references to that period in his life when he was trying to meet a wife and play straight. Since our disastrous date, I've watched him rise through New Jersey politics. My friends have sent me clips from the New York Times showing Jim on the lawn of Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion, with his wife. "This could have been you, Mrs. McGreevey!" written in the margins. I remember leaving the bathroom in a New Jersey rest area and flinching upon seeing his smiling face peering down from me on the wall.

But of all these events, nothing surprises me more than the phone call I received a few days after our date. It was Jim wanting to know if we could do it again.

September 18, 2006

is this about ME?

is this about ME?
By Harley

My mom was dead six years before I created a mother for Wollie, my series’ protagonist. I wanted to give my own Mom plenty of time to get settled in on the next plane of existence, reach a higher vibration, or even reincarnate, in order to spare her social embarrassment. You know, in case anyone in the Afterlife is reading chick lit.

Not that Wollie’s mother was based on my mom. I mean, not exactly. But I was wary. Years ago I had a pair of essays in the SANTA MONICA REVIEW, a literary biannual. I took a copy home for Christmas. My sister Ann read it and said, “This is great. Don’t show it to Mom.”

“How come?” I asked.

“Because you describe her as a card-carrying New Ager with high blood pressure who writes letters to her guardian angel.”

Oh, that. Please. A couple of sentences in a 36-page piece. Would that really upset her? Yes. Along with many sterling qualities, Mom also had the “what will people think?” gene. I opted not to show her the SANTA MONICA REVIEW, and I never regretted it.

Shortly thereafter, I switched to fiction. Fiction, with its tacit “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental . . .” disclaimer, would take care of that dilemma.

You’d think.

Recently my author’s copies of THIS IS CHICK LIT showed up on the doorstep. THIS IS CHICK LIT is an anthology featuring a short story I wrote called “The Infidelity Diet.” My husband, who never gets to see my work-in-progress, grabbed it, started reading, and put it down after a page. “Is this about ME?” he asked.

“No, it’s fiction,” I said. “If it’s about anyone, it’s about me.”

“It looks like it’s about me.” he said.

“No, I just borrowed a few things. Your shirt size. Your food allergy. Couple of great lines you’ve said over the years. Your car.”

“People are going to think it’s about me.”

Impossible. The guy in the story has a different name, career, hair color, and bedroom carpet. His dogs are named Spot and Plain instead of Jinn and Fez. If anyone has cause for complaint about “The Infidelity Diet,” it’s my grandmother, Larry Flynt, and Richard the Third, but they’re not grousing.
Besides, it’s not like the litigation department at my husband’s law firm is fighting over copies of THIS IS CHICK LIT, any more than my mom’s cronies in Duluth were reading and discussing the SANTA MONICA REVIEW back in 1993.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that writers do this. Don’t we? Does anyone out there not do this? Borrow (okay, steal) from people we know because the people we know are more interesting than any we could invent from scratch? It’s not cloning, it’s just a couple of chromosomes, and maybe an old Eraserhead T-shirt. If I’m writing about a man that my character’s in love with, how could he not resemble my husband?

I think it comes with the territory. You marry an obstetrician, she’s going to be getting calls in the middle of the night. Marry a musician, and he’ll nod and appear to be listening to you while actually going over chord progressions in his head. Marry a writer, she’ll steal your brand of deodorant and your mother’s maiden name.

For the record, half the readers of “The Infidelity Diet” think the husband’s cheating on the wife and half do not. I have not taken to watching pornographic movies. And no one has yet reported significant weight loss as a result of reading the story.

And now, I’m off to write a letter to my guardian angel.

Happy Monday!

September 17, 2006

Heart of Tartness Book Club Announcement

The Book Tarts are delighted to announce that the next book for the Heart of Tartness Book Club will be:

Definitely_dead Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Our next online meeting will be on Friday, October 13th - spooky!  Here's a link to buy this great book (and to order any other book too, including Charlaine's previous books in the series):

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris herself will be with us that day, which is a real treat, so mark your calendar, get this terrific book and read!

