Thursday, April 30, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--The Hysterical Media

I don't know about you, but I no longer trust the media to give me news I can believe. Every time it rains, the local media runs an alert at the bottom of the TV screen threatening mayhem. Same for snowstorms during winter. They'll warn us we could be up to our armpits in snow--possibly blizzard conditions, and we'll get a light dusting. Then, when we get a big storm, more often than not, they won't predict it.

Sick pig I'm so tired of the media crying wolf that I haven't been able to rise above the MILDLY INTERESTED stage when it comes to the swine flu outbreak. It seems they want us to all panic! (Maybe, like during a predicted snowstorm that never arrives, we should run out to the grocery store and buy up all the milk and bread.)

I can't get riled up about the statistics they're offering. So many sick here, so many sick there -- my God, the REGULAR flu kills more than this one has so far. And from what I have heard, and except for Mexico, the people who've gotten the flu have had "mild cases." So why blow it all out of proportion?

Scare tactics--that's what it is.

Washing hands Okay, I'm one of those people who carries a bottle of Purel in my purse (and my car--in fact, I have two in the car). I use it all the time (especially after I leave the grocery store). But our President gave the best advice to avoid the flu: WASH YOUR HANDS. COVER YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU COUGH -- and the one that can't be repeated enough (and was never taken seriously at my former place of employment, because if you missed a day you had a FREQUENCY): IF YOU'RE SICK--STAY HOME AND RECOVER, DON'T SPREAD IT AROUND.

And what's bugging YOU today?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SPRING FLOWERS

I've had a new camera for a couple of weeks now, and have been eager to start taking pictures once again. And after that "long, cold, lonely winter," the spring flowers are a welcome treat.

Rhodo So yesterday I bopped outside with camera in hand and visited my front yard, looking for stuff to snap. First up was the rhododendron right outside the front door. It's in need of some shaping, but I'm afraid to hack at it for fear of killing it. (As it is, the Bee 3 icicles took out a big chunk of the back of the plant this winter.) But the big treat was that a huge bee was out there, dipping into the pollen. This new camera has a telephoto lens and -- whoa! There he was, big as life. (And see the pollen on his butt! Is that cute, or what?)

Next to the rhodo we have a little stand of daffodils. They're the spring plant that keeps Close up daffodil on giving. They've been out for over a week, and we've had a couple of really hot (Wonderful!) days, but they're still pert and perky. (I have to learn which setting gives me a sharper background. Hey, it's only been a couple of weeks--give me time, give me time!

Tulips We didn't plant the tulips out front -- and usually we have only one straggly bloom, but this year we had more--go figure! (And I'm certainly not complaining.) Sadly, tulips seem to last a day or two (especially if it's hot). As you can see, they're already getting a little brown around the edges, and they'd only been open a day.

Dandilion Of course, while spring is great for flowers, it's also great for weeds. Why do they look so pretty when they flower--and so ugly when they turn into puff balls of seeds a day or two later?

Apple blossom1 The former owners told us they had a row of ornamental cherry trees along the side of the driveway, but the ice storm of 1991 took out all but one. It's the oddest looking tree because it's tall with very short (they all broke in the storm) limbs. Most of the year it looks like it needs to be put out of its misery. But for a couple of golden (or should I say platinum) days in the spring, it flowers and almost looks pretty. (Well, it does look pretty close up.)

I stopped using my SLR camera about ten years ago and almost exclusively used a point-and-shoot. And when we got our first digital cameras, they, too, were point-and-shoot. I've only had the new camera a couple of weeks, and have realized how much I missed taking really good pictures. Now to learn to use the thing to its full capacity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chewing the cheek

This year has NOT been a good dental year for me. Oy!Unhappy face

I trace my dental problems not so much to myself, but an unscrupulous dentist, who preyed upon my parents (and God knows how many other parents) drilling out massive amounts of my dentin and filling my teeth with mercury all those many moons ago. The man died not too long ago and I DID NOT MOURN him, despite the very long, GLOWING obit in the local fish-wrapper.

That HORRIBLE man DESTROYED my teeth. And how nice a house did he have? How many of his children did he send through some very expensive Ivy League college? What year Corvette did he drive while I've spent the greater part of my adult life doing nothing but pour more and more money into my mouth trying to salvage the teeth he destroyed?

But...as usual...I digress.

I've spent more than the advance on my next series on my teeth in the last four months. Holy cow--I can't believe what frivolous things I could've bought had I not been repairing damage upon damage upon damage.

I recently got an new dentist. She's a woman--and boy do I trust her and her whole staff. This is a first for me--a woman dentist, and actual trust. I feel comfortable there. I don't feel like she's trying to put one over on me, which I have felt in the past with male dentists. Oh, she's not cheap, but this time--it feels different. This time I feel like she's got MY best interest at heart, and not her bottom line.

For instance, last week I had a problem with my temp crown (which was actually covering TWO teeth--because I'm getting a new crown on one tooth, and a replacement crown on the tooth right next to it). The first temp felt good, but it was defective. Hey, it took five tries (and let me tell you, with an overactive gag reflex I am NOT a good patient--hey, I've puked on more than one dentist while having impressions taken) before we got a decent impression. Then, of course, I had to bite down on a popcorn hull that broke the temp. Oy! My tongue was hamburger after three days, and the receptionist gave me a good talking to for not "bothering" the dentist on her weekend off.

