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31 posts from February 2009

February 28, 2009

The Princess and the Pee

Abby_at_three  By Marcia Talley

What's a mom do when her daughter has a princess fetish -- and mother knows a handsome prince is a dangerous desire? Award-winning author Marcia Talley talks about how her daughter solved this issue in today's blog.

My granddaughter, Abigail, just turned three. I have plenty of experience shopping for her older brothers, but hadn’t bought a birthday gift for a three-year-old since my grown daughters were her age.  I went off to the mall, confident I’d-Know-It-When-I-Saw-It.

Three hours later I’d seen more pink satin and tulle, enough wands, tiaras, boas and powderpuff, open-toed mules to outfit Sweet Sue and Her All Girl Band in Some Like It Hot; more bling than Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras.  By the time I got to Tar-Jay and found myself seriously considering a Nintendo game called “Super Princess Peach”

where pre-adolescent girls carrying parasols and dressed in pink satin frills and elbow-length white gloves run an obstacle course like a platoon of Marine recruits at Parris Island, I threw up my hands. 
According to the New York Times, there are over 25,000 Disney Princess items on the market — including band-aids, paper cups, lip balm and crayons — and I’d seen at least 10,000 of them. 
 ‘What’s with this princess mania?” I asked my daughter, Laura, Abigail’s mother.
“They are *&^% everywhere!” she tells me, “including Abby’s Huggies Pull-ups.  So, in case you are asked, Cinderella is a civil rights lawyer for Human Rights First (Prince Charming is her Charming Paralegal Assistant), Jasmine is Vice President for Marketing at Arabian Exports/Imports International and Ariel is a marine biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.  They like to get together at their Mt. Holyoke reunions.  They're dressed up in gowns on the Pull-ups because they are about to attend one of the official inaugural balls for President Obama.  And why is Cinderella singing to the bird on her hand?  She trains parakeets as a hobby, to relieve the stress from the trial work.” 

Laura, an attorney, wishes there were movies like Cinderella and the Afghan Asylum Seekers or Snow White Organizes the United Mine Workers Union.

Nevertheless, I figured it’d be kinda kool to take my granddaughter to Club Libby Lu for a Princess Makeover Party, but alas, due to the financial crisis, Saks closed them all down at the end of January.
Maybe I’ll take Abby paintballing instead.

February 27, 2009

Stuff That is Flat Out Wrong

Stuff that is Flat Out Wrong

By Kathy Sweeney

First, bear with me.  Lent started this week and I am on my annual quest to quit swearing.  The first several days are a living nightmare.  But by this time of year (Lent), I really have to go cold turkey or risk dropping one of the big bombs in front of my mother.  That would be bad.  Really bad - really, really, wrong.

That's not the only thing that's wrong.  Want to know what else?  Good thing, because that's what I'm talking about.

Blog Lenox peeps Take Peeps, for example.  Who doesn't love peeps?  Me - I open them and let them get a little stale.  Peeps used to be just for Easter time.  No more.  Now you can get them all year 'round, and they even come in different flavors.  The chocolate ones are good to mix it up.  The peppermint ones?  Not so good.  And while I had no trouble biting off the heads of chicks, I did pause a little before I did the same to an elf.  Like many things, people can always go too far.  And thus it is with Lenox.  They make china.  They also make decorative stuff made out of - you got it - china.  You see where this is going, right?  China peeps.  I don't mean Chinese peeps, which I'm sure people in China love just as much as we do.  I mean peeps made from ceramic stuff.  Wrong, people.  Just wrong.

Then there are the TV shows cancelled before we get answers.  I'm looking at you, ABC (still steaming about "The Nine", and now "Dirty Sexy Money") - cancel them if you want, but at least air the remaining episodes, you eyesores.  Teeth-gritting wrong.

I know we talked about this before, but the dropping a litter of eight kids at a time?  Wrong.  If God wanted Woman to have that many babies at one time, he'd have programmed Man to be attracted to women with big uteri, rather than big tits.  I mean breasts.  Wrong.  Weird and wrong.

