For a Christmas Treat please welcome back one of the original Book Tarts, Susan McBride!
For a Christmas Treat please welcome back one of the original Book Tarts, Susan McBride!
note from Harley: For those who've come late to the party, Susan McBride was one of the founding members of the Lipstick Chronicles -- if not for her, I'd still be scratching my head, wondering what a blog was. She writes mysteries, women's fiction, and YA novels, can be found at www.susanmcbride.com, and is one of my favorite people in the world. Welcome back, Susan!
The “C” Word
by Susan McBride
Jennifer, Madonna, Cher, Demi, Halle, Mariah, Eva,
Courteney, Sharon: the list of
celebrity gals involved with younger guys seems endless. Their sex lives make constant fodder
for tabloid covers while no one bats an eye at geezer-saurus Hugh Hefner doing
another “Girls Next Door” with a trio of barely-legal Bunnies. So much for
coming a long way, baby. Even a decade into the 21st century, double
standards persist, which is why I was tickled pink when asked to write a chick
lit novel carried by three 45-year-old protagonists. I could depict women growing older gracefully with humor and
heart, fluff and substance, kind of like a really gooey S’more with organic
Jennifer, Madonna, Cher, Demi, Halle, Mariah, Eva, Courteney, Sharon: the list of celebrity gals involved with younger guys seems endless. Their sex lives make constant fodder for tabloid covers while no one bats an eye at geezer-saurus Hugh Hefner doing another “Girls Next Door” with a trio of barely-legal Bunnies. So much for coming a long way, baby. Even a decade into the 21st century, double standards persist, which is why I was tickled pink when asked to write a chick lit novel carried by three 45-year-old protagonists. I could depict women growing older gracefully with humor and heart, fluff and substance, kind of like a really gooey S’more with organic chocolate.
I should confess upfront that I’m an accidental Cougar. I never set out to bag a younger dude,
I don’t drink martinis, and I’m not very fond of animal print (although I do
have a very cute pair of peep-toe heels that are brown and black zebra!). Ed and I were introduced when I was a
St. Louis Magazine “top single” back in 2005, and he did the pursuing. As long as he was over 30—and he was, just
barely—I didn’t care. He was
smart, funny, cute, and, best of all, a good guy. We fell in love, took the leap, and celebrated our 2nd
wedding anniversary last week.
I should confess upfront that I’m an accidental Cougar. I never set out to bag a younger dude, I don’t drink martinis, and I’m not very fond of animal print (although I do have a very cute pair of peep-toe heels that are brown and black zebra!). Ed and I were introduced when I was a St. Louis Magazine “top single” back in 2005, and he did the pursuing. As long as he was over 30—and he was, just barely—I didn’t care. He was smart, funny, cute, and, best of all, a good guy. We fell in love, took the leap, and celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary last week.
Now back to my COUGAR tale: Late in 2008, HarperCollins approached me about doing a
novel dealing with Cougars. They
thought my own life made me perfectly suited to it, and I jumped at the chance. After penning two series with much
younger protagonists, I was more than ready to write about grown-up women. Being forty-something, surviving breast
cancer, and settling down made me ache to spend time with characters that were
closer to my own age and experience.
With THE COUGAR CLUB, I got my wish.
Now back to my COUGAR tale: Late in 2008, HarperCollins approached me about doing a novel dealing with Cougars. They thought my own life made me perfectly suited to it, and I jumped at the chance. After penning two series with much younger protagonists, I was more than ready to write about grown-up women. Being forty-something, surviving breast cancer, and settling down made me ache to spend time with characters that were closer to my own age and experience. With THE COUGAR CLUB, I got my wish.
I envisioned Kat, Carla, and Elise right away: three 45-year-old friends at mid-life
crossroads who come back together in St. Louis, supporting each other through
thick and thin. When THE COUGAR
CLUB begins, Kat’s a successful ad agency exec, Carla’s a beloved anchorwoman,
and Elise is a dermatologist with a thriving practice. Then Kat gets down-sized, Carla
realizes her ex-hubby (aka, the station’s GM) is about to replace her with a newer
model, and empty-nester Elise finds her plastic surgeon husband has lost
interest. None of the three is a
typical Cougar, not as defined by UrbanDictionary anyway: The
cougar can be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a
swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an
innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.
I envisioned Kat, Carla, and Elise right away: three 45-year-old friends at mid-life crossroads who come back together in St. Louis, supporting each other through thick and thin. When THE COUGAR CLUB begins, Kat’s a successful ad agency exec, Carla’s a beloved anchorwoman, and Elise is a dermatologist with a thriving practice. Then Kat gets down-sized, Carla realizes her ex-hubby (aka, the station’s GM) is about to replace her with a newer model, and empty-nester Elise finds her plastic surgeon husband has lost interest. None of the three is a typical Cougar, not as defined by UrbanDictionary anyway: The cougar can be seen in a padded bra, cleavage exposed, propped up against a swanky bar waiting, watching, calculating; gearing up to sink her claws into an innocent young and strapping buck who happens to cross her path.
