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30 posts from June 2009

June 30, 2009

(F)lame Twitter

TART NOTE: Thank you! to all who ordered THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB. Like most authors, I treasure each reader and, trust me, I do not take your purchase for granted. Hope you find it worthwhile...


(F)lame Twitter

Late to the internet party, most New York publishers now heartily embrace the era of digitaTwitterl communication. It started with webpages - we authors were encouraged to get them - and then the much touted, and over pixilated, "E-cards" inviting readers to come to signings or buy new books. Then came blogs - hello and welcome to TLC - and from there the speed picked up. Myspace. Live Journal. Facebook. Twitter. Suddenly, there were a million ways to connect with readers, filling in the gaps between books as fast as we possibly could.

For some of us natural procrastinators, twiddling around with the World Wide Web suited our distracted brains just fine. I started a "Bubblesheads" listserve back when you had to type in inordinately long addresses just to log on and recently my Cinderella Pact moved off the Yahoo! groups to Facebook where we found, lo and behold, a Cinderella Pact group already in existence.

I could happily chat all day with readers, many of whom have become friends, about news events or recipes or how to remove mold from the shower. (See a hint below on that one.) Hanging around the water cooler was never my problem; sitting down and concentrating was.

For other authors, however, the web continues to pose something of a dilemma. Perhaps because they've been holed up in a garrett writing or reading books four hours a day as Stephen King suggests, they still have not quite grasped the electric quickness of something like Twitter. With dire results.

Alice hoffman Take the case of renowned bestseller Alice Hoffman who, in a fit over what she considered to be a lame review by Roberta Silman for the Boston Globe, made the unfortunate decision to not only lambaste the reviewer on Twitter, but also to publish Silman's phone and address urging loyal readers to register their outrage personally.

According to the Christian Science Monitor who got it from Gawker, Hoffman also published the following ""tweets."

• “Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away.”

• “Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?”

• “Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shut. We don’t have to.”

• “My single bad review in my hometown. This is a town where a barking dog is the second top story on the news.”

• “No wonder there is no book section in the Globe anymore – they don’t care about their readers, why should we care about them.”

Now, far be it from me to scoff at Hoffman. In my naivete long, long ago, I excoriated a former newspaper editor of mine for a pretty harsh review of my first book - Bubbles Unbound. It was the book whose advance allowed me to quit said newspaper and I was certain that the review was meant as retribution, as a take down of one of their own. Probably was. But I was wrong in calling him up. Would have been much better to ignore it and move on, as I have with other bad reviews. The way I look at it, a review is a review. It's my name in the paper and for that I'm on my knees in gratitude.

Moreover, once on this very blog, I tossed off a careless remark about being disappointed that a certain individual in the bookselling business greeted one of my books coolly. This, too, revealed the same ignorance about the internet as Hoffman showed when she hopped on Twitter. She was not sending a nasty note to her friend across a classroom. She was telling several hundred people. (Hard to know since she cancelled her account.) They then told a thousand who then told a thousand times that and now I'm telling you.


And I can understand her peeve about the plot - that's my complaint with a number of customer reviews on Amazon. I was reading Nantucket Nights by Elin Hildebrand, went to Amazon to read what other customers thought, and all the plot twists were revealed with a review that posted no spoilers alert. I filed a complaint with Amazon, but have heard nothing since. 

But I never demanded to know "who" a reviewer was. As it turns out, Roberta Silman is a74-year-old award-winning writer and novelist. Perhaps this is why other reviewers are furious and why unpublished authors, especially, rage in resentment. Hoffman is a talent. No one can dispute that. So one might have expected a little less arrogance.

Underlying this whole hoo-ha is the delicious realization that even with a massive audience and Oprah holding her coat, a bad review stings. Danielle Steele and Nora RobertDanielles shrug and go on - or so they say - and because of that they seem, to me, like goddesses. I imagine them slipping another sheet of paper into the typewriter and plugging on as their bank accounts fill to bursting, as their readers beg for more.

Since then she's apologized, sort of. But like a lot of public apologies these days, the damage has been done.

Why does she even read her reviews? If I were she, I simply wouldn't care.

Entertainment Weekly, by the way, had a great footnote to this story. Turns out author Richard Ford once shot a book - I mean, literally, shot it with a gun - written by someone who panned one of his own books. The shot-down author? Alice Hoffman.

Talk about Karma.

One thing's for sure - that's going to be the best read review this week in the Boston Globe. Read it and see what you think. Was Alice right? Did Roberta Silman give away huge chunks of the plot? Was Hoffman right to take action? Or do authors - or anyone who puts him or herself in the public eye - need to suck it up and move on?


P.S. THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB, a story about a shopaholic who has to save up for a divorce, Penny pinchers comes out Thursday. Now don't make me come to your house and knock on the door begging, people. This book may not be of Hoffman's caliber, but it does have fun characters, sex, tension and even money-saving tips. Also great reviews. Though I promise here and now that when the bad reviews come in - as they will - I will keep my hands off the keyboard.

PPS - The household tip. Nearly forgot - spray hydrogen peroxide onto mildew. Kills the mold and breaks down quickly into hydrogen and oxygen so it's not bad for the environment. Bleach, people tell me, simply turns mildew white. (Though, I'm not quite sure that's a bad thing.)

June 29, 2009

Man showers, faux fireplaces and a doorbell that chimes the theme from “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

Man showers, faux fireplaces and a doorbell that chimes the theme from “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

By Lisa Daily

“We’re buying the ugly house,” I informed my husband tearfully as I followed the real-estate agent back to her office.