18-year old kids are getting expelled from high school if they get caught with tobacco products.  Did you know this?  Even if you are old enough to smoke, if you bring them to school, you get kicked out.  Doesn't matter whether you are a convicted felon or Susie Freaking Sunshine.  Out.  Hey - I don't like smoke, but that kind of draconian stuff can really screw up a kid's future.  You want zero tolerance for bringing guns to school - you have my blessing.  But cigs?  Wrong.  

People who weigh, like, 450 pounds.  On TV with no shirts.  I consider myself fat enough that I wouldn't run around shirtless just out of sheer consideration for other people's vision.  And I'd need to start eating HoHos with full bore chocolate milk, 'round the clock, and not stop for a year to get to 450 pounds.  I applaud these people for trying to lose weight - but hello?  How does anyone - especially a teenager - get that big?  Wrong.  Big Time Wrong.

People using guns to end problems that used to be handled with discussions, yelling or fists.  What in the Sam Hill is up with this?  In PA, an 11-year-old kid shot his Dad's pregnant girlfriend in the back of the head, shoved the shotgun casing in his pocket, got on the bus and went to school.  It was his own gun.He was mad at her.  Can I tell you how many ways this is WRONG?!

Blog Barbie Cougar Barbie is 50.  Which would be fine, except someone one sent me a "Cougar Barbie" video, which was just not right.  There was poor Barbie, still wearing those Candi slides, smoking a cigarette, drinking a Cosmo, bad highlights and spandex, trying to pick up the college boys next door.  Wrong in so many ways.  And what ever happened to Billy, the anatomically correct answer to the Ken Doll?  Billy had some great outfits - like sailor whites, a police uniform, and a jumpsuit with a zipper that went the whole way around.  Ouch.  Plus, wrong.

Blog LuckyCharms Finally, Lucky Charms with hourglass shapes.  Hearts, moons, stars and clovers.  That's it.  Those are the charms.  The luckys are the cereal part.  Everyone knows this.  But I looked at a box, and there are all kinds of things in there, masquerading as charms.  Hourglasses?  Is this some kind of tribute to Marlena and John, who got booted from Days of Our Lives (wrong!) or some kind of snarky reminder from Death?  At halloween, they put skulls in there! And I'll tell you another thing - that cute leprechaun is looking very creepy in his updated cartoon version.  Don't kids have enough to worry about in the morning without a couple of reminders of their own mortality in the bowl?  Wrongo, bongo.  

Help me out here.  I just wrote a ton of words with no cursing.  I'm exhausted.  So please tell me - what do you think is wrong?

Coming this weekend on TLC - yes - we're here for you seven days a week, kids!  This weekend we have two of our favorite authors - a double scoop of fun.

Saturday - Marcia Talley's "The Princess and the Pee"
Sunday - Donna Andrews "Nuke the Shark"

Don't miss either of these two terrific and funny women!

Also - due to e-mail and comment requests, the link for the Cougar Barbie vid is on the second page of the comments. Wrong and disturbing, but I'll bet you at least crack a smile!

February 26, 2009

My Stimulus to the Economy

My Stimulus to the Economy

by Nancy   Go to fullsize image

Joe the Plumber came on a Sunday morning free of charge to look at our "basement dampness," which should have been my first clue that the economy was going to get a big stimulus.


Joe cheerfully ran his little colonoscopy camera through parts of my elderly house that will remain unmentioned, but trust me, there are more linear feet of house colon than I imagined.  And all of it is crumbling into dust and disgustingness. Which, in a roundabout way, causes the basement wall to leak when there’s rain.  And right now, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s almost spring here in Pennsylvania, when spring means rain, showers, drizzle, sleet, downpours and let’s-build-an-ark deluges.  If mounting problems continue apace, we will soon be calling the fire department to pump out our basement.


An old house waits for no economic stimulus package.


