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31 posts from August 2010

August 31, 2010

Don't Laugh; It's Paid For

By Sarah

It used to be, back in the grand, high-flying days before tuition payments and wisdom teeth removals, that I would sell my car for a spanking new one every five years. I loved the whole process of buying new, the elaborate ritual of form filling and key exchange, the paper on the floor mats, the mystery of the new blue lights and, of course, the perfume of perfection.

Com.google.chrome  Five, it seemed, was long enough, especially after clocking 20-30,000 miles each year as a reporter. Plus, I lived in the North where salt and snow and rough back roads took its toll on an undercarriage. There was also the inside damage from spilled coffee and, when Anna and Sam were small, fermented squished apple slices and stickers, stickers, stickers.

At 100k, my cars usually took on a peculiar rotten milk odor and major work loomed on the horizon. Brakes and tie rods. That damned timing belt. I couldn't wait to trade in that sucker.

But now, after two years of belt tightening, five seems almost frivolous. My parents used to keep their cars seven years and it looks like I'm destined to do the same, and beyond.

Last week, after a summer of my daughter's occupation, I cleaned my car of her stuff - CDs and stray coffee cups, assorted underwear, swimsuits, magazines, wads of green gum and, ahem, a lighter - vacuumed every stray strand of Basset fur, wiped the leather, topped the fluids and admired the few rust spots.

My 2004 Honda Pilot at 113,000 and counting. The idea of trading it in for two grand and plunking down 04pilot   another tuition payment for a replacement leaves me in a cold sweat.

I know I'm not alone in this new approach to car frugality despite recent upticks in auto sales. Most of my friends are running their cars into the ground, partly because they have teenagers. Not only do teenagers cost A LOT OF MONEY without a car, but with cars they can drive you bankrupt. Teenagers tend to forget to check the oil and sometimes run off the road while zipping off to ski. Not that I'm thinking of any daughter in particular.

Kids are hard on cars. Dents appear mysteriously. Tires flatten - but how? Plus, they don't listen to the squeaks and grinds that send the rest of us screaming to the mechanic.

I was no better. The car I learned to drive on was my father's Dodge Dart, his concession to the America First! steelworkers who had been known in our town of Bethlehem to set fire to the unfortunately parked VW. The thing about the Dart was that it stalled on lefthand turns. This didn't seem to bother my parents, though it left me in a panic in hilly Pennsylvania where lefthand turns were often at the tops of blind curves, forcing oncoming cars to come careening into your right side.

The night I got my license, I backed out of the garage with my best friend Lisa and immediately stopped moving. This might have been because the car was wedged into the wall. Ooops!

The next car I inherited was my mother's %^$@@ VW Dasher, a hideous brown contraption that, to make  Overheating  matters worse, was covered in my mother's bumper stickers. Nothing like trying to act cool in college with Live Long Enough to be a Problem to Your Children on the rear window and ERA NOW!

The Dasher was standard with a rough clutch and an even worse cooling system. Five minutes in an average traffic jam and steam billowed out its hood. This, too, didn't seem to bother my father who handed me a couple of quarts of oil and told me to turn on the heat if the needle started rising.

Off I went to my internship at Newsday on Long Island and, sure enough, I got stuck on the Long Island Expressway before I ever reported to work. There I was - nineteen, blonde, broken down by the side of the LIE in the midst of ghettos as tractor trailers whizzed by. It was a wonder I survived the week, not to mention the whole summer.

We often moan and groan about appliances not lasting as long as they used to. TVs, refrigerators and dishwashers seemed designed to fail. But I have to say, when it comes to cars, I think we've come a long way.

The Hondas I've had have lasted way beyond the Dart and Dasher's capabilities. They don't overheat and - crappy brakes, windshield wipers and torturous seats not withstanding - they last.

At least, that's what I hope. Because, as my friends and I like to say, sending a kid to college is like buying a Subaru every six months. Thanks to Bryn Mawr's financial aid, it's more like buying a Subaru once a year, but still.

I'm not looking to saunter into a new car lot until 2014. Dipstick crossed. But when I do, watch out.....

Happy driving!


BTW: They just redid the Oval Office. Which do you think is better? (Politics not included.)

Obama's?  Obama office 2  


Bush oval office

Or Clinton's?

Clinton office   

August 30, 2010

A Time to Kill

by Hank Phillippi Ryan


 Earwigs in the dahlias. And I am homicidal.


I'm a peaceful sort, usually. Yes, I write murder mysteries. But in real life, I try not to kill things. When I see an ant in the house, I pick it up on a piece of cardboard and ferry it back outside. Moths (unless they are in my closet in which case they've trespassed and all bets are off), I also shoo out. Spiders, I let them just go away. Unless they like, touch me, in which case it's all about  reflexes and I can't be responsible. (We had a bat in the house one summer, but I let my husband take care of that. I have, um, no idea what happened. I was, literally, trembling and hiding under the covers. Jonathan will tell the story wth great hilarity, if pressed. I won't.) 


But you get the point. I'm not a killer.  But it's the end of summer now, and the dahlias are out. They are regal and stately, some blooms the size of saucers and each one more glorious than the last. We have dark dark red, white with purple edges, and pure white.  Dahlia white

The white are fantastic. They are also, apparently, the Ritz Hotel for earwigs.  


You know what an earwig looks like? Disgusting. And they slide their slimy little selves deep deep deep into the petals of the dahlias, the white ones especially. Then, when you bring the cut blooms inside, the earwigs ride in, still hiding, burrowed into the petals. Five minutes later, they're slithering out again. Antenna. Little pincers. Too many legs. I can barely write about it. And I have to kill them.




