« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »

31 posts from October 2011

October 21, 2011

Big Girl Panties

by Amy Hatvany

Woman on luggage

Most people I know love to travel on their own. I watch my friends' Facebook postings and Tweets about their worldwide adventures...the places they have gone and can't wait to visit. They don't bat an eye at filling their suitcase and racing to the airport to catch a last minute flight, and upon return, they can't wait to leave again.

I am not one of these people. I'm envious of them, but I'm not one of them. Woman on couchI am a homebody. I love my house, my yard, my husband, my kids, my dogs - my routine. Given the choice between flitting off on my own to some exotic locale and staying put in my jammies curled up on the couch with a good book, I'd be hard pressed to pack my bags. (Vacations with my husband or group of friends are different - sign me up!)

It's traveling alone that lends me pause. I wish this wasn't true about me, but it is. I don't like the idea of navigating long security lines and having to find my gate. What if I'm late? What if I end up at the wrong end of the terminal and miss my flight? What if I get lost in a weird airport and I can't get to my event? What if my driver is a nut job?

Seriously. I think about these things. I'm kind of a wimp. Most people who know me would never suspect this was true - I'm confident in most other areas of my life. Perhaps it has to do with my being completely and utterly directionally challenged. Or with my perfectionism and not wanting to look like an idiot by having to ask for help. Whatever the case, it irritates the crap out of me to feel this way; it's a neuroticism I'd love to let go.

And since the Universe tends to dish up exactly what I need at any given moment, it's not surprising that October is filled with solo trips for me to Portland, Chicago, and California for various book events. I'm set to face my fears head on. Yep, it's time to put my big girl panties on at the ripe old age of thirty-nine and travel by myself.Heart underwear  I actually feel a little silly writing this (I mean, really, how how am I?), but if I'm not honest about how I'm feeling, how can I work through it? I've been afraid of much more daunting things in the last year - identifying myself as a recovering alcoholic was kind of a big one. I was terrified of going public with this truth, but I was also committed to the idea of the message of my novel being more important than my tender ego. Four years ago, I was afraid of getting married again after a painful divorce, but I loved my new partner enough to take that step.

Bride and groomI know from experience that I have to walk through my fear in order to release it - feel the fear and do it anyway. But knowing this doesn't erase the fear as I take that first step. Once I tackle these trips, I'll be better and stronger for it. I'll look back, chuckle at myself, and wonder what in the world I was afraid of in the first place.

All right, now that I've spilled my embarrassing phobia on the page, how about you? What fears have you overcome and lived to tell the tale? Please tell me I'm not alone.


October 20, 2011

Dirty Dancing


By Elaine Viets

Have you seen this French ad? The hot pink male stripper in the video has been viewed by more than 4.6 million people on YouTube. Last time I checked, some 11,000 viewers liked the ripped stripper.

Here’s what puzzled me. Some 200 disliked him.

Why? He’s not even a real person. He's a laser image. The dude doffs his duds in such a lighthearted way. Who could possibly be offended?

Men, that’s who. Okay, some men. This comment from TSLlol was typical. I’ll call him Mr. T.

"Wait a second . . . us males get dissed on for liking anime girls," Mr. T grumped. "But it’s totally normal for women to get wet over a laser silhouette guy?"

Uh, I know it’s a commercial for bottled water, Mr. T, but I wouldn’t describe my reaction as "wet." Amused, maybe. Tingly, possibly. But I require a flash of real flesh for anything stronger. Consider Chris Hemsworth, the star of  "Thor." Chris is beefier than Blond Bond, yet humorous and sensitive. I really admire his quirky eyebrow. You can see it here. 


But I wandered away from this state-of-the-art discussion of sexism. Mr. T doesn’t think it’s fair that women can drool over laser strippers in the streets of Paris while men are branded piggy chauvinists for eyeing a little anime.

Flopcat98 answered him back with this comment: "it’s a commercial," Ms. Flop said. "girls in commercials get wet over a new stain remover. But you have to admit its a lot better than those american commercials with the mid west bible banging censers."

Bible banging censers? I thought it was Bible thumping censors, but I’m not arguing with a freedom-loving sister. I admire her devil-may-care spelling and punctuation. I know Ms. Flop is a female. She appreciates the playful artistry of this virtual stripper.

Personally, I pity the poor TV commercial drudges who get excited over stain removers. Stain removers don’t make the earth move for me – they don’t even cause a teeny shudder in my lint trap.

But Mr. T is correct: There is a double standard for the sexes. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it, dude. YouBlue-martini-the-premier-martini-lounge don’t see me picketing Hooters or the Blue Martini. I think those places are Oink Central. Hooters is a stare-cation for the beer-and-boobs boys. The Blue Martini is aimed at suits who like their martinis dirty and their bartenders busty.