Have I mentioned that my office is in the basement?  Not that I used it much lately, since I’ve spent the winter upstairs in the La-Z-Boy chair with my laptop on my lap to keep me warm because the old windows in the living room leak like crazy. (I have one of those laptops with the overheating battery, and I never figured out how to get it replaced. This winter it was a marvelous source of heat, though, and allowed me to keep the thermostat turned back a couple of degrees.) But now the book is almost finished.  (Almost, dear editor. Really. I only have a few things to tweak, I promise.) Once it’s fini, I will need to get cracking on all the stuff that’s piled up in my In-Box during Deadline Madness.  (If you haven’t heard from me, I’m not ignoring you, honest.  I’m in a psychological place right now, though, where you really wouldn’t want interaction, so count yourself lucky. And if you’re directly related to me, let’s say even one of my children, I promise I’ll call you back in March.) 


Anyway, I must soon spend my days in my basement office.  Presumably with wet feet because the nearby wall is already oozing rusty water and the permafrost hasn't even un-frosted yet.


Joe can fix the leak, he says.  They do this kind of job on old houses like mine all the time.


But it’s going to cost us 20 grand.


Now, I dunno about you, but if I had 20 grand sitting around right now, you know what I’d probably do with it? Buy a new house.  Emphasis on the word, “new.”  Because I’m sick of pouring money into the unmentionable parts of This Old House at the time in my life when I'm supposed to be investing (hahahahahaa!) for my retirement. (Hahahahahahahahah!) Like you, lately I've been keeping my credit card in a drawer, serving pasta 2 nights a week and trying not to get my car out of the garage except to do all my errands at once.  And now I need to spend a fortune on something that's UNDERGROUND?


(Needless to say, I need a fast way to make a fast 20 grand.  My non-writing friends suggest I write another book, which they seem to think I can do in a week and spend the rest of the year eating bon-bons and watching Clive on Home & Garden TV to gather more home improvement ideas.  $20,000?  Easy money, they cry!  Now, mash-ups, I hear, are The New Thing in publishing and a possible source of aforesaid easy money.  Over the weekend, you may have read about the Jane Austen-zombie mash-up, which people say is very promising in the “current publishing climate.” (A euphemism for Brace for impact, Sully!)  So help me, please, come up with a lucrative mash-up idea. Maybe a thriller about a plumber who only works for zombies?  Or Lizzie Bennett takes one look at her plumbing estimate, kills Joe with his own backhoe and he comes back as a vampire and does the work for free?)  


If you want to be even more helpful, tell me how to excavate an entire side of my house, re-lay a French drain and run it (30 feet under my perenniels) to the sewer line (as per city code, believe it or not) and then fix the cracks in our foundation, re-seal the basement wall to make it waterproof, then cover up the whole mess again, replace my flower garden (sob!) and do it all without disturbing our BRAND NEW CONCRETE DRIVEWAY WHICH COST US 20 GRAND LAST YEAR. 


Joe The Plumber, who is really very sweet even while he delivers the bad news, proudly told me that his business is recession-proof, by the way.  No shit. (And I mean that literally.)  No matter what the economy, everybody is willing to pay to keep their toilets running properly. I am thinking of becoming his apprentice so I can have enough dough to retire before I'm 90.


Go to fullsize image Here's my new book, in paperback.  Buy it here, if you haven't read it yet, pretty please. Consider it your patriotic duty to boost the economy. I won't get the royalities for 6 months, but the home equity payments will undoubtedly go on for years.

February 25, 2009

Born Again Green


Born Again Green

By Elaine Viets

Recently, I converted to the green life. Like many new converts, my fervor knew no bounds.

I confess that I used to let the water run in the sink while I brushed my teeth. But no more. I will mend my extravagant ways.

I understood that I’d squandered hot water when I took a shower. I vowed to use that precious substance sparingly.

I now realized that all trash had to go to the dump – and I’d have to help carry it there.

Brothers and sisters, I repented my wasteful ways and promised to sin no more.

My conversion came when Don and I stayed with Marcia and Barry Talley on Dickie’s Cay in the Abacos. That island group is part of the Bahamas chain, about a hundred miles from Nassau. Dickie’s Cay is essentially a desert island. If Don and I had to be marooned on a desert island with anyone, it would be Marcia and Barry.

