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28 posts from April 2008

April 30, 2008

The Drag Gospel Brunch

The Drag Gospel Brunch

By Elaine Viets

I don’t know what you heathens did Sunday, but I spent three hours with Sister Mary Rebecca and a divine group of Gospel singers.

Sister poured champagne. The Gospel singers were drag queens in sequins and choir robes.

Fort Lauderdale, the city with cutting edge sleaze, has a Drag Gospel Brunch. The brunch is at Lips, the "ultimate in drag dining." Check it out at www.jumponmarkslist.com/bars/lips.htm

The show is fast, funny and mostly lip-synced. Most of the music isn’t traditional Gospel, although the folks at my table hadn’t been in a church for so long, we wouldn’t know Gospel music if it walloped us in the key of G. But Sister Mary Rebecca did a lively lip-sync of "This Little Light of Mine."

The glitzy emcee was hilarious, and strayed often from the path of good manners and good taste. She told one blond female, "You’ve got more roots than Alex Haley." She asked another woman in a baseball cap ("my little dyke tyke") if she’d change her car’s oil. A visitor from England was asked, "Don’t they have enough queens there?"

The audience sang along to: "If you’re gay and you know it clap your hands. If you’re gay and you know it, then your fashion sense will show it . . ."

The straight version was: "If you’re straight and you know it, then your Kmart clothes will show it." There was a lot of hand clapping and each table got tambourines to shake.

The question everyone asked was, "Were the drag queens beautiful?"

Yes. They went for the heavy glam that many women liberated themselves from long ago, except on special occasions. The queens wore sky-high heels, heavy eye makeup, chandelier earrings, false eyelashes, and gowns cut down to there. Most had a pretty good "there."

They walked and talked like women, and I suspect some had had their Adam’s apples altered. I didn’t see much evidence of that telltale drag queen giveaway. The only figure fault was that some were a tad chunky around the waist. But then, so were some of the genuine women in the audience. I was relieved when the kitchen ran out of Hollandaise sauce for my eggs Benedict.

The drag queens wore some fabulous gowns, and since I’m a tall person, I began to wonder how I would look in bias-cut fringe. I had to keep reminding myself, "Those are men."

The most amazing feat (or maybe that’s feet) was when a performer stepped off the stage – a distance of maybe two feet – wearing four inch heels. Even on a good day, I might have killed myself trying that stunt.

A young man who was visiting Lips for his birthday was brought onstage and seated in a chair covered with crystals and sparkles. The performers serenaded him with "Miss America."

"Are you single?" the emcee asked him.

He was.

The emcee plopped herself in the lad’s lap and said, "Then you want me. Because when I take off this drag, I’m a man, and that will make you happy. But I look like a woman, which will make Mommy and Daddy happy."

The Drag Gospel Brunch price is $25 for the brunch, show, tax, tip, and unlimited mimosas, champagne or bloody Marys. You can also shower the performers with tips. As one said, "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap."

The only bad thing about the brunch was it’s over about three p.m., and I had to stagger out into the merciless Florida sunlight.

Lips drag dinner theater is in three cities: New York, San Francisco and Lauderdale. It’s open six days a week and has a variety of shows, including drag karaoke.

I plan to honor my religious roots. I was brought up Catholic. I’m tempted by the Bitchy Bingo night. www.jumponmarkslist.com/MSFL/friday/2007/Lips_Bingo_large.jpg

April 29, 2008

Why Women Lie

Why Women Lie

By Sarah

Apparently, real women lie. Not real women like Harley, who, as she explained yesterday, lives a lie by Apple_pie keeping a meticulous, apple-pie-smelling house. I'm talking about about serious stuff such as extra marital affairs and money and whether or not his bald spot is growing. (It is.)

Now a book by Susan Shapiro Barash called "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie," claims women lie much more than we know. To prove this, Barash interviewed 500 women who answered her Craigslist (Craigslist??) ad and this is what her questionable Cash research found - that 60% cheated on their husbands, 75% lied about money as in how much they made and how much they spent (well, duh) and a whopping half lied about their feelings of motherhood. For example, getting up three times a night to breast feed or tuck in a crying toddler or soothe a nervous teenager might not be as blissful as they claim to the playgroup.

Okay, I admit women lie and for that I say, thank heavens. I write chick lit, women's lit, whatever, and two of my stories - The Cinderella Pact and The Sleeping Beauty Proposal - are predicated on the protagonists' lies. It's no accident they've done well sales wise, I suppose, since women love to read Twolovers about themselves. And look at soap operas. Some woman's always lying about the paternity of her darling new baby or whether she bludgeoned David Hamilton to death with a statue of Two Lovers. Women lie like carpet in fiction, hearkening back to Grimm's Fairytales (Rumplestiltskin) and Hansel and Gretel (it's Gretel who convinces Hansel to stick out the chicken bone instead of his arm.)

