Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are Crime Writers Food Freaks?

Working Stiffs welcomes back L.J. Sellers!

Are Crime Writers Food Freaks?

by L.J. Sellers

Discussion groups often talk about sex scenes in mysteries, with readers weighing in on both sides of the “necessary or not?” question. But what about food scenes? This subject rarely comes up in book discussions, yet I’ve come to realize there is a significant amount of food in crime novels! I don’t read enough in other genres to know if this is true across the spectrum, but I suspect it’s not.

What is it about food and crime fiction?

First, you have all the great cozy series built abound food themes, chefs, and recipes. To name a few, there’s Julie Hyzy (White House chef mysteries) Denise Deitz (Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread and others), Diane Mott Davidson (features a Colorado caterer), Joanne Fluke (whose murders are all named after a dessert) and Isis Crawford (with recipes in every book). You can find more of these authors—and their food— at a collective website called Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.
But even private investigator series and police procedurals often feature food as a distinctive element of the character and/or story. In fact, my most vivid memories of the detective stories I read in high school involve the food consumed by the protagonists.

Nero Wolfe had a Swiss cook named Fritz who created amazing food I’d never heard of at the time (eggs au beurre noir, lamb shish kebab, shad roe). Wolfe had such a finicky palate (only fresh picked and roasted corn for him) and such a love of food, the character inspired his own cookbook and eventually, the annual Black Orchid Banquet, featuring those recipes.
My most vivid memory of Edward Delaney (of the Deadly Sins series) is seeing the detective standing over the sink, eating a sandwich made of rare roast beef, red onion, beefsteak tomato, and garlic-spiced mayonnaise. He stood at the sink because his creations were messy, despite being carefully crafted, and he was a man on the move.

More currently, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta often stops in the middle of investigations to create elaborate and delicious Italian meals, while Stephanie Plum eats a lot junk and comfort food on the fly.

All these food preferences serve as a cornerstone to the character’s development, but I believe they tell us even more about the authors. Having read most of Lawrence Sanders’ work, I feel safe in assuming he was a foodie and, mostly likely, a very sensual man. And Patricia Cornwell has produced a cookbook called Food to Die For. I think it’s safe to assume she enjoys cooking and regularly takes time to do so.

On the other hand, I’m not a foodie and you can tell by the way my poor character eats. Wade Jackson is a dedicated homicide detective who works nearly around the clock while he’s on a case, and he often skips meals or eats something quick and easy. Like his creator, for him food is a time-consuming activity and he’s a busy man. He always has good intentions though.

I’ve had several readers tell me Jackson needs to eat better or least take vitamins. It’s good to know they care that much about him, but I worry that they think I’m not a healthy eater.

Do you make assumptions about the author based on the food her character eats? What are your favorite character/food connections?

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series based in Eugene, OR. Her first three books, THE SEX CLUB, SECRETS TO DIE FOR, and THRILLED TO DEATH have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines, and the fourth Jackson novel, PASSIONS OF THE DEAD, will be published in 2011. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, THE SUICIDE EFFECT and THE BABY THIEF (coming soon). When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, attending mystery conferences, and editing fiction manuscripts. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Come Back Tomorrow

Working Stiffs is off today. Come back tomorrow when author L.J. Sellers pays us a visit and talks about mysteries and food!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Way of Life

by Laurissa

Wow, it sure does seem like August is the month for “new beginnings.” In addition to my new empty nest which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, and since I’m miserable adjusting to this empty nest, I decided that I might as well go ahead and make myself totally miserable and start following a vegan diet. Well, that wasn’t my exact thought process, but after being on a vegan diet for almost two weeks now, that’s how I’m feeling.

I started this diet (or “way of life,” as diets are now often called) because, oh, well, I guess that I’ll come right out and say it: I’ve gained a few pounds over the past decade. I thought it might be a good idea for me to lose this extra weight now before it becomes more of a health issue than it might already be.

Anyhow, I’m dying (just a slight exaggeration) without chocolate ice cream mixed with chunky peanut butter in an oversized mug, buttered toast, and melted cheese on practically everything. Hmm…I wonder how I gained those extra pounds.

As you can see I don’t really miss meat in my diet. It’s the dairy products that I’m having a hard time doing without, in particular, the high fat dairy products. I guess that’s why I chose a vegan diet instead of a vegetarian diet that eliminates meat, but might allow for eggs, butter, milk, cheese. And I’ve been eating only those foods that have a low GI value (glycemic index).

I’ve been walking when the weather allows and on the days it doesn’t, I’ve been thinking about walking (that counts doesn’t it?). The only dairy product I’ve consumed has been one non-fat plain Greek yogurt -- so not too many indiscretions.

By the way, I love Greek yogurt! The thick, creamy texture is wonderful. It’s hard to believe that for all of the ice cream, cakes and cookies that I enjoyed eating before my self-inflicted new way of life, I don’t like sweetened, fruit or other flavored yogurts, but have always preferred plain yogurt. Also, I don’t like sweetened coffee. Oddly, I can eat a half gallon of chocolate ice cream quicker than I’d like to admit to, but can’t eat a sweet yogurt or have a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee. Go figure.

But almost two weeks later the scale is only showing a loss of a pound. Shouldn’t it be more than a pound? I’ve been suffering here! I don’t know what to do. Should I go off the diet (I know, it’s not a diet, it’s a way of life, but it feels like a diet) and just quit eating chocolate ice cream mixed with chunky peanut butter, buttered toast, and melted cheese? That’s what I’m thinking about doing. But if I don’t stay on this diet, will it only make it easier for me to slip back into my old eating habits? Knowing me like I do, I think that might be what would happen.

So until I decide what I’m doing, if anyone has suggestions for non-dairy substitutes for chocolate ice cream, butter and melted cheese ( I can live without cheese, it’s the melted cheese that I need), I would really, really appreciate hearing them.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

Howdy, folks! Bet you didn't expect to see me today. I didn't either. But when Joyce put out the SOS, I had this nice rant all worked up and ready to go for my September blog date, and now I get it out of my system sooner.