Happy tooth So today I get my final crowns. Good, because I've done nothing but chew my cheek for the last week every time I bite my food. Dr. C was concerned that I'd eat through the temp again, so I think she made it extra big this last time--just so it wouldn't crap out on me.

At this point, I only have one more scheduled procedure in front of me, and I've decided, because it's not something that will SHOW at an author talk, that I will wait until my insurance covers it (next January) before I tackle it. If I have to lose the tooth, it won't be visible, so I think I can live with that. In the meantime, I'll kind of miss Dr. C and her assistant Ms. A because they've been so accommodating and so gosh-darn NICE to me.

But I sure won't miss the hit to my wallet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A SWEET TREAT!

Once upon a time, I read a story about a little girl from the city, who visited her country relatives in Vermont. These relatives made maple syrup. She was left alone with the boiling sap and at a crucial moment, did something (for some reason, I thought she put in a little pitcher of cream), and saved the whole batch. She wasn’t just some dumb city girl anymore—she had saved the day.

That’s about as close to making maple syrup as I’ve ever been. But I can’t say the same of my friend, Janet Koch. Every year, she and her husband tap the sugar maples on their property on the shore of some frozen lake way up in Michigan, and then boil the sap for what seems like a million years (I think she said it was two weeks—but that can seem like a million years when you have to keep stoking the fire) and eventually—TA DA! Maple syrup.

I think she said (some reporter I’d make, eh?) that she had to accumulate between 50-70 gallons of sap to make two gallons of syrup. No wonder the stuff is as expensive as French perfume and sold by the ounce!

Janet's syrup As it happens, I am the happy recipient of a jar of Janet's 2009 maple syrup production!

Confession time: I have NEVER had real maple syrup before. I know, I know—how sheltered can one woman be? I’ve only had the fake stuff…and truth be told, don’t like it much. I have had maple candy, which costs the moon and is Waffle breakfast so sweet you can only take tiny bites. So it was with much anticipation that I planned Sunday’s breakfast. Ahh, lovely Mennonite bacon, extra crisp homemade waffles, and Janet’s maple syrup.

Let me tell you, that fake crap ain’t passing my lips from this day forward. The homemade stuff was divine, and Hubby said it was better than a lot of Vermont maple syrup he’s purchased over the years--and in fact, the BEST he's ever tasted. We’re already planning on a repeat of Sunday’s breakfast. In fact, many repeats – at least until Janet’s maple syrup is gone.

I saw a story posted on AOL saying that Maple Syrup is in hot demand because there have been several bad seasons for collecting sap. Prices are as high as $100 a gallon for the pure stuff. Which makes Janet's gift all that more valuable, and thoughtful.

Hmmm…now to figure out how to stay on Janet’s syrup distribution list.

Friday, April 24, 2009

BIRD FOLLY

The other day, I looked out the bathroom window and noticed a robin sitting on the roof, looking Robin around. It jumped to the ground, looked around some more, and then jumped onto the faux craftsman lamp we have next to our front door. It then flew back to the roof, back to the driveway, and then back to the lamp, obviously satisfied with itself.

"There's a bird out here thinking about building a nest," I told Frank.

Nothing happened and we forgot about it.

Until this morning. Frank went to get the morning paper and, HELLO!, there was a fully built nest. It wasn't there last evening. After breakfast, Frank went out and removed the next. (He didn't tell me this, of course.) Three hours later, I went out to put a letter in the mailbox. HELLO! There were all kinds of dead grass and sticks up on the light again.

Thinking it might be filled with bird cooties, I took off my shoe and Nest knocked the nest down, and went back inside. "FRANK!" I called, rather annoyed. "I thought you were going to remove that nest."

"I did."

"Oh, yeah!"

"Yeah!"

He came out and was astounded at how much work this robin had accomplished in just under three Light hours. By the end of the day, I'm sure there would've been several eggs in that nest. In order to discourage the bird, we put a heavy piece of broken patio block up there. (You can never find a rock when you need one.)

Mrs. Robin was quite upset, as would any mother-to-be, but we didn't want to lose the use of the light, and the nest would've been a fire hazard, not to mention the bird poop that we would've had to scrub off the house and step (we've been there, done that).

Yes, it was all for the best. So why do I feel so mean?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--Them's Fightin' Words

Today my guest is Agatha-nominated mystery author Sheila Connolly (who also writes as Sarah Atwell).

In the April 12th New York Times Magazine, Joyce Carol Oates said, Whale "If you're going to spend the next year of your life writing, you would probably rather write 'Moby Dick' than a little household mystery with cat detectives."

Uh, no? I admire Joyce Carol Oates. She's incredibly prolific; she's been publishing since 1963 and has over fifty novels out there (I think everyone has given up counting). And they're not slight tomes, either–-and have enjoyed them.

But what a snob! Okay, maybe she isn't comparing herself to Melville–maybe she's saying she'd rather try to emulate Melville than, say, Janet Evanovich. But how dare she diss mysteries? My kind of mysteries? It's dueling pistols at forty paces, lady!

