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31 posts from December 2009

December 30, 2009

Big News at TLC

Big News at TLC

by Nancy    _AWC9089-2

"More and more, readers are looking for filters to find authors."--Those were the words of a big midwestern book distributor this past summer.  This distributor felt readers hungry for information about books were looking to websites of all kinds, plus bookstores--especially those that published reviews--as well as Twitter and Facebook and other forms of media. And what about blogs?   "Readers like to join communities." Which makes blogs an ideal place to bring writers and readers together.

The Lipstick Chronicles is living proof that an online community of people can be informative and educational, but also a hell of a good time.  We're going strong, building our reader base, enjoying each other's company and--oh, yeah--selling books, too.

As we look ahead to 2010, we have some very exciting stuff on our horizon. 

First, in January, we've got Go to fullsize image Sarah's Lifetime movie of THE CINDERELLA PACT---now called LYING TO BE PERFECT.  We plan on popping a lot of popcorn January 30th!

My new series will launch in March.  I hope you, dear readers, will be first in line to buy copies.

Go to fullsize image Elaine and Harley Go to fullsize image have stories coming out in a new anthology this spring. (Wait--how did that photo get here?)

And Margie---well, the less said about her, the better.

Go to fullsize image

But wait!  The most exciting news here at TLC? We're delighted to announce a new Tart will be joining us.  The beautiful, charming and wonderfully witty Hank Phillippi Ryan has graciously agreed to share Mondays with Harley. Did you read her guest blog last week?  A classic.

You may have read Hank on two other terrific blogs---the Femmes Fatales and JungleRed.  Or you may know her from her television career.  (Hank can be seen on Boston's NBC affiliate. And some day she's going to tell us about her TWENTY SIX Emmys!  And her stint as a majorette.) But we really hope you're a fan of Hank's excellent, award-winning Charlotte McNally mystery series.  If not, we're going to insist you read her new book, DRIVE TIME. 

Here's a photo of Hank, which we do not have her permission to run, but we can't resist.  Do you really think she'll sue us now that she's on the masthead? Yeah, that's her with you-know-who!

    Go to fullsize image

Of course, we're very sorry to see our dear friend Lisa Daily leave the TLC water cooler, but we wish her the very best with her career and fully expect to woo her back to the blog now and then. Keep us updated, Lisa!

What else do we have in store for you, our readers?  Well, check back with us.  We have more surprises up our sleeves. See you in the new year! 

My Best Party of the Decade

By Elaine Viets Boat parade

Two weeks ago, I gave the best party of this decade. I did nothing.

No Martha Stewart-style nut cups or centerpieces that required an engineering degree. I didn’t iron the heirloom napkins or hand-dip the candles.

The occasion was the annual Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade. Nearly a hundred boats, from 150-foot yachts to dinghies, festooned with holiday lights and blaring music, float down the Intracoastal Waterway. Our condo building overlooks the parade route.

I was at dinner in a Fort Lauderdale bar when our friend Sarah asked, "Where’s the best outdoor park to see the boat parade next Saturday?"

A cold wet rain was hitting the cobblestones outside the restaurant. The weather is uncertain this time of year.

"You could come to our house," I said.

"Oh, no," my six friends said. "You’ll go crazy cleaning."

"But we have the best place to watch the parade," I said.

"We’ll come, but you’re doing it our way."

Here were their rules:

(1) No formal invitations. Everyone invited themselves. They could bring friends, spouses, friends of friends, out-of-town company and kids.

(2) No healthy food.

Why put that token slice of turkey, spoonful of salad and dab of low-fat dip on your plate with the customary carrot, when you want to load up on fat, sugar and chocolate?

This was a junk food only party. Homeland Security should have monitored the cholesterol bombs that came through our door. Artery-exploding chili-cheese dip. Ultra-rich sour cream dip. Ripple chips. Tortilla chips, and not the baked kind, either.

Cheese balls slathered in nuts. Chocolate rum cookies with so much booze the cook needed a breathalyzer test. Pecans encrusted with sugar and cinnamon.

Chris was allowed to bring her homemade angel food cake with fresh fruit, but only after she produced enough whipped cream to cover up all that heart-healthy goodness.

Sarah came down with the flu that Saturday night, but heroically rose from her bed to concoct her famous seven-layer dip. She sent it along with her husband Clay and son Luke.

(3) All talk of dieting was forbidden. It’s boring.

(4) I was not to clean house. Well, maybe the bathroom. Then I turned down the lights and lit lots of candles. The cat hair looked quite festive in the glowing light.

(5) Everyone brought whatever they wanted to drink, from diet Pepsi to wine, and gave us the leftovers. I recommend the Yellow Tail Shiraz.