Picture this: It’s last Friday, and I’m sitting behind a table in the front of a meeting room in a hotel in Franklin, Tennessee. The room is full of Killer Nashville attendees. To my left and right are other writers. Their names aren’t important, although I will point out that one of them, the panel moderator, was best-selling romantic suspense writer and RITA-award winner Annie Solomon.  

(FYI, the RITA is RWA’s top honor. It’s like the MWA’s Edgar, Malice Domestic’s Agatha, or the science fiction people’s Hugo award. A pretty damn big deal in the romance genre. She also has a Reviewer’s Choice award.)

I should mention that it was my idea to push the romantic suspense angle this year. There are a lot of romance writers in Nashville—everywhere, really—and they weren’t coming to the conference because they didn’t think it contained anything for them. I talked the executive director of Killer Nashville into inviting a few of the bigger local romantic suspense names to attend, and they went with Annie and with the enormously successful Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Anyway, there we were, sitting in front of a bunch of published and pre-published mystery writers discoursing on Love and Murder: how to juggle romance and mystery in crime fiction.

We were talking genre, because that’s what we write, and the various expectations people—agents, editors, readers—have when they pick up one of our books. In romantic suspense, a couple of sex scenes, more or less explicit, are de rigeur. Same for romantic thrillers and a lot of traditional mysteries. Hardboiled, noir... descriptive, even graphic sex is fine. In cozies, a sex scene looks more like this:

* * *

At the end of the panel, we opened it up to questions from the audience, and this woman—who shall remain nameless, although I’d really like to share her name publicly—pipes up. Not with a question, but to tell the audience that genre is bogus, and that they shouldn’t worry about it; they should write the book that is in their hearts and let the chips fall where they may. Her publishing company—yes, she was an editor, soliciting manuscripts during our panel—doesn’t care about genre conventions. She ended up with a question—to the panel—that sounded a lot like: “Do you just write genre for the money?”

Hell, yeah. And I told her so. After which she went on to suggest that I was selling out and didn’t have an artistic bone in my body.

And you know what? I’m good with that. As far as I'm concerned, she can believe anything she wants about me. I don't know her, and after that, I don't care if I ever do. Here’s the thing, though: I’m all for writing the book of your heart. Absolutely, you have to do that. I’ve been there and done it. A Cutthroat Business was the book of my heart. But if you can write that book within the conventions of the genre you’re trying to enter, it’s going to be so much easier for you to sell it. As Marilyn Monroe said, "It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man."

See, if it’s a cozy with a sex scene, it either ceases to be a cozy—and cozy editors will turn it down—or you’ll be asked to prune all those beautiful words you agonized over. Same thing with subject matter: if the book that’s in your heart is about a serial killer, you’re probably not writing a cozy. You may not be looking at a mystery at all, but a suspense novel or a thriller. If you can’t put the hero and heroine together in the last chapter, and they don’t get their HEA—Happy Ever After—you haven’t written a romance. If there are vampires or demons, I don’t care how cozy the rest of the book is, or whether the hero and heroine get together at the end: it’s a paranormal. Just like you can’t write a paranormal without the supernatural element, you can’t write a romance without the HEA or a cozy with the sex.

And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with toeing the line. If you’re looking for commercial success as a professional writer—big publisher, big advance, big distribution; maybe even making a living—the closer you can stay to the genre blueprint, the better off you are. That isn’t what everyone wants, or what everyone gets, but if that’s your choice, then more power to you. Do it, and write the best damn cozy or romance novel or thriller or noir mystery the world has seen.

Or write the book of your heart, eschew convention, spit on genre, and sell it to someone who doesn’t care about large-scale commercial success, but who loves it like you do and feels that it’s a book that deserves to be published and read, even if just by the few people who realize it exists.

Success is subjective, and far be it from me to tell anyone what their definition should be. And I'd appreciate it if everyone would just afford me that same courtesy.

Whoa, I feel better now. :-)

(The picture up above was taken by Rae Ann Parker. That's Annie on the left, me in the middle in full yap, next to me is Laura Elvebak (she's wearing peach, and you have to squint to see her), and in the black and white is Karen Gallahue (I believe). We had two Karens, the other was McCullough, but I think she arrived later.)

As it happens, I'm also over on the Southern Authors blog today, if anyone wants to stop by. The theme there this month is setting, so I'm babbling about some of my fave places.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Beginnings - Friend or Foe

By Tamara Girardi

Here's the thing about new beginnings. I'm not sure if I should dread them or relish them. Of course as my grandmother always said, "Circumstances alter cases."

For instance, I drove to Indiana University of Pennsylvania today to buy my books, submit paperwork, drop off library books, pick up graded papers from professors, etc. I spent all of June and all of July in IUP classrooms and the library. It was intense and impossible to reflect upon because I was so in the moment.

Then I was blessed with three weeks off. And now, what? I have to go back to begin a new semester? Impossible.

Yet, I have those new books. There's excitement over the promise of learning.

New beginnings with writing are similarly dependent on situations. We can be positive in that we welcome a new beginning every day we return to the page. But many writers say that's the hardest part - actually sitting down. Once you're there and in the moment (there's that phrase again), words begin to flow.

What about the new beginning of kicking off a fresh project? Gulp. Sound scary? Writers spend months, years, even decades working on one book, and then suddenly it's time to move on. Make a new start. How terrifying is that?

Writers admit to fears of whether they can ever craft anything else. Then again, what if that new project is the one that scores the agent, hits the bestsellers list, rolls in the millions (whether you laughed at that last possibility or believed it could prove true for you might classify your place in the following discussion).

Maybe the votes tallied for new beginnings being dreaded are equivalent to those tallied for glasses of water being half empty. Same may go for half-full kind of folks and those who relish new beginnings. Of course, nothing's ever that simple. Life is not dichotomous. There are fields of grey and infinite spectrums.

So where do you fall on the spectrum? Are your new beginnings half empty or half full (pay no attention to the mixed metaphor behind the sheer curtain)?

*I'll be spending the day at the lake with my family, so apologies for not being around to respond to comments most of today.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ta-Da Lists

Today we welcome guest blogger Jessie Crockett, who hails from Working Stiff Pat Remick's home state of New Hampshire and whose recently published debut novel is "Live Free or Die" (which also happens to be the Granite State's official motto)!

