Friday, March 30, 2012

Is seeing believing?

Last winter, I was sitting in my usual spot on the black leather couch in my living room and happened to glance out of the sliding glass door that looks out on my neighbor's yard ... and was surprised to note that I was being watched.

Tree trunk1
Yes, that's a tree trunk.  A pine tree trunk.  Naturally the closer you get, the less it looks like a face.  So I backed up to take another shot.

Tree trunk 2

And another.

Tree trunk4

Do you see the eyes, a nose,and a mouth, or am I just looney?

It used to freak me out to see that face, which I can also see from my office window.  But now ... I'm rather comforted by it.  It looks after me and our home.  It's benign, possibly even friendly.  And I suppose it's no odder than seeing Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun.

Mother Teresa

Have you ever seen a face in some inanimate object?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Jersey: The Land I Love

by guest blogger Jeffrey Cohen

Politically correctPolitical correctness--something with which I actually agree most of the time--dictates that we must no longer mock people based on race, creed, religion, national origin, or in some cases, appearance (apparently it's okay to keep making fun of fat people). But there are still a few commonly accepted targets, or at least some which an unwritten law has determined will not carry a penalty of outrage if you have some fun at their expense.

I belong to at least one of these (probably two, maybe three), and it was brought home to me pointedly recently when the Center for Public Integrity--not a body you'd normally think would be involved in a discussion of minority groups to mock--released a report on the various corruption levels in state governments, and found my home state at the positive end of the list. That is, we have the most transparent government in the country.

New jersey postcardThat's right, I live in New Jersey.

I'll give that a moment to sink in, because the "popular" opinion has always been that my home is a toxic waste dump run by Tonye Soprano. Not so, say the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity. New Jersey has corrupt officials--no state in the union was given an "A" grade, you should know--but we are more efficient at rooting them out and dealing with them than most others, including the lowest-ranked members of the union, all of which were given an "F" grade: North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.

New Jersey got a "B+," the highest grade in the 50 states, and the only state to get one. Suck on that, Idaho!

Cape mayOf course, the coverage given this report was condescending. ran a headline that began with "Fuggetaboudit," which I have never heard anyone from my state say (we don't call it "Joisey," either--that was made up by vicious Brooklynites). Even "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," the normally amusing quiz show on NPR, lambasted panel member Mo Rocca for even suggesting that he likes New Jersey. How could such a thing be true? How can you like a place where 8-million people choose to live their lives, which has among the highest levels of education in the country, which includes a shoreline that people (unfortunately, some like Snooki, who isn't from New Jersey) come to vacation every year? Yeah, the place must be a dump.

Jersey shoreIn my short time living here (half a century, after all, is not even a blink compared to, say, eternity), I have experienced the beach--many times--Pine Barrens, theater, film, literature, mountains, lakes, music, art, great food, lousy (but delicious) food, drive-in movies (alas, no more), fine education--chiefly at the state university--amusement parks, quiet parks, Van Dyke Parks, investigative journalism, scenic bike rides, lazy Sunday drives, boardwalks, moonwalks, long walks and bookstores. I could go gambling in Atlantic City, but that's really not my thing. Could go skiing, but that would involve being outside in the winter, and I don't understand people who do such things willingly. I'm sure I could go SCUBA diving, too, but I prefer breathing air without having to take it with me.

All those things are possible in New Jersey. And we have some great mystery writers and mystery writers who use us for background. I'll name none of them in fear of leaving good ones out.

So do we get respect? Hell no. We're the Rodney Dangerfield of states. We come out as the least corrupt state in the union, and get ridiculed for it.

But you know what? We'll chuckle at your little jokes and we'll smile tolerantly when you tell us all you know about where we live (which is generally not much). Go ahead and have your fun; we can take it. We're from New Jersey.

