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31 posts from September 2009

September 30, 2009

Major Wardrobe Malfunction

Major Wardrobe Malfunction

By Elaine Viets

At four in the morning, we were awakened by a thundering crash. I thought burglars had broken down the front door.

Don leaped up to investigate. The cat crawled under the bed.

The cat had the sensible response.

My closet had come crashing down. Shelves piled with shoes, plus two twelve-foot poles jammed with clothes landed in a heap on the floor. The anchor screws had pulled out of the wall. Make that anchor screw, singular. A bit of metal the length of my pinkie nail was supporting half a ton of clothes.

This arrangement had defied the laws of physics and gravity for four years. 


My closet was the creation of our condo’s previous owner, a DIY-er who should have dialed a pro to do his repairs. I’ll call him Dale, because what I really want to call him can’t be printed here.

Dale the DIY guy "fixed" a worn spot on a $10 toilet seat with Wite-Out. He repaired the broken chain in the toilet tank with duct tape. Dale installed a monster brass-bladed fan that wobbled, kitchen wiring that smoked, and a maze of plastic pipes that clogged. When we were out of town.

It took about three thousand dollars to undo Dale’s DIY.

We thought we’d caught everything Dale did himself – until my closet crashed and I faced a mountain of suits, shoes, shirts and pants. I hadn’t worn about half of them in years. I knew I’d put them on again . . . some day. After I lost five pounds. Or ten. Er, twenty.

Okay, the truth. When the Saudis invite the Israelis over for a pig roast, I’ll wear those clothes.

Diana rigg

After the closet crash, I found outfits from the 1980s, the ugliest era in fashion history, except the 1970s. I unearthed rhinestone scarves and a freaking catsuit, which was in style for exactly six seconds. What was I doing with a catsuit? Channeling Emma Peel?

As I went through the wardrobe wreckage, I searched for the reason why these things were in my closet.

(1) Drugs

People claim Claritin is a harmless antihistamine, but I know better. It’s a mind-altering drug. Why else would I buy an orange satin blouse? And that freaking catsuit? It wasn’t even Halloween.


(2) I have a multiple personality disorder

That explains why serious suits, respectable casual clothes and T-shirts with slogans suitable for church picnics are side-by-side with belts covered with fake jewels and enough bling for a rap concert.

(3) The dress stores brainwashed me

Thanks to soft lighting and sweet-talking saleswomen, I own a cerise silk sweater with knitted-in shoulder pads. And a mustard-yellow blouse that makes me look jaundiced.

It was only after I got home that I saw myself as I truly am – a woman with seriously ugly threads.

The closet crash made me face reality. I can no longer close my eyes to these horrors. They will not magically erase themselves. I must face reality. I made some expensive mistakes and now I have to correct them.

I spent the weekend sorting through the rubble. The designer clothes went to a resale shop. The rest went to Goodwill, where they will be yet another burden for the poor.

And I swear on the ghost of Coco Chanel that I will never, ever buy any more weird, expensive clothes.

Because we all know this is true, don’t we: A waste is a terrible thing to mind.

September 29, 2009

Heroin + Incest = Bestseller

Heroin + Incest = Bestseller

Shortly after yet another made-up memoir was published - I think it might have been "Love and Consequences," the story of a black gang member as penned by a white creative writing student - my editor casually mentioned that any book with the word "memoir" either explicitly or implicitly implied was under serious scrutiny at our publishing house. "The problem isn't that all memoir writers lie," she said, rather insightfully, "it's people's memories. They're really unreliable."
No kidding.


Ask any criminal lawyer and they'll tell you the same thing. In fact, the fallible human memory is the crux of cross examination and the bane of many witnesses. Even well-meaning folk who stick by a crime scene as they should to provide testimony about the stabbing they unfortunately happened upon can find themselves flayed on the witness stand, questioned about every minor detail of the moment such as whether it was raining or drizzling, if the light had turned green, if they remembered a group of school children passing by. One answer wrong and the witness turns out to be not so credible after all.
"If Mrs. Jones can't remember that the day was, actually, cloudy not bright and sunny, can we trust her, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to know that it was a man with sideburns and a crew cut who stabbed the victim?"
Mrs. Jones was sober. Mackenzie Phillips? Not so much. But she, too, has written a memoir, "High on Arrival," that's been featured on Oprah and Larry King, about her alleged forced and then consensual relationship with her father, John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas. I predict it's destined for the New York Times bestseller list and, a year or so from now, the remainder bin. Kind of like Mackenzie herself. 
John Phillips is dead, that helps, so he's not present to defend himself though two of his former wives are. They claim Phillips never had an incestuous relationship with his daughter even if he was drunk and stoned for decades.
Mackenzie has shot back that this is the "typical reaction" of family members facing such allegations. Better to deny the horrific events than deal with the reality. Protect the victim and all that.
Okay. I buy - strongly buy - that family members, like all humans, are experts at denial, the shortcut to survival. As a former crime reporter, I was amazed by the mothers of raped children who stuck by their pervert boyfriends instead of their own offspring. It was maddening, especially for the cops and counselors, not to mention the girls themselves. (Book idea: follow up on those children to see how they fared in life.)
But when it comes to Mackenzie Phillips, I'm not so quick to rally. For one thing, in her case I resent the pat response that defense = denial. Not always. Surely, some people accused of rape or incest must be innocent and, if so, those denials have merit. What we've got here is almost a reverse witch trial - if you deny the crime, then you must be guilty.
Also, there's the sober factor. Like in the Mrs. Jones cross examination above, even the most clear-minded brains can be influenced by the power of suggestion, time, distractions and outside influences. We'd like to think that our fourth birthday - the one where we put toothpaste in our hair to amuse our highly