That same week, in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Meyers gives the statistic, "Seven out of ten titles do not earn back their advance." So let's take a look at the Best Seller lists for that week (which presumably did earn out). Jonathan Kellerman, John Grisham, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Walter Mosley, J. D. Robb, Robert Parker in hardcover; Mary Higgins Clark, David Baldacci, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Jonathan Kellerman, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Lisa Jackson in mass market. Mysteries and thrillers. Where are the sensitive, insightful, classic works of Literature?

Not that I'm maligning literature. I read it, I respect it, I learn from it. But guess what? People want escapism. They want things to blow up, and people who flee from evildoers or turn and confront them–and win. They want to be entertained. Maybe they should seek to be enlightened and uplifted by what they read–-but they don't have the time or the patience. Most people are working, commuting, keeping a household going. If they're lucky they get a few minutes to read before they go to bed. That's not the best time to enrich one's soul and mind.

I'm tired of genre writers being considered second-class citizens while the "real" writers sell a thousand books total and are the darlings of the critics. We genre writers give people what they want; we make them happy. What's wrong with that?

And what's bugging YOU today?
-------------------------------------
Sheila Connolly's first published novel (written under the name Sarah Atwell),TAGD THROUGH A GLASS, DEADLY, first in the Glassblowing Mystery series, has been nominated for the prestigious Agatha Award. Sheila also writes the Orchard Mystery series under her own name. The first title is ONE BAD APPLE. Check out Sheila's web sites (www.SheilaConnolly.com and www.SarahAtwellwriter.com) or her posts every Monday on the Writers Plot blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RAIN ON THE ROOF

Why does it always seem to rain during daylight hours and ruin Unbrella perfectly good days? Days that should be filled with baseball games, picnics, boating, gardening, and other enjoyable stuff.

Okay, the flowers/crops need the rain. I get that. But the days are gloomy and depressing.

On the other hand, I love to fall asleep at night with the sound of rain on the roof. It's kind of magical. It lulls you off to dreamland in a peaceful way.

Mind you, I'm not opposed to an occasional night-time thunderstorm, either. I love to watch the sky flash with lightning. I'm not so keen on the wind that accompanies said storms. I fear toppled trees that take power lines with them. (Our little post office was hit with a tree during a storm just the other day. Took out a HUGE portion of the roof--right where the customers stand to have their letters and packages weighed. Scary!)

Last night's weather report said we had a 60% chance of Rain on the roof rain overnight. Oh goody, I thought--another night of rain on the roof. Unfortunately, the weather man, with this "predicting dartboard" was wrong again. Come on, with all the supposed improvements in weather prognostication, you'd think they could get it right at least 50% of the time. I know, I've crabbed about this in the past in respect to snowstorms, but they're apparently no better at predicting summer weather, either.

In the meantime, I do have a number of thunderstorm CDs. I can play any one of them any time I please (which is just about every night), so I never have to be without some form of soothing, night-time rain. But I prefer the real thing.

How about you?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SUICIDAL WORMS

April showers bring May flowers -- and they also bring out the worms.

It rained A LOT yesterday, and sure enough, this morning the driveway was full of suicidal worms. When the drive was wet, they probably thought it was a fine idea to wiggle out there and warm up, but now that the sun is out and the drive is drying -- so are they. And the dim bulbs (well, to be fair -- they have no real brains) just lie there and die.

I was coming back from taking the trash can to the curb and saw a BIG, FAT, GOOSHY worm near the garage and, I don't know what came over me, but I felt sorry for it. So I did something I never thought I'd do. I donned a gardening glove, picked it up, and placed it back in the dirt. Hey, worms are good for the garden, right? Nature's engineers and all that.

All I can say about the experience is ICK -- major ICK. But, hopefully s/he'll survive and reproduce and my garden will flourish, right?

Bird and worm If not, there're a lot of robins around looking for lunch.

Monday, April 20, 2009

THE BARE FLOOR

I've been working on making my office ... well, an office, instead of a storeroom. This has not been a particularly easy journey. I simply have too much stuff, and my office seems to be a catch-all for everything.

I need to learn to part with stuff. Especially old stuff. Do I really need to keep the galley proofs for books already in print? Should I keep the bound manuscript (now published) of something I blurbed last summer? How about those old issues of Reminisce magazine that I will never read again?

Bare floor But the funny thing is, in the past couple of weeks, I can see more of my floor than I've seen in a long time. It really is a nice floor, too. Oak, and in really good shape. (As opposed to the floor in our guest room, which was once the bedroom of a teenager--not ours, the previous owner's daughter. What did that kid do? Roller skate in there?)

Despite all the progress I've made, the desk is still the sore spot. There's far too much crap on it. (Does anyone really need three coffee cups full of pens, markers, pencils, letter openers, scissors, and emery boards?)

I haven't worked on my writing at this computer in over a year. Thank the maker for laptops. I set mine up on the dining room table and when I sit in front of it, usually manage to crank out my daily word quota.

