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30 posts from June 2008

June 30, 2008

How Would You Spend Your $50 Billion?

How Would You Spend Your $50 Billion?

by Michele                              

If you had $50 billion to throw around, what would you do with it?  Save the planet or buy a fleet of private jets?  Or both?               

On the same day that Bill Gates retired from Microsoft to devote himself to rescuing the human race, I happened to catch two separate movies about its demise.  The choice of films -- Wall-E and Planet of the Apes -- was a coincidence.  We were watching lots of movies to allay our anxiety about my oldest going off to sleepaway camp the next morning.  Wall-E had just opened, and Planet of the Apes happened to come up in our Netflix queue.  When you're anxious, a movie can be a great escape.  Unless of course the movie is about the apocalypse and the woeful period afterward when the plucky survivors are forced to cope with mass disaster.  (Check out that final scene in Planet of the Apes, by the way -- a true classic.  Nobody delivers a maudlin, campy, melodramatic line better than Charlton Heston.  "You maniacs! You blew it up!"  And while you're at it, try this one -- "Soylent Green is people!"  My fave post-apocalypse films also include Terminator and Children of Men.  Others?)

You gotta love those movies.  They give vent to our worst fears while managing to hold out a last bright hope for survival of the species.  Older and wiser, mankind will rise from the ashes.  Charlton Heston rides off into the sunset with his Eve to repopulate the planet.  (Add in the fact that she's mute, and plenty of male viewers would likely sign on).  Today, with skyrocketing fuel prices and global warming, we're surely headed for mass disaster.  The point is, we need saving, and Charlton Heston is no longer available.

Enter Bill Gates.  This is the guy who put Windows on a billion computers worldwide.  He changed technology -- and the way we live -- forever.  In the process, he wrote the handbook on ruthless business practices and made $100 billion. For a long time in the 90s, he was the richest man on the planet.  (Microsoft stock has declined, so he's down to a measly $50 billion and got shoved off the list by a bunch of Arab oil billionaires.)  Now he's decided to give his kids a mere $10 million each, and give the rest away through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, devoted to solving problems of global health, development and education.  This seems to me to be a pretty good way to spend your $50 billion, and I have to ask myself -- would I do the same, if I were in Bill Gates's shoes? 

I enjoy that game where you ask, if I suddenly came into an extra million bucks (say, like by selling a big book!), what would I do with the money?  But because the amounts I dream of are relatively small, I never really think about using the dough to save the planet.  What would I do with a million bucks?  Blow it all on one item.  I just got a circular in the mail yesterday advertising a smallish, not gorgeous lakefront house on a prime piece of property on a lake I love.  If I had an extra million dollars, I'd buy it, and have enough left over to do some renovating and buy furniture.  That's all.  Planet -- fend for yourself.  I don't have enough to save you.  But $50 billion?  That number seems to impose some real responsibility. 

I confess -- if it were me, I'd skim off more than $10 million for each of my kids.  $10 million is enough for them to live on comfortably for the rest of their lives, but not enough for them to experience great wealth.  And having grown up with no money, I would find great wealth too hard to walk away from, for myself or for them.  Why would I deny my kids their own jets?  Or tell them they can have a primary residence, and a nice second home, but not a string of residences around the world?  A housekeeper and a nanny but not a large staff?  Enough to afford college tuition for their kids, but not enough to buy the grandkids' way into the college of their choice by donating a building?  No -- I'd give each kid a billion, and still have $48 billion left over for the planet.  I guess this makes Bill Gates a better man than I.

Okay, so how do I spend the remaining $48 billion?  (Other than on shoes?)  What are our most pressing problems?  Suggestions?  Post it below, or if you like, write to Mr. Gates.

June 29, 2008

Who Wants More Sex? Michelle Gagnon Guest Blogs

Who Wants More Sex?

By Guest Blogger Michelle Gagnon

The Tarts are so happy to have Michelle Gagnon as our Guest Blogger today. And what better topic for a blog with the slogan "IOCHFTS"?


Blog_boneyardwebDo you need it?

In books, I mean.

Apparently, my father thinks so. His main criticism of my books so far is that (as he so eloquently puts it): “Not enough sex. People like that in a thriller.”

Mind you, I have romance. Ok, in my first book (The Tunnels) it was more sexual tension than actual romance, but that counts, right? And in Boneyard, I hint very strongly at the fact that my characters ARE INDEED about to have sex, or have just had it. A few times that happens. In one scene, I even have my heroine getting dressed, implying that she was naked. So there.