The ladies in THE COUGAR CLUB don’t much like the stereotype
any more than Katie Couric who, in a recent Harper’s Bazaar spread, declared, “I
just find it stupid. I think it also surmises that the older woman is always
the pursuer. That's not necessarily true. I always say that maybe the older
woman is the prey and someone else is the predator. It's just silly." (If you don’t already know, Katie’s
boy-toy is 17 years her junior.)
The ladies in THE COUGAR CLUB don’t much like the stereotype any more than Katie Couric who, in a recent Harper’s Bazaar spread, declared, “I just find it stupid. I think it also surmises that the older woman is always the pursuer. That's not necessarily true. I always say that maybe the older woman is the prey and someone else is the predator. It's just silly." (If you don’t already know, Katie’s boy-toy is 17 years her junior.)
Personally, the C-word makes me chuckle. It just another label stuck on women
who don’t behave like June Cleaver.
None of my friends who are over forty and single because of divorce,
widow-hood, or a relationship-killing career act like middle-aged nymphos wearing
Oompa-Loompa tans, frozen faces, and boob-baring leopard print cat-suits. Even my bona fide Cougar sister classes
it up more than that.
Personally, the C-word makes me chuckle. It just another label stuck on women who don’t behave like June Cleaver. None of my friends who are over forty and single because of divorce, widow-hood, or a relationship-killing career act like middle-aged nymphos wearing Oompa-Loompa tans, frozen faces, and boob-baring leopard print cat-suits. Even my bona fide Cougar sister classes it up more than that.
My hope was that Kat, Carla, and Elise would make readers
forget the C-word entirely and feel better about growing older. I saw them as positive role models, and
telling their stories energized me. Call me Pollyanna, but it didn’t enter my
mind that having “Cougar” on my cover would evoke such strange reactions. Until
I got nicked by unfriendly fire in the form of a Tweet from the fiction editor
of a major trade publication that I found while Googling for pre-pub reviews. “Do I really have to assign a book
called THE COUGAR CLUB?” she asked.
My hope was that Kat, Carla, and Elise would make readers forget the C-word entirely and feel better about growing older. I saw them as positive role models, and telling their stories energized me. Call me Pollyanna, but it didn’t enter my mind that having “Cougar” on my cover would evoke such strange reactions. Until I got nicked by unfriendly fire in the form of a Tweet from the fiction editor of a major trade publication that I found while Googling for pre-pub reviews. “Do I really have to assign a book called THE COUGAR CLUB?” she asked.
Ouch! Then the
editor of a web site about mid-life emailed to say, “No review for you!” She found my characters disrespectful
to women-kind because they actually had sex! I know, I know.
I should have locked them in an attic where they could wear yellowed
wedding gowns and pick cobwebs from their hair for the rest of their lives.
(Oy!) Next, on the date of
COUGAR’s release, up popped comments on the Post-Dispatch books blog that went
something like this: How dare this woman
denigrate her own sex by writing about Cougars! What a filthy piece of trash! This book belongs in the dump! My husband had to restrain me from
replying, “Maybe you should read the book before you smear it, beotches! If you
can read, that is.”
Ouch! Then the editor of a web site about mid-life emailed to say, “No review for you!” She found my characters disrespectful to women-kind because they actually had sex! I know, I know. I should have locked them in an attic where they could wear yellowed wedding gowns and pick cobwebs from their hair for the rest of their lives. (Oy!) Next, on the date of COUGAR’s release, up popped comments on the Post-Dispatch books blog that went something like this: How dare this woman denigrate her own sex by writing about Cougars! What a filthy piece of trash! This book belongs in the dump! My husband had to restrain me from replying, “Maybe you should read the book before you smear it, beotches! If you can read, that is.”
I felt a little like I’d entered politics and suddenly had
Ann Coulter on my ass. I kept
reminding myself that it was 2010 AD and not 2010 BC. So why does this double
standard still exist? Why can’t
women be like men and follow our hearts and pursue our passions at any age
without someone shaking a finger at us?
Even an AARP survey from 2003 (yes, I’m quoting from AARP!) noted that
34 percent of the 3,500 women over forty they polled were dating younger
men. If they did that survey today,
I have a feeling it’d be 50 percent at least. Besides women outlive men on average, right? So it just makes sense.
I felt a little like I’d entered politics and suddenly had Ann Coulter on my ass. I kept reminding myself that it was 2010 AD and not 2010 BC. So why does this double standard still exist? Why can’t women be like men and follow our hearts and pursue our passions at any age without someone shaking a finger at us? Even an AARP survey from 2003 (yes, I’m quoting from AARP!) noted that 34 percent of the 3,500 women over forty they polled were dating younger men. If they did that survey today, I have a feeling it’d be 50 percent at least. Besides women outlive men on average, right? So it just makes sense.
Lest you think I’ve been pelted with tomatoes during COUGAR
promo, rest assured that the positive feedback has outweighed the negative,
like Target stores picking THE COUGAR CLUB as a Bookmarked Breakout Title, the
Midwest Booksellers Association naming it a Midwest Connections Pick, and MORE
Magazine sticking it on their list of “Books We’re Buzzing About.” I’ve heard from twenty-something guys who
say they’ll only date women over 40 (friends of yours, Margie?), and I’ve
gotten tons of emails from women in great relationships with years-younger
dudes. They don’t care if society
brands them as “Cougars” any more than I do, because they’re not living their
lives for anyone but themselves.