Surfing the internet Speaking of which ... I guess I'd better head for the dining room, or else I'll get sucked into the Internet and surf for the rest of the day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

INSPIRATION

For the past five years, I've had a copy of a chalk drawing hanging over my desk. I saw it in the back of some magazine, and thought to myself: My God, that's Sabina! Frank manged to blow it up. (Kapow!) He even found the name of the artist (which we've both forgotten).

Okay, you've heard about Jeff, and Tricia, and my newest character, Katie, but who the heck is Sabina?

Five or six years ago, I started writing a mystery featuring Sabina Sabina Reigns, who runs a interior design store. I wrote a couple of chapters and let it sit. I was very discouraged because I hadn't been able to sell my Jeff Resnick series, and my agent at the time wouldn't handle my cozy mystery series. I needed something different.

So I took Sabina's mystery, and turned it into women's fiction. I wrote 14 chapters and it all fell apart. Why? Because much as I like to read women's fiction, I didn't much like writing it. The story kept wanting to be a mystery. So, I abandoned it.

But I kept Sabina's picture over my desk.

And now I've sold Katie. I know what Jeff looks like, and I have a pretty good idea what Tricia looks like (think a younger Jessica Lange), and I know exactly how Katie looks, too. (Like my friend KJS back in the late 1970s--only taller.) And since it doesn't look like Sabina is ever going to see print (especially that first chapter--I used the same method of death in Bookmarked for Death), I wondered what I should do with that drawing.

I took it down. But instead of tossing it or putting it my Sabina notebook and forgetting it -- I put it in a pretty frame and hung it back on the wall. Sabina is here to remind me that not all book ideas work out. At least, not in the way you think they will.

I know Sabina, and I know her history. And one day I may yet write her story (and that of her best friend, Pippa). Just not right now.

And when and if I do write it, Sabina will be right there hanging over my desk -- ready to inspire me once again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--with Jeffrey Cohen

Today I welcome back Jeffrey Cohen, an author of many talents. Not only does he write the Double Feature Mystery series, but he's also written books on Asperger Syndrome (both fiction (the Aaron Tucker Mysteries) and non-fiction).

The Arts section of yesterday's (Wednesday's) New York Times had, across five columns on the bottom of the front page, an article about Rupert Isaacson, a travel writer who took his autistic son to Mongolia "to ride horses and seek the help of shamans," and waddaya know, to pick up an advance of more than a million dollars to write "The Horse Boy" about that experience. Not to mention the movie option and the documentary film made about the trip.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about Mr. Isaacson, and he sounds like a very nice man who did literally everything he could to help his son. I applaud his initiative and dedication. But as those familiar with me or my writing will recall, I have a son who has Asperger Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) and have written about it, interviewed a great many parents, teachers, doctors, and people with autism spectrum disorders. And I worry that the "healing" that occurred with Mr. Isaacson's son Rowan after his Mongolian trip will inspire too many people to go to similar lengths seeking the same results, which seem, unfortunately, unlikely to recur.

The Times article (which, oddly enough, ran on the same day as the full-page, full-color ad for the book on the back page of the paper's "A" section) says Little, Brown, which published "The Horse Boy" paid the advance even before the trip was undertaken, and has received enough orders to justify a 150,000-copy first printing.

That's probably even more books than Jenny McCarthy sold with her book explaining how she "cured" her son of his autism with intensive therapy and a gluten-free diet. I have no doubt Ms. McCarthy's son is doing much better, and it's even possible the lack of bread in his diet helped. But every doctor on the planet will tell you there's no cure for autism, and there isn't one on the horizon, either.

April is Autism Awareness Month. That probably had something to do with the timing of "The Horse Boy"'s publication. And Mr. Isaacson's tale (which I have not yet read) is, I'm certain, an uplifting and hopeful one. Good for him. I'm glad when anything anyone does to help a child or adult with a spectrum disorder seems to work.

But if this leads to a wave of people consulting Mongolian shamans to "heal" their children, or if it makes people think my son has problems with incontinence or "demonic tantrums," (I've lived through Rain Man and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time, so I know how public opinion tends to fixate on one depiction of autism as The Way It Is), then I have to wonder whether it's really the right message to send.

And what's bugging YOU today?
-------------------------------------
Aspergercopy-sm_border Jeffrey Cohen is the author of two books on Autism: Guns A' Blazing: How Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum and Schools Can Work Together Without a Shot Being Fired and The Asperger Parent: How to Raise a Child with Asperger Syndrome and Maintain Your Sense of Humor. For more information on these books, visit Jeffrey's website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SHOULDN'T I BE WORKING?

Angel on cloud I have become a MySpace/Facebook-aholic. Yes, I check them both on a daily basis -- and sometimes more than once.

This is not good. This is a terrible time sink. And not only do I check my own pages, I do it for a writing organization I belong to, and the group blog I'm a part of. This could mean hours lost every day.

I have to admit, I still like MySpace better than Facebook. I mean, you can see your potential friend's profile BEFORE you invite them to be your newest chum. (This weeds out the and pedophiles and other sex offenders.)

