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32 posts from January 2011

January 31, 2011


By Heather

Cruise I spent several days last week on a cruise. Our cruise was actually a conference, but somehow, it was much, much more. 

It was our third cruise as a group and we guiltily referred to it as work--and it is, we have workshops--but the most important part is playing with a hundred best friends while the sun shines and the dolphins follow the ship--and all that.

I bring my family on this cruise, those who can be gotten. So I'd spent several weeks prodding to make sure that my children, nephew, in-laws, family friends all had their passports. They did.

I did not.

Somehow, I'd lost it--something discovered when I went to find it where I keep it in a drawer. Passport ALWAYS keep it in a drawer. Well, always, but not this time. So, in the twenty-three hours between taking my daughter Chynna back to LA and the cruise itself, I sat in the Miami passport office. 

That meant I never unpacked, so I had a huge bag full of clothing--except for makeup and underwear. I'd taken those items out, needing clean underwear, and using the makeup for the passport picture that still makes me look like I should be locked up. It did feel a bit ridiculous to have seven sweaters and no toothbrush or undies.

We get to the ship, and all is a little confusing, because the woman at check-in doesn't want to let me have as many children as I do, but she's finally convinced that I did procreate a lot, and we all get on the ship.  FRW Conference attendees

I should say that the great thing is the people we get to go with. Our Florida group is made up of a group that’s incredibly supportive, and better still, we have editors and agents on board we truly know and love--we love them even if they've rejected us or made us do the rewrites from hell several times over. 

The ship is not the best ever, but who cares when you're all aboard? We started with the signature sail away drinks the first night, and somehow, argh! make it to karaoke and then the casino. Okay . . . even I, who love a good karaoke night, crawled swiftly into the casino. I love a good slot machine, too. And the slots even liked me back that night.

Key West, Blue Heaven, and meeting up with a musician friend at Hog's Breath, and back on the ship. Mexico where our favorite (group favorite) bar lurks, and our entire group, including our amazing agents and editors, wind up in ridiculous balloon hats and we take our traditional picture shot in one of the two bathtubs that sit facing the water. And it's amazing. Because in this world, people do matter. Getting to know one another lets authors know if they believe in an agent, and an agent know if they like what an author has to offer. Editors may hear the best story in the world when they're wearing balloon hats and eating tacos and imbibing in a few margaritas.

Kp34 I had my nephew, niece-in-law, and two little ones on board. I did feel a bit like a character from "Sweet Home, Alabama." I was watching them with Auntie T and Uncle Stu when Stu, who had had a pacemaker, had a little bout. They had to head back to the infirmary, just when little Graham suddenly said, “I have to peepee, Auntie Heather,” and I looked around at the carriage and the bags and the baby . . . but we made it to los banos. We were to meet the others at the bar, and so we headed over. A baby! In a bar! Oh, two of them. But, at this bar, there were children all around. All wearing balloon hats.

It's the best time, really. I can't wait to do it again! Ole!


January 30, 2011

Linda Castillo Guest Blogs

Linda Castillo , author of New York Times bestselling thrillers, visits TLC today! 

Finding Balance

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a recovering workaholic. Most writers are, even if they are loathe to admit it. (Some may not even realize it.) I’m originally from the Midwest where the work ethic is added to the water along with fluoride. Don’t get me wrong.  I love my work. Writing books is an integral part of my life. It’s what I do every single day no matter what. For many years work was . . . everything. Aside from my wonderful husband, work was my universe and my laptop was the shuttle that got me around town. 

But too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. I’ve published twenty five novels for three New York publishers since 2000. I was all forward motion, most of which was in the form of a sprint to some do-or-die finish line. The thought of balance never crossed my mind.

Eventually, wisdom reared its unfamiliar head and life began to feel like an out of balance tire thumping down the highway. I realized I needed something besides work in my life. I was in the process of figuring all of this out when I made the fourteen-hour drive from Dallas to Denver to visit my sister. Being out in all that open country did something to my brain. And got me thinking about things I probably had no business thinking about at this point in my life. Things like . . . horses.

