69 posts categorized "Michele Martinez"

February 22, 2009

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You!


NOTORIOUS, Michele's latest Melanie Vargas thriller, is coming out in paperback.  Buy it here, or win a free copy by clicking this link and e-mailing Michele with the answer to the question, "Who is the One True Bond?"  Correct answers will be placed in a cute sun hat from which the winning entry will be drawn.  (HINT: It ain't the blond guy.)

For more Melanie Vargas along with other thrilling and suspenseful crime tales, get ready for the fabulous anthology THE PROSECUTION RESTS, out in April and edited by the even more fabulous Linda Fairstein.  Pre-order your copy here.   

January 26, 2009

Fantasy Job

Fantasy Job

by Michele

If you scratch your average working author, underneath you'll find somebody who spends as much time thinking about what makes a book grab readers as she does about plot, character or, god forbid, grammar.  There's a simple reason for this:

    Yes, some of us would write just the same even if we never got paid.  But some of us wouldn't.  And more than a few of us dream of the bestseller lists, not only for the glory but for the Benjamins. It's our version of fantasizing about winning the lottery.  When I go to a bookstore, I love to browse and read snippets of jacket copy and learn things.  But there are always those few minutes when I first walk in where I'm just going, hmmm, who has the best co-op these days?  What's selling?

It says good things about America that the answer to these questions at my local bookstore right now is: Barack Obama, Barack Obama and Barack Obama.  Books he wrote.  (Have you read them?  Share your opinions below!)  Books about him, books about his ideas.  Anything about him, the more personal the better.  Can you imagine the advance on a book called "Barack's Guide to Kicking the Habit?"


It's not just Obama who's selling, but anyone connected to him.  Books about his wife are big.  Given the popularity of the Sasha and Malia dolls, books about his children are sure to follow and be huge hits.  I personally would be happy to read any book about his mother-in-law (or to watch a sit-com about her life in the White House -- isn't that tailor-made?)  Books by his ex-girlfriends?  A certain goldmine!  Agents, are you out there beating the bushes for these women? In Dreams from My Father, he talks about a woman he was in love with, about a weekend spent at her parents' place by a lake.  (And she was white!)  Where is this woman and why hasn't she gotten a huge advance?  Can you imagine the movie deal?  The interviews on the morning shows?

The point is, there's serious money these days in memoirs by the fabulously politically famous.  President Obama's book royalties last year alone were $4.2 million.  Sarah Palin is reportedly looking for eleven mill.  Hillary got an $8 million advance for hers. Condi is out making the rounds of publishers as we speak, and even Laura Bush  -- the wife of the most hated president in history -- got $1.6 million, in troubled times no less.  Of course, some of these books may be a bit salacious and lacking in depth. (Speaking of, can you imagine how much Eliot Spitzer would get if he stopped faking remorse and penned a sexually explicit memoir?  The Guv's Guide to Hookers?)  But some are plain educational and positive and worth buying and reading and touting.

All of this led me to the perfect daydream -- maybe not to everyone but to me.  Honestly, jealous as I sometimes feel of more famous authors' royalty checks, I never fantasize about being them.  It wouldn't be any different from being me. (Though it would pay better. Which means my husband probably does fantasize about me being Stephenie Meyer.)  But boy, do I daydream about having some huge job in the new administration.  It's my absolute fantasy.  I would love the job to death.  Work 80 or 100 hours a week for four or eight years.  Solve the Arab-Israeli conflict or global warming.  Get on the front page of the Times and photographed for Vogue (in black & white -- a "serious" profile) wearing Oscar de la Renta.  And the icing on the cake -- the multi-million dollar advance on the memoir at the end of my tenure.  Sigh!

I ask myself -- assuming any of these Obama-ites' memoirs would pull in seven figures -- which one would I be?  Which one would you?  Pick somebody and tell us why.



OR -- let's not forget, the biggest advance of all:

January 12, 2009

It's the Voting, Stupid

It's the Voting, Stupid


by Michele

In a democracy, we believe in free speech and the marketplace of ideas.  In consequence, we are blessed with a wide variety of opinions and lots of healthy disagreement.  But there are still things we can agree on, and chief among them is the idea that voting is good.  If anything, there should be more voting, not less. (I wish somebody had called a special election on the question whether or not to redesign the Tropicana orange juice carton, for example.  (Click here to see the horrific new carton!)  If they had, I would still be getting a dose of sunshine and pep with my morning beverage instead of contemplating what looks like a depressing generic store brand.)

