Friday, February 27, 2009

Cleansing after Draft Number Two

by,
Kathie Shoop

Well, I've finished draft number two of my latest historical fiction. Boy that feels good. I've sent a copy off to my trusted reader and now I can settle in and clean my house.

Not that I don't clean at all once I've saddled myself with a deadline and a goal to match--there are too many parents picking up kids from playdates not to clean regularly. But, once I finish a chunk of work I take a giant breath and exhale and then I CLEAN as though I actually would have rather been cleaning than writing every "free" moment of the past month.

In truth, my husband Bill and I have a larger home project on the back burner and I suppose that although the initial cleaning I did yesterday wasn't unusual, the next step in my housewifery work will be (I figure I have three weeks before I need to dive back into my novel). I'm about to start through every room and closet and thing that we use for closets and throw stuff out. Lots of stuff, so much stuff that we won't even recognize the bathrooms and bedrooms.

My husband is a problem in this project. He doesn't think he is, but it's true. He is a bigger pack rat than me. He subscribes to the "get rid of your junk, but leave mine alone," philosophy that infuriates spouses all over America.

But, this time, I'm kicking the clutter's butt and taking names--Bill's clutter included.

So how do you wind-down after a finished draft? DO you wind-down or do you just move onto the next novel?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Sad, Sad Case

by Joyce

Most of you have probably heard about the sad case of the 11-year-old boy who shot and killed his father's pregnant girlfriend--it's been on the national news. The boy has been arrested and charged with criminal homicide, which in Pennsylvania means he is charged as an adult.

When I first heard about this, I felt sorry for the boy, wondering if they could charge him with a lesser offense so he wouldn't have to spend the rest of his life in jail. Did an 11-year-old even know what he was doing?

But as more facts are revealed, I've changed my mind. The boy allegedly covered his own shotgun with a blanket, went to the woman's bedroom and shot her in the head. He then put the gun and blanket back in his room, and He then ran to catch the school bus with the woman's seven year old daughter. As he headed for the bus, he tossed the spent shotgun shell. The district attorney stated, "He took the time to hide what he was doing."

As sad as it is, I can see why they've charged him as an adult. If he were to be charged as a juvenile in Pennsylvania, he could only be held until he's 21. The adult conviction would most likely commit him to prison for life. Could the boy be rehabilitated before he turns 21? Is that a chance anyone wants to take?

One of the difficulties authorities are facing is they basically have nowhere to house the boy. In Pennsylvania, there is no bail for anyone facing a criminal homicide charge. And since he's being charged as an adult, he can't be placed in a juvenile facility. The boy has to be kept isolated and away from the general jail population. In the rural county where he's being held there are no separate facilities for juveniles charged as adults, so authorities are looking for other counties with more experience with juveniles, like Allegheny County.

While I still feel sorry for the boy, I feel worse for the woman's family--and for the boy's father. I read that he keeps saying it had to be an accident. I can understand why he'd think that way. How could any parent admit that their baby could do something like that? The man has essentially lost his entire family--not only the woman he loved and their unborn child, but his son, too.

What do you think of this case? Do you agree that the boy should be charged as an adult? How should communities deal with children who commit heinous crimes, like murder? Can they be rehabilitated, or is there something basic wrong with them that can't be fixed?

Note: The boy is being moved to a juvenile facility. See here for details.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beginnings




First of all, thanks to Annette and the other Working Stiffs for letting me visit here. I’m Sandra Carey Cody (Sandy to anyone who’s known me more than five minutes). I write the Jennifer Connor/Riverview Manor series, published by Avalon books. Jennie is the single mother of two young sons. Riverview Manor is the retirement community where she works as Activities Director. But enough of that - if you want to know more about me, I invite you to check out my web site: http://www.sandracareycody.com/


The best of times and the worst of times – Dickens’ wonderful first line perfectly describes how I feel about beginnings. I’m in the early stages of a new mystery – in my opinion, the worst (hardest) part of writing. I have to find a new way to murder someone (not easy since I’m a wimp and almost always skip the gory parts of other people’s books). I need to invent a fresh situation and a new adventure for my old characters (sometimes quite literally old since my series is set in a retirement community). How can I be true to the persona I have created for each of them and yet give them room to grow so they can surprise readers? One thing I’ve learned is that, at this point in the process, I have to loosen up – let go a little so my characters can surprise ME. Once I get into the rhythm of the story, it’s easier, but, oh, that beginning.

So much for the worst – how about the best? What’s best about beginnings? For starters, it’s another chance to achieve perfection. Okay, I know that chance is slim to none, but the possibility (remote though it is) is there. It’s inherent in every beginning, be it the first day of a new school year, a new job, a new relationship or a brand new story. When it comes to a new story, in addition to reconnecting with my on-going characters, I get to invent new ones. I get to make up new places for my characters to explore and new problems for them to solve. In this part of the process, there’s the opportunity to go somewhere I’ve never been and learn something I didn’t know before. That, for me, is the best part of any beginning, and perhaps the most intimidating.

The other interesting (make that maddening) thing about beginnings is that, for a writer at least, they never end. As I said before, I’m beginning a new book. In addition, the book I just finished could use a little tweaking before I send it out into the world–maybe a new first sentence. Yep - another beginning.

I suspect I’m not alone in being intimidated by beginnings. Everyone probably has a horror story to tell about something they were reluctant to begin – and probably a couple of success stories too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gesundheit !

Dear Friends:

I have fallen victim to mother of all head colds. I’m thinking of suggesting sneezing as a new Pilates core ab routine. I know my midsection feels firmer. Of course, that could be because I haven’t had anything to eat except Earl Grey tea since Friday. My nephew calls me a booger factory. That’s a pretty accurate description coming from a 12 year old.

Since I’m feeling about as creative as a chipped cinderblock, I pulled a Q&A out of my files for your perusal. I think the answers I gave are honest, and hopefully they may help explain this writer’s world just a bit.

Stay well!

Martha

1.) How do you write? Do you set aside a certain time every day or just write when you have time? How do you juggle the demands of daily life with writing, a separate world in itself?

I try to write every day but it's difficult juggling that with working a full time job. I get up every day at 6AM to write for 1.5 hours, basically editing the block of manuscript text I've written the previous weekend. Weekends are key for me. I still get up early, around 7AM and write until Noon or 1PM on Saturday and Sunday. Monday holidays are a dream but I usually end up painting then, not writing. I write a chapter each weekend in draft form and then spend the following weekday morning revising. However, each writer develops their own schedule. I can tell you that you will never finish anything if you only write when you have the time! You have to make the time and then priortize your writing, constructing your 'real life' around it. It took me years to train my family to not call me on the weekend mornings, unless it was an emergency.

2.) How did you first get published? Did you have to send your manuscript to multiple publishers? How many times did you get rejected before getting accepted?

I first got published via short story and that's my advice to anyone starting out. Shorts are due able; it's very easy to get lost in a novel and discouraged because they take years to finish. For example, I started the novel I'm currently working on 12 years ago and it's just now getting done. But in the meantime I've had 3 short stories and another novel published. Publishing shouldn't be your focus; good storytelling is. Focus on your story and squeeze all the enjoyment out of it. The actually act of publishing only lasts six months or so. It's a lot of work if you don't enjoy doing it!