 refined four-year-old guests - occurred exactly as we recall. But there's a good chance it was Susan Foster, not us, who pulled the toothpaste trick out of the hat. Unless there's video, we'll never know.
I've never done heroin, but I have been drunk and I can't say my memory of those times is anything close to crystal clear. So it amazes me that Mackenzie Phillips, who was arrested with heroin just last year, is cold positive about her past.
I know what you're going to say, abusers often target screwed up victims whose memories can't be trusted. True. But I see Mackenzie Phillips, hard around the edges at age 49, racking up the sales on Oprah and I have my doubts. The old line that she's doing it for other incest victims wears thin when she's cashing huge advance checks. If other incest victims were her highest priority, wouldn't she have at least joined an organization protecting abused children? Marched in a few parades? Volunteered?
I guess the bottom line is that I have serious issues with those who make a fortune on revealing secrets for mega profit. At some point - and time is running out - Mackenzie Phillips will have to stop living off her name, for good or ill, and try to make it with her own talents.
One day at a time.


September 28, 2009

Writing Thrillers in A Fast-Paced World

New York Times bestselling author David Hagberg writes some scary thrillers. Not only are they gripping, they’re way too close to what really happened – before the actual events. Today, David tells how he learned to foretell a future none of us wanted to see.


Writing Thrillers in a Fast-Paced WorldJEP_8234

David Hagberg


A number of years ago I proposed an idea to Tom Doherty, my long time publisher and friend, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when he turned me down. I wanted to write a novel about North Korea developing nuclear weapons, and three-stage missiles with which to deliver them.

"Too far fetched," Tom said. "North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. People are eating grass soup. The lucky ones, at least."

But I had done my research using such sources as Jane’s Defense Weekly, Aerospace & Technology magazine and friends in and around the CIA. In the end I convinced Tom to publish the book, which he did in l999 under the title of "White House," and a short time later the world at large learned that North Korea was indeed developing nukes, and it was testing its Taepodong-series missiles. And in fact, Japan had become so alarmed at this development, that high-ranking government officials including then Prime Minister Kiezo Obuchi said something to the effect that his country did not have nuclear weapons but that " . . . we could have them."

In that instance my novel was damned near pre-empted by actual facts.

Since about 1992 or ‘93 I’d been reading about a Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden who’d been instrumental in driving the Russian army out of Afghanistan. He’d become a local hero. He was bright, rich and dedicated. His next target, he said, was the infidel west. Especially the U.S.

I dreamed up an al-Quaeda attack in which a major U.S. landmark was to be destroyed. Something that every person on earth could identify with America. My pick in 1999 was San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, during a half marathon in which the president’s daughter was entered. Of course the runners were crossing the bridge when it was to be destroyed with a small nuke. My stories all have happy endings, so the bad guys were caught, and the attack thwarted.

Tom published my hardcover under the title "Joshua’s Hammer" one year before 9/11. The mass market paperback came out three months before the attack.

The point that I’m trying to make, isn’t that I’m some sort of a prognosticator, but that if you want to write thrillers in today’s world you damned well better have nerves of steel, because three-fourths of the way through a book your story could be rendered worthless.

You need to read too. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are both good sources for foreign news; so is Jane’s of course, which you can read for free at many libraries. The Internet for research gets better and better every day. Right now I subscribe to, among other sites, Homeland Security’s News at newsalerts@nationalterroralert.com. Some of the stuff they send out will curl your hair.

And, just lately I’ve been doing research on which nations are on the verge of producing their own nuclear weapons, and the list might surprise you. It has me. And I’ve started doing some blog posts.

But, and this is a very large caveat, research is more fun than writing. Know when to quit reading, and start writing. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way over a thirty-five-year career writing novels. I’ve been caught short or more than one project, and that ain’t fun!










September 27, 2009

Bonnets and Buggys, Martha Johnson Guest Blogs



by Marta Perry                Go to fullsize image


Since I’ve known Nancy Martin for about a gazillion years, naturally I said yes when she asked me to write about the phenomenon known in publishing circles as “bonnet books.” However, in a follow-up e-mail, after she had me on the hook, she added that I should be funny. Sorry, dear. I am many things, but funny isn’t one of them.


