Friday, November 30, 2007

Here Come the Holidays


Kathie Shoop

I do love this time of year. I've never grown out of the thrill that Christmas and New Years brings only now it seems doubled by being able to pass the season's cheer onto my own children.

Here are some Christmas Morning gift-giving philosophies I've heard over the years:
*Don't give much because we get stuff all year.
*It's once a year and the kids are only young once, so really make it magical (in a gifty sense).
*The wisemen brought three gifts, so we only give the kids three gifts.

I fall into the second category for the most part. There is nothing I like more than finding the right gift for someone including my kids. I do wonder if it's all too much, but I try to buy presents that they can "do" things with like art supplies, games, books, outdoor sports stuff.

Yes, I recognize the denial. I also have them select gifts for children who won't have a big Christmas and as my children grow up, I'd like us to do something more substantial on the charitable front. Perhaps that will wash away any sense of entitlent that a stack of gifts under the tree would encourage. Or not. Time will tell, I suppose.

I've found that even my friends who susbcribe to the "The wisemen rule" don't really stick to it. They stuff things into the stocking (apparently the stocking is exempt from the rule for some secret reason), even going so far as to buy bigger socks for that purpose. It gets messy no matter what your take on the subject, I guess.

I've finished nearly all my shopping and decorating around the house. Hopefully, barring family disasters and MS flare-ups, I can spend the month of December, baking cookies, attending children's holiday parties, wrapping gifts, enjoying an attentiveness to daily events that I don't normally engage in. For me, December is actually a time to slow down. Yes, there's that denial again, but I try to do that, I really do.

How about you? Any last minute shoppers out there? How about other early-birds?

Thursday, November 29, 2007


by Joyce Tremel

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Baby Grace, the child whose body was found in a plastic container on an island in Galveston Bay.

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, November 28, 2007

Confessions of an Addict

by Annette Dashofy

My name is Annette and I’m here to confess: I am an addict. It has been four days since my last fix.

My drug of choice?

Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha.

I used to only drink tea. Usually GREEN tea. Healthy, full of antioxidants. If I got something from Starbucks, it would be Chai. Still tea, but with a kick.

Then one day, while traveling with my friend and fellow Working Stiff, Lisa Curry, I noticed that every time we stopped along the highway at Starbucks, she ordered something called a White Chocolate Mocha. Of course, I love chocolate. So, out of curiosity, one day I tried one.

Oh. My. God.

Here’s the thing…I’ve had them from other coffee shops and they aren’t the same. I swear, Starbucks MUST put something addictive in theirs. I crave Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (hold the whip cream, please). As I sip that rich, sweet brew, I feel contentment. I feel peace.

I feel BROKE! Have you seen the price of those things???

But I digress.

If I order a White Chocolate Mocha from some other coffee house, I don’t get the same sensations. (Except for the broke part).

As I plan my itinerary of stops while shopping and running errands, I find myself mapping a route slightly out of my way, just so I can stop at Starbucks. When someone asks me to go somewhere, I ask myself “is there a Starbucks near there?” Every month, I load up my Starbucks card with my “Mocha Allowance.” Lately, I find I’m cheating, adding more to it, because the balance remaining has run out and I’m still craving my fix.

So what exactly do they put in that stuff? I really don’t like coffee. It’s the junk they put IN the coffee that calls to me. If it was just a black cup of joe, I could pass on it without a blink of the eye. I figure there’s a secret ingredient in there that’s making me steal from my household budget to keep me in caffeine.

And it’s getting worse. I used to feel sated with just a tall White Chocolate Mocha. Tall is Starbucks talk for small. NOW, I need at least a grande (medium) and more often than not, I go for the VENTI (monster-sized large).

Help! Is there a Starbucks Anonymous out there? The problem is I don’t think I could stay on the wagon. I admit it. I’m nothing but a mocha junky.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thank you, short story writer

by Mike Crawmer
It’s been just over four months since I turned the big 6-0. Approaching that milestone filled me with dread, but I survived all the hoopla and those inevitable birthday cards with their lame jokes about digestive indiscretions and sexual functioning (or lack thereof).

When compared to most sexagenarians, I suspect I’m rather fortunate. I have most of my hair, and I can eat almost anything without worrying what it will do to my “system.” My eyeglass prescription hasn’t changed in 18 years and my doctor mutters in amazement at the vitality of my major organs.

As for getting out and about, I can’t recall the last time I bar-hopped til the 2 a.m. closing bell. But, as many of you know, I spend an inordinate amount of time bicycling. I think nothing of pedaling 25 miles on the city’s streets and trails after work. Then there are those weeklong vacations cycling 350 miles around the Finger Lakes.

Still, my never-very-good memory isn’t getting any better, and my knees are wont to complain a bit too much. Then there’s this recent problem with books: no matter how exciting or enthralling, fascinating or interesting, five, six, or ten pages is all I can manage before the eyelids droop, the book drops to my lap and the snoring begins. Sad but true: Reading puts me to sleep.

Back in the day I could devour even the most long-winded book (fiction, history, social or political commentary) in one, two or three settings. I conquered “Crime and Punishment” and “Anna Karenina” in no time, and during semester break one winter read the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy—all while working a full time job.

Not any more. Except, that is, for a good short story. I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, in Granta and in anthologies I’ve collected over the years. Bless the short-story writer for being able to create in a few thousand words a world populated by characters that are quirky or gutsy, foolish or brave, anguished or heroic, idiosyncratic or just weird, but almost always intriguing and, best of all, not sleep inducing.

Not all short stories leave me marveling at the writer’s mastery of his or her craft. Some are irritating or just plain self-indulgent. Some seem more experimental, almost like a game the writer is creating for his or her own amusement, like a Dennis Lehane story I read recently that was written in the second person. What seemed interesting and a bit provocative in the first few pages became tedious and irritating by the end.

Still, the short story can be a thing of beauty. Within a dozen or so pages the reader can fall into and out of unique world, remember all the characters and the plot (if there is one!) and the storyline. And not fall asleep (usually).

Until I find another “Bel Canto” (the last novel I couldn’t put down), I’ll pick up a short story for my fiction fix. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the restorative powers of the nap, but I really just want to read to the end of something without falling asleep first.