First barrel That’s right. Horses. I grew up with them. They were a huge part of my youth. I began to ride at such a young age, I don’t even remember learning how. I rode western and did some showing; I rode some trails. And, unlike many of my horsey friends, I liked speed—the faster the better. Horses were always there, and I was always on one—and I loved it. But horses fell by the wayside when I went to college, got married, and entered the corporate world. I was so busy with life that I didn’t even realize I missed the lifestyle. My husband I were living in Dallas at the time, and moi, being a practical Midwesterner, knew owning a horse would be the ultimate in impractical.  Right?

On Valentine’s Day in 2004, during a snowstorm, I bought George, an eight-year-old unregistered appaloosa gelding. He was dirt cheap with no pedigree and a rather wily personality (which isn’t necessarily a desired trait in terms of the equine personality).  When he was delivered to the boarding stable, all I could think was: “What the hell have I done?” I was light years out of my comfort zone. I needed to be writing. I had a deadline looming! I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to embark on a remarkable journey that would change my life in ways I never imagined. 

I’d always assumed the old adage “Once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget” was also true for horses. Not even close. I was shocked at just how wrong I was. As a teen, riding was like breathing. What a difference twenty-five years makes.

But like most writers, I am tenacious.  I was determined to make this so called balance thing work.  It helped immensely when one of the more experienced riders took pity on my stupid ass and helped me through those first days.  She put George and me in the round pen with my butt in the saddle and by golly I rode him. 

And so I wrote in the mornings and then made the twenty-six mile drive to the barn where I boarded George.  Every day.  For the first time in years, I was out of doors in the middle of the day. I was on the back of a horse and we were on a dirt road without another human being (or computer) in sight. I was in the moment! Yes, there was guilt.  A little voice in my head telling me I needed to get home and get to work. But, I was able to calm that voice because I knew my characters would be waiting for me when I got home.

My relationship with George was the beginning of something special and marked the beginning of a wonderful new era in my life.  We learned together. We grew together.  All of the things I thought I’d forgotten about horses came back, and George became one of my best friends. We spent countless hours in the arena.  We braved the burning heat of a Dallas summer. The spring mud. And the cold, wet winter. He challenged me, but I challenged him right back. The mistake I thought I’d made turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

 Finding your balance doesn’t have to detract from the time you spend with your other endeavors. In fact, I have found that my “down time” has actually increased my productivity. I still work hard. I still write every day no matter what. But I worry less about deadlines and negative reviews; I agonize less when the scene I’m writing isn’t quite working.

Balance isn’t a one-size-fits-all. But finding what works for you and implementing it into your life is a worthwhile undertaking that can bring many unexpected rewards.

Linda Castillo writes Amish-country set thrillers for St Martin’s Minotaur.  The first book in the series, SWORN TO SILENCE, was a New York Times bestseller and received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.  The third book in the series, BREAKING SILENCE, will be released in June 2011.  Linda lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next book, also set in Amish Country and featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder

 Breaking Silence (Kate Burkholder)


January 29, 2011

Expanding the Lexicon

By Cornelia Read

Now that I'm, ahem, getting lucky again, I thought it might be time to brush up on the appropriate vocabulary. Here's some terminology I found particularly amusing...

Pulling the Goalie:

Not using birth control when you're trying to get pregnant



Female genitalia. "Map of Tasmania."


The Remote Control:

Clitoris, because they can never seem to find it.


Having the painters in:



Get off at Edge Hill:

Coitus interruptus, as Edge Hill is the last stop before Liverpool.


Impersonate Stalin:







"Trying to draw a smile on a woman's face by twiddling both her nipples simultaneously." Dirty Slang Dictionary


Free the Tadpoles:

Male orgasm


Hood Ornament:

A clitoral piercing


Sperm Wail:

A vocal outburst during male orgasm


Wank Seance:

The eerie feeling that you're being watched by judgmental dead relatives while masturbating.




Taking a hiatus from sex, female.