To reach this remote island, we took a nine-seater Cessna from Fort Lauderdale. I’ve been in bigger coffins. Seriously. I once had to get inside a casket for a television show (but that’s another story). The plane’s passengers were seated by weight, with the heftier passengers toward the front. Don and I were relieved to sit toward the back with the lightweights.

I now realize the tiny plane was ecologically sounder than those fuel-burning monsters I usually flew. I kept repeating that as we bounced through the clouds like a basketball. When the plane landed at Marsh Harbour, I pried my fingernails out of the seat cover. We took a ferry to Dickie’s Cay. More public transportation, but this time, the trip was easy and efficient. I was on the road to conversion.

Dickie’s Cay is breathtaking – a rocky ridge with palms, mangroves, bananas, Australian pines and other trees. There is no water source except rain, and it is collected in cisterns. The island had some six houses constructed by the Abacos boat builders. Ours, The Lookout, was like living inside an artwork. It has amazing built-in cabinets and an intricate dovetailed ceiling. The wood is a mellow golden brown.

The house was perfectly designed – if the temperature was above seventy degrees. Then balmy breezes circulated through the house, and the occupants never need air conditioning.

Too bad the islands were hit with a record-breaking cold front and it was fifty-six degrees. Our paradise had turned into the freaking Yukon with palm trees. We would have welcomed an angel with a flaming sword, if he’d held it near us. Might warm things up a bit.

But we weren’t complaining. We threw on all the clothes we’d packed (except our bathing suits) and added several layers of our hosts’ sweaters. We were determined to enjoy ourselves.

And we did. I began to actually like washing dishes while I chatted with Marcia after dinner. I learned to turn off the water in between rinsing.

In the morning, it was fun to take the bacon grease outside to feed the hermit crabs, who lived in shells they picked out themselves. As our visit wore on and the bacon breakfasts got bigger, the hermit crabs started coming around in Airstreams.

I learned to put my organic tea bags in the compost pile.

I skipped the outdoor shower for a week in the interest of saving water. Meanwhile, the men did their bit. They drank their bourbon neat to avoid wasting precious water.

For my birthday, we took a boat to the dump on nearby Man-O-War Cay. We must have had a good time – our garbage clanked. (Water might have been scarce, but booze was plentiful.) MOW has the world’s most picturesque dump. It even has a picnic table and landscaping.

We also went to Man-O-War’s only restaurant for a birthday lunch. The deep-fat fried conch was delicious. It’s probably the reason I sat in the front of the plane on the trip home.


NOTE: Photo by Marcia Talley.

February 24, 2009

Noodles Romanoff: Famous (and Tasty!) Russian Bank/Train Robber

Noodles Romanoff: Famous (and Tasty!) Russian Bank/Train Robber.

By Sarah

So, the other night, after putting in a 14-hour day at the law office, Charlie came home, kicked off his shoes by the fire and, as he's wont to do, lit into Dick Cheney. Yes, I know Dick in his black cape and Dick cane (to beat away orphaned children) left 34 days ago or so, but it was either Dick or the cat and our cat is way cuter. Eventually, Charlie wound up his lecture by concluding that our former vice president was akin to a famous Russian bank/train robber - Noodles Romanoff.

He said, "You know Noodles." Like Noodles worked at the local bank down on State Street.

I didn't know. Noodles Romanoff, as far as I was aware, was a sour cream fettuccine dish my mother made to accompany some cheap cut of beef that had been simmered for an eternity. It's the kind of food that kept my Lithuanian relatives slogging in the barren snow-covered fields foraging  for nutritious vodka berries. But not nearly as deadly as these. Is it bad that my mouth actually watered at the deep fried cupcake with chocolate syrup and sprinkles?

Meatloafandmac Anyway, being a dutiful wife and supportive friend, I kept on knitting and let Charlie continue his comparison of Dick Cheney to Noodles Romanoff, the famous bank/train robber from Russia. Meanwhile, I was flipping through my mental files. Who the hell was Noodles Romanoff?

