158 posts categorized "Harley Jane Kozak"

December 19, 2011

Unsolved Mysteries

By Harley


Holiday mysteries abound: how’d that holy oil last for 8 nights? What star was it calling to the Wise Men like a celestial GPS? Whence comes the sinister fruitcake?



This year, I have mysteries of my own.

First Holiday Mystery: Lately, when I use my cell phone to call certain friends, my name shows up on their caller i.d. as . . . Donald Jackson. This didn’t use to be the case. I used to be Jacksonknown as me, Harley. I don’t know anyone named Donald Jackson. I’ve Googled him, and there are many of him, including Jacksona British calligrapher, a Canadian figure skater, and a sports attorney. But which of these is my Donald Jackson and what is he trying to communicate through my cell phone?

Second Holiday Mystery: Two weeks ago, I was awakened at 2 a.m. by the sound of frantic thumping in the rabbit hutch outside my bedroom window. I went to investigate, accompanied by my dogs, and we discovered a raccoon the size of a moose trying to kidnap our bunny Dixie. 19-04-rabbit-3The dogs chased the raccoon into the pool, but he turned on them, ready to fight, so I, half naked in the moonlight, spent 20 minutes dragging my two large dogs back into the house so as to avoid carnage and a trip to the animal ER. For two hours I stayed awake until Mr. Raccoon climbed out of the pool and over the wall into my Raccoon[1]neighbor’s yard. Then I brought Dixie into the house, where she’s spent every night since. Three days later we discovered a dead rabbit—not Dixie!—lying headless on our diving board. Ewww. Now, I have my suspicions about whodunit. The question is: why? Why decapitate a wild rabbit? Why on the diving board? Why leave the corpse behind?

Third Holiday Mystery: I was sitting in my kitchen, when I heard a loud THUMP that sounded like a bowling ball being dropped onto the carpeted floor upstairs. Or perhaps a 200-pound man falling off a bunkbed. Thirty seconds later it happened again. I yelled to my kids, “What is going on up there?!” then realized my kids were downstairs with me. Uh-oh. The THUMPS continued, the walls were shaking, my 11-year old daughter burst into tears, and her best friend, who was over for dinner, burst into tears too, they screamed, “Let’s get out of here!” so we fled to the neighbors'—who could hear our THUMPS from their house. They came with us to investigate, but within minutes the thumps stopped, as suddenly as they’d begun, never to return. Wha—?

Fourth Holiday Mystery. I was hiking with the dogs in a nearby canyon Rosenkrantz30 at sunrise when I came around a bend and saw four white horses coming at me. Pure white, except for the manes and tails, which were subtle pastel shades of pink, blue, green and purple.  One horse had a rider, a middle-aged woman, who nodded at me and then rode on silently, the other three horses trailing her. A moment right out of Middle-earth.


The final mystery is how it was that what began as a marketing tool to sell books ended up creating a family. I’ve read other blogs that are as smart as ours, as funny, as poignant, but nowhere have I read comments that are as consistently sensitive, hilarious, insightful and bighearted as the comments that come from you. What made TLC special was its backbloggers. It has been my good fortune to be among you.

And you? Any holiday mysteries we can solve for you? Any theories about mine?

Happy Monday . . .



November 21, 2011

Did They Think No One Would Notice?

by Harley

Dsc04617qYears ago I saw Dead Poets’ Society. I recall nothing about it because I was with my friend Laurie. Laurie does wardrobe for film and TV, and she spent the whole movie outraged about collar button continuity. It’s all she could see, collars buttoned in one shot and unbuttoned in the next. Collars wrinkled becoming ironed in closeup and then once again wrinkled, all in the space of 2.3 seconds. It made her crazy. She nearly walked out of the theatre.

A few years later I dated a producer—not the kind that puts up the money, the kind that’s on set to make sure the money is being properly spent. Every movie we saw had a running commentary from Eddie: “A two-shot? That scene’s crying for a closeup. And that's not New York, that’s Vancouver, it's Stanley Park, for God’s sake! And are they using the same three extras over and over? That guy died ten minutes ago in the battle scene.”

