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30 posts from September 2010

September 30, 2010

The Quickie


By  Elaine Viets                                                                     Donna


Hah! I knew that title would get the attention of our TLC readers.

I need your help, folks.

Hank Phillippi Ryan and I also blog for the Femmes Fatales (yes, we Tarts get around) and we want to fine tune Heather Graham our blog. The Books Tarts, our sister blog, has agreed to help us.                                                                                                                Charlaine large

We’d like you to answer a short survey so we can give you better blogs.

I know, I know, we’re good. But good isn’t good enough. We want to be the best. 

All these books you see here can be yours if you’ll help us. We’ll even autograph them.

Diane Here’s what you have to do: Take one of the the online surveys below. Then you can enter a drawing to win these  16 autographedToni  books.                                                 

All eight Femmes Fatales -- Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Toni L. P. Kelner, Kris Neri, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Saums and me, Elaine Viets – will sign and send you one of our books. You know the Femmes. Charlaine blogged here yesterday.

Brunon But wait, there’s more! as they say on the infomercials. 
The Lipstick Chronicles authors Brunonia Barry, Diane Chamberlain, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, Nancy Martin and Nancy Pickard will send you one of their bestselling novels.

BookHank  Tart Margaret Maron will give you a choice of her latest book, "Sand Sharks," or if you’re willing to wait till November, her new novel, "Christmas Mourning."

I’ll send you either my new Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel, "An Uplifting Murder" in November or the hardcover "Half-Price Homicide" right now.

Margaret Maron The first survey is only for readers of either The Lipstick Chronicles or the Femmes Fatales.

The second survey is for people who like to read blogs, any blogs. We don’t care if you don’t read our blogs. (Well, we do, but not for this  survey.) You can enter the drawing no matterKris Neri  which survey you answer.

What do we want to know?

We’re asking what you like to read. What topics would you like to see more? Less? What about our blog layout: Is it boring? Complicated? Just right?

Most of the survey uses multiple choice or yes aCornelia Readnd no answers. There’s also a section for comments. What if you’re a TLC readers who follows Me, Margie’s slogan – IOCHFTS – I Only Come Here For The Sex? Dana Then speak up, and we’ll give you more sex.

Er, more of the sprightly blogs you desire.

You can tell us what you really think. You won’t hurt our feelings. We want you to. We won’t see your names, except if you win the drawing. Even then, we won’t see what you said about us. The Sterling Ad Co. will read your actual responses.

Nancy Martin Fill out one – and only one – of these surveys. No matter which survey you take, you’re still eligible to enter the drawing for the 16 autographed books. You’ll have the tallest TBR – To Be Read – pile in  the neighborhood. We’re giving you yourMary Saums  own personal library of autographed bestsellers. It won’t cost you so much as a 
postage stamp. Here are the surveys:                                        

Survey 1: Do you read the Femmes Fatales or The Lipstick Chronicles? Go to this link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/sterling_mysteryblogs

Nancy Pickard Survey 2: Do you read blogs, just not TLC and the Femmes Fatales? Use this link:AnUpliftingMurder  http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/sterling_goodblogs 

 We need your answers quick. The deadline is this Sunday, October 3. The Sterling Ad Co. will pick the winner.

Spend a little time with us and we’ll give you hours of reading pleasure.

 NOTE: If you take the first survey and answer "Neither" to the question: "Do you read the Lipstick Chronicles or the Femmes Fatales?" then the survey will end. Please go to Survey 2.


September 29, 2010

Charlaine Harris Guest Blogs

by Charlaine Harris  Go to fullsize image



No, I’m not talking about money, at least not specifically. I’m talking about the little benchmarks we all set for ourselves as we progress in our careers, the things that tell us we’re doing at least okay. Are we on track? Are we lagging behind? How much farther to go? Have we earned the respect, the foreign sales, the speaking engagements, the blurb requests, the recognition? What constitutes the rungs on your ladder?


When I began my career (though it still makes me snigger to characterize such a random progression as a “career”), my first goal was a money amount. That’s logical enough. We had three small children, I was never good at budgeting, and everything we bought had to be on sale. I thought, “If I could only make $10,000 a book, that would be great.” This was back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, you understand.


Oddly enough, money was better at the beginning of my career than it was in the middle. For a short time, that figure was not too hard to hit. Then the slump following my child-bearing sabbatical kicked in, and I had to earn my way back to that initial figure. Once I’d gotten there, I figured, “If I could just make $20,000 a book, it would be fantastic.” And finally I reached that goal. After that, I set my sights on $70,000. Every dollar I earned over that amount seemed like gravy, when I’d finally attained that one. It still does.


When I wasn’t as concerned with the health of my bank account, I turned my hopes to other things: awards, of course. I’ve been nominated for a few, and I’ve won one or two, but nowhere on the scale of many of my friends. That was a disappointment. It led me to ask myself, “Which would I rather be, popular or acclaimed?” Since I’m human, I want both, but some days it does seem like an either/or question.


Since I’ve been so fortunate the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to receive a cascade of other marks of recognition, none of which I ever expected or even dreamed about. And they’ve all been sweet, but in a sort of removed way.


The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t get excited about honors, or at least not in a jumping-up-and-down kind of way. I’m just not like that. But after August 25, I’ll hold something in my hand that really rocks my world.


I’ll be Dr. Harris. Yes, my alma mater, Rhodes College (in Memphis, TN), is giving me a doctorate. For many reasons I won’t delve into, college was difficult for me, and my parents sacrificed considerably to send me to a fine place like Rhodes. After I graduated with a double major in English and Communication Arts, I was pretty sure I’d never sit in another classroom. So this out-of-the-blue recognition has really tickled my fancy. I know only total turkeys make everyone call them “doctor” when they receive an honorary degree, so I’m trying to make a case for myself to pretend I earned the title.


