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28 posts from February 2011

February 28, 2011

I, a Junkie

by Harley

Recently I embarked upon a madcap, sanity-risking adventure. It was not a safari, or sumo wrestling, or even match.com. It was a detox/cleanse. Why? For the best reason in the world: I had a coupon.

When I called the number on the coupon, Flower, the proprietor, scheduled an appointment for the following week.

“Hold on, Flower,” I said. “Can I drink coffee on this detox/cleanse?”

Merry laughter. “Of course not.”


“Why, how much do you drink?”

“I’ve never counted. Maybe ten cups.”

Pause. “Per day?”


“Well, start cutting back now or you’re going to have one hell of a headache.”

The next day I laced my espresso roast with decaf, in a nine-to-one ratio. I drank my usual pot of coffee (I have a Moccamaster, the Lamborghini of coffeemakers!) and the following day weakened it further. On day #3 I got a headache. Which lasted for two weeks.

And an urgent, screaming need for naps.

And lethargy. Aching despair. Existential anxiety. Acne.

I called Flower and pushed back my appointment, because coffee withdrawal was gruesome enough without giving up Diet Coke and M&Ms. I needed time. I feared a psychotic break. Me, who's quit cigarettes, alcohol, pot and other things I won't mention in case I'm nominated for the Supreme Court.

At this point, 3 different friends recommended Bikram Yoga. You know about the Rule of 3, right? If 3 people mention something, you must check it out. It’s the law.

Images Yet, I hesitated. Yoga and I have a troubled past:  At 14, I was doing a headstand (sirsha-asana) in my living room, came out of it awkwardly, landed in my mother’s terrarium, and ended up in the ER, getting 9 stitches.

There were no headstands in Bikram Yoga, my friends assured me. It’s 90 minutes of 26 regimented postures in a studio heated to 104 degrees—what its founder, a guy named Bikram Choudhury, calls “the torture chamber.” Hard to resist that, huh? And besides . . . I had a coupon.

 So I showed up, sweated, survived, went home, drank 320 quarts of water and took a short 3 hour nap. And kept going back, because the coupon’s good for a month.

A week later I made my sad, sleepy way to Flower’s office, and left with a bag of weird powders and potions, a shopping list, and instructions (“no microwave, Teflon, tap water”).

Then followed 9 days of the kind of food I imagine they serve in the gulag. A few Unknown-1
vegetables, a handful of brown rice, some organic berries. A vial filled with Mystery Drops, some semi-disgusting green stuff you drink once a day.

Yes, my skin cleared up, my chronic back pain receded, and I lost 5 pounds, half of it from crying jags. I also lost my will to live. Oh, there were moments of euphoria, but they were interspersed with hunger so acute I contemplated eating the houseplants. Why did I keep on?

For one thing, Uranus is currently at 29 degrees Pisces, the exact degree of my ascendant. If you’re into astrology, enough said.

Ekg1 Secondly, last fall my doctor found a tiny blip in my EKG, the kind of thing that’s probably meaningless, but in someone whose family members routinely keel over from heart disease, worth mentioning. “How do you deal with stress?” Dr. Iqbal asked me. Kickboxing, I told him. And caffeine. “Less coffee, more yoga,” he suggested.

But the third reason--the real true one—is that I’m pretty sure my brain is possessed by the ghost of Jack Lalanne. Unknown

I lasted the whole 9 days (I cheated on days 7,8, and 9 with several pieces of sugar-free gum, but don’t tell Flower). On Day 10, I had a cup of coffee and some cookies. Talk about nirvana.

And now I’m back to my old tricks except . . . more yoga, less coffee.

Charlton heston How about you? Are you a closet junkie? What is it they’ll have to peel, a la Charlton Heston, from your cold, dead hands? Your beer? iPhone? General Hospital?

Name your poison.



February 27, 2011

Back in the Game


Sharon_Potts_Bio_Pic_-_215x255 What happens when you meet your high school flame after forty years? Sharon answers that question for The Lipstick Chronicles. Her story involves hurt feelings, a worried daughter and a timely text message – like her novels. Sharon’s Miami-based thrillers are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her latest thriller, Someone's Watching, was called "shiver-rich" by Publishers Weekly, and "stunningly well-handled" by Booklist.

By Sharon Potts

I’ll admit it. I’m not a social person. I’m more of a no-makeup-worn-jeans-walk-the-dog-between-chapter-revisions-talk-to-my-kids-too-often kind of person. And I like it that way.

But there was a time, give me a couple of Stoli martinis and I’d be up at the front of the room telling inappropriate jokes or crooning These Boots Are Made for Walking, with or without the Karaoke machine. Who said CPAs are dull and boring?

But that was thirty years ago. Since then, married life and two kids intervened in my social development and budding entertainment career.

That changed about a year ago when my first novel came out and I realized touring was part of the being published process. Guess what? Martinis don’t work before a book signing, particularly if you’re trying to speak without slurring. So I tried Toastmasters to get past the jitters. (Funny name for an organization that doesn’t use alcohol as part of its protocol.)

The practice speeches helped. Problem was, after thirty years in hibernation, I’d lost most of my friends. Enter Facebook, LinkedIn, and Classmates.com. Turns out it was forty-year reunion time at my high school alma mater in Elmhurst, NY.