Which brings me to one reason why women lie - survival. I think this is Barash's premise, too, in part, but since this is my blog, not hers, I'm going with it. As girls, there's so much more pressure on us to be good. Boys can get into minor mischief, break a few windows and, when they reach adolescence, experiment with sex without suffering the condemnation of society. Whereas girls, of course, are still stigmatized for sleeping around. Hey, no one's paying them to lose their virginity by their eighteenth birthday and in some cultures it could spell their execution.

So perhaps that's why women are practiced at lying and why they resort to it when they get older and their problems surmount. As a reporter, I covered a number of cases - a surprising number, actually - ofTennis_bracelets  women caught embezzling. Trust me, these were not women zipping around in fancy cars with fabulous wardrobes and diamond tennis bracelets. These were women trying to make ends meet.

The New York Times has reported that between 1993 and 2002, the number of women embezzling increased by 83%. Unreal. Sometimes gambling is to blame. (Porn. Gambling. Why is it that vices are the first edge of new technology?) Sometimes outrageous medical bills - but that's for another blog.

The women I wrote about were secretaries, bookkeepers and town clerks. They embezzled very little on the grand scheme - it was, after all, Vermont - but enough to get them a felony conviction and even time in the slammer. In almost all the cases, they intended to pay the money back and they stole because they needed to pay family bills. That, to me, sums up female lying at its most desperate core.

Women also lie to escape the wrath of their husbands who might hit the roof when they rip open the Visamastercard credit card bills. They lie to paint a more perfect image of themselves to their children. (The evolution, I suppose, of when they lied to paint a more perfect image of themselves to their parents.) And sometimes women lie because, what the hell. It's more convenient than telling the truth.

The bottom line is women lie because they lack power. And, like Brer Rabbit outsmarting the fox, they need to find the upper hand, even if that means sneaking around the back and getting a lift up.

Okay...so what have you lied about? (FYI, email addresses won't be posted and names can be aliases.)


April 28, 2008

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Sell. Sell. Sell.
by Harley

I’m living a lie.

My house goes on the market this week, and I’m learning to disappear at a moment’s notice, while conveying the impression that I'm a homeowner with fabulous taste, ethics, and hygiene, whose septic tank has never given anyone a moment’s trouble.

For two months I’ve packed/thrown/given away 3/4 of my earthly possessions, based on what Melissa-the-realtor found unworthy. What remains is the crème de la crème, the art on my walls and the 7.8 million books in my built-in bookshelves. Plus a couple of vases (pronounced “vozziz.” The “vay-sis” went to Goodwill.)

When Melissa-the-realtor walked through my house last fall, I wept. How to offload 10 years of junk, with a looming book deadline? So Melissa sent over Julie-from-Scotland, who stormed my kitchen, and banished (for instance) the Mandoline (inherited from the French chef boyfriend) nine muffin tins and three spare turkey basters. When Julie was done, my kitchen looked great and Julie had persuaded me to consult Hazel-the-Witch, another Topanga neighbor, who works with Disruptive Life Patterns. But then came Christmas, so I blew off house-restoration.

But on Februrary 29 I finished my novel. And got a burst of energy. Cleaning out a closet, I thought, “gee, that was easy. I’ll keep going.” An hour later I said, “I’ve come this far, I may as well move.”

Then I started looking at houses. Yippee! Buyer’s market! Fun hobby! And here’s what I discovered: there are 3 types of “for sale” houses: empty, staged, and lived-in.

Empty: Irritating because I feel stupid when I can’t identify a room. If it’s a bedroom, why’s there a wet bar? If it’s a dining room, how come it’s wired for cable? (BTW, am I the only person who doesn’t care about wet bars?) Plus, there’s no hiding a dreadful chandelier when it’s the only furnishing.

Lived-in: Also not great. One house featured a surly teenage boy in boxers standing at the refrigerator drinking milk from the carton. I thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten the memo about the house being for sale, but no, he allowed us to see his room, done up in black walls and ceiling, covered with gangster rap posters. It took a lot of squinting to picture my daughter’s Barbie canopy in there.

Staged: this is the way to go. Yeah, it’s manipulative, even cheesy, with those cookies baking in the oven, but at least you know the piano’s gonna fit in the living room. After seeing a couple of staged houses, I went home to stage my own. I peeled the poetry off the kitchen cupboards. The “Finish the first draft!” affirmations. The Kwan Yin refrigerator magnets. I left a few personal items, like the skull on my desk, but only because Nancy Martin has one too; thus, it must be tasteful.