The truth is, I have no idea how to write a sex scene. I know, it’s supposed to be just like riding a bike, but I never claimed to be great at that, either. I have nothing but admiration for the people who pull it off seamlessly. Janet Evanovich is particularly good at weaving it into the narrative so that it doesn’t seem like a departure from the other situations Stephanie Plum finds herself in. And in David Corbett’s Edgar-nominated novel “Blood of Paradise,” there’s a knock-down, drag out sex scene a few chapters in that goes on for pages and was the hottest thing I’ve read since stealing my mother’s Erica Jong novels in my formative years. (Mind you, there’s no graphic sex in the rest of the novel. It was a tremendous book, but I’m pretty sure that fact qualifies Corbett as a tease…)

But I can’t seem to do it. I’m the kid staring up the rope in gym class, trying to puzzle out how the hell to climb the damn thing.

Oh believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve written a few scenes that were hastily deleted from my hard drive when I re-read them. They were filled with things that throbbed and heaved and were probably the least sexy things ever written. I think part of the problem is that my heroine, Kelly, is fairly reserved, and I feel a little strange exposing her that way. Also, I’d compare it to not wanting to ever have to witness your friends having sex (I’m assuming that’s the case for most of us); part of me wants that to remain private for her. Strange, I know, but these characters do become real to us, don’t they?

And there’s the other concern, the fact that my parents do tend to be among my early readers. Maybe this is a by-product of being raised in New England, but the fact that they’re going to be seeing every word I write puts stoppers on me. I’m still early in my fiction career, so with any luck that effect will dissipate in future books. For the time being, however, I’m a PG writer in an R-rated world.

Blog_kamasutrabookWhat about you all? Do you expect your thrillers to be titillating? Is David Corbett a tease? What’s the best sex scene you’ve ever read (note: the Kama Sutra and the Joy of Sex don’t count)? Best comment receives an autographed first edition of Boneyard. And if you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com and I’ll enter your name in a drawing for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificate, and other fabulous prizes.

Blog_michelle_webMichelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she tries to figure out the poses on page 43.

June 28, 2008

Blind Faith: A Guest Blog by Patricia Smiley

Blind Faith
By Patricia Smiley

The Tarts are thrilled to welcome the fabulous Patty Smiley as today's guest blogger. If you haven't yet read any of her books, you are in for one helluva treat. Her latest Tucker Sinclair mystery, Cool Cache, just came out.

Blog_coolcacheI’ve been a lurker on TLC since almost the beginning, so when Harley invited me to guest blog, I jumped at the chance to post with this group of kick-ass writers (note to me: ask Me, Margie if I’m allowed to say “kick-ass.”)

My fourth book just came out, and my mother has “read” all of them. I use quotation marks because my mother is what we euphemistically call “getting up in years,” and now lives in an assisted living apartment. Her mind is sharp but her body is frail from the ravages of age, the worst of which is the loss of sight from macular degeneration. Because she can no longer see to read, she has listened to the audio version of all of my novels except the latest.

Cool Cache is dedicated to my parents. When I gave my mother her copy of the book, I guided her finger to the spot on the page where her name was printed.

“Is it there?” she asked.

“It’s there.”

“Daddy’s name, too?”


“He would have been so proud!”


“Read me the first chapter.”

With the first words, my mother pushed the button on her blue recliner and drifted into peaceful reverie. When I finished, I glanced up and saw her staring trance-like into space as if she was the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.


No response. My mother’s hearing is perfect. There was no way she couldn’t hear me. On closer inspection, she seemed unusually still. Her facial muscles were rigid and her eyes glassy. All I could think of was OMIGOD! I’ve killed her!


She blinked with a start. “Why are you shouting?”

“I thought you were…well, never mind.”

“I was just caught up in the story. Is that the end of the chapter?”


“It was very exciting. What comes next?”

“Chapter two.”

“So? What are you waiting for?”

I stopped reading after the second chapter because I had to leave for an appointment. A couple of days later I was talking to her on the telephone. She told me the suspense was killing her (bad choice of words, if you ask me), so she asked her caregiver to pick up the slack. In no time, they were on chapter nine.

“Lita keeps laughing,” she said.