Are you a list maker? You either are or you aren’t. I adore lists, from Grocery to Christmas to Bucket. Every time I throw a party I revel in them: to cook, to buy, to make, to clean.

In keeping with the Working Stiffs New Beginnings theme this month I decided to share an approach I use to list making. A lot of beginnings get started with a list and most of those seem to be the classic To Do variety. Despite my life-long love of lists there is one type that comes out on top for me every time. And even if you aren’t typically a fan of lists perhaps you will consider giving this sort a try. It’s a Ta-Da list.

Each morning I make a two-column list. In the left column I make a list of emotions I would like to experience that day. In the right column I mark down activities that will help me to reach that goal. For example, a few days ago my list looked like this:

Joyful--------- read new fiction novel I picked up at the library

Creative-------reach daily word count quota for my work-in-progress

Productive------respond to unanswered emails and phone messages

Organized------conquer laundry backlog

Healthy--------drink 8 glasses of water; get to bed at a decent time

Ta-Da lists consider the journey rather than simply the destination. They help me to enjoy the things I’ve included on the list because the activities help me to reach for things I really want to experience in my life.

For me, this approach also works for my writing. When I am working on a project I ask which feelings I would like the reader to experience as he or she reads my work. Then I add dialogue, action and settings that I hope will produce the kind of emotional journey for the reader I had in mind. If I want the book to make people experience surprise I had better include some unexpected twists. If sorrow is what I am after, I need to add some kind of loss or disappointment. My manuscript Ta-Da list helps me to evaluate ideas from the perspective of the emotional journey and I think they have improved my writing.

Here’s hoping all of your back-to-school beginnings are more Ta-Da than To Do!

A nearly life-long resident of the Granite State, Jessie naturally adores black flies, 98% humidity, killing frosts in August and snow banks taller than the average grandmother. When not working on her next murderous adventure she enthusiastically putters in her greenhouse, designs bento lunches and throws parties. She delights in mentoring young writers at the local elementary school. Jessie lives with her dark and mysterious husband and exuberant children in a village so small most other New Hampshire residents have never heard of it. Hearing from readers makes her day so please drop by for a visit at jessiecrockett.com.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Beginnings Continued

by Wilfred Bereswill

Sorry for the late post, but I'm still suffering the lag of having my things stolen almost a month ago.

Well, the other day when Joyce filled in unexpectedly, she hit my new beginnings on the head... EMPTY NEST.

As regular readers know, my oldest daughter got married in July.  This past week we sent both of our other daughters to college.  My middle daughter is at MIZZOU in her senior year in the #1 school of journalism and my baby daughter has her very first day of college today in MIZZOU's school of nursing.

To say the least, the house is quiet.  We've known this has been coming for some time, but it has hit home like a smack in the face.  When my wife is in another room or running errands, there is no casual conversations going on.  If there is, it's me talking to myself or my characters chatting in my head. 

I assume like everything else, we will grow used to it, but for the time being, we are working hard to readjust.  Neither my wife or I can really remember a time before kids, when it was just the two of us living in Kansas City in 1980.  That was a time of escaping from our parents.  Now we are trying to recapture a comfortable life.

SO!  What do you do about it? 

Well, I just booked a week in Riviera Maya at the Secrets Capri all-inclusive resort near Play Del Camen.  Hey, I had to give myself something to look forward to.  So on August 27th, my wife and I celebrate our 33rd anniversary (acutally our 38th year together since we were highschool sweethearts.)  Then on September 25th we leave for the Yucatan Penninsula.

By the way, it pays to be nice.  I wrote an e-mail to Secrets e-concierge to compliment them on the way they respond to customer issues on Tripadvisor (a wealth of information if you're traveling) and asked about an anniversary special.  This was the response..

Dear Mr. Bereswill,

Thank you for choosing Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun for your holiday celebration. I’m really glad our attention to reviews and emails help make decisions like yours. All I can say is that we are pleased to know you are coming and we will do our best to try and exceed your expectations.

Regarding your anniversary package do not be troubled I have made the notes to your reservation and my self and staff members will help you create memories that will last for years to come.

You will receive and be pampered by our special anniversary package, please when you arrive ask where the experience concierge desk is located and make a stop there so you can arrange for a wonderful champagne breakfast on bed for one day of your stay, also arrange a nice romantic dinner on the beach also included specially for you and last make your spa appointment with them as well. Not to mention the amenities you will receive during your stay. If you need further assistance from me please let me know, it is a pleasure to be able to help you.

Jose Luis Alvarez Espino
E-Concierge / Info.
Hotel Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun
Carr. Federal 387 Km 299
Playa del Carmen, 77710

Don't forget to check out my short story, Sinfully Delicious at Amazon.  I have to be able to pay for my vacation now.

What would you do if you were suddenly facing the empty nest?

Friday, August 20, 2010


By Patricia Gulley

You…wrote a book.

You wrote a book!

You wrote a book?

Think about these three sentences with the emphasis on either the first or last word. Then think of all the different tones of voice that could be used while saying each of them, and you will have yet another thing an author faces after assuming she/he has finally scaled the insurmountable wall called ‘Published’

And most of these comments come from people you know not the great sea of readers out there in the world who don’t know you from Eve, who you are hoping will buy your book. No, mostly it comes from people you’ve met over the course of your life.

Disbelief that you had any qualifications to do anything, leads to a nanosecond of doubt that they may have misjudged you, followed by the thought that you printed it out on your computer and are hand-selling something that comes on paper with dolly wheel edging. Or they may give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it is an autobiography or family history, and they are pleased they don’t have any interest in it.

Then there is surprise and pleasure that you may now be a celebrity and they can claim they know you. That is usually followed by shock that you haven’t received hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance to be followed by millions more in royalties, and ending with disappointment that you will not be taking them out for lunch.

Fear that you are going to expect them to spend money.

Fear that you are going to expect them to read your book, even though there is the expectation that you will give them a free copy.