So now I am a minimalist woman with minimalist children, who has Windex and whisk brooms strategically placed, and empties wastebaskets with the zeal of a Four Seasons maid. A woman with new-sanded floors, -beige carpets, -white walls, -cleaned windows, -sodded lawn, thanks to Steve, Ruben, Lareto, Lemis, Diego, Carlo, Maria, Mercedes, Jose, Juan, Bo, Brendan, Ralph, Alex, Nelly, Dennis, Paul, and Melissa.

How long can I keep this up? Not long. Soon the new plants will die and the children will go mad and spraypaint the walls like tiny gang members. Say a prayer, would you? Light a candle, convene a coven meeting, send over a Feng Shui consultant or a statue of St. Joseph for me to bury in the backyard? Picture that sign saying “Sold, sold, sold”? Thanks.

Happy Monday!

April 27, 2008

Entertainment as an Addiction

Entertainment as an Addiction

By Sarah

A story in this morning's New York Times notes that while consumers are willing to forgo dinners out at Flat_screen_2 restaurants and even "name brand" detergents for their clothes, they are buying fancy flat-screen TVs in record numbers. Go fig.

I can already hear the rationalization on the drive to Best Buy.

Husband: "We're not going out to the movies. We're not going out to dinner. We're not going on vacation this year. We're not going anywhere. If we're going to stay home, we might as well make it worthwhile."

Wife: "But a new TV costs $2,000!"

Husband. "What's $2,000 averaged out over three years? About $1.82 a day. Can we afford that? Hell, that's half what you spend on Starbucks. Which, by the way, we have to cut out."

I know, because I've had this conversation. Except, I'm the one going for the 42" Hitachi and my husband Best_buy and children (the traitors) are the ones asking why. I know I'm right. We don't go out, ever. Partly that's because we live in Vermont and there's no place to go, as they say. But mostly it's because we eat in every night. I also have given up on Tide and all name brands. The rare piece of beef we ate tonight came from the corner convenience store that just happens to buy from a local slaughterhouse.

As for Starbucks, you should know that a venti latte ordered once a day, five times a week will end up costing you...$884 a year, before tax. No scone. No blueberry muffin, either.

Which raises this question: what have you given up in this recession? Is it the gym membership? The new spring wardrobe? (Say it's not so!) Maybe you don't go out to eat as much. Or maybe you've cut back on your cell phone range.

Whatever it is, we want to hear it. There's only ONE thing we don't want to hear - that you've cut back on buying books. Books are the best deal going. Relatively cheap, tons of entertainment value and, best of all, you don't need a cable subscription. Also, as much as I hate to admit this, you can pass them to friends.

So dish! What have you been sacrificing?


April 26, 2008

Change Enough Sheets and You'll Change Your Mind

Murder with Reservations, the sixth Dead-End Job mystery, will be out in paperback May 1. This is the novel that won the Lefty Award for the funniest mystery of 2007 and has been nominated for an Agatha Award. "Murder with Reservations" is $6.99 from Obsidian, a division of the Penguin Group. The ISBN is 978-0-451-22383-8.Reservationcover_2

Change Enough Sheets and You’ll Change Your Mind

By Elaine Viets

I admit it. I never tipped hotel maids. If I was paying $200 for a room, I was shelling out enough money. I wasn’t going to be nickeled to death.

Then I started researching "Murder With Reservations." In that book, Helen Hawthorne works as a hotel maid. I trained as a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn Express in Highland, Illinois. I put on a name tag and a yellow smock and pushed a cart.

How hard could this job be? After all, I clean my house.

This isn’t like cleaning a house. It’s like cleaning fifteen houses. In one day. I never worked so hard in my life.

I cleaned as many as seventeen rooms and made thirty-eight beds. Yes, we do change the sheets, unless you put out that little sign. And those bedspreads are heavy. My back was killing me.

I also cleaned toilets. I’m painting targets on those suckers. Gentlemen, learn to shoot straight or sit down. When I walked into a hotel room and saw a heap of beer cans tossed at the wastebasket, my heart sank. I knew someone’s aim would be off.

People are slobs. I’m not talking about throwing a few towels on the floor. One guy spit sunflower seed hulls in the drawer next to his bed. (It’s OK, the drawer was cleaned and disinfected.) Honeymoon couples used whipped cream, chocolate and strange fruit in the Jacuzzi. Even the cleanest people shed hairs and dropped towels on the floor.

Who are the biggest slobs? Parents with small children. Businessmen who smoke: cigarette ash settled on everything in their rooms. School soccer teams: those boys would trash a room with toilet paper, Silly String and shaving cream, and not leave a tip. Where was their adult supervision?

What was my biggest tip?

Two dollars and thirty-eight cents and a chicken pot pie. The maids take home the food you leave behind in the mini-fridge if you leave the packages unopened. Ditto for the beer, soda and cans of peach nectar. If you open the shampoo and lotion and leave it behind, your maid can take that, too.

