« October 2009 | Main | December 2009 »

30 posts from November 2009

November 30, 2009

Write Like Your Readers Are Dead?

Yes, it’s another Manly Monday, in part because Harley has 8,990 words to write by midnight in order to make it to the NaNoWriMo winner’s circle, but mostly because we are honored--HONORED--to have Eric Stone blog for us. He’s the talented author of four Ray Sharp mysteries (or is that three and a half?) and if you are a fan of mystery series, what you are about to read will shock you. Welcome, Eric.


Eric Stone

An important note to my readers: I love you, I do, I really do. I think about and care about you a lot. Just not all the time. That’s what this is about. That said…

Let’s get the hard part of this over with first. I killed Ray Sharp, my series hero. I killed him halfway through my most recent book, SHANGHAIED. He was the narrator, too. The narrative duties were taken over by his sidekick, Wen Lei Yue, who will now take over the series as well.Shanghaied_press-med  

That made some people mad. “You killed Ray Sharp??? I'm finished with you. I read 3 of your books and liked them but no more. Forget it from San Diego.” – A recent email.

Only one outraged reader has threatened physical violence, although I have been warned to steer clear of some others by friends and some bookstore owners.

One frequently quoted bit of sage advice to writers is: “Write like your parents are dead.” That has always struck me as sensible. Self-censorship seldom gets the job done. But how far can you take it?

Should I write like my readers are dead?

Part of the problem is that there are all kinds of readers. I have received a few emails from people who thought it was “way cool,” “fantastic,” “astounding,” “brave,” etc. that I offed Ray.

And some readers, you just can’t be quite sure what they think. SHANGHAIED, which mostly got excellent reviews, got one review that said: “Sleazy! That’s how I would describe this book. With lesbian relationships and heroin usage, these are topics that many of us have not experienced and do not intend to experience. Through much of the novel there is constant adventure…” The review went on at some length in a way that made it seem like the reviewer really liked my “sleazy” novel. Go figure. (I kinda like sleazy novels myself, sometimes. So maybe it was meant as a good review.)

The worst review any of my books has ever received, was also for SHANGHAIED – an Amazon review. Oh boy did that reviewer have some terrible things to say about the book, and about all of my books, which he/she hasn’t liked since the start. But they’ve read all four of them, carefully, apparently. (Maybe it was for the sex scenes. I’m cool with that.) Hmmm.

My father doesn’t like the sex scenes in my books. They make him uncomfortable. Well, too bad, Dad, I’m writing like you’re dead anyhow.

At one point, my father was considering writing his memoirs. (He has had a memoir-worthy life.) But then he came up against the fact that he only wanted to be so honest in his memoirs, knowing that his kids would read them. Hmmmm, so I guess you have to write like your kids are dead, too.

Does all this mean that we writers have to write like everybody’s dead?

Writing is a solitary profession. Is it a selfish one, too?

There are, unfortunately, those people who we writers do have to please: agents, editors, publishing company sales and marketing people, reviewers (well, some of them, some of the time, anyway) and booksellers. Unless we want to simply write for the sheer enjoyment of it and then put the finished products away in our closets, there is only so solitary we can be.

But, how much can we allow that to affect us and still write the books we want to write?

 The fact of the matter is, that when I killed Ray Sharp I didn’t give a moment’s thought to what my readers would think. I was thinking about the story, and the characters, and how to challenge and excite myself creatively. As for my readers — they might as well have all been dead when I wrote that scene.

 And the ones who like my writing, like my books, even most of the ones who liked Ray, are okay with that. They get a better, more interesting book to read because I didn’t take them into account. Just like my parents. Just like my Dad could write a really great memoir if he wasn’t worried about me reading it. (Come on, Dad, I can take it.)

 None of this is to say that I don’t love, cherish, respect, desire, lust after and suck up to my readers. I do. I want them. I crave them. All of them. I need them. I need and want you, whoever you are.

But the way in which I can repay readers for the time they spend reading my books and the dollars they spend buying my books is to make every effort to write the best possible books I can. And for that, they are pretty much stuck with trusting me.

 It’s implicit in the bargain we’ve made. If they buy and read my books they are welcome to like them or not as they see fit. And they’re welcome to let me know how they feel about them. (I’d prefer not to get punched, however.) And I always listen, and 99.9 percent of the time respond, politely.

 But I gotta tell you, when it’s just me and the computer and the leaf blowers and barking dogs and delivery trucks and vans and the occasional helicopter overhead outside, everybody else is dead to me. And if you want me to keep writing books that some of you are going to love, and some of you are going to hate, that’s the way you want it, too.Eric&Flameslo  

visit Eric at www.ericstone.com . . .  


November 29, 2009

Party Crashers

By Sarah

It seems Obama can't do anything right.

