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31 posts from May 2008

May 31, 2008

Oh, Baby!

Oh, Baby!

by Nancy

You know what peeves me?  Young women who are shopping in crowded stores while pushing baby strollers the size of Volkswagons. What's up with those gigantic strollers?  Some of them have cup holders and room for four kids and a Saint Bernard. Why don't you just drive your SUV into the mall and forget the inconvenience of assembling the stroller in the parking lot?

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Well, I may be on the verge of changing my tune.

Later today I'm going shopping with my pregnant daughter. (Yes, I'm soon going to be a g-g-gr-gran---See? I can't even say the word!)  The plan is to go to my favorite store and make up a "wish list" for her upcoming baby shower.  (My favorite store is Target.  They sell everything I need, and it's all cute, not to mention cheap. So sue me.)  After we're finished at Target, we're also going to a neighborhood baby specialty store that everybody swears by.  It's expensive, but the clerks are magically helpful, so we're going there, too.

When I was expecting, my husband and I bought a crib and a changing table and some onesies and that's about it. I think I crocheted (is that a word?) a couple of blankets, and thank God a friend gave me some waterproof baby mattress pads! Some of my co-workers got together and bought us a wonderful, no-frills umbrella stroller. It was so easy and portable!

But my favorite baby item was the Snugli--a quilted sort of backpack except you wore in on your chest when the baby was little. When she got bigger, it worked as a backpack.  Brilliant!  And washable!  I could carry the baby anytime---like while running the sweeper or walking the dog or if I couldn't being cooped up another minute and wanted to walk around the bookstore.  The Snugli was revolutionary back in 1980, but now I guess there are many varieties of the Snugli, so we're going to check 'em out.

Anyway, I am hoping from some guidance from the TLC regulars.  What baby item did you find indispensible? What was utterly worthless?  What convenience changed your life for the better?

And what about those newfangled non-disposable diapers?  Anybody have any thoughts?

Because I'm the clueless g-g-g-grandmother-to-be who needs help.

May 29, 2008

Margie's Drinking and other Fun Games

Drinking and Other Fun Games

By Me, Margie

First off, just because I'm talking about games that involve drinking doesn't mean that you have to be a drinker to play. You can substitute food, or non-alcoholic drinks, or hits off a bong, or a hookah pipe, or whateve. The point is to engage in a fun activity with other humans without exposing yourself to a risk of disease (like pink eye or something yuck). Okay? So I don't want to hear some bogus excuse for not playing. Step up and join in. Don't make me come over there.

And really, do I even have to say it? Designated Drivers are an absolute requirement. This goes for overindulging in ALL substances. Not just booze. If you eat a whole sheet cake at one sitting, you shouldn't even drive a big wheel, because you are either going to pass out or be sick, neither of which should be done while operating heavy machinery. Hear me?

You too, kids - by which I mean people older than 21 but younger than me. Which is only a couple of years, but still. That's right - finals are over (or almost over), and you need to let off some steam. Put down Ye Olde Cracke Pipe and pick up some shooters. Get a scientist-type pal to snag some test tubes. Or make some nice garbage can punch (a new one, duh, and rinse it out first. I don't care if it's straight up Thunderbird, nothing can kill every germ.) Geez.

Now - let's all learn a little something, shall we? In days of yore, which means sometime after the dinosaurs, and before Prohibition, people started playing drinking games. They played for money or bragging rights, or whatever. Even Plato wrote about it. And the ancient Chinese had games with rules and officiating and everything. I guess they needed a break from all that tantric sex research.

Okay, enough History Channel. There are several types of drinking games, so I'm only going to highlight a few. Then you can share yours, and we're all going to play one, assuming enough of you have the stones to play with Me, Margie. And I mean that in a metaphysical, not a sexual, way. I don't do the Internet thing. Why bother? I mean, if you don't want any other warm bodies in the room, so be it, but the typing? Unless you're an octopus or something, it just slows things down. And, uh, if you are, call me.

Blog_beer_pongRight - we were talking about types of drinking games. There are target games - like Quarters/Quarter Bounce, Beer Pong and Ricochet. There are also fast-paced reflex games - my favorite coordination/reaction time game is Thumper. My sign is the Pinky wave, so don't take it. Seriously.

