« December 2005 | Main | February 2006 »

23 posts from January 2006

January 31, 2006

My Husband, the Caribbean Revolutionary Leader

By Sarah

It's the end of January and it couldn't be grayer. What I'd really like to do at a time like this is blow out of town, go somewhere tropical. Palm trees. White sand beaches. Warm breezes. I know that I'm not original in this.

However, there are two obstacles, no three, that keep me from hopping on a plane for that flight to the Caribbean. 1) I have a new book due at the end of April - I know, insane. Don't get me started. I haven't. (Ha, ha, Ellen. That was just a joke) 2) Money 3) I believe our family is wanted by a band of North Caicos guerillas.

The story goes like this: I planned a vacation for our family in the Turks and Caicos, a beautiful spot only a few hours from Boston. As my husband, Charlie, is an extremely athletic outdoors type who can't stand the thought of lying on a beach all day or being surrounded by commercialism, I divided the vacation into two parts. First part: fly to Providenciales, the big resort hub, and take a put-put plane to North Caicos. Remote. No resorts, except for a few eco-touristy things. That way he could have his rustic experience and I could get his antsiness out of the way. Second part: Fly back to Providenciales and stay at a lovely resort with an ocean-view room, pools, tiki huts on the beach, pina coladas on a tray. Perfect.

First day in the first part. We are staying in a modest "hotel" on the beach in North Caicos which is rustic and beautiful, though property is going for $90 million per square inch on the prospect that a bridge will be built connecting Providenciales to North Caicos. We can practically walk through the water to the Parrot Cay resort where Ben Affleck and Jen Garner got married.

Charlie bounds out of bed at 6 a.m. and declares he will go for a run up the length of the beach. This is where Anna and Sam, our two kids, and I are waiting when he returns an hour and a half later to declare that he is going to bike THE ENTIRE ISLAND.

"Have something to eat, first," I suggest.

But he scoffs at this. He has big plans to return to Vermont healthy and more in shape. And besides, don't you know that food just slows you down. No, all he needs is water. And off he goes.

It is 9 a.m.

Anna, Sam and I do what we can. The weather is not great despite pronouncements that the weather is ALWAYS GREAT in the Turks and Caicos. We swim. We build sand castles. We have lunch. Looking up the beach, I see a deserted resort where I had actually contemplated making reservations, but which was closed down by the Italian Parmalat scandal the week before. And then there's this spit jutting out. I decide to take Anna and Sam through the water around it that afternoon.

It is a fascinating adventure, especially when I realize the spit of land is not land, but a coral reef and that as we are coming back, the tide is coming in. Not the way it comes in at Cape Cod, but in a dramatic, a foot every fifteen minutes way. Shit! I grab Sam, who is only eight, and small, and urge Anna, who is thirteen, to plow on. Water is up to Sam's neck. Waves are crashing and I picture the three of us smashed against the reef. When we make it home it is three and I am certain Charlie will be thrilled to see us, worried beyond belief.

Except he's not there. Nor is he there two hours later when the sun is setting and Anna, Sam and I have changed into real clothes. The wind is picking up. It might storm. And then, just as the last rays sink over the horizon, Charlie appears, riding his bike down to the beach. At which point he falls off and lands face first in the sand.

He is drunk.

I don't mean a few sheets to the wind. Not toasted. I mean drunk. In all of our then fifteen years of marriage I'd never seen him that drunk, not even after his bachelor party. Plus, his shoulder is looking really odd. It's distorted.

"Are you okay?" I asked stupidly.

"I told them," he said, getting up, if you can call weaving from side to side getting up, "that they needed to start a revolution. They've got to take back their land." His theory - a correct one, probably - was that the natives were going to be screwed when North Caicos took off like Providenciales had and if they didn't want to be washing sheets, they needed to grab their guns and start by taking over the parking-lot sized airport.

Oh, brother. Sam and Anna give each other looks and I decide Charlie needs to get inside and get to bed--now! All that exercise, no food and he's as red as a lobster. Then there's the beer.

All I want to do is get him sober. It's a long process. Through it I hear how after bikng the island he stopped at a local dive bar to get water. The natives there insisted he drink a beer, too. Which he did and ended up buying a few rounds. That's when the revolutionary talk started with Charlie pounding the bar and declaring a junta. Satisfied that they would lead the war in his absence, he got on his bike, tried to jump a curb and dislocated his shoulder.

The bar was exactly fifty feet from our hotel. He'd arrived there at 2. He left at 6.

"Well," I said with a sigh, "at least you got drunk on North Caicos. You can go home and no one will be the wiser."

Uh, not true, Charlie says. Apparently, in the middle of this revolutionary rant who should walk in to this remote bar on this remote island but a woman he'd just interviewed to be principal of our local elementary school. She was staying at one of the eco-touristy things up the road. In fact, she's from Vermont, a mere few towns away.

"We'll always have North Caicos," has become the family joke, now. And let me just tell you, that fancy resort in Providenciales - where no one recognized him - was pretty damned nice. There's a lot to be said for lying amidst luxury and not worrying if there's a band of natives about to take over the airport because some white guy from Vermont said they should.

Gee, I hope this doesn't get me divorced,


January 30, 2006

Me & Captain Steve

Me & Captain Steve
By Harley

Last week, I came out of my martial arts class, hopped in my car, and listened to a message on my cell phone from a voice I didn’t recognize.

“Steve,” the man said, “I need you to call me. I’m having a hard time getting hold of you.”

Well, no wonder. Didn’t the caller find it odd that Steve would have an outgoing message that said, “Hi, this is Harley”?

Whatever. Being the goodie two shoes that I am, I called the man to tell him that he had not in fact
reached Steve.

“This isn’t Steve’s number?” he asked.


“Captain Steve Lord?”


“This isn’t 310 blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah?”