Guy throws his first state dinner, Michelle by his side looking splendid in a strapless gold gown, for Salahi2  the prime minister of India, only to upstaged by a Michaele in bleached teeth and hair and a bright red sari. She and her husband, Tareq Salahi, aspiring reality stars known for running out on their bills, waltzed into the A list event posing as the A list posers that they are, got themselves photographed with various important people like the president himself and then waltzed out, Twittering all the way.

Now they're auctioning off their first interview for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why? Because they violated the president's security and that of the Indian prime minister's, too.

All of which reminds me of Kevin Bacon's classic line from Diner: "You ever get the feeling there's something going on that we don't know about?"

Until I read about the Salahis, I was irked by Katie Couric's smug grin in HER purple nod to Indian fashion as she entered the big tent outside the White House. I have a big problem with journalists - if you can call Katie Couric a journalist - being wined and dined by the politicians they're supposed to scrutinize. Clearly, she was thrilled to be invited (Tweeted 12 times in gushing tones) and, I suppose, Brian Williams was, too. The difference is thatKatie  Katie was largely responsible for derailing the McCain juggernaut (don't forget last fall's polls, people) by asking Sarah Palin the "hard hitting question" concerning her choice of reading material which turned out to be none.

The visual of Katie all decked out and schmoozing with the president is kindling to the Palin fire and, possibly, rightly so. To the folks out in Bloomington, Minnesota, the ones who gathered before dawn to buy her book, those who weren't invited to the state dinner and wouldn't begin to know how to crash it, this solidifies the notion of an elitist conspiracy between the intellectuals like Obama and the media snobs, like Couric.  You don't see Seymour Hersh pulling stunts like this. Then again, he's too busy worrying about Pakistan's nukes.

Turns out there's an even worse elite than Katie. The Salahis, by all accounts, didn't earn their money but inherited it from the family's vineyard and even that's dicey. Tareq plays polo, started a polo organization or two, and is feuding with his wine-producing family. Lawsuits against him abound. His wife, Michaele, who claims to be a former Redskins cheerleader or model for Victoria Secret (she wasn't) didn't pay for her thousand-dollar hairdo at the state dinner (even though it looks like she barely ran a comb through it) and, according to the owner of her salon of choice NEVER pays for her hair. Huh?

I'm going to try this with Melodie at Stairway to Style next time. When I come in for the usual cut and foil, I'm going to inform her that it's to be "comped." Melodie's a pretty good egg. If someone's having a tough week, she'll usually let them slide for a few days. But not even our parking is comped.

This Salahi thing, though, is not going away. Come tomorrow morning, I predict conservative talk radio Rockthevote  will have uncovered some unsavory truths about the Salahis and their relationship to Obama. Already, a photo has surfaced showing Obama looking chummy with Tareq, Michaele, and members of Black Eyed Peas before he was president. Being photographed with the founder of the Polo Cup is the last thing Obama needs during a deep Recession when unemployment is in the double digits and people who can't comp extravagances like, uhm, their food bill, are ready to storm the castle.

Before Rush Limbaugh gets his knickers in a twist, it was a Reagan appointee, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who spoke at the Salahis wedding a few years ago - the one attended by 1,800 people.

Honestly, the more I read about these two, the more I go back to Kevin Bacon's question and the obvious answer: yes.


November 28, 2009

Robotic Hamsters....Honestly?

By Sarah

Yesterday, I did not attempt to leave my house except to take out the garbage and feed the neighbors' dog (though, much to our surprise as we padded through their house wondering at their wood fire, the neighbors were HOME!) I did not line up at one a.m. or sleep on the sidewalk outside of Best Buy. I blew the budget at Best Buy in September on a widescreen TV and, as a result, kind of get the shakes when I see blue and yellow.

BB  I'm not saying I'm better than those who did. In fact, from a frugal perspective, I'm far worse. But it's hard for me to get my mind around why you would race through Thanksgiving dinner and then sit in the cold and the rain waiting for stores to open all night. Was there something these people knew that I didn't? Apparently, yes. 

Robotic Hamsters.

Zhu, Zhu. Hamsters that drive their own cars, don't procreate, don't defecate and, well, die. The perfect pet. Except, isn't caring for and learning to love smelly living things that die part of the point of having a pet when you're a kid? So you can witness the cycle of life and learn the Five Remembrances of loss and....oh, forget it. They're cute!

They're also less than $10, which apparently is part of the attraction. Zhu Zhu hamsters, like the Tickle Me Elmo when I was a mother of young kids, are the IT gift of the season along with Wii Fit, flat-screenZhu   TVs, Blu Ray players and Kitchen Aid mixers. (Kitchen Aid mixers??) Note that no books appear here or trips to Cancun. People are staying in, watching videos and eating cookies.

It seems to me that people are always staying in, watching videos and eating cookies. (Wait. That's MY life.) This is why I, personally, don't need or want anything for Christmas except a lower Visa bill in January. That would make me ecstatic. And while I've traditionally gone hog wild during this time of year, this season I feel no such inclination - not even for my family. My son agrees. What more do we want?

