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32 posts from July 2007

July 31, 2007



By Sarah

Dolly One of the perks of being on the road is hearing stories from booksellers and escorts about authors behaving badly. Oh, sure, there are the occasional tales of greatness, like when Dolly Parton encouraged a blind drummer to "see" her new and improved bust. Or how famed cook and former spy Julia Child exclaimed, "that's why I never cook the f***ers" when a well-meaning chef trying to impress her ended up dumping a whole cooked trout in her lap.

Those are inspiring, absolutely, but what I crave are the dirty secrets about the famous and mega bestselling: the superstar author so drunk that she couldn't go on A.M. television, choosing to toss ashtrays at her publicist instead. The primo don who at signings insists on ice for his wrists, cigarette breaks every ten minutes, perfect quiet and five Sharpie fine points, black. Or the hunkySharpie author who, famous for writing sensitive, weepy tales, ordered his escort to drive him across the street to a gym, wait while he worked out, and then drive him back across the street to the hotel, noting, "N.S. (he spoke in third person) does not take shuttle buses."

So imagine my surprise when the latest story about authors behaving badly involved none other than...me!

I found the news quite by accident while looking for a review. Let me just say this: I do not recommend Googling your name along with the word "bitch" unless you happen to be very thick skinned.

It was a blog written by an employee at a local mall chain bookstore not called Barnes and Noble (which leaves____.) It was entitled, Weekend & Bitchy Authors, and was one long rant about my visit to his small store last month in which I a) complained that the book was out before its drop date b) "demanded" I sign the copies on hand c) "Insisted" on finding autographed-by-author stickers and put them on myself and d) asked to move the books down one shelf so they could be eye level, even though corporate had not signed off on them being one shelf below. Then, apparently, I left in a huff when he said I could not move my book.

"Everyone at the store hates her," he concluded, adding that it didn't matter because they never sell any of my books there, anyway.

Bitch Really? Everyone hates me? Everyone?


But, wait, that's not all. It gets worse. The piece d'resistance was that a reader standing behind me in line apparently vowed never to buy one of my books again because I was Such A Bitch! This according to his post.

Okay, granted, I get a little crazy when a new book drops. There's so much pressure to do well on that first week of sales even the most self-aware, centered author can't help but be, shall we say, shrill. And, yes, I did ask to move the book down to eye level and I was annoyed that he couldn't be enough of a human being to say to a local author, sure, what the hell. Dutton's paid for you to be on the hardcover display anyway. I don't think Jane Green will care. Go ahead, sport.

But the whole store hating me? I mean, I spend tons of money there. All my chick lit (and I buy a LOT of chick lit) I get there because Bear Pond, our local independent, is more, uh, highbrow. Those series my son reads? The YA stuff for my daughter? I must ring up close to $1,000. Plus, I ask how their new babies are. What they're reading. Harry Potter. How business is. I thought we were great friends.

And all along they...hated me? Why? I mean, what, exactly have I done wrong?

Needless to say, it was a blow. It was a five-minute time travel back to junior high and walking into the girl's locker room to find a cluster of my friends gossiping about how much they couldn't stand my guts. (Not sure that ever happened, but it felt like it did.)

In a second, I saw myself as others see me, some galumphing Brunhilde terrorizing bookstoreBrunhilde  employees, barking orders and, worst crime of all, not selling very well. A loser local writer in flats.

What to do? What to do? Well, there was only one option. As soon as I read the blog, I got me some serious chocolate and then, feeling better, made a beeline for the store. Just my luck, there was "Kevin," we'll call him, standing behind the counter reading. He looked up from his book and swallowed.

"Kevin?" I said.

He swallowed again. "Yes?"

"I'm Sarah Strohmeyer. Remember me?"

He squinted as if trying to recall.

"You should remember me because you just blogged about me being a bitch."

"You read that?" he said, swallowing one more time. (Poor Kevin.)

"Yes, I did. And you know what I think?"

Kevin didn't answer. His mouth was too dry to swallow.

"I think you deserve...a box of chocolates!"

Chocolates Whereupon I thrust into his hand a deluxe box of assorted Lake Champlain specialties before launching into one of the most painful, embarrassing and, honestly, sincere apologies of my life. By the end, I was near tears and Kevin was assuring me that while some people at the store hated me, the store was undergoing a staff turnover (Kevin included), and the manager who was staying had a really high opinion of me and my work. Also, I did sell. Sort of.

"No, no," I said. "Don't lie.I get what I deserve."

Here's the thing. No matter how stressed I am about sales or if my kids are driving me nuts or if I got on the scale and found I'd gained two pounds, that my Visa bill was overdue, that my car had engine trouble...There's no excuse for being mean. Especially to a bookseller. Not that I meant to be mean, but I wasn't paying attention to whether I was being nice, either. And sometimes that looks like the same thing.

