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31 posts from April 2009

April 30, 2009

Lifetime Achievement

Lifetime Achievement

by Nancy Martin

Last weekend, I went to Florida to receive a Lifetime Achievement award from Romantic Times magazine.  It's the kind of recognition you get, maybe, when people figure you're over the hill, right? Next stop--my obituary? 

I hope the hell not. This particular award was for the mystery novel category--amateur sleuths, donchaknow--and I was nominated along with the likes of Edna Buchanan and Carolyn Hart, both of whom have been writing mysteries much longer (and better!) than I have. But in addition to solving crimes, my characters tend to take off their clothes and have wild monkey sex, which I think made the crucial difference to the RT folks, so I took home the statue.  (The statue looks a lot like Oscar, by the way, but smaller.  My daughter started calling him Humphrey, and it stuck. He's on my mantel at the moment.) 

Twenty-six years ago, I attended the very first Romantic Times convention in New York.  I was a young mother who was so desperate to avoid going back to teaching junior high English that during my maternity leave, I had pulled out my portable typewriter from college and tried writing a book--a long historical romance that was more Jane Eyre than bodice ripper--and by some miracle, I managed to sell it to a New York publisher. Trouble was, I didn't know anything about the publishing industry.  And I lived in a very rural, isolated part of Pennsylvania with no resources for an aspiring popular fiction writer, so I knew I needed help.  I spotted a tiny ad in a writing magazine that spurred me to send money to register for the first ever Romantic Times convention, which was going to feature agents, editors and publishers, plus a chance to meet other authors who would surely help a newbie. 

I packed my Samsonite and went to New York for the very first time.  The hotel was crowded with women like me--all a little intimidated, but eager to learn more.  It was also thronged with panting media (the goddesses at Romantic Times have always known how to draw a crowd of reporters) who were ready with cameras to record what they obviously thought was a silly bunch of women making fools of themselves over love stories.

Well, 26 years later, who's smirking now?  Romance novels sell 1.375 BILLION DOLLARS EVERY YEAR. Romance Writers of America is the go-to writers organization in the world. (If you don't know exactly what a romance novel is, go here.  And if you don't keep an open mind, more the fool you are.) And I know fans who keep spread sheets of the books they've read (Debby, are you there?) and timetables for books that will be soon released. This genre may be single-handedly keeping the publishing business alive.

After my first workshop at that long-ago RT convention (I took frantic notes during Bertrice Small's session on historical research) I worked up the courage to approach the woman who was going to publish my first book in a few months' time.

She shook my hand rather coldly and said, "Oh, I remember that book.  I didn't like it.  But we'll publish it anyway."

I would have been devastated by her cruel remark, if I hadn't found myself standing in the center of a phenomenon---that exciting convention of women just like me. 

From the very beginning, Romantic Times magazine set out to create a supportive community of writers and readers.  (The close interaction with readers, I think, has always made the romance genre more quick to respond to the market. Surely one of the genre's strengths.) RT's staff of reviewers has been unapologetic about their love of romance and encouraged fans to branch out and read widely.  The enthusiasm generated by the RT organization has surely been a part of that $1.3 billion in sales. And they have pried open closed minds with a silk-covered crowbar. (What became of that cold publisher, you ask?  Well, she's no longer with us on this earthly plane. And I've written nearly 50 books since the day she tried to cut my heart out.)

I have been very grateful for what Romantic Times has done for me for these 26 years. Oh, it's nice to receive an award, and Humphrey's going to stay on my mantel for a while, but I'm much more thankful that Kathryn Falk, Carol Stacy and the rest of the RT staff have created a community where writers like me can flourish.

I'm skipping the Malice Domestic convention this week, and I don't plan on attending the Edgar festivities next week, either. I'll miss the fun, of course. But I'm not heartbroken. Because my homeys are at Romantic Times.

PS.  You can find us on Twitter now!  Look for Lipstickblog. I think.