Then there are chugging games. I don't like those - some rube always ends up sick. Plus, you can't enjoy anything if you rush it, if you know what I mean.

There are memory games like Colonel Puff and Zoom Schwartz Configliano - which changes in each town or college, so I don't play that one. Too many people try to make up their own rules. Therein lies chaos, baby. And if there is one thing I cannot abide, it is a chaotic game.

Then there are movie and TV games, where each person is assigned a character, and whenever the character does something or says something specific, you drink/eat/whatever. Here is a tip - if you are a lightweight, and the movie is "Snakes on a Plane" - do NOT get suckered into taking Samuel L. Jackson or the word snake. You can thank me later; I'm here to help. My older friends tell me one of the classic versions of this type of game was "Hi Bob" and they played it while watching the Bob Newhart show. Apparently there was more than one show, too, and you can find them on cable. More recent TV games revolve around shows like Rock of Love and Lost. For example, if you play while watching Lost, you can indulge whenever Ben lies. But even if you were doing M&Ms, you'd be in a diabetic coma by the end of the 2-hour season finale - so I'm going to tell you to Just Say No to that one. Check The Google if you want details. I totally cannot do everything for you.

You can play with cards and dice, too, but I like the ones where you have to be an active participant. They're funnier.

My current favorite is a game called "I Never". Here is how it goes. Each person takes turns saying "I never _____." Everyone who HAS done whatever you've never done has to drink. Everyone has to tell the truth. For example, if I said "I never had sex in a car" that would be wrong, because, duh, I have. But I could say: "I never had sex in a 2008 Corvette hard top." Then all of you who HAVE had sex in a 2008 Corvette hard top (and you would be the most flexible people on the planet, btw) would have to drink/eat. Get it? The object is to choose something that most people have done, to make them drink.

Okay, so let's have at it. Tell us about your favorite drinking game, or you can play "I Never." I'll go first (I always do, honey):

"I never lost a wet T-shirt contest." Be honest now - are you drinking/eating? Your turn.

Yankee Doodle Hand Washing

Yankee Doodle Hand Washing

by Nancy

Maybe it's getting a little out of hand.  This habit I have.

It started when we had two large dogs that liked to roll around in whatever stinky thing they could dig up in the woods.

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You pat a smelly Dalmatian, you wash your hands, right?

But the dogs have been gone for two years now, and I'm still washing my hands every time I pass a sink. A squirt of soap, some hot water, and I start humming Yankee Doodle (although others swear by Happy Birthday) for 20 seconds while I squish the suds around--especially between my fingers and it doesn't hurt to get at those germ-infested crevices under my fingernails. Rinse. Dry with a paper towel.

I do it maybe 20 times a day.

Is that a lot? Do you wash your hands . . .

          a. Frequently?

          b.  Excessively?

          c.  Obsessively?

I'm not crazy about pressing elevator buttons. Or opening the door to a public restroom by the handle. To leave the restroom, I try to grab the door handle with the paper towel I used to dry my hands. (If there's no trash can beside the door, I seriously consider taking the towel with me.  My daughter Sarah, the Jane Austen aficionado and ICU nurse, says if there's no trash can by the door, you're within your rights to drop the towel on the floor, but I can't do that.  Yet.) What I really don't like is public restrooms that have no paper towels at all--just those blowers that suck all the germs up off the floor and spew them on your wet hands.


They say the most germ infested place in your home is the keyboard of your computer. That news bulletin prompted me to bring a canister of Clorox Wipes into my office.

Last week, I caught a cold. Not a bad one, just a sore throat and some sniffles, but I spent several days retracing my movements to figure out where I got the germs. The finalists: The self checkout machine at the grocery store. The keyboard of the automated teller at the bank. (Or the money that came out of the machine!) Or the counter at the local deli where every customer leans his or her hands while ordering or--worse yet--plunks down a handbag that has probably rested on the floor of a public restroom. Or...and this one pains me, but it makes sense: The receptionist's counter at my doctor's office.

So I sound a little nuts? I really don't think of myself as a sanitation freak.

