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22 posts from November 2005

November 30, 2005

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

by Susan

Harley and I were emailing the other night, and one of the things that came up was how scary the world can be, if you read all the weird stuff in the news.  I mean, people in real-life do crazy s**t that, if we were to write about it our books, readers would say, “No way could this happen.”

Case in point: the teenaged girl who died from kissing her boyfriend because he’d eaten a peanut snack bar and she was highly allergic to peanuts.  I saw the headline and thought, “Impossible!”  But it’s true and tragic...and one more thing to worry about.  Who'd of ever imagined a Nutter Butter cookie could be lethal? 

But, wait, there's more weirdness to report.

A few examples from NewsoftheWeird:

  • Barbara King, 35, was arrested in Largo, Fla., in October on a warrant for forgery and prescription fraud; when police knocked on her door, a man told them that she wasn't home, but a 4-year-old girl standing alongside said, "Mommy's in the closet!"

  • Police in Memphis, Tenn., reported in October that they had closed down a crack house on Rosamond Street, a task made easier because the resident usually announced the start of business hours by hanging out a sign reading, "Crack House."

  • Christina Goodenow, 38, of Medford, Ore., was arrested in October for using a stolen credit card, but a conviction would be especially disastrous for her since she just won $1 million in the lottery with a $1 ticket she bought with the credit card (thus voiding the ticket).

And Nancie and SusanCo, you’ll like this one:

  • In a September road-rage incident in Salt Lake City, a woman sped by in a blocked-off lane to get around a 25-year-old motorist on Interstate 15, then rolled down her window and screamed at him. The man, according to a report in the Deseret Morning News, made an "obscene hand gesture." The woman then pulled out a .357-caliber revolver, shot off the tip of his middle finger, and sped away, outdistancing the man but later crashing into a barricade.

Now that’s some good shootin’.  Although not very nice.

The funniest thing I read on the NewsoftheWeird was a list of story items the site requests readers not submit because they’re no longer considered bizarre enough.  If this isn’t a sad commentary on our society, I don’t know what is.  Here goes (and these are merely a sampling, as the list is very long):

“The following kinds of stories were formerly weird, but they now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation:

  1. An old, widely-advertised phone-sex number is reassigned to a church/charity
  2. Suspicious package thought to be a bomb, turns out to be something stupid
  3. Robber leaves his ID [wallet or appointment card for probation officer or etc.] at the scene
  4. Peace/brotherhood conference erupts into violence
  5. Robber on getaway accidentally hails unmarked police car
  6. Political candidate dies but still wins the election
  7. Family thinks he's dead, but he's not and attends his own funeral
  8. Hunters shoot each other
  9. Funeral home owner neglects/mixes up bodies
10. "Victimized" drug buyer complains to police that someone sold him weak or bogus drugs
11. In middle of an obvious drug raid, customer wanders up and asks cop if he can buy drugs
12. Shoots himself while supposedly demonstrating gun safety
13. Family accidentally leaves behind a kid at a highway rest stop
14. Starts fire because can't stop smoking even though hooked up to oxygen machine
15. Gasoline thieves check quantity in tank by using a match or lighter to peer inside
16. Older teacher/younger boy relationship
17. Firefighter with an arson habit [to keep in practice or to feel wanted or etc.]
18. Angry customer drives car right through store's front door
19. Postal worker hoards mail because he's behind in delivering it
20. Criminal on the lam goes on national tv talk show and mentions that he's wanted
21. A loved one died at home, but the relative never gets around to burying him or her
22. African nation's rumors of people with power to make penises disappear
23. Unlabeled urn with loved one's ashes mistakenly stolen or sold at yard sale
24. Husband takes his wife back even though she just tried to kill him
25. Burglars leave footprints in snow, directly to their homes
26. Accidental bombing of house by airliner's "blue ice"
27. Parents frolic while their small kids are left home alone
28. Parents who leave their small kids locked in hot cars while they frolic."

©Chuck Shephard

Whew!  Now I know why my mail wasn’t delivered on Monday (see #19).

Makes you feel a little better about your own life, doesn’t it?  So the next time you think you’re doing something weird, think again. It's probably not even NewsoftheWeird-worthy.



November 29, 2005

Recovered Sex Addicts I Never Knew I Knew

by Sarah

I almost blew off my 25th high school reunion last weekend due to insignificant responsibilities such as a book deadline and Thanksgiving. Thank heavens I didn't because if I had, I never would have been able to reconnect with Doug Weiss, recovered sex addict and proponent of the financial benefits of Biblical sex - what he likes to call "sexcess" - as seen on Oprah.

Okay, so maybe I didn't reconnect with Doug in the best of circumstances, seeing as I was a) extremely silly and b) spilling a cosmopolitan on my shoes. I blame Lisa who happens to be my best friend since age four, the woman who had the dubious distinction of teaching me how to light four cigarettes in my mouth at once in high school and later stand by my side as my maid of honor. Lisa's the kind of girlfriend who can pick up the conversation when we last left off three years before. I don't know about you, but I never laughed so much as in grade school and in my case 99.9% of that was due to her.

So there we were, holding our sides in laughter, probably seeming obnoxious in the eyes of most of our classmates who had gathered morosely in the Masonic Temple on Wyandotte Street at Bethlehem. Dinner began promptly at 7 - mashed potatoes served with an ice cream scoop, leather-tough beef and greasy chicken - right after the Star Spangled Banner and Pledge of Allegiance. Lisa and I found this uncontrollably funny. As did Josh - admit it, Josh - who talked through both the anthem and the pledge. Naughty. Naughty.