Most people didn’t bother to tip, no matter how big a mess they left – just like me.

The maids I met on the job were women with families to support. They weren’t afraid of hard work and they liked their independence. They had a lot of freedom in their job.

I asked one maid how much she would like people to tip.

"A dollar a room would make a big difference in my life," she said. "I’m trying to stay off welfare and I want my children to be proud of me."

One dollar. That’s all it takes to make a difference in someone’s life. I encountered one maid on her day off. She was at the local bookstore, buying books for her daughter.

Cleaning those rooms and changing sheets changed my mind. I came to understand, with every muscle in my aching back, that this was a hard job.

Now I tip the hotel maids at least two dollars a day.

I never realized a little money made such a big difference.

April 25, 2008

Rebecca the Bookseller's True Identity

My True Identity

By Rebecca the Bookseller

I think it was when the third person on Friday night of RT came up to me and ID'd me as Rebecca that I knew it was time to come out. I guess I should be surprised the secret lasted this long, but that photo up there looks so little like me, that the real surprise was that anyone actually recognized me from the TLC masthead at all.

That is me up there, and it's not a wig. I was growing my hair for Locks of Love (a good cause, btw) and I let my friends Kimmie, Jenn and Rose at the Salon put makeup on and do my hair. That dark color is my natural color, but now there is so much grey that I gave up on keeping it dark. I used to wonder why, as women got older, so many went blonde. Now I know. It's one set of highlights - designed to mask the grey - at a time.

With_hank_phillippi_ryanThese are more recent (and real) photos of me from the Little Night of Romance, Mystery and Suspsense that Mystery Lovers Bookshop held last Thursday, to take advantage of all the great authors in town for RT. I got to interview the authors, which was a blast - tons of good photos (thanks Steve), but I only included a couple - one of Hank Phillipi Ryan, who won an RT award for best first mystery (Brava!), and one of Patty Smiley, who came all the way from LA. They are both terrific, as people and authors. (I'm the short round person on the right, in case you didn't put that together, and if that is the case, see your eye doctor immediately).

With_patricia_smileySo (you can fake the drum roll now) my real name is Mary Kathryn Reschini Sweeney - Kathy Sweeney for short, which I am. I comment here all the time. And I have to say, it's been getting confusing. I tried to comment on my own blogs to keep people from guessing it was me. As if there is a CIA Operative out there on the case. heh.

How did I get to be a blogger at TLC with real authors who are also very cool ladies? Well, it all started, as so many capers do, at Daytona Beach. I was attending my very first RT Conference on behalf of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop - which is totally real and totally fabulous, and I do sell books there.

I knew Nancy Martin because she came to my book group several years ago - the book group is real too - Women Lawyers - who meet the first Tuesday of every month for the last 14 years. I'd met Sarah - as Bubbles at the Bookshop - because I was a big fan of Barbie Unbound. I'd met Elaine and Harley the same way - at MLB and at their Festival of Mystery. Daytona was the first time we really got to sit down together, and it was a riot. Add Nancie the Gun Tart to the mix, and we were all sore from laughing by the time we went home. (Of course, having a beach decorated with half naked male models trying to play volleyball and posing for portfolio shots in the surf, complete with subtle props like swords and spears didn't hurt, but that's another story.)

They were looking for someone with a sense of humor to blog anonymously about books. I know books. I read books. I sell books. I'd been writing e-mails that looked a lot like blogs for years, and Nancy was on my mailing list. So they offered and I accepted (those are legal words, y'know) and I did my very first blog right after RT. It was one of the few that really had to do with bookselling. The rest just kind of took off. No one was more surprised than me when my Friday blogs became popular. I even had my own fans - how cool is that?

I blog on Fridays, unless Margie notifies everyone that she is going to blog, in which case, I just stay out of the way. Truthfully? She scares me.

Anyway, it's been a blast, and I'm honored to be in this company - and by that, I mean not only the authors up there - including Michele, who came on board after I did, but the entire community. I've become real friends with people I met on the blog, and as I meet more and more members of our backblog, I am continually delighted at how smart and witty - and nice - you all are.

Plus, I have to admit, many time IOCHFTS myself. See - that is classic TLC stuff. What started as a joke in the comments has now risen to Google level. That's right - go to Google and put in "IOCHFTS" and the only things that come up are TLC Blogs - that is freaking fantastic! The more we do it, the more likely it will pop up. heh. We have probably earned at least a mention on The Colbert Report, right?

Whomever is keeping track of our TLC bumper sticker list, IOCHFTS should be moved up to the #1 spot, I think.

Whew. My big secret is out. I mean, look - it's not like I'm Wonder Woman or I can set things on fire or go through walls - which would be very cool, by the way - but for a reader and someone who writes all the time, it's a pretty big damn deal.