Usually, I pride myself on being overly solicitous to those who help me make my living, whether they're editors, agents, publicists, publishers or booksellers. I would not be here today writing this without them. Last summer, I visited 23 Barnes and Nobles with goodie bags as a way of saying, "Thanks!" I send Christmas cards. I write thank-you notes. I'd get down on my knees and kiss their rings if I could.

But all it takes is one incident (see above) to get a reputation as a bitchy author. And while I might not be on the New York Times bestsellers list, I'd like to be thought of as a nice person, someone who answers fan email gladly and who is eternally grateful for the series of events - my great readers! - that have given me this wonderful opportunity to write what I love.

And you better believe I am.

Here's the other moral as I explained to my son. We're in a war right now because Certain People lackGeorge_bush  the humility to question their actions. Moreover, they attack their critics unflinchingly. I suppose the two - knee-jerk defensiveness and lack of introspection - go hand in hand. It'd be a much nicer, much safer, kinder world if there were more mea culpa and less youa culpa. Hence, the apology.

And those stories about authors behaving badly? I'm giving them up. Now I see how easy it is for an otherwise normal and nice author to get a bad rep simply because he or she made a snide comment or issued a crazy request. We all have bad days. All of us. We can all be bitches. Even men.

Though, I'm not sure I'd ever ask an escort to drive me across the street to wait while I worked out.

Yours from the doghouse,


PS - If I have been a bitch to any of you reading today (or whenever), I apologize. Like Richard Scarry said about the Naughty Bunny, I try to be good, but sometimes it is very easy for naughty bunnies to forget.

July 30, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

By Harley

You may have noticed, you who are TLC regulars, that I've been AWOL of late. Here’s why: last month, my husband of nearly ten years came home from work and told me he wanted a divorce.

I was . . . surprised.

I won’t bore you with the details, as I’ve been doing that to Sarah, Nancy, Elaine, Michele, Margie, and Rebecca the Bookseller several times a day and night, waking them from sleep or interrupting their writing to cry, “And ANOTHER thing—” Let’s just say when you think you’re living in a Jane Austen novel and discover it’s actually the Jerry Springer Show, it can be disheartening. I’ve lost a little of my joie-de-vivre. As has the entire household, including the dogs.

On the plus side, several times a day people stop me dead in my tracks with their kindness, compassion, and generosity of spirit.

There’s a New York City cab driver praying to Lord Rama on my family’s behalf, and a guy who gives out samples at Costco giving me the thumb’s up. There are Buddhists chanting, Christians praying, and Jewish friends handing me rugalah and telling me to eat. People I’ve never pegged as particularly wise, much less clairvoyant, will say to me, “it’s all going to be okay” and I clutch them and say, “Really?” like they’ve got insider information.

I’m letting the kids eat double desserts and watch extra TV. I don’t necessarily think this is a good idea, but everything’s relative.

I’m finding comfort in clichés. Like, One Day at A Time. And This Too Shall Pass, and When A Door Closes, Bash Through The Walls With A Sledgehammer, the kind of thing my mother and grandmother would tell me, if they were around. The other day, I heard a fabulous one. It was from the trailer of ROCKY # WHATEVER. It goes like this:

“It’s not how hard you can punch. It’s how many punches you can take and still keep moving forward.”

That one struck me like the voice of God channeled through Sylvester Stallone. (Did it make me run out and rent the movie? No.)

Speaking of movies, for weeks I couldn’t watch them. Now I can, but there are rules: no romantic comedies. Whatever I watch has to be dark. I can watch CASINO ROYALE, where Blond Bond no longer strikes me as Sexy Bond, only Sad Bond. UNITED 93? Perfect. A film called HIGH CRIMES because it’s all about murder, secrecy and betrayal. Give me a movie about people surviving horrible things, or even people not surviving things, but going down with some degree of courage. THE INTERPRETER, where both Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn cry, is just my speed. SYRIANA, THE CLEARING, 21 GRAMS. Love gone bad, heartache, grief . . . that’s entertainment!

I can’t read entire books, but I can read chapters. The night this happened, I started Robert Crais’s THE WATCHMAN, because I knew if anyone could get me through the night, it was Joe Pike. Now I read a little of this, a little of that, the poetry of Rilke, the prose of Paula Poundstone, the vampires of Charlaine Harris.

One thing I can’t read yet is the acknowledgment page of my new book, coming out August 7 (called—strangely enough—DEAD EX).

One day, I’ll be on the other side of this. Meanwhile, if you’re so inclined, please send bad clichés, depressing movies, recipes—whatever got you through one of the Top 3 Worst Things That Ever Happened in your own life. I love you guys.

Happy Monday!

July 29, 2007



By John J. Lamb


It’s an unexpected honor to be invited to contribute to The Lipstick Chronicles, but then again, pretty much everything about my career as a mystery author has been surprising. I’m currently reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, a fascinating book about the impact of highly improbable events, and couldn’t help but notice that my path to success as a writer confirmed one of the book’s key premises: The human race — both individually and as a group — is consistently lousy at predicting the future. And I’m a less prescient prophet than most.