I've found some wonderful new friends and readers on MySpace. (Hi Carebear, Debbie, Val, Nana, Suse, Valda, Michelle, Deb, My Heart Wants U!!!, Jen, Dragon Lady, and, and, and...) It's always a kind of thrill when someone comments on my blog or tells me how much they enjoyed one of my books.

Of course, going on networking sites keeps me from working on my Work In Progress. So, on that note, I'd better get back to work. But don't be surprised if I take several breaks to see what my online chums are up to.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

THE VICTORA SQUARE MYSTERIES

I'm absolutely ecstatic to officially announce the sale of my new series THE VICTORIA SQUARE MYSTERIES, to Berkley Prime Crime. Like my Booktown series, they, too, will be cozy mysteries. Only this time, they'll be written under the name (MY REAL NAME) Lorraine
Bartlett.

Wow! What a feeling. No more hiding behind initials or a pseudonym.

I
realize this will probably confuse a bunch of my readers. She writes this series as L.L. Bartlett, and that series as Lorna Barrett, and yet another as Lorraine Bartlett?

Yes, it is confusing, but they're all different characters, with different voices and backgrounds. Hopefully the unifying factor is that my audience will enjoy them all--and celebrate their differences.

Here's a teaser for the first book the in the series, A MATTER OF MURDER.

Young widow Katie Bonner discovers the body of Ezra Hilton, Artisans Alley.smwho ran the local artisan cooperative like his own fiefdom. Katie has little reason to mourn Ezra, who convinced her late husband to invest in the Artisans’ Alley before he was killed. Ezra's will makes Katie the controlling partner in the enterprise--much to the chagrin of his nephew, who comes to town hell-bent on collecting money as quickly as possible...and barely arrives before one of the vendors also ends up dead. The entire co-op is in a disgruntled uproar, and it seems like the detective in charge of the investigation does everything except investigate the murder. Everyone from the village’s lawyer to the quilt shop owner had motive to want Ezra dead, and it’s up to Katie to find out who before more of her vendors die.

BTW, the above drawing was done by my husband, Frank, as a birthday present -- well before we knew for sure if the series would sell. I like to think it brought me luck. And yes, it does look a lot like the late, lamented Craft Antique Co-Op in its original incarnation in Hilton, NY. (Yes, my character Ezra was named after that little town in Western, NY.)

BannerMarApr
I can't tell you how absolutely thrilled I am for this opportunity. And as Katie is a very "girlie" character, I'm going to get to indulge myself with all things "girlie." (Think roses and teacups and antiques and shabby chic -- not to forget cats! -- and, oh, a few murders and a little intrigue thrown in for good measure.)

Also, I can't wait for you to meet not only Katie, but the rest of the cast of regulars. As the series won't see publication until at least late 2010 (if not early 2011) -- I don't want to get ahead of myself. (And why does it take so L-O-N-G for these things to happen?)

Suffice to say, I've been smiling so much, my cheeks hurt. Happyface And I'll keep smiling -- until I realize the unGodly deadlines I have trying to juggle the writing of three mystery series. All I can say is, I hope to find a way to increase the hours in the day. Forty-eight sounds good to me right now.

Monday, April 13, 2009

PRESENT TENSE BOOKS & GIFTS

Saturday, I had the very good fortune of signing at PTense_2 cropped Present Tense Books & Gifts in Batavia, NY. This was a new venue for me, so I admit to being a little nervous. I needn't have been. I arrived about 15 minutes early, and was greeted by the store's owner, Erica Caldwell. She was with a customer, so I walked around the store for a few minutes.

What a terrific store! Housed in a gorgeous old Victorian home, the shop (inside and out) is painted in wonderful colors. There are several rooms filled with books, a selection of coffee and teas, children's toys (and books!), candles, hand-sewn purses (I was really tempted by those), pretty teacups, a gallery of original photographs, magnetic poetry kits, and lots of other marvelous things. I admit, I did succumb to temptation and bought a package of Who Dunn-Its sticky notes.

PTense_3 cropped There was a display of my books waiting for me on a neat table in the second room, and there were even copies of Dead In Red on the table, but my signing was held in a cozy parlor with a fireplace. This is were the genre fiction is displayed. And as a former vendor in an antiques co-op, I had to admire all the wonderful display pieces in that room (and throughout the store)--a lot of them antiques and/or repurposed.

Erica had prepared a nice spread of cookies, mini pecan tarts (yum!) and coffee. No sooner had I sat down, PTense_4cropped when a parade of readers came by to have me sign copies of Bookmarked for Death--and Murder is Binding. They asked loads of great questions, and I was delighted to talk to everyone.

During a lull, I took the opportunity to talk to Erica and her husband about the challenges facing an independent bookseller. I'm always happy to hear that I "got it right" in the Booktown mysteries.

I was just getting ready to leave, when my good buddy Jared Case arrived to wish me well (and buy a couple of books--what a pal!).

All too soon, it was over. I signed stock, Who Dunn-its left a bunch of signed bookmarks, and me and my Who-Dunn-Its were on our way back home.

I sure hope I'll be invited back to Present Tense Books & Gifts!

Friday, April 10, 2009

OVERKILL

The other day I bought a new camera. Boy, it's cool! Cool It's a Canon Rebel XS 1000D. So far I've taken nine shots with it. It's soooooo complicated to use, I wonder if I'll ever learn to utilize even a 10th of its capabilities.

