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32 posts from January 2007

January 22, 2007

Of Babies and Boardrooms

by Michele Martinez

They say you can't go home again, but apparently you can if you're willing to fly on a very, very tiny airplane.  An airport near the pristine hamlet where I now live has several flights a day to my true home, New York City.  So on Friday morning, with some trepidation, I boarded one.  My companions on the flight were the pilot, the co-pilot (at first I thought he was the flight attendant, but he never brought us any drinks), and a guy named Nahim who was going to New York for a job interview.  Despite ten completely empty seats, Nahim and I were told to sit together in the last row to balance out the weight.   

(By the way, I figured out why Ingrid Bergman's eyes fill with tears at the end of Casablanca.   It has nothing to do with leaving Bogey.  The propeller noise is giving her a headache.)

Despite my occasional homesickness, I was not going to New York for a trip down memory lane, but because I had serious business there.  I'm on the board of directors of Mystery Writers of America, the premier mystery writers' group, and the board was holding its annual meeting and orientation.  (I'm totally devoted to MWA because I met my agent at the 2003 Edgars Symposium.  Any mystery writer reading this who doesn't yet belong should click here and join immediately.)  I had been planning to entertain you with a blog entitled "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know about Robert's Rules of Order," but it turns out that all board proceedings are confidential.  I know -- sorry! Luckily, other entertaining things happened during my weekend in town.

First -- the Manolo sale.  Okay, I know I shouldn't be so excited about this.  But the sale only happens twice a year, and by miraculous coincidence it was scheduled during a rare weekend when I planned to be in New York.  I went straight from the airport to Manolo's.  And the next day, I went again.  (Officially, I blame that second visit on my good friend Cara Black, MWA board member and author of the Aimee Leduc Parisian mysteries.  Bohemian sophisticate that she is, Cara needed her "Sex and the City" moment,   and I had no choice but to escort her.  Of course, unofficially, Cara blames me.)  Let's just say my suitcase weighed more on the way home than it had on the way to New York.

But it was the second miraculous coincidence that truly made me happy.  A dear friend of mine is expecting her first child, and her baby shower was yesterday.  She and I went through General Crimes together, which is kind of like boot camp for prosecutors, so needless to say, we're close.  I've been sad not to be around for her pregnancy, and I was beyond thrilled that I got to go to her shower -- for reasons I know you all will understand.  I was dying to tell her what's what, how it really is, and exactly what she needs to do.

Who among us can resist giving new moms advice?  It was our darkest hour.  We were at our most flummoxed and at sea, but we survived.  Not only that -- our children survived.  So obviously we had a foolproof system all along, and our friends would do well to emulate us.  Really, they'd be foolish not to.

Here's what I told her:

  • Something will probably go wrong either during delivery or in the first few days thereafter, but whatever it is, it'll turn out okay;
  • Get a pedicure in a color that will cheer you up when your feet are in the stirrups;
  • I understand your mother-in-law is coming, but hire the baby nurse anyway;
  • Breast feeding can be hard.  Some people can't do it;
  • You'll never use that little plastic bathtub;
  • This is New York.  You do need the Bugaboo.  Bugaboo: Gecko Stroller - Green
  • Buy four times as many of those newborn T-shirts as you think you need.  Otherwise, you'll be doing laundry day and night.
  • You can't understand the sleep deprivation until it happens.  It's not like when you wrote your senior thesis;
  • When he wakes up to eat at night, keep the lights off and be completely quiet; during the day, keep it loud and bright;
  • Go to the movies now.  You will next go again in 2012.

Did I forget anything?

January 21, 2007

VD CD - The Final Cut

Hello, fellow Valentines!

In response to several e-mails since Friday (yes, Joe, other people asked too), here are my final picks for the 2007 VDCD 2-Disc Set.

Uptown Version First (these are the nice songs you can play in front of the whole family)

My Funny Valentine - Michael Buble (live version - I'm telling you, you must see this kid)
Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me - Faith Hill
I'll Be Seeing You - Rickie Lee Jones
All the Way - Frank Sinatra
We Kiss In A Shadow/I Have Dreamed - Rita Moreno and Carlos Rivas (from The King and I)
Wichita Lineman - Glenn Campbell
Have A Little Faith in Me - John Hiatt
Forever - Kenny Loggins
Can You Read My Mind - Maureen McGovern (from Superman)
Thinking About You - Norah Jones
How Do You Keep The Music Playing - Patti Austin and James Ingram
Bless the Broken Road - Rascal Flatts
You're Still the One - Shania Twain
It Might Be You - Stephen Bishop
You Are the Love of My Life - George Benson
Fields of Gold - Sting
I'll Always Love You - Taylor Dayne
God Only Knows - The Beach Boys
Since You've Asked - Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg
She's Got A Way - Billy Joel
As Time Goes By - Dooley Wilson (from the Casablanca Soundtrack)