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Awhile back, in the course of a fairly long series for Steeple Hill Love Inspired, I introduced some Amish minor characters, wondering what my editor would say about that. She responded, “You know that Amish thing? Do that more.” So, since I’m in the habit of saying yes to editors, probably in reaction to all those years when they were saying no to me, I agreed. Next up came a three-book suspense series for Love Inspired, set in Pennsylvania Dutch country with, again, Amish minor characters. The art department had a field day—buggies on every cover. Then, through a series of events that had to be experienced to be believed, my agent made a three-book trade-size deal with Berkley books. The first book in the Pleasant Valley Amish series will be out in November, and Berkley has already contracted for another three books. It was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time!


                              Product Details


The bonnet book genre started, as these things often do, with a single author. Beverly Lewis has been quietly selling her Amish stories for a number of years, with no one in publishing apparently noticing, until she began appearing on the Times list. In short order, Wanda Brunstetter followed her to the list, and then Cindy Woodsmall. Suddenly every publishing house wanted its own Amish author, and Amish series are popping up like weeds in my flower bed.

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The parameters of an Amish novel are fairly simple: a love story, in which either the hero or heroine is Amish (or both); set in an Amish community with lots of authentic detail (readers of these books know their stuff, and you’d best not make a mistake); a happy ending; and no sex. That’s right, none. Longing glances and kisses are fine, but that’s it. These books have their roots in the CBA market, and that’s the way it is.


Why are they so popular? That’s the million dollar question. Based on the letters I receive from readers, I’d say that the books help feed a longing for a simpler lifestyle. Haven’t you ever wished you could get rid of the constant pressure and demand for interaction posed by e-mail, Facebook, cell phones, twenty-four hour news channels, and all the rest? The books allow readers to live for a few hours in a society which gets along very nicely without all those things.


It’s also a society where families tend to live close together, and one in which there’s an instant support system in time of need. With families in contemporary society spread around the globe, that has its own appeal.


The oddest thing about the craze for Amish books, though, is the fact that this genre has grown up around a culture which does its best to stay out of the spotlight. Maybe that’s why people are so interested in knowing what goes on there. The challenge for me has been to write it real and in a way that I trust will cause no offense to a group of people I admire.


If you’d like to read an excerpt from LEAH’S CHOICE, just stop by my website at www.martaperry.com.


Award-winning author Marta Perry is a Pennsylvania girl who has written standalone suspense novels, romances, and inspirational novels, too.  Oh----and check out her recipies!


September 26, 2009

Clea Simon Guest Blogs About Dan Brown

Dan Brown and That New Car Smell

by guest blogger Clea Simon     Go to fullsize image

I was talking the other day with a friend. Not about Dan Brown, but about writing – hang in, this gets to Mr. Brown in a moment. My friend was having problems. An essayist and potential fiction writer, who has worked for years as an editor, she’s having trouble writing. At first it was the usual stuff – kids, work, an ailing in-law. But right now, her life is rather peaceful. And still, the prose is just not flowing.

“I’m a perfectionist,” she told me. “It takes me forever to get through a first draft. It’s very frustrating.”

Now, I’m not a perfectionist – far from it – but I could sympathize. I recently sent back the page proofs of my next mystery, and I understand how hard it is to let go. Just when you think a page is perfect, you stop yourself. Perfect? How can that be?  Did I really mean to use the word “intrude”? Hadn’t I used “intrusive” three pages before? Wouldn’t that near repetition lull the reader to sleep? Shouldn’t I re-read the first 200 pages, just to make sure?

But I got over it. Deadlines are a great motivator, right up there with the fear of not making rent. And so I suggested some self-inflicted deadlines to my friend. Make yourself write for one hour every morning. Set word limits. Even tiny ones. I mean, come on, everyone can write 500 words a day, right?

“But I’d want them to be the right 500 words,” said my friend.  “If they’re not, I’ll cross them out.”

We went on and on for a while like this, analyzing the childhood issues that have influenced us both. Philosophizing on the greater meaning of life and creativity. Until finally, she seemed to feel calmer – and possibly even more productive. And I felt, well, I felt irked.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized why:

Everything she hasn’t written is perfect.  Nothing I have written is.

Writing – especially creative writing – is like driving a new car off the lot. Oh, when you first see that car, you love it. The upholstery glows with a soft luster. The paint is flawless. All the windows work. And the smell – that new car smell…  Is there anything like it? But the minute you sign the papers and drive that baby onto the street, its value plummets. Check the Blue Book and you’ll see – no matter how lightly worked, as soon as there is the slightest bit of grit in the tires not to mention a ding in the fender, that beautiful machine becomes a commonplace vehicle. Utilitarian. Ordinary. And it will never again have that new car smell.

