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31 posts from January 2010

January 31, 2010

Killing Time in the Off-Season


By David Handler

TLC welcomes one of our favorite mystery writers, David Handler. If you haven’t read his Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry novels, you’re missing a treat. We’re looking forward to his new thriller, "Click to Play."     Winter 


Winter is the official off-season here on Connecticut’s Gold Coast – home to my series of mysteries about the romantic crime fighting duo of pudgy New York film critic Mitch Berger and the alluring black Connecticut State Trooper Desiree Mitry. The Berger-Mitry novels take place in a fictional historic New England seaside village called Dorset. In so-called real life, I live in a historic New England seaside village called Old Lyme. Its residents are a fascinating mix of old money, new money and no money. Everyone seems to know everyone and/or be related to them. The layers of interconnected family histories make for deliciously naughty murder plots. Or at least I think so.

Old Lyme’s winter population is half of what it is during the summer. The snowbirds jet south to Florida. The city folk slink back to New York or Boston or wherever. Those of us who remain here tend to be cranky geezers, dotty dowagers and a somewhat skeejie assortment of swamp Yankees, cheeseheads, plow boys and weird, muttering shut-ins -- among them Old Lyme’s resident mystery writer. That would be me.

Winter is actually my favorite time of year here -- especially when we get snow. And this year we’ve had a ton. A mondo-blizzard just before Christmas dropped 18 inches. More snow has fallen just about every three days since then. Most people over the age of twelve are starting to get surly. Not me. I grew up in sunny Southern California. Snow falling from the sky is still something magically fantastic to me. I run around in it like a four year old.

Plus winter happens to be the greatest time of year to be a mystery writer. Nothing, but nothing, gets my creative juices flowing like a good old-fashioned Nor’easter. Other people, normal people, approach blizzards with dread. They do, after all, have to commute to work. Or try. I’m lucky. I just have to commute downstairs. I build a big fire in the fireplace, make myself a pot of good, strong coffee, sit myself down and – grinning from ear to ear -- dream up new and exciting ways to kill people.

Mind you, killing people on paper is good therapy all year around. Mystery writers are very lucky that way. If anyone screws us over, dumps us, bones us, hoses us, lies to us, annoys us or is rude, hostile or so much as gives us a dirty look in line at the supermarket, we have a coping mechanism that most people who function outside of the federal penal system don’t have -- we can bump them off. I just published a thriller last month called CLICK TO PLAY (Severn House) in which I offed at least a dozen people. I mean, everybody dies. Book jacket

When my new Berger-Mitry, THE SHIMMERING BLONDE SISTER, is published by St. Martin’s this fall I’ll have written fifteen murder mysteries and two thrillers so far. Hell, I’ve probably bumped off 40 or 50 people by now. I’ve shot them, stabbed them, poisoned them, drugged them, run them over, drowned them, shoved them off of balconies, cliffs. My all-time favorite murder was in one of my Hoagy and Lulu mysteries, THE MAN WHO CANCELLED HIMSELF, when I electrocuted a TV star by hot-wiring his urinal. In so-called real life, an actor on a sitcom I was writing had really, really been getting on my nerves.

Mystery writers know how to deal with such annoyances.

I keep saying me and I. I should mention that I don’t work alone. For the past ten years I have benefited hugely from the help of my two live-in literary assistants, Ed and Fred. I call them my assistants. Other people think of them as cats. Eddie passed away last summer – stoically, calmly and without complaint. He will always be my hero.

Freddie is doing fine but he misses snuggling with his bud now that it’s winter -- my 220-year-old carriage house can get a bit drafty. So lately he’s taken to curling up in my lap whenever I sit down in front of the computer to write. He’s here right now, purring away, as the snow falls outside our windows. Every once in a while Freddie stirs and paws at the keyboard as if he has an idea he wishes to share with me. I encourage him to go for it. I’m always happy to take creative input. But I’ve also made it clear to him that if he’s itching to do away with anything larger than a field mouse that he can just back off.

When it comes to the simple art of murder I slay alone.

January 30, 2010


TLC ALERT:  Tonight's the Night!  The television premier of our very own Sarah Strohmeyer's "The  Cinderella Pact" made into the movie "Lying to Be Perfect" on Lifetime!  9 pm EST - check your local listings - for more, check this link: SARAH's MOVIE!!  Now back to our regularly-scheduled blog with the fantastic Laura Lippman - and thanks, Laura, for the space.

Laura Lippman has won every major mystery award. She's currently president of the Mystery Writers of America. Her latest novel, "Life Sentences," will be published in March. But Laura is not only a writer. She's also a reader. And readers can fall out of love with even the best authors.

By Laura Lippman

I don’t know if you heard, but Philip Roth and I broke up late last year. Or maybe it’s a trial separation. I’m not sure yet. All I know is that we had been together since I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t serious at first, but eventually he became The One. The author whose books I purchased the day they went on sale and usually read within a week of acquiring them. The writer who has practically his own shelf in the "good" bookcase.

Then, last fall, THE HUMBLING came out and I couldn’t stir myself to buy it. Pfft, just like that, we were200px-The_Humbling over. I’m not sure why. Although I wasn’t crazy about the last two books – okay, I was completely ooked out by EXIT GHOST and thought INDIGNATION was an interesting exercise built around a fabulous metaphor – I believed they were worth reading. They engaged me, engendered strong feelings. They were interesting.

Still – Reader, I left him. With a lot less acrimony than Claire Bloom, but not a little introspection. The thing is, I imagine I will always re-read him – WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, the title story of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS, MY LIFE AS A MAN and ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND are all in my re-reading canon, an admittedly idiosyncratic list. So why can’t I go forward? Why am I spoiling my chance to be a Roth complete-ist?