Monday, November 26, 2007


by Gina Sestak

When I was an undergraduate, I held a part-time job at Winkys. Winkys was a local hamburger chain that rivaled McDonalds for a few years, then went under. I worked at the location closest to the University of Pittsburgh, where students came to fill up on fifteen-cent hamburgers and fries.

I had done counter work before -- taking orders, handing over food, operating the cash register. Winkys was the first place where I also got to cook.

My idea of cooking had been formed partly by my grandmother, who made her own bread from scratch, with cakes of yeast and mounds of flour, measuring ingredients by how they felt in her hand. She made jelly, too, and canned her own relish and picklelilly. To her, making hamburgers involved reaching into a bowlful of raw ground beef to mix in raw eggs and breadcrumbs before forming thick patties for frying. [Maybe that hands in raw meat thing is one reason I became a vegetarian.]

At Winkys, the hamburgers came frozen, flat and preformed. I dealt them out onto a grill like cards, then flipped them when the center bulged up, a certain signal that the underside was done. At that point, a cheeseburger would get a slice of American cheese plopped onto it, to melt for a few seconds before the hamburger patty was moved to a bun. The buns were soft and white - no whole grain there.

Frozen pre-cut potatoes went into hot oil in a fryer opposite the stove, held in a metal basket with a long handle. When they were brown enough, I'd lift them out of the bubbling oil, give the basket a few shakes, then turn around to dump them into a holding area beside the grill. No matter how much I shook those fries, I'd always manage to drip a few drops of boiling oil onto my legs and feet. Amazingly, they left no scars.

The crown jewel of that kitchen, though, was the microwave oven. At that time (late 1960s), microwaves were still a novelty. I was amazed that the microwave could bake a potato in a few minutes, rather than the hour or so that it would take in a conventional oven. [I later learned that potatoes also bake very fast when wrapped in aluminum foil and place in a campfire or (my ex-husband's way) by sticking two screwdrivers into the potato and connecting each to a live wire -- do not try that at home!]

One noteworthy thing about Winkys was cleanliness. It was the most sanitary restaurant I've ever worked in. Every night, we scrubbed the grill. With steam, we cleaned everything that touched food, and everything that touched anything that touched food. It took about an hour for two of us to scrub down that small kitchen. Most of the time, I worked with my friend/roommate Audrey and our manager, a veteran who would regale us with stories about his experiences in Vietnam. It didn't pay much -- my recollection is about $1.14 per hour -- and so I soon moved on to other jobs. But as jobs go, I'll always have a soft spot for that Winkys, where I got to play short-order cook.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Cornucopia of 'topias

by Brian Mullen

I have decided what my next project is going to be. It's an idea that's been floating around in my head for about a year since my wife and I went to see the movie Children of Men. For those who haven't seen it, the movie is a dystopia which is the perfect segue into a quick vocabulary lesson.

UTOPIA: Basically a future paradise. It was a term invented by English lawyer turned novelist Sir Thomas More. In 1515 he published a book entitled Utopia which told the tale of a traveler to an island where the government was More's idea of perfection. The word itself basically translates into "no place."

DYSTOPIA: The exact opposite - a future which is bleak and often based on a pessimistic series of events. The most famous of these may be Orwell's 1984 where the totalitarian government "Big Brother is watching you" reigns supreme. Fahrenheit 451 is another well known example.

And lastly a FRUITOPIA is any future which is both thirst-quenching and chock full of Vitamin C.

Back to our story. As the wife and I left the movie she asked the inevitable question, "So what did you think?" As it is my default nature, I used the opportunity to make a joke. "Worst comedy ever." Then, as is her default nature, she rolled her eyes as if to ask, "Why do I even bother to ask him questions?"

But the joke lingered with me. Dystopian comedy. There must be some, though I could not think of any off the top of my head (where I keep such knowledge incidentally). A quick search on the internet reminded me of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil and Woody Allen's Sleeper. I also found a few movies I had never heard of - but no novels appeared in my searches. Are there no dystopian comedy novels I wondered.

That was enough of a spark to start me imagining a silly world where the most absurd aspects of our lives get blown even more out of proportion. And now I believe I have the essentials straight in my mind. I have my POV character, I have my theme, I have an idea of my setting (though it will need more fleshing out), I have my outline for Act I, I know how Act III will go, I have a two sentence synopsis of what Act II needs to accomplish (though there are still holes you can drive a freight train through). In short what I know is enough for me to start writing and see how the story unfolds and, more importantly, IF it will unfold.

So, armed with my sense of humor in my one hand and a caffeinated beverage in the other, I prepare to tackle what our colleague Mike has recently reminded us is our true enemy - the blank page - secure in the knowledge that I can best the blank page by, if nothing else, spilling my beverage on it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Stiffs are a little tied up today (only figuratively of course), but we wanted to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. We are so thankful for the friends we've made through this blog and hope to make many more.

Enjoy yourselves today and don't forget to think about what you are thankful for. And don't eat too much!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey Wednesday

by Annette Dashofy

I desperately need to update my will and make sure my life insurance is paid. I fear my life may be in danger. I am marching into battle with a mass of humanity who has no compassion for my needs or my safety. I will be in peril of being trampled, assaulted, and maimed.

You see, later today, I will be heading to the grocery store on this day before Thanksgiving.

Little is written of this horrible crush of shoppers as “black Friday” tends to overshadow “turkey Wednesday.” However, I have no intention of going near a store on Friday, so that causes me little concern. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be caught dead near the Giant Eagle today, either, but due to the craziness of the week just past and a bit of short-sightedness on my part, I failed to pick up the ingredients for my contribution to the family dinner. And while there will be plenty of food there, as a vegetarian, I have fewer options to chose from. So I’d better make sure I take a filling dish that’s safe for me to eat or I may be stuck with cookies.

Hmm. Cookies may not be so bad.

But, no, I will shake off my trepidation, take a deep breath, and plunge into the hordes of impatient, harried (and hurried) shoppers.

At least I can avoid the turkey aisle. You need a police escort to approach THAT refrigerator case!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Celebrate, Don't Hibernate?

By Martha Reed

It was a surprise to me to open the kitchen curtains on Thursday morning and see an accumulation of snow on the cars parked by the ball field. Of course, I knew winter was coming, but as soon as my furnace fires up I traditionally go into a state of denial that lasts pretty much until Spring break.