(6) Special table settings. I brought out paper plates, napkins and a years’ worth of pre-wrapped knives and forks from too many takeout meals, then set out a bucket of ice and a big trash can in the kitchen.

A drenching rain hit when the parade was scheduled to start. Half an hour later, we saw the fireworks at Port Everglades that announced the start and boats began coming down the Intracoastal.

The black water was ablaze with red, green, orange and yellow lights. Most boats had showy Santas and Christmas trees. Three were outstanding -- a sailboat with sails made of white and blue twinkle lights, a string of dinghies each holding a neon palm tree, and a Hanukkah boat with a blue star of David, a neon menorah and a flashing dreidel. I'd never seen neon dreidel before.

Garret, my friend Anne's six-year-old grandson, was wide-eyed at his first parade. Luke, age 12, forgot to be cool and enjoyed the spectacle. An hour into the parade, it started pouring, but the cold rain didn’t dampen the party. We ate too much, drank too much, waved to the boats and danced in the rain. Young Garret lured our dignified cat Mystery out from under the bed and carried her around like a rag doll.

At last, the boats stopped. The food was gone. Garret cried because he didn’t want to go home.

That was our best party of this decade. What was yours?

December 29, 2009

How to Write a Novel

By Sarah

I'm on serious deadline for the most complicated book I've ever written. Never before have I spent months Keyboard  - months! - writing backstories on each character. Nor have I done so much research, digging, sweating, plotting, outlining and, finally, rewriting. Rewriting so readers will want to return to the book on their lunch hour or after work, so they'll think about the book while they're cooking dinner or typing that last memo. At least, that's the idea. 

Executing it, of course, is another matter.

So pardon me if I use this blog to answer a recently received email:

Hi Sarah,

 I am a fan, of course! I have read Cinderella Pact and Sleeping Beauty and am nearly finished with Penny Pinchers (my favorite thus far!). I am wondering if you have any advice for me as far as writing my own novel. I am an Education major and minoring in English. I have always dreamed of writing my own book and have many scatter-brained ideas, but don't really know where to start or even what to do once I think I am finished. How does one get a book published? Do I send copies of my work? I feel a bit overwhelmed because I don't want to start something that I don't have the tools to finish. I just received a laptop for Christmas and am ecstatic to begin typing away on a couple of ideas....


Never mind that this email says more about our education system than anything else. (As an English minor, I would hope there would be some professor on board to help her with her questions.) Or that the internet is filled with advice on how to publish a novel. Let's pretend we haven't discussed all this before because it's never a bad thing to return to the subject that often brings readers to the Lipstick Chronicles in the first place. Besides, it's a new year and our pen pal here isn't the only one who wants to know the secrets to getting it done and getting it published.

Here are my top ten snippets of advice gleaned from personal experience and other authors. You can reject any or all or add some. By the end, M. should be well equipped to use her laptop for something other than writing grumpy authors like moi.

#1 Read, write, read. This was Nora Roberts's advice to the many people who asked her the same question as M. during a daylong (yes, day long) group signing of which I was a part years ago. (Thank you, ADWOFF!). And, honestly, this is where it all starts: reading. If you don't read novels, don't write them. You need to hear the voice, the cadence, the timing. Roberts, herself a high school graduate and nothing more, never attended a creative writing class. Or, a writing group as far as I know. But she came from a strong oral tradition and she read. And she wrote. 

King  For a book on writing, Stephen King's "On Writing," can't be beat. I also like "Bird byLamott   Bird," by the wonderful Anne Lamott.

#2 Don't quit your day job. For some reason this mostly applies to women writers, perhaps because we tend to find ways to fill in our free time with chores. Though this theorem might seem contrary to logic, a job makes it easier to write as does the corollary, the less you love your job the more you'll want to write. And don't give me this crap about family and time and blah, blah, blah. I wrote my first Bubbles book over eight months while holding down a full time job as a newspaper reporter, with a four year old and an eight year old at home, while running a Girl Scout troop. And, no, I did not have a nanny or any household help. In fact, between student loan payments and day care costs we were flat broke. 

What I did have was a boss who made me come into the office and write other people's obits on the day my brother died. And that, ladies in gentlemen, is why I got on my ass and wrote every night no matter how exhausted I was or how much I thought the book sucked. In fact, the fear of him pretty much keeps  my fingers on the keyboard every day.

#3 Write because you love it. A truckload of ass wipe bosses can't keep you at the keyboard. Write because it's what you want to do more than anything - more than shopping, going to the movies, even - dare I say it - playing with your kids. Write because you want to unleash your imagination in the clearest, most moving way possible. Write because when you're not writing all you want to do is ... write.