So - ya got a secret to share? Are you one of the IOCHFTS people? Talk to us.

Oh - wait! I need a new moniker now - suggestions are welcome, particularly any with a royal title of some kind. Maybe I'll just use my real name. I'm starting to feel a little like part of a witness protection program. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

April 24, 2008

Book Conventions With Hand Sanitizer

Book Conventions and Hand Sanitizer

by Nancy

Many years ago, I let myself get coerced into seeing the movie Porky's with my husband's co-workers. I was the only person who knew in advance it was a sophomoric, raunchy, semi-pornographic (for its day) flick, but in a classic case of peer pressure, I let everyone else sweep me--taunted as the fuddyduddy--into a movie I didn't want to see. And for about ten minutes, the rest of the group roared with laughter.  But eventually the co-workers fell into squirming silence as the action onscreen got more and more . . . well, stupid and icky. When the movie was over, nobody could look anyone else in the eye.  Instead, the co-workers all mumbled good-night and split as fast as possible, trying not to think about what they'd have to say to each other Monday morning around the water cooler.

That's kind of how I feel about the Romantic Times convention. Sure, everybody looks like they're having a good time, nobody's getting hurt, and technically people are celebrating books (one friend spent $200 to ship home the books she acquired) but me, I just feel uncomfortably out of place amid all the erotica and the--sorry, I gotta say it--crudeness.

Which is my problem, not anyone else's. Hey, if you love man-on-man-on-woman sex with some shapeshifters and chocolate sauce thrown in, I give you my blessing.

It's just not for me.  Mind you, I'm not a romance snob.  I love romance novels.  I've written enough to put my kids through college. And the first book sitting here on my "keeper" shelf is Anne Stuart's Catspaw. And I'm thinking that's the kind of book that's the mark of a true connoisseur.

But, as another friend says, "There's just not enough hand sanitizer to get me to go to RT."

But this particular convention has lots of other stuff going on--if you can look past the well-lotioned male models--and some of it is worth the attention of people in the book business.

First thing I noticed?  Youth.  At mystery conventions, there's a lot of gray hair and fixed incomes.  The romance genre, however, seems to have ongoing appeal.   At RT there were more twenty-somethings than sixty-somethings.  This has to be a good thing, but draw your own conclusion.

Next:  I noticed how many people were clearly good friends, but meeting for the first time in person. Okay, this is old news--that the internet is fostering communities of readers---but it's never more apparent than at the RT convention. (Here's the Publisher's Weekly blog report with plenty of video. She makes the same observation.)

Another thing that jumped out at me right away was how many readers were buying e-books. You could walk up to an author or bookseller and hand over your jumpdrive, and a minute later you'd have a novel for your Sony reader. Like magic. No printing, no hauling boxes, no gasoline tax--just a fast exchange and a satisfied--er, happy customer. Does this kind of movement start with an underground genre like erotica before it goes mainstream? Maybe so.

My daughter has a Sony reader and says she can download books from the internet onto her computer first, which she likes because she can keep a "library" on her computer as well as on the Sony reader in case one of them crashes. The only bad thing, she reports, is that she has to pretty much know what she's buying before she goes looking for it.  There's no physical bookstore to browse, and the download sites are kinda clunky.  (What she needs is a good old-fashioned informed, hand-selling bookstore clerk!) Maybe this is where those video book trailers are going to come in handy. (Does anyone here go looking for book trailers?  Can you point us to some good ones?)  Do book trailers prompt you to buy books? Just wondering.

This e-book thing is the wave of the future, folks. We can talk about how much we love the feel of a book in our hands, the crisp paper, the smell of musty pages.  But our kids don't think that way.  (Heck, they're text messaging each other now instead of telephoning!  Of course they're ready to read books on a small screen!) E-books are coming--like a tsunami. We can either figure out how we're going to surf that big wave or get washed away.

How easy would it be for a bookseller to have a computer in the store for downloads? Pretty easy, I think. (Kudos, by the way, to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, a terrific indie chain--if there is such a thing--for their excellent management of the RT bookfair!) It just takes a tech-savvy person to get cracking on such a project, and my bet is that it would be up and running in a week. One way for the indies to out-fox the slow-moving chain stores, maybe?

Oh, wait.  Here's a company that does the digitizing, and they're throwing a one-day event in NYC to show how it's done. And here's agent Andrew Zack's blog on the subject of e-books.

The other big talk among the non-erotica people at RT was the value of the book club. Even small book clubs are golden. They're access. If a writer visits a book club, the whole club buys the book, discusses the book, probably talks about the book with other non-club readers. It's the new-old-fashioned way of building readership by word of mouth. The big question is how to reach book clubs from the corporate standpoint. Should authors do it?  (Add one more item to my resume--the masters degree in marketing!)  Should publishers have somebody on the payroll who goes trolling daily for book clubs?  Are there freelance publicists out there creating exclusive lists of book club contacts?  The answer is: All of the above.  And make it quick, please!