My husband was inconveniently (for me, lucky for him) stuck at a conference in Washington DC in a convention center with sketchy cell phone reception. And I, six months pregnant and toting our cranky three year-old, was speed-shopping for real-estate.

“What’s the difference if I’m there or not?” he’d joked. “You’re just going to talk me into buying the one you like anyway.  Why not eliminate the middle-man?”

He had a point.

My husband had been promoted, and our family was being relocated. Or maybe, dislocated.  I had just two short days to find our new home.   And I was dragging our potty-training-in-progress toddler along for the ride.

After several years of living in the frozen North, we were finally moving back to the South, and buying our very first home. Granted, I was hoping for Charleston or Richmond, but south Florida was as close as we could get.  (Yes, I realize there are many in the world who do not consider Florida to be a part of the South, but frankly, they had sweet tea and warm weather. This was a corporate relocation and I was going to have to take what I could get.)

Hacking the ice off my windshield for five months out of the year was not the reason I needed to get back to the South.  Much of my family hails from the South: Southerners are my people. My family recipes all contain a large measure of grease and sugar, I yearned for the scent of magnolias, I wanted my children to grow up speaking with the melodic lilt of the South.   I wanted to live in a place where strangers at the grocery store would reinforce the good manners I was teaching at home, would insist that my young son refer to them as “Ma’am” or “Sir” and would never, as has happened on many occasions in the North, say to a toddler, “Just call me Jim.”

Day one did not start off well.  Our real-estate agent was recommended to us by my husband’s company: her sole qualification, I later learned, being the willingness to kick back some of her commission to the relocation company.

Being the domestically-inclined, hyper-organized, researching lunatic that I am, I’d been scouring the online real estate listings for weeks.  When I spoke with our assigned agent on the phone the week before we were set to arrive in Florida, I told her I had three requirements:

1) We wanted a buyers’ agent (someone who only represents buyers, not sellers)
2) I wanted to see the houses I’d faxed over in the exact order I’d specified.
3) I did not want to see the ugly banana yellow house that fit our every requirement, yet was so aesthetically horrific that no sane person could possibly reside there.  

I’m not the kind of person who needs to see 43 houses in order to realize the first one was perfect.  I am the kind of person, however, who likes her directives to be followed.

In real-estate world, my husband and I were a slam dunk.  We needed to purchase a house immediately because we were moving in three weeks.   We had a nice-sized deposit at the ready and a pre-approval letter in hand.  We were every lazy real estate agent’s fantasy come true: One, maybe two days of work, and a nice fat commission check.

When my son and I met with the agent on day one, she informed us that she was indeed a buyer’s agent.  Unless, of course, we happened to decide that we wanted to buy one of her company’s listings, and then she would magically morph into what they liked to call a “dual agent”.  

Dual agent, as in, representing both the buyer AND the seller.   I was not happy. I’d made it pretty clear that a “dual agent” was the very thing I was trying to avoid.  She smiled a squinty little smile, and ran her fingers through the ragged ends of her bleached blond hair. But she knew, and I knew, that I was stuck with her.  I had to find a house by tomorrow.

We set off in the direction of potential house number one,  stopping off first at a three-bedroom shack with a frog-green pool and carpet that smelled like a retirement home for Great Danes.  The house was more than a hundred thousand dollars below our target price.  It was not on my list.

When we pulled into the driveway the owner of said shack was chain smoking in the driveway.  I was almost positive I’d seen her on Jerry Springer.  Or maybe she was the yodeling knife juggler on America’s Got Talent.  My first instinct was to slam the rental car in reverse, peel out of the neighborhood and leave the “dual agent” to fend for herself, but the owner sprinted over to my door and rapped her knuckles on the window.  My good manners kicked in, and I forced myself to at least tour the house.  I got out of the car slowly, trying not to make any sudden moves.

“We’re gonna get the pool fixed!” she rasped in a voice that sounds like a bad-girl Phyllis Diller, the cigarette dangling from her lip.

As we stepped through the front door, I held my son close to me and tried not to inhale.  Three minutes later we were back at our cars, four minutes later we were having a pow-wow in the parking lot at the Piggly Wiggly.  

“I don’t want to see anymore crack dens,” I said.

“I thought maybe…” my real-estate agent stammered.

“Please don’t think,” I said, “just take me to the houses on my list.  At least four bedrooms, no more than $20,000 above or below the number I told you.”

Lesson number one in real-estate school is to show the buyers all of the crappy houses first, so that by the time they see the good house, they’ll feel like they’ve stumbled on Shangri-la.

“I know about the crack house-to-palace model,” I said. “Just take me to the good stuff.  I can barely fit behind the steering wheel, I have to stop to pee every five minutes, my son is already beginning to howl and one more chocolate-covered bribe is going send the kid into a sugar coma.”

Two inappropriate houses later, our real estate agent was ready to pack it in for the day.  It was lunchtime, and I still hadn’t seen any of the houses on my list.

“I have to find a house by tomorrow!” I said.

“We’ll get an early start,” she promised.

I loaded my son back into his car seat and headed to the hotel, leaving a message for the dual agent that we would no longer be needing her services.  I now had one day to find a house.  And no agent.

Back at the hotel, I called the listing agent for house number one on my list. I ended up telling her my entire story, bawling my eyes out to this complete stranger.

