Monday, December 31, 2007

Shoes I've Never Worn

by Brenda Roger

The New Year is a time for cleaning out –and throwing out. Closets (and kitchen junk drawers) are the worst offenders of harboring the unwanted and the unused. My own closet is no exception. I’ve heard and read the rule: if you haven’t worn it for a year, throw it away. I disagree. For the truly stylish, this rule is unnecessary.

I have a friend who attends most of the social events in the city. She has always purchased very expensive clothes, and she almost never throws anything away. You’re thinking that they are stodgy clothes. Think again. She went to a party with a sixties theme and wore her original go-go boots and hot pants! When asked, “where did you get that?” her reply is always the same, “on the third floor.” She keeps all of her treasure on the third floor of her house, and when in need, she does what I refer to as closet diving and comes up with a winner. She has a distinct style that is all her own. Bravo!

In my attempt to be one of the truly stylish, (my don’t we have lofty goals for ’08), I will weed out the closet but no follow “the rule.” That will apply to my shoes in particular. The closet contains many pairs of shoes I have not ever worn, but 2008 might be their year. This might be the year that the perfect shoe for my outfit is a black brocade slingback with feathers on the toe. Yes, that’s right, feathers. Instead of just visiting my Betsy Johnson floral platforms, I might actually work up the nerve to wear the beautiful paint job off of the soles by donning them in public. Besides, it isn’t that I haven’t worn them around the house with my pajamas while I’m ironing in the morning. A girl has to do something to lift her spirits in the morning.

So, if you see someone teetering to the St. Vincent DePaul donation box in floral platforms today, that will be me.

What will you throw away or keep today?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Dinner With A Master

By Brian C. Mullen

Okay, we didn’t actually have dinner. I had some potato chips and bottled water, though. I don’t think he was eating anything during our conversation. Well, okay, technically it wasn’t a conversation. It was more like a lecture. Well, let’s just call it what it was…

A running commentary.

A director’s commentary, on one of my favorite movies I own: A Few Good Men (directed by Rob Reiner).

I LOVE listening to director’s commentaries during movies. Sometimes I like them more than the actual movies because that is where you really learn storytelling and get insights into people’s minds and thought processes.

Rob Reiner’s commentary on A Few Good Men, which I literally just watched/listened to before typing this blog is not what I would call a model commentary: there are large pauses where he doesn’t speak – just watching the movie alongside me – and there are many places where the subject matter is more of a reminiscing, but even those are interesting. But the story-telling information, well, let me tell you…

If you haven’t seen the movie, I hope to not spoil much, but I do ask you to watch the film for the story premise. But let me tell you that any one else, myself included, would call it a military courtroom drama. But Rob Reiner made me see it as a coming of age story.

Our first introduction to Tom Cruise’s character (Kaffee from here on) is him plea-bargaining another case while practicing softball. We see that he’s very good at it and learn that he’s successfully plea-bargained 44 cases in 9 months. This is his expertise. We also learn that his father, now deceased, was a tremendously good trial lawyer – and that Kaffee may fear trials because of that. He tries every which way to plea bargain his way out of this current trial only to be forced by those involved to take it to trial. He even considers dropping the case. But after words are said and he gets a good look at himself by observing others (i.e. overhearing a lawyer in a bar bragging about a maneuver very similar to Kaffee’s earlier one) he decides to try to make his dad proud and embraces the trial.

And embrace it he and his colleagues do. They make a few minor mistakes here and there, but they go at it with everything only to meet obstacle after obstacle and soon some of the mistakes get much bigger. And Kaffee, after a booze-augmented argument, begins to see the poor choice he has made: he has tried to be like his father. He needs to be himself. And he takes a huge gamble – one that his father would not approve of.

The consequences of this gamble, should he fail, are huge (court-martial) and for a moment it looks like he isn’t going to succeed. But he commits and goes all-in to the gamble. And he achieves a victory – sort of. The trial is decided better than the plea-bargain would have gotten him but less than an A+ (his clients are found guilty on one of three counts – ironically the only one that mattered to his clients – forcing them to the end of their own character arc as well).

As Rob Reiner saw it, Kaffee went from hiding in his father’s shadow to finding and embracing his true self. A coming of age story. Hidden within a military courtroom drama. Who’d a thunk it?

It’s easy to be blind to the heart of a story with all the distractions that are thrown at an audience like plot twists, hidden clues and overlooked facts coming back to bite, lawyerly chess-moves, emotional monologues, and especially Jack Nicholson’s commanding presence. But inserted neatly, maybe even seamlessly, is a simple, by-the-book storyline.

And that’s what I need to remember every time I sit down to write.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking To The New Year

Kathie Shoop

I almost like the week between Christmas and New Years as much as everything that leads up to the 25th. I love that the excitement of Christmas is dialed back during the week following, but it’s still not a normal week. For those seven days I’m insulated from heavy Pittsburgh grayness, dashed expectations, rejections from publishers, and the rush of everyday life. I just relax and take advantage of the slowness.

I often use this week to think about life and what is missing and I write resolutions. The bigger picture --make the world a better place, be one with the universe, etc--gets lost in my list these days. I realized that my resolutions are really a long-term to-do list. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that, but I do know at one time, my goals were loftier than they are now.

For instance, I wrote that I will:

• finish my WIP
• send it to my agent with fingers crossed
• start new book
• publish articles/essays
• write with my kids at least twice a week
• be a better housekeeper (gag)
• get organized
• lose weight
• eat healthier, not to lose weight but to be healthier
• get back to running—not just walking
* yoga

Guess which ones are no brainers for me.

Yes, anything related to writing. Really, that’s just my work, but at one time, the writing was a dream. The things related to writing are more like a to-do list at this point than they are lofty resolutions. Seeing that is huge for me and leaves me feeling at peace—that I’ve made the right career decision in the face of chronic illness and life with small children. At one time, the healthy, skinny body was reality--easy to achieve. Life got in the way and the areas of writing and “healthy bodyness” have completely replaced one another in their achievability.