Lest you think I’ve been pelted with tomatoes during COUGAR promo, rest assured that the positive feedback has outweighed the negative, like Target stores picking THE COUGAR CLUB as a Bookmarked Breakout Title, the Midwest Booksellers Association naming it a Midwest Connections Pick, and MORE Magazine sticking it on their list of “Books We’re Buzzing About.” I’ve heard from twenty-something guys who say they’ll only date women over 40 (friends of yours, Margie?), and I’ve gotten tons of emails from women in great relationships with years-younger dudes. They don’t care if society brands them as “Cougars” any more than I do, because they’re not living their lives for anyone but themselves.
Thank you, Lipstick ladies, for inviting me back for a visit
(with an extra hug to Harley who read COUGAR early and gave me a great blurb
for the cover!). And thanks, too, TLC readers, for letting me rant. I feel
Thank you, Lipstick ladies, for inviting me back for a visit (with an extra hug to Harley who read COUGAR early and gave me a great blurb for the cover!). And thanks, too, TLC readers, for letting me rant. I feel better already!
Shakespeare Got It Right
by Susan, Retiring Book Tart
There's a fight going on in North St. Louis, and it's an important one to the people involved. So important that a pastor I know had plans to preach about it in his Sunday sermon, something along the lines of, "What would Jesus do?" As in, "Would Jesus go to Hooters?"
Because the conundrum that's facing the community of Florissant is this: Should they allow a restaurant to open across the street from a middle school? And not just any "family" restaurant, but one where the waitresses wear push-up bras, tight shirts and short-shorts? Where the logo on said tight shirts is an owl with unmistakably rounded eyes that bear a striking resemblance to the flesh that's contained in said push-up bras?
Of course, there are plenty of upstanding folks in opposition, touting the family values angle and how having such a debauched establishment would ruin the image the area is trying so hard to build as an old-fashioned hometown (as opposed to a place where crime has increased frighteningly in recent years).
There are others staunchly defending good ol' Hooters, declaring that the waitresses are clean-scrubbed young women earning a decent living with their (skimpy) clothes on. And besides, the hot wings are damned good.
The mayor has even stated that the city council can't reject Hooters on the issue of morality, that it's all about building codes; and, if the restaurant complies, it's as good as in (which it is, by the way, "in," that is).
The most interesting statement that came out of this saucy debate--to me--was uttered by one Jeanette Mattingly, a 79-year-old Florissant resident who said, "By its name, Hooters restaurant has targeted a woman's body part and is being disingenuous by calling it a slang word. Let's drop the euphemism and just call it 'Breast Restaurant.'"
You go, Jeanette, girl. Tell it like it is.
We all know what Hooters is about. Hell, Hooters knows what Hooters is about: chicks with boobs who deliver jugs of beer to dudes who want to eyeball chicks with boobs without having to drive to that place by the truck stop on the highway that advertises, "All Nude Girls 24-hours."
My point? Probably not what you think.
We have such a problem in this country with being ourselves, particularly if that self falls outside the boundaries of what's politically or socially correct.
It's the sheep syndrome, and it's everywhere you look. If you're a kid, it's called peer pressure. If you're an adult, it's the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. It's one of those implied lessons we're taught early on: in order to be accepted, we must follow the pack. We must tow the line. We should fit in, nod our heads, and not make waves.
It's the fear of speaking out and voicing an opinion that's different for fear we'll be rejected, ostracized, left out of the group. It's why nice boys do things in packs they'd never do solo. Why nice girls learn to cave instead of growing a backbone.
Don't we all recall our mothers asking us, "If Tiffany jumped in the lake, would you do it, too?" For far too many, the answer was--and still is--"yes, in a heartbeat."
So often I was the new kid in school, and it seemed so important to blend in as quickly as possible. I remember wearing knee socks with skirts when I was in the sixth grade, the tail-end of middle school in Greenwich, Connecticut; only how was I to know that the kids in seventh grade at Spring Branch Junior High in Houston, Texas, thought knee socks were gauche and that 12-year-olds should be wearing pantyhose and high-heeled sandals?
My sister and I took more than our share of ribbing for our East Coast apparel, and we adapted as fast as we knew how (after a shopping spree with Mom at the local Foley's department store). I mean, what junior high kid in her right mind wants to stand out?
As someone who's felt different all her life, as most creative people do, I couldn't wait to grow up. I imagined that, once I got to be an adult, peer pressure would evaporate. I figured there had to be a point where it was okay to be yourself, without explanation, without repercussions, without the fear of being resented by those whose opinions differed from mine.
Man, was I wrong.
There's as much pressure to be accepted in our adulthood as in our youth, and it's damned hard to pull away from the pack, no matter if you've got rebar where your spine is supposed to be. I know I wanted to do the "right" thing, be the person I was expected to be, which is how I ended up at UT-Austin, pledging one of the best sororities on campus, and feeling like a fraud in my Cole Haan and Ralph Lauren. I wanted to write, not go to business school. I felt less than compelled to only attend mixers with carefully selected fraternities, to always have a date for football games (AND wear a skirt, for Pete's sake), and to heed who I hung out with so as never to embarrass my "sisters" (many of whom I didn't even like).
