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20 posts from December 2005

December 15, 2005

Climbing the Snowy Mountain

by Nancy

The Silver Bullet failed me.  Go to fullsize image

The best time to go Christmas shopping around here is during the televised football game, so on Sunday afternoon I grabbed my credit cards, a fortifying bottle of Aquafina and a list carefully written on an extra large Post-It. Then I jumped into the Silver Bullet and headed for the boutique shops in a picturesque neighborhood not far from my house.  A lovely, fluffy snowfall began as I left the driveway and started down our long, winding hill.

By the time I reached my destination eighteen minutes later, three inches had piled up on the road and the white stuff was still coming down fast. No sight of a snowplow or salt truck.  PennDot crews were obviously back at the station in front of the football game. I love my car, as you know, but it was built for high performance on the smooth curves of the Autobahn, not slithery

Pennsylvania

slopes covered in lake effect slush with a layer of ice beneath.  I made it a couple more miles before another car blocked the way up a treacherous hill, and the Silver Bullet spun out.  I backed him into a country club parking lot & decided to wait for the road crew to come along.

They never came.

What the heck. With the heater cozily blasting on my toes, I relaxed, made a few cell phone calls—mostly catching up with friends and talking to my mother about what we’re going to cook on Christmas, but also to report my whereabouts to my husband.  Unbeknownst to me, he launched a rescue mission that would have impressed the crew of Apollo 13.

This sort of thing happens more often lately.  People have decided I need to be looked after.  Is there a frail wobble in my walk all of a sudden? Do I appear to be dotty? (I prefer to think I grow more eccentric as the time goes by.) Are they looking to tuck me safely in The Home soon?  The speed with which my family leaps to assist me has become obvious.

Example: My husband is having his wisdom teeth removed tomorrow.  I’m driving him to the surgery and will bring him home and look after him for a couple of days while he recovers. But my younger daughter, Sarah, a nursing student who’s just about to take the exam to become an RN said, “I’ll come by and check on him in the afternoon.”

Like I can’t be trusted?  Like I haven’t already made his favorite lime Jello? Chilled the ice packs? Rented some movies for him? Okay, there was that one instance when I suggested he take a little extra pain medication for a knee problem, which sent us to the emergency room at 3 in the morning, but that was a teensy, one time mistake anyone might have made, right?

Before I departed for

New York

Go to fullsize image last week, my mother slipped some crisp 20 dollar bills into my handbag.  “Take cabs,” she urged.  “You’ll be safer.”

And maybe my night vision isn’t what it used to me.  “Why don’t I drive?” our older daughter suggests when the sun goes down.

They exchange glances, our daughters, when certain subjects come up.  I know that glance---I’ve shared it with my own siblings when we notice the older generation needs a little help. 

But wait a minute. Another possibility hits me. 

Good grief, maybe this is the other side of the mountain of motherhood??

Since delivering two children over twenty years ago (eight pounds, six ounces, and eleven pounds two ounces, but, really, it was so long ago who’s counting? Besides me, that is?) I’ve fought my way up the slippery slope of motherhood.  Done everything, coped with the gamut—the terrible twos, the teenage sulks and weepy phases, New Math and book reports that weren’t started until after bedtime, Sarah’s broken leg, the year Cassie quit eating, those damn junior high projects that have nothing whatever to do with learning about the Renaissance but everything about family dynamics, the long trips ostensibly to look at colleges but really one last shot at discussing the big issues of life like sex and drugs and—oh, jeez, there’s no better time to bring up abortion and what exactly our family values are.  I’ll spare you talk of those bodily fluids every parent knows, and euthanizing the beloved dog and the inevitable fender benders, plus those orchestra concerts where they play Pachelbel’s Canon for the gazillionth time—that’s 65 repetitions of the same 8 notes on the cello which can make the Chinese water torture sound like a day at the beach.

I sheltered them from pain.  Kept them safe.  Of course, their dad was right there with me—we’re like a couple of Clydesdales in harness. Go to fullsize image A good team.  We nurtured their educations, their emotional lives, their creativity.  They’ve contributed to the welfare of the family by doing their chores, learned to write thank-you notes, volunteered in the community, babysat other children, developed their own senses of responsibility.  It hasn’t been easy—on any of us—and we’ve had our low points, of course, which I won’t get into here because one of them’s going to be a lawyer and I really don’t want to make the pages of USA Today because she sues me for what I blog about.

Finally, however . . . maybe their father and I have reached the summit? This year I find myself at a dizzying altitude. Maybe we're at the top and looking down at the sunny valley that lies ahead—the time when our kids are actually adults and capable of loving, self-less acts.  They’re no longer those grubby need machines (a phrase I’ve stolen from another blog, which I cannot locate again, so I can’t give credit, I’m sorry) who need to be warned that Santa’s watching their every move.  Suddenly they’re delightful grown-ups capable of kindness and generosity all by themselves. I am astonished.  Pleased, of course. But did I ever imagine the time would come when they wouldn’t need their mom to—well, mother them anymore?  That the tables might be turned, and now they feel the need to look after me instead?

Two days ago my aunt phoned.  She smelled gas in her condo and feared an explosion.  In a wavery voice she said the utility company was on its way, but could she come to stay at my house if they told her she was evicted?  “Of course,” I said.  “I’ll come get you.” 

It was nice to know somebody still thinks I’m a capable person. 

And I can always slip a little extra cash into my daughters’ handbags before they go off on trips, can’t I?

I got home from my snowy shopping excursion all by myself, too, by the way.  The Silver Bullet and I managed to rescue ourselves.  But it’s a pleasure knowing the rest of the family stands ready to help if I need it. 

This Christmas I’m looking at my family a little differently. It’s a new era.  Of course, I’ve still got to shop for a few more stocking stuffers before next week.  It wouldn’t be Christmas if my kids didn’t get a surprise or two from their mom. But I’m also going to enjoy my new friends, my adult children.

I hope you make the most of your holidays, too.

