16 posts categorized "Diane Chamberlain"

September 16, 2011

Too Old for Peer Pressure? Never!

by Diane Chamberlain

  Diane on iMac

Do I look like I'm having fun? You're right. I'm not!

Remember when you were a kid and all your friends started drinking, so you started drinking? Or when they sneaked out of their houses in the middle of the night to meet at the park and you joined them? Or they dove from the cliff above the quarry and you didn’t want to look like a chicken, so you did it too? I guess that’s why I now have a Mac. Almost every one of my writing friends uses a Mac. My grown stepdaughters and numerous other family members use Macs, too, and Mac users are zealots, oh yes they are. How they look down their noses at PCs! I figured I must be missing something. I’d been enjoying my new iPad immensely, so when my laptop recently died and my desktop started sputtering, I joined the lemmings and jumped into the Mac abyss. Never one to do things halfway, I now have an iPad, a Macbook Air and an iMac. And a week into this adventure, I also have a boatload of regret, matched only by my determination to conquer this bloody thing on my desk.

Dropbox pic

I plan to stick with it. I plan to take all the workshops and the one-on-one classes. I plan to learn everything I can and become a Mac Whiz, but no one will ever be able to convince me that a Mac is more intuitive (give me a break) or simpler or more elegant to use than a PC. If it’s so intuitive, why am I stuck staring at a frozen screen five times a day, with a mouse doing unpredictable things and a message that pops up saying something like:

 Simply click &*$@%F1-#$&*F12

Oh please. One click of the mouse on a PC and whatever I need it to do would be done. (I tried several ways to get the actual command in this post, but Typepad wouldn't allow me to put the command/option/control symbols, so I had to make do. Trust me, it looked nearly as silly as the above. So silly I laughed out loud.)

Where oh where is my right click?? I know where it is, but I resent having to press a keyboard button and the mouse at the same time when a right click on the mouse would be so much simpler.

My few friends who haven’t yet been suckered into a Mac ask me “Why are you doing this to yourself??” Yes, there’s the lemming factor, but there’s something deeper going on. There’s the challenge element--a desire to keep my mind supple and learning. Angry Birds and Sudoku just aren't enough. If you want to stretch your brain, try learning a new operating system. I can think of no better way. Just be sure you take your blood pressure medication before you start.  

There’s also hope. The hope that Mac lovers are right and I will someday come to appreciate all that a Mac can do. One of those things is running Scrivener, a program many of my novelist friends use for organizing their books. I’m an obsessive organizer when it comes to writing a novel, so I’m excited about that possibility. Though right now, I have to admit the thought of learning a whole new program is not appealing. Scrivener will be on the back burner for a bit.

(side note: I just heard a yelp of surprise from my bedroom. I'm trying to train my dogs not to jump on the bed.)

Tinfoil bed

Back to the Mac. A significant problem I’m having is the keyboard. I’ve used an ergonomic keyboard for many years. It’s raised in the middle and the keyboard is divided. It’s perfect for fingers and wrists with rheumatoid arthritis. But finding a truly ergonomic keyboard that works with the Mac has proven to be a challenge. There are a few, but the keyboards are not split. Instead, they have a faux ergonomic wave shape. I finally found a truly ergonomic keyboard by Microsoft (the 7000 model). Although it doesn’t have the same functionality as the Mac keyboard, I can set it up so that it’s close, as long as I remember the Alt key is the command key and the Windows key is the option key, etcetera. The mouse that came with the keyboard has a nice feel beneath my palm, but it’s so heavy and clunky that I quickly reached the top of my cuss-ometer while using it and I’m now trying to use the Mac mouse instead. It’s too thin, so I must prop it up to avoid hurting my wrist. (propping here with Bland Simpson’s wonderful book on The Inner Islands of North Carolina, which I bought while doing research for The Lies We Told.)


I don’t understand Mac’s organization for pictures either. What’s the difference between the pictures folder and iPhoto? Is iPhoto a way to organize them? I had all my pictures copied over from my PC and some of them came over in duplicate and triplicate and quadruplicate—enough so that I now have over 13,000 images on my hard drive. I have a little clean up to do there! In the middle of trying to clean up last night, the mouse suddenly developed a mind of its own and began selecting hundreds of pictures at a time. I couldn’t get it to stop. Kind of frightening! Around that time is when a facsimile of the above message popped up on my screen (Simply click &*$@%F1-#$&*F12), but my non-Mac keyboard left me stymied. Since I couldn’t stop the madness occurring on my screen, I reached for my iPad, thinking I’d Google for help. As I reached forward, the crazy selecting process instantly stopped and the mouse returned to normal. I have no idea what I did to start it or stop it, but the next time something goes kaflooey, I plan to reach for my iPad again and see what happens.

Iphoto desktop image
Oh, and those "notes" on the right of my screen above were another thing that "got stuck". Clearly I'm doing something wrong.

One of my biggest bugaboos right now are these boring “aliases”. When I wanted to put a shortcut on my PC desktop—say I wanted to go instantly to my Facebook Readers Page—I’d just right click and create a shortcut—a simple Facebook icon, for example. But every icon on the Mac is the same and butt ugly. I know there must be a way to make them prettier and more useful, but it’s certainly not, ahem, intuitive.

I know what you Mac users are saying: "If she hates the Mac so much, let her go back to her virus-ridden PC!" But please reread my reasons for the switch. I really want to do this. I just desperately need to wail and moan for a while, okay?

My dogs and I are about the same age, if I think in terms of dog years. They've spent all their lives jumping up on the bed. If they can learn to stay off the bed, I can master this machine. Then again, they don't seem to be catching on to the whole tinfoil thing too quickly.

I’m done being a curmudgeon for today. Thanks for letting me get all that out of my system! I’ll spend the rest of the day ‘learning by doing’. Putting this post together on the Mac is the first step. It’s now 12:06 pm. We’ll see how long it takes. Then I’d love to hear what new things you’re learning these days. 