I wanted to be me.
Only it's hard to find out who that is when there's so much pressure to be like everyone else. I finally got up the nerve to leave school, go home, and write a book, before enrolling in a different university entirely...one where few people knew me so I could start over without any pretenses. Thanks to the support of my mom, I had the chance to figure out who I was, and I liked myself. I'd never felt more free in my life. Though staying on that course--recognizing I was, perhaps, a tad eccentric and prone to coloring outside the lines--has been tough, no matter how many years I've got under my belt.
Sometimes it's hard to remain true to yourself when you feel the grown-up pressures to bend to another's will. It's hard to say "no" when people are so used to hearing "yes" all the time. It's like when your sister asks if her butt looks big in her jeans--and it does--but you tell her, "no," just to avoid hurting her feelings. If all your friends are yes-men, whom can you trust? With pals like those, who needs Mr. Blackwell?
Truth, I read somewhere, is action. It's not passive. What results from being honest with yourself and others isn't always neat and pretty, but it's real. Often truth won't make you popular, but when is life about being popular? It's about finding our own paths, making a difference however we can, and not living each day of our lives afraid to step on someone else's toes. It's about loving ourselves so we can love others who are important to us (and realizing that we can't love everyone any more than everyone will love us).
There will always, always be plenty of sheep. There are never enough eccentric shepherds.
March to your own drummer, dance to your own beat, write the story that only you can tell.
And, Hooters, c'mon now. Isn't it time you got real? Stick out your chest and be proud of who you are, because we all know it's not about the chicken wings...it's about the breasts. It's not the hot sauce that draws the boys back...it's the hot pants.
To thine own self be true.
Amen, Willie Shakespeare. Amen.
Okay, that's it for me at Lipstick! Y'all take care, and I'll see you around!
Moving Is Murder
by Susan, Newly Transplanted
Yes, Sara Rosett, I'm stealing your book title for this blog piece, because it's so very true. Ed and I are finally settled into the house two weeks after closing, and I've never felt this exhausted in my life (okay, except when I had a really bad case of mono in high school). I haven't been on the treadmill in eons, but I've lost weight regardless. I think it's partially the, "oh-my-gawd-I-forgot-to-eat" syndrome as well as the going-up-and-down-the-stairs-with-boxes exercise routine. My poor mother helped schlep more stuff than Two Men & A Truck, and now I owe her a big afternoon at Harrah's (a daughter's gotta do what a daughter's gotta do!).
We've got a cat who's decided that peeing on the pretty yellow mat in the guest bath is okay (well, she's neurotic to start with and seems afraid to venture into the finished basement--where the litter box is located and where she was originally deposited while the painters painted and the movers moved). Kevin and Eugene, who turned toxic yellow, orange and blue walls into soothing earth tones--bless their talented brushes--practically lived here for four days. Jerry, the electrician, replaced a bunch of fixtures and repaired broken sockets, which took several afternoons (and Ifound out his girlfriend wants him to paint all the white walls in their house--and I told him I agreed with her, color makes such a difference). Darryl, the floor guy, is slated for an 8 a.m. appearance on Wednesday to fix the flooring in the master bath. After he's gone, I think we're done. I mean, except for little things, like window treatments and waiting for the sofa to arrive (that we ordered three weeks ago and which, we were told in a recent letter, may arrive anytime between September 1 and September 23).
I mention Sara's book title, and I know she's going through the "moving is murder" thing again herself, having recently relocated to California. She's married to a military dude, which means she'll likely move again...and again...and again. Sort of like my pal Alesia Holliday, who had to transplant her clan from Florida to Virginia earlier this year (and who's hitched to Navy Guy).
Kids used to think I was from a military family, when I was growing up and we picked up stakes every 2-3 years. I had to clarify that my dad worked for IBM, known as "I've Been Moved" back then. Every time Dad got promoted, we were moved somewhere new. Let's see, it was Prairie Village, Kansas, to Indianapolis, Indiana, to Winnetka, Illinois, back to Kansas (this time, to Mission Hills), to Greenwich, Connecticut, to Houston, Texas, and finally to Dallas. Whew. While I was going through this move--just a couple streets away from my condo, mind you--my mother regaled me with horror stories of all our moves, when she had three kids to wrangle, a weekend to find the new house out-of-state, and a husband who was already gone before the movers came (IBM always put him up in temporary digs so he could get to work at his new gig ASAP).
The most traumatic thing I recall about moving back then was going to a new school. I didn't mind seeing the movers pack up my things, and I was always so curious about the new house and the new neighbors...and how I could decorate my new room. I didn't think about the details, because I didn't have to deal with them. My mom did. That's one of the great things about being a kid.
I hadn't moved in 10 years since I'd bought my condo in St. Louis, and I'll be happy as a clam if I don't have to move for another 10. I'd forgotten what was involved in relocating: all the paperwork, the phone calls and emails to change utilities and mail, getting a new DL and new checks, packing boxes, carrying furniture, loading your car and then unloading it until you feel muscles you hadn't felt in years (or ever), and putting all the pieces in place so you can move forward with your life.
