« July 2011 | Main | September 2011 »

31 posts from August 2011

August 31, 2011

Guest Blogger, Cherry Adair

Heather Graham: I'd like to introduce Ms. Cherry Adair as our guest at TLC today. Wait? You say she needs no introduction? That's quite possible. Cherry has received all kinds of awards and hit almost every list created for writers. And she does much, much more! Cherry isn't just friendly and kind (with a wickedly warm sense of humor, quick wit, and the ability to have you laughing in a flash) but she gives away "scholarships" and has "Pips" out there who win not just books in her giveaways, but wonderful opportunities. She has the same life were all living one--hectic, confusing, and torn constantly between or home situation and work--but she manages not only to produce, but encourage others to keep the upper lip, get out there and go forth, and be her "Pips!" And now, beware! The one thing Cherry isn't is shy! If you know Cherry, you'll already enjoy. If you don't know Cherry, you're in a for a treat. Come on now "Pips," pay attention!

Dawn  Living in Seattle, I’m used to rain, drizzle, downpours, showers, cats-and-dogs, sprinkles, and everything in between. Normally we have the hot, glorious sunny days of Summer to off-set 8 months of gray. This year, one newscaster pithily claimed we’d had 87 minutes of Summer all year. Not true - we’ve had 3 days of summer. Three. Freaking. Days!

Most of the time I don’t really notice the weather. Despite living on a lake with a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, I write facing a wall. As it is, I’m easily distracted. (Especially when I’m writing the dreaded first draft.) To be clear, I’m sidetracked by a worm crawling on a leaf in my garden. Imagine how diverted I’d be by a snow capped mountain reflected in the sparkling lake right outside my door.


I know I’d be much more aware, and annoyed, by this incessant rain if I had to drive to work every day. The closest I get to a commute is to put on make-up, dress and do my hair before making the journey downstairs to my office, which is just at the foot of the stairs. and a convenient ten feet from the kitchen. (A perfect location J) Instead of a lake/mountain view, I look out over my front garden.

Like writing (that #@%^* first draft), I love to have gardened (and hate to weed). And like writing, once the first draft, and clearing of the bed is done, you can’t pull me away. The fact that there have barely been any notable sunny days has no impact on my flowers. Rain or the invariable lack of shine, my lavish and glorious garden flourishes.

Bulbs come up where I don’t remember planting them, flowers bloom where I was sure I hadn’t planted anything, weeds thrive everywhere, and every year shrubs and trees grow bigger.


Glorious! I have to admit, I’m not terribly well rounded. I write 23/7, which means everything revolves around the book I’m currently writing, the book that’s coming out in five minutes, or planning activities around a book in the near future. It’s all about The Book. And having it be all about The Book means I have tunnel vision.

A garden is a metaphor for life. Rain or shine, good or bad, life goes on. My garden reminds me that to have a more balanced life, I need to tend to my family and friends. My garden reminds me that friendships will continue, even in rocky dry soil. But also that friendships wither if I forget or get too busy to tend them. My garden reminds me that with hard work (even digging in rock-hard, dry stony ground) something beautiful will grow. It reminds me that anything worth having is worth putting in a little elbow grease. It reminds me to be patient, and that while I look impatiently for that glorious orange dahlia in this bed, it might come up over there instead.


Gardening reminds me to be patient, to expect and welcome the unexpected. It reminds me that there are worms and gophers, slugs and bugs, but there are also colorful butterflies and shimmery hummingbirds.

So I go out into my garden every day, rain or shine. Summer or pretend-Summer. I pull a few weeds, I joyfully jettison a few slugs, and amid all the dirt and mud, slug guts and occasional buried dog bones, I am surrounded by colors plucked from the sunset, painted by nature. Cultivated by me. It’s satisfying, even on gray days, knowing that I worked my ass off to get it this pretty.


Like all things in life, we reap what we sow.




August 30, 2011

Disasters and Lasagnas

By Sarah

I gotta make this fast because I don't know for how long I'll have power. Living in Central Vermont, near  Ground Zero Irene, our lights have been turning on and off ever since winds started picking up early Sunday morning. Let's just say it adds a kind of urgency to one's writing.

Brandon Now, I know a lot of you live in Florida or out in the Great Plains of the Midwest where tornadoes touch down with alarming regularity and "Cat #1" storms are for amateurs. So forgive me, please, for acting like my nervous Aunt Betty who used to scream at every firework on the Fourth of July. We're just not used to watching our streets turn into rivers up here or our roads crumble like children's sand castles at high tide. All we can say is jeezum crow!

Snow, yes. We do snow well. Ice is never pleasant but we can handle that, too. A blizzard? Geesh, we're pros. Because we take that kind of weather seriously. We know from experience what it means when 8-12 inches of white stuff is blowing in overnight. It means load up the wood stove and hunker down. We know better not to run out in our skivvies just to see what it's like outside. Or to get on the roads because we're bored. But rain and wind? Not so much. Our attitude up here is - how bad could a little unfrozen water be?

That is, until Irene.

Which might explain why my daughter's boss at Woodbury Mountain Toys rolled her eyes when I insisted Anna stay home during the 35 mph winds and the rain that dumped up to 11 " in 24 hours.  Or why on our blessed local radio WDEV, to which I was glued during the storm, boneheads would call in to complain that they went out for a ride and "couldn't go no place" 'cause every place they go had either a log or a cave in or, shoot, a wall of rushing water.

"My girlfriend was getting kind of pissed," one caller said. "So I had to go home."

Yup. That's Vermont.