Adding to our reluctance are the daily stories of woe: in Vermont which is, you know, cold, the fuel assistance program is almost out of cash - and it's been a warm fall. Particularly hard hit are those families at the edge where, as one fuel assistance provider put it, "on paper" it looks like their budget could swing the oil payments if it weren't for the odd car bill or health emergency that pushes them into poverty. Those are the folks going cold this winter. Their kids, too.

The food shelf is bare. Never before have so many families needed to supplement their pantries. Again, we're dealing with those on the edge, the working poor. In a way, it's worse than last year because at least then the food shelf had stored up resources. But after a year of draining needs, they're depleted.

It goes on an on. A local shelter that get all sorts of families back on track has faced an unprecedented need due to foreclosures and evictions. It's as if the weight of the recession, once reflected in a plunging Dow, has now "trickled down" to those with the thinnest cushions.

Those are our local examples. I'm sure it's ditto in your area, too. 

Home  I'm embarrassed to admit that by ripping off a check to our church or to the United Way,in the past I've been able to clear my conscience with a swipe of the pen. After all, isn't that the purpose of holiday giving? But I'm afraid that old eraser has quit working. For one thing, with tuition payments, etc., that old store of cash is gone. For another, there are so many worthwhile causes it's almost impossible to choose.

I've also never been a big fan of "giving" friends and, worse, family members' kids gifts of charity instead of tangible presents. There's something preachy about it that's off putting, as if the message is clearly that the child is spoiled and should see how the other half lives.

So my approach this year is to scale wayyyy back on Xmas and donate what excess I save. Will my teenagers understand this? I don't know. In theory they claim they will. But then Christmas morning comes and the tree looks pretty skimpy. The coveted designer handbag isn't there. Nor is the new pair of skis or the new laptop. I figure they're old enough to understand that maybe this year is the year when we put the meaning of Christmas to a test.

Too bad they can't be mollified with a $10 battery operated hamster.


November 27, 2009

2009 Holiday Music

2009 Holiday Music

By Kathy Sweeney

Blog BocelliToday, Even Scrooge McGrinch can't complain about me talking about holiday music - that's why I waited so long.  It is 'Black Friday' - a day when people eat leftovers, shop, hang lights, or just go back to work.

It is also, by any measure, the beginning of the official holiday season.  First, let's give Thanksgiving its due.  I'll bet most of you didn't know there were lots of Thanksgiving songs out there.  Enough for me to make collections for the last four years.  Here are some that I like so much that they made it more than one year - although by different artists:

Bless This House

Celebrate Me Home

Now Thank We All Our God

We Gather Together, and 

Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving.

Okay, that was yesterday and this is today.  Time to take a look at the 2009 holiday music offerings.

Bob Dylan's "Christmas In The Heart".  Yes, he has a Christmas Album.  Yes, it sounds just like you think it would. All profits go to charity. Kathy's Call: For hard core fans only. Seriously.

Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas".  Magnificent.  I believe this is his first holiday album and it includes solos and lovely duets with Natalie Cole, Mary J. Blige, Reba McEntire and Katherine Jenkins.  This guy can do anything - he not only holds his own with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but the Muppets too!  Kathy's Call:  This is in my top three so far.  If you don't want to buy the whole thing, sample the songs on iTunes.  I simply cannot narrow them down for you.

Blog straight-no-chaser_christmas cheers Straight No Chaser's "Christmas Cheers" - YES!  It's all new stuff - just in case you already have last year's top pick, called "Holiday Spirits".  Watch for them in a PBS special - check local listings. Kathy's Call - one of these is a must for all holiday music fans.  If you already bought last year's CD, at least download "Christmas Can-Can".  

Sandi Patty's "Christmas Live" - anyone like me who is old enough to remember gathering around to watch Bob Hope, The Bingler, Perry Como or Andy Williams will appreciate this music.  Kathy's Call: If you're a fan, you already own it.  Want just one track?  Download "The Most Wonderful Christmas Waltz".

Israel & New Breed's "A Timeless Christmas".  This is dance mix gospel at its finest.  You know whether this is your type or not.  Kathy's Call:  making a mix?  Download "With Us (Oh Emmanuel)".

Sugarland's "Gold and Green" - this country duo is very hot, and I love their sound.  Kathy's Call:  required listening for country fans.  Want to download just one track? Make it "City of Silver Dreams" or "Coming Home".

Aaron Shuster's "Christmas - EP".  This is straight up contemporary Christian.  If you celebrate anything other than Christmas - emphasis on the Christ, this is not for you.  If you do, it's beautiful.  Kathy's Call: download "God Has Come to Earth".  If you love it, buy the rest.

Charlie Daniels and Friends' "Joy to the World".  This is bluegrass (a type of country music) with no apologies.  Includes Charlie himself reading from Luke 2:1-11. Which is lovely, but I prefer Linus Van Pelt.  Kathy's Call: for bluegrass fans or those learning to play banjo or fiddle.