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for sixteen years now, so you’d think I’d be used to Old Man Winter. Lord knows I’ve got the gear: six coats, gloves and mittens, three pairs of boots, a red plastic snow shovel, a fifteen dollar bag of rock salt. I didn’t have any of this stuff when I lived in Texas. Well, maybe the boots, but they were made from exotic leathers back then and not all-weather ‘outdoor enthusiast’ Canadian-made Sorels.

It’s not that I hate the cold – I don’t. I can take the cold until it gets down to zero. After that, I am inside wrapped up in a fleece coverlet sipping something warm. I think what I object to is the DARK.

I’m an early riser and in the winter when I get up my day is dark. I work downtown in a cubicle farm until 5PM, and when I come out of the building it’s still dark. I do try to go for a walk at lunchtime just to see the daylight. Honestly, I don’t know how people in more northern climates survive. I remember one episode of Northern Exposure when someone imported lighted visors to help the townsfolk cope with Seasonal Attitude Disorder. One chronically crotchety old man had a complete change of personality when exposed to sunlight – of course, being Northern Exposure the townsfolk wanted the older crotchety version back.

Here’s another favorite Northern Exposure scenes:

And then there’s the opposite problem. Have you seen the movie Insomnia? Al Pacino plays an LA detective, Will Dormer, who gets sent to Alaska to investigate a homicide. Alaska, the land where the summer sun never sets. The plot is gripping enough, but there are two scenes in particular that had me sitting on the back of my chair. I won’t give them both away, I want you to rent the DVD, but the scene I really like has Will Dormer freaking out in his hotel room – he can’t sleep because his room is never really fully dark. A seam of watery daylight shows around his blackout curtain and Al Pacino turns it loose. I didn’t need a Pacino performance to understand what it was he was trying to say!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Silly Putty, Mylar and Mud

by Brenda Roger

My sewing room is a metaphor for my life. It is chaotic, and for the past year nothing has come from it. I’m not sure what people think I do all day, and I love to read what other people do in a day, so here goes.

Monday, I have a doctor’s appointment at 10:30. Then I will rush to pick up supplies and lunch. A friend is coming over to help me finish Christmas tree ornaments for the Carnegie Museum’s annual display. We are decorating 12, 10, and 8-foot trees in the entrance to the Hall of Architecture, so we have to assess how many more we may need. The theme is stained glass, and I am once again painting Mylar to look like stained glass. My dining room table and kitchen have been covered in Mylar dragonflies, wisteria, and grapes for weeks. I suspect the ornament painting will go on well into the evening.

Tuesday, I am teaching School to Museum Partnership at the museum where I work (not the one where I volunteer). SchMus, as it is called for short, is a writing and art program. Tomorrow, it is eighth graders from a city school. We are talking about hyperbole and making a project that involves a five-pound block of Silly Putty. Don’t ask. SchMus ends at 11:30, which is the exact time that I’m supposed to be all the way at the other end of the site to teach in the galleries. Oops, I need to prepare for that today, yikes. The teaching in the galleries ends at the exact time that I am supposed to be at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center to straighten out loan paperwork and schedule a photo shoot for a print catalog. By the time that is over, I would love to eat something and pass out, however, I must paint more ornaments!

Wednesday, I have to creep up to Monroeville to pick up the standing rib roast for our non-turkey, turkey dinner. Then, it is off in search of something clever to use as tree skirts. I can’t be around the public the day before a holiday, so I will probably have to cut the shopping trip short, but that’s ok, because there are always more ornaments to paint. Oh, and did I mention the tree toppers that still need to be made? At 2:30, my sanity arrives in the form of a riding lesson. A riding lesson is the only thing I do in a week that is useful only to me. For an hour, my teacher actually pays attention to me, and a big yellow horse does the hard work. When I sadly part with George the horse, I have to drive the previously mentioned rib roast to my mother’s house in Greensburg.

Can you see how my days get used up, but the time never amounts to anything? Someone suggested over the weekend that I take my laptop with me, and write when I’m not at home! That’s very funny. Perhaps, I could dictate something into a tape recorder while I am running down the sidewalk at the museum. The next three days are actually very slow days because I don’t have any evening engagements. Usually, I am out at least two evenings a week to fulfill obligations for my husband’s job. My feet are stuck in mud. I’m completely burned out. I haven’t been on vacation in many years. Perhaps, I should disappear into the sewing room for a much needed rest. It would be so easy to get lost in there! Anyone else want to hide in the sewing room with me??

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Gift of Gab

by Kathryn Miller Haines

I spent a large part of October in the UK, babysitting my three-year old niece, 18 month old nephew, and two eight week old Spaniel puppies so that my sister and brother-in-law could globe-trot to Africa for a little R&R. Not long before I left, I received news that Harper was reupping me for two more Rosie Winter mysteries. Knowing I’d be in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation and with my evenings wide open (the kids are in bed by seven), I hauled my laptop and a suitcase full of research materials across the Atlantic, prepared to start writing book III of the series.

I’m going to pause here for laughter.

Normally, I can write anywhere: buses, planes, underground lairs. But at my sister’s picaresque country home I ran into several problems right off the bat. The first, and most obvious, are the exhausting little time-suckers that my sister unleashed upon the world. I had no idea how drained I’d be after a day of playing with the wee people (and corralling their canine counterparts). There’s a reason they go to bed at seven: so you can go to bed at eight. The only thing I had the energy to do after the sun set was to raid my brother-in-law’s wine collection and stare, slack-jawed, at the meager offerings provided by BBC 1, 2 & 3 while the puppies dozed in my lap.


This was to be expected. What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly I’d lose language. Obviously, I was in an English-speaking nation, but I very quickly found myself dotting my speech with those charming little Britishisms that populate Ruth Rendell novels. I lost my grasp of 1940’s American speak, so vital to my series, as I spent my days imploring my niece and nephew to turn off the telly, take off their wellies, and finish the courgette fry up I’d made on the Aga, otherwise there’d be no pudding for either of them.

I tried to counter this by reading American mysteries, but every character in my mind became British. Tough guys aren’t so tough when they sound Oxford-educated.