 Oh, crap. The lights are flickering again....Gotta shut down the computer and wait for the electric cooperative road crew to finish resting up..... TO BE CONTINUED!

 Okay, I'm back. Heard about Michele Bachmann's statement and figured it had to be hyperbole, no? I mean, what are WE being punished for - gay marriage? I'm sure that's why God has isolated at least ten Vermont towns and when I mean isolated, I mean not even the National Guard can get to them by land. 

A lot of people up here are looking at this latest disaster metaphorically. Vermont towns used to be Bratt self sufficient. You had your crops, your cows, your town hall and school. If you had to go someplace else, well, I suppose you could cross the small bridge, but really why would you? The only way Vermont became a tourist destination was because of the Communists. Like the Red Menace.

President Eisenhower, while fearing the military industrial complex, also realized that this part of New England would be impossible for the army to cross in a hurry should the Russians come marching in. So, he connected us to the real world through the I-91 and I-89 interstates. Until the late 50s, early 60s, you really couldn't get here from there because the towns were bridged by winding two lane roads that took for-ev-er.

Now those roads are underwater and the covered bridges have fallen. It's the end of an era, no doubt, and probably the end of what was already a touch-and-go agricultural season. Everyone at the farmer's market on Saturday was saying things like, "get the last of the blueberries before the hurricane" and wondering how their apples would survive in the winds.

Someone on my Facebook page griped that the Midwest gets this kind of treatment all the time and no one makes a fuss. Maybe that's true. But this is the biggest disaster to hit my state in over 100 years and I think it's acceptable to bring in some attention.

Now, here's my favorite video of the whole thing. Wait for the punchline because that's a quintessential Vermonter speaking. Enough excitement. Time to check on the lasagne.



Thank God it wasn't worse!







August 29, 2011

Sleepy Camp

by Harley

Last month my Book Group e-mailed everyone about the August meeting and I said I couldn’t come because I’d be driving my 11-year old to sleepaway camp. 50416_16554191852_1696533_n
Except that I was e-mailing from my smartphone, which changed “sleepaway” to “sleepy” without me noticing.

 And then came the e-mails from Book Group:

“Sleepy Camp?”

“Are there activities, or is it just sleeping?”

“Can anyone go?”

“I’m in.”

Book Group is moms who met when our kids were first graders. Most of us have 3 children. One has four. One has a singleton, but she does visual effects for films, which means long months on location. One’s in a master’s program, another’s working on her Ph.D., one has a husband who works on the east coast (we’re in L.A.), one’s surviving cancer. What we have in common besides 11-year olds is: zero spare time. It’s wildly optimistic of us to even have a book group.

When moms have no time, what’s the first luxury to go? Sleep. Flu-bed.jpg?w=300&h=300

Dads too—although sleep-deprived females are at greater risk, health-wise. But we’re all tired.

Back in my acting days, the only way I’d wake up at whatever godforsaken time I had to crawl out of bed in order to be on set an hour before sunrise was to promise myself naps. Which usually meant sleeping through lunch.

Siesta I’m a fantastic napper. I know it’s un-American; I believe I was switched at birth and am actually Mexican, or Greek, that my people were People of the Siesta. Anyone who knows me (Heather) will tell you I’ll sleep anywhere. Under a banquet table. Onstage, with an audience watching. At parties. My dream job is sleep-study research subject.

 If deprived of naps, I find myself doing small things over and over, like staring at the TV Guide channel, trying to understand this:

Xanadu:  Movie, Fantasy. (1980) Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck.  A mythological muse helps an artist and a former big-band clarinetist open a roller disco.

 Or pondering Celebrity Mugshots. Sorting socks. Studying the Costco coupon book. Eating chocolate.

People who sleep less than 5 hours weigh more than those who sleep 7+ and gain more weight over time. How is that fair? It's not.

Which is why the world needs Sleepy Camp.

Here’s the curriculum: First, everyone gets 10 hours of sleep a night, minimum. You return home with a sleep surplus, which will see you through until Thanksgiving if you’re very frugal.

Not that you must sleep at night. Sleepy Camp accepts all circadian religions. Nocturnal types can wander the grounds, practicing moonlight Wiccan rituals, or hang in the Lodge, where the Reschini Room features all-night Trivial Pursuits and singalongs with the cast of Glee. When sunrise comes, it's off to bed, with black-out curtains straight from Vegas.

Whenever you wake, there will be breakfast.

For those with insomnia and/or hot flashes, there is Sleepy Camp Cocoa, containing estrogen and melatonin with a splash of Xanax.

TempurPedic-017-776047 Beds are California kings, with a choice of TempurPedic or pillow top, water beds for the hippies, futons for the ascetics. Pratesi sheets for all. You share your bunkhouse with people you’ve dreamed of being close personal friends with, dead or alive, from Gary Cooper to Anderson Cooper to Alice Cooper. Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, the Hardy Boys.

Everyone thinks you look cute in your p.j.s. Bunny_pajamas

Because of the extra sleep we’re getting, everyone goes home 15 pounds thinner.

There are no hurricanes.

No outhouses.

No mosquitoes.

Proposed Sleepy Camp activities:


    Cookie Time


    Lake Fun (everyone thinks you look cute in your swimsuit)

    Library Hour


    Let’s See What’s Going on in the Refrigerator

    Campfire Rituals:  Camp songs by Stephen Sondheim. Ghost Stories with Stephen King. S'mores Julia-child by MFK Fisher and Julia Child.

    Other: ____________________[fill in the blank]


 Who’s in? Please specify roommates and activity preferences.



