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30 posts from September 2007

September 30, 2007

Local Lingo

Local Lingo

By Rebecca the Bookseller

Here is a typical conversation this week in my hometown:

Blog_steeler_fan"Hey! We're tree an' oh!"
"Were yinz dahntahn Sunday?"
"Oh yeah - we did rigs and pigs out da back o' da Camero."
"Get aht! You took the Camero dahn Heinz?"
"Nah. I'm just jaggin' ya. We had Uncle Chuckie's van. Go Stillers!"
"Stillers ROCK!"

Translation: One friend went to the Steeler game at Heinz Field last Sunday and ate rigatoni and halupki. Both agree that the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 3-0 in the NFL this season, are a very fine team. In addition, the Camero is a classic car that would never be exposed to the risk of flying beer and other objects at a tailgate party.

Every town has it's own vocabulary. Call someone a Jagoff, and you are letting them know that you hail from either Western Pennsylvania or Chicago. But if you confess to jagging around - it means different things in those places. Here, it means joking. There, it means engaging in an intimate physical act. Not sure where that differentiation came from (heh), but maybe it has to do with the fact that sex is more of a joking matter here. Just guessing.

If you're from from Louisiana, and you call someone 'cher', it means one thing. Here, it means they remind you of Cher. Which probably means you are either a terrific drag queen, or you have really long hair. Or both. Either place, it is a compliment.

If you live in many parts of Florida, and you call someone 'Bub' - it's usually short for Bubba - brother or friend. Here, it's usually delivered as a warning: "Listen, Bub..." and it's not that friendly. And in Manhattan, if someone yells: "Yo, BUB!" it usually means "Get the hell out of my way, I'm trying to get somewhere."

On the other hand, in Pittsburgh, Bubba means Grandma, or Aunt, or any woman who wears a bubushka. A bubushka is a scarf or similar head gear. This is not to be confused with 'Bubbie", which in New York, or at a seder, means good friend or Jewish grandma, depending.

The word darling is pronounced differently depending on where you are - Dah-link, Derlin', Darh-lin, Doorling, Darlin'. The words roof, water, and wash have so many versions, it's amazing.

The same applies to the 'collective you'. Y'all, youse, ya, you-uns. Yinz get the point.

And then there are the exclamations of appreciation or awe: In Houston, it's "Hot Damn!" In Vegas "You rolled sevens!" In the Carolinas, it's "Gawd-dam!" And in high school, regardless of where you live, it's "F'n A!"

So what do yinz say?

September 29, 2007

Got Rejections?

Got Rejections?

By Guest Blogger and TLC Man of the Blog Will Graham

Blog_my_rejectionJames Lee Burke, hailed today as the "Faulkner of Modern Crime Fiction" holds the record for Most Rejections from a Publisher; his novel, THE LOST GET BACK BOOGIE was rejected one hundred and eleven (yes… 111) times. When it was published in 1986, BOOGIE was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize. (Larry McMurtry won that year for LONESOME DOVE.)

"Richard Hooker" spent seven years writing a humorous war novel based on his experiences as a doctor in Korea. The manuscript was rejected by twenty-one publishers before William Morrow bought the rights to the novel, originally titled "Mobile Army Surgical Hospital". An editor rechristened the manuscript M*A*S*H*. M*A*S*H* became a runaway best-seller, spawning a blockbuster movie and one of the longest running series in television history.

Louis L'Amour, possibly the most respected author in the Western genre received more than 350 rejections before he made his first sale. As of this date, there are more than 200 million Louis L'Amour books in print.

British thriller writer John Creasy received 774 rejections before his first sale, and went on to author a total of 564 novels, featuring such characters as The Baron, The Toff, and other British "gentlemen heroes", and often had up to five manuscripts in the works simultaneously. To this day, Creasy is considered one of the pre-eminent writers in the genre.

Dr. Seuss' first children's book "And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street" was rejected by twenty-seven publishers before Vanguard Press "took a chance". Nothing more needs to be said.

Margaret Mitchell's classic "Gone with the Wind" was turned down by more than thirty-seven publishers.

Mary Higgins Clark was rejected more than forty times before selling her first short story. More than 30 million copies of her books are in print today.