P.S. I think I'm finished. It's 5:26 pm. Sigh.


August 19, 2011

The Transformation of a Teacher

Mrs. Westpfahl was at least a thousand years old, tall and skinny with knobby elbows and old lady hair of an indeterminate color. That first day of history class—my least favorite subject next to math—she told us "I don't care what side of an issue you're on, as long as you're not sitting on the fence." It was my junior year and for the first time, we were required to write essay papers. Mrs. Westpfahl  taught us how to do it, and slowly a new world opened up to me. In the ancient, beautiful, and soon to be replaced Plainfield, New Jersey library, I stood on wobbly stools to pull down books from the shelves, searching their indexes for Jim Crow laws or the history of birth control (which had been legalized for married couples only the year before! Hard to imagine.) I pored over the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, thrilled by the fact that so much information was at my fingertips. I sat at the old library tables, the same tables Plainfield public library my mother had studied at forty years earlier, and wrote snippets of information on note cards, stacking them lovingly, watching the pile grow. I put the cards in order, created an outline and typed the essay on our old Smith Corona, never guessing I'd just completed a process that would one day be the same I used to write twenty-one novels (except for the Smith Corona, thank God).

2009 outline for work in progress
It was the era of the civil rights movement, the year Plainfield was torn apart by riots from which it's never fully recovered. My essay on Jim Crow opened my eyes to the roots of what was happening in my city and when I joined the marchers downtown, I knew which side of the fence I was on.  I went into my essay on birth control with the premise that abortion should not be legalized (good Catholic girl that I was) but as I researched the history of women's reproductive rights, I found myself leaping completely over the fence on that one.  

By the end of the year, Mrs. Westpfahl had changed dramatically. She was fifty-eight at best, slender, smiling, beautiful and wise. She's the person I think of with gratitude with each book I write, each newspaper I read, and each time someone asks me the question "Who was your favorite teacher?"

Who was yours?

July 15, 2011

How to be your Father

Dadme The other day I was organizing my office closet and stumbled across the following, written in my handwriting:

How to be Dad

-sing bless this house everywhere you go

-pray the rosary with mom

-dress up in crazy costumes as often as possible

-knock yourself out to make xmas special

-say your favorite phrase over and over, ad nauseum. but mean every word.

I stared at this sheet of paper for a long time before I realized what it was. When I moved to North Carolina six years ago, I was between novel contracts and had some rare spare time on my hands, so I decided to work on the memoir I'd long wanted to write. Not knowing where to begin, I bought a book called Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. This is one of my absolute favorite How-To books, not only for a memoir writer but for a novelist as well, because it delves into how to structure a book in a way that captivates and keeps the reader reading. I had a couple of months to play with my memoir, doing many of the exercises in the book designed to help me remember the events and people and emotions of my life. Then I got another contract (thank God) and set the memoir aside.

So here in front of me was one of Tristine's exercises: In order to paint a portrait of a "character" in the memoir, ask yourself 'how to be' that person.  Try this exercise with one of your parents or a sibling or another important person in your life. You'll get something different than if you just try to describe that person. I can almost guarantee that you'll tap into deeper emotions.

My dad died ten years ago at the age of 90. He often walked around our house singing Bless this house, oh lord we pray, in a resonant bass. But he was a school principal, and I heard from a friend who taught at his school that he also walked through the halls of his school singing this song. (I don't think this would fly in public school in 2011!). I could just picture this gentle man, so comfortable in the school he loved, filling the halls with his song.

Rosary At night, I'd hear him and my mother praying the rosary together in their bedroom, but despite his religiosity (he attended mass every morning), he and my mother were playful and actually a little randy, putting on risque skits at social events and taking any opportunity to play dress up.  Dad mom dressup With four kids, we didn't have much money but he always made sure there were tons of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning, because he'd shop the sales late at night on Christmas Eve. 

His favorite saying was "true happiness comes from helping others," and he said it so often that our eye-rolling muscles got plenty of exercise. But really, he was right wasn't he? And wasn't he the guy who gave me that book, So You Want to be a Social Worker when I was a kid, guiding me into my pre-novelist, "helping others" profession?

Give it a try. Pick someone important from your life and ask yourself how to be that person. You just might learn something about yourself in the process. And you'll get a teeny little part of your memoir written while you're at it!


June 17, 2011

Ebony and Ivory

Dreamstime_219872 Ebony and Ivory

by Diane Chamberlain

Your Opinion, Please!

Most often, I hear from readers who simply want me to know that they love my books. Occasionally I get complaints about a cuss word used by a character, or a reader points out a typo that escaped not only me, but my editor and copy editor as well. But in the twenty some years that I've been published, this is a first. A woman--Caucasian--wrote to ask me why I identify certain characters by ethnicity.

I have to admit, her question took me by surprise. Why wouldn't I, I thought? This reader found the allusion to ethnicity offensive, with no bearing on the story. I explained that I want my readers to see my characters the way I do. She pointed out that if I identify one character by ethnicity, I should identify all my characters by ethnicity. This might be a valid point if it wasn't obvious that my central characters are generally Caucasian from the images on my covers.

I explained my reasoning and went on my merry way...until my next book--the recently released The Midwife's Confession--came out. The woman wrote to me again, this time with page numbers on which I identified characters as African American or black. The midwife's neighbors, for example, or a male nurse in a children's hospital.

Thinking my reader was a little bit off the wall, I mentioned her concern to my sister who surprised me by agreeing with her. I have to admit, I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the whole conundrum, so I'd love your opinions.

As I've thought about the reason why I might mention the ethnicity of a character, I realize how attached I am to doing so and here are my reasons:

  • As I mentioned above, I want my readers to see the characters the way I do.
  • At times, the racial divide has been absolutely critical to the story: the post World War II interracial romance in The Shadow Wife, for example, or the racially motivated murder arrest in The Bay at Midnight.
  • I just plain like ethnic diversity in my stories, the same way I like it in my world. It makes those stories richer to me, and I like seeing how my admittedly Caucasian characters interact with people unlike themselves.   