As a writer, I am constantly looking to my own reading behavior – and book-buying patterns – to understand how others might approach my work. Just this week, I had a strong impulse to read GAME CHANGE, but decided it was a Kindle purchase, something I didn’t want to own in physical form. Interestingly, the Kindle version of GAME CHANGE won’t be available until late next month and my hunch is that the impulse will be gone by then, never to be recaptured. I worry that happens to my books, too, that people have a fleeting Lippman jones, much in the same way I had a yen for Cheetohs this afternoon and talked myself out of it.

Over the years, I’ve broken up with several writers. Sometimes angrily, with a feeling that I’d been betrayed. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, John Irving.) Sometimes I just wander away, distracted by newer, shinier pleasures.

And, yes, readers have broken up with me. Although in my case, this usually involves a rude e-mail that ends with the observation that I don’t look anything like my author photo.

I have been thinking about this break-up thing since Robert B. Parker died Jan. 20. Because as much as I owe Parker, as a writer of PI fiction, I had ceased reading him with SMALL VICES, the 24th book in the Spenser series. To me, it felt like the perfect end to a series that had given me endless joy. Parker clearly didn’t agree; he went on to write fourteen more Spenser novels. And you know what? I bet they were all good. But I had found my endpoint within the series.

Which means – readers will find their endpoint within my series, and it might not be the one I intended. LifeSentences_pb_c I’m on the record http://tinyurl.com/lqte4v that it’s my intention to bring Tess back. She’s appeared in only ten novels and one novella. I don’t feel through with her, although she’s not going to show up in 2010 and I’m pretty sure we won’t see her in 2011. (I do hope the novella, THE GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT, will appear sooner rather than later, but that’s out of my hands.) This very pause may be the thing that leads some readers to drift away, in search of fresher, newer protagonists.

Meanwhile, I have a feeling I may buy a copy of THE HUMBLING, but only because I can’t bear for that one collection to be incomplete. Sometimes, when you’ve traveled so far with someone, inertia is enough to get you through.

January 29, 2010

I Got To See My Brain!

I Got To See My Brain!

By Kathy Sweeney, who definitely has one, with proof and everything

When I missed the first step, my first thought was to protect my ribs.  So I rolled left, then realized there was a wall there, so I rolled right and tried to shift my weight to my butt.  Sounds very smart, doesn't it?  Here is the problem - my head was pretty much left on its own and thus proceeded to bounce down each step like a bowling ball attached to a slinky.  This, in case anyone is curious, is not a good strategy.

After I threw up  - and as I told the ER intake person later - it's one thing to throw up when you know you're going to get a baby out of it but quite another to throw up when you know you're probably getting a cast out of it.  Tom called our friend MHR, M.D.  who advised that the puking part was pretty much a bad thing and if I did it again, to go to the E.R.  Before Tom was off the phone, I was back on the barf wagon.  So off to the hospital.

May I say here that it is very wonderful to have docs as friends, because they are the concierges of the health care system.  Sure, they are great healers and all that crap, too.  Mitchell called ahead, so that when we arrived, we didn't have to wait long.  In fact, I got a nice bracelet as soon as I walked in the door.  Tom: "Look, honey, you got a wrist band."  Me: "Can I go to the front of the line for the big rides?"  Tom: "Yeah, she's fine."

Into the back of the house of the ER - where they have real rooms, and not just curtains these days.  They asked me my date of birth, if I knew what day it was, and if I could recite the alphabet.  Me: " English, Greek or Military?" Young Resident:  "Good one.  Were you drinking or taking drugs this morning before you fell?" Me: "Whuh?  The Steelers are out of it, man."  Then he starts poking around to see where it hurts.  Surprise, surprise, surprise, it hurt in all the places I TOLD HIM IT ALREADY HURT.  Enter Nurse #1: "Your neck hurts?" Me: "Among other things.  Right at the base of my skull."  N#1, ramming her thumb into the back of my neck: "Here?" Me:  "F'n A, I just said that."  YoungRes: "We need a neck brace".  Me: "You're going to need to get one from pediatrics."  At this point, YoungRes and N#1 exchange looks like: "Oh brother, she doesn't know what the hell is going on."

So they put on the adult-sized neck brace.  The result: I looked like a combination of Hannibal Lechter,  a toddler bundled up in a hand-me-down snowsuit, and a chipmunk with face mumps.  In order to make it tight enough to immobilize my neck, they squished my fat cheeks up to my eyeballs, obscured my vision, and caused me to have to breath through the holes in the bottom of the neck brace.  You may now add the Darth Vader sound to your visual.  It was at that moment the Priest came in.

Now - I am going to tell you something, my TLC friends - you can take the RC out of church, but as soon as that collar comes into view, it's a gut-level, pre-Vatican II call to attention.  Fr. Frank: "What would you like to pray for?"  Me: "World Peace" Fr. Frank: "No, I mean for you."  Me: "Let's face it, father, my brain is the only thing I've got left.  I really need no permanent damage even though it's my fault I don't shorten my flannel nightgowns." Fr. Frank (doesn't even miss a beat - do you think that's even close to the oddest thing he's heard today? No.) "God, please watch over Kathy and her brain.." He said other good stuff too.  Then he left.