Fifteen publishers and thirty agents turned down John Grisham's first novel, "A Time to Kill". More than 60 million copies of his books are now in print.

Doctor No, E.T., Home Alone, Forrest Gump, Speed, and Raiders of the Lost Ark were ALL rejected by every major studio in Hollywood.

Rudyard Kipling received a rejection letter from the San Francisco Examiner that said, in part, "Mr. Kipling, it is obvious that you have no grasp of the English Language."

Dean Koontz was strongly advised by an English Professor to find "meaningful work", as he would never succeed as a writer.

((Second all time favorite - W.)) Eight years after his novel "Steps" won the National Book Award, Jerzy Kosinski permitted a young writer to change the name and title of the book, and nothing else, and send the re-typed manuscript to various publishers. Every single publishing house rejected it, including Random House who had published the original and proudly displayed the National Book Award for it.

((First all time favorite - W.)) A young film school graduate got the necessary permissions from the estates of the writers, and submitted a word for word line by line copy of the screenplay to CASABLANCA under the play's original title, "Everybody Comes to Rick's." Every studio passed on it, with Warner Brothers (who did the original) saying "No FemJep (Hollywood slang for 'Female in Jeopardy') ....can't sell it. Can you toss in a serial killer?" Several agents responded to the prankster with comments like "Too old and archaic", "Where's the Kid Action?", and "Unbelievably stupid; no one acts this way in real life."

((ULTIMATE All Time Favorite - W)) Back in 1962, upon viewing initial film of Sean Connery as James Bond, a United Artists executive sent a formal memo out criticizing the producers casting choice, ending with the line "We can do better than [Connery]."

September 28, 2007

The Margie Manifesto

The Margie Manifesto

by Me, Margie, who is making one

Hi. It's me, Margie.

In response to a certain 'let's get Margie, she'll do anything' movement, I think it's time we worked out a platform for the TLC Party. Our logo will obviously be the lipstick smack up there on the left. It's a good logo because you can interpret it in many different ways. I think you know what I mean.

A manifesto, in case you don't know (okay, I looked it up because I liked the alliteration but had to make sure it didn't mean I was a communist or something) is basically an outline of what you believe - in our political process, it's called a platform. And don't say ya never learned anything from me.

Now, what do we stand for? Well, we WON'T stand for any bullshit. We WON'T stand for any holier-than-thou judgmental crap. I could go on, but I'm going to try to be positive.

Oh - and we need to be careful about what we are "Pro". Like these rods who say they are Pro - oh, let's say - butter. "I'm Pro-Butter! The Anti-Butter vortex of evil-doers is out to ruin America!" So then someone says: "But I like cream cheese" and then the Pro-Butter people say: "Why do you hate America?" In the meantime, the Pro-Butter people are secretly paying some wingnut overseas to make fake butter and they are all buying it and selling in in some back alley because they really believe that butter is crap and will kill you. But they don't want to say that because the Butter People have a big PAC or lobby or some damn thing and they've convinced these wipes that if you don't support the Butter Movement, then you are un-American.

See, that was just like, an analogy, because I happen to love butter, and I get real PO'd if I go to a restaurant and all they have is the fake shit.

Moving on.

We support sex. Lots of it. However you happen to like it. Like eggs - some people like scrambled, some people like sunny-side up, some people like three-minute eggs. Whateve. Stay away from kids and other helpless creatures, and don't make anyone have any eggs if they don't like them. Otherwise, yes. Yes, yes, and oh, gawd YES! Because we all know that people who are having sex are happier, peaceful people. And they don't have to play 'my rocket is bigger than yours' because their rockets are happy and just want to go to sleep now, thankyouverymuch. (Rocco helped me write this paragraph. Just saying.)

We support the Freedoms in the Bill of Rights. Speech, assembly, religion, all of 'em. We don't like it when some wingers try to take those away, even if they think it's for a good reason. The founding padres knew WTF they were doing, people. They did the whole king thing and it sucked. So they gave us some pretty basic rules to follow to stay king-free. And we are not doing jack shit to make sure everybody follows the rules. It's time to put the general back in the attorney general's office. And that general has only one commander - the Constitution. Plus, there should be a cool uniform. With boots. Nice boots always help.