The results are the same, no matter how you look at it. The patrons are prime porkers. But as a true post-feminist, if women want to make their living that way, that's their business.

Mr. T, if there was any justice, the bottled water company would put up a virtual stripper babe for the boys, and we’d get to see Parisian men working their exercise cycles to watch a woman take it off.

I’m in favor of equal exploitation of the sexes. But that’s not what the company is peddling. Or is it pedaling?

Sigh. There’s never a copy editor around when you need one.


October 19, 2011

Sneaking Out

Sneaking Out

by Nancy Martin

Two weeks ago, alert citizens caught Michelle Obama shopping incognito at Target.  Thumbnail  Girlfriend, can I just say that I'm so in your corner?

OKay, I'm a writer who doesn't get out much.  Success in my career depends upon how efficiently I can keep my butt in this chair, hands on keyboard. I stock up on supplies so I don't have to leave the house until I run out of every atom of turkey and swiss, lettuce and my favorite rye-pumpernickel swirl bread. When at last I must admit defeat and go to the grocery store, I sometimes feel like Rumplestiltskin.  Last week I was astonished to discover that the seasons had changed without my noticing. Hey, wha--?? The leaves are suddenly a different color!

I can't remember the last time I went to the mall. (Although, Jackie, from Lands End? Thanks so much for taking my order so cheerfully! I've been wearing my old bathrobe foe 17 years, and it really needs to hit the rag bag.) But some mornings, I do slip into my yoga pants, zip up my anonymous black jacket, put on my sunglasses and hope nobody notices my hair.  I ease into Target, too, just like the First Lady.

Can I insert a commercial here? There's no place like Target for retail therapy.  I don't mean spending money. I mean just looking. Just cruising around to admire their latest design items is fun. (I did manage to see some of the Missoni ThumbnailCA2JTFHUknitwear that crashed their website.  I gotta say, it wasn't anything I couldn't live without.) I love their back-to-school office supplies the best. (Really, can any writer pass the display of writing pens and not stop? And for me, of course, it's Post-It notes in funny shapes.) Halloween decor is fun.  They've already got Christmas stuff in the back!

So I completely understand Michelle's choice in shopping destinations.  If you want to see fun stuff, pick up a few essentials while you're at it (Revlon eyeliner, where would I be without you?) Target is the place to go.

There's one big difference between Michelle and me.

Michelle doesn't shop for toilet paper or paper towels.  "It's one of the perks," she says.

Boy, I would give a lot for somebody to buy the toilet paper and paper towels for my house. (Would your spouse pick up a four-pack of TP without being asked? No, my husband would use every Kleenx in the house before it would occur to him that we need to be re-supplied. He believes in the Toilet Paper Fairy.)

I think "sneaking out" to do some window shopping is kinda like taking a mental health day.

Michelle says sneaking out once in a while gives her daughters a feeling of "a normal life."  Well, I think I disagree there.  Times have probably changed since I was Malia's age, but back then "sneaking out" meant popping the screen out of your bedroom window and slipping out at 2am to run the streets with your best girlfriends. Why did we do such a thing? I have no idea. We never met any boys, which seemed to be the plan. And we spent most of our time giggling in other people's backyards while the single police officer in our town cruised around looking for lost kittens or whatever he was looking for in those days. Come to think of it, shopping at Target is probably a lot more "normal."

I grew up in a small town--so small that there was no shopping to be done on Main Street except the 5&10. We had to drive 2 and a half hours to Pittsburgh once a year to do our "school shopping." But I spent a lot of hours mooning over the 45 records at the 5&10. Thumbnail  (I saved my allowance to buy my first Beatles album there.)

Can I admit to you, my friends, that I love Michelle Obama? She's a breath of fresh air among First Ladies, don't you think? I like that she's leading kids in jumping jacks on the White House lawn. I like that she usually wears clothes that come "off the rack" instead of accepting designer duds, and she wears the same stuff over and over like a normal person. I like that she gets caught visiting Target, not Saks. I like that she's smart and supported her family while her husband went around asking people to vote for him. I have a feeling she's going back to work when his term is over, too. (New Secretary of State, maybe?)

Meanwhile, I have sneaked out this week.  In fact, I have made the ultimate sneak-out trip.  I am in Texas, visiting my daughter and my grandchildren. (Bobby is now three.  Edie is eight months--and talking!  Her mom was a chatty Cassie---could recite the Pledge of Allegience at 18 months, but Edie can say "Mama" and "Bye" and her own name!)  Like Michelle Obama, my daughter is a lawyer (now teaching part time at a law school) and raising her kids while making occasional theraputic trips to Target. I remember packing Cassie and her sister into a stroller on snowy days and walking them around the tiny mall in the town where we lived when they were little. I never bought anything. Just walked and looked and felt glad to be out of the house. The change of scenery felt good. 