I’m partly stunned because these two areas of being don’t encapsulate who I am, yet they show up consistently as resolutions making me seem very one dimensional. Maybe they define me more than I think. The other thing that stops me is that the list was easily drawn out to include thirty items—without stopping, I listed dozens of things that need improvement or simply need to be done in my life. And, sitting here the week after Christmas in my holiday haze, thirty-five things actually seems reasonable. That makes me crazy and irritating, but remember I'll be sympathetic as I don't succeed in ticking off every item on my list (see weight loss and Yoga).

The making of resolutions can be useless in many ways, but it can be a gauge of how things are going. Perhaps padding it with enough achievable items prevents me from screaming” I’ll never make another list of stinking resolutions as long as I live!” How are your lists looking so far?

Happy New Year to my fellow Working Stiffs and I hope to see you all at least five times (at various meetings) in the coming year as is in detailed in number thirteen of 2008’s resolutions.

Cheers to you all and thank you for your endless stores of support and enthusiasm—I appreciate it very much!


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tis the Season for DUIs

by Joyce Tremel

Since New Year's Eve is only days away, I thought it would be a good time to re-post this (especially since we had four DUI arrests on Sunday alone!) Keep this in mind if you're out partying. If you've had more than one or two drinks over the course of the evening, make sure someone else drives please!

The following is FICTION, but details what a typical DUI arrest might be like. Definitely not great literature by any means, but you'll get the idea.

I flicked the switch for the overhead lights on my patrol car when the Ford Taurus that I’d been following for half a mile crossed the center line for the third time. When the car didn’t pull over, I turned on the siren. The Taurus slowed down, drifted toward the curb and stopped.

I pulled behind the car, leaving enough of my unit in the travel lane for safety. I notified dispatch of my location and gave them the registration number.

Dispatch repeated the plate information and my location. Another unit answered and said he was on his way to back me up.

I grabbed my flashlight and got out of the car. When I reached the Taurus, I pressed on the trunk. It was closed tight. No one in there. Not that there ever would be, but I didn’t like to take chances.

The driver spoke before I did, asking me why he was pulled over. His words were slurred and he reeked of alcohol.

I told him why. I shined the flashlight quickly around the inside of the car. There were four empty beer cans on the floor of the passenger side and an open can in a cup holder.

The driver fumbled with his wallet, passing over his license three times before he found it and handed it to me. He didn’t know where his registration or insurance card were.

I took his license back to my patrol car and entered the info into the MDT. His license came back DUI suspended. Surprise, surprise. Dispatch informed me his vehicle registration was also suspended. I had them notify the towing company.

As I went back to the Taurus, my back up arrived and I filled him in. He stood by while I spoke to the driver again. I asked if he had anything to drink tonight.

He assured me that he’d only had one beer with his dinner.

I suppressed a smile. Why was it they always only had one? Just once I’d like someone to say, “Hell, yeah, I’ve been drinking all night.”

I asked him to step out of the car. He swayed so much he almost fell. I asked him if he had any illness or disability which would preclude him from taking a field sobriety test. He said no and agreed to submit to the test. We moved to a well-lit parking lot nearby. I demonstrated the first one—the finger to nose test. Instead of listening to my instructions, he tried to do it at the same time as I did. The ability to listen to instruction was actually part of the test. He touched his upper lip with his left hand twice and the bridge of his nose, then the side of his nose with his right.

The second test was worse. I showed him how to hold his leg straight in front of him, six inches off the ground. He didn’t even make it to the count of one thousand two on either leg.

The third test was the straight line walk. He not only couldn’t walk heel to toe, he couldn’t even stay on the line. I placed him under arrest, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of my patrol car. The officer backing me up inventoried his car and waited for the tow, while I took the prisoner back to the station.

In the booking room I turned on the Intoxylizer machine to let it warm up while we waited the required twenty minutes before I could test his breath. In the meantime I read him the Chemical Testing form, which explained that if he refused to submit to testing, his license would be suspended for an additional year. Probably didn’t matter to him—he was suspended already and still driving.

He signed the form and I showed him how to blow into the machine. On his first reading, he blew a 0.25 and on the second, a 0.21. I gave him a copy of the reading and asked if there was someone he could call to pick him up. He arranged for his wife to get him. When she arrived at the station, I explained that he would be charged with DUI by summons and he’d be notified of the preliminary hearing. If he failed to appear, a warrant would be issued for his physical arrest and he’d be taken to the county jail.

That was one off the road. At least for tonight.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pittsburgh vs. GPS

By Annette Dashofy

I received a new Garmin GPS unit for Christmas a few days early. Since I’m STILL without Internet service from home, having this new little box sitting in my car talking to the outside world had me bubbling over with excitement. The store made a big point of letting me know that I only had two weeks to return it and since I’m not going anywhere strange in the next two weeks, I’ve been test-driving it around home.

It helped me get to the pharmacy four miles from my house and back with no problems.

Then, I decided to take it for a ride to the city.

It’s been mentioned here before by me and by other Working Stiffs that Pittsburgh is not the easiest city to maneuver. I pretty much know my way around, but I don’t know that the routes I take are necessarily the BEST routes. They’re just the way I happen to know. So I thought it would be interesting to let the GPS guide me and perhaps learn a better way to get from point A to point B. Preferably without getting lost in Point Breeze.

I had planned to go out to lunch with my friend who also owns the yoga center where we both teach (and who, therefore, writes my paychecks). I decided to introduce her to the Church Brew Works where I had recently had lunch with several of our Working Stiffs. I knew how to get there. But did I know the shortest route? I had no idea.

I still have no idea. Pittsburgh battled the GPS and Pittsburgh won.

We were fine driving in from rural Washington County. The Voice in the GPS guided us through little Houston (Pennsylvania, not Texas) and onto Interstate 79. It told us which exit to take. All was well.

Then we entered the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

“We’re going to lose the signal,” I told my yoga teacher friend.

“Signal lost,” announced The Voice (which has a lisp, by the way).

We came out onto Fort Pitt Bridge. I was in the far right lane. By the time the signal reconnected and the GPS figured out where we were, it announced that I was in the wrong lane. By then, it was too late. I chose not to risk an accident and headed up the Parkway toward Grant Street.