For my friend Andrew, a former jockey, it’s horse films. In the olden days, rather than cast “Indians” who could ride bareback, they’d throw Indian blankets over saddles, thinking, “who’s going to notice?” Andrew noticed. Andrew also knows that a real cowboy wouldn’t ride a horse with four white socks, as Adam Images Cartwright did in the last episodes of Bonanza. Worst of all are racing movies, “the jockey whispering kind and encouraging words in the middle of the race, while traveling 40 mph and wailing away at the horse with a stick. No race-rider talks like that," Andrew says. "It’s all swearing and screaming.”

We, the audience, will put up with the ridiculous in order to enter into the magic of the story. It’s called the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Most of us don’t care about self-buttoning collars or Stanley Park masquerading as Central Park, or racehorse whisperers. But we all have something, some expertise that throws us out of the story and back into our theatre seats, cranky because they didn’t get it right.

For intance:

The Implausible Apartment: if you’ve ever lived in New York, you’re calculating how much rent the poor-but-plucky heroine is paying for that charming brownstone and whether she’s sleeping with the super to afford it.

Fargo_movie-11589The We’re Not All Hicks Complaint: Apparently the residents of North Dakota weren’t universally happy with how they were portrayed in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. The Americans of Italian Descent version of this is We’re Not All Mafiosi. With the polygamists, it’s We’re Not All Big Love.

The Player Piano Piano Player: Even if we don’t see hands of the “piano player" actor, if her body’s gonna sway, it should sway to the right when Placido-domingo the music goes higher, and the left when she’s playing the bass chords. And I’m no Placido Domingo, but every shower singer knows that the dubbed actor should take a breath while belting out “Nessun Dorma” because you can’t sing like this without exercising your lungs.

William_talman_raymond_burrThe Perry Mason Exception:  On Perry Mason, district attorney Hamilton Burger was always saying, “Your honor, Mr. Mason is turning this courtroom into a circus!” That’s right, Ham. Because Perry’s the star. Nothing’s changed. Watch Law & Order with a trial lawyer and see how long he can go without yelling “Objection!” at Sam Waterston.                                    

The CSI Effect: Try getting a crime lab scientist to watch a CSI episode without rolling her eyes.

The Giant Baby Phenomenon: Ask a new mother to believe that the newborn popping out of the TV tummy isn’t a six-week-old.

You don’t have to be a professional hairdresser or a Native American to wonder 8925_view what’s going on with Mary McDonnell’s hair in Dances with Wolves. (I’m not blaming Mary. I’m an actor; I never blame actors.)

So what is it that makes you throw popcorn and yell at the TV, “Did you think no one would notice?”



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.)


September 19, 2011

Scary Story

by Harley

Last week a bloodcurdling midnight cry of “MOMMY!” sent me racing to the bedroom of my 9-year old daughter.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.


“Bad dream?”

“No.” she shuddered. “It was a . . . story.”

She wouldn’t discuss it, but insisted I sleep with her, which I did, on her twin bed that accommodated most of me, although not my left arm.

 I’m used to Nightmare Patrol. One scary night last month my older daughter asked me to sleep on her top bunk. Our dog Cairo, not used to seeing me up there, began barking. I hopped out of bed to reassure Cairo, only I miscalculated how far it was to the ground, so my daughter woke to see me fly through air and crash into her desk, further terrifying both her and the dog.

St1 Anyhow. The next day I asked my 9-year old if she remembered what scared her. “Of course,” she said. “At recess, Jenna told us this story about a girl named Molly who went to a doll store and found this really ugly doll holding up two fingers, like a peace sign and the man who worked at the doll store told her never to take her eyes off this doll, but one night Molly forgot and left the doll in the kitchen, and she heard the doll on the stairs and it yelled out, ‘Hey, Molly. I’m on the first step.’ And then, ‘Hey, Molly, I’m on the second step.’ And like that all the way up the stairs and then Molly hears the doll say, ‘Hey, Molly, I’m outside your bedroom’ and then, ‘Hey, Molly, I’m right here by your bed.’ And then the doll cuts off Molly’s head. Oh, yeah – and the doll guy knew that would probably happen, because the doll had already cut off two other girls’ heads and that’s why she was holding up two fingers.”