April 29, 2009

A Shocking Marriage Proposal


A Shocking Marriage Proposal

By Elaine Viets

When the honeymoon was over, would you still live with the man you love?

Does for better or worse mean every hour, every day?

The rich have worked it out so they can retreat to separate quarters in monster mansions. They can afford to preserve a sense of mystery in their marriages. For the poor, the only option seems drastic – divorce.

In my latest Dead-End Job mystery, "Killer Cuts," Helen Hawthorne is planning to marry Phil, the love of her life. They currently live in adjoining apartments at the Coronado Tropical Apartments. The question is: Where will they live after the wedding? They don’t want to leave the comfort of the Coronado.

Phil asks, "Have we decided where we’re going to live? Your place or mine?"

"Both," Helen said. "We only have a total of four rooms together."

"Including two kitchens," Phil said.

"We could make my kitchen into a sitting room – or a closet," Helen tells him. "I rarely use it except for making coffee. What if we keep both apartments for now and run back and forth to them? They’re right next door, anyway. It will give our marriage a nice illicit feel until we get used to holy wedlock. When we tire of commuting, we can move in together. But we’ve both been single for a long time. I think we still need the safety of separate retreats."

Phil went to the heart of the matter, to the one thing they cannot really share: Helen’s cat. "Where will Thumbs sleep?"

"Wherever he wants," Helen said. "Probably with you, since you bribe my cat with shrimp."

Helen and Phil won’t be the only literary couple with separate quarters. For better or worse, readers have Robert Parker’s detective Spenser and his lady love, Susan, a woman some readers find so irritating they can’t figure out why Spencer hooked up with her in the first place. Spenser and Susan have separate homes, but share a dog, Pearl. Their romance seems just fine.

Consider the advantages of post-marital separate residences: He won’t see you stumble out to the kitchen for breakfast in a ratty bathrobe.

She won’t hear your bathroom noises.

At night, you’ll get the whole bed when you feel like sprawling. You can snore like a drunken trucker, without a spousal elbow urging you to turn over.

You can retreat to your personal space when you feel grumpy or greet your loved one with a smile and a fresh face when you are feeling sociable.

And if the man you love wants that god-awful plush recliner and a flat screen television big enough for a multiplex, he can keep it in his livingroom.

If she loves ruffles and lace and you prefer a more manly decor, she can have them at her place. And hang her pantyhose in her shower, not yours. And you’ll leave the seat up on the toilet, damn it.

I realize separate residences won’t work for couples with children – or maybe it will. (You, Dad, take the kids this weekend, all weekend, and let me catch up on my sleep.) It will be a foretaste of what happens if there’s a serious split.

What’s your feeling, TLC readers? Does for better or worse mean you live with your love all day and all night? If you divorced, would you have stayed married if you’d had a room of your own? If you’re married, would a little distance improve your love life?

Is Helen’s separate residences proposal a good one? Or is learning to live with someone an essential ingredient to successful marriage?


KillerCuts Elaine Viets begins her "Killer Cuts" tour tomorrow at the Malice Domestic conference in Arlington, Va.,  leaving her husband of 37 years to enjoy single bliss.

For tour dates and details on her eighth Dead-End Job mystery, check out www.elaineviets.com

April 28, 2009

Cell Phone Swine

Cell Phone Swine

By Sarah (Who has an updated website - check it out!)

Okay, confession time. I kept my kids home from school yesterday.

Why? Because the seniors went to Mexico last week during spring break and no one at the school Swine seemed particularly concerned when the doors reopened yesterday. Also, my youngest - a stick thin vegetarian - was recovering from yet another sickness and, frankly, I had images of him wasting away like my great uncle did in the Flu of 1918 when he died at the precious age of 20.

Go ahead. Make fun of me. I slept a little easier the night before knowing I was taking precautions. As it turned out, six kids from the Mexico trip stayed home on self-imposed quarantine while three others went to school. This isn't any old flu, by the way. I sense an urgency that goes beyond the common cold. But maybe I'm hysterical. (Don't say it!) Or maybe I'm realistic.