Over the years I have read many an author’s first efforts at going out and trying to do the promotion thing. Some have worried about their ability to stand up in front of an audience and talk about themselves or their book, because they remember public-speaking classes from school. To their surprise, this is not half the problem that getting people to show up becomes. From then on, it is the stomach wrenching, ulcer on the way terrors of finding no one has come to see or hear you. Or, they may find themselves sitting or standing at the entrance of a bookstore having to ‘hawk’ the book. I have worried about these things and can understand the Pure Terror it causes.

But no, there is an audience, they know who you are and they have come to see and hear you. Some are good friends, and others are acquaintances that you haven’t seen in a while and you are so pleased they remember you. Until! Skip back up to the top of this blog.

I don’t know if there is a question here, if the published writers have experienced any of this, I’d hate to ask you to recall the incident, much less comment. For the unpublished, it may bring back memories of people to whom you’ve mentioned that you are writing a book, and have experienced those same three sentences.

And to think I thought it would be all marketing and traveling and having a wonderful time trying to find time to write the next one. Oh well!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


by Joyce

Since Paula is sick today, I thought I'd fill in.

Since our very loose theme for the month is new beginnings, I'll tell you about some of mine. One that happened this year is hubby and I are real empty-nesters now. Number two son moved into his own apartment in June. It's only fifteen minutes away in Bloomfield. He works at the University of Pittsburgh in a brain research lab, so now he has a ten to fifteen minute walk to work instead of riding two buses to get to Oakland (a two hour daily commute). Pittsburgh has a very antiquated bus system where all buses go downtown and you have to transfer to another one to get anywhere else. Pitt students and employees can ride the bus for free, mainly because there's a shortage of parking in Oakland. And there's a five year waiting list for a parking permit.

I thought I'd have a hard time adjusting because this son was the one who was permanently attached to my leg when he was younger. Seriously. When I took him to preschool the teachers would literally have to peel him off my leg. The adjustment has been relatively pain free, though. The first week was weird, because his room was completely empty. (Number one son, who went away for college and grad school and now lives in Virginia, still has stuff in his room, which if I have to tell him again to get rid of it, is going to have a surprise next time he comes home. Ahem.)

Number two son's room is very small. It's a typical 1960s ranch, third bedroom size of 9 x 9. I decided to turn it into a sitting room. I bought an oak futon for it (so if No. 2 graces us with his presence, he has a place to sleep) and hubby is going to make me a table that I can also use as a desk for my laptop. Nice little place to write.

Number one son's room is our actual guest room. There's still a twin bed, a dresser, a chest and a night table. And a closet full of history books, which should fit nicely in the big-ass bookcase hubby just built for No. 1's apartment. This is going to be my 1940s room. When someone steps into the room, I want it to look like they stepped back in time. I got the idea from a bed and breakfast that has the same theme. This B & B even has 1940s clothing, so guests can dress the part. I don't know if I'll go that far, but I really liked the idea. So, right now I'm looking for anything 40s related to decorate the room. There's a store in Gettysburg called The Home Front that I'll be checking out when hubby and I are there for our 30th anniversary. If anyone has suggestions of where else to look, let me know.

I like the idea of theme rooms, don't you? (When the time comes to do our gameroom over, I'm thinking Irish Pub.) If you wanted to decorate your rooms in different themes, what would they be?

Sick Day

By Paula Matter

I had good intentions of writing about the magnificent MWA-U event I attended last Saturday. I'm sorry, but it's not gonna happen today. I'm dropping the ball here but I'm just not up to it. I will definitely post all about it at a later time.

Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Name That Cat

by Annette Dashofy

The universe has been sending us cats lately.

Some of you might already know about my Skye kitty AKA the Camping Kitty. I rescued her three years ago and she’s a sweetheart. She enjoys camping and late night parties.

She tolerates my husband. Unless he has chicken. Then he’s her best friend. Bats her little eyelashes at him like a real pro. She ain’t cheap, but she can be bought.

I’ve often pondered getting a second cat…one that wouldn’t have to be bribed to snuggle up to Hubby. I think he misses Fluffy who passed away four years ago. She was more like a bean bag than a real cat. He’d flop her down next to him on the couch and she’d stay there.

Try that with Skye and you get some fiercely dirty looks as she squirms and bolts. To add insult to injury, she usually escapes from him only to run to me and curl up on my lap. All while still giving him that evil eye. Nah nah. She’s definitely Mama’s Girl.

So along comes Moochie. Mooch is the neighbor’s cat. Except that when he was sick recently, they avoided getting close to him. I, on the other hand, fed him and petted him and made a fuss over the poor guy. I also went through a whole bottle of Germ-X so that I wouldn’t bring anything in to Skye. Now Mooch thinks he lives here.

I’ve threatened to lay claim to Mooch, haul him to the vets and get his…err…nuts chopped. Sorry, guys. But he’s a hyperactive boy, and I fear would completely trash the house were I to bring him inside.

Plus, Skye hates him. She had a brief fling with him last winter through the window, but he jilted her for another cat and she’s never forgiven him.

Now along comes this little calico kitten. Someone must have dropped her off. She’s timid, but sweet. And she’s bony. Probably flea infested. But, darn she’s cute.

Hubby picked her up the other day and flipped her over. “Look,” he said as he pointed out the ugly hole in her throat.

Ick. She had a warble. If you don’t know what a warble is…well, it’s a botsfly worm. I won’t go into details since some of you might be eating your breakfast. Suffice it to say that I have worked on an ambulance, and this thing still grossed me out.

Hubby managed to use tweezers to extract the thing (double ick). The kitten just lay there in his hand and let him. I then flushed the wound with peroxide (note to self: need to pick up betadine at the store) and the kitty still didn’t protest. Hubby sat her down, amazed and said, “She’s a keeper.”

Since the minor surgery, she’s doing quite well. Seems relieved to have that nasty thing out of her throat. She has a purr like a diesel engine.
Yep, this is her.

And then there’s Skye.

Can you tell she’s none-too-happy with the newcomer?

I’m not sure what the future holds here. With Hubby still unemployed, taking another kitty to the vet for shots, flea dip, neutering, and various assorted other stuff that inevitably crops up, just isn’t in the budget.