#4 Theme, characters, plot twists, voice, conflict, transformation, did I say characters? In her email, poor M. notes she has "many scatter brained ideas" but she doesn't know where to start. I don't know where to start with this, either. Scatter brained ideas are good - on notecards. Write them there and then put them aside.

Think about what you're trying to say. For example, maybe you want to write a book about how true love comes only to those who have the courage to be true to themselves. (This is the theme.) Then think about how to say it - a plain orphan grows up to be a governess and works for an irascible wealthy man with whom she falls in love. Think about your characters - she's not so plain and he's not so irascible, though he certainly is unpredictable. Plot twists - now it's time to check your notecards. What's this about a previous wife locked up in an attic? Not bad. Conflict - Just when it seems our governess is about to get everything she always wanted...whoops! Transformation - Fire. Death. Starting over. Maybe a bit of blindness. It's all good.

You now have an idea for a book about how true love comes only to those who have the courage to be true to themselves without ever writing those words. Brilliant. 

#5 Pick a place, a time, a schedule, a deadline. The most valuable asset to writing a book is time. Writing devours time like nothing else. I don't know why, but it does. Entire months and days in my life have been given to writing and I have no memory of them whatsoever. They're chapter six in the Penny Pinchers. Chapter ten in the Cinderella Pact. Whatever, they're gone. This is the sacrifice writing demands.

You need two hours a day, minimum, to write. Morning. Lunch hour. After dinner. You pick. ALWAYS WRITE ON THE WEEKENDS. This is not a 9-5 business. If you don't write on the weekends you are in danger of backsliding. You might not write as much, but write!

A place - a corner of the bedroom, the attic. Sara Paretsky once wrote in the boiler room. Harley used to write in the bathroom. I used to write in my old newspaper office after hours. Just make sure it has a door and a lock. Walk-in closets are heaven.

A schedule - Pretend you've been assigned to write a book for class and it's due June 1. You'll get it done. Promise.

#6 Persist. Page 150 is a bitch. All of us Tarts know that. Deal and move on. An outline helps. I've found outlining works against me in the beginning, but once I get to page 100, I have to outline the rest. This tends to go hand in hand with obsessively rewriting the first 100 pages. (You'll know what I mean when you get there.)

#7 Rewrite. And by this I don't mean lovingly omit commas. I mean trash 40% of the book. Or more. Read a better book like yours and then go back and see how much yours sucks. (P.S. If you get stuck on rewriting the first 60 pages over and over, lift the needle and move on.)

You'll be done when you're done. For those who count such things, a commercial novel is generally 70,000 to 100,000 words. A YA novel can be shorter, depending. I usually turn in my novels at about 80,000 and they  shrink and grow during the editing process ending at...82,000. Longer is not necessarily better. Longer, however, is necessarily more expensive (to publish). A novel between 80,000 and 89,999 is ideal. Use a word count program. Don't do the old 250 words x 1 page.

#8 Find an agent, harden your heart. You find an agent by reading the acknowledgments of books like yours. Nine times out of ten the grateful author will thank his/her agent. Write a query letter (see the internet for this) of one page no more summarizing your book in one sentence. Remove any self congratulatory adjectives. Do not tell agent that your friends/book group loved it or that it's a smashing thriller of staggering genius. Simply tell her about the book. Tell her what book it's like (her other author's). Tell her how long it is and who would read it. If there's anything to boost her confidence in you - for example you had a piece of fiction pubbed in the New Yorker or you author a blog with one million hits a day - might want to mention it. Email and rewrite book while you wait. Chill.

#9 Send a partial and outline. An outline is a couple of pages and doesn't look like an outline. Check online. A partial is the first three chapters. An agent might request these and, if she likes them, ask for the whole book. Now's the perfect opportunity to do all those things you wanted to do when you were writing, such as taking a hike, going for a canoe ride, visiting Aunt Mildred in Utah, feeding the homeless. The more good works you do, the more good comes back to you. Don't believe me? Do something charitable while waiting for an agent's response and see.

#10 Off to find a publisher. If your agent likes it, her tone will change dramatically. Talk to her about her pitching strategy, about editors with whom she has connections and whom she thinks will buy it, who could take your book from good to great. Get to know the editors, too. What publisher has a sales staff that's successfully sold books like yours. Enthusiasm on all sides counts big time. Learn the value of patience. Start writing the next book.

And that's it. Of course, there's more, much more, such as never eyeing your colleagues with jealousy and learning how to celebrate the success of others. But for those in M.'s position, this is enough to get started.

Finally, though many of us want to write books, not all of us should. This is something to consider. Hell, it's something I consider every freaking day.

Good luck! If I can do it, so can you....