Click, click, click.  Suddenly, I’m in touch with all these people I haven’t heard from in years.  And that included former beau, Charlie. (Not real name.)  Charlie had taken me to the prom, then broke my heart later that summer when he told me we weren’t right for each other. He owed me big time. 

 Surely he’d buy a book or come to one of my signings. I sent him a message. He wrote back. Lots of sweet reminiscences. But they didn’t make up for the revelation that he’d taken Marissa, former-best-friend-turned-nemesis, to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert at the Filmore East with tickets he’d bought with me in mind. Ouch.

Nevertheless, we arranged to meet next time I was in New York. I live in Miami, but I’m fortunate to have a daughter who has this great studio apartment in Midtown Manhattan.

Sarah folded her arms across her chest as she watched me zip up my new suede boots.

"Does Dad know you’re meeting this guy?"

My hand was shaky as I tried to remember how to apply eyeliner. "Of course. He’s fine with it."

Gus, her bulldog, cocked his head.

"What time will you be home?" Sarah asked.

Boy, talk about role reversal. "Not too late."

I kissed her goodbye and went off to meet Charlie at an Italian restaurant near Columbus Circle. Forty years. What can I say? A little gray, a little beardy. (He, not I, thank God.) I turned down a martini and sipped on a glass of wine. The conversation opened with a discussion about Prilosec and acid reflux. Forty years. What can I say? We moved on to careers, spouses, kids, what happened to the people we knew. The conversation dwindled. My cell phone buzzed.

 My daughter Sarah, Where r u?

I wrote back, Home soon.

Charlie gave me a lift back to Midtown. A peck on the cheek goodbye. Somehow I sensed he wouldn’t be buying one of my books.

 I climbed the stairs to Sarah’s apartment. She was pacing. "I was worried, Mommy."

"You were?" I gave her a hug, then I took off my new suede boots, put on a pair of worn jeans, washed my face, and went downstairs with her to walk Gus.













February 26, 2011

Entropy and Me

By Cornelia Read

I've been thinking about cleaning, ever since reading Nancy's post on Thursday. Notice that I did not say I have been actually cleaning. Just, you know, thinking about it... Not that there isn't plenty of cleaning to do in this apartment. But. I just don't feel like it. And it doesn't actually smell bad or anything. So, well... the piles are still the piles.

I emptied the dishwasher today. Did two loads of laundry a couple of days ago when I got home from New York. It took me two days to actually unpack my bag, though. And then another day to put the dirty stuff in the washing machine. And then I had to wash the first load again in the morning because I forgot I'd washed it and left it sitting overnight and it was a little funky, so it seemed like the right thing to do rather than just throw a pile of wet funky crap in the dryer and hope the little Bounce sheet would take care of things. And now I have two baskets of clean laundry.

I am keeping those on the floor of the living room and raiding them for pairs of jeans, as needed, etc. This is because I got really ambitious a couple of weeks ago and washed all of my daughter's clothes--about ten loads of crap--which are all still sitting on top of the dining room table. Folded, but less so than they were two weeks ago, as she has been raiding those piles for stuff to wear to school every day. If the dining room table weren't pre-loaded, I imagine that's where MY clothes would be.

What can I say... the torch is passed to the next generation.

As I said in a comment on Nancy's post, this is the kind of household management that encouraged my ex-husband to nickname me "the lightning rod for entropy in the universe." And that is one of the many reasons he is my ex-husband. I mean, if he was so all fired up about having a sparkling clean house, he knew where the fucking mop was.

I have long been a total slob. Here is a picture of my dorm room in boarding school, taken by my pal Bonney Armstrong:



Bonney was kind enough to upload it to Facebook. Without really warning me. But anyone who knows me wouldn't have been at all surprised, so it's not particularly upsetting to me.

My poor dorm parents from back then would just sigh in recognition. I still feel bad that they got in trouble over my sloppiness. I always lost my room key around the first day of the year, and so never locked my room--being of the opinion, with Shakespeare, that "who steals my purse steals trash," basically. I mean, how could anyone FIND anything in that room to rip off, right?

Unfortunately, when one of the security guards was checking the dorms after we'd all gone home for winter break, he found the door of my room open, and presumed from the sights within that it had been burglarized. Sadly, this was a day or so after the dorm parents had BEGGED me to clean it up before leaving.

The security guard knocked on their apartment door to report the burglary, and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis said, "oh, that's Nicky's room. It always looks like that."

Whereupon he reported THEM to the headmaster. Which totally sucked. They were really nice about it, though.

Here is a picture of what my bedroom looked like last year, when I was doing my taxes:


Slightly better, but I only created that pile in the space of eight hours. And. um. It went all the way around the bed. That's just a portion. I work messy. And I hate math almost as much as cleaning. And smiley faces.

The place doesn't always look like shit. Here's the living room on a good day:

Living room

Another view, just so you know I didn't just shove piles out of the frame:

Living room2

The "EVOLVE" on the wall is because I found two sets of "LOVE" at a garage sale. And am good at Boggle and Scrabble.