I'm not as bad as some. Last week, you may recall, I promised that the team of a writers' organization would be posting our report on the various interviews we conducted in the publishing biz. Well, we tried. But some of our interviewees read the report and decided they wanted us to sanitize their remarks a little. Not a lot. But some felt they had been too candid. And maybe that was a bad thing. So we had to run the report through the washing machine. I'm sorry we had to comply. For the sake of future summits, though, we cleaned up what people said. We didn't want to jeopardize our reputation, because we're the only organization that does such a thing, and it's cool.

In this age of spin and political correctness, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But I'm sorry people feel they can't be truthful about our business or that the truth will hurt feelings.

Would you rather:

      a.  Have your feelings hurt?

      b.  Spend 5 years writing something unpublishable?

Anyway. I'm not a germaphobe like Matt Lauer. (Did you know Meridith Viera has a blog?)  Or Donald Trump who doesn't mind ogling the breasts of a girl his daughter's age but avoids shaking hands with people, if he can. Or that comedian who used to be on St. Elsewhere (he was good!) and inflated latex gloves with his nose and is now the host of a game show.  (How's that for a career trajectory?  Were those glove-inflating years wasted, do you think?)

And for those of you still interested in the original subject, here's a list of germy things to be careful about:

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Shopping cart handles.

Menus at restaurants.

TV remotes.

Your kitchen sponge.

Handling reptiles. (As if!)

All the equipment at your local gym.

Salad bars.

And we're not even going to talk about hotel rooms, because Elaine can tell horror stories that will really turn your stomach.

But just to take your mind off germs and make you think all's right with the world even when it isn't, here's the cutest puppy of the month picture.  Click on the arrows to get to May. 

May 28, 2008

Red Addiction

Red Addiction

By Elaine Viets

The first step toward fighting an addiction is to admit you have one.

So here goes.

My name is Elaine and I am an addict. I’m addicted to a substance that is sold in baggies. The price is high, and I know it. It costs $6, $7 or even ten dollars a bag. I don’t care. I’ll pay anything. I’ll sell my cats and my car, but I have to have those sweet cherries.

The sweet cherry season, as we addicts know, starts in May and continues through most of June and part of July.

Right now is the peak of the season.

The first bag of sweet cherries is usually not the best, but they’re still cherries. By the second bag (often bought within 24 hours after the first), we sweet cherry addicts can tell a lot more. Some years, the so-called sweet cherries are small and sour. Other years they are flabby and bland. But this is a vintage cherry year: sweet and juicy.

My sweet cherry appetite is nearly insatiable. I have a two-pound-a-day habit. I tell myself it’s OK, because I don’t drink or smoke, and I won’t get arrested for driving after a cherry binge.

Also, I haven’t yet given into the lure of cherries from Harry & David. Those cost $42.95 for a two-pound box. I have my pride. As long as I don’t order the $21-a-pound cherries, I’m not hopeless.

But I know that’s an excuse.

Alas, the sweet cherry season has a sour ending. When the yellowish-pink Rainier cherries start appearing in the supermarkets, it’s the first sign the end is near. Cherry season is waning. I will still buy those end-of-season bags of sad, overripe cherries, because they are better than nothing.

Sometime in the winter, the imported cherries arrive, but they aren’t as good as the home-grown varieties. They taste sort of jet-lagged.

Peach season is almost as good as sweet cherries, but the darn things are so itchy and hairy.

I like the big, dark Bing cherries best, though the Vans are good, too.

Sweet cherries are one health food that tastes good. They are low in calories and fat-free. Sweet cherries are high in potassium, vitamin C, B complex and minerals. Cherries are supposed to be good for your heart, thanks to a flavonoid called quercetin. There’s some evidence that cherries could have cancer prevention properties.

Here’s another cherry fact: "Twenty cherries are 10 times as potent as aspirin and have positive effects on gout and arthritis pain." That’s another reason to justify their high cost. If the choice is between a painkiller like OxyContin -- better known as hillbilly heroin -- and cherries, then sweet cherries win every time. And they’ll keep your name out of embarrassing news stories.

Cherries are good for your bones. "Sweet cherries are also considered to be excellent sources of boron . . ."

All that information comes from the California Cherry Advisory Board. You’d expect them to speak well of their product. If cherries have a dark side, you won’t find it at www.calcherry.com

The only downside I’ve encountered is that fresh cherries are extremely slenderizing – to the wallet.