We support our troops. Period. Here's what that does NOT mean: it does not mean that we can't ask freaking questions about what in the hell they are fighting for - or when they are coming home, or any other damn thing. I have had it with that crap.

We support choices. All kinds. Like, y'know, what kind of underwear you want to wear. Or not. Whatever. Here's a newsflash. We've got bigass problems, kids. We need to stop worrying about stupid shit like underwear. If you don't like somebody's thong, tell 'em, but don't waste my time trying to make a federal frigging case out of it. Seriously.

We support chocolate. Hear me out on this one. I don't like the smell of cigarette smoke. It gets in my hair and stays. But cigarettes are legal in the USA. Except not. I get the whole second-hand smoke thing, so don't start. But the next thing you know, there is no GD Nat Sherman in Manhattan any more. Which is a total crying shame. I already mentioned the butter thing. And there is the low-fat thing. Here's a clue - if you don't want to eat fat, don't buy the cupcake, dunce. But if I want a whole cake, then do not try to tell me I have to have a fat-free, sugar-free, carb-free, butter-free mess of sawdust. You do not want to get between me and my real cake, pally, and I'm not the only one. So we need to keep an eye on this trend because when they come for my chocolate, there will be tanks in the street. Crank up Les Miz, baby. The revolution's comin'.

Now I've got myself all jazzed up and I need some, um, yeah, chocolate. Maybe some good red wine too. Or champagne. Oh, yeah, that's the other thing - our TLC Party is the Party Party. Wait - that's too much. How about the Pursuit of Happiness Party?

Now, the floor is open for suggestions. (That means it's your turn.)

September 27, 2007

Back To You, Jennifer

Back to You, Jennifer!

by Nancy Martin

Local television news is perhaps the last bastion of the toupee. Where else can you see a group of forty-something men with extremely high foreheads sporting thick, lustrous heads of hair that look suspiciously like Captain Kirk's 'do back in 1968?

The upside of the toupee-wearing weathermen is that at least they shave. (Let's take a poll among the ladies of TLC. Do you like the unkepmt, I-shaved-last-week-so-what's-your-beef look?  If my husband doesn't shave, there's no way he's getting any, y'know?)

I will admit that local newscasters are well groomed. But save me, please, from their inane banter, their Chicken Little promos (The sky is falling! Details at noon!) and the baby-voiced girls we're supposed to take seriously as they chirp the Top Stories. (Are all those Jennifers so young they've never seen a Lauren Bacall movie??)

Thank heaven my local newspaper has started posting the breaking news on their website, because I have stopped tuning in to the noon news on Channel 4 in the hope of learning what's going on in our world. At least the newspaper understands what real news is. For television people, it seems every fender bender in the city brings at least two helicopters to record the carnage. If there's a weeping bystander--great!  And if they're lucky, there's blood on the pavement and they've got their lead story for the next three days unless an NFL player punches somebody in a nightclub.

Earlier this week, our local yokels broke into the Today Show (okay, not exactly a program that takes on the mantle of Walter Cronkite, but still) to cover . . . a traffic jam for an hour. From the glitter of adrenaline in the eyes of the "anchorwoman" you might have supposed she was reporting Russian troops landing downtown and taking hostages among the baristas at Starbucks. But hey--the people actually in the traffic jam were in their cars, not at home watching there televisions, so why bother interrupting the Today Show's in-depth interview with Joey Fatone?  Oh. Wait a minute. Nevermind.

On my book tour last spring, a station in a mid-sized city I won't mention (for concern I might embarrass one of our regulars) promo-ed a latenight broadcast by putting a badly lighted, peppy and cheerful young woman on the screen saying, "Could a knife-wielding killer be hiding in your neighborhood? Tune in at eleven!"  (Do you suppose that particular Jennifer looked so cheerful because her forehead was entirely motionless? Botoxed at 25!)

This year's fall TV season brings a comedy that tills the fertile soil of local news stations. Back To You stars Kelsey Grammar, and perhaps because it's set here in Pittsburgh, my husband and I watched the pilot. The show recycles an old joke, but it's a good one. The executive producer, Steve Levitan said it best:  "What's so funny about local news is there's this great narcissism pretending to be altruism."