“There, there,” she soothed, “we’ll find your house tomorrow.”  She promised to clear her entire schedule for the next day, show me any houses I’d like in the exact order I specified.   She even offered to send her mother over to scout a new possibility that popped up just that morning, one that was not on my list.   This was a woman who understood an easy commission when she saw one.

The next morning we started off, list in hand.  The nice agent had brought her mother along, also a real-estate agent, who attempted to entertain my child as we rushed through the homes of strangers.  I eliminated the houses one by one:  This neighborhood isn’t what I was hoping for.  This house appears to have been built for the seven dwarves.  This one has no storage.  (And, um, an alligator in the backyard.)

By four-thirty in the afternoon on my last day, I was desperate and at the end of my list.  I told the nice agent and her mother that I wanted to do the unthinkable:  I wanted to see the ugly yellow house.  

The ugly yellow house sat on a quiet cul-de-sac, a block away from the best elementary school in the district.  It had four bedrooms and an office, Mexican ceramic tile and a stunning banana palm providing shade for the resort-style pool.   It also had forest green-carpet paired with a turquoise hallway, a peach-and-navy blue living room, and a murder-red guest room with weird Rob and Laura Petrie single bed built-ins made of government-issue beige laminate.

Each room in the house was papered in an abundant selection of the most hideous old-lady wallpapers money can buy, complete with one, sometimes two, coordinating borders.  The kitchen, which boasted the stunning Mexican ceramic tile, also featured orange laminate counters that ran all the way up the wall, all the way up to the faux-est faux wood cabinets I have ever seen.  And the half-wall in the formal living room had synthetic green marble insets to coordinate with the fake fireplace. Fake fireplace.  As in, not an actual fireplace.  Just a mantle and a hearth glued to the wall, complete with a collection of plastic logs that kind of glowed when you plugged them into the wall.  

And there was no bathtub.  Instead, the very large master bath had what we later dubbed “the man shower”.   It was a huge, tiled room overlooking a toilet.  Like a locker room, but with only one showerhead.  And no hot water.

The owners claimed to be two gay men, but I think they must have been fronting.  Stereotype or not, every gay man I’d ever met in my life had exquisite taste, these guys just had to be posers.

The bones of the house were wonderful, classic, quality.  But it was nearly impossible to see beyond the tacky wall coverings, haunted-house style shrubbery and the owners’ obvious passion for laminate.

The house was like a Vanderbilt, decked out in frosted pink lipstick, a spandex miniskirt and a sparkly boob tube straight from the clearance rack at Wal-mart.

In the end, we bought the ugly yellow house, which we dubbed the banana palace.  It was our first house.  It was big.  The neighborhood was great.  And we figured we could temporarily live with the fact that we owned the ugliest house in the state. We stripped out the horrid green carpet, painted everything in sight, hacked down the jungle in front of the house, invested in a professional-grade wallpaper steamer, and hired a team of cleaning ladies to scour the place from top to bottom.  A year later, the house was unrecognizable.   It was our home.

The miracle of the banana palace is how it brought our family together. My husband and I hung light fixtures together. My mother and my aunts flew in to help us paint, strip wallpaper and demolish the fireplace. Our son peeled off wallpaper as high as he could reach, and learned how to use a paint roller.  In the beginning, it seemed every day revealed a new problem, or something else that had been ignored or neglected by the former owners.  But in the process of peeling and painting and refurbishing, our family grew closer.  We giggled together about the man shower and the fake fireplace and the fact that our doorbell chimed the theme from “Rhinestone Cowboy”.  

And that old house, which started out as the house we settled for, became the home we loved.


June 28, 2009

Ten Life Lessons I have Yet to Learn (and may never do so)

TLC is delighted to welcome Rhys Bowen: Rhys writes two mystery series, one set in turn of the century New York, featuring sleuth Molly Murphy, a feisty Irish immigrant, and the Royal Spyness mysteries that take place in the rarified atmosphere ofRoyal flush  royal circles in 1930s England. Royal Flush is due in stores on July 7th and Rhys’s book tour can be found on her website, www.rhysbowen.com

Ten Life Lessons I have Yet to Learn (and may never do so)

by Rhys Bowen

1. Shoes from catalogues never fit me. And there is a second part to this: items in a catalogue never look as good in real life. This may be because they are modeled by 18 year old size 00s.

2. I can’t trim my bangs as well as my hairdresser. I should especially never try this on the night before I leave for a convention.

3. On a similar theme: I should never try out a new hairdresser on the day before a book tour or photo shoot.

4. A review is just one person’s opinion. I keep telling myself this but the least little snipe sends me into deep depression.

5. I am not twenty-one any more. I’d like to be, but I’m not. So no amount of face cream will hide wrinkles and I’m going to suffer if I play touch football with the younger members of the family.

6. I should never try out a new recipe on the night I have guests I want to impress.

7. I should not buy something just because it’s a bargain. My closet is full of such items, not ever loved and hardly ever worn.

8. Worrying gets you nowhere. I am a champion worrier.

9. I have no control over the success of a book after it leaves my hands. I can work myself into exhaustion setting up events, touring, making postcards, doing radio interviews and in the end it all comes down to the publisher, timing and luck.

10. I can’t please all of the people all of the time. There is never going to be one book that is equally loved by the whole population. So some readers will always complain when there is a touch of romance in my books and others will complain that there is not enough romance in my books. I should therefore only write to please myself.

11. Okay, so I can’t count either. But if there’s only one life lesson I should have learned is that life is short and wonderful, there’s no going back, we’re only celebrating this day once, so make the most of it.