September 16, 2006

Bo and Hope and Derek and Meredith

Bo and Hope and Derek and Meredith

By Rebecca, sucker for a super couple

Bo_and_hope The other night, when I was awake because I have menopausal insomnia (it's OK, guys, I am not going there today) I discovered something on You Tube.  You Tube, by the by, is the ultimate Internet time waster.  You can get scenes from the old Soap Operas.  That's right, fans of Bo and Hope, it's all there - the spoiled wedding to Larry Welch, the motorcycles, the cleavage.  Fans have actually put together montages of the relationship.  Next time I'm up and not working on taxes, I'm going in search of Patch and Kayla.  I already ran through Mason Capwell and Mary - a tear jerker with a capital C  (ouch - sorry Harley, couldn't resist).

Still with me?  Those were examples of super couples from the '80s.  There was no TiVo - no digital cable, and even VCRs were too expensive to be mainstream.  You either caught the wedding, or you did not.  One of my college roommates actually ditched a final because of a soap opera wedding.  She made it up the next day, but still, that's a bit much.  And the day Reagan was shot happened to be part of Luke and Laura's wedding, so you can imagine the outrage that followed the pre-emption.

I don't have time to watch the soaps any more, so I have to rely on regular TV for my super couples.  This is bad because I think most network TV is crap - I mean, more reality shows?  Please.  I was already over this after watching about five minutes of Jerry Springer - who is now actually on a reality TV competition. 

Derek_and_meredith So the only TV super couple I really follow are Meredith and Derek on Grey's Anatomy.  When we last saw them, they had partially disrobed, engaged in some non-surgical yet invasive procedures in an exam room, re-dressed and joined their dates at the Hospital Prom.  The season ender had Meredith looking from her boyfriend, McVet, to her former boyfriend, McDreamy (still married - that was last year's cliff hanger) in a classic triangulated freeze frame. This was after I had already cried through the entire episode which involved putting their dog to sleep, and the near death/miracle surgery/wedding proposal/unexpected death of another beloved (and hot) character.  Oh - and the fatal diagnosis for the teenager who just lost her virginity.  And the bad boy who steps up to the plate and becomes gallant when everyone else is at a loss.  Plus the heartbroken guy who gets a little something.  Whoa - I almost forgot the star surgeon who may have lost control of his hand from a gunshot wound. Gee, it sounds so formulaic when I try to summarize it this way.  No shit - it was soap opera in all its glory and I loved it.

So  - don't call me Thursday night. I'll be at Seattle Grace.

And for heaven's sake - if you know of another super couple, please share - I'm starting to think The Office is my most promising back up. 

September 15, 2006

My Favorite Vampires

My Favorite Vampires

By Rebecca the Bookseller and Vamp Lover

Ok - book club business first:

I am delighted to announce that the next book for the Heart of Tartness Book Club will be:

Definitely_dead Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Our next online meeting will be on Friday, October 13th - spooky!  Here's a link to buy this great book (and to order any other book too, including Charlaine's previous books in the series, as well as the books by the authors discussed below):

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris herself will be with us that day, which is a real treat, so mark your calendar and get reading!

This book is part of the Southern Vampire series, a perfect series for Tart lovers, since the books are funny and they're also mysteries - I hope you'll love them as much as we do.  And as a twist on our regular Tart books, they involve Vampires.  Which leads me to the gist of today's blog.

I started reading Vampire/Paranormal books as a logical extension of my foray into romance novels, and now I'm hooked.  I'm not the only one - when the great Nora Roberts does a vampire trilogy (Morrigan's Cross is the first) you know it's big.  And you heard it here - look for the resurrection of the gothic soap Dark Shadows sometime soon. 