December 14, 2005

Now You See Her

Now You See Her

Susan’s Interview with Rochelle Krich

I’ll admit upfront that Rochelle is a friend of mine, one whose advice I always take to heart.  She’s also an incredibly snappy dresser, has lovely manners, and is deadly serious about her work.  If you ask anyone in the business about her, the first word to 111_1200_r1a pop out of their mouths would likely be “professional.”  The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Rochelle was born in Germany and lived in New Jersey and in New York before moving with her family to Los Angeles in 1960. With a master’s degree in English from U.C.L.A., she taught high school English for eighteen years, chairing the English department at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools, and received the Milken Families Foundation Award for Distinguished Educator of the Year and the Samuel Belkin Memorial Award for professional achievement.  She’s the author of the wonderful Jessie Drake series and, more recently, the Molly Blume books, the latest of which is NOW YOU SEE ME.  So let’s talk about that first, shall we?

Susan:  One of the topics you deal with in NOW YOU SEE ME is Internet chatrooms, as Molly Blume is asked to look for a girl who may have met a nefarious character online.  I've seen enough editions of "Dateline" to realize this happens more often than we'd like to think.  How did you research the subject?  What did you find?

Rochelle:  I'd been contemplating writing a novel about teens at risk and had a folder thick with articles I’d clipped from newspapers and magazines: Teens and the Internet. Teens and chat room predators. Teens who self-mutiliate. Teens who cheat. Teens with eating disorders. The risk of suicide for teens taking antidepressants. I Googled. I talked to parents, to teachers, to high school principals.

I learned that while teens use cell phones extensively, at home they hardly use the phone to communicate. They use the Internet - chat rooms and instant messaging. I learned that teens use acronyms that sound benign but aren't. Like POS—parent over shoulder. Or L2M—love to meet. Or POP—parent on patrol. SOS—sibling over shoulder...or NIFOC—naked in front of computer.

Susan:  Yipes!  So that’s what that means. Nancy did that the other day while emailing the Tarts, and I was very confused. 

Rochelle:  I learned that parents can—and should—download free versions of teen acronym dictionaries, and install spyware that will tell them every keystroke their kids take—and tell their kids they're doing it.

When I was touring for NOW YOU SEE ME, I was on a panel with William Lashner (Falls the Shadow) and Phil Rosenthal and Shlomo Koenig, two investigators for the Rockland County Computer Crime Task Force. Phil and Shlomo's job is to catch Internet predators. They go on AOL, where they pose as fourteen-year-olds (Phil's "profile" says he's a cheerleader), and are invited almost immediately into chat rooms. The chat rooms lead to Instant Messaging, then a face-to-face meeting. The good news: Phil and Shlomo told me they have a 100% conviction rate. The bad news: For every predator they nab, there are thousands out there.

In NOW YOU SEE ME, my protagonist, Molly Blume, shares with the reader some tips for parents about teens and the Internet. Rule number one: Keep the computer out of your teen's bedroom and place it in a family room.  And if your teen suddenly goes off-Nysmsmall line when you pass by—worry.

By the way, in the realm of eerie coincidence: Last night I did a phone chat with a book group in Conway, Arkansas—and learned from the group that Kacie Woody, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a forty-seven-year-old man who befriended her in a Christian chat room, and whom Molly thinks about in NOW YOU SEE ME, was from Conway.

Susan:  Did you ever have to deal with anything like that while raising your six kids?  What scared you the most about being a parent?

Rochelle:  I didn't even own a computer until our youngest, who just turned 21, was two years old. (I was looking through a Sears holiday book and salivating over a typewriter that erased two lines of type. My husband said, "It's time." We bought a Leading Edge.) I knew nothing about e-mail or the Internet until five years ago. Now I'm addicted.

But you never stop worrying about your kids. Who they're with, what they're doing. Are they safe? One of my daughters—she was fourteen at the time—was on a flight returning from camp when the distinguished-looking man sitting next to her propositioned her. He told her to meet him in the bathroom and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She promptly informed the flight attendant—thank God! FBI agents arrested him when the flight landed.

Susan: There are seemingly infinite subjects for you to tackle with Molly, seeing as how she's a crime reporter.  What're you working on next?

Rochelle:  I have several ideas for Molly, and am working on a proposal for a stand-alone.

Susan:  You've had four Molly Blume books out thus far, and you wrote five featuring police detective Jesse Drake.  If I asked which you prefered, would it be like asking which of your children is your favorite?

Rochelle:  Absolutely. As to which of my children is my favorite—it's the one who isn't giving me something to worry about at the moment. :-)

I love writing Jessie. I love writing Molly. Writing Jessie is more challenging because I have to step into the mind and shoes of a police detective, and I have to research all the details of police procedure—details Jessie would automatically know. Writing Molly doesn't require research. Molly and I share Orthodox Jewish backgrounds and similar family dynamics. We're both writers. Like her mother, I taught high school English. We both love mah jongg and chocolate. So I'm very comfortable in Molly's skin.

Susan:  What stands out about each character to you?

Rochelle:  Jessie is struggling to overcome the legacy of living with an abusive mother and an enabling father—and anxious to break the pattern. She is examining her newly-discovered Jewish identity (in the second book in the series, she learns that her mother was a hidden child during the Holocaust). She is compassionate, thorough, intelligent—tough when she needs to be.

Molly is lighter-hearted than Jessie—she isn't burdened with her angst or baggage. She's buoyant, stubborn, persistent, inquisitive. She makes mistakes.

Both women are loyal and passionate about justice.   And both are more willing to take risks than I am. Two months ago I witnessed something that validated why I write crime fiction. I was in Nordstrom, waiting to talk to a sales clerk. Sitting in front of the register was a woman--kind of goth-looking, heavily tattooed—who was trying to convince the clerk that she had bought the item she was returning and had simply misplaced her receipt. Standing next to this woman was her companion—a tall, stern-faced man, also heavily tattooed.

I walked around them and noticed a boy who was with them. My heart stopped. His face was battered. One eye was shut. I thought, "They wouldn't be crazy enough to come to a public place with a child they'd battered....Would they? Maybe he fell in the schoolyard, or got into a fight with a bully.  I smiled at the boy. No response. There was no expression in his eyes. They were flat, dead.   I was chilled.

I approached a sales clerk and, turning my back to the woman, man, and boy, I said, "Did you see that boy?"

"Yes. A few of us saw him, and we're upset, but we don't know what to do."