Chris Tomlin's "Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship".  More CHRISTmas music.  I downloaded "My Soul Magnifies the Lord" and ended up with most of the tracks.  Kathy's Call: This is not for everyone, but it's now one of my favorite CCR albums.

Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry Christmas".  Yup - that's the real title and there is even a title track - if you thought the lyrics to his regular catalog were a stretch, you won't believe this one.  Wow.  Diamonds are forever, but his voice is not.  Ouch.  Hey, I love the guy, but - brace yourself - when he takes to covering Adam Sandler's "Hanukah Song"?  Oi vey.  Kathy's Call:  Stick to his older stuff.  

Ann Nesby's "Soulful Christmas" - a big woman with a big voice.  I'm normally not a fan of Christmas soul, but she's got pipes.  Kathy's Call: a good addition to a soul collection, otherwise skip it.  On the fence? Check out "It's Christmas Time/Joy to the World".

Big Daddy Weave's "Christ is Come" - another gospel/folk group.  Fans of Third Day,  David Phelps, or Casting Crowns will love this music. Kathy's Call: Beautiful lyrics, great music.  Not sure if you'll like it?  Check out "Christ is Come" or "Peace on Earth". Also check out Rodney Carrington's "Make it Christmas"

Jim Brickman's "The Hymns and Carols of Christmas".  He is a wonderful composer/pianist, and he surrounds himself with good vocalists too.  Kathy's Call: for fans of instrumental and piano holiday music.  Check out: "All Through the Night" or "Christmas Is" with Mark Masri. Caution: I like his earlier Christmas album, "The Gift" better.

Sting - his latest is called "If On A Winter's Night" - out yesterday, so I haven't heard it yet.  Starts off with one of his classics: "Gabriel's Message" so it's probably going to kick some serious holiday music butt.

Finally - a song from the vault - new to me this year courtesy of Tom and Mary Lynn - called "Corn, Water and Wood" by Riders in the Sky's "Christmas the Cowboy Way".  I love this song!

There are many more: Tori Amos, Bianca Ryan, Montgomery Bruce, Annie Moses Band, Richie McDonald, Lee Greenwood, Darius Rucker (aka Hootie) - a single called "Candy Cane Christmas" is cute, Stephen Speaks, Ruddy Currance, and many more.

Enough already.  Now it's your turn to share your recommendations - good, bad and otherwise.


November 26, 2009

Talking Turkey

Talking Turkey

by Nancy   Go to fullsize image

Let's get the formalities out of the way:  I'm thankful for you all---my blog sisters, our wonderful backbloggers, our strong and silent lurkers, and even you, Josh.  Thanks for coming around to visit.  We love you.  No, really, we do. 

But today is all about turkey---or so goes the conventional wisdom here in America.

I beg to differ.  I think it's all about the stuffing. And pie. And the Christmas lights. (Not vampires, but maybe you've seen the hot movie and can tell us about it?)

First, stuffing:

When I was growing up, we watched the Macy's parade in the morning and ate the big meal in the middle of the afternoon (which meant no wine or liquor, although some of the adults might have a glass of sherry--ew!) Sure, we had turkey and green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, of course. But when the bowl of stuffing went around at the table, we spooned ourselves mountains of it.  With all the important herbs and just the right amount of onion, butter and carefully cubed leftover bread, that stuffing was always a highlight of the meal.

Are you a sausage family?  I'm tempted to try that. Do you put oysters in your stuffing?  What about nuts? Dried fruit? Baked pears? What about diced carrots?  I'd like to add raisins this year, but my husband dislikes raisins. This is important--er--stuff, right? Family traditions bind us together, for better or worse. Is cornbread in your gene pool? Or does your family go for day-old Wonder Bread? Do you add a little pumpernickel for sweetness?

Tell me.  What's your favorite stuffing recipe?  What's your family's secret ingredient?

Next: Pie. Go to fullsize image

Do you hear that celestial choir singing as you read the word? Our family is very big on pie.  In fact, "pie" was my brother's first word.  It was craftily deployed when my grandmother came knocking at our door with her pie basket in hand.  My brother pulled open the door and cried, "Pie?!" with such delight that she practically cut him a slice right there on the threshold.

My family especially loves berry pies.  And rhubarb. But we're not really into pumpkin.  (Much to my husband's dismay, because he comes from pumpkin fans.) And pecan is limited to Christmas at our house. My mother bakes a pie that would make Martha Stewart weep with jealousy. She baked her Thanksgiving pies during the summer when the berries came right off the bushes, then froze them until November.  Beyond delish.  Now she says she's finished pie baking, but she can be coaxed to bake strawberry pie in the summer.  (She can't be bothered to roll out a crust, she says, but I think the lack of Thanksgiving pie nowadays is because her freezer is too small.) I'd like to know what varieties of pie you have at your house.  Or---heaven forbid---are into ice cream? Cheesecake at the end of the meal? Sorbet? Pumpkin roll? Tell all, please.  I have a sweet tooth that must be satisfied--even vicariously.