 Okay. Leaving aside questions like “is being left overnight in a kitchen motivation enough to turn a doll into a murderer?” and whether the doll salesman had some moral or legal liability in the matter, what struck me about this story was its popularity. Among pre-adolescents in our neighborhood, “Molly’s Murderous Doll” is the #1 scary story.

In my day it was “Dead Babysitter.” You know, where the babysitter gets the phone call saying, “I’m three blocks away . . . I’m on your street . . . I’M IN THE HOUSE.”

For my friend F. Paul Wilson, with whom I discussed this at Bouchercon, the story in the Fpaulwilsonkeep 'hood was “The Hook,” featuring a one-handed killer who preyed upon teens parked on Lover’s Lane, which ends with a satisfying . . . hook. Paul, who knows from horror, feels it’s all in the ending (and recommends Ray Bradbury’s short story, “October Game” as a case in point.)

It is all in the ending. I came home from Bouchercon to find that my son, perhaps to torment his sisters, had checked out a book called Scary Stories, on which the school library had slapped the exciting warning label: THIS BOOK FOR 4th and 5th GRADERS ONLY. Alas, the book was a bitter disappointment. Several of the stories ended with the word “Boo!”

Which wouldn't even scare a 3rd grader.

Shatner Here’s my kind of ending: discovering that things that once frightened me no longer do. Like high school principals, driving on the freeway, soufflés, speaking French in France, clowns, root canals, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Or Bob, our family mannequin who used to scare us all, even the dogs, but now only scares the Ukrainian dishwasher repairmen.

I am, however, still scared of those twin girls in The Shining, The_shining_twins-10808 the Gregg Hurwitz novel with the severed head in the refrigerator and Don’t Look Now (I can't even post those stills). Dead children who, for one reason or another, remain behind to haunt the new inhabitants of their old houses. Victorian clothing.

But Molly’s Murderous Doll? Ha. I could take her down.


And you? Apart from cancer, war, or natural disaster, what scares you? And what do you laugh in the face of?


August 29, 2011

Sleepy Camp

by Harley

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

 And then came the e-mails from Book Group:

“Sleepy Camp?”

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

“Can anyone go?”

“I’m in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is why the world needs Sleepy Camp.

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

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

Whenever you wake, there will be breakfast.

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

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

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

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

There are no hurricanes.

No outhouses.

No mosquitoes.

Proposed Sleepy Camp activities:


    Cookie Time


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

    Library Hour


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

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

    Other: ____________________[fill in the blank]


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



August 22, 2011

A la recherche du temps perdus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

What are you proud of?

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

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

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

What did you learn this summer?

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

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

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

Favorite food of the summer?

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

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

HARLEY: Frosted circus animal cookies.

Favorite drink of the summer?

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

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

 HARLEY: Lipton Green Ice Tea, Berry flavored.

Favorite outfit of the summer?

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

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

 HEATHER: As always . . . black.

 Favorite book/movie/tv show?

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

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

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

What will you DEFINITELY do different next summer?

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

 HARLEY: Lose 10 pounds; find True Love.

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

 What will you DEFINITELY do the same way next summer?

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

 HARLEY: Get my teeth cleaned.

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

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

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


June 20, 2011

Love Thy (next-door) Neighbor

by Harley

When I was 4, we lived next door to the Tomlinson family in Valley City, North Dakota. The Tomlinsons had 2 little boys, Tommy and Ricky. Tommy was my first suitor. He’d come ring the doorbell and say, “let’s play twicks on Wicky.” I don’t recall the actual tricks played on Ricky but for me, the words “let’s play twicks on Wicky” are inextricably linked to that magical (unless you’re Ricky) phenomenon, next door neighbors.

Index_01 When I was 5, we moved to Nebraska, where our neighbors were the Falloons (rhymes with balloons), including the Virgils, senior & junior. Virge and Virgie. I liked the Falloons, but I loved their name. Virgie Falloon--doesn’t that scream for its own sitcom? Or coming-of-age novel?

In NYC, I had 2 neighbors of note: One was Xavier, with whom I shared a freight elevator in my SoHo loft period. The elevator had no call button, so we had to go find it on foot, on whatever floor it was left, armed with one another's keys. On my floor, the elevator was in my bedroom, which gave Xavier a certain . . . intimate knowledge of me. But my favorite memory is of one hot summer night on Serenade the Lower East Side. I was on my apartment balcony weeping over some feckless boyfriend when two neighbors came out into the courtyard armed with guitars to serenade me with a killer rendition of “Lean on Me.”