I might also be tired. That trip to Philly to look at Bryn Mawr with Anna was more draining than it had to be because of my car problems though, in retrospect, I wouldn't have changed a thing. Sure, Bryn Mawr has a beautiful campus, but the highlight of the trip for me was the four hours I spent in the service department of Autosport Honda in Bridgewater, NJ.

I miss Jersey where I lived for three years as a young reporter. I miss the "hey lady" attitude that is both Jersey smoke stacks insulting and kind of familiar.

My mother used to say you could get a lot of mileage as a middle-aged housewife from Pennsylvania and I've found that's still true at least for middle-aged housewives from Vermont. Those mechanics took one look at me and my I Heart Mr. Darcy (thank you, Ramona!) bumper sticker on the back of my blunderbuss, they heard my tale of woe taking my oldest daughter to college and they got on the stick. They didn't have the part but, hey, an hour's drive and they could get it. So Anna would have to wander around the campus for a day. Big whoop!

Robert parkerI didn't have a computer, but I did have my iPhone which I used to death to email the Tarts and look at a map and even read a Robert Parker novel. (I'm sorry, but is there any voice more comforting than Robert Parker's?) And when I wasn't doing that, I was listening in on other people's phone conversations.

What is it about cell phones that causes location amnesia for their users? You'd think these people were in the privacy of their own bedrooms (or, in one case, bathroom) the way they spill forth personal information, loudly. The most amusing conversation overheard in the Honda Service waiting room involved a muscled young man with tattoos and went something like this:

"Yeah. She's got a kid...about three. How old's mine? I dunno. Gotta think. Two is my guess. Uh, huh. So what I'm gonna do is on one of her visitation days when she's got the kid....Oh, how old? Twenty three. Twenty two maybe. Anyway, I'm gonna go over and get ice cream. Take her for a walk or something. Is that sensitive?"


"You're shitting me. One of those things could take your whole arm off. No, man. I swear to God. I saw a whole thing about it on TV. Hell, yes, I'd kill for a tank of piranhas."Piranha

Another pause.

"Yeah, it's almost grown out. Doesn't stink as much, either?"


He was amusing until the conversation ran into hour two when I turned my attention to the helicopter mother slicing and dicing each one of her daughter's friends with razor sharp mercilessness. The book she was reading? Generation Text. Her major concern? Whether or not her daughter would become a cheerleader? Her reference, The Christian Parents Guide to Movies.

You learn a lot in a Honda service department.

Keep healthy!


April 27, 2009

Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy

by Harley

I just returned from the notorious Romantic Times Convention, always blogworthy—until now. This year I observed no drunken fairies, no mating on the dance floor at the Ellora’s Cave event, no goths shooting up at the Vampire Ball. There were no tantrums thrown by the male cover models, no vomiting at authors’ alley, nobody planting erotic bookmarks in spaces assigned to inspirationals. Wigs stayed on skulls, busts stayed in bustiers, wings stayed wung. I did not get stuck in an elevator. CIMG0634 Our own Nancy Martin and Lisa Daily won well-deserved awards and delivered delightful acceptance speeches. Joe Konrath, Rob Brown, Jim Born and Barry Eisler were not tackled by hordes of middle-aged women and forced to do unspeakable acts.


[here, Alexandra Sokoloff & I attempt it, with James O. Born, who ruthlessly fights us off.]

Two possible factors explain this strangely conflict-free event:

A.   Me, Margie, did not attend this year;

B.    Nancie-the-Gun-Tart did—and she was armed.

I had several educational encounters, 3 with cover models, one with a man who attended my panel. He came up to me afterwards to comment on something I’d said.

“Do you realize,” he asked, “how cringe-inducing that is, to describe a character as being ‘Mr. Right, despite being married, short, and a convicted felon’?”

 “Sorry,” I said. “Which part was cringe-inducing?”

“ ‘Short.’”