It was right about this time that my attention turned to Doug Weiss, recovered sex addict and DougyChristian sex counselor. I don't remember much about Doug from high school except that he was handsome and liked to perform. I vaguely remember warnings about him being a bit of a lothario, though Lisa thought he might have been in Up With People. Nothing in our collective memories matched a magazine article we read afterward which described Doug's childhood as being filled with adultery, booze, sex and, perhaps worst of all, Salvation Army camps. Who knew all this intrigue was happening in my staid steeltown?

It didn't take me long to become obsessed with Doug. I failed to understand why my classmates at the reunion treated him with dull acceptance when, hey, this guy made a business out of publicly declaring himself "17 years masturbation free!"

This was not someone to be ignored. That's what has always struck me about my hometown- its lack of appreciation for irony. Here in the Masonic Temple, along with the state and federal flags, we had a certified recovered Christian sex addict who made a living out of teaching men to keep it in their pants and what were people talking about? Their commutes from Paoli!

Though I've been thinking a lot about Doug and his idea that God performs miracles on stupid people to glorify Himself (I have the article - you can read it) in the wake of this reunion I've been thinking more about how nasty fate is. Not for making Doug Weiss masturbation free (go Doug!) but for cursing our bright-eyed prom queen with stage three breast cancer. She showed up at the reunion dressed defiantly in white and held a lot of hands, shed tears and laughed louder than any of us. God bless her. Then there was our class president who lost her home to Katrina, but came anyway looking, as she freely admitted, for a bed of her own.

Toward the end of the night I finally got a chance to talk to Doug briefly about books. Right off he asked me how many I'd written, a kind of odd question when you think about it. I told him seven. He proudly said 16. Then he gave me a business card and said he was from Colorado Springs, Colorado - which I understand is now the Christian broadcasting capital of the world - and how he is a "marital sex and intimacy expert" and a consultant to the Lifetime Channel about sex addiction. The DJ revved up Y.M.C.A., an ex cheerleader walked by sobbing about her own marital problems, one woman weeped about not having any family and one guy almost passed out from being extremely overweight in a hot room.

Is that a 25th reunion or what?


November 28, 2005

The Family Feds

By Harley

Thanksgiving: all over but the leftovers.

Well, and one Luke Skywalker moment.

Holiday Week went well. Yes, we had septic tank issues too grisly to go into here, and on Wednesday, one expected houseguest who’d gone missing for a week turned up in a psych ward. But by Thursday, the Waste Management Heroes had bailed us out, we’d sprung the psych ward guest, and we had two kinds of stuffing baking in the oven.

Plus, while rolling out pie dough, I’d had a really nice conversation with my mother-in-law about bad acid trips. Post-turkey, however, my life changed.

I was in the kitchen leading the clean-up crew, listening with half an ear to the dining room conversation, when I heard my oldest brother say, “Yeah, so then his law practice ran into some problems, and my dad joined the ATF.”

“Excuse me?” I called.

“That’s the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms,” my father-in-law called back.

“I know what it is, I just didn’t—” I paused in my scouring of the roasting pan. “Andrew. You mean Daddy did legal work for the ATF?”

“No, he was an agent.”


“He carried a gun, made arrests—”

“He carried a gun?” I yelled. “What kind of a gun?”

“Some .38 police special,” Andrew said. “It was a hand-me-down from Uncle John, who’d carried it during Prohibition, when he was running the Speak Easy.”

At this point, I abandoned the kitchen sink and entered the dining room.

“Daddy was only an agent for five years,” my brother said, seeing my stricken look. “Long before Waco.”

I should explain that I’m the youngest of eight, so Andrew is nearly a generation ahead of me. Our father was old enough to be my grandfather.

“So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that Daddy was a cop.”

“On the federal level,” my father-in-law pointed out.

A Fed.

“I think he did wire-tapping. That sort of thing,” Andrew said.


What I knew about my father, who died when I was a baby, was that he was a lawyer who helped found Legal Aid, and did work for the coal miners union and the Slovak immigrants. After a stint in the Navy.  JAG. You know. Like the TV show.

Nobody ever said anything about law enforcement.

As for me, I was raised by artists, musicians, and hippies. We are not gun people. We are not G-men. True, Aunt Olga was a probation officer, but that was eccentricity, not the family business. Although now that I think of it, Cousin Wee-Wees, once held hostage by rebels in Nicaragua, was possibly not “just a nurse,” but an undercover operative, and I probably shouldn’t even mention the first-cousin-once-removed who’s lived near D.C. for the last twenty-two years and has never been able to talk about work.

Goodness. It’s like half my relatives are poised to arrest the other half. Skeletons falling out of the family closet, dropping concealed weapons.

This doesn’t compare with the cousin who, in his thirties, discovered his biological father was not the guy he called Dad, but the next-door-neighbor with whom his mom had an affair (“Surprise! You’re half Norwegian.”) Still.

It means that instead of looking in the Yellow Pages (or the Blue Pages) for my crime fiction research sources, I could’ve simply shown up at family dinners. And that’s just my father’s family.

Next up: Christmas dinner, wherein I discover that my music teacher mother was moonlighting at the World Wrestling Federation.

Happy Monday!

November 25, 2005

The Book Tarts' Mail Bag

The Book Tarts' Mail Bag

by Hazel Otter Moon

So, here I am at the mostly deserted offices of TLC, catching up on the filing, phone mails and general tasks the Tarts had given me to complete before they return on Monday when the place will be buzzing with the four of them blogging, meeting book deadlines, and breathing a sigh of relief that the first hurdle of the holiday season is over.  No doubt I'll have to wave a little sage to clear away foggy auras as they furiously type, mutter and curse their computers.