And occasionally, the dining room table is not covered with piles of clean laundry:

Dining room

But usually only when someone is coming to visit. I did paint those chairs really dark green in the meantime, though, being not entirely aesthetic-free.

Generally, I think if you want to strike a blow for feminism, you should lighten up on cleaning your house. Maybe someone else will figure out where the mop is. Maybe not. Why is it all on us? Fuck that, really.

On the bright side I'm really fast at cleaning, having had decades of experience taking on an entire unkempt house before my mother arrives from the airport in an hour or something. And I do try to actually put things away now while I've actually got them in my hand or whatever. But if it's just for me, I don't really care all that much. I would rather think about things, or write, or talk, or read, or look stuff up on the internet. Like, say, the Op-Ed page of The New York Times or arson investigation techniques or the definition of the word "limerence." You know, have an actual life, rather than dusting the throw pillows twice a day.

I remember a female comedian once saying that men lived like "bears with furniture." And why should guys have all the fun? I am as ursine as most frat boys, minus the spilled beer all over the floor and jockstraps flung over the lamps. Also, I'm a way better cook.

My mother once arrived at my house in Cambridge, many years ago.

She had arrived early from the airport. She looked around the place sadly, shaking her head, then said, "Cornelia. Promise me you'll never have pets."

So, I did.

Okay, we have a fish now. Beyond him I draw the line.

Here endeth the slob post.

What's something you'd really like to get out of doing so you could concentrate on the important stuff? And what's the important stuff?

February 25, 2011

Rose-colored glasses

by Barbara O'Neal


My name is Barbara and I am an optimist.

Oh, sometimes I pretend to be a cynical snarky type. Sometimes I can trot out a droll and cutting commentary on the state of the world, but it’s only because I’m trying to get all you cynics and pessimists to think I’m just as smart as you are.

If you’re an optimist, you’re seen as a foolish little dweeb without an ounce of sharp-thinking.  If you’re an optimist and maybe fo cus on how things are getting better in the world than about how awful they are (both things are actually true), the think tankers and literary PhDs and politicians think you’re naïve.  If you are a woman, a writer of upbeat fiction, they sneer over your books and your opinions in an even bigger way, inventinglabels like “women’s fiction,” and “chick lit” to separate that work from the serious, important Manly Fiction that features all manner of darkness and disaster.  And neverforget that romance novels are by far the lowest of the lowly forms of fiction, those idiotic treatises of finding a mate and living happily ever after.

Because that never happens,in real life, right? Like, no happy married couples anywhere. 

Bad things happen all the time.  I get that. There was a hideous car accident here yesterday, the kind that gets in your head and makes you wish you had not heard of it (I had to write a whole book once to get a car accident out of my head).  The earthquakes in Christchurch are terrible, too, and how many people have died in the revolution in Libya? 

Optimists are not blind, just ready to believe in goodness. Optimism is seen as a fool’s game, left tothe simple-minded and hippies and crusaders. Bah, those pesky crusaders! That silly head Martin Luther King, that foolish, simple minded Nelson Mandela, those crazy visionaries who came3279601932_91dd3ca957_zup with a silly social network that seems to be changing the freaking world

Imagine that!

When I was in college, I knew a group of Libyan students. They were mostly very wealthy guys, having a little time-out in America before they went home to do the work their fathers had set up for them. They liked to party and hang out with fast American women and—nearly to a man—dreaded going home.  This was not true at all of the Syrians and the Saudis and the Kuwaitis. All of them were having a good time, too, but they wanted to return home.  The Libyans did not. 

And most of them didn’t. They stayed, by hook or by crook, or went to Europe, did whatever they  had to do to stay out.  One night, I made a sly comment about America, and one of them (a devastatingly handsome and standoffish man I had a terrible crush on) gave me a fierce lecture on 3204160108_290aebcac7_z
the beauty of democracy and the American constitution.  “You just don’t know,” he said. “You don’t.”   (Which of course only served to deepen my smittenness.) I keep thinking of them as I watch Khadaffi’s regime fall.  Wondering how they feel.  It’s unclear at the moment how it will all work out. Sometimes a dictator provides stability along with oppression.

Optimism provides the courage to change things. Optimism says things can be different if we work hard and look to the future.  Optimism says things will get better the more we understand.

The book business has been a big shaky the past month or so, even shakier than in the preceding year, when everyone was already nervous.  The cynics are predicting the end of the world as we know it. The optimists are saying, “Hmm. Maybe not. Maybe this is a big shift, and scary, but maybe it’s leading us into something exciting, even revolutionary.”  Maybe so many books, eventually all the books that have ever been written, available at the touch of a button mean that there will be more educated people in the world than there have ever been before.  Imagine! All those books available to anyone who walks into an internet café in any village in any corner of the world or downloads them into their cell phones.  Any book. On any subject, in any language. 

Imagine that.


I think the difference between optimists and cynics is, in the end, that optimists see the big picture, while cynics are focused on the now.  Yes, people are dying in Libya as power shifts, but perhaps this will lead to a better life for most people there.  Perhaps that unrest will eventually, free Iran, too.  (For some great insight into why that matters, check out Laura Fitzgerald’s two novels about an Iranian woman coming to the US for a chance at new life, Veil of Roses and Dreaming in English—upbeat women’s fiction, but oh, so illuminating!)  