What makes them so popular? Is it the thrill of the forbidden and dark?  Is it the quest to tame the ultimate bad boys?  Maybe it's the fact that they tend to be very sexy books (and I mean, I wouldn't let my daughter read them without reading them first kind of sexy).  I think part of it is because they so often reinforce the idea that we all have one true mate for life - a soul mate, and that person is the light to our darkness, which is the ultimate romance.  You can pick any answer - the fact is that they are hot.

Like any other segment, some are good and some are not.  The good ones have such active fan bases that they require multiple moderators for the discussion boards.  The authors blog and chat with their readers, and the elaborate websites carry on the fantasy between books.  There are so many good ones to choose from - so in no particular order, here are some of my current favorites -   

  • J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood - the third book, Lover Awakened, is just out, and this sexy series about a brotherhood of warrior vampires is captivating.  You're going to want to read them all in order, starting with Dark Lover. I actually pulled an all-nighter to finish this last book. Currently in paperback - and just made the NYT list - I look for this series to be huge.
  • Christine Feehan's Carpathians - over a dozen books in this fantastic series, considered by some to be the gold standard.  Ms. Feehan's latest is a hardcover gift to series readers and fans  - Dark Celebration brings together all the characters for the holidays.  These books are on my keeper shelf.
  • Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series - more sex per page by far than any of the others, since Anita Blake - vampire executioner - has become a succubus through the course of the series, as you'll see if you read Danse Macabre, the most recent book.  Some of the most loyal and active fans around love this series.  It's so popular that it will be recreated as a graphic novel beginning this fall.
  • Angela Knight's Mageverse series - combines vampires with Arthurian legend, with some time travel and powerful witches and wizard knights.  Master of Swords is up next, in October.  She has a background in romantica, so you know these books are going to sizzle.
  • Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series - another terrific series, the latest of which is Dark Side of the Moon - the first of the Dark Hunter books to be released as a hardcover. One of my absolute favorites, with a great cast of characters.  Next up are stories in two anthologies: My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding - which also includes a story by Charlaine Harris, and Love at First Bite, both due out next month.
So, who are your favorite vampires?

September 14, 2006

God Bless The Fan Club

by Nancy Martin

I joined a teen idol fan club in 1966. I had fallen madly in love with--you're sworn to secrecy, right?--Mark Lindsay, the lead singer for Paul Revere and the Raiders.  I truly don't know why I picked the guy.--I listened to the Beatles and the Stones (okay, and I actually owned a Monkees album, too, along with the Kingston Trio and The Limeliters.  What a nerd, huh?) but back then, groovy Mark was the one who made my toes curl inside my go-go boots.

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Yes, if you have been forced to listen to any Easy Listening stations in your dentist's office, you know Mark Lindsay's voice.  He sang "Arizona" and "Indian Reservation."  And if the mere mention of those songs means their imbedded in an endless loop in your brain for the next 48 hours, I apologize.

Anyway, I wrote Mark long, morose letters about my lonely childhood and miserable home life. (Oh, come on, every teenage girl thinks she's lonely and miserable even if she owns her own horse.)  I never received a written response, because, really, should celebrity reader services encourage what must have sounded like clinical depression? I did receive an "autographed" head shot (see above) which I did not display in my bedroom because my father had a thing about damage to plaster walls. And also my siblings would have made endless fun of me.  But I pined for Mark for months before my hormones pointed me in the direction of a hunky kid on the swim team whose Speedo was very intriguing.

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Flash forward to last weekend, which I spent with some members of what we might loosely call a fan club for one of the most popular authors around.  The members started out as part of an official listserve operated by the author herself (or her daughter, perhaps) but splintered off into their own faction because---well, I'm not exactly sure, but I think they were having too damn much fun under the author's auspices, and they wanted to make it even more hilarious.

They have succeeded.

Fan clubs are no longer full of gloomy loners.  This bunch was wickedly funny and smart and well-read (intimidatingly so!) and bent on enjoying themselves together because they are bonded by one great love---reading books.