Sex Bracket:

Number of people one has slept with. According to the Urban Dictionary: "usually coincides with the peace of mind one feels in fucking someone of a similar level of sluttiness."


Sex Degrees of Separation:

When you find out you and a friend have had sex with the same third person. Happens very often at colleges with skewed gender ratios. Usually a discovery made at breakfast in the dining hall, when both other persons show up with wet hair.


Sexual Interforce:

Similar to the classic version, only with Jedis



A gay man "who has chosen a heterosexual lifestyle."




A lesbian who's done the same.


Any other good ones you've heard lately?

January 28, 2011

Sarah Addison Allen Guest Blogs

Unmentionables   Image of "Sarah Addison Allen"

By Sarah Addison Allen, the New York Times bestselling author who writes such magical southern novels as the delightful GARDEN SPELLS and the soon-to-be-released THE PEACH KEEPER.

  Garden Spells (Bantam Discovery)

When my great-aunt Charlotte was in her eighties, her eyesight began to fail and she had to give up driving.  From that point on, every weekend, I would stop by her house to pick up her grocery list and do her shopping her for.  I remember one Saturday in particular, I stopped by and found her sitting on her top porch step, trying to paint her toenails.  Apparently, she’d found that by taking her nail file and fingernail polish outside, she could see better to do her weekly manicure and pedicure.

I noticed she was having some trouble aiming the brush at her toenails, so I offered to help.  I sat a few steps down from her, almost eye level with her feet, and started painting.  She'd chosen a peach-colored polish because it was warmer weather. Peaches and pinks were for summer. Reds were reserved for winter.

So there I was, chatting away, when suddenly there was a gust of wind.  I looked up just as the wind lifted the hem of Charlotte’s dress. I froze, then immediately looked away.

In the summertime, great-aunt Charlotte wore light cotton dresses and gold open-toed slippers.

That day I inadvertently discovered she also didn't wear underwear.

After this incident, instead of going straight to the grocery store, I went to my mother's house. I walked in with my arms out in front of me, saying, "My eyes! My eyes!"

When I told my mother what I saw, she wasn't the least bit surprised.

"Of course," she said. "Charlotte has never worn underwear."


All her life, great-aunt Charlotte was known for her elegance. For eveningwear she had silk dresses and open-toed heels. She always wore a stole in the winter, mink or silver fox. She had an embroidered cotton handkerchief for every day of the year. Her home was magical -- all that lovely crystal she collected, glistening and cool. Her rose garden. The goodies she baked -- the pennies from heaven, the warm cinnamon apples, the irregular square-shaped caramels she made on that large slab of marble in her kitchen.

But underneath it all was something I never expected. A side of great-aunt Charlotte I'd never seen before.


All right, so it's a side I wish I'd never seen. But once I got past the hysterical blindness, I was able to put it in perspective.

Writers present the world with finished pieces -- wonderfully edited text and elegant, glossy covers. In essence, readers always see us in our eveningwear.

What you don't see is what's underneath. There's the fight we have with plot, with character. The battle to finish in time. The messes created at home, the chores ignored. The tears. Every damn day wondering if we're truly worthy to put on that finery.

So, in some ways, being a writer is a lot like my great-aunt Charlotte. To the outside world, we look like we have it all together.

But truth is, secretly, none of us is wearing underwear.


Any unmentionables you’d like to hang on the line today?  Leave a comment and tomorrow I’ll draw a name randomly to give away an advance copy of my upcoming release, The Peach Keeper! The Peach Keeper: A Novel




January 27, 2011

Stick With Ben & Me

Stick With Ben & Me

By Nancy Pickard

I love the Farmer’s Almanac, and I never follow any of its advice. 