Okay, I should’ve explained that the character in question was short in relation to Wollie, my 6-foot heroine, who lies about her height. Instead I’d used—shorthand.

But this man had a point. Years ago on a panel I described some oafish character as bald, to the dismay of a hair-free man in the audience--so now I avoid the “B” word. Last week I heard myself mention a “trio of Eastern European misfits” -- then worried about my former Soviet Union readership. Just now in this blog I’ve lost the Felons & Adulterers audience. Yes, people are touchy, but I really don’t want to offend anyone, so by all means, let me know what your own particular area of offendability is, before I go back out on the road next week. 

My other educational conversation took place walking past the hotel’s duck pond with an author named Jaye Wells, who writes Urban Fantasy. I love that term! I’ve decided I want to do it too, because, “I write Urban Fantasy” sounds far more hip than “my books are humorous mysteries,” or “I’m on the chick lit panel” or worst of all, ‘I write romantic cozies,’ which suggests little old ladies solving mysteries while knitting and flirting with the vicar. (Apologies to the elderly, knitters and vicars.) 

I’m not exactly sure what Urban Fantasy is (I’m reading Jaye’s book) but here are some of my preliminary urban fantasies. Or suburban fantasies. (I have rural fantasies too, but can’t figure out how to turn “bunnies that don’t need to be in hutches” into a compelling and sexy novel.)

  1. A parallel universe wherein the 101 and 405 freeways are traffic-free, even during rush hour.
  2. A character whose clone arises each night when she goes to bed, and heads to the gym for aerobics, weight-training and yoga, so my heroine can look fabulous even as she wolfs down chocolate during her waking hours.
  3. A Household Robot who cooks, arbitrates the children’s disputes, and vacuums. Household Robot must come assembled, and there must be no instruction manual or CD tutorial, no remote or Bluetooth or BluRay or Facebook page. Household Robot does not Twitter. Household Robot talks to me in a mellifluous deep male voice with a British accent. Especially, Household Robot never tells me I look tired. And can pack and unpack suitcases.

Happy Monday!



April 26, 2009

Shopping Impaired Males


Shopping Impaired Males

By Elaine Viets

My husband Don has demonstrated considerable courage during our marriage. He’s faced a wild father-in-law. He’s demanded doctors and health insurance companies tell him exactly what’s going on. He’s negotiated with bill collectors.

There’s only one time when his nerve fails him: Don is afraid of a special shopping assignment.

He will go to the drugstore without complaint. He enjoys shopping at the supermarket. But give him a special assignment and he’s terrified.

I’ve tried reason. "What am I going to do if you fail?" I ask. "Divorce you for bringing home the wrong brand of strawberry jelly?"

"You don’t understand," he’ll say. "You’ll want the all-fruit kind and they’ll only have strawberry jam. So I’ll ask an employee to find what you want and soon the entire staff is hunting for it and it’s not there. The minute you ask for an item, it disappears from the shelf."

Education is the only answer. In this scene from "Killer Cuts," my new Dead-End Job mystery, Helen Hawthorne sends Phil, her husband-to-be, for a jar of cold cream. Helen needs to remove a mustache she drew on her face with waterproof eyeliner. She’s hiding after she found a murder victim.

Phil, like Don, shares the same horror of shopping. Here’s the scene from "Killer Cuts."

Phil Goes to the Drugstore: A Study in Terrror

"Can we get off the highway and stop at a drugstore?" Helen asked.

"Are you sick?" Phil said.

"I feel all right. But unless you want me wearing a mustache for our wedding, I’d better remove this fast. I used waterproof eyeliner. I need some cold cream."

"Do drugstores carry cream?" Phil said. "I could get you half-and-half at the supermarket."

"Not that kind of cream," Helen said. "Face cream, like Pond’s. For removing makeup. It comes in a jar."

Phil had many fine qualities, but the man was shopping impaired. Still, he edged into the slow lane and turned off the interstate toward U.S. 1, prepared to brave the stores.

"There’s a Walgreens," Helen said.