As urgent as the Tropicana carton issue is, it pales in comparison to some other voting we're not getting to do.  U.S. Senate seats, three of them!  Three rather prominent people are going into the new administration and leaving behind U.S. Senate seats with years left to go on the terms. This is akin to vacating a prime parking space with an hour left on the meter, except more so.  You'd think with something so valuable, our democratic system would require an election to let the people's voices be heard.  But no.

It's true that we didn't always vote for our U.S. Senators.  The framers originally provided for members of the Senate to be elected by the legislatures of their home states.  (Here's a little constitutional history if you're interested.)  But even getting elected by the legislature is more democratic than what's happening here -- new Senators getting appointed by one person and one person only, the governor of their home states. 

Where that governor is a buffoon and a criminal

    the pitfalls are obvious.  But even with a governor as grounded and honorable as David Paterson, appointing senators creates big problems.

Chief among these is the appearance of favoritism.  Correction -- ACTUAL favoritism.  Caroline Kennedy makes a phone call and gets a Senate seat?  Will David Paterson make her do a better job than this of explainnig why she wants it?  I bet the voters would.

We have enough trouble in this country with elective office being reserved for the wealthy, the famous and the children of the previously elected.  Just take a look at the New York Senate seat.  David Paterson, son of Basil, will choose from a pool where the two most prominent candidates are Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John, and Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario.  In Delaware, Ruth Ann Minner filled Joe Biden's seat with his right-hand man Ted Kaufman, who's there to keep it warm until Joe's son Beau Biden comes back from Iraq and runs in 2010.

Not that voters wouldn't make these same choices if allowed to vote. People voted for George Bush, son of George, and they may yet decide to vote for Jeb, other son of George.  All sorts of Kennedys have been elected to all sorts of offices because of their last name.  (There's one legacy that deserves to be reexamined.  What did JFK ever do except look fantastic in sportswear and speak well?  Oh right, he got us into Vietnam and repeatedly authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King's phones.  Not to mention swimming naked with the White House steno girls.)  Who's to say Evan Bayh or John Sununu or Nancy Pelosi (whose father was a U.S. Congressman) didn't deserve to be elected?  In a democracy, we can choose to be anti-democratic, and that's okay. (Actually it's not, but whaddaya gonna do?)  At least it's our choice. 

September 08, 2008

Michele's sayonara, Lisa boycotts the letter M

Michele's sayonara, Lisa boycotts the letter M

Hi, I'm Lisa Daily, I'll be blogging here for a while, every other Monday while Michele is away shaping our brilliant young legal minds.

I'm a TV dating expert (Daytime), and author Stop Getting Dumped! (a dating advice book)  and  Fifteen Minutes of Shame (a novel about a TV dating expert who gets dumped on national television -- fiction, I swear.)

I was planning to use this post to introduce myself to all of you, but instead, I've wasted hours and hours trying to think of words without the letter M.

"Why?" you might ask. 

"Well," I'd tell you, "my M key is stuck on my keyboard, and I have to mash it really hard to get the M to work."

I never realized just how much I needed the M until I tried to write a column and a blog post without one.  I am a writing professional:  I know all of the letters are important,  however, it seems like you could probably get by for a few days without a Q or a Z.  But an M -- well, there's just no getting around that one.  It's the "am,"  "him" and "I'm" that screw you up.

Now, if my Q, or the little +/=, or the "fn" key were stuck, it would be no problem.  I could probably survive for weeks, maybe years with a little creativity. I've worked on a mac since college and I'm not even sure what the "fn" key is for.

But a dysfunctional M -- it's almost tragic.

I could search the dictionary for suitable alternatives, but I just can't live without Milquetoast or Mustache or Mack Daddy  or Marzipan or Mother#%cker

And obviously, I can't possibly work without am, mommy complex, and impotent.

Maybe I should just find the directions to the Apple store, and get the bleeping thing fixed.

So nice to meet you all. 