My reader proposed describing these characters by physical features instead of by ethnicity and that could be a valid suggestion. I have to admit that in the writing of this post, I'm starting to sway a bit in her direction. Perhaps labeling a character as belonging to a certain ethnic group is a lazy way of describing him or her? I'd love to hear your opinions.  What do you think?

May 13, 2011

My Condo Needs a Name

Macaw landing Manderly. Pemberly. Tara. Every house should have a meaningful name, don't you think? Especially every vacation home. The summer house of my childhood, which I've mentioned in this blog before, was named Su-Nan-To. Built by my grandfather in the twenties, he named it after his wife, Susan, his daughter, Nan and himself, Thomas. Although the house has long been out of our family, we talk about Su-Nan-To as if it had been a member of the family.  

My first husband and I shared ownership of a beach cottage in Duck, North Carolina. We called it Macaw Landing, which might sound like a strange name for a beach cottage unless you know that my ex and I and the couple we shared ownership with had both lived in the same house on Macaw Lane in San Diego (at different times. It's a long story!) 

Now I have a little condo right on a North Carolina beach. Somehow, it seems goofy to name a condo and yet everytime I'm there, I feel as though it needs a name. It was the success of one of my books, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, that allowed me to buy the condo, so I've been auditioning the name Sea-Sea, but that's not quite working for me.

 I love looking at the names of beach cottages and imagining the people who live inside. I thought I'd share some of those names with you. My personal favorite? Beach Potato. I mean, don't you love it?   

Beach potato

This is the house to rent if you want to bring your pups with you on vacation.

Dogs aloud 
Then there are the names that give you clues to the owner's occupation.

Code blue

I like the clever personalized names, too.     

BettsWaynes worldMary's






Sands of keim

  Uncle tom

 Then there's folks just expressing how they feel about their home away from home.

License to chill
Grape escape
Tern here
  Mer sea

And then there are those that leave you scratching your head.
Sea rooster

Last night, I dreamt I went to the Sea Rooster again. . .

I don't think so!

I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board for a name for my little condo. But how about you? If you have a home away from home, have you named it? Or if you only wish you had a home away from home, what name would you give it?

(My apologies to the amazing sign artists. I wish I knew who you were so I could credit your work!)

April 15, 2011

Watson and the Snake Charmer

By Diane Chamberlain

When I posted about being a quasi-groupie back in the day, it made me want to reconnect with my old friend Marilyn, with whom I'd shared that adventure. Marilyn and I lost touch in our late teens and I don't know her married name, so although I've searched the Internet, I haven't been able to track her down. (Marilyn Butchko from Bayonne, New Jersey: if you're out there, please get in touch!) The experience prompted me to ask my Facebook friends if they'd been able to find people from their past through the 'net and I heard many heartwarming stories, but this is one of my favorites.

In 1964, I was a young teen growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey. Plainfield was a small ethnically diverse city on the cusp of huge upheaval brought about by the civil rights movement. To me, it was an exciting place and an exciting time to be alive. I particularly loved downtown Plainfield on Thursday nights, when the stores stayed open late and (it seemed to me) the teens took over the streets. One of those teens was a guy named Snake. Snake was a few years older than me and he was uber-cool. Well, probably the jocks and cheerleaders didn't even think of him that way, but kids like me--the mostly innocent pre-hippie, pre-folkie, pre-druggie ilk--all knew who Snake was. He was suspended for his long hair before the rest of the boys even thought of growing their locks. He was the quintessential bad boy--the guy you knew deep in your gut was really a lot safer than he looked, even if your parents didn't quite agree.  

Anyhow, fast forwarding a few decades: Snake is a now a Facebook friend of mine and when I asked my question about finding old friends via the Internet, he responded with his "reconnection story" with a girl he used to know. I asked him if I could interview the two of them about their relationship, so without further ado, here is their story. Snake's real name is Watson Garman, and even though he'll always be Snake to me, I'll break down and call him Watson here.

Diane: How did you two first meet?

WATSON: Late on a Thursday night in 1964,I was sitting at the Conca-Dorro Pizza Parlor in Plainfield. I had just enough money for one slice and a Coke. Two girls at another table invited me to join them and help them finish their pie. I wasn't used to getting a lot of attention from girls, so I was surprised, but naturallly, I accepted. We talked a bit and then one of them, Sandy, invited me to a party at her house for that Saturday. I never got invited to parties, so again I was surprised and again I accepted.

That Saturday night, I stood outside the house. I was a bit nervous about going in. On Friday night I'd been beaten up by some jocks from North Plainfield for being a "long haired faggotty freak" and I wondered what I was walking into. Plus, a friend's father had recently slammed his door in my face, saying he didn't want his son hanging around with any 'long haired creeps'. I wasn't excited about having another door slammed in my face or running into more guys who wanted to kick my ass. Eventually, though, I got up the nerve to knock on the door.

Sandy answered, gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming. She told me the party was downstairs. I asked to use her bathroom first. I was still nervous and wanted to comb my hair. Then I walked down the stairs real slow, scanning the room, checking everyone out. A guy and a girl sat on one end of a couch. The girl just  mesmerized me--dark hair, dark eyes, wow! Suddenly I noticed she was staring back at me and we both looked embarrassed and turned away quickly. I had just gotten my first glimpse of Carole.

CAROLE: Sandy told me she invited this guy she met downtown to her party. He was called Snake and he was really cool and he had long hair.  I was definitely intrigued to meet someone called Snake--the first guy to have long hair in Plainfield.  I was watching intently as he came down the basement stairs.  Halfway down the stairs he stopped to look around the room.  Our eyes met briefly and then we both looked away.  For me it was out of embarrassment because I didn't want him to think I was interested.  But I couldn't keep my eyes off him.  I never imagined he might be checking me out too.  