Which leads to another rationalization for my cherry addiction: Would I rather support honest American cherry growers? Or spend the money on insurance co-pays?

Pass the cherries, please. This is one time when red is better than green.

May 27, 2008

Is Stupidity Bliss?

Is Stupidity Bliss?

By Sarah

Ever since my mother suffered - and later died - from a hemorrhagic stroke (i.e. bleeding brain), I've been Ny_crossword fascinated by the concept of "stroke brain." Though it was frightening to see this former newspaper columnist and ace New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle afficionado (as well as my loving mother), unable to read the word "SUN" in big 80 point font projected on a wall, there were other aspects of her illness that were downright mystifying. And, in some ways, uplifting.

Her peace, for example, a sense of tranquility that replaced her tendency to worry about the little thinNat_king_colegs. ("Strain at a gnat, swallow a camel," was her phrase for how she and I approached life's problems.) She took up shrugging as an answer to daily dilemmas and developed a whaddya-gonna-do? philosophy to life. I've written here about her "visions" - the "warm" Italian man who kept her company at night. (And who didn't exist.) Nat King Cole who stood by her bed and assured her it was going to be okay. Telephone calls from her dead mother telling her to "just come home, Nancy!"

Sweetlovephoto A lot of these stories I put into Sweet Love and I expect I'll hear from readers who've been through similar experiences when the book comes out June 19. Great comfort comes from knowing we're not alone in our tragedies which, to me, explains the joy of reading certain fiction. And, it turns out, nonfiction.

This brings me to Harvard-trained brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who has written a book - My Stroke of Insight - about her own stroke. It sounds stupid to say but...who knew the brain was so interesting?

Taylor was 37 years old when she felt a pain behind her eye and realized she was having a stroke. Instead of freaking out, she appreciated what was happening to her as portions of her left brain drowned in blood. (The left side of the brain is responsible for speech, learning, catagorizing, analyzing Stroke_of_insight and judgment. Which might explain why my mother, who tended to be judgmental, became all accepting after her stroke. Her left brain bled, too.) Reality melted away. Her body became not her body but a collection of fluid-filled cells working diligently as a team to sustain the body as a whole.

But the really bizarre part of the story is how Taylor reached a state of "Nirvana" during this breakdown. The right brain, it turns out, is a really nice place to hang out. If we could just dump that left brain crap - the voices that tell you you're not worthy, ahem - and live in the present where Taylor felt as if she was "one with the universe," I think we'd all be better off. Happier, at least, though we might not a) get to work on time or b) see the point of trying.

What can we learn from this?

It reminds me of a section I read in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I found this book strangely Eatpraylove addictive because the writing is so good and also because who doesn't what to know how to eat with abandon, love wholeheartedly and reach the Divine through meditation? Gilbert herself, though, is a wee bit strained. (The "crisis" that sent her on a spiritual journey - or to her editor in search of an advance - arose because she realized she didn't want to be married and have children.) That aside, it's worth reading, especially for her descriptions of meditating to a point where she felt one with the universe.

Meditation requires us to shut out those voices in our heads. I can't do it because I'm constantly filled with chatter. However, for those who can, is it possible they are simply telling the left brain to take a back seat for once? As writers, is this an exercise we MUST do to tap into the ultimately creative side of our brains?

And does this mean stupid people are happier? Or is this that point of television - to be able to shut down the left brain and feel one with the other voters texting their cells on American Idol?

I dunno. I'm looking to you for answers and wondering if you've ever had a "right brain" experience that's brought you total peace.


May 26, 2008

Must See!

by Harley

I’m househunting. On the Internet. It’s fabulously addictive, and so easy. You type in your desired neighborhood, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, price range, and voilá—there’s everything you need short of a down payment. Oh, the online tours, the slideshows, the area maps!

The prose.

The descriptions of these houses . . . defy description. I’m guessing realtors have to pass a test in Overwrought Hyperbole and Florid Half-Sentences to get a license.