August 25, 2008

Putting the Keggers Back into College

Putting the Keggers Back into College

by Michele

Recently, a group of 100 college presidents called on state legislatures to lower the drinking age back to 18 from the current 21.  They believe that the current absolute prohibition on alcohol on college campuses drives drinking underground and leads to binge drinking.

In high school, I was an A-student, editor of the school newspaper and I ran with the smart crowd rather than the jocks or the stoners or the preps.  We liked to think of ourselves as cool nerds.  And while we would never have done anything to jeopardize our college admissions, there were certain rules we routinely broke.  Underage drinking was a big one.  Some of my favorite memories of high school are of getting dressed up and sneaking into this bar called the Russian Lady.  It was a grown-up place with a yuppie singles scene, and it felt so glamorous.  We never had a problem getting in.  Hey, it was Connecticut in the late 70s.  Lifestyles were permissive; nobody carded you.  The drinking age was 18.  At 16, with makeup on, my friends and I could pass with no problem, and the management seemed happy enough to have young girls drinking at the bar.

I was reminded of some of my misadventures recently when I saw the movie Superbad, pretty much the entire plot of which revolves around nerdy high school kids trying to buy alcohol for a party.      Needless to say, they succeed, not only in buying the alcohol, but in getting laid, becoming cool and cementing their friendships along the way.

In college, alcohol continued to play an important role in social life, but it was no longer the grail.  When I went to college, the drinking age was 18, and keggers abounded. From freshman year on, my friends and I would compile lists of parties to go to on the weekends.  We'd turn up our noses at the frat-boy keggers and look for the artsier ones.  Alcohol wasn't the point, or maybe I should say it was beside the point because it was so readily available.  The groovy Eurotrash crowd took it for granted, and went on the prowl for mushrooms or cocaine instead.  Occasionally people had problems with alcohol that were actually acknowledged as problems.  I knew girls who got drunk enough to get date raped.  Occasionally people would throw up, pass out, make fools of themselves. No fatalities or major injuries.  The only student who died of substance abuse when I was in college dropped dead in Harvard Square after a night of heavy cocaine use.  The long and the short of it is, I can't imagine college with no alcohol.  The campus drug dealers would have had a bonanza, I'll tell you that much.

The crusade to raise the drinking age to 21 was led by MADD on the theory that it would lower traffic fatalities.  This report from NIH suggests that there is some real relationship.  Speaking of traffic fatalities -- I was in Italy recently.  The roads suck and people drive like maniacs, weaving in and out of traffic in tiny little cars or on motorcycles with no helmets.  They look like they're having fun.  They also have a lot more traffic fatalities than we do.  Which I guess leads me to wonder about the trade-offs we make.  I live in a state that does not require seat belt use if you're over 18, and you know what -- I like being able to make my own decision about whether to buckle up or not.  I mean, if you really want to reduce traffic fatalities, you'd prohibit driving.

Of course, the Italians also have very different attitudes about drinking than we do.  My kids, who are 8 and 12, were routinely offered wine when we were there.  Which reminds me that my trainer, who grew up in the West Indies, doesn't drink at all.  He was raised with no rules about alcohol and claims he did all his drinking by the time he was 15.

The higher drinking age has had no effect on me personally, since it went up long after I was legal.  But I now have friends with college-age kids, and I hear them complain.  Good kids getting in big trouble for having a beer at a party on a Saturday night.  These are kids who grew up with parents who drink responsibly.  If I had to write the law, I think I'd put the drinking age at 19, to better keep alcohol out of the high schools, but I wouldn't want my own kids to be forbidden to drink when they're in college.  The key is to raise kids to drink responsibly, and never to drink and drive, or get into a car with anybody who does. My two cents, FWIW.

August 17, 2008

A Piece of Paper

A Piece of Paper


by Michele

What did you really learn in college?  Does it matter to you today?  I was raised by one high school graduate and one high school dropout who later got his GED and college degree courtesy of the U.S. military, and I'm as proud as I can be of that.  The point being, you'd better believe my parents wanted me to go to college, and they scrimped and sacrificed so I could.  Was it worth it?  Not just in my case, but in general?  What does that piece of paper get you?

This question becomes more and more pressing as tuition skyrockets and college slips out of reach for a lot of people.  And yeah, a few Ivies with billion-dollar endowments are waiving tuition for the needy.  Tried getting into one of them lately?  My alma mater is one of them.  Would they accept my application if I were applying today?  Hard to imagine. (And not if they read this blog, they won't.)