And now for when you want a little more heat, the Downtown Version

Can't Get Enough of Your Love - Barry White
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room - John Mayer
I Feel Good All Over - Stephanie Mills
Surrender - kd Lang
Never As Good As the First Time - Sade
What You Won't Do for Love - Bobby Caldwell
I Just Wanna Stop - Gino Vannelli
Reasons - Earth, Wind & Fire
Need You Tonight - INXS
I Would Die 4 U - Prince
Don't Let Go - Isaac Hayes
Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Fire - The Pointer Sisters
Through the Fire - Chaka Khan
I Got You (I Feel Good) - James Brown (had do give him the homage)
We've Got Tonight - Bob Seger
Love Me Like There's No Tomorrow - Trace Adkins
La Vie En Rose - Edith Piaf
At Last - Etta James

So there you have it. If you can't get there with this soundtrack, don't blame me.

Happy VD to all and to all a good night.

January 20, 2007

What I Wouldn't Do For a Hot Meal

Our guest blogger today is the delightful and talented Tasha Alexander, whose historical novels mixing mystery and romantic suspense have been generating plenty of heat and buzz.  Continuing the theme of youthful misadventure abroad from last weekend, Tasha is here to tell us how she never got a square meal during her semester in London.  All we can say is, no wonder she looks so good.

by Tasha Alexander

When I was a junior at the University of Notre Dame, I studied in London, where I shared a two-bedroom flat with six other girls and squandered my food allowance on theatre tickets.  The end result was that I saw every play the Royal Shakespeare Company produced that season, but ate very poorly.

But who would mind?  We had bread and double Gloucester cheese and apples.  When we were celebrating, we'd serve undiluted canned cream of chicken soup over spaghetti -- and throw on some frozen peas if there was a need for extra festivity.  And we thought this was a dish worthy of gourmet status -- so delicious that we swore we would eat it after we were back home in the States.

Other than that and the occasional box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that was sent by our mothers, we never had hot food.  Which puts a person in an interesting frame of mind, and led to two of the lowest moments of my life.

One night, a friend and I headed to the National Theatre on the South Bank, laughing about the fact that we were trapped in a stereotypical London night:  cold and rainy.  We had arrived too early, and to kill time we wandered around the area.  Now, there's not a whole lot around the National Theatre that's . . . well . . . nice.  At least there wasn't then.  But we were hungry.  And cold.  And damp.  And the next thing I knew, we were standing in front of a pub, foreheads pressed against the window, making no effort to hide our drool as we coveted the steaming bangers and mash being served inside.

I can still picture it.

It was a beautiful thing.  Until, that is, we were shooed away by a waitress who thought we were homeless and threatened to call the police.

A low moment.

A few weeks later, I went on a date with a very sweet boy.  His name was Robert and he had much to recommend him:  a lovely, lovely posh accent, titled friends who threw private parties at the best nightclubs, and a very cute red Aston Martin.  We went to a swanky Italian restaurant in Hampstead Heath.  My flatmates told me to watch for Sting, who lived in the neighborhood, but I had eyes for nothing but the menu.

When my food came, I took a bite and nearly died.

"It's . . . it's . . . so HOT!" I exclaimed.

Robert was perplexed.  "Hot?"

"Hot!  Hot!  Hot!"  It was all I could say, and I couldn't stop repeating it.

Robert, gentleman that he was, offered to summon the waiter immediately.  "Spaghetti carbonara", he said, "isn't supposed to be spicy."

At which point I had to explain that it was temperature, not spice, that had taken me aback.  That I had been wholly seduced by heat.  That I couldn't remember when I'd last had such a wonderful thing.

He must have thought I was insane.  Or maybe he just chalked it up to strange American eccentricities.  Either way, I always felt a bit embarrassed around him from then on and things went downhill from there.

I've always believed that was my shot at landed gentry.

But I'm better off where I am.  Not only did I wind up with a husband who is thoroughly charming without having a title.  I get hot food whenever I want it . . .

So what about you?  What did you eat when you were young, poor and squandering your money on theater tickets?

January 19, 2007

A VD CD

A VD CD

By Rebecca the Bookseller and Music Lover

It's that time of year. Time to prepare for VD and all it entails.