December 28, 2009

The "Chap" Stick Chronicle

TLC welcomes Rod Pennington, our final Monday Man of 2009. Rod has a 3 book deal for the "Penelope Drayton Spence" series, is writing the screenplay adaptation of the  first book in the series, The Fourth Awakening, and still finds time to do laundry. Is that a Manly Man or what? Check him out at www.rodpennington.net

The "Chap" Stick Chronicle

of Rod Pennington

With a physique better suited for a nose tackle in the NFL than a model for metrosexual skin care products, I would appear an unlikely candidate to write a novel with a strong female lead and viewpoint.   After five novels and two screenplays – all with strong male protagonists – I recently made the leap and got in touch with my feminine side.The transition wasn’t as tough as I had imagined. Years ago, my wife and I decided we did not want our daughters raised by strangers.  Since there was considerable less demand for free-lance writers than for free-lance microbiologists, I ended up playing “Mr. Mom.”  Not only was I there every day when the girls came home from school, I never missed a recital or sporting event.  However, in an environment where the only other male in the house was a cat--and the girls neutered him--I quickly learned my place.

Since I have done nearly all the cleaning and cooking for the past 35 years, my blushing bride has fallen into some bad habits. She is baffled by those two large white porcelain contraptions in the laundry room. For years she has had the “magic” clothes basket.  Drop your soiled laundry in it, and a few days later your clothes miraculously reappear clean and pressed, and hanging in your side of the closet.  I’m not saying she never cooks, but a few weeks ago I asked her to pick something up on her way home and she called me from the grocery store. She couldn’t find the deli. 

Even after having spent several decades being closer to Harriet than Ozzie, I learned many things while writing “The Fourth Awakening.”Cover2    

First I wanted to use two famous Charleston family names for my primary cast of characters – Middleton and Drayton.  Middleton Place is where they filmed the Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot”, and Drayton Hall is one of the few surviving plantations from the Civil War. The lead character was initially Penelope Middleton Spence. When it was pointed out this made the initials of the leading lady in my continuing series “PMS”, she quickly became Penelope Drayton Spence.

As I plowed ahead with the early drafts, where I would often revert back to my masculine instincts, I started getting hammered from a variety of women.  I began getting comments like, “women do not open things with their teeth.” “A fourteenth generation southern belle would NEVER use that kind of language.”  “Women do not routinely lean on their car horns and flip people off.”  “She would never be seen in public in that.”

As the testosterone began to seep from my mental processes and be replaced with estrogen I had a revelation.  It was so obvious; it was stunning in its simplicity.  Women are not the “weaker” sex; they are the “sneakier” sex.

With the average male being substantially larger than the average female, guys throw their weight around.  Using brute force, men are generally more confrontational and will often bully their way through life.  Men swing broadswords while women use well placed stilettos. Men settle matters with their fists while women eviscerate their rivals with words. Tough guys pride themselves on their self-reliance; women know there is strength in numbers.  Where men use their brawn, women have to use their brains.

Then it hit me.  Was it possible that my wife didn’t actually think my running the vacuum cleaner and doing the laundry and dishes was sexy?  Could she have been leading me on about her inability to figure out the complexity of our washer and dryer? Women aren’t that smart; are they?  Naw!

December 27, 2009

When a Character Takes Over

It's been 16 years since "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" burst on the scene with the story of Mary Russell. Today, Laurie King gives us the buzz on her New York Times bestselling series. Please follow the links to the gorgeous drawings and fan fiction on her Website.

Laurie R. King Laurie1

So, you sit down one day and a character pushes her way to the surface of your mind, and you write about her, wrestling with who she is and why she does what she’s doing, and you think up a few fun twists and sprinkle in a bit of adventure, and before too long there’s a book. And because it was satisfying, both fun and a challenge, you do it again. For a while, no one knows her except you and a couple of others, but then you’re lucky enough to find an editor who loves the book and is willing to give you actual money for it.

The book comes out; the reviews are good; some people buy it. And when the second one is published, that one sells a few more copies and gets some equally nice reviews. So the publisher wants a third one.

Around the fifth book, you begin to notice something: your character is wandering around on her own. The people who used to live within your own skull are beginning to spend time in the heads of others, behind your back. Your character is making friends, and those friends find each other, slowly at first and then more rapidly as the Internet comes into its own. They talk about your books and what you’ve written, which is fine, but then things begin to get a little strange, because they’re now talking about what you haven’t written—and filling in the gaps. And it’s a very curious sensation, knowing that your character isn’t always yours.

What’s an author to do?

Last year, I decided that if Russell was going to develop a life of her own, I might as well put her, and her friends, to work.