I have worked hard for a long time, but not doing the brainwork an advanced degree requires. My “hard work” consists of having a great time in a room all by myself. I have also learned more than I wanted to know about life and people and the way the world works, but that’s not esoteric study in the stacks. I have developed a knack for pleasing people with my work, but an ice cream vendor could do the same.


No, I totally haven’t earned a doctorate. But I love the fact that I’m getting one.


Just call me Doc.  Go to fullsize image

September 28, 2010

Intelligent Design? Have You Looked Around, Lately?

By Sarah

Welcome to 2010. Political candidates are talking about witchcraft, the fallacy of evolution and the lust of masturbation? Have we stepped back into the Dark Ages?

Answer: yes.

Consider, if you will, the open house at our high school. All was routine until we got to Sam's world history class and his teacher - a really nice guy we know from our daughter - quickly explained that in teaching everything from the Big Bang and going forward, he provided "alternative theories" to

Oh, really? And which "alternative theories" are those since, you know, there happen to be quite a few. There was the splitting of the great cosmic egg (Chinese) or Gaea's birth to Uranus (Greek). On and on. Every culture has one, so.....

But this was not a course on comparative cultures. This was history - Global Heritage - in which students examined the migration patterns of the first humans, the pre-agricultural vs. the post agricultural societies. Scientific observation, records, archeology served as the basis for their studies.

So why did this teacher feel pressured to present Creationism as a viable alternative to Evolution? The cosmic egg, which I'm sure many Chinese take just as seriously, got short shift.  And poor Purusha Purusha, whose dismembered body produced the sea and sky, was totally ignored.

Alas, the Hindus and Chinese and Ancient Greeks were not supported by the Texas State Board of Education which, as we know all too well, buys a lion's share of the nation's textbooks and therefore inscribes the standards for what must be taught, what might be taught and what must never be spoken of again.

Just last week, that illustrious board reiterated the importance of teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design, not only teacher by teacher, school district by school district, but by book. That's right, history books and science texts will now present Creationism as a "viable alternative theory to evolution."

Look, I don't believe evolution as we understand it is a perfect answer to an incredibly complex phenomenon. And, maybe, there is an intelligent being out there who did orchestrate the minuscule changes that, generation by generation, allowed some species to adapt better to their environments than others. Who knows?

What I do know is that these changes happened. By and by whose hand, I haven't a clue. It might have been God or Zeus or Odin or....No Man. The point is, I don't want the mystical who and why taught in public schools. Leave that to the comparative religions classes. Or church. Or your temple or mosque.

School's only purpose is to impart the facts.

Is this so difficult? 

Now, the Texas Board of Education is ticked off that there's too much Mohammed mentioned in textbooks, not enough Christ.  So, really, people, it's only going to get worse.

Intelligent design? I'm thinking not so much.



September 27, 2010

I'm Talking 'Bout the Mom in the Mirror

HANK: So I'm in Saks trying on fall clothes. The lighting is weird, of course, and the mirrors are weird, of course, and I say this just as an explanation. Or an excuse.

I'm verging on cranky because I might have low blood sugar and I'm out of almonds. Again, just so you know.

There's a very nice (guess what color) black wool suit, with a little jacket and kind of a fullish skirt. I try it, it's sort of--fifties, but it works, and as I'm considering, I catch a glimpse of something strange and surprising in the three-way mirror.

Mom!I almost say it out loud. And then I think, you know, really fast, the way your mind can light on a million things in an instant: Wait, she's in Indianapolis, not Boston, right? Isn't she? Might she have come to surprise me? No, she wouldn't know I was in Saks. And when did she go blonde? Doesn't she still have dark hair? Well, lovely, anyway, so happy to see her.

All in just a flash.

But, of course, I was alone. I had seen myself in the mirror. Just out of the corner of my eye. And I really, truly, thought it was Mom.

So, there you have it. Irrevocably, irretrievably, absolutely and beyond dismissal, I am turning into my mother.

Birthday party

Here we are with me at--five maybe? Which made Mom 25. Resemblance? You can't really tell here. Although there is an eyebrow and hair thing. (Digression: what this photo of a photo didn't capture..there's a pack of unfiltered Camels on the table by the birthday cake.)

But when I was a teenager, people used to say: Oh, no question she's your mother. You two look just alike! And I'd think: are you nuts?

I'd say: l have a Sasoon-ish haircut, and a miniskirt, and I'm tallish.  She's smaller, much, and has a bouffant that's straight from Adore Beauty Salon (they pronounced it addoray), the home of mucho Aquanet. I'm wearing Twiggy eyeliner and white lipstick.She's got red lipstick.

Which, I would have sworn, I would NEVER wear.

People would insist. Ah, they said. You two look just alike. 

Turns out, it's not just my appearance that's morphing into Mom.  It's also my behavior. At the grocery store the other say, I said to the bagging person--wow, you are a great bagger! Thank you for taking so much care with that. The bagger said he was working his way through school, and I proceeded to chat with him (BRIEFLY) about the valuable quality of doing whatever you do the best way possible, and that certainly it was clear he recognized that.

Grocery bagIn the car, my husband said: did you know that kid?

I said no. He said: then what were you talking to him about?   Values, I said. Jonathan was baffled. And then I realized, my mother always talked to people. In grocery stores, at the dry cleaners, in bathrooms of restaurants, at the airport, she'd just--say stuff. Strike up conversations. Love your dress, cute baby, can you believe how long this is taking, things like that.

And teenaged me was mortified. MOM, I'd hiss. You don't know those people. They don't care what you think.

Now, I do it too. So, I guess, fine. Mom was right. I guess. And she was right about some other things, too, as it turns out. So let me impart to you some of the wisdom according to Mom. (I think she was about 20 in this photo. Could that be?)