Here's what else I learned from table chitchat with authors, booksellers, librarians and readers:

Hardly anybody has the dough to buy hardcovers.  (Have your hardcover-buying habits changed lately?)  If the only reason to print popular fiction hardcovers is to get reviews . . . well, somebody needs to think of another way to reach reviewers.

It's unanimous: Author tours are just too damn expensive for too little return.  Publishers don't want to pay for tours, and authors are already spending their advances on scattershot PR strategies, and besides, hardly anybody comes to the store to meet the author anymore.  Yes, we're all buying the goodwill of booksellers when we show up at their stores, but hey---maybe we ought to be sending muffins instead. Or placing an order for $100 worth of books. As a reader, have you attended a booksigning lately? For a bigtime author? A midlist author?  Or a celebrity who's not really an author at all, but selling books anyway?

Book festivals are where it's at. Plenty of people are saying so. Multi-author events with wide-spread advertising that brings hundreds, if not thousands, of readers--those seem to be efficient expenditures of resources. Here's a good one I've attended in the past. (Next Monday!  Come one, come all to the Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival of Mystery!) And another. And another one I've heard good things about. But at the colossal bookfairs, do midlist and genre authors get lost among the easier-to-market celebrities selling whatever the hell they're supposedly "writing?"

Radio is back.  Here's Cathy Maxwell, a smart, witty, incredibly entertaining romance writer who doubles as a host of a radio show that discusses books. Now, here's a way to reach a lot of readers, folks. Are there other book-related radio shows out there?  I've done a lot of radio interviews, but most of them were duds. (Remind me to tell you the story of the radio "talk show host" who before interviewing me, delivered the pork belly futures every morning at 5am to the guys who are firing up their tractors in Iowa.  Are those farmers my core readership?  No.  So why am I spending my energy talking to them on the radio?)  There's got to be somebody working on a list of prime book-loving radio shows. Call me.

Everybody's trying to find ways to make bookselling more interactive, more dynamic. More telegenic. (The local TV stations were at a loss about how to video the RT convention. They kept burying the RT story at the end of the morning "news" show because it's hard to make a TV segment about reading. Better to show cover models and readers in fairy wings because they make good pictures. But . . .that's not really the story we publishing folk want on television, is it?  It doesn't sell books, only makes everybody look ridiculous.) Here are a couple of enterprising authors who've taken on the video challenge and are doing it very well. (Go ahead.  Click over there to read about Liz Maverick and Marianne Mancusi.  Watch their videos.  Very smart and hip, right?) They were swamped by young readers at the RT bookfair. If their publisher would just keep their books in print, they'd be selling like hotcakes. If author touring is dead, I'm thinking publishing publicists ought to be making book trailers and video stuff intended for the internet.

What else did I observe? That many self-pubbed and "small press" writers are viewing their choice as a "stepping stone" to publication by a traditional publisher. Oh, dear.  If a deal with a traditional publisher is their ultimate goal, here's my view:  Quit promoting yourself.  Stay home and learn to punctuate.  At the very least, get the grammatical errors out of your titles. Better yet, take a class so you can at least recognize the howlers you've created.

Here's a new word I learned at RT:  Mash-up. No, I'm not talking about vampires having sex with bulldozers.  (Hey, great concept!  Bet nobody's used that one yet!) A "mash-up" is a book that combines two or more genres. Maybe YA fantasy and time travel hybrid.  Or, in my case, romance and mystery and women's fiction. It's not called a "sub-genre" anymore, you old fogeys. Young, hip readers want to hear it called a mash-up. Kewl, huh? Trouble is, I'm still not seeing publishers who've figured out how to successfully market a mash-up to two different audiences.  (Exception:  Anything Charlaine Harris.) Mystery readers don't cross the aisle to look at romance novels.  And romance readers have plenty to read in their own aisle already. So how do we market romantic mysteries to both audiences? When you figure it out, let me know, because I think it's a job better left to professionals, not me.

Here's another question I'd like an answer for: Why are there so few publishers at this convention?  This is Ground Zero, the place where readers and authors and publishers and booksellers and librarians collide. I'm telling you, it's a cluster fuck for book people. But we didn't encounter many New Yorkers there, putting their ears to the ground. In an age when a lot of publishers seem to be throwing anything against the wall to see what sticks--well, RT seems like a no-brainer to me.  Am I wrong? Would they come if the ick factor was reduced a little? Maybe so. But would the readers back off? It's a conundrum.