“Maybe she’s tired. Exhaustion can make you hysterical.” I could say this with authority, because deadlines have made me an expert on hysteria.

“No, she’s laughing at your writing. Today she was giggling at lunch about something you said, and she didn’t even have the book with her.”

A little bit of family history here. My mother doesn’t have a sense of humor. If life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel, my mother is a big-time feeler. As a result, I live to make her laugh, sometimes by shocking her reserved sensibilities. Example, during a recent discussion on global warming, I asked if she knew that excessive farting by sheep in Australia and New Zealand was destroying the ozone. She laughed, which was a miracle because when I was growing up, the word “fart” was never spoken in our home. In fact, all references to flatulence were verboten. My sister and I were told that those strange sounds coming from my father’s direction were, in fact, barking spiders. I had a serious case of arachnophobia until I entered first grade and sniffed out the truth.

I digress. So, it was not surprising that my mother wasn’t laughing. I just hoped Lita was laughing with me and not at me.

“Lita and I think you’re talented,” she continued.

Thinking a daughter is talented is the primary job of mothers and those who work for them. Truth be told, my mother isn’t a reliable arbiter of my talent, because she thinks everything I do is brilliant: navigating L.A. freeways, clearing my throat, folding laundry (If she could see those naughty little Victoria’s Secret thongs in my laundry basket, she would definitely drop laundry-folding from the list.)

That night, I told my husband the story.

“I think you should redirect your marketing strategy,” he said. “It’s clear that seniors are a material audience.”

“You’re basing your hypothesis on one person, and she’s my mother.”

“Okay. Ignore the empirical evidence, and do so at your own peril.”

Despite the fact that I live with a man who uses “empirical” and “peril” in the same sentence, his words caused me to ponder. My books are very popular among my mother’s friends, but I’d always assumed that was because she carries a publicity poster in the basket of her wheely-walker and makes Lita slip my bookmarks under everybody’s daily dish of breakfast prunes.

Frankly, it’s difficult for me to narrowly define any specific audience. Still, on those days when I find myself alone at a book signing or stung by a critic’s tart words, it’s comforting to know there is someone sitting in a blue recliner, hanging on every word I write. Lita’s laughter is just frosting on the cake.

I know you can’t read this Mother, but thanks for being in my corner.

June 26, 2008

In Honor of George Carlin

In Honor of George Carlin

By Kathy Sweeney fka Rebecca the Bookseller

I got my first record player for Christmas, 1972.  It was bright yellow, to match my room, and it had flashy multi-colored lights on the bottom, so when I played it in the dark, my room looked very cool.  I also got the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof and a big plastic candy cane full of Hersheyettes. which are like M&Ms only by Hershey.  I'm sure I got other cool stuff too, but those three come as a package memory.  You know how those are, right?  You remember one, you remember them all.

For my 13th Birthday the following September, my Irish Grandma asked what I wanted.  I'd seen Laugh-In, loved the Hippy Dippy Weather Man, had memorized the schtick, and was ready for more material.  So I asked for a George Carlin album.  Grandma had never heard of George Carlin, which is the only way I got it.

Once I got the album, and having exercised the sound judment of playing it very quietly the first time through, I knew I'd struck gold.  The album was "Class Clown" and I still laugh at most of the bits today.  There is one track where he suggests possible names for birth control pills if they ever go over-the-counter.  Names like Preg-NOT, Embry-no and Womb Broom.  And of course, this is the album with The Seven Words. Outgrageous, hilarious and very clever all at the same time.  That was Carlin.

All was well for months, until one day my Mom was cleaning my room and decided to play one of my records.  Oops.  Legend has it that they heard her screaming across town, which alerted my Dad, who came home (with all those kids, I'm guessing he popped home during the day a lot, but what do I know) and listened to it too.  They were shocked.  Appalled.  I got a big lecture, the end of which was my mother observing: "It's a good thing you don't even understand what most of this even means."  Then I got an eye-roll from my Dad, who knew my vocablulary already included words that would cause my mother to stroke out. The record vanished.

You know the next part, right?  I came home from a date that winter to find our living room full of my parents' friends, half in the bag and howling while trying to listen to George Carlin between bursts of laughter.  They kept having to reset the needle to replay the stuff they were missing.  Busted.  I said nothing, of course, because I hadn't been exactly walking the straight and narrow that evening either.