Despite my questionable taste in sitcoms, I am a firm believer in the idea that we need the four branches of government to keep democracy afloat--the fourth branch being journalists who keep everyone else honest. Where would our nation be if Woodward and Bernstein (and Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham) hadn't done their job so well?

Have you been watching the Ken Burns WWII series this week?  Would our nation have responded the same way if the footage we're seeing now had been widely shown at the time?  Or what if the only coverage of the current war came to us via such sources as Fox News? (Tangent: Does Elizabeth Hasselbeck's contribution to The View count as news? Do people listen to what she says because she's a pretty face? And if so, have you ever been so proud of Barry Manilow before?)  Do we get the best unbiased television news from the BBC these days? Newspapers have always served as our national conscience. But if they're dying because of the easer, cheaper ways people get their news now--electronically--will we lose more than just the jobs of real journalists?

There are good reporters on TV, of course. I still lament the loss of Bob Schieffer in the anchor's chair at CBS. (Although he still does a great job in Washington.) But an item popped up on my radar screen this week about his predecessor.  Dan Rather is suing CBS. Would Dan still have his job if his story about the president's serivce in the National Guard came out now? Now that public opinion has turned against Mr. Bush? I wonder. Timing is all.

Funny how we used to see movies about reporters. There are still a few good series mystery novels about reporters, but pretty much we're in an era of lawyers and cops, aren't we?  Why is that, I wonder?

We all need multiple sources of news--balanced coverage so every citizen can use his or her reasoning skills to decide what's really happening in the world.  (Was George Clooney the victim of a careless driver, or was he a naught boy who passed on the right?) We need the "public press" more than ever these days, don't you think?

Let's help keep democracy chugging along today. Buy a newspaper.  One advantage is that we don't have to see the reporters wearing toupees.

September 26, 2007

Your Favorite Sleuth: A Survey


NOTE: Elaine usually writes on Wednesdays but since she's enjoying a well-deserved break, we here at TLC thought we'd pose the unanswerable question: Who's the best sleuth?

Spy_glass Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Horace Rumpole, Philip Marlowe, Kinsey Milhone, Miss Marple, Spenser, Stephanie Plum, Amelia Peabody, Nora Blackbird, Melanie Vargas, Wollie Shelley, Helen Hawthorne, Josie Marcus and Bubbles Yablonsky. Just to name a few.

The personalities of sleuths, who they are, what they like and dislike and how they dress, have become as important - if not more important - than the plots they uncover. Some sleuths time travel. Some morph or forget things. (Or act as if they forget things.) They are socialites, detectives, professional shoppers, archaeologists, greeting card designers, hair dressers, FBI agents and, sometimes when we're lucky, delightfully meddlesome old ladies. All of them ask too many questions and eventually piss off the wrong folk.

The question is, who is your favorite sleuth and why? Also, how did you come across him or her?

Me? I hold a deep fondness for Kinsey Milhone because she paved the way for women sleuths who could Spenser be funny and smart and clueless when it came to fashion. Also, I love Spenser because he's just so reliable, so confident. All in a day's work.

Got a pet sleuth? Let us know. We'll take a vote at the end to see who is the overall, hands down, classic winner.

September 25, 2007

Legends in Our Own Minds

By Sarah

Kumquat So, awhile back I wrote a blog about the supernatural aspects of writing. For example, you might be writing about kumquats, a fruit you haven't seen or eaten in years, when out of the blue an old friend sends you a membership to the Kumquat of the Month Club.

Well, it's happened to me again. This time for Sweet Love, my next book, which is about a forty-something woman meeting up with an old crush. Once again my life has imitated my "art." (Hey! I heard you laughing.) That's right, out of nowhere I've made contact with a boy I swore one day I would marry. Granted, I was eight and still believed in mermaids. Also, I'm embarrassed to admit, unicorns.

Not that he had a crush on me. I'm sorry to say that this was entirely a one-way romance on my part, a pathetic schoolgirl fantasy about a boy who probably thought I was a total whack job. But it was Steel a great fantasy and he was a great boy who lived safely far away in the Midwest. You'd understand if you'd grown up in Bethlehem, PA, in the 1970s among the...well, Josh is here so I won't insult him except to say that he was an outstanding exception to the rather depressing rule.