Yes, in the short term, we’re in the midst of a sea change in the book world, too, but I’m an optimist. Writers will still write, books will still be published, editors will still be passionate about finding books and helping to shape them into the best they can be.  And in addition, books will set the world on fire in a way that has never been possible in the history of mankind.  Amazing to consider, isn’t it?

In the end, optimists and pessimists are equally right. It’s just that the optimists are healthier and less worried in the  meantime.   That’s my take on it, anyway, simple minded as it might be. 

What side of the line do you fall on? And how’s that working for you? Do you feel you have to defend your point of view? 


February 24, 2011

A Clean Sweep

A Clean Sweep

By Nancy Pickard

You’ve probably always wondered what a TLC blog post by Andy Rooney, the 60 Minutes Curmudgeon, would be like.  Boring, I’m thinking.  It would be lists of things, and it would be just like the one below, except that he would never ask your opinion, as I so thoughtfully do.  Andy doesn’t care if you like him.  I’d prefer it if you do like me, though apparently I don’t want it enough to come up with a more inspiring idea for a post today.  Another difference is that Andy would get paid a ridiculous amount of money to write this trivia, and I’m doing it for free. (Possibly you would have been able to figure that out for yourself.  “Tell me they don’t actually pay her for this stuff!”)

But really, I’ve been wanting to discuss household chores for a long time, and I just feel as if this is the moment.  Spring’s coming!  Big cleaning days are ahead of us.  Can’t you just feel the electricity in the air?  Or possibly that’s still static left over from winter.

Anyway. . .hang on.  It’s about to get really exciting in here today.


I have my favorite chores and my hated chores.

I like to iron.  That’s the household chore I like best.  Bring me your cottons, your linens, your lightly wrinkled wools yearning to swing free.  I also like to straighten things, like papers on coffee tables and coasters on end tables.  Ironing and straightening things are probably related.  I also like to clean a kitchen, clean out and reorganize shelves, drawers, and closets, and clean out bigger things like garages and basements.  (I love to throw things away.)  I like to shovel reasonable amounts of snow.  I like to plant things and pull up weeds.  

What about you?  Are there household jobs you actually like to do?

The household job I don’t love but I also don’t mind is:  laundry.  I also don’t mind washing the shower/tub.  I love clean grout.   Clean grout is next to Godiness.  (That’s like Steven Colbert’s “Truthiness,” only purer.)  I think vacuuming is tolerable, provided the machine works okay.  Don’t be asking me to vacuum with equipment that sucks it all up and then vomits it all back out again a few minutes later.  That happened.  That vacuum is dead to me now.  I don’t mind changing sheets, either, but I can’t say it’s what I’d choose to do in my last few minutes on earth, you know? 


What about you?  Which household jobs are tolerable to you?

The household chore I hate most is, get this, putting the silverware away in the drawer after it’s been in the dishwasher.  I don’t know why I dislike it so much.  Wait, yes I do.  I hate it because it’s even more tedious than providing the two hands a knitter uses to re-wind her yarn.  It’s more tedious than reading the “begats” in the Bible.  It’s more tedious than picking cat hair off black slacks.  What I really hate is when you go to put the fork in the drawer and you discover it didn’t get clean.  Man, that pisses me off. 

I also don’t like to dust or to clean toilets or wash windows.  I don’t do windows.  Well, I do do windows, just don’t ask me to do them.  Getting me to wash windows requires the tact of silence.  I’ll do them.  Just don’t push, okay?  As long as you can still see across the street, I think we’re good on windows.  I also don’t particularly enjoy watering things.  Talk about tedious, although I do like to see little plants perk up and look happy.


 I like to sweep, but not to get it all into a dustpan.  That’s hard.  Stuff escapes.  My kind of sweeping is front porch sweeping where I can whoosh it all off into the dirt.  Now that’s some good sweeping right there.  I might not have minded living in a cabin with a dirt floor that I could just sweep right out the front door.  “Pa, move your clodhoppers so I can sweep the dirt off the dirt.”   On the other hand, I hate to mop, because it never feels clean to me.  Look in that bucket of water, and tell me I’m not washing with dirty water!

And you?  Which household chore do you hate with the heat of a thousand 150-watt light bulbs?  (I like changing light bulbs, especially if I have to climb on something to do it.  That kind of job makes me feel very Mt. Everesty.)

Oh, and before you can ask-- I am ambivalent about dusting.


When I started writing this post, I didn't know it was going to end up in Cairo.  Maybe all roads lead to Cairo right now. Or, possibly, Wisconsin.  So while we're on the subject of cleaning house--wasn’t that wonderful how people stayed around to help clean up Tahrir Square? I thought that set such a superlative example of pride, responsibility, and humility.  They were proud enough to bring down a dictator, and humble enough to pick up their trash.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed being one of the women who tried to replace the broken street tiles, so I especially admired them.  I loved seeing photos of military men helping to fold up tents as if they’d all just been on an amazingly huge camping trip together and the soldiers pitched in to help break camp.  (Didn’t you wonder where they all went to the bathroom for all those days, with those huge crowds?  And how did they get enough water to drink?  The photo above hints at the answer--thousands of bottles must have been donated, don't you think so?)  I think everybody there should feel incredibly proud of themselves for not only tearing down an entire regime, but also for then sticking around to clean up after themselves. 