Next up: X-Rays and a CT scan.  Me:  "Will I get to see my own brain?"  Tech#1: "Not during the scan.  You have to stay still."  Off we went to the X-Ray place.  The hospital is under construction, so the trip had more twists and turns than the Free Style finale on Dancing With the Stars.  Me: "Are we supposed to be finding the cheese or something?"  Tech #1: "Huh?"  Me:  "Coach Arians needs to leave."  Tech #1:  "You said it - we have no freakin running game."  Into the X-Ray room, where I feel Tech#1 and new Tech #2 picking up the edges of the sheet.  Me: "WHOA!"  T1&2:  "What?!"  Me: "If there is going to be any moving of this body, I will do it myself." T1&2: "We can do it no problem."  Me:  "Not if you don't want to get punched in the face.  This is going to hurt like a mofo and I'd rather have myself to blame." T1&2:  "Whoa. Okay then."  Me: "By the way, one of my ribs on the right side is healing - it's not a new injury."  T#2: "What happened?" Me: "Turkey Bowl. My brothers-in-law played high school ball."  They both nodded.  No further explanation required in this town. Same drill for the CT scan, where they wrap you up like a mummy so you can't scratch your itchy nose. I tried to visualize the beach but ended up thinking how much I miss hot Krispy Kreme donuts. Back to the ER room.

At this point, Tom had gone home to drive one of the kids somewhere.  That's when the social workers came in.  "Is there anything you want to talk about?  This is a safe place."  Me: "Not if they don't get this iron lung off my face."  SW#1: "You have some damage to your ribs."  Me: "Yeah, I know, I fell down the steps.  Plus the whole Turkey Bowl thing."  SW#2: "Umm Hmmm.  We get a lot of that in the early winter." Me: "I know you are trying to be helpful, and it would have been great if you were around 30 years ago, but I'm not in any danger. Ask anyone.  The people around me?  Some days not so much."

Finally, the doc came in and said no permanent damage but I'd be sore for a week to 10 days and not to drive because I had a minor concussion, follow up with my regular doc, etc. etc.  Me: "Great.  Can you get this cement jellyfish thing off my face now? And I want to see my brain". Doc: "No problem."  Me: "Where's the light board thing for the films?"  Nurse:  "It's all on computers now."  Me: "Oh, "Scrubs", how you mock me."

Out to the big command center, where they pull up a slide show of films.  First one.  Me: "Looks like a dinosaur." Nurse: "That would be your spine.  It looks good and straight." Next picture is of two black ovals. Me: "Geez, the two lobes of my brain are really far apart - why is that?"  Nurse: "Because it's your lungs.  They are very big for someone of your stature." Me: "Yeah, my people yell a lot."  By this time, we are gathering a small crowd.  

Next pic - brain! Me: "That's the fluid around my brain, right?  Looks good."  Nurse (now barely able to keep from laughing out loud): "Yes, no damage from the fall."  Me: "What the hell is that black spot - is that a tumor or something?!"  Nurse (openly laughing now): "That's the hollow bone of your skull."  Next pic: side view of my brain.  Me: "Where is the orange part?"  New Nurse because the first one is motioning people over so they don't miss anything: "What orange part, honey?"  Me (big sigh): " You know, the orange part that shows how bad my depression is.  I saw the whole thing on that PBS series.  The new brain cells from treatment are blue." New Nurse: "Blue what?"  First Nurse: "TV show".  Me: "Yeah, I can't remember the name, but I think it was something like a thalamus and studies have shown that certain treatments can create new brain cells and neurons to replace the ones damaged by depression."  New Nurse: "Yes, well that must have been something very special to watch, but we don't have that in the ER." Me: "So it's all black and white over here - no color scans? Bummer." First Nurse (looking at something behind me): "Can someone get me her discharge papers?"

And there was my son, who for reasons unknown to me, waltzed right into the ER treatment area wearing a fake fur hat with ear covers, aviator sunglasses, and shirt with a giant skull on it.  Me: "Look!  It's my brain." Ty: "Yeah.  I got you a big Kit Kat but it's in the car."  Me: "Wow.  Thanks. The big ones are hard to find."  Then the discharge nurse gave me a lollipop and handed Ty the papers.  "You take care, now, honey!"

Me (to random patients and staff): "Hey, I fell down the steps but I got to see my brain - how cool is that?!" Then, just for good measure, I said: "Go Steelers!"  Everybody cheered.  It's the law. Then to Ty: "Did you see my brain?" Ty: "What drugs did they give you?" Me: "I don't think any. This is just me."  Ty: "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of."


January 28, 2010

The Devil in My Ear

The Devil in My Ear

by Nancy     Go to fullsize image

  I have gone over to the dark side.  Last week, my daughter Sarah helped me buy a new cell phone, and when I finally pulled out my credit card, the salesboy announced—with a distinct gleam in his eye since it had taken forever to select the damn thing---that the new phone required an additional $10-a-month charge for internet service.


  Tell me, don’t you think a fancy phone that they’ll put into your hands for free is like a juicy apple dangling from a tree in Eden?  Yes, it’s free, but they’ll charge me an additional $10 a month to use it the way it was intended.  The way I really wan to use it, even though I know it's very bad to spend even my time away from the home computer doing home computer stuff.


  I definitely smell brimstone.


  In the store, I was torn.  On one hand, who doesn’t want access to e-mail and Facebook and The Food Network 24/7?  And on the other hand, who wants access to e-mail and Facebook and The Food Network at every hour of the day or night, including movie theaters, in heavy traffic and at bookstores during the 20-minutes a tour-weary author tries valiantly to entertain a small, but restless audience? Who really needs constant and immediate communication with the world?


  What tipped me over the edge was that Sarah had already given up almost 4 hours of her day off to help me change my service program (we finally figured out that we could cut our respective bills nearly in half if we officially became Friends and Family) and I didn’t feel I could ask her to stick around another hour to help me choose a different phone.  So we left with the devil in my pocket.