The point is that the relationship was all in my own pre-adolescent mind. However, when I grew up and started meeting real men, I found I was looking someone I dreamed my crush was - a man who was intelligent and funny and athletic and charming and great with children. A man with adorable Midwestern values and, perhaps most importantly, drop-dead sexy. Yes, I'm talking about Charlie, my husband for nineteen years. I really lucked out.  Thanks, old crush.

The old crush is long married with a solid family including a son who's about as old as he was when I last saw him. (Does that make sense?) I'm sure we'll never see each other again, but it has been so fun to catch up on line. Ah, the delight of the Internet.

Pedestal Wish I could say that about some of the other emails I've gotten lately from boys in my past. Yes, most have been innocuous, hey-I-saw-your-book-at-Barnes-and-Noble-and-wondered-if-you-were-that-idiot-girl-in-math-class type. We've traded details about our families and then signed off. Perfectly run of the mill. Some were former BMOCs in college or cool jocks in high school who are now, magically, really sweet. Funny how life can knock even the cockiest off their pedestals.

I was catching up with one old childhood friend, a girl who later became a Presbyterian minister, on a sunny Tuesday morning six Septembers ago. We were happily emailing back and forth about our families and mutual long lost friends when a New York Times alert popped up in my email. A small plane, believed to be a commuter plane, had reportedly flown into the Pentagon. Two minutes later, another plane had flown into the World Trade Center. And then another. "What's happening?" I wrote Connie. "I don't know," she wrote back. "I think I need to pray." That was the last I've ever heard from her.

Then there are the few that deserve their own special category.

For example, here's an excerpt from a guy I'll call Billy Ray. Bill Ray wrote me earlier this month to note that he is now a successful businessman out west with a suburban lifestyle he was "once opposed to living," but that sometimes he lets his mind "wander." One night, after dealing with his last employee, his mind drifted over to me. (Why does this sound like the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter?) Indulge me while I quote:

What about Sarah?  We weren't really good friends.  We were acquaintances who happened to have a few classes together. I was the smart partier.  A bit different from most partying types as good
grades came easy to me and I would have continued to get good grades if I wasn't bored out of my mind with school.

Sarah, if my few brain cells are functioning correctly, came from a good
family with the right address and hung out with other super good people who
wouldn't be caught dead with somebody as crazy as myself.  She talked to me
every now and again.  But friends?  Wasn't in the stars.

You get the idea, right? Look, I wouldn't be blogging about this except he went on (and on and on and on) to conclude, finally,

I will not lie and tell you that I'm going to run out and read your books. If you wrote a math book, photography book or a book on government or politics, I'd be ordering from Amazon as I write this :-)

My own memories are enough fiction for me :-)

Okay, people, here's a tip. If you're going to write an author and ask them to pull out the yearbook and see if they remember you, please don't end the letter with, "by the way, I won't be buying your crap." Especially since, in this case, I had no clue who this guy was.

Or, as a woman from my past wrote me shortly after my first book was published, "I, too, aspire to be a writer...though not like you."

What did that mean? I have no idea because I've yet to see her name on the shelves.

It's fun, these on line reunions, especially when you have a book due in November and anything, anything isCrush a welcome distraction. It's also nice because there's no face to face. I can still imagine the old crush as the strapping 19-year-old he was when I last saw him, not the forty-something banker he is now. And let's hope he still thinks of me as 18 and not the, er,...Well. We'll keep it at that.

All right. I know I'm not the only one out there who's had this experience. Come on - tell us yours!


September 24, 2007

Bedroom, Boardroom, Cabinet Room

Bedroom, Boardroom, Cabinet Room

by Michele

What if somebody you worked with was doing stuff you disapproved of in her personal life?  What if she was a serial adulterer, or abused her kids, or engaged in risky sexual practices?  Is what she does on her own time her own business?  Or would you let it affect your view of her work?  We'd all like to think we're tolerant, that we live and let live.  But do we?  Have you ever been put to the test?  Have you ever worked with a senior partner who preyed on attractive young women (but not the ones in your firm)?  Hired a babysitter who boozed it up and slept around (but not when she was watching your kids)?  Did you think the same way about these people after you found out?  Did you call that babysitter the next time you needed your kids picked up from school?