The novel that got published is a story in itself. I had an agent and he submitted it to Penguin/Putnam but they wanted some seriously absurd changes including changing the Nantucket location to Arizona since they already had a series based on Martha's Vineyard. Get used to this, publishers are business people (so they say) and they don't really care about the writing - they want a story they can sell. You'll have to decide on your own - as we all do - where you will draw the line. Some writers write one book a decade; others come out with 3 books a year. Long story short, I fired my agent and self-published using Booklocker and Print on Demand (POD). Did quite well, and won an Independent Publishers Honorable Mention for Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction in 2006. But for my next one, I'm going back to the traditional route. This time I want to earn some money. Crass, but true.

As for rejection, I'm still getting them. Alfred Hitchcock's magazine just rejected one of my new favorites. They shouldn't have done that. It's really good and someday they'll be sorry when my new novel hits the NYT best seller list and I'll remind them they said no. : ) In the meantime, I don't take it personally (you can't). I just soldier on.

3.) Do you only write mysteries or other novels as well? How about other genres (nonfiction, poetry, etc.) or freelance writing? What do you think the outlook is for these genres?

I write mysteries because I like reading them. Someday I may try another genre if that's the form that best fits the story. It keeps coming back to that. What is the best way to tell the story?

I tried business freelance and hated it. I don't have time right now for freelance non-fiction. Poetry is hard for me because it's the opposite of creative prose. I love to use a lot of words and poetry almost seems like singing to me; I don't get it. Outlook for all the genres: right now I'd say invest in Kindle!

4.) How do you maintain motivation when writing? My problem is I'll start something and never finish it. How do you keep going?

It's simple; I have to. It's a compulsion. If I go for more than a couple of days without writing I get cranky. Sure, sometimes I put it down to think it over, but I always know where it is when I come back. Sometimes you have to put one thing down and give it time to simmer; the story isn't ready to be told yet. Sometimes you have to wait for something to happen in your life so you can use it in your story. I have some weird ideas about where I think the stories come from, but I'll save that for later.

5.) Do you plan your books from beginning to end, or do you sometimes have to improvise? Do you think having detailed plot and character lines before beginning a book is the only way to finish it?

Improvise! It's all about improvisation but then again every writer is different depending on the story they want to tell and it's been different for me depending on whether I'm writing a short or not. Short stories are all about surprise - they surprise me when I write them; I don't plot them out. A novel is a different animal and it requires some skeleton. I've learned, and I continue to learn, that everything will change before I'm done. EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE BEFORE YOU'RE DONE. Detailed characters, yes, the more you know about them before you start the better, although that will change along the way as you get to know them better. Why would you want to know everything about them and/or everything that is going to happen before you start? Where's the fun, the excitement, in that? If you knew everything there is to know, would you want to write it? Then it would seem like a tedious homework assignment to me. The most important thing is to just get started! Jump in with both feet. It's all going to change. Let the story take you there!

6.) How do you avoid making your writing cliched or overly sentimental?

You will edit out cliches. If your characters are real, they won't use cliches or get overly sentimental unless that is an aspect of their character. It sounds like you still believe you're going to write it - you won't. You are going to have to learn to step out of the way so that your characters will fill the stage. They will be the ones telling the story. If your story is human, if it is real, it won't be cliched.

7.) Do you have an agent and/or an editor? If so, how did you get them? Can you be your own editor?

I'm doing what everyone else is doing - sending out query letters and no, you can't be your own editor. You need a second pair of eyes so make sure you get the best pair you can. I've learned to keep my ear to the ground in the industry and I've ferreted out a couple of really good editors that I want to work with. I'm not going to give you their names; you need to have a fully completed manuscript first before you even try to find an agent or an editor. Don't have any illusions; these are business people too. No one is interested in ideas or hope. They want great words on paper.

8.) Once a writer is published, I'm assuming it gets easier to be published a second time. Is that true? How do contracts work?

Ha. Ha-ha. Nothing about publishing gets easier. Keep your eyes open. It's a tough marketplace and it's only going to get tougher. In the last decade the major publishing houses have consolidated into 5 imprints and we're all competing for a piece of that pie. Now, Amazon has introduced Kindle so that may change things even more. I don't have a crystal ball, I wish I did. I only know that you keep trying and that it appears that consistent effort works. Contracts are very complicated, and I'm not qualified to discuss them. You might try to google it. I'm sure there's alot of comment about them out there.

9.) What type of writing do you think is in demand right now?

That's the funny thing about the writing market. If you try to time it you'll always be late. Write your best story and hope for the best. You can't time the market.

10.) I'm considering buying the book Writers' Marketplace, which lists publishing companies and the genres of writing that they accept. Do you know anything about this book? I'm wondering if it would be a worthy investment? (I'm thinking yes.)

I know it's a good reference. I think it's expensive, though, around $90? You may find the same information online for free.

11.) Any other advice at all for an aspiring writer!

Never give up, never surrender. (My nephews favorite line from Galaxy Quest). Remember it's not about publishing or making money (or maybe it is, and good luck to you). Living a writing life is about adding richness to your life, not riches. Once you start writing, you'll become a better human being. That's what it's really about. Writing will help you live a better life. Maybe, if you're honest about it, you'll get to share your story with the world. If not, that's OK too.

And listen and don't listen to what people tell you. As a writer, you'll need to learn to move your ego out of the way in pursuit of the story (that's listening) but be on guard and protect yourself from negativity (don't listen). There are some horrific critique groups out there and you may get involved with one of them. Don't close yourself off to learning everything there is to know about writing but also don't be afraid to walk away. You are the judge of your own best work. Trust your instincts. Study life. Read Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Memorize Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. You will have to be fearless, and honest, and kind. That's what it's all about.

Monday, February 23, 2009

FAMILY BUSINESS

by Gina Sestak

My office is being repainted this week. My office at work, that is. Watching the painters set up at quitting time on Friday, their familiar equipment reminded me of that long-ago summer when I worked as a wall painter. [See my blog post Making a Difference in the World, October 21, 2006] I got to thinking about how all our experiences, including the jobs we've held, impact our writing. I haven't written a story with wall painting - yet - but I have no doubt that any description would be helped by my strong sensory recall of the way a brush feels in the hand, the cold splash of drips, the sharp smell of fresh paint, the magic of seeing years of wear erased by just a thin layer of color.

That got me thinking about other people's jobs, particularly family members' jobs. Not everyone is lucky (?) enough to be born into the Mafia or the circus, so the family business is more likely to involve punching a time clock than wasting the neighbors or walking a high wire. Still, the people in our books and stories need to work at something or they just won't be believable.

My father was a long time Westinghouse employee but, between strikes and layoffs, he spent a lot of time working other jobs during my childhood. I remember when he worked briefly as a wallpaper hanger.