I always mean to.  I’ll read, “Freeze green and red grapes in separate bags and use as ice cubes in wine or punch,” and I’ll think, what a great idea!  Grapes Then I’ll remember I never host parties, so I never serve punch, and I don’t much like grapes, and if by some improbable chance I ever did this, and somebody swallowed a grape by accident and choked and died, their family would sue me and I’d lose everything and end up pushing a shopping cart with a dog in it, which would mean I’d have to get a dog, and as much as I do love them I don’t really want another one in my lifetime, don’t hate me for saying so, and after all I have two cats, and do you know how hard it is to keep a cat in a shopping cart?  Not to mention two of them, and what if they don’t like each other?  Also, who would put ice cubes in wine?  And anyway, Ben Franklin didn’t even know from ice cubes, so I’m thinking this is not really his advice, so whom do the editors think they’re fooling?  Not this citizen, no sir.

So, you see, I’m never going to weed my window boxes “with a long-handled, two-tined cooking fork.”  That’s just silly.


But I’ll never give up hope, either. so I’m sure I’ll keep reading the Almanac, just like I read the Girl Scout Manual looking for the easy badges to earn.

Now you.  You’re no doubt wiser, thriftier, and give more parties than I do.  That would be one party, actually.  I am not a hard act to beat, you know? 

So you  need  this advice.  It’s good advice!  Really, I’m sure it is, as sure as if I had ever followed any of it and actually know if it works.   Hey, this is not rocket science.  It’s rutabaga science, I think.

To save you a little time—Ben Franklin loved that kind of thing—I’ve culled some good ones for you to (not) follow, too. All—well, almost all—are adapted from a 2003 edition of BEN FRANKLIN'S ALMANAC of WIT, WISDOM, and PRACTICAL ADVICE, because this stuff never gets old.  Feel free to add your own good advice in the comments and maybe you’ll never get old, either.

    *  Did your Garden hose spring a leak? Stick a toothpick or wooden match in it, break it off, and wrap duct tape around it.  Excuse me, what? “Break off” a wooden match?  With what, my teeth?  Oh, sorry.  There I go again.  Pay no attention to the peanut gallery.  Woodenmatch

    *  Do you suffer from dingy gym socks?  Wash them with a slice of lemon in a pot of boiling water.  And it makes the whole house smell good, too.  Snort.

    *  Need a good fertilizer for your roses?  Ask your hairdresser to bag up some cuttings from the salon floor for you and sprinkle them around your roses.  You will lose your stylist, but gain lovely flowers.

    *  “Place celery and carrot sticks under a roast to make an edible roasting rack.  They will add flavor to the gravy.”  Hey, this actually sounds yummy.  I’ll never do it, though, will I?

    *  Cookies getting stale too fast?  Put a piece of bread in the jar, a fresh one every day.  Wait, but wouldn’t that absorb all the moisture, which would make the cookies. . .get stale too fast?  Nevermind.  I’m going to try this.  I am.  Why, my mother and I had stale chocolate chip cookies just last week. 

    *  Does putting slices of bread in the cookie jar fail to keep your cookies perky?  Dip those cookies in hot coffee and eat them anyway.  Okay, this is my tip, but Ben would like it.

    *  Squirrels nibbling your tulip bulbs? Bulbsquirrel1-300x225 Place a garlic clove beside each one.  Each bulb, not each squirrel.  It's really hard to make a squirrel stay beside a garlic bulb or, well, beside anything.

    *  Do you suffer from boiled eggs with off-center yolks?  Oh, the shame.  You can prevent this culinary embarrassment by securing the carton with tape and setting it on its side in the refrigerator overnight.  No, really.  A pillow would be thoughtful, too.  And a mint.

And one more, before I turn the advice column over to you guys.

    *  Treat a red wine spill with salt, dab it on, make a paste, wait a bit, then wash in cold water.   No, not you, wash the shirt in cold water.  Didn't we just have this same problem with the bulbs and the squirrels?  Sheesh.  You've already had too much too drink, clearly, and if Ben and I were you, we'd cut back. It's never too late.  Well, I guess it is for Ben.  Oops.

Got a household tip for the rest of us?  Pass the red wine--we'll cut back later--and let's hear it!



January 26, 2011

How Much Sex Is Too Much?