WATSON: Sandy led me around the room, introducing me to everyone. I was hoping the guy sitting next to Carole wasn't her boyfriend. When we got to them, Sandy said 'this is my friend Carole.' I took her hand and looked into her eyes and said 'I'm very happy to meet you.' She looked at me and said 'pleased to meet you too'. Reluctantly, I let go of her hand as Sandy introduced me to the guy sitting next to her. I tried to hide my elation when she didn't say he was Carole's boyfriend. Then I had to formulate a plan: How could I get her away from the guy on the couch?

I noticed their sodas were almost gone so I sat on the floor between them and where Sandy had the drinks. I figured if he went for the drinks, I'd go for the couch. If she went for them, I'd intercept her before she got back to the couch. If they went together, I'd have to come up with another plan.

CAROLE: He took a seat on the floor, and I sat there wondering if he would even talk to me.  You know the angst of a 15 yr old girl, right?  After about 15 minutes when he didn't come over I decided to try something to get him to notice me.  So, I got up from the couch and walked close by him to get a soda.  I purposely walked back by him and he suddenly reached for my hand and said something like, "Would like to join me on the floor?" Without hesitation I replied "I'd love to".  

WATSON: I was stunned when she said yes. Still holding her hand, I guided her down so she sat facing me and with her back to the guy on the couch. VICTORY!

CAROLE: Yes,  he wouldn't just let me plop down where I was standing.  In a gallant gesture, he led me by the hand, circling him until I was on the opposite side.  Then he gestured for me to sit.  At that point I was pretty much gone.  He tells me now he purposely placed me on the opposite side so that I couldn't see the guy I had been sitting next to on the couch.   To this day I can't remember that guy.  Once our eyes locked on that staircase, Snake was all I saw. 

WATSON: We talked for a long time about music, movies, school. All the topics that seem important when you're young.

CAROLE: We spent the rest of the party talking and having so much fun. I found out we both had passions for great literature and all the new and old rock and folk music which is what really connected us at first.  I remember thinking there probably were many people in town that just dismissed him because they thought that with a name like Snake, how intelligent could this guy be?  But as we talked and got to know each other more it was clear to me this guy was not only great looking and a charmer, but very smart too.  I was having the time of my life. I was still not sure how he felt, but obviously I was hooked. 

WATSON: I didn't want to push my luck, so after about an hour I told her, "your friend on the couch is shooting me dirty looks. If you want to go back to the couch, I understand." She looked and me and said, "I'm having a wonderful time right here." WOW! I couldn't believe it. She actually wanted to stay with me. I was flying.

CAROLE: I stayed there the rest of the night, oblivious to anyone else in the room.  

WATSON: When I noticed people were starting to leave I leaned over and asked her, "May I kiss you?"

CAROLE: I told him that most guys don't ask.  He just said "I'm not like most guys." (such an understatement!).  I said yes. 

WATSON: We then shared the first truly romantic kiss of my life and then we spent the next few seconds in silence, just looking at each other.

CAROLE: We kissed again, this time a little longer.  We kissed a few more times before he left but I never got over that first kiss with him.

WATSON: I asked her if I could walk her home, but she said she was spending the night at Sandy's with another friend.  

CAROLE: He took my phone number and said he would call.  I wasn't sure if I should believe him but I hoped he would.

WATSON: I left the party and started to walk down the street. After half a block, I turned and walked back. I leaned up against a tree and just looked the house. An upstairs light went on and I knew that must be where the girls were staying. I thought they must be talking about me and wondered what they were saying to Carole. Were they thinking it was cool that we hooked up or were they warning her to watch out for me? After awhile, I headed home singing out loud a song that had been playing on the radio earlier that day: Herman's Hermits I'm Into Something Good.

DIANE: -What was your relationship like back then? Why did it end?

CAROLE; It was a week before he called.  I was miserable that week, figuring he never would call.  But he did.  And we met across from the diner on Saturday.  He grabbed my hand and led me to Woolworth's, telling me "Let's go get our picture made!"  I thought that was a little strange but exciting too.  

  Carole and Watson 1964

 WATSON:  I thought of her as my girl friend and there was a lot of holding hands and kissing. I liked showing her the places I hung out.  It was a sweet and innocent relationship.

CAROLE: It was only 2-3 months before my Dad transferred to Oklahoma City and I had to move.  We never told each other how we felt about each other.  You know--as kids you just didn't put your heart out there like that. 

DIANE: -Did you think about each other over the years?

WATSON:   I often thought about Carole and wondered where she was. I even got an Oklahoma City phone book and tried calling all the people with her surname in there. I figured she was probably married and had a new name but I thought I might at least find her family. I just wanted to know that she was happy. Once I was doing a photo shoot on top of one of the largest buidings in Los Angeles. Somehow people started talking about old boyfriends/girlfriends we'd like to see again. Just before we left the building I went over to edge, faced east and yelled out loud, "Carole, where are you?"

CAROLE: I moved on. I married a wonderful guy and had a great life with him for a very long time, but I never forgot about Snake.  I just couldn't get rid of his letters and pictures after I married like they say you should, so I kept them hidden away. I'd occasionally get them out and wonder what had happened to him. 

DIANE:Who started looking for the other first?

CAROLE: I got amicably divorced in 1996.  In 2000 a couple of Plainfield friends I kept in touch with told me they thought Snake was dead, killed in Vietnam.  For some weird reason I didn't believe it.  Something told me he was still alive somewhere.  When I found Classmates.com, I decided to put a message on the Plainfield High School site to see if anyone knew what had happened to him.  I got lots of responses.  Finally someone said they thought he was living in California with his wife and daughter.  I was happy to know he was alive.  Eventually I gave up my Classmates membership and never looked at that message string again. 