In L.A., my Laurel Canyon neighbor Tara asked me to housesit her cat, and became my best friend. On Lookout Mountain, the crazy Palestinian filmmaker next door filmed my C-section and became godfather to my daughter. In Topanga, my neighbor Denise cheered me on as I Onceupontwice-cover1-175x174 wrote my first book, and then, in an act of solidarity, published her own. Our other neighbors, a large and unrelated contingent of Dutch émigrés, gamely appeared on my 2006 Christmas card.

And now I live next door to the Karbassians. They own a printing shop, and printed up my latest business cards for free. They wouldn’t let me pay for them. Because it’s not neighborly. Instead, they let me bake them banana bread. I’m not convinced they like my banana bread as much as they claim to, but I bake it anyway.

Next-door neighbors are among life’s lotteries. Like blood relatives, some are lunatics (relatics, as my sister Ann calls them) but they’re your lunatics. Gull-portrait-mircea-costina They come with the house. Yes, I’ve had clunkers. The guys with the exotic birds who, at sunrise, would scream as though they were being bludgeoned to death (the birds, not the guys). The ones whose lawns are cluttered with yard signs for bad politicians. When the buyer of my Political-yard-signs old house called me last year later to ask, “How’d you deal with the nutjobs next door?” I replied, “I moved.”

The best Worst Neighbor story I know comes from my in-laws in Santa Barbara. Next door to them, Mr. and Mrs. Crazy (not their real names) were having an argument. Mr. Crazy pulled out a gun and fired at the Missus, but missed. The bullet hit their beloved dog, killing him. The police came and hauled them all away. No one in that ‘hood bothers asking anymore, “What will the neighbors think?”

But in my ‘hood, on the nights my kids and dogs are at their dad’s and my chaotic house goes quiet, I lock the doors, turn on the alarm system, and my thoughts turn to axe murderers coming for me in the dead of night. But then I look out my bedroom window and see a light burning next door, and I am Cattermole-charles-1832-1900-u-watt-tyler-leading-the-peasant-1712645 comforted by thoughts of the kind Karbassians, up late, ever vigilant, armed with loaves of stale banana bread, ready to ride to my rescue.

Happy Monday, TLC neighbors . . .



June 18, 2011

Mysteries of Sienna

By Guest Blogger APRIL SMITH

April Smith is my homie--we’re both L.A. residents--so I get to run into her in person, usually in the presence of bad banquet food. She is lovely, chic, well-dressed and eloquent, and although she is petite, you’d no more mess with her than you would with Ana Grey, her protagonist. April’s North of Montana (one of my favorite titles ever) launched her onto the literary crime scene and she’s never left. Also, we both love cleaning out closets, which is just the sort of fact that makes her the perfect guest on The Lipstick Chronicles. A warm welcome, please, and pass the hard rolls. ~Harley

 When I tell readers the new FBI Special Agent Ana Grey thriller, White Shotgun (Knopf, June, 2011), takes place in Siena, their eyes light up.   Nobody asks how an FBI agent based in Los Angeles would end up in Italy – they just want to go there, too!       A strong sense of place is pivotal to fiction, which is why I travel to every location that I write about.  Nothing is fresher than the first sensual impressions of a city, and the spontaneous discoveries that later become plot points -- but Siena was different.  Siena inhabited me.  It was as if the arcane words carved into church walls and the ancient rituals of the Palio were literary connections just waiting to happen, as I worked through the story.  Or maybe a collective unconsciousness does connect us all, and all it takes is some fine Brunello and fresh mozzarella to unlock the symbolism.

            I didn’t just stumble into Siena; I went there a mission.  It began with a call from my son, Benjamin Brayfield, who was then on a college semester abroad program.

            “Mom,” he said, “What if a crime happened during Palio?”

            “That would be a book,” I said.

            His Italian roommates had been filling his head with tales of a crazy horse race called Il Palio, coming up in July.  How crazy?  Jockeys ride bareback and beat each other with whips made of calf phalluses.  Sixty thousands tourists jam into an ancient piazza, and every year horses are injured, riders thrown, and ancient rivalries erupt in violence.   As the setting for a thriller, Siena was a no-brainer.  Besides great atmosphere, there was the potential for a strong story about the current threat of international crime networks, like ‘Ndragheta, which controls the distribution of cocaine in Europe.