Anyone want a really cute, really tame kitten?

For the moment, I’m thinking we should at least name her. Maybe a name from literature? I’m not good at this, so I’m taking suggestions. Feel free to offer up your suggestions for names. And if you’d like to give a kitty a good home, let me know that, too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Day Is It?

Sorry, friends. It seems I forgot to check the calendar and today was my day to blog.

Mea culpa, I'm currently in charge of a couple of kids and the 24/7 responsibilities of being "Mom" is taking more time and effort than I anticipated!

I can only beg for your indulgence - and for those of you who are full-time parents, please enjoy a laugh at my expense and say "I told you so!"


Monday, August 16, 2010


by Gina Sestak

My body drove the car with practiced ease, stopping at red lights and watching out for pedestrians. 
My mind eavesdropped in a medieval dungeon.  
"You are a monster."  The prisoner spoke through broken teeth.
The torturer laughed.  "You know nothing, yet . . ."
The light turned green.  I took my foot off the brake and drove another block, flicking the turn signal on as I approached the corner.
The torturer picked up a grim-looking device, all spikes and iron.
The prisoner cringed.
I coasted to a stop at the sign, looked both ways, checked for on-coming traffic, then made the left.

Do you ever find yourself doing that, interacting with the real world while making up a story in your head?  It's not something I recommend, particularly while driving, but sometimes I can't help myself.  The story's coming through so strong, it won't allow itself to be ignored.

At times like that, I feel as if I'm straddling two worlds.

One world other people share, a world of structure and of light that can be seen and touched.

The other world is mine alone, a private place within.

That's where the stories hide.
Unlike the protagonist in Marion Zimmer Bradley's classic, though, I don't move back and forth.  Instead I manage to inhabit both at once.

Don't think I'm totally insane.  I know which world is which.  Outward reality and inner imagination coexist; they don't collide.  But sometimes, sometimes, the stories come so clear that it's a battle not to tune out everyday reality to listen in.

How about you?  Do you ever find yourself between two worlds?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our New Beginning

by Laurissa

Last Friday Jennie/Bente suggested that the Working Stiffs’ theme for the month of August be “new beginnings.” So in keeping with our theme, today I’m attending my daughter’s White Coat Ceremony. She’s beginning her first year of medical school and is receiving her first “white coat.” This is most certainly a new beginning for her that is also turning out to be a new beginning of sorts for me. A beginning for me, of what, I’m not quite sure.

For anyone who knows me, you already know this, so I apologize for sounding like a broken record. By the way, does anyone still use that expression or am I dating myself?

My daughter graduated from college this spring. While in college she stayed in the dorms; however, she was actually only a little under an hour’s drive away from home and we were able to frequently visit. In hindsight, it was a nice transition for us both. Okay, okay, maybe I needed the transitional period more than she. Since my daughter was a little over a year old, our immediate family has consisted of just her and me. So I’ve definitely had to do some adjusting to my empty nest.

In July I helped her move to medical school -- a MapQuest estimated nine hour drive south from our home in northeast Ohio. Considering the amount of coffee I drink and my frequent desire to eat, I have to face it; I’ll never make that drive in nine hours. Ten hours at a very minimum is more than likely my reality. College was an adjustment and now the geographical distance between us while she attends medical school is an even bigger adjustment for me.

I’ve become very reflective since her college graduation and recall that when I was also twenty-two years old and also a new college graduate that summer many years ago I, too, drove south for my “new beginning” (my drive was a bit further though as it took about fifteen hours). I was attending law enforcement training as I had just been hired as a criminal investigator. So there I was at the age of twenty-two adjusting to the same heat and humidity of the south during the month of August that today my daughter is also adjusting to (during the hottest summer on record, unfortunately for her).

When I began my career in the early eighties (I retired in early 2009), females were in the distinct minority in my profession. Several instances stand out in my mind to this day; but I’ll just tell you about one of them. On the range I was singled out by the range instructor over the bullhorn to “quit standing like a model!” Mind you, I didn’t have any idea how a model might stand nor was I standing any differently than any of the males as we all stood waiting for the instructor to give the next command to “Fire!”

With my easy to freckle and redden face, now beet red, I observed that day on the range that none of the guys were singled out and similarly told to not stand “like a model.” Anyhow, you get the picture-- it wasn’t always a bed of roses being a new young female investigator in the early eighties, even if my face was often a similar shade of red.

All of this brings me back to my daughter, whose medical school class has more females than males for the first time in its history. Here’s what I have to say about that.

“You Go, Girl!” I’m very proud of you, honey.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mystery Lovers Bookshop Turns 20 on Halloween

Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania celebrates twenty years as Western Pennsylvania’s center for crime and mystery fiction on Sunday, October 31, 2010.

It was on Halloween 1990 that Mary Alice Gorman, former Executive Director of The Allegheny County Center for Victims and Richard Goldman, a Mellon Bank executive, opened the Pittsburgh area’s first mystery specialty book store.

In the intervening twenty years the store has grown to be the third largest in the country; host to the largest one-day festival of mystery in the country, now in its sixteenth year; sponsor of seven book clubs and a web destination for thousands of shoppers from Maine to California. The store also pioneered its unique Coffee & Crime author breakfasts that have brought hundreds of authors to Oakmont over the past sixteen years.

It was for the store’s continuing commitment to mystery authors through its programs and events, website and newsletter that the Mystery Writers of America recognized Mystery Lovers Bookshop with the 2010 Raven Award—the Edgar award for bookstores.

Among the best selling authors the award winning store has hosted are P.D. James, Anne Perry, Robert B. Parker, Scott Turow, Sara Paretsky, Rita Mae Brown, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, and hundreds of other authors from all over the US, UK, France, Sweden, Central America, South America and Canada-----just check out the bathroom!

It is a measure of the store’s success that when it opened in 1990 there was but a single Borders in the Pittsburgh area and Amazon was still just the name of a river. Mystery Lovers Bookshop opened the first area cafĂ© in a bookstore in 1992. Now, there are over twenty large chain stores, many of the independents are no longer with us and more books are sold in non-bookstore mass marketers than in bookstores.