The next most important Thanksgiving decision to make is whether or not you spend your post-prandial time watching football, going to the movies  Go to fullsize image or dragging all the Christmas or Hanukkah decorations out of the attic. What's your tradition?

Do you decorate for the holidays at your house? Put icicle lights all along your gutters? (Or are icicle lights out of fashion?) Do you favor all-white lights or do you do the multi-colored bulbs at your house? Do you spray the fake snow on your windows? Line your driveway with giant candy canes? Put Santa on the roof with a sleigh and herd of blinking reindeer? Me, I buy a wreath of greens from the Boy Scouts and get out my glue gun to decorate it. This year I bought some 3 foot candy canes with a plan of featuring them in the urns that flank my garage doors.

What about those giant inflatable holiday decorations? Do you go in for those? I'd be tempted, except my neighbor bought some, and the noise of the blower puts me in a non-holiday mood. Instead, at two in the morning, I'm contemplating homicide.

This year I'm seriously considering buying three of those white wire animals with the little lights on them.  (Only if the price is right!) The polar bears would be adorable in my front yard.

 Go to fullsize image

This wouldn't be a blog about outdoor decorations without a story or two of some poor fool who fell off a ladder or blew a fuse or burned the living room carpet by "checking to see if the lights work," so--in the spirit of sharing--give me your tale of holiday decorating woe, please. In my family, it always ends up being a story about falling on the driveway while trying to shovel several feet of snow, and that's just not festive enough. Besides, my husband only recently got the stitches removed from his hand after washing the mimosa glasses from our family brunch a couple of weeks ago.

Truth be told, I'm cheating about Thanksgiving this year.  My extended family--those for whom I usually cook a lavish meal including a carefully brined and roasted turkey--are under the impression that I'm still an invalid, recovering from back surgery and unable to lift or carry or stir or chop or baste. 

    Go to fullsize image

So we're going out for dinner today.  A lovely restaurant is preparing our meal, and there will be no pots, pans, dishes or mimosa glasses to wash.  Part of me wishes I could keep up this invalid routine for another month, but I'm completely faking it right now and actually want to try some new recipes for Christmas this year (chocolate pecan pie!) so I think I'll have a miraculous recovery soon.  But not today.  Today, I'd like a nice lunch, and then I'm going to start hauling boxes out of the attic while my husband watches some games on TV.

Meanwhile, I hope you're all enjoying an entertaining holiday with family and friends.  I'm thankful that you stopped by today.  Tomorrow----we shop!

November 25, 2009

Feasting Friday


By Elaine Viets

This Friday, I will celebrate a favorite holiday. Many Americans know it as Black Friday, possibly the biggest holiday shopping day of the year. They’ll line up in the cold to get buy bargains the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Not me. I’ll risk frostbite in my own home. You’ll find me in front of the open fridge, eating leftovers on Feasting Friday. Leg

No matter how good Thanksgiving dinner is, the leftovers are even better the next day. A sandwich made from cold sliced turkey topped with cranberry sauce is worth celebrating. The flavor grows richer when I reheat giblet gravy and I can pick out the icky bits without being rude. Even cold lima beans in cheese sauce taste better the second time around, with the green limas embedded in the golden cheese like jewels.

I’ve learned to appreciate fine food. I like my veggies crisp, green and steamed most of the year. But at Thanksgiving, I long for mushy green beans in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with crispy canned onion rings on top.

I appreciate heart-healthy whole grain artisan bread. At Thanksgiving I stuff myself with pillowy Parker House rolls.

I eat clever mandarin orange and cranberry relishes the rest of the rest. At Thanksgiving, I like my cranberries out of the can.

And if there’s any pie left, I am doubly thankful on Feasting Friday. I slather leftover pumpkin pie with whipped cream like a porn star. Forget mincemeat pie. That’s raisins with a makeover.  Pie

Thanksgiving with family and friends is fun. I like crowding around a table extended to the last leaf and loaded with mashed potato mountains with cascades of melted butter, sweet potatoes glazed with brown sugar, and roast turkey with crisp skin. Real turkey, not processed junk that tastes like warm Kleenex.

On Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by friends and family, I am grateful for what I have. The day after Thanksgiving, I give thanks that my loved ones are safely home.Family at dinner

On Feasting Friday, there’s no holiday in my heart. Now it’s a celebration in my stomach. I quietly open the ziplock bags and plastic containers to get to the meat of things.

I don’t have to worry about dropping Grandma’s wineglasses or chipping the heirloom china. They’ve been washed and put away. I can’t spill anything on the white tablecloth. It’s in the laundry.

By Saturday, that green bean casserole will taste like something scraped off the side of an aquarium. The carved-up turkey carcass will look like an escapee from an autopsy.