Mom cu

Anyway, she told me:  

1. Never get serious with anyone until you see them drunk, sick and with their mother. (How they are with their mother, she'd say, wagging a finger, is just how they'll be with you.) 

2. Never get serious with anyone (this was a theme) until you ask yourself: How does he treat his friends? Would I want my children to be just like him?

3. Never order anything called "Chef's Surprise." You will not like the surprise. 

4. If it fits perfectly, might as well get two.  

5. Thoughtful consideration of others is the sign of a true lady. (This is a direct quote.)

Mom is 83, and gorgeous, went to the Chicago Institute of Design, collects Russian contemporary art, has infallible fashion sense, can throw a spectacular dinner party. (Invite interesting people, don't sit friends together, make sure the wine is great.)

Of course, every relationship has its, um, quirky moments. Mom isn't speaking to one of my sisters. Why? "Ask her."  Last year, when I told Mom that I had been nominated for an Emmy, she said: "Oh, honey, do you still care about that?" And she and my other sister just exchanged houses. Why? "Why not?" 

Red lipstickShe has an Apple Mac, but she refuses to use it, ("Why should I?")  so she won't be reading this. I will, however, tell her the story of the Mom in the mirror. And I'll be sure to tell her that in some ways, at least, I'm happy to be turning into her.  Including the red lipstick. 

Do you look like your Mother? Do you behave like her? Does that surprise you, one way or the other? Did you learn anything valuable from her? (One way or the other?) Care to share it?

September 26, 2010

Humiliation, Heartache and Corsages

May I introduce Jessica Park? I would say something hilarious and witty and wonderful about her, but I couldn't come up with anything as hilarious and witty and wonderful  as she already is.


Jess river




So, dating in high school. Teen romance. Um… it’s all rather sucky, isn’t it? Yes, yes, some of us may have the occasional remarkably romantic memory, but mostly there are flashbacks involving humiliation, heartache, disastrous dates, unrequited crushes, and plain old pain. Sometimes bodily injury.



The good news is that by the time we have left high school far behind, lots of these stories have lost their total hideousness and are now funny. Hopefully.







My high school dating history consists mainly of stories like this one: During the spring of my sophomore year, I start dating a senior from a neighboring high school. Let’s call him S, so that we don’t have to keep hearing “Shithead” okay? Everything I know about dating at this point, I have learned from John Hughes. I know, helpful, right? The first time S takes me out, my father comes out of the house to inspect S’s Jeep Wrangler under the guise of being curious about my date’s vehicle. My father knows nothing about cars. Nothing. Yet he actually bends down and looks under the car for telltale signs that S is a serial killer.



S puts up with this inspection nicely and does not even roll his eyes. My father does not locate a machete, a shotgun, or other nefarious items in the engine. S and I go for a lavish, fancy meal at…. The Ground Round.


French fries



 I eat nothing except a few of his fries and a Diet Coke, indicating that I maintain my fantastic (cough, cough) fifteen-year-old body by routinely following this simple meal plan. He is not fooled and looks annoyed that I am not responding to the gourmet atmosphere of such a fine eatery.





Conversation is stilted and stupid because I am not Molly Ringwald and am not able to make witty banter due to loss of all brain capabilities.




The main problems were as follows: 1. S was super cute. Curly blond hair, tall, adorable. I am shell-shocked I am out with him and rendered mute. 2. Not eating and feeling faint does nothing to stimulate smart, funny thinking on my part. 3. Being afraid of looking like an idiot makes me clam up and look like an idiot. Cycle repeats itself all evening. However, the date was not an utter failure, since S, a horny high school senior, wants to make out with me in his Jeep. Done! So all in all, that first date was not horrible.  

But it went drastically downhill from there. Nothing to talk about, me being tense and not myself, him angling for all the things H.S. seniors angle for…


Toward the end of our lengthy (meaning two-month) relationship, S picks me up wearing (I’m not making this up) vile green hospital scrubs for pants. I have no idea why. He was not a surgeon. At least, I don’t believe he was. He wasn’t that bright.


 We drive around that night and somehow end up “parked” in some unintelligent location. Conversation remains torturously unnatural, and I realize that our most successful moments do not involve talking. In a moment of panic, (or a courageous attempt to save this failing relationship?) I fling myself forward for an enthusiastic and passionate kiss. I somehow manage to draw blood, and S is—not surprisingly—displeased. I want to die. (Important side note: I suspect that I had a premonition that this whole vampire/blood infatuation thing would take off twenty years later. Should have cashed in early.)


Later, stupid S takes me home and, for some reason, still wants to kiss me goodnight, despite the obvious danger of doing so.S stands up, and his bizarre scrubs-for-pants fall to the ground. We are standing in the middle of the street, and he has on tremendously un-cute boxer shorts.


 I find this to be delightful karmic retaliation for his unkind response to my earlier blood-producing kiss. Overall, the night is extremely weird, and things fade out from there… I cry for weeks and listen to Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight” 9000 times. (In retrospect, that nauseating song was quite possibly the cause of my tears…) Cutting crew

On the flip side, the guy I dated during my senior year, J, was completely sweet. And I never made him bleed. (At least, not that I know of.) Also, I had learned to behave like an actual human being and not a closed-mouthed dummy. J was very smart (later went to Brown) and funny (had fantastically good jokes about “imitation crab”), and even took me to the prom despite the fact that I wore a strapless bubble dress and had on orange (you read that correctly) eye shadow.