No, wallpaper is not just a screen saver, at least not in the sense that I'm using the word. Wallpaper is real paper with patterns printed on it that is glued to walls to make them pretty. Paperhanging takes a lot of skill: http://www.repair-home.com/how_to/hang_wallpaper.htl. Hanging wallpaper the way my father and his buddy did involved:
stripping and washing the walls;
hanging a chalked plumb line against the wall (the chalk lets you press the string of the plumb line into the wall and leave a straight up-and-down mark);
mixing a big bucket of paste;
setting up a makeshift table - a wide board balanced on two sawhorses;
cutting the wallpaper to fit the space allotted, including slicing out areas for switch plates;
laying the wallpaper face-down on the board;
spreading paste over the back of the wall paper with a big brush;
putting the paper in place on the wall; and
rubbing over the paper with another big wide brush to get rid of any trapped air.

It's a complicated process, but I can remember seeing my grandmother, then in her 70s (!), hang wallpaper, too. Of course, my grandmother could do anything. I once watched her dismantle and repair a double hung window, too, but that's another story.

What jobs have your parents done? Have you used those jobs in your writing?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chandra Levy Case

by Joyce

For anyone who has followed the Chandra Levy case, apparently the police are close to making an arrest. See this link.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Canadian Movies and Rights

Movies Made In Canada leads to Rights in other Countries.
by Pat Gulley

Cable television has brought us a slew of stations showing movies that will never be seen in theaters. They are made for TV, and they all seem to be made in Canada. I can’t remember when I first noticed this, but when I did I started paying closer attention to the credits to see where the movie was made. (And believe me, this isn’t an easy thing to do! Have you noticed how much faster TV credits roll, and inevitably they are shrunk down so the station can do previews or advertising.)

Anyway, it made me wonder. I already knew that film makers from Hollywood moved production to Canada to take advantage of the better buy the US dollar had against the Canadian dollar, and because of this there are many big productions studios in British Columbia and Quebec producing for Hollywood. When the dollar weakened, there was one big article about moving a lot of that production back to California, however I never found anymore scuttle on that idea. Do you remember when David Duchovny demanded that X-Files production move back to California when his wife became pregnant?

But it wasn’t production that got me cogitating, rather why all these movies had to be about things that go on in the USA. What’s wrong with things that go on in Canada? Canadians have love lives, love triangles, deceases, mayhem and murder, right? I mean, that TV show, Da Vinci Files was very good, and the police and forensic procedures in Canada were as interesting as those in the US. And when something happened that required comparisons between our procedures and laws and theirs, then the show became even more interesting.

So, why don’t we get more stories that take place in Canada? Is there an assumption that we have no interest in the lives of our near neighbor or other countries? Then why are foreign crime stories from France, Italy, British Isles and Australia, oh yeah and Russia, so popular? Maybe it’s because all the shows are ordered by Hollywood, and I’m sure we all know what they think of the herd out here. Oh well.

All this different country stuff then brought my thinking around to the only times I ever give writing a nonfiction book any consideration. It’s usually when I’m watching a police show that takes place in foreign lands. It would be a comparison of the laws and rights we American take for granted. As an agent for a world travel company, I was always surprised to hear how many Americans believed that these rights were theirs no matter where they traveled on the planet. The book, or pamphlet, would compare such things as ‘reading you your rights before being arrested’ ‘search and seizure’ ‘right to a lawyer’ and a few others with those of countries Americans travel to frequently: Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, The Bahamas and China or Japan.

If you get BBC America you may have watched the original, British version of Life on Mars? The cop that finds himself back in 1972 keeps getting his Caution to criminals mixed up? He always wanted to give them the 2006 version, which was changed sometime in the 90s. Our Miranda is more like their 1972 version, and most Americans would be surprised by the difference.

My biggest fear would be not getting all the details correct, but some brief comparisons would raise a lot of American eyebrows. How many people who went off to the Chinese Olympics would have been shocked to find out how many rights they’d given up just by stepping off the airplane and on to Chinese soil?

Do you think it would sell?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sweet Justice is Coming

Working Stiffs welcome Jordan Dane as our guest today!

Sweet Justice is Coming

By Jordan Dane

Imagine the horror of going to your teenager’s bedroom one morning only to find her missing. Her bed hadn’t been slept in and her clothes are gone.

In 2000, that’s what one mother in Florida faced. Her only child had conspired against her and ran away. And worse, she later discovered that her daughter had left the country—without having a passport. From the moment I read this news story, I was hooked and had to know more about how such an atrocity could happen. The teen’s trail might have gone ice cold, but her mother pushed authorities in a direction.

She knew where to start looking.

Only six months earlier, the girl had received a computer for a gift—a thoughtful present from a mother who wanted the best for her child. But this gift soon brought a virtual menace into their home. A charming and anonymous stranger lured the 14-year old girl to Greece—a man she’d met in a teen chat room. We’ve all heard stories like this. But after researching the facts behind this case, I was amazed at the audacity of this Internet predator.

And I wanted to shed light on the shrewd tactics of online predators in my upcoming book—Evil Without A Face (Feb 2009, Avon, $7.99)—the first book in my Sweet Justice series.


The online predator not only manipulated the teenager in Florida, but he also convinced law-abiding adults to cooperate with his schemes. These people thought they were helping an abused kid, but they didn’t know the facts, check with her family or contact local law enforcement. This stranger duped an employee of the local phone company into arranging for a private cell phone to talk to the girl directly. His slick manipulation scored him a purchased airline ticket (without a direct connection to him) and a clandestine ride for the girl to the airport. But after he bribed a child pornographer to acquire an illegal passport for her to leave the United States, the girl was out of the country before her mother knew she was gone.

And the chase to save the girl was on—a mother’s worst fear.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. This happened in 2000, before the added airport security measures were implemented after 9/11 in 2001. The girl would never have been allowed on a plane without proper ID. But after contacting a source in the airline industry, I was shocked to learn how many children travel unaccompanied and without a valid ID on domestic flights these days. So this extraordinary Florida case became the framework for my novel, Evil Without A Face. And I chose to set part of the story in the unique venue of Alaska where I had lived for ten years.

My novels have the feel of being ripped from today's headlines because real crime inspires me. Who says crime doesn't pay? Violence is like the ripple effect on the surface of still water. The wake radiates out from the victim and touches many people. In my books, I give a voice to the many victims of crime.

In Evil Without A Face, an illusive web of imposters on the Internet lures a deluded teen from her Alaskan home and launches a chain reaction collision course with an unlikely tangle of heroes. A new kind of criminal organization becomes the faceless enemy behind an insidious global conspiracy. And the life of one young girl and countless others hang in the balance. This is the initial driver to my new series. With an international setting, these thrillers will focus on the lives and loves of three women—a bounty hunter operating outside the law, an ambitious vice cop, and a former international operative with a mysterious past. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders.

And their brand of justice is anything but sweet.

After researching the case in Florida, I became more concerned for na├»ve kids socializing in cyberspace—young people like my nieces and nephews. Savvy online criminals lurk in anonymity and carry on without fear of repercussion. I’m an active member of MySpace and Facebook and know how they operate. But these social networks aren’t the problem—the criminals are. And as you’ve seen in the headlines and on TV, the online community has become a real hunting ground for predators.

Why not? It’s easy pickings.