I asked to speak to the manager. I asked her about the boy.

"We're all upset," she told me, "but we don't know what to do. The store has a liability problem...."

I'm not sure what I would have done, but when I turned around, the trio had disappeared. So I left the store, the boy's face haunting me. But see, Molly wouldn't have left the store not knowing that boy's story. She would have found a way to locate him, to make sure he was safe.

Susan:  You are one of the calmest, most pulled together authors I know.  Okay, I realize there's always something bubbling beneath the surface, but you are the epitome of professionalism on the book scene.  Any tricks you can share to those of us who aren't always so serene?

Rochelle: Chocolate? I guess I put on a good act. :-) It's probably my European upbringing. Actually, I'm a perfectionist. I obsess about details and mistakes and missed opportunities. They gnaw at me. Lately I've made a conscious attempt to accept "what is" and let go of "what should be" or "what could be." When I'm disappointed or frustrated, I take a deep breath, count to ten, and tell myself: "This is what was meant to be." It's a challenge, and it doesn't work all the time, but I'm making progress.

Susan:  I know your strict observance of Orthodox Judaism does affect your travels.  How has it been to deal with that on the road? 

Rochelle:  The physical challenges are manageable. I take along kosher food when I attend mystery conventions. On the Sabbath I make sure I’m on a low hotel floor—I can’t use the elevator—and arrange to have a guard open the door with the electronic key. And there are disappointments—events I can’t attend because they fall on the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays. In a way, those disappointments help ground me and remind me that, while writing is my passion, it’s not the entirety of my existence.

Ironically, becoming a published writer helped me “come out” of the Orthodox Jewish closet. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and having led a relatively sheltered life for almost forty years, I was reluctant to broadcast my Orthodox observance. The warm, respectful reaction I received from readers and booksellers quickly alleviated my concern. Although at my first mystery convention, when I was inadvertently placed on a Friday night panel and couldn’t use a microphone, one woman in the audience thought I refused to use the mike to show off my thespian talents. Oy.

Susan:  You taught school before you started writing, so I'm wondering if that makes you approach your novels any differently than the rest of us.

Rochelle:  Honestly, I have no idea. It's an interesting question. I fantasized about writing long before I began teaching. I'll tell you what I did learn once I began writing: the grammar texts are wrong when they encourage kids to use words other than "said" in dialogue. I should probably issue a blanket apology to every student I've ever taught!

Susan:  Is there anything that teaching taught you about writing that helps your creative process?  Or your organizational process?

Rochelle: Not teaching, per se, but the literary analysis that formed part of the curriculum. The more you read, the more you appreciate the rhythms and music of good writing.

Susan:  Our quintessential TLC question:  do you believe there's a "girl ghetto" in crime fiction?  Have you ever felt like "the boys" got something you didn't?  Better treatment or wider exposure from reviewers?  Juicier panels at cons?

Rochelle:  I remember at one local (Los Angeles) Sisters in Crime meeting years ago, our guest speaker, a crime fiction reviewer for the L.A. Times, was embarrassed because in that week's review column he hadn't reviewed any mysteries by women. Lots of men. No women. He apologized profusely. :-) I'm not sure there's a "girl ghetto," but there's definitely a perception that cozier mysteries aren't as important or serious.

Susan: Now for fun:  some quickie questions!  Favorite movie of all time?

Rochelle:  I can't choose just one! Sabrina, Gone with the Wind...

Susan:  (Ah, Gone With the Wind is on my list, too.  Good choice!)  Favorite book of all time?

Rochelle:  Pride and Prejudice

Susan:  Scariest thing you've ever done?

Rochelle:  Dropped my first child off at nursery school that first day—and left.

Susan:  Five guests at your fantasy dinner party?

Rochelle:  Do I have to cook? Honestly, I'm blanking....

Susan:  Of course, you don’t have to cook, silly!  That’s what caterers are for.  I’ll let you pass on that.  Onto the next question:  Extravagance you can't live without?

Rochelle:  Jewelry

Susan: Girl from high school you'd most like to murder in a book?

Rochelle:  I don't harbor murderous thoughts towards anyone from high school—disappointing, huh? But I can easily flash back to my teen years and my insecurities, and to a girl who was my best friend for years until one day I suddenly didn't exist for her. Just like that.   Now you've made me sad. I think I'll get some chocolate.

Susan:  Then my job is done.  Thanks so much, La Belle!   Always great to chat with you.

December 13, 2005

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

By Sarah

I knew it would come to this, that my life would be reduced to a Tom Petty song and the posters that used to hang in our high school secretary's office: "You Want it When?" and "Hang in There Baby!," "It's Almost TGIF!" or "Hurry Up And Wait."

But it's the Petty poet whose scratchy vocals play over and over in my head: "The waiting is the hardest part." If there's not a poster for that already, surely one's in production.

Granted, I'm not waiting for test results or to be executed at midnight so I can't really complain. What I'm waiting for is my editor to get back to me on the manuscript that I pretty much killed myself to complete, as the Book Tarts can attest.

This was the manuscript that last spring started off as a Bubbles book and then, in the middle of the summer, a verrrry high up executive at Penguin "suggested" I change to another stand alone due in February for publication in the fall of '06. Though when the marketing department heard of the idea, proposed that we change the pub date to this summer which meant that my poor editor had to casually mention, "Uhm, how about a Dec. 1 deadline?"

A December 1 deadline? Was she crazy? Well, even if she was crazy - which, thankfully, she isn't - there was nothing I could do about it. Hey, I'm not Sue Grafton or Nora Roberts. I lick the crumbs off the floor over there at Penguin and I do as I'm told. Which meant I fueled myself on Diet Mt. Dew and Trident and got the book in by Dec. 2. Pretty damn good.

And now the waiting.

Waiting is part of the publishing process. It starts with sending out the query letters for your first book, and then the agent rejections. This is followed (let's think positively, shall we?) by the agent acceptance (yeah!) and then the rewrites and the submissions to the publisher. More waiting.