Eeeeyew. See what I mean? And more on that in a minute. But let's talk about killing.



Now let me say. In writing murder mysteries, I admit the murder is the hard part for me. I don't like to kill my characters, even though it's fiction, and sometimes, in writing, find myself wimping out a bit.


(Yes, even in the big climax, and even if the character is truly truly bad. The poor victims, they're even more difficult. I know I try to make them someone the reader won't be too sad about about, you know? It's the act of killing them that was the bad thing. But  I do understand that you can't have a genre called "pretty-badly-hurt-but-will-recover mysteries." It's a murder mystery, so someone, maybe more than one someone, has got to go.) 


 I know there are others who love the murder part. Who take out their aggressions on those who have wronged them by making them suffer on paper. A creepy boss, a philandering ex-boyfriend, the sneaky office-mate who steals your ideas, the car dealer who ripped you off, the jerk coach who bullies your kids.They just take ol' insert-name-here and make them forever a victim, and stone col' dead. Take that.


I...don't feel that way. If I killed off someone who I knew was a representation of someone I knew who was, I would feel guilty.  (Do you? Or are you tougher than I am?)


But fictionally, one must do what one must do. As a result,  I've spent some time contemplating what could or would make someone angry enough to actually kill a person. (Aside from self-defense or the defense of others. Or war. We're not talking about those things today.) Since it's important, obviously, that a fictional killer's motive be realistic.


Money, certainly. Love, natch. Wanting something you can't have. Revenge. But we've all felt those things. And then I wondered--what is the unifying element of all those emotions? What's behind them? Maybe it's--power. Control. The desire for power. The intoxicating feeling of having power.The power to get whatever you want, or whoever you want, or to make someone do your bidding. Or make them go away.  Forever. 


And in some people, the belief in their own power, and the belief they have the right to use it to get what they want? That overtakes everything else.  They've made their own world, where they're allowed to use their power to get what they want. They have an explanation--that makes sense to them--about why it's okay. They begin to believe their own rules. And believe that their rules--rule.


I solved my problem, so far, by having the bad guys get justice, not death. Not much I can do for the victims they killed.


And of course, that leads to the how-to of the thing. And it ain't as easy as it seems, even on paper. The other night at dinner, I said to Jonathan:  You know, you can't just throw someone off a bridge. Someone would see you. Plus, you couldn't be certain the person would die.



Jonathan didn't bat an eyelash. (Remember, he's a crimnal defense attorney.) Nope,he said. It's hard to get away with murder. So for this latest book, I'm still at the homicide drawing board.
















But as for those earwigs. HA. Got you, suckers. That's the one time I get homicidal. I'm a natural born killer. Here's my method of murder:  I dunk the flower heads in a big bowl of water that contains just a little soap. Then I wait. The earwigs float out. And then--they drown. And then--I pour them down the drain. (Don't even ask me about the garbage disposal. I have theright to remain silent. ) And I don't feel bad at all.


Because we're all readers, I feel safe asking this: What's the best murder method you ever heard?  And writers--do you like the murder part?

August 29, 2010

It Makes Me Shutter*

It Makes Me Shutter*

By Maria Lima

Maria Lima is a writing geek with one foot in the real world and the other in the make-believe. Her Blood Lines series (Pocket Books) is set in the Texas Hill Country--a fabulous place for thing that go bump in the night. Maria loves to read, write and watch genre TV and feels very lucky that people actually pay her to do at least one of these things. www.marialima.com


I love the Internet. I mean, really. As in I love it ALOT. I can chat with people in New Zealand just as easily as I do with folks in the next office. I can read articles about Thor's Hammer or peruse newly released World War II era color photographs. I can indulge my easily distracted brain with pretty much anything I want. I can share pictures of my cat, my trip, my book signings, my silliness. Google is my friend and my blog buddies can be my closest confidants. There is no answer that I can't uncover** and Wikipedia is of teh awesome liek woah.

The Internet has brought me amazing friendships, love, laughter, joy. Though in the last few years, it's brought me the absolute and utter amusement of the mangling of the English language--by native speakers. At first, I was beyond incensed, ready to wield the flaming sword of the righteous (is there a patron saint or angel of grammar?).

I'm a writer, damn it, and a total grammar nerd. I mean, I subscribe to the online version of the Chicago Manual of Style, for fun! The topmost item on my ongoing wish list is a subscription to the OED online. With all these amazing resources, how can people be so ignorant of the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling? Honestly! When the proper usage can be found with a simple search? When in-depth discussions of the Oxford comma take up megapixels of my screen? It's ridiculous!

One day, the answer to my rage occurred to me. Ridiculous became the default keyword in these situations. Instead of getting angry, I could chose to be the other "a" word: amused.


I've gone from wanting to tear my hair out at its gray roots to chuckling over the umpteenth example of homonym abuse and misuse. I don't worry about folks' education or lack thereof. Now, I just wonder at the (sometimes) insanity I see and rest easy in mind that I can take the high road. For every correct phrase, there's another just as heartfelt, but absurdedly worded or spelled. It's become a fun pastime and frankly, I can read posts and comments without my brain exploding. So much nicer that way. So much less stress.

I no longer cringe when I see tips on how to loose weight or that ice cream is the best desert. Characters peaking around the door don't raise my peek, nor do they rein on my parade, but I sometimes still have to reign in my comments. Via a tech loop I belong to, I'm often asked to go sightsee a Web site, but I always make sure my responses and feedback are thoughtful rather then mean. I know that this isn't a conspiracy against my friends and I, but a reel, true and well-meaning group of concerned citizens who just want to be herd.