I think "sneaking out" to visit stores just to look around is a long-standing tradition, don't you? Good for your mental health.


October 18, 2011

We're Calling it 'Harvest'

We're Calling it 'Harvest'

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney, retail veteran

FalldecorationsIt's fall.  School is back in full swing.  Apple orchards are booming.  Corn mazes, hay rides, Halloween is in sight, and that kicks off the holiday season.

If you've ever worked in retail or in marketing, you know that the most important thing about September-December is sales.  Hence, the need to come up with a reason for people to buy more stuff. This year, it's the concept of Harvest.  Have a Halloween wreath for the front door or a pumpkin for the hall table?  Get with it.  It's all about the Harvest this year.  Fall leaves, tree cones, branches, squash and other fall vegetables, stalks of wheat or whatever - that's what everyone needs to say "Oh yeah, I'm hip to the home decor scene."  Or maybe not.

Perhaps in a nod to the economy, most stores and catalogs are no longer trying to push the expensive stuff - the Hammacher Schlemmer $5,000 life-size hay wagon, for example, is long gone.  Which reminds me - I have to say it - who in the HELL spends that kind of money for something they've only seen  on glossy, photoshopped paper?  Seriously! Must be that 1%, or their staff.  

Images-4Which is the other big harvest concept this year.  We the People (you remember us, the ones who sought to form a more perfect union, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility?) are finally starting to gear up to clean house.  For the first time in at least a decade, people are demonstrating - in large numbers and in an overwhelmingly peaceful manner, in an effort to get our elected officials and the bagmen who elect them, to pay attention to what is actually going on outside of their leather and marble offices.

It started with a young, grass-fed, I mean, grass-roots, group of people who didn't even have a clear vision of their grievances or goals.  And it grew - across the country and across the world.  There have been public governance and public safety problems (that is smooth talk for political chicanery and police brutality) but the movement grows.  Just last weekend, OccupyPittsburgh set up its formal protest area.

If you want to support these movements, there are ways to do it other than camping out.  They need supplies and water and blankets and all kinds of things.  If you do not want to support these movements, then stay the hell out of it.  Nobody is making anyone join, or camp, or protest, or anything else.

But pay attention.  This is democracy in action.  This - the peaceful assembly and speech of The People - and the resultant non-violent transfer of power that occurs with each November election, is our greatest gift.

Democracy is hard and messy business - if it were easy, more people would do it without bloodshed. And, as our young country ages, we are having growing pains.  It's a little scary, when we look around and realize our executive, legislative and judicial systems may no longer be truly representative. There is no glib answer, except that we cannot simply let it disintegrate into a form of government that no longer protects and defends the rights of all The People.

The answer is not name-calling or vilifying or violence - not that I don't personally enjoy all of those things.  Those tactics are the marks of the ignorant and close-minded.  The answer is peace and collective action - to take the country in whatever direction you think it should go.

Because you could have the most sublime decorations in the world on your front porch, but if the inside of your house is chaos, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.







October 17, 2011

My Tabloid Binge

by Harley

Last week I was reading my friend Gavin’s online column in New York Magazine, entitled “Why Stars Act Crazy (and Why People Like Me Share the Blame)” –a fascinating essay, illustrated with photos of Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and . . . Gerard Depardieu.

Charlie_sheen_twitterLindsay and Charlie need no explanation. But Gerard? Pardon my ignorance. When I Googled Gerard to discover why he was among the crazies, I was transported through a wormhole into the Land of the Paparazzi, thick with photos, links, slide shows, YouTube segments, blogs, vlogs, comments, more comments, endless comments. . .

. . . and when I emerged from the wormhole, I’d lost 2.7 hours of my life.

Maybe if I subscribed to PEOPLE I wouldn’t act like a starving, hormonal woman Lindsay-lohan-stolen-jewelry in a Godiva factory when I encounter a tabloid. Experts say that children who aren’t allowed sugar at home go crazy when let out of the house, stealing M&Ms from their friends’ lunch boxes. I am their literary equivalent. My subscriptions are Mystery Scene and Horses. (Okay, sometimes I buy Vanity Fair.)

I don’t watch reality shows either, which might explain how I once found myself in a NYC hotel room watching five consecutive hours of America’s Next Top Model.