Watch out for those North and South Dakotans, though. We have proof now that they're not as trustworthy as they seem.
Gun Also RisesJeffrey Cohen is the author of the Double Feature and Aaron Tucker mystery series. The Aaron Tucker short story THE GUN ALSO RISES has been nominated for the Derringer Award and the Barry Award. You can read it for free here:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happiness = a Bic pen

When I was a kid, the first pen I owned was a Bic.  I thought it was marvelous! No longer was I relegated to writing homework assignments with a lowly No. 2 pencil.  I was practically an adult because I had learned cursive and I was writing with a PEN!

Back in the day, Bic pens were only available (to me at least) in blue or black.  I always chose blue.  I like the color blue.  It's the color of my eyes.  The color of the sky.  It's nice, friendly.  Black is a little too business like for my taste.  I like things nice and friendly.

Bic crystalAs I mentioned in another post, I've been using Bic pens a lot lately, because I seem to be doing a lot of my (novel) writing by longhand, and then later typing up my pages.  For Christmas, Mr. L slipped into my Christmas stocking a package of blue Bic pens AND a package of red ones, too.

Red pens have POWER.  School assignments were always marked with a red pen.  For years I edited with a red pen.  But now ... eh, I found it's harder to see the red ink than the blue.  (And I don't like the implications, either.)  So the package of red pens still has 9 in it, while the blue package is empty.  Those pens are scattered around the house--any where I might need to pick one up and immediately start writing.

Bic pens come in green, too, but I haven't seen any of them around in years.  : (
Bic shimmersThe do come in other colors, and maybe it's just me, but I haven't found them to work as well as the plain old blue ones, mores the pity.

What product have you fallen in love with lately?  (Or rekindle your love affair with?)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Can I pay my bills this month?

Yellow dollar signThere's a reason a lot of authors have put their older works up on Kindle, Nook, and other e reader platforms.  It's called Payday.  You see, Amazon and Barnes and Noble pay on a monthly basis.  Okay, they're paying you for what you sold two months ago, but the point is you're getting a check (or in my case, a direct deposit) every month.  (Smashwords pays every three months.)

Believe it or not, I use that money to live on.  And why is that?  Because the publisher for my mass market paperback books (think the Booktown and Victoria Square Mysteries) only pays me twice a year.  Yes, you heard that right.  I get paid sometime in April and sometime in October.  And so does everyone else with traditionally published books.

It's hard to budget when you have no idea when you're going to get paid for your work -- or how much you will make.  Because I'm very numbers oriented, I keep track of my Kindle and Nook sales so I can budget ahead.  This month we've got our healthcare insurance premium.  It will take my entire month's pay to cover that one bill.  Meanwhile, we'll be eating a lot of  Macaroni & Cheese during the next couple of weeks.

BIM MOTM coverOn Friday, I got a royalty check for the audio edition of Murder On The Mind, my first Jeff Resnick mystery.  A whopping $11.57.  Still, I'm grateful for it.  (I'd be a lot MORE grateful if people would discover this edition of the book.  Then maybe they'd buy the rights to the other books in the series and I could have a cavity filled once in a while.)

TaxmanIn two weeks, I have to pay my estimated taxes.  Holy smoke!  If my biannual check doesn't come in time, where is that money going to come from?  Kitchen refit?  On hold indefinitely.  Why?  Being an author, I have to pay estimated taxes every three months.  Plus, in September, I have to pay the town school taxes (that same month we have to pay for healthcare AGAIN.  I have to pay county taxes in January--right after the December *%#@ health care premium).  It's never ending.  And you know I'll be praying to see that check arrive in the mail--SOMETIME before April 15th--praying it will cover the June and September estimated taxes, too.

Raking in moneyIt's not likely the big publishing houses will ever pay their authors on a more timely basis.  So in between we either live in luxury (for usually one month of the year--October for me) or like paupers (for the other 11 months).  So if you thought that all authors are raking in the dough like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or Janet Evanovich, think again.

BTW, anybody got tips for budgeting?

Monday, March 26, 2012

I can work while I ride!