During these waiting periods I've run through my Filofax of success/horror stories: the debut author who came home from grocery shopping to find a message on the machine from her agent, giddy over the six-figure-book-deal won at auction.:) Or the author who checks her messages every two minutes to find one from her agent apologizing profusely and offering to send copies of the rejections in a FedEx box. :(

In the beginning I don't mind the waiting. There are so many things I've wanted to do, but couldn't, because of the *&%$ book. There were other books to read, for starters. And a knitting project to finish, not to mention the scum to be scraped off my kitchen floor, the home office to be shoveled out, the Christmas shopping to be done. Yes, the first day of turning in a manuscript is heaven. Naps. Working out. Pure relaxation.

It doesn't take long, though, for the doubts to surface. Soon I find myself constantly checking email hoping for I LOVED IT!! or SURELY, THIS IS YOUR BREAKOUT BOOK! or A 100,000 PRINT RUN, NATCH! from Julie my editor. Instead it's FREE CI*AL!S. Listen, I don't need to get it up. I need to get it approved. Can't those spammers understand that?

Nothing. Okay, it's been only a week. Julie my editor is not Superwoman. And, yes, I know there are other authors. Still....

No, no, no. I really am going to be positive. So I won't mull over the possibility that Julie has put down the manuscript and turned to her window looking out over the gray, wintry New York skyline, hands behind her back, her shoulders slumped. What will they do? This book is already in the summer Penguin catalog and it's, well, a piece of crap. The worst writing ever!! Calls will have to be made. Contracts broken. My agent - the one on maternity leave - will have to be contacted at home, or worse, the head honchos at ICM who will decide that I am too a)bothersome b)piddly to be kept on.

I will become "a story," a cautionary tale to other writers. Nancy Martin will catch wind of it through her agent who will start off, "Did you hear what happened to Sarah Strohmeyer?"

And the cruelty of it all is that I know in my heart it is the best book I've ever written.

There's only one thing left to do - start another book, which I've done. That and finish my shopping and remember my mantra: Achieve Excellence, Avoid Success or, my backup mantra, One Day Closer to Death.

Though I'm open to other suggestions. Between you and me, the death thing's not all that appealing.

Stay warm,

Sarah

December 12, 2005

Sucking Up

SUCKING UP
By Harley

The other day, I was on the phone to someone rich and famous. It was business, not personal, and I wasn’t asking for any favors. Still, sixty seconds into the conversation, I wrote a big note to myself on the legal pad in front of me. “Stop sucking up.”

Because there I was, tied up in knots of charmless chit-chat, a little tense, in a high-pitched voice, with a cartoon smile stuck on my face.

Man, if there’s one thing I would delete about myself, it wouldn’t be ten years of age or recurring back pain, it would be my Inner Sycophant. It’s a character disorder right up there with kleptomania or pathological lying.

It can get activated anywhere. On a set with Stephen Spielberg, on the phone with the plumber, in the elevator with my husband’s law partner. The headmaster of my daughter’s school, the maitre-d’ of a restaurant, that one particular Fed Ex guy. Same suck-up factor. Same deer-caught-in-the-headlights reaction, on my part. Uh-oh. Must be brilliant. Must appear witty/profound/talented/breezy/hip/intelligent/engaging/serious/knowing/ respectful/sexy/ confident/humble/experienced/thin/tasteful/successful/law-abiding/daring/parental/ risqué/adult/young/impulsive/responsible/absolutely fabulous in some particular way.

I don’t even have to like or respect the person in question. I might think he’s a hack and she’s a quack. Doesn’t matter. This is what kills me about me, what distinguishes me from fictional heroines, even my own. I may have strong opinions, I may vote my conscience, I may put my money where my mouth is, but put me face to face with some renowned/powerful/sexy/talented/important whomever and I can’t even put my mouth where my mouth is.

Sucking up is a close relative of star struck, and I’m easily star struck. It doesn’t have to be a movie star, either, or a famous author. Uniforms do it for me. A scrub suit, a cop suit, a Pope suit. Martial artists. Buddhist monks. SWAT teams, jockies, firemen, baseball players. But not every cop, Pope, or baseball player. So: why this one and not that one?

Beats me.

Then there’s the Reverse Suck Up, whereby you find yourself in a sushi bar sitting next to Courtney Love and resolutely do not look at/acknowledge her, even if you accidentally hurl soy sauce on her, because you do not want to appear to be sucking up to her.

Yes, it’s a lot like 8th grade.

Since I’m occasionally on the other end of this, I know how sucking up sucks, how it puts up a barrier between the suck-upper and the suck-up-ee, preempting real conversation and potential friendship, that it’s unnecessary and annoying and exhausting. But I’d never suck up to me, and Here’s why: I only do it to people who don’t, in my imagination, do it to other people. See someone you admire struck stupid by someone they admire renders them a little less … admirable.

There are other antidotes. Going through a natural disaster together does wonders. Less drastic measures help too, although it’s not always practical to do shots of tequila, drop acid, or have sex with He Who Intimidates. She Who Renders One Witless.

So I trudge on, into the holiday season, where social trauma lurks around every corner. Do I tip my mailperson, and if so, how much? Do I shake hands with the night word processing guy at the Christmas party, or kiss him on the cheek? Do I unwrap and then pretend to love the argyle sweater that makes me look like a demented golfer? Will I have any credibility left by 2006? Have I any moral fiber at all?

No.

Happy Monday!

Harley

December 09, 2005

Face Time with The Rottweiler

This week

Nancy

went to

New York

Go to fullsize image

for some face time. Yep, in these dark and turbulent publishing times, we must make the pilgrimage if we want The Powers That Be to remember who we are.  They need to see our faces.  And we need to hear what they think so we can plan accordingly:  Start looking for a day job or reading

Caribbean

real estate ads. Or something in between.

My game plan started two months ago. Once I got over the sticker shock of hotel rooms ($500 per night plus 17% in sneaky taxes) and the airfare ($800, if you can believe it) I made the sensible choice and phoned my sister to ask if I could crash at her place in Brooklyn--Park Slope, to be exact.  (She, meanwhile, scheduled her vacation to the

Galapagos Islands

—I kid you not—so I had to cope with the city without benefit of a native guide.) Then I jumped into the Silver Bullet and drove.  I like driving. But I hate getting lost.  And, baby, I got lost in

Brooklyn

for 2 hours while school let out and every kid in the borough threw snowballs into traffic.  But enough about my travel woes.  You want the good stuff, right?