So how about you, Lipstick Ladies (and men). Are there any life lessons you’ve finally learned the hard way, or are you like me—destined to make the same mistakes over and over? Oh dear, there’s a package from Coldwater Creek lying in the front hall right now!

Contest Extra: Rhys will be giving away some brilliant prizes, including signed copies of her book and English tea goodies to those who respond to this blog by visiting her website and including the name of this blog when they email Rhys.



June 27, 2009

Hello, Kitty

Please welcome guest blogger, prolific novelist, and TLC commenter extraordinaire Laurie Moore


Take it from me—a feeding syringe is not the answer if your cat takes the Mahatma Gandhi approach to food. My ancient blue point Siamese rescue kitty, Ling, has been refusing to eat. The kitchen looks like I shot Silly String all over it, Ling is now known throughout the house as “Dammit Ling,” and my honorary certificate from Little Miss Debutante is in danger of being recalled.

Ben 2 Woman Strangled—News at Ten is my eighth published novel. When I worked a stray black cat into the book just for fun, I derived inspiration from the cats I know: my Siamese, Ling Mai (Thai translation: “Silk Monkey”); my daughter’s cat, Ben; and a cat named Caesar that I co-own with an ex-boyfriend. My protagonist, Aspen Wicklow, an investigative reporter at WBFD, the worst ranked TV station in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, named this tom Midnight—or, rather, Dammit Midnight. Between Ling, Ben and Caesar, I’ve accumulated tons of great cat stories, so Midnight can have a bigger role in future “News at Ten” installments.

Upon liberating Ling from the rescue place (read: internment camp), I appointed him Director of Homeland Security. He needed an office so he commandeered my daughter’s unused bedroom for naps when he wasn’t patrolling the house, or looking for cat cotton candy to eat (read: cobwebs). I soon discovered I had000_0038  a real Romeo on my hands. Friends no longer visit. I’ve never seen a cat’s eyes glaze over the way lover boy’s do when he ogles large-breasted women. Seriously, if Ling were human, he’d be a registered sex offender. I suspect Midnight will demonstrate Ling’s off-putting traits in the next book.

As much as I like whipping up pet personalities for a story, I enjoy creating colorful characters. Occasionally, I’m asked if unsavory characters are patterned after people I know. What? Are you nuts? There’s a reason disclaimers appear in works of fiction. And let’s face it—who’d publically admit to being that cretin in your book, especially if you gave the antagonist a pinky-sized penis?

The animal personalities are real, though: Animals don’t sue. Since I’m a former police officer, turned District Attorney investigator, turned reserve deputy constable, turned lawyer, I think about this stuff. Quelle surprise!

I became something of an authority on cats fifteen years ago, when I sensed my then-boyfriend was about to dump me. To demonstrate a “no hard feelings” attitude, I gave him a seal point Siamese kitten for his birthday and headed off into the sunset. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But for the lucky insiders of the Lipstick Chronicles, here’s the Paul Harvey rest of the story:

I’ve seen my fair share of distraught people arrested for criminal mischief after pitching a conniption fit and destroying an ex’s belongings when the relationship went sour. And since my pink English skin doesn’t go with the neon orange of an inmate jumpsuit—not to mention me being an officer of the court, ahem—I divined a hands-off way (read: alibi) to preserve my dignity and simultaneously wreak havoc in absentia.

100_0285 With the Trojan birthday cat firmly entrenched, a coup ensued, followed by a feline dictatorship. As part of the new regime, the seal point rendered the ex’s clothes into mohair. Eventually, Caesar accomplished what I couldn’t—tore up stuff (read: shredded furniture), customized blinds (read: chewed random holes he could poke his head through), and shredded the man’s garments (read: not enough fabric for a cleaning rag). The place looked like a scene out of Saving Private Ryan. As Caesar grew, so did the rips in the curtains…from pinpricks to buttonholes, and finally, hammock-like swags in cloth that could no longer bear the weight of a full-grown cat. The ex paid for the damage and put up a whopping pet deposit, but the real payoff came the day he thanked me for giving him the greatest present ever—Caese the Siamese. My work here is done.

I worked other fun things into Woman Strangled—News at Ten: a middle-age assistant with hot flashes, cutthroat cameramen, and a clever, small-town sheriff who singlehandedly takes on the overcrowded Texas prison system. Not that I actually know people like this…nosirree. Not me. If I’m writing about an unfamiliar topic (TV broadcast industry), I do the research. In the case of Woman Strangled—News at Ten, interviewing two investigative reporters kept me on-track.

Bottom line, I had so much fun writing this book that I wrote a spinoff, Deb on Arrival—Live at Five: A Debutante Detective Mystery (July, 2010). Stay tuned.


p.s. Does anyone have any destructive pet stories to share? and What's your favorite "get even" story?


June 26, 2009

One Helluva Week

One Helluva WeekBlog Ed Johnny

By Kathy Sweeney

Well, take a week offline, and see what happens?  I may never catch up.

First, we're having our first War by Twitter.  Those of us of a certain age still remember our first TV War (that would be Operation Desert Storm, starring Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf and the Scud Stud).  I was pregnant that winter, and like similarly situated friends, fell asleep after work watching the war).  I think it's fitting that Iran, while attempting a media blackout, has real time coverage thanks to regular citizens.