To illustrate, before chasing down my dream to become a professional author, I spent eighteen years as a cop in one of the more violent cities in Southern California. I had a blast working the streets in a black-and-white and later served as a CSI, homicide investigator, hostage negotiator, and detective sergeant. Over the years, I worked on about a hundred murders and went to over a thousand other assorted death scenes. Moreover, I had a well-deserved reputation among the other cops for my macabre sense of humor.

As you might expect, I someday saw myself writing gritty police thrillers packed with gunplay, gore, and graphic violence. My first two novels (deservedly unsold and, if there’s a merciful God, forever forgotten) reflected that orthodox mindset. Who could have foreseen that when writing success came, it would arrive in the form of a series of unabashedly cozy murder mysteries about teddy bear artists and stuffed animals? I still have trouble believing it and I won’t pretend I truly understand how it all unfolded.

So, how did a cynical street cop, who could devour barbecued ribs for lunch at Tony Roma’s between morning and afternoon autopsies, come to write teddy bear mysteries? It begins as a love story and if you saw this tale on some sappy made-for-television movie on the Hallmark Channel, you’d dismiss it as the worst sort of schmaltz. Yet, it’s true. I met my future wife, Joyce, at the police department, where she worked as a latent fingerprint expert and crime analyst. She was beautiful, smart, and one of the finest investigators I’ve ever known.

Shortly after we began to go out together, I bought her a girl teddy bear named "Skyler." To this day, I can still remember standing in that gift shop, carefully examining the faces of the teddy bears to make sure I’d picked out precisely the best one, while praying that no one from the police department spotted me. You see, I still had that reputation to uphold for being colder than liquid oxygen … not that Joyce ever bought into the charade.

Joyce and I were married in 1998. This was a time of enormous change. I’d been medically retired from the police department and was learning to enjoy a life that didn’t involve corpses, crazy folks threatening to kill themselves, and routine carnage. I suppose the teddy bears were an unintentional component in a psychic detox program. They were sweet and innocent … two traits I’d seldom encountered as a cop. We continued to collect bears and then we went to our very first teddy bear show. After that, we were hooked and our collection now numbers over 600 stuffed animals.

Fast forward to 2004. Joyce was now retired from the police department and we’d moved from Southern California to the pastoral Shenandoah Valley. We live in farmland about two miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains and less than a hundred yards from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It’s a heavenly setting and our home is full of teddy bears, four golden retrievers, and six "rescued" cats.

My literary agent had just sold my first novel (a police procedural titled Echoes of the Lost Order) to Five Star and she asked if I thought I could write a cozy mystery, because Berkley Prime Crime was acquiring new titles. I tried to sound confident when I replied that I could, but I had my doubts. What did I know about cozy mysteries? Yet, as I sat smoking my pipe on our front porch, I had an epiphany: With Joyce and my backgrounds in cop work and a home full of teddy bears, I was living the setting for a cozy mystery. It seemed too good to be true. I wrote up a proposal and a couple of sample chapters and Berkley quickly signed me to three books. I still have trouble believing it happened.

And the improbabilities continued to pile up. Although I was a new and unknown author, The Mournful Teddy sold extremely well. Later, the book was named as a finalist for the Dilys Award, which was even more mind-boggling. Back when I was a cop, if someone had suggested that I’d be a finalist for a literary award, I’d have asked how much rock cocaine he’d been smoking. More success followed with The False-Hearted Teddy and Berkley signed me up to write books number four and five in the series. I’ve achieved a lifelong dream, but not quite the way I expected.

Looking back, I think I’ve learned a couple of things. First, I must never discount the fact that I’ve benefitted enormously from luck, fate, or maybe Taleb’s "Black Swan" or "highly improbable event." However, that propitious event would never have happened if I hadn’t stayed in the game for six years, refining my talent and never losing sight of the goal of becoming a professional author. Finally, I have to acknowledge one other very fortunate occurrence in my life and that was meeting Joyce. Without her, there would be no teddy bears in my life, no cozy mysteries, and no joy. So, maybe the ultimate "highly improbable event" is merely finding someone who brings out the very best in you.

July 28, 2007

Chicks Dig Dusty Rhoades

The Tarts are tickled to have J.D. "Dusty" Rhoades guest blogging today.  Not only does Dusty have a cute accent and a great wife, but he's one helluva writer.  January Magazine calls Safe and Sound, Dusty's latest novel featuring bounty hunter Jack Keller, "a trip down the murkier passages of the soul . . . . Rhoades' commanding writing will leave viewers simultaneously disturbed and hugely enthralled."  Put us on the list of chicks who dig Dusty, and visit him at his website or his blog.

Chicks Dig Me

by J.D. Rhoades                                              

     "Chicks dig me because I rarely wear underwear.  And when I do it's usually something unusual."        --Bill Murray

Well, in my case, it's not the underwear.  I do wear it, and it's not all that unusual.  (Briefs.  Black.)  But it can't be denied, chicks dig me.  Why else would the two blogs that asked me to guest recently have been The Lipstick Chronicles and The Good Girls Kill for Money Club?