Margaret Maron 

Images_8 This is not a rhetorical question even though I’m sure that for many, this could be lumped with “Can one be too thin or too rich?” Not talking real life here, people.  I’m talking sex on the printed page.  When the two protagonists get down to it, how much do you want the author to show you?  Is it enough for an Elizabeth Bennet to say, “Oh, Mr. Darcy!” as they gaze into each other’s eyes or do you want to mentally watch Lady Chatterley twine violets in the gamekeeper’s pubic hair?

Images_2 Kama Sutra erotic acrobatics, Masters and Johnson’s how-to-manual, or Song of Solomon’s “Thy lips drop like the honeycombs; honey and milk are under thy tongue, and the smell of thy garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon”?

Images Were movies more erotic when Cary Grant looked at Eva Marie Saint and the sleek train suddenly plunged into a long dark tunnel or did you want to see them naked in a lower berth?  When Burt Lancaster kisses Deborah Kerr on the beach and the kiss fades to waves that pound the shore like pelvic thrusts, do you feel cheated not to see something more explicit? (Or do you, like me, get the giggles because you suddenly realized how uncomfortable sand in the wrong places can be at a time like that?)  Images_7

In a recent book, I wrote “NYPD cynics held that the only way a woman could advance to a position of true power within the system was on her knees while trying not to get her tongue caught in the zipper.”   Do I really need to spell out the relationship between knees, tongue and zipper?

Someone once asked my son, “What do you think of your mother’s sex scenes?” to which he instantly replied, “I prefer not to think of my mother’s sex scenes.”

I know exactly how he feels because that was my own reaction when I picked up one of the romance novels my own octogenarian mother was addicted to. 

Images In case you’re unaware, romance imprints have guidelines for their writers. Depending on the imprint, the hero and heroine can:

1) Kiss and cuddle, nothing else.

2) Kiss, cuddle, and fondle above the waist.

3) Kiss, cuddle and start breathing heavily.  Mention can be made of his “throbbing manhood” as the scene fades.

4) All of the above plus a detailed description of his manhood connecting with her womanhood.

I was startled to find my sainted mother reading an example of #4.  She shrugged when I teased her about one very explicit scene in particular. “Oh, I skip over all that stuff.  I just pretend they’ve closed the bedroom door and I wait till they come out again and get on with the story.”

Alcide-202x300 I recently queried a few of my fellow writers about the subject.  When I asked Charlaine Harris about the discrepancy between her books and what shows up on True Blood, she said, "The sex scenes on screen are so much more explicit and numerous that I feel quite virginal in comparison."

Another writer friend said, “For me, the mechanics are a turn off; it's the electricity between the couple, the desire, the tension that's the turn on.  There's a great quote about the brain being the most erotic organ--true for both the characters and the reader.”

From yet another:  “I offer up the advice I read somewhere too long ago to remember the source, which is to not write something that makes the reader want to put down the book and have sex rather than read about it. My personal take? I assume anybody who reads my books knows how the act works and what goes where so why behave as if they don't?  I think explicit sex scenes are annoying. I want to know about emotions, not how to do it (unless somebody really has a new and interesting form of fornication...?)”

Images_6 D.H. Lawrence, who wrote that twining violets scene, supposedly said, "Doing dirt on sex is the crime of our times, because what we need is tenderness towards the body, towards sex, we need tender-hearted fucking."

So which do you prefer?  Jane Austen or Janet Evanovich? Or somewhere in between?







January 25, 2011

Join the Bullshit 'Celebrity' Boycott

Join the Bullshit 'Celebrity' Boycott

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney

I can't take credit for starting this, but I love it.  The concept is, you pick some kind of bogus celebrity, talking head and/or scourge upon the nation and agree not to discuss them.  Obviously, network newsmagazine anchors, publishers of the National Enquirer, and various publicity whoremongers need not apply.  

No, this is the normal people's job. I'm talking to you, the few, the educated, the discerning.  You know, the We the People people.  The people of The Lipstick Chronicles.  If not us, who, and so forth.