I ran through all the Trotskyites, the bearded, goateed men I'd seen either in history books or police Trotsky photos, usually as corpses. Nothing registered.

Finally, I had to interrupt and ask who was Noodles Romanoff as I was pretty sure it was my mother's third Tuesday of the month side dish.

Charlie, as I feared, was aghast. This is the thing about our relationship and why I had to trick him into marriage. He's way better looking and in shape on a male scale than I am on a female one. Plus, he attended a fancy private school where they were reading Plato in ninth grade and then, eventually, the London School of Economics. He's traveled back and forth across the Soviet Union by train, lived and taught in Japan, and spent many moons in India. For pleasure, he reads books that won the Nobel Prize. I just finished an Agatha Christie, something to pass the time between Sophie Kinsellas. I'm a sucker for covers in pink.

"I can't believe you don't know who Noodles Romanoff is."

"As far as I knew," I said, bravely keeping my ground, "it's a side dish with noodles and sour cream. I Noodles romanoff think Lipton makes it."

"Well, where do you think Lipton got the name?" Clearly, trying to hide is shock and disappointment, his mortification that our children had inherited half their DNA from me, a non-Noodles Romanoff knowing person, he went to Wikipedia - the font of all modern knowledge - and typed in the name of the famous Russian bank/train robber.


Hmph. Showed how worthless Wikipedia was, he grumbled, Googling the entire universe looking for Noodles Romanoff. All that came up was the side dish. And this.

Noodles Romanoff 2 That's right. Turns out the famous Noodles Romanoff was the villain who attempted to kidnap the richest man in the world, a sheik, from Lasagna Airport in a Roger Ramjet cartoon. So much for Plato and all that.

Readers, there are few pleasures in life than besting one's spouse. One might say that after twenty years of marriage, proving one's superior knowledge is the rose on the pillow, the love note in the lingerie drawer. Victory is so delicious, so perfect, especially when it turns out that the source of the spouse's knowledge is a cartoon he used to watch in his Roy Rogers hat when he was six years old.

Sweet bliss.

Of course, the victory did not last long. Charlie was quick to recall the time I swore up and down that syphilis was the creation of the Greeks from screwing sheep and that it had, in fact, driven Socrates so insane he downed hemlock.

I think we're even. (Though, I might be a little bit ahead.)Socrates death

Okay. So when was the last time you bested your spouse or significant other? Don't worry, they don't read the blog. Spill!


February 23, 2009

Eavesdropping For Fun and Profit

Eavesdropping For Fun and Profit
By Lisa Daily

Maybe I watch too much television, but lately I seem to be seeing a lot of commercials for a kooky little device called the SILVER SONIC XL.

What is ithttp://image01.bizrate-images.com/resize?sq=140&uid=926904410?  It's a sound amplifier that looks almost exactly like one of those wireless phone earpieces often found perched on the ears of stockbroker and lawyer types.

The commercial opens with poor old granny, unable to hear the church bingo numbers being called, who misses her one big chance at the $25 jackpot because she can't quite make out the goll-durned numbers.

"I had it!" she wails in despair.

Cut to Grandpa, whose quality of life has taken a tragic turn for the worst -- he can't hear what the characters are saying on his favorite episode of LAW & ORDER, or maybe THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR, and has to continually beg irritated family members to turn up the damned TV, or at the very least shout each word of dialog in his general direction. 

Thank goodness for American ingenuity and an infomercial with the solution to all our problems.  Just strap the 'ol SILVER SONIC XL on your ear, crank it up, and suddenly, you can hear a pin drop from 90 feet away.

Not only that, you can use it to turn up the volume on old mother nature, so you can hear the musical sounds of the rare two-billed red beak snifferfinch on your next birdwatching expedition.

Grandma, Grandpa, get ready to live the good life.

If the commercial stopped here, as sort of a cheap fix ($19.95!) for those with hearing loss, or even as an aid to make birdwatching even more edge-of-your-seat thrilling, I'd be saying, hey, more power to ya.


The info-tastic infomercial tells us that the breakthrough SILVER SONIC isn't just for those with hearing loss, NO, you can use the SILVER SONIC to spy on your neighbors as well!