'Cause, whoa Tarts, I heard all the gossip!  (Meet me at the water cooler when Margie goes on her ciggie break and I will reveal all!!  Preview:  Michele Martinez has The Coolest shoes. I saw her at the MWA Christmas party along with such luminaries as Reed Coleman and Alison Gaylin. Honestly, Michele is a BABE. Plus a great writer, and I think I caught a glimpse of her Most Wanted in paperback, so run, don’t walk to buy it.  But is there a nicer person in the biz?)

Anyway, I met my agent first in the Magnolia Bakery where I picked up the famous cupcakes to take to my editor. (HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO-- get it?--comes out in March.)  Over coffee (for her) chamomile tea (me—I needed to be calm) my agent laid out the strategy.

I love my agent. Heretofore, I have referred to her as The Rottweiler. She is very aggressive when she needs to be (Nervous Publisher:  “Are you going to yell at us today?”) but the rest of the time she’s the most entertaining person in the room, very smart, funny, lovable. Eager, energetic. A purebred winner. An incredibly hard working, creative person. The perfect agent.

As we walked down to the publishing house, she was still talking business, but we were laughing up a storm.

My editor is a lovely lady—quiet, intellectual, also hard-working. Tiny. She took us to the conference room, which contained a table long enough to seat Parliament. Put a couple of candelabra on it and the right table linens, and you’d have an ideal setting for a Danish modern version of Frankenstein. The PR department trooped in, sat opposite us.

Which is when the Rottweiler began her presentation. Her first of many that day. She was incredible.  Full of ideas. Contagiously enthusiastic. She did everything but get up on the table and dance. She had vision, and she had concrete suggestions of how to realize that vision. And she did it while making everyone smile. Talk about a championship act.

Then we adjourned to a French restaurant for the obligatory Take The Author To a Lovely Lunch, which was incredibly delicious and attended by about two dozen publishing executives. (Well, okay, not two dozen, but times have changed since 198- when the same editor took me out for a Rueben sandwich at a deli around the corner from her office.) After lunch, we were scheduled for the heavy duty discussions, so lunch was supposed to be a nice break in the action—the social hour. Did we have an uplifting literary discussion, you ask?

Uh, no. We swapped Christmas shopping tips. (Red Envelope.  Go ahead and click. You’ll thank me.) We talked about the Tuba concert at

Rockefeller

 

Center

this weekend.  A little literary talk, I guess, when Caroline Kennedy’s poetry book   came up—another ideal holiday gift for just about anyone. We leaned in close for a little industry gossip. Thinking about what I could possibly blog about later, I asked them to tell me their most horrifying Obligatory Author Lovely Lunch stories, but they were too well-mannered to share.  The Rottweiler continued to be the Queen Bee---the most entertaining person at the table. We got to laughing, of course.

And we ended up talking about what kind of dog you are. It’s a quiz, and you answer the questions to find out what breed of dog best represents your personality. This is fun, so take a look: http://www.gone2thedogs.com/  Go to fullsize image  I am a Chinese shar pei.  Who knew??

Anyway, in the course of our Lovely Lunch hilarity, the Rottweiler revealed that she loves reading the books of Jan Karon. Which, in a single stroke, completely ruined the whole Rottweiler image for me.  For the record, I, too, enjoy Jan Karon’s books, which are gently funny, sweet stories set in a small southern town full of quirky characters.  But this kind of info sure made the Rottweiler seem more of a . . . Labrador retriever. Or maybe a nice cocker spaniel.

But not for long.  After lunch, the Rottweiler was back in action.

I shopped long and hard for the right literary agent. The Rottweiler is my third in twenty-some years of writing.  I researched the kind of agent who worked with the sub-genre of books I longed to write, and I traveled to NY to meet her face to face. On that trip, I met another agent, too, and when I described to her what I wanted to write, the second agent pulled a book from her shelves and said, “Oh, you mean a book like this one.”  Which was a current bestseller the Rottweiler had agented, not the woman who pulled it off the shelf.  Decision made.  Well, that moment plus the hour I spent howling with laughter in the east side, third floor, windowed garret the Rottweiler called her office.

Anyway, it takes a week like the one I just had to appreciate the value of a fabulous literary agent. I’m so, so glad the Rottweiler is on my team.  At this point, I only hope I can deliver as much good stuff as she has to this relationship. I’m still absorbing what I heard and learned,  The Silver Bullet and I were alone together during my drive home (yes, I beat the snow storm) so I had a lot of time to meditate on what happens next.  Thanks to the Rottweiler, I have some new ideas.

Hope everyone enjoys the weekend. We’re venturing out to find a Christmas tree, and I’m considering breaking out the cookie recipe box. If anyone has some suggestions, I’m listening.

Meanwhile, what kind of dog are you??

December 07, 2005

All I Want for Christmas Is Escada Swarovski Crystal Jeans

All I Want for Christmas is Escada Swarovski Crystal Jeans

by Susan's Dearest Chum, Tiffany Van Cleef Arpel

My pal, Miz Susan, had to head out to the Galleria to work on winnowing down her holiday list, so I told her I'd fill in on the blog today, offering my always fabulous shopping tips.  If I'd left Susan to discuss the subject, she'd be all about "I'm on a budget, blah blah blah."  A budget?  Poo.  That word's not even in my vocabulary, unless my stable hand says, "Hey, Tiff, can't seem to get Appletini's ass out of the stall, even when I try to budge it." 

Look, I've done my best to pick out truly reasonable items for everyone on your gift list (meaning: me, me, me!); so don't panic, even if your trust fund is tied up in litigation because your money manager had been donating to a charitable organization that turned out to have funded a small sect of wannabe-terrorists in Aruba.  I do know how to spot a bargain, particularly if it's really sparkly.  Which leads me to my first recommendation, as noted in the title of my piece (because I'm anything but subtle):

Jeans Escada Couture Swarovski Crystal jeans, available at Neiman Marcus for a mere $10,000.  Honestly, you can never have too many jeans, and why not have a pair that glitters like the Vegas strip when you're caught in the headlights of your boyfriend's Lamborghini?  Just be really careful about wiping sweaty palms on your thighs when you're wearing these babies, as you can cut yourself up pretty good.  (Don't ask.)