In 2010 Mystery Lovers is the 3rd largest store in the country and one of Western PA’s real entrepreneurial success stories.

Not only will Halloween---October 31, 2010 mark the 20th Anniversary for this locally owned independent business but they will also celebrate the National recognition by the Mystery Writers of America for their outstanding achievements and leadership contributions to the mystery genre with the Raven Award—the book store Edgar. Open Halloween Sunday from noon to 6 the celebration will include Pittsburgh mystery writers, treats, 10 cent book sale and many surprises.

While hundreds of other independent bookstores have been forced to close, this locally owned business continues to attract dozens of authors and readers each year to special events and to their May Festival of Mystery, now in its 16th year. www.mysterylovers.com is a cutting edge online store that brings new customers each day from all over the US and often beyond.

Mary Alice and Richard are available for an interview and hope you will share our story with your friends and readers too. Email them via the contact form on their website.

An added note: Be sure to check their website (or visit the store if you're in the area) this Friday, the 13th!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Technology fried: In response to Annette's last post

By Tamara Girardi

Last week, Annette posted a discomforting tale of driving through a family community to see no souls outside enjoying the weather. To be fair, it's hot out there. Yet, she has a good point. In fact, as an online college instructor, I find myself debating the interference of technology in our personal voices often.

Outside the world of legitimate techies, I guess you could say I'm somewhat of a techie. I don't program. I don't know the inner workings of my computer, but I relish and often champion technology. In my PhD classes at IUP, I have written papers arguing for the use of technologies such as Twitter in the classroom. Here's an instance of how it was done, and done well:

I love technology. It allows me to do last minute research for papers before submitting them. It allows me to check my APA via online style manuals, spell check and fact check, and access articles that I can't imagine students struggling to find twenty or thirty years ago. It allows me to spend the week up at school and return home to all of my television shows preserved in a brilliant little box (DVR) that I control with another brilliant little box (remote control).

Yes, technology is my friend.

But I'm here to tell you, I'm more than a little fried. After more than two months sitting in the air-conditioned library, typing at one keyboard after another, printing document after document, checking my email briefly and ineffectively on my BlackBerry, and who knows what else - I. Am. Fried.

But I'm terrified to pop my technology bubble. It's dangerous out there without technology. Or is it? Have we been programmed to be so reliant on technology that we can't see life without it? I must admit I have been. I'm not naive enough to even consider boycotting technology. It sounds romantic, but is it possible?

Um, I'm using it right now.

Um, you're using it right now.

See what I mean?

How far would I get in one day without technology? There's my alarm clock. My BlackBerry, which is usually checked before I even roll out of bed. My battery-powered toothbrush. The fridge that holds my breakfast. The TV that entertains me while I eat my breakfast. Wow. I can't get through five minutes.

So is it possible to boycott technology for a day? An hour? And where do we draw the line? If we cut off TV, does that mean we can't watch our favorite shows online? Or DVR them for later?

What, if anything, are you willing to cut? For how long and to what benefit?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A sad journey and writing task

By Pat Remick

I recently got on an airplane for the first time in 24 years. I decided that if my friend Phil Valley could face his impending death with such courage and dignity, I could overcome my fear of flying to get to Texas in time to say goodbye to a man I've known longer than my own husband.

It wasn't easy. And yes, it did require a little chemical help, although far less than expected. I considered Amtrak -- my long-distance mode of travel over the past two decades -- but my last trip from New Hampshire to Fort Worth took 59 1/2 hours. My husband and I weren't sure we had that much time.

Although Phil could no longer speak because of his breathing tube, he could mouth words. As ill as he was, he had a twinkle in his eye when he asked: "Five hours vs. 59 1/2 hours -- what do you think now?" We both laughed. I told him he had inspired me and along with the precious gift of his friendship, he had given me the courage to face my fear of flying. I will be eternally grateful for both. 

I first met Phil on a sultry Texas evening in the late 1970s. I was visiting my University of New Hampshire roommate in Fort Worth and we realized over margaritas that our dear Portsmouth, NH, high school friend Diane, whom we had lost contact with during college, also lived in that Texas city. Phil watched in disbelief, one eyebrow cocked, as my friend Sheila and I barged into their apartment searching for Diane, who was sick in bed with bronchitis. The three of us quickly resumed our lifelong and laugh-filled conversation as if we'd never been separated. Phil had no idea of the force that had just blown into his life and I don't believe his eyebrow ever went back down in the 35 years that followed.

There were countless escapades, shared holidays, many life changes and, always, much laughter during that time. Phil is the handsome man in the rear in this photo, taken so long ago that the squirming child in my lap (I'm on the left) is now a policeman and the guy next to my friend Sheila (on the far right) is no longer her husband.

Phil, who spent his final 10 years in a wheelchair after sheer will no longer was sufficient against a devastating diagnosis of muscular dystrophy, fulfilled his dream of accompanying the sweet little blonde girl in the yellow outfit in the middle down the aisle in March.

Phil knew he would eventually die from MD and said many times that he did not want to rely on machines to live. When he was hit by a mysterious infection that ravaged his body, it led to four months of hospitalization and multiple organ failure. A few days before his death, he suddenly became incredibly lucid and let it be known that he would be ready to die after he said goodbye to the special people in his life. As sad as it was, we had the opportunity to share wonderful memories and say the things we wanted him to hear before he departed this world. It was truly a gift.

When Diane asked me to write Phil's obituary, I was honored but also concerned about the task of reducing the essence of such a good man and wonderful friend to just a few words. As some of you may unfortunately know, being a writer doesn't make it any easier to compose an obituary for someone you know. This was the best I could do:
"Phil was a man of unparalleled determination and courage who inspired others beyond their imagined capabilities and faced his own disease with dignity and grace. He loved to tell a good story as much as hearing one; appreciated baseball and a beer as much as fine food and a glass of good wine; and was an intellectually curious man with a brilliant mind and sardonic wit. But most of all, he greatly appreciated his loving family, his friends and the comfort of gentle sunshine on his peaceful patio."
And they appreciated him, as well. To read Phil's entire obituary, click here.