Over the weekend, I “practiced.” In the car, on the way to visit my daughter Cassie, her husband and my grandson Bobby, I learned how to surf the web and obsessively check my e-mail every 5 miles.


Turns out, checking e-mail has become the most common way most of us waste precious time.  My local newspaper says as a result, Martha Egan, an executive coach from Reading, PA, has declared this week “Clean Out Your InBox Week.” 

She says, “Email has become the biggest interrupter of the universe.”  Her further point is that most of us don’t notice the tiny increments of time we spend checking email.


For me, a writer whose livelihood depends upon using my time wisely—eat, sleep, write, and certainly not in that order during Deadline Madness—I must carefully monitor how I spend every minute.  Martha Egan says I should check my e-mail only five times a day.  (Actually, she says two times a day is sufficient for most of us, but she’ll allow us five.  It’s kinda like cutting back on cigarettes, I think.) And she advocates cleaning new mail out of the In-Box immediately upon opening it the first time so as not to waste further time with it later.


She says most of us read and re-read an e-mail seven times before we finally do something about it.  I didn’t believe her, but I started keeping track, and now I think she’s right. Sure, in one click I can delete an author newsletter (especially those authors who have put me on their mailing list without asking my permission—that takes chutzpah, right?) and those listserves that are nothing but happy birthday wishes and good-luck-with-your-gall-bladder hugs. But an email from my publicist or editor requires a couple of readings—okay, maybe five on a bad day—before I decide exactly how I should respond.  I’ve had a request for an ARC of OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION in my In-box since Friday but I haven’t answered it because I don’t have anymore ARCs and neither does my publisher or my agent. But I’m afraid to tell this person, so I keep reading the email over and over, deciding what to do about it.


This week I’m trying to change my habits.  No more checking of e-mail every five minutes.  No more Facebook newsfeed update running constantly.  No more----egad!—checking the TLC comments every hour.  No, I’m trying to become a more efficient person again.  I have a book to write.


You know what really brought the point home to me? I realized the time I spend checking Facebook and e-mail is time I used to spend reading.  I have 3 months of unread New Yorkers piled up around here, and my TBR pile gets bigger every day.  I’m not reading as much as I used to! Which, for anyone, but especially a writer, is Very Bad.


And the thing is? I bet I’m not as indispensible to my friends as I think I am.  My children also managed to survive the first day of kindergarten and all the agony of junior high and their freshman years in college, not to mention the first year of law school without constant communication with the Mother Ship, so maybe it’s me who’s trying too hard now that they’re adults?


But cutting the cord is a challenge.  Especially with my new cell phone.  What a delightful toy!  I want to play with it all the time.  But that’s the problem.—It’s a time waster.


Back to work. After all, I must save up enoug time to watch Lying to be Perfect on Lifetime this weekend!  Go to fullsize image


(and Happy Birthday wishes to Miz Harley Jane today!)

January 27, 2010

Pet Names

Mystery By Elaine Viets

Are your friends named Buddy, Max and Daisy? How about Lucy, Molly and Bella?

I’m talking about your best friends, your cats and dogs.

Petfinder checked its adoptable pet data base and came up with the most popular dog and cat names for 2009.

Their top ten dog names are Buddy, Max, Daisy, Lucy, Charlie, Bella, Molly, Jack, Sadie, Lady. The days of Spot and Rover are over.

Top cats are named Lucy, Smokey, Midnight, Bella, Molly, Daisy, Oreo, Shadow, Charlie, Angel.

Notice that the popular dog names are all people names, except for Lady and Buddy, which can be human nicknames. Bella, Charlie and Molly are inter-species names.

At least five cat names sound descriptive. I’m guessing Smokey, Midnight, Oreo and Shadow are probably black or gray cats and Angel is for white cats.

According to Petfinder, some animals got saddled with these names: Shyanne Thailand Moo Good Guy Pan (no, I’m not making that up).

Mr. Tomfoolery Scardeycat Eliot.

Rusty Buckets, KeelHaul, Angry Donut, Too Fancy for You, Maple Syrup, Prince Xavier Binxley, and Hoku-ho’okele-wa’a were unleashed on other harmless animals. I’m hoping KeelHaul lives on a boat.

These names violate my first rule of pet naming: Is it easy to yell?

If your cat slips out the door, do you want to go through the neighborhood hollering, "Here, Hoseclamp"? Or "Angry Donut, get in this house NOW"?

Animals will let you know if they don’t like your choice. I tried to name my cat Diamond. He is a brown-and-black tabby whose stripes turn into swirls on his sides and form a diamond on his shoulder blades.

For a week, I called him Diamond. The cat ignored me. If you’ve ever been ignored by a cat, then you know what it’s like to be invisible.   

I was reading mystery writer Michael Connelly at the time and realized how much my cat had in common with Connelly’s hero, Harry Bosch. Both were orphans. Both had murdered mothers. In my cat’s case, someone had shot his mom, brothers and sisters. My cat and his brother were the only survivors of this cat massacre. His brother stayed curled in a ball in his cage. My cat was frightened of some humans, but active. He was tough. DSCN0005_0002

I named him Harry.       

Harry the cat liked his name. I tried Hieronymus, which is what Harry Bosch’s mother had really named the future detective. My Harry wouldn’t have it. He answered to Harry or nothing.