What is it about me?  Why do women adore me?  I don't know.  I've always been afraid that if I asked that question, whatever it is would go away.  But don't worry.  I've vowed never to abuse my gift or misuse it for crass or selfish purposes.  And I believe in giving back.  So here's a tribute and a "thank you" to women, specifically the women who have shaped my writing and my life.

MY MOM: Obviously, had it not been for my mom, I wouldn't have been anything at all, much less a writer.  But my mother also taught me to read by the age of four.  She got me a library card and hauled me down to the library once a week until I was old enough to get there on my bike.  She gave me a love of books and reading that's stayed with me until this day.  And, unlike my dad, she doesn't feel the need to let me know about every bookstore she's been in that doesn't have my books on the shelf.  Thanks, Mom.

MOLLY IVINS: Her writing has spoken to me ever since I read her column collection, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?  In fact, it was that book and its down-home style of liberalism that first inspired me to start writing letters to my local newspaper, in a style inspired by (and occasionally blatantly lifted from) her distinctive voice.  The letters led to a weekly column writing gig, which in turn led the editor to syaing, in all innocence, "Hey, you ought to write a novel."  The rest is history.  R.I.P Molly.  We need you now more than ever.

KATY MUNGER:  I met Katy online when I was hanging around the USENET newsgroup rec.arts.mystery.  She was a writer living in Durham, right up the road from me.  I picked up Legwork, the first book in Katy's Casey Jones series, and it flat knocked me out.  Casey's a bad, bad girl with a checkered past, a forged P.I. license, a smart mouth, and a heart of gold, and she could take that little Plum girl Janet Evanovich writes about and drop-kick her back to Jersey.  Not only did Katy introduce me to one kick-ass heroine, she showed me that you didn't have to set your P.I. fiction in New York or L.A.; you could write mysteries about wherever you lived and make them good.  When I first started writing in this field, Katy was one of the first professional writers to offer encouragement and advice.  We haven't seen a new book by Katy since 2001's Better Off Dead, which is a damned shame.  Come back, Katy, we miss you!

LAURA LIPPMAN:  I know, everybody loves Laura, but I'm throwing my two cents in anyway.  I went to Mayhem in the Midlands one year when Laura was guest of honor and came back a raving Lippman fanboy.  In a community noted for kindness and generosity, Laura stands out.  She's not only generous with her encouragement and advice, it's good and thoughtful encouragement and advice.  And she writes books that I put down at the end and go, "Whoa."  Keep writing 'em, Laura.

And finally, MY WIFE, LYNN:  It may come as a shock to you that I'm no day at the beach to live with.  I'm not sure any writer is, frankly.  But Lynn's been there for me, pulling for me, encouraging me, taking the kids places on the weekends so I'd have peace and quiet to write.  She's also the one who'll read the book and tell me not only what's right, but what's wrong with it, and she does it in a way that doesn't piss me off.  She's the one who heard a suggestion from my editor about about a possible plot twist and turned it down flat because "no way would that girl do that." And she was right.  She's done all of this and more, even when, quite frankly, I didn't always deserve it.  So, finally, here's my toast to my biggest fan, my first reader, my best friend, the mother of my children, my love . . . . my wife.

So, TLCers, male, female, indiscriminate or indeterminate: who are the members of the opposite sex who've shaped your writing or your life? 



July 27, 2007

The Harry Potter Epic - SPOILER ALERT!

The Harry Potter Epic


la, la, la, la - this is space so that no one accidentally reads something. I put this in here because I don't want to take the rap if someone does, and beleive me, I will. You can thank me, Margie, later.

Spoilers are dead ahead, people, get out now if you don't want to see them. I can only do so much, okay?









OK, enough already. If you're still here, it means you finished the book or don't care either way.

Rebecca the Bookseller says:

OK, did everyone get that warning? So, listen, if you are still reading, it means you WANT to talk about how the series ends, and you WANT to know all kinds of things about what happens in any of the seven books. Believe me, the Tarts had a hard time deciding whether it was too early. But when Rowling herself discussed the ending yesterday, we took it as a sign.

I have to start out by saying it straight up: This series is a masterpiece. This is an epic that rivals Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. It has all the elements of a multi-generational reading experience - global themes, classic morality tales, and political science commentary. The mere fact that it got a generation dependent on audio-visual stimulation for entertainment to sit down and READ a BOOK is magical in and of itself.

Now - I thought Deathly Hallows was one of the best in the series - the best? Goblet of Fire.

BUT - I did have some questions that troubled me from the beginning of DH - we'll be talking more about some of them throughout the day, but here is my first: Why wasn't everyone consulting with Dumbledore through his portrait? Yes, I know that the school was being run by Death Eaters, but still...

And the Big Calls - who died and who did not. We all had some moments of cold panic over Neville and Hagrid, but FRED?! Not the twins! And BOTH Tonks and Lupin?