On Feasting Friday, I relax, enjoy and reflect. I give thanks for the friends who provided this feast and their generous gift of leftovers. I’m grateful I’m not standing in a checkout line. I eat and be merry, for tomorrow I will diet.

I also remember this important Feasting Friday nutrition fact: If you eat standing up, the calories slide off.

Happy Thanksgiving, TLCers. How will you celebrate Feasting Friday? What’s your favorite leftover?End

November 24, 2009

Diary of a Candidate's Wife: Part One

By Sarah

Ladies, is your husband tired of doing housework? Does he find cleaning the gutters/laundering his own shorts/picking up after himself to be unnecessary chores that he'd rather YOU do?

Hey! He could be a candidate for public office. Here's how:

Last Friday, during a very pleasant meet and greet, my husband's campaign strategist let me know in noYes  uncertain terms that "soon," meaning, like, "now," Charlie shouldn't be expected to be home, much less help around the house.

I sat with a smile on my face and shot mental darts at luv buns. He looked like a kid who'd just handed the principal a note from his doctor forbidding the assigning of any homework due to stress.

I thought, We'll talk about this later. That is, if there's a later by November 2010.

Some background. Charlie is my husband (so far) of 20-21 years. A great guy, no doubt about it. Everybody loves Charlie. He can not make it from one end of State Street to the other without being stopped by someone (often of the female persuasion) who knows him from somewhere. 

Charles This is largely because he's cute, but also because he's a veteran of state government working in Montpelier, Vermont's capital of 8,000 people. It's like one big fraternity when you're a state employee in this town. Everyone knows everyone.

For the past three years, he's been a lawyer in private practice, but several years ago he was an attorney for such exciting entities as the state tax department! The department of banking, insurance, securities and health care administration! (Areas so boring they kind of lumped them in one and then stuck them in a building farthest away from the statehouse.)

Because of all the years working with town clerks, especially during his tenure at the tax department, Charlie thought it would be a good idea to run as a Democrat for secretary of state after the current secretary of state, Deb Markowitz, who happens to be very popular, decided to run for governor like the other 50 percent of the population. (Including Sarah Stewart Taylor's husband, Matt Dunne.)

When consulted (briefly) on this, I concurred because I knew he would do it anyway and if I'd said, "Are you kidding? I don't want to be no politician's wife" he would have held it over my head. Anyone married understands these ground rules.

So, with all the enthusiasm I could muster, I said, "Sure, honey. Why not?" with the faint hope that he would lose interest. He didn't. In fact, he's the only declared Democratic candidate so far and he's been campaigning, sort of, since last spring. This summer, entire weekends were lost as he visited state fairs and it's only going to get worse.

Naturally, I had hoped for a campaign that would have minimal impact on MY life which is fast slipping away with the advance of middle age. I mean, he's not gunning for US Secretary of State, for heaven's sakes. Not like he'll be negotiating MidEast peace or anything.

In Vermont, this is the office that oversees elections and professional licensing and archives, like theNotary  state Constitution, as if that's going anywhere. But hold on your hats, there's more adventure ahead - corporations file with the secretary of state as do notaries. You don't want those seals in the hands of just anyone, do you?

This is not like running for attorney general where you vow to stamp out fraud or governor where you promise to end unemployment. The sexiest issues that I can see in the secretary of state's race are whether voters should be allowed to register on election day and if blue or green should be used to color code UCC files.


Until Friday's conversation, I'd hung my hope on Dr. Judy Steinberg. Judy is Howard Dean's wife and, like Judy him, a doctor. As a former reporter who once covered a lot of election crap, I can't remember seeing her once on the trail except for election day at a Burlington hotel. I was interviewing Howard (then running for reelection as governor which, in Vermont, they do constantly) when this mouse of a woman interrupted us to say she and the kids were going to call it a night. It was 8:30. It was election day. Geesh, move up the bedtime!

But now I regard Judy with admiration bordering on worship. All along I thought she was a pill for not supporting Howie. Now I understand that while Howard was running around the state, she was not only holding down the home fort, but she was holding down a tough job. Kind of like me who, you know, has a book due in January and another in September but, hey, don't worry. I'll be fine! 'Cause you know what they say, a woman's place is in the house...and the Senate!

The good news is that I saw Deb Markowitz the other day and asked her, as a mother and someone who's run in six statewide races, whether this was true, the idea that for a year the candidate receives a Get-Out-of-Housework card. Deb shot a glance at Charlie with whom she's worked closely for almost a decade. She's no dummy.

"Well," she said politely, "Maybe not a year, but three months. August. September. October."

Okay. But come November, his soul is mine. Mine! In the meantime, anyone who wants to donate to the Charlie Merriman for Secretary of State  Get Charlie Doing the Dishes Again campaign, can click here.  And from the bottom of my heart, thank you, because every fundraising call he doesn't have to make is one more leaf from my gutter.