The thing about George Carlin, and one reason I'm blogging about him here, is that the key to his humor was great writing.  With many comedians (Lewis Black, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock) you need to see them perform to really get the jokes.  The visual is part of the act.  With Carlin - his voice helps, and he is capable of doing great physical comedy, but the real humor is in the words.  His books can make you laugh just as hard as his shows.  And few comedians transfer as well to audio-only as Carlin.

Some of his routines are classics: the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television (I think there are only two of those left that you can't say on network TV, and half an episode of most HBO series decimate all seven and beyond); the Hair Poem; and the rant on "Stuff".  But there are other gems out there too.  Class Clown is still my favorite - maybe it's because you never forget your first, or maybe it's because I grew up Catholic, and the bit on the Heavy Mysteries is a riot.

His career spanned 40 years - he was performing before I was born.  As he got older, he got a little more bitter, and although his writing was still brilliant, I still  like the older stuff.

So in honor of a great writer, please tell the rest of us about your favorite comedian and his or her material.

We've been talking all week about what a loss this is - and accepting the fact that we have no replacement coming up.  So if you know of any promising young comics let me know - I need a new album.

As you read this, we are probably driving home from the beach, so no worries and no offense if I don't comment much.  I look forward to reading about everyone's favorite comedy bits when I return.

Leave Me The Hell Alone, Dammit

Leave Me The Hell Alone, Dammit!

by Nancy                    Go to fullsize image

Pregnancy pacts, severed feet washed up on a distant shore, an African election that's so corrupt one of the candidates dropped out to save his voters from getting killed.  Yes, we could discuss all of those important topics and more.  But I'm too pissed off.

Why, you ask? Because I've been slogging through my second experience with pneumonia, and I'm on a steriod.  A drug I was warned might make me hyper, sleepless and a little grumpy. 

That warning was completely wrong, because these fucking steriods make me a complete insomniac and HELLACIOUSLY ENRAGED, okay?  Like, I completely understand those guys who buy big guns at Wal-Mart and go looking for a clock tower.  Be warned:  If you see me mumbling my way around the grocery story, STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME BECAUSE I COULD VERY EASILY BITE YOUR HEAD OFF.  AND I'M NOT KIDDING. I FEEL LIKE I COULD DO SOME SERIOUS DAMAGE AT THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION.

So today maybe it's better if I stick to blog subjects safer than rotten elections, severed feet and stupid--er--confused teenagers.

For instance: Did you know the TV audience for golf falls off by 29% if Tiger Woods doesn't play? A lot of television people are upset about Tiger's broken leg, and not in a charitable way. Me, I can't force myself to stay awake if golf is on the TV. Maybe it's the whispery voices that put me under.  My mother loves it, though. I asked her on Sunday if she was watching golf, and she had the I'm-on-steroids snap in her voice when she said, "Why bother if Tiger isn't playing?" 

In other news: My pneumonia made me forget to pay two credit card bills. I was late by five days.  Is my credit score totally ruined, do you suppose? I said to my husband, "Maybe I should call the credit card company and plead my case."

He said, "Wait until the Prednisone wears off."

The only good thing that happened while I'm sick is that I'm reading many, many books to keep myself from climbing the fence and dismembering my neighbor's barking dog. THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR is a delightful non-fic about old and rare wines, and the nefarious tactics of at least one dealer who was blending his own wine and pouring it into old bottles, which he sold for astronomical prices to gullible idio--er, collectors. Sound dull to you? I guarantee, it reads like a thriller, which--as a genre--I can pretty much take or leave, but that's another blog subject for a time when my brain isn't seething.

I've also been reading the book by my new brother-in-law, Bob Spitz, who went on a life-affirming trip to various fabulous European cooking schools to discover himself, and the result is utterly charming.  THE SAUCIER'S APPRENTICE. Love the recipes, too, and if a book can actually make me contemplate making my own gnocchi while I'm snuffling like a warthog with a headcold, that's saying something.

But--in the interest of keeping up with what's selling in bookstores this summer, I also picked up GOSSIP GIRL, and I saw red within a single page. OMFG. Listen to me: If your teenage daughter is reading this crap, please rundonotwalk to the nearest convent, maybe the kind that insists on complete silence and the renunciation of all clothing except hopsack.  Enroll her and take away her cell phone, flip flops and credit cards. Then hire a Jesuit tutor to teach her something--anything--even how to make gnocchi. I picked up this book because somebody said maybe my Blackbird Sisters were books for the GOSSIP GIRL reader who's grown up a little.  I can't remember who said that to me, which is a good thing because SHE IS NO LONGER MY FRIEND. I CANNOT EXPLAIN HOW MUCH I HATE THIS BOOK SO I WON'T BOTHER TRYING BUT SOMEBODY NEEDS TO HAVE HER BRAIN WASHED OUT WITH SOAP AND ITS NOT ME.