Some cats will go for nicknames. We have a Chartreux named Columbleu’s Unsolved Mysterie. Pedigreed Chartreux are named after a different letter of the alphabet each year, sort of like Sue Grafton mysteries. Mystery was named in a U year. Her breeders were kind. She could have been called Ursula Undress or Columbleu’s Unwashed Underwear. We call her Mystery with a Y. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Mystery was bred to be a show cat. Her breeders said that she was beautiful and shy. The gray, copper-eyed cat is indeed beautiful, but she’s as shy as a used-car salesman. She is preternaturally lazy. Mystery attacked a cat show judge, thus ending her career. She’s never worked a day since, unless you count covering a four-room apartment with gray fur as work.  (That's her at the top of this blog.)

If the animal named Prince Xavier Binxley has any backbone, he’ll insist on being called Prince.

Some cats have literary names. We had an orange tabby named Hodge. He was named after Samuel Johnson’s cat.

Other cats have geographic names. Don rescued a calico kitten that was almost run over by a semi on an Illinois highway. The near cat-squishing happened by the pretty town of Elsah.

That made Elsah one lucky cat. Five miles down the road, and she would have been called Wood River.

January 26, 2010

Me and Cinderella*

By Sarah

When I get philosophical, like when I see other writers' names shoot to the top of the New York Cinderelladisney  Times bestseller lists even though they  graduated from high school in May or something, I think maybe I wasn't meant for greatness. Maybe I was just meant to birth two children, cook a mean pot roast and expand the oeuvre of Cinderella.

This thing between me and Cinderella didn't start with THE CINDERELLA PACT or the movie on which it's based, LYING TO BE PERFECT. (Lifetime. This Saturday. 9 p.m. What? You think I'm writing about this for my health maybe?) Oh, no. Cinderella and I go back. Wayyyy back. And, next to Barbie, I can think of no other fictional creation who so screwed up my adolescence.

Thanks, Cindy.

I blame numerous exposures to Cinderella from a young age, including the Golden Story book and the gawdawful Disney version (for which I had a sticker book). But it was the Leslie Ann Warren/Stuart Damon Cinderella that really captured my imagination. Leslie Ann Warren was so delicate and Stuart (Alan Quartermaine,Damonwarren   General Hospital) was so handsome that I would forever fall in love with men possessing jet black hair. Like my husband. Ahem. 

But the real story of Cinderella is so NOT Leslie and Stuart. As with many Grimm's fairy tales, it's so dysfunctional that Cinderella would need a lifetime prescription to Prozac and ten years on the couch to recover.

Here it is from a modern point of view: Grieving daughter dissed by pussy-whipped father at behest of new wife is surrounded by two Mean Girls who, unlike many real life Mean Girls, are fat or geeky. Underlying psychological motivation as explained in high school cafeteria? They are just sooo jealous 'cause Cinderella's so beautiful. After some fraud involving scalped tickets to a royal ball (and we won't even begin to get into the monarchy/peasant dynamic) and next you know Cinderella is by the fire alone, tending the ashes and playing with the rodents. (Plague anyone?)

Following the narrative so common to German fairytales (and, therefore, my own heritage and DNA), Grimms  Cinderella puts her head down and works hard because, as all us Germans know, work shall set you...No. I won't go there. Her diligence and modesty and unwillingness to challenge authority are rewarded with the visit of a "fairy godmother," a botanical cautionary tale to be more careful when selecting mushrooms from the Black Forest. 

Soon the psilocybin kicks in and the pumpkin's turning into a coach, the rats are coachmen, the mice are footmen and her rags are gorgeous gowns. Also, there's this glass slipper which, as I point out in the opening of The Cinderella Pact, is a design flaw, though when you put it in the historical context of Japanese foot binding, it's more than that. It's yet another device to control women's mobility. Run too fast, too hard and the glass could shatter INTO YOUR FOOT. Yeah, I'll take binding.

Cinderella goes to the ball where she utters not a word, not so much as a bon soir to Prince Charming but, nevertheless, he falls in love the way, say, a mute might fall in love with a centerfold or a  pole stripper. They dance and dance (still, no hint of conversation) and she runs away because the drugs are starting to wear off. Great way to begin a lifelong relationship, huh? Clearly, Charming's a narcissist with a foot fetish and, quite possibly, is harboring a secret drug problem, too. Ozzy Osbourne's written all over this one.

Does he attempt to find out who Cinderella was? No. He can't. You know why? Because he doesn't know who Cinderella is. THEY DIDN'T TALK. So he knows nothing. Zip. Zilch. But he's in love because he's all on the surface, all about the pores and the muscle tone. So he works with what he has, which is to say a shoe. A shoe. The Mean Girls are duly embarrassed (feet too fat, feet too long) but Cinderella is a clean fit. Vagina just right. Oh, I'm sorry. Did I write that? I meant, foot just right. Whew! My bad.

Anyway, all's well that ends well. Ideally, by the third year of marriage he'll discover that her real name isn't Cinderella after all. It's Emma Jean. Who knew?

As a little girl, I loved this story.  Certain, like most children, that I was abused and tormented by my parents and siblings, I identified with her the way kids today identify with the similarly abused and neglected Harry Potter. I, too, would someday be rescued and donned in evening gowns and go to the ball where I'd meet Prince Charming. But that was before I hit puberty and - lo and behold - I did not grow adorable and willowy like Her, but rather bumpy like one of the Mean Girls. 

Clearly, I'd been handed a raw deal. This whole coming-into-adulthood business was not as I had been ledCouple   to expect. Not at all. Where was my slim little waist and delicate feet? Where was the lovestruck gaze of the handsome prince meeting mine across a crowded ballroom? Where was the ball gown? (I have yet to wear one. Ever.) Where was the horse?!