For the most part, the Internet is an invaluable tool. And it breaks down the barriers between countries, allowing many of us to have international friends. But the anonymity of cyberspace attracts all sorts of users with criminal intent. Terrorists have found new high-tech ways to recruit online and they have duped some Internet users into funding their activities or have resorted to outright stealing through subterfuge. And since crimes that cross over jurisdictions and international borders are harder to prosecute, offenders often get away with their schemes. That's why I wanted to write Evil Without A Face and dole out my brand justice. After all, who couldn’t use a liberal dose of ‘Sweet Justice’ when reality becomes stranger than fiction?

How has your use of the Internet changed over the years? Have you become more suspicious of certain behaviors from online strangers? And if you have children who use online resources, can you share some tips on how you keep them safer?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What's in YOUR car?

By Annette Dashofy

I jumped in my car yesterday to make a quick run to the post office. What I saw in there (the car, not the post office) appalled me. I’m here to confess: my car is a mess.

Like most people, I live in my car. Figuratively. I’m not homeless, so I don’t sleep there, but I do tend to do most everything else in there. Eat. Drink. Listen to music. My car contains lots of my stuff (think George Carlin’s “stuff” routine).

What it doesn’t contain are knobs. Remember knobs? Those things we used to turn to adjust the radio’s volume or the station. Now it’s all buttons. There are no knobs in my car. Therefore, there is no place to hang a garbage bag.

Usually I loop one over the gear shift, but I tossed the last overflowing bag of trash and haven’t replaced it. So the floor on the passenger side is…well…revolting. Evidence of my on-the-road munchy attacks sit there. Empty coffee cups. Paper bags. Candy wrappers.

I can’t let anyone ride with me until I get out there and clean it up. How embarrassing.

But even when I’ve de-littered the vehicle, an archeologist could tell a great deal about my life by excavating my back seat. Here are a few things you can find there on any given day:

A yoga mat and wool blanket—These are for the private sessions I teach. Plus I figure the blanket might come in handy if I get stranded during one of the winter storms we’ve had.

Environment-friendly reusable shopping bags—These are always there. Even when I’m in the store, because I inevitably forget to take them with me.

Spare ear muffs and gloves—See above mentioned winter storms.

Gracie Garmin the GPS Unit—She keeps me from freaking out if I get detoured or just generally lost. Except in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh confuses the hell out of Gracie. She especially hates Grant Street.

Box of Kleenex—Don’t leave home without them.

Sticky roller—I never notice the cat hair on my dress slacks until I get in the car. I also have several friends and family with cats who send their fur home with me attached to my clothes.

Ice scraper—Those winter storms again.

Under my seats you will find a monster flashlight that doubles as a weapon, a battered umbrella, two Pennwriters ballcaps, and more candy wrappers.

Then there is my music. I only carry one or two CDs with me at a time unless I’m on a road trip. The two I have in my car right now are Aerosmith and Celine Dion. One is to stay awake. The other is to de-stress. You figure out which is which.

So what does your car say about you? Give us quick tally of what we might find in your backseat. While you’re out in the garage taking inventory, I’m going to grab a trash bag and clean out the evidence of how much I’ve spent at Starbucks recently…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Medical excuses for not writing

By Pat Remick

I can come with a host of legitimate excuses to explain why I’m not writing as much as I’d like. But I never thought my annual physical would be one of them.

Nothing major is wrong with me, thank goodness. But all the minor things I recently discussed with my doctor have developed into cure strategies that are now eating up big chunks of my limited writing opportunities. I can’t imagine how time-consuming it is to be really sick.

My primary care physician sent me home from my checkup with directions to take Vitamin D twice a day, instructions to increase my thyroid medicine that requires carefully cutting half of my pills in quarters until my new mail-order prescription arrives, a sheet of daily exercises designed to relieve foot pain, and a recommendation for a skin cream to be applied twice daily. She also handed me referrals to two specialists.

The ear, nose and throat doctor said there was nothing seriously wrong that a nose spray and a saline solution kit, both to be used twice a day, couldn’t fix. The orthopedic guy ordered me to put ice on my impinged shoulder for 20 minutes, three times a day; take a pain reliever twice daily; and to try his list of exercises until the start of my physical therapy appointments, which will take one hour each, two times a week (and lead to more time-consuming exercises, no doubt).

I'm sorry to bore you with my maladies, but don’t you agree this list of minor cures is mind-boggling? It makes me sick just to think about it. All these courses of treatment have gotten so complicated that I need a daily calendar just to keep up.

A doctor friend tells me the compliance rate for physicians’ orders is generally low. I understand why. If you add up all these medical directives, I’d spend the equivalent of one day a week dealing just with them – and there’s hardly anything wrong with me.

But then I thought: maybe it’s about time management. What if I could find a way to put the ice on my shoulder at the same time I take all the pills, use the nose stuff, apply the cream and then twist myself around to do the foot exercises, too? That might get me down to one hour of medical mania a day.

On the other hand, there’s the risk of something going wrong or developing a new injury from trying to do too much at once. Then I’d be sucked further into the medical black hole. So I've decided to pace myself and hope all these cures don’t kill my writing career.

Nonetheless, the next time someone asks me how the novel is going, I’m just going to say, “Ask my doctor.”

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Dog Named Bella

by Wilfred Bereswill

Okay, The Amazing Race is over and I’m coming off a crazy weekend. I completely forgot about my blog until my little reminder from Outlook popped up. First of all, I love The Amazing Race and this looks like another great season. I know that our own Annette was watching, that is if her Facebook status was accurate.

This was income tax weekend and that means I bought my copy of Turbotax Home and Business and began pouring through receipts, W-2’s, 1099int’s, 1099misc’s, and a slew of other 1099s. I filed taxes for all three of my daughters and then began the drudgery of preparing our own. I’m also preparing for a second interview with a company that I have high hopes for.

Not only that, but we have a new member in our family. Her name is Bella. She has managed to poop on the carpet, pee in the kitchen and chew up a few things. She’s a three month old micro-teacup Yorkshire Terrier.

I love animals. Always have. All through high school I wanted to be a veterinarian. With that said, I did NOT want a Yorkie. Too small and yippie. In fact, my wife and I still weren’t really ready for another dog. This past summer we lost our friend, Fraiser. Fraiser was a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier. He died this year on the Fourth of July at the ripe old age of 13 ½. It’s hard to lose a member of the family.

I think I was getting ready for a new dog, but my daughters were way ahead of me. Several weeks ago, my oldest daughter visited a breeder with one of her friends who was going to see the puppy they had reserved. She called pleading to let her buy a dog. She found a Yorkie there and, of course, fell in love with it. I stood firm. The pleads turned to tears and sobs on the phone. We both tell her “NO” and we think it’s over.

Ha! The very next day, one of her ex-boyfriends offered her a female Yorkie. His mother’s dog had two in the litter and the mother tried to keep one of them. His Dad said no, so... He called my daughter. She convinced my wife to let her bring it by the house, “Just for a quick visit,” she said. I KNEW it was all over at that point. This dog is about the size of a big hamster and has a face that you fall in love with immediately.



We’ve had her a couple of weeks now. That shy little teddy bear has a huge personality. She’s now comfortable around the house and she runs around like a banshee. For some reason, she doesn’t feel like she should have to walk anywhere. She wants to be carried and is most comfortable curled up on your lap.
As it turns out, I really missed not having a dog in my life. There’s just something about coming home to that wagging tail that makes me smile. Well, I’m off to go chase her around the house a little so she’ll sleep through the night.