"I can go in and ask for it," Phil said. "But aren’t they going to look at me funny?"

"It’s Florida," Helen said. "Nothing is weird here. Say you’re buying it for your mother. Or you’re an actor."

"Well, okay," Phil said. "But won’t you come in with me?"

"We’re supposed to be traveling under the radar," Helen said. "We drove all the way north to the Wellington Green mall to use a pay phone to report Mireya’s murder. The cops should be at Three Palms by now. If they’ve interviewed the neighbors, the curtain twitcher could mention the person searching Mireya’s car trunk had a mustache. If I walk into this store with a smeared painted-on mustache, someone will notice. I’ll be on the store’s video."

"Okay," Phil said. But he still sounded reluctant. He squared his shoulders and marched into the drugstore, like a gunslinger facing a bar packed with surly bikers. He ran back out ten minutes later with a bag. "Is this right?"

Helen took out the jar of Pond’s cream. "Perfect," she said.

"You don’t know what it was like in there," he said. "They didn’t just have Pond’s cold cream. They had a nourishing moisturizer pack, some towelettes coated with the stuff, and an anti-wrinkle cream I didn’t get because you don’t have wrinkles."

Helen interrupted him with a quick kiss. "Thank you," she said.

"I finally settled on Pond’s Classic. I figured that was like Coke Classic. I couldn’t go wrong with the original. Did I do right?"

"You did right," Helen said. "I didn’t realize I was putting you through that."

"You women have no idea what men go through in stores," Phil said. "You think it’s simple to run in and pick up something. But whenever I go, the store is out of the item you want, or they don’t carry that brand but they carry something similar, or –"

"It’s over," Helen said. "You survived the ordeal."

NOTE: "Killer Cuts," the eighth Dead-End Job book, goes on sale in May in hardcover. "Clubbed to Death," the seventh Dead-End Job mystery, is now published in paperback. Elaine Viets will be touring 13 cities to sign and talk.

For details, check out www.elaineviets.comClubbed.to.death

April 25, 2009

Only Your Hairstylist Knows

KillerCuts Only Your Hair Stylist Knows

By Elaine Viets

Unless you shave your head or you’re bald, you probably have a hair stylist. And your hair stylist knows a few secrets – about your hair, your job, your life, or your love life. I’m fascinated by the secret world of the hair salon, and thought it would make a good setting for a murder mystery.

After all, death is ultimate secret.

That’s how the hair-raising tale of “Killer Cuts,” was born.

Here’s your own personal secret from “Killer Cuts.” Kim Hammond, the book’s supermodel, is really a supergenerous person who made a healthy donation to charity to see her name in “Killer Cuts.” You’ll meet her in Chapter 1. She didn’t even ask to be a nice person for her money. In fact, Kim is a bit of a snip, if you’ll pardon the pun.

 To read the first chapter with Kim, go to http://www.elaineviets.com/pages/novels/killer.asp

“Killer Cuts,” my eighth Dead-End Job mystery, has two hair-raising weddings and a murder. This time, Helen Hawthorne works at a salon where a haircut and color cost $300, while she plans her garden wedding to Phil.

Meanwhile, she works with Mario the hair stylist at the colossally crass wedding of gossip blogger King Oden – with murderous results.

Publishers Weekly says, “Viets keeps the action popping until the cliff-hanging ending.”

For “Killer Cuts,” I go on the road April 30, and tour some 13 cities through June 15.

The tour kicks off May 1 at Malice Domestic, the sweetheart of traditional mystery conferences, and ends June 15 with a benefit at the “Book Talk Cafe” at Ponte Vedra, Florida.

I travel from Arlington, Virginia, to Arlington, Texas, and points in between. I hope to meet TLC backbloggers at these events. Remember, if you IOCHFTS – “Killer Cuts” is your your kind of book. The mystery is pretty good, too.