DIANE: How did you find each other again?

WATSON: Eventually, I saw the thread about me on the Classmates.com site and I sent her a message. Two weeks went by without a reply, so I decided to give it one more try.

CAROLE: I had moved to Houston in 2001 and had a new email address with my new Internet access, but I never looked at it.  One night I decided to go to that account and delete all the accumulated junk mail, you know?  There were about 500-600 emails and I was just quickly checking them for deletion.  Suddenly, one of them got my attention.  The last name was Garman. I had already checked it for deletion but luckily had not yet deleted it.  It took me about 5 minutes to get the nerve up to open it.   I don’t know why I was scared but I knew that once I opened that email I would be either very excited or very disappointed.  Either way I just knew my life would be forever impacted by it.  It read, “I don’t know if you remember me but we dated in Plainfield.  I just wanted you to know you were always very special to me and I kept your pictures in my wallet for 20 years.”  To this day I think about how close we came to missing each other.  I would never have known how much he cared for me all those years ago. 

 DIANE: When did you know you wanted to make a go of your relationship?

WATSON: After we started e-mailing, our notes got flirtatious in very short order.

 CAROLE: Yes, within a couple of emails we were flirting again and we quickly changed from emails to phone calls. He was in the middle of getting a divorce, I was divorced.  He happened to be living just a two-hour flight from me. Within a couple of months I knew I was getting hung up on him all over again.  I knew we had to see each other at least one time.  So 2 months after that first email, he came to Dallas.  Of course we were both nervous and scared.  Neither one of us looked the same as we did 42 years ago.   What would happen when we actually saw each other again?   He told me I would know him because he would be the guy wearing a black cowboy hat.  I told him "you’re coming to Dallas…that won’t exactly set you apart from the crowd at the airport, you know."  

WATSON: I was scared shitless! I was no longer that 17-year-old kid she met at that party. I knew either way it was going to be a life changing event. Either the magic would still be there or she would take one look at me and say "what the hell was I thinking?"

That walk from the plane to the baggage area, where I knew she was waiting, was one of the longest walks of my life.

CAROLE: The airport is called Love Field.  Isn’t that crazy?

WATSON: We saw each other and rushed into each other's arms like a scene in some old film on Turner Classic Movies, and I felt that things just might work out. It only took a matter of hours for us to know that something was happening.

CAROLE: We  had a wonderful weekend. 

WATSON: It really hit me when it came time for me to go back to Albuquerque that I didn't want to get on that plane.
CAROLE: We were both so sad when he had to leave on Sunday.  He came back every 2 months for the next year.  Within a couple of visits we knew he was going to eventually come here after his divorce was final.  Almost 1 year to the day of that email, he moved here and we have been having the time of our lives ever since! 

  Carole and Wats Black and White

Watson Carole Romance

What more is there to say? Thank you, Snake and Carole, for sharing your story and your wonderful pictures. I love it!

So how about the rest of you? Who have you reconnected with on the Internet?

April 10, 2011

Where in the World are the Tarts?

Brunonia Barry Barry_mapoftrueplaces
I've been on the paperback book tour for The Map of True Places. Or rather, I should call it the culinary tour of Connecticut and Vermont. Great stores, great people, and great food and wine at about nine PM every night. I tried, Weight Watchers, I really tried! But it's just not hospitable to refuse these local favorites. Local Vermont Cheeses and maple cured sausages? Okay, so maybe that was breakfast, but you get the idea. I'm back home for a few days, hitting the treadmill and the bike and eating my five point Think Thin bars. More tour to come, but I'm determined. Thank God I'm not going south this time. On my last tour, I went to Charleston and New Orleans. Weight Watchers didn't stand a chance.


Viets_Uplift Elaine Viets    
I'm spending this weekend in my hometown, St. Louis, at the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference, where I'll get to see Nancy Pickard, another featured speaker. I hope I didn't disgrace myself giving the keynote speech at the banquet last night. I promised the conference organizers my talk would be mercifully short. Sunday morning, I teach a three-hour master's class on creating characters. Then I fly home to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines. That's the airline that had a plane with a huge hole in the fuselage. Don assures me the flight will be perfectly safe. I told him if I die in a plane crash, I will haunt him for the rest of his days. At night, he will hear me whispering "I told you so."


Barbara O’Neal HowToBake
I am cooking for zillions, cleaning my house because it hasn't really been cleaned since I went underground to finish the current book two months ago.  (It is not finished, BTW.) There is a wedding this week.  My son and his smart, tough, beautiful fiance, whose mother referred to her as "ours."  Doesn't get any better than this, I promise you.   Next week, I'll get back to finishing the book.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have some bacon jam that needs to go in the crockpot.....


Kindred Spirits_lowres Sarah Strohmeyer
I am on deadline for my YA book Smart Girls Get Everything!

[Yet she had time to look up the recipe for Barbara’s Bacon Jam to post on Facebook.][Sarah's link broke, but this is another recipe.]


I'm hunkered down with the windows closed, praying for rain, waiting out pine pollen season. Another week should do it. These pine trees are way oversexed. No wonder they're the first trees to grow in a barren field.
Tomorrow, I'm off to a week-long retreat with some of my writer friends, so I'm packing the car with computer, notebooks, bedlinens, a 12-pack of Pepsis,a bottle of bourbon and a frozen casserole for the night when it's my turn to cook supper. (No Cheetos though. Gave them up for Lent.) I hope to come home with 5000 more words on my 2012 book and a good sense of where the book's going.