Somehow, over the course of the last several decades, any nitwit with no underwear and a camera phone qualifies as a celebrity.  I am not sure how this happened, but as is my custom, I blame Dick. Cheney.  Settle down.

We need to get a handle on this business before the entire world becomes so distracted by idiocy that we stop printing real books.  

I will start:

  • Anyone with the name Lohan, Spears, Federline, etc.  Self-explanatory.  Pray for them if you wish but for the love of all that is holy, STOP talking about them.  It's like buying angel dust for an addict.  It's called enabling and it's bad.
  • Unless it is in connection with lodging or travel plans, any and all Hiltons.  Enough already.  I think we've devoted more than excessive amounts of time to talentless, moral-free jackwads, don't you?
  • Political talking heads.  That's right - I don't care which party you attend - go ahead and listen to them or watch them (although I don't know why), but - PLEASE - for the sake of global sanity -  keep the fecal discourse to yourself.  Most of us are over it completely.  Newsflash: We are capable of forming our own opinions, thankyouverymuch.
  • Reality TV whackjobs who eat bugs, punch their mother, cannot identify the father of their child, keep having children with no regard to their existing responsibilities, or otherwise take up space. If we don't stop watching, they will never go away.
  • The Palins.  All of them.  None of them hold elected office.  None of them (other than maybe Todd) have real jobs or contribute to society in any way other than to bump up sales of Motrin, Tylenol, Oxycotin and Xanax whenever they speak.  Buh-bye.  Back to the great white north.  Keep an eye on Russia for us, eh?  That's a good lass.
  • These 2012 Armageddors.  That's right, I just made up a word.  There are people out there - and I mean a few too many for my comfort level - who are stone-assed convinced that we only have one more year to live.  All of us.  Humans, fish, cats and dogs (living together - mass hysteria).  If you need a reason to put your affairs in order, do it, but don't start freaking out people who are just to simple to argue with you.  This is how cults form, and the next thing you know, a bunch of dopes are drinking poisoned koolaid and it's a real mess to clean up.
  • Westboro Baptist Church, people who tell you that if you don't send them money you will go to hell, and all other various and sundry psychotics who masquerade as holy people.  Those racist, anti-semetic, homophobic asshats should count their lucky stars every day that me and mine believe that there is a higher source of vengeance.  Otherwise, they'd never find the bodies.

Ahhhhh. I feel better already - try it - you'll be amazed at how good it feels to purge yourself of these parasites.

Your turn to add to the list - I've barely scratched the surface. And while you do, consider the amount of resources -  the time, energy and good will you can save!  If you delete the manufactured drama, faux angst and general toxicity these people create, you will have so much happy free time, you might actually be able to read more books!

 Yay books!

January 24, 2011

Bad Hair Decade

by Harley

Listen, this is an 11th hour blog, so it’s going to be short. But I need your help on an issue of vital Funny-pictures-cat-has-a-bad-drivers-license-photo importance. An emergency, in fact. My driver's license photo.

Yes, that’s right. It’s renewal time. I got the dreaded notice in the mail, telling me my license expires this Friday and that my last 2 renewals have been by mail (which is not true, and the reason I know this is that I nearly got into a fistfight with one of the clerks on my last visit, something that can’t be done by mail) and so this time I’m required to show up in person. And take a vision test. And get a new thumbprint and photo taken.

Buster1 I’m not all that worried about my thumbprint, because, not to brag or anything, but I have attractive thumbs. My problem is that I got a haircut 3 weeks ago that was chic for about 5 minutes and ever since has looked like Buster Brown.

So that’s my dilemma. Do I throw caution to the wind and get a new haircut, or go with the Prince-Valiant-in-drag look? Generally, I’m fearless about my hair. But this photo’s going to accompany me through the next decade. I’ll be getting senior discounts by the time I get another shot. And there is no appeal process, an example of grave social injustice that no one has had the guts to address. Until now. In fact, were I to run for office, that would be my Prince valiant platform: retouching and/or reshoots available at California DMV offices, for a fee. I bet we could balance the state budget in six months on the money generated.