I’ll be speaking at benefits for Friends of the Libraries in Florida and Texas. I have traditional bookstore signings in Annapolis, Maryland; Delray Beach, Florida; and St. Louis. There are flying stops at airports in Washington DC and Dallas-Fort Worth. Plus visits to the fabulous Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, Pa., and the Mystery Florida Conference in Sarasota.

Can’t make a signing? Call and order “Killer Cuts” ahead of time. Tell the store how you’d like me to sign your book.

Oh, one more thing. “Clubbed to Death,” my seventh Dead-End Job, is now out in paperback.

 For more information, tour dates and details, go to www.elaineviets.com.

April 24, 2009

Neighborhood Joints

Neighborhood Joints

By Kathy Sweeney, who still misses Bruno's

Even though we're all eating out at restaurants less these days, we still have our favorites.  One of ours is closing this weekend, so I've been thinking about places from my past and present.

Blog Brunos Growing up, it was Brunos - an Italian restaurant with checkered table clothes, candles in the Chianti bottles, and great red sauce (which still tastes the same).  Other places came and went in our college town, but Brunos remains.

In college, it was the local pizza shop, where I first developed a love for tuna hoagies, because they were cheap and good and one can only eat so much pizza.  My first real job was in a building that also housed a tavern.  I don't remember much about the food, but the drinks and the company were top shelf.

I would not have passed the bar exam without the hot vegetarian sandwiches from Hot Licks in Shadyside, which is gone now, replaced by a Gap or something non-edible.

Blog Square Cafe My current neighborhood's best is The Square Cafe - love the place, but it's only open from 7 am to 3 pm, so don't dawdle on those lazy weekend days. We do have a great Thai place, and Dunnings Grill is a neighborhood anchor.

One of the many things I love about Pittsburgh is that our city has terrific neighborhoods, and we live near enough to most of them to become attached to their restaurants.  This weekend, Ma Provence is closing. It's amazing we even had it as long as we did.  Chef Eric, who recently lost his battle with cancer, opened a little place here after his time at Le Bec-Fin (a fantastic restaurant in Philly).  We stumbled in one winter night after hearing friends rave about it, and loved it.  I'm not normally a big fan of French cooking, but everything at Ma Provence was fresh and light and wonderful.  I even developed a taste for escargot, even though I was really only in it for the garlic-butter broth, which would probably taste fine on a shoe, but is amazingly good on fresh bread.

We hear that they sold it to someone who is going to make it into a sandwich shop.  Sigh.  The only thing that neighborhood needs less than another sandwich shop is another coffee shop.

Blog Ma Provence So adieu to Ma Provence, where we had some wonderful meals with wonderful friends and family.  In these economic times, it's important to support our local places - most are family owned and staffed, and your business is important to them.

And if you're ever in Regent Square, let me know and I'll meet you at The Square Cafe!

Please share your favorite neighborhood places for food, drink and good company - we're always looking for someplace new!

April 23, 2009

Shopaholics on the Loose

Shopaholics on the Loose

by Nancy  Go to fullsize image

I don't know about you, but my credit cards spent the winter in hibernation.  This savings plan was easy because I was in The Hole writing a book. I wrote, paid off my debts and watched the stock market plunge.  Apparently, I was not alone.  We're in the Age of Austerity, in case a few CEOs still haven't noticed yet.

But now it's spring.  Are your sweaters shapeless from so many washings? Like me, have you put on a few extra pounds, so last year's summer clothes don't fit?  (I'm still swimming regularly, honest, for those who are also on the fitness kick.)  Well, this week I must finally do some book-related (and therefore tax-deductible!) travel---to sunny Florida.  (In fact, by the time you read this, I'll be on my way to the RT convention in Orlando.) And I needed something to wear. So I pulled the plastic out of mothballs.

For the first time in months, I went shopping.  The kind of shopping you do alone, with a bottle of water, a protein bar, clothes with no buttons and slip-off shoes.  A precision-strike retail rampage in which a credit card can be rendered into a sizzling lump of melted plastic in a couple of hours. 