Do we care about the personal conduct of the people running for President?  And if we do, is that fair?

Have you seen the video of Giuliani taking a phone call from his wife in the middle of an important speech to the NRA?  It's deeply weird.


Maybe it creeps me out so much because the whole Rudy-Judi thing creeped me out from the get-go.  I lived through that drama in New York.  The gossip column blind items about Rudy wining and dining a mystery woman while still married to Donna Hanover.  The press conference where he announced to the entire city that he was dumping its first lady before he told the woman herself, the mother of his two children (who no longer speak to him).  The spectacle when Donna Hanover refused on advice of her matrimonial lawyer to leave Gracie Mansion, and Rudy went to live on his friend's couch.  How she did The Vagina Monologues to piss him off.

I lived in the city before, during and after Giuliani, and I can attest that the man is effective.  The change in the city was mind-boggling, almost unthinkable.  Under Dinkins, I heard three separate shootings outside my bedroom window in a one-year period.  Under Giuliani, you could walk the streets at any hour.  On nine-eleven, he showed leadership like no American has since FDR.  Still, I won't vote for him, for a lot of reasons, but one of them is undoubtedly the fact that he's a jerk in his personal life.  Is that fair?  Is it smart?

I haven't seen a Woody Allen movie since Woody dumped Mia Farrow for her adopted teenaged daughter.  I just couldn't get past my disapproval of the director's personal life sufficiently to plunk down my money for a ticket.  I couldn't stand the thought of watching him cast himself opposite sweet young things.  (Though if you believe the reviews, the movies haven't been so good, so I wasn't that tempted to overcome my distaste.  Still, I'd been a loyal viewer before).    Is that fair?

     John McCain and Fred Thompson are married to Stepford blondes gazillions of years younger than they are.  That bugs me.  And just to show I'm not being partisan, I feel exactly the same way about Dennis Kucinich, especially after he crowed on national tv about having a hot young wife.  (She is hot.  What's up with that?)  Is that fair?  Do I care if it's fair?  It's how I feel.

I have to admit I'm a hypocrite.  I've forgiven Hillary for sticking with Bill.  Not everybody has.  A very smart, educated and successful woman of my acquaintaince, who spent twenty years at home raising her kids before coming back to the work force, can't forgive Hillary for the "baking cookies" insult, and she can't forgive her for her double standard in staying married to Bill.  "This is somebody who criticized other women for standing by their man like Tammy Wynette," she said, "and then went and did exactly that."

We're not the Europeans.  The personal is political, I guess.  At least, here in the tabloid nation.

September 23, 2007

Happy 5768

HAPPY 5768
by Harley

It’s a strange and significant weekend, the Autumnal Equinox plus Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, the most important holiday of the Jewish year (the year 5768). Here in Topanga Canyon there was a sudden storm last night, with THUNDER, so rare in Southern California that the dog panicked and the kids asked, “what IS that?”

“I think it’s God,” I said.

I decided to jump on the Day of Atonement bandwagon, because I love the idea of fresh starts and cleaning out closets. I realize it’s a little late, that Yom Kippur ended Saturday at sundown, and the book is closed, but hey – I’m not Jewish. Neither am I Pagan, outside celebrating the Equinox at 2:51 a.m. (too cold). No matter. Here at TLC, we’ve been known to get a little sloppy about deadlines, so in the spirit of the season, here’s what I’m atoning for:

The times I missed a chance to look a loved one in the eye. There are a few people I saw this year that I’ll never see again, and I wish I’d taken a long look, a mental snapshot and found the changes in the face so dear to me. At the risk of adding to my eccentricity, in 5768 I want to stare at people the way I stare at my children. Just, you know, noticing their beauty.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I’d like to go back a little farther—1984, to be exact. I met a woman in a locked ward in Bellevue Hospital (she was a patient, I was a visitor) and one day she told me she was getting released, and I told her I’d come in a cab and accompany her across town the next morning, when she got out. And I didn’t. I overslept. Marnie, I’m sorry. I hope you got home okay.