"And because it resembles a cellphone ear adaptor, no one will ever know that you have SONIC hearing!"

Cut to Frank the Letch, dreaming of a threesome, listening in on the three hot babes across the room. "Wow, he's SO HANDSOME.  And he just moved in to the building!"

Cut to Julie the suburban housewife unloading the groceries from the trunk of her brand new car, smiling smugly as she eavesdrops on two female neighbors chatting down the block, "Wow, another new car!  They must be doing really well!"

If Julie lived in my neighborhood, she'd be a lot more likely to hear, "who the hell buys a new car in this economy?"

Every time I see these commercials, I am reminded of one of my very favorite quotes,
"What you think of me is none of my business."

New Car Julie and Frank The Letch,  this means you.


February 22, 2009

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You!


NOTORIOUS, Michele's latest Melanie Vargas thriller, is coming out in paperback.  Buy it here, or win a free copy by clicking this link and e-mailing Michele with the answer to the question, "Who is the One True Bond?"  Correct answers will be placed in a cute sun hat from which the winning entry will be drawn.  (HINT: It ain't the blond guy.)

For more Melanie Vargas along with other thrilling and suspenseful crime tales, get ready for the fabulous anthology THE PROSECUTION RESTS, out in April and edited by the even more fabulous Linda Fairstein.  Pre-order your copy here.   

The Google Alert That Wasn't

The Tarts are delighted to welcome guest blogger Meredith Cole, winner of the 2007 St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition!  Meredith's winning book, POSED FOR MURDER, just came out.  Buy it here,and visit Meredith at her website or her blog.  (Before she began writing mysteries, Meredith wrote screenplays and directed feature films!)



The Google Alert That Wasn't

by Meredith Cole 

To get myself ready for the release of POSED FOR MURDER, I set up a "Google alert" for my name.  Anytime anyone reviews my book on the web, or mentions my name in a news story or blog, I get an email that tells me where I can find it.  I would be embarrassed about the whole thing if I hadn't found so many gems so far. 

It's the misfires that have proved most amusing.  Anytime "Meredith" and "Cole" are mentioned in a story or post, I am alerted.  I get alerted when somebody named Meredith posts about her son named Cole.  And I get the report on last night's game between the Cougars and the Spartans because somebody whose first or last name is Meredith and somebody whose first or last name is Cole are on the same high school basketball team.

But my favorite alert so far was when I found out I was a character in a movie -- THE FEAR INSIDE -- and a copy was for sale on Ebay.  Huh?  I've directed several feature films, so I thought at first it was just a mistake.  I clicked on the link and found out it was a made-for-TV movie that I missed when it aired in 1992.  Christine Lahti played a character named Meredith Cole, "an agoraphobic children's book illustrator."  Here's the plot summary from IMDB: my namesake is "trapped inside her home by two young psychos-in-love (Dylan McDermott and Jennifer Rubin), who terrorize her. It's only when her young son (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is threatened that she manages to overcome her paralyzing fear and leave her home to save him."

I don't know if the movie was good or not, but I thought the tag line was pretty funny.  Instead of "there's nothing to fear but fear itself," or something equally inspiring, it's "The greatest fear is . . . the fear inside."  I guess that's technically accurate, since our feelings of fear come from inside our brains, but I think anyone would (and should) be afraid if they suddenly had two terrorizing psychos in their house.

I know that writers routinely auction off character names at conventions, and readers bid on the honor of being in their books.  But I have never done it.  So I wonder how the filmmakers settled on my name given the million other possibilities out there.  Cole is a pretty common last name, but Meredith doesn't show up every day.  Perhaps they, like my parents, just thought the two names sounded good together.  But now I wonder about all those times somebody said my name sounded familiar.  Was it just because they'd seen the movie?

Has anyone else had strange Google alerts or had their "twin" show up when they least expected it?  I'd love to hear about it.