I'm talking, of course, about Valentine's Day. Get ready, cats and kittens, make sure you've got your Penicillin 'script filled, and pay attention.

I am making a Valentine's Day Music CD, and I need your help. OK - let's be honest - I really don't - but I've spent so freakin' much time on this project that I'm using it as a blog topic. And I am interested in your choices, especially if you share why the song is so, uh, moving, to you.

Blog_rodin_kissNow, there are two kinds of VD songs: the songs you have sung for the first dance at your wedding and the songs that would get you detention from Sister Mary Chastity. Nice wedding songs first.

I did a thoroughly unscientific survey of men and women of various ages and in various locations in order to get a good mix, otherwise, you'd be looking at a list that included pretty much George Benson and Michael Buble. OK, and at least one Frank and a John Mayer. The working list is now over 200 tracks, so if you already sent me a suggestion and it's not here, sorry. You can just suggest it again in the comments.

In no particular order, here is a sampling:

My Funny Valentine (natch - I chose the Michael Buble live version, since I saw it)
While She Waits (Autumn Ayers - if you haven't heard Autumn, you're missing a jewel)
I'll Be Seeing You (Rickie Lee Jones)
All the Way (Sinatra, with a chaser of Celine if you choose)
I'll Always Love You (Taylor Dayne - remember her?)
Unchained Melody (a big pick on several lists - has to be the pottery wheel)
I Can Love You Like That (All 4 One)
Secret Love (Doris Day)
Something so Strong (Crowded House)
I Feel Good (James Brown - has to be here)
Believe in You (Amanda Marshall)
Core 'ngrato (The Three Tenors, but as Elaine pointed out, Uncle Junior nailed it on The Sopranos)
Truly, Madly, Deeply (Savage Garden)
I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King)
She Loves Me (Daniel Massey)
Tonight I Want To Be Your Man (Andy Griggs)
God Only Knows (The Beach Boys - happy, Sarah?)
Thinking About You, or something from the new Norah Jones album due out soon.

One disclaimer - several people recommended Unforgettable by Nat King and Natalie Cole. Great song, but the daughter and the dead father serenading eachother? Sorry, Dr. Freud, we're not in session today.

Blog_stevie_nicksjpgNow onto the second kind of VD song. These are the songs on the mix tape in the Camaro - ironic since the Camaro had the worst logistics for messing around. Which is why you saw so many Pick-Up trucks and El Caminos at the Drive In. When it was closed. Sometimes these songs are obvious - anything by Barry White, for example. Sometimes they are very personal. Just like the smell of Old Spice can create a visceral reaction for some people, so do songs. If you want to heat things up, find out what your special someone was listening to in high school, when passions and hormones ran high. One of the best uses of this in literature was by the fabulous Jennifer Crusie, who made Fleetwood Mac damn near a character in "Crazy for You". Once again, just a reminder that this is, in fact, a literary blog.

I am talking about steamin' up windows, rippin' off buttons, takin' it downtown music. I'm talking about music that makes you jump in the back seat in the stadium parking lot because you can't wait to get home to get your hands on eathother. You remember what I mean, right? Think back. Yeah, I'll wait.

So, here are some of those, culled from a much smaller, but hotter, survey:

Anything by Marvin Gaye under 110 bpm (thanks for the clarification, Jack)
Paradise by the Dashboard Light (I've said it before and I'll say it again - Meatloaf is my generation's Keats)
Surrender (k.d.lang)
Prince - pick one - I like I Would Die 4 U, but there are half a dozen others
Reasons (Earth, Wind and Fire)
Never Can Say Goodbye (Isaac Hayes - really, the guy from Shaft - nothing subtle there, folks)
Stevie Nicks - I'm told her voice alone can trip the switch for some people.
Never As Good As the First Time (Sade)
La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf)
I Melt (Rascal Flatts - the video sure didn't hurt that one)
I Feel Good All Over (Stephanie Mills)
Put the Weight on My Shoulders (Gino Vannelli)
Come What May (Mario Frangoulis)
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room (John Mayer)
Blog_tdpurplejpg
and of course, Ravel's Bolero, which you can get in versions that run anywhere from three minutes (the Torvill & Dean short program) to twenty-two and a half minutes (that would be the Stanley Jordan cover). No judging here, kids, just giving you your options.

Oh, yeah. And don't be dissing my Gino Vannelli. You have no idea what you're missing. And I won't say a word about the people who made me go in search of a stoner cover of "I'll Be Seeing You" on some Jazz at St. Germain CD (thanks Harley) or the soundtrack from "Beauty and the Beast" - the TV show. Curse you, William.