“Yeah,” I said, “That’s this number, but there’s no Steve here.”

“Well, darn it, that’s the number he gave me.”

“Sorry. Hope you find him.”

He thanked me for going to the trouble of calling, and hung up. And that was that.

Until three nights later. Again, I came out of Krav Maga, again came the call. This time I, not my voice mail, answered.

“Captain Steve Lord, please,” said my caller.

“Hi, this is me again,” I said. “The person who’s not Steve.”

“Captain Steve’s not there?”


“Are you sure?”

I looked around my car. “Yes,” I said, “I don’t know any Captains.” Besides Captain Kangaroo, Cap’n Crunch, and the Captain and Tenille.

“You don’t know Steve Lord?”

“I don’t even know a Steve,” I said. “At least, not well enough to share a phone with.”

“But I reached him at this number yesterday.”

A vision entered my mind, of some guy in a sailor suit breaking into my car as I walked my twins into preschool. Just to use my phone.

“And you don’t have a boat in the Marina?” my caller asked.

“No. No captains, no boats, I live inland, I’m a writer, and—”

And here’s where it turns into an ONLY IN L.A. moment.

“You’re a writer!” he cried. “What do you write?”


“Perfect! I’ve got three—no, four novels I need written, and I don’t have time to write them. But they’re great. One’s a period piece, a historical thing—I’m also doing a western that I can see as a mini-series, maybe a feature. And then I have a screenplay that’s action/adventure, but I want to write it out as a book—”

“You’ve certainly got the genres covered,” I said. Except sci fi and romance, which is maybe where
Captain Steve comes in.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot on my plate. You interested in writing any of them? You’ve gotta write fast, though.”

“No, I’ve got a two-book deal and three small children,” I said. “But thanks.”

Now, at this point—okay, maybe long before this point—a normal person would’ve hung up. But suddenly I had this thought that if this guy was on the level, Bob in my Writers Group might be interested. Bob can write fast. Bob can write screenplays, novels, you-name-it, any genre. Yes. I actually entertained that thought. It’s the same genetic quirk that’s had me participate in pyramid schemes, chain letters, séances, romances with Unlikely Men, and 40-mile trips to see the Portrait of the Weeping Blessed Virgin Mary Whose Eyes Follow You Around the Room.

I did come to my senses, but not before jotting down the home and cell phone number of J.T. Magee. So if any of you out there have been waiting for someone to ask you to write a book, this is your lucky day.

And Captain Steve, if you’re reading this? Get your own cell phone.

Happy Monday!

January 27, 2006

Mr. Frey in the Principal's Office

By Sarah

There's not much to be certain of when it comes to Jim Frey and his A MILLION LITTLE PIECES fantasy memoir, but this much I know is true: that Jim has been in this position many, many times before. Jim is quite accustomed to being a naughty boy. Not a bad boy. There's a difference. Being a bad boy takes some courage.

There he was between Oprah, playing the part of school headmistress with her noble goals and high standards in jeopardy, and his upper crust editor Nan A. Talese, playing the role as upper crust mom. After Oprah gritted her teeth and walked Jim through his many lies (2 hours in jail, not 87 days), Mom was called into the office and Jim sat between them, his white T-shirt peeking out from under his preppy blue Oxford cloth shirt, sweat breaking out under his baby curls, hands between his knees. Nan did the Mom thing of expressing her concern and, at the same time, noting that she, too, had once suffered dentistry without Novocaine so of course she'd trusted her precious little boy. Jim nodded and I so wanted to slap him.

Yet another case of a privileged boy blowing the most golden of opportunities.

I could sympathize with Oprah (I'm sure this makes her feel better) as I, too, had made the mistake on the Lipstick Chronicles of initially excusing a memoir writer for not writing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Then people like Kathy Sweeney and Mark and Laura Lippman bitch slapped me, a former journalist, into deep, deep shame. The truth, the REAL truth, matters. Period. End of question. They had a take no prisoners approach to lies and they were right. God bless them.

But, as New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointed out on Oprah yesterday, we got a bigggg problem when it comes to buying, literally buying, lies in this country. Politics aside (there are certain people I'd definitely like Oprah to similarly grill on stage). I mean, look at Frey's #s on Amazon (the only public sales barometer at my fingertips). Last I checked A MILLION LITTLE PIECES was at #5. No wonder Frey was able to calmly sip his water and barely, just barely, look contrite. I don't think I once heard him say he was sorry with any sincerity - granted, a hard emotion for him to muster considering his background.

As with any Oprah experience, a lesson needed to be learned. And while I voted for "give back all the money, Jim," Oprah wanted Frey to acknowledge that his continued lying showed that, indeed, he was not on the road to recovery. And that his appearance on her show was the first step in what would hopefully be a productive process.


If anything, I sided with the Washington Post columnist who wondered why a corporation as big as Doubleday couldn't shell out $30,000 to hire a fact checker who would have determined in, oh, a half hour that Frey was full of bull. Like Oprah said, it there's no fact checking, then anyone can walk in to Nan Talese's office and produce a memoir, calling it real. Where's the responsibility? Where indeed.

The thing is, I just know there's another book in it for Frey. I mean, he's written about addiction and the guy he met in jail. His life crises had been exploited. He was out of material. Now he's got fresh meat, how it feels to humiliate yourself in front of millions of people. That might even sell better than dentistry without Novocaine.



January 26, 2006

Making Mistakes

"Can you be dressed in fifteen minutes?"

Not exactly the romantic invitation one hopes to hear from one's husband of twenty-seven years, but the University of Pittsburgh basketball team was playing Notre Dame,  Go to fullsize image and my husband's date cancelled at the last minute.  A banker, my husband maintains business relationships with guys (and a few women, so don't get your knickers in a twist) by taking them golfing, to sporting events and for an occasional cheap sandwich, depending upon . . . well, criteria I probably shouldn't get into here because we'd like him to keep his job. (It has health benefits, and we all know the true secret to any writer's success is a spouse who has a job with health benefits.) On that fateful night, I was his last resort.

