4 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

February 25, 2011

Rose-colored glasses

by Barbara O'Neal


My name is Barbara and I am an optimist.

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine that!

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

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

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

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

Imagine that.


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

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

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

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


April 04, 2010

With Three You Get Egg Roll


HANK:  Do you know Julie Hyzy? If you don't, I am delighted to introduce you to one of the most charming, intelligent, witty and hard-working rising stars in mystery world. Julie and Karen Olson and I toured the hot spots of North Carolina together a few weeks ago--we were the Triple Threat Mystery Tour under the watchful eye and wise shepherding of the amazing Molly Weston. And someday really, I'll post pictures of the hilarity: books, barbeque, sweet tea, some wonderful bookstores and libraries and non-stop fun--but the photos are still in my camera, so you'll have to imagine.  Oh, wait! here's one, courtesy of Karen Kiley (xoxo) at the Cary Library. (Notice Julie and me, listening, enraptured, to Karen, while Molly Weston prepares her next tough question.)

North caro tour



So you see--just like any good writing ,the weekend has a theme! The Triple Threat reunion.

Yesterday, the fabulous Karen shared her tattoo secrets. Today, we're eggcited to welcome Julie. Yes, I can spell.  But that's eggzactly what I meant to say.




Julie Hyzy: Today is Easter Sunday, and whether you celebrate the day because of its religious significance, or just because you enjoy Marshmallow Peeps, you have to admit one thing: Eggs are everywhere. There are plastic eggs filled with treats, hard-boiled eggs colored in bright pastels, cream-filled eggs, and those superbly smooth Dove truffle eggs. Ooh… I could go for one of those right now.



Hank generously invited me to guest blog today because my latest book—the third in my White House Chef Mystery series, Eggsecutive Orders, is set just before the Easter Egg Roll. These books feature Olivia (Ollie) Paras as Executive White House chef who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time. Although we truly do have our first-ever female Executive Chef in the real White House, my books are fiction, and my President Campbell and his wife bear no resemblance to our current leader and his family. (Buffalo West Wing comes out next year and…cough, cough…that may change…)


Tomorrow, in the real world, in a tradition that dates back to 1878, President and Mrs. Obama will open the White House lawn for the annual Egg Roll. The event is for kids and their families—provided, of course, those families were lucky enough to snag tickets. As I’m sure you know, books take a long time to get published.


   Back when I turned in Eggsecutive Orders, the only way to get a ticket was to stand outside the White House on the prescribed date, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. The Obamas have since updated the process so that Egg Roll lottery tickets are awarded online. Now hopeful families sit at their computers with fingers crossed and hope for the best. So, even though it just came out, Eggsecutive Orders is already a little bit dated.

This year’s Egg Roll theme “Ready, Set, Go!” is designed to dovetail with Mrs. Obama’s mission of promoting kids’ health. And just for the record, the Egg Roll is no small event. There will be live music, cooking stations, storytelling, kids’ activities, and of course there will be eggs. Lots of eggs.


And hey… even the Oval Office is in on the fun. It’s in the shape of an egg, isn’t it?



When I was researching Eggsecutive Orders I discovered that the White House provides over fifteen thousand hard-boiled eggs for the event. Think about that. Fifteen thousand eggs. That’s one thousand two hundred and fifty dozen. When my kids were little and we colored eggs the Friday before Easter, it sometimes felt as though we went through at least that many. Nowadays we color just enough to make a pretty platter at dinner. But it’s still a lot of work.


When I envisioned what it might be like for my characters to produce fifteen thousand eggs, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that number. But I also realized that the White House kitchen staff does this every year as a matter of course. No big deal. Just one more “herculinary” project on their platter. So I decided to make things a little tougher—to give Ollie’s group an extra challenge this time around.




When Eggsecutive Orders opens, it’s eggsactly (sorry, couldn’t resist!) one week before the annual Egg Roll and Ollie, Bucky, and Cyan are hauled in for questioning, eventually finding themselves banished from the kitchen. Seems one of the president’s guests didn’t make it to dessert. What’s the worst kind of dinner guest a chef has to deal with? You got it—a dead one. Carl Minkus, head of the NSA, keeled over at the table, a victim of poisoning. And except for the kitchen staff, no one had access to his meal.



Fun stuff. Along with the dead guest and the team’s subsequent banishment from the White House, there’s espionage, Ollie’s mom and nana visiting from Chicago, Ollie’s frustrated Secret Service boyfriend, a couple of celebrity guest chefs with a possible motive, and an over-the-top newspaper reporter looking for scoop… all in a day’s work for Ollie. Heh heh heh. Why is it so much fun for writers to put characters in conflict?

I think that’s another blog.


Today—this Easter—I have far fewer worries than Ollie does. I’m carrying on a tradition set up years ago by hosting the extended family for dinner. I’ve owned Easter as my holiday for a number of years now, and although I can probably run dinner in my sleep I still worry about everything being hot at serving time and remembering to turn the coffee on before we sit down. Small concerns really. Even if I burned the entire meal, they’d all still love me…and probably even come back next year for another round.




But tomorrow—Egg Roll Day—just as Ollie puts all the pieces together to figure out who killed Carl Minkus, just as

she scrambles to make sure all of those fifteen thousand eggs are where they need to be, just as she brings the guilty person to justice while protecting innocent bystanders from getting killed, I’ll be here in my quiet house, enjoying the best part of hosting holidays: leftovers. Ham, potatoes, sausage, sauerkraut, lamb cake, jelly beans, and chocolate..



 For the record, I can skip on Marshmallow Peeps. But hand over those truffle eggs and no one will get hurt.


HANK: Thanks, Julie!  We used to make Easter Eggs by--writing on them with crayon? And  then dipping them into..something?  Am I remembering this correctly? Any Easter egg-making secrets out there?




Julie Hyzy’s first book in the White House Chef Mystery series, State of the Onion, won the Lovey Award for Best Traditional Mystery and the Barry, and Anthony Awards for Best Paperback Original in 2009. The series includes Hail to the Chef, Eggsecutive Orders, and (coming in January) Buffalo West Wing. Julie is also excited to announce the debut of her new Manor of Murder Mysteries. The first book in that series, Grace Under Pressure, comes out June 1st.

October 21, 2006

This Just In...

This consumer bulletin just in from Harley's sister Ann Kozak, warning women of a scam taking place in CostCo parking lots nationwide.  It could happen to you!

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I don't know how many of you shop at Sam's Club or Costco, but this may be useful to know.  Two seriously good-looking 23-year-old, well-built guys come over to your car as you are packing your shopping in the trunk. They are both shirtless and start wiping your windshield with a rag and Windex, with their highly-defined chest muscles and rock-hard abs exposed. It's impossible not to look.

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When you thank them and offer them a tip, they say, "No," and instead ask you for a ride to another Sam's Club or Costco. You agree, and they get in the back seat.

On the way, they start talking dirty about what they want to do to you.

Then one of them climbs over into the front seat and begins kissing your neck and begs you to pull over so he can make love to you!! 

While this is going on, the other guy steals your purse!!    Go to fullsize image

I had my purse stolen last Tuesday, Wednesday, twice on Thursday and again on Saturday, and also yesterday and most likely tomorrow.

July 08, 2005

A Note from the Book Tarts

From all the Book Tarts:  Like the rest of the world, our hearts and minds are with the people of London.