“Recalculating,” announced the Voice in what seemed to me to be a slightly annoyed tone. Then it told me to head straight on Fort Pitt Boulevard. Except I wasn’t ON Fort Pitt Boulevard. Next the Voice suggested I turn left on Smithfield Street. Except that I wasn’t in any position to turn onto Smithfield Street. I turned left on Grant Street as I had originally intended.

“Recalculating,” lisped the Voice. “Travel straight to Church Brew Works and Reservation.”

Reservation? I think she meant Restaurant.

Later, away from traffic, I figured out the Fort Pitt Boulevard/Smithfield Street thing. Streets in Pittsburgh run on top of each other and side-by-side with each other, separated by Jersey barriers. The GPS satellite thought we were on Fort Pitt Boulevard because it runs along side the Parkway. Smithfield intersects with Fort Pitt, not the Parkway.

So I did not learn a new way to get around Pittsburgh. I did learn that the GPS will eventually get me where I want to go. Especially, if I already know how to get there. But it has its limitations. Tunnels for one. Overlapping highways for another.

I think I will like my new toy. I hope it will help me find my way around places that I don’t know. I have to travel to Twinsburg, Ohio in February to teach at a writer’s retreat. I’m counting on the GPS to get me there. That and a few maps from AAA.

But I won’t count on it to direct me around Pittsburgh.

Monday, December 24, 2007


by Gina

'Twas the day before Christmas
And all through the town
The last minute shoppers
Laid their money down.

"What more can we buy now?"
I hear them all wail,
"The malls are all closing
There's nothing on sale!

"And even Giant Eagle
With gift cards galore
Is out of fruit baskets --
They're locking the door.

"Quick, rummage through closets,
Through each drawer and chest,
To find last year's presents
And re-gift the best!"


Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Emotional Reading Experience...or Not

by Mike Crawmer

There was a time not all that long ago when I would read anything. Now I have trouble finishing books. I seem to have lost my “emotional bearings” in the books I read.

I don’t know if that makes any sense. So let me try to explain.

Exhibit No. 1: A cozy set on an island off the coast of Maine, this cliché-filled book comes complete with the spoiled cat, the struggling B&B owner trying to forget a failed romance, and the numbskull law enforcement officer. There’s lots to keep the reader’s interest early on: The protagonist discovers her cleaning lady’s bloody body in a cranberry bog, argues with her best friend, and wonders why her boyfriend is shunning her. (Well, duh, lady, maybe it’s because he saw you kissing your ex-fiance?!). But, emotionally, it all amounts to nothing--the B&B owner has the emotional depth of a gnat. Any regrets and doubts she has are mere trifles that don’t get in the way of making that next batch of brownies. If I had a working fireplace, that book would be ashes by now.

Exhibit No.2: “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls. Sure, to make it to the bookshelf the modern memoir must take the reader on an emotional house-of-horrors ride featuring outrageous, immature parents who should never have been allowed to make whoopee, weird siblings, criminal cousins, cruel teachers, lecherous priests and perfect recall of 35-year-old conversations. “The Glass Castle” is on another level altogether. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact way it’s written, but I find the tale so gut-wrenchingly horrific—its emotions so raw and painful—that I have to put it aside and reassure myself that all of life is not so horrid.

So, there’s my dilemma. I refuse to continue plodding through Exhibit No. 1 because its portrayal of the protagonist’s emotions is flat, trite and unbelievable. On the other hand, I can take Exhibit No. 2 only in small doses because the emotions are so robust, explosive, and nighmare-inducing.

Now, I don’t see myself as a wimp with no taste. I grew up reading the Old Testament and Edgar Allan Poe, after all. I devoured “Angela’s Ashes” and was hooked on “The Kite Runner,” some passages of which are truly hair-raising. I wept with Isabel Allende while reading “Paula,” her loving memoir of her daughter’s illness and death.

I think a lot of my angst about this is contained within this line I heard on an NPR program. The commentator said, in essence, that men connect with other men through doing; women connect with other women through talking. Maybe that’s what I need to look for in books: more doing, less talking. Of course, all action, no emotion would get tiresome pretty soon. Someone out there must be writing books with a balance of action, talk, and emotion. Any recommendations, folks?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lame Yuleblog Excuse

by Cathy Anderson Corn

So sorry, but I haven't time to write a blog today. Christmas is coming in four days, and I haven't wrapped a present, probably can't even find them in my house. Can't even say if I'm done with shopping or not. It's one big mystery.

I made a last minute trip to Florida to visit my mom in the rehab center after her total hip replacement and got back Tuesday. On Wednesday, I took my dog Gypsy to Beaver for her acupuncture treatment. That night, husband Alan required bodywork for back problems. Yesterday, I massaged one client after the other, a full schedule, so I was too exhausted to think straight. (In addition, before my trip, I developed a pinched nerve and a gimpy left arm--may Santa bless my chiropractor.)

So I won't be writing a blog today, dear Sisters and Misters. But I wish you all the very best holiday season, a light-filled Winter Solstice, and the hope for all your dreams to come true in 2008.

Chances are, you don't have time to read this, anyway.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Cops Twelve Days of Christmas

by Joyce Tremel

(To be sung to the tune of you-know-what.)

On the first day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, FIVE DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, eleven bar fights, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, twelve drunken elves, eleven bar fights, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slave to Technology

By Annette Dashofy

As I write this, my wireless Internet connection is down. Obviously, I won’t be able to post it until the techie guy comes out and waves his magic wand (if only it were that easy) and puts me back in touch with the outside world. OR until I get fed up with being in cyber-darkness and take my laptop to Panera Bread to use THEIR wi-fi connection.

I’m amazed at how emotionally dependant I’ve become on technology. Me. The farm girl who is married to the outdoorsman and who loves to go camping and “roughing it.” I like to think that I’m not as tied to gadgets as the folks I see wandering around the grocery store with a cell phone stuck to their ear. Having once worked retail, I tend to sympathize with those who tackle the thankless job of ringing up people’s orders. When the customer can’t even drag themselves away from their cell phone conversation long enough to exchange the smallest of pleasantries, let alone acknowledge the existence of the person handing them their change and/or receipt, I have to believe that rude has taken on a whole new meaning.