August 28, 2011

Seven Pieces of Advice to a Young Writer

Sara_Gran_043 HANK: To introduce Sara Gran, I have to name drop.

(I was once at an event with Paul Simon--no , that isn't the name drop. He was talking about name dropping. And he said the best name drop he ever heard was from John Lennon. Who said to Paul Simon--"When I was talking to the Dalai Lama the other day....")

 Anyway, this is just about that good. I was at the Agatha's this year, sitting next to Sue Grafton. (Told ya.)

On the other side of Sue was this very very cool woman, funny, hip, clever, and obviously a favorite of Sue's. I found out later, after a dinner full of dish and hilarity, that Sue, being asked for a blurb by Sara's editor, had almost tossed Sara's new book--without reading it-- in the "no" pile. Gran_cover Then, for some cosmic reason, decided to give it a go, and then--was totally hooked. Sue's blurb: "I love this book." Can't do better than that, right?

 Anyway, everyone else is loving the book, too--amazing reviews--and now, Reds, Sara has some Sara-type insight to the wonderful world of publishing.

 Seven Pieces Of Advice To A Young Writer

                        by Sara Gran

Ten years ago this fall I published my first book. God, am I old! But being old is fun, and I've learned a little along the way. I've just returned from a teary, emotional tour for my new book, CLAIRE DeWITT & THE CITY OF THE DEAD, and lately I've been thinking a lot about what I wish I'd known when I started in this business. Ultimately, that's a topic too big for a blog post (maybe a five-volume bound set would do the trick), but here's a few tips for all the kids out there with stars in their eyes and a contract waiting for them to sign it.

Ladies, what are your best pieces of advice for "baby" writers? Which mistakes did you make starting out?

 1. Trust no one. Horrible, isn't it? Of course, your agents, editors, publishers, and publicists aren't bad people (probably). But things change fast in publishing, which makes it hard for folks to keep their word. Every business has a bullshit factor, of course, but in publishing it's shockingly high. I'm not saying to close your heart or give up your compassion, but take everything, especially promises, with a grain of salt. Or an ocean.

2. Keep records. Lord, I know all you old hags like me out there agree with this one. Start some kind of a simple bookkeeping method to keep track of payments you should get and payments you do get (which may but probably will not correlate). Believe me kid, you don't want to be rereading your contract and scrutinizing royalty statements in ten years to see if you got that on-pub check for that second novel in Germany (and the answer is no, you didn't—because you weren't keeping records!).

3. Find your allies. In the crime and mystery world, most of the other writers play pretty nice. Trust your gut and find good friends. You might live across the country and you might not talk every day, but you'll need each other and enjoy each other as the years go on. I was just emailing with a pal I've never met, but have known for ten years, when both of our first books came out.

Your friendships with other writers will keep you sane, healthy and happy, and serve as your reality check when an editor tells you a check that's twelve months late is perfectly normal. But keep one eye open for the drama queens/kings, sociopaths, users, and social climbers, and avoid them at all costs. Stay with the nice folks. It might take them a little longer to succeed, but they get there eventually, and when they hit the big time it tends to last.

 Books_3_htm 4. Understand that you're in vaudeville now. Sure, you can be the kind of writer who stays home and turns down interviews. Or you can be that brutally honest person who says what everyone's thinking on Twitter. Sounds good to me. But you know what doesn't sound good? A day job! I want my books to sell and for better or worse, a part of that today is showmanship. Learn to give a great presentation. Buy some decent clothes for events. Tweak your natural inclinations to develop a wittier, less offensive, public version of you. Create a character you can play when you have to go out in public. Not only can this sell books, it makes it hurt less when things go wrong. And it makes it all so much more fun.

 5. Write what you want to write. Seems like the more books a writer sells the more people want to tell her (and maybe also him) what to do. "Sure, kid, that mystery was great, but if you really want to reach audiences you need to write a paranormal vampire thriller with the characters from Mad Men…"

Well, that might be a great idea, and I'm not saying you should ever turn down a good job offer; if someone wants to give you fifty grand to write the Mad Men vampire saga, cash the check, write the book, and use a pen name. It could be something wonderful. That's the short-term game. But never stop doing what you want to do, first because you absolutely have to or you will go crazy, and second because eventually, it'll sell.

The books that last aren't usually the books that people ask us to write. They're usually the books that sold two hundred copies on release and then went out of print for ten years. When Fitzgerald died his book were not, as commonly reported, out of print. They were sitting in the warehouse with no customers.

 On his deathbed, Jim Thompson told his kids: never sell my rights. That's the long-term game. Feed your soul first and the money will follow, even though it might take a while to catch up. In the meantime, enjoy the short-time game, too—it has its own charms.

6. Learn to love reading contracts. There's just no way around it. Find a way to make it interesting.

7. Have fun, and never forget how lucky you are. Old bitter folks like me like to complain, but you know what? I love this job. I have an editor I like and respect, a team I trust working on my books, I've made extraordinary friends and met fascinating people, and I just got a free trip across the country, during which my only obligation was to talk about myself incessantly. Sure, I've also been screwed every way possible, but that happens in other jobs, too—and besides, it was worth it. This job keeps you on your toes and never lets you forget that you're alive. And I get to play with imaginary friends all day—what other job can top that? Some people literally work in coal mines all day. Wow. I'll try to remember that the next time I complain about a late royalty check…

Ladies of Lipstick? What advice do you have for the kids out there—or for me?

HANK: See what I mean? Love to hear your advice...about writing--or hey, about anything! And please report in on your hurricane status. We're eager to make sure you're all okay... 