Yes, I still sigh in vein, but I know that I can't fix this. Some days, I do have to put the breaks on my initial urge to correct, to teach, to educate. I know it would just be a time waist. So I hold back my instinct in a vice-like grip and chuckle. After all, this is the Intarwebs. I try to not let it effect my blood pressure. I'll bear this burden. I'll except this homonym abuse. Instead, I'll continue to rack my brain for better ways of using words in my own books to avoid typo's. I suggest you all do the same, in loo of loosing your cool.

I'd love for you all to share you're own pain...***

'S'alright? 'S'all right. 

* Seen on a blog post reply
** Even if it's wrong
*** I reserve the right to lose it over egregious apostrophe abuse


August 28, 2010

Planet Madonna

Planet Madonna

By Cornelia Read

[I am currently doing six days of college touring with my daughter, my niece, and my sister. In a small car. We did two places today. I am kind of fried, with intermittent wireless hookup. So this is a review I wrote a while ago, but it seems like a place that Tarts should congregate. Maybe we could all meet up for drinks on New Year's Eve???)


Of course great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service. 

--Joan Didion The White Album 

If you want to spend one night in America’s most memorable lodgings, forget about The Plaza, The Drake, The St. Francis, the Ritz-Carlton. and The Chateau Marmont—what you need is a reservation at the Madonna Inn . This "spectacular fantasy motel" has become so widely known that when its proprietors, Phyllis and Alex Madonna, visited Austria and Switzerland and were asked the name of their hometown by someone to whom they had not been introduced, their reply of "San Luis Obispo, California," was greeted by, "and how far is that from the Madonna Inn?" Though their fame abroad is remarkable (the Madonnas have gotten press coverage in venues ranging from Good Morning America to The Times of London), it is eclipsed by the esteem in which this couple is held at home: that trip to Europe, for instance, was a gift from their employees. 


As kind, honest, and sincere as Mr. and Mrs. Madonna are reputed to be, however, the foremost reason to book a room with them is that the Madonna Inn is to interior decorating what miniature golf is to landscape design: outrageous, eye-catching, and deeply, deeply American. This 109-room hostelry is a cultural icon right up there with Disneyland, Hearst Castle, Pedro’s South of the Border, and the entirety of The Vegas Strip. The Inn exerts a force of kitsch so powerful, in fact, that—like Graceland— it generates a self-referencing bubble of wonder, a magnetism that pulls busloads of the faithful to its doors as surely as pilgrims are drawn to Mecca, Lourdes, Rome, and Zion. 

The Madonnas have conceived of, built, and decorated a veritable temple to the self-made aesthetic, making tangible—in flocked velvet, apple green leather, lava rock, faux leopard, and hot pink everything—the bedizened romanticism of the American Dream. 


Step through the carved doors by the fountains chez Madonna, and you’re inside the giant snowglobe whose web of enchantment hides the ancient homeland of all Hummel figurines, Jell-O salads, lawn trolls, sparkling pink Barbie accessories, gilt cherubs, and "Round-Tuits" from the gaze of we lowly mortals. There is no greater Valhalla of Va-va-va-voom than this, no more hermetically perfect auberge of audacity…. You have arrived, Chica. 


The pillars, beams, and cornices of the coffee shop were ten years in the carving. The tables and bar are made of copper, the former with the Madonna "pick and shovel" logo handstamped and the latter elaborately engraved. 

Murals with a fin-de-siecle theme abound, as do Tiffany-style stained glass lamps, red leather barstools, and sheet-copper sheathing. All this, and you’re still in the coffee shop. 

Don't forget to ogle the Gold Rush Dining Room, whose baroque magnificence includes the "swinging girl," a nearly life-sized brunette doll who has been careening back-and-forth--suspended from the "genuine oak branches" adorning the ceiling--since the inn opened.

Of course, it’s hard to miss the 28-foot tall tree made from leftover conduit, scrap copper, and spare diesel fuel tubing, "lit by a thousand dainty lights" that stands at the room’s center, but the focal point is still the overwhelming use of "Madonna Pink," a lushly roseate shade the owners felt would be flattering to female guests. The ubiquity of pink upholstery alone must be supported by its own naugahyde factory, working round the clock. 


Even the bathrooms are cause for a sort of hushed reverence. Those in the Wine Cellar, for instance, which are approached by following a carved banister down the flight of stairs from the lobby, walking past the rock cave which houses the pay phone, and beyond the barrel-shaped cage which leads to another dining room ("starlit" stone pillars, grape trellises, wine barrels…). The Ladies’ Room features red flocked wallpaper, pink Italian marble, and door panels of tufted red leather, but it is the Men’s Room which draws crowds with its giant clamshell sinks and the stone wall urinal, "flushed" when patrons trigger an electric eye and loose a full-scale waterfall. 


Each of the 109 rooms is decorated differently, with its own theme, color scheme, and decor. But as over the top as the decor sounds (and we haven’t even discussed the Gay Nineties Room, the Silver Bar, or the Oak Pit BBQ), this is not the place to show up in python thigh boots with Hunter S. Thompson and his Samoan attorney in tow. 


As Jack Arky, a composer from Los Angeles, said of his stay there last year, "Everyone is nice. Really, really, really nice. I mean, like Disneyland nice—it was, um, eerie." 


Arky and his girlfriend stopped in on their first driving tour up the West coast at the behest of a college buddy who is a California native. "’Get one of the cave rooms,’ she told me, ‘and surprise her with a gift of leopard underwear,’" he recounts. 


"We followed instructions, and actually we had a really great time, but it was so overwhelmingly detailed, visually, that we were exhausted by the time we left. I don’t think I could stay there longer than one night." 