Modern technology claims to put us in closer contact with our loved ones. Give your kids cell phones and put them all on a family and friends plan. But instead of really connecting with anyone, they learn to talk to faceless voices. Or better yet, communicate in a new form of short hand. LOL. BFF. That’s about the extent of my knowledge of this strange method of communication called text messaging. But these folks are completely disconnected from the world around them. They roam the world like zombies. They don’t “see” the other shoppers around them. This summer, while bike riding on a wilderness trail, I passed a young girl walking the other direction and talking on her cell phone, oblivious to the beautiful scenery around her.

Being a crime writer, I instantly created a plot for a murder mystery where the victim is plucked from a hiking path by a villain she never saw because she was so focused on her phone call.

I mean, don’t we teach girls to be aware of your surroundings at all times? How can you be aware of a potential threat when you’re deep in discussion with someone miles away?

Anyhow, I like to think I’m not that bad. I don’t even listen to music when I’m outdoors. But I do carry a cell phone everywhere. In case of emergency. And if I’m in an area with no service, my first reaction is panic. What if someone needs me and I can’t be reached? It takes a while, but eventually, being out of touch becomes freeing. There’s a reason that ignorance is bliss.

I’m waiting for that sense of freedom to hit me now as I wait to have my wireless Internet reconnected. I can, after all, still write. In fact, I’m sure I’ll get a considerable amount of work done on my current work-in-progress without the distraction of checking e-mail. So why do I feel like maybe I’m missing THE message from my agent with news of a big publishing contract?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Do I want my MTV?

by Martha Reed

Since I’m in charge of promoting my fiction in addition to writing it, I keep my ear to the ground when it comes to new promotional ideas. At Malice Domestic last May, I cruised the tables picking up samples of what I thought were the best in bookmarks and postcards, looking for eye-catching graphic design and then taking the samples back to my room to puzzle out what exactly about the design had caught my eye. I quizzed my sister, too, showing her the samples and asking: would you buy this book because of what you see here?

And I know that cover design is important, too, that’s why we see series books that all feature the same foil-stamped typeface or the same shocking set of colors. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series or anything by James Patterson immediately springs to mind. It’s market branding, like any other product, the way we see a Starbucks logo and know we’ll find a great cup of coffee.

Something new turned up over the weekend: video trailers. Well, new to me, anyhow, even though I spent a few formative years watching Billy Idol on MTV. Louise Ure has a new book, The Fault Tree, and she invited readers to go to to preview a video trailer, so I went. The trailer was short and sweet, one minute fifteen seconds long, and I thought it piqued my interest, but the more I thought about the idea of video trailers for books, for written material, the more questions the idea raised.

I know that humans are visual animals. I know that when training an associate, the quickest path to mastery is to show them how to do it and not just send them to a certain page in a training manual. If the act of reading, of translating text into images through the use of the imagination, involves a higher mental process, and your audience prefers a visual medium – which I tend to believe since YouTube is all about visuals – then is creating a video trailer for a text product an exercise in futility?

I also know that the Baby Boomer generation is probably the last generation to be raised on text. Yes, we had a TV when I was a kid, I’m not that old, dammit, but we only had three channels and cartoons exclusively on Saturday morning. Nowadays, the airwaves are awash in junk programming and any kid with an imagination has migrated to computers to play interactive video games. The visuals on modern games are amazing, I admit; quite a contrast from the Ms. PacMan and Frogger I knew in college.

But if we’re moving into VideoLand to preview and support text, I foresee a problem: casting.

As an author, it’s always a delicate balance in my work to give readers just enough descriptive information but not too much. I don’t want to describe each one of my characters down to the number of fillings in their teeth. My writing is a partnership with my readers, and I want them to share in the process. I want them to activate their imaginations to decide what a character looks like to them. I’ll make suggestions, of course, but the final decision is in their head, not mine. That’s why I love reading books before I see the movie – I want to see if the writer, the casting director and I were in the same ballpark. The best example I can mention is the casting for Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris has been a dark horse favorite of mine since Red Dragon, and after I read Silence I held my breath waiting for the casting announcement. Clarisse Starling = Jody Foster, Anthony Hopkins = Hannibel Lector? Flawless.

Which leaves one last question: if we create a video trailer to stimulate interest in our book before the text version comes out, are we stunting the creative partnership by planting visual preconceptions in the minds of our readers?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are There Contests?

by Brenda Roger

Sunday morning I heard an NPR radio segment that was about a woman who runs a refuge for fruitcake and fruitcake enthusiasts. She was completely serious. In true NPR fashion, the interviewer questioned her as if they were discussing peace in the Middle East. When questioning the guest about the annual fruitcake event, the interviewer asked, “Are there contests?”

That is my new favorite thing to say. My husband told me that he will be late this evening because he has to go to a “fireside chat.” Instead of asking him what that was I just asked, “Are there contests?” Under normal circumstances, I would have asked him if there is actually a fire.

Perhaps it will take another example to win you over to adopting “are there contests?” as your new favorite thing to say. If I were to invite you to Christmas dinner at my house, you could ask, “Are there contests?” I would tell you, “Yes, yes there are.” There is a contest to see who can be the first person to buy me a sweater set with glitter on it the size of dimes. Too bad for you, my mother-in-law already won that contest last year.

The only thing more fun than asking, “Are there contests?” is thinking up what the contests might be at any given event. The fruitcake event involved throwing the fruitcakes. I suspect it looks something like that log throwing thing they do at the Highland Games, but without the kilts.

You can thank me later for introducing you to this fun game just in time for the holidays when it will be of the most use to you. If you get invited to a New Year’s party and you don’t want to go, just ask, “Are there contests?” and if the answer is no, simply inform the host or hostess that you no longer attend events without contests.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Santa Shops Victoriously

By Lisa Curry

My firstborn, Rainman, age 10, handed me his letter to Santa last week, all sealed up in an envelope addressed to the North Pole. I, of course, sent it on its merry way to the frozen arctic.