And that's what it's all about, isn't it? Not standing still, taking a step into the unknown and seeing what's there, adapting and making changes. Learning and growing.
I don't know if anyone truly loves change--it's so comfortable to stick with the status quo--but it does open doors we might not venture through otherwise. Change also means letting go and saying goodbye, which is never easy (at least, not for me). I made a tough decision recently, because of all the goings-on in my life. I'll be leaving the Lipstick Chronicles after my next post, the last Monday of August. I can't thank Nancy Martin enough for inviting me to be part of the original cast of Book Tarts. I've so enjoyed writing these essays, hanging with my homeys, and getting to know many of you.
Moving on can be murder, even when you know it's for the best.
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.
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. 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.
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).
Strangers in my Medicine Cabinet
It's a very weird feeling, to be a fairly private person in my home-life and to suddenly have strangers walking through my condo when I'm not here, opening closet doors and peering into cabinets.
The property hasn't been on the market long, so I'm still getting used to the idea of a Supra lock on my door, one that lets in people I don't know who scare my cats under the bed (yeah, I'm sure, they're wondering, "where the hell is my mommy and why hasn't someone called the cops about these trespassers?!").
I realized last night after an agent showed the place to a client--while I sat quietly downstairs at my neighbor's for fifteen long minutes, wishing I could hear their conversation through the ceiling--that it was so different when you were on the other end. I absolutely loved looking at other people's houses for sale, checking out the "curb appeal" from the moment we pulled up; eyeing the landscaping while my agent fumbled with the Supra lock.
It was a sensory experience even walking through the front door, breathing in the smell of the place (and some places didn't smell all that great), walking around wide-eyed and feeling the floor beneath my feet (one house had old wood floors that seemed to roll in waves), or seeing the imprint of my shoes on the brand-new carpeting.
I adored houses that were decorated and quickly realized that the ones resembling the pages of home & garden magazines truly did suck me in. I liked them better than the ones that were empty or had sparse furnishings. My realtor said that's a normal reaction and why they love it when a property has great paint, decor and window treatments. Makes selling the place a lot easier.
Vacant houses just seemed...well, vacant. It was harder to imagine what it would be like to live there, to fill that space. I know that sounds odd, but that's how I felt when I wandered through the boxy rooms.
I grew up in old houses with cool fixtures and moldings. My mom was a fixer-upper, more intent to find a home with character that she could restore, with great neighbors and an excellent school system than she was to find a ready-to-go ranch on a golf course (that was my father's dream, never fulfilled).
Strangely enough, I wasn't drawn to the older houses. My head kept adding up the extra costs for a money pit, the added elbow grease beyond a little caulk and paint. Was the furnace about to croak? Did the stains on the old ceilings mean a new roof was warranted? What about the teeny weeny closet space and the kitchen with the appliances that dated back to June Cleaver? And the bathrooms with tiles and tub that screamed, "Rip me out and start over!"
Ed and I wanted a place that was pretty much move-in ready (not counting new paint). We didn't want to have to re-do an attic, or finish a basement in order to have the kind of space we needed. Luckily, we found just what we wanted. The first house we looked at, as a matter of fact, though we saw others (enough to convince us we were making the right choice without regrets).
My brother and sister-in-law said, "That's not right. You can't buy the first house you see. That goes against all rules of house-hunting."
Now I'm just hoping someone does the same with my condo. Walks in and knows in their gut that this is the place. Sees their future in my painted walls and wall-to-wall carpeting, in my big windows with their custom treatments, and my cathedral ceilings.
I hope they appreciate that, beforehand, I've Orecked and orange oil polished and actually baked a few of those pre-sliced cookies (as my realtor recommends) so the air still smells of chocolate chip. I've also put fresh flowers on the coffee table, turned on my favorite Mozart CD as gentle background music, and Windexed every mirror.
But until someone does fall in love with my digs, I'll have to get used to strangers in my medicine cabinet. I couldn't hear the conversation of the folks here last night, but I did pick up sounds through the floor. I figure they opened and closed every cabinet and door.
I'm still pondering whether or not I should buy St. Joseph and bury him upside-down outside in the flower pot on my deck. Does he work for condos? And does he have to face away from the property or toward it?
Buying a house: Fun!
Selling a place: Oy vey!
P.S. On another topic entirely: For an insider's glimpse at The Beautiful Room, which I posted about in March, read Andrea Grimes' recent article for the Dallas Observer here. Those naughty "pretty" people!
by Susan, the Ungraceful Tart
I walked into a door the other night. Yes, it was dark, but I've lived in my condo for 10 years. You'd think I'd know where everything was situated by now, as I haven't moved anything in a long while, least of all a door jamb.
I have a tendency to wake up at odd hours and head to the computer (like now, it's 4:42 a.m., and I've been up since three--oy), but I generally know my way back and forth to bed without turning on a light. Still, half the time, I can't do it without risking life and limb. I've banged various toes on the TV table, have bruised thighs on bed posts, and, yes, got a bump on my forehead from proceeding face-first into the door jamb.
I was up and down after that latest incident, getting ice because my brow swelled, and poor Ed kept mumbling, "Are you all right?" while I interrupted his sleep.