I'm usually up for a new experience, so I graciously accepted. When we arrived at the game, I discovered I was one of maybe one hundred women in an arena that seats over 12,000. And I believe I was the only person in a sea of navy blue who wore pink.

I hadn't been to a basketball game since high school when I had a crush on . . . oh, let's call him Matt.  At the time, I didn't care what the score was. I just liked watching--uh, Matt in his little shorts as he participated in a big drama that involved a lot of shouting, sweat and flaunted testosterone. Plus I wanted to keep an eye on Michelle, the cute cheerleader with the yard-long ponytail who, I heard it rumored in algebra class, was Matt's first choice to be his date to the junior prom.

But at the Pitt-Notre Dame game, I found myself actually watching the basketball and marveling about many things. One young man missed an easy lay-up, and his home crowd . . . booed him. Now, if he had been most kids, he'd have collapsed center court in a miserable heap of destroyed self-esteem. But this plucky young fellow immediately put that mistake behind him and charged up the court to snake the ball away from a very determined Notre Dame player (Quinn--he's fabulous) and I found myself reflecting that a hoops player must forget his mistakes and move on. Fast.

It's a lesson that I, as a writer, need to act upon more often than I do.

As you know (because I've whined about it incessantly here for weeks) I'm working on the first draft of my WIP. Every day, I must consciously stop myself from going back and fixing things in the story. The beginning of this manuscript really sucks right now, and I desperately want to go back and clean it up.

But if I start revising right now, I'm afraid I'll lose my momentum and never finish the damn thing--or certainly not by my deadline--so I plunge ahead with the first draft. The shitty first draft.

Sure, it's full of mistakes, but I'm trying to press on because of the momentum thing.

Biggest mistake I ever made: (I've made bigger ones, but this is one I'll admit to.) Long ago, a stranger telephoned little me in my podunk town in western Pennsylvania and asked if I'd be interested in writing interactive, theater-style murder mysteries for a cruise line.

Yeah, right. Would you have believed that story? Why would Big Name Luxury Cruise Line call me, a Harlequin romance writer among hundreds of Harlequin romance writers? I mean, we're not exactly talking Joe Papp or Sue Grafton, y'know. Chances were better for Ed McMahon to legitimately appear in my driveway with a minivan full of balloons and a check for a million dollars. Figuring it was a scam, I politely turned down my caller. He was persistent, though, so I grabbed my Rolodex.  I remembered that my friend Lisa had written some interactive murder mysteries for her community theater (and I had bought a slumber party version for my kids from her--it was a big hit!) so I referred the caller to my friend.

Well, you know how the story ends. The offer wasn't a scam. Lisa wrote a perfectly wonderful interactive mystery, and the cruise line bought it and even asked if she'd sail with them so she could be a part of the first performance. It was a huuuuuuuge hit. They asked her to write more, and pretty soon Lisa was cruising all over the world directing murder mysteries before the midnight buffet. Mind you, her mysteries are better than anything I could have come up with, so I don't begrudge her a tiny bit.  She's been to China on a cruise ship, and she deserves that reward.

I thought a lot about what lesson I should have learned from that experience. And I've decided there wasn't one. The karma was Lisa's. So I've let it go.

                               Go to fullsize image

Writers must learn from our mistakes. To become better at our profession, we struggle every day to turn our failures and our paranoia into better stories, better prose, better marketing, better success. But sometimes we just have to let a big fat blunder roll off our backs.

If somebody starts booing from the stands, for example, you can't take it personally. (Can you tell? I'm trying to finish my book, and at the same time, the reviews for my March release are starting to see the light of day. So far, they've been very good. No booing. But I'm trying not to look over my shoulder. Instead, I'm trying to get that shitty first draft on paper.) You have to move on.

What was your biggest mistake? I mean, one that you're willing to share? And have you been able to let it go?

Before you ask: I did not go to the junior prom with Matt. Michelle did, and they had their baby before graduation.

Bullet dodged, huh?

January 25, 2006

Girls With Guns

Girls With Guns

By Nancie, Guest Blogger and Gun Girl

[Note from Susan:  Since I'm crazed by my fast-approaching deadline, I sent out a plea for someone to write this week's Wednesday post in my place, and Nancie bravely volunteered--thank you, chica!  I asked her to talk about some of the stories she's always sharing with me about her work, which I think you'll find intriguing, though I might add that guest bloggers' opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Book Tarts.]

On Thursday nights, I do something that some people find interesting though others are shocked by it, earning me odd looks usually reserved for horrific car crashes.  What could I possibly be doing that causes this wide range of reaction? 

I teach safe firearm handling and shooting to women.

The very thought of women handling firearms will send many running for cover, cowering with fright, as does the subject of firearms in general.  People who know me have a real hard time with the fact I own a gun--not because they're anti-gun, but because they've known me for years and the thought of a proven "walking disaster" owning a gun scares them more than jumping out of a plane without a parachute. 

I am the ultimate klutz.  Yep, I admit it.  I'll be called on it if I deny it, so why bother?  Bruises of unknown origin are constantly present on my flesh. I trip up the stairs, fall down the stairs, and stumble over invisible objects with frightening regularity.  I run into closed doors at least once a week.  I'm not allowed to touch the propane grill in the backyard nor handle any sharp implements in the kitchen, and I throw, well…..like a girl. 

When you put all that together, I guess I understand why family, friends, and even acquaintances are terrified at the thought that I own firearms and teach other women how to shoot (and do it--gasp--safely).  A few pals have closely scrutinized the documentation verifying that I am indeed a firearms instructor and have proclaimed it to be fake.  Except it's not.