Still, he remembers the experience vividly, saying that it was like nothing else so much as wandering into a lost episode of Twin Peaks. 


"The wildest thing was when we went down to the dining room, and the whole place is like, hot pink car upholstery or something, and the service is great, and there’s this band playing. The music was really amazing—like Glenn Miller, 'Stardust,' the whole thing— and everyone’s dancing ballroom style, and we look around and we realize that everyone’s really good. They’re all dipping and swirling and doing all of this amazing stuff out on the dance floor...everyone...and so we just decide that it really is an alternate universe, that maybe the whole population from the surrounding area comes here all the time and they’ve developed this whole really nice culture together, just unbelievably polite and into dancing their heads off all the time." 

He paused and laughed at this point in the story, adding "Later, of course, we find out that it was some huge Arthur Murray ballroom class out on a field trip." 

We checked back and found out that the Inn offers live Swing music Tuesday through Saturday, and that local dance groups often show their stuff here. But if you’re not ready to Cha-Cha, the recreational opportunities are legion. The Madonna Inn is within easy distance of downtown San Luis Obispo, Hearst Castle (about a 50-minute drive), and a number of good wineries. While there is no concierge, the desk staff will help you get information on setting up golf or fishing outings. Tours of California's scenic coastline can be arranged for guests, with the local Silverado Tours coming right to the hotel. 


Bring your mountain bike or hiking boots, too, because the surrounding terrain offer some great trails and views. Especially recommended are the trails originating at Montana De Oro State Park, which is about a 20 minute drive away, on the Pacific. 

As for indoor recreation, we highly recommend reserving any of these splendid rooms for at least a night, preferably after a shopping spree at Frederick’s of Hollywood down the coast. Most people like to book rock accommodations that include a waterfall shower, but two rock suites offer both the shower and a fireplace. 


The staff at the hotel will happily fill you in on the dozens of other theme rooms available. There is truly something for everyone here, and goodness knows this is fertile ground for coming up with a thousand and one "honeymoon" scenarios. 

Even if you’ve got the rental car on cruise control, trying to do the length of the state in a day, this is an ideal rest stop on any road trip through California. The postcards alone (featuring a variety of rooms as photographed by Mrs. Madonna) are worth pulling off 101 for, and you won’t find a more entertaining (or cleaner) restroom anywhere in the NAFTA countries. If you’ve got a couple of minutes more, pull up a tufted pink leather barstool at the copper horseshoe-shaped bar for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie…. Go ahead, make your day.


The Bottom Line: if you haven't been to The Madonna Inn...


...you haven't been to America.

 Okay, Tartissimas and Tartissimos, what is YOUR favorite slice of tack-fest Americana? Or source of REALLY good pie?

August 27, 2010

Just (insert word ending with "ing") Do It!

from Jacqueline

The past year or so seems to have been so jam-packed, I am limping towards my vacation in a couple of weeks.  I started writing a new book last December (having barely breathed between ending one manuscript and starting another), and in the middle had to travel to the UK a couple of times to see my parents, who had both been unwell, and I embarked upon a six-week book tour that had me on a ‘plane almost every day.  It’s a wonder I managed to produce an email or two, let alone a manuscript – but you know how that goes; making the ends meet is what we all do, isn’t it, whether we're talking about time, money, family or whatever?

But somewhere in there, I make room for another passion – my horses, and my training in the equestrian sport of dressage.  Though I was always one to leap on a horse, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really put a lot of energy into the sport, and it came about partly as a result of my writing – I found I was getting too much “in my head” and I wanted something I was completely committed to every day that got me away from the desk to a place where I didn’t constantly worry about whatever it was I was writing.  I have always loved horses and riding, so it was an obvious choice – and I had always wanted to do dressage.  The level of communication between horse and rider, the discipline, the almost spiritual connection to the training fascinated me.  I have two horses – Sara, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross, and  Oliver, a 6 year-old Friesian.  Sara has had health problems over the past four years – mainly due to a sinus infection that almost killed her –  so we’ve been through quite a lot together. I bought Oliver just over two years ago, when he was almost four years old.  And those two equine partners have taught me so much, and not just about riding, but lessons I could apply to my writing and, indeed, to life.

With Ollie

Last weekend marked a big step for Ollie and I – we went to our first real dressage show.  We’d attended a small schooling show about eighteen months ago, but this was different – this was a real show.  Friesians take a little longer to mature than some breeds – at six, Ollie is still growing, and still finding the balance to do this kind of work, which is a bit like Pilates for horses (horses trained in dressage are among the fittest and longest living horses), and he is a bit of a goofball – he loves to play, loves to be hugged and is quite a comedian.   But we have been training really hard for this show, and I was worried as we could do each part of our two tests, but we couldn’t seem to put it together – especially getting the collected canter, which always seems to take longer to establish with this breed.

Here’s where I tell you about the gang I ride with, the other dressage enthusiasts who train at the same place. With a couple of exceptions, we are all women on the powerful side of fifty – in fact, Ann, one of our number, only took up dressage in the past year at the age of sixty.  We call ourselves “the old girls.”  We are all committed to improving, to working our way up the levels – and above all, to having fun while we do it.  But that’s sometimes hard to do when you are nervous before a show.  In fact, if I told you the things some of those women do that do not make them nervous, you would find it funny that the prospect of riding in a show renders each one of us jelly-like.  One of our number is a cool-as-a-cucumber surgeon (who, just as an aside, fractured several vertebrae in her neck last year when she was thrown from her horse, and is now riding again, as well as learning to tango), another is a real estate agent; there’s the gal who caters and manages special events, and a PR executive.  