I learned a lot in college and not all of it was pleasant.  I learned that a lot of people are really rich and they get sent to the cool dorms and go into Boston for sushi whenever they feel like it.  I learned that some of my roommates who grew up in truly horrrendous circumstances will come into this environment and have nervous breakdowns and become suicidal, and for that they will get largely ignored.  (Except they do get their own room -- known as the "psycho single").  I learned that classes are taught by grad students who don't know my name, and that if I want the attention of a full professor I always have the option of sleeping with him.  I learned that years later, if I sit next to a distinguished professor from my alma mater at a panel discussion, tell him I took his course years ago and confess I found my undergraduate experience less than satisfying, he'll say, "Yeah, it's a sink-or-swim kind of place."

I also learned an enormous amount about Western political philosophy, literature of the 19th and 20th centuries in English and Spanish, and European and Latin American history.  I still remember a lot of it, and because of that, I feel like an educated person.  Does it make me better at my job than anybody else?  Probably not.  A better person?  Of course not, probably the opposite.  But it does mean never having to say I'm sorry.

And more than anything else, I learned that the right name on a piece of paper opens doors.  I learned I can impress people just by dropping it, and that if I'm feeling small or insecure, I can whip that proverbial piece of paper out and beat people about the head with it and they will comply with my wishes.  You don't have to take my word for it.  The Wall Street Journal will tell you -- these schools get you a huge edge, and I'm talking dollars and cents here. 

If you don't base your society on inherited weath, I guess you have to have some means of singling people out.  Could be worse, I suppose.

August 11, 2008

No More Material Girl

No More Material Girl

by Michele

No, this isn't a blog about Madonna, and I don't care whether or not she's sleeping with A-Rod.  It's my own material habits I'm interested in today, and yours. 

I don't know about you, but I find I'm shopping for fun a lot less these days.  And it's not just that I don't live in New York anymore, because I can do plenty of damage from the comfort of my computer.  Did you ever notice that Saks and Neiman Marcus had their websites designed by the same company?  I did.  That's how much time I used to log "window shopping" on-line when I should have been working.  But no more.

The last time my shopping frequency took a nosedive this major was when the recession in the early 90s coincided with the start of the Gulf War.  The first section of the New York Times has all the pretty advertisements for luxury goods -- the jewels, the Chanel handbags, the gorgeous shoes.  I'd read the front page and feel just sick from all the bad news.  The housing slump, the terrible economy, the awful war.  Then I'd turn the page and see those ads and they'd look absolutely obscene.  The news this time around is worse, and those ads are looking that much more wrong.  Even if I can still afford to shop, I don't want to.  I might need that money for a rainy day.  I guess that's what they call a decline in consumer confidence.

It seems not everybody feels the way I do.  The economy is falling apart, yet luxury goods retailers like Louis Vuitton are doing better than ever.  How can this be?  I just happen to be reading a cute book that sheds some light on women with the truly insane shopping gene -- Michael Tonello's Bringing Home the Birkin, a memoir about a makeup artist who moves to Barcelona on a whim and ends up selling his designer wardrobe on EBay to pay his rent.  He stumbles into the rarefied world of super-rich women who live to hunt the "Birkin" -- a particular handbag made by Hermes which has a two- or three-year waiting list.  He ends up making his living buying and reselling the things.   

  I know it's difficult to believe, but a "starter" Birkin is $7000 in the store, and authentic Birkins fetch anywhere from $10K to 100K on EBay depending on how rare they are.  Yes, TODAY someone will be paying that kind of money for a handbag.

I'd like to propose that we all go back to satisfying our material needs like we did when we were kids, by collecting innocent, inexpensive -- even free -- things.


My older son for a time collected the pins they give you when you visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York. They're just a little round piece of tin with the Met's trademark "M" symbol stamped on them, but he loved the fact that every day the pin was a different color.  He'd beg me to go to the museum and use our membership card to gain admission, so we could get a pin for him and one for me (to give to him for the collection, of course).  Then we'd spend ten minutes or so scouring the floors in the Great Hall for M pins that people had dropped.  The art -- not so much.  It was about the pins.  He had a huge bag full of them in every color, with the rarest colors being the most prized.