I'd finished up the last few details and was getting ready to leave when, to my surprise, I discovered Margie had failed to log off her computer.  Hmm, I should just shut it down, shouldn't I?  But my curiosity got the best of me.  I checked to see if the coast was clear before I sat down at her desk.  I don't expect anyone else in today, as they're all entertaining family and friends through the weekend.

Except for Harley, who's in her office, sleeping.  She came in this morning, saying she had to write, but I don't think she ever writes anything here.  She just comes in to catch a few Z's.  I'll wave some M&M's under her nose to wake her later.  She looked exhausted and mumbled about relatives, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, exploding nuns, trundle beds, a bruised kidney from people stepping on her, and a few things I won't mention.  So I'd better leave her alone.

Back to Margie's computer.  I shouldn't snoop, by goddess, but I have to know what Margie cackles about all day while I'm trying to keep up with the Tarts' requests for whatever they need at the current moment.  Margie's forever clicking her mouse and typing furiously, which makes her look extremely busy; but her sporadic hoots and laughter raise suspicion on my part.  Especially when I'm busier than a three-legged cat in the litter box, answering the phone, scheduling appointments, fetching stuff, filling the M&M bowl, watering the plants, researching odd topics, and doing my best to keep the distractions to a minimum so our favorite authors can write.

Dang it to Stone Henge, but her files are all locked with passwords.  Still, she apparently left her Internet connection open, and I can get into the e-mail she answers for TLC.  So let's just take a look, shall we?  Besides, I love her chair.  It's sooo comfortable.  So here I go, kicking back and putting my feet up as I scroll past all those email messages for Viagra, porn, low mortgage rates and affordable prescriptions.  Ahhh, got it.  The good stuff.

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  starcommander-nimoy@trekwars.sci
SUBJECT:  Sci-fi Conventions

Dear Tarts,

The Neptunian Extraterrestrial Replicant Droid Spacefleet, or NERDS, would be pleased with your presence at our Book Convention in 2006.  We have secured a happening location, that is sure to draw many other interested parties to this mega event.  We are contacting as many life forms as possible to attend our first annual Sci-fi Regalia, so please contact us as soon as possible to reserve your table, space is limited. 

We do have one condition, could the four of you venture in to our realm and write Science Fiction so we can justify your presence at our convention?  We love the Tarts, but would be subjected to ridicule otherwise.  Plus we can't use the location unless all of you agreed to attend, it was a special request by the owner of the building.

The best part of the event is dressing up as your favorite characters to participate in the events scheduled. 

A special thanks to Captain Picard's Mom for letting us use the garage for this event.   

Spacefleet Base Commander Nimoy

TO:  starcommander-nimoy@trekwars.sci
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re:  Sci-fi Conventions

Dear starcommander-nimoy,

Could you be a dear and zip this over to a translator at one of the science fiction sites for us please?  Unfortunately, no one here can decipher the code, language, or symbolic message you sent to us.  A few of the passages look like Klingon, but it might be a Romulan subtext, and we'd hate to mistranslate your message.  Uh, may the force be with you, I think. 

You're a doll, thank for writing the TLC!

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  midwestwiccanclub@spells.cast
SUBJECT:  Moonlight Celebration

Hazel Otter Moon,

We were so excited to hear from you, and are so pleased you agreed to lead the traditional Naked Fertility Dance under the full moon in celebration of our Wiccan Sisterhood, on December 15th.  Your post on the TLC was an inspiration, and for you to agree to be our honorary guest speaker at such a small group is truly a miracle.
Where would you like us to send to travel information?

Blessed be,
Amethyst Turtle Heart

Grrrr…Margie is toast, this means war!  She is the only one who answers this email address, so it had to be her that responded on my behalf, and without my knowledge.  She told me she had tickets for a peaceful retreat in the woods that she couldn't get a refund on, and offered them to me because she had a scheduling conflict.  She is setting me up to freeze off parts in a naked moonlight dance.  Ha, I'll get her back.  I'll forward this to my personal address so she'll never know they responded.

::Delete Message::

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  cellblockd@federalprison.lifers.org
SUBJECT:  Book Signings


We want to see the lovely ladies of TLC and have a book signing for our cell block.  We hope you sign body parts too, as this would be great!  Spike is willing to tattoo your signatures on us for a discounted rate.

Visitor days are Mondays and Fridays between 10 am and 2 pm.  Write us back to schedule the signing.

Gunther and gang

TO:  cellblockd@federalprison.lifers.org
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re: Book Signing

My Dearest Gunther,

2006 is booked solid for the Tarts, sorry to say, but I'd be more than happy to visit with all of you, and bring signed books.  I'll be there January 9, at 10 am.

Thanks for your message. I'm looking forward to meeting you.  We are sure to hit it off and have a great time.  I'll bring a set of indelible markers in different colors for you boys to choose from if you'd like me to sign any particular regions of your orange jump suits (my favorite color, by the way).

Hugs and big kisses,

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  ptort@ccollege.dmb
SUBJECT:  Complant

Dear Sir,

Who do I complaint to abot errors in that book you write?  Do you not reserch befor writing this things?  The gramma was afful, but the histoy facts are leding children across America asstray in the classroom.  I have a list of blatent errors so-called facts form you're book, and the proof to back up my clams of your screw-ups regarding our histoy.

Profesor Stanley Tort

Talk about your blatant screw-ups, this guy needs a clue, and then some, sheesh.

TO:  ptort@ccollege.dbm
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re:  Complaint

Dear Professor Tort,

I gather you typed this with your feet, while birthing a calf in the breech position.  How else can you explain the e-mail you sent blasting someone about their blatant spelling and grammar errors, when your e-mail should've come with a decoded ring to figure out the mess you made of the English language.  The duress under which this was sent also explains why you sent this to the Goddesses of TLC, instead of the actual author of the book you're railing against.  Note: Goddesses equal females.  There are no male authors here, and none of them write historical text books.      