The students at my Thursday night sessions are a vastly diverse group of women: doctors, lawyers, business owners, homemakers, retired professionals, a former Broadway dancer, police officers, and others who all share a passion for shooting.  The experiencing of the group ranges from never having touched a gun to life-long shooters who hold records from competitions around the U.S. 

If you ran into these women on the street, you'd have no idea they liked to shoot and were extremely good at the sport.  Guns are a topic not discussed in most circles, so people are often surprised when they discover the increasing number of women who are regular shooters, who put stickers on shooting accessories, and whose green military ammo cans are painted pink or yellow or with flowers.  We refer to our guns as "cute," which makes the men on the firing range more than a little nauseous.  Oh, yeah, and we name our guns.

But don't let that fool you. 

The image of our group from the male perspective is interesting.  They think we only shoot .22 pistols while discussing recipes and fashion tips, and worry about breaking our nails.  Some assume we're a bunch of militant females seeking acceptance in the male-dominated world of firearms. 

Those assumptions are all wrong...well, okay, we do discuss girlie things, like clothes, shoes, jobs, boyfriends, husbands, and kids.  But mostly we discuss firearms.  Yes, our target boards scare men and make them cringe because we decorate them with bright balloons, paper plates painted with bulls-eyes in colorful hues that aren't found in nature, and, of course, our paper targets are pastel.  So we adorn our shooting bags with smiley faces and embroider cute sayings and names on them?  You have a problem with that? 

Our handguns range from .454 Casull revolvers to AK-47s, shotguns, and rifles with enough power to rattle your teeth when you're standing ten feet away.  We take our shooting seriously; but, unlike the men, we have a support team that bursts into cheers and chants your name aloud when you have a great night on the range.   

Last year, a few of the guys decided to challenge us to a shoot-off and took us out to the desert.  Three guys and three girls loaded up two vehicles and went to their shooting spot.  The tone for the challenge was set soon after we got there when Debbie, who had only been shooting for five months, hit the pop can with one shot.  It was the same can that Mister-No-Woman-Can-Out-Shoot-Me had been trying to hit...and couldn't do it.   

We wore those men out in a couple of hours!  They were leaning on the bed of the truck, looking wiped out, and whining, "Aren't you ready to leave yet?"

To which we replied, "Are you kidding?"  Then we checked the back of the SUV for supplies.  "We've still got almost 2,000 rounds of ammo left.  We're just getting started." 

Funny, but they've never invited us to shoot with them since.

Several of us women volunteers meet up when we can, and we'll shoot on the range when it's open to the public and mostly occupied by men.  This is always fun for us, as they roll their eyes, making digs about our brightly colored target board.  "What, no confetti?  Did you forget the streamers?  You ladies bring a cake to go with the party balloons?" 

Aren't they creative with their snarky remarks?  But we don't care, we just smile and get ready to shoot.  The crowd of men behind us grows as we start firing, though we never really notice them, being that we're focused and serious about our shooting.  When the smoke clears, the target board is in shambles, balloons are gone, the pretty colored bulls-eyes no longer exist, and the snarky comments have been silenced. 

The majority of the men will skulk away, though a few have stayed to ask if we'd help them shoot like us...or if we'd teach their wives or girlfriends.  Mind you, were not taking a shot a minute, we're drawing from the holster and hitting the targets as fast as possible as we compete against each other, cheering and encouraging one another to do our best.

A recent tactical class held at the range involved several of our ladies, and one of the drills was drawing from the holster and--within 3 seconds--placing as many shots as possible into a regular-sized paper plate.  My favorite student, Debbie (now a regular shooting buddy), emptied her magazine into the plate without missing a one...and with a second to spare!  She was the only one who accomplished this, out-shooting a Marine and the seven other men in the class. 

The instructor, a man I know who has taught me quite a bit, asked her if she was shooting a fully automatic handgun and how she learned to shoot that fast.  She replied, "My coach taught me and runs me through rapid-fire drills all the time." 

The girl did me proud that day, and the rest of the ladies in the class were outstanding, too, according to the report I got from the instructor.   

One fellow in particular was extremely unhappy with me, after we spoke about teaching his wife to shoot.  He wanted her to get involved in the sport and enjoy herself, so I had him send her out on a Thursday night.  I instructed his wife a few times and now he's mad at me, and I do mean ticked off, because his wife shoots better than he does.  He complained about her wanting her own gun and taking his firearms to shoot all the time. 

Me:  "Um, sorry?  You did ask me to instruct her and get her involved so she would enjoy it like you do."

Him: "Well, yeah, but you didn't have to teach her to shoot that damn good!" 

Personally, I took it as a compliment, even though it wasn't meant that way. 

Many women, I find, don't like shooting because their first experience was not a pleasant one.  They are handed a gun with enough power to stop a runaway Hummer.  They pull the trigger, the gun goes KA-BOOM, and the recoil almost knocks them over, scaring the hell out of them.  Not surprisingly, they're hardly thrilled with the whole shooting thing. 

The reaction is perfectly understandable, as shooting for the first time should not include anything classified as heavy artillery by our military.  The goal is to shoot a hole in a paper target, not level a housing development. 

While some men have a problem with our gender infiltrating their turf, the majority of men on the range are very supportive of women involved in shooting sports.  They're not threatened by our choice of targets, are more than happy to share their firearms, and talk at length with us when we shoot.

Thursday nights on the range are a lot of fun and best described by the ladies as "our happy place."  It's our chance to relieve the pressures of the week, hang with the girls, and get cheered for personal successes as well as for shooting the center out of a target.  The highlight of Thursday nights is the terrified first-time shooter who's is afraid to touch the firearm for fear it will hop off thetable and start firing on a whim.  This same person, by the end of the first coaching session, has hit the bulls-eye with regularity, has a huge smile, bright eyes, and is extremely grateful we were there for her. 