My younger son will collect anything -- buttons, stones, medals from any war or replicas of said medals, any type of card (Pokemon, baseball, something completely random), small plastic figures of animals, bright shiny pennies, you name it.  When I was a kid, I used to collect toothpaste caps, wash them out and make sets of glassware for my Barbie dolls to use at their tea parties.  Finishing the toothpaste tube was a moment of great satisfaction, as great as anybody ever had over a silly handbag.

July 28, 2008

Pick Your Own

Pick Your Own [Corn, Vice President, Fill in the Blank]


by Michele

There are a lot of reasons to love summer, but one of my favorite reasons by far is that it's "pick your own" time at the local farms.  I know, I know -- plenty of people do the "pick your own" thing in their actual own backyard.  They have the time, energy and knowledge to plant a real actual honest-to-goodness vegetable garden.  (The only way I'm getting a vegetable garden is if I make like these lazy locavores and hire some Ph.D. organic farmer type to custom-plant one for me.  Oh, and he'd have to show up and weed, fertilize and water it, too.) These real-life gardener types can just wander out back round about six o'clock, decide what looks ripe that day, and figure out what to make for dinner.  If you're one of those people with a basketload of fresh veggies growing in your own backyard, I'm officially jealous and looking to live vicariously.  C'mon, tell us --  what's in your garden today?

Picking the stuff, on the other hand, I can manage.  It doesn't take very long, or require any special skill except knowing when a berry is ripe.  And if you have a question about that, just pop it into your mouth and do the taste-test.  There are no surveillance cameras out in the strawberry fields, not the last time I checked anyway.

I love spending an hour on a hot day out in a field full of strwberries and coming home with more than I know what to do with.  I eat them with cereal, ice cream, yogurt, you name it.  And I love strawberry shortcake.  The best kind is made on melt-in-your-mouth biscuits -- here's a great recipe from Epicurious -- but in a pinch, Sara Lee pound cake with a squirt of Redi-Whip doesn't suck either.  Blueberries -- now those are for pie!  I go with the good old-fashioned pie recipe in Joy of Cooking.  Well, recipe is a misnomer.  They wrote up the zen of pie-making, applicable to any fruit.  In the fall, you can use the same recipe for apples.  Pie recipes, anyone?

Now, the other pick-your-own I've been indulging in this summer is the Pick Your Own V.P. game on Slate.  I wish I could say it's as much fun as picking strawberries in the hot sun, but unfortunately it just keeps pissing me off.  Why?  Because I try to pick a female VP, and I keep getting no matches.  You know why, right?  There are virtually no women out there who are qualified.  Let's say we rule out Condi because the left hates her, rule out Nancy Pelosi because the right hates her, and rule out Hillary because everybody who works for Obama hates her.  Who's left?  Those consolation-prize mentionees like Sarah Palin and Kathleen Sebelius?  No wonder they don't come up in my search.  I pick the boxes that say "has a friggin clue about Washington" and "I've actually heard of her," and those women are automatically disqualified.  I bet you didn't even recognize Sarah Palin's picture up there next to the strawberries, did you? 

Please Mr. Nominees, do not consolation-prize me!

Here's my recipe for a fun Monday -- let's make our own pick-your-own-V.P. game.  The rules won't be as rigid as the game on Slate.  For instance, no need to pick a politican.  All you need is someone with a brain who's actually accomplished something in his/her life.  (That rules out a lot of politicians right there.)

Let's see -- female, 35-60, reasonably well known, understands the ways of Washington.  Tina Fey for Veep! 

July 14, 2008

To the Dogs

To the Dogs

by Michele                                     

It's not like I want to keep writing about how rich people spend their money, but they just keep doing such (sorry, can't resist) doggone things with it.  First Bill Gates decides to donate fifty of his billions to the cause of saving humanity.  (Thank you, Bill, that was very nice of you.)  Now Leona Helmsley has given a fortune estimated by this Times article at between $5 billion and $8 billion to the cause of saving . . . dogs! 