On another note, if you haven't seen it, I would really recommend seeing the movie, Grand Torino. Funny and touching flick about an aging war veteran that finds himself alone after his wife dies. CLint Eastwood plays the part of Walt Kowalski, a grumpy, tough-minded, borderline-hateful, unhappy old man who can't get along with either his kids or his neighbors. He's a Korean War veteran whose prize possession is a 1973 Gran Torino he keeps in cherry condition. When his neighbor Tao, a young Hmong teenager, tries to steal his car, Kowalski sets out to reform the youth. Drawn against his will into the life of Tao's family, Kowalski is soon taking steps to protect them form the gangs that foul their neighborhood.

As a writer, I was really drawn in to the wonderful repartee between Eastwood and all of his ethnic neighbors. I thought it was a fabulous movie.

I need to get back to work preparing for tomorrow’s interview. Wish me luck tomorrow and a little prayer, if your so inclined, would be appreciated. I’ll check in when I can.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The People Who’ve Moved into My Head


by Lisa Curry



I was all set to give you a domestic-disaster blog about oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal. Specifically, my recent realization that my children had reached the ages of 9 and 11 without ever having eaten it, and how my efforts to rectify that situation and thus transform myself into a Better Mother nearly resulted in my having to take a sick day from work when my older son complained of severe abdominal cramps after eating it and, in fact, did result in my being half an hour late for work when my younger son refused to eat it and I had to make him a whole new breakfast.

But something happened to me recently that’s even more dramatic and blog-worthy than oatmeal, if you can believe that.

People have taken up residence in my head.

My fellow Stiffs and you other writers know the kind of people I’m talking about. The people whose stories rattle around in your brain, playing over and over like video clips in your mind’s eye, clamoring for you to turn them into words and put them on a page – or hundreds of pages, to be more accurate. I’ve had people like that living in my head for as long as I can remember.

The dramatic part for me is that these are new people. I haven’t had new people in my head for more than four years. All I’ve had is the same old people – the characters from my first two (unpublished) historical mysteries and the contemporary mystery I then started but quickly burnt out on. (Right about the same time the agent representing the second historical mystery decided he didn’t want to be an agent anymore, perhaps not coincidentally.) Those people mutter to me on occasion, but I’ve become proficient at shutting them up.

Their time is past, I tell them. They had their chance, back in the days when I had preschoolers, no job and hours to devote to writing nobody was ever going to pay me for. Now is money-making time – time to fund the kids’ college and my husband’s and my retirement accounts. And that means that unless it’s the writing for catalogs and other marketing collateral I do on a daily basis, for which I am paid a tidy salary, I’m not doing it. Period. End of story.

It took me a very long time to come to the point where I could say that. I spent a year or more telling myself the reason I wasn’t writing was because I didn’t have the time. At last I admitted to myself that the reason I wasn’t writing was because I didn’t have the desire. After that, it took a good while longer to stop feeling guilty about it.

Now that I’m finally in that happy, honest, guilt-free, money-making place, these new people appear in my head. And they’re loud, insistent, demanding people, constantly rattling the bars of their cage. I’m not sure where they even came from, but I haven’t been able to shut them up since they arrived. Their video clips play in my mind incessantly, to the point that I’ve become curious about what I might be able to do with them.

They’re real people who lived and died a millennium ago, so I can indulge my curiosity without really committing. In a spare moment over my lunch break, I can Google their names and look at dates, events and family members and check my plot ideas against their reality – or at least, what’s known or believed of their reality. I’ve accumulated two very packed and scribbly pages’ worth of such notes over the past week. At home, I can search through all the maps of medieval Europe still sitting on my hard drive from my historical mysteries and see where these people lived and what was near them, again checking my plot ideas against their reality.

And okay, I admit it – I actually wrote two paragraphs. They were very bad paragraphs, shockingly lacking in any kind of voice or style or rhythm, and I ended them with a little bracketed note to myself:

[Lisa, this blows. And you know first person isn’t the right viewpoint for this story. It has to be third. Try again.]

I haven’t. Yet.

But you know, I think I will. The idea both terrifies and excites me.

I wonder if I can still write like I used to after all this time. I wonder if I can sustain the passion necessary to generate hundreds and hundreds of pages. I wonder if I can balance a full-time job, a marriage, two kids and writing a novel. I wonder if the historical realities around which I intend to weave my fiction make this project just a little too ambitious for me.

I wonder, but damn it, I’m going to find out. And everything will be okay no matter what the answers are.

It occurs to me that maybe it’s not so ironic that now that I can finally say, “I’m not writing because I don’t want to, and I’m okay with that,” (and actually mean it), I’m starting to want to write again. Maybe it’s the most natural thing in the world?

Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Finding Someone Weirder Than Us


By Meredith Cole

When I go to mystery conventions, I have noticed that the mystery fans and writers are frequently the weirdest people in the hotel. Usually we’re paired at a conference center with some incredibly normal group like dental hygienists, real estate agents or insurance salesman.

I don’t say this to disparage mystery writers or fans at all (since I have been one myself for years), but people get a funny look in their eye when they step into the elevator with us all wearing our “I see dead people” pins or badges that read “love is murder” and discussing if we’re going to the poison panel or to the crime scene talk next. I know what’s going through their heads. They’re thinking: watch out, these people are dangerous.

So last weekend at Love is Murder in Chicago (a wonderful small conference where I went to introduce my debut novel Posed for Murder), we were delighted to find people much weirder and more obsessed then we were: reencactors.

I kept calling them reincarnationists by mistake, and perhaps some of them were that, too. All weekend long, women in hoopskirts, knights in armor, men dressed as WWI soldiers, jaunty WWII sailors, Roman soldiers, Colonial troupes and Civil War soldiers wondered through the lobby. They made me feel… well, normal.


I talked to a WWI pilot for a while, who was interesting and charming (despite his total and perhaps unhealthy obsession with WWI). He told me that the joke they tell is that a real reenactor has $3,000 invested in gear and they drive a $300 car. Sounds like a mystery fan, except the $3,000 is invested in books.

So in the end the reenactors didn’t seem so strange or different from us. If they spent some time talking with us, too, they would have discovered that mystery writers and fans are some of the nicest people anyone could ever meet. We get all our violence and hate out on the page. And there’s nothing we love more than a good book… and a good party.

Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition in 2007. Her book POSED FOR MURDER, will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur February 17, 2009. She blogs at http://www.thedebutanteball.com/

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Taking A Chance

By Annette Dashofy

This must be the week for posts that open with a discussion of job changes. I guess I’ll stick with the theme.

My personal “catch phrase” has been that I’m a yoga instructor who writes mysteries, striving to become a mystery writer who teaches yoga. I guess I’m going to have to revise that. Because after a lot of thought and soul searching, I’ve decided to quit the yoga teaching position I’ve held for the last ten years.

There are lots of reasons behind the decision. But mainly, it’s time to make a commitment to what I truly want. It started to feel like I was half a yoga instructor and half a writer and not giving either profession the attention it needed.