But you can’t get anywhere if you don’t drive, right? So that’s what’s had me thinking of Dan Brown recently (see, I told you I’d get there). Dan Brown is thoroughly enough ensconced in the commercial stratosphere that it’s safe to knock him. And, hey, it’s easy to do: he’s not a great prose stylist, by any stretch of the imagination.  I mean, I’ll defend some of my colleagues whom I like personally, who are trying something new and maybe falling short. But Dan Brown?

And yet, I’ve read his works. A lot of them. When all the hoopla arose about The Da Vinci Code how many years ago, I picked up a copy. I remember hooting out loud – “Listen to this!” I’d yell over to my husband, before reading him some particularly lead-footed passage. “I don’t think anyone has slept yet in this book – and we’re three days into the action!”

But I didn’t put it down. I finished The Da Vinci Code late one night, and as soon as I could unglue my eyelids I picked up Angels and Demons, which I actually preferred. Another late night.  I moved from that to Deception Point and even tried The Digital Fortress, which, okay, I liked not so much.  But as much as I scoffed, I couldn’t stop reading. And soon I realized I was learning from Mr. Brown. Learning a lot that would help my then-fledgling fiction career. For starters, he really knows how to keep a plot moving. Yes, not letting your characters sleep will do that. But from Dan Brown, I learned the value of the cliffhanger. “Every chapter ends with some version of ‘And then he saw the gun,’” I told my husband. But by then, I was speaking with admiration.

Recently, I’ve gotten into some back and forths with other writers about the value of Dan Brown’s books, just looking at their efficacy as thrillers – as fun, escapist reading. Yes, he plots furiously. But, no, he didn’t invent this style of suspense, far from it. Ultimately, though, one of my colleagues nailed it.

“I admire Dan Brown,” she said, “because he does the job. He set out to write thrillers, and he does it. He writes.” 

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Yes, he does. He works at this craft of ours. Maybe not with genius or art, but with an eye to entertain and to produce. He applies butt to seat, and he starts the ignition. I don’t know how easy this is for him, or how many revisions he labors over. I do know that none of his books are perfect. Maybe not even beautiful. But he gets the thing in gear and at some point, long before he was assured of 100,000 preprint orders, he dared to take it off the lot. Ultimately, that’s what a writer does, right? At any rate, those of us who are in love with that new car smell would do well to observe his actions, lest we be left in the dust.

So, will I read The Lost Symbol? I don’t know. I’m tempted, sure, but I need my sleep. I’ve got writing to do.

Clea Simon is the author of non-fiction books and two mystery series (the Theda Krakow series and Dulcie Schwatz series.) A former music critic, she also writes about relationships, feminism, and psychological issues for such publications as The New York Times, Ms magazine and Salon. Check out Probable Claws here and her new release, Shades of Grey right here.  Probable Claws

September 25, 2009

Time to Weed The Garden (or, how to rid yourself of Toxic People)

Time to Weed the Garden (or, how to rid yourself of Toxic People)

by Kathy Sweeney

Blog weed garden

The older I get, the less willing I am to spend time or energy on people I don't like.  In some ways, I'm mellowing out - I don't yell as much, and I am able to control my temper to the point that I no longer tell people to go to hell, even when they deserve it.  If someone needs that message, I can deliver it more artfully.

But wasting precious time and emotion?  Done with that.  I used to think I was being nice - or charitable, by putting up with bullshit from people who are jerks.  I blame the Guilt. Guilt, as you know, has deep roots.  Doesn't matter if you are Catholic or Jewish (the reigning champs of Guilt via Religion) or Irish (oh, how we love the misery) or Italian (oh, how we love the drama) or anything else.  We're all born with a nice slab of guilt to carry around. 

The problem with spending time on people who are crazy-makers is that it can be toxic.  Toxic is bad.  See, it's not just that you spend time surrounded by negativity.  It's that some people simply bring out the worst in others just by being mean as snakes, or ignorant as a box of hammers. When I say ignorant, I make no reference to IQ or education.  There are smart people who never finished high school.  And there are morons with every graduate degree on the planet.  Ignorance - the kind that makes me feel like throwing up - is the kind that comes from people believing and spouting nonsense when a simple, factual reference tells them it is simply not true.

Blog toxic barrell

I used to waste time trying to inform these ignoramuses.  No more.  Because it's not about teaching or enlightening these people.  They don't want to know the truth.  They are much more comfortable with whatever fiction they've woven into their crazy quilts of nastiness.  They think it protects them from the evil ones, where evil is defined as anyone different.

So - as my friend Thommie used to say, you need to weed the garden.  You need to get rid of the toxic people before they over-run the good ones, including yourself.  Here are a few tips:

1.  Check your e-mail lists and address books.  If there are people there who make you cringe, delete them. That's right, hit the button.  The world will not stop turning.  In fact, many of them will continue to bug you because they are not aware enough to realize you're not contacting them any more.  You can respond politely without encouraging further contact.  Then at some point, you just stop responding.  Is this rude?  Only if you think politesse requires that you be miserable.