Maybe in a seller’s market, descriptions shrink to, “Run-of-the-mill house. Overpriced; take it or leave it.” But this is a Buyer’s market, and so I am wooed. Titillated. Seduced. I’m not buying a house; I’m buying a new life story. One filled with romance, serenity and low blood pressure in a “tranquil paradise yard.” Or even better, wanton passion on “vast grassy luscious land land land wow!” I shall feel like royalty when I take possession of my “mini-estate,” and after a hard day of carpool and volunteering for hot lunch in the “coveted Los Padres School System” the children and I will retreat to our “own private tropical paradise. Lush and exotic” and then, when it grows too chilly outside to admire the “pristine view!” we will go within to the “crackling fireplace” and walk across our “hand-trowled wood floors,” past our “walls painted in soothing colors” and the children will settle in to let their brains rot in a family room that is “wired for plasma TV! Wow!”

“The gourmet cook will love this spectacular kitchen.” But I, an indifferent cook, will love it too, because of its “2-drawer dishwasher!” and “new appliances and so much more!”

What’s amazing is that no matter what personality type I am, I am guaranteed to be a good fit for this house, which is “ABSOLUTELY IDEAL FOR ENTERTAINERS, FAMILIES, AND THOSE WHO WISH TO RETREAT AT HOME.” In fact, we can all live here together, the INFPs and the ESTJs because “Parking for ten easily!”

True, it’s an old home. It’s not like that other house I liked, “Two years new.” Yes, this one was built in that scary 50’s style that gives you visions of Ralph Kramden hunched over the kitchen table, but it “feels like new construction. You will not be disappointed.” Moreover, it is “upgraded thru thru thru! This home boasts custom features throughout!” and—wait, what’s that smell? Yes, you’ve identified it. “Wow! Freshly painted middle of March!”

And the price? This house is “priced to sell.” (as opposed to priced to sit like a lump.)

What? You drove by it and it didn’t look so hot? You must not have read the admonition, “DO NOT CURB APPRAISE.” And I hope you didn’t try looking in the windows or worse, ringing the doorbell, because “Owner is under physician care Please do not disturb occupant.”

What? You couldn’t even find it? That’s because it’s in “a private setting that will blow you away!” But do not give up. Call your broker. Make an appointment. Because “THIS DESIGNER SHOWCASE IS STRAIGHT OUT OF A MAGAZINE AND IS A MUST-SEE!”

How to choose? With so many fabulously wonderful bargains out there, which house has just the right features?

“Walnut Acres Beauty!! This one has it all!! LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!! ONE OF THE BEST STREETS IN WALNUT ACRES!!! Lots of privacy!!OPEN LAYOUT!! High ceilings!!2 AC units!!Private Driveway!!2 water heaters!!copper plumbing!!Some hardwood floors and great carpets!! GREAT SCHOOLS!! EL DORADO HIGH!! WOODY ACRES ELEMENTRY!!”

Exclamation points included in asking price.

Happy Memorial Day!

p.s. I pray today for troops all over the world, that they come safely home.

May 25, 2008

Half-Baked Blog

Half-baked Blog
by Harley

It being a Sunday, a sort of half-day-off, I thought I’d share with you some of my half-formed ideas that once hoped to grow up to be a blog.

1. Harley’s Thoughts on The Federal Reserve
2. Spock v. Kirk
3. Mercury Retrograde
4. The Rabbit Didn’t Die. But it did get diarrhea.
5. Why “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray” is the only condiment for me
6. Au Pairs R Us
7. Buffalo Bill Blog
8. Burial or Cremation?
9. Tips on Remembering Your Passwords for PayPal, Overstock.com, the Mystery Writers of America website and where you put your safety deposit box key
10. McCoy v. Scotty
11. How Many Pages Must You Read Before It’s Okay to Give Up On A Book?
12. Ballpoint, Gel, Rollerball or Felt Tip?
13. John McCain’s cholesterol count
14. Uhura v. Sulu
15. The Life & Death of Mr. Fluffy, Goldfish

What I’d really like to see is Me, Margie explain the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. But she’s off somewhere on a float, leading a parade.

Happy Sunday!

May 24, 2008

Things Change

Things Change

By Guest Blogger Will Graham

The Book Tarts are happy to welcome back one of our favorite guest bloggers, Will Graham.

I was bored. Which, as we all know, is a very dangerous thing for me to be.

Long day, fighting my way past a plot point that won’t surrender. Said the ‘Eff” word a couple of times, and started cruising the Internet.