2009 was the fifteenth anniversary of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. From February to May the various online venues came together to mark what we called "Fifteen Weeks of Bees," http://www.laurierking.com/events/fifteen-weeks-of-bees with drawings, contests, fan fiction, word puzzles, art projects, you name it. Some of it involved me—Russell’s posts on MySpace, for example—and I had help with coordinating everything, but much of the "Fifteen Weeks" effort was given over to the readers who adore Russell.

This year, we’re doing it again, with "Twenty Weeks of Buzz."  http://www.laurierking.com/events/twenty-weeks-of-buzz   Buzz

To some extent, this has a practical aim. The traditional model of promoting books, with a house’s Publicity department scheduling author events while Marketing doles out bucks for ads and what-have-you, was dying out even before the current recession. And putting promotion solely onto the author does not serve the ends of high quality fiction.

But what about handing the buzz back where it belongs in the first place: the reader? If there’s a community of avid readers out there, men and women who are eager for the next book, perhaps they’ll also be eager to do their part in celebrating the books they love? (And in the process, freeing the author to write the next one.)

And so it has worked out. People who love Mary Russell get to have fun, get a chance at a prize, interact with the author and her creations, and infect a few more readers with their favorite addiction.

Hence, "Twenty Weeks of Buzz"  opens today, over at LaurieRKing.com. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, you might like to follow along as we work up to the publication of The God of the Hive.

If nothing else, building Buzzz is a lot of fun.

December 26, 2009

New Year's Resolutions Go to the Dogs

By Linda O. Johnson

Linda writes the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries. She recognizes that New Year’s resolutions for humans are hopeless. This year, Linda resolves to go to the dogs.

It’s after Christmas. After Hanukkah. Before New Year’s. Time to ponder what’s next. I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. You know, those things we vow to do to make ourselves better persons in the next year.

Yep, those things that evaporate on or before January 31– usually long before.LindaOJohnstonPromPhoto

So, rather than figure out stuff I won’t do next year, I’ve come up with New Year’s resolutions for dogs.

Why? I’m obsessed by canines. I write pet related mysteries and paranormal romances including a mini-series about Alpha Force, a secret military unit of shapeshifters . . . like werewolves. Personally, I’m owned by two dogs, adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Lexie and Mystie. (Coincidentally, Kendra also has a Cavalier named Lexie.)

So what should dogs promise to do next year?

How about . . . mine will promise not to beg when I’m eating.

That won’t even last a day.

Or, they’ll promise to tell me only once when they need to go out for a romp, then wait till I’ve finished my train of thought while writing at the computer. Lexie won’t bark any more than once, and Mystie won’t insist on sitting on my lap and hugging my face.

No longevity for this one, either.

They will do their business only in designated locations outside, for ease of my pooper scooping. Outside, yes. Designated area? Only if it smells like the right spot.

Hmmm. I doubt that will last.  HowlDeadly_cvr

Or, they’ll only bark when they have something important to say.

Nope. My dogs think everything they bark about is important: noises outside. Noises inside. Making their own noises because it’s too quiet, or to remind me they are hungry 24 hours a day. Mystie even talks to sunbeams.

Finally, they’ll resolve to do at least ten cute things a day.

They do that anyway.

We have a cat in the family, too – my mother-in-law’s – so I’ve come up with ideas on what she might resolve for 2010. If we beg her. Pretty please. She’ll most likely just meow, arch her back and ignore the suggestions, but here goes.

If she deigns to do so, she will promise not to scare everyone by sneaking upstairs to hide, when she’s left alone for a few days in a confined area downstairs with a neighbor checking on her.

If she feels like it, she will do at least ten cute cat things a day.

Purrhaps that will work out, if there’s something in it for her, like more food.

Maybe I’m stretching things. But it’s better to come up with these than people resolutions. It’s easier to forgive a pet for breaking resolutions than ourselves, isn’t it? What about other pets? Can rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ball pythons, or fish promise something for the rest of the year?

What resolutions do you wish your pets would make for 2010? How fast will they break them?

Here is one resolution I can make for myself: I will keep using pets as inspirations for my writing as much as possible. Not in all stories. And not that I’ll let the same kinds of horrible things happen to animals that I do to people in my mysteries. The pets, at least, will always have a happy ending.

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from The Lipstick Chronicles

Merry Christmas from The Lipstick Chronicles!