Perhaps in preparation for the brutal cruelty of reality, my mother threw me an Ugly Sisters Party in fifth grade. The way she saw it, this was a win-win because whomever was voted the most ugly sister would win, but also she would lose. Get it? We had loads of dress up clothes and makeup, we teased our hair and smeared lipstick all over our faces, added moles and big candy lips. Then we pranced out and my brothers were the judges, asking us questions off the index cards about how we felt about Cinderella or something equally Mean Girl like and that was it. I forget who won, but I will never forget how much fun it was to dress up ugly.

Cinderella-pact1  "Cinderella," a former editor once told me, "is a very powerful word in the female psyche." She's right. It is. It reaffirms the dangerous notion that we're built for better things and that we only need the Right Man to show the world this is so. I think Cinderella explains a lot of midlife divorces, frankly. Forget relying on men. They're good for sex, companionship, and changing storm windows. Do the building yourself and see what happens. Might be surprising.

And that's what my book, THE CINDERELLA PACT, is all about. As for the movie, who cares what the message is there. All I know is they put my book on TV!!! Whoohoo!


* Yeah, yeah. I know it's "Cinderella and I" but tell that to The Wallflowers.

January 25, 2010

The Weepy Madonna


By Harley

Last weekend I drove my kids to a Catholic mission my 4th grader’s researching for a school report. For me, it became a spiritual pilgrimage: the mission had a gift shop.

Here’s my dirty little secret: I love religious merchandise, whether New Age (tarot cards! runes!), Judaism (menorahs, mezuzahs, Star of David cake molds), Wiccan (it goes without saying), or Catholicism, with its dizzying number of saints—ten thousand, give or take—from Adalbert to Zita.

I adore patron saints. There are the defensive ones, protecting us against attacks by dogs, earaches, enemy plots, dumbness, dying alone, mice, moles, losing one’s keys, oversleeping and scabs. And proactive ones, in charge of advertising, animals with horns, boxers, bailiffs, bald people, champagne bottlers, butlers, comediennes, chimney sweeps, jugglers, knife sharpeners, kidney stones, librarians, lumbago, lunatics, pigs, sleepwalkers, second marriages, television writers, upholsterers and wolves.

Of course, only the majors have merchandise—like Christopher, patron of travelers. He got dropped from the official calendar of Saints in 1969, but Mr. Christopher dashboard statuettes still sell well. Equally popular are St. Anthony (Lost Things) and St. Joseph (Selling Houses).

While my kids collected mission junk, I bought holy cards: two Teresa of Avilas, an Agatha and a Jude. Images  The St. Jude, patron saint of Hopeless Causes is for my best friend Mindy, saddened by the demise of her romance with Roy. (This the Dark Side of Match.com.)

Forget Valentine, Raphael, or Dwynwen, patron saints of Lovers—St. Jude’s the heavy hitter. The Blessed Virgin Mary ranks higher, but Mindy and I have already had the ultimate Mary experience.

In 1988, I heard of a traveling portrait of the Madonna rumored to be the best thing since Our Lady of Guadalupe. I called Mindy. We’re both cradle Catholics, with memories of fish-stick Fridays and fainting during Stations of the Cross. Mindy once went to Turkey (the nation, not the poultry) on a Mary pilgrimage, so a 25-mile drive was nothing. Also, we were lovelorn at the time, in the mood for miracles.

The Madonna portrait was appearing at a hotel in Chatsworth. 30-40 attendees came. At the front of the conference room were a man, a woman, and an easel. The easel, facing the wall, was draped with a bed sheet.

The woman, Tammy, told us how she woke one morning to a Voice telling her to paint a portrait of Mary. “I’m not religious,” Tammy said. “Or artistic.” Nevertheless, Tammy bought supplies and started painting.

“When I finished, I was dumbstruck,” Tammy continued. “The portrait was magnificent—that’s not bragging, because I didn’t paint it. God did. And the next morning, the Madonna was weeping! The paint on her cheeks was wet.”

“And that’s when I knew,” she said, “I was to share her with the world.”

At this point, Tammy’s consort took contributions, then lined us up to approach the holy portrait, which was undraped and redraped for each viewer, for maximum effect. Mindy and I tried to read the faces of the people ahead of us as they exited via the back of the room, the way you do outside a movie theatre. One woman did appear to be weeping.

My turn came. I faced the easel.

The bedsheet was lifted.

The portrait—I’m not making this up—was on black velvet. Now, Mindy says velvet is harder to paint on than you’d think. Maybe. But the only way you’d’ve been dumbstruck by that portrait was if your Cocker Spaniel painted it. Tammy pointed out where the tears had fallen on Mary’s cheeks, and I fought to control my own emotions.

I avoided Mindy’s eye, as she stepped up behind me for her viewing.

The Weepy Madonna did work miracles. She made us laugh all the way back to Hollywood. 22 years later, we’ve forgotten which guys broke our hearts that night, but we’ve never forgotten the Weepy Madonna.

Got any religious experiences of your own? Please share. It’s Cheer Up Mindy Monday.


January 24, 2010

Remembering Robert B. Parker by Will Graham


   I had just gotten that vital first cup of coffee poured when my office door opened and Hawk walked in.  He was wearing black leather pants, a black pullover, and a black leather jacket.  I could forgive his fashion sense as he was carrying a box from Dunkin’ Donuts.


   “Sustenance,” he said as he shut the door and walked into the room.  He grabbed a coffee cup and poured as I sat behind my desk like it belonged to me.  Which it did.


   I had just taken that first sip of the day when Hawk asked, “You hear the news?”


   “What news?” I said.