Somebody raised them right.

Good work, Egyptian moms and dads, except for those of you who raised the unspeakable thugs who attacked Lara Logan and 139 other journalists, along with the protestors they mained or killed.  Cleaning up after them is going to be more difficult for the individuals and families they hurt so grievously, but it is still a wonderful thing that there were more of the other kind of people in that square. 

No one knows what the future holds, except that we know there will always be brooms for sweeping dirty things clean, even if they're only branches with palm leaves.  Can you hear that soft, powerful sound all over the world right now?  Swish, swish. Swish swish.

February 23, 2011

Cover Stories

Margaret Maron

100_1411 Writers are often asked how much they have to do with the cover of a book.  As a rule, the answer ranges from “Very little” to “Nothing.”  Yet the cover, the jacket copy, and the quotes on the back cover usually determine whether or not a reader takes the book home or puts it back on the shelf.  My own contract with a previous house gave me cover approval with the stipulation that “said approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.” (Translation:  "If we say we like it, you'd better like it, too.")

This is a  paperback original that came out several years ago.  I do not know Christina Dodd so I don’t know if she had cover approval.  A synopsis on the back cover read “What man would have her once he discovered her secret?”  I’m told that a nice poster was made from the cover and that at one of her signings, a reader pointed to an element in the picture and asked if that was Lady Juliana’s shameful secret? Look carefully.  Do you see it? (For Ms. Dodd’s own reaction:  www.christinadodd.com/castles.html)

On the whole, I’ve been pleased with the original covers of my thirty books although some of the reprints have been a little strange.  This is the British edition of Shooting at Loons, 100_1412 which takes place along the wide sandy beaches of North Carolina, not the rock-ribbed coast of Maine.   At least they spelled my name correctly.

Kathy Trocheck (aka Mary Kay Andrews) has been less lucky:  “My last name was misspelled on the preliminary cover of my very first book, Every Crooked Nanny.  And then there was the time somebody else's name was printed on the spine—under the paper jacket. It had my title, but another author's name.” (Unlike most new moms, I seldom undress the baby, but after Kathy told me that, I started checking the little naked bodies.)

Sometimes an author has to wonder whose synopsis the art department got.  Judy Greber (aka Gillian Roberts) was bemused to get this cover:


“I had to ask my editor what the big question was. ‘Will you marry me?’ she said. That was NOT what the book was about. At all. But they wouldn't remove that subtitle.”

Joan Hess was as puzzled as Judy:  "The first cover for A Conventional Corpse had the taped outine of a body on a treacherous mountain road.  At night.  (1) Nobody was run down; (2) there was no  treacherous mountain road in the book; (3) it was comedic, not noir. I asked if that cover was just something they had rattling around in the art department closet.  I then pointed out (a tad acerbically) that I'd given them a garden AND a cat. The cover ended up with a cat licking up what looks like blood on a bench.  In a garden."



This was the mass market cover for One Coffee With, my first book (and now available for Kindle and Nook).  The professor has just drunk a cup of coffee laced with potassium dichromate, an acid used to etch copper plates.  It would do horrible things to one's throat.  Immediately.  Yet there he stands by the open window as if to say, "Hark! Is that a robin I hear?"

Betteroffdeadcover When the cover for Katy Munger’s Better Off Dead was done, the editor called her to announce that there was a flying hawk on it, “Which,” says Katy, “had nothing whatsoever to do with the book, but could I please add a scene to the book that involved a hawk because they didn't want to re-do the cover.”  (She did.)

100_1416 When this cover was sent to me for Last Lessons of Summer,  one of my standalone books, I was perplexed.  “What’s with the pseudo-Queen Anne chair?” I asked.

“An old lady’s murdered, right?”

“Right, but the old lady was a connoisseur of Arts and Craft furnishings—Roycroft and   Stickley.”

“We think the cover’s very old-ladyish.”

“I agree, but that chair’s not a piece my old lady would have in her house.”

“But we really, really, really like it.”

Actually, I liked it, too, so I gave the chair to the murdered woman’s more conventional sister-in-law and wrote it into a scene.




Some things are predictable, though.  As Linda Grant reminded me, “If you set your book in San Francisco, art departments always want to use the Golden Gate Bridge.  My first book, Random Access Murder, has a bridge with diagonal braces on the cover (not in the book, no mention of any bridge in the book). I asked my editor, "Why the Bay Bridge?"  She replied, ‘The art dept. says it's the Golden Gate.’" I said, "No, the Golden Gate has horizontal cross pieces.   The cross pieces on the Bay Bridge are diagonal.”  Linda drives that bridge at least once a week.  New York’s final answer? “It's the Golden Gate.”

Th_0312965559 East Coast writers have their own problems.  If you set your book anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, they want to give you Tara’s white columns and Spanish moss.   Just ask Sarah Shaber, who had a hard time convincing her publisher’s art department that Spanish moss does not grow on Raleigh’s oaks.