This from Elaine: “Before I wrote mystery novels, I did a humor column for a newspaper. About 20 years ago, when those plush "conversion" vans were popular, I interviewed a high school student who had one. It was quite a sight inside—leopard print seats, smoked glass mirrors, all the high-'80s luxuries. The kid mentioned the van was terrific for dates. I believe the phrase in the story was "rolling bedroom" but I can't remember if he used it or I made it up. Either way, it was in the story and it embarrassed the boy. I suspect his school friends teased him. He called me up and said, "Why did you do that?" I'm not sure why it embarrassed him, but my best guess was he was dating a very special someone and didn't like their romance being the subject of snickers.

Anyway, I felt bad. I tried to apologize, but it was too late. I wished I could print a retraction, but that would only make it worse. And since I was a geeky kid in high school, I had some idea how bad he felt. There was no way for me to atone for my actions, but I regretted them all the same.

I like writing fiction a lot better. I get to make it up.”

Elaine, I’m no rabbi—or priest, or Wiccan goddess—but if it were up to me, I’d absolve you in The Matter of The Rolling Bedroom Story. Go forth and greet the autumn with a clear conscience . . .

Rebecca the Bookseller says: How many words do I get? Okay, seriously, I need to atone for making snap judgments. Like the guy who was so rude at the first Parent Meeting at school. Didn't like him, and then I saw him in the parking lot wearing black socks with sandals in August. That was it. So sorry, guy. Maybe I just need to get to know you. Does atoning mean I have to try to get to know him now? I also need to atone because there are relatives I should call, but I keep putting it off because they tend to make me crazy. Those are probably the people who need the contact the most. Geez, Harley, now I feel worse. Kidding. This is therapeutic and I'm going to shut up now.

Anyone else? Confessions?


September 22, 2007

Bob Morris Guest Blogs

Head in the Clouds

by Bob Morris, Handsome and Dashing Friend of the Tarts.

I have a new hero in life. His name is Cloudman. Actually, his name is John Day and he is 94 years old, but everyone calls him Cloudman. He has a web site and he probably knows more about those big puffy things that float around in the sky and make dreamers out of all of us than anyone on the planet.

This is of particular interest to those of us who live in Florida since cloud-watching ought to be one of our prime spectator sports. We've got great clouds here. Just ask Cloudman.

"You've got air loaded with water vapor," he says. "And lots of convective activity."

I'm not quite sure what convective activity is, but if Cloudman says it's a good thing then that's all I need to know.

"Everyone where you live ought to be out watching clouds," he said.  "Indeed, everyone everywhere should be out watching clouds."

Which is exactly what I was doing the other day at the beach. It was early afteroon and the sky was loaded with clouds. Some of them looking like pirate ships, some like bowls of buttered popcorn, and one of them in particular looked just like Ludwig Von Beethoven. Or maybe it was Thomas Jefferson on a bad day, hard to tell. And it was morphing into Queen Latifah.

"What are you doing?" said the woman who calls herself my wife. She had just returned from a five-mile walk, and she is not much one for sedentary moments.

"I'm sitting here, watching the clouds." I said.

"Figures," she said.

And then off she went, probably to walk another five miles, probably not even once paying attention to the sky. Poor thing.

Me, I went off to call the Cloudman. He lives in Oregon, a town called McMinnvile. And he offered solace.

"People who spend a lot of time watching clouds are often ridiculed," he said. "But it is the greatest free show on earth and there is no better way to immediately connect with the world around you than by going out and watching clouds."

Trained in physics, Day got started watching clouds back in the 1930s when he was a meteorologist for Pan American World Airways and his job was to determine which routes planes should take to avoid storms and bumpy flights. He went on the teach meteorology and physics, first at Oregon State University and then at Linfield Colllege, where he was on the faculty until his retirement just last year.

Somewhere along the way, Day's scientific mind made room for an aesthetic appreciation of the wondrous formations he was seeing in the sky. Not only did Day become the world's leading proponent of cloud-watching, he became one of the most acclaimed cloud photographers, a rarified specialty indeed. He has co-authored two highly praised Peterson guides ("A Field Guide to the Atmosphere" and "A Field Guide to Clouds and Weather") and his 2002 offering, "The Book of Clouds" is a dazzling compilation of his photographs and an instruction manual for would-be cloud-watchers.