So anyway, Gerard Depardieu. He peed in an airplane. There 79290503 are conflicting reports of why, but I’m not that interested. It’s only urine. However, look what else I discovered:

1. Ashton cheated on Demi. Although I can’t name a single Ashton Kutcher opus, and haven’t watched Demi since A Few Good Men, I now wonder, like 88% of the human race, Can This Marriage be Saved?

2. Rihanna doesn’t hate Chris Brown.

3. Robert Downey, Jr. begs Hollywood to forgive Mel Gibson. Robert-downey-jr20

5. Lindsay is doing community service at the Red Cross, because at the women's centre where she was assigned, people were “mean” to her. Next up: 120 hours of janitorial duty at the LA County Morgue.

6. Hilary Swank inadvertently went to the birthday party of Chechen president 692482-ramzan-kadyrov Ramzan Kadyrov, who’s accused of mass murder. Says Hilary, “I deeply regret attending, which has thrown into question my deeply-held commitment to the protection of human rights.” (Ah, Hilary, if I had a dollar for every party I regretted attending . . .)

Jean_claude_van_damme_diaper7. Jean Claude Van Damme, at the same party, told Kadyrov, "I love you with all my heart."

Normally, Jean Claude wouldn’t pass celebrity muster, but publicly expressing love to a warlord is always compelling. My personal A-list, like yours, is idiosyncratic. There are artists whose work I adore whose life stats don’t interest me. And stars of questionable talent whose lives fascinate me, the meaningless details, the eating disorders, the plastic surgery, the names of their pets.

And then there are these:

The 8, plus Jon and Kate. I don’t care. Kardashians, Teenage Moms, or real desperate housewives of anywhere? Don’t care. For me, reality show fame is a negative. Ditto talk show hosts and newscasters. Kathy Lee Gifford, women of The View, right-wing radio commentators, these would have to be serial killers to get my attention (except for Dr. Laura, who bugs me.) Speaking of serial killers, or anyone who murders or abducts a parent, spouse, child, lover’s wife or daughter’s cheerleading rival—even if everyone involved is photogenic—I’m not reading about them in the supermarket checkout line.

I’m old school. I like actors, politicians, religious leaders, rock stars, supermodels. I like Oscar winners and nominees assaulting photographers, trashing hotel rooms, bashing vehicles with golf clubs, shoplifting. I like religious fundamentalists having gay sex and tearfully apologizing to their flock.

I used to love the Royals, but I miss the glory days of Koo Stark, toe-sucking, and tampon metaphors. Will & Kate are pretty tame.

Mike-tyson-1I don’t care about sports figures. I don’t know why. It’s not like Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods aren’t giving it their all.

Ah, but Charlie Sheen? The gold standard. (BTW, I once auditioned with him. He was very kind.) Mel Gibson? An embarrassment of riches. Christian Bale’s rant at a crew member while filming Terminator Salvation was spellbinding. Arnold, Madonna, Britney, Whitney, Anna Nicole Smith. Kennedys! (except for Maria Shriver, who I want left alone.) Palins! Scientologists!

NYC+Jewish+Museum+Display+Dead+Sea+Scrolls+GE5hMl2U-9AlOkay, who’d I miss? Because I must stop now. I’ve spent hours, days researching this blog and now I need detox: a shower, a nature walk, an afternoon spent studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. Or viewing heartwarming stuff like this:   

(But please, please, if you hear anything about Demi and Ashton, call me on my cell.)


October 16, 2011


From Barbara O'Neal

Please help me welcome Barbara Freethy, a writer I've known since we were both kittens.  A prolific and versatile writer, Barbara has had one AMAZING summer, which has included putting EIGHT books on the New York Times bestseller lists.  Currently, she has three books in the Amazon top 100, all romantic suspense, including Silent Run, Silent Fall, and Don't Say A Word

Yeah, I know.  I might have serious envy, too, if she were not one of the hardest working, NICEST women in the business.  She deserved this a long time ago, and it's about time.  Go on, read one of her books--you won't be sorry.   Welcome, Barbara!

by Barbara Freethy

So I'm a Project Runway fanatic. I never miss an episode. I love the challenge of having to create something from nothing in a limited amount of time with very little money. The designers have Project+Runway+Season+6+Episode+9+Tim+Gunn+Workroom+21 copy
usually thirty minutes to sketch, thirty minutes to shop for material and then it's on. About halfway through the challenge Tim Gunn, their mentor, comes in to critique and offer helpful suggestions. Sometimes the suggestion is to rip it apart and start over or edit out the self-indulgent moments. His analysis is usually spot-on, and those who don't listen pay the price. But the part I like best is everyone's favorite line, MAKE IT WORK!