[When I asked the Tarts to write these, I sent a reply to Margaret that I had problems with alder tree pollen and had in Washington State, Vermont and California. To which Diane chimed in…]


Chamberlain_midwife Diane Chamberlain
No no, Holly, you don't understand what Margaret is talking about. The pine pollen isn't the make-you-sneeze type. it's the takes-over-the-entire-world type. I made the mistake of opening my office window yesterday and by evening a layer of yellow dust was on every sheet of paper and piece of equipment and ME in my office. I’d covered all the porch furniture with green sheets that are now completely yellow. I've lived lots of places but never experienced anything like this till moving to NC. So this time of year, when you long to open the windows, you must fight the urge and keep them closed.

So that's what I'm up to, along with being chained to my desk, 2 weeks from deadline with the book from hell (oh wait...they all are) that still has no title. It's this deadline that's preventing me from going away with Margaret and the gang for a week of writing and balderdash. :(


Harley Jane Kozak Kozak_DateRefuse
I'm rehearsing this week for the Romantic Times Convention -- I'm the M.C./Joan Rivers-type person for the Mr. Romance Contest (male cover models), as well as singing, dancing and performing Shakespeare at the Vampire Ball, in a show entitled "Zombie Dancers from Planet 9."


Kathy Reschini Sweeney
Today, I am in shock.  My baby boy is 16.  He was a bit of a surprise - one that has turned out to be the greatest delight of my life.  But don't tell him I said that.  He already gets away with too much. How did all these years go by?  I need cake.  Stat.


Joshilyn Jackson Jackson_BackseatSaints
Today my husband and I are engaged in an EPIC SCRABBLE BATTLE. The loser must give Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat his Kitty-Prozac all month. Mentally-Ill Grudge-Holding Cat needs his meds, but he hates to be touched only slightly less than he hates to be pilled. The person who loses this battle gains Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat’s considerable, baleful, and long-memoried  ire. OH, this cat. You shouldn’t make him angry. You wouldn’t LIKE him when he is angry. And since I work from home, I am available to be ired at all hours of the day. So.  I am not going to lose. I have a pocket full of blank tiles and a fistful of illegal tranqs. I LOVE my husband, but if first skill and then luck and finally cheating all fail me, I will have no choice but to roofie my beloved and swear up and down I was victorious.
PS Margaret! I read this and immediately thought
Margaret are you grieving over all your pines unleaving?
 But pines don’t have leaves. And un-needling does not rhyme.
Margaret are you feeding, needing, bleeding, pleading, BAH!
 I actually get a grant from the state of Georgia to NOT write poetry.

Yes yes it is a SPECIAL pollen bowl kind. We have it. For a month the purple car is yellow and the orange car is yellow and my cream trimmed rosey-bricked house is yellow and the green grass is yellow and THE VERY FREAKING AIR IS GOT’DAMNABLY YELLOW.


Sticky fingers_1_very_sm Nancy Martin
I'm hitting the campaign trail to sell Sticky Fingers.  (In the Philadelphia area?  Come to the Borders store in Springfield on Friday, April 15th at 6pm or at the Philadelphia Book Fest on Saturday from 11am to 1pm.)  I'm also finishing up the 8th Blackbird book--which should be published early in 2012.  And . . . my iPad arrived!  Now I have to learn how to use it.  Any suggestions for good apps?


Nancy Pickard Pickard_scentofrain
I’m busy distracting myself from my book that keeps saying it doesn’t care if I need to make a living, it still has percolating to do.  Have I ever mentioned that I think commerce and art are TERRIBLE bedfellows?  Of course, that’s not what my favorite Kansas playwright thought about it.  William Inge, who wrote Picnic, Splendor in the Grass, Bus Stop, Come Back Little Sheba, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,  (wow, right?) said that forcing art through the commerce sieve and vice versa was hunky-dory.  His actual quote is:  “Literature flourishes best when it is half trade and half an art.” I agree, but only when my book actually gets finished and then published and I get paid.  Until those moments, the bedfellows continue to kick each other and bellow and be total nightmares. And let’s not overlook the fact that Bill Inge killed himself.  Damn, I just made myself feel like sitting in this coffee shop and crying. He was so brilliant, and he suffered so from depression and from hiding his sexuality from the pigs and bigots of his day.  Well, you’d never know it from what I just wrote here, but I’m actually feeling happy and springy, in spite of sieves and stubborn books and tragic playwrights.  Here, everybody, have a double latte and a chocolate truffle.

Hank_drivetime Hank Phillippi Ryan

The ducks are back! But you know that..Flo and Eddy have been baffled by the ice on their backyard pond, but other than that, it's a sure sign it's spring. My tulips and crocuses are pushing their way out of the still-frozen earth, and I saw a whole flock of robins in our neighbor's yard. (It was almost scary, you know? Cue Tippi Hendren.)  Right now I am somewhere in the air between Boston and Indianapolis,  gave a speech in Indy to a wonderful group who wanted to know all about e-publishing.  (Gee, I wish I knew. Don't we all?)  Yes, there's a new book (cross fingers please, everyone) which I am editing now. (It's easier to cut than add, right?)  Looking forward to the MWA symposium in two weeks, then the gala Malice Domestic convention where DRIVE TIME is up for an Agatha for Best Mystery of 2010. (Yes, our NancyP is up for one, too, sigh, but she's sold more books than I have, I bet, so don't I need the teapot?)  Is it time to send my winter clothes to the dry cleaners? Ah, I'll think about that later. 

March 18, 2011

What Would you Like on Your Birthday Cake?

They say it's your birthday,

It's my birthday, too, yeah!

Not my favorite Beatles song, but I have this really sweet memory connected to it. Many years ago, I returned to my dorm room after having a birthday dinner with my boyfriend, and as I was putting away my things, I heard that song coming from the room of one of my suitemates. It took me a while to realize my friends were playing it (over and over, because I wasn't catching on) for me, and I walked into their room to find nineteen candles blazing on a cake shaped (sort of) like  a guitar, which I played at the time.

Thus started my fascination with birthday cakes and since today actually is my birthday, I hope you'll indulge me as I share some special cakes I found on the web. Some make me drool, others make me retch. Either way, they're fun to look at!