You might want to toddle on down to the English department at the college where, for reasons incomprehensible to me, you are employed and have them help you with the composition of this complaint.  Do not attempt this on your own a second time, you are going to injury an innocent bystander and could face manslaughter charges.  I really hope you are not associated in any way with the English Department, as that would be a terrible burden on your students and humankind alike.
You didn't list the book in question that caused you such angst, nor did you contact the proper author (not that we care--we're just curious).  Thanks for the laugh, though.  We do appreciate it!

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  member875646@players.guys


Loved the photos you sent me.  My brother was right, you are hot.  I'm so glad he hooked us up.  I can't wait for the 15th, when I finally get to meet you.  The confirmation came through on the reservations, so we're set for our encounter!  Can you send me some more photos of you?

Yours truly,

TO:  member875646@players.guys
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re: Trip


You gorgeous man you.  I'm so sorry to have to cancel our getaway, but the doctor said I'll still be on antibiotics and probably contagious for the next month.  Maybe we could try again in January? 

All my love,

That should fix her.

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  tbrstack@read.page

I found an error in one of your books, and I was shocked.  I want to complain and make sure it gets fixed immediately.  There is no reason to produce a book with errors. 

A. Patience

Doesn't anyone write in with nice stuff?  Why is everyone so testy?

TO:  tbrstack@read.page
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re: Error

Dear A. Patience,

So feeling superior about finding an error isn't enough for you, huh?  Can't you just gloat to your friends and be happy?  No?  Okay, if you insist in going through with your complaint then you need to place the blame in the proper place: it's the editor's fault.  The Book Tarts don't make mistakes, errors, or send out any books with screw-ups to the editor.  Write the publishing company and give them the details.  Proper punishment consists of raking editors over a bed of nails and dipping them in a vat of rubbing alcohol.  If screams loud enough to strip paint off your walls don't bother you, then please proceed with your complaint.

Thanks for writing TLC, and we hope the shock didn't do any more permanent damage.

TO:  Booktarts@cs.com
FROM:  cboyd@loser.mama

I wish to comment on the November 22 blog entitled A Room Of One's Own and No House Guests, by Sarah Strohmeyer.  You are complaining about doing what you are supposed to be doing, staying home and taking care of your husband.  You should be thankful he allows you to have a career, especially since it seems you aren't performing your wifely duties around the house.  That's the problem with this country, women think they can just let housework, meals and taking care of their men slide for their own selfish reasons.  My mother agrees with me on this, and we have yet to see any positive effects of the women lib movement that put stupid ideas in your head about having a career o your own.  It's shameful. 

My mother has dinner on the table for me every night when I get home from work, and draws my bath every night.  She knows how to put the perfect crease in my pants, and I don't have to listen to her nag about her 'hard day' doing what she is supposed to do around the house.  She loves taking care of me, as she should, it is her function in life.

You should rethink your priorities, and get rid of the idea you should have a career.

Clarence Boyd

TO:  cboyd@loser.mama
FROM:  Booktarts@cs.com
SUBJECT:  Re :Blog

Clarence (hee-hee),

We should be so lucky as to have a man like you tell us how to live our lives.  Sarah will probably rethink her whole position in life because of you and will be forever grateful, just as soon as she picks herself up off the floor from laughing at your letter.  If you reread the blog, you'll find she can do all that your poor slave of a mother can do--and more--so go back and sound out each word carefully so you understand exactly what she wrote.  On the other hand, have your mother read it to you tonight instead of your regular bedtime story, after she draws your bath.  (I could've gone the rest of my life without ever knowing that little tidbit...TMI, Clarence.)

You must be the ultimate catch of a husband, and your mother sounds like a peach of a woman.  Tell me, how does she manage to crease the polyester pants you wear without melting the material?  A feat that only a master can perform, and we are in awe.  The fact that she hasn't smothered you in your sleep is, by goddess, a true indication of the amount of patience she has for her son. 

You didn't mention a wife, and it's just mind-boggling that someone hasn't snatched you and your mother up by now.  What woman doesn't lust after a life full of dismal chores, such as picking up after a slob like you.  Is your mother a part of the package?  There must be plenty of young, single women looking for a man in his 40s, who still lives with his mommy AND who has the ability to fill out the hip portion of his polyester slacks with such style as you, Clarence.

Come to think of it, our own Margie would really benefit from knowing a man in your position, so maybe you should look her up.  I hear she's free on Tuesday evening.  Sure, she'll try to chew you up and spit you out like so many other men, but I have a feeling your mummy dearest can set her on the right path.

Thanks for your outstanding advice!  I plan to call an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss our roles as women in society.  We've been misled about our independence and need directions back to the kitchen, where we shall learn the tricks for sprinkling the appropriate amount of rat poison into your Chicken Cordon Bleu so we can stun, not kill.

Give our best to your mother, Clarence!

We did get several lovely e-mails praising the Book Tarts, but I'll leave those for Margie to take care of on Monday.

I'll probably get into trouble answering the e-mails, but I figure it's worth it.  This is a holiday after all--and a busy shopping time with all those Black Friday bargains--so I doubt anyone will read this; but if you do, don't rat me out to Margie.  I know she won't see it as she's gone away for the weekend with her latest victim, uh, I mean boyfriend.

Transcendentally Yours,


November 24, 2005

Aunt Nell at Thanksgiving

by Nancy

We're taking a year off this Thanksgiving.  My kitchen is still under construction.