As a writer, I can totally relate to just about every part of this process, the blank page, the creative burst at the beginning of the challenge, the quick drive to find plot points and twists, the high dive into the unknown and then the middle … There comes a point in every project where the doubts descend. Where the plot suddenly looks boring and stupid, the pacing is slow, the characters are idiots, and one might ask why did I ever think this was a good idea?  But just like the designers on Project Runway, writers have to find a way out – they have to MAKE IT WORK.

MailIf a writer is under contract, there's usually no time to step back for a few months and just think. Sometimes you've already sold the idea, so there's no switching it out for a newer, prettier plot. Just like the designers often get stuck with bad material. I love when they come back to the workroom after fabric shopping with some awful orange wool and muse to themselves in wonder, "Wow, it looked a lot different in the store". Yeah, again, I can relate. Sometimes my stories sound better in my head than they read on paper.

But all any creator can do is persevere. Try and make the ugly pretty, the impossible become possible. It would be great if Tim Gunn could descend at just the right moment with his quizzical eye and make us rethink what we're doing, but in his absence, we need to do it ourselves. Every writer needs to find a way to step back every now and then and review the work with a critical eye. But it can't happen too early in the game. Sometimes you need to get far enough in to see where the problems are.

As a writer, I'm not big on outlining, which is probably why I need the MAKE IT WORK moment. I would love to be able to see every twist and turn of a 100,000 word plot before I begin. But for me my best moments come out of the writing. Listening to my characters, hearing them speak, sometimes being surprised by what comes out of their mouths, setting the scene, living in that world day in and day out – that's what brings out the best in me and my story. But writing this way can mean some missteps, so then I rewrite. Every now and then, I get stuck for a while. Sometimes I make the mystery impossible to figure out. My villain is so clever, I need to more clever if I'm going to figure out how to catch him. Sometimes, I put my characters in a really tough spot and again it takes a while to determine how they can possibly get out.

In my book SILENT RUN, the heroine is run off the road, and she wakes up in the hospital with no memory of wh Silentrunnyt120o she is or what she's done. A man appears at her bedside. He's furious with her. He claims she's his wife and she ran away from him seven months ago. He demands to know where their baby is. She doesn't remember him or a child or a marriage. Is he lying?  Or is she the horrible person he portrays her to be? I love this story, but it was tough to write. The character has no introspection about her life, because she doesn't know anything. She has to figure out who she is from the clues around her. She has to sift through what people tell her about herself and what she instinctively knows. At many points during this challenging novel, I would have loved to see Tim Gunn's kind face, although he probably would have said one of this other favorite lines, "What were you thinking?"

But as Project Runway reminds me, I'm the writer. I create the work I can make anything happen, and I can turn bad into good, sometimes into great, if I just keep going.  SILENT RUN turned out to be one of my best books.

Do you have any favorite shows? Any characters that relate to your life or inspire you? 


October 15, 2011

It’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down

HANK: So I'm in the big striped armchair, reading.

My husband says: "What?"

I say:  "What, what?"

And he says--"You're laughing."

I say, "Oh, yeah, this book is wonderful." I go back to reading. 

A few minutes later:

"What?" Jonathan says.

I put my finger on the page, impatient,  marking the place. "What what?"

"You laughed again."

Well, yeah. I had to leave the room, and go read elsewhere, else Jonathan would never have allowed me to finish.

I know it's not hip anymore  to describe a book by saying:  "It's X meets Y."  But if I said: It's Upstairs, Downstairs meets. ..Nora Charles?   Catriona McPherson's  new  Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains  is a little bit Agatha, a little bit--well, maybe a little bit Catriona herself, as I learned when I (as a complete fan girl)  met her at Bouchercon.

SO happy to introduce her to you! I either had to make her photo HUGE or small like this. Catriona (which is pronounced like the hurricane of New Orleans notoriety) is so very demure and to the manner born, I'm sure she'd prefer small.)



by Catriona McPherson

I have a new but dear friend, Eileen Rendahl,  (see below) who introduced herself to me just over a year ago as a writer of romantic suspense, currently moving into urban fantasy.  Boy, was I impressed.  (This is prosaic licence; actually she introduced herself by saying “Hi, I’m Eileen. I’m going to get some kettle corn”).  But the fact remains that this is a woman who knows her genres, sub-genres and the niches therein.  Looks it too, eh?  Quietly assured.


Me?  I know nothing.  A year ago I didn’t even know what steam-punk was.   (To anyone else as ignorant as I was: steam-punk is the other category of popular culture that’s not zombies) 

Okay, maybe it’s not true to say I know nothing.  I know my books were crime novels in UK and are mysteries here, but after that it gets shaky.