Would I go back to an RT convention?  Maybe not. It's hard to attract attention for mysteries when the focus of the event is so clearly erotica. But RT has good karma for the Tarts. It's where we came up with the idea for TLC! (And pretty soon you'll hear some Extremely Big News here. But we're sworn to secrecy a little longer.) And it's a great place to meet your friends for a hilarious couple of days. Plus it's an excellent venue for taking the temperature of the book biz.  Good things happen at Romantic Times, so maybe we'll give it another shot.

But I'm packing hand sanitizer.

April 23, 2008

The Viets Family Recipes

The Viets Family Recipes

By Elaine Viets

I’m still giggling over the Recipegate scandal. Cindy McCain, John McCain’s wife, has been accused of recipe theft.

What is Cindy’s heinous crime?

Three recipes supposedly lifted from the Food Network were posted as "Cindy’s Recipes" on the McCain campaign Web site. One more McCain family recipe may have been borrowed from Rachel Ray with minor changes, according to reports. The McCain campaign is now telling the press that the whole thing "is the work of an intern."

So what?

Cindy McCain is rich. The woman is every man’s dream – a beautiful blond with a beer distributorship. Do you really think Cindy ties an apron around that size two waist and whips up ahi tuna and Napa cabbage slaw in her kitchen? Or makes passion fruit mousse with her own manicured hands?

Are voters really that gullible?

Please, please say you’re not. Our nation has to elect a new leader this year.

What’s with the family recipe routine? When a man runs for his party’s presidential nomination, does that mean his wife has to cook up something for the voters?

That’s so last century. Nowadays, many men I know cook more often than their wives – and they cook better.

Cindy McCain missed the chance to be an inspiration our nation’s youth. What if a candidate’s wife said: "The only things I make for dinner are reservations. Here are the phone numbers of my five favorite carry-out restaurants."

She’d get my vote – and the vote of restauranteurs everywhere. Besides, doesn’t the White House have a chef?

My mother had four hungry kids, a husband who wanted dinner on the table at five-thirty every night, and no interest in cooking.

In the Viets family, Chef Boyardee was the culinary equal of Emeril. The man canned terrific ravioli and spaghetti, and never once said, "Bam!"

The Viets Family Recipes would include lots of Campbell’s canned mushroom soup. Tuna casserole included a can of tuna, a can of mushroom soup with crushed potato chips for crunch. For a real gourmet touch, Mom would throw in an extra can of sliced mushrooms.

Mom’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies came straight off the Hershey’s chocolate chip bag, and she never acknowledged the source. Mrs. Smith baked our pies. Our Friday fish were courtesy of Mrs. Paul. Those women didn’t get any credit, either.

I’ve inherited my mother’s interest in cooking. I like good food. I appreciate those who cook it. But I don’t have the skill.

My grandmother was a splendid southern cook of the old school. Everything was either fried, sugared, or fried and then covered with sugar. Unless she made gravy. If I cooked like her, I’d weigh 300 pounds.

Still, as a kid I watched her cook, hoping I could absorb her kitchen technique. Grandma never wrote down a recipe. She never used a measuring cup. She’d throw in a few hand fulls of this and a pinch of that and produce perfection on a plate.

Grandma’s biscuits were light, warm little pillows that could be smothered in gravy or slathered with melted butter. I struggled to reproduce her biscuits, and baked something that looked like hockey pucks.

One Sunday, I asked Grandma for the family recipe for biscuits.

She brought out a yellow box of Bisquick and said, "Use this. That’s all the family recipe you’ll need. Now, go do something important."

Cooking is important. For those who love to cook, thank you for the comfort and joy you provide. But don’t fake your love. If you can’t tell a Napa cabbage from a Beverly Hills bagel, say so. Then, as my grandma said, "Go do something important."

Better yet, do something you enjoy.

April 22, 2008

Naughty Books for Girls

Naughty Books for Girls

By Sarah

Porn for women. It's the title of a very successful book written by the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative which also came out with Porn for New Moms and The Porn for Women 2009 Calendar, bless 08118555111 them. The underlying joke, of course, is that real women get all excited seeing half naked men only if they're doing the dishes. Or the laundry. Or diapering at 2 a.m.

But having just come off my third Romantic Times Convention hot and bothered, I'm here to witness otherwise. Porn for women is not about seeing men, albeit handsome and built men, in the midst of domestic servitude. Porn for women is about reading.

And that simple quirk of feminine wiring just might be the ticket to the survival of publishing as we know it. Women have always read naughty stories, starting from when we were pre-teens and went snooping under our parents' beds for racy material. If RT is any indication, we can't seem to get enough.