Now - it's time for the audience participation part of the show. What song gives you that lovin' feeling? And for bonus points, why?

January 18, 2007

Measuring an Inseam

by Nancy

My husband said, "I need a new suit." 

Translation:  "Please come to the store, stand around for two hours while I meticulously try on four hundred suits, and then help me decide which one I should buy.  But you hand over the credit card at the end because that way it won't feel like I went shopping or spent too much money on myself."

Why do grown men need help buying clothes? Jeff is the banker you call when you need $25 million tomorrow to break ground on a new hospital wing or brewery or widget factory. On a daily basis, he deals with captains of industry with egos the size of cargo tankers. He can haggle a car under invoice! Yet buying a suit turns him pale.

Jeff wears a suit every day, so he's got dozens in rotation in any given season. (Bankers will be the last holdouts on "business casual."  They wear suits, not---dear God--polo shirts. If spats make a comeback, I guarantee the trend will start with bankers.) His suits are all some variation of gray, because a banker would not be caught dead wearing Earth Tones. Bankers are not earthy.

Still, Jeff can't buy a suit alone.     

So I went.  We go to a store where there's a lot of mahogany paneling, and fox hunting pictures hang on the walls. There, the same man has waited on Jeff for at least 20 years. He may, in fact, be the one who sold Hickey-Freeman suits and wingtips to my father. Let's call him George. George abandons all his other customers when he sees Jeff coming. (Bankers must have some kind of invisible beacon light that only haberdashers can see.) George is as deferential to me as if I were carrying a scepter. (At Saks, I wouldn't get that kind of service even if I were naked and waving my American Express on the escalator.) George is like an English butler--self-effacing, silent unless addressed, knowledgeable to the nth degree. He wears impeccable trousers, matching vest, white shirt with French cuffs and a perfectly knotted rep tie. George knows how a jacket should sit on a man's shoulders, how the lapel should be cut to compliment his chest, how some men are meant to wear pleats and others not. He is an expert on cuff buttons. He knows within a millimeter where a man's sleeve should hit his hand.

George measures my husband's inseam.

And Jeff doesn't blink an eye.

Mind you, my husband drinks dark beer. He likes to fly fish. He and a friend once (and only once) cleaned their shotguns at my kitchen table. He's a football official, so he often goes toe-to-toe with enormous angry men on steroids. But he morphs into Felix Unger when it comes to his suits. When I met him in college, he wore the most appalling ripped t-shirts and jeans. I'm not sure when this transformation occurred, but now he and George have a lot to discuss.

The wives, though, are The Final Opinion.

The store finally figured out that wives get cranky standing around holding their husband's wallets, so they made a place for us to sit. It's kinda like the Sugar Daddy Chair except the store has made it the Mama Living Room.  We have two sofas and a coffee table with magazines. (Travel and Leisure. Not a Cosmo in sight.) Only women were sitting there.

One wife waited while her husband tried on a succession of tweed jackets appropriate for stalking stags in the Scottish Highlands.  I eavesdropped as she took a call on her cell phone. "Give him 4 cc's of metrosexolene and call me if his kidney function changes." (Okay, I made up the drug, but the point is SHE WAS A DOCTOR AND HAD TO LEAVE HER PATIENT TO HELP HER HUSBAND BUY A COAT THAT MADE HIM LOOK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES!)     

Another woman supervised her college-age son choosing his first suit.  The kid came out with the unhemmed pants dragging on the floor to ask his mom how to fasten the buttons above the zipper. She showed him. (Honestly, now, isn't that just enabling? And what are you doing for the future generations of mankind by allowing a kid like that to leave his Playstation?)

All of us watched a curly-haired 20-something man bring jacket after jacket to the mirror beside us. He obviously needed a 40 regular, but he kept trying the 41 longs in godawful colors. Over and over, he stood in front of the mirror looking like he was trying to borrow his uncle Vinnie's jacket for a Mafia funeral. None of us women spoke up, though. Someday he'd bring Miss Right to the suit department for guidance. Until then, we had our own troubles.

Jeff and I narrowed his choices down to two nearly identical gray suits.  Frankly, I couldn't tell them apart.

"This one has a blue stripe!" Jeff pointed at an infinitessimal thread of color. "The other one has a white stripe."

Could've fooled me.

With his hands clasped behind his back, George said, "Which one does Mrs like?"

I know my husband, of course. He needed two suits, but he didn't want to spend the money. So my role was obvious.  I said, "I like them both."