Lorraine & Jenn 3So, last week I went to Virginia to not only visit my good buddy Ellery Adams, but to do a signing at the Short Pump Barnes & Noble in Richmond, but also to participate in a cozy mystery panel at the Virginia Festival of the book.  Both events were terrific.  I met a lot of new readers, and did many drop-in signings at bookstores in the area.  (We were pooped!)

Since I don't fly, we drove to Virginia. Losing a few days of work was out of the question, so I needed to be able to write during the journey.  The problem is, I get carsick if I try to read. I decided to give Over The Counter Medicine a try.

Can you say Bonine Motion Sickness Protection to the rescue?

I'm very pleased to say that the Bonine worked great.  Okay, I was writing longhand but I managed to get quite a bit of work done on the next Booktown Mystery.  The down side?  I was pretty sleepy.  But I got more work done with the Bonine than I would have without it.

Do you get motion sickness, and if so--what do you use.  (Anyone try those Sea-Bands?)


P.S.  BTW, if you're heading to Malice Domestic and want to buy a trade paperback copy of The Cozy Chicks Kitchen (our delightful new cookbook), let us know NOW. We're taking advance orders but will ONLY BRING COPIES FOR THOSE WHO RESERVE THEM in advance. We'll be ordering them this week. You'll save a dollar off the cover price and won't have to pay for shipping! Additionally, six of the Chicks will be at the conference and would be glad to sign your copy!  (If you're going to the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA -- you can pick one up there, too!)

Just send an email with the subject line of COOKBOOK OFFER to us at cozychicks(at)gmail(dot)com and we'll make sure you can pick up your copy at the conference.

Remember, we're only bringing enough copies for those who reserve in advance.

Happy cooking!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Turn on the oven and let's start baking!

For those who don't know, I'm a member of the Cozy Chicks blog and I post on Saturdays.

CC_Cover.largeWe're like-minded cozy mystery writers who've banded together to talk about our lives, our writing, and ... food.  As it happens, we all love to eat (and it shows more on some of us than others).  With that in mind, we decided to put together The Cozy Chicks Kitchen, a collection of killer recipes.

We had such fun picking out a title, a cover picture, and collecting more than 100 recipes--some written by us, some "written" by our characters--and let me tell you, mouthwatering?  You better believe it!

In fact, that's just how Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef and the Manor House Mysteries put it.  She said:  "THE COZY CHICKS KITCHEN is chock full of mouthwatering gems. Everything is here: main dishes, desserts, salads, soups, drinks, and did I mention desserts? Don’t miss this fabulous collection. I’ve got both the ebook version and a hardcopy. Get yours today!"

The ebook edition is now available, but fear not--the trade paperback is in the works and will be ready in the next 2-3 weeks.  I'll let you know when it comes out.  But for now, if you've got an e reader you can find it for:

Kindle  ~  Nook  ~ and for all other ereaders at Smashwords.

We hope you enjoy meeting and eating with us and our characters!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest Blogger Lillian Stewart Carl: May You Live In Interesting Times . . .

by guest blogger Lillian Stewart Carl

As old Chinese curses go, “May you live in interesting times” is less dire than some, even when you take “interesting” as a euphemism for “uncertain” or even “chaotic”.

The corollary that brings the curse home is, “May you live in interesting times—and have those times in your face 24/7.”

B&W TVRecently I read a brief article (are there long, in-depth articles any more?) saying that younger people who’ve grown up with the multiple distractions of the electronic age are not as stressed by the constant look at me! over here! whiplash as older ones. Like me, for example. Heck, when I was a kid our television set got only two channels, both of which closed down at ten pm. (And I had to walk uphill both ways just to change channels.)

I’m not saying those days were better than these. In many significant ways, they weren’t. I’m saying I feel as though I’m now living in the Era of Attention Deficit. In the Age of En-lite-enment.

Exhibit A: Why do so many places I go have to have a television set mounted on the wall?

Tv in dinerA sports bar, yes. People come there to watch the game with their friends. No problem—I can avoid sports bars. It’s the televisions in ordinary restaurants that annoy me. There you are, trying to have a pleasant lunch with your friends, while just above your head politicians foam at the mouth and disasters play out in excruciating slo-mo. Those televisions are like electronic swords of Damocles.