Blog farrahfawcettposter Then, we had a triumvirate of deaths:  Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. On the way home in the car, we tried to come up with a clever title for those three.  The Prince of Late Night, the Queen of Posters and the King of Pop?  Nah.  Johnny's Buddy, Charlie's Angel and a Cosmetic Surgeon's Dream? Nope.  A Mick, A Chick and A Dick?  Also wrong. As we sat on the Pennsylvania (don't make any plans) Turnpike, we gave up.  By the way, a pox on all houses of members of the turnpike commission.  Their slogan should be Bringing You Neverending AssFault Projects and Higher Tolls Since 1937.

Ed McMahon was probably the greatest sidekick to ever grace the screen.  And let's not forget that he had his own gigs too - the Publishers' Clearinghouse and Star Search, for example.  And, in a grand show of great sportsmanship, he did that Cash for Gold commercial with M.C. Hammer during the Super Bowl. Good Man.

Farrah Fawcett was more than an angel.  She was the best-selling poster for nearly a decade.  That's right, kids. Before those red suits meant Baywatch, they meant Farrah.  Her hair alone inspired millions.  She didn't just do the cute roles, either.  Her performance in The Burning Bed was amazing.  She had a tough road the last several years.  Somehow it seemed right that she and Ryan ended up back together in the end.

Then there is Michael Jackson.  For many people under the age of 30, he is a freak, an alleged pedophile, and a plastic surgery junkie.  For those of us older, as long as we can put his more recent actions aside, he is still a great performer.  "Thriller" still stands as one of the greatest music videos of all time.  And I dare you not to at least tap your feet to many of the Jackson Five's songs.

Blog Argentina Then, of course, we had the Luv Guv.  "Don't Look for Me, I'm in Argentina" anyone?  Hey, the guy cheated on his wife.  As if that's big news in politics.  But that whole "He's working on a project."  "No, we didn't say that, he just needs some time alone."  "Forget that alone thing.  He's hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Yeah, that's it.  That's the ticket."  Good grief.  The guy is supposed to be running a state.  You'd think someone on his staff could keep tabs on him.

Whew.  I've barely scratched the surface, and it's 3 a.m.  So tell me, what else is going on?

June 25, 2009

My Summer Vacation

My Summer Vacation

by Nancy               

Lately I've been working day and night to finish revisions on the first book in my new mystery series. I turned it in a 11pm the other night. Miracle of miracles, my editor read it the next day and gave it her stamp of approval.  Yay!  I'm done! The book is officially named (unless the sales department absolutely objects) OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, and it's a fun bunch of characters who are pretty entertaining.  I think TLC readers who OCHFTS are especially going to love it. Just saying. Fair warning to the rest of you.  Check your local bookstore--next March.

While I've had my nose to the proverbial grindstone, my life and my house have gone to wrack and ruin:

1.  There is a bad smell here in my office that I believe is Dead Mouse.  I have not had time--or, frankly, the stomach--to go searching for the source, and my dear husband (hereafter referred to as Maladaptive Optimist) believes the smell is simply Musty Basement.  So he's been running a dehumidifier at high speed (hereafter referred to as Jet Plane Landing in the Laundry Room) but the smell remains. My housekeeper, Patty, tells me that one of her other clients hired an exterminator to get rid of a family of raccoons in her attic.  He poisoned them (!!!!) and they all crawled into the walls to die.  The stench was so awful that the client got divorced and moved out of the house in, like, a week's time.  Me, I'm thinking no animal should suffer poisoning (I am, however, in favor of instant death he-never-knew-what-hit-him traps for vermin) so maybe that whole story is about bad karma.  In any case, today I'm looking for advice on Dead Mouse Smell. 

2.  My computer had one of those Automatic Updates happen, and now it turns itself off every 20 minutes and disconnects from the internet at random times.  I hate Vista.  Hate. Vista. With. A. Passion.  I haven't had time to go poking around the control panel to figure out what this #!%^*! update did exactly, but it's on my list of things to do this week.  Meanwhile, if I accidentally get cut off while typing this blog, don't be surprised.

3. My vacation has sneaked up on me.  Tomorrow, Maladaptive Optimist and I are leaving for---get this, folks---Hawaii.  I can't believe it.  Ten days in paradise. (Or Sunburn Central, if you're like me, skinwise.) We can't afford this trip, but we've paid off our credit cards, so they're ready to rumble.  And we're traveling with two other couples, one of which includes Barbara, the hotel maven, who got us unbelievably low hotel rates, so we really couldn't pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Trouble is, I haven't had time to make much preparation for such a vacation.  So I'm doing laundry like mad, and today I must absolutely go shopping for books.  Please, please, please, TLC readers, tell me what you recommend this summer!  I bought a copy of Whatisname's Hawaii, the one made into a movie with Julie Andrews, so I figure that will last me the airplane ride, but I'm desperate for more book ideas.  So, spill! 

4.  Yes, I am aware that the crazy president of North Korea has said he's going to bomb Hawaii on the 4th of July.  Which is where I'll be.  Now, I'm not married to Maladaptive Optimist for nothing, so I'm not worried. Plus I figure the US Navy has had nothing to do (except entertain Margie's Cousin Rita) for these last several years besides figure out how to blow crazy missles out of the sky, so if I get blown to Kingdom Come, will you all please picket the Navy for me? Tell them if they can't protect people on their once-in-a-lifetime vacations, they should give up their bazillion dollars a year budgets to daycare centers and public libraries. Get Rita to organize the protest.