I ran across an auction on eBay for one of these:


A 1930’s Packard, fully restored. A quick check of the cash fund showed me woefully short of the $55,000.00 asking price, so I did what Men do at such a moment; said the “Eff” word a few more times. Actually, I said it a lot.

So what if it gets ten miles to the gallon? So what if I’d give my mechanic so much money his son could attend the Harvard campus on Venus? So what if I’d be so concerned about getting into an accident I’d rarely drive it? So what if I’d feel compelled to hire armed security when I parked at the mall?

Just look at it. Take a moment and look at it.

It was a different time. Sure, it had its problems (The Depression, anyone?), but there was a sense of style back then we don’t have today. Individuality, ethics, the firm belief that one man (or woman) COULD make a difference.

A time when dinner was an Event, and people “dressed” properly for it. Conversation was an art form, not a series of grunts and expletives. Men were men, ladies were ladies, and everyone knew the difference. A woman could cripple a man by simply crossing her legs, the whisper of silk stockings sending an unmistakable message. A man could send the same message simply by the way he looked at her. People had manners, and if they did not have them, they tried hard to acquire them. Courtesy was a watchword, so ingrained into us that showing dis-courtesy was unthinkable.

There was pride. No, there was PRIDE. Pride in our country, pride in ourselves. When the call came, right or wrong, good or bad, men lined up to enlist in the Military, as opposed to trying to figure out how they could get out of it, knowing damn good and well there was a better than average chance they wouldn’t be coming back. Women were not allowed in the Military, so they did what they could on the Home Front. And you can bet they did an incredibly job of it.

Breakfast was two eggs, three slices of bacon, buttered toast, and coffee. (Milk for the children.) Alcohol was something wild and racy; sleek bartenders with pencil moustaches shook and stirred across the country. It was okay to smoke, and cigarettes were carried in a metal case made for that; the higher end models had lighters built into them, so a gentleman was always prepared.

Restaurants, be they gourmet establishments or roadside diners, were owned by individuals and kept in the family for years. Chain establishments, where you go into one in Manhattan or Houston or Los Angeles and know you can get the same exact thing did not exist. People would have laughed at the concept.


Movies were magical, television hadn’t come along yet. Many nights, the family as a whole spent the time by the radio, listening to wonders coming through. Imagination, not X-Box, ruled. Imagine being a child back then, hearing the adventures of the Lone Ranger, or Boston Blackie, or the Green Hornet. The fun of Life of Riley, the fear inspired by Inner Sanctum. All coming over this little box in the living room, making you, the listener, use your imagination to see the things that were happening.

Times change. I know that. And sure, I’ll admit I’m probably being silly, but I’ve started to wonder if all change is good….

May 23, 2008

Mazeltov and other Fantastic Words

Mazeltov and other Fantastic Words

By Rebecca the Bookseller aka Kathy Sweeney

Mazeltov! Isn't that a great word? It means, in general, congratulations - but it also connotes blessings and happiness and celebration. It's a superb word. Today, let's talk about more wonderful words.

The word 'capisce' is a great word - it's easier than asking someone if they understand, and, depending on the delivery, it can be a threat or a joke or a lesson. Aloha is another versatile word - hello, goodbye, and everything in between.

Last week, I picked up a word on the blog that I'm going to use more often: ballistic. Other words I've learned here on the blog: manscape; faboo; meep; jezebel, sporrans, just sayin', goatf*ck, and Blondbond.

Other great words that really sound like what they mean include: miserable, rambunctious, lavish and regurgitate.

Blog_onomatopoeiaThese are not to be confused with words that are the sounds they describe - snap, crackle, pop and boom, to name a few. Those words are called onomatopoeia - which means words that imitate that sound they represent. One great example of onomatopoeia occurs in comic book fights: all the little balloons are filled with words like: pow!

If you're like me, you use curse words as a substitute for a better choice all the time. For example, it's much easier to call someone a shit-for-brains than it is to pick a more precise word. But if you bother to look (like I am doing right this second) you can find many words that are more descriptive. The bonus is, that if the person really is dumb as hell, (oops) they won't even know you are insulting them to their face.

Let me just say, when I insult someone for being a dumbass (oops again), it's not because they actually have a low IQ or some kind of neurological challenge. I'm talking about people who are ignorant in that they say stuff that makes no sense, is based on prejudice, or is just plain wrong because they didn't bother to figure out the correct thing to say or do. So don't go getting all huffy because you think I'm making fun of people who are simply less educated, or less blessed in the brains department.