If you like something simpler, you can always go with the Dolce & Gabbana Astrakhan jeans, which are incredibly priced at $3,950.  It's like stealing, I swear.

For the very special woman on your list who likes things soft and fuzzy (and that's me, me, me!), how about a lovely and practical Louis Vuitton mink scarf, a mere pittance at $1,710.  It can double as a mink pillow if you stay at a hotel where the sheets smell too bleachy (yeah, Paris Hilton, and you can tell you dad I said so!).

Not into scarves?  Then go for J. Mendel's sable vest (price tag:  $19,500).  Though I'm afraid my arms would get cold, so, please, spring for both.  You wouldn't want me wandering into Donald Trump's Christmas Eve bash hacking up phelgm 'cuz I've got pneumonia, now would you?

The perfect outfit for any holiday party is the little black dress, and Miu Miu has the cutest ruffled one for a paltry $820.  I know.  What a deal, huh?  And since you'll only wear it once, you won't feel like you're getting ripped off or anything.

You're probably saying, "Tiff, my God!  What fantastico ideas!  Surely you can't have more?"

Ah, but I do.

Like this little gem:  Faraone Mennella for Carolina Herrera citrine, rose quartz and pink tourmaline brooch.  It's understated yet pretty as my picture.  "But what's that cost, Tiff?" I hear you asking.  To which I reply, "You can easily afford it AND the mortgage payments on your villa in Tuscany without selling off those Rembrandt etchings."  $14,000.  Yes, that's right.  Unbelievable, huh?  So make it two, please!

You're wondering, too, about New Year's Eve, because you'd like to bring a bottle of bubbly to that party Skip and Bitsy Vanderhaven are throwing in Greenwich.  My suggestion?  Take them a set of Hermes cocktail glasses (just $400 a glass) and the Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne 1990 ($231).  I guarantee, they will be your pals for life (or at least until you give them a really bad gift at the next party, if I move to Paris--which I'm contemplating--and won't be around to advise you).

And, finally, the perfect holiday present.  One that will never be returned or re-gifted.  Here goes (drumroll, please, Ringo):  a yoga retreat at Hotel Tugu in Bali.  At $2,590 per couple x four nights, it's even cheaper than the jeans!

So there you are, my darlings.  Have your valet or your personal assistant wrap 'em up, and you're all finished.  It was a lot easier than you thought, wasn't it?  Because life is too short to waste a lot of time in places called "The Galleria" when you could be at the spa, getting high colonics and Brazilian bikini waxes and your eyebrows plucked to smithereens.

If you need further inspiration, just repeat this ditty (my personal mantra):  "Gucci, Pucci, Prada, Fendi, nothing's wrong with being trendy."

Ciao, babies...and happy shopping!

Tiff

December 06, 2005

sex and teens, whassup with that?

By Sarah

**NOTE** The following about sex and teenagers contains language most normal adults might find offensive, though for teenagers is part of the daily dialectic. If you are easily put off by crude depictions of sexual acts or if you don't have a teenager in the house you may wish to avoid this one.

Over the weekend my sister in law, who is a veteran English teacher at the high school where our daughter is a freshman, recreated a conversation she'd overheard in the hallway. In short, it was between two girls and went something like this: "How come when a guy sleeps with two girls in one night it's okay but if I sleep with two guys suddenly I'm a skank?"

Pause.

It's true. Even in Vermont - to which parents move, leaving behind decent paying jobs elsewhere just so their children can live move "innocent" lives - teenage girls and boys (and yes, I'm using girls and boys -they have not earned the right to be called women and men) are acting out sexually in ways that would make their aging hippy, free-love neighbors blush blood red scarlet. This not simply premarital sex - this is ""I-don't-know-his-last-name-but-he's-really-cute" sex. This is the kind of activity that makes "friends with benefits" a church sanctified sacrament in comparison.

In fact this mindless fornication, including that of the oral variety provided by girls to boys in the back hallways and staircases of our high school, is so rampant it's considered commonplace akin to a roach problem or fleas. Consider this:

When getting my hair highlighted yesterday, I asked my stylist (a friend who has helped me out with many a Bubbles book) if she had actually ever performed a Brazilian wax, as her price sheet listed. She said she'd done one and that was enough to swear off them forever. The "client" was a high schooler, so young that my stylist said she looked "like a little girl on the table." Not only did she want a Brazilian, she wanted the works. In other words, if it was part of the female anatomy, if it had a hair follicle, she wanted it waxed. Oh, wait. It gets better. Who was paying for it?

Her mother.

No surprise. More than half of the women coming in and requesting Brazilians (at $65 a pop) are high school girls. And they are not doing it to fit in with their girlfriends, either. They are getting Brazilians because they are doing things that even after 16 years of marriage I wouldn't consider. Okay, I might consider, but at my age and my weight no one would really ask of me seriously.

These revelations have served as fertile fodder for conversation with our 14-year-old daughter, a level headed kid with a straight A average who is as confused and troubled by what she sees as we are. What upsets her is what upsets my sister in law  and me, namely the utter unfeminism of it all. Did women fight throughout the 20th century to establish themselves as equals to men, only to have their daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters demean themselves on their knees on the linoleum-floored janitor closets? Why the focus on boys? I know what the boys get out of it, but what do the girls get? No matter what the answer, it's not worth it.

The most disturbing aspect is that I've known these girls since they were little giggling snots with Polly Pockets. They were in my Girl Scout Troop. I took them swimming or berry picking, to county fairs and out for ice cream. I watched them play with dolls. And here's the shocker - it wasn't that long ago. These are still very immature people in their formative years creating a history that they will never be able to erase. Not only that, but from a biological perspective they are exposing themselves to nasty, even fatal, diseases.

I'd like to report that these girls are the daughters of neglectful, slothful parents because at least then I'd be able to find a blame. But I can't. These are the kind of parents who went out of their way to insure that their daughters fortified their self esteem. They read Reviving Ophelia and fretted about the suppression of the adolescent female voice. They encouraged their daughters to be athletic and happy and open to any possibility.