My hairdressing salon recently installed a television playing home, garden, and cooking shows, much better than one playing the news—or worse, opinion clothed as news. Still, it’s noise pollution. It’s that constant urgent movement in the corner of your eye.

And, so help me, doctor’s offices also have televisions. Your blood pressure might be just fine when you sit down in the waiting room, but it will be sky-high after half an hour bombarded with interesting times—all brought to you by companies whose commercials use every trick in the sound-and-light book to get your attention.

Over here! Look at me! Voices! Music! Bright moving colors!

Dog snoringAnd then there’s Exhibit B: When I do, on purpose, turn on the news, that’s what I want. I don’t want what seems like ten minutes of the anchors chatting and teasing: “Which dress did you like best at the Academy Awards?”Or “Oooh, here’s a tape of you in 1989! Look at that hairdo!” Recently our favorite local station featured an interminable segment in which the anchorwoman played video clips of her dog snoring.


It’s a relief to change the channel to PBS, which still believes in presenting information in a sober, non-confrontational fashion. (No, information does not equal wisdom. But that’s another issue.) I don’t know whether Gwen Ifill or Ray Saurez has a pet. It doesn’t matter whether they do or not. Their pets aren’t anchoring a news program. Neither do I want the anchors reading off to me the tweeted or Facebook’d opinions of viewers. I want professional presentation and knowledgeable analysis.
This brings me to Exhibit C:

Our local dead-tree newspaper is so marginalized these days that they’ve not only cut themselves back to little more than a pamphlet, they seem to have fired most of their writers and are now letting the remaining readers write the news for them.

We have one and sometimes two entire pages devoted to readers’ often knee-jerk reactions—not letters to the editor, but sound-bite tweets, “cheers and jeers”, and Facebook-style comments designed, I suppose, to appeal to those with the attention span of a two-year-old. Who aren’t reading the newspaper anyway.

Julie's prom dressI’m an adult, and I want to read news. Not “features” including large photos of lawn furniture or craft projects, seemingly included to fill space. A couple of years ago, so help me, the newspaper spent an entire week on “help Julie choose a prom dress”. This meant a full page every day with photos of Julie modeling a gown, or shoes, or flowers, so that readers could vote on which they liked best.

I repeat. Seriously?

I know, I know, it’s all hard economic reality. The newspaper is trying desperately to appeal to people who spend all day focused on their smart phones and tablets, picking up an image here, a few words there. The restaurants and offices are afraid if they don’t provide their patrons with moving images and chattering voices, they’ll go elsewhere. We live in an age when flash and charisma is more important than substance, because that’s what sells television shows, newspapers, music videos, apps—you name it.

Monkeys dancingMy tai chi instructor tells me that sitting and meditating, or concentrating on the flowing motions of the form, is difficult because—as the old Chinese masters used to say—the human mind is like a monkey dancing on a hot griddle. It was probably those same old Chinese who uttered the “interesting times” curse.

Hey! Over here! Look at me!
Mortsafe-cover-200x300Lillian Stewart Carl has published multiple novels and multiple short stories in multiple genres, sometimes straight up mystery or fantasy, but usually blended, with nuts. Her most recent novel is The Mortsafe, set in Edinburgh. All her books can be found through Backlist eBooks.  And speaking of which, Lillian has a story (The Avalon Psalter) in the Backlist eBooks anthology Tales from the Backlist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Last of Christmas . . .

Last night, I took down the last of Christmas.

Dinah's dinerFor the first time since we were able to furnish our HUGE combination living/family room, we put up a small part of our Snow Village display.  When we had no furniture, our Snow Village took up a big part of one wall.  However, about six years ago, we finally filled in all the gaping holes. (And don't ask why one home with only two people needs to have five living room spaces--PLEASE--just don't ask!)