February 21, 2009

Charlotte Hughes is Passionate About Writing

TART NOTES: Award winning author Charlotte Hughes began her writing career publishing newspaper and magazine articles before becoming a New York Times best selling author. Charlott makes her home in Beaufort, S. C.  Best known for her FULL series with Janet Evanovich, she has written over 40 books, ranging for the 3 mysteries she wrote for Avon to Mira’s HOT SHOT.  Her newest release, NUTCASE centers on Atlanta psychologist Kate Holly and the humorous antics of her friends, family and patients. In the process she learns that the life of a psychologist is enough to drive anyone nuts





How to Stay Passionate About Your Writing

by Charlotte Hughes

        I don’t know about you, but I haven’t felt passionate about Charlotteredanything since Jiffy peanut butter came out with a low-fat brand.

        Seriously, though, we have to hold tight to the passion that led us to write in the first place. Nobody has ever succeeded in anything they didn’t feel passionate about. Famous actors, athletes, and visionaries like Bill Gates, and, yes, published authors would never have found the motivation to work tirelessly at what they do unless they first felt the desire in their hearts.

        I felt great passion when I set out to write my first book or I would never have found the courage to try. I would never have gone back to school, read dozens of how-to-write books, joined writers’ organizations and critique groups had I not believed. Nor would I have written long into the night while my family slept had I not cared so passionately about the characters in my head.

        But how does an author with a slew of published books to her credit keep that passion alive? It is too easy to become jaded in this industry. The enthusiasm and zeal we once felt is often clouded with deadlines, contracts, advance money, reviews, print-runs, sales figures, editors coming and going, and the list goes on and on. How do we keep that fire burning inside when the business of writing becomes so businesslike?

For me, it all comes down to my characters, people who inhabit my head, who have with a story to tell and who don’t particularly care about the state of the publishing industry. By the time they show up in my life, they are about to, or already have, been faced with life-altering challenges. A husband and wife separate, a child is missing, someone is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit or they’re in mortal danger. It’s my job to listen and record, and before long, they become living, breathing human beings with hopes and dreams and disappointments. They become so real to me that by the time I finished my story, I grieve their departure.

When I coauthored the FULL HOUSE series with Janet Evanovich, I lived with the major characters through six books and more than three years. Day after day, they were with me, as close as my fingertips on the keyboard. Sometimes they made me howl with laughter, other times they’d get themselves into a fix, and I had no idea how to get them out of it. When they were sad I was sad with them. Finishing the last book of that series left me drained and a little bereft. As I cleared my desk, I let go of them and the town in which they lived, and now, several years later, I like to think they all lived happily ever after.

Co-authoring the FULL HOUSE series prepared me to write one of my own, and it wasn’t long before new characters appeared; ready to share their lives with me.

Thus was born my CRAZY series, a story about female psychologist Kate Holly and her crazy family, friends, and patients. I had to smile. I knew Kate and I were going to have a good time getting to know each other. There was one problem. All Kate wanted was a normal life. But normal is boring, and I wanted to stir things up. So in the first book of the series, WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY, (Mar. 2008), I put Kate on the tenth floor of her office building with a wanna-be jumper.

In order to fall in love with your characters you have to know them inside-out. You have to know their history and what motivates them. You have to challenge them. When Kate’s story begins, she has been separated almost six months from her firefighter husband Jay Rush, the love of her life, because she constantly fears losing him to what she calls the Fire Gods. Kate has good reason to be afraid. Her father, also a firefighter, died in the line of duty when she was ten years old. It would have been easy to blame Jay for not changing careers, but how do you convince a man to walk away from a job when he genuinely cares about serving and protecting? A man who is deeply committed to saving lives?

How could I not find delight in the other characters that play important roles in Kate’s life? A kooky mother and aunt, twin sisters who still dress alike despite being in their mid-fifties, who run a junk business and are known as the Junk Sisters? How could I not adore Kate’s best friend and receptionist, Mona, a rich young widow who is determined to catapult Kate to fame so she can have her own TV show like Dr. Phil? And how about Kate’s old flame, psychiatrist Thad Glazer who wants her back in his life, his hot tub, and his bed? The two share patients and consult with each other. The only problem, Thad won’t help Kate out of a jam unless she describes the panties she’s wearing.