Girls always have plenty of juicy stories of nightmare high school romances, but what about the guys? My friend JT told me, “Let’s just say that one of my worst moments Dress-2-evening-sears-68involved a formal banquet, a corsage, a bloody boob, and a ruined $300 dress.” A kindred spirit! I just knew I couldn’t be the only person to draw blood! Yes, I am dying for more details, too, but this teasing tidbit was all I got from him. I am trying to be respectful of his pain.Another friend, JM, revealed: “I was sixteen or seventeen, and I had just broken up with my first girlfriend. She started dating the drummer in my band. They lost their virginity to each other. Then when my drummer wanted to sleep with someone else, the ex started dating the bassist in the band. The story continues, but into college…” Oh, my. Well, that blows. See? Guys have it rough, too!



Even when teen romance goes awry, there is no denying that high school dating is intense. All those stupid hormones flying around, overpowering emotions making the smallest incident take on monumental meaning… It’s not always fun to live through, but from a writer’s perspective, it’s a dream. So that is one of the reasons that I wrote RELATIVELY FAMOUS. If you’re going to deal with the trauma of dating, you might as well be surrounded by the Hollywood hills… Helps to often the blow and whatnot.



Thank you to the ladies of The Lipstick Chronicles for having me! I’d love to hear your high school dating stories… Bring ‘em on!


Jessica Park



RFBookCoverPreview_do About RELATIVELY FAMOUS: High school freshman Dani McKinley's world is rocked when she finds out that she is the daughter of B-list actor and notorious womanizer Mark Ocean. Mark is all too eager to get his acting career back on track, so he follows his agent's advice about cleaning up his image and invites his "new" daughter to spend the summer with him. Armed with credit cards, club memberships, and a new wardrobe, Dani spends the summer navigating the foreign culture of Hollywood. Her new friends school Dani in everything from attaching hair extensions to managing the paparazzi. She meets Jason, a gorgeous young personal trainer who is easy on the eyes and wildly flirtatious . . . But is this smug hottie the one for Dani? Or will she ignore her friends' eye rolling and go for Nate, the goofy but sweet surfer? Even tougher than all the new social pressures, is the challenge of trying to deal with her father. What Mark Ocean has in wealth, he sorely lacks in parenting skills. The fatherly interest Mark feigns has everything to do with charming the public and virtually nothing to do with connecting with his daughter. Dani desperately tries to teach her father that being a dad is not just about supplying her with Prada bags and trips to movie premieres, and the result of the clueless actor's attempts at fatherhood is both funny and heart-wrenching. Follow Dani and Mark while they struggle to figure out what it means to be father and daughter, and as they navigate their own complicated love lives. Humor, tears, heartache, and teen angst will leave you aching to see how their dilemmas are resolved.


About Jessica Park: Jessica is the author of five Gourmet Girl mysteries (as Jessica Conant-Park) and RELATIVELY FAMOUS is her first young adult novel. When not writing, Jessica is searching cable for reruns of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," pining over aging 80s rock stars, and drinking Coolattas from Dunkin'. Stop by her website ( http://yaauthorjessicapark.blogspot.com ) or find her on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/Jumby24 )

RELATIVELY FAMOUS is available for paperback and Kindle purchase through Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Relatively-Famous-Jessica-Park/dp/1453645640/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280493585&sr=1-8 ) and also for other e-reader downloads through Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and other online sites.

September 25, 2010

100 Ways To Not Write Your Book

100 Ways to Not Write Your Book

By Cornelia Read

For many, many years, I was convinced that I would never write a book. I was good at spelling, I kind of knew how to use semicolons. I'd even had paying work as a journalist at three separate newspapers. Not The New York TImes or anything, but still. I mean, if the check clears and they spell your name right, that counts. Also, I'd been writing fiction since I was in second grade. Fifty-page short stories in fourth and fifth grades, with a spy novel completed in sixth.


I even did one draft of a novel in college. Because my writing teacher Sophomore year was pissed off at me for missing two classes in a row (new boyfriend) and asked me to write up why I was absent. I had 120 pages by the next week's class. Manual typewriter. Man, I could NEVER do that now.


My mom used to tell me, when I got older, "well, you're smart and everything, but there are a lot of geniuses in the world. What counts is doing the work, and you have no follow-through."


My junior-year English teacher in high school gave me a prize and told me I should be a writer when I grew up. I told him I wanted to go into advertising, since I was sick of being poor. Yeah, that worked out. Not.

I'm still amazed I finished my first novel, and that it got published. I credit having a crappy marriage that was getting crappier, having a kid whose special needs finally precluded me from returning to full-time work unless it paid well enough that I could have hired a full-time parent to replace myself at home--even if there had been any for a newly arrived English major in the San Francisco Bay Area, following the dotcom crash in '01--and just generally feeling exhausted and sad about all kinds of crap that I didn't see my way out from under, ever. I'd just been laid off from an editorial job at one of those dotcoms that I'd had for five months, along with everyone else who worked there. Highest pay I'd ever earned, great people, wonderful work. Oh well. 


I hit craigslist hard and sent out roughly 400 resumes over the following six months. I heard back from exactly one place--a boiler-room stock operation that was shady as hell. I failed their math test, go figure. Probably kept me from doing jail time.

Finally I started branching out from the job ads--after realizing I ALSO couldn't get hired as a waitress, a car saleswoman, a medical data-entry clerk, or even a receptionist--at least that year in that place.


I looked at other sections on craigslist, and finally landed in "Arts." There was a guy in Berkeley who wanted to start a mystery writing group, so I said what the hell and emailed him.

Seven of us met at a Starbucks in Berkeley, the following week. I volunteered to be the first person to submit writing, two weeks later. Halfway through the two weeks was 9/11. We decided to keep going anyway.


I'm the last member left from that original group, but there are still seven of us and we've been through amazing shit together, over the last nine years. Two new babies, one divorce (mine), at least three major surgeries (not mine, though I did spend two months in bed with anemia), one coast-to-coast move that forced us to adopt Skype for our meetings (that would be me, again) two of us got agents, one of the agents died. I got published and lost one editor to the business and one to cancer. 