So, en masse with our trainer we went off to the venue the day before the show, to get our horses settled and to familiarize ourselves with the arenas.  As soon as we arrived, I thought we had a bit of a problem when a stealth bomber – well, it looked like a stealth bomber – came swooping down over our heads, then went off on a loop and came back again – and again and again.  Turns out there was an air show just a couple of miles away on the same day.  Ever tried to ride a horse with a stealth bomber over your head?  It was like doing dressage in the Blitz!  We survived our practice sessions, then all went out to a wine bar that evening to talk about the following day and our mantra – “It’s all about having fun.”

The day dawned sunny and bright, and soon we were all dressed in our show attire (very correct, I even splashed out on some bling – a fake-diamond embellished ribbon for my hair.  I’d decided that if Ollie and I came last, we would at least be the best turned out).  We all wore track suits to protect our white breeches and shirts so we didn’t get dirty – except the surgeon, who wore old scrubs – then we pulled together to get our horses ready, and to be there for each other as we went up to the arena for our tests.  At this stage I was getting more and more worried about that canter – Ollie is not “confirmed” in canter; he can run with the best of them, but that collected canter is another matter.  All I wanted to do was to get around the test – I didn’t care if my geometry was off.


We didn’t get the canter in the right place on our first test, but Ollie was so good – he didn’t shy or get jumpy, just took it all in his stride. But I felt awful – I was so nervous, I wasn’t having fun.  I had a twenty-minute break before the next test so went back down to the warm-up area to walk around and gather my thoughts.  My trainer called me to go up for my test, and as I reached the gate, one of those women I ride with beckoned to me to come closer so she could speak to me without anyone hearing.  As we trotted alongside, she patted Ollie on the neck, looked up at me and said, “Jackie, just go ride the ****ing horse and have some fun.”  I was still laughing when the bell rang for us to enter the arena and do that test.  And I rode my lovely Ollie like the wind.  We cantered in all the right places, and though it wasn’t always pretty, Ollie was brilliant and put his heart and soul into the job – I don’t know if I'd call it a spiritual connection, but we felt as if we were at the same party.  


Later, with my two ribbons in one hand (we came third in each test – not bad for a horse and rider new to shows), and a glass of champagne in the other as I celebrated with the old girls contingent – we all came away with ribbons – it occurred to me, not for the first time in my life, that my friend’s advice works just as well with writing, with life, with anything – just ride the ****ing thing!


And for those of you with an equestrian bent, check out the book, “Why We Ride: Women Writers And The Horses In Their Lives.”  My essay on writing and riding is in there.

PS:  Sadly, the old girls' contingent were so wrapped up in making a big deal out of their horses and dipping into the champagne, that we forgot to have someone take a group photo - hey, there's next time though!




August 26, 2010

Welcome Wagon & Gossip!

Welcome Wagon & Gossip

Transmitted by Nancy Pickard

Hi, Everybody,


I asked the Tarts to catch us up on their professional and personal news that might otherwise slide by.  Who knew this would turn out to include lizards, earwigs, vampires, and eeking?

Nancy Martin

On the home front, my husband and I are delighted that we're going to be grandparents again!  Our daughter Cassie is expecting her second in February.  Let's hope for a Valentine's Day baby.

 And, in professional news, I've spent a month tinkering with a new book idea. (Hey, that's what summer is for!)  And I have new covers to show off! What do you think of them? The first Roxy book (previously titled OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION) will hit bookstores in trade paper in January.  And Roxy's second outing--called STICKY FINGERS--will be on sale in April. 

Nancy martin same size

Diane Chamberlain

 is trying to learn how to get her new iPad to play nice with her desktop and laptop and Blackberry and she’s about to toss all four of them out the window!

 Hank Phillippi Ryan

  is battling the earwigs in her dahlias. Cleaning out the front hall closet looms. The November rating sweeps are on the way, inexorably, and she is worrying that this will be the year (after more than 30 in TV) that she won't be able to come up with great investigative stories. The good news: large-print editions of the TIME mysteries are coming this fall!   She's working on a new book that her agent just told her she loves—now comes the hard part.  And she's counting her blessings--getting ready for her 13th wedding anniversary this September. (The 13th is the best-seller anniversary, Hank is happy to report.)

Elaine Viets

has been lucky in love, personally and professionally. She and Don Crinklaw were married 39 years this August. Elaine says she not only loves Don, she likes him -- but that "in sickness and in health" clause in their vows has been a real bear. On the dark side, Elaine's short story, "Vampire Hours" has been published in the anthology, "Vampires in Love" from Barnes & Noble. Whoever thought she'd be in an anthology with Anne Rice?

Louise  Penny

On the professional front I just did my first television interview in French.  My publicists advice?  Don't merde it up.  So I was feeling pretty confident.  Merde.
On the personal side Michael and our friend Susan and I are off to Vermont to see the Ansel Adams exhibit and take part in the Farmer's Dinner, a gourmet dinner of local produce outside.  Then we're staying at the Inn at Shelburne. Bliss.

Margaret Maron

 is coming down to the wire on her next book.  This week, while she wrestled with fictional murder, George, the orange skink who has lived in a crack in her office baseboard for three years, suddenly streaked across the floor—with a black snake in hot pursuit.  Margaret yelled for her husband, who chased the snake back into the crack, then sealed it up like a cask of Amontillado.    George is wistful about his lost hidey hole but happy not to be skink hollandaise.  Margaret's sure there's a short story here somewhere. (The snake has quit knocking.)

Kathy Reschini Sweeney

 is having a great summer and NOT discussing the following upcoming events: Kate starts her freshman year in college at Chatham University; Ty starts his sophomore year at Central Catholic High School; Kathy becomes a Golden Girl in September. Also on the verboten topics list: the heat, the humidity and the complete dearth of safe treatments for menopause.