But it is Day's latest venture that piques my interest. As he closes in on his 95th year, Day is getting ready to launch an online "Cloud School." It will be a nine-part series of lectures and guides aimed at teaching people how to more effectively study the wonders of the sky. It's free. And at the end of the course, graduates get a certification signed by Cloudman himself.

"So, if my wife ridicules me for sitting on the beach watching clouds, I can whip out my certificate and show her I am a certified professional cloud-watcher," I asked him.

"Why yes, I suppose you could do that," said Cloudman, "But then you should ask her sweetly to sit down and watch them with you."

Bob Morris is the creator of Zack Chasteen, the wily hero of such books as Bahamarama, Jamaica Me Dead and the newly released Bermuda Schwartz. In addition to his novels, Bob is also a freelance journalist who takes enviable assignments with such magazines as Bon Appetit, and National Geographic Traveler.  Plus, he's cute in shorts.

September 21, 2007

Sleepy, Wakey, Dreamy, Snorey, Grumpy, Loopy and Doc

Sleepy, Wakey, Dreamy, Snorey, Grumpy, Loopy and Doc

By Rebecca the Bookseller

I used to sleep. I know I did. The memory is hazy as time goes on, but I know it happened. I was never a heavy sleeper, but I did sleep through the night.

Then I had children. Some children sleep like little angels, for hours at a time. Not mine. Never did, and still don't. So I blame childbirth for starting this mess. Then, another thrill - menopause, where insomnia is rivaled only by the hot flashes as the most dreadful symptom. The medical answer to this? Hormones. No thank you. I think we all know how well that worked out for the last two generations of women, don't we? So, sorry Doc, I'll take the fatigue.

Then, and I'm not sure how this happened, I started to snore. Not all the time, but enough to make a difference. Know how I am sure that I snore (in addition to my husband, who can give a chain saw a run for its money)? Because sometimes I snork myself awake. That's right. I wake myself up - at first, it was like one of those falling off a cliff things - jarring. Now, I just roll over. I am currently trying one of those non-snore pillows, but so far it's only given me a stiff neck.

Yes, I tried all the conventional wisdom for insomnia - use the bed only for sleep; get up and go to bed at the same time day after day; avoid caffeine; take a hot bath, blah-blah-dee-blah-blah-blah. It's all crap.

So now I take naps. But I can't power nap - like my doctor friends, who can, no kidding, fall asleep sitting bolt upright in a chair during half time of the Steeler game and then pop right back into the conversation. I'm looking at you, Mitchell. If I nap for any less than an hour, I feel hungover. And a hangover with no preceding funny memories is a very sad state of affairs.

Here is the fun part of all this - my dreams have changed. They're better -and get this - I can change them. Not all the time, but lots of times. It occurs when I find I'm in some kind of place where I know I'm dreaming, and I can change the direction of the dream, or extend it, or make it end. Very cool. I didn't tell anyone about this because, frankly, I thought it was probably some kind of delusional state that has a diagnostic name that can get you locked up for 72 hours. But then, I read about something called Lucid Dreaming - and guess what? It's a real thing, and not just my personal psychotic manifestation. So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

Because I'll tell you, the dreams are pretty passionate. And not just sexual - although those are wonderful. But I can do that in real life, thankfully. So it's the violent ones that I enjoy the most. Do you know how many jagoffs I have beaten to a bloody pulp with my own hands? Lots. Sometimes, I just let the dream wheel spin and see who gets the smack-down. But sometimes, I substitute someone who really deserves it. You know, like those smirky people on TV who think they can get away with anything. Oh, the fun I've had with them, wiping that smirk off with a nice roundhouse kick to the schnozz. Good times. Because in my dreams, I could take Chuck Norris. Blasphemy? Blow it out your ear. If this is the only upside to insomnia, I'm taking it and running. Running right over anyone who gets in my way. And leaving a mark, too. Ahhh, catharsis, thy name is kickass.

There are studies about this Lucid Dreaming, and even classes you can take to learn how to do it. I sure as hell can't explain it, but I'm not going to question it. And here is why you shouldn't question it either - because people who are sleep deprived tend to be very grumpy, to say nothing of loopy. And grumpy people tend to take it out on other people. This way, I express lots of aggresssion on schmucks who really deserve it, without felony charges. It's really a win-win situation.

Sweet Dreams!