Jeff looked pained. George got out his chalk.

The alterations chalk is a signal. As soon as the cuff-or-no-cuff trouser discussion begins, the wives must sprint to the tie racks. If you don't find a matching tie, you'll go home and your beloved will pull something out of his closet and decide This Is The Tie That Goes With This Suit, which is undoubtedly Wrong. So the wives move fast.                    

I also raced around hunting and gathering all the other stuff Jeff needs but refuses to buy himself.  Socks, underwear, some khaki trousers that aren't shapless from years of weekend wear. By the time he and George emerged from their consultations, I had a pile of wardrobe essentials heaped by the cash register.

Jeff looked horrified by the size of the pile. "I'm not spending that kind of money!"

But I was ready. From my handbag, I flourished my trump card.  "I have a sale coupon!"

"Oh," he said.  "In that case, I might as well buy both suits."

January 17, 2007

How to Read the Proof Pages of Your Novel

by Elaine Viets

Reservationcover Faithful readers and aspiring writers want the secrets of professional writers.

Today, I will tell you how the pros read the proof pages of their novels.

The proofs look like the actual pages of the novel. I just received the proofs of MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS, my Helen Hawthorne novel due out in May.

This is also what the important reviewers and bookstores will see. These same proof pages will be bound into ARCs, or Advance Reading Copies.

Plastered all over the ARC is: "Uncorrected Proofs – If any material is to be quoted, it must be checked against the bound book."

The chances of the average reviewer doing that are about the same as me riding on the Space Shuttle. The reviewers see my baby covered with zits. I won’t be there to explain it’s only a temporary outbreak and really, truly, it’s the most beautiful baby in the publishing world.

So it takes courage, and maybe half a bottle of wine, to open the express package from New York and start reading the uncorrected proofs.

I always give the proofs at least three readings to catch the errors.

First read: Once I get over the opening terror, I realize this isn’t a bad book.

In fact, it’s a pretty good book. No, it’s a terrific book, possibly the best thing I’ve written since the last book. It’s warm, witty and fast-paced, and I hope Publishers Weekly will feel the same way. Kirkus will hate it, but, hey, that’s what they do.

I’ve found a few typos, but reviewers realize every ARC has a few mistakes. Like Helen’s boyfriend, Phil, who is wearing a black T-shirt in one page and then she’s trying to unbutton it on the next.

I change the T-shirt to a black shirt. I hope the reviewers will see this amusing little glitch will make the ARC more valuable for collectors.

Second read: Why did I write this book? I am a total failure. My career is over. I would slash my wrists, except I haven’t the energy or a sharp knife.

Third read: This isn’t a bad book. In fact, it’s pretty good. It’s warm, witty and fast-paced. Except there is the BIGGEST HONKING MISTAKE on page 219.

Somehow, in the conversion to italics, a word has been left out of a crucial sentence giving the clue to the killer.

Arrgh!

Of course I’ll fix it, but will the reviewers realize that?

Just when I recover from that blow, my husband, who is reading the proofs in between holding my hand and saying, "This is a wonderful book, and I’m not just saying that," spots another big error on page 135.

Helen is talking about a $50 bill that may or may not be a fake. "I’m no expert," she says, "but Ben Franklin isn’t wearing a toupee."

Very funny. Except it’s President Grant on the $50 bill.

I see the headline in the New York Times: MYSTERY RIDDLED WITH STUPID MISTAKES.

I see a letter from my publisher, cancelling my contract: "After what your agent squeezed out of us for your last advance, you should know what a $50 bill looks like."

Now the whole book looks wrong. Worse, I find another error. It should be "the islands of Exuma" not the "island of Exuma."

The FedEx deadline is looming. I write a letter to my editor, begging her to catch all the mistakes and more. I e-mail my editor the same letter. I cover the errors in sticky notes, just to be sure.

I e-mail my agent and agonize: Should I ask the publisher to include a correction sheet when they send out the ARCs?

"If you want," he said. "Every set of ARCs has errors like this – small to anyone else, HUGE to the author."

He seemed blase about it. I regarded the book as a ticking time bomb. I know there’s another mistake lurking in there.

And I know I’ll find it.

The minute I open my hot new hardcover, I’ll see it.

January 16, 2007

Never Ski with your Doctor

By Sarah

Recently, I've been experiencing gross and disturbing physical symptoms that cannot be ignored if I want to keep on living. Don't worry. I'm not going to say any more about the matter. This is all the information that's necessary to understand the following and believe you me, I'm sick to read what I've written so far.