I decided to skip my usual pricey boutique (since, I swear, I'm losing those extra pounds!) and instead I visited a few  budget-friendly stores, because who wants to buy expensive stuff that you won't wear once the diet starts working? I went into a store that calls itself a Barn.  Until now, I found the name pretty unappealing because, really, who wants to look like you got dressed in a barn? (Kind of like patronizing a steak house that calls itself Hoss's. I mean, does anyone else wonder what exactly is that chunk of meat on the plate?) But my daughter (the one who has more in her savings account than her father and I do) urged me to swallow my prejudices and take a look inside the Barn.  What did I notice? First of all, everything was on sale. And they were handing out coupons at the door. And their merchandise was pretty darn good.

I went berserk. A drunken sailor couldn't have spent money faster than I did. And I was only getting warmed up! After the Barn, I hit a couple more budget-friendly stores, and you can rest assured that our nation may no longer need any more stimulus packages, because I have boosted the economy, all by myself.  When I counted up the damage, I had 5 new pairs of capri pants, a pair of white slacks, two pairs of sandals, a bracelet I didn't need and a lime green skirt.  When my head cleared, I decided nobody really needs a lime green skirt, so that one's definitely going back.  (I am the Queen of Returns.) So are most of the capri pants. I think.  At least, that's the plan at the moment. Because truly, if you have a lot of clothes in the big size there's less incentive to lose the extra pounds, right?

So tell me.  Have you been leaving your credit cards at home all winter? Are you ready to bust 'em out again? 

Well, before you grab your car keys, take a look at your most recent credit card statement. Because I was late on a payment last summer (I had foot surgery and then pneumonia, so my wits were scrambled) my interest rate was raised to 23%--which I happened to notice in a tiny addendum at the end of the nearly microscopic fine print on my statement.  And my mother--who always pays off her balance no matter what--suddenly had her $25K credit limit cut by half. Why? No clue. No notice. (And why did the credit card company choose her, of all people?  Because she's never gone near that credit limit in her life! Who's minding that particular bank??) 

Time magazine says 49% of us are spending less on clothing. 63% of us have cut back on entertainment.  I have to think these percentages are much higher, because I don't know anybody who's spending what they used to spend on anything!  Perhaps the more interesting statistic is that 30% of us have failed to pay a bill on time.  I'm glad to know I'm not alone, but it doesn't sound good, does it? My neighbor's house has been for sale for a year. Another couple in our 'hood are putting off their divorce until their investments improve. Bottom line? I think those of us in Middle America are finally discovering our economy stinks.

Are you shopping more at the big box discount stores? (If so, has anyone else noticed that Scott toilet paper has become a nearly useless product? Because it breaks down--uh--on contact. The package says it's "distributed" from Wisconsin, but is it made in China, perhaps?) Have you been serving pasta at least one extra night a week to keep your grocery bill down? Have you noticed that most stores have stopped issuing those 25%-off coupons in favor of those buy-something-today-and-we'll-give-you-a-discount-on-your-next-trip promises? Are you buying new shoes this season? A new handbag? Or making do with last year's model? 

And let's not even talk about cars.  My husband's lease is up in August, so we're going to be forced to start shopping for a big ticket item, but we're seriously considering finding ourselves something old and cheap, and we'll baby it until (if!) this economy improves.

The only product that's selling well right now in the US?  You guessed it.  Guns.  Although I hear the sales of romance novels are on the upswing, too.  (I'll find out tomorrow at the convention.)

So our economy looks a lot different than it did a year ago. Let's do an informal TLC economy poll.  What have you noticed that's changed? And what adjustments have you made in your household? And if you have any tips for saving dough, let me know.  My credit card bill is going to set me back this month.

April 22, 2009

And the Winner Is

And the Winner Is...

Karen from Ohio.

Blog Killer Cuts The Tarts asked Me, Margie, to judge the break down contest.  Although the competition was stiff - Jerry and the Pancakes - whoa - the winner has gotta be Karen from Ohio.