Worse, since my conversation was limited to the three and under set, and my sister’s Czech au pair whose English skills are…er…on par with my Czech fluency, I found I was using only about 100 unique words a day, three of which were poop, pee, and nappy. By the time my mother arrived to relieve me after two weeks of solitary confinement, I was speaking English like a non-native speaker, choosing the simplest way to say whatever I could, phrasing every sentence like a question, and wildly gesturing to make sure I could get my point across.

This didn’t help my writing.

I’m home now and after a few weeks of assimilating back into my deliciously verbal circle of friends, I feel like I’m recapturing the language I lost and no longer fighting the urge to have Rosie order takeaway at the local pub, dodge a runaway lorry, or debate the merits of still versus fizzy water.

I’ve also stopped talking so freely about bowel movements.

So what about you? Are there environments that you’ve found aren't conducive to your writing?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Top Ten List for Thanksgiving 2007

by Cathy Anderson Corn

Thanksgiving's nearly here and we all know it's about more than just fixing and consuming a gargantuan meal, cleaning the house, distributing leftovers, and watching football on t.v. It's about giving thanks for our blessings and for the bounty we enjoy.

And, as some current authors note, the more grateful you are, the more bounty that flows in. So in that vein of thought, I'm listing the top ten reasons I'm thankful this season:

10. I don't have to cook. Last year we had both our families to the house, and we cleaned and cooked for weeks in preparation. This year it'll be the two of us and pets; we'll maybe watch a movie and eat pop tarts. Okay, we're having Hanukah here, but a bagel dinner is much easier to fix than a turkey dinner.

9. I survived in good humor the Pennwriters Conference of May 2007. It was fun, with great information and smiling Sister and Mister faces. I won't mention a fresh-faced 23-year-old agent from a big agency who shot my novel pages (and everyone else's) down, but he was cute, and in some strange way I'm thankful he didn't want my work of art (okay, I'm lying).

8. My deepest and most humble thanks (my senior dog, Gypsy, barks in gratitude, too) to the manufacturers of Leaks No More, a remedy that...well, you can figure it out.

7. I live in a wonderful country, the land of opportunity, with the freedom to choose turkey or tofurkey for the holidays. People here are dedicated and hard working, and I thank one and all for their endeavors to promote peace and enlightenment for all.

6. I love the internet--looking up stuff fast, keeping in touch with emails, and ordering items I didn't know I needed.

5. I'm thankful for my family. This includes my parents, whose health has been on a teeter totter the past few years. They still hang in there, and I'm glad. I'm grateful for our cat companions Geebles and Missy, and their dog sister, Gypsy, for my Emily and husband Jason, as well as the stepchildren and the granddaughter to be born in March, little baby Corn (that makes Alan the Pop Corn).

4. Extreme gratitude for my massage career--a chance to serve others, earn a living, keep my hands from drying out in the winter (the oil keeps them moist), and much more. Many thanks for healing promoted and received and the years of being close to others.

3. Someday, my agent and editor will come (sung to the tune of "Someday My Prince Will Come").

2. My prince did come. See, this stuff works. As you already know, Alan and I wed at Kukui Heiau on Kauai, Hawaii, on February 8, 2007. They lived happily ever after.

1. The number one reason I'm thankful this Thanksgiving: For my fellow blogmates, great blogs of yore, hours of entertainment and fascinating topics and comments. (This is where I stand up with pompoms and cheer.) You're all great!

So anyone care to share an item or two from your gratitude list? And pass the cranberry sauce, please.

Have a great holiday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Life of a Police Secretary

by Joyce Tremel

When I tell people I work for a police department, their first reaction is usually, “That’s so cool!” I probably felt that way, too, for oh, about the first 30 days. After nine years, the novelty has worn off a bit.

A few years back, I figured out that I must be an adrenaline junkie. I love that heart pounding excitement when everything and everyone is falling apart. I do my best work in crisis mode. On 9/11 and the days that followed, I stayed perfectly calm. We locked down the station, and I fielded all the phone calls. When anthrax appeared in mail across the country, I handled numerous calls about suspicious packages. When the remnants of Ivan hit the area, I stayed at work that night taking call after call about the flooding. All this is far from the day to day activities in a suburban police department.

For your amusement (I hope), I’ll run through what a typical week is like for me.

Mondays are my busiest day. There’s no secretary on the weekends, so on Monday the Chief’s secretary and I split the police reports. She takes Friday and I take Saturday. Whoever finishes their day first gets Sunday. In addition to reports, I have the phone to deal with. If there was a accident over the weekend, I get phone calls from drivers or insurance companies asking for the report. I’ve told the guys time and time again, to NOT tell people to call on Monday morning, especially when the guys haven’t even done the accident report yet! Usually by lunch time, I’m ready to kill someone. Our police calls were down the weekend. Friday we had 19. Saturday there were 20 calls. 26 on Sunday.

On Tuesday, I enter Monday’s reports. The weirdest of the 22 calls was a man “attacked” by a deer. He went out to his mailbox carrying his young daughter. There was a buck standing in the street. When the man and his daughter waved at the buck, he chased them into the house, then stood in the man’s yard for awhile. One of the phone calls I took was from a woman who received a junk vehicle warning. Her car had an expired inspection and was parked on the street. A big no-no in Shaler. She wanted to know if she could park it in her yard instead! I had to tell her that, no, that would also be a violation. She wasn’t happy.

On Wednesday, I had 27 reports from Tuesday. On the 4-12 shift they had 5 domestics. Must be near a full moon. I also entered traffic citations. The township employees started the “10,000 Step Challenge” last week. We have 6 teams of 10 people each. Everyone got pedometers and every Wednesday we report the number of steps to our team leaders. I’m happy to say that the team I’m on is in first place.

On Thursday, I am off. Woo-hoo! The chief’s secretary takes my place for the day.

Fridays are usually slow. I get caught up with anything that’s held over from earlier in the week. In addition to reports and phone calls, I usually process requests from insurance companies for accident reports.

So that’s my exciting week. Tell me what you did this week!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Case of the Burgled Clubhouse

by Annette Dashofy

The other day I was driving down the highway thinking about crimes and crime scene investigations (isn’t that what everyone thinks about when they’re driving?) and I flashed back on what was probably my earliest crime solving effort.