It's amazing to think I survived several years in gymnastics without mortally beaning myself on the balance beam. Thank heavens my skull is thick, after falling off the top of a slide head-first in grade school (I wanted to see if I could go down standing up--I went down all right) and being dumped upside-down by my high school cheerleading partner during a practice lift (um, he wasn't exactly Mr. Universe). I still have a knot on my noggin from ducking beneath the concrete structure of condos-in-progress on a Florida beach while wearing a visor and not realizing I wasn't completely out from beneath the thing when I stood up.
I got into a discussion about being a klutz with a woman at a Christmas party last year. She insisted I wasn't ungraceful, but that my trouble had to do with not developing a proper sense of myself in relation to the space around me when I was a child. Basically, I'm as dysfunctional at simply crossing a room as I am with directions while driving. I have a form of spatial ineptitude.
Well, okay. I'll buy it.
Whatever the cause, at least I'm not alone.
Nancie Hays, our resident Gun Tart, has shared more than a few tales about her own klutziness (as well as the klutziness of her cohorts). She's given me permission to spill a few of her stories here.
Nancie's problems began in grade school as well. While helping the teacher pin papers to the bulletin board in second grade, she was "standing there with my mouth open like the little moron I was, and I hit a thumbtack slightly off-center. It flipped off the board and into my mouth. Yep, got it lodged in my throat. Oh, goody. I got a trip to the ER, where the thumbtack showed up nicely on the x-rays."
More from Nancie: "I did wake up in the hospital a few times before the age of seven after knocking myself out. This usually occurred after smacking my head on the metal bed frame when I misjudged the location of the bed behind me. I have a small indentation in my skull from this repeated act of having no depth perception in my early years, and if I touch it just right, instant headache."
I could give you dozens more examples from Ms. Gun Tart, but I'll let her tell you about them sometime. Needless to say, she wasn't unfamiliar to the staff at the local hospital.
She puts it like this: "When the desk clerks in the ER know you by sight and greet you by name, it's usually not a good sign."
No, Nancie, it's not a good sign.
I'm going to borrow a page from that woman at the Christmas party and diagnose "severe spatial ineptitude." I'm wondering if living in a bubble might be the solution (speaking of, have you seen that commercial with the dude in the bubble running into things and trying to get up the stairs? It's hilarious!).
Nancie's friend, Linda, shares our lack of grace and has actually walked into a door jamb, too. I already feel an instant bonding. Here's her story:
"Years ago, the house my husband I lived in had a wonderful big closet in the master bedroom. Just outside the closet was a dresser with a TV atop it. One day, while puttering around in the bedroom with the TV tuned to my favorite show, I walked into the closet for something, turning around too fast and started moving forward at the same time. Yep, I ran face-first into the door jamb and bounced off. Immediately afterward, I heard a voice asking, 'Do you have trouble walking?' No, no, God wasn't talking to me, and I wasn't hallucinating (though I did see a few birdies). It was the opening line for a TV commercial for motorized chairs."
I don't know. Maybe it's ghosts. Perhaps furniture does move when we're not looking, and door jambs slide from side to side, just enough to catch us as we pass.
I'm a little afraid of moving into the new house late next month (yes, we got a house, we got a house!). All those boxes to drop on my toes. All those doorways I've only passed through a few times and never in the dark. Cabinets sure to fly open and bop me in the head when I least expect it.
If next time you see me, I'm wearing Band-aids as fashion accessories, you won't have to ask why.
P.S. I'm teaching two classes in July for EarthlyCharms, the first session on "Creating the Perfect Mystery Protagonist" and the second on promotion. Maybe I'll see you there!
One Woman's Trash is Another Woman's $5 Box of Mismatched Dishes
by Susan, Gettin' Dirty in Mom's Basement
I told myself that once I returned from my last trip and put away my suitcase, I could take a week to be a bum before I had to get cracking on the fifth Deb Dropout book. My venture into couch-potato-dom lasted an entire 24 hours before I got itchy to do something. If you haven't realized it already, I'm one of those annoying antsy people who always needs a project...and I wanted to occupy myself while Book Five percolated until I felt ready to dive into the writing again.
My mother had a brilliant idea. "You know that garage sale you've been talking about having for the past two years..."
"Oh, yeah. That." It was one of those "best intentions" kind of things that hadn't quite panned out, and no one in the family had wanted to tackle it in my stead. Damn their un-antsy hides.
Of course, I said, "Yes," because I still don't know how to say "no" very well, especially not to my mother who'd do anything for me--and has many times over.
But digging through Mom's basement? Was I really up for that? Until I went over there on Thursday, I'd forgotten (okay, blacked out) how much s**t my siblings and I had, um, stored down there, enough to turn her lower level into a logjam of discarded furniture, clothes, and boxes bulging with mismatched glasses, mugs with kitties on them, and Christmas decorations. If Mom were even half as greedy as Donald Trump, she would've charged us for rental, like those U-Store-It places.
I managed two hours down there accompanied by Mo the Cat, who got more thrilled by the moment every time I emptied a box of its contents and tossed aside all the packing paper. He made it into quite an elaborate nest, while I sneezed and breathed through my mouth as my allergies kicked in and I realized I'd need a prophylactic Benadryl before my next trip into Mustyville.