2.  Don't say yes to everything.  We're all busy.  We can't possibly do everything everyone asks us to do.  If someone invites you somewhere, or wants you to volunteer for something, tell them you have to check your calendar first and you'll have to get back to them.  If you decide to decline, you don't need elaborate explanations.  A simple:  'I'm not available' or the nicer 'I'm sorry, but I already have plans' is enough.  Prepare yourself to repeat this exercise with the most obnoxious of your Toxic Contacts.  Don't cave.

3.  Stop feeling like it's your job to fix everything.  You have enough to fix in your own house, family and career. You are not the only resource available.   Those of you who know me can stop laughing now because this one is my biggest challenge.  And knowing many of you - it's also yours.  Here is the thing, though.  If you give too much of yourself to things that don't really matter, you may not have enough left for the things that really do matter.  Control issues?  One or more of the Deadly Sins at play?  No shit, Sherlock.  I didn't say it was easy.

It's officially autumn this week.  And if you've ever gardened, you know you have to clean up if you want things to bloom in the spring.  Trees don't shed their leaves just to create work for rakes, y'know.  

So - what say you?  What's your advice?

September 24, 2009

International Moving Violations

International Moving Violations

by Nancy                           Go to fullsize image

Over the weekend, my daughter Sarah moved into her first house.  My small contribution to the effort was packing all the dishes and driving the truck. I also paid for the truck, come to think of it. Economic contributions sometimes being more valuable than a strong back.

Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I had to move from one apartment (with drug dealers upstairs and their customers hanging around the parking lot day and night) to another (it was supposed to be a safer neighborhood, but almost immediate somebody broke into my car to steal the 8-track player) I did what everybody in their twenties used to do.  I hired a U-Haul and invited boyfriends past to help do the heavy lifting. The boyfriends were always cheerful. (If you invite more than one, moving becomes a manly sort of contest like flaunting tailfeathers or ramming each other senseless with their antlers. Win-win for me.) They were cheerful, that is, until it came time to move the one big item---my sofabed.  Getting that monster up three flights of the servant's staircase in the stately mansion that had been cut up into crummy apartments was a true measure of . . . well, probably the quality of the product sold upstairs.

Certainly, moving that sofabed was not worth the requisite pizza that movers were paid in back then. (Do people still ask friends to move them and offer pizza in return?) 

Anyway, it's a good thing Sarah moved last weekend.

Because this week is also the international G-20 Conference, which is being held here in Pittsburgh for reasons that escape all the domestic press and actually made the White House press secretary break out laughing when he announced it. But since Pittsburgh has been the butt of jokes for so long, we don't bother getting offended anymore.  We're mystified, though.

This is the first international economic conference of its kind not held in a nation's capital, and I can tell you why.  Nobody---and I mean nobody except small, formerly bankrupt rustbelt cities that hemmoraged their populations decades ago--would allow this kind of disruption take place. The National Guard is here. Our schools are closed. The entire bus  system has been re-routed. Trucks have been stopped, which means we can't get food hauled to restaurants.  (Ye gods, I may have to cook!) Yesterday, I was over in the neighborhood where all the universites and hospitals are, and there's plywood over all the windows. I mean ALL THE WINDOWS.  It looks like we're expecting a hurricane.  Or riots.


Of course, we've had presidents visit before.  George Washington slept here long before he was president--when there wasn't much of anything to see except Native Americans and trees.  JFK, Clinton, Bush I and II. Even Teddy Roosevelt stayed in Pittsburgh.  But never have we entertained over two dozen heads of state AT THE SAME TIME.  

The visiting dignitaries and foreign press are staying in hotels all over town, including some far-flung suburbs that are--I have to say it---nearly unreachable even on a good traffic day.  (I understand Mr. Gadhafi's instinct to pitch a tent in New York's backyard. It would be easier than finding our airport Marriott.) We're a city that grew haphazardly around the 3 rivers that George Washington so astutely observed are squished between mountains.  Which makes road-building nearly impossible. We have lots of tunnels and bridges. The names of roads change when you cross certain intersections. (Why?  Because they do!)   And let's not get into the subject of the miles of highway currently under repair! We know our roads are weird and the detours are complicated. Hell, we all get lost now and then, but if you speak only Arabic?  Trust me, you're going to have some trouble getting back to the Holiday Inn after dark.