Not that I don't make fun of people - I do. But not for things beyond their control. That's mean. If someone is ugly because they have a nose the size of a small car, or they have one eye that doesn't go the right way, that's not their fault. We don't make fun of those people. That would be wrong. Although, there is nothing to stop us if those people happen to also be total stone jagoffs. But let's just be clear that they are fair game for ridicule because of their ugly behavior, not their physical traits.

Anyway, back to insulting someone who deserves it to their face. That's my favorite way. If you know me, you know that if I'm thinking it, you are probably going to be hearing it. Just saying.

Well, that was a digression. Let's look at the Thesaurus - I still use the big book. I don't do definitions online. Why? Because some 'ron may have already jacked around with stuff. And kids - Wikipedia is not a primary source, okay? Just ask anyone who watches The Colbert Report.

Blog_stupidHere we are - let's look up dumbass. Nothing there. But the second definition of dumb has a few good suggestions: dense, vapid, idiotic, moronic, pea-brained and daft. All good ones. Unfortunately, even the densest people know most of those words - I mean, pea-brained kind of speaks for itself. Let's look at idiot. Ignoramus is a good one, but still obvious. Oh look - there's dumb-ass. Along with chowderhead (never understood that one - I happen to love New England clam chowder) meathead and blockhead. I like loon, but it's also a bird.

Here's one with potential: churlish. I like that. I've used that. Now let's find out what it really means. It means boorish, rude, harshly inconsiderate, grossly ill-mannered. Ahhh, hits the jag on the head, doesn't it? Plus, to me, somehow it sounds as if someone is going to vomit, which is a bonus, because everyone hates that, even the biggest dipshit on the planet.

Okay - your turn - before you head off for Memorial Day Weekend - and don't forget to check in on the blog - we'll have a special guest tomorrow - how about sharing some of your favorite words?

Oh - and speaking of Memorial Day, I'll leave you with some good words - and I mean them sincerely: brave, honorable, courageous, patriots.

May 22, 2008

Decorating the Grave

Decorating the Grave          Go to fullsize image

by Nancy

Last week, I spent two hectic days learning everything there is to know about the publishing industry. I was honored to be a part of the Sisters in Crime team who dashed around New York to visit eight different agents, publishing houses and one national book chain buyer to, in essense, get a weather report on the current industry climate.

The news was good and bad, depending on your perspective. If you're writing a thriller--or anything that could remotely be called a thriller, and if not, please consider beating up a character or better yet, inserting a serial killer--you should breathe a sigh of relief. (Next week, I'll contribute my share of the complete project report on the Sisters in Crime blog. (The one running at the moment is a hilarious post by Donna Andrews.) Our whole report--a series of blogs on the subject--starts on Tuesday and runs all week. If you're interested in crime fiction--especially crime fiction written by women and/or for women--check it out.) I've been in the biz for a long time, and I've never had such access or heard such candid talk from insiders. Our mission--dubbed the Sisters in Crime Publishing Summit--was an incredible experience for me. Somewhat annoying, too. (Really, now, who still needs to hear the patronizing lecture that all authors should have a website? And if you're giving lip service to what wonderful thrillers can be written by women, how about having at least one displayed among the other forty books on your mantel that's written by a woman not using her initials or a masculine version of a female name?--But I digress.)  Your curmudgeonly reporter--moi--will reveal all next week.

I also dropped into the offices of my brilliant and elegant agent, the unmatched Ms. Ruley, who invited me to chat in the second floor parlor of the East Side brownstone where the literary agency hums along. This particular brownstone was once lavishly decorated in Victorian tones and flourishes, but that's all slightly faded into a sort of decadent splendor, which suits Ms. Ruley el al very well indeed. They are too busy selling books and managing boffo careers to stew about decorating, but they are so many very female, feminine, womanly, girlfriend-y women that the over-the-top, was-this-once-a-brothel? decor somehow works as a backdrop.  (There are at least two men in the building who manage to hold their own by sheer force of their charm and first rate business skills, but I don't believe their offices have foiled wall paper frou-frou velvet curtains or oil paintings of monkeys wearing Little Lord Fauntleroy suits.) No coldly modern office space for this crew--no way. Ms. R lolled on the extravagantly plush chocolate brown velvet sofa rather like Olympia dressed in Eileen Fisher, and she regaled me with much hilarity.