Santa Claus smiled when he opened the letter. Rainman is nothing if not specific. His Christmas wish list was typed, numbered, and included both sources and prices…

1. A customized Steelers 75th anniversary jersey with name Curry and #22 on it. Size Youth XL. You can get it at for $79.99.

2. An Adrian Peterson Minnesota Vikings sewn (not screen-printed) jersey. Size Youth XL. You can probably get it at Champs for $70.

We don’t call him Rainman for nothing.

The list went on in that fashion with about a half-dozen less expensive items and ended with “and anything else you think I’d like.”

Santa sat down at his handy laptop to visit

Uh-oh. They were all out of customized Steelers 75th anniversary jerseys. He alerted me, so I could discuss the problem with Rainman, who decided he would settle for a Troy Polamalu Steelers 75th anniversary jersey – sewn not screen-printed, of course.

Santa dashed off to Champs Sports. They didn’t have that Polamalu jersey in stock, and they couldn’t get it in youth extra-large, but they could order an adult small, which was basically the same, and have it delivered right to his house. Oh, and by the way, the adult small cost $40 more than the youth extra-large.

“Good luck with Adrian Peterson. You’re not going to find that anywhere,” the Champs sales associate told Santa, who decided Rainman would receive a Brian Urlacher Chicago Bears jersey – sewn not screen-printed, of course – instead.

When he got home, Santa felt terrible, though. Poor Rainman, who’d been a fairly good boy this year, wasn’t going to get his first choice on either of the two top items on his Christmas wish list. Santa sat down at his laptop and jiggled the mouse to wake it up. The web browser came up with eBay on it. One of those darn elves must have been surfing the internet. On a whim, Santa typed in the search box, “Adrian Peterson sewn jersey YXL.”

He found two of them – both from the same seller. The auctions ended in a few days, only 7 minutes apart, and the current high bids were in the $40 range. Santa wasn’t an experienced eBay shopper, but he guessed from what the Champs clerk had said – not to mention the time of year – that these jerseys wouldn’t go cheap. He sighed and put them on the elf’s “My eBay Watch List.”

Meanwhile, back at our house, Rainman came running. “They have the customized Steelers 75th anniversary jersey back on They must have got more of them!”

I alerted Santa, who sighed again and put in the order for the customized jersey with name Curry and #22 on it.

Now he would have to return the Polamalu jersey – which UPS had tried to deliver that day while he was out and wouldn’t leave without a signature.

Last night when the eBay auctions for the Peterson jerseys ended, Santa was poised at his laptop. He had calculated how much money he’d get back from returning both the Polamalu and Urlacher jerseys, deducted the eBay seller’s $10 shipping and handling charge, and decided that would be his highest bid.

As the first auction came to an end, someone ran the price up to $135 at the last second. Santa muttered a few bad words, made a mental note to put that dirty sniper on the naughty list, and wiped the sweat from his brow.

The second auction was his last chance. Santa clicked the refresh button again and again while the seconds ticked down. 10…8…4…1…

“Congratulations!” his screen read. “You won this item!”

And for $20 less than his maximum bid. Santa exhaled and smiled – victorious, but a little weary at the thought of fighting the holiday crowds to return the Polamalu jersey, which UPS had just finally managed to deliver that day, and the Urlacher jersey to Champs.

He would really have to look into teaching those lazy, internet-surfing elves to sew.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Season of Crime

by Joyce Tremel

If I asked what season had the most crime, most people would respond, "Summer." That's when it's hot out, tempers are up along with the temperatures, houses are left open and easy to break into.

Well, you'd be wrong.

The Christmas season has it beat. This time of year, while we get fewer calls, almost all of them are crime related. (The busybodies must be out buying gifts, because they don't have time to keep us informed on every "suspicious person" wandering around their neighborhood.)

This is the time of year when retail thefts are abundant. When I was over at Ross Park Mall last week, I saw a Ross Township police officer strolling around. He wasn't doing his shopping either. I had no idea who he was, but I stopped to say hello. He told me that the mall hires off-duty officers to patrol in addition to their so-called security guards. Has anyone seen these security guards? They wear strange looking state trooper like hats and some patrol on Segways (wearing helmets, of course). Very amusing. Anyway, the Ross cop said it's a nice gig for the holidays. Extra money, most people in the holiday spirit and most important of all, there's law enforcement on site.

It made sense to me, especially having someone on site. McKnight Road is truly McKnightmare Road this time of year. Even with lights and sirens, a police car would have nowhere to go.

We haven't had too many retail thefts in Shaler this year, but many of the stores handle the thefts themselves. The loss prevention departments usually file the charges at the magistrate's office. Last year, however, I remember two women tried to leave K-Mart with an entire shopping cart full of items. Don't you wonder what they were thinking? They just pushed the cart right out the door. When they totaled the items for the police report, it was over $700. Not too bright if you ask me.

The crime we have the most of right now is thefts from vehicles. People, LOCK YOUR CARS! I don't care if they're in your driveway or not. Lock the damn things. All the little junkies pick a neighborhood every night and go through cars.

The junkies also hit the grocery stores. They steal steaks. If they get away with it, they take the steaks to restaurants (mostly in Lawrenceville and the East End) and sell them to the restaurant. So think twice before you order that steak at the Pleasure Bar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Of all the things I've ever lost...

…I miss my mind the most.

By Annette Dashofy

I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping. Don’t hate me. Unlike most folks, we don’t make a huge deal about gift-giving in my house. I already know that I’m getting a GPS unit and I’m waiting for Hubby to make up his mind about what he wants. For the most part, all the other gifts I’ve bought were either gift cards or books (of course).

Last week I bought one last gift card (a year’s worth of Tracfone airtime) and when I got it home and went to put it with the hundred and some dollars worth of other gift cards I’d purchased in recent months, I realized I had no idea where I’d put them.

It’s not like I needed to HIDE them. There’s only Hubby and me here and none of them were for him. No prying, curious eyes seeking out presents before the BIG DAY. So where the heck did I put them? I searched cupboards and closets and drawers. I even raked through the mountain of papers on my desk even though I was fairly certain I hadn’t been insane enough to put them there.