November 23, 2009


Optimism versus Pessimism

By Lisa Earle McLeod 

TLC is delighted to welcome guest author Lisa Earle McLeod.

The sunny-side-uppers claim that a positive attitude is the secret to success. If only all the Eeyores of the world would start thinking more positively, we could cure disease, create world peace, and line our pockets with riches.

Yet the self-proclaimed realists assert that they're the only ones are willing to face the facts. Leave life to the Pollyannas, and they'll skip us off the edge of a cliff, clutching copies of "The Secret" to their chests, passionately chanting, "I believe I can fly, I believe I can fly."

But which side is right?

The answer is both. Or neither, depending on whether you prefer your glass half-full or half-empty.

Any cynic will tell you, ill-informed optimism deludes people into ignoring reality. Yet doom and gloom pessimism sucks people into depression and inaction, neither of which are very helpful in bad situations.

The pessimism versus optimism debate is actually a false choice. It's an either/or myth, perpetuated by people who are completely exasperated that the clueless optimists/pessimists on the other side won't see the truth.

However, the real duality we need to embrace is facts AND faith.

As in, the facts may be pretty awful AND having faith that you will ultimately prevail is one of the best ways to insure that you do.

Originally cited by Jim Collins in the classic best-seller "Good to Great," the ability to simultaneously face the brutal facts of your current situation AND hold onto the faith that you will prevail is one of the hallmarks of a great leader, and it's the secret to surviving adversity.

The nuanced differences between the facts and faith duality, and pessimism vs. optimism debate, are important.

Facts are just that, facts. However, pessimism is a negative emotion that you attach to facts. Yes, your business might be going broke, or your disease might only have a 2 percent survival rate, or your 401(k) may be worth less than it was when you were 20. But those facts don't have to dictate your response. The ability to look clear-eyed at a situation doesn't mean succumbing to despair.

That's where faith comes in.

While optimism is usually connected to certain outcomes: I'll meet Mr. Right, I'll find a new job next week, I won't have to do any more chemo, faith is less scripted.

It can be faith in God, faith in yourself or just a general feeling that the world tilts toward the greater good. It's a belief that things eventually work out OK, even if the process is messy and you don't know what OK is going to look like.

I explore the facts and faith duality in my new book, "The Triangle of Truth," which comes out in January.

One of the things I uncovered in my research is that the ability to tolerate uncertainty is what separates the people who can survive difficult situations from those who are flattened by them.

Optimism and pessimism are both based on assumptions that things will play out in certain ways. Yet people who are able to tolerate the ambiguity of uncertain outcomes are able to assimilate facts AND faith at the same time.

Embracing ambiguity is hard for us humans. The optimists and the pessimists may seem sure of their perspectives, but the truth is, nobody knows for sure how life will play out.

We never did and we never will.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist, author, and keynote speaker.  Her new book The Triangle of Truth:  The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small will be released in January  - Learn more about Lisa at - www.TriangleofTruth.com

Side note from Kathy Sweeney:  Want to help some families facing the bad economic reality with some good old fashioned generosity?  If you've been following TLC, you know about Rachel Rothenberg and her victory in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament.  Rachel is donating 20% of her winnings to charity, and we at Team Rachel are helping raise more money for our local food bank by taking orders - this week only - for the shirts we designed to celebrate our champion. For details, please e-mail me at mksweeney@mac.com or check out Kathy Reschini Sweeney on Facebook.  THANKS!  (And thanks to Lisa for sharing this space today!)

November 22, 2009

Me -- a left-wing nutcase?

LC loves Lorna Barrett and her New York Times Bestselling Booktown Mystery Series. We like her as L. L. Bartlett, too, when she writes the Jeff Resnick Mystery series. But at least one reader doesn’t like her at all.

By Lorna Barrett

Last week I got a rather spiteful review on Amazon for my latest book. Okay, those of us in print should be used to lousy reviews--especially on Amazon. Onestar  

What is it about that particular online retailer that brings out the nastiness in readers? I suspect a good number of those venom-filled reviewers are frustrated writers who’ve been unable to see their work in print from a traditional publisher and want to take us down a peg. Although, to quote Dennis Miller, "That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong."

Still, what was wrong with my book that inspired this woman to leave a one-star review, commenting that my book has an incredibly weak plot full of talking points from liberal causes?

If she thinks my plot stinks – I can accept that. Goodness knows, I don’t have a PhD in plotting. But just what are these liberal causes of mine? Feed the hungry

First off, food pantries. Heavens, what a radical concept! God forbid anyone should want to feed hungry children, the unemployed, the elderly, and the homeless. (And if you don’t believe the need exists, perhaps this recent report from The Washington Post will change your mind.) http://tinyurl.com/yahsvwl

And how about going green? Another extremist concept. Apparently, only liberal do-gooders see the point in refraining from polluting our planet, or to stop edible food (and its recyclable packaging) from ending up in the waste stream. Banishing plastic grocery bags for the reusable kind? Sheer heresy!