Okay, truth be told? Being an authorized bitch is rather freeing.

                      Go to fullsize image

It's like I have some kind of dispensation to say what I really think. Like when our refrigerator quit working on Sunday. Yes, my brand new AND INCIDENTALLY EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE refrigerator stopped keeping the Diet Coke cold. I will not repeat here what I said when we discovered the situation, but it was not, not, not a ladylike performance. 

Things got worse on Monday morning when I started making phone calls. Have you tried getting an appliance repair person to come to your house lately? All the 'Same Day Service" people had exactly the same line: "Because of the price of gasoline, we can come to you tomorrow between the hours of 8am and 5pm." Tomorrow??  What happened to "Same Day??"  And what does the price of gas have to do with the hours they can come?  (Yeah, I've heard all about those UPS drivers who are only allowed to turn left and are saving, like, a million gallons of gase every day. Come to think of it on an unrelated tangent, if one more newspaper or TV news report comes with the ubiquitous headline Pain at the Pump, dammit, I THINK WE'RE ALL ENTITLED TO CANCEL OUR SUBSCRIPTIONS!!) And while they've got you on the phone, the repair people want to give you a very, very long speech about how they prefer to be paid. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW, I JUST WANT A GUY HERE FIXING MY REFRIGERATOR BEFORE I HAVE TO THROW AWAY $500 WORTH OF CONDIMENTS!


Maybe it's better if you just talk amongst yourselves today. In soft, whispery golf course voices.  For your own safety.

June 25, 2008

I Didn't Have Sex with Him

I Didn’t Have Sex with Him

By Elaine Viets

"There’s a guy running around town telling people he’s slept with you," my friend said.

I felt sick to my stomach. I had enough problems without this.

"Who is he?" I asked. "What’s his name? And when did this happen?"

She gave me the man’s name. I’d never heard of him. We were supposed to have done the deed within the last year or so.

"I’m only telling you this because I thought you should know what he was saying," she said. "I’m your friend. I don’t believe it."

It wasn’t true, and that made me furious. I'd been married and faithful since I was 21 years old. I was 38 now. His lies were damaging. Why was he suddenly bragging that he’d had sex with me?

Maybe because I was a columnist for a St. Louis newspaper and did a little local television. That made me a minor celebrity.

I began hearing this story from a couple of other friends.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had to listen to accusations that I was unfaithful. Once, I’d interviewed a doctor for a newspaper story. We conducted our interview over lunch in a vegetarian restaurant, sitting in a window seat at noon, where half the city could see us. The doctor talked. I took notes and picked at a cheese-and-sprout sandwich.

Two hours later, I got a call from a friend of a friend. She said, "I saw you at lunch today. Are you having an affair with X?"

"If I was, would I be taking notes?" I asked her.

"Oh," she said, and hung up quickly.

That rumor died on the vine. But this one seemed to thrive. It spread like measles in first grade.

My husband Don didn’t believe the story. He knew me too well. My friends laughed about it – but they were worried enough to tell me. That meant somebody, somewhere, might believe it.

How could I prove this bird was lying?

Who would believe me? Most of us boomers were presumed guilty of wild behavior, especially if it involved sex or drugs. Plus, I worked for a newspaper, and reporters were supposed to be raffish types. In truth, I worked such long hours, I didn’t have time for extracurricular fun.

It is true that I like to read celebrity gossip. I’ve looked at the photos claiming Lindsay Lohan is a lesbian. I’ve wondered if Cynthia Nixon, the "Sex and the City" starlet, really did have breast enhancement surgery.

How do real celebrities handle gossip? WWCD – What would Cynthia do?

She issued an angry denial, but I wasn’t sure how successful that was. The more celebrities denied a story, the truer it seemed.

I’d considered writing a newspaper column about the man’s lies, but decided against it. That might fuel his false story, adding fire to his dirty smoke.

Denying the rumor wasn't enough. I had to prove a negative. That was impossible, wasn’t it?