And then there is Snape. Like every other character in the book (except you know who), neither all good nor all bad. But to have such a meaningless end? I know it illustrated Voldemort's complete self absorption and lack of emotion, but wow.

OK, I could go on and on and on, but it's time for someone else to have a turn.

July 26, 2007



by Nancy

A new photo of Hillary Clinton made the news this week, not because of her opinions on Iraq or the coming election. No, this new pic appeared along with outraged captions because of her . . .  cleavage. (You know you can count on The Lipstick Chronicles to keep you abreast----hahahahaha!---of developments of such national importance.) It seems Senator Clinton showed a little more skin than usual on C-Span, and all hell broke loose. Even Robin Givhan of the Washington Post said it was, "startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative---aesthetically speaking---environment of Congress."

Jeez, Robin.  Got your smelling salts handy?

At least one idiot (You Know Who You Are) is going to complain of seared retinas, but you can go here to see the picture for yourself, if you feel moved. Me, I'm intimately familiar with middle-aged decolletage, so it's not exactly a shocking sight. In fact, the whole brouhaha made me want to vote for her even more because I hate it when somebody gets hassled on the playground, and it sure feels like HIllary's taking the heat for something that's just--well, natural, especially in the summer.  To me, she doesn't exactly look as if she's auditioning for Hooters. She looks like she got up a little late, grabbed her Chico's Travellers and threw on a nice pink jacket to cover it all up, and presto---she figured she was ready for C-Span.

I guess not.  We've coped with photos of Britney's hoohah, but a glimpse of the upper reaches of Hillary's sternum triggers a national hissyfit.

Whatever your politics, just about everybody's got--uh--firm opinions on what Hillary should wear or what her hair should look like.  I mean, don't we have other issues to be concerned about these days? (Like, who, exactly, is misbehaving in the Hamptons this summer?  Entertainment Tonight has failed me.) But, no. We get fired up about a woman leaving her Nehru collared suits at home for once.

The real question, I suppose, is this: Is it necessary for a female candidate to dress like a man to get elected? When she ran for the senate, she wore a rotation of black suits with pastel blouses.  I hear she threw away those suits after the election, she was so sick of them. (And they must have been dry-cleaned to death.) Now, it seems, she's testing the waters with different looks.  Obviously the cleavage outfit---uhm--fell flat.

Here's an article that spells out the rules for cleavage in the workplace.  Does your office comply?

Tit for tat, though.  Rumor has it that John McCain squabbled with his handlers on the subject of his "metrosexual" look--an outfit that was somebody's unconsidered suggestion he should try. It was a t-shirt worn under a v-necked sweater. I must be out of the fashion loop, because apparently this sartorial statement is a signal that the wearer might actually--gasp--get a manicure once in a while, a sure sign that he might have---double gasp!--gay leanings.  (My husband didn't get the memo on this either.  And since he buys clothes for himself only every couple of years, he's going to wander around sending off mixed vibes for a while longer. I wonder what the other guys on his football officiating crew think? Or are they equally clueless?)

Judging by McCain and some of his campaign staff recently parting ways, I guess male policitians are just as sensitive as women about the messages sent by their wardrobe choices. After all, look how Al Gore's ill-fated sojourn into the earth-toned palette turned out.

Are we really so bored by Iraq and national health care and the problems of the working poor that we feel we can be obsessed by the mistakes in every candidate's closet?  (You should see the number of outfits I've worn once or twice before I regained my sanity.)

There are pockets of rebellion, of course. Here's a woman running for governor of Alabama who campaigns with a photo of her cleavage and the caption, "More of these boobs" and a photo of the incumbent and his running mate with the caption, "And less of these boobs."  The photos are printed on t-shirts available from her campaign . . . along with marijuana stash boxes.  I wish her the best of luck. Really.

Hang on, though. Is the cleavage issue really not one of dressing appropriately for elections, but one of--and I truly hate to say this---age?

When, exactly, should a woman start buttoning up? And when is a man too old to wear a t-shirt under his V-neck?

For obvious reasons, I know a lot of ladies over the age of 50, and some of us prefer to keep things covered up while others figure you only live once and you might as well do it dressed however the hell you like.  I have friends who will go to the grocery store displaying more bosom than Courtney Love.  (You Know Who You Are.) Dignity, schmignity.  We came of age during the sexual revolution, and now they're saying, I may be over twenty-one, but I worked for what you're leering at, Bubba, and I'm still hot!  (And they'd be right.) Me? Okay, I'm a long way from the days when junior high classmates tossed popcorn in the direction of my 38Cs, but yeah, even I've been known to hoist myself into a Wonderbra from time to time. You don't like it?  Then what are you looking at, moron?

I haven't started to wrinkle yet, though.  Maybe that's the line I need to draw?