I was eleven years old. My best friend and I had just spent much time and effort “creating” a clubhouse for the two of us. The “clubhouse” was a wooden structure on our farm that had at one time served as the milkhouse, but which had been moved when a cinderblock version replaced it. By the time my friend and I were searching for a place to call our own, the building was used for storage. My grandfather granted permission for us to convert it, but I strongly suspect he never expected two little girls to actually do the necessary work.

But we did. We toted out a couple dozen old chicken crates and a couple of dead carcasses that could have been long-gone farm cats or possibly rats. Or both. Ick. But we did it. We covered the dirt floor with concrete tiles that had been left over from some project one of our parents had been involved in. There were two windows sans the glass. We put up clear plastic and curtains. We applied a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Green. It was left over from yet another parental project. We
decorated the interior with a desk, a toy crank telephone and bookshelves. We even had a ribbon cutting ceremony when we were done.

Never were there two pre-teen girls who were more proud of an accomplishment.

And then someone broke in and trashed the place.

In hindsight, “trashing the place” is too strong a description. But it felt like it to us. Stuff was knocked over and knocked on the floor. Our space had been violated.

We were pissed.

I remember putting it back together again and then sitting down to ponder WHO had done such a thing. You have to realize, we’re talking about an outbuilding on a farm. There weren’t many neighbors. Therefore our suspect list was small. Plus we had one piece of evidence. A shoe print. Too big to be one of ours, but too small to be from one of the grown-ups. And we determined that it was a boy’s shoe. That narrowed it down to two possible perps. One was a neighbor boy and the other was my friend’s own cousin who visited her regularly.

We formulated a plan. We would approach both boys and ask them why they broke into our clubhouse, as if we knew it was them.

The plan worked. Suspect #1, the neighbor, gave us a look like we were idiotic little girls and asked us what the heck we were talking about. Suspect #2, the cousin, got all wide-eyed and asked us how we knew.

Criminals really are stupid.

He never vandalized our clubhouse again. As far as I know, his life of crime ended there with two pre-teen detectives busting him and solving the crime. My friend now plays organ for her church.

I, however, continue to ponder crimes and how to catch the bad guys.

Think back. Can you remember YOUR first attempt at playing Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys?

Monday, November 12, 2007


by Nancy Martin

Yesterday, I started packing up everything in my kitchen because the whole room is going to be demolished and replaced (I hope!) while we're on vacation. Which means that during the same week I'm putting all my dishes into boxes, I'm also filling a suitcase full of the stuff I'm going to need for 10 days in the Mediterranean. And I have a dreadful feeling that I may pop open my luggage and discover a saucepan nestled among the t-shirts. And chances are middling my bathing suit may end up packed with the canned tuna.

Are you an organized person? I am, in theory. I have a pretty good idea of what's in all the heaps of stuff on my desk, what corner of my underwear drawer I can find the white socks, and I know which kitchen drawer all the baking utensils are piled in. But when it comes, for example, to the exact location of last year's tax return . . . well, it might take me an hour or so to put my hands on it. (But who needs an old tax return in a snap?)

I like the idea of good organization, of course, but I find I only really want to organize myself when I'm procrastinating. Do I color code my royalty statements? Uh, no, they're squished into a folder somewhere. My kitchen is the same. It looks tidy, but behind those cabinet doors there's a lot of creative chaos. I know people who have those fancy dividers in all their kitchen drawers to keep the ice cream scoop from canoodling with the barbecue tongs. But me? I say, let 'em mingle.

There's a spectrum to good organziation, don't you think? Martha Stewart, for example, has a Nazi-like exactness about everything. I wonder if she's ever had a spontaneous moment? Me, I can't follow recipes to the letter. A half a teaspoon of salt in those mint cookies? I find myself guesstimating (okay, maybe I can't find the teaspoon, but I can eyeball it in the palm of my hand!) and my cookies turn out pretty good. Different every time, I must add, but really, how bad can a cookie get? Not ver.

Because I've melded the stay-at-home mom thing with a writing career, my office has always been a separate room (the IRS insists) but my work manages to spill into the kitchen anyway--the place my family would rather I spend most of my time. Can I admit to you, my friends, that I keep all my business receipts in a Tupperware container in a kitchen cupboard? It's the same kind of Tupperware I use to store Christmas cookies. And while going through my tax deductions last year, I discovered the lost recipe card for peanut butter blossoms.

I suspect this is a female thing--letting your life accumulate in the kitchen. Am I wrong? Besides the mail and the pile of bookmarks my publisher sent and that envelope full of ARCs for the new book, I also keep on of my TBR piles in the kitchen. The piles of books frequently get so tall that they fall over and mingle with the groceries I haven't quite had a chance to put away yet.

My husband, on the other hand, wouldn't dream of leaving his golf clubs or his briefcase in the kitchen. He spends as little time as possible in the kitchen.

He's fussy about his suitcase, though, let me tell you. His clothes will have knife creases when he pulls them out. His socks are carefully rolled and tucked into the toes of his immaculately polishes shoes. His ties will be packed in tissue paper. Me, I'm lucky if I don't look like a homeless person on our trip next week. I tend to toss everything into the luggage and sit on it to get the zipper closed.

How do you keep your life out of the kitchen? Or isn't that a problem for you? And if so, what's your strategy? Tell me quick, because when I get back from my vacation, I have a chance to organize my brand new kitchen in a whole new way.


by Gina Sestak

Today is Veterans Day, and one of the few jobs I've never held is military service.

In the 1960s, though, while I was working my way through college and struggling just to survive, I did manage to devote my few free hours to an unpaid volunteer job, helping young men avoid becoming veterans. That was during the war in Viet Nam, and the draft was forcing young men into service to their country. I helped out by typing applications for conscientious objector status. If the government could be convinced that a draft-eligible man was sincerely a pacifist, he could do alternative service, fulfilling his military obligation by working in human services.

I volunteered at the Friends Meeting House, Pittsburgh's Quaker Center, in conjunction with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which was founded in 1917 to provide young Quakers and other conscientious objectors an opportunity to serve those in need instead of fighting during World War I. In 1947, the AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, you may remember. November 11 marked the end of World War I, the "war to end all wars." War hasn't ended, though, so some of us are trying an alternative method to put an end to war. Every month, on the 15th, the World Dreams Peace Bridge, an international on-line peace group, urges everyone to dream for peace. Will you join me on November 15 to dream some peace into this troubled world?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

With Friends Like These . . .

by Tory Butterworth

You know the fantasy. You're walking to your car in a deserted parking garage at night, alone. Your nerves are on edge. You're alert for any unexplained noise or movement. Just as you are reaching towards your car door, you feel a hand pressed against your mouth, stifling your screams . . .