Still, it was like being first on the scene when King Tut's tomb was excavated. I had completely forgotten that some of the packed-away treasures existed. For a few years awhile back, my mom and I had a couple of booths at several antiques malls around the city. We used to hit yard sales at the crack of dawn with all the professional pickers and try to pluck out undiscovered gems that we could mark up exhorbitantly so we could pay our booth rental and end up with a profit.
I kept unwrapping one cool thing after another: Depression glass candelabra with the tiniest of chips, a signed piece of beautifully-glazed pottery, old sets of pressed glass sherbets, an alarm clock from the 1940s missing its key, the cutest tin molds, pretty painted serving plates.
And then there was the junk. Lots of stuff left by my sister between her moves to four different apartments in the last year or so (I'm not kidding). Duffel bags with masking tape and broken zippers; at least a hundred cassette demo tapes from when she worked in music management in the 1990s; sweaters smeared with lipstick; Tupperware missing lids or growing fungus; her old Snoopy doll with his nose half-torn off and his fur a sad shade of gray.
Can you say, "Hefty, Hefty, Hefty"?
Two humongous boxes of trash quickly took shape atop the treadmill. Sadly, it was sayanora to a hunk of Molly's junk. Shhh, don't tell her, okay?
I went back on Friday and put up four card tables in the garage to clear out a bunch of the stuff I'd organized into boxes of similar items, enabling a person to actually move around my mom's basement without tripping over stacks of God knows what. It was progress.
There's still loads of furniture left to wipe off and price, and Mom wants me and Ed to go through it first to make sure we take anything we might want for the house we're hunting for. I've already got dibs on her round oak table and the six chairs that go with it (which served as the family breakfast table for most of my growing-up years).
Plus, there's all those boxes with stuff from our childhood that--so long as she's holding me captive in her basement--Mom wants me to go through. I can't wait to find the one with my sister's old dolls in it. Every one of them has her hair cut to the scalp and has homemade chicken pox on her cheeks.
Now those we can't sell. They're priceless.
P.S. My web site is finally updated for June with plenty of pics--and a peek at the cover art for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB--so check it out!
What Happens in the Car Stays in the Car
by Susan (back from Omaha and gearing up for Chicago)
After five days at the RT Convention, you'd think I'd get a weekend off, huh? But instead I flew to Omaha last Friday to do my seventh Mayhem in the Midlands, and I'm awfully glad I went. I feel like the Travelogue Book Tart, 'cuz I do love to share my adventures with y'all, kind of like the relative who shows up at Thanksgiving with the slide show of his trip to the Galapagos Islands and you have to "oooh" and "aaah" over picture after picture of bird poop on rocks.
Not that Mayhem is like bird poop. Far from it. I missed Friday's panels, but had the privilege of doing two panels and a "Conversation With" on Saturday, as well as hanging out with some of my dearest friends. I saw Dusty Rhoades all dressed up and looking spiffy, and I got to admire the bottle of rum he'd purchased at the Old Marketplace. Jon and Ruth Jordan were there, and Jon mentioned four of the, um, randiest crime writers on the circuit (without naming names, of course). I guessed one, but he wouldn't spit out the rest. He said that if I haunted hotel hallways at big conventions between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., I could see all the musical rooms going on for myself. Well, geez, like that'll ever happen, since I'm usually in bed by eleven. My adopted aunt Cae Carter flew in from Texas, and I adored spending time with her. Hung at the bar with lots of great Buds and had the most wonderful dinner at the Flatiron. (Thanks, Lulu! You rock!) Just amazing conversation and so many laughs. And the fun didn't end with Sunday's brunch, where I listened to Denise Hamilton interview GOH Laura Lippman while I was cozily wrapped in a quilt (yes, I was cold, and Ellen Hart, who'd won a handmade quilt, noticed the napkin I'd slung over my arms and promptly draped her prize over me).
Donna Andrews and I split a room, and we did lots of yakking about blog subjects. That topic spilled over to dinner, where Laura, Twist Phelan, Maria Lima, and Doris Ann Norris joined in, discussing privacy issues and bad advice being doled out by "experts," as well as the good stuff that encourages debate. Like Chinese food, my time at Mayhem was devoured much too quickly, and I'm already hungry for more.
I had the pleasure of road-tripping to Lincoln, Nebraska, for a signing at Lee Booksellers with the faboo Denise Hamilton and the delightful Patty Smiley. Which is where the "what happens in the car stays in the car" comes in. Amazing what transpires when you toss three women together who get along so well and whose sense of humor seems to click. We ended up talking about all kinds of things and made a pact not to breathe a word of it once the Pontiac G6 was turned back in at the car rental counter at the Omaha airport. The hour to and from Lincoln passed in a snap because of the hilarious conversation. The book signing went very well, too (thanks, Linda & Co!), and we were thrilled by the huge spread in the Lincoln Journal Star with color photos, color covers and terrific reviews of our latest books. Julie Gerber, mystery reader, writer and email pen pal, showed up with hubby and daughter Jamie (who's interested in writing herself). In fact, several aspiring authors were in the crowd and asked about outlining vs. not...would you believe Denise, Patty and I are all "pantsers"? Yay!