We take out the fear of guns and replace it with education and safety, and we teach women how to have fun with the sport.    

As for me, well, I don't claim to be an expert sharpshooter, nor do I compete in events, so I don't hold any records or titles for matches.  I shoot because I enjoy it, and I volunteer to teach other women so they have a place they can come and ask questions without being intimidated by the unfamiliar world of firearms.  This is not just a man's sport anymore. Woman are increasing their numbers on the shooting ranges, in classes, and in the competitive arena.  Last year, the NRA elected a woman president, Sandra Froman, only the second woman to hold this title in 130 years.  We've come a long way, baby. 

So happy shooting, stay on target, and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, 'cuz it's one helluva ride. 

January 24, 2006

Osama's Book Club

By Sarah

Okay, that's it. I'm giving up on Oprah. I'm done with the flowers and chocolates I've been sending her along with my latest new release. Besides, Oprah likes liars or, rather, she gives them wide berth and as anyone who's read the responses to my post about Jim Frey knows, former frat boy liars are right out here at The Lipstick Chronicles.

Which is why I'm leaning more and more toward Osama, though I suspect he's not easily buttered up with chocolate or flowers. (Then again, neither was Oprah.) His debut choice for his brand new Osama's Book Club was not exactly my type of chick lit. William Blum's ROGUE STATE: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower. Osama plugged it in his I'm-Not-Dead-Yet speech last week. "If Bush carries on with his lies and oppression, it would be useful for you to read the book Rogue State," Osama said. And just like that, Blum's small-press book which- surprise here- is critical of US foreign policy went from #332,000 on Amazon to #42. Cha-ching!

Which means fictional accounts of babies being born at Wal-Mart are out and Osama-appeasing tomes are in. I can see the titles now: HOW OSAMA GOT HIS GROOVE BACK. I KNOW WHY THE TRAPPED TERRORIST SINGS. THE DEEP END OF THE CAVE. AND, OF COURSE, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES - MY VISION FOR AMERICA by Osama. (I've been told that bin Laden is not really a last name, just one his family took as a last name to seem more westernized. Also, his brother's Harvard University application insisted.)

Naturally, there are limitations to this new book club. Osama doesn't have the warm, feminine appeal of Oprah. And his TV appearances tend to be rather sporadic instead of reliably on channel 5 from 4:00-5:00, Monday thru Friday. I have never known him to hand out keys to 60 brand new Pontiacs. And, unlike Oprah, he does not have a glossy magazine that totes the value of spiritual growth and a good deep cleansing cucumber face mask. Though he should look into that. It could do wonders for improving his movement's morale between on-air showings.

These quibbles aside, here's the nut question: Could he go for Bubbles? I mean, my character's a bit of a renegade, like him. She's always up against "The Man." And I don't see why I can't fit Osama himself in a cameo in BUBBLES ALL THE WAY (November 2006, FYI). You know, maybe he could be shoplifting a couple of Slim Jims at the 7-11 in Hellertown and Bubbles spots him and....well, as my agent says, mayhem ensues. I bet Osama would be tickled.

Oh, sure, Bubbles is a symbol for all Osama despises about America. She dons the slutty attire of most Western Jezebels - though that's a personal choice as well as a medical one, seeing as how she's allergic to all-natural fibers. Plus she is a diehard Bon Jovi fan and Osama hates rock 'n roll. However, I happen to know that Osama himself used to frequent discos and get down with the lay-dies back in the funky 1970's. He was a regular Disco Stu, in fact, and so regretted his Studio 54 slumming that he reverted to Islamic fundamentalism. Talk about overboard. We all had our "boogie nights", Osama. Too much cocaine and Blondie do not a Jihad call for.

Yes, yes. The more I think about it, the more optimistic I feel. Osama's Book Club is definitely the way to go. Now to see if Penguin publicity can get a legitimate address. The one I have at #59 North Cave, the Third Hill past the Cravass, Western Afghanistan doesn't work anymore. Or maybe he's just avoiding me. You know how these celebrity terrorists are.

Honestly, if this doesn't get my phone tapped, who knows what will. Just what does a girl have to do to get bugged around here?


PS - Here's a pix of Osama in his 1971 Summer 'O Love at Oxford

January 23, 2006

Happy Birthday Cake to You

By Harley

Nancy, for reasons I now forget, suggested that an upbeat blog might be in order. With no football. So I threw out the 5-handkerchief weepie I wrote on the history of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and give you instead:

Birthdays. Well, mine. January 28, in the year of the Fire Monkey.

(My children find this upbeat, as there is cake involved—my youngest thinks the song is “happy birthday cake to you.” My husband finds it upbeat because, for a week and a day, I’ll be three, rather than two years older than he is. His birthday is Superbowl Sunday. Oh. Sorry. Football reference.)

It used to be that January 28th was an innocuous day to be born on. Then, on 1-28-86, I got a call from my Texas sister-in-law, shrieking, “Idn’t it AWful?”

“What, that I’m turning 29?”

“No! Turn on the TV!”

I did, to watch the Challenger explode, over and over. So now January 28 is the Anniversary of the Day the Challenger Exploded, a fact memorable mostly to NASA enthusiasts, people who lost loved ones, and broadcasters looking for filler on a slow news day. And possibly David Weisberg, my friend/birthday buddy, Elijah Wood (the hobbit), Jackson Pollock, and Colette. (FYI, Jackson Pollock and Colette are older than me. Also dead.)

Worst Birthday: the year I decided to treat myself to a movie at noon (noon!) on a weekday (a weekday!) and chose THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (upbeat!), only to be told, at the ticket counter, that there was a scratch on the negative. “Okay, what else is playing?” I asked, and was soon seated, popcorn in hand, watching THE BAD LIEUTENANT. Stop me if I’ve mentioned this before, but full frontal nudity with Harvey Keitel at noon in a darkened theater is not . . . a birthday sort of moment.