Maybe if somebody else had done it, this bequest would have provoked less dismayed tittering.  But let's face it, Leona hated people, and she let everybody know it.  She was a greedy bee-yatch who bilked contractors and refused to pay her taxes.  Taxes were for the little people, she said, before promptly getting convicted of tax evasion on a massive scale.  She was famously cruel and abusive to her employees.  As for how she treated her family -- well, she left $12 million to her dog, $10 million each to two of her grandchildren, and nothing, a big fat zero, to two others.  Nuff said.

And that's exactly what fascinates me about this story.  It's not just that Leona wanted to save dogs instead of saving humanity, it's that she loved the dog in her life better than she loved her family.  This I do not understand, but I have to confess, I've missed out on a singular human experience, folks.  I've never had a serious relationship with an animal.  In other words, I've never had a pet. 

I'm starting to think this is kinda like never having had kids, or parents, or never having gotten married.  Yes, it's a valid choice, but since I'm missing a basic experience that most other people have, some human actions just won't make sense to me.

If I had to throw in my lot with one camp or another, I'd join the dog people.  There are many animals I admire, but the only animal I can imagine cohabiting with is a dog.  Cats don't have a fair shot with me because I'm horribly allergic to them and I can't help blaming them for this. Besides, they're so haughty and independent that I don't see the point of trying to love one.  It's like having a kid that wants nothing to do with you -- a recipe for heartbreak.  I know this must sound outrageous to cat people, so feel free to tell me to shove off.  (No profanity please, it's a Monday!) 

Dogs, on the other hand, seem just human enough but not too human, if you know what I mean.  They'd interact with you, give you love, but never try to take your place.  I can't help thinking of the sequel to Planet of the Apes in which we finally learn how the apes took over.  All the dogs and cats got killed off by a virus.  People turned to monkeys as pets.  Surprise -- monkeys are a lot smarter than dogs and cats.  People made a critical mistake, and started training them to do more and more things. Pretty soon we're talking HAL in 2001:A Space Odyssey territory.  Bye-bye people. Dogs would never do that, they'd never want the responsibility.

But just because I can imagine living with a dog doesn't mean that I think dogs need billions of dollars.  If I had billions, and I somehow decided to leave my fortune to animals instead of humans, I'd pick animals that are in greater need, like all the wild ones whose habitats we've destroyed.  That incredibly cool show on The History channel about life after people (check out this trailer) made pretty clear that dogs would do well on their own.  They don't need coddling.  They're good predators, and not picky about what they eat when they're hungry.  They could survive without us, and who knows, maybe they'd be happier.  Maybe they don't like wearing Burberry raincoats and ribbons on their ears. 

Me, I think I'd leave my money to the birds.  Has anybody noticed how many fewer birds there are than when we were kids?  I've read about this, and it's scientifically true that the birds are disappearing all over the earth.  Their numbers are down catastrophically.  But lately I've been noticing it with my own eyes and ears.  Dogs don't need our help.  Birds do.  One can only hope there's some reclusive billionaire out there with a pet canary. 

July 06, 2008

Summer's a Picnic!

Summer's a Picnic

by Michele               

As I write this, I'm preparing for that most sublime of all summer outings, the Fourth of July picnic.  Three families are going to spread blankets on the town green in the most adorable little New England village and watch the fireworks.  That definitely calls for good food.

  A successful picnic involving kids and grown-ups is more complicated than it looks at first glance.  Food has to be portable, easily eaten with the hands, and not likely to wilt in the summer heat.  It has to be enticing for grown-ups but not completely alienate the kiddies.  (Or, heck, toss in a few PB&J's if they won't eat cilantro!)

We've decided to do cocktails, sandwiches, side dishes and desserts.  I volunteered for sandwich duty. Right now, I'm thinking three varieties, cut into halves or quarters, toothpicked and put on a plastic catering platter I have left over from some event.  Or no -- I'll bring the sandwiches on a wicker tray.  Much prettier!  How about this for the assortment?  Pulled pork on onion rolls, dilled egg salad on seven grain, and chicken with roasted peppers and pesto on -- hmm, ciabatta?  Then again, there are some awfully tempting ideas in this great list of picnic treats from the Times.

What do we need in addition to the food?  Blankets to sit on, or folding chairs if we're being ambitious.  Paper goods, or real plates if we're trying to be green (or just elegant).  A few balls and frisbees for the kids to toss around. Insect repellent.  And good weather!

What are your favorite things to bring to a picnic?