As scary as this fantasy may be, the fact is, women are nine times as likely to be attacked at home than outside it. And I'm not talking about strangers breaking and entering, I'm talking about abusive partners in relationships. It's known as, "Intimate Partner Violence," or IPV. It's a form of domestic violence, which also includes child and elder abuse.

It's not the people you don't know who are most likely to hurt you, it's those you know all too well.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the second largest employer in Allegheny County (after Wal-Mart) did an anonymous survey and found that close to 40% of its female employees reported an experience of intimate partner violence some time in their adult life. Male employees were about half as likely to report IPV. This is pretty typical of national figures, which show between 25 and 45% of women have experienced IPV.

Many women don't recognize the signs of potential abuse until they are far into a relationship.

Why do they stay? One reason is a realistic fear of further violence. Abused women are most likely to be killed as they leave the relationship. Other reasons include belief in the perpetrator's promises to change, shame and embarrassment, social isolation, financial dependence, lack of alternative housing, and the immobilization that's often a result of \physical and psychological trauma.

Between 43% and 70% of battered women do eventually end their relationships with violent partners, but on the average it takes 3 to 5 attempts and about 7 years. It's not an easy thing to do.

I've often commented that I don't read fiction to scare me, real life is scary enough. This is just one example.

So, next time you're looking for a suspect for your mystery or thriller, you may not have far to go. While the cliché in mysteries may be, "the butler did it," in relationships it's, "the partner did it."

Do these statistics surprise you?

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Reluctant Volunteer

By Lisa Curry

The message was on my answering machine when I arrived home from work one day last month. “Lisa, this is Kim. I’m organizing the Fall Fest at school on the 31st, and I was hoping you could help me out that day by running one of the stations. It’s a Wild West theme this year. Give me a call.” Beeeep.

The Fall Fest at my kids’ elementary school is an all-day extravaganza with various ongoing arts, crafts and other activities for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Kim was a friend, and God bless her for taking on the Augean task of running the Fall Fest, but I had a multitude of good reasons to say no. At work, I was in the middle of producing a catalog that was already behind schedule, and I couldn’t afford to lose a day’s progress – not to mention a day’s pay.

Besides that, there’s a reason I became a writer instead of a teacher. I love my own kids, and I can deal with other people’s in small numbers. But spend the entire day surrounded by 200 screaming 5 to 10 year olds? Gee, thanks, but I’d rather have my fingernails ripped out with red-hot pincers. The mere idea gave me a twitch.

“Are you going to help at the Fall Fest, Mommy?” my younger son, Sean, asked with an eager smile.

“I really can’t, honey. I have to work.”

He drooped. “But can’t you take a day off?”

I was about to say no when my older son, Griffin, asked, “Yeah, why can’t you take a day off? Please, Mom?”

They’re 8 and 10. They still like me. They still want to show me off to their friends at school. How much longer will that last? I figure I have maybe 2 or 3 years before I morph into the biggest dork on earth, and they won’t want to be seen in public with me, let alone have me show up at their school – a fate worse than death.

All my good reasons to say no fled in the face of the two best reasons to say yes.

“Okay,” I groaned. “I’ll take the day off.”

October 31st – the day of my Halloween horror – arrived in the blink of an eye. How time flies when you’re dreading an event.

I sent my children off to their classrooms and reported to the school cafeteria for duty with the other PTA moms and dads.

“You’re outside in the OK Corral with Ted and Mike,” Kim said, pointing to her husband and another dad. “You’re going to have the kids shooting buffalo.”

How P.C. Considering that the school’s weapons policy considered expulsion a suitable punishment for carrying a pocket knife, I presumed we weren’t shooting the endangered species with BB guns.

The buffalo turned out to be painted plywood cut-outs propped up with 2x4s. The weapon was a catapult sort of affair made of stretchy rubber tubing with a nylon pocket in the middle. Someone told me it was designed to launch a water balloon, but we used Nerf balls as ammo. An adult held each side of the catapult, while a child loaded the Nerf ball into the pocket, pulled back the catapult as far as possible, and then let it fly. The object, of course, was to hit the plywood buffalo, but everyone got a little prize whether they succeeded or not.

I started the day as part of the catapult-holding duo with Mike, while Ted fetched the Nerf balls. Watching the kids shoot was so much fun I forgot I didn’t really like being around children. When the first graders – led by a substitute teacher and chaperoned by someone’s kindly grandma – dissolved into anarchy, stole all the Nerf balls, and chased each other around the field screaming like wild Indians instead of shooting buffalo, then nearly mobbed me over the prize bowl, I only twitched a little.

About mid-morning, Mike accidentally – I think – let go of his end of the catapult when it was stretched to maximum capacity. It snapped me on the butt, which stung. Right before lunch, he did it again, and it snapped me on the left breast, which stung even more.

After lunch, I decided to be the Nerf ball chaser and let Ted hold the catapult with Mike the untrustworthy.

When my kids’ turn at the OK Corral came, they yelled, “Mom!” and ran up and hugged me.

The day was sunny, warm and beautiful, and at the end of it, I realized I hadn’t thought about my languishing catalog – the one that frequently keeps me awake at night – even once.

The next day, Griffin brought home a thank-you card his class made for me and all signed. On the front, someone had drawn a decent likeness of one of the plywood buffalo, along with three misshapen people pulling the catapult.

“That’s you,” Griffin said, pointing to one of the people. “And that’s me shooting.”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I should have recognized us by our curly hair.”

I hung the card on the wall in my cubicle at work, right over my computer. Sometimes when I’m tearing my curly hair out over that catalog – which is still behind schedule and still costing me sleep – I look up at the card and think of my day in the sun as a PTA mom.

Ever do something you really didn’t want to do, and end up really glad you did?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Baby Grace

by Joyce Tremel

I’m always drawn to unsolved murder cases, especially those involving children. Last March, I wrote about the Boy in the Box. Now there’s another one.