Best Birthday: Also alone, house-sitting in SoHo, drunk out of my mind (a frequent occurrence that year).  I passed out, and woke the next morning on the floor, with a ringing telephone next to my head. I answered. It was a certain organization (not Scientology), returning my call from the night before.

“But I didn’t call you,” I said.

“Oh? Are there other Harleys there with you?” the voice said.

I looked around. No.

“Let’s say for a minute it was you. Do you have a desire to stop drinking?”

“Uh . . .” profuse sweating on my end of the phone, “ . . . sometimes.”

The guy, whose name turned out to be Joe, told me what to do to get through that day without a drink. And I did it. I did it the next day too. Then I did it for 7,664 days. Today, with luck, will be 7,665.

The last birthday I spent alone was in 2000. I was eight and a half months pregnant. My husband, in England in business (watching Mike Tyson fight), surprised me with a limousine and a ticket to Les Miserables, which had managed to run for several scrillion performances without me seeing it.  I didn’t much like the play (I did like it better than THE BAD LIEUTENANT) and so, at intermission, I went outside, hailed the limo, asked the driver to crank up the heat, and dozed, all the way home, dreaming of my baby. Sublimely happy.

There’s a lot to be said for leaving early, when it comes to things you just know aren’t going to get any better.

But not football. No leaving at halftime. Sorry, Nancy, it had to be said.

Happy Monday!


January 20, 2006

Our 200th Blog!

Getting To Know Us, Getting to Know All About Us

In celebration of our 200th blog—yes, can you even believe it?—we thought we’d put together a little Q&A so you could learn even more useless things about us than you already know.  So get your pencils sharpened and take notes.  And, no, absolutely none of the Tarts were drinking alcoholic beverages at the time they answered said questions.  Really.

**Outliner or non-outliner?

Harley:  Non-outliner.

Nancy:  Some tiny part of my life must be controlled, because the rest of it is, a friend says, "creative chaos."  For my current book, my usual detailed outline has expanded to a storyboard with color-coded push pins to organize all my Post-Its. As the book progresses, however, my careful planning is starting to look like that bulletin board at Wal-Mart where everybody sticks up notices to sell their old motorboats, sell pit bull puppies and advertise real estate located in a flood plain.

Sarah:  Outliner. How can you not be?

Susan:  I fly by the seat of my pants, baby!  I can’t imagine working any other way, though I do take notes as I go along so I have a fairly good idea of where I’m headed.

**Cats or dogs?

Harley:  Dogs.

Nancy:  Dogs. Big, affectionate and occasionally howling at the moon....like my husband.

Sarah:  Cags. Why haven't they invented this animal yet?

Susan:  Cats. I was raised with both, but it’s much easier to deal with cats when you travel a lot. Plus, I love that they’re independent and their personalities are so individual. (And we won’t talk about Max breaking a door off my TV armoire.)

**Sunrise or sunset?

Harley:  Sunset.

Nancy:  Maybe this is too much information? I mean, who really wants to know about my sex life? Except the Republican Party?

Sarah:  Sunrise, preferably over an ocean bay.

Susan:  Probably sunset, but I’m all for pink skies, any way you cut it.

**Dream vacation spot?

Harley:  Outer Space, or Paris.

Nancy:  Paris. Unfortunately, my husband prefers a beach with plenty of pina coladas.

Sarah:  George Clooney's Italian villa.

Susan:  Somewhere quiet, away from computers and phones. I’ve always wanted to go to Maine.

**Sun sign? And does it accurately describe you?

Harley: Aquarius, with Pisces Rising, and it absolutely describes me.

Nancy:  I am easily sunburned, so I use SPF 45 and wear a hat.

Sarah:  Uhm. I'm a Sagittarius, impulsive and thick thighed so yes.

Susan:  I’m a Libra. Yes, it describes me very accurately. I want the world to be fair, though it’s not. I weigh decisions carefully. I like pretty things.

**What you're reading right now.

Harley:  Still reading Sarah's SECRET LIVES OF FORTUNATE WIVES and also reading a book called NO OTHER OPTION by Marcus Wynne and rereading Kathering Neville's THE EIGHT . . . and then a bunch of graphic novels (i.e. expensive comic books) and THE ILIAD and a lot of poetry, for my own novel.

Nancy:  Downstairs: Ruth Reichel's GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES. Upstairs: NPR commentator Baxter Black's HEY COWBOY, WANNA GET LUCKY?

Sarah:  KEY OF LIGHT by Nora Roberts, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL by Richard Hawke, aka Tim Cockey, KRISTIN LAVANSDATTER by Sigrid Undset, and, Harley, throw SECRET LIVES away. There are much better books to read.

Susan:  I’ve got a couple books going: a nonfiction book, INTO THE WILD, by Jon Krakauer, and the fifth Cork O’Connor novel by my pal Kent Krueger, MERCY FALLS.

**What you just finished reading.

Harley:  Cornelia Read's A FIELD OF DARKNESS, due to be published this year --- and it's fabulous!


Sarah:  THE CINDERELLA PACT by me. In the bath. A red pencil in my mouth. At 2 a.m.

Susan:  THE SWEET HEREAFTER by Russell Banks.

**Three things you'd want with you on a deserted island.

Harley:  My computer, unlimited books, and chocolate.

Nancy:  A five star restaurant that specializes in molten chocolate cake, one of those beds from The Pennisula hotel and a masseur named Roderigo. Oh, wait, I thought you meant a "desserted" island!

Sarah:  My husband, Charlie, and our two kids. If people aren't "things;" then a cell phone with five bars and an unlimited battery, a laptop filled with iTunes and a bottomless pitcher of margaritas.