I'd been meaning to put the village pieces away for weeks--nay, months--but time is a precious commodity around here.  Still, last night I felt that it was finally long past time.

The weather is great, so who wants to think about snow and Snow Village?  So, now we're back to our regular decorating mode and anticipating a long, hot summer.

And right about now, doesn't that sound WONDERFUL?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

And the beat goes on . . .

Did it ever seem to you that life is getting away from you because you do too much ...?

I had a few days off at the end of January and came home refreshed and raring to go.  No sooner had I returned when I was feeling pretty burned out. I'm still feeling pretty burned out and I'm not getting nearly enough written.  While I was gone, I wrote up a storm.  Since I got home ... not so much.

Sears trashcansAnd now our garbage men have decided to change the time they pick up our trash.  They used to come at 3 pm.  Suddenly, they come before 7.  We didn't figure that out for TWO WEEKS.  That's a lot of trash piling up.

My energy efficient washing machine doesn't clean our clothes very well.  And although I use liquid detergent that's made for dark clothes, my dark clothes come out with white spots that look like undissolved powdered detergent.  I have to wash them over again and hope that the next time it's something else that comes out with the white spots.  I'm ready to trash this machine and buy a non-energy efficient machine just so I don't have to keep washing my clothes over and over again so I can actually wear them.

Working_What are we supposed to do with finicky cats?  Since we lost our Bonnie back in November, we still put the same amount of wet cat food down for each kitty meal.  Why?  Because they won't eat something that sat in the fridge.  Most days they won't eat the fresh stuff, either.  All three show up, but at least two of them sniff the food and walk away.  It's insulting when you've gone to all that trouble to open the can, scrape out all the gravy (because that's all they really want anyway), put it in clean bowls, set it on the floor and then fill the water dishes (which they won't drink out of--they prefer the dripping bathroom sink).
The list goes on and on.

What's getting in the way of you enjoying life?

Friday, March 9, 2012

It doesn't really taste like it looks . . .

Oh the mail I get ... I think that's a standard title for one of Lee Goldberg's regular topics on his blog, (which I read religiously).  He usually gets mail from someone asking for an outrageous favor (like, here I am a COMPLETE stranger--please drop everything and help me promote my book ... oh, yeah.  I got one of those last week, too), or a nasty fan (?) letter (I also got one of those last week).

PuppodumsThe other day I got a note from a reader saying:  "In 'Sentenced to Death' Angelica makes puppodums in the microwave. I've never heard of these, but when I looked them up no one seems to make them in the microwave."

Well, I do!  Okay, the instructions say you're supposed to fry them in a skillet ... or something like that. Fuggetaboutit!  Who has time? And who wants to clean an oily skillet when God gave us microwaves to make our lives easier?
It took a couple of years of trial and error (hey, I've been busy writing books and stuff!), but I've now got it down to a science and I am happy to share my secret with the rest of the world. (Hold your applause until the end of this post.  Thank you.)

Syracuse China Americana PlateFirst of all, I had to experiment with the timing.  Too long and they burn to a crisp.  Not long enough and they're horrible.  And never try to cook a puppodoum in the microwave if you line your glass plate with paper towel.  Either that, or stand by with a fire extinguisher.

I found the best way to cook puppodums was on a Syracuse China plate.  (Any heavy duty restaurant plate will do, I just happen to collect their Americana pattern.)  I found this dinky plate, and it's brother, at a yard sale.  (Yeah, I could go to and buy the entire set for a gazillion dollars, but I prefer the thrill of the yard-sale hunt.)

Next up, preparing the puppodum.  I squirt mine with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. (I used to use the garlic version, but because I liked it they discontinued it.  Product manufacturers always discontinue something the minute I decide to use it.  Good thing I don't buy Oreos, huh?)  You can use any cooking spray, like PAM, as well.  After three or four squirts, I use my finger and distribute the ICBINB to evenly coat the puppodum.  I place it on the little plate, and into the microwave it goes.