5. Last of all, I am now going to confess something that I don't tell everyone, but because we're all such good friends, here goes:  I am an Elvis fan.  In a big way.  I have an Elvis tribute here on my desk, which I'd show to you if Stupid Vista would allow me, but no.  So tell me this:  Does anybody know a really great Elvis show in Hawaii?  Because I'm thinking it might be a great time, especially if it's the last night on this earth for me and Maladaptive Optimist.  We're going to be in Oahu and Maui, so if you have any insider info, let me know.

Now, it's back to laundry and packing..... 


June 24, 2009

Murder, He Wrote

Inkwell Murder, He Wrote

By Elaine Viets

I have this bad habit of walking out of the house without any cash. My husband Don keeps telling me this is dangerous. "What if you have to pay a highway toll?" he says. "What if there’s an emergency?"

I have a SunPass and credit cards to take care of those first two worries. It’s the third one that worries me: "What if you’re held up? Robbers kill you if you don’t carry cash?"

We used to live in an iffy neighborhood where the hold-up minimum was twenty dollars. I made sure I left the house with enough cash to buy off potential killers. But now we live in a much safer area, and I forget.

Last Wednesday night, Don’s worries came true. I needed cash quickly. I’d commissioned a poem – about murder.

It happened at the preview party for "Under the Sun." That’s a series on WLRN, a National Public Radio station. "Literary Florida" was the program theme, and the show interviewed South Florida writers. Jeff "Dexter" Lindsay and I were the only two mystery authors for the hour-long show. I felt a little embarrassed in the same company with practicing poets and a courageous novelist who had fled the cruelty of Haiti.

The interview with the award-winning hosts, Alicia Zuckerman and Dan Grech, was fast and funny. They’d actually read our books, which is a rare treat. Too many interviewers try to wing it. Our interview was recorded at Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach. Bookstore founder Joanne Sinchuk was part of the discussion.

The preview party was in Miami. The members of the Miami Poetry Collective were there. These talented young poets had set up "The Poem Depot." I hope the lawyers for The Home Depot never see those orange signs.

The Miami Poetry Collective wrote poems to order – on the spot, on real typewriters, on any subject, on the cheap – two dollars. Naturally, I wanted a poem about murder. Naturally, I didn’t have two bucks with me.

"Can I write a check for five dollars?" I asked poetaster Scott Cunningham.

"Sure. It’s more than I usually make," he said.

The poets worked outside, in the murderously hot Florida climate. You can see Scott and the other poets at work at


In less than twenty minutes, Scott banged out the following killer poem on a manual typewriter. It has been eons since I’d typed on one. After years on computers, typewriter keys feel heavy and strange and an hour of typing hurts my hands.

But Scott’s touch was light. He produced more than a poem. It’s also an acrostic. The first letters in each stanza spell Murder.


Mice crawl over the body that’s wedged

Under the four post bed,

Red blood pooling all the way to the walls. Yep,

           the butler is

Dead. The wife looks guilty, nervously

Eating her nails but the husband too

Reeks of "Don’t look at me."


Mostly, I want to arrest them all and go

Up to the library and drink their

Rum. This whole family is too rich and

Dumb and the force doesn’t pay

Enough. But how does one escape? To where

         can one


By Scott Cunningham, The Poem Depot

Miami Poetry Collective,



Knife NOTE: "Under the Sun," with co-hosts Dan Grech and Alicia Zuckerman, will air Saturday, June 27, at noon, and again Sunday, June 28, at 7 p.m. on WLRN, 91.3, the South Florida public radio station. If you’re not in the Miami area, catch the hour-long show and special segments on their Website at www.wlrnunderthesun.org.

Listen to exiled Haitian writer Lochard Noel, Yaddyra Peralta and Scott Cunningham of the Miami Poetry Collective, Jeff "Dexter" Lindsay and me and other authors on "Under the Sun."

June 23, 2009

Marital Sex: Oxymoron?

Marital Sex: Oxymoron?

I just finished two fabulous books about the end of relationships in LA. One was ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING and LOVE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT. They sparkled with the sunlit flash Beverly Hills of turquoise pools and celebrities, too much money and too many six-figure cars. Yet, despite the great bodies and immense bank accounts (the OTHER Viagra), men weren't sleeping with their wives - thereby pulling the thread that unraveled marriages in both books.

Whether or not a married couple is having sex - good, meaningful, intimate sex - seems to be the first question therapists, nosy relatives and everyone in between asks when they hear about a separation. (Cue Jon & Kate opening credits.) And then they seem surprised when the answer is "no." Or they cluck their tongues, as in "of course." As if not having sex is the big no no. 

But let's think about this.

I figure the same wise guy who made chocolate fattening is the same yahoo who came up with the crazy idea that the person with whom you split finances, raise teenagers and pay taxes is the person with whom you're supposed to be having mad, passionate monkey sex. Think about this, people. Would you sleep with your accountant? Your childcare provider? Your business partner? (Might not want to answer that.)

Does anything dull the romantic spirit more than bickering over who spent what on impulsive shoe purchases and how come you're letting teenage daughter Mary Ellen walk out the door looking like that?

This was the core issue I had to tackle in writing NewpennypinchersTHE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB (which happens to be out  NEXT WEEK so why not order a freakin' copy already). The question was how to handle the sex between husband and wife Kat and Griff who were not only raising a teenage daughter, but also dealing with severe money issues. Just the other day I heard from a reviewer who emailed me to say she really liked what I did because the sex was "good without being salacious or degrading" - whew! Trust me, I only spent like three months working on those scenes for that very reaction.