 I thought I knew a bit more.  Much as I don’t exactly love the label “cozy” I reckoned, when I moved to California a year ago, that it was the best way to describe my series to my hoped-for new audience. 

A reader at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco put me straight.  Apparently . . . it’s not a cozy if you nail a kitten down.   Not even if you just let your heroine detective discover a nailed down kitten, prise it free with a hat-pin and take it home  where they all live happ- 

Oh wait, no they don’t.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this fictional calamity.  Not a one.  In fact, some fiction was probably harmed in honour of animals, when I couldn’t move to check an etymology in the Shorter Oxford or boot up Google-earth to see exactly what some street in Dunkeld looks like, because I didn’t want to disturb the real cat who was sleeping on my knee.

Now, I could say I write traditional mysteries.  In fact, I do say it.  Traditional mysteries are described on the Malice Domestic website as novels containing no explicit sex or excessive gore and violence.  Kind of negative, but hey.

My series doesn’t have either explicit sex or graphic violence, as it happens, but here’s why.  I set out ten years ago to write stories in homage to the British golden age, following humbly in the footsteps of: Dorothy L Sayers, without the casual anti-Semitism; Margery Allingham, with less oblique dialogue, because I couldn’t be sure that my books would be read and re-read until they made sense (or is it just me that needs a few goes at some Allinghams before I get them?); and Agatha Christie, without the eighty published works and the West-end play (being realistic).   It’s because the crime novels published in London in the 1920s and 30s have no sex and little violence that mine don’t.  And no effing and jeffing either.

So when a fan of my 1920s series read a stand-alone set in modern times, she was disgusted.  Hurt and offended and moved to write and tell me.  The language was unbearable.  And not just the profanity, but also the sloppy syntax.  My classically educated 1920s narrator writes beautiful English: properly formed sentences with subordinate clauses and subjunctive mood and scads of whoms and whences.  She’d no more split an infinitive than she’d eat a pie in the street.  My dear!  My 1980s heroine . . . less so.

 And as to what genre my modern novels fall under?  I thought they were stories, maybe yarns, possibly capers.  Told you I know nothing: those aren’t genres.  But because I was a woman, they were packaged and marketed as women’s fiction.  Ironically, the first one was about time-travel and I felt as if I’d time-travelled my way back to the 1950s, clever lady-doctors, male nurses, and fiction that was women’s fiction because a woman wrote it.  Below, Exhibit A.

  GrowingUpAgainI rest my case.  (This isn’t self promotion: it’s out of print.)

 Flash forward five years and see me bellowing at my car radio during NPR’s All Things Considered last week when Jeffrey Eugenides (love ‘im) was interviewed by Neal Conan (love ‘im too but keep reading) about his new book The Marriage Plot.   Conan quoted someone as having said that gender equality had been bad for literature because marriage could no longer be at the centre of a novel in the same way it was for Jane Austen and George Eliot.    But fear not, Conan went on, because Eugenides had managed to pull off the amazing feat of writing a novel about love in which we don’t know, for all of its length, who the heroine will marry.


Screen shotSeriously.  A man has written a romance and thus proved that it’s possible to do so.  It reminds me of that old office-meeting joke: “Good idea,  Miss Jones.  Now, would one of you men like to have it, so we can minute it and move on?”

I’m pretty sure you’re not a cozy writer if you scream obscenities at NPR and blow a stop sign and then scream obscenities at the CHP because he calls you ma’am and makes you feel old and so he arrests you and you spend the night banged up in the tank and so you get your residency revoked by Homeland Security and you have to go back to Scotland and so you don’t need to wonder whether they’re cozies anyway.

I saw the stop sign just in time.  The rest was fiction.  Just don’t ask me what genre, okay?

HANK: I adore Margery Allingham..and confess to a huge crush on Albert Campion. (Leslie Howard, right?) Did you read golden age mysteries? What do you remember--crushes, anyone? (Roderick Alleyn? Peter Wimsey?)


Dandy_Gilver_and_the_ProperCatriona McPherson is a recovering academic and the author of six novels set in Scotland in the 1920s, featuring the gently-born but nevertheless pretty kick-ass private detective, Dandy Gilver.  St Martin's Press have just launched the series in the US with The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains.  A year ago, Catriona left a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in southern Scotland, and now lives on a ramshackle farm in a beautiful valley in northern California.  Cantaloupe instead of rutabaga - otherwise business as usual.




October 14, 2011

The Best Inventions of All Time, according to me

by Barbara O'Neal

In the days since Steve Jobs died, I have been thinking a lot about the impact of his brain on my own personal life. It’s big, I gotta tell you.  Originally, I was resistant to the lure of the Apple Man, but he seduced me with a tiny gadget, the Shuffle.  What walker could resist a machine the size of a half dollar that could be loaded with hundreds of her favorite songs and clipped to her collar?  Not this one, that’s for sure. 