To fight off the ravages of gravity, you can exercise, scrub, exfoliate, wrap, massage and apply six dozen different lotions and potions.  Canyon Ranch offers a service called the Anti-Aging Neck and Decollette Treatment.  " . . . a unique treatment for the often-neglected area that provides a targeting approach to the visible signs of aging. Topical vitamins, antioxidants and fruit acids repar, rejuvenate and restore tone to this delicate area.  Please allow an additional 25 minutes."  Don't you want to know what they do to you for 25 minutes? And is it the opposite of a mammogram?

(Lest you think I'm a total skeeze, here's an article about a movement that somebody--hello, Bob Jones!--is trying to start to get teenagers (and their Desperate Housewifely mothers) to dress more modestly. Is there anything wrong with a little backlash against those provocative butt cracks that start in the dressing rooms of Ambercrombie & Fitch, Rue 21 and Wet Seal? I can get--er--behind this one, to a certain extent.  There's just some stuff we don't need to see.)

But I'm annoyed that these days people are talking about Hillary's cleavage or McCain's sweater or John Edwards and his haircut.  (Okay, the haircut shows a little lapse in judgment.) It smacks of---oh, I dunno---somebody trying to distract us from the real issues, doesn't it?

As for me, I hear there's a heat wave coming, so I've got my hot weather wardrobe ready. Shorts? Not with my legs. (Not only do I have a little cottage cheese going, but my skin tone is what we call Holly Farms Chicken.) But I have a nice linen skirt.  And a couple of pairs of Capri pants. And yeah, a few low-cut summer tops that I'll wear along with . . . sunscreen.

Good thing I'm not running for office.

Don't forget! Tomorrow is the TLC Deathly Hallows discussion! Don't stop by if you haven't finished the book, because there will definitely be spoilers.  But if you've read the book and want to dish, this is the place to be!

July 25, 2007

A Black Day for Mystery Lovers

A Black Day for Mystery Lovers

It was a black day when I got a letter beginning, "With mixed emotions we will be closing The Black Orchid Bookshop this September for both personal and business reasons."

My emotions weren’t mixed at all. I felt only one – sadness. Losing Black Orchid is like a death in the family.

Bonnie Claeson and Joe Guglielmelli’s bookshop at 303 East 81st Street looked exactly the way a mystery bookshop should: a narrow store so crammed with books I could barely turn around in it. It carried work by new authors, established writers, and a wonderful selection of backlist books.

You never forget your first. Bonnie and Joe gave me my first New York signing. I met them at a conference when my first mystery, "Backstab," came out. Bonnie said, "You have to come sign at our store. We like your books."

At most bookstores, a beginning author is about as welcome as a cockroach in the kitchen. But these booksellers were actually inviting a new author to sign at their store.

Through the years, Bonnie remained a real supporter. She was one bookseller who got an advance reading copy of all my books, and I waited for her verdict. What Bonnie said mattered.

Bonnie and Joe have introduced me to new authors, and helped me appreciate established ones. I never heard them say, "I don’t read cozies," or "I don’t like books by women" or any of those other statements that wipe out a whole subgenre without taking the time to investigate an individual author. They read the books they recommended. If you were down on your luck, or between publishers, Bonnie and Joe were just as friendly as if you were a bestseller.

I’m sad that they’re leaving the book-selling business, but I understand. I was a bookseller for a year, and it was hard physical labor. By the end of an eight-hour day, my feet hurt, my back hurt, and I didn’t want to answer one more question.

I understand, but I’ll still miss them. I’ll also miss their parties. Bonnie and Joe threw some of the best Edgar Week signing parties in the mystery world. The long, narrow store was as packed as a subway car at rush hour, and the crowd spilled out on the stoop and along the sidewalk. It was the best place to catch up on fellow authors, to meet friends and go on to dinner.

Bonnie and Joe gave a lot of new authors their start in New York, and that’s why some of the biggest names in the mystery world returned, year after year.

This is their thirteenth year, and for those of us who love mysteries, it’s an unlucky number.

If you have a favorite mystery book shop, please support it. Even if you don’t live in the same city, you can order books from it by mail.

What can you do for Bonnie and Joe?

If you’re in New York City on August 16, turn up at their thirteenth anniversary party at six p.m. If you can’t make the party, write them a note and let them know how much they meant.

By Elaine Viets

July 24, 2007

Summer Abundance


By Sarah

On Sunday afternoon I experienced the joy of an unexpected orgasm. More_raspberries

More_blueberries (Does that help our rating, Margie?)

I drove into our local farm stand (my BMW M3 convertible dripping gas the entire way, but that's another story) and hit the motherload: tidy green boxes of fresh Vermont blueberries, big red raspberries and, though early, blackberries. Even a few Amish peaches.

This is what I love about summer. Raspberries.

We have several bushes at home, though the cultivated ones, I'm sad to report, have not been adequately maintained by me. Maybe I can't bear to chop them down to nothing every year. (That's not true. I LOVE doing that to the rogosas.) But nature, being nature, doesn't give up. Somehow the raspberries found their way under our porch which means that every July morning I can come out to the deck, lean over and pick a few. Heaven.