Susan:  A box of books, my Nano, and my dude (or at least a toothbrush).

**Five guests at your fantasy dinner party.

Harley:  Simone de Beauvoir, Bill Clinton, Jesus, my dead cousin Bobby, and Meryl Streep.

Nancy:  I love party planning! Because the guest list dictates the conversation, off the top of my head: I'd order food from Le Bernardin, buy a keg of beer and invite Will Shakespeare along with Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Joe Namath and Denis Leary. With OJ Simpson for dessert. Jon Stewart will serve the meal. Hillary Clinton to provide the welcome speech. Eric Clapton plays for the dancing afterwards. Since you need a fine looking man and some comic relief to show up late, Will Smith and at least one Kennedy crash the party at midnight dragging the duct-taped body of An Unnamed Senior White House Official. Neighbors call the police at 4 a.m. Condoleezza Rice shows up at daybreak to clean up the mess. She brings beignets and espresso.

Sarah:  Charlie, John Lennon (sans Yoko), Mick Jagger, Owen Wilson and Colin Firth. That makes me the only girl! (Good idea, Harley, with the Jesus thing, what with turning water into wine. But Bill Clinton would be playing footsie with you all night.)

Susan:  Claude Monet, Albert Einstein, Clark Gable, my grandfather Joe Meisel, and Joe Elliott. (So everybody’s dead but Joe and me…hmmm.)

January 19, 2006

A Deadline Mantra

By Nancy

Ten pages a day. That's all I need to do. Ten pages. Every day. It's my new mantra.

I've said it before, and here it comes again: Writing a first draft is pounding a dull chisel into solid rock.  And my deadline is 62 days away.

Corral twenty writers into one room, and you'll hear twenty different ways to meet a deadline. To write a book. One friend still writes her first draft in longhand, then takes a couple of months to "retype it." Emma Thompson reports she also writes in longhand--in the loo--one well-crafted line of dialogue at a time.  A friend in a warm climate writes ten pages a day for thirty days and voila, she's done. Thirty days = perfect manuscript.  Then it's time to go work on her tan.

Mind  you, she's the one who lives alone, has no family, rarely does PR and doesn't travel. Thirty days of writing, and she's smoothing on the suntan lotion.

Me, after all these years, the most I've learned about my writing process is to build in time for the nervous breakdown that hits between the agony of the first draft and the 25th re-write which takes places during a phase we've come to call Deadline Madness around here--a crazed state of no sleep, constant revision, panic attacks, long hours of brain death and bursts of genius which somehow miraculously concludes exactly on my due date.

If I'm lucky.

It makes editors nuts when authors are late. The publication schedule--set in stone sometimes two years in advance--is a house of cards built by a team of people who each have a career stake in its smooth progression. Every month, each house publishes a mixture of "big books" and the rest of us. Mysteries are balanced with romances, thrillers, S/F, non-fic, celebrity "autobiographies" and the latest DaVinci Code clone in a delicate structure of genres, authors and seasons.  (Beach books go in June.  Books with Mother's Day appeal in May. Etc.) Sales catalogs are prepared long before the finished manuscript arrives. PR is arranged. Blurbs are negotiated with Kissinger-like finesse. Booksellers place their orders months in advance. Reviewers receive ARCs in time to coordinate with a much sought after "drop date" that not all authors merit (but covet!) because organizing such an even makes running FEMA look like a cakewalk.

When the author screws up, that house of cards might as well be hit by a bomb.

Because there's fallout.

Once I was a month late finishing a romance novel for Harlequin.  I was afraid to mention it would be late until well after the deadline, not earlier when what turned out to be a scheduling Hiroshima could have been avoided. When I sent the next proposal, my editor said, "I'm sorry, but we're going to need a completed manuscript from you before going to contract this time." Meaning I couldn't be trusted anymore.

Agents go nuts, too.

"Are you sure you want to schedule deadlines so close together?" the Rottweiler demanded after I'd been a teensy bit tardy. "And why are you going to all those conferences?"

Implication: "Why the hell don't you stay home and finish your damn books on time, so I don't have to deal with your bad reputation when I negotiate your next contract?"

Plus my readers--those beloved, but fickle fans who forget about me unless my books regularly appear before them require frequent installments to jar their memories, or the publisher must gear up that expensive publicty machine to re-introduce me.  Or not. Depends on the budget. Does an unreliable author deserve publicity money? Or is that wasting resources?

Or worse yet, if I turn in a late manuscript and they can't fit me into the adjusted schedule for another 8 months, the early books in my series lose their sales momentum and--oh, God, please no!--go out of print.

Sure, I had excuses when I was late. Death in the family. Moving twice in twelve months. Sick kids. Husband's midlife crisis. The dog didn't eat my homework, she died in a slow, messy, heart-breaking way. And did I mention I broke a tooth, had a lump in my breast and developed shingles all in the same month last year?!?

But publishing waits for no woman's mammogram.

The Rottweiler sold a novella of mine to Mystery Guild last week. They publish some original material now, and they liked what I wrote (it's the backstory to one of my series characters) but they want the revisions---uh, today. So that means I need to take a break from the manuscript I'm drafting and immerse myself in the novella again. In other words, I must break my  own momentum.

All my fellow writers are on deadline, too, of course--it's January!--and we feverishly email our progress. On an hourly basis, we re-calculate how many pages we must write every day to finish by the time stipulated by our legal, binding contracts.

This year I swear I'm going to hit my deadline and avoid the nervous breakdown, too. I don't have time for one because my manuscript is due during my March book tour when I must put on real clothes with real shoes and go on the road to be charming. I can't revise while I drive the Silver Bullet, can I?  Hello, officer.  This red pen? I'm just checking for passive voice.