Have you ever had to compose an obituary for someone you knew, or write something as difficult?

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Kids Think I'm ... Nuts

Since Wilfred can't post, I'm going to jump in here in hopes I can offer a Monday morning laugh...
(Warning: Intimate body parts will be discussed!!)

By Pat Remick

In my never-ending quest to continue being a good mother beyond the time my children apparently need me to do so, I apparently stepped over the line recently and I'm now worried that it could lead to years of therapy for each of them. Here's an area where I may need some "new beginnings," if that's our theme this month...

It all began when I recently attended a health fair and spotted some nifty little placards to hang in the shower that illustrate how to check for testicular cancer -- and keep track of the monthly examination. As one who never passes up an opportunity to send helpful information to my children, either through the mail or via Internet -- and whether they need it or not -- I snagged two of the cards and mailed one off to each son with a note that said "I know you think I'm 'nuts,' but I care about your health."

To my surprise, there was no acknowledgement of this latest Mom effort. Finally I asked No. 2 son if he had received the item as it was included in the same envelope as a check he needed to take to the college financial affairs office and a grocery store gift certificate.

"Oh my God," he spluttered. "Yes, I got it. Did you forget I share a bathroom with seven other people?"

Whoops. This had not occurred to me. "Oh, I'm so sorry, did I embarrass you?"

"Yes, you embarrassed me. But then I thought, it's just my crazy mother again," he said. "But how would you like it, Mom, if I sent you something that told you how to check for breast cancer and wrote a note that said, 'maybe you think I'm being a boob...'?"

I carefully considered the best way to answer. Finally I said, "I would think that you loved me very much -- and cared about my health."

"GRRRRR....." was his response.

A few days later I asked No. 1 son, who works an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, if he had read the article I sent about avoiding drowsy driving in the same envelope as his placard. "No, because when I opened the envelope and saw the cancer of the testicles thing, I stopped reading and threw it away."

"You didn't even look at it?" I whined. "I was only thinking of your health."

"Not only did I not read it," he said in an abrupt tone of voice. "We will never speak of this again."

Whoops again, I guess I just did. It occurs to me that this incident might make a good addition to ongoing list of ways I've embarrassed my children. So all you parents out there, I'd certainly appreciate it if you'd let me know I'm not alone.....

Unexpected Travel

by K Bereswill

My Dad called to have me post his apologies.  He was called out of town unexpectedly for business.

Friday, August 06, 2010

New Beginnings

by Jennie Bentley/Bente Gallagher

So it's August. Back at the beginning of June, it seemed like it would never really come. Just like when I was a kid, and summer vacation stretched out in front of me forever. Or so it seemed.

But all good things must come to an end, right? And in just over a week, it's time for school to start again. The kids aren't much looking forward to it, but I am. I mean, I love them and all... but they're wreaking havoc with my writing schedule. I have to deliver DIY-5, FLIPPING OUT! to my editor by September 1st, and with two kids underfoot all summer, it hasn't been easy finishing the manuscript.

As a child, I always looked forward to the beginning of school. I looked forward to summer vacation, too, but by August, I was ready to see my friends and get back to a regular schedule and have normal life start up again.

To some people, New Years Eve is the beginning of the year. That's the time to make resolutions and changes.

To me, autumn has always been about new beginnings. New friends, new crushes, new teachers, new school every few years...

If we haven't picked a suggested and optional topic for the month of August yet, I'd like to propose that one. New beginnings. And if nobody minds, I'll start.

Two very exciting new things coming up for me a little later this fall: we're trying to buy a condo in Florida - just about five miles from the wonderful Nancy Haddock, whom I adore - and if things work out, we're thinking of possibly making a move down there in the next six months or so. With kids and school and DH's work and other considerations, it's all still very much up in the air, but we're thinking and talking  and praying hard. We've moved ten or twelve times in the past fifteen years, but all within Nashville; this would be the first city-to-city move since we left New York back in the early 1990s. It's scary, but exciting too.

The other new thing is a switch in focus for my writing. After I deliver DIY-5 to my editor on September 1, I'm once again contract-less. I have at least one, maybe two books to write for the Savannah Martin series, to finish the story arc, but I write those on my own time and ship them to the publisher when they're done. Book 2 is under contract and will be released next summer. Book 3 is finished, and will be coming in 2012, assuming the publisher likes it and wants to keep the series going. I'm ahead of the game by at least a year there. So between September 1 and the release of DIY-4, Mortar and Murder, in January, I plan to write something new. Something different. Something exciting.

To kickstart my new direction, I'm taking an online class right now in writing romantic suspense, and the first weekend of October, I'll be driving up to Columbus, Ohio, for the Central Ohio Fiction Writers Conference, Write from the Heart, to listen to people like Suzanne Brockmann and our buddy CJ Lyons talk about writing romantic thrillers. 

(CJ just won a Daphne award this past weekend, by the way. In case some of you hadn't heard. Be sure to congratulate her.)

So that's my big news, and my new beginning. Feel free to take the rest of the month to talk about yours.

Till next time!

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Paula here. I'm thrilled to have Heather Webber as our guest today. Heather writes the delightful Lucy Valentine series. The first book, Truly, Madly, is wonderful and available.

By Heather Webber

Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m addicted to office supply stores.

Maybe it’s because I write for a living. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me, looking to organize. Maybe it’s because I’m a penaholic…

I’m not sure. All I know for certain is that when I walk into an office supply store, it’s like the clouds have parted and choruses of angels are welcoming me inside. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but the image isn’t too far off.

Once inside the tug of war begins. Stationery first? Pens? Notebooks? Storage containers? Rubber bands, paper clips, push pins, Sharpies (colored Sharpies—be still my heart), folders, files... Where to begin? How do I stop?

Ah, stopping. I can’t. Not really—and that’s not just denial.

With my job, I’m always in need of office supplies. Notebooks for brainstorming; paper and ink for printing pages; stationery for thank you notes and special announcements; Sharpies for signing books. It’s really endless, and easy to feed the addiction. But I do recognize the need to cut down.