But back to me. I had a Costco membership card with a photo so hideous that friends of mine would ask to look at it when they needed a good laugh. You think I’m kidding? Ask Anja. Anja, are you reading this? Tell them about my Costco i.d.

So here’s what I’m asking.


  1. should I risk a haircut, 4 days before my license must be renewed?
  2. What’s with the neon turquoise background on the CA license? Who picked that out?
  3. How many pounds can I shave off my true weight and still consider myself an ethical person? (What’s the most you’ve lied about your weight? Although why you’d tell us and not tell your Dept. of Motor Vehicles is anyone’s guess.)

Happy Monday.


January 23, 2011

A Perfect Mess


By Elaine Viets

My desk looks like a landfill with a phone. To the left of my keyboard is The Economist, a list of panels for an upcoming conference, and Chapter 9 of my new novel. Two days ago, I ripped up that chapter and rewrote it.

Under that layer is a note to myself to write this blog, an elegant Waterman rollerball pen and six plastic pens swiped from hotels. In front of the keyboard is a blue pottery fish, an old Chicken of the Sea tuna casserole dish I use for paperclips.

There’s more, but you get the idea. I work in a mess. A comfortable mess of old Christmas cards, unpaid bills, printouts and more. Much more.

I used to feel bad about my disorganized desk. After I finished each book, I’d start cleaning my desk, then give up. I’m now writing my fifteenth novel. The layers are as stratified as an archeological dig: A green file folder from the early Dead-End Job period sits under a printout of contest participants. In between is a business card from a bomb expert I met at a party.

I’ll get to them some day.

Or not.

I used to feel guilty about my messy desk. Until Molly Weston, North Carolina author escort and reviewer, banished my guilt. She told me about "A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,"Perfect Mess  by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman. I have the information about that book somewhere on my desk . . . Here it is, under an email from a homicide cop who’s helping me commit murder.

Freedman and Abrahamson believe a good mess can be more helpful than a highly organized system. Neatness takes valuable creative time, they say.

A fairly disorganized person – like me – may be more efficient than an obsessive neatnik.

And that’s not just for desks. The authors also mean businesses, homes and people. They believe "organizations can be messy in highly useful ways."

They cite Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin because he forgot a petri dish on his desk. Many of us have had moldy dishes at one time or another. But Fleming had an extra ingredient that we didn’t – a spark of creativity that turned his desk mess into a major medical breakthrough.

I like to see my desk as a state of creative ferment. I can find things when I need them. The Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America suddenly needed a meeting speaker. I knew where I’d buried that bomb expert’s card. I sent the information to the meeting chair and she signed him up.

I don’t embrace everything the authors write. They praise Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s open calendar and say it helped make him a successful politician. Some might argue that the Governator left California . . . well, a mess.


Nor is all mess is creative, and the authors know that, too. After all, there’s a TV series devoted to pathological clutter called "Hoarders."

But I do agree that neatness takes its toll on families. Think of the hours parents waste telling children, "Clean up your room NOW!"

The authors deplore the brigades of experts who "declutter" offices and closets in the name of efficiency. January, as National Get Organized Month, is a perilous time for creative clutterers.

Organized office 
I like that mess masters Freedman and Abrahamson believe people and businesses "frequently err on the side of over-organization. In many cases, they can improve by increasing mess, if it’s done in the right way. At a minimum, recognizing the benefits of mess can be a major stress reducer – many of us are already operating at a more-or-less appropriate level of mess but labor under the mistaken belief that we’re failing in some way because of it."

Ah. Those words cleared away my doubts.

The last time Don surveyed the multiplying piles on my desk and asked, "How can you work in that mess?" I smiled at my husband.

I knew his criticism was a load of rubbish.


January 22, 2011

Very Superstitious

Very Superstitious

By Brunonia Barry 

House Blessing
Photo by Gilabrand at en.wikipedia

Last week, the Wall Street Journal featured an article about some real estate developments in my hometown, Salem, MA. It seems that some of our local witches have taken to performing house exorcisms. If you want, you can read the article here.