It was the gateway drug.  A Shuffle led to a Nano, so I could mix up the playlists a bit. Then an iPhone, because who could resist a whole computer in your pocket?  And it was such a dream machine that I fell to a Mac for my desktop, this enormous, HD lovely screen and no clunky beige box to have to find a place for; and then….hey-sanna, ho-sanna, sanna-sanna, hey: the iPad.

This all started me thinking about great inventions, and which ones matter the most to me, personally.  This is my list. 

CamelBak hydration systems.  For the uninitiated, this is basically a backpack with a water 5715092288_b1a965c80b_z bladder inside, attached to a tube from which you drink.

This is the first thing on my list because I live in Colorado and it is DRY here. Before the invention of Camelbaks, a long hike required a silly number of water bottles in the backpack, and one always had to carry a bottle in the hand, which leaves only one hand free in case you need to scramble, and you may not know this, but even the weight of a 10-oz water bottle is annoying on the elbows after a few hours.  You feel it, the repetitive bend and fall.  Along came Camelbaks, in a zillion sizes, and hikers round the world rejoiced.  I have many sizes—a big pack for days on the trail, smaller ones for short hikes around town with friends.  The best part is filling the bladder about a quarter of the way full the night before and tucking it into the freezer.  Top it off in the morning with water, et voila! Ice cold water the whole day. 

This technology has morphed into a lot of things, but my heart-stopping moment was the day in maybe 1988 or ’89 when my father, a gadget geek from way back, invited me and my boys to come over to his house to see his new toy: Prodigy, the online service.  He gleefully typed in his information, and the computer made those little noises that later became so familiar to us.  My other said, “The computers are talking to each other!” and a chill ran down my spine.  The world blew open for me in that moment, and even though it was years before the rank and file had access to the Internet the way we do now, the road started for me there, in that dark office, with two modems talking to each other.


4439530234_c33f3d7d4b_zPizza cutter
I know.  Silly.  Unless you’ve baked 90 billion pizzas for 6 hungry boys and had to struggle with cutting them with a stupid knife.  My list, so I’m adding it.



Electric kettle
It used to be hard to find them in the US, so my first encounter with them was in England. Now, as I 6208103848_5a1c6ed1fd_z have mentioned before, I am a serious tea drinker, and I will not heat water for tea in the microwave because it loses temperature too quickly, so I always had to turn on the stove to heat water for tea.  Entirely inefficient. I love, love, love my electric kettle.  (This photo, thanks to Flickr, is from Ben Templesmith, who titled it, "Behold America. And electric kettle. You push a button and it BOILS WATER. #rarethingsintheusa. I can now work late nights thanks to this brilliant invention.


I’m torn on this one, honestly, because I am an iPhone addict, too.  My phone has a camera that takes amazing photos, which the iPad doesn’t do.But I love my iPad insanely. We are best friends. We go everywhere together, upstairs, downstairs, to the local coffee shop, on planes and in hotel rooms. It’s my own personal programmable TV, loaded with all my favorite stuff, historical dramas mostly, and some teen shows like Felicity.  It’s my food & exercise diary and my bank, and with the addition of the teeny external keyboard, my writing computer, too. I can curl up in my chair and be anywhere in the world and I can do it with my fingers and not stupid mouse. 


Other inventions
I asked my beloved, Christopher Robin, what his favorite inventions are. His answers:  microwave ovens, which saved him because he can’t cook, and 24/7 stores, which amazed and delighted him, coming as he does from a country where the shops closed at 4, and noon on Wednesday.  “If one needs paper hankies at two o’clock in the morning,” he said, “one can buy them.”  (What I think in reaction to that is, yes, but you have to get up and get dressed and drive to the store and buy them.  But to each his own.)

How about you? What are a few of your favorite inventions? 




October 13, 2011



(No woodpeckers were harmed in the production of this Poe-m.)



By Nancy Pickard

 Once upon a noontime sunny,

While I pondered life so funny,

Over many a cup of strong and caffeinated bean,

While I nodded, dumbly happy,

Suddenly there came a tapping,

Something gently rapping  at the wall behind me.

"Tis some little branch," I muttered, 

"A tree twig tapping at my wall--

Only that, and nothing more."


Ah, with horror I remember,

It was in the damned September,

When came this tapping in the Fall.

"Maybe it is winter tapping," said I, vainly hoping,

Tapping, tapping at my wall?"


But then the tapping grew to knocking, then to pounding,

Chilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors often felt before;

So that now, to still the pounding of my blood, I yelleth,

"Damn you, woodpecker! Stop entreating entrance to my chamber!