Okay, I promised myself if I got a royalty check, Canon Rebel EOS I'd treat myself to a new camera. So off we went. I had my heart set on a Nikon, but the guy at the camera store (and a review in USA Today) convinced me that I could be happy with the Canon. (Besides, Frank had a Canon for years, and he'd been very pleased.)

I used to have a Minolta 101 and 201 cameras. I loved them. But when film went the way of the dinosaur, it was time to go digital. For the past four years, I've had a Kodak Easy Share camera, but I wasn't entirely happy with it. It's great for point and shoot situations, but if you want to take close ups -- eh, not so good. So I'll keep using the Easy Share, but I want to take really good pictures, too. And that's where the Canon comes in.

I'm going to try to take the camera with me more often, and go back to taking a lot more shots. I may end up putting some of them up on this blog. (As soon as I learn to download them from the camera.)

So what kind of camera do you have, and how happy are you with it?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--GENRE SNOBBERY

Today's guest is Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz mystery series.

“Oh, well, I’m writing a real book.”

Wow. You know how someone can say Snobsomething totally offhand, probably not even thinking about what she has said, and it can stick with you? Well the above sentence was one of those things, and that brings me to a pet peeve: People who think that fun-to-read books aren’t “real” books.

The above is an actual quote, by the way. Tossed blithely out during an otherwise lovely day at the beach several summers ago by the girlfriend of a good friend. We all worked at the same newspaper, and she was writing a book about war atrocities. And I was working on a book about … women’s relationships with cats. Now, her book was (and is) very serious and important, a work that gave readers a sense of connection and understanding. A book that needed to be written and that many people read. But, you know what? Mine might not have been as weighty, but I like to think it gave its readers a sense of connection and understanding, that it touched some hearts. It was very different, but it was also a real book.

Now, if you’re here reading Lorna’s blog, you’re probably not one of those people. But you know who they are: They’re the ones who look at what you’re reading and sniff a little. “I only read biographies,” they may say. Or, “oh, what a cute cover.” As if that were a bad thing. As if genre fiction (for me, that means mysteries) is somehow not as valid, as other kinds of writing.

What these people don’t realize is that we, like all authors, choose our words with care. We spend time and thought on organizing them, on building up to various points, and on conveying various images, thoughts, ideas, and characters. We research and observe. And we write and rewrite and rewrite again, just like “serious” authors do. In addition, those of us who write entertaining books (and I bet romance writers go through this, too) have to work very hard at making it all seem light and frothy. We have to make the same efforts that authors of heavier books make, and yet we have to disguise that effort:

A line may take us hours maybe;
Yet if it seems more than a moment’s thought
Our stitching and unstitching is naught.

William Butler Yeats was talking about poetry, but he may as well have been talking about mysteries, or romances, or SF, or fantasy…

So, come on already, people! Give up the snobbery! Mysteries and their ilk are “real” books. And now I’ll get off my soapbox, and get back to work.
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Probable ClawsClea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz mystery series, as well as three nonfiction (“real”) books. On April 10th, her fourth Theda Krakow mystery, “Probable Claws,” will be published by Poisoned Pen, and in September, Severn House will debut her first Dulcie Schwartz mystery, “Shades of Grey.” “Shades of Grey” has cats AND ghosts AND a murder mystery, so she is expecting to take flak for it. You can read more at her web site or on her blog.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Day In The Life Of My Cat

What is it about pets? Why do so many of us have them. Why do we need them? And, with cats, why do we allow ourselves to become their staff?

I've written before about my cat Fred. QuiteFred Holding Court II frankly, he's a pain in the butt. While he's not our dominant cat (that battle was fought and won by timid little Chester), somehow he seems to be the one that's "on stage" most of the day.

Fred's day often starts early -- like 2 a.m. A restless sleeper, he'll get up (he sleeps with us--at the bottom of the bed, on his own little afghan and pillow (he likes to rest his weary head on it, and I think he prefers the Scotty dog pillowcase)), check out the cat food bowls to see if it's worth a snack, have a drink, and then come back into the bedroom to MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE IS AWAKE!!! He does this by either scratching on the closet doors (despite the fact I've repeatedly told him there is NOTHING in the closet a cat needs to investigate), and usually to squeak.

That's what we call Fred-Speak. I've never had such a talkative cat. It's not so much squeaking as griping. "Ra-ra-ra-ra-RAAAA" and other such rants and noises. Of course, as he's talking, he also paces around the bed, which makes Betsy (who hogs the covers by playing rock in the middle of the bed so I can't pull them over my butt) nervous. She doesn't like boy cats, although she spends at least two-thirds of her life sleeping next to them in one part of the house or another.

In order to get Fred to shut up, I have to pick him up and we need some serious "cuddling" time. Once he relaxes, I put him back on his afghan and hope he'll go back to sleep. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. I don't have any kids, but I often feel like a new mother trying to soothe her crying child.