Cover art should accurately portray a scene that gives a flavor of the story inside, be it cozy or noir, but worse than inaccurate details are the pictures that tell the reader whodunnit before she even opens the book. The original jacket art for Gillian Roberts’s Caught Dead in Philadelphia showed the corpse and, on the wall above her, a portrait of the murderer, looking down at her victim.  “My editor had to tell the artist that wasn't a super idea.”

Years ago, I picked up one of Hugh Pentecost’s Pierre Chambrun mysteries.  Ruslan080500095 Set in the late 70s at a luxury hotel in New York, the suspects were a group of international guests.  The intricate plot would have been a nice brain teaser except that the cover included a swastika.  As soon as the Germans checked in, you knew who the villain was going to be.

How do you feel about a book's cover art?  How much does it influence your choice? Have you ever been misled by one? 

February 22, 2011

Hell Yeah! How about some GOOD news?!

Hell Yeah!  How about some GOOD news?!

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney, with help

First great news first - in the words of our very own Will Graham, man of the blog and mainstay of the backblog:

International Thriller Writers (ITW) does a bi-annual anthology series titled THRILLER; 1 was edited by James Patterson, 2 by Clive Cussler, and the forthcoming volume 3 is being coordinated by Allison Brennan and edited by Sandra Brown.

Most of the available slots are given to authors like James Patterson, Lee Child, Jon Land, etc; make no mistake, this is the Big Kids Lunch Table. There were three slots open for freelancers, and they received over 70 submissions. Of those 70, 14 were chosen for final readings, and from those the final 3 were then chosen to be included in the anthology.

My story, SPIDER'S TANGO, was one of those three:  scheduled publication date is Summer of 2012.

In a side note, the editor at MIRA contacted me personally, and asked if I was interested in submitting a single title novel.  I briefly pitched the infamous SPIDER'S DANCE, and she wants to see it when I'm done with a very hard, brutal edit.   Now, as we all know, the real work begins!

How freaking fabulous is this?!  William has been writing for years, and it is so good to see someone who really wants it and really works for it finally get some serious publishing attention.  I know I speak for all the Tarts and the backbloggers when I say: Hell Yeah, William!

Next up, guess what I discovered?  My Camry, which is about as stripped down as a car can get, will play directly from my iPod and all I needed was a little cable that goes in the headphones port.  No fancy-schmancy after market technology or expensive options.  Hell yeah, Apple and Toyota!

In other news, I am happy to say my Celebrity Boycott Program is working like a dream.  Since I first posted about it here: Bullshit Celebrity Boycott, I have added several to the list, including the Sheens (with an exemption, obviously, for The West Wing), any pop artist who's hair matches her leopard dress, and Dumprick Santorum, who is apparently trying to make a, uh, comeback.  He's having a bit of a challenge, what with this santorum link and so forth. hee.  Sometimes I just click it to keep it the top two search results.  Because this kind of feral homophobia just cannot stand. Hell yeah, Google Search!

In medical news, a member of my chevra had surgery last week and the biopsy results came back clean and clear.  Take that cancer, ya bastard!  Hell Yeah, Shadyside Oncology Surgical Team!  I would give a Hell Yeah to he and his family, but the jury is still out on whether he will drive them all crazy during his post-op recovery.  hah.  As the Rev Susan and I always say: 'High quality problems, huh?'

Finally, a recent trip to the doctor's office confirms that our son Ty is officially over SIX FEET TALL. Look, as a short woman, I dated a lot of short men.  Lots of them are great guys and who cares, but there are just enough who are completely complexified that I am thankful that's one less thing for Ty to worry about.  Hell yeah, mixed genetics!

I'll bet you are as sick of all bad news all the time as I am. Let's shake it up and share some good news.  Hell yeah, TLC!






February 21, 2011

Haunted Book Trailer

Jimmy's house to New Orleans 044


On  the 7th of February, we took over the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. It’s reputed to be a most haunted plantation.


We had a mission -- my three available children, husband, and Jimmy's house to New Orleans 031 several friends -- to film a trailer for a series of books I have coming out. They’re like Criminal Minds meet up with Ghostbusters. They take place in different areas of the country, and the second venue is a haunted plantation.

In order to film on the property, you rent the entire estate, which worked out well. We had four members of the Peace River Ghost Trackers, our videographer, Phin, Bridget from the PR company, and our cast of thousands. Okay, our cast of ten. The idea was to do little vignettes—about fifteen seconds each—on each of the mysterious circumstances. I’d written the script, I had Connie Perry and her miraculous costumes, and I was all set. Except for getting the cast in order.

We are from Florida, and the boys felt it would be a betrayal of their state to be Yankees at a plantation. “The North won! And it was a good thing!” I reminded them. Yep, yep, and that was all good, but . . . .

Shayne, Bridget, Heather, Juan, the Myrtles Worked out okay. I had our dying Confederate surrounded by his friends -- and the Yankees had already gone.

Our fabulous waiter, Ginger, who is also an amazing drag performer, got in on the fun. I needed the fellow who proves to be the father of descendents in the story; Ginger was happy to be him. “Now, the black man doesn’t get bumped off in the first pages, does he?” she asked me. I was able to say, “No. He’s actually the hero.”  Ginger was ready for the challenge.