I remembered stashing them someplace good. Someplace where they wouldn’t get lost. Someplace where I could find them. But I couldn’t remember where that good spot was.

I wish I could say that this is the first time I’ve done this. It’s not. One year, back when we DID exchange real gifts with family members, I realized as the unwrapping was taking place on Christmas morning that one family member’s gift from me seemed to be AWOL. When I got home, I found it neatly tucked under my bed. I quickly wrapped it and rushed back to their house to present it with a face nearly as red as the bow on the package.

And there have been other even more embarrassing instances, which I choose not to share.

I don’t need Christmas to lose things either. Recently, I stood in the check-out line at the grocery store and reached for my charge card. It wasn’t in its usually slot in my wallet. I checked all the other slots. I dug through every inch of my purse. I checked every pocket in my coat and jeans. Nothing. I tried to recall where I’d used it last. However, nowadays, we mostly just swipe the card ourselves, so I couldn’t remember anyplace where the clerk had handled my card and perhaps not returned it. I was panic-stricken. I had another card with which to make the current purchase, but let’s face it, losing a charge card is NOT a good thing to do.

I found it later on my desk next to my computer where I’d used it to make an online purchase.

While I do eventually find most lost or misplace objects, sometimes they just vanish into thin air, never to be heard from again.

At least I come by it naturally. Several years ago, I gave my father who had Alzheimer’s, diabetes, AND a sweet tooth, a box of sugar-free chocolates from Sarris’. He loved them. My mother, knowing that he would eat the entire boxful in one sitting if not restrained, hid the box and doled pieces of candy out with his lunch. Except that she hid the box so well, she couldn’t find it. We all assumed that one day it would show up.

It didn’t. Ever. Not even to this very day.

I went back to Sarris’ and bought a new box.

Now anytime anything turns up missing, we say that it’s sitting on top of that box of sugar-free chocolate.

Okay, I suspect losing things isn’t something exclusive to my mother and me. What have you lost that you still search for? Have you ever found a gift in a fabulous hiding place in July that you bought for Christmas last year? You know the memory is the second thing to go. I just can’t remember the first…

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Secret to Writing

by Nancy Martin

As a writer who's made a decent living in my chosen profession for more than 25 years, I have a few secrets to success that I'm reluctant to share. But since I am among friends and it's the holiday season, I will reveal one.

I am a firm believer in naps.

Nothing relaxes the imagination like a nice, restorative afternoon snooze--preferably wrapped up in a much-loved, if slightly tattered quilt on my favorite sofa. A nap also lowers my blood pressure. (Yes, in case you were wondering, my kitchen rehab is still under construction, and at the rate it's going I expect it will remain that way through the fall of 2009.) Napping calms my brain. It allows my thoughts to travel into the hearts and minds of the imaginary people who populate my books. Often, I can propose a question to myself (what's the worst that could happen to this woman?) before I nod off, and the answer pops into my head while I'm asleep. How painless is that?

I have a writer friend who claims she meditates for 20 minutes every day to ready herself for writing. Me, I call a spade a spade. I nap.

Can any other profession claim the usefulness of naps? Besides the occasional president, that is?

Mind you, I do not nap in my bed. That's too much like sleeping. Which would be bad, I'm pretty sure. I cannot nap in the Laz-y-Boy chair that I finally broke down and purchased because so many of my writer friends claim it's the best ergonomic position for working on a laptop. (And they're right! But I wish I didn't look the way my grandfather did while he watched Lawrence Welk on Sunday nights after a roast beef dinner.) Napping in my work chair, though, is too much like slacking off, so I don't snooze in the Laz-y-Boy. But the old sofa in an upstairs bedroom is comfy enough, but not too comfy that I'd zonk out for the rest of the day.

I only nap for 50 minutes. (Magically, I wake up at the 50 minute mark. Can somebody explain that phenomenon?) Which is totally wrong, according to this source, which says 20 minutes should be your maximum nap. Longer than that, and you'll disturb your nightly sleep. But me, I don't nap every day. Once or twice a week, an afternoon snooze is blissful, and it doesn't totally mess up my sleeping schedule.

After an all-night flight to Venice last month, my husband and I experienced some jet lag on the first day of our cruise. I couldn't stay awake. I kept falling asleep every time I sat down. Fortunately, that seemd to be the case with just about all the other passengers over the age of 6. While little kids frolicked in the pool (why must all children shriek in a swimming pool??) their parents were collapsed on deck chairs as if they'd been hit with stun guns. Grown men were curled up on sofas in the lounge, snoring like Santa after delivering a whole world of presents. I spotted one elegant lady in the champagne bar drooling on a towel she'd daintily tucked under her face. Napping was imperative to getting our body clocks acclimated to the new time zone.

Our return trip to the US was even worse. First of all, the other passengers on our plane fell asleep in various contorted positions of torture victims. (Even the most beautiful woman looks horrible with her head snapped back and her jaw hanging open.) But the position of the seats made it impossible for Jeff and me to do more than catch a couple of catnaps. When finally we arrived at home--after 28 hours of wide awake travel--I napped every day for a week. And slept like a log at night.

Now the holidays are upon us. In addition to the shopping and other Christmas preparations, I say it's time to step up one's commitment to napping, too. When I hear Andy Williams crooning, "It's the most wonderful time of the year . . . " I think of napping.

Hey, a few holiday naps will restore my creative mind, right? And prepare me for another year of writing. Anyone want to join me?


by Gina Sestak

EVERYONE - Read the NEWSFLASH posted just below before you read this!

I started law school in 1973. At that time, Pitt had a rule that first year law students weren't supposed to work. The idea was that a job would interfere with the concentration needed to complete the first year work.

If you've been reading my posts for the past year or so, you know I didn't really have a choice. I had to work to eat - starving to death would have made it even harder to do all that studying -- and so I found a job. For a few hours every day, I typed labels. This was before mail merge, so the company I worked for prepared individual mailing labels. The project involved typing labels for every doctor who belonged to the Allegheny County Medical Society. I had a book of names and addresses and I'd type them onto forms that were six copies thick, with carbon in between the pages. Corrections were a nightmare, involving erasing one copy at a time while a piece of cardboard behind that page protected the copies below from being smudged. This had to be done without taking the forms out of the typewriter, so the alignment would be the same when the correction was typed.