The Secret Service arrived about 2 months ago, and they've been advising us to leave ever since. They told everybody who works downtown not to go to work today and tomorrow.  I'm not kidding.  It's a ghost town down there. See, the visiting heads of state are going to rub elbows in surprisingly close proximity various groups that in the same breath tout world peace and anarchy. (So far, the protests have been peaceful.  Yesterday Greenpeace sent some people rappelling off a bridge with a big banner, but that incident ended--uh---peacefully.) The Secret Service doesn't want the locals around to make things worse.  (Have you seen a Steeler game?  When Cleveland comes to play, we definitely know how to make guests feel unwelcome.) My husband's bank put a special clear plastic film on all their windows in case of flying bricks, but then they decided to close the bank entirely because they couldn't figure out how to get their employees--let alone customers--past the Secret Service barricades. So my husband is working in a suburban bank branch today.  (Take a day off? Are you kidding??) Bankers and lawyers who do remain in the convention vicinity have been advised to wear their jeans and t-shirts to work (not suits and ties!) so they don't get targeted by protesters. 

To tell the truth, we haven't seen many protesters.  A few, of course, but nothing like the predicted 30,000. I think they're all at home studying their maps and saying, "But how do we get to Pittsburgh from here?" Anyway, the police have been on the alert for protesters, stopping suspicious vehicles before they get into the city. Maybe turning them away at the Ohio border, for all I know.

Tomorrow the president of Japan (is he a president? Or a prime minister?  I'll look it up and get back to you) is scheduled to throw out the first pitch of the Pirates vs. Dodgers game at our lovely baseball park.  I think he'd going to be perfectly safe, because nobody who lives here is going to try to drive to the stadium during all these traffic restrictions. (No wise cracks about the Pirates, please.  We're in mourning.) 

It's reported that we have 4000 police officers on duty. (Normally, the city has a grand total of 900.) That's not counting the private security world leaders don't travel without. The rent-a-cops (actually state troopers and imported police from other cities like--er--Cleveland) are trying to keep the peace, and we residents truly hope they succeed. 

The hotels are completely full (of dignitaries, press, support staff and something like 40 police sniffer dogs.)  The restaurants would be full of patrons, except there's no way to get employees into the city to cook or serve, so we're wondering if, for instance, the Saudi delegation packed their lunch.  Did President Sarkozy bring along Brie and champagne for his wife? And who's feeding all those sniffer dogs??

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It's all fascinating, of course, and I'm enjoying learning more about international economics. (There's more to it than bribing old friends with pizza, but not a lot, if you ask me.)  But to tell the truth, all I can really think of is how glad I am we helped Sarah move into her new house last weekend.  Because if we were trying to do it now, we'd probably be stuck along the highway in that rented truck, stopped by the Secret Service and being sniffed by police dogs.

I think we should give the Saudis some pizza just to be friendly. And those nice cops from Cleveland, too.

September 23, 2009

Where's My Book? (And How Do You Get a Free Copy?)

Where’s My Book? (And How Do You Get a Free Copy?)

By Elaine Viets

Last week, I unlocked the chain on my ankle to give a speech at a bookstore. I blinked at the bright light. I’ve spent the last six weeks in my office dungeon, finishing up the next Helen Hawthorne novel.

Signing fifty-three books was a treat. One woman asked me to autograph "Shop Till You Drop," my first Dead-End Job mystery.                                                                      


"I can’t wait to take this on the plane with me to California," she said.

Being a normal writer (which means an abnormal person), I brooded on her remark. She was taking my book to California. What was I doing?

Slaving over another book. Oh, the irony. Stab me with a fountain pen, heartless readers, and watch me bleed blue ink.

My book was going to vacation-splurge restaurants while I ate canned tuna in my kitchen, and the cat howled for my lunch. It’s hard to persuade myself I’m having a heart-healthy meal when a fat feline is fighting to eat it.

My book would be on a sun-drenched beach, while I was holed up in my office. By the time I finish a book, I’m as pale as a cave creature, and nearly as crazed.

This wasn’t the first time readers told me they were taking my book some place exotic. One woman bought "Dying In Style" at the Tel Aviv airport. I’ve never been to Israel, but my book has.

My St. Louis friend, Jinny Peterson, bought "Murder Between the Covers" at Murder Ink on Dawson Street in Dublin. I’ve always wanted to see Ireland. My book has.


A pair of fans bought "Killer Cuts" in Fort Lauderdale and took it to Belgium, birthplace of Hercule Poirot. I’ve never seen Belgium, but my book has.

Let me tell you about Japan. My books sell there in Japanese and in English. They’re even used in a university course as an example of American culture. (I’m not making this up.) Meanwhile, I’m back in the USA. The closest I get to Japan is sushi from the supermarket.

At least my books help others while I selfishly stay home and try to make money. Las Vegas fan Nancy Smith (pictured in this blog) sent a photo of "Killer Cuts" she’d donated to the Nevada Cancer Institute. Nan Siemer of Virginia donated a set of my books to a hospice.

My next Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel, "The Fashion Hound Murders," will be published November third. Heaven knows where it will wind up.