I’d asked my husband Dennis to take part, assuring him he didn’t have to say a word. “Who am I?” he asked. I hesitated for a minute. “Jack the Ripper,” I told him.

He made a frighteningly good Ripper.

Then there was the senator’s wife, dead from a fall from the balcony of her French Quarter house; she had to die with her eyes open. I picked on Jason’s girlfriend and my fellow FRW friend and member, Kathy DePalo.  She lay uncomplainingly on the brick for quite a while . . . staring. She was brilliant. I was worried. It was freezing while we were there!

I really couldn’t figure out a way to make any of the boys be stripped naked and covered in blood, so we employed an axe and a lot of food coloring and Vaseline. It worked.

The most fun, of course, was when the entire group, including Connie and Kathy Pickering--who had come to take some quick shots and document—dressed up in period clothing and did the “ghost” walk to the camera. Everyone looked wonderful. Incredible. And Phin is amazingly talented, with great ideas. (He’s now off to work in Cairo; I fear for him. Worked with him before, and love him to death!)

Heather at the Myrtles First walk was fine. Then, in twos and threes, people were supposed to disappear. We all kept losing track of our numbers. We made the walk from the house, and then from the bridge, and by the third time we tried it all from the bridge . . . .

Thank God the sun set!

We headed out to dinner, giving the waiters in St. Francisville a bit of a twinge when we came in twenty-four strong. Had to eat, though. It was going to be a long night. So, a fun dinner en masse, and it was back to the Myrtles with the Peace River Ghost Trackers. They’re my favorite group; they’re out to dispel ghost stories as much as they are to prove them. But Scott, Sprout, Debbie, and Toni were in for more than they had bargained for; others knew about the expedition and piled back to the plantation.

No self-respecting ghost would have been caught dead in that crowd. Jimmy's house to New Orleans 050

Seriously, they won’t know if they have anything until they’ve studied their tapes and their recordings.

I will say, I was enchanted and I fell in love. It was like taking a step back in time. The Myrtles is owned by a charming woman, run by another charming woman, and Mr. Moses is the caretaker and cook. Most amazing grits ever! Everyone there was great, fun, and helpful. 

Jimmy's house to New Orleans 025 I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to take over the Myrtles again, but I’ll definitely head back. If you’re ever in the mood for some real Southern hospitality, stay a night or two. And opt for the ground floor suite! (Dennis aka Mr. Ripper had me scared; I slept down with Connie and my daughter Bryee in their room on the 1st floor!)

And what about you? Got ghosts?



February 20, 2011

Steep Insanity

Johnny Depp 
By Elaine Viets

"Vinnie, did they make the delivery?"

I was ashamed that Vinnie saw me like this: twitching, shaking, pacing. I couldn’t wait any longer. I swallowed my pride and went to see Vinnie.

"I told you, UPS doesn’t come until after five," Vinnie said. "This is the third day you’ve been bugging me. What are you waiting for?"

"Tea," I said.

"Oh, that explains it," Vinnie said. "You should see my wife without her tea. Or maybe you shouldn’t. It’s bad enough I have to."

"I waited too long to place the order, Vinnie," I said. "I’m out of my tea. Now I’m drinking that stuff they give away free in hotel rooms. After that, it’s . . ." I could hardly say the word . . . "Lipton."

"Is your tea that special?" Vinnie said. "Couldn’t you buy something like it until your tea gets here?"

"I could, but it’s $10 for two ounces at the Galleria and it’s not as good. I’d rather drink bad tea than a poor imitation of the real thing."

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Vinnie said. "And I gotta go back to work."

Vinnie understood my desperation. That helped a little. He’s the front-desk guard at my condo. He’s seen my highs and lows – when I’m happily hugging my box of new books from the publisher and when I’m cussing at creditors.

But nothing matches the steep insanity of tea lovers. My name is Elaine and I am a tea addict. I drink Dragon Well green tea. Loose tea, not bag tea. I use a teapot and a strainer. I import my Dragon Well by the pound from Scottsdale, Arizona. It has a street value of $35. I’m not bragging. I’m trying to tell you this is a serious habit.

Tea is supposed to be a civilizing influence. I am fairly civil – as long as I get my brew.

Red tea pot 
 I’ve read that green tea has more magic than Hogwarts. It’s supposed to make me look younger, increase my brain power, prevent cancer and wipe out wrinkles. I can say this for sure: I work better if I have three cups of Dragon Well a day.

Traveling interferes with my tea time. Most restaurants serve bag tea that tastes (and looks) like dishwater. Some serve tea in the same pots that they use for coffee. "Tea-fee" is a wicked hybrid brew, nasty as old sweat socks.

Then I stumbled on T-Sacs. Now I bag my tea to take with me. T-Sac tea is almost as good as a pot of loose tea. I’ve developed a little patter for restaurants: "May I have a cup of hot water, please? I brought my own tea. It’s okay to charge me full-price for tea."


No restaurant has ever charged me for hot water. Most bring me real teapots and even slices of lemon. I take my tea straight, but I appreciate their efforts. Occasionally, I’ll find another tea drinker and give them a T-Sac.