 Sara Gran is the author of the novels Dope, Come Closer, Saturn’s Return to New York, and the Claire DeWitt series (HMH 2011). Her work has been published in over a dozen countries in nearly fifteen languages. Born in Brooklyn in 1971, Ms. Gran lived in Brooklyn until 2004. Since then she has traveled widely and lived throughout the US including Miami and New Orleans. She now resides in the state of California. Before making a living as a writer, Ms. Gran had many jobs, primarily with books, working at Manhattan bookstores like Shakespeare & Co, The Strand, and Housing Works, and selling used & rare books on her own. Visit Sara at www.saragran.com.

August 27, 2011

The Mall Cop and the Wounded Warrior

Hi, Elaine Viets here. I never blurb novels unless I like them. I loved "Die  Buying, "Lauradisilverioheadshot_01WEB  the first book in Laura DiSilverio’s new mall cop series. It’s a good mystery for a good cause. Laura is donating the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Laura was a warrior herself. She served 20 years as an Air Force intelligence officer before retiring in 2004 to write and parent full-time. She’s discovered that "parenting" a teen and a tween mostly consists of chauffeuring them from band practice to volleyball to drama class and using the drive time to solve school/friend/boy/self-image crises.

By Laura DiSilverio

In my first mall cop mystery, "Die Buying," Emma-Joy "EJ" Ferris, a security officer with the Fernglen Galleria, likes her job, although it’s usually more humdrum than the military policing she did until an IED left her with a bum knee and a medical retirement at 30. 

 As a mall cop, she apprehends shoplifters, discourages teens from skateboarding on the escalators, and tries to catch the taggers spray-painting Bible verses on cars. She also copes with her 83-year-old Grandpa Atherton, a long-retired CIA operative who likes to "keep his hand in" by purchasing all the latest techno-gadgets and spying on mall customers and shopkeepers.

EJ’s boredom vanishes when someone "liberates" all the reptiles from the Herpetology Hut, known to the mall denizens as the Herpes Hut. The renegade reptiles include a 15-ft python. Then a body turns up posed as a mannequin in the window of an upscale boutique. EJ must quickly catch the killer since fear of another murder is emptying the mall faster than you can say "All sales final."

When the idea for a mall cop mystery series first popped into my head, I didn’t know why my protagonist, EJ Ferris, was a mall security officer. As I got to know her, I realized that being a mall cop was not the fulfillment of her life’s dream. Not too surprising, I guess. She was stuck as a mall cop, I decided, because of an injury. From there it was a short step to discovering she’d been an Air Force cop and had had her life shattered by an IED, as so many of our military men and women have.

 WWP exists to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of Wounded-warrior-logo wounded warriors in our nation’s history. Its purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other; and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. The organization has helped tens of thousands of wounded warriors since 2003. You can read more at


  Let me hasten to point out that there’s nothing remotely military or political about the series, but I’m donating the profits from the first book to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that helps wounded vets get their lives back on track. My husband and I are both military veterans (he’s still a Reservist and I’m retired) and he’s done several tours in Iraq. WWP is an organization we’ve supported for some time.

In "Die Buying," EJ struggles, as many injured vets do, to come to terms with the limitations that her injured knee puts on her. She has applied to 18 police departments in Virginia and been turned down by all of them. Despite that, she continues to think of her mall cop job as "temporary" and sends out resumes looking for "real" police jobs. She hopes that finding the murderer before the condescending Detective Anders Helland does will convince the police that her detecting skills are not impeded by her knee. She also learns to accept her leg’s appearance a bit more as she helps an overweight co-worker, Joel, start an exercise program to give him enough confidence to ask out a girl he finds attractive.

I hope you’ll enjoy EJ and her mall family, including her co-worker, Joel; her roller-derbying best friend, Kyra; the mysterious (and attractive) new owner of the cookie franchise, Jay Callahan; and the always worried mall manager, Curtis Quigley. 

NOTE: Read more about the series at www.lauradisilverio.com

August 26, 2011

DogLandia in the suburbs

I am pretty sure it is a covenant in my neighborhood that you own a dog. At least one, and we still smile indulgently if you have three, even three big dogs, as many do. I meet a great many of these dogs on my morning walks through the clipped and landscaped parkways of Briargate, because I am walking my own dog, Jack.  There used to be two, but Sasha, the sixteen year old terrier, died a couple of years ago.


Now, Jack is a chow mix. A chow mix who was rescued from a highway at five weeks and brought to me by my sister in law who knew I was grieving my old dog, who'd been put down six weeks before. Now, if you know anything about dogs, you know chows don't have the best reputations, and deservedly so. They were raised to be protection dogs for the Chinese royal family (or so I hear) and so they are both utterly devoted and very protective of their beloved. They are also very pretty, furry dogs, which means people want to hug them. Also, if you know anything about dogs, you know there are important socialization things that happen to puppies with their mother and sibling-pack between the ages of 1-8 weeks. Jack lost three weeks of introduction to Dogness. So, I am not only the emperor, I am his mother, and he is not a dog. Exactly. Except when he is.

So, I have a gorgeous, fluffy, puppy-looking creature that all children want to hug, housing the neurotic, nervous heart of a terrified pup who was abandoned on a superhighway. Not always the best combination of qualities in the suburbs, where every expects all dogs to be big hearted, friendly golden retrievers. I can't calculate the number of times I've seen a joyful creature flying down the Photo(2) paths, ears sailing out behind, tongue lolling, and the owner, seeing my apprehension, calls out, "Oh, don't worry. She's friendly." The trouble is, Jack is pretty sure that dog is going to kill me, and it is his sworn duty to protect me at all costs. He and I stop, and he sits down at my side, very close to my calf, and looks up at the bag of chicken breasts in my hand. I call out, "Mine is not, really. Can you leash her, or something?" (I do not mean to sound like a cranky person, but there is a leash law in this parkway. Because, well, not all dogs are golden retrievers, any more than not every girl is going to be Snow White, with long shining locks and a smile for every creature in the Realm.)