I almost always limit myself to a hand basket. If I have a cart—I don’t even want to think about the credit card bill at the end of the month. I always try to go in with a list—and stick to it. And I’m always asking myself, “Do I really need this --?” (Fill in the blank). Despite the answer almost always being yes, I at least ask the question. That earns me some points, right?

The biggest test of my willpower is looming. Back to school shopping. Will I be able to resist temptation? I’m not sure—I’m just glad that with my job, at least my addiction is tax deductible (justification, anyone?).

Are you an office supply store addict too? What’s your favorite office supply?

Heather’s latest release, Deeply, Desperately, the second book in the Lucy Valentine series, hit shelves Aug. 3rd. For more info, check out http://www.heatherwebber.com/

“This book has everything a great book should have ~ fun, romance, psychic ability, mystery, humor and a quirky cast of characters that you’ll fall in love with immediately.” -Lori’s Reading Corner

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Losing Our Voice

by Annette Dashofy

The times, they are a changing.

I’ve noticed some changes in the world around me that have me a little sad and perplexed. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy most technology. I spend a large part of my life on the computer and online. I love staying in touch with friends on Facebook. And I’m gradually getting my feet wet on Twitter. But I fear we’re losing something at the same time.

Not long ago I was driving through a small town not far from here. It was a gorgeous summer day. Sunny. Not too hot. And I happen to know that this small town is not a retirement community. There are families living there. With kids. But there wasn’t a soul outside. No laughing, giggling children on bikes or skates. No impromptu game of baseball. No one playing hide-and-seek. No Frisbees or Hula Hoops or bubble wands. The streets were deserted.

It occurred to me there was a potential story here. Sci-fi. Time traveler from the seventies lands in this small town in 2010 and believes…what? Aliens have made off with the residents? The air is too poisoned to breathe?

Go ahead and make one up if you want. I don’t write sci-fi, so I don’t mind if you steal my idea.

But what happened to playing outside? Something that doesn’t require batteries. Something that won’t give you carpel tunnel. As several of us mentioned last month when our theme here at Working Stiffs was “summer,” our mothers would throw us out of the house with orders not to return until sunset. The closest I came to using a small, handheld device was a water pistol.

Last week, a friend of mine who’s a school teacher was saying that the hallways between classes, which I remember being loud with conversation and laughter, are now silent. Kids text each other instead of actually talking. The person they’re texting might be ten feet away.

Jumping back to the sci-fi thing for a moment, I remember episodes of Star Trek or Twilight Zone or one of those old shows, where an alien society had evolved to telepathic communication instead of speech. Is texting the stepping stone?

There’s another form of communication that is slowly dying in this text message world we live in. Phone calls. I remember when I was a kid (back in the dark ages), any time our phone rang, I’d pounce on it. It might be a friend. And then I could easily be on the phone for hours.

One of the side jobs I’ve picked up to earn a few extra dollars during Hubby’s unemployment stint involves me being an Avon new rep helper. I’m supposed to call new Avon reps and ask what I can do to help them, give them suggestions, or otherwise be a part of their support system. Also, I’m supposed to call a few people who have expressed an interest in becoming Avon sales reps and schedule appointments with them to get them signed up.

No one answers their phones any more. All I get is voice mail. For a society that feels a need to be in constant contact with everyone via Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, no one wants to talk to me on the phone. I leave a message. They don’t call back.

Good thing I’m a writer with a strong familiarity with rejection.

So I ask you, fellow Working Stiffs and readers, have we as a society lost our ability to communicate verbally? Or should I shut up and be happy that kids are reading, even if that reading involves a shorthand I can’t decipher for the life of me?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Summer Reading

By Martha Reed

I’m getting ready to go on vacation and one of the treats of leaving is to visit a bookstore and pick out two or three good books to take with me. I’ve written before of the family cottage we had with its back room full of shelves with musty old paperbacks stretching back a hundred years, so evidently I came by this trait honestly – I inherited it.

But I noticed something new during this trip to the bookstore. After I had carefully considered my reading selections, I categorized them and discovered that I had picked out one favorite author (Nancy Pickard, THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTENING), one historical or biographical offering (Nat Philbrick, THE LAST STAND) and one completely off the wall selection (for me at least) (Jonathan Maberry, THE DRAGON FACTORY).

Now, the surprising thing is that I had never before realized that I choose by category but as I think back over previous years’ selections I can see that that’s exactly what I do. I remember one year reading THE THORNBIRDS paired with a historical biography of the convict transport system to Tasmania and Australia; another year brought Rosamond Pilcher’s THE SHELL SEEKERS matched to a Victorian biography MAY AND AMY by Joceline Dimbleby.

Which begs a few questions:
  • Do you find yourself saving a special book for your vacation?
  • Do you have a favorite author that you like to take with you on vacation?
  • Do you have a genre or study topic that you don’t usually read but that you find yourself drawn to during a vacation?
  • What's the one book you most remember from a summer vacation?
Let's post the answers and see if there's any overlap!

Monday, August 02, 2010


by Gina Sestak

As many regular readers know, I have a strong interest in dreams, both the dreams that come in the night and the the waking dreams that flow out of our minds and onto the page, the creative dreams that we call fiction.

I've been thinking about dreams and creativity even more than usual since seeing the film Inception.  Inception is essentially a caper film, but instead of breaking into banks or casinos to steal money, this team breaks into people's dreams to steal industrial secrets, or to plant ideas that might favor a competitor's interests.  Without giving too much away, the film involves dreams within dreams within dreams, and the very real question:  how do you really know for sure if you are awake or dreaming?

This is a question that has plagued me for years.  You're going along, everything seems normal, then all the sudden something starts to seem a little weird, a little out of sync.  You're in your house, but there are extra rooms.  You try to read, but the letters on the page get up and crawl away.  The horse you're riding on deflates; you fold it up and pack it in a suitcase.  You realize you are in a dream, and you wake up.  Or do you?

I've had the unsettling experience of dreaming within dreams.  You think you've woken up but then things start to go a little weird again, and you realize you're still dreaming.  When I first began participating in a dream workshop and discussing dreams in depth, I had several dreams in which I would dream, then "wake up" into another dream, in which I would