I would have no problem walking into an anonymous, sterile medical establishment - an emergency room, for instance - and blurting out my disorder so that an anonymous, sterile medical professional could run the necessary tests. Anonymity has its advantages  - like in making crank phone calls or checking out the merchandise at swingers clubs. Or when you're suffering from gross and distrubing physical symptoms.

Alas, I have arrived at an age and community where such anonymity is impossible. This means that Dr_quinn_1the person who will be, uhm, probing and prodding in places where no one should be probing or prodding really, happens to be a woman I work out with and, occasionally, accompany on cross-country ski outings. Let's call her Dr. Quinn, medicine woman.

Does anyone else have this problem? I mean, Dr. Quinn and I aren't exactly friends, but we're not strangers either. We've been through a lot together. Our mothers died months apart and we both sat in her office and cried. It didn't take much (aside from my simple statement, "I'm sad") for her to dump a truckload of antidepressants in my lap. (They did nothing for me. FYI.)

When we cross country ski, Dr. Quinn gives me pointers on how to tuck my body so I won't hurt my knee. We chat about diets and which is better, waxless or waxed. (Skis, that is, not diets.) We talk about real estate prices and schools and the publishing industry and where to take the kids for pizza. Lately, we've been talking non stop about snow.

And now we're talking about this. Yuck and double yuck.

Don't tell me that they're all "professionals" because I don't believe it. The midwife who delivered our son - a saint of a woman, by the way - once told me that on the days when she was assigned to do pap smears at Planned Parenthood, she would go home and just stand under the shower for twenty minutes, she felt so disgusting. I suppose it's the reporter in me that coaxes out these stories, because I've gotten the nurse who does my physical to describe the patients she dreads most. Trust me, you don't wanna know.

Stirrups And then there was the OBGYN in New Jersey - I may already have mentioned him - the head of the medical school's department who, while I was on the table, feet in stirrups, grabbed both of my twenty-three-year-old thighs and exclaimed, "Now there's a handful I could sink my teeth into." He's also the genius who announced as I was coming out of surgery, "She wouldn't have these problems if she'd cut down on the sex."

Thank goodness my mother was there to hear that.

Or how about the doctor - at least, I think he was a doctor - who was looming over me at the Tufts infirmary when I awoke with a 105 degree fever after passing out in a final exam. I mean, I still don't understand why my pants were off. And how come his hands were on my breasts, anyway?

So, I've got history, you could say, which is why I insist that the person who does my regular physicals and pap smears and breast exams be a woman. And now I'm paying the price because over the years she's also turned into something like a friend.

Dr. Quinn was fine when I called her the other day, all business. I needed to come in for this test and then that one, she told me. Neither was pleasant. In fact, they were absurd. She assured me that in 99% of the cases, these symptoms amounted to nothing. (Yeah, right.) But that, being over forty, I would have to start facing facts. (She knows I'm over forty because just the other day we were discussing the virtues of an amazing Clinique moisturizer.)

"Okay?" she said.

"Okay," I said, thinking this was such a pain to go through during revisions, trying not to think about running into her again at the gym.

"Hey!" She suddenly shouted. "Hear about that snow?"

"Yes," I brightened. "Could be big."

"Got your skis ready?"

"I sure do."

"Well, see you on the hill, then." And with that, we hung up.

But it was a lie. She wasn't going to see me on the hill. She was going to see me on the table. And somehow I don't think talking about snow or the miracle properties of Moisture Surge is going to make the moment any more pleasant for either of us.

Help!

January 15, 2007

Another "F" Word

Another “F” Word
by Harley

Okay, I was all set to write about sewing machines, but then after Friday’s SLUT blog, I got to thinking about this thing I heard on NPR last week, and now I’m all worked up all over again.

A circuit judge in St. Louis has written a book that’s generating some controversy, not just for its content, but also because he e-mailed Chapter One to a bunch of people, some of whom didn’t want it. I won’t go into specifics here because 1. the guy’s Amazon number is high enough without any help from me and 2. we try to steer clear from the overtly political, in order to keep everyone’s blood pressure within manageable levels.

However.

The judge uses a word he presumably made up, “femifascists.” A sort of homage, perhaps, to the more classical “feminazi.” He has a chapter devoted to them, entitled “The Cloud Cuckooland of Radical Feminism.” (sidebar: should I give titles to my own chapters?) It may not surprise you to learn that the judge has an unfavorable opinion of the above-mentioned.