Finally, I saw the solution in the shower. I knew a way to prove my innocence.

The next time I heard the "I had sex with Elaine" story, I told the person, "I don't know this man. I've never seen him, much less slept with him. He’s lying and I can prove it. I have a distinctive birthmark that doesn't show in a swimsuit. Next time you see him, ask him if he can tell you the color, shape and location of that mark. If he can, then he really did have sex with me. Otherwise, he’s lying."

Well, he couldn’t. And he didn’t.

The rumors disappeared.

The birthmark is still there.

NOTE: Thanks to all the TLC regulars who came to my book tour signings, including William Simon and his wife, Donna; Jodi L. and her husband, Bob; Lisa, and Mary Storyteller. Pam "Sister Zip" sent me a dynamite Book Tarts T-shirt. That woman is a natural designer. Rita, I’m sorry you couldn’t make this one. I’ll be back in town again.

June 24, 2008

Redneck Fun!

Redneck Fun!

By Sarah

Sorry for being a bit late this morning. Had to bandage the scorch marks on my arm left over from the sixth grade graduation party we threw this weekend.

Redneck Okay. I understand there might be a few things alarming with that statement, the idea of a sixth grade graduation party among them. (Since WHEN did we start celebrating that?) And while some of you might be of the prudish opinion that sixth graders + firecrackers + gasoline do not = fun, that's where you'd be wrong.

Hey. We might not be safe at our house, but thanks to my redneck neighbors we know how to have a good time. And if you think I'm being insulting, let me just say that my neighbors are the ones who call themselves rednecks. Proudly so.

First, some background. Somewhere along the way, my husband, Charlie (aka He Who Is Getting It Every Day), decided it would be "fun" to have the entire sixth grade class over for a barbecue on the last day of school. Of course, while he grilled and mowed the lawn and participated in many ways, it was I (not that I'm complaining) who spend two days shopping/cleaning/setting up the house to accommodate eighteen twelve year olds and some parents since the forecast was for rain.

And rain it did. In sheets.

Did I mention that our house is surrounded by a moat of mud thanks to our stalled construction? Hard to pour a concrete slab when there are thunderstorms every day. Kids arrived from a day at the lake Mud_planks sweaty and wet, negotiating the few wooden planks over the exposed tubes for our radiant floor. It was a valiant try at the beginning, a nod to etiquette. But they soon gave up and fell in the muck.

Eighteen of them. In my house.

Two words that saved me: Rock Band. If you don't know, Rock Band is a video game that allows two kids Rockband to "play" guitars, one to play the drums and another to sing. It was a huuuuge hit and allowed them to dry off while Charlie flipped burgers and hot dogs in the rain with our "redneck" parent, James (we'll call him.) It soon became apparent that I'd made a mistake by not putting in beer (why would I? It was a party for sixth graders.) So James's wife ran home and returned with a picnic basket filled with Bud Lights, a jaunty green napkin covering its contents.

Maybe that's where the gasoline idea came in. I dunno. I was too busy eating potato chips with the other parents in my kitchen and keeping an eye on the kids who'd gone mysteriously quiet in the basement. They said it was Truth or Dare, but they lied. It was spin the bottle. The girls, of course, led the charge.

Back to the boys outside. Meat products consumed, they turned their attention to arson. A huge (but wet) burn pile in our backyard needed lighting and it was not being cooperative. By this time, the kids,Bonfire  having consumed their meat products also, were outside running around in the rain with sparklers. I told the cute little 11-year-old munchkin next door that she and her little friends could come over for some sparkler fun, too.

"Great," she said, all four feet of her. "I'll bring the fireworks."

We're talking real fireworks. M-80s. Roman candles. That was a sight to see - this child and her friends trudging across the field with a bag of fireworks. Charlie and James carrying out a gas can to the bonfire. Kids throwing lit sparklers like they were Frisbees, narrowly missing each other by inches.

Everyone covered in mud.

We did have a visit by a member of the local fire department who stopped by to retrieve his kid. It was Firemarshall_bill hard to tell since there was so much smoke, but he seemed slightly put off. Apparently we were supposed to get a permit before, you know, setting fire to our field. (Who knew?)

It wasn't safe. It wasn't wise. There were a million things that could have gone wrong that night. Kids could have fallen off this or that on the construction site. Slipped on the mud and broken their wrists. Burned off various parts of the body. But, though the party went two hours longer than it should have, we survived. In fact, we had a blast.