Photo(3) I know all the dogs on this route after years of walking them. Every dog and every human, but mostly the dogs, and I know most of their names, unlike the humans. We all walk our dogs every morning, somewhere between 7:30 and 8:30, depending on the weather and how long it takes to get breakfast. Notable is Jack's nemesis, Tiger. He's a rotweiller-ish mix with a brindle coat and a long nose who has to wear a nose harness along with his other leash because he snarls at other dogs. His brother is a dachshund who seems a bit myopic and never seems to notice what's going on until Jack and Tiger start lunging at each other. Their mother is a hearty professional woman of some sort who also wears her Avon Walk t-shirt, both the white and the pink (which represents completion) for walks. We don't get time for long chats, but I ran into in the grocery store once, and we were both proud of that accomplishment, a marathon one day plus a half-marathon the next in the high mountains around Breckenridge (from whence I write this piece, by the way.)

There are others--a pair of ordinary black dogs, walked by a vigorous middle aged woman in great shape, who probably runs Pikes Peak or something; a couple of Corgis on their stumpy legs, walked by either an old woman or an old man, both humans very hearty and plump, who like to sing out hellos! in a somehow British fashion. Sometimes I see the Airedale and his dad, a military man, jogging through. Once Sasha, getting deaf and hostile, slipped her leash and attacked that good-natured Airedale for no reason at all. I had to lunge for Jack, eager to Protect, smashed my face on the way down and cut my lip, while the military guy fought off the crazy terrier with a stick he carries for that purpose. Sasha finally gave up, ran down the path to be captured by a couple of old women. The Airedale was bitten and bleeding, and I called out my name and phone number to the military guy. He waved and ran on. Two or three days later, walking Jack by himself since Sasha was healing and in time out for bad behavior, I ran into the military guy without the Airedale. I apologized profusely, explained about the deafness and that we'd never had this trouble, and could I pay for hte vet bills? He waved a hand. "Things happen," he said. "I was a medic in Afghanistan and patched her up myself. She's fine." Which might be weird in your neighborhood, but I live in a town with five military bases.

My favorite dog is a black Scottish terrier named Barney. His mother is a 70-something woman who Photo(4) wears the heavy black sunglasses that make me worry that she has macular degeneration. She walks Barney in a stroller, and not a cheap one, because he has something wrong with his legs that makes it hard for him to walk for very long at a time. Mainly, they walk so Barney's mom can talk to people, I think. I see her stopped talking to Tiger's mom (Tiger and Barney are fine) and the very lean 80-something who walks the route by himself every day. Barney took a disliking to Jack a long time ago, so we don't stop to talk, even though Jack is now a very mannerly soul who has even been known to sit down on his own when we see another dog coming. But one day, Barney exploded out of his fenced yard and went for a run. The parkway would be safe enough, but there is a very busy street bordering the subdivision. Jack and I had just crossed it toward home when we saw Barney barreling down the sidewalk, hell-bent for the street. Except that when he caught sight of Jack, he made a detour and headed straight for my dog, who outweighs him by at least fifty pounds, deterimined to kick some chow ass on his once chance. Jack heard the challenge and took the stance, ready to kill. I could see Barney's mom running after him, screaming, more afraid of the street than anything, and I had visions of poor old Barney being eviscerated by Jack, who would probably end up being imprisoned and put down as a dangerous dog, all right in front of our eyes. Blood, destruction, death! So, as the ragamuffin terrier attacked the chow, I screamed and stomped and yelled and maneuvered to keep him out of the street. At one point, the terrier bit Jack's paw, and he bit back and my heart exploded, because it looked bad right across the belly, but finally the little guy gave up and ran back toward his mother, who was sobbing by then. A burly park worker caught Barney and delivered him safely to his mother, who buried her face in his unrepentant fur, and carried him home. Now, every time I see her, she says, "I love you, Jack!" And if she is with another person, she says, "You see that dog? He saved my Barney's life! I love you, Jack." Jack likes it. He prances when she says that. Barney sits docilely in in his stroller when we pass. There is no more snarling. They have evened things out in their own dog way, which as nothing to do with ours, but it doesn't matter. In Doglandia, the humans and the dogs together make the whole. Do you have a dog park or dog world you regularly visit? Do you have a dog that would not qualify for Dog Citizen of the Year?

August 25, 2011

School is Sexy

By Nancy Pickard

 I LOVED going back to school, and might even still love it--for a day.  Loved the excitement of seeing the friends I hadn't seen all summer, the smell of chalk and cafeteria bread and sweaty kid bodies.  Loved recess.  Loved buying and opening the new books even when they (usually) weren't new.  Loved seeing my class schedule and who my teachers were.  Loved the textbook stores.  Loved the new clothes, even when there (usually) weren't many of them.   Greensweaters
One time my mom bought me a loden green slim wool skirt with matching twin set that was supposed to wait for freezing weather, and I insisted on wearing it the first day of school--in September, in Kansas City, when it was about 300 degrees in the shade. I sweated, but I felt cool.  Ridiculous, but cool.  I actually remember kids asking me, "Are't you hot in that?"  "No," I lied as sweat trickled down my sides.

It's a wonder I loved school so much, considering how inauspiciously it began. . .