It's taken me years to be able to write a decent sex scene. That's because I was doing it all wrong. I kept thinking of the "act" and not the feelings underneath. (No pun intended, though you may infer.) When Kat & Griff have sex, some of their old passion returns, the heated, no-thinking, physical responses that are the only reasons, as far as I can see, why you sleep with your business partner/co-parent spouse. Because for a moment you're somewhere else away from the kids and the bills and stresses of running a house. You're together, alone. And that's nice.

Then, boom!, it's back to bills. 

It's a sucky setup. I'm thinking the royal types who can afford to keep mistresses and, er, misters (not for nothing is there no masculine equivalent) have the right idea. One can have a perfectly cordial, amicable relationship with one's co-parent and fellow investor/homeowner without worrying if arguing Pompadour about who's responsible for doing the laundry will nix chances of getting laid that night. Plus, there are plenty of people out there who have absolutely no interest in having children or some sort of involved partnership. Yet they do love company and sex. Voila! Perfect affairs.

As a disclaimer, honestly, I'd like to state for the record that I've managed to luck into a marriage with pretty amazing, regular sex - even at my advanced age. For this I credit an "Us against Them" attitude in child rearing. Unity craves the common enemy.

Speaking of which, I was watching my unencumbered eighteen year old daughter skip off to meet her handsome boyfriend. She wore the smug attitude of youth, the "see mother, I so know romance." And I, sprouting chin hairs and yearning for a babushka, thought, "Sure. It was easy at your age, too. But just you wait, sweetie, until years down the road you wake to the 2 a.m. screams of a crying infant and nudge prince charming, who pretends to sleep. And when he stays out with the boys on Sunday night to watch a football game completely forgetting - or claiming to have forgotten - that you made pot roast for a family sit-down dinner. Or when you find he drained the checking account to buy himself an awesome two-seated roadster that does 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds. Then we'll see who's smug."

It's great becoming a hag. I've been prepping for this role all my life.



June 22, 2009

Hooey Wooey

Hooey Wooey

By Harley

I returned last night from a Hooey Wooey conference in Tucson. I wasn’t vacationing; I was doing hard-core research for my next book (just in case you’re the IRS). And I had no internet, which means I only now read Alexandra Sokoloff's haunting blog from Saturday, which deals with similar subject matter, only with more sex. Please forgive the repetitive theme.

Hooey Wooey, as I’m sure you know, is a highly technical term for phenomena also known as “woo-woo” and “airy fairy stuff.” Practitioners of Hooey Wooey are known as “nutjobs,” “wackos,” “quacks” or, this weekend, “renowned scientists.”

This conference was not pure Hooey Wooey. It explored the interface between science and spirituality, the research strides made in studying and measuring the paranormal, and figuring out what to do with it.

I’m no scientist. My high school chemistry teacher, when asked for a letter of recommendation when it was discovered I was a National Merit scholar (yes, I too was surprised), wrote, “rarely have I seen a student with so little aptitude display such a cheerful attitude.” How true. I loved Mr. Kassel, but did not love his Periodic Table. Biology was worse: I skipped school on dissection day, and went to The Godfather for the4th time, preferring to watch the garroting of Luca Brazzi to the suffering of a frog.Images

The occult is another story. I come from a long line of women who read the future in their coffee grounds, and feel at home around astrology, time travel, aura-reading, clairvoyance, ESP, out of body experiences, astral travel, remote viewing, lucid dreaming, precognition, hypnotherapy, near-death experiences, and the healing practices of indigenous cultures, all of which were discussed in Tucson.

Many presenters were research scientists and physicians, from mainstream, often Ivy League institutions. In each case they were at the top of their game, respected in their field, until some encounter/epiphany/seminal moment sent them down the rabbit hole. Some still have one foot in traditional world, like the practicing psychiatrist; have ditched their universities and tenure tracks and corporate lives to live off the reservation.

Each one is on a mission to save the planet from the effects of greed, war, and overconsumption of natural resources.

The conference was mentally taxing, inspiring, and fun. We did research experiments, laughed at genetic determinism (it’s so last century) and rooted for collaboration over competition (the heck with Darwin!)

There were grumblers. Some of us felt there should have been on-site coffee all day. One woman felt that the talk given by the astronaut was too gloomy. Another man was disgruntled because no one was promoting direct contact with extraterrestrials.

I bought a lot of books, took a lot of notes, and met really brainy people, some, it’s true, in Birkenstocks. There were the same jewelry/scarves/shawl vendors you see at writers conferences, but no cover models, and only one (one!) bowl of free chocolates. No participant dressed as a vampire, medieval prostitute, or tree elf.

Now that I’m back among the normal, I’m curious about how normal “normal” is. So I’m asking you, yes, you, to share, if you dare, whether you have precognitive dreams, family ghost stories, spaceship sightings, mind-readings. Tell me whether you can rearrange Uncle Fergus’s toupée at the other end of the dinner table simply using the power of your thoughts. If you have no such exciting anecdotes, I have created a multiple choice alternative:

  1. I do not believe in all that nonsense, and it’s clear to me that you, Harley, have lived in L.A. too long.
  2. I believe in absolutely all of it and you don’t have enough time to hear all my wild stories.
  3. I am a staunch evangelical ______, and my religion tells me that everything referred to in this blog is the work of the Devil.

Happy Belated Solstice!


June 21, 2009

Why I couldn't put down Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

Why I couldn't put down Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict


Like many writers, I am a fan of Jane Austen. I am not, however, a fan of stories involving time travel.  The idea always seemed too goofy to me.