Starting in a literary vein (no pun intended), here are a couple of  clever Twilight cakes from a Squidoo blog.


(You can find more Miss Catty Cakes here. )

Got any three-year-old girls in the house? My three-year-old granddaughter came home from preschool the other day and announced she's going to marry Justin Bieber, a statement that left my stepdaughter kind of shaken. I mean three? My stepdaughter says she's picked up this Bieber Fever from some older girls at preschool, meaning the five-year-olds. Anyway, here are a couple of JB cakes for your entertainment.




















(More Bieber Baked Goods here.)

 I'm a big Taco Bell fan. I even owe one of my novel ideas to Taco Bell, since it came from a conversation I overheard while munching a burrito. But since I'm now on a low sodium diet, my TB days may be over. Sugar, however, is not sodium! So this cake may be as close as I can get to a taco these days. Taco-bell-birthday-cake











And speaking of a burrito? (This one's filled with carrot cake).  








Now for some classier cakes. I can't relate to these at all, since I could care less about shoes and purses, but I bet they'll float some of your boats. The top two are from Piece-of-Cake bakery, which is not far from where I live in North Carolina. I know who I'm calling for the next intriguing cake I need. (And yes, the shoe is edible for those of you with a fetish).




This purse above is from Sweet Treats by Jen and every bit of it, too,  is edible.


For the drummers: Snare-drum-cake


  From Scrum Diddly Cakes. I would LOVE to meet Olivia. I bet she's an interesting kid!







Any Angry Bird addicts out there? This dad made an edible Angry Birds game for his son's birthday. What a guy!


Whew! Some creative people out there! Since I'm writing this post a few days before my birthday, I'm not sure what my cake will be like. I'm on deadline, however, so I have a feeling my cake will look something like this:


But hopefully after a day on the computer, I'll get a chance to do this:

So how about you? If someone made a birthday cake just for you right now, what would it look like?


February 18, 2011

A Love Letter to the Jersey Shore

by Diane Chamberlain

Do you love a place (or a person or a thing) that has become an object of derision? I do, and it's time to publicly proclaim my adoration. So here goes:

Dear Jersey Shore,

There is no place on earth that can make my heart ache with longing the way you do. Not Paris or Maui or Greece. Maybe the North Carolina coast, but that's only because it reminds me of you. I remember you from long before I was born. Grandpop Chamberlain spotted a little piece of sandy land covered with scrubby reeds and blueberry bushes on an unfinished canal in Point Pleasant, and he decided to build a little summer bungalow there. He named it Su-Nan-To after his wife (Susan), himself (Tom) and their young daughter Nan, who would become my mother (the young girl in the photo).In the weeds 
Did he know that little dead-end of a canal would one day be dredged to become a two mile stretch of the intracoastal waterway, New Jersey? I don't know if he was that prescient, but the bungalow soon sat on a busy waterway. By the time I came along, a few other houses had sprung up around Su-Nan-To, but the area was still primarily undeveloped and beautiful.

   Mom,jo,dibungalow copy

That's my sister Joann, me, and Mom (the seamstress).

Old Bay Head Shores house on the canal-- setting for BAY AT MIDNIGHT copy

Our big porch fronted the canal and daytime hours were filled with the excitement of boats of all sizes fighting the canal’s strong currents,


but the nights were quiet, the only sound the water lapping against the bulkhead. On very still nights, we could hear the ocean in the distance.  

 When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I sat on the bulkhead waving to the boys who passed by in their boats. They’d often stop to ask if we wanted a ride. My mother nearly always let us go. Somehow climbing into boats with strangers seemed far safer to her than climbing into cars with boys we didn't know, maybe because she had done so much of it herself as a girl. We could get around by boat long before we could drive. We'd pick up my friend, Jon, at his house on the river, me, on the canal, Sam on the marina and Lynn on the bay, then boat over to the movie theater where we'd make out in the back row.

Which brings me to the boardwalk. We’d hang out at one of your boardwalks nearly every other night, Jersey Shore. Maybe we'd get a slice of pizza (the best in the world, thin crusted and greasy and delicious) and birch beer, but our plan was always to get under the boardwalk as soon as possible. The ‘Underwood Motel’, we called it.

Oh, yeah.

Thank you for the boardwalks, Jersey. For the cheesesteaks and the frozen custard and the rippled fries. For the wild rides and the barkers and the never-ending sound of the surf.


Seaside Heights boardwalk, circa '68

Your beaches were always insanely crowded and we had to pay to use them. I still remember forking over my quarter and receiving a scrap of fabric on a safety pin to attach to my bathing suit, the print of that day’s fabric proof that I had paid. But your beaches were also broad enough to accommodate the crowds and you welcomed one and all.


My heart broke, Jersey Shore, when my parents sold Su-Nan-To. I was eighteen. Finances necessitated that sale and netted my family a measly ten thousand dollars. I don’t want to think about it, JS. You might still be a part of my life if that had never happened.  

I still managed to spend the final two summers of my teen years--and my last two years as a Jersey Girl--down the shore after the sale of Su-Nan-To. The summer after high school graduation, my best friend, Little Zan, and I rented a cheap room with one double bed in Seaside Heights, now the home of that TV abomination which dares to call itself by the sacred name "Jersey Shore". Seaside was just starting to get a tad seedy back then and I loved it for its underbelly atmosphere—tattoos, wife beater t-shirts, the scent of sausage and onion sandwiches in the air, the screams coming from the Himalaya on one pier and the music of the beautiful vintage carousel on the other. It was so alive. Zan and I waitressed, discovered pot and lost our virginity. I mean, Jersey, what more could two kids ask for? (I'm the one on the right).

Z d 

Then, abruptly, I became a Californian and you were lost to me.