Last year my daughter Sarah and I brined a turkey and roasted it to perfection in my great-aunt Nell's free-standing electric roaster gizmo that must be at least . . . you won't believe this, but I ain't lyin' . . . 65 years old.  (Aunt Nell passed away at the age of 93 about twenty years ago after many, many turkeys roasted.) I've seen similar roasters for sale at Bed Bath and Beyond, but they're aren't the same. For one thing, they're not big enough. If you're going to the trouble of roasting a turkey, why wimp out with a twelve-pounder when for a few dollars more you could end up with twenty-five pounds of leftovers? (I am the Leftover Queen.  With the proper distribution and freezer technique, I could have turkey sandwiches for my lunch for weeks!) Because it can't be replaced, we take extra good care of Aunt Nell's roaster. We still store it in its original plastic cover. And the cook book that came with it is yellowed, but otherwise pristine.

But this year, we're leaving the roaster in the pantry and going to the Renaissance Hotel for our dinner. They promise we'll get free valet parking (a plus when we've got two ladies with canes this year) a whole turkey just for our family, and the chef will come to our table to carve it. Added bonus: The argument over pecan-sage stuffing in the bird or cornbread dressing outside the bird is moot.

Before dinner, instead of peeling a mountain of Yukon Golds in the kitchen, I'll take all the women folk to the mall to see the new Pride and Prejudice movie while my husband entertains the Y chromosomes at home with football and Yuengling. We have 6pm reservations at the hotel. We'll go a little early for a cocktail here:

I think Aunt Nell would approve.

Hey, we have our long-standing traditions (ranging from the cranberry sauce direct from the can that my daughter Cassie insists upon, to my mother's Martha-Stewart-doesn't-come-close pie--any variety, but my favorite works of her art are the blackberry and the rhubard, no kidding) but sometimes it's good to break with tradition. Otherwisie, how would we value the good stuff?

The thing I remember most about the Thanksgivings of my childhood is the hour after the meal when the adults sat around drinking coffee, passing the decanter and telling stories. On one side of my family are the Irish storytellers who spun hilarious tales that--I realize now--stretched the limits of credibility. But it was my father, the staid and dignified Scotsman, who always managed to bring down the house with some droll anecdote he could tell with all the style of a polished raconteur. In later years, I watched my own children sit in thrall as they memorized each nuance, pause and facial expression that went along with those stories. (Now that he is gone, I watch Cassie tell my father's stories, and her face is eerily like his. She even manages his subtle eyebrow lift.) Every family must have them--tales that tend to get repeated year after year. Repetition doesn't seem to ruin them for anyone. How would we learn who we are otherwise?

Aunt Nell wasn't a storyteller.  I wish she had been. A gracious lady, she listened politely and didn't assert herself. She was born before the turn of the century and left Pennsylvania in her late teens. We have been told she rode on a train and then a covered wagon--the details are murky--to end up in some "rough place" in Wyoming where she taught school for a few years. She fell in love with a cowboy who was killed--I never learned more than that--so she returned to Pennsylvania where she began a glamorous career as a secretary for the railroad. She dressed beautifully (she had a mink stole and didn't save it for special occasions) and spent a lot of time discussing the details of a perfect hat with her milliner. She and her sister, my grandmother, competed to see which one of them could have the most attractive manicure--quite a trick in those days when nail lacquer required hours of drying time.  To show off their hands, they wore diamond rings and often played cards together. I have the tablecloths they embroidered with playing card motifs.

At the age of 53, Nell finally married. He was an older, widowed gentleman, a railroad executive whose name was Emory. Nell and Emory. They were courtly with each other. (Yes, she could have fitted into the Pride and Prejudice movie quite well.) He smoked cigars like a millionaire. She wore lacy aprons, perfectly ironed. At Christmas, their picture window featured a white tree made out of feathers, and a light shone on it from a corner of the room, with colors changing every few seconds. I thought it was the height of sophistication. They made an elegant home together, including a separate room off the kitchen where they traditionally roasted the Christmas Eve turkey for the extended family.

Somehow, I inherited Aunt Nell's roaster.  I  use it nearly every year.

I think Aunt Nell would enjoy Thanksgiving at the Renaissance Hotel, however.  She loved An Occasion.  She'd wear her mink, I'm sure. And all her diamonds.  Emory would bring her on his arm, the two of them walking like a couple of movie stars. The tip of her nose would turn pink after her first sip of champagne. She'd laugh over the stories, but offer none of her own.

This year, over the coffee and pie, I intend to coax my mother and her sister to tell their stories.

I hope you enjoy your dinner today.  Enjoy your family, too.

November 23, 2005

It's Not All Gravy on Turkey Day

It's Not All Gravy on Turkey Day

by Susan, Bringing the Broccoli Salad

Ah, Thanksgiving. 

It’s a time to gather with family and friends, to chat and chow until we must unfasten the top button of our pants and ease the zipper down a little.  A time to express our gratitude for what we have, not whine about what we don’t.  A time for football and pumpkin pie and waiting to see if the two feuding cousins behave or go for the jugular (is it mean to root for the jugular?).

I’ll be at my mom and dad’s tomorrow, doing all those wonderful things, minus the feuding cousins, which makes me think how truly lucky I am.  Consider folks who might not have such a cozy Turkey Day as you or I, and it’ll make you especially grateful.

I’m guessing that bank robber whose sons turned him in won’t be hanging out with the family, huh?  I mean, even if he’s out on bond, do those kids really imagine Dad won’t be hankering to clobber them with a drumstick?  They’d do well to say faaar away from dear old Daddykins.