And in the end, all their daughters could do was to concentrate on hooking Jake, Josh, Justin and etc. For ten minutes in a broom closet or in the back row of a movie theater.

So what are we to do about this epidemic of rampant, mindless teenage sex? Do we turn off their computers? Stop them from watching Friends reruns? (And, as much as I love Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine were no role models - though they were adults.) Do we have a school-wide pow wow about awareness?

Or do we turn our attention to the boys and urge them to reject their hormonal urges in lieu of a Greater Decency?

Listen, at this moment I'm open to any ideas because I believe this is a crisis that could have devastating repercussions down the road. At the very least, it will spawn a generation of self-loathing, very unhappy women. And that means very unhappy families. And a very unhappy world.

Sarah

December 05, 2005

Pardon My Ignorance

PARDON MY IGNORANCE
By Harley

Since becoming a published novelist nearly three years ago, I’ve developed a signature phrase that comes in handy on a near-weekly basis: Pardon My Ignorance.

Ten days ago, my agent Renée phoned. A cheerful-yet-cautious note in her voice told me this wasn’t fabulous news call. (When it’s fabulous news, Renée prefaces it by saying, “fabulous news!” As in, “Fabulous news! You’re about to be translated into Dutch.”)

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said. “They’re going to remainder the hardcover of DATING DEAD MEN.”

“Pardon my ignorance,” I said, “but what does that mean?”

Among other things, Renée explained, it means I get to buy my own hardcovers at a dollar something a book. Wow! That’s a bargain better than anything going on at the mall right now. A bargain worthy of the 99-cent store.

Oh.

Now, I’m no economics major, but I began to see that it might not be a good thing to have my books going for the price of a bottle of water at Starbuck’s.

Renée said we were talking a few thousand books, which didn’t sound like a lot, if that meant the rest actually got sold to people. But there was a subdued quality to the conversation, the kind of tone used to discuss menopause or infertility or mental illness—all the things I blab about in blogs—so I kept the news to myself for a day or two. Then I casually mentioned it to a bunch of people on an eGroup and was advised to buy the remainders. All of them. “Buy now! Buy every book you can afford! Buy low, sell high!”

For a collector, I realized, it’s like paying top dollar for a Fabergé egg, and then hearing they’re handing them out with Happy Meals.

Okay, it’s not an exact analogy. But still.

So I ran it by my husband, who mumbled, “um, okay.” Probably I ran it by him while he was distracted. Maybe while he was on the phone. And probably I said something about a dollar a book and two thousand books. Give or take. I favor the “P.S. your cat is dead” style of communication, the circuitous route, stopping just short of saying, “Fabulous news!” in introducing not-so-fabulous news.

Anyhow, a few days later, when the actual Remainder Notice from Random House arrived in the mail, it turned out to be 2,740 books @ $1.43 a book. Meaning that the two thousand dollars I’d rounded it off to turned out to be . . . a tiny bit more. Okay, $3,918.20. Plus tax.

Which led to another not-so-fabulous dilemma.

Where does one put 2,740 books?

We do not live in a castle. Two of our three children share a bedroom. In lieu of a guest room we have a Trundle Bed. Oddly enough, we have six bathrooms, but even very large bathrooms, which ours are not, balk at harboring 228.3 cardboard boxes.

However:  We could, for five grand, buy a used yurt. That’s a tent-like structure used by Central Asian nomadic people. To live in, presumably, but who’s to say they don’t also house their remaindered books there?

We could ship them to relatives all over the Midwest, who have attics and basements. But why stop there?  I could put in a note with the 700 Christmas cards I’m about to send, asking each recipient to adopt a mere 3.9 books.

We could hide them in the catacombs underneath the Vatican.

We could reverse Time, return the books to pulp, and the pulp to the rainforest.

Or, we could just move.

I am open to alternative suggestions. Hurry, please. The FedEx truck cometh.

Happy Monday!

Harley

December 02, 2005

Nancy's Been Tagged

A friend had to explain to me what being “tagged” meant. I thought I was going to be attacked by a teenaged boy with a can of Day-Glo Go to fullsize imagespray paint, but turns out I’ve been mentioned on Carla Negger’s blog (Girl, why aren’t you writing? Your deadline is when??) which means I must list 15 scintillating facts about my reading preferences and then tag three more bloggers who must do the same thing. This sounds suspiciously like one of those chain letters that threaten to ruin your life, or worse yet that thingie where you send kitchen towels to three people, and who in the world needs six dozen kitchen towels? Plus I’m supposed to be packing for my trip to New York next week (for the big meeting with my agent, editor, publisher, publicist and the New York City Transit Authority, I think, but maybe they’ve been left off the list) not to mention writing chapters of my book. Anyway, if you’re dying to know whether or not I’ve tagged you, just skip the David Copperfield stuff and scroll to the bottom.

  1. I was an English major in college, but have never read War and Peace, Tom Sawyer or anything by Trollope. So sue me.

  1. I read Silence of the Lambs while spending a week on a cardiac care ward (hey, I’m still alive, right?) and hooked up to a heart monitor. I was halfway through the book when suddenly two doctors, three nurses and a crash cart came flying in my door. Go to fullsize image Apparently, my heart was V-tacking so badly they thought I was gonna die.

  1. My favorite Jane Austen book is Persuasion.  It tears my heart out every time.

  1. I let my children read The Babysitter’s Club books. Every single one of them. And they turned out just fine.

  1. I have not read Harry Potter. For no other reason than it just doesn’t appeal to me. Let the flame war begin.

  1. I wear my husband’s worn out, white athletic socks to bed. Which has nothing to do with books, but I wonder if anyone’s read this far.

  1. For every book I finish reading, I start at least three but only get through about twenty pages. Life’s too short, don’t you think, when there are so many great books out there?

  1. My husband will read any book with a swastika on the cover. They just don’t make villains like the Nazis anymore. Me, I’m bored by gotta-save-the-world thrillers.  If there’s a writer more boring than Tom Clancy, please keep that info to yourself.