We've arranged dinners with many fabulous writers (whose brains we picked about publishing), one private detective, one super mystery fan who explained conferences to us (she was our first dinner guest, actually), and we've done road trips to cop bars, Oakland Homicide, and the jail and courthouse in San Francisco. I think we're all going to get published, eventually. Especially as our kids get more hours in school, for the younger ones among us.


I've met the most amazing people, as a result of all this. Kind, snarky, funny as hell. Did I mention kind? Seriously, this is an amazing tribe, and I want to stay part of it. I love readers, and I love writers. These are my people, in the deepest possible sense, and it feels really incredible to have come home to that at long last. But to get to continue hanging out with The Best People in The Entire World, I have to finish this fourth novel, which has been kicking my ass around the block for well over a year now. Which is shameful.

And also, all I have for Plan B, income-wise, is to try to become a greeter at a rural New Hampshire Wal-Mart, and I don't think I'd really rock that job even if I could land it.



I think I finally maybe maybe maybe have some decent momentum going, which is A Good Thing since my latest deadline extension is for October 1st. Which is next week. Eep.

Sometimes I think it can be important to think we suck, as writers. It keeps us humble, and it keeps us honest, and it makes us work harder. Sometimes it can be paralyzing, though. You have to also believe that you're the most amazing wordsmith who ever lived, every once in a while. Otherwise we'd all be accountants. (Okay, NOT me, since I would fail the math test. Ahem.)

I have a friend who calls this the "I am God, I am wormshit" cycle. That pretty much nails it.


Too much wormshit, though, and you will pretty much find it impossible to open the Word file, much less type anything into it.


Trust me, there will be 100 things that seem like a better idea than trying to write, when you're in that state of mind:

1. The laundry

2. Painting your dining room chairs a different color.




3. Reading other people's status updates on Facebook.


4. Figuring out how to make Indian Pudding in the crockpot that you got for free at a garage sale.

Yes, I know perfectly well it looks like a bowl of dog's mess. But it is the Best. Dessert. Ever.

5. Skulking around garage sales in the first place.

6. Watching Project Runway on your computer.


And HELLO, I would totally kill to have Tim Gunn critique my WIP and tell me to make it work.

7-20. I should probably drop the second-person pretense here and just admit I ended up watching entire past seasons of Weeds, Biggest Loser, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, Cracker, and all SEVEN seasons of West Wing on your--I mean my--computer. 


Plus Netflix online and probably some other TV stuff that I don't even remember now, so let's make that #70-30, which is probably a lot more realistic.

31. Googling ex flames.

Even if they're dead.

32. Oh, and two seasons of Toddlers and Tiaras. Which is just embarrassing. But I'm trying to do that whole First Step "We admit that we have no power over our addiction to trashy television" thing here. But I never watched any Real Housewives or anything about New Jersey. I have some self-respect. Albeit not much.


33. Reading. This one is okay, though. You HAVE to read if you want to write. 


34. Looking at real estate listings in places I will NEVER live. Even though if I had 3.4 million bucks I would totally buy this place:


Right on the ocean, water views from every room. Hella nice rhodedendrons, too.

Even looks damn fine in the winter:


35. But if I could buy something where I actually would like to live next, it would be this:


Because a duplex in the West Village would be kind of awesome, if I could dump the track lighting and ugly mirror and get some better curtains.

37-40. The south of France, the Bahamas, Big Sur. You get the picture.

41-50. Driving to my daughter's campus when she has forgotten her:

Book bag

Gym clothes

Music book



Or just needs Ibuprofen.


Lather, rinse, repeat.

51. Wondering not why I got divorced, but how I ever married that guy in the first place.


52. Wondering if I will actually die alone, surrounded by 27 cats.

53. Wondering if I can find a pair of armchairs on craiglist that are NOT:

Wing chairs

Deep Rose Stripe Wing Chairs



Excruciatingly hideous wingchairs

Cavalier Wing Chairs 403-35

54. Wondering if I will ever be able to afford the armchairs I actually LIKE from IKEA, even though they no longer have the slipcover fabric I want in stock. But I already have the red sofa:


55. Re-reading all of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, because it's going to be so goddamn long until season four of True Blood.


56. Talking on the phone when friends call from California or New York.


57. Doing a Mad Men portrait of myself


58. Ditto South Park:


59. Online Mah Jong. Trust me, I won't even give you the URL. 

60. Looking at funny things friends send me by email:


61. Asking Tiffany if they still have Grandaddy Read's crest ring design on file.

Read, W. A crest  

(Yes they do.)

62. Googling dead relatives


63. Googling the places dead relatives once lived  and here though the last time I saw the latter there wasn't that hideous stained glass ceiling, but also they were selling it for only $400,000 and my sister and I were in college and couldn't figure out how to buy it. I put it in a book, though. It's where Lapthorne lived in A Field of Darkness. Actually, I put the first place in Field too, only I moved the house from Purchase to Centre Island, New York.

64. Googling myself--which can be damn depressing or kind of great:

I think this was something a kid had to do for language arts class. He made me very happy.

65. Googling pictures for blog posts. (This is REALLY fun...)

Okay, I admit it, trying to get to 100 is just too embarrassing, even though I could totally do it. 

On the bright side, I got fifty pages written this week, and some of them might actually NOT suck. Like maybe three of them.

And now I'd like to turn this over to you guys. What do you have to try to avoid when you need to get things done? How the hell do you manage it? Is there such a thing as a self-administered Taser I could set off when I turn the internet back on?

p.s. and here's something really cool I found out about two weeks ago on a writing forum:

Freedom--a software program you can download for $10 that will lock you off the internet for up to eight hours at a stretch. Check it out HERE. You can get versions for Mac or PCs.