On the other hand, I’ve opted to leave a job that provided fairly steady income for one that…well…does not. The economy is crashing down around us and I have quit my job.

I must be out of my mind. (Insert screaming and gnashing of teeth)

Maybe so, but as soon as the decision was made, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt energized. I felt like a writer.

I have squirreled aside some money—enough to see me through the next six months. I have sent out a passel of queries for magazine articles and I have a bunch more ideas rambling around in my head. I have made connections through my work on the Pennwriters Conference, which I hope will pay off. Literally. I have a good shot at getting a short story included in an upcoming anthology.

I have a couple of odd jobs lined up in the coming months to provide some gas money (and some material for blogging).

Plus I’m not entirely giving up on teaching yoga. I have a couple of private students. I may pick up one or two more. So I’m not completely out of my mind.

I’m looking forward to the end of May, when the conference is behind me and I can sit down and work on my novel. All. Day. Long.

This is my shot. I figure, if autumn rolls around and I’ve run out of cash and the freelance money isn’t showing signs of being able to support me until something happens with the novel, I can always pick up another yoga class somewhere.

Wish me luck. I’m excited. And terrified. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Definition of 'Book'

By Martha Reed

Last October my life took an unexpectedly sudden change when I switched jobs and found myself moving away from a 29-year print production career into market research. Now don’t get me wrong; I love the new challenge and it came at just the right time in my life. Any later in my life and I’m not entirely sure I would have wanted to, or even been able to, stick with the adaptation. I’m very near the point in my life when I want to cash it all in, say to hell with it, and open a tiki bar and fishing camp in the Bahamas. But since one of my Darwinian mottos is “Adapt or Perish” and also since I need to seriously make up my stock market losses before I can consider retirement, I try to take a rosy view of the whole thing.

I got into print production straight out of college in 1980, right at the start of the PC revolution. I can honestly say I was probably one of the first female financial typesetters; before we worked in ‘cold type’ (i.e. on computers) linotype operators – men, all men – cast slugs of text using hot melted lead. I kid you not. They also set the hot type backwards, character by character, inserting more picas of lead (“leading”) between the sentences to build each page. It’s a lost art and it was a privilege to work with the ‘old guys’ who proved they were typesetters by rolling up their sleeves and showing off their lead scars – the bumps and burns on their forearms caused when the linotype machine spit the hot lead at them. I wasn’t sorry to miss that portion of the learning curve.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve seen a lot of change in my thirty years of business experience. I’ve seen an entire industry – financial printing – dry up and blow away as typists took over for typesetters and companies, always on the lookout for ways to trim their substantial printing costs, internalized their needs by using in-house PCs and foregoing professional formatting. It’s true, as long as you don’t really care what your Annual Report looks like, that you can do it cheaper in house. The SEC doesn’t care what format you use; they’re using HTML. Typesetting has become a lost art, as truly quaint and archaic as sable brush calligraphy.

Which brings me to my point. Looking through the headlines today my eye was caught by the news that Amazon has released Kindle2. I’ve had the Kindle idea – a wireless reading device – flagged in the back of my brain for about 18 months, waiting, as I have learned to do with all new technology, to see if it would fly. Well evidently Kindle is flying off the shelf. The supplier can’t produce the hardware fast enough, there’s been a waiting list for new ones – even with a $350 price tag – since November 2008 and even Oprah raves about Kindle as her new favorite thing.

What really caught my eye was that Amazon isn’t saying Kindle uses e-books. They’ve dropped the ‘e’ in their marketing material and are saying you can download books. Digital books. Now I’m not here to promote Kindle but I am wondering if our definition of ‘book’ has changed?

Definition: A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of paper, parchment, or other material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf, and each side of a leaf is called a page. A book produced in electronic format is known as an e-book.

Is digital print and/or Kindle the end of the (print) world (again) as we know it? Is anyone out there using one? What's your experience of it?

Monday, February 09, 2009

AND THE YEARS ROLL ON

by Gina Sestak

Did it ever seem as if you ought to be feeling older than you do?

I just turned 59 on Saturday. Yikes! When I was in my teens, I thought that I would have life figured out be now, but no such luck. Nearly six decades old, and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I have always been very immature for my age. Even as a child. When the other kids were making rational decisions based upon the down to earth pragmatic things that they'd been taught, I found that I was lost in dreams, seeking comprehension in the made-up parables I read.

Don't get me wrong. I always managed to pay my rent, although I sometimes did forgo food. I know how to survive in waking reality. It's just that, when faced with decisions, I often opt for the impractical.

Take college, for example. As I've mentioned in prior posts, neither of my parents graduated high school. They didn't see a need for higher education, and they had neither the money to pay my tuition nor the sophistication to help me seek financial aid. I grew up knowing that I could never go to college, but I saved up some money from a part time job behind the counter in Murphys and took the SAT just to see how I would do. I scored in the 96th percentile; 4th highest in my academic high school, although I had been shunted early on into the secretarial track. "This doesn't gel," the guidance counsellor kept saying when she reviewed my scores. She couldn't understand how I did so well in math when I'd taken only the basic courses, even after I had explained how I'd drawn dots and diagrams in the margins, counting them to guess which formula might be the right answer. She sent me for non-verbal IQ testing just to see whether the SAT had been a "fluke." It hadn't been. With her encouragement, I applied to Pitt. By then it was too late to take the National Merit exam, so I had to rely on applying for financial aid. I didn't get it. No one believes it when you say your parents won't support your education. A mature person, a practical person, at that point would have given up, or looked further into sources of assistance, or found an employer willing to fund courses, or enrolled part time at night, or pursued any of a dozen other ways of going to school. I just threw caution to the wind and went, working crummy jobs, being homeless some of the time, selling blood plasma to survive.

Now I'm at the stage of life when a practical person would be saving for retirement. Instead of squirreling away every penny I can get my hands on, I'm working part-time and taking classes. Not practical classes -- no MBA for me. I'm studying filmmaking(!!!!), a field that I have absolutely no chance of entering, let alone making a career of. And yet it interests me, so I throw caution to the wind and go.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this blog -- do I expect encouragement or censure? I'm not sure. You decide.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Hook, Line, and Sinker



As you read this, I’m on my way to Birmingham, Alabama, for Murder in the Magic City, a choice little conference sponsored by their local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I met the arranger during Killer Nashville last year, and was asked if I’d like to participate, and of course I said yes. I’ve been hearing about Murder in the Magic City for years, so the invitation was a real thrill.

It’s a short conference, just the one day, so I’m only doing one panel, followed by a signing session. I’ll be sharing my panel with Maggie Toussaint, Elizabeth Zelvin, and moderator Mary Jane Maffini, with whom I also share a publisher and an editor.

Our panel is quite simply called What. There’s also a panel called Who, one called When & Where, and one called Why. When & Where would be the historical mysteries panel, I think, and the one with the exotic locations, while the Who panel is likely for romantic suspense and that sort of thing. Not sure about Why.

The What panel, and I quote, is about …well, what your books are about. All of you have something distinctive, a hook if you will, or a topic that you delve into in your writing. Organization, home renovations, horse rescue, addiction... How did you all decide to write about what you write about? What's your research process? Is a hook necessary in today's writing market?