I didn't love my kindergarten teacher, whoever she was.  I don't recall that she had a personality; perhaps she got a transplant later.  I only remember lying on mats in a darkened room for naps, and I hated naps and could never fall asleep.  Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, Kindergarten was nice.  No, it wasn't.

I hated my first grade teacher, Miss Fricke.  She was a mean old witch who was forever adjusting her bra straps.  We girls used to crawl under the bathroom stall doors and chatter while we took turns on the seat, and one time, thinking a little friend of mine was in one, I bent down, peeked under. . .and there was Ms. Fricke with her skirt pulled up and her panties down.  Ack!  Childhood trauma lasting a lifetime!

I adored my second grade teacher, Ms. Sudvarg, who was beautiful, but so utterly selfish as to get pregnant and leave us.  The nerve.  I'll bet she loved her child more than she loved me, too, the bitch.

Loved, loved, loved Miss Perry, my third grade teacher, who was big and plain-faced and as kind as a human being can possibly be, and I loved tiny, prissy Miss Perry who was my fourth and fifth grade teacher and who even made geography interesting, and I had a huge crush on Miss Wilhoit, my very cool sixth grade teacher, and I hated and felt sorry for Mrs. Katz, my seventh grade teacher, who wasn't as smart as we were and who didn't grasp the crucial, life-saving importance of recess and had us stay in when she didn't feel like going out.  Sad-chinese-baby
Okay, this photo doesn't show a seventh grader, but I love it and it perfectly captures how a kid feels when she's DEPRIVED OF RECESS.  I still haven't forgiven Mrs. Katz, may she eternally monitor the juvenile delinquent's playground in hell, and may it always be raining there, and may the monkey bars be greased, and may fights break out every few seconds, and may the bell never ring to return her to the classroom! 

Not that I ever felt strongly about it, or anything. 

I almost always got a ride to school with my mom on her way to her teaching job in another school, and I almost always walked home, which was a lot of fun, especially in high school when we walked in clumps of kids and stopped for Suicide Cokes at Parkview Drug Store, or soft ice cream cones  at Velvet Freeze, or little red and white paper bags of popcorn out of the automatic popcorn machine at TG&Y.  ( Strawstick Tizzy, Giddle & Yiddle, as the father of my best friend called it.) A Suicide Coke, for the sadly uninitiated, was a Coke into which the soda jerk squirted a bit of every other flavor at the fountain, including chocolate, cherry, vanilla, and root beer. From Southeast High School to my house was a mile and a half in sunshine or sleet, and swear to god, I really did walk home in a blizzard one time. . .

I loved going back to school. Of course, not everyone was so lucky.  Where did you fall on the love/hate scale?

p.s.  Today, I thought I'd be live blogging hurricane Irene, but fortunately for Florida, she snubbed us and whirled on toward some of the rest of you who ALSO have my sympathy.  How's it blowin' or shakin' where you are?


August 24, 2011


Margaret Maron

Images-2 Although my mother always swore that I was completely potty-trained well before my second birthday, some people declare that I’m an anal-retentive when it comes to my file cabinets.

Before I became a fulltime writer, my favorite jobs were secretarial. I didn’t know shorthand, but I was a fast and accurate typist; and my bosses soon learned that instead of dictating very...verrrrry.... slowwwwwly....., it was more efficient to tell me what they wanted to say, let me compose the letter, then make their minor corrections and have me retype it.  I loved opening and sorting mail (authorized snooping!) and I adored filing. Bringing order to chaos.   
No wonder the mystery form so appealed to me when I did begin writing. In fact, my first novel, One Coffee With (now an eBook!), was loosely based on my experience as the secretary to the chair of the art department at a NYC college.

COVER01Coffee_FinalI ordered my very first file cabinet from a Sears, Roebuck catalog soon after we moved back to the States.  Four drawers, steel construction, $39 plus tax.  I emptied out all the cardboard boxes 320988-M labeled “Bank Records,” “Taxes,” and “Guarantees and Instructions” and spent a happy week sorting them into manila folders.  One drawer was devoted to letters from friends.  And because I had friends and relatives strewn up and down the East Coast, I began saving carbons of my letters to them so I could keep it straight as to whom I’d written about what and not repeat myself.  As long as I was typing anyhow, a carbon copy was no extra trouble.  (Some of you may never have seen carbon paper nor used a manual typewriter.  Get your grandmother to describe them to you.)  My letters became my journals. Images-3

Three years later, I had begun to write and sell short stories.  Because I kept all my submissions and rejections, I had to buy a second file cabinet.

A few years after that, I needed a third. I had become vice-president and then president Sin of Sisters in Crime during its formative, contentious period. I believed in openness and paper trails and I kept copies of everything.  Same when I joined the MWA national board in another contentious period.  My personal detailed records helped clean up a rather messy situation that would have dragged out longer without them. 

After 28 novels and 5 or 6 dozen short stories, my current office has 31 file drawers.  I’m hoping they will see me out.  All the SinC files have gone to the SinC archives at Douglass College in New Jersey and several feet of files—rough drafts, speeches, and business correspondence—have gone to UNC-Greensboro.  Lots of empty drawer space, right?

VdOtiZ Not really.  Our son is a father himself now, yet I still have the instructions for putting the training wheels on his first bike. I keep telling myself I need to start culling, but he was so cute on that little bike and my mechanically-challenged husband was pretty cute, too, when he turned the air blue trying to fix a broken chain. When our first video camera malfunctioned two weeks before the warranty expired,  I produced the warranty and saved us the cost of a new one.