Because I haven’t read the book, I can’t tell you whether or not Judge Author draws a distinction between the femifascists/radical feminists and regular, garden-variety feminists. The everyday ones. Or indeed, the cute ones. The ladylike ones who speak in dulcet (never strident!) tones, wear open-toed, sling-back pumps, and . . . you know, attract their flies with honey instead of vinegar. Those feminists.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that our judge isn’t crazy about any feminists. But that’s not even what bugs me. It merely reminds me of what bugs me. Which is this: When I hear women, smart women, tough cookie kick-ass women start sentences with, “I’m not a feminist or anything, but . . .” Or a guy, any guy, say, “Jeeze, Harley, you’re not a FEMINIST, are you?”

Because here’s my question: at what point did “feminist” become a dirty word?

Call me old. Call me stuck in the 60’s. Blame it on my big sister, who left Nebraska to become a hippie in Haight-Ashbury, then sent us Joan Baez albums for Christmas. Blame my mother, who made me read biographies of Susan B. Anthony when I was young, and later, the novels of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart . . . yeah, blame them. It’s those subversive Bronte sisters! I’m not saying they ruined me for cheerleading—I coulda been a contender, had I only been able to do cartwheels—but they did inspire me to raise my hand and yell, “Me! Me!” whenever the question arose, “is there a feminist in the house?”

Yes. There it is. I am a feminist.

I am a card-carrying, “show me the parade float and I’ll hop on it” feminist. I believe in equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal pay for equal work, those wacky concepts, and in my dictionary, that sums it up. It’s got nothing to do with shaving my legs (I do if I think of it) letting men open car doors for me (they can if they want) or whether I write chick lit, read chick lit, or object to the term chick lit (a moot point, because chick lit, like God, is reportedly dead.) It doesn’t even have to do with being a slut.

Are some feminists annoying? Duh. Puppies are annoying. The Pope is annoying. James Bond is a constant annoyance to both M and Q. So what? Who cares?

Okay, so now you know.

My next blog will explore sewing machines.

Happy Monday!
Harley

January 14, 2007

Misadventure in the Alps -- Part II

Sarah Stewart Taylor, friend of the Tarts and author of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring art history professor Sweeney St. George, returns with the harrowing conclusion to her story of youthful misadventure.

by Sarah Stewart Taylor    

Out on the street, I stood for a minute and tried not to freak out. I didn't have enough money left for a hotel.  A group of young men standing outside the train station had started watching me.

So I did what anyone would do (right?) -- I walked into the nearest bar and ordered a bottle of wine, paying for it with my last couple of coins.  I was sitting down with my bottle, preparing to polish it off, when a young guy wearing a black turtleneck came over and said, "Are you American?"  He spoke almost perfect English, but with a little bit of a slavic roll to his words.  I nodded.  "I am very sorry to bother you, but I must ask, do you know the work of the director Martin Scorsese and also of the director Francis Ford Coppola?  I like very much these directors and always want to tallk to an American about them."  As it happened, I also liked very much Scorsese and Coppola.  And, I was lonely and scared.

His name was Milan.  He was cute and he was with two huge guys wearing leather jackets and sporting severe crew cuts.  I joined them at their table.  Milan told me they were all students at the University of Belgrade and they were going on a vacation together because, he said in a nonchalant way, "Soon we go to fight in army."  This was the winter of 1992.  The war in Croatia had already started and Bosnia was just about to declare independence.  He was Serbian, from Belgrade.  He said one of his friends was from Bosnia.  I never sorted out who was fighting for what army against whom.  As the bar prepared to close, I told them I was going to wait outside the train station all night and hope I didn't get mugged.

That was when they said they could drive me, right now, right to the bus station where I was meeting our Belgian exchange student.  They had a car outside.  I think I hesitated, but eventually the four days without sleep and the bottle of wine conspired to make me reckless and it didn't take me long to wave off the voices in my head telling me that you never, ever get in a car with a man you don't know, not to mention three men you don't know, in a strange country, knowing you're going into remote mountains.

I still can't believe I did it, but we piled into the car and we had a great time, talking about film and drinking champagne out of big bottles they pulled out of a cardboard box in the trunk.  As the sun rose, we stopped for coffee and I took a picture of them standing in front of their car.  When they dropped me at the bus station, they told me to have fun skiing and Milan gave me a chaste kiss.

Everyone I've told that story to says the same thing:  "Were you crazy?  They could have killed you.  No one knew where you were."