Aw—and this one brings a tear to my eye--everyone’s favorite prison celeb Eric Menendez will have to settle for a jailhouse turkey sandwich and no conjugal visits while his “wife,” and I use that term loosely for oh-so-many reasons, runs around plugging her book about being married to a greedy murdering bastard.  She lives two hours away from her hubby’s prison and visits him “almost every other weekend” according to Entertainment Tonight.  Isn’t that sweet?  It would surely warm the cockles of my heart, if only I hadn’t sold my cockles to pay for this extra-helping of cynicism.

I daresay Cindy Sheehan will not get an invitation to the ranch in Crawford, Texas, to dine on the finely prepared gizzards of the Presidential turkey with Dubya and Laura.  (And I’m restraining myself greatly from making any suggestions as to who the Presidential turkey is, because, honestly, isn’t it multiple choice?  Er, sorry, Nancy, I’m talking politics, when I should be talking sex, sex, sex!  I will try harder.)

What do the people on “Survivor” have for Turkey Day?  Bugs?  Fish stabbed with sticks?  Coconuts cooked over the campfire?  Though, wait a minute.  I do believe there are cannibals on whatever island they’re destroying this season, so they could be the Thanksgiving meal.  I would definitely tune in to watch that.

Okay, okay, enough silliness.  I’m gonna get serious for a minute (yes, I can do it!).  When I’m sitting ‘round the table with my tribe tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of how grateful I am for so many things, like living the dream I dreamed for myself so long ago, and having such amazing people in my life who inspire me and make me laugh everyday.  I’m fortunate to have good health (knock on wood) and to see my family and friends doing well after some bumps in the road this year.  I’m so happy to have found Max at the APA after losing Stripe.  I’m overjoyed to wake up every morning, see the sun—or clouds, if I have my way—and feel thrilled just to be here.  I’m blessed at the love and warmth I see around me—near and far—despite how scary the world can be and how mean some folks can be.  There is more good than bad.  I know that for sure.

And I feel lucky to be doing a blog like this one, where four very independent-minded women express opinions on anything and everything under the sun. At this point, the Book Tarts are very much like sisters. We don't always agree, but the support is there, no matter what.  I know I can speak for everyone at The Lipstick Chronicles (yes, even Margie and Hazel) in saying how much fun we’re having and how great it is to have met so many of y’all who post your comments, sharing your humor and thoughts with us (on-list and off!). You rock, Lipstickistas!

Happy Thanksgiving!  Now go out there and run an extra lap so you can load up on the Pepperidge Farm stuffin’ and canned cranberry crap!



November 22, 2005

A Room Of One's Own and No Houseguests

By Sarah

I hear tell there are fancy writer retreats where said writer may lock herself up in a rustic cabin to - drumroll here - Write. Food is brought, ready made, to the door with a slight knock and left for The Writer to consume at will. There is no noise aside from the tap-tap-tap on a typewriter (laptop) or the occasional squirrel munching on nuts outside the cabin window which looks onto a forest. There is no mail, e or snail, no phone, cell or land. There is a bed. A shower. A table and most importantly  - quiet.

Jacquelyn Mitchard, coming off a horrible year where her husband died leaving her with eight kids I think it was, and a mound of debt, won a week or two to such a place. Maybe it was a month. I forget. Anyway, when her kids called (I guess it was an emergency) she answered them with grunts and hung up. Ditto to the bill collectors. When she was done, she had The Deep End of the Ocean (a book based on a child's kidnapping and, therefore, not in my library) and a six-figure contract. Plus Oprah. Grand slam.

The thing is, I'm not sure I could I write under those conditions? Could you?

Though I love writing, love sketching out the story and unearthing characters- no really, that's not just a disclaimer - there are times when, as Nancy Martin says, it's like putting chisel to stone. When it's not like putting to chisel to stone I invariably have to drive a kid someplace or put a chicken in the oven or pay a bill, peek at the neighbors, that kind of thing. Point is I don't know if someone said, "Here's a month alone. Write!" if I would produce anything better than what I do with the laundry overflowing in the basement or my friend who has cancer calling to shoot the breeze for an hour a day or the refrigerator practically getting up and walking out the door, so many live things is it holding in its moldy containers.

Like Harley who writes in her bathroom at odd hours, I'm used to dealing with interruptions (though, thankfully, not toilet flushing). When people ask me if it helped being a newspaper reporter before writing books, I usually say yes because of the "discipline of learning how to write every day." Bull. What I really mean to say is yes because "in a newsrooms there are assholes shouting at you constantly so you have to learn how to write around them." Not that my family is made up of assholes. Heavens no.

This week is one of those weeks when I fantasize about the writer retreat treat. Because I have lousy star alignment, the manuscript on my new book is due to my editor on Dec. 2, aka, next Friday. This will give her enough time to edit it and get it back to me by Dec. 24 with the instructions to have it on her desk, rewritten, on Jan. 3. No problemo. Just the three busiest weeks in a mother's life - Thanksgiving. Christmas. And the week you entertain the relatives' kids who don't want to entertain their own kids at home.

Okay. Shirt sleeves up. Pencil in mouth. Bring it on, baby. Don't think I can get this sucker done and funny as all hell because, hey, I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year and driving down to my 25th high school reunion? Think again. Why I'll have that bird brown and juicy with chestnut stuffing and homemade cranberry ginger orange sauce, my living room will be newly painted and the curtains I made hemmed (have yet to do that -oops!) and I will have produced an ending that will have you either crying or wetting your pants or preferably both. As God is my witness!

You see, it's all a challenge, like swatting a tennis ball only instead of balls we women are batting away tiny green monsters called stressors. Dinner for 20. Swat. Holiday shopping for everyone from husband to the garbage men. Swat. Manuscript deadline #1. Got it. Rewriting chapter three in head while attending school Christmas concert. Spot on. Dang we're good. Creating memories that last a lifetime for everyone else while you secretly long for a week in that writer's retreat. Zing. Keeping the Visa bill in check. Whoops, that one passed me.