My very unscientific study of what sold at RT and has sold in the past comes down to this: women want porn as long as it's presented in stories of desire. We want lusty, strong male characters to eye the Bodice_ripper female protagonist with lascivious thoughts they cannot possibly enact initially because the female protagonist is about to be married/a nun/or captive to the Lord Vampire. (That one's obvious, no?) Either way, she is definitely a virgin. Preferably, a quivering, under educated and oversexed fertile female who desires the man who desires her, though, being innocent, she's not exactly sure why. But she'll soon discover!

After that, we women readers just want a lot of nakedness and thrusting and caressing this and cupping that. Things rising and swelling and going in and out. We like a mix up of atmosphere and situations and gazing. We even like new men, though our female protagonist has to be loyal to one special guy. Not her fault she was carried off by virile bandits and forced to submit to the Lord Vampire's will for the sake of her family/country/financial security.

I'm halfway through Bertrice Small's classic Skye O'Malley, a story with great potential and historical importance if Bertrice had cared about great potential and historical importance. Heck, it's about a woman in the 1500s who becomes a pirate between having crazy sex.  What a tale! However, Bertrice mostly cared about thrusting and heaving and things rising and swelling. It was embarrassing reading it on the Pittsburgh to JFK Flight because, even though I knew it was bad, I absolutely loved it. But occasionally I had to hide the words from the proper widow sitting next to me.

Attention_whore_beach This brings to mind all the naughty books we girls used to pass around in grade school. Actually, the books themselves weren't naughty. It was that they contained naughty chapters. Our favorites were, in no particular order, a druggy rape scene in Rosemary's Baby, Coffee, Tea or Me, Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight and, for some inexplicable reason, a lunch scene in Jaws. Go figure.

We were in junior high school in the 70s and the dirty parts were so dog eared it was not uncommon to finally get hold of the verboten book and find the juicy parts missing. Alas, those days are gone. These days publishers are fulfilling teenage girls need to know by handing them The Gossip Girls and Rainbow Party (about oral sex). Library Journal refused to review the latter, though editors at Simon & Schuster, which commissioned the book, claimed they wanted it as a cautionary tale for teens.


My take is that you can publish racy books for girls, but they will never replace the adult books for women which are meant to be hidden under the bed - until they're found, naturally, by a snooping daughter. Some things never change.

So what was the book you passed around? And don't claim you didn't have one or two. This is The Lipstick Chronicles. We know how it is.



April 21, 2008

Dream, Dream, Dream

Dream, Dream, Dream

by Michele                          

Early on in Annie Hall, Woody Allen confesses to Diane Keaton that he's been in psychoanalysis for fifteen years.  "I'm gonna give him one more year," he says of his silent, disapproving Freudian shrink, "and then I'm going to Lourdes." 

What's funny about that line is the idea that after fifteen years, he wants to give his shrink more time.  Why did all those self-involved New Yorkers stay in analysis forever? Because they loved to talk about their dreams, that's why.

In college, I read The Interpretation of Dreams, where Freud spelled out his theory of the unconscious mind.  He believed that many of our most important thoughts aren't accessible on a conscious level but are buried deep below the surface.  The only way to get to them is through our dreams.  Dreams aren't just random moving pictures. They're coded messages from the unconscious, revealing our deepest wants and fears.  Every element of a dream is an important symbol that needs to be plumbed for its meaning.

Freud did all that plumbing and figured out what everyone's dreams mean.  We all know what he said, right?  Sex, sex, sex.  Objects symbolize genitalia and actions symbolize masturbation or sexual intercourse.  Period, end of sentence.  You might think you're dreaming about baking your Aunt Betty a chocolate cake for her birthday.  But really you're dreaming about throwing Aunt Betty down on the kitchen floor, covering her in chocolate body paint and having your way with her.   

Here's a dream dictionary that makes a little more sense.

Recently, I happened to see Fellini's 8 1/2 again for the first time in years, and if you've seen that film you'll remember that it opens with the all-time greatest dream sequence ever filmed, starring this man -- .  Mmmmm.  Eat your heart out, George Clooney.

But the real reason I've been thinking about dreams is that my recurring anxiety dream has suddenly changed. I've always been partial to the test dream.  You know that one.  You show up for class, and not only is it the day of the final exam and you didn't know it, but you forgot to do any of the reading, ever.  Or maybe you were never even registered for that class in the first place, but you still have to take the test.  Or maybe all of that, plus you're naked.  Those are the anxiety dreams I know and love. 

But now I have a completely different anxiety dream, and it's very upsetting. In the new one, I'm in an airport far, far away, and I urgently need to get back home.  I look at my ticket and see that my flight is leaving in a few minutes, but it's leaving from a gate in another terminal that I can't possibly get to in time.  Sometimes it's even leaving from a different airport altogether.  And sometimes I get to the gate, but I forgot my ticket and they won't let me board.  Bottom line, I can't get home.

What does this dream mean?  Simple.  I want to do it with Aunt Betty.