Harley Jane Kozak

will have a short story called “Lamborghini Mommy” in the 2011 Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Rich and the Dead, edited by Nelson DeMille. In other news, elementary school starts in 142 hours, causing much weeping in the household; not all these tears are sad tears.

Heather Graham

EEEK! My life right now is just getting ready for Writers for New Orleans, which brings writers into the city at cost so that we all support a great historical city that so many have used in their careers--a city whacked with an oil spill right when it was coming back from the year of the storms. It's crazy; my entire family comes to help out with everything that has to be done, and they all perform in the dinner show (with our gorgeous Harley as well) and we actually put together a full band . . . and then, the dastardly finale! Right after, I take six-foot baby girl back to CalArts! 

Cornelia Read:

 I spent all of yesterday masquerading as a grownup (phone calls that required lots of time on hold listening to "market news," refilling prescriptions, paying bills, buying lampshades at Target for pair of Mateus-bottle lamps acquired free at end of a garage sale in June, delivering paperwork) which has left me feeling frail, obtuse, and embittered. But at least I know where my car keys are. Or did, until about 30 seconds ago. Tomorrow: college tour road trip! Meanwhile, leaves in New Hampshire ALREADY TURNING!! FEH!!! I mean, o ye gods of cold and sleet and stuff, it's, like, NOT EVEN SEPTEMBER YET!!

 Writing wise: five pages yesterday on WIP Valley of Ashes (hey, I woke up at 3:55 a.m. Should maybe do that more often?) Fourth novel is still kicking my butt. However (waving turnip, backlit) as God is My Witness, I Shall Never... um... not finish this draft again? Or something like that. 

Nancy Pickard

made the mistake of having a monster shrub torn out of the ground,  and now she has a huge bald spot in the yard.  Fortunately, perennials are on sale in late summer! Unfortunately, she’s the one who’ll have to plant them.  Fortunately, the weather’s cool! Unfortunately, it’s going back up to the 90’s on Friday.  And life goes on.  Much like the endless book she’s writing.

(Don't worry if we missed your fav Tart--we'll catch up with her next time.)

Now it’s your turn. yes, it is.  You didn’t think you were escaping, did you?  What’s going on with you and yours?

If you’re new here, please tell us something about yourself.  If you’ve been around for ages, please introduce yourself to the newbies. 

And lurkers?  We know you’re here. ::grin::  This is a good day to hop out and say hi.  NOT like snakes, no no no, or even skinks.  Rather, like the charming, lovely people we know you are.  We’d love to make your acquaintance, too.

The WELCOME WAGON opens now. . .there’s cake and coffee on that cart over there, and beer and wine behind the bar if this thing turns into a party.


August 25, 2010

If You Please, Jeeves

Margaret Maron

DownloadedFile“I have a great deal of work to do today, Jeeves,” her ladyship said, gesturing toward a desk awash in papers and books and various writing instruments.  “Please see that I am not disturbed.”

“Very good, m’lady.”

Moments later, the bell rang.  Jeeves imperturbably answered and, upon being asked if the visitor might speak to Lady Margaret, he bowed politely and said, “I’m sorry, madam, but her Ladyship is not at home.”

A disappointed Mrs. Smythe-Jones said, “Please tell her I called.”

“Certainly, madam.”

The bell continued to ring throughout the day.  Although several did not wait for him to cross the marbled hall and open the door, to each of those who did, he gave the same answer.  Some gave him lengthy messages to relay, others merely left their names with the request that her ladyship be told they had called.  Many of those were not personal friends but strangers who pleaded for charitable or political support.

At the end of her busy day, Lady Margaret reviewed the messages Jeeves had handed her, dropped most of them into her dainty wicker wastebasket, and made plans to respond to those that were of personal importance.

“Thank goodnes for Jeeves,” she thought.

* * *

Okay, so I’m not a Regency heroine with a title and a staff to do my bidding.  But as a writer, I do need to keep my concentration, so I do have a Jeeves. I don’t have to buy him white gloves though.  All I have to do is make sure he’s switched on and that my telephone bell is switched off. 

In short.  I adore my answering machine.  It is my Jeeves, my buffer when I want to work, eat dinner in peace, or don’t feel like explaining to earnest and sincere  100_1147  charitable workers that I have my own charities to which I’m giving every spare dollar I can.  And don’t get me started on political callers. (Although, if I’m in the mood, I occasionally have fun with right-wing callers who think this ol’ yellow dog is of their persuasion.)

When the phone rings faintly in another room, I glance at my office phone.  If I recognize the name or number that pops up on the screen, I may answer.  Unidentified or 800 numbers?  Jeeves answers while I keep working.

I’ve played with various outgoing messages over the years, from long and detailed, to short and snappy (though I’ve never matched Nancy Pickard’s four-word brevity—“Here comes the beep!”) My current message is “You have ALmost reached the Marons. Please leave us a message.”

The other day, the phone rang.  It was an unidentified number.  The caller listened to part of the message and hung up.  Almost instantly, it rang again and this time, whoever it was (and I’m fairly sure it was the same person) listened to the whole message.  Then I heard a muffled and very puzzled voice say to whoever was beside him, “Who the hell are the Marons?”

Thank you, Jeeves.

What message is on your own answering machine and what’s the funniest / weirdest message you were ever left?