But since I have to stay home and write, I’d like to see where my books travel. Send me a photo of my book at any landmark. Have your child or pet read it. (What do you mean dogs can’t read? They’re smarter and more faithful than most of my newspaper editors.) Donate my book to some worthy cause. Then show me.

I’ll give away five free autographed copies of "The Fashion Hound Murders" to the best photos. Here are the rules:

(1) You can use any books in the Dead-End Job series or the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series. The complete list is on my Website at www.elaineviets.com and on my Facebook page, Elaine Viets.

(2) Risque photos will be not accepted. (This means you, Margie.) Sister Valeria will inspect them for occasions of sin.

(3) All photos will be published on my Facebook page. If you send me a book photo, you’ve given permission to put it on my Facebook site.

(4) Photos must be entered in one of these five categories:

(a) Most exotic tourist spot book photo       


(b) Best pet and book photo

(c) Best child and book photo

(d) Best worthy cause and book photo

(e) Most inventive reader photo

(5) Photos must be emailed by midnight Nov. 3, 2009, to evietsfb@aol.com Don’t forget to name the category. Some winners will be displayed on The Lipstick Chronicles on Wednesday, November 11. All acceptable photos will be posted on the Elaine Viets Facebook page.

(6) I will give one autographed copy of "The Fashion Hound Murders" to each of the five winners.


Go ahead, torment me. Show me all the fun my books have while I’m stuck at a computer. Send your entries to evietsfb@aol.com

September 22, 2009

If Beds Could Talk

By Sarah

Pray for my soul: I've been shopping for a new mattress and in so doing have accidentally entered a fresh retail hell.
It started with a renovation - no lectures please. Yes, for all my talk about penny pinching this year, 


Charlie and I gave in and had the wall in our bedroom straightened out last week. As with any renovation like this, you just can't let it be. Oh, no. You have to fix the ceiling, too, and the walk-in closet that the bedroom abuts. Of course, new paint EVERYWHERE! (That we're doing ourselves.) And lights. Fresh carpet goes without saying. While we're at it, with this big new room let's finally get a king-sized bed. 
And so a $2,000 job turned into a....well, I don't want to think about it. Especially since we've also got a freshman in college.
In our defense, we've been putting off correcting the closet/bedroom/hallway mistake since Charlie built the addition himself back in the late 1990s. He realized immediately that the architect got way too angle happy with the seven-sided bedroom she designed. Too bad we didn't recognize this before the place was framed.
 We've been living with drywall and plywood floors in the closet and  hallway since 1999. But that's


 okay. Drywall and plywood floors are pretty standard stuff in Vermont. It was fine - until we reached our late 40s and early 50s and the permanent impermanence began to wear thin. Also, our queen bed was suddenly too small. (Amazing how those mattresses can shrink.) And so we closed our eyes and did it.
Okay. I expected to shell out some bucks to Hutch, our very reasonable contractor who built our other addition last year. I did not expect the new bed and the new mattress to cost MORE than a week of his hard work and materials.
Since when did mattresses become space-age engineered monstrosities? The last mattress we bought (13 years ago) cost $600 for the entire set and has been just fine. (Though Charlie disagrees.) I imagined I would walk into a mattress store, pay maybe $800 for a king set and walk out. Oh, how naive I was.
If you haven't shopped for a mattress lately, here's a heads up. 
a) Buying a new mattress is exactly like buying a new car. Bullshit Abounds. "Individually wrapped coils" are to mattresses what "undercoating" is to Fords. "You can walk out of here with a new mattress right now" is akin to "what do I have to do to get you in this car today?" I even had one salesman talk to "his boss" about the price of a $4375 "Sleep to Live" by Kingsdown after I mentioned that I was looking at a mattress more than half that price. He returned with a "one-time" offer of $1919. His boss was feeling generous.


b) The names are ridiculous, just like cars. Consider the Stearns and Foster "LeMans Ultra Plush Euro Pillow Top" for those who equate a solid night's sleep with French racing. But wait, it gets better. One store might sell brand A as "Super Deluxe Plus Grand Prix" and a store down the street might sell the exact same mattress as "Euro Plush Spoiled Tush". So you can't comparison shop! Isn't that brilliant?
c) Everything is on sale. Everything. It is not uncommon to find a 100 to 200% markup drastically reduced. In the end, Charlie and I bought a mattress from a local store. It wasn't on sale and, yet, it was far less expensive than equivalents - no comparison shopping, remember? - in Burlington. His argument was that they didn't play the markup game and I believe him. Also, the store's been in business 40 years. If I've got a problem, they know word of mouth will spread.

d) Wood. Springs. Felt. Padding. These words, once the essence of mattresses and box springs, 

Down pillow

no longer count. Now it's latex and inner core and Visco foam (whatever that is). They have managed to take a relatively simple complex, once a bag stuffed with straw or down, and completely messed with it. I give up.