I remember one day—I must have been in San Diego about ten years by then--lying across my bed in tears, the ache of homesickness for you tearing me apart. That's when I decided to change the setting of the novel I was writing--my very first. I'd set it in upstate New York and it just wasn't coming together. I changed it to you, JS. Suddenly, magic! And yes, a tax deductible research trip back to the land I loved.

 When I moved to Virginia and then to North Carolina, I felt closer to you. I could always visit. On one trip, I learned that the bungalow was for sale and I fantasized about buying it even though I was a contented southerner by then. I called the Realtor and inquired about the price, and the first thing out of her mouth was "It's waterfront, you know." Effing bitch. Yes, I know. Asking price? $600,000. Oh well. Another little chip out of my heart.

 Shortly before Mom died, my sister and I visited her in her Chatham, New Jersey nursing home. "We want to take you out," we said. We knew this could well be her last outing. "Anyplace you'd like to go."

 "Su-Nan-To," she said. We were not surprised.

So my sister and I ‘kidnaped’ my mother from the nursing home, and with her wheelchair and my sister’s mobility scooter crammed into the back of my sister’s van, we set out on our adventure. Di,jo,mom wharfside

We had lunch at our favorite restaurant, the Lobster Shanty, then visited the Point Pleasant inlet where we used to watch the boats go out and the storms roll in. We drove past the little beach on the bay where all three of us had gotten sunburned and flirted with boys. And we sat on the quiet little road in front of Su-Nan-To, letting the memories wash over us.


Su-Nan-To today

My mother asked me to knock on the door to see if anyone would come out to talk to us. I did, but no one was home, so I tip-toed around to the backyard to take this picture so my mother and sister, neither of whom were able to walk, would be able to see ‘our canal.’


After Mom died, I did get Su-Nan-To back in a way--by setting a book in the bungalow. In The Bay at Midnight I revisited every nook and cranny of that wonderful house and its evocative setting, and though the story was not my family's story, every inch of the setting belonged to us.  


The Bay at Daylight the beach where it all happens!

Me, on a research trip to the shore as I wrote The Bay at Midnight. This is Barnegat Bay, where I swam as a kid. I'm standing right where the body is found. Heh heh. 

I feel cleansed writing to you, Jersey Shore. You are so much more than Snooki and the Situation. Don’t let them get you down. People who really know you recognize your beauty, your intrigue, your history and your power to evoke emotion and memory. You will always have a place in my heart.  








January 21, 2011

The Inner Peace Pal

By Diane Chamberlain

OceanWant inner peace? Well, do I have the solution for you!

I was a naïve newbie to Facebook when I first discovered the path to inner peace. One day I was reading Facebook comments when my eyes were drawn to the ad at the side of the page. It read “Today only! All 39-year-old women get 25% off on purses!” And I thought, Wow! How cool is that! What an amazing coincidence that there’s an ad for women my age! This must be my lucky day! (all right. It wasn’t 39. But let’s pretend). It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that Facebook knew my age and just about every other fact about me and put that ad there to seduce me.

Facebook also must have known that I was on deadline, being treated for high blood pressure, and freaking out in my totally disorganized office, because a few days later a new ad appeared:  The Inner Peace Pal (not the real name, but not all that different either) promised to help me find the calm buried deep within myself. I was suckered in once again. I clicked on the ad and went to a lovely site that told me how the The Inner Peace Pal could help me.

The Inner Peace Pal was a little program I could download on my computer to gently remind me to center myself throughout my workday. I could set it to send me the reminders every hour or every half hour or every ten minutes. Whatever I wanted. Well, I wanted inner peace in a big way, so I set the IPP to send me a reminder every five minutes.

Yes, you’re right. This was not a smart move.

The first twenty second reminder  came as I was working on the manuscript for my most recent novel, The Lies We Told. The IPP dimmed my monitor screen with a pretty picture and suggested I shut my eyes and take in a few deep breaths, noticing how my lungs filled and emptied, filled and emptied. In and out. Ahh. Very nice.

Woman breathing 

Back to the manuscript, in which a category five hurricane was destroying Wilmington, North Carolina.

Five minutes later, the screen  dimmed and the IPP suggested I shut my eyes and focus on the present moment, which I did. I felt the soft warm air on my arms and heard the chirping of birds through my open window. Lovely. This was nice.

My characters were doing this Doctors Without Borders type work in the airport, treating the victims of the hurricane. Helicopters filled with the wounded were landing every minute on the tarmac, and the life and death battle to save the injured was--

The screen dimmed. The Inner Peace Pal suggested I think about standing above a peaceful valley, stretching to the sky.


 There was a little 'x' in the corner of the IPP screen and I hit it. I'd skip just this one reminder so I could get back to my manuscript. Maybe I should have set the IPP for every ten minutes, I thought. Or twenty. But I couldn't take the time to fiddle with it now.

Back to the helicopters. I’d created a romantic triangle between three of my characters and they were sweaty and tense, working in impossible conditions while their emotions were heating up and—

The screen dimmed. Focus on your internal organs, the Pal suggested. Think about all that is going on inside of you.

Inner organs 


I hit the x.

That was it. I had to turn the program off. Only it wouldn’t turn off. No matter what I did, every five minutes it would try to calm me down. I went into the control panel of my computer and clicked on the “remove program” icon and removed the Inner Peace Program altogether.

Finally, peace. Back to work.



One of the helicopters landed, and despite the tension between them, my characters worked together to slide a patient onto a stretcher. They raced toward the airport, hoping they weren't too late to--

The screen dimmed.

I screamed.

I turned off the computer. Turned it back on. Five minutes later, the Pal told me to close my eyes and imagine I was floating in the air.

I told it to go @%#$ itself.

Kill computer 

It took a couple of emails to the Pal’s inventor to rid my computer of the Inner Peace Pal.

So need Inner Peace? Stick to a yoga class and lemon ginger tea. Or just give in to your Inner Freak-Out. That’s what I’m going to do.


Di office