   “Bob passed this morning,” Hawk said as he sat in one of my client chairs and helped himself to a donut.  I wasn’t that crass; one needs at least one cup of coffee before donuts.


   His remark caught me by surprise.  “Bob what?”


   “He died,” Hawk said.  “Done died, in fact.”


   “What happened?” I asked.


   Hawk ate a bite of donut.  “All I know right now is, he was at his desk.  Man was seventy-seven years old,” he said.


   “Holy Christ,” I said as I sat back in my chair, coffee and donuts forgotten.


   “Yeah,” Hawk said.


   My head was spinning.  “You realize what has happened?”


   “Yeah,” Hawk said.  “I do.”


   I turned my head to gaze out the window of my office. “This means a lot,” I said.


   “I know,” Hawk said.


   “The man single-handedly revived a genre that everyone thought was long gone,” I said.  ‘The lone private investigator, defying authority, listening to his own sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice.”


   “Uh-huh,” Hawk said.


   “Wasn’t there a television series based on some of his books?” I asked.


   “Uh-huh,” Hawk said as he reached for another donut.  “TV series, seven made for TV movies from that.”


   “Plus a new series of movies with what’s his name, the guy who used to run around Hawaii in a Ferrari,” I said.  “Never seen ‘em, but Susan likes them.  From what she’s said, they sound a cut above what’s on television these days.”


   “Might have to check that out myself,” Hawk said.


   “You know,” I said thoughtfully, “in a lot of ways, he was a pioneer.  Long before it was fashionable, Bob took on things like women’s roles in society, how the stereotypes were gone and things had changed between men and women.  Not to mention race.  Or gays.  Or illegal aliens.  Or crime rings from overseas.”


   Hawk was nodding to himself.  I went on.


   “He had his detractors; some called his writing simplistic,” I said.  “Yet his books sold in the millions.”


   “Man had to be doing something right,” Hawk said.


   “Saw him interviewed, a long time ago,” I said.  “And he said something that made perfect sense when he was asked why people like his books.  He said, ‘I think people like the way the words sound.’”


   Hawk stared at me.  “That’s it?” Hawk asked.  “’The way the words sound’?”


   “When you think about it,” I said, “that says it all.”


   “He introduced you to Susan, didn’t he?” Hawk asked, changing the subject.


   “Yes, he did.  All those glorious years ago.”


   “Some of ‘em ain’t been so glorious,” Hawk said.


   I sighed.  “Maybe if you’d ever had a relationship that lasted longer than a weekend, you might have learned that anything long term has its ups and downs.  I know Susan and I shared a lot with Bob and his wife, Joan.”


   “And they shared with y’all,” Hawk said.


   “Yes,” I said.  “Nature of the beast.”


   “He a lot like you,” Hawk said.  “Big and strong and tough and can cook and not afraid to be emotional and share his feelings and all that.”


   I nodded to myself as I thought about that.  “He made me what I am today,” I said.


   “Always knew something was responsible,” Hawk said.  “You weren’t just born this way.”


   “No one is ‘just born’ the way they are,” I said.  “What happens to you throughout your whole life shapes you and makes you into what you are.  One of the things I learned from Bob is that things happen daily, and that changes you daily.”


  “Hell, if we goin’ there, Marse Spensah,” Hawk said in a Brer Bear drawl.  “Dat happens every damn minute of every damn day.”


   “Yeah, it does,” I said.  “But this feels weird.  Odd.  The world has shifted somehow, it won’t be the same without him.”


   “No, that’s true,” Hawk said.  “But it happens and there’s not much we can do about it.”


   “Agreed,” I said.  I sat back in my chair and looked out onto the gloomy street.  Hawk leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out and closing his eyes.


   “’Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart, leaving thee living in posterity?’” I said aloud.


   Hawk raised his head, opened one eye, and blew breath out, puffing his cheeks.  “Sheeeeeit,” he said, stretching the word into four syllables.  “I bet you could even tell me who said that.”


   “That would be showing off,” I said.  “But, since you asked, Shakespeare, Sonnet 6.”


   Hawk shook his head and leaned back again.


   The world was different now, off-kilter, and I wasn’t sure how to feel.  As Hawk said, there was nothing to be done about it, but it was there, and I’d do what I always did, which was figure out a way to handle it.  At that moment, I missed Susan fiercely.  So fiercely, I’d let her take advantage of me sexually if she wanted.


   We sat there, me at my desk and Hawk on the other side, looking into the gloom, until the sun sank below the horizon and it got dark and the rain turned to snow….



January 23, 2010

Mary Kennedy Guest Blogs

The Woman Who Hated Mayonnaise and Other Oddities

by Mary Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and author of nearly 40 books, including DEAD AIR, the first novel in a mystery series featuring talk radio psychologist Maggie Walsh.


    Book signings, like full moons, Spanx underwear and SuperBowl week-ends, seem to bring out the worst in people. At a recent signing, a middle-aged woman approached me, brandishing a copy of DEAD AIR. “There’s no mayonnaise in here, is there?”


  I was flummoxed. Could she possibly have mistaken my paperback mystery for a cookbook? “Mayonnaise? I don’t think so.”


  “Are you sure?” She leaned in close, blinking rapidly. She was thin, jittery, maybe one Xanax away from a nervous breakdown. “I have a phobia, you see. I can’t stand to read about mayonnaise. I can’t stand to see the word in print.” She gave me a searching look. “But you’re a psychiatrist, so you probably know about these things.”


  “Well, actually I’m a psychologist–“


  ”What’s the difference?”


  Seventy dollars an hour? No, wrong answer.  “Psychiatrists prescribe medications and we focus on behavioral modification techniques.” A few people had lined up behind her and I gently took the book out of her hands. “Now how would you like me to sign this?”