And then there is Kate’s zany patients. The only problem, one of them might just be trying to kill her!

        The second book of the series, NUTCASE, arriving in bookstores Feb. 24th, stole my heart as well. Although the books stand alone, the characters are ongoing and just as wacky, and there is always a good mystery and the chance that Kate might not make it out alive.

        Again, passion comes from the heart, and there is little logic involved. It doesn’t care if you make the lists. But if you’re passionate about your characters it will show in your work. Readers will become just as passionate as you are about the people in your stories, and when they do they’ll be in line for your next book and the one after that. How can you not succeed?

February 20, 2009

Plan Your Funeral

Plan Your Funeral

By Kathy Sweeney

Try not to get morbid - hear me out.  We've all been to funerals, so we know there are all kinds.  Yesterday, I went to a special one.  It was wonderful - and not just because of grand life of the recently ascended.

Her name is Dorothy Lewis-Kistler.  Everyone called her Dodo, or Dodes.  Her nearly two-year battle with cancer ended on Valentine's Day.  Make no mistake, she fought valiantly, with great courage and strength. But in the end, her adversary was more powerful than her earthly valor.  I like to think when that time came, Dodes called for the big guns.  I can almost see Michael and Gabriel, the Archangels, coming to take her Home, and kicking cancer's ass while they were at it.  Dodes is a woman of great faith, so in the end, she was victorious, even though her triumph took her from our sight.

Blog Tall ship Her sister spoke yesterday, and it was one of the most beautiful ways I've heard it explained.  Our loved ones are like the mighty Tall Ships - setting out, opening sails into the ocean's wind.  As the ship gets further from us, it appears to get smaller, but that's just our perspective.  She is really just as majestic as always.  And as we wave from our shore, shouting our good-bye's and waving until the tallest mast disappears over the horizon, we call: "There she goes!".  But before those last echoes return to us, the call is taken up on the other shore, as they point and shout and wave with great joy: "There she is - she's coming home!"  

Isn't that some wonderful imagery?  Trust our friend not to be satisfied with that - after the bible readings, Dodes herself appeared on a screen and began to talk as if she had just entered the room.  "You didn't think", she smiled, "that I'd pass up a chance to speak to a crowd like this, did you?"  She went on to talk about all the great blessings of her life, and how the end of her journey was made so much better with the love and support of her family and friends.

By the looks of her in the video, she had to have made it last fall, probably before Thanksgiving.  She was perfectly composed, and perfectly her funny, loving, smartass self.  I use the word smartass because one of the things I loved most about her is the fact that, although she is a very religious person, she still swears like a sailor.  She was a person who made people laugh.  Many will repeat the story I tell of our meeting, because their experience was the same with Dodes - within moments, I knew we would be friends.  She was a take-charge kind of person - a former elementary school teacher and an amateur actress.  She had a great voice, a great laugh, and a wit that could cut steel.

She told me last fall that she was planning her own funeral.  I laughed and teased her about control issues. Then I asked her if she needed musical selections from "Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs", which led to more fits of laughter.  Laughter takes energy - did you know that?  The closer we got to the end, the more easily tired she became, so the laughs became fewer.  We made them count.

Although there were lots and lots of tears at her funeral, there were also lots of laughs - big, hearty, joyous laughs.  I can almost here her say: "No shit - I planned it."

So consider this - what would you say at your funeral?  What songs would you choose? She chose "On Eagle's Wings" (Michael Crawford), "Amazing Grace" (a trumpet solo) and as her final song, "God of Wonders" - a contemporary song (my favorite is Third Day).  I'm listening to them now.

And what would you have people say about you?  You can't script that part - you have to live it.

As for me, I need to find a church that does cowbell.  Hah.  Just in case you miss my final appearance on earth - here is what I want you to know: I love you.  You make my life fuller and brighter.  You make me laugh and think and appreciate.  And I'm talking to all of you - even the friends I've never met. So I've got that goin' for me, which is nice.

Your turn.