e) Finally, they're expensive. Crazy expensive. And the line every salesman uses? You got it - "You spend eight to ten hours of your day in bed. Isn't that time worth a good investment?" Fine. Except, you're not plugging savings into a mutual fund. You're investing in foam that will with time (sooner than you expect) sink, collapse and harden until your back is stiff and you're back to the beginning - shopping for a mattress and listening to spiels about eight to ten hours a day investments.
Which mattress did we buy? Chances are, it's the one you either didn't buy or you did buy and now hate. Because that, too, is the rule of mattress shopping - no one loves his or her mattress. Unless they shelled out for a Tempurapedic, then they rave. I wish I could, but I can't. To me, those mattresses are hard in the winter (when we leave the windows open and bundle in blankets) and hot in the summer. Give me springs.
We'll get our mattress and bed next week. In the meantime, our stuff is spread all over the house and 


Charlie and I are basically sleeping in separate bedrooms. (That was another reason for delaying the renovation - for when Anna was in college and we had more space.) There's irony there, but I'll let it pass. All I know is that the $250 twin no name mattress in my office feels divine, possibly because the bed is at least eighty years old and has real springs instead of box "foundations."
But they don't sell those anymore. Of course.

So, now I've ordered a king set but am having second thoughts. If you've got a great bed, please don't keep it a secret. After all, I'll spend eight to ten hours of my life in this bed and...


September 21, 2009

My Checkered Past

My Checkered Past

by Harley

My first film acting job, in The House on Sorority Row, came by way of a time-honored tradition. Not the casting couch. The cattle call.


In a New York City stockyard—uh, warehouse—700 nubile girls competed for 7 roles. It was a non-union film, paying non-union wages in non-union working conditions. Nobody cared. This was a movie, and seven lucky girls would be paid to get slashed to death. Send me in, coach.

Plus, my congratulatory phone call came as I laced up my black orthopedic shoes for my waitress shift, ending a nearly decade-long career in the food service industry (woo-hoo!)

Following instructions, I took a train from New York City to Pikesville, Maryland. There, I met the sorority: Janis, Jodi, Robin, Kate, Eileen, & Ellen. We were housed in a religious summer camp called Koinonia (a Native American word meaning, we surmised, “mouse droppings.”) It was seedy by day, scary by night. We wouldn’t stay there alone after dark--unlike our film counterparts, who, like serial killer victims everywhere, are always game for a solo moonlight stroll.

Without giving away the intricate and compelling plot, let’s just say it concerned the grisly murders of the girls of Theta Pi. There was an evil housemother involved. I shall say no more. I was the 3rd to die. I was originally slated to die 5th, but when we arrived in Pikesville, my hair was too much like sorority sister Eileen’s (from L.A.), who, for story reasons, had to be Death #6. So as not to confuse viewers, I expired early.

But even in death I stayed in the movie, as a corpse in sorority sister Kate’s hallucination. This was important, because we were paid $50 a day, but only for shooting days.

It was a magical experience, the closest I’d ever get to a sorority. Offscreen, there were sex, drugs, rock & roll, visits from boyfriends, and a trip into town to support a sister with a Medical Issue That We Won’t Talk About.

The only bad moment was the underwater corpse scene. We were to float in a pool (along with the cameraman) at varying depths, wearing cocktail gowns and seaweed, eyes open, looking dead–i.e., no bubbles. Yes, yes, it sounds simple enough. But staying motionless, six feet under in cold dark water turned out to be something I’m surprisingly bad at. Some genius suggested attaching weights to me, to keep me submerged at the proper depth. I’m sorry to report that self-preservation trumped dedication to my craft. I declined.

The film hit the theatres in 1983, by which time 3 of us had graduated to soap operas. I finished work one day on Guiding Light and subwayed uptown to the opening. Maybe in L.A. they had a red carpet and a premier party, but in New York, we cast & crew paid for our tickets and popcorn and listened to a real audience yell “bitch!” in appropriate places, and cheer on the killer.

Over time, the film became a cult classic--and spawned a remake. So last Saturday night, after participating in the Omaha Literary Festival, I treated myself to the 6:45 showing of Sorority Row. There were 14 Omahans in attendance. (There’d been 15, but one guy left.)

It turns out that director Mark Rosman was justified, all those years ago, in rewriting the script around our hair. I spent the first half of this movie trying to tell the brunettes apart and the second half convinced I had swine flu (I didn't; like our Nancy, I succumb easily to hand-held camera-induced nausea.) Carrie Fisher, as the housemother, was delightful. Otherwise, I must admit, it’s not my genre. Early on I was counting characters, keeping track of how many more had to die before we could go home.

Or could it be that one shouldn't mess with Perfection?

In other Episodes from My Checkered Past this week, Guiding Light went dark. After 72 years. And no one’s replacing the lightbulb. Soap lovers everywhere weep.

Happy Monday!