  1. I started writing romance novels in 1981—before I had ever read one. I’m not proud of that.  Then I read The Flame and the Flower, and I saw the light. The formula, that is. But the Rosemary Rogers rape fantasy really creeped me out.

  1. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon and Straight Man by Richard Russo are two of my top ten best books of all time.  Altho they're not on my all-time fave list, I 've also recently enjoyed Bergdorf Blondes, the Shopaholic books and Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I think it’s healthy to have an eclectic taste.

  1. To get myself in the mood to write about the Blackbird Sisters, I often read a few pages of Nancy Mitford, Michael Chabon, Jane Austen, Robert Parker or Mary Stewart. Or Diana Vreeland's autobiography, which is hilariously wonderful. Their use of language can always kickstart my writing.

  1. Mary Stewart is probably the author who most influenced me to become a writer. I started reading her books when I was twelve and haven’t stopped. Thank heavens they’re being re-issued, because my copies are crumbling into dust.

  1. I read a book a week. I try to read two. Every year I start a reading diary, but I quit after a while. One year I managed to keep it going until March, which was a record. This week I’m reading a book about polo, which cost me a bloody fortune, and Margaret Dumas’s cozy mystery,  Speak Now, which is adorable.

  1. I collect children’s books, especially those will fabulous art work or stories that bring a lump to my throat. Someday I’m going to have grandchildren. Soon, I hope. Really soon. Maybe really, really soon? (Subtle hints have not worked so far, can you tell?)

  1. I can’t believe you read this far. Last of all: I love Shakespeare. I am awed by how much stuff started with him.  Go to fullsize image

Okay, I’m told it’s no fair tagging the three other Book Tarts, so I’m tagging three other authors I love to read, really respect and hope they’re listening:   Charlaine Harris , Jayne Anne Krentz , Jennifer Crusie and just in case those ladies are working this weekend, I’ll throw in an extra because I think she writes a really great blog, not to mention at least a coupla excellent books:  Nichelle Tramble.  By the way, if you know any of these writers and can drop them a note to alert them, you’d save me the embarrassment of nobody responding to my tag. If nobody answers, it's sorta like being picked last for the volleyball team, right?

Back to packing….

N

December 01, 2005

The Bingo Card of Life

by Nancy     Go to fullsize image

It’s raining so hard here today that the lid of somebody’s Rubbermaid trash can has floated down the street and is circling the drain in front of my house. And nobody has set foot outside to rescue it because it’s a gross, cold, unpleasant morning.  It’s the kind of day that send you rummaging through the kitchen cupboards for the Swiss Miss and some marshmallows, and you’ll even take the dried-out bag from last summer because some days just scream hot chocolate with marshmallows, even stale ones.

I figure it’s a great day to play Urban Bingo with the TLC crowd.

You know this game because most of you are writers or very astute and discerning readers.  You know that good writers take material from real life and make it fit onto the page to create good fiction.  Fiction that’s free of the trite and the clichéd. Fiction that the reader doesn’t know twelve pages into the story how it’s going to end. Fiction that’s compelling and entertaining and meaningful—for both the reader to read as well as the writer to write.

To play Urban Bingo, you look around at the world and take note of the good stuff.  The stuff that’s definitely stranger than fiction. 

Me, I had to train myself to observe the world because most of the time I’m wandering around in the fog of my own imagination.  Even a few weeks ago I didn’t recognize my next door neighbor in the grocery because I was wondering whether or not I could kill somebody with a Jimmy Dean sausage. She had to introduce herself.  I woke up before she snapped her fingers in front of my face to break the trance.

I play a lot of Urban Bingo.  Go to fullsize image

Before we start, let me assure you that despite its name, Urban Bingo can be played anywhere, including (perhaps especially!) Harley’s dining room at Thanksgiving or a desolate, snow-blasted football field in Michigan   Go to fullsize imagewhere my husband will be standing on Saturday, thrilled to be officiating a playoff game despite being dressed in white polyester breeches and a black and white striped shirt while some poor undergraduate on a scholarship runs out from the sidelines between plays to shovel the slush from around my insane husband’s spit-shined black shoes.   No, Urban Bingo isn’t a game that requires an urban setting, just people and places. Circumstances. Details.

The trick is to find five really great details and---Bingo!—you’ve got five paragraphs of material. A whole page.

Here’s how you play:

Last summer as I took a break from finishing HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO, I saw an extremely bow-legged guy coming out of a parking garage wearing a Pucci mini skirt, slingbacks, a Zsa Zsa wig and one of those fluffy bolero-style tops in lavender----which wasn’t enough to put him on the Urban Bingo card. No, a cross-dressing guy in a parking garage--that’s pretty typical in the neighborhood where I saw him, and I’d be a snarky jerk to put that combo of details into a story without some kind of added dash of social commentary.  But if he’d had another detail—like carrying a fishing rod, maybe, and heading in the direction of the adventure outfitter’s store—he’d have made it onto the Urban Bingo card.  (Check out HAVE YOUR CAKE in March to see how I used him.) Making fun of his fashion sense would be stupid on my part.

See, I think snark alone is a writer being an asshole--making judgments about people who are mixed up or less fortunate or fashion victims (who’s to say?) or lacking in some quality the writer clearly thinks is more important than human kindness. So simply a snarky observation doesn’t qualify in Urban Bingo.  You have to add another layer to whatever it is you find absurd. Wit, yes, but with heart or an unexpected direction or at least a political (in the most non-politics sense of the word) point of view.

Last week I was procrasti—er, doing some online research--and came across Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback and eligible bachelor Ben Roethlisburger’s blog.  Nothing you wouldn’t expect there, really.  Except all the blog comments are from . . . young women. Flirtatious young women. (Lately some enterprising genius has done land office trade in sweatshirts printed with “Mrs. Roethlisburger.”)  And my other neighbor attended a charity event where Big Ben was the star attraction, and she noticed all the middle-aged mothers shoving their daughters in his direction, but his body guards (the man is 6 feet, gazillion inches tall and he needs body guards, you ask??) managed to fend them off. That combo of details will make their way onto my pages somehow.  Meanwhile, the bachelor quarterback hiding behind his bodyguards has earned a spot on my Bingo card.

How about it, team?  Care to play some Urban Bingo today?  What have you noticed lately?