So I'm on a sanity kick. Write ten pages a day. With a decent outline, that's a do-able quantity. When I hit page ten, I smile, sit back and give myself permission to stop. Sometimes I keep going because a couple of spares feel good. This is different from the years I spent writing as many pages as possible as fast as possible every single day. The stress and never-ending pressure was too much for me and I'd need an occasional week of recovery on the couch staring at General Hospital and America's Funniest Home Videos.

Now, instead, I take a leisurely shower while thinking about what has to go into just ten pages.  I think in plot points and complications of the Key Compelling Question. Advancements on just two or three subplots, not twelve. Is there a balance between action, dialogue and exposition? Does the setting taste, smell, sound, feel and look lush enough? Do I provide sufficient subtext and interior monologue so the protagonist engages the reader? What about sexy stuff so my editor is happy? But not so much that my core readership is turned off? Does the whole story serve my protagonist's inner conflict, the Controlling Idea of the book? Plus other stuff that only makes sense to me but includes a lot of sense memory to get into character--twelve characters, in fact.

Above all: What can I write that will entertain my reader on each of my daily ten pages?

But unlike  my suntanned friend, I can't rush down to my office every morning and--bang!--be creative. I need to get into the mood. And trust me, this mood is a lot harder to get into that The Mood, which is triggered very easily now that I'm approaching Gail Sheedy's stage of life.

Nor can I write ten pages a day nonstop until the whole book is drafted. Every fifty or 100 pages I go back--tweaking, adjusting, subtracting, adding. Strenghtening motivations, planting red herrings, nuancing the theme.

But I can't stop to polish my prose because I'd lose the forward momentum entirely. So the manuscript is just awful. So badly written that I will be humilated in the eternal afterlife if I am hit by a bus before it's finished, because someone will discover how slipshod and pulsatingly purple my prose can truly be. When the whole thing is drafted at last, it'll take a month to clean up the mess. I may have to call a HazMat team.

It'll take two months if I factor in the nervous breakdown.

You'd think after 26 years, I'd have a more efficient process, right? No. But this year, I'm trying my new mantra: Ten pages a day.  Ten pages a day.

Anybody have any better ideas? Because I only have 62 days left.

January 18, 2006

My Cat Ate My Novel

My Cat Ate My Novel

by Susan, Thinking Excuses Are the Way to Go

So with all that’s going on in the world—the mayor of New Orleans remarking that last year’s hurricanes meant God was mad at us (didn't Pat Robertson already use that one?); Hilary Clinton saying the House is run like a plantation; boys in Florida beating up and killing homeless men for kicks; and William Shatner selling a kidney stone to raise money for charity (ick!)—I figured I’d tackle a truly serious subject, one that’s near and dear to my heart, being that I’m now officially 13 days from my already-extended deadline with plenty still to go on this fourth Deb book and THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB due out January 31 (hmm...a freaky coincidence?).

Let’s talk about excuses.

Those lovely phrases that bide you time, get you out of a jam, prolong the inevitable just a wee bit longer.

What I’m fishing for is a little help from all the brilliant readers of The Lipstick Chronicles, because I’m not good at making up excuses.  I’ve always been Little Miss Perfect, getting projects done by their due dates if not sooner.

Case in point, last August when I lunched with my editor and agent in New York, the conversation went much like this:

Editor:  “Susan’s always early with everything!”

Agent:  “I know.  If she did things any faster I’d think she was a…a…”

Me:  “Robot?”

Agent:  “Yes, a robot.  Thank you.”

I’m normally the kind of worker who makes other workers resentful, disgusted, envious. 

But I’ve come a long way, baby.  With this fourth Deb book, I’m earning a new reputation for myself, people are whispering behind my back that I’m—gulp—human.

I know.  It's frightening.

A good many folks were starting to think I was the Energizer Bunny, battery-operated or at least fueled by broccoli crunch salad (thank you, Whole Foods, ‘cuz without you I’d starve).  All the whining I’ve been doing about too much going on and being distracted while I write NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB has friends and family—and everyone within earshot—grinning as they witness the crashing of yours truly off her Pedestal of Punctuality.

What’s that?  You say you heard the thunk, Ms. Nancy?  All the way in Pittsburgh? 

Honestly, it’s kind of a relief, like getting gum out of your hair.  I can breathe more easily, knowing the people around me will, perhaps, stop expecting so much from me.  They realize now that I’m not Superwoman.  I’m a big old stressball with too much on her plate, just like everyone else.

Anyway, back to the excuses.

Could you help me come up with some good ones, just in case I need a few more days (or a week) beyond my deadline extension to finish up this book?

I did find some online but they mostly involved missing work.  And, since I work from home, those just won’t do, but I wanted to share my favorites with you:

"I'm too drunk to drive to work."

Wow, what a classic!  I know a few people who should definitely write this one down, as they might be able to use it.

“I accidentally flushed my keys down the toilet."

Oh-ho!  That’s hilarious.  Would a boss really buy that?

“My boyfriend's snake got loose and I'm afraid to leave the bedroom until he gets home."

His snake got loose?  My gawd, the double entendres you could squeeze out of that one!

“I'm too fat to get into my work pants."

Beautiful!  Not a lie either, if you’ve been into the Haagen-Daz and Ho-Hos the night before.

“The ghosts in my house kept me up all night."

This one probably works for psychics, like the chick from “Medium.”

“My cow bit me."

Ouch, that can hurt!  Ha ha.

“I was watching a guy fixing a septic pump, fell in the hole and hurt myself."

Harley, this one's yours, isn't it?  It sounds so familiar.  Hmmm.

“I was walking my dog and slipped on a toad in my driveway and hurt my back."

I hate when that happens!  Darned toads.

For now, I’ll have to stick with, “My cat ate my novel.”  Well, if you knew Maxwell the Kitty (aka Mad Max, the Master of Disaster, Osama bin Rotten), you’d believe it.