They're right.  It was really, really stupid.  As a mystery writer, I've thought about the "what if?" over and over, pictured my body lying on the side of the road.  And if a young woman I care about ever told me she'd done the same thing, I would be horrified.  Over the next few years, reading the headlines out of Bosnia, I often looked at the picture I'd taken of them and wondered whether they were alive and what they'd been through.  I wondered about the horrible things that may have happened to them, that they may have done, may have been asked or forced to do, or may have done of their own accord.

But it's one of my absolute favorite memories -- watching the sun rise as we drove up into the Alps, all of us young and reckless and in our own way, scared of what was ahead.

Thanks to the Book Tarts for hosting me.  What about you?  What dangerous things have you done? And given the choice, would you do them again?

January 13, 2007

Misadventure in the Alps -- Part I

Our guest blogger today and tomorrow will be the lovely and talented Sarah Stewart Taylor, friend of the Tarts and author of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring art history professor Sweeney St. George.  Sarah is here to talk about the crazy and dangerous things we do when we're too young to know better.  Read the suspenseful build-up today, and tune in tomorrow for the harrowing conclusion!

by Sarah Stewart Taylor           

Recently, I was talking with a friend about the stupid things we do as teenagers and young adults, the reckless, dangerous and exhilarating risks we take before we've developed the good sense to know that when the guy in Times Square who was supposed to make you a fake ID asks you to step into an alley, you should just say no.  My friend was saying that some of her favorite memories, some of the experiences that made her a writer in fact, are ones she hopes her own children never ever have themselves.  "If they ever do some of the stupid things I did," she told me, "I'll have to kill 'em."  If you're a parent, you know what she means.

Here's my story:  When I was 20 years old, a not very sophisticated American college student traveling alone in Europe, I got into a car with three guys, soldiers from the former Yugoslavia who I'd met an hour before at a bar, and let them drive me up into the remote French Alps.

I was doing a semester abroad in England when a Belgian friend who'd lived with my family as an exchange student called to tell me that he and his friends were going skiing in the Alps and that if I could get myself there, he'd pay for my lift ticket and lodging for a week.  Over the scratchy connection on my dorm's pay phone, I asked him where I should take the train to and wrote down the name of the ski area and the nearest town.  His heavily accented voice came over the bad line, "mumble, mumble, San mmmmm its."  I wrote it down.  St. Moritz.  I recognized it!  People skied in St. Moritz.  Okay.  I bought my ticket and a couple of weeks later took a circuitous two-day trip across the North Sea to Oostende, Belgium and down through Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  The sun came up on a glorious Alpine morning, fir trees frosted with new snow perched along our route, far-off villages like something out of a fairy tale.

                                        

I must have looked hungry because a family of blonde giants -- the mother's hair in braids wrapped around her head -- offered me hot chocolate and dark bread spread with cheese.

As we rolled into the St. Moritz train station, a little buzz of warning started at the back of my brain.  The signs all seemed to be in German and I sort of had the idea that where I was supposed to be going, they'd be speaking French.  (Who says Americans suck at world geography?)  Oh well, I thought, the borders were all pretty close here.  Maybe I'd be taking the bus over the border.  At the information desk, I pulled out the paper on which I'd written the name of the ski area and approached a woman who looked like she might know a little English.  "Where," I asked deliberately, reading my paper, "is the bus to Val D'Isere?"  She blinked, then said something in German.  I blinked back and she repeated what she'd said, then took a map of Europe off the wall and pointed to Switzerland, nearly shouting at me, "St. Moritz."  Then she dragged her finger across the Italian and French borders and said, "Bourg St. Maurice."  Sure enough, when I peered closely at the map, I could see the tiny letters nearby:  Val D'Isere.  If I wasn't horrified enough, she spelled it out for me in broken English, "You in Switzerland.  Val D'Isere in France.  All zee way over there."  She pointed vaguely to the hump of the Alps on the map.

After a small nervous breakdown I called my parents and told them to get a message to the Belgian exchange student.  Somehow I scraped together the francs to buy a new ticket and spent the next 36 hours traveling back up through Switzerland.  At some point, not having slept in four days, I lost all of my short term memory.  I had to write my transfers on a piece of paper so I wouldn't forget and I kept taking it out and muttering to myself, "Zurich.  Basel.  Zurich.  Basel."  Needless to say, my fellow passengers gave me a wide berth.

At midnight, I arrived in Aix Les Bain, a gritty French town at the base of the mountains.  My train to Bourg St. Maurice left at 6 the next morning, so I was planning on spending the night at the train station, dozing on a bench.  But I had just dropped off to sleep when a janitor came at me with a broom, screaming at me in French.  The station was closed.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what happens next!