Since it’s been on my mind, I figured I’d talk about hooks a little. They are, after all, a huge part of mystery writing today. The traditional mystery, the cozy, the type of book that used to be synonymous with Dame Agatha Christie and Dame Ngaio Marsh—synonymous with mysteries in general—has evolved into something more like a cutesy hobby mystery of the kind that I, and so many others, write.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with me and my books, my gimmick is home renovation. That’s the framework into which the story is set. The story, at its heart—and don’t tell my editor I said this—is a love story. (She thinks it’s a mystery. It’s not.) There’s a mystery there, sure. It frames the romance. Layers, if you will. But if every book is about people, and I believe they are, or at least that they should be, then my book is a romance. At its core, that’s what it’s about. The mystery is background for the love story. The home renovation is background for the mystery.

But I digress.

I started writing about renovating because I was asked to. Berkley Prime Crime wanted a series about a do-it-yourself home renovator, and I had the necessary background for the job. As an aside, let me just say that doing it that way helps with the research. Sure, you can decide to write about something you don’t know the first thing about, and learn as you go, but it’s easier if you already have the appropriate background. It cuts down on the time you have to spend researching, and gives you more time to actually write. And when you have deadlines to meet, that’s an important consideration.

As for how Berkley knew about me and my background, it was because I wrote another book. It featured a Realtor, and there was some home renovation going on in that book, as well. That wasn’t the gimmick of the book—it didn’t really have a gimmick—but there was enough home renovation woven through the story to make someone sit up and take notice.

Now, I should mention that that book never sold, and although I can’t say for sure why, I can tell you that as far as my Berkley editor goes, she read it and liked it, but told me it doesn’t fit their focus on ‘crafts and activities.’ Whether that means that it’s necessary to have a hook in order to succeed in today’s market, I’m not entirely sure.

If you want to write cozies for Berkley Prime Crime, then yes. To write a Prime Crime series, you gotta—as the girls in ‘Gypsy’ said—have a gimmick. If you don’t have a gimmick, then forget it. Or send your book to another publisher, or another imprint. There are lots of them out there, and they don’t all publish books with hooks.

So for what it’s worth, that’s what I’ll be saying this weekend. Now it’s your turn. Do you think it’s necessary to have a hook to succeed in today’s market? Is there a hook in your work in progress? Or if you’re not a writer, in the book you’re reading? If so, do you like that fact? Did you plan it, if you wrote it? And if there isn’t, do you wish there was? Do you think there should be?

Since I’m in the car, and can’t check back, play nicely amongst yourselves.

Oh, and just in case some of you missed it, and because I really like it a lot, here's a peek at the cover for DIY#2, Spackled and Spooked, coming on August 4th, 2009! Pretty, innit?




Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Conviction in the Baby Grace Murder

by Joyce

Last year I wrote a post about Baby Grace, the child whose body was found in a plastic container on an island in Galveston Bay. Below is the follow-up post I wrote when her body was identified. I decided to re-post it because on February 2, 2009, Riley Ann Sawyer's mother was convicted of her torture and murder. Rest in peace now, little angel.



Baby Grace now has a name: Riley Ann Sawyers. Riley's mother and her new husband were arrested over the weekend and have admitted to torturing and killing her on July 24th. They beat her with leather belts, held her head under water in the bathtub, then threw her across the room, slamming her head onto a tile floor. (Read Affidavit of Probable Cause.)

After her death, the mother, Kimberly Ann Trenor, and her husband, Royce Clyde Zeigler, went to Wal-Mart and purchased the blue plastic container, along with other items used to hide and dispose of Riley's body. They hid her in a shed on the property for two months, then dumped her off the Galveston Causeway.

Investigators were led to the couple after they received a phone call from Riley's paternal grandmother in Ohio, Sheryl Sawyers. Her son Robert, and Trenor were childhood sweethearts and lived with Sheryl Sawyers until Trenor moved to Texas to be with Zeigler, whom she met on a gaming site on the internet. After Riley's murder, Trenor had told everyone that Riley had been taken away by child services and she was never reported missing.

At this point, Trenor and Zeigler have been charged with injuring a child and tampering with evidence. According to legal analyst, Brian Wice, this might be a strategic move on the part of the Galveston County District Attorney's Office. As more evidence is uncovered, the charge could eventually be upgraded to capital murder.

This very sad ending for such a beautiful little girl has touched the hearts of the investigators. "Any way you look at it, we carry a piece of her with us and will always carry a little piece of her with us," said Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo. "She's still our little girl."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scammed!

By Annette Dashofy

I had an opportunity to meet our local police chief last week. He’s relatively new to the area and I’ve stopped at the station a couple of times, but he was out on patrol.

Needing to call 9-1-1 to bring him to my mom’s house was NOT how I’d envisioned our first meeting.

Last Tuesday, my mom phoned me to ask if the water company had just been at my house. I replied, “No.” After all, we don’t have city water. She then went on to tell me that a guy had been at her house and wanted to check her water. He had an elaborate story about how they were going to lay pipe behind her house the next day and he needed to make sure her well water wasn’t contaminated.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking, wouldn’t you have HEARD that your property was about to be dug up for water or sewer lines? And why would the well water be contaminated before any work was done?

The man who appeared to be Hispanic and spoke with an accent, then asked Mom to go into the bathroom to flush the toilet, which she did. It’s a small house. It didn’t take long. He took her into the kitchen to run hot and cold water. All the time, he was telling her how they would be using big generators and setting up lights in the pasture behind her house.

Mom says it sounded fishy, but she didn’t know what to do.

My first question was “Is this guy still there?” She said he wasn’t. She also seemed quite stunned when I told her I was calling the cops.

I’m still shaking my head. I thought I had her trained. I thought she knew better than to let a stranger with no uniform, no ID, and driving an unmarked van into her house. (Insert gnashing of teeth and screams of frustration from yours truly here)

I live two doors away, so I hoofed it over there after notifying 9-1-1. Her purse had been sitting on the kitchen chair, but it was untouched. Her meager spending money was still inside as were her car and house keys.

The local township’s chief of police is a really nice guy. He didn’t laugh when Mom told him her tale and I sat with my eyes closed, shaking my head. Instead, he called the station to verify there were no work orders for the water company or the gas company in our area.

There weren’t.

But the water company IS laying line a few miles south of here and have been for several months. Mom has seen them. And that was just enough to give this scam artist’s story a hint of credibility in her mind.

My mom was lucky. As far as we can tell, nothing was stolen. She wasn’t hurt. The only thing stolen from her that day was her sense of peace and safety.

Mom says the guy was talking on a cell phone the whole time. I have to wonder if he had a partner out in the van and if he’d spotted something in the house nicer than her 10-year-old cell phone, her 20 year old TV set and her obsolete VCR, might he have signaled to the partner to come in? I don’t know. I probably don’t want to know.

And lest you think this is a crime against the elderly, a couple in their forties was hit the next day and money was stolen.

Be on your guard. DO NOT LET ANYONE IN YOUR HOUSE. Workmen carry ID and drive marked vehicles.