On Monday, October 29th, a fisherman found the remains of a little girl on an island in West Galveston Bay, Texas. She was wrapped in plastic and stuffed into a plastic storage container. She was wearing a pink outfit from Target, and white and purple tennis shoes from Walmart.

“Baby Grace,” as she has been named by the investigators, is estimated to be between 2 and 3 years of age. She was a little less than 3 feet tall, weighed approximately 25 pounds and had long blond hair. An FBI forensic artist drew these sketches of her:

According to the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office, Baby Grace had been dead for at least two weeks. She had a skull fracture, but no sexual trauma. No cause of death has been released, but investigators are treating the death as a homicide.

Investigators are focusing first on obtaining the girl’s identity. Because Galveston is a tourist destination, that might be difficult. Police personnel and the FBI are going through missing person reports from across the country. After the sketches were released, hundreds of calls began pouring in. Each one must be investigated. Several callers think the child’s body might be that of Madeleine McCann who disappeared in Portugal in May. Because of the circumstances, however, investigators do not believe it’s her.

Investigators are having a tough time dealing with this case. According to Sgt. Mike Barry, “It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us.” One report stated that the two deputies who waited with the body until investigators arrived on October 29th, still could not talk about the case. Maj. Ray Tutoilmondo, the spokesman for the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office stated, “The name Grace means given. She’s given us, in her death, emotions we don’t get to experience very often.”

Someone, somewhere, is missing a little girl. And someone, somewhere, killed this poor baby. Someone, somewhere, needs to pay for what they’ve done. My sincere hope is that this case is resolved sometime soon. I would hate to see Baby Grace wait as long as the Boy in the Box.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Revenge, Writers' Style

By Annette Dashofy

People often think that the combination of my evening job as yoga instructor and my day job as writer of murder mysteries is incompatible. I’ve come to the conclusion that the two are the perfect balancing act. I can use my writing to express all my pent up hostility so I can be calm and stress-free for my yoga class.

Just because I teach yoga doesn’t mean life is all harmonious bliss. I get thoroughly annoyed with people just like everyone else. I can sit and meditate and think wonderful thoughts, but at some point in the day, I’m going to remember and get miffed all over again. I know I should let it go and sometimes I do. But when certain people pull the same (excuse me) crap over and over, it’s hard to continually smile and forget about it.

Which is where writing murder mysteries comes in handy. When someone annoys me one too many times, I simply kill them.

FICTIONALLY, of course.

I base a character on the offending so-and-so and snuff them out. Or make him the villain who gets his comeuppance in the end. Either way, I feel vindicated.

And it’s not important that the person KNOWS that they are the inspiration for that doomed character. Truthfully, I prefer they DON’T know. For legal reasons and such. It doesn’t matter. It becomes an inside, private joke that only I get. So the next time that person irritates me, I can just smile and think: Heh heh. You’re toast.

Of course, to avoid those legal issues, it’s important to make the character unrecognizable to the real person. Someone once told me that if you have a male character, give him a small penis and no living, breathing man will claim that he was based on him.

Recently, I’ve encountered someone who manages to get under my skin on a regular basis. (Relax, it’s no one here.) Nothing I do or say helps the situation. So it occurred to me that it may be time to write this person out of my life. On paper, at least. I haven’t decided what kind of character this person will become or how I will dispose of them. But it will be good. And I will feel that justice has been served. It’s kind of a written version of a voodoo doll. Except that I don’t necessarily want anything truly bad to happen. I’m just too much of a wimp to physically slap the person silly.

And besides, as a yoga instructor, I’m supposed to practice non-violence.

So how about the rest of you? As a writer, have you ever killed off someone in print just for your own personal revenge? Or as a reader, have you ever visualized a character in a book as someone you actually know just to see them get the punishment they deserve?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Wilhelm Scream

By Martha Reed

Occasionally, when I’m doing research – which is another way of saying surfing the Net instead of doing any real work – I turn up some little factoid that just fascinates me. So, in honor of Halloween, just past, I’d like to introduce The Wilhelm Scream.

The Scream is a 50-year-old inside joke among sound effect editors in the film industry - the sound byte has been used in over 130 movies and can be heard in most Disney films and repeatedly throughout the Star Wars franchise. I’m sure you’ll recognize The Scream from one of your favorite movies. (Click on the icon shown in the video screen below):

If you're interested, here's the complete history of the Wilhelm Scream:

What has this got to do with writing? Well, researching The Scream made me stop and think about a few things. First, I wondered if sound editors and writers were distantly related. We both work in relative isolation, we both try to craft the optimal effect out of limited material, and we evidently have a similar dress code. We both face the challenges of taking overworked material and trying to fashion it into something exciting and fresh. Of course, sound editors get paid to listen, and writers get paid to watch and report back. I wonder if this is one of those right brain/left brain things?

Someone once wrote that every story ever told was based on one of these seven plots:

1. [Wo]man vs. Nature
2. [Wo]man vs. Man
3. [Wo]man vs. The Environment
4. [Wo]man vs. Machines/Technology
5. [Wo]man vs. The Supernatural
6. [Wo]man vs. Self
7. [Wo]man vs. God/Religion

Let’s take a quick test. Pick one of the seven plots and then name a movie and a book that used it. For example: Man versus Nature = Jaws, Beowulf. Post your idea, and let’s see what crawls out of the woodwork!

Monday, November 05, 2007

...and it's Pathological Laughter by a nose

by Brenda Roger

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I were starving, and so we bought a bag of French fries and a coke from McDonald’s and shared them while sitting in the parking lot at the Tractor Supply Company. That was the glamorous part of Saturday night.

You see, we were visiting family in a town that shall remain anonymous. Names will be changed to protect the guilty. While munching on our fries, which were a successful solution to a skipped lunch, we joked about how we were going to choose the restaurant where we would eat the next hour with the previously mentioned family. We knew it would be safer not to leave the decision up to them.

Blasted cell phones! We were informed via cell phone that reservations had already been made at a restaurant named after a type of bird in the mystery town. “You know, the one across from such-and-such funeral home.” Egats! It did not sound promising.

We walked in through the bar, which had not contained a molecule of fresh air since about 1965, and which wreaked of Salem cigarettes of yore. The hostess led us through the smoke cloud into a room with carpet on the ceiling where acoustic tiles were not. The tables were covered in the bastard child of gold lame and vinyl. The chairs were huge and had that bent bamboo/cane look of the 1970s. I could tell you more, except I’ve blocked out most of it. I will just say that there was stained glass and foil wallpaper involved. I remember that because it is burned on my retina.