Gosh, ya think the FBI has a file on me? Gulp!Go green

But let’s get back to that one star review. It’s apparently the only review she’s ever published on Amazon. (At least under that name.) If nothing else, my book brought out the passion in her. Sadly, that passion appears to be hatred, but if nothing else, I INSPIRED HER! After all, has she logged on to sing the praises of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue? (Not as of today, at least.)

Okay: I write cozy mysteries. I also write psychological suspense under a different name, but that’s for another post. Apparently some readers (this woman among them?) think that "cozy" equals "full of fluff." And why is "murder" a perfectly acceptable subject, but helping hungry people and recycling are not? Perhaps some cozies are "light"--but they don’t have to be. And the better ones are like all good books: they make you think. Although sometimes I believe engaging brain and actually thinking is a lost art for some of our citizens, but that’s another rant.

Bookplate_Special.sm2 So, what’s the name of this book of mine full of liberal thinking?

"Bookplate Special."

And by the way, it’ll debut today at #20 on the New York Times Bestsellers mass market paperback list. That pleases me, for if a lot of people read it, they might be inspired to recycle and/or donate to food pantries (they can really use it, especially at this time of year). Imagine the havoc that would cause!

I couldn’t be happier.


November 21, 2009

1-800-Evelyn David

Rhonda Dossett calls herself the "Southern half of Evelyn David." Rhonda lives in Oklahoma. Her writing partner, Marian Edelman Borden, lives in New York. Together, they’ve written two hilarious mystery novels – and never met. Today, they give TLC advice on the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

By Rhonda Dossett   

We’re preaching to the choir when we observe that these are hard times in the publishing world. Mystery authors aren’t exempt from the "low-advance, cut the mid-list, it’s not quirky enough" syndrome that has embroiled the publishing world.

So what’s a self-respecting mystery duo to do? Look for a back-up day job.

And we’ve figured out our calling. We’re going to start a "Dear Evelyn," advice to the lovelorn column, because one thing that collaboration has taught us is the basics of a good relationship – be it marriage or partnership in murder and mayhem.

Science fiction writer Keith Laumer once wrote: "If you possibly can, write it yourself. Collaborations, like marriages, should only be undertaken if any alternative is unthinkable."

Evelyn David is the pen name of Marian Edelman Borden and Rhonda Dossett. We believe that collaborating is the only way that either of us wants to write mysteries. But we point out that we could offer a broader perspective for the lovelorn. To quickly bring you up to speed, Marian, a nonfiction writer with ten books to her credit, lives in New York.

Rhonda, the coal program director for the state of Oklahoma, lives in Muskogee. The standing joke is Marian wouldn’t know a coal mine if she fell down a shaft.

Now since only one of us (the Northern half) is married, that might suggest we shouldn’t take on the role of counselors of wedded bliss. The truth is that many of the reasons why our collaboration works are fundamentally the basics of a good marriage. There’s someone to share the joys, for sure, but as we all know, writing, like marriage, can be tough on the ego. Rejection is the norm, and collaboration means there is always someone to listen to the hyperbolic rants about the unfairness of who gets published and who doesn’t, as well as the heartfelt whispers when one of you has hit a brick wall and couldn’t compose a shopping list, let alone create a scene with dialogue.

Here’s what else we’ve learned about successful relationships.

Check the ego at the door


There are no diva moments in the Evelyn David world. Both of us write all characters, including the dog. That’s not to say that we don’t have our personal favorites of the core group that have appeared in both books. But we discuss each scene, then one of us says "I’ll start," and we’re off. The scene goes back and forth so many times that by the end of the book, we can’t tell who wrote what. And that’s the way it should be: it’s the voice of Evelyn David we want you to hear – not Marian and Rhonda. Can we agree that a marriage of two divas, or even one diva and one doormat, is a recipe for disaster?

Second, and maybe it should be first, we both have a similar, wicked, at times downright crazy, sense of humor.

In the writing business, even if you’re penning War and Peace, instead of cozy mysteries, you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself, as well as at the vagaries of publishing. I think we all agree that humor is a major key to a successful marriage, or for that matter, surviving and thriving in life.

Finally, we have similar work ethics. Just do what needs to be done – and don’t worry about the credit or even if the work load, for that moment, is 50-50.

You’ve got to take the long view, that it all evens out in the end. We think it's fair to say that premise works in a good marriage too.

In this "dog eat dog" publishing world (and yes, there’s an adorable dog in our books), you’ve got to think outside the box and be ready with an alternative plan should the publishing world go south. So here we go! Today, here at Lipstick Chronicles, we're debuting our new sideline.

Got a relationship question? Need some advice on your love life? We'll provide the answers along with a mystery to read while you work it out. Call 1-800-Evelyn David. All major credit cards accepted.