September 23, 2010


We, the subset of the TLC backbloggers called Help Me Out Here (HMOH) email group --dedicated to making less of ourselves -- do more than talk about healthier eating and more exercising, we talk gardens, nature, travel, books, books and books. We READ!


When I quit my full-time job, I knew I'd have more time to read.  What I didn't expect was the extent to which my new situation would encourage me to expand the borders of my biblioverse (I made that up.  Cool, huh?). And with some of my extra time, I read book reviews and am accumulating a huge TBR list.  Here are some books I never would have tried when my reading time was so limited that I didn't want to waste it on anything but my tried-and-true favorites:
INTUITION by Allegra Goodman; THE SENATOR'S WIFE by Sue Miller; and HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult.  In non-fiction, I've read BORN ON A BLUE DAY by Daniel Tammet, a synaesthetic man with Asberger's syndrome; THREE CUPS OF TEA, about Greg Mortensen's work building schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan; and BRIGHT-SIDED, by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Do you push your own reading boundaries?


Jodi (who is at present lolling around the South of France)

Jodi Ste maxime

The books I've read so far since I left home.   Sara Paretsky's HARDBALL; David Baldacci's DIVINE JUSTICE;  Dick Francis' LONGSHOT; Julie Hyzy's STATE OF THE ONION; and in the process of reading Dick Francis' STRAIGHT.  Bob bought a bunch of Dick Francis books from the used book section at Murder by the Book in Houston cuz he became enthralled with Dick Francis' work.  I discovered I really hadn't read all of them, so am catching up.  Then, of course, I have my Nook with me which has on it:  Lee Goldberg's MR. MONK IN TROUBLE and MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT; Janet Evanovich's SIZZLING SIXTEEN; Julie Hyzy's EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS; Victoria Thompson's MURDER ON LEXINGTON AVENUE; Avery Ames' THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE; Carolyn Haines' BONE APPETIT; and Carolyn Hart's LAUGHED TIL HE DIED.


Storyteller Mary

I have eclectic reading tastes, open to suggestions from many sources . . . Saturday night a doctor at a party suggested  THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN and MAKING THE GHOST DANCE.  My nieces pointed me toward Janet Evanovich, THE HUNGER GAMES, and TWILIGHT.  From my sister, the “Cat Who” series, and Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak.  Book clubs (three different ones) and my storytell email community add more, Mrs. Pollifax and (eclectic indeed) the Elm Creek Quilters.  In the car I’m listening to Sharyn McCrumb’s THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS.

Elaine brought me to TLC, and now I’ll never lack for good reading, with Bubbles, Blackbirds, Josie, Helen, Maisie, and presently Judy Larsen’s ALL THE NUMBERS,*  the fun just keeps on coming.



This Sunday I started AMERICAN PASTORAL of Philip Roth (while taking my breakfast in bed – my week-end péché mignon). I remember the day I discovered the author. It was in November 2002, the day we first left our one-month daughter with the baby-sitter and went out for dinner given by an American lawyer. We spoke literature with a guy sitting next to us (American as well) and he turned out to be very fond of Philip Roth, an author we didn’t know at the time being. The next day my husband and I started devouring his novels.

The book that is waiting for me is LES BRAISES (EMBERS) by a Hungarian writer Sándor Márai. The first translation of this book was made in France and after it appeared in other foreign languages but strangely under its French title, not the original one.



I’ve just read the charming faux mystery novel HEAT WAVE by Rick Castle (of the great Castle TV show).  The inside back liner says his "first novel . . . received the Nom DePlume Society's prestigious Tom Straw Award for Mystery Literature.”  Nikki Heat’s oh-so-tough-and-smart NYC detective work with her funny, endearing, romantic ride-along writer is just great fun.

Laraine Mary 

Judy Larson Allthenumbers_lg 


Judy Merrill Larsen

I’m reading THE HELP and loving it.  Two other books that stand out for me from this summer are Anna Quindlen’s EVERY LAST ONE (I adore her.  I want to be her when I grow up.) and Lynne Griffin’s beautiful SEA ESCAPE.  On the top pf my TBR pile is Franzen’s FREEDOM (I know . . . people have said I should snub this but I’ve heard it’s amazing—and not just from Oprah).  When the weather gets crisp and I’m hankering to make chili, stew and meatloaf, I gravitate toward weightier books.  In the summer, I want lighter (although given the books listed above who knows).  Does anyone else find that their reading changes with the seasons?

Laura in PA Laura_bubbles

During our vacation, I read THE HELP, which was awesome, and Nancy’s entertaining OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, which helped assuage the disappointment in my forced inactivity due to a leg ailment.

I read mostly mysteries, with some fiction and romance thrown in. On the mystery front, I was excited to hear about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, by E.J. Copperman (AKA Jeff Cohen). I love his Movie Theater mysteries, and he didn’t disappoint with this new series.  Others include our own Jackie’s Maisie Dobbs (Loved! Looking for more); G. M. Malliet’s DEATH OF A LIT CHICK, second in her excellent series; and Alan Bradley’s THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG, the second of his wonderful Flavia de Luce books.

I MUST read series in order. Am I alone in this? Also, when you finish a book, do you just pick up the next one on the pile, or do you have to peruse and figure out what you’re in the mood for?



Alan S.

I finished Elaine Viets' HALF PRICE HOMICIDE; Laurie King's A GRAVE TALENT, THE MOOR, and A DARKER PLACE; and Robert Parker 's CHANCES and SMALL VICES. Elaine puts Helen in an outrageous situation in a totally believable manner. King and Parker have me rereading paragraphs, not to untangle syntax but to savor what I just read. Do you find six books a week excessive?



I avidly read Jennifer Crusie’s new MAYBE THIS TIME and I’m devouring Jill Mansell’s backlist. I’ve finished all the current Mansell’s from Borders and library, acquiring one from Paperback Swap and now will do Amazon for the rest.