Got home late Sunday night after an almost two-hour delay because of a broken plane in Las Vegas that had to be replaced. Are delays more common than ever these days, or is it just me?
I'm driving to Chicago this weekend for Printers Row. I'm there unofficially, signing at the Big Sleep Books booth on Saturday for a few hours as a favor to Helen Simpson, co-owner of the bookstore and a good friend. The rest of the time, Ed and I will be enjoying the city and seeing my relatives. That'll be almost like a real vacation, right? Once I'm back from this trip, I can put away my suitcase for awhile, catch up on sleep, chill with Ed, and start writing the fifth Debutante Dropout book.
Oh, and I'll be blogging at Lipstick, of course, though I'm taking over a few of Harley's Mondays. I'll be posting on the second and fourth Mondays of the month instead of every Wednesday, so I can focus more on my writing yet still drop in on y'all regularly. I'd miss you too much if I didn't.
Hanging with the Homeys
I'm quite enjoying all the other Tarts' posts on the RT Convention, as well as the rehashes I'm reading on other blogs. Like anything else, everyone comes away from an event with, well, something. Whatever it is, it's different for each of us. We learn more about the business we're in, the people around us, and ourselves. I like that about life. We're never too old to wise up. I figure, even if I live to be 100, I'll still be asking Charlaine stupid questions, and she'll still be saying, "I don't know, for Pete's sake!" But that's part of the fun of waking up each day. (No, not realizing how fun it is to torment Charlaine by having the curiosity of a three-year-old, but appreciating the surprises ahead of me).
So I wanted to mull over my take on RT and what I brought home with me. And it doesn't have to do with the hot trends or the half-nekked cover model dudes (okay, just a little with that) or how much I missed Ed while I was gone ('cuz that's a given). What I enjoyed most about hanging around other writers and readers and booksellers and aspiring authors is the energy, the charge from knowing we all share something weird and wonderful: the love of books, of words, of fantasy worlds that only exist in our heads. You couldn't turn around at RT without encountering someone who wanted to discuss a fabulous series they'd just discovered, a novel in progress that had them buzzing like bees, or an idea for a book that got hold and wouldn't let go.
While I had a blast with the panels, playing Vanna during a trivia game, and schmoozing all over the place, some of my favorite moments were walking and talking on the beach in the early morning with buddy Laura Durham, discussing books, life and love...seeing Harley's photos of her kids and hubby spread out all over the desk in our hotel room...laughing hysterically with Nancie, Sharon, Heather, Denise, Margaret, Laura and Charlaine at Char's pizza party...and spending two hours in conversation with the wonderful, best-selling romance author Cathie Linz as we sat on the terrace of the hotel, within sight of the beach but oblivious to the noise of the surf or the cackle of seagulls. Cathie and I got to yakking about our books and how we write (yes, we're both "Pantsers" and proud of it), and the time whizzed by faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Nothing like finding another soul sister who understands why you do what you do and how you do it.
Sometimes writing can be a lonely business. I know that when I'm working on a novel, it's pretty much me and my Dell (and though I went to high school with Mike Dell, he doesn't give me free computers, dang it). For months at a time, we seclude ourselves--I call it hibernating--and concentrate on putting that story swirling around in our brain onto the blank pages that fill our monitors. We try to limit distractions, other than those immediate things in real-life that require our attention, and focus on our fictional world. So when I'm done with a book and start traveling to promote what's newly released, I feel like a critter who's escaped from her zoo cage. I want to hang with my homeys, I want to play the social butterfly and let loose my inner ham. Doing conventions like RT fills a need in me. Maybe not the same way my writing does, but it's there just the same.
Ed's at a Windows convention in Seattle this week, and I'm sure it's the same for him. Talking to other people all gathered together who share your interests, whose brains operate a lot like yours, who don't look at you and think, "freak" or "geek" or "nutball writer," because they're your people.
When I leave an event like RT, I am recharged mentally and spiritually (although wiped out physically--did I mention how I need a nap?). I have a cadre of new homeys that I've swapped battle stories with and a host of new ideas fluttering around in my skull. I feel like nothing's impossible, and I can't wait to tackle the next project on my plate. I don't worry about the market or what anyone else is doing, because I realize it's up to me--and my publisher--to keep things moving forward in a way that's fresh and invigorating. (Sort of sounds like an advertisement for a laundry detergent, huh?)
So while I still have images of all the quirky costumes (thanks for that picture, Gun Tart!), crazy parties, and "Got Sex" calendar dudes on my mind, I'm already antsy to get to work on the fifth Debutante Dropout book, which I'll do right after my trip to Omaha for Mayhem in the Midlands this weekend and to Chicago for Printers Row the weekend after. I'm anxious to dive into the writing again, to see what I can do next that's different from what I've done before. And I'm thinking of setting Book Six in Bermuda so I can write it off as research (I'm sure Ed will agree it's a good idea, Ms. Cathie), plus a million other projects I ache to get rolling.
To sum it up in two words, I went to Daytona and "Got Revved." So thanks, homeys. You're better than a Shock Triple Mocha with a billion milligrams of caffeine (especially since I don't like caffeine).