Once Fred gets the rest of us up, it's time for breakfast. It used to be that the girls took turns licking the lid on the cat food cans. Recently Fred discovered that this is a prelude to a meal, and he now barges in, sniffs,Boys judges whether the food is worthy, and if it is, will deign to lick the lid. And if it doesn't meet with his approval -- he'll walk! (He'd prefer to eat Tuna and Sauce 24/7.) Once the bowls are on their placemats (cats are pigs, have you ever noticed that? Instead of the lovely clean bowls we provide them with, they'd prefer to take the food out, put it on the floor and eat it there. More often than not, they prefer the floor to the mat. Grrrr!), usually three of the four walk away in disgust. Of course they all come back, but not to their own bowls. Fred prefers to eat the food I put down for Betsy. After all, girl food MUST be better than boy food. It's like a square dance or something with everyone switching bowls. (BTW, that's Fred (on the right) and Chester bird watching on the dining room table, where they definitely are NOT SUPPOSED TO BE.)

After a leisurely breakfast (and maybe a wrestling match with Chester), Fred likes to retire toWorking_

one of the chairs in my husband's home office, where he'll take his first nap of the day. Rain or shine, from about 7 a.m. until noon, Fred will be there--at least part of the time. At some point, he'll join Betsy and Chester on their kitty cushions under the 200 watt light bulb. (Winter/Summer cats want to be WARM. And God forbid Phillips stops manufacturing those 200 watt incandescent cat warmers. I do believe there'd be hell to pay.)

Of course, every time I get up from my office chair to hit the kitchen for another cup of tea, or head to the laundry room to put another load in the washer or dryer, Fred jumps down from the desk and follows me like a puppy. He also likes to guard me while I'm in the bathroom. (What he's guarding me from, I have no idea.)

Fred has recently learned a new trick. He thinks it's the most stupendous thing in the world to close doors. Unfortunately, he isn't quite smart enough to OPEN doors (even if they've got a crack a paw could go through.) Consequently, we now have rubber doorstops under most of the doors, otherwise, he'll be locked in a room for hours on end, because he's also not smart enough to call out and let us know he's shut in. (No, he saves all that talking for the middle of the night.)

Late in the afternoon, hubby and I observe happy hour -- even if the most potent thing we drink is club soda. The cats have their own happy hour, where treats are received. Happy hour commences about 5:30; cats start getting antsy about 4 p.m and let us know that SOON IT WILL BE HAPPY HOUR AND WE WANT OUR COOKIES. Fred takes this opportunity to stalk around my office, telling me that not only is he hungry, but he'd also like to go out into our enclosed porch (they're all "indoor" cats). He'll jump up on my club chair (making sure to scratch the leather) walk around the back and squeak, Squeak, SQUEAK!!! until I get up and let him out. And then he'll stand at the door demanding to be let in--because he doesn't like to be alone--or cold.

Just before and sometimes during happy hour, Fred gets twitchy. He's got the kittyMum&Fred corrected equivalent of OCD. His skin ripples and he starts to race around the house staging his own Kitty 500. The only thing that will calm him down is if I pet him. Now, according to everything we've read about kitty OCD, this is the WORST thing that you can do for a twitchy cat. Our vet recommended phenobarbital which didn't do a damn bit of good. Nope, Fred would rather be petted (and preferably picked up, have his ears rubbed, and repeatedly kissed).

Next up: people dinner. Fred doesn't beg. (Thank goodness for small favors.) But he does like to spend the dinner half hour with his Mum and Dad. Most nights he'll be sitting at my side, looking regal.

After dinner, should we decide to watch a DVD, Fred likes to be with us. Sometimes he'll sit on my lap, but more often than not there's already a cat there, so he'll patiently lie in from of the TV, with the best view in the house.

Just before bedtime, it's time to feed cats once again, and we repeat the same procedure as breakfast. Hubby and I head for bed, and usually before the light goes out, Betsy joins us. Then Fred (so she can growl at him), then Chester. And all is peaceful until 2 a.m. -- when Fred's day starts all over again.

Why on Earth would anyone put up with Fred's antics? Well, because I love him. If anything happened to him, I would be devastated.

My friend Anne just lost her boy, Spike. I Spikeportraitnever got to meet Spike, but I often heard about him when Anne would write (this was before we got into e-mail). He was quite a handsom boy. In February, he was diagnosed with a tumor in his chest. Anne (a former vet tech now nurse) made her boy comfortable, but Saturday, just days before his 16th birthday, Spike crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Anne, and her husband made a tribute video for Spike, which you can find here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPn9eITgOZM WARNING: Have tissue box handy. I cried a bucket of tears for Anne and for Spike. Thanks to the video, I now feel like I was lucky enough to meet Spike.

There's a reason we have pets. It's called love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

AND THE NEXT BOOKTOWN MYSTERY IS...

I found out just Thursday that the next Booktown mystery, BOOKPLATE SPECIAL, has been "bumped forward" a month. That means instead of December 1, 2009, it'll be released November 3, 2009. This is terrific news, as it gives the book plenty of time to make its way into Christmas stockings!