August 24, 2010

Margie's Story Time: Labor Day

Margie's Story Time: Labor Day

By Me, Margie

I was going to write on the Mancini Book of Sextiquette, but the rest of these tarts have been sexing up the place, so I will save that one for later because if any of you think I am a follower, not a leader, you need to wake up and smell the espresso.  Plus, my cousins are still trying to put some of the rules in words I can actually use in this public type forum.  So we are going to talk about the upcoming long weekend and the reason behind it.

Okay, work is good. That is the whole point of Labor Day and obviously some stunads need the reminder because this reality TV bullshit where people get paid for doing nothing but doing dumbass stuff in front of a camera that they would normally do at home is a plague.

Labor Day started back in the 1800s - if you try to look it up, you will see they have conflicting stories about it.  Silly.  I know what actually happened, even though only a few of my own family were here that long ago.

Which reminds me that any of you asshole elitist WASP types who think the "illegal aliens" are to blame for everything from the syph to the Senate, you need to get your heads out of wherever they are (probably up the ass of someone you hate in public when you're at your KKK meetings, you down-low dipshits, but that is another story.)

My family is still coming here - and we are sending our own cousins out to your stupid fucking wars, just like you pricks did to the Irish when those poor schmucks landed in New York.  Hey, I saw "Gangs of New York" - I know the facts.  And if you would like to come up in my neighborhood and start asking my people for their papers, you are in for some unexpected answers.  Because unless you can trace your flabby-assed, pasty-faced roots back to the Mohawk, or the Sioux, or some other Native American tribe, you can kiss our mediterranean olive asses - if you can get to them while you're still ambulatory.  I just learned that word and I like it because it makes it very clear there is going to be EMTs if you're not nice.

Back to the story.

Once upon a time, right here in the US of A, where we claim freedom is sacred, the powerful (read: anglo saxon men) treated the less powerful (that would be the rest of the people) like shit.  Some Bosses were decent but most were greed-infested scum. They had the less powerful do all the real work. It was basically a massive slavery program - and I say slaves because even if they weren't in actual chains, they were treated as if they were and if you think that whole 'sold my soul to the company store' thing is just a song, wake up.  No offense to actual slaves, who will get their own story sometime soon, but for a general idea, check out my Passover Story.

Blog grim reaper miner The Worker bees died left, right and center, and were always getting hurt and none of the Boss families gave a shit.  All in the name of making money for the Boss.  There were no unions.  There were no safety rules. There was nobody checking on their fellow humans.  And the money kept coming and the men kept dying. Railroads, coal mines, factories, steel mills, banks, office buildings - all the things that built our country came on the backs and the blood of people who were barely paid enough to survive.  It's sickening and embarrassing and on everyone.

It took all the way to the late 1800s for these men to get enough swat together to start unions.  Know what kind of radical-assed ideas they were trying to promote? An end to child labor, work shifts that didn't last more than like 20 hours at a time, and actual safety rules.  The gall!  Commies!

Blog homestead PinkertonsYou can imagine the reception they got from the Bosses.  It did not include little crumpets, cucumber sandwiches, and high tea.  It included paid thugs with bats, clubs and guns.  At the beginning, the workers counted on the government to protect them - you know - the police and marshals and others who were paid and vowed to 'protect and serve'.  Jokes.  They only protected the people who paid them in cash behind the building and basically let the thugs beat the living daylights out of anyone who wasn't wearing a suit and tie.  The whole thing is a disgrace, and I spit upon them.

Then, some guys in New York got together and decided we need a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."  Which, in plain words means: "Who do you think built all this crap? Next time you walk down the damn street, remember it was this big crowd of people who built your shit, and we're not going away, so snap the hell out of it, jack."  New York was the first state to Labor Day adopt it, and other states began to follow.

By that time, some really bad shit was going on because the workers were starting to stand up for themselves against the Bosses, who, in typical piggish fashion, refused to even negotiate and continued to hire thugs and killers to try to stop them. I'm guessing that those paid criminals are probably the same breed who are making the same pig noises today about the 14th Amendment, but I could be wrong.  The message is the same: "I got mine, go fuck yourself you can't have any."

The President at the time - a guy named Cleveland - had a total freak and wanted to make sure the Gov didn't appear to be on the wrong side of this fight, so he pushed to make Labor Day a national holiday.  It was a nice move.  Maybe some federal and state mandates on gawddamn safety regs and union support would have been nice too, huh Grover? 

So now the first Monday in September is Labor Day.  And next week, we need to take some time to remember that, instead of just focusing on the sales, the unofficial beginning of football season, and back to school.  Because, get a clue - we wouldn't have stores or stadiums or schools or people answering phones without the workers.

The end.

Now it is your turn to tell your family's labor stories.

August 22, 2010

The Back to School Sex Blog

by the 3Hs

PomPomsClipArt  It’s the third Monday, and you know what that means: the H-tarts chat about life, liberty, and the pursuit. Of whatever. Because it’s back to school time, our thoughts turn from summer trivia (hats! cheerleading!) to education and some serious sociological research. 

The-Loss-of-Virginity-1890-91Namely, Virginity, and where it went.

HANK: Are you kidding me? I thought this was a literary blog. Whoa. Gulp. Checking the clauses in my employment contract. (Kathy! Help!)

Harley: So much for my Loose Lips Sink Ships resolution.

Heather: [typing maniacally; on deadline] Yes, fine. Anything for Science.

First -- and all of these questions are strictly voluntary -- How old were you when you lost (or misplaced) it?

Heather: Seventeen. There's a song about that, you know.

Harley: I was 18. A late bloomer, but I did try to make up for lost time. Until the dawn of AIDS.

Hank:  Waaait a minute.18 is a late bloomer? Eeesh.

2. Do you care to name names? First names will suffice.

Heather: Dennis.