            My first encounter with the mysteries of the Siena was a decapitated head.  St. Catherine, along with St. Francis of Assisi, is one of Italy’s two patron saints.  She was born in Siena but died in Rome in 1380 -- and most of her body is buried there.  The Sienese wanted their beloved saint back, but settled for smuggling her head out in a bag.  When they were stopped by Roman guards, they prayed to St. Catherine, and a miracle occurred.  The bag was full of rose petals.  When it was opened in Siena, the head had manifested again.  Today it is preserved in a glass case in the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena -- a gruesome relic without a nose in a glass case.  I was spooked, and so is Ana Grey, when she discovers the hand of a saint preserved in her sister’s home.

            If this were historical fiction, I could have spent months following in the bloody footsteps of the many conquerors of Siena -- from the Romans to the penultimate siege by Florence in 1230 when donkeys and dung were catapulted over the walls (see where I’m going with craziness?) – but luckily there was plenty of drama for a crime novelist in the blood rivalries between the seventeen contradas, or city-states, of Siena.  Their fierce territoriality reminded me of gangland Los Angeles, and put me in touch with the primitive forces of love and hate, which become a foil for Ana Grey’s cool analytic thinking, when she is faced with the most primitive act of all -- the brutal kidnap of a family member. 

            One of the most intriguing mysteries is the Sator Square, a palindrome of Latin words that can be read in four directions:









            Carvings dating from 7 AD have been found all over Europe --  including the wall of the main cathedral in Siena.  Borrowing a little Da Vinci Code magic, I used the Sator Square to imply that almost mystical forces brought Ana and her long-lost sister, Cecilia, together.  “It means, God holds the plough, but you turn the furrows,” Cecilia explains“There are two kinds of fate -- the actions of God and our own responsibility for our lives.  Two kinds of fate have brought us together.”

            And brought me to Siena.


April Smith Official Photo Whiteshotgun April Smith is the author of the bestselling FBI Special Agent Ana Grey novels, NORTH OF MONTANA and GOOD MORNING, KILLER (“Critic’s Choice” -- PEOPLE Magazine) as well as BE THE ONE, a thriller about the only female baseball scout in the major leagues, all published by Alfred A. Knopf.  Her third Ana Grey novel, titled JUDAS HORSE, was released on Valentine’s Day, 2008.  April is also a working TV writer/producer and has been nominated for three Emmy Awards and three Writers Guild Awards.  Her recent screen credits include an adaptation of two Stephen King short stories from his collection, NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES, for TNT, and an adaptation of Nora Roberts’ MONTANA SKY, which aired on Lifetime earlier this year.  Please visit www.aprilsmith.net.

May 30, 2011

A Memorable Memorial

HANK: Happy Memorial Day, dear Tarts! And we hope you are celebrating in the way you love best. For me, Memorial Day has always been about two special sounds.

 One, Taps on a bugle, of course. Those haunting notes that can leave a huge crowd in utter silence. My father--who is healthy and happy with a wonderful wife and I can't even count how many grandchildren--was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge. My little cute Dad! Who loves music and philosphy and dance and good food, and who carried a book of poetry with him in the war "to remind me there is beauty in the world." Yay, Dad. And thank you.

The other sound--the roar of 33 engines of the cars in the Indy 500. I grew up in Indianapolis, and not a person in the city didn't stop and listen the race. For years, it was only on the radio,and we'd sit in the back yard, all of us five kids and my mom and step-dad, and imagine how it looked. Even now, as a (?) grown up, I have to watch the race. I have no idea about auto racing, but you know, that's just what ya do on Memorial Day if you're a Hoosier.

 So here we are--a geographical triangle on Memorial Day--Harley in CA, Heather in FL, and Hank in MA.   And hurray, we get to share it with you!

Favorite Memorial Day tradition?

 HANK: Vroom vroom. VROOM. Press accelerator, keep turning left. And then have a cookout.