You cursed visitor entreating entrance to my chamber--

You bird of Hell, stop pounding at my wall!"


Presently my rage grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,

"Sir!" screamed I, "or Madam, your forearbance I implore!

But the fact is I was napping and you gently hahaha came rapping,

And so  faintly hahaha came tapping at my chamber wall,

And I've run outside to wave my arms and yell at you to



Deep into that darkness peering,

Long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before:

Could I rid us of this 'pecker?

Chase it, banish it, DESTROY IT,

Tiny Downy Woodpecker bringing down our chamber walls?!!

Holes it was a'pecking, pecking, pecking, pecking

In our chamber walls!  Counted I now TEN of them,

Ten holes widening in our chamber walls!


Back into my chamber turning,

All my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping louder than before,

"Surely," I said, "he has started now a new hole!

Let me see what fresh destruction this wee demon now explores!"

Rushed I out to see THREE NEW HOLES growing bigger



Bigger even than the bird of hell they were! 

So big he could have fallen in them,

And how I wished that fate upon him--

Tumble in, you redneck pecker!!!

Earth will see you nevermore!!

But no, he did not fall in them,

Merely pecked pecked pecked around them,

Widening their edges until the Raven screamed--

"My God, come look at this, Lenore!"


Which in fact, our neighbors do say:

"Do you know that you have 'peckers?"

Teeth grit we, and smile and say, "We do know."

"You should fix that, 'fore they ruin you."

"Thanks so much," say we, "for your advice,

But next time 'fore you utter it,


At last  I flung the shutter, when,

With many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped the cursed Pecker of the hellish days of yore--

(When in another house I replaced whole panels

That his kin had polka-dotted!)

Not the least obeisance made he;

Not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady,

Perched above my chamber door -

Perched, and pecked the g'damned door!!

Oh, all right, I made that part up.

Coming from my fevered tete.

He has not stepped into my chamber--yet. 

He merely taps, EVEN AS I WRITE THIS,

Even after filling all the holes he made before!

With sticky stuff our helper filled them,

Telling us the bird would hate it,

But he ATE it,

And now he taps some more!


I grow desperate upon this shore.

"Be this word our sign of parting,

Bird or fiend!" I shriek upstarting.

"Get thee back into the tempest

And the Night's Plutonian shore!

Leave no plume as token of the damage thou hath wroken!

Leave us broken! - quit our walls and floor!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and tell me,

I most piteously implore-

How longst wilt thee haunt me?!"


Quoth the rednecked pecker,

sneering from my chamber door--

"Hahahaha! Forevermore!"


October 12, 2011

Anxiety Dreams

Margaret Maron

Images-5 I’m late for my Spanish exam.  The class starts in ten minutes and I’m on the wrong side of campus.  Plus I cut the last three classes and haven’t studied at all.  Plus, I’m not sure what building the test is in.  I spot a classmate, but he disappears, so I keep running in the direction I think he was going.  I’m going to flunk!  I’ve never flunked a course in my life, but I’m going to flunk this one.  I’m going to lose my scholarship.  Only, where is the damn building?



This is when I usually wake up.  This is when I realize that I never again have to take a Spanish exam as long as I live.  But I do have to turn in a book in three weeks and I’m still 20,000 words short.  From here till then, I’m going to be running across campus every night in my dreams, in a panic because I’m late, I’m late, I’m LATE! 



But at least I no longer have the elevator nightmare.




I walk into an ordinary building and push the elevator call-button.  It arrives, it’s empty, it’s self-service.  I step inside and push the floor number.  The doors close and immediately the elevator morphs into the elevator from hell.  The top of the cage is open and I can see the cables and pulleys in the concrete shaft. They all look old and ready to break.  I can't trust it. The walls become brass accordion gates and the floor is nothing but rough-hewn boards with big cracks that let me see how bone-crushingly far I’ll fall if the cables give way.  Everything shakes and rattles.  I push buttons, desperate to stop at any floor, never mind the one I wanted.  I’m totally terrified and I awake in a gibbering lump of fear.

After suffering from this dream for years, I finally investigated nightmares and read somewhere that the dreamer can take charge.  At the time, I was skeptical, but the next time the elevator doors closed and the walls and roof started to disappear, I said in my firmest dream voice, “That will be quite enough of that.  Stop it!”  And darned if the elevator didn’t settle down, return to normal and take me to the floor I wanted without a single incident. Nor has it ever returned.

Unfortunately,  no puedo hablar español and I haven’t been able to persuade my Spanish exam to go away when I’m racing toward a deadline.

What’s your worst anxiety dream?