Andy  Harley: I’m far too discreet to tell. But if he were a Shakespeare play, he'd be Richard the Second. Or--Richard the Third? Yes, the Third. The seductive one. With the limp.

Hank: No, Harley, he’d be Richard THE FIRST, right?

3. Give us a sense of setting.

Harley: Kentucky, summer theatre, no air conditioning

Hank:  It was all five senses, if I remember correctly.

Heather: Somewhere in Miami. (I don't remember.)

4. Chemical assistance?

Hank:  I can’t remember. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

Heather: I can't remember. [types furiously.]

Harley: Tequila. It was a dry county, but we had a car.

5. Your first thought, post-virginity. Extra points if you can express it as a song title.

Heather: Dear God--I don't remember!  Images-2  Sadly, but probably, hmm . . . so that's what they're talking about?

Harley: “Is That All There Is?”

Images-1  Hank:  Dvorak’s Symphony #9 (“The New World”)

6. How long did Richard III/ Name Withheld/Dennis last?

Harley: Weeks! After a slow start, it got astonishingly better. The song segued into “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

Hank:  Wait, someone is gonna put this in the local newspaper, I just know it. ALL I need. I should never have agreed to this.

Heather: Hm. I guess we got it right. We're still married. Wait--we did get divorced, but we got remarried.

Images  Harley: Heather! I never knew that. How cosmopolitan of you.

7. How did it end?

Harley: Badly. I ate, drank and smoked my way into a stupor to recover.

Hank:  Everything always turns out for the best. You know that.

Heather:  Hm. I don't remember. Oh, wait, yes, I guess all right. I got married at eighteen . . . and then at twenty-eight, I think. Oh, Lord, at this point . . . And yes, that's all there is, cause I'm staying right where I am. I can't even imagining wanting anything else. 

8. And finally: your college major?


Hank: My stated major, much to my mother and stepfather's despair, was English Literature. That's what Western College for Women thought I was studying. And, indeed, I was, with much delight. (Though not exactly on their schedule.) But what my professors didn't realize--I was also studying rock and roll music, political activism, Judy Colllins worship, and seeing how many classes I could skip without getting yelled at.  

Harley: Acting, NYU School of the Arts.Virginity  

Heather: Musical Theatre, U. of South Florida [remembers deadline; resumes typing.]

And now friends, commenters, countrymen, over to you. Participate if you dare. It’s all in the name of research.

Happy Monday!

E.T. Wants Me Topless

By Elaine Viets Top_photos

At TLC, we keep you abreast of serious issues. Today is National Go Topless Protest Day.

"As long as men can be topless, constitutionally women should have the same right, or men should also be forced to wear something hiding their chests," GoTopless.org says.

Makes sense to me. I live in South Florida, a geriatric Woodstock. I’ve seen a 70-year-old man in nothing but a leopard-skin thong – and he had not looked in the mirror for many six-packs. He had a bigger chest than mine and his slid even lower.

Letting anyone like that go topless on the beach is a crime. I wanted to rush out and throw a blanket over that poor old boob to keep Florida beautiful.

But GoTopless.org has more a sensible solution: Everybody should either cover up or go topless.

"Gotopless.org summons all men in America to cover their chests in the name of equal rights! Topless equal rights for all or none!"

Right on! And keep it on. Especially you in the thong, sir.

Go Topless.org chose this Sunday because it is a noble milestone in American history: "On August 26, 1920, following a 72-year-old struggle, the U.S. Constitution was amended to grant women the right to vote. And in 1970, as an ongoing reminder of women’s equality, Congress declared August 26 Women’s Equality Day. But even in the 21th century, women need to stand up and demand that equality in fact – not just in words. Note that in 2010, Go Topless will have a large rally nationwide in honor of the 19th Amendment and Women’s Equality Day."

Cities from New York to Hawaii will try to end this political cover up.

Big stripper Go Topless says it helps women "perceive their breasts as noble, natural parts of their anatomy."

That goal has been partly achieved. There are "gentlemen’s clubs" where female breasts are greatly appreciated. Gentlemen whistle, shout and show their appreciation in tangible ways. They give these nearly nekkid women cash. I hope the underdressed dears will use it to buy warm clothing. Those clubs can be drafty.

Go Topless says it also helps men "differentiate between nudity and sexuality."

That goal may be more difficult to reach. More men seem interested in gender equality through toplessness. Many women don’t care about this titillating cause.

The Go Topless protest seems logical. Any reasonable person can see that many bare-chested men have bigger breasts than covered-up women. I just wish the folks who sponsor Go Topless didn’t believe in flying saucers.

That’s right. Here’s what it says on the Website: "Go Topless was founded by the Raelian Movement, which recognizes that life on Earth was created by advanced extraterrestrial scientists. These scientists, both male and female, used their mastery of genetic engineering to create humans in their own image (breasts included!)."Flying saucers

Wikipedia, that ever reliable source, says Raelism was founded by Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, a former auto-racing journalist. Claude claimed he found a spacecraft shaped like a flattened bell. Inside, an ancient humanoid revealed that the Garden of Eden was really a large lab, Noah’s Ark was "a spaceship that preserved DNA," and the Tower of Babel was a rocket that was supposed to reach the creators’ planet.

Meanwhile, the human race has to live in peace and topless equality.

Male_bra If women want to walk around topless, I support you, sisters under the skin. During today’s protest, GoTopless.org says "while participating women go bare, male participants will cover their chests to comply with gender equal rights by wearing bikini tops or bras."

I salute you. But I will not be joining today’s Go Topless Protest in Miami Beach. Let me be up front. It’s 90-something degrees out and I’d get a painful sunburn.

Consider me sympathetic – but clothed for the season.