So far, TSA hasn’t confiscated my T-Sac.

I miss tea shopping. After my favorite Fort Lauderdale tea shop closed, I went online. I can’t smell or taste tea through a computer, but I’ve found some good ones.

Revolution Tea has an amazing Earl Grey Lavender tea in silky infuser bags. Numi tea (www.revolutiontea.com) Numi Tea has a spiced Ruby Chai for a cold winter day. (www.numitea.com)

They are pleasant diversions. I keep going back that Scottsdale company, Sir Aubrey’s Tea www.siraubrey.com.

I started as a coffee drinker, downing eight cups of newsroom coffee a day. Reporters take pride in drinking sludge. It’s a sign of our toughness. Shortly before I changed careers and wrote novels, I switched from coffee to tea.

Tea has more nuances. Like novel writing, it is rich in possibilities. A cup of black, bitter Lipton brought back memories of staying home from school with a cold. I was indulged with tea and buttered toast.

I married a coffee drinker. He’s a faithful caffeine fiend. Don says green tea tastes like grass clippings. I like snorting his fresh ground coffee. I wish it tasted as good as it smelled. It just isn’t my cup of . . .

Well, you know.

Tea plant 

February 19, 2011

Pick a Superpower. Any Superpower. Not that one.

Pick a Superpower. Any Superpower. Not that one.

By Brunonia Barry

Super Powers

Last week, A Marist poll revealed that if most Americans had their choice of superpowers, they would either want to read minds or to time travel. 

Really America?

I am fairly well versed on the subject of reading minds, being quite a talented mind reader myself, and, trust me, that’s not a superpower you want to have. Well okay, maybe I can’t read minds per se, but I did write an entire first novel about someone who can, and that’s just about the same thing, isn’t it? I’m telling you, America, someone else’s mind is not a place you want to go.  To shamelessly misquote one of my own characters, who, albeit fictional, is otherwise an expert on the subject: Knowing what’s in people’s minds is never in anyone’s best interest. This is especially true if what you want to know is what those people think of you.  

Why does it not surprise me that the majority of Americans who chose this particular superpower were women? Since we are so often accused of wishing men could read our minds, and since they always refuse to cooperate, I can only assume that we want to use our new found superpowers to unravel that great mystery, what the heck is going on in men’s minds, anyway? Something? Nothing? And are they thinking about us?

Well, my sisters, I hate to rain on our superpower parade, but men aren’t thinking about us. What they’re thinking about is getting away from us.

Proof? The majority of men chose time travel as their superpower.

Another big mistake. Sure, it sounds cool at first: Guys, history, technology, a perfect blend. But think about it fellas. As soon as it dawns on you that 1967 and the first Superbowl is as far back as you really want to go, you’ll realize that you’ve squandered a massive opportunity. Because if you can’t find some ancient or obscure sporting event on ESPN, ESPN Classics, ESPN Radio, ESPN HD, ESPN 3D, ESPN 2, or ESPN Desportes, then time travel really isn’t going to do it for you. Besides, who knows what kind of access you’d have to La-Z-Boy chairs? You might actually have to stand during a sporting event which would mean you couldn’t sleep during most of it and, without a rewindable DVR, you’d have to stop looking things up on your iPhones and actually pay attention to the game.

Therefore, I’ve decided that the superpower you men really want is teleportation. Ever since Captain Kirk was beamed up on Star Trek, you guys have known on some level that this was what you’ve always needed, the ability to get out of places in an instant. You could say and do whatever you wanted and then just be gone.

Women know this is true. How many times after a social event have we said to our guys “You went too far tonight when you said ...” and received the reply “Well, you should be glad I didn’t say what I was really thinking.”

Which brings me back to that whole mind reading thing. It’s just not a superpower we want to have.

Reading your minds right now, I’m sensing that you probably want me to stop the gender baiting and show you the list, so here it is:

Reading Minds             28%

Time Traveling             28%   

Flying                              16%  

Teleportation                 11%

Invisibility                     10%

Don’t Know                     8%

I’m surprised that everyone didn’t want to have the ability to fly. It’s practical. No more long lines at security or full body TSA pat downs. Soaring through the air with the greatest of ease and as much legroom as you want. And all for free? I would have guessed this would be America’s number one choice.

Invisibility is an interesting superpower. Everyone feels invisible at some point. But who would choose that one? Criminals probably. Writers definitely. This might be my first choice if it weren’t for the flying option.

The most interesting stat for me was the final one. What kinds of Americans don’t know what superpower they want? That’s just ridiculous. Our entire national culture is based on the idea of superpowers. Being one, wanting one. Not knowing which one you want is just un-American.

So step up Ladies and Gentlemen. What would your personal superpower be? Please don’t be constrained by the list above. Be creative. I, for one, have always wanted to be able to jump ten feet into the air and come down in the same place. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a pretty lame superpower, Brunonia. You’re right, it isn’t much, but it would be great fun at parties. Except for hitting my head on the ceiling. Well, maybe I’ll only use it at barbeques and garden parties. But you get the idea. It can be anything you want.

If you could have any superpower your imagination could dream up, what would it be?