My mom has learned (I hope) to NOT be nice. She said the guy was so polite and had a nice smile. And she asked him if he was legit (after he was already in the house!). He told her “yes.”

“What the hell did you expect him to say?” I asked her.

I have a few more gray hairs today than I did last week.

On the other hand, the chief invited to come down to the station to pick his brain about my novel anytime I want.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Thank you, Pittsburgh

by Kathryn Miller Haines

I’ve never been a sports person. I like to play them, I just don’t like to watch them, especially on TV. Part of this probably stemmed from my upbringing. I grew up in San Antonio, TX, where we didn’t have any professional sports teams until the Spurs came along. So when I moved to Pittsburgh I was in for a rude awakening. Suddenly, everywhere I went, people were talking about sports, rearranging their lives to watch televised events, planning their wardrobe to show team support. When the Steelers lost, the mood shift was palpable. When they won, the city became electric.

Frankly, I found the whole thing maddening. What was wrong with people? It was only a stupid game. My husband tried to sway my thinking. He appealed to the historian in me by trying to explain the cultural significance of sports in an economically depressed region – how the 1970's Steelers gave hope to a city that desperately needed it. It was a great story, but it still didn’t keep me from looking forward to going to Target at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon.

Well something in me changed. I caught, what I believe the experts refer to, as "Steeler fever."

It started late. AFC playoff game late. We were invited to a friend’s house to watch the game and I only agreed to go because said friend can cook. Oh, can she cook. I toted my laptop and some reading material along, anticipating a long, bored night that would be supplemented by a little writing. But as I sat in the living room enjoying the amazing delicacies manufactured by Frito Lay, I found myself getting into the game. Paying attention. Asking questions. Making jokes. Shouting at the television (I mean seriously – what was Limus Swede thinking?!). The laptop went untouched (though, let’s be frank, I’ll do anything to avoid work). At the end of the evening my husband, a tear in his eye, remarked that he was proud of me for sticking it out and actually enjoying myself.

I assumed it was a one time thing, and that by Superbowl Sunday I would be over it.

And then something bad happened (the details aren't important). Our friends invited us to return to their house for the Superbowl, and despite the fact that I wanted to mope and dwell in my pit of despair, I said we should go. And coming off a uniquely terrible week, I threw myself into that game with everything I had. I cheered. I danced. I screamed. I challenged referee calls. I forgot everything but the game in front of me. I began to believe that if they could win this game, anything could happen. And I suddenly got it. This was why sports had become so important to Pittsburgh. Because when things are going bad, you need that little glimmer of hope that comes from a team that, let’s be honest, was sucking hard but still managed to pull it off at the last second.

They made me an optimist again, and for that I thank them.

So what about you? Did you watch? Did you care? Or are you upset that you have to wait until September to once again enjoy that free window of time to get your grocery shopping done?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundhog Day

By Annette Dashofy


As a farm girl from Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day has been a part of my life long before Bill Murray made it a piece of pop culture back in 1993. I’ve long heard the tales of forecasting the weather using animals and “signs.” And of course, the Farmer’s Almanac. But I don’t remember all the hoopla over that much-photographed woodchuck, Punxsutawney Phil until the movie hit it big. In fact, my earliest memories of the whole groundhog-as-weather-forecaster thing are of simply spotting one of the beasts looking groggy and skinny, grazing on the dead grass of late winter. There would be an announcement (made by one of my grandparents) that the groundhogs were out of hibernation, so spring must be just around the corner.

So forgive me, good citizens of Punxsutawney, if I cast some doubt on that rotund rodent you hold so dear. But I’ve heard rumors that the “forecast” is decided on well in advance.

It would have to be, wouldn’t it? You drag the hapless creature out of a manmade burrow at the crack of dawn with news crews’ lights shining in his eyes. I’m surprised the dude in the top hat hasn’t been bitten. Severely. On a yearly basis. Of course he’s going to see his shadow. Of course he’s going to dive back into his hole and slam the door for six more weeks. It takes that long for him to get over the trauma.

Seriously, though, I’ve done a little research. Prior to Groundhog Day, sixteenth century German settlers brought with them the tradition of Candlemas Day. And the saying goes:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

The old English version goes something like this:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

There is also rumor that the early Germans watched a badger to see if it spotted its shadow before the Pennsylvanians chose the awakening groundhog for the task.

I wonder if anyone told those sixteenth and seventeenth century groundhogs that they and their offspring and offspring’s offspring were expected to wake up precisely on February second every year for eternity.

I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, February first, and for the sake of my research I went for walk to where I knew there was a colony of groundhog holes. I wondered if any of the little weathermen were stirring in anticipation of the big moment. Here is photographic evidence.



The only tracks are rabbit tracks. I didn’t hear any digging sounds. I think I may have heard some snoring…

So apparently Farmyard Fred has chosen to sleep in and leave the prognosticating to his more northern cousin.

The forecast is due to be announced at 7:25AM.

Personally, I think, if he sees his shadow it’s six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, about a month and a half.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Heart Was In Phoenix

by Wilfred Bereswill

Okay, I’m just back from watching one exciting Superbowl. Superbowl XLIII wound up being one of the most exciting games I can remember. And I guess a hearty congratulations goes out to many of you Working Stiff contributors and readers from the Pittsburgh area.

Honestly, being from St. Louis, past home of the Cardinals, the game reminded me of the old team that used to be here many years ago, the Cardiac Cards. The Cardiac Cards, a team famous for pulling out last minute victories or blowing a lead at the last minute. At that time, a quarterback named Jim Hart lead a squad that would make your heart race and then break in all at the same time.

What made the game even more special for us here in St. Louis was the Cinderella Story of Kurt Warner. I think I can speak for most of St. Louis that we were pulling for him to be the first quarterback to lead two different teams to a superbowl victory. Kurt Warner was down to working in a supermarket and playing arena football when the St. Louis Rams took a flyer on him as a back-up quarterback to Trent Green. Green went down to injury and Kurt Warner never looked back. He is a special man.

With 2 minutes left in the game, this blog read completely differently. The Cardinals made a miraculous comeback take the lead. A great punt led to a safety and then a touchdown and suddenly, there were just over two minutes in the game and the Cardinals had taken the lead. You could say the Cardinal defense let them down or you can give props to the Pittsburgh Offense for not backing down, or you can say that fate was smiling upon the Steelers. (Some in the room I was in felt that the bulk of the officials hailed from the greater Pittsburgh area.)

Regardless, the Lombardi Trophy will find a home in Pittsburgh and a bunch of guys will be sporting expensive new rings. Once again, Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers.



So what about the commercials? For the past 17 years I’ve been more enamored about the Superbowl commercials than the game. This year, not so much. Being an ex-Anheuser-Busch employee, I was always proud to watch the commercials. I did notice 3 Clydesdale commercials, but didn’t particularly like them much. Doritos had a few funny ones. GoDaddy went sexually provocative as usual. Pepsi? Ehhh! Coke zero had a good takeoff of the old Mean Joe Green commercial. Dorito’s crystal ball was funny.

For a refresher, you can watch them on Hulu.

We’ll have to wait till morning for the Ad Meter official results to be posted in the USA Today, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that A-B will come out on top. So what do you think? Chime in and let me know what you think.