Meanwhile, back at the law school, students were expected to hang around all day and check the bulletin board frequently. I'd been assigned to an advisor, a professor who posted student appointments only an hour or two ahead of time. He posted my first (and only) appointment while I was at my typing job, and so I missed it. I went to him when I got back and explained. He was irate, promising to put a note in my permanent file to alert potential employers to my dereliction. As far as I know, I've never failed to get a job because of that note but, needless to say, he wasn't much use as an advisor.

That seemed to be the norm for Pitt, though. The undergraduate advisors left a lot to be desired, too. My final one insisted that the only reason so many college graduates couldn't find jobs in their fields was because they didn't believe in themselves. I thought he was an idiot.

I'd been through the "note in the file" routine before, in high school. I'd laughed in class and the nun threatened to put a note in my file to alert future employers not to hire me. I don't think I've ever failed to get a job because of that note, either.

Who else has had nasty notes put in their files? Did it impact your employability?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

News Flash!

Kyra Marie Coblitz arrived today weighing 8 plus pounds, 20 inches long. Kristine and Chad are both doing fine.

Congrats, Mom and Dad!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Finding Focus

By Kristine Coblitz

I did something last weekend that I never thought I'd have the courage to do. I deleted my personal blog and my MySpace page.


I'm a professional. I know that online networking is part of the gig of being a writer. But I'm also a realist who knows that in the upcoming months, time is going to be limited for me and I need to focus my priorities. Having a newborn in the house while working and writing (and trying to get some sleep!) is going to have my mind more scattered than it already is on a regular basis.

When I look at the time I spend online, I'm amazed at how many hours I waste surfing the web and chatting with others. Being a part of the online community can be fun, but it's also not helping my writing career, and let's face it. If I don't have time to finish my manuscript, all the networking in the world isn't going to help me. Without a manuscript to sell, I don't have a writing career, right?

So I'm cutting back, limiting my online activities to e-mail and few select blogs (including this one) I read regularly so that when I'm sitting at my computer, I can focus on my writing. It's like an addiction, though. I actually felt my heart racing as I deleted the accounts and weeded out my list of online favorite sites. It was both sad and liberating at the same time.

How much time do YOU spend online? Does it cut into your writing time? What online activities can you not live without?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

When Pets Murder

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger, Clea Simon. Her newest book, Cries and Whiskers (Poisoned Pen Press) will be released December 15th.

Is your kitty a killer?

Yes, I write mysteries, but even so I know that may seem like an odd question. Some of you may respond, “I don’t have a kitty.” Fair enough, but then look around for the sweetest feline you can spy. Look into those innocent vertical irises and ask, “Could little Mittens do murder?”

Well, yes. And therein lies a tale.

You see, a few years ago, I received an email with the subject line: “PETA kills pets.” I followed the links and found myself in the middle of a battle. While it’s debatable whether any one group has set out to destroy our animal companions, I discovered that there are many who, under the banner of animal rights, contend that pets are evil – and should be eliminated.

Pets, they argue, are overwhelmingly non-native species. The only small native cat here in North America is the bobcat, hardly the Felis silvestris catus I have in my lap. But the animals our little house tigers prey on – birds, voles, mice – are native, and facing an enemy that evolution never prepared them for. Therefore, runs the argument, to defend the rights of native species, to protect the local ecosystem, such foreign invaders should be destroyed.

But don’t our pets deserve love and care, too? Well, yeah, and that’s the core of the animal rights vs. animal welfare debate, a debate that planted the seed for “Cries and Whiskers.” A debate that had very real consequences recently when a Texas man shot to death a cat because it was hunting endangered birds. (The case ended up changing Texas pet law!)

Now, I’m the author of mysteries with cats in them. I have as my constant companion my own shelter kitty, Musetta. So I fall pretty solidly in the pro-pet category. I would never, ever kill or hurt a cat – in real life or in my fiction. But the animal rights folks have a point. Every summer, I see portions of my favorite beach fenced off to let the piping plovers nest, and I’m not averse to scolding those who ignore the roped-off areas. But what would I do if I saw a well-fed tabby stalking those pint-sized birds?

All this leads to one of my major – you could say “pet” – peeves: I’m a big believer in keeping cats inside. Not only to save indigenous wildlife, but also because it ensures your cat a healthier, longer life. (And if you’re worried about your pet’s happiness, play with her more. Twenty minutes a day will do it. Cats are obligate carnivores, hunters, which means they have only short bursts of energy anyway.)

When it comes to feral animals, however, the problem is harder to solve. Ferals – domestic animals gone wild – often cannot be re-domesticated. A feral cat born in the wild will be just as terrified of a human as a native bobcat. Their lives tend to be nasty, brutish, and short (nature red in tooth and claw, and all that). And they can wreck havoc on the environment.

But that’s not their fault. It’s ours. Which is lousy for the animals, and may provide motive for murder – at least in a murder mystery. Is my kitty a killer? Maybe, but under my watch, all her victims are felt and rubber, with only a catnip heart.

Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow mysteries, Mew is for Murder, Cattery Row, and Cries and Whiskers, as well as three nonfiction books, including The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats. The recipient of multiple honors, including the Cat Writers Association’s Presidents Award, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, Jon Garelick, and their cat, Musetta.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Disoriented but Happy in the Burgh

By Guest Blogger, Kathleen George

I need a GPS system for everyday life because I’m severely challenged when it comes to directions, maps, anything that indicates how a person gets from one place to another. Yet I dare to put Pittsburgh, the city, in my novels. To do so, the cops and criminals have to go where I go, eat what I eat. And most of the time, I have to research how to get them there.

But I love using Pittsburgh as a setting. I’m attracted to the mood and the ethos here—we are a gritty, cheerful working class city. I love putting my cops and criminals on the bridges, driving the parkway, in the parks, in the restaurants.