Fortunately, we have next year to do better. That is, if we're not at the Twin Pines Sanitarium.

Then again, an upscale sanitorium would have quiet grounds, a peaceful setting, colorful inspiring characters to draw from and probably the food's not too bad either. Hmm. Sounds like one hell of a writing retreat. Better if you count the drugs.

I'm in. Anybody wanna come with?


November 21, 2005


by Harley

Here’s a fun quote I read in VARIETY, Hollywood’s trade paper:

“It’s hard for us to get people excited about something that’s really female-driven.”

We’re not talking sex here (sorry.)

This is from a woman named Katherine Pope. She’s a Vice President of NBC Universal TV. She's talking about having acquired Candace “Sex and the City” Bushnell’s latest book for TV, and goes on to say, “But it’s rare to find source material that’s so strong . . . It’s a really fun character piece.”

While I, a member of the Lipstick Chronicles, am pleased to hear that we’ll be seeing “Lipstick Jungle” on TV, what captured my imagination was the idea that it’s hard for Katherine Pope to get people excited about something that’s really female-driven.

I picture her at cocktail parties, yelling, “C’mon, people! Let’s hear it for Jane Eyre!” Or on the corner of Hollywood and Vine holding up a sign that says “Honk if you love Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Having her staff fly blimps with “Little Women Rule!” floating behind.

And because no context was given for this quote, I’m wondering who these people are that Ms. Pope is trying to excite. Viewers? Advertisers? Foreign buyers? Her boss upstairs at NBC Universal?

Or perhaps . . . dead people?

That would make sense. It’s often tricky to get dead people excited about female-driven television shows, although GHOST WHISPERER might seem a natural for that demographic.

The Amish, maybe? It seems that Amish people do not have televisions, so they’re not yet hooked on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

And the Taliban, of course. For religious reasons, they eschew OPRAH and GILMORE GIRLS and MEDIUM, preferring reruns of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

Okay, never mind. Look, I’m cranky. Why? I walked around the house yesterday, glum, glum, glum, and I couldn’t figure out it out. Is it because I have zillions of relatives showing up for the holidays, which means not only will I get no writing done this week, I’ll be sleeping in a trundle bed, a sort of mattress-in-a-drawer that pulls out from under my 3-year-old’s bed, which is where my husband will be sleeping, which means that not only will there be no holiday sex, I’ll be lucky to get through the night without being stepped on?

Or is it that I’m facing a Christmas Card list that approaches 700 because the print runs on personal cards jump from 500 to 1000, and I can’t keep it under 500 because each year I meet new people and can’t bring myself to delete the old ones, even, in some cases the ones who’ve died? (which is why the card to my husband’s Uncle Al keeps coming back marked “undeliverable as addressed.”)

No, it’s that yesterday I finished a short story. For weeks it’s been my creative raison d’etre and now, instead of a sense of accomplishment, I have a sense of displacement. And anxiety, in case my agent (Renée, are you reading this?) hates it. Or the editor of the anthology hates it. Or anyone in the known universe hates it.

Why is it that finishing a creative endeavor should bring on low-level depression?

It doesn’t matter. The cure is to dive back into my novel-in-progress, but I have only the vaguest memory of what’s in those 263 pages, let alone where the story's headed. However, I’m pretty sure the action is not driven by steroid-ridden, knife-wielding, ex-mercenary, hockey-playing thugs, or even Owen Wilson, which means it’s driven by females, and—well, you know what that means.

But enough about me. Anyone have a really killer recipe for stuffing?

Happy Monday!

November 20, 2005

Haven't Read Secret Lives Yet??

Margie sez:  If you haven't read The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives Book Coverby our own Miss Sarah Strohmeyer

check out what today's Washington Post reviewer says! Sarah's the "chick lit Carl Hiassen."  And, "Think Lake Woebegon with good highlights." Does it get any better than this? Without taking off your clothes?


November 17, 2005

How To Find a Man When You Need One

by Nancy

I know what writers really lust after.  Go to fullsize image

The first thing a writer does once she starts earning the big advances (insert your definition here) and has paid for that new laptop and the celebratory trip to Cancun--is not to begin the impossible task of saving for her children's education.  (Take it from me, you should give up now. You cannot possibly save the amount of money it's going to take. In fact, the amount you save is automatically deducted from any financial package your kid might possibly attract, so it's a Sisyphesian task. Teach her to play the saxophone or comprehend quantum physics or best of all play football because scholarships are your only hope.)

No, every writer I have ever met uses the big money to start home improvements.

I'm not talking about a few mirrors tacked up on the bedroom ceiling, either. I mean major improvements.

Mind you, my home is also my office, so I think I'm justified in spending a certain portion of my income on my working conditions. I insist upon whole house air-conditioning, for starters. A room with lots of windows for reading. An out-of-the-way space for my very cluttered desk.

Eventually, though, writers are like everyone else in that we start the real yearning. For a kitchen with granite and Moen and oooooh, how about a trash compactor? Or maybe a bathroom with quarry tile and a Jacuzzi? Then one night you wake your partner from a sound sleep with the cry of, "Skylights!"

I once blew an entire advance on an in-ground swimming pool. Yes, Mr. IRS, I found inspiration in that pool.  It also kept my teenagers and their pals out of my way so I could write, so it was worth every penny.