Hot dogs. Rain. Mud. Fireworks. Sparklers. M-80s. Neighbors and kids. Recipe for disaster? Or recipe for a blast?

I think those Rednecks are onto something, right?

Stay safe (ha, ha),


By the way, SWEET LOVE is STILL on sale. Isn't that amazing? Have you run out and purchased your copy? As seen in People magazine this week....(I'm wedged between Lee Child and Jane Green. How cool is that?)

June 23, 2008

(sugar) Free Me

(sugar) Free Me
By Harley

Of all the bad ideas I’ve had lately, this week’s takes the cake.

I made a deal with my friend Gary. I said I’d finish the first draft of my screenplay by last Thursday—screenwriting being the latest of my “wow, this is harder than it looks” projects, a series that includes wallpapering, childbirth, and making lemon curd. Anyhow, I was tired of slogging along on my first draft and decided to just get it all on paper, no matter how badly. And if I didn’t finish my first draft by Thursday, I told Gary, I would give up . . . sweets. Sugar, Sweet N Low, Nutrasweet, honey, fructose, stevia, molasses, rice syrup—all those substances that give life meaning, for those of us whose dominant biological feature is a sweet tooth.

Gary and I have been at this motivational game for awhile now. We make up goals and rewards and consequences, and egg each other on. We’re also supposed to hold each other accountable, one of those phrases that always reminds me of the No Child Left Behind Act. Gary and I suck at that. We like cheerleading more than coaching.

For some reason, rewards don’t do it for me. The best ones are either A. fattening; B. expensive; C. time-consuming or D. clutter-producing (a consideration, as the house is still unsold, despite Saint Joseph interred in the backyard.) I know I’ve left out sex, but Sarah’s doing that for all of us. Sex for me is like “Get a pedicure.” If it requires finding a babysitter, let alone an accomplice, it’s just another thing on the To Do list.

And consequences work. I’m not sure what that says about me. Gary’s partial to things like No TV until I Make Those Cold Calls, and mine are along the lines of 90 Minutes Of Aerobics Every Day for a Week if I Don’t Read 17 Screenplays, and our personal best/worst was Send $25 to the Wrong Presidential Candidate. I’ve stopped short of “eat a cheeseburger,” because I can’t eat a cow, even to become the next Preston Sturges.

Anyhow, this week I flunked. Instead of writing my screenplay, I taught a course at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, fabulously fun, but hideously time-consuming. I didn’t write a word that wasn’t related to lesson plans. Not. A. Word.

So now I’m in a sugarfree zone. No protein bars, granola, hot chocolate, sweetened ice tea, popsicles, fudgecicles, frozen yogurt, regular yogurt, Gummi Bear Vitamins. Gum. Mints. No breakfast cereal worth its salt.

No chocolate.

Fruit, yes. Mustn’t die of scurvy (rickets?). And diet coke because that’s a staple item. But for the rest, there’s no end in sight. Today I’m off to Texas with the kids, for a working vacation (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) to act in a super-low-budget film. No spare time there.

I realize I am whining about something I JUST MADE UP. But whining is allowed. As long as it’s not a la mode. With whipped cream. Maybe some chocolate shavings.

For those of you interested in what makes us stick to our goals, check out www.stikk.com, the brainchild of some guys from Yale. For the rest of you, how do you do it? What motivates you, aside from the paycheck, to roll out of bed, to suit up and show up, to go the extra mile? I’ll tell you this: when I’ve finished the screenplay, I’m going back to rewards; I’m buying Sarah’s book and a cupcake to match.

Happy Monday!

June 22, 2008

Smoking Amy Winehouse

veSmoking Amy Winehouse

By Sarah

Billie_holiday Last summer while I was driving along, a song came on the radio and was sooo good I had to pull over and listen. There were a couple of things I could tell right off: it was an old song, kinda Billie Holidayish, and the person who sang it must have been a black woman with as tough a background as Billie. Also, it was brilliant. It hit a chord and resonated deep within me. Her voice was my voice. Too bad they didn't make music like this anymore, I thought. She's a classic.

So imagine my surprise when I come to find out that not only is this brilliant singer alive (for now), but that she's only 23 and she's a short Jewish kid from London. This was Amy Winehouse? That tabloid fodder who pranced around like an idiot in beehives and tattoos? Shoot. Where had she been all my life?