Because it's not every damn day that a car break-down leads directly to a marriage break-up.  Just sayin'.

Karen wins a copy of Elaine's new book, Killer Cuts.  Way to go, Karen - you can contact Elaine directly to send her your address.  Because I'm telling you, ya just don't want to post it up here for everyone to see.  There are freakazoids out there.

Congrats and thanks to everyone for all the great stories!

Ben Franklin Ruined my Life as a Cougar


Ben Franklin Ruined My Life as a Cougar

By Elaine Viets

Thanks a lot, Ben. I would have enjoyed meeting you, back in 1745. You didn’t have the leading man looks of Thomas Jefferson, but you were smart and funny, and that counts for a lot with me.

But did you have to put your "Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress" in writing? Because I’ve been getting the condensed version since I turned forty, and I’m tired of hearing it.

Ben wrote what should have been the ultimate cougar manifesto when he advised a younger man that an older mistress is a better choice. Older women don’t get pregnant, he said. A decent man is not ruining the life or the reputation of a young, marriageable woman. (That used to be important.) And if a man can overlook a few sags and wrinkles, "the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement."

Bartender, a fresh Cosmo for our Founding Father, who preached safe, rollicking sex without ageism.

All would have been well, if Ben’s words had been left alone. But some wag reduced Ben’s advice to a sign which hangs in hundreds of bars. It says, among other things, that older women "don’t swell, don’t tell, don’t yell and they’re so grateful."

Those are the words that haunt me in my cougar years. Because the kind of younger man who tries to pick me up hasn’t read the essays of Ben Franklin. He’s read the bar sign. And he’s dumb enough to think I’ll be flattered by those words.

During Spring Break, Florida beaches are infested with drunken, hungover college men who see themselves as cougar hunters. Alas, Clive Owen look-alikes are not running loose in Lauderdale. The cougar hunters are more like Opie in Mayberry RFD – young, pale, callow, with muscles in their abs, chests and heads. Visions of beer and double cheeseburgers (paid for by me) are dancing in their sweet, empty heads. They have fantasies of being the next Ashton Kutcher, the man who married the much older, richer Demi Moore.

The Ashton Kutcher Wannabe is as suave as a fraternity beer bust. Here is a sadly typical conversation:

"Can I walk with you, ma’am?"

"No." That refusal would have discouraged most men. But a cougar hunter will endure almost any discomfort for the prospect of free food and beer.

The AKW ignores my wish to walk alone. He says, "I like a woman with experience."

Silence. I brace myself, knowing what’s coming next.

"Ben Franklin had it right, you know, when he wrote that thing," the AKW says.

"You mean, ‘Fart Proudly’?" I ask, sweetly.

The AKW looks scandalized. Cougars aren’t supposed to know about that F-word. AKWs have no sense of humor.

"That’s the popular name for Franklin’s notorious essay, ‘A Letter to a Royal Academy,’ calling for a serious scientific investigation into flatulence," I say.

"No, that other thing he wrote." The AKW looks scared. Good.

"Oh, Ben Franklin’s seven reasons for having an affair with an older woman."

AKW looks a little brighter, which isn’t too difficult. I go in for the kill. "Which some idiot reduced to ‘Don’t tell, don’t yell, don’t swell and they’re so grateful.’ It now hangs in zillions of bars. "

"Uh, yeah. That one."

It is time to end this cruel game and quit toying with the AKW like a cougar with a fresh rabbit. I make sure I’m stationed in front of the lifeguard stand before I deliver the killing blow.

"I’m not interested," I say. "I’m not grateful. Your main advantage is that you are young, and I don’t find young men all that interesting. Find yourself a nice college woman who will appreciate you. Have a good time with someone your own age."

"But – " The AKW is not ready to give up his dream.

"Beat it, kid," I snarl, "or I’ll scream and that lifeguard over there will come running out and call the cops."

The young man lopes alone down the beach. I hope, on behalf of cougars everywhere, that he will hit on a wild bikini his own age.