When my husband and I decided to downsize and move into the city, we bought a charming and modest 80-year-old arts-and-crafts Dutch colonial. (I guarantee every homeowner who just read that sentence hit the word "charming" and understood the euphemism. Go to fullsize image A fixer-upper.) It didn't look so bad when we moved in. But then we had to install an entirely new electrical system. And replacement windows. Then came re-pointing.  Don't know what re-pointing is? Me neither until the winter wind started blowing into the house through the brick walls. We needed new mortar between all the bricks.  Over the entire house. To the tune of $12,000, which isn't even half a tuition payment in the Ivy League, but it's a lot.

I love my husband--he is a good provider of many things which I won't mention here because my children report they now read this blog--but sometimes I wish I'd married a man who really enjoyed household projects. You know, one of those broad-shouldered guys with the well-worn tool belts slung around slim hips and the urge to keep his hands busy. Of course, I've done all I could to encourage the carpentry hobby in my husband. Jeff owns every Black and Decker product known to man. The plug-in version as well as the cordless versions of exactly the same power tools.  With extra batteries!

But will he notice there's a leak somewhere that's causing the dining room ceiling to crumble? No, he's completely blind to that impending disaster. Nor does he see the new cracks in the front porch concrete. Or the distinct lean to the garage roof. Driving a nail into the foyer wall to hang a picture is an ordeal that requires me to beg for days, fetch all the right tools and remain chipper while he growls and mutters and cusses under his breath. (Yes, of course I can hang a picture by myself under most circumstances, but these walls are actually made of terra cotta tile--don't ask--and require a hammer drill with a specific masonry bit along with a certain amount of muscle to lean into the--well, you don't need all the details.  I am a feminist and a capable woman, but this is a job for A Man.)  One of my friends describes the entire weekend she spent standing in her driveway while her husband installed a basketball hoop, which he could not accomplish, apparently, without her uninterrupted admiration of his handiwork.  (Rest easy. They are now divorced.)

During the last several weeks, I have been trying to write my new book while coping with a cheerful crew of carpenters, two electricians, a plumber, two masons and their hod carrier plus a head contractor named (I am not kidding) Big Al, who pulled up his shirt one day to show how he's missing one nipple following open heart surgery, which nearly caused a riot of hysteria in my driveway. I mean it, there were men rolling on the concrete with tears streaming down their faces. Apparently, the expression on my face was the source of amusement. My home has become their clubhouse. Most of them chew tobacco, which involves a lot of spitting. They listen to K-Rock cranked up to a volume they can hear over whine of the power saw and the hum and crack of the nail gun. They talk on their cell phones. Incessantly. They very frankly discuss their love lives in my kitchen while ripping out old cabinets.

But I didn't mind. Not at first.

Because the project was supposed to take, according to Big Al, "Two weeks, tops."

We divided the project into two phases. Phase One involved tearing off the back of the house and installing new windows and doors, then building a deck and a porch with a roof. With the promise of "Two weeks, tops," I figured I could read, outline and make notes for a couple of weeks, then write the first half of the book before they returned for Phase Two--installing the new kitchen which was also going to take, "Two weeks, tops." Before Christimas, the project would be finished and so would the first 175 pages of the new book.

You know where this tale is going, don't you?

Well, it's been six weeks. And they haven't exactly finished Phase One. I struggled to scratch out a measly 50 pages (which give new meaning to the industry phrase Shitty First Draft) so I decided to take emergency action. I sent Big Al and Company away. Until I have at least 175 pages done.

Naturally, today the laundry tub chose to overflow.

For the first day in six weeks, I have no capable man in the house and I've got plugged pipes and a soapy wet floor. I am on my own. Plunging the drain didn't help. I threaded a coat hanger down the pipe. I made a trip to Home Depot to buy a poisonous chemical I'm supposed to keep away from all living things. No luck dislodging the plug. If I call the plumber, it will cost me $75 just to let him in the door. And have I written any pages whatsoever? Of course not.

I phoned my husband.  What should I do? Jeff says to go ahead and call the plumber because he's going to the gym tonight.


Does it surprise you that when I created the male character who will last--I hope--at least 12 mysteries featuring Nora Blackbird, that I indulged all my fantasies? I figured here was  my chance to create the perfect man.

So get your smelling salts, girls.  Because Michael Abruzzo cooks.

Of course,  he's capable of doing just about anything else he's asked, but even better he anticipates what needs to be done and does it without anybody hinting, begging, whining or promising acts I can't write about here because my daughters read the blog.  It goes without saying that Michael Abruzzo stays in fabulous physical shape without going to a gym, he gets his own winter tires changed, and--well, Cassie and Sarah, please skip the rest of this paragraph--he's good in bed.  Really good.

And then he leaves.  He does not  hang around the house watching football games on television. He doesn't open the refrigerator door and say, "Do we have any beer?" He does not lose last month's Exxon credit card bill or pick up the phone when Exxon calls from India to ask where the $85 payment is and how soon will I be sending the check? My fictional man goes off and has his own life and returns to fix the laundry tub or cook a fabulous meal or . . . well, you know.

One great thing about being a writer is that you can create a man when you need one.

Oh, I really wouldn't replace my husband. Jeff's a great dad, has a sense of humor, the exercise has paid off, and he keeps a job. Sometimes he reads my drafts and has intelligent feedback, and he no longer makes fun of the love scenes. He had an endearing gleam in his eye when he took the hack saw to the raw Thanksgiving turkey the year the oven quit, so he's not totally lacking in the manly arts. Perhaps best of all, he doesn't pull up his shirt for anyone but the girl he married. And he puts up with me, which I know can be a trial. Knock me over with a feather--lately he started doing the dinner dishes without being asked.

But that doesn't stop me from indulging in a teensy bit of fantasy now and then. What's your pleasure, ladies? What would you include in the perfect man? Besides power tools and a sense of humor?