First, we saw one of Margie's Christmas Cards and wanted to share it with the rest of you, so we scanned it and here it is:

Blog Clooney xmas card

Hard to top that for holiday cheer, but here are a few places that are very merry:

Blog J Lawson cards  For beautiful cards by amazing artists (and worth joining - thanks Mary Alice for the link) :Jacquie Lawson Cards

How about Jimmy Fallon's 12 Days of Christmas?  He gets some help: 12 Days of Christmas

As we begin to say good-bye to a DECADE, it's time to start looking back at 2009 - we'll be spending the next week doing that, but here's something to get you started:  Viral Video: Say Goodbye to 2009

Finally, I can't say it any better than Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks,

then the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal those broken in spirit,

to feed the hungry, to release the oppressed,

to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among all peoples,

to make a little music with the heart…And to radiate the Light of Christ,

every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.

Then the work of Christmas begins.

Merry Christmas to our TLC family - hope your holidays are merry and bright!



December 24, 2009

Last Flight out of Saigon

The Last Flight out of Saigon

by Nancy   Go to fullsize image

Why are you here reading this blog?  Why aren’t you out shopping for groceries on Christmas Eve?  Isn’t that what everyone else in the world is doing today?  I am sure of it, because I am just back from my local supermarket, which looked like—and I’m not kidding---the last flight out of Saigon. 


And if I’d seen a helicopter, I might have knocked down a few elderly ladies and a child or two to get onto it.  The parking lot was murder.


Inside the store?  Let’s just say I am lucky to still be walking after a man stepped on my foot in his rush to grab a spiral cut ham.  And the woman who used her shopping cart like a battering ram to get into the checkout line ahead of me?  I hope Santa leaves the wrong packages under her tree.  The clerk who checked me out was babbling incoherently.  His rant had something to do with an earlier customer who tried to pay with a stolen credit card and the subsequent police action that involved batons, and I don’t mean the twirling kind.


My car is intact, thank heavens, but it was a close call in the parking lot with a teenager behind the wheel of a gigantic SUV.  I guess she didn’t see me because she was texting while driving. Maybe sexting, for all I know. Nor could she hear my scream of terror because the music was so loud in her vehicle.


There’s nothing quite like the last minute frenzy of Christmas at the supermarket, is there?  The mall is a cakewalk by comparison! Even Bing Crosby warbling holiday tunes on the loudspeaker doesn’t change the fact that mayhem is happening in the aisles.  And especially those people who are only in the store twice a year—He acts like--er, I mean they act like it’s their right to get through the shopping process faster than everyone else and it's everybody else's fault that he's being held up.  Hey, notice the line, buddy? 


Last year, I picked up my elderly aunt at her house and decided to make a “quick stop” at the store for two items I’d forgotten for our Christmas Eve dinner.  The traffic jam in the grocery parking lot was worse than the end of a Super Bowl game when two sets of fans—one jubilant and celebrating, the other dour and bitter---try to exit the same lot while thousands of hot wings burn through digestive tracts. My “quick stop” took half an hour.  My aunt had to wait in the car, and it was lucky she was wearing her Depends, if you get my drift.


If there were any other way to do the last minute food shopping, believe me, I’d do it.  I tried to buy all the non-perishables last week when things weren’t quite so chaotic, but like a dope wouldn’t you know I picked the first day of Hannukah? 


Today I knew exactly what I was getting into when braved the road rage and the fracas in front of the shrimp freezer to buy the meat, fruit and veggies that my family and houseguests will consume faster than locusts can destroy the amber waves of grain.  It was not pretty.  My mantra was, “Staycalmstaycalmstaycalm.”


Back when my kids were little, I insisted all extended family come to my house for the holidays. Rather than pack up the little ones and drive across the state, it was easier to cope with special pillow requests, the dietary restrictions and the carefully orchestrated dinner (one vegan is all it takes to turn Christmas dinner into a political shouting match.)  But now that my children are grown up . . . how come I’m still doing all the hostessing?  Isn’t it time for somebody else in the family to step up?  Maybe I could just bring a nice casserole from my freezer and forget about that last minute grocery shop?  Because nothing puts me in a foul mood like a mob at the supermarket on the eve of a major holiday.


By this time tomorrow, however, the supermarket nightmare will fade from my memory.  By then, I’ll be up to my elbows in dishwater for the second time of the day, with pots boiling on the stove, shrimp thawing in the fridge and my guests happily sipping coffee while taking up all the available space in the kitchen.


Two years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise over Thanksgiving.  We hesitated to do that, of course, because it went against family tradition.  We should be with our loved ones on holidays, right? Not sitting in a sterile (I hope!) cruise ship dining room with strangers.

Well, we loved it.  No dishes to wash! No shopping to do!  No sweating over the stove while listening to guests howl with laughter about your past culinary blunders. Traditions are good, but making new traditions can be great.


Today, though, I’m just trying to put the memory of the supermarket out of my mind.  Maybe I a Christmas cookie will help.  One I baked myself, of course.


Except I think I ran out of cinnamon.  Uh-ho.


Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2009

There Is No Undo?

By Hank Ryan

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan (who might have chosen a different name had there been an easy UNDO) is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Hank has 26 EMMYs, and writes award-winning mysteries. The newest in the series is the bestselling AIR TIME. Here’s one thing you won’t want to miss – the contest at the end of Hank’s blog. HPR-stoolvertCROPPED2MUG-300lg

I was typing away on some site, and made a mistake. I tried to delete what I had written, and up popped a message from the blogger-gods: "Are you sure you want to delete?" it asked me. "There is no UNDO."

There is no UNDO? It seemed harsh. And unpleasant. And rather draconian. And suddenly a life-changing question. I mean—sure there’s UNDO. Isn’t there?

This time of year, as the decade comes to an end, we’re tempted to look back over our lives and see what we would have changed. If there were a universal and simple UNDO.

I propped my chin on my fists, staring at the keyboard. If I could delete away some of my decisions, what would I do? I mean—what would I undo?

Would I have accepted that hot-shot job at the not-yet-on–the-air CNN in 1980? The one I turned down, making a knowing pronouncement to my pals: "Oh, a 24-hour news network will never work!"

Nope. If I had done that, I wouldn’t be here now, and here now is good.

Maybe undo my first marriage? At age 20—to a perfectly lovely man who, although two years older, was also too young? Nope, I wouldn’t undo that. I learned a lot from it, about life and love, and sharing laundry and cooking dinner, and battling over conflicting jobs, and growing in different directions, and what it means to be married. (Fine. I wouldn’t undo my second marriage, either. Even though that one was not-so-happy. I still wouldn’t be the me I am now without it. So even that "for better, and then for much worse" episode was worth it.)

To regret--is one of the saddest emotions, don’t you think? We can learn from our mistakes, of course, but looking forward with fresh resolve is more valuable than wallowing in remorse. And I was relieved, in my cataloging, that I (knock on wood) don’t have many UNDO wishes.

There’s only one relentlessly haunting thing I would really really really UNDO. I was out shopping one day, a few years ago. A woman—stocky, all-gray hair, no makeup, came up to me and said—"Aren’t you Hank Phillippi Ryan? The reporter on TV?"

"Yes," I said. "How nice. Thank you." (Fun to be recognized.)

So she says: "Do you know (insert name of local TV reporter here)?"

"Of course I do," I replied. Miss Gracious. I probably flipped my hair. And then, because the universe sometimes does not line up the way we hope, I had to continue. My brain kicked into dumb, and I said: "Are you his mother?"

There was a pause. And then she said: "No. I’m his wife."

Oh. NO.


What would you UNDO?


Contest! Tell us what you’d undo! Hank’s giving away five ARCs of PRIME TIME to brave commenters, and also five copies of QUARRY, the new short story anthology from Level Best Books. (It contains Hank’s twisted woman-meets-dog mystery "On the House." )  DriveTimeCover

Her website is http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com

December 22, 2009

Oh, Yeah. Definitely Blogging About This.

By Sarah

Read this and tell me if I'm the one to blame.

Friday night, our 18-year-old daughter arrived on the train from Philadelphia where she goes to school. It was a ten hour trip, she was coming off a week of finals and ready to collapse. The train was supposed to get into Montpelier at 8:20 p.m. - or so we thought. Instead, it got in at 8:02 which meant Anna had to wait awhile until my husband picked her up.

Train station  Now, to fully tell this story, I have to set the scene. Montpelier, Vermont, is a cold place and the train station is a remote shack stuck behind warehouses and bare lots. Your typical train environment. There are two passenger trains a day - one heading to Washington, D.C., via New York at 9:42 a.m. and one arriving at 8:02 p.m. That's it. As a result, the station isn't staffed though sometimes a volunteer will come in the morning to open it up so people have a relatively warm place to wait.

Arriving in Montpelier in December is often something out of Doctor Zhivago. Last year around this time, I came back from New York and was blown away, quite literally, by the snow rushing into the door as we pulled to the stop. I was the only one who got off. The station was pitch black, the platform deserted. This was what my daughter found, too, though, unlike me, she didn't have a car to get into and drive away in. She had to wait. In the dark. In the cold. Alone.

To pass the time, she called me at home, eight miles away. She was chit chatting about her friends and school when suddenly she gasped, "Mom! Mom! There's a guy here!"

Heart, mine, quit. "What do you mean there's a guy?"

"He's in a van and he's talking to me." More gasps, deep breaths. "He won't go. Mom....there's no one else here. He's...getting out and coming toward me."