And we also decided where to send my new book proposal, which is now winging its way to a new (to me) editor who has been charged with the task of reading and making a decision by next week.  This decision-making speed is the perk of having a great agent whom editors trust.

While I wait to hear my fate, I'm going north to help my mother plant flowers in the cemetery were most of my deceased relatives repose.

The publishing-as-cemetery metaphor is not lost upon me.

In our  family, we do not believe in plastic flowers for Memorial Day.  Go to fullsize image  We go all out--planting plenty of geraniums around the monuments. (I know--most people think geraniums are the rats of the garden, but really, there's no flower that looks as nice against the traditional Vermont bluestone, is there?) This year, I divided a gigantic Siberian iris that had crowned in my own garden, so I'm taking a few plunks of that plant to the cemetery, too. Last year, we planted variegated hosta, which also looks good with geraniums. "Perpetual care" doesn't mean the cemetery gardener will tend the plants we put into the ground, we've learned.  It only means that once the flowers are finished blooming, he'll run the mower over everything so the cemetery looks tidy again. He loves that damn mower. But Mother goes every week during the summer to make sure the plants are watered and dead-headed, to dodge the mower for as long as possible.

My memories of this rural, hilltop cemetery stretch back as far as I can remember. On an evening late in May, after the full moon was past (to avoid a killing frost) and after my father returned home from work and we ate a hasty dinner together, the family used to pack a few flats of flowers into the station wagon, plus some water jugs (old Clorox containers that had been rinsed and filled from the hose at home) and we'd spend a couple of hours planting around the headstones marked, "Curry," (my mother's people) and "Aikman," (my father's family.) As kids, my sister and I used to scamper off into the cemetery and practice jumping over the headstones while our parents worked. On those May evenings, the cemetery was lush and green and cool. Under bare feet, the grass felt like no other grass I recall.  A little prickly, but somehow tender, too. (All that mowing!) After the planting, my father  would walk around the other graves and talk about the people who were buried there--repeating the stories he'd heard from his parents, so I feel as if I know the whole story of how that area was settled by Irish and Scottish immigrants--Presbyterians, all, and most of them quite reserved, even in life.

Every year while we plant flowers on the graves of my dad, my grandparents, a couple of aunts and some relatives I never met, my mother and I discuss the question of whether or not to dig up Aunt Nelle.  Have I told you this before?

Aunt Nelle was my mother's beloved aunt--an intrepid woman who went out west to teach school around the turn of the century.  She returned home--after reportedly breaking a rancher's heart--to take a glamorous job as a secretary to a railroad executive.  She remained a single woman--well-dressed and refined--until her mid-fifties when she married Emory, a widower. They doted on each other for the next thirty years and when they died, they were buried beside each other in the cemetery across town from the one where the rest of my family is.  (Emory was, I suspect, a Methodist.) Emory's children, quite naturally, I suppose, loved their mother, not Aunt Nelle, so Nelle's grave was sadly ignored. Their neglect outraged my relatives. (Who felt they would be overstepping themselves if they decorated Nelle's grave without asking permission, and asking permission was out of the question.) Some of my family are so upset they want to dig up Aunt Nelle and bring her over to our cemetery where she''ll be better loved, I guess.

Should we move her? My feeling is that she's the one who chose to be buried with her husband. That was her wish. Who are we to change her mind?

Kinda like writers who have chosen their genre. Even if it's dying, do you stick with it? Or try to change what you write? If that's possible? And is it any of my business to suggest you make a switch? Do you even want to hear that the market for cozy mysteries is fading fast?

Or, like me, do you think it's wisest to put some flowers on the grave and move on--to re-invent yourself?

Planting flowers on the grave of the traditional mystery genre is not quite an accurate metaphor for what's happening in the women's department of crime fiction, but it's not far off the mark. Let's just say that if your'e writing about talking cats or small towns with nosy neighbors and murder epidemics, you might consider switching to vampires. Or thrillers.

Check out the Sisters in Crime report next week for the full skinny.