Needing to rid myself of the coke from an hour before, I excused myself to the ladies room where the extreme nature of the manifestation of our fears about the restaurant struck me like a slap across the face. I started to laugh. Then, in an attempt to stop laughing in order to make the act of nature easier, I laughed even harder. Then, breathing became difficult and funny little crying gasps were escaping from me. The more I tried to suppress it, the funnier it became. Finally, I regained composure enough to make it to the sink, where I spied a floral “arrangement” above the sink, and the whole thing started over again.

When I made it back to the table without the help of CPR, I was so grateful that I tried to focus on war and famine in order to keep the giggles away. I would tell you about the rest of the evening, but selective amnesia has taken over and the whole memory may not resurface until sometime in 2020.

I did a little research on Sunday morning and determined that I had suffered from an episode of PLC –pathological laughter and crying. Of course, I found that information on a trivia Web site where people were trying to determine if there was a name for such a thing. You see, they were trying to name a racehorse after uncontrollable laughter and couldn’t find a sexy way of putting it. Perhaps, I should write to the owner of the horse and suggest that she name the horse after the same bird as the hilarious restaurant.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Joining the 21st Century, Reluctantly

by Mike Crawmer

It took a six year old to embarrass me into joining the 21st century.

Last month, the electrician rewiring my second floor locked me out of my house. Luckily, my neighbor, Lee, got home from work as I fiddled fruitlessly with the unyielding front door lock. Bless him, I thought: Lee has two things I need right now: the electrician’s phone number and a cell phone.

Ah, yes, a cell phone—that ubiquitous appendage that I never needed or wanted for any number of good reasons:

First, my mom doesn’t check on me day and night to see if I’m eating my vegetables, keeping my pants up on my hips, using a seatbelt, and limiting my intake of adult beverages.

Second, I’m not on call 24-7 at work. My job can be interesting, but no one’s life depends on whether I chose a flash graphic or a static graphic for a web page I’m creating. I’m not a “senior vice president and most-high pooh-bah of this and that,” so no one needs a piece of me every minute of every day. And I’m several layers removed from whiny, needy, oh-so-annoying clients.

Third, I’ve never felt the need to chatter on about digestive problems or creaky knees, gossip about the neighbors’ grandson who got his teenage girlfriend pregnant, or commiserate on treasury bond yields, contractor scandals in Iraq or what Ellen was thinking when she gave that damn dog to her hairdresser. Also, I’m not cheating on my spouse—which I assume many of my coworkers are doing as they hurry out of work, their cell phones plastered to their ears in urgent, secret conversations.

Fourth, cell phone owners seem to feel they have to use their little toys to send text messages, take photos, keep lists and calendars and God knows what else. For one thing, I don’t communicate in code. If someone sent me a text message that said, “AYT,” I’d (1) ignore it or (2) call them back and ask them what's their problem with the English language.

But all that was BH--"before Hunter.” On that fateful October day, Lee lent me his cell phone, then he walked across the street to retrieve his son from school. When they returned I thanked Lee profusely for saving my butt. In his son Hunter’s world, my predicament made no sense.

“Why doesn’t he use his own phone?” six-year-old Hunter asked.

“Because he doesn’t have a cell phone,” Lee said.

“Then how does he call people?” Hunter asked, looking at me with an expression that said, “What planet’s this guy from anyway?”

“He has a phone in the house,” Lee patiently explained. He could’ve said “Locked in the house,” but he’s younger and nicer than me.

Two days later I got my cell phone. Don’t try calling me unless you’re an agent who wants to represent me or a publisher who has a contract she wants me to sign for my mystery series. Otherwise, the phone sits unused on the kitchen counter. I’m only going to use it for emergencies, or maybe when I’m driving to D.C. to visit the family, just to tell my sister I’m on my way and maybe check on the weather down there and find out what’s for dinner or are we eating out and did she hear from brother Steve yet and how ‘bout dem Stillers.....

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fast Money?

by Kristine Coblitz

I find it entertaining how the uninitiated (non-writers) perceive the life of a working writer.

A few weeks ago, I had a woman come up to me (name withheld to protect the innocent) and tell me we needed to write a fiction book together because she needed to make a lot of money really fast. I smiled and managed to keep a straight face, coming really close to telling her that she had a better chance of winning the lottery. She followed up by telling me that a better idea would be for her to tell me her story so I can write it because I’m a good typist.

A few months ago, I had another woman e-mail me because a friend wanted to change careers and become a freelance technical writer. No problem there, except that the woman expected me to provide a quick fix solution to changing careers overnight. I’m willing to help anyone, but I’m not a miracle worker.

These women were under the misconception that I knew the secret to financial freedom and happiness within the writing life. Believe me, I wish I did. You can bet I’d be telling my story on Oprah and sipping fruity drinks in Bermuda.

But we all know that’s not the case. I’m not going to Bermuda any time soon. My glamorous life is spent in my pajamas most days and counting my pennies to make it between paychecks, thanking my lucky stars that I have a husband who can support most of our monthly expenses. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had to make some sacrifices.

Trust me, I’m not complaining. Changing careers and taking the subsequent pay cut was the best decision I ever made, but it’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks.

Tell me your favorite stories from the uninitiated. What are the common misconceptions about your profession?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

When All Else Fails

by Joyce Tremel

I've been waiting for inspiration for this blog post all week. You'd think with all the Halloween activities and that gorgeous, bright moon glowing in the sky, at least a few loonies would give me something to write about.

No such luck.

We've had the usual calls asking when Halloween is, the usual Devil's Night pranks like houses being egged and trees teepeed and a gorilla waving at traffic on Mt. Royal Boulevard. Nothing out of the ordinary.

You see my dilemma, don't you? No crime = no blog. But don't worry. All is not lost. Today will be question and answer day. Got a question about da cops? Ask it here. Hopefully I'll be able to answer it. (I'm not sure if Lee will be stopping by because he's at Forensics U), which is where I'd like to be but some of us (whine) don't have that kind of money to spend (whine).

Besides, I have to work today, so don't make the questions too hard!