Get this: They had never met face-to-face until they decided to attend a book festival together. (I met them at the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)  But they had bonded and befriended each other over books for such a long time and knew each other better than you and I know our neighbors, so that when they got together, the conversation started instantly and didn't look liked it was going to end anytime soon.

Meeting them got me thinking about the nature of friendship in this era, but that's another blog.

Although the group of readers may choose to identify themselves here, I won't "out" them because they'll get some flak for buying used books, not to mention ARC's from eBay. They tease each other with spoilers on their listserve, but it's all in the determined and noble cause of building buzz for their favorite author's next book. When the book is released, they take a day off from their various jobs to buy the book (and the audio as well) and read it "together" while emailing and telephoning each other in a huge book launch celebration.

Have I mentioned there are more than 500 of them online?

That's enough books sold in a single day to put an author on some prestigious bestseller lists. Which they have accomplished.

We should all be so lucky to have such loyal and industrious readers.

Plus being with them is like getting invited to a really great party.

This crew would make an ideal focus group for a publishing house. (If you are a publisher in search of unvarnished opinions, email me and I will put you in touch.) The reason they've stayed together is not because they've been victims---er---consumers of good marketing campaigns or received a bookmark from an author or attended a signing or found the latest in expensive, hi-tech websites with all the bells, whistles and podcasts imaginable. (Have I mentioned we're trying to come up with our own podcast? Lipstick Chronicles: The Musical.)  No, by mutual attraction and word of mouth and their own ingenuity, they've found a great series of mystery novels that were well-written and highly entertaining and worthy of their on-going attention. They hash over the books all year long and look forward eagerly to anything their favorite author writes because . . . well, sorry to say this to everyone who's out there beating the bushes for readers instead of writing, but . . . their author writes the best books going.

Me, I'm going to spend the next six months writing a damn good story in hopes of eventually attracting such a group of readers for the right reason--the quality of the books I write.  Before I start, however, I'm going to curl up with a book by my favorite author for inspiration.

Then maybe I'll join the George Clooney Fan Club.  (Think they have nekkid pictures of Mr. Clooney?) If one hasn't been created, I'm going to start one.  Anyone with me?

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PS.  Here's a new blog, by the way, created by some pretty great crime writers. Sorry, no nekkid pictures, but it's a good one. You'll hear more about them in the weeks to come.  Working Stiffs.  Check it out. 

September 13, 2006

Ban More Books

By Elaine Viets

When I was growing up, I carried the Bible in my book bag. I kept it by my bed at night. My mother was delighted to find her quiet A-student in religious study.

Good thing Mom didn’t look any closer. I wasn’t reading the Bible. I was deep into a banned book, which I’d hidden behind a Bible cover.

I grew up in the 1960s, which were really the 1950s in Florissant, Missouri. My church and my parents had long lists of forbidden books.

I read them all.

Many of the books banned when I was a kid are still under fire, according to the American Library Association.

Banned Books Week is September 23-30. Schools and libraries can’t stop pulling classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl." They’ve added shelves of new titles to the banned list, from the whole Harry Potter series to books by Judy Blume and Maya Angelou.

Most books are banned for the finest reasons: to keep young minds unsullied by impure thoughts and bad language.

Please keep banning books. Yes, it’s wrong. It’s evil. It’s arrogant and un-American. But it’s the best way to get kids to read.

I believe in banned books. Here’s what they did for me:

(1) Banned books made me question authority.

How could any adult believe "The Grapes of Wrath" promoted Communism? That was the excuse my church gave for banning John Steinbeck. Once I read that novel, I knew the authorities were dead wrong. I figured they had to be wrong about other things, too. I was on the slippery slope to independent thinking.

(2) Banned books improved my mind.

Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Harper Lee – I read all these banned classics. If a teacher had ordered me to read "Madame Bovary," I would have whined it was boring. Fortunately, it was banned. I reveled in every adulterous word.