Now before you shake your head and grumble about Salem’s overblown entrepreneurial spirit, let me explain that these witches aren’t making any money on the practice. Cleansing houses of bad energy is something they do pro-bono.

House values are down by about 30 percent in Salem. Add to that the fact that Essex County has one of the highest foreclosure rates in Massachusetts, and it starts to make sense that buyers are requesting that negative energy be banished from their new properties.  It doesn’t mean the house is haunted or possessed or anything so dramatic. It just may be that it wasn’t sold under the best of circumstances. The idea that there might be some residual negative energy (or at least bad feelings) lurking in its corners doesn’t strike me as all that farfetched.  

This is a house cleansing and a house blessing, and, as such, I think it’s a great idea. It’s nothing new. House blessings are traditional in almost every culture and religion. There are only two reasons that this particular Salem practice got publicity from the WSJ: House blessings/cleansings are up by several percentage points in this new economy, and the particular blessings in question are being performed by witches.

Now I have never done such a ceremony on the house we bought in Salem thirteen years ago when the market was pretty damned good. Our house was owned by artists for 37 years. They brought up their family here, and they created some beautiful paintings in what is now my writing room. Before that, the house belonged to a minister. I had no intention of ridding our new home of the residual energy belonging to any of these people. I rather hoped it was clinging to the rafters, waiting to help me out with the book I was trying to write. So we didn’t take advantage of these charitable Salem services. But I do admit to doing a little sage-smudging in a rental unit we owned where a domestic violence incident had taken place. Better sage than sorry, was my thought at the time.

I happen to know the two witches featured in the WSJ article. They are great people, wonderful members of our community. Whether or not we believe in real estate karma, I like to think that we all believe in simple acts of kindness and charity, so I was kind of surprised by some of the comments both on the WSJ website and around town.

The early sentiments seemed to suggest that the WSJ should not have featured such an article. One reader actually nicknamed them The Wall Street Enquirer. There have been some kinder comments in the last week, but the first ones came down pretty hard on their journalistic integrity for featuring an article about what many people consider superstition.

Those comments really got me thinking about the superstitions we all seem to harbor. I have never met a person who didn’t have at least one or two.  

I’m not what anyone would consider a superstitious person. I don't walk under ladders intentionally, but only because something might fall on my head. I love black cats. To me, thirteen is a number just like any other. People know they should never send me chain letters; not only do I find them incredibly annoying, but I will break the chain on purpose, just to mess with the “magic.” That goes double for email chains, the ones that promise great luck if you respond within their time limit and hint at the opposite if you don’t. I like to be contrary. It’s my right (almost my duty) as a New Englander.

But things fall apart for me when it comes to tempting the imps.

“Don’t temp the imps” was an expression my mother used all the time. It was right up there with “Someone’s going to end up crying,” a favorite of hers when we were having just too darned much fun (read manic).  Usually there was sugar involved. There was always wild child energy. When someone inevitably did end up crying, we tended to blame Mom’s warning as if she had brought it down on us. Who knows? Maybe she did. Her superstitious warning never bothered us, though. It didn’t even slow us down.  But I never messed with her when she uttered the words: “Don’t temp the imps.” (Even today, I take this advice so seriously that Mom’s warning has become an integral part of the latest book I’m writing).

My mother would issue her imps warning whenever anyone would say things like: “Gee, this has been a nice, mild winter,” or “I’ve been driving for 30 years, and I haven’t had an accident yet.”  (Remarks that stupid demand immediate imp attention, don't you think?) If you’re smart, you never make remarks like that.  

One of the worst imp-inciting phrases comes in the form of a question. “How hard can it be?” Take my advice, never, ever, under any circumstances, ask that out loud. That question is an immediate call to action for any imp. They cannot resist giving you the answer.

So I’ve told you mine, now tell me yours. Do you have any superstitions you’d like to share?  Any imps you’ve tempted?