And just as happily, Amazon is now listing the book as available for pre-order. As soon as I'm verified as the book's author, I'll be posting a blurb on Amazon. But why should I wait here, right? Here's what the back cover will say:

The kinder folks of Stoneham might call Pammy Fredericks a free spirit. The less kind, a freeloading thief. Tricia has put up—and put up with—her uninvited college roommate for weeks. In return, Pammy, has stolen $100, among other things. But the day she’s kicked out, Pammy’s found dead in a dumpster, leaving loads of questions unanswered. Like what was she foraging for? Did her killer want it too? To piece the case together, Tricia will have to dive in head-first....

Of course you know, this means that the cover can't be too long in coming. I'm eager to see if they go with a take-off on an old bookplate. That would be soooooo cool. As soon as I'm allowed to share it, you know I will.

Friday, April 3, 2009

PRAYING FOR RAIN--AGAIN!

I have a booksigning tomorrow (Lift Bridge Books -- Brockport, NY -- 12 to 2 p.m.), and it's April.

What has one got to do with the other?

In April, USUALLY the weather starts to get better Stupid woman raking leaves

here in Western New York. When the weather starts to get better people start doing yard work. Raking up those leaves they missed (or didn't get to) last fall, clearing out the last of the dead annuals, etc.

When they're busy beautifying their yards, they aren't going to book stores and buying books.

This is not acceptable. That's why I'm doing a rain dance. So far, it seems to be working. As I type this, it's raining. Now to figure out how to keep it raining (or at least cold and gray) for another 36 hours.

RaindanceNext Saturday, I'm traveling to Batavia, NY (Present Tense Books, 1- 3 p.m.) and before I go, I'll be dancing just as hard.

If you can't be there in person, I hope you'll at least join me in a rain dance.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

PET PEEVE THURSDAY--NO RESPECT AT ALL

Please welcome (humorous) mystery author Jeff Cohen, who writes the Double Feature Mysteries--as he makes a follow-up appearance here on Dazed and Confused.

Jeff CohenIt irks me that funny mystery novels (pardon me, "humorous cozies," but that's another pet peeve all by itself) are treated so shabbily by the mystery community and publishing overall. I'll tell ya, we don't get no respect. No respect at all.

Because comedy is supposed to seem effortless, people assume it doesn't require much work. They think writing a funny story that still makes sense and has characters readers might like is easy. Personally, I think they should try it sometime. When Lisa Lutz's "Curse of the Spellmans" made the short list for the Edgar Award this year, you'd have thought that someone threw a coconut cream pie in the face of the Mona Lisa. Blasphemy! Sacrilege! I say, I hope it wins, because it's a hell of a lot harder to write a funny story than a serious one.

Why? Because the payoff is so much more obvious. If I were to write a (god forbid) serious novel, it could be mediocre, and as long as I spelled all the words right and didn't end too many sentences with prepositions, it might be reviewed as a "noble failure" or a "worthy effort." If a funny book doesn't make you laugh, at best it's "a failure," and more likely, "an unfunny bore" or "a disaster." Because comedy either works or it doesn't. There aren't degrees of success.

In 1974, Mel Brooks made both BLAZING SADDLES and Young FrankensteinYOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, two comedies still watched and considered hilarious by more than 12 people. The Best Picture Oscar went to THE GODFATHER PART II (a sequel!). Okay. That's considered a great movie. I can understand that. But neither Brooks film was even nominated for Best Picture. The other nods went to : Chinatown (no argument), Lenny (nice performance, but who watches that movie today?), The Conversation (a nice LITTLE movie) and... wait for it...

Towering InfernoThe Towering Inferno.

I'm asking you. Is comedy taken (you should pardon the expression) seriously?

What's bugging YOU today?
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Night at the operationJeff Cohen is author of the Double Feature Mystery series. His current book, A Night At The Operation, is third in the series and available in mere hours (April 7th). Check out Jeff's website. Jeff also blogs on Mondays at Hey,There's A Dead Guy In The Living Room (Mystery Publishing from Idea to Bookshelf).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Like A Raging Rhinoceros

I don't always sleep well. In fact, sometimes I lie awake for HOURS and HOURS on end. This week has been pretty good. No staring at the ceiling ... at least too much.

But the other night, something woke me up. A sound. I wasn't sure what it was. I waited. Nothing. So I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

Then I heard it again. It sounded like ... a horse, galloping. It stopped. I waited. Nothing. So I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

Then I heard it AGAIN. Okay, sometimes my cat Fred (who has the feline equivalent of OCD) will have one of his "twitchy" moments, and will run around like a racehorse. I looked down at the bottom of the bed, and sure enough he was gone.

I got up, and Betsy (the one who was so sick two years ago) was sitting in the hall looking at the ceiling. I looked at the ceiling. And heard it again. Like thundering hoofs. On the roof.

I went into the guest room and there was Fred, sitting on the bed, looking at the skylight. He started purring the minute I walked in, self-satisfied, as though saying, "Ha! It's not me."

Then we heard it again. A sound like galloping overhead. Again and again we heard it it. And eventually we saw it: A rogue squirrel. Raging squirrel It jumped over the skylight and stopped, its fluffy tail (not a good ruse to hide its rodent-ness) hanging over the skylight.

That's it? A squirrel. Running the Squirrel 500 on my roof at 4:52 a.m.!!!

Good grief.