BTW, I have no idea what my microwave wattage is, and must admit I really don't care.  This microwave takes 45 seconds to cook the puppodum to perfection.  (It takes a lot less if you just toss it on the glass plate inside your microwave--about 20-22 seconds, but as I mentioned, sometimes they burn. The heavy china must distribute the heat better.  That's my story and I'm sticking with it.)  If this seems like a l-o-n-g time, you can do something else while you wait.  I like to drink a glass of skim milk when I eat curry, so usually my lunch is ready (today I'm thinking of having MTR alu muttar on rice) and too hot to eat anyway (did I mention I like my food PIPING HOT?), so 45 seconds is more than enough time to pour a glass of your favorite beverage.

Finished puppadumThe end result may look like a dinosaur scab, but it tastes just fine.  (If you like lental flatbread, that is.)

So there you have it:  puppodums cooked in the microwave.

(It's okay to applaud now.)

I love answering questions about my books and, quite honestly, rarely get them.  So if you've wondered about anything in the books--please, ask away.  (It's hard coming up with new ideas for blog posts.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Devouring kisses & roast beef just do not mix ...

by guest blogger Phoebe Conn

When Lorraine requested pet peeves, I offered one she hadn't heard before.

Lucy & SnoopyI'm single and date whenever the opportunity appears.  I'd had dinner with a nice man and when we came back to my home, he gave me one of those tonsil-tickling kisses that made me want to shriek the way Lucy does when Snoopy licks her check.  Some men have absolutely no idea how to kiss a woman.  They dive for it like a sailor who's spent the last year in a submarine under a polar ice cap.  Makes me want to puke!  Fortunately, I have a strong stomach.

The gentleman in question had eaten a roast beef sandwich for dinner.  I can feel your shuddering from here. Yes, the flavor of that sandwich added immeasurably to the sheer awfulness of that devouring kiss.  Being a lady, I smiled rather than grimace, and asked him to slow down a bit.  He looked confused, soon left, and, thank goodness, I've not heard from him since.

Fierce_Love_cover_dn.aspI much prefer a man who gives slow teasing kisses that build from a tender touch to the volcanic.  I should have sent my date a copy of one of my books where the heroes all know how to kiss like they mean it without the revolting tongue jab.

Excuse me, I need to go check my messages, someone interesting may have called.
Tales from the backlistRomance author Phoebe Conn has over thirty books to her credit.  Her latest Fierce Love will be available on May 22nd. In the meantime, why not sample one of Phoebe's short stories, PLAYING FOR KEEPS, in the Backlist eBooks anthology, Tales from the Backlist: Select Stories from Backlist eBooks Authors. (It's on sale for a limited time for just 99 cents.  P.S.  My short Jeff Resnick story, COLD CASE, is also included in the anthology.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

My movie dilemma . . .

They're the gifts you give when you don't know what to give:  Money and/or gift cards.

Right now, I've got a couple of Amazon gift cards sitting there and I haven't decided what to do with them.  Or rather, I've decided that I should buy some movies, but I'm not sure what.

Pay it forward.upI got to see about half an hour of Pay It Forward over the weekend, and I was intrigued enough that I'd like to see it again, so that's a given. (I like uplifting movies.)

UpWhen the movie was new, I thought about going to see Up, but never got around to it.  It stars the voice of Edward Asner. I met Mr. Asner's sister in January, and since then I've thought ... I should buy that DVD. (Although what one has to do wit the other ... is anyone's guess.)

The final countdownI'm fascinated with time-travel stories
('s a wonder I haven't read any time travel romances--there seem to be a lot of them around), and it's been years since I've seen The Final Countdown, so that's on the list, too.

LadyhawkeI've thought about buying Ladyhawke, since I seem to be collecting DVDs of the work of director Richard Donner, but I'm not sure.  (If you've seen it, what did you think?)

I figure I've got enough Amazon $$$ left for two more movies.  I usually prefer comedies, but as you can see, I've got two (almost three) dramas on my wish list.

What older movies have you seen that you love ... that you think I'd love, too?