As for blueberries, well, that's a bit more controversial. My mother had a bee in her bonnet about how people defined blueberries. Having grown up in New England, her definition was limited to the very Pint_blueberries small, intensely dark blue wild berries that prefer Maine bogs. We could find them in the Poconos. Low bush, of course, so you really had to work for them. With old coffee cans in hand (before the widespread use of Tupperware), we'd be sent out to battle the mosquitos in our mission to collect "real" blueberries.

My sister in law had them growing in patches where she lived in Southern Vermont. (Also a boggy area.) And I've found some near the reservoir where I pick them surreptitiously, lest other swimmers cotton on. Blueberry pie. Blueberry pancakes. Or wild blueberry sauce made by stirring just a quarter cup of water and a smidgen of cornstarch into a pan of simmering blueberries is divine. Especially over homemade vanilla ice cream.

Ohmygod. I think I'm gonna plotz.

Those big blue cultivated things? Huckleberries. Not nearly as flavorful. But, hey, who cares? They're still good.

As for raspberries and blackberries, I prefer them raw over a little oatmeal. Or topped by real whipped cream sweetened with a little sugar and some almond flavoring. Also, a few shavings of high-quality dark chocolate.

Berry_pie But here's my standby, no-cook, all-berry pie recipe that is a hit wherever I go:


1 9 " prepared graham cracker crust

1 8 oz softened cream cheese

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 pint of fresh berries (any kind) or strawberries sliced in half

1/4 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup raspberry jam, no seeds.


Whip cream cheese, cream, sugar, lemon juice and almond extract in bowl until fluffy. Pour into prepared graham cracker crust. Arrange berries artfully on top. Heat raspberry jam in microwave until almost liquid. Brush over berries with pastry brush. Sprinkle almonds on top. Refrigerate for two hours.

My daughter also insists on adding the shaved dark chocolate. How can I disagree?

Okay, what's your favorite berry recipe? A drink maybe? Raspberry chicken. (I have a recipe for that,Blackberries  too.)

Bon appetit!



July 23, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Vacation --Parts I and II

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

by Michele


                                         http://www.autoplanhols.co.uk/Lake_Como.htm  http://www.wirednewyork.com/manhattan/skyline/

Part I -- In Which I Walk in the Footsteps of Clooney and Blond Bond and Feel Nary a Heart Palpitation (Okay, Maybe One, but only for George.)

It's been a while since I've blogged, because I've been off to the far ends of the earth, or at least to another continent, in pursuit of the perfect summer vacation, and if I do say so, the hubby and I nailed it.  There's pretty much nowhere on earth as perfect as Lake Como in July.  I could spend a lot of time telling you about the air so velvety that it was like the absence of air, the moonlight on the water, the flakiness of the breakfast pastries and perfection of the pasta, but no.  That's not what you want.  You want to know about George Clooney's house.  So, you shallow thing, here's the picture I took for you of Gorgeous George's Beautiful Villa:100_0767_2

Clooney tourism is big around the lake, but apparently some poor, misguided souls are creating a demand for Blond Bond tourism.  The recuperation scene, after Blondie got his firm behind kicked, was shot at the Villa Balbianello, one of the loveliest spots on Lake Como and therefore in the world. I went there one day and took a picture for Ramona of the place where Blondie's feet touched the earth.  Here it is, ho hum: 100_0832

What did I feel as I stood there?  Admiration for the glorious gardens, of course, but other than that?  NOTHING.  Not a thing.  The man does nothing for me.

Part II -- In Which, During a Visit To Gotham, I Interview Lee Child at Midnight in the Hotel Lobby, Write His Words on a Cocktail Napkin, and My Little Heart Goes Pitter Patter (As Do the Hearts of the Other Women in Attendance).

The first time I met Lee, I had the same thought Raymond Benson had the first time he saw Clive.  "Bond," I thought.  Not that he could play Bond, but that he sort of IS Bond.  So imagine my nervous energy when, after the banquet on the Saturday night of ThrillerFest, after I'd been badgering Lee to let me interview him for our readers, the crowd in the bar suddenly parts and there he stands, looking just as good as George and, I'm sorry,but a damn sight better than blond Bond.  "So when do you want to do this interview?" he asks.  "How about now?" I say. 

We go find a little table in the lobby.  Eventually, a crowd gathers, all female.  What follows is not the interview in its entirety.  I'm sorry about leaving the good stuff out, especially since we're looking for that X rating, but some things are better left floating in the ether of the hotel lobby.