(3) Banned books made me resourceful.

Or sneaky. Depends on how you look at it. I went to great lengths to conceal my beloved banned books. I read them by flashlight late at night, with a throw rug stuffed under my bedroom door.

Even the most trusting parent gets suspicious when a kid reads the Bible too much (some of those begats are pretty graphic), so I brought home piles of "age appropriate" books, such as "Little Women." They were good, but they lacked the zing of a banned book.

(4) Banned books made me strong.

Some of those suckers, especially the gloomier Brits and Russians, weighed several pounds. Hauling around weighty novels gave me real muscle.

(5) Banned books made me rebellious.

Banning books led me to more dangerous things, like racing semis on I-70 in Daddy’s Pontiac 444. Yes, there is a connection. Thanks to banned books, I thought rules were stupid, even good rules. After all, the same people who banned books made speed-limit laws.

My parents never guessed that their angelic A-student was having high-speed races on the interstate. I was lucky. The message in some of those banned books finally got through: I wasn’t immortal. I could wind up dead as any doomed heroine, if I didn’t take my foot off the gas pedal.

Don’t get the idea I only improved my mind under cover of that Bible. I read plenty of banned novels with no redeeming social value, including "Peyton Place" and "Valley of the Dolls." I didn’t always understand the sex, but I enjoyed the thrill of the forbidden.

Banned books were irresistible. I couldn’t stop reading them.

Banned books made me what I am today.

Think about that, next time you want to yank a book out of a kid’s hands.


NOTE: For more information about books that have been banned or challenged, check out the American Library Association at www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bannedbooksweek.htm 

September 12, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Bubbles

By Sarah

There are a few great mystery characters who survive decades, long enough to feel like family. There's Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, who inspired me to think about writing mysteries, and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, who did even more than that. And, of course, there's Robert Parker's Spenser (does he have a first/last name?) who was always a solid, reliable sleuth, even if Susan is a dried-up idjit.

Alas. As I've learned over the past few weeks, my beloved character Bubbles Yablonsky is not to be one of those.

Wait. Before you fork over the Xanax, let me just tell you that my stand alone novels like THE SECRET LIVES OF FORTUNATE WIVES and THE CINDERELLA PACT are doing fabulously. So, I won't be picking through garbage cans any time soon. Okay, not until THE SLEEPING BEAUTY PROPOSAL's out next summer.

Still, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on Bubbles who will make her final appearance - for now - in BUBBLES ALL THE WAYBaw , which comes out in November. It's a paperback original - cheap, like her author - and ends with a fitting send off. I've seen only one review so far and it's from Harriet Klausner (Who is she, anyway? And how does she read so many books?) Here's a line from her review: "A Bubbles Yablonsky mystery is always a treat to read and this installment is probably the best yet in one of the more superior series on the market today...."

What went wrong? Who knows? Certainly, plenty of authors who've had their series dropped have asked this question. They've gone on to write other series or stand alones to wild success, so it couldn't have been their innate skills. Let's not discuss the others who haven't gone on to wild success. My hands are over my ears just thinking about them.

Perhaps there's a limited market for readers who want to know more about a steel-town hairdresser who becomes a newspaper reporter. I mean, out of that description two things are already dead: steel towns and newspapers. (You think not? I read Editor & Publisher, still. The days of gleaning information on wood products are disappearing like smoke signals.)

Also, there was me, the writer. What differentiates me from Evanovich, Grafton and Parker is that they had tons - I mean, tons - of writing experience before I jumped in with two feet having written nothing but crime stories for various rags. And while there's nothing wrong with writing crime stories for various rags, it is a wildly different style - opposite, in fact - from writing, well, fictional crime stories. I was taught to construct a story in a pyramid - all the pertinent details first. Whereas mystery writing is the reverse - lots of details and only one answer, at the end.