There was the old view of Pittsburgh—dirty and unsophisticated. Films like the Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels and the dark Requiem for a Heavyweight make jokes about how undesirable it would be to end up in our city. But now we’re rated the #1 livable city in America by Places Rated Almanac for 2007. Some of the beauty of Pittsburgh will surely be featured in the film of Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I’m especially thrilled every time the young boy, Shane, in Showtime’s Weeds (trying to save his family from disaster, constantly doing research on the Internet) says he knows where they need to go to make everything right—Pittsburgh. We’ve surely arrived as desirable on the national scene.

But those who were here a long time ago still love the place. The Post-Gazette of December 3 features a photographer/CEO of Hearst Publishing who not only fondly remembers living here, but has done a book of photos of the city.

The editor for my novel, AFTERIMAGE, the legendary Ruth Cavin, was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She attended what was then Carnegie Tech. She must surely have eaten in Cantor’s and Weinsteins restaurants. As I did. She’s now eighty-eight years old and still smarter than everybody else around her. When I directed her to my website and especially to the section called A Cop’s Culinary Tour of Pittsburgh, she wrote to me that she was having this fantasy: “to find a small house near the Carnegie campus (Please! That’s Car-NEG-ie!, you New York dopes!) and settle down happily.”

If she comes for so much as a visit, I will happily drive her around. I can get her to Tessaro’s, Primanti’s, Squirrel Hill, Carnegie Mellon and Pitt Campuses. Who cares if we get lost downtown, there’s plenty to see. If she wants to go to Swissvale or Moon Township, I will need a GPS system.

Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at Pitt and the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, and AFTERIMAGE.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What's So Wrong with Pure Entertainment?

By Martha Reed

My niece and I went to see This Wonderful Life playing at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. It’s a one-act, one-actor retelling of the Frank Capra Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the story is retold on a bare stage, with minimal props. And yet, Mark Setlock, the actor who plays George Bailey, had some audience members in tears, and I was one of them.

The reason I mention this is because one local reviewer said the performance ‘tells us nothing new”, and this comment made me wonder: what’s so wrong with plain old entertainment? With all the crap on television, all those wasted hours watching pointless reality shows that have no basis in reality, what’s so wrong with spending an hour or two watching a storyteller get on with the job?

Lately, I’ve given a lot of thought to the storytellers who lived among us before we humans learned to write the story down. There’s a continuity there, a commonality among us all.

Take the Bible, for instance. It’s full of stories, and it’s strange to think that the entire Judeo-Christian culture arose from some transitional Sumerian storyteller telling the tale of Abraham and Sarah to a bunch of nomads sitting around a campfire, but that’s probably just the way it happened. You can even still hear his/her voice in their spoken ancestral names: Abra-HAM, Sar-AH. I use the same breathy emphasis in my verbal storytelling to this day.

Geneticists are telling us that modern humans have only been able to speak for 100,000 years – our vocal cord mutation is that recent in our history. So, again I wonder, what did humans use for communication before we developed our voice? I think we used dance, and that’s why dancing remains so vital to the overall human culture. Look at every ethnic division and there’s a variety of dance, and if you look really deeply, you’ll see each group’s innermost culture expressed and exposed through their dance. A hunting tribe mimics the hunt; a coastal tribe mimics movement across the water. It’s still storytelling; the transmission of knowledge, spoken or not.

I wonder what our American kids are learning today as they dance to techno-pop, a computer generated series of squeaks and repetitive beats? MacWorld knowledge? PC? The beat goes on.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Creative Rituals

by Brenda Roger

For the past year, I’ve done almost nothing with my handbag venture. I was in need of a break from many aspects of being a one-girl-band. I’m trying to determine if there is anything I miss about making and selling handbags.

One of the most satisfying things –other than being paid –was lining up a group of fifty or sixty bags on the dining room table and attaching the tags and prices. It was so gratifying to see the fabrics formed into interesting, clean shapes. Seeing it all together just reaffirms that I’ve worked really hard. Hard work feels good. The line up and tag process was my end-of-handbag-production-binge ritual.

This past week, I finished a major volunteer project and I wanted to celebrate, but I really didn’t have a ritual for that. I couldn’t think of a fitting way to reward myself, so I spent and evening watching the Perry Mason movies from the 1930s. (Much to my horror, Perry marries Della Street in one of them, but that is a blog for another day.)

I’ve been thinking about various artistic pursuits and the creative rituals that are likely to follow the completion of a project. When I was a kid I saw the movie Romancing the Stone, starring Kathleen Turner and that old guy who’s married to Catherine Zeta Jones. Kathleen Turner plays a writer, and when she finishes her manuscript she has a glass of champagne, and if I recall correctly, she throws the glass into the fireplace. I remember thinking that seemed so glamorous, and I lived vicariously through her sense of satisfaction from a job well done.

I intend to interview every creative person who I encounter for the next few months to find out about his or her creative rituals. I will report back, but in the meantime, what are your creative rituals? What do you do when you finish a manuscript or story? Or, if there are any cops reading our blog today, what do you do when you wrap up a case?

Oh, and I know that it was Michael Douglas. I just like to call him that.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Fictional Guilt

by Tory Butterworth

It happened with my first manuscript. I had completed the story, was showing it to an MD friend of mine to check the medical veracity of the plot. He said, "Boy, I wouldn't like to be a character in one of your novels!"

I do seem to have this penchant for creating protagonists who suffer major physical trauma. In that one, my heroine was a teenager who broke many bones in a major ski accident.

After my friend's comment, I considered my obsession in a new way. Should I feel guilty for brutalizing my character? Was I a sadist for subjecting my creations to pain and injury?

During the day I'm a therapist and trainer. I help people, listening sympathetically to their problems, suggesting ways out. Is writing my other life, the Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jeckyl?

But, that's what we do as writers, isn't it? If we're doing our jobs, we try to figure out more and more difficult binds to put our characters in. It's through demonstrating their skill in thwarting adversity that they prove their mettle. But, at what point does it become inexcusable torture?

Have you ever felt guilty for the ways you treat your characters?