But last year, a publicist sent me a book called Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler-- the story of Courtney Stone, a Jane Austen-addicted woman from modern-day Los Angeles who finds herself transported to Regency England, to Jane Austen's time.  Courtney wakes up one morning and finds she has taken the place of a woman called Jane Mansfield.

The book had a lovely cover, and I was going to the beach with nothing more interesting to read.  Besides, it had been edited by Trena Keating, my former editor, and I always liked her taste.  That was enough for me to at least read a few pages.

So I planted my beach umbrella, coated myself in sunscreen, and cracked open the book.

Five or six hours later, I was nearly finished.  Unfortunately for me, it was time to go pick my daughter up from preschool. 

It was so good I was almost late for pickup.

It was so good that I was reading at stoplights just to get a few more paragraphs in.

It was so good that I plopped my daughter in front of Dora the Explorer on a continuous loop the second we got home so that I could finish the book.

It was so good.

Rude Awakenings-1 Imagine my delight a few weeks ago when the sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict  arrived at my doorstep.

This time, Jane Austen -era's Jane Mansfield finds herself transported to modern day L.A.  What could be more fun?

After I read the book (Fabulous!), I had a few questions for author Laurie Viera Rigler, a Jane Austen addict herself.  (Lisa confession: I occasionally semi-stalk my favorite authors via interview questions.  Like, er, the first time I read Sarah Strohmeyer.)

Lisa: What gave you the idea to send a modern woman to Regency England, and in RUDE AWAKENINGS, to send poor Jane to modern LA?

Laurie: The opening scene of the first book, CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, was a surprise gift that just popped into my head. I was puttering around my kitchen one day and suddenly I saw, in my mind's eye, this twenty-first-century Austen fan named Courtney awakening in Regency England in another woman's body. Though I wasn't trying to think of an idea for a novel, let alone an Austen-inspired novel, I'm such an Austen addict myself that if any character were going to show up in my mind, this was the perfect one to make an appearance.

As for my new book, I knew that if Courtney was taking over the nineteenth-century woman's life, the nineteenth-century woman would be taking over Courtney's life. But hers was a very different journey, and it just had to be its own book. Which is how RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT came to be. And I had so much fun writing this book.

 Lisa: If you were sent back to Jane Austen's time, what is the modern convenience you'd miss 080508_TheAuthor-1 most?

Laurie:  Freedom. Coming from a place and time where I have a lot of choices, I would find it challenging to be told I couldn't live alone, travel alone, or have my choice of career. Self-determination would be a lot harder to live without than my computer or my iPhone!

Lisa: RUDE AWAKENINGS felt like a great stopping point - will we see these characters again?

 Laurie: That is such a great question! I'm inclined to agree with you; their stories feel complete now, but the truth is, I don't know what the future will bring. I never expected the first scene of the first book to pop into my head, so anything is possible.

Lisa: Why do you think Jane Austen is so appealing, even so many years after her death?

Laurie:  Austen's stories are about self-discovery and self-mastery and love as the great reward for both. She makes witty and insightful comments on human nature in all its folly and majesty while weaving plots that are complex and deeply satisfying. Human nature hasn't changed at all since the days of horse-drawn carriages--we still crave a page-turning tale that takes us outside of ourselves while leaving us with the feeling that perhaps we know ourselves and our fellow humans a little better by the time we close the book. And we still want to believe that love will be our reward. All of that is what makes Austen timeless.

Lisa:  How tough was it to keep Jane's inner dialogue century-appropriate?

Laurie:  It was great fun, and at the same time it required constant questioning of usage, even of the most commonplace words. It helped that I've read Austen's texts many times and immersed myself in her language over the years. But writing in an authentic first-person voice of someone from that time required a deeper and broader level of familiarity with the lexicon. Which is why my online subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary became my constant friend. The first two places I'd consult for any language question were the OED and Mollands.net for its searchable e-texts of Austen's works. I would check to see if a particular word was used during Austen's time or earlier and if that word had the same meaning then as it does today. If I wasn't satisfied with the answer, I'd turn to Google Book Search for e-texts of other works from the period. I even created my own mini-glossary for the book.

Another thing I had to keep in mind was a language arc, because as my protagonist spends more time in her borrowed body and her borrowed life, she begins to access more of the modern lexicon from within as well as without.

Lisa: How many times have you read Pride & Prejudice?

Laurie:  At least twenty times.

Lisa:  Who is your favorite onscreen Mr. Darcy?

Laurie:  That would be the inimitable Colin Firth, though I have to say that Matthew MacFadyen also inspires me to break out my fan and reach for my smelling salts.

Lisa:   I'm a MacFadyen fan myself.  At the end of the film when he confesses his feelings to Elizabeth -- that little stutter on "I lu... I lu... I love you"  -- makes my heart skip a beat every time.  Any plans for a CONFESSIONS/RUDE AWAKENINGS movie? 

Laurie:  No plans yet, but I believe it will happen for both RUDE AWAKENINGS and CONFESSIONS. And I can't wait to see your novel, FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME, as a movie!

Lisa:  Thanks so much, fingers crossed!

Thank you to Laurie Viera Rigler for her time, and more importantly, for offering one lucky Lipstick Chronicles reader a signed copy of her brand new book RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, in stores next week.

To win, leave a comment on today's blog.  One winner will randomly be selected on Monday morning.  (Which makes today It's a terrible day to lurk. :-)