I now have nine drawers of letters: four for mystery writers, two for NC writers, three for friends and family who don’t fall into the first two categories.  I have witty, funny friends and some of the friendships go back to childhood. It’s impossible to keep all their eMails but if an interesting or amusing thread pops up, I admit that I’ll print it out and pop it into the appropriate folder.

 When friends were celebrating their 25th anniversary several years ago, I dug out the letter the wife had sent me around the time of their fifth anniversary.  She was so much in love and so sure that the marriage was going to last forever.  I sent the original to their children who were putting together an album for them. Another twenty-five years later, she still gets tears in her eyes when she tells people about seeing that letter again for the first time.

Next to a good mystery novel, my favorite books are letters, but I have to wonder if we’re nearing the end of that literary form.  Back in the age of pen and ink, so many wonderful letters were tossed into the nearest wastebasket or used to Images-5
start a fire or thrown out in ignorance by the heirs.  In our electronic age, what will survive to take their place?  Will a biographer offer a telephone bill with a date circled to indicate that this was a conversation between two important world leaders?  Will 140-letter tweets replace the long letters Flannery O’Connor or Edna Millay or Raymond Chandler wrote?

Will we care?

If you could retrieve one single letter from the past, yours or some historical figure’s, which would it be?

August 23, 2011

News Vacation!

News Vacation!

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney

Images-2 In case you have no idea what is going on in the real world, we are on Day #2 of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert 2-week vacation.  When I lamented that my only sane source of news was MIA, a certain genius who will remain nameless (okay, it was Ramona) suggested a News Vacation.  Genius!  After due consideration (okay, five seconds) I decided to try it.  No 'official' news for a week.

This does not mean I am going to plug in my Dr. Dre headphones (no kidding, it is like you are THERE) and crawl under the desk. Although, it is nice and cool under there and sometimes when people look in they don't know where I am.  Anyone who has spent any time under desks can tell you that it's not a bad place to be, assuming you have a good cleaning crew.  Moving on.

What it means is that I am not watching anything that claims to be news.  I'm not just talking Brian Williams and  Diane Sawyer here.  I am talking all of CNN, MSNBImages-1C, Fox, the whole segment.  No newspapers.  Which is no big deal because we cancelled the local paper a couple of years ago when we found out they out-sourced all the support jobs.  No online news sources - NYT, HuffPo (home of the most misleading headlines on the web), People (yes, I know it's a stretch but they claim to be news).

This experiment will not work for everyone.  Hank, for example, cannot just stop watching the news. It's tough to read the teleprompter if you don't look at it.  Also, rude to just walk out while the rest of the news team is doing their jobs.  Same with our friends in the investment banking sector, whose fortunes can rise and fall based on a single news blurb.  You get the picture.

I am confident that I will find out the really important things without subjecting my brain to the garbage dump that contains the real news, albeit covered in crap. Weather?  Please.  I can see that there is a thunderstorm out my window, but thanks for the timely (not) emergency (not) warning. This weather news business has become a real life boys and girls who cried wolf.  Sports?  In this town?  You can tell by the flags and banners on the houses what is going on.

471859865v_200x200_Front Politics?  Good grief. I am already exhausted by Undecision 2012 and we are only in the third quarter of 2011.  World News?  Wars.  Economic crises. Anyone who doesn't think those two are related needs to take three big steps back and look around.  Local news?  It's a full time job just keeping up with my extended family and friends.  I do love my Regent Square Patch News, but there is a big neighborhood event this weekend, so I will catch up with Stephanie Rex and see what I missed. (Seriously - find your local Patch news - it's a great development in online communication. Here is the link to ours: http://foresthills-regentsquare.patch.com/)

In real life events, we are approaching the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I have mixed feelings about the upcoming media coverage.  I understand the 'never forget' concept - I have both the music and the t-shirts - but there is not a chance in hell I could forget.  But then, not everyone had friends and family in the towers or the Pentagon, or even in an airplane, that day.  Hell, some people weren't even born.  BUT-  I fear that we are going to see a lot of hate and fear-mongering masquerading as patriotism for the next five or six weeks.  Before you label me as a pinko-commie bastard, I must tell you that I wasn't kidding about the music or the t-shirts.  Or the donations to survivors and memorials.  I still get teary when they sing "God Bless America" at baseball games because I remember the time Ronan Tynan did it at the Yankees game in September 2001 - you could hear the anguish in the crowd's voices as they sang along, their grief slowing parts of it down to a dirge.  Hell, I get misty watching the Clydesdales tribute, and that is just photoshopped horses!  But I am also older and wiser enough to know that emotions are easily manipulated, especially by people with political agendas and tricky methods.     HPps_0401 I defer to the great Hagrid and remind you that "Not all wizards are good."

So that's my plan.  A week's vacation from talking heads and inflammatory headlines and useless dreck that pretends to inform and enlighten.  I feel refreshed already!

Want to join me?



August 22, 2011

A la recherche du temps perdus

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  The three h's are Horrified --time is going by so quickly--but Happy to be here today. Isn't it amazing? The crickets are cricking, the dahlias are revealing their colors, the basil is going to seed (if you're not careful) and although I refuse to look carefully, I swear I saw a leaf turning. But if might just be blushing in embarrassment about how quickly the season is changing.

Summer bain So today, we think of the fragrance of Bain De Soleil and coconut oil and remember the sound of the ice cream truck....but wait. There's still the rest of August to go! Hold on to summer...was  it a good one?   

Remember when it was June? What did you plan? Did you do it?

 HANK: June. I know there was June. I know, because I, um, what did I do again?