Evanovich had the romance thing in her background and to this day I have friends who read her books solely to answer the question - if it is ever answered - of Ranger versus Morelli. Grafton's Milhone was one of the first to feature a funny, self-deprecating woman who was often misjudged and overlooked and yet disciplined enough to find the killer. Parker is just Parker.

I owe Bubbles a lot. She got me out of writing for those various rags, for one thing. She taught me about the importance of creating multi-dimensional characters and building tension, both sexual and otherwise. She showed me where my strengths were and also my weaknesses. In turn, Bubbles got to be published in Japan, France, Germany, Thailand and England. She was even briefly spun into a made-for-TV movie script. She's on audio everywhere, so I haven't done wrong by her, either.

It will be tough to say goodbye to Mama and Genevieve, to Jane and her slack-jawed boyfriend, G. Don't even talk to me about Steve Stiletto - like the knife, not the heel. They'll always be with me. And maybe, if my stand alones do well, they'll be back.

For now, though, they have to say goodbye.


September 11, 2006


By Harley

Coming out of Deadline Mode is like coming back from a foreign country, hospital, or penal institution. You blink your eyes, astonished to be in sunlight again. You cook a dinner. Read the paper. The faces of your loved ones, even grumpy, are beautiful. Colors are brighter, roses are smellier, and you sleep without dreaming about Chapter 22. Physically you’re a wreck, but nothing a facelift and a few years in the gym won’t fix.

In my case, there was also a loss of five pounds, as I let go of that thing velcroed to me: my laptop.

I wrote DEAD EX, my third novel, during road trips, weddings, and jury duty. I blogged about my To Do List (big thanks to all who helped with that). And I got a lot done during Carpool.

Afternoon pick-up at my Kindergartener’s school was a great half hour of writing time. Tricky, because the steering wheel gets in the way, so I’d balance the laptop on the center console as the car inched forward; but good, because Carpool has a chain-gang-like appeal: no distractions, no cell phone reception, no loud music. No conversation.

I’d hit "SAVE" and "SLEEP" when I reached the Lady with the Microphone. She’s the one who calls the name of students who are to move to the Point of Pick-up, keeping the line of SUVs and minivans moving. After the first week, she’d see me and rattle off not only my daughter’s name, but her carpool mates. I, consumed with the details of my plot, never knew her name, but I liked her style. Middle-aged. Happy. Relaxed.

The last week of school, Microphone Lady flagged me down. She’d discovered I was a novelist, and Carpool stopped while we discussed mysteries. The next day, after learning her name from my daughter, I inscribed a pair of books to "Mrs. Gailen." When I handed them to her, Carpool came to a stop again, while Mrs. Gailen made me get out of the car so she could give me a hug.

She wrote me a thank-you note a few weeks later, saying how lucky I am to spend a life doing something that’s so much fun and gives others so much pleasure. The next week, a letter from the school came, regretfully informing parents that Mrs. Gailen, the "voice of carpool" had died in her sleep on the 4th of July. The cause of death was not discussed.

My 6-year old came home from day camp with the explanation. "Mrs. Adelman," she said, "told us that Mrs. Gailen just needed a break from life."

I suspect that Mrs. Adelman did not put it quite like that, but as explanations go, it’s not bad. I like thinking that those who’ve died, those we loved, those we mourn even though it took us a year to ask their names, are just on a break. Stepping out for a cappuccino, a phone call, a cigarette. After which they’ll be back among us, maybe looking like the neighbor’s newborn baby. I don’t know if that’s how it works, but it comforts me to think so.

Friday I did Carpool without my laptop. There was a new microphone lady and I had to repeat my new First-grader’s name twice before she got it, maybe because I was crying as I said it, maybe because it takes time—and talent—to learn the names of a few hundred kids, and match them to their moms’ faces, and know their carpool buddies. This week I’ll ask the new microphone lady her name. And if I’m writing Book #4, I’ll shut down the laptop a few feet sooner and say hi. Ask how she’s doing.

Happy Monday.