Becky Hutchison

I prefer fairly Lighthearted Cozies:

DIVA LAS VEGAS by Eileen Davidson



particularly if they involve -



DEAD AND KICKING by Wendy Roberts

TOMB WITH A VIEW by Casey Daniels


Good witches:

A WITCH IN TIME by Madelyn Alt

A CAST-OFF COVEN by Juliet Blackwell








and Psychic Ability:

A GLIMPSE OF EVIL by Victoria Laurie


Sometimes I have two or three books going simultaneously depending on time of day:



BOOK OF SHADOWS by Alex Sokoloff



CROSSING THE LION by Cynthia Baxter


- Or -


Room (i.e., my kitchen):



Does anyone else read more than one book at a time?

Becky photo

Karen in OH

In the last two weeks, I've read: DRIVEN TO INK, by Karen E. Olson; four titles in the Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse series; BUZZ OFF, by Hannah Reed (I went to her signing in Waukesha); FOOL'S PUZZLE and MARINER'S COMPASS, by Earlene Fowler; two flowershop mysteries by Kate Collins; THE VIRGIN OF THE SMALL PLAINS, by Nancy Pickard; HER ROYAL SPYNESS, by Rhys Bowen; THE GUN SELLER, by Hugh Laurie; and Robert Parker's ROUGH WEATHER.

I read a lot. I like reading all the books in a series, and often collect series. Summer is a time for light, frothy reading; winter is my time for lengthier novels and classics. Whatever did we do for fun before TLC?  So many good books to read, and such fun writers and readers!

Karen & Elaine Viets 11-8-09

Who Dunnit, Really?

By Nancy Pickard

Who Dunnit, Really?


A couple of weeks ago, my friend Mary sent me a news article from her local paper.  It read like a murder mystery.  We both immediately got suspicious of the story as told.  We began poking holes in it and looking for clues to the “real killer.”

 Here’s how the newspaper story starts:

 James Nibbe lay bleeding in a bedroom of his Lake Crystal, Minn., farmhouse Tuesday morning, shot in the head apparently with a shotgun he had used for practice shooting the night before.

His wife, Jennifer, frantically called 911.

"Oh my God! Please help us! Please help us! Somebody's here!" she sobbed to a Blue Earth County dispatcher at 5:57 a.m. "Somebody shot my husband. Please ... he left and don't know if he's coming back."

 For the rest of the story (it isn’t long), please go here:




 So what do you think?  Did an intruder do it?  Why do you believe that was the case?   Did someone else kill him?  What clues are you following to your conclusion?  What might be the motive and the method?

 Later today, I will post The Rest of the Story!

 If you already know the real answers, don’t tell!



 P.S. I want to thank y’all for something that has nothing to do with today’s murder mystery.  Some of you will remember My Last Blog, which had to do with my fav five movies.  In the blog, I linked them together only because they are all romances, some tragic, others comic.  But that day, as I read your comments and had time to think more deeply about those films, I had an epiphany that astonished me:  I realized that all of those film have heroines who fight, mostly alone, against an oppressive, larger force!

            I was speechless when I laid it out, like this. . .

            "The Way We Were". .  .Barbra Steisand fights for, well, everything and against antisemitism.

            "Out of Africa". . .Meryl Streep fights for the rights of Africans and against sexism.

            "You’ve Got Mail". . .Meg Ryan, an indie book store owner, fights a big box store.

            "Chocolat". . .Juliette Binoche, fights societal prejudice and a small town autocrat

            "Harold & Maude". . .Ruth Gordan fights conventionality and death-dealing society.


            This realization smacked me upside the head and explained for me why I prefer "You’ve Got Mail," for instance, to "Sleepless in Seattle" or "When Harry Met Sally."  All three are fun romances, but only “Mail” has a heroine battling Goliath. I realized that if this kind of heroine is so important to my psyche, I might want to make sure she’s in the book I’m writing!

Thank you, Original Flavor Tarts, for welcoming me to this remarkable blog where any of us can get struck by epiphany-lighting at any time.  Thanks, too, to all of you who come here and comment.  You make me think more deeply, feel more intensely, and have more fun. 

Love, NancyP

P. P. S. Has this blog ever given you an epiphany?



September 22, 2010

Goodbye, George

Margaret Maron


Images What is it that makes us add a smaller creature to our already busy lives?  And no, I’m not talking smaller humans.  I mean real pets, the ones that have to have their litter boxes changed, their cages cleaned, their bowls properly aerated, their poop scooped, their peculiar dietary needs catered to.   (Although come to think of it, babies aren’t all that different at the beginning, are they?) 

Like most of you, I have owned dogs, cats, a Rhode Island Red chicken, goldfish and guppies, a squirrel, and even a blue parakeet (until the cats got him). A box turtle lived in our yard for a few years before wandering off and I have tolerated the small green lizards that come in on the fern in the winter and go back out with it in the spring.

At one point, we had 17 barn cats (irresponsible, I know, but one determinedly promiscuous Manx had three litters before we could catch her not pregnant and get her spayed.) Images_6  

Up until last week, we were down to one pet—George, an orange skink.  I’ve written about George before so some of you know that for three years, he lived in a crack up under the corner counter in my office and would stroll out at unexpected moments to trigger my primitive startle reflex at anything that vaguely slithers.  I had read that skinks could live up to fifteen years in captivity. There was no way of knowing how old George was when he moved in, but he seemed pretty lively and I thought we would grow old together.

Images_3 That changed a couple of weeks ago when he came charging out of his hole followed by a 30" black snake bent on having fresh skink for supper.

When he saw me, the snake retreated to that crack, my husband sealed it, found the hole on the exterior wall and sealed it, too. 