  • Me:  Did you always know you'd be dazzling and successful? 
  • Lee:  I'm not sure about the dazzling part.  The success didn't surprise me.  I'd been a media professional for a long time before I wrote the series.  I work hard on the books.  I suppose I could take the success I've had so far and spend ten or twelve years coasting on it.  Let the books decline.  Some people do that.  I never will.
  • Me:  Lee Child isn't your real name.
  • Lee: No.
  • Me:  That surprised me, when I found out.
  • Lee:  It surprises me that anyone would be surprised.  In the job I came from, writing for television, it was normal to take a new name with each new project.  Reacher was something different.  I needed a different name.
  • Me: Is Lee Child a character you play?
  • Lee: I suppose you could say that.
  • Me: How is he different from you?
  • Lee: The real me is less artistic, more impatient.  (He gives an example, which I didn't write down and have since forgotten, but at the time it made complete sense).
  • Me:  You've become an American?
  • Lee: I have a green card.
  • Me: Why the attraction to the U.S., to New York?
  • It's more about what I didn't feel for England.  I grew up in Birmingham, it was a late industrial revolution manufacturing city, very grim.  I had an Irish father.  I suppose you could say it's about British xenophobia, the class system.  I was never allowed to be English. . .

[At which point Margie walks up, catches the words "industrial revolution", and decides something's seriously off course with the interview.]

  • Margie: Can I ask a question?
  • Me (trying not to show my concern): Uh, okay.
  • Margie, to Lee: Are you wearing any underwear?
  • Lee: Yes, tonight I am, since I'm wearing wool trousers. But I don't always.  Yesterday I wasn't.
  • Me: I've never really understood the attraction of going commando.  I like my underwear.
  • Lee: Yes, but knowing you, you probably have beautiful lingerie.
  • Me: Yes, I do.
  • Lee: I'm sure I'd like your underwear too.
  • Margie, waving goodbye:  My work here is done.

And the rest would be history, except that I'm leaving it out.

The End.

[NOTE TO OUR READERS about another one of our favorite men, Harry Potter: Please finish reading Deathly Hallows by Friday, when we're running a DH review blog which will contain spoilers].

July 22, 2007

Are you a violent person?

Are you a violent person?

By Guest Blogger Kathleen George

When Stefano, one of our Theatre Ph.D. students, confessed to me that he had a big crush on my character Richard Christie, I blushed to tell him—as Flaubert said of Madame Bovary—“C’est moi!”

I am not male, nor am I on a second marriage, nor do I have two kids. But to a great extent I am Richard Christie. And Marina. And Joe. And Elizabeth, Bridget, and alas, even Frank Razzi. I am all my characters, including the evil ones, the violent ones.

And so, when at the recent Thrillerfest Conference in New York, I had to answer the question my panel moderator put to me (“Are you a violent person?” ), I found myself explaining how very non-violent I am, perhaps even to a pathological degree.

I’ve often wondered whether I could defend myself in a crisis. I identify with the Liv Ullman look-alike character in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain who cannot kill the man who is well on the way to strangling the Paul Newman character (whom she wants to protect). She flinches, she has a gun but can’t shoot it, she kind of stabs the bad guy, she bashes his knees with a shovel . . . . It’s violence that she can’t bear. She finally sticks his head in a gas oven. It’s a miracle Newman lives through the ordeal.

So I am not a violent person. I am perhaps comically non-violent. And yet I write violence. How? And why? During the panel, we talked about acts of the imagination. I conjured Stanislavki’s advice to actors about coming up with emotional truth by finding something small and magnifying it. You don’t have to have killed someone to play Othello, Stanislavski tells his actors. Nor do you have to feel the full tilt of murderous rage when playing the strangling scene. But you have no doubt been angry and you have no doubt killed a fly. He tells his students of acting to use an inner power to expand that act.

The panel was lively and we talked about many things. At the end of it, I found myself wishing I had had the time to bring up other lessons I learned from my work in theatre. Here are three of them.

1. Violence is pornographic if it's gratuitous, not if it's not. When I directed King Lear, I got sick every time we rehearsed the eye-gouging scene, but I recognized it as a scene that belonged in the play. Why? Because it's balanced by what comes before and after. In the world of the play there is significant appreciation of the horror and a space given to mourning for the loss. The evil anger exhibited by Regan and Cornwall is balanced by the kindnesses of servants and later the grief of Edgar.

2. Shakespeare again: an image of work. I don't ever want to forget the work of violence and evil. It's work. As a writer, if I can describe the work, it becomes fascinating as most descriptions of work tend to be. Witness those witches in the Polanski Macbeth--breathing hard and digging in the sand, arranging bones, finding things--just doing their job as they understand their job. In that film the witches are not mustache-twirling for the sake of presenting an image of evil, but because their world demands this job. It's what they know how to do. They believe in it.

3. One of the best lessons in theatre is this advice to actors: that to play a drunk you have to try to be not-drunk; to play crazy, you have to be working to come off as sane. And thus, I think the key to writing evil and violence is something to do with its opposite--a wish to be something other than destructive. As with drunkenness and insanity, the portrait is more potent when it’s the by-product of a more ordinary wish to fit into the world.

Ed. Note: Kathleen George is a thriller author, professor, theater director and friend of the Tarts. Her next book, "Afterimage"will be out in December 2007. Her other books, "Taken" and "Fallen" are available now - just click on the title. And please check out her website:Kathleen George