HARLEY: It used to be Topanga Days -- in my old ‘hood, a 3-day Woodstock-like event with a lot of beer, banjoes, hippies, and heat stroke. But I was pretty much over it after the first two years, and now it’s like penance. I’d rather go visit a cemetery.

 HEATHER: I think our Memorial Day tradition is a bit different. Both my dad and my stepdad (my mom was a widow who remarried a super-great guy at the tender age of 70) were in WWII, navy and air force, respectively. I never bring my dad's grave flowers--we all remember when he sick and someone brought him flowers and he said, "Hey, guys, come on, I'm not dead yet!" But I did share coffee with him constantly.

We'd go out mornings for coffee, and I guess that was when I really bonded with him. So, Bill (stepdad) was a great deal like him and a wonderful guy. We go, and think about the amazing things they said over the years about war--and pour coffee on the graves.

Since cooking out is so traditional: One Grilling secret.

HARLEY: Here’s my secret. Have a barbecue and invite a friend who likes to grill, and hand them the utensils and show them where the grill is.

HANK: Yeah, that's mine, too. Get Jonathan to do it.

HEATHER: The meat--always have quality meat. Or, in Harley's case, the vegetables. The freshest, best veggies and meats available. And a touch of olive oil in a bit of a marinade. Yeah, throw in garlic, too. And supply mints.


For extra credit: Gas or Charcoal? Top on or top off? Lighter fluid or newspaper?

 HEATHER: Charcoal. Top off.

 HANK: Lighter fluid is the scariest thing. The whole deal is scary. I don't even know how people grill without going up in flames. Jonathan loves it. LOVES it. Fine. I hide.

 HARLEY: Do I look like someone who would know the answer to these questions?

Bday 2Because Harley's twins turn nine today--Happy Happy Birthday Birthday--One Memorable childhood birthday.

 HARLEY: When I turned 10, my big sister made me a chocolate cake and then dropped it. But she “mended” it with a few hundred toothpicks and a lot of frosting, the Elmer’s Glue of the baking world.

HEATHER: Oh, Harley and twins . . . happy birthday!

 HANK: I have absolutely no memory of any childhood birthday. So I thought, when I heard this question, maybe I'll call Mom and see if she remembers. Luckily, I stopped myself. Can you imagine THAT conversation? When I'm SURE she worked and worked to do wonderful things for little me...and I have NO memory of it at all. What can we learn from this?

 Memorial Day Mandates: what is a seasonal must-do this weekend?

HANK: I always say I'll do it later, but those winter clthes were taunting me. So I put them all on the third floor mothball room and brought down the summer stuff. And I am wearing FLIP FLOPS! And, we have switched to gin and tonics. Diet tonic, HIGHLY recomended.Gin and tonic

 HARLEY: Survive it. And change the outfit on Bob, our dining room mannequin, from his winter tux to his swim trunks and tank top.

HEATHER: I think that has to do with the year--this year? MUST finish Civil War vampires. Yes, Civil War Vampires. Have to save DC from the scourge before Monday night.

HANK: Heather, you're too funny. Good luck with that.


Do you wear white shoes all year? How about white jackets?

HEATHER: I'm from Florida. I didn't know that you were supposed to change your sandal color by the season. I never wear white jackets. Black is my color--five kids, something spilled on you constantly . . . black just cleans the easiest, and thats the way it goes! Oh, I have one pair of black and red boots that I love. I'm not sure where the black shoes came in . . . I guess they just go with the other black.

HANK: No white shoes til Memorial Day. Do I even have any white shoes? I don't have any white shoes.  (Although I like those above..hmmm...)White jackets--always. White wool is a lot different than white linen.

 HARLEY: Nope. I’m a classicist. Summer only. Unless they’re running shoes, of course.

 The real Memorial Day--who are you remembering today?

 HANK: My Dad. See above. Memorial Day really gets me. Boston Common is covered in American flags today. Twenty-thousand of them. All those sons and daughters.

 HARLEY: My dad. Rest in peace, Joe.

 HEATHER: I think about my family, of course. And I also think of friends gone, our soldiers out on the field now, and those who fought before. I'm amazed to think of the Revolution and the Civil War, and all those men who walked right into blazing cannons and bullets being fired directly at them. I know that I'm a terrible coward, and I'm incredibly grateful for those who fought for me. And I think about the founders of the country, too--men who signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing they'd fight a war against incredible odds, and be hanged if they were caught.