  “Blue,” she shot back.


  “Your name is Blue?” I paused, pen in mid-air.


  “No, I have another phobia. It’s  about the color blue.” She tapped the cover with a blood-red fingernail. “If there’s anything blue in the book–“


  I gulped. “You would be extremely upset.”




  Grumblings from the people behind her in line. Inspiration struck. I handed her a post-it. “Just write down your name and address.  I will edit out all mentions of mayonnaise and the word blue. I’ll send you an autographed copy, for free.”


  “For real?”


  Well, no actually.  But it got her away from the table.


  Sometimes people at signings actually make it into my books. When I was signing copies at a large suburban mall, a “furrie” couple was strolling happily  through the bookstore. It seems they had just come from an afternoon wedding. And yes, they were part of the wedding party.  Furries, in case you haven’t heard of them, are people who dress up as animals and have sex. They have annual conventions,  mixers and dinner dances, and generally have a good time with each other.  If you want to read more about “furries,” or “plushies,” just goggle the term. When they approached my table, the man (who was dressed as a raccoon) extended a friendly paw in greeting. His giggling wife was outfitted as a slightly overweight possum. They bought three of my books. “We heard you’re funny,” the man explained. When a guy dressed as a giant raccoon tells you you’re funny, well, what can I say? “Maybe you’ll write about us, someday?” his wife asked. “That would sure be nice. We don’t get the attention we deserve.”


  So I went home and wrote the opening scene of DEAD AIR. It features a radio caller discussing a recent Furrie Convention in Cypress Grove.  Like they say, it’s all material.  



Check out DEAD AIR here.  DEAD AIR book cover



January 22, 2010

The Shock! The Horror! The Magnifying Mirror.

The Shock!  The Horror!  The Magnifying Mirror.

By Kathy Sweeney

Blog mag mirror eye  I had a small magnifying mirror.  It was a regular mirror on one side and a 2X mirror on the other.  I used it mainly to check to see if my eyes were irritated because of allergies, or because there was something in them.  Like an eyelash or a 2X4.  After many years of good service, it died.  So I asked for a new one.

There it was, Christmas morning - exactly what I asked for! Isn't it great when that happens?  This one was bigger, and it had 8X magnification.  Has to be great, right?  I could do my own Lasik surgery with this bad boy.

I plugged it in, flipped it to the 8X side and nearly had a stroke.  What the hell was in there?  Was I looking at part of my own face, or some kind of topographical map?  I mean, I had a flashback to the Air and Space museum and the lunar landing exhibit.

My first instinct was to get rid of whatever all that stuff was - by whatever means possible.  Luckily, one of the kids called me, and I was distracted.  Otherwise, I fear it would have been like taking a garden weasel to a hard wood floor.

Blog mag mirror faceAs a public service to all of you, I am telling you flat out - back away from the magnifying mirrors.  Human skin is a complex thing, even if one is blessed with no real dermatological issues.  My skin breaks out, but I've been lucky enough not to have the kind of acne or other conditions that can make life unbearable.  Still - my face is not exactly a smooth spanse of dewy loveliness.  It's more like one of those relief maps you got in junior high earth science.  You know, the ones you poke underneath with a pencil when the teacher isn't looking. Which reminds me of our science teacher.  We called him the Supernova because his pants were so tight we were afraid they would explode. Yeah.

Blog mustache magnum  Here is another thing you need to know - the human body is covered with fine hair.  Including the upper lip. One look in the 8X and I was convinced I'd been walking around with Yosemite Sam on my face, and was immediately pissed that no one told me about it.  That episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon lets hers grow in (she calls it Tom Selleck) resounded with me like a sonic boom.  My immediate instinct was to find either a razor or create a make-shift burka to get to the store for hair remover, then just cover my entire face in a last ditch effort to avoid being mistaken for the Wolfman.  And not the cute Michael J. Fox one, either - although it would be nice to be able to dunk a basketball for the first time in my life.

I mean, some of my relatives (especially on the Italian/Sicilian side) have the moustache - and I'm talking the females here.  I don't have a hang-up about it, I just don't want to be mistaken for Willie Nelson, y'know? Turns out that yes - there is hair on my upper lip - the same kind that's on all my skin.  But it's not the makings of a Fu Manchu.  You can barely notice it with regular human eyes.  Thank God no one really has the Steve Austin bionic eye, though.  And I'm pretty sure a career in HD film or TV is out.  I can live with that.  My bottom teeth are crooked anyway (am I the only one who started noticing all the bad bottom teeth when TV went HD?  I'll bet orthodontists in New York and LA are doing a landslide business).

As far as the rest of the lunar - I mean facial - landscape, it's weird.  The face has all kinds of marks and scars and wrinkles that you can only see if you are dumb enough to spend time in front of this not-so-fun-house mirror.  It is damn near impossible not to pick at the stuff, regardless of what it is.  Before you bring out the back hoe or the combine, be sure it's not just a piece of glitter from taking ornaments off the Christmas tree. I almost embedded that thing into my chin just trying to figure out what it was.

Frankly, I'm having a small panic attack just re-living this whole experience.  So here is my advice - no one needs to get that close a view of anything, okay?  Particularly your own face.  That's why we have arms - to keep people from seeing too much. You need to trust the people around you to tell you if there is something on your face that needs attention if you miss it yourself in a normal mirror check.  I pledge to all of you on TLC that if I see you with something on your face that doesn't belong there, I will tell you immediately.  Unless it's another human, in which case I'm just looking the other way.

Better to leave some things a mystery.  Just saying.