What do you do in a situation like this? Charlie's probably a good five minutes away, I don't want to hang up and call the cops because that would disconnect me from Anna. All I can think is that I'm going to hear my daughter being kidnapped and raped and I will be powerless to do anything. So, I say....

"Scream, Anna, like I told you." By now, of course, I am screaming too. "Scream, 'Get the fuck away fromScream2   me you fucking asshole. Get the fuck away from me!'" 

Because if there's anything I've learned from my days as a reporter covering criminal cases it's that generally pervs will steer clear of crazy out-of-control women. The problem we women have is that we're too afraid of embarrassing ourselves to make it clear early on that we're screaming, kicking, crazy bitches and by the time we want to scream and kick, he's got his arm around our throats.

So, Anna does. At the top of her voice she lets out a scream that pierces my ear. "Did he go away?" I asked.

"I don't know. No!" She starts running. I hear her running and panting. It's straight from Blair Witch, footsteps, crying, heavy breathing. The works. My heart has resumed beating at several miles a minute. Years are being peeled off my life like layers on an onion. I picture this guy having fun with her, torturing this poor child, this straight A student, who just wants to live and have a happy life.

"Where's Dad?" She pants some more. "Where's Dad?"

Thump! Silence. I think, he's hit her on the head and now she's down. "Anna!"

"I slipped and fell," she says, starting to run again.

I tell her to stay in the road, don't be tempted to duck around the warehouses. Zig, zag. Wave your arms so that if any passing car - unlikely since there's no one there - comes by they won't miss you.

The only passing car that comes by is the one carrying Charlie and our 19-year-old nephew who's staying with us for the winter. They're having a cheerful conversation when they see this girl in the road loaded down with backpacks running zig zag and waving her arms. It's...Anna?!

(Oh, sure, it's funny now!)

She opens the back door, tears streaming down her face, panicked. "Some guy tried to accost me!"

That's it. That's all Charlie needs to turn him from mild mannered attorney into the Incredible Hulk.   

Hulk  Who can blame him? He's a father and some creep just terrorized his daughter. Meanwhile, is anyone talking to me? No. Anna has hung up and I have to call back to find out what's going on.

"I think they went into the train station," says my nephew who, being from rural Ohio where people are normal, isn't quite used the daily drama of our house. "Charlie's going to find the guy."

Charlie runs to the station and yanks open the door where he is greeted by a little old lady in a Fair Isle sweater. Okay, that's the first WTF moment since we thought the station was empty. Certainly not occupied by little old ladies in Fair Isle sweaters. Turns out it's not only not empty, it's packed. (Why? We have no idea.) And warm. And lit. 

"I'm looking for the man who accosted my daughter," says Charles.

The station master - don't even start with me -  looks up from his cribbage game. "Who...what?" As if Charles had said, "話しかけられる."

"Accosted, accosted, accosted." Charlie's impatient, blood pumping through his veins. "Where is he?" He scans the room for a large man, ugly and mean as Anna described.

From the back a hand shoots up. "I think I might have been the one," says a little fellow, about yeah high. "I was looking for my daughter."

Uh, oh.

The door flies open and there's Anna, a teary mess. Charlie says apologetically, "I think my daughter might have overreacted."

(Though later we would wonder why the guy was there looking for his daughter if there was only one train rolling through. And how come he insisted on talking to her after she screamed?)

Charlie and Anna pile back into the car and immediately blame...me! That's right. This is MY fault because not only did I tell Anna to scream and run like a crazy woman, but I have spent years filling her head with all sorts of awful crime stories. 

I've told her about the college freshman in Lorain, Ohio, who went out for a bottle of vanilla on Christmas eve and was kidnapped, raped, pistol whipped and left for dead by a repeat offender just released on holiday furlough. About the woman in a tranquil Vermont village who, coming back from a run, finds a man in her driveway with a gas can, his truck a quarter mile down the road. She, foolishly, went with him into her garage to look for gasoline and ended up being hit over the head, kidnapped, bound with duct taped, raped, burned, and violated. She escaped with her quick wits a and lived to tell the tale.

I told Anna these stories because these women survived the most horrific ordeals. They were smart and resourceful and persistent. I will never forget the college freshman, her eyesight permanently damaged, getting off the witness stand and walking right past her attacker who whispered to his lawyer to, "take her down." Nor will I forget the uniform expressions of shock on the faces of the jurors who ate lunch on the state's nickel and then sent his ass up the river.

So, okay. Maybe this was my fault. But Anna's alive and unharmed - knock on wood - and that's my only concern. Plus, it makes for one hell of a story.

Happy Festivus! Merry Christmas!


P.S. Between wrapping presents and baking cookies, you might wanna take a look at this. Mr. International Competition. "Intelligence." Yeah. Right. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8421514.stm