 And I think of my mom and her family, and how much it meant to them to move to this wonderful country. Yeah. We have our problems, but we get to voice our complaints out loud with no fear, vote and campaign for change, and talk about our leaders.

And we'll leave it to dear Heather to wrap up:

HEATHER: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.Of course, that quote is from Sir Winston Churchill but it sums it up nicely. Memorial Day--Thank you to all the heroes and heroines who have fought for us.

 So--you don't have to answer them all--but hey, tell us about your Memorial Day!

May 23, 2011

The Dishwasher Must Die!

by Harley

Eastern1 Ever notice how fiction’s bad guys these days are always the Russian mob, or the Ukranians? It’s like we recycled old Cold War characters, dressing them up in capitalism and leather jackets. I’m guilty of it myself, in my 4th novel--and before you start yelling “xenophobe!” let me say that I’m half Slovak, which is just down the block from Ukraine. But now these people--my people--have shown up in my real life. Here’s how it happened.

3 years ago I moved into a “new” house, 25 years old (the house, not me) that came with elderly appliances, plus a home warranty policy that repairs or replaces appliances as they die off. When the policy expired I signed on for another year at $975, and got lucky when my hot water heater burst.

Since the water heater, no appliances have died, but many have gone on the fritz (apologies to any reader named Fritz) including—8 times—my dishwasher.

I loathe my dishwasher. Not to name names, but the brand starts Images with “M” and rhymes with Paytag.

Here’s the drill. The dishwasher breaks. I call up Crabby Home Warranty (not its real name) and a computer answers, saying, “Please state the nature of your problem. For instance, if your air conditioner is not cooling the air, you could say, ‘my air conditioner is not cooling the air.’ Or—”

            I say, “My dishwasher isn’t washing my dishes.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please state the nature of your problem. For instance, if—”

            “My dishwasher won’t wash dishes.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please state the—”


            “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. I’ll connect you with a human being so sullen you’ll wish you were talking to me.”

The human assigns me a case number and turns my file over to Kremlin Appliance Repair (not its real name).

_40508887_brezhnev_ap_238 Kremlin Appliance Repair sends over Yuri or Yaroslaw or Mikhail. Never the same guy twice. I pay him the $60 service fee. Yuri examines the Paytag, orders a part, and leaves. A week later Yaroslaw shows up with the part, does the repair, and lectures me about liquid detergent and over-rinsing my dishes, explaining that detergent needs food particles to stick to. I switch detergents and leave food on plates. 2 months later the Paytag stops working, only now Mikhail shows up, orders parts, tells me sternly, “you must scour plates before you load. Anyone knows this.” Six weeks later, it’s Boris, who wags a finger at me, saying dishwashers are only as good as their rinse agent, but even so, a dishwasher cannot be expected to truly clean dishes.


Because there’s a 30-day warranty on service calls, the Paytag always waits 5 weeks between breakdowns, ensuring that I will go broke, $60 at a time. I was explaining this to Cindy, my Jenny Craig counselor, by way of justifying my need to self-medicate with cookies, when Cindy looked around furtively, then whispered, “Harley—you’re not using Kremlin Appliance Repair, are you?” the way people do when discussing Satanic cults or mafiosi. Vladimir-Ilyich-Ulyanov-Lenin-1895-Police-Mugshot-Mug-Shot And that’s when it hit me. In our troubled economy, people trained in one trade--schoolteachers, carpenters, assassins--find themselves flipping burgers and repairing appliances. Yet therein lies my solution.

The Paytag must die. Bronislav or Leonid or Dmitri must pronounce it dead, so that Crabby Home Warranty will buy me a new one (perhaps a Bosch!) I know this won’t come cheap. I know Kremlin is getting kickbacks from the appliance parts company. I don’t care. The Paytag has had eight service calls in fifteen months. I’m losing the will to live.

My question is, what's the going rate for an appliance hit? And what’s the etiquette? I’ve never negotiated with the mob before. Do I just blurt it out? And is it immoral? Illegal? Am I a racketeer?

Is there an inanimate object you’d send to sleep with the fishes? And how would you do it?

добрый день!