Since then, I've bought every Amy Winehouse song including the remakes. My favorites, aside from Rehab, are Stronger Than Me and Amy, Amy, Amy. She's crude. She's edgy. The simple power of her descriptions blows me away. Here's her singing Stronger Than Me when she was healthBad_amy_4ier.Amy_2

.....This is what she looked like then.

This is what she looks like now.....

Drugs. Crack, mainly, has robbed her of her talent with the aid of alcohol, Ecstasy and heroin. And this weekend it turns out that even a bigger culprit may be robbing her of life: cigarettes.

Funny. It seemed like cigarettes were the least of Amy's problems. And while there's no doubt that smoking crack is doing its own special damage, her doctors have confirmed that Amy's heavy cigarette habit has launched early emphysema. If she keeps smoking she'll be in a wheelchair by the end of the summer. If she doesn't stop then, she'll need oxygen. Death is almost assured by the year's end.

When Amy will be 24.

Cigarette We all know cigarettes are bad, but I kind of find it ironic that most concerned fans (and record producers) have focused on her illegal drug use, instead of Amy's favorite legal drug that not only is tacitly approved by the government (British and American), but actually supports government programs through its taxes.

Her story also scares the hell out of me. I smoked from age 20 to about 27, when I found out I was pregnant and stopped. In the years following, I was a party smoker. Never more than 2 cigarettes at a time unless it was a really good party. But it was disturbing how every day I'd look forward - crave - those two cigarettes at night when the kids were asleep. Smoking became rarer and rarer after Anna and Sam grew and hiding it wasn't so easy. Finally, a year ago last Christmas, shortly after celebrating my 44th birthday, I sneaked outside for a cigarette in a snow storm. Charlie - a former smoker who quit long ago - asked, "Aren't you a little old for this now?"

I was. I never had another cigarette again. Oddly enough, I never wanted one either. And I have to credit the anti-smoking Nazis who made smoking so uncomfortable by banning it in restaurants and any other covered place that it just wasn't worth it. Thank you. I hate you, but thanks.

Amy's not long for this world, I and everyone other fan fear. Billie Holiday was only 44 when she died of heroin - almost twice as old as Amy will be when she died of cigarettes. It's just so freaking sad.

So ... what's the solution? Do we just let people smoke themselves to death? Or do we go even further than restaurant/bar/shopping mall/airport bans?


PS: I'm not letting go of this plug until the first week of sales are over!

Sweetlove_off_web SWEET LOVE is featured in this week's PEOPLE magazine as a "Sizzling Summer Read"! Whooo,hooo!Peoplecover_205x273

And better yet, they've dubbed me the -wait for it - "Chick-lit queen."

June 21, 2008

Trash Talking RITA Finalists

                                                  ****News Alert****

Sweetlove_off_web SWEET LOVE is featured in this week's PEOPLE magazine as "Sizzling Summer Read"! Whooo,hooo!Peoplecover_205x273

And better yet, they've dubbed me the -wait for it - "Chick-lit queen."

I can now leave this mortal coil fullfilled.

Trash Talking RITA Finalists

By Sarah

Whoops! In all the excitement of throwing the 6th grade graduation party (at our house which is under construction and surrounded by a moat of mud - good planning, huh?) I totally forgot to write today's blog. Eeep!

And now I've got to get my daughter to work. So when I come back I'll post construction photos and dish on the practice of trying to Up-Redneck one another. (What the parents did while the kids last night broke numerous fire codes by setting of M-80s. Okay, so maybe one or 2 adults started throwng coffee cans of gasoline into the bonfire.)

For now, though, please enjoy this video of my fellow Trash Talking RITA Finalists. Diana Holquist, a former advertising guru turned Romance novelist, thought of the idea. I, of course, wimped out. Hey...I was busy. Anyway, there is something hysterical about normally nice, mild-mannered, respectable Romance novelists busting on each other's mother. Ya gotta see it. I think my favorite is Susan Anderson primly on her couch, threatening. Or maybe it's Diana dissing on the "long history" of trash talking in the RITA community. (RITA, by the way, is an award presented by the Romance Writers of America. I'm up for one in the single title contemporary category along with these "Ladies" - if you can call them that.)

Here's the video.

I think they deserve to win - don't you?

Be back soon!


PS - Meanwhile, if you haven't done so, why not tiptoe out and pick up a brand new copy of Sweet Love!