 HARLEY: I didn’t lose 10 pounds and I didn’t find True Love. I did, however, get my teeth cleaned.

HEATHER: I barely remember June. I know that I had a lot of plans that I didn't see through . . . there were a lot of conventions, and I spent a lot of time thinking that it was the last summer I'd get Chynna home from college, I wanted some quality time with her. The time has all slipped away, and I'm sad. I did get several great occasions with all five of my kids--and my nephew niece in law and the little ones. I'm grateful--even though I didn't get a lot done I intended to do!

HANK: Oh, wait! My dear darling agent sold my new book THE OTHER WOMAN! Hurray hurray hurray. BEST JUNE EVER. Or maybe that was May. Either way. It was at least two months of goodness.


Summer dentist HARLEY: See June; replace teeth cleaning with root canal.

HEATHER: I dimly remember it, yes, it came and went.

HANK: Oh, July I have down pat. I was working on a big big big project with a deadline of June 20, or something like that, so I worked ALL THE TIME, all the way through July 4th dinner party and the grandkids visit and several outings which I did NOT attend. I made the deadline, hurray, good for me.  And the project--is now on hold. (I got paid. Fine. I'm sure it will all work out for the best.)


HARLEY:See July; replace root canal with new crown on Tooth #30.

HANK: Revisons, revisions. I love revisions. I do. I really do. I'm serious! I really do. The book is getting better and better. If I do say so myself...and I'm almost finished. Very excited. And our dahlias are exploding. Very nice August. And still underway, imagine that!

 HEATHER: It's August now, and I'm in a panic, of course. Derek goes into his last year of nursing school, Chynna goes into her last year at CalArts, and I'm frantically trying to finish everything for our benefit workshop, writers for New Orleans. And of course everyone involved with me on the project is also panicking at the end of summer . . . .

What are you proud of?

HEATHER: Always proud of my kids.Summer midtown-963

 HARLEY: I took my kids on a great New York City adventure. They turned out to be natural subway riders. I could not have been more proud.

HANK: Okay, if we're talkin' kids...my grandson Eli is adorable, brilliant, and at 8 years old, he told me the BEST idea for a YA book. Truly, it's so good I can't even reveal it to you . I have to call him,soon,  to see how it thinks it should end.

What did you learn this summer?

HEATHER: That when you really see a problem, grab it at the onset!

 HARLEY: I learned I’m a lot happier when I’m playing the piano and painting with acrylics on canvas (not at the same time) even though I’m not that great at either one.

HANK:  I re-learned that no deadline is impossible. You just do what you can, and be done. (It happens all the time on Project Runway, right?) 

Favorite food of the summer?

Sushi HEATHER: Sushi. Chynna is a sushi girl, so we do lots of sushi when she's home. Seasons 52!

HANK:  Chicken salad. I know it's weird, but I never liked chicken salad. Suddenly, I do. Yummy chicken, yumy mayonnaise, yummy celery, and grapes.  Now I have a new mantra: "Know what would make this better? Chicken salad!" 

HARLEY: Frosted circus animal cookies.

Favorite drink of the summer?

HANK: Palmyras: vodka, mint, lime juice, simpe syrup. Also! Those little bottles of diet Coke? You can freeze them, til they're slushy. Oh, delicious! Just be careful openign them, they splatter. And beware of forgetting you're put one in the freezer.

Summer tea HEATHER: Of the summer, and always. Ice tea.

 HARLEY: Lipton Green Ice Tea, Berry flavored.

Favorite outfit of the summer?

HARLEY: White Dockers shorts; Cole Haan patent leather flip flops.

HANK:  I found this dress, I had purchased it last summer, and it wasnt right, but suddenly, shades of chicken salad, now it is. It's khaki, and wraps, and looks like a sleeveless trench coat. I've worn it about five million times this summer.

 HEATHER: As always . . . black.

 Favorite book/movie/tv show?

HEATHER: Shameless, great show, love it! Book--I'm reading a bio on Humphrey Bogart. Movie . . . I saw several that I liked a lot. My favorite . . . The Conspirator. Brilliantly told, historically excellent, Robin Wright just as I might have imagined the character to be.

HARLEY: Nancy P.’s The Scent of Rain & Lightning/Pirates of the Caribbean Whatever Number They’re Up To/Buffy reruns

HANK:  Oh, we got hooked on The Killing. And Zen, which was just okay, except for the third one, which was great.  Movie, let's see..oh, we finally saw the King's Speech. Yes, yes, we're SO behind. Happy that Project Runway is back! Books? I'm an Edgar judge. Nuf said.

What will you DEFINITELY do different next summer?

 HEATHER: Ohhhhh . . . been trying to fix me for years. I will try not to pull out my back again. It really hurts! Stretching, yes, stretching.

 HARLEY: Lose 10 pounds; find True Love.

HANK: Read while floating on a raft on the swimming pool.  It's so relaxing..and I didn't do it t all.Summer float

 What will you DEFINITELY do the same way next summer?

 HEATHER: Try my hardest to see all the people I love!

 HARLEY: Get my teeth cleaned.

HANK:  Finish my next book! Now all I have to do,sigh,  is start it.

How about you, Tarts?  Any summer memories, or resolutions? Favorites you can point the rest of us to--while there's still time?

BREAKING NEWS: Hank says:  I just had dinner with Carla Neggers (gazpacho, scallops with corn salsa, peach pavlova) She's such an amazing friend of the Tarts--and in honor of the publication of her newest novel of suspense SAINT'S GATE (which comes out tomorrow) she'll send a signed copy to one lucky commenter!