It took George two days to emerge from wherever he had hidden and try to get back in the hidey hole that had been home for so long.  He took to coming over and looking up at me with such wistfulness that I spent a whole afternoon trying to replicate that crack with a board that I wedged in under the counter.  Heretofore, he had stayed in my office.  Now he took to wandering around this end of the house.  I almost stepped on him in the kitchen, spotted him at the far end of hall that led to our bedroom, saw him checking out the living room.  But he always came back to the office.

Last week, my husband saw him out by the front door.  “Shall I open it?” he called.

100_1148  Without thinking of all the ramifications, I said yes.  And instantly regretted it.  Could George survive in the wild without someone to chase away the snakes?  Would he remember to dive for cover if a hawk hovered overhead?

“He was ready to leave,” my husband comforted me.  “I think I even saw a little valise in his hand as he skittered out the door.”

But I miss him dreadfully and keep looking for him to come around the corner of my desk.  How did the rest of you cope with suddenly losing a pet?   (Dorothy Cannell, for instance, hasn’t eaten anything with feathers since her pet chicken became Sunday dinner when she was a child.) Alternatively, what was the oddest pet you ever had?

September 21, 2010

The Roberts of My Youth

The Roberts of My Youth

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney

First off - credit where due.  This concept was inspired by Fr. Andrew Greeley, who's Fr. Blackie Ryan character's office is adorned with photos of the 'Three Johns of his youth': Kennedy, Unitas and the XXIIIrd.  I always thought that was a very cool way to provide all you really needed to know about the character's background.

So today, we are going to share our own "____" of our Youth.  Maybe you have three - or more, or less.  But if you think about it, you'll be surprised at how many subsets you really have in your memory banks.

Mine are 'Robert's:  Kennedy; Clemente; Redford; and Marley.  You may recognize their first names as Bobby, Roberto, Robert, and Bob.  There are others, but I will get to them in time.

Blog Robert-Redford-classic-movies-7058685-335-400  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated the same year I got interested in politics.  His brother John was already sainted on the Irish side of my family, and his death was a shock in so many ways.  Redford was my first movie star crush - "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" came out a year after Bobby Kennedy was shot. Sure, at that time, my crush was fairly innocent, but by 1973 - when he had two of his other fabulous films, it was fully realized. Sigh.  Bob Marley was a musical genius.

There were other Roberts of my youth - Frost, who's "promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep" is still one my favorite poetic stanzas, and Bob Hope, of the USO shows, and Newhart, the master of dry humor delivery, and Bobby Sherman, pop star and general dream boat.  Then there was Bob, my first real high school sweetheart.  We just got back in touch via Facebook and it is hilarious!  We both have sons named Ty - they are about ten years apart - how weird is that?  (Bob:  Why didn't you have more kids? Me:  I didn't have a wife) If you want to stretch the Robert theme a bit more, add "The Bobbsey Twins" - the first series I ever read from start to finish.

Blog clemente 3000 But it is Roberto Clemente who remains the true hero of my youth.  Clemente, for those of you who don't know, was a Hall of Fame baseball player who spent his entire - and too short - career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, for those of you who don't know, used to be a major league baseball team, who continue to parade around as one in their major league stadium (right across the Clemente bridge, by the way).  

Maybe it's the time of year, but I find myself thinking about those days frequently. In 1960, the day I was born, Clemente and the Pirates won the playoffs, and on the day I was Baptized, they won the World Series.  I was truly born a fan. 

Blog Clemente 1960 I spent the summers of the late '60s and early '70s listening to Bob Prince broadcast the Buccos, and even went to several games in Three Rivers Stadium, where I got to see a World Series Championship team, led by Clemente, play America's Game.  #21 powered our Bucs to a 1971 World Championship and finished the 1972 season with a record 3,000 hits. Then, in December of that year, he led rescue efforts for victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.  En route from Puerto Rico, his home, to deliver supplies, his plane went down and there were no survivors.  We were grief-stricken, many of us had our first real spiritual crisis, and December 31st took on a new meaning.

Clemente was the first Latin American or Hispanic player elected to baseball's Hall of Fame - it happened in 1973, and I think it is the one and only time they have waived the 5-year waiting period for induction.  I look at sports 'stars' today - with their criminal conduct and their little tantrums and their trash talk and posturing, and I wonder if any of them would risk their precious faces or sensitive hamstrings by getting on a POS plane themselves to deliver rescue supplies.  Roberto did it despite urges from his family and his friends - including Manny Sanguillen - not to board.  Clemente insisted - he said there was no other way to make sure the supplies weren't stolen, as had happened with other shipments. 

That was the way he lived and the way he played baseball.  Any expert, including Hank Aaron, will tell you Roberto could have set home run records, but he hit to move his team mates around the bases - he knew he was putting his own stats behind what was best for our Pirates, and so did everyone else.  He was also one of the best right fielder's to ever play - he made throws from his knees that smoked out the unfortunate runners who tried to beat him.  It was a sight to behold.

As the luck of the calendar draw would have it, this is Hispanic Heritage Month, and I cannot think of a better example than Clemente.  In those days, hispanics and latinos were segregated from both white and black players and in many ways, Clemente was their Jackie Robinson - if you care to read about it, "The Great One" by Bruce Markeson has a good section.  The Pirates tried to anglo-cize Clemente to some extent - originally listing him as Bob and so forth, but he was having none of it.  In fact, the first time he had access to a national TV camera after the 1971 World Series, he did something no pro had done before.  He spoke to his parents, who were watching in Puerto Rico, in Spanish.  "En el dia, mas grande de mi vida, les pido sus bendiciones" which means "On this, the proudest day of my life, I ask for your blessing."

Like all true heroes, he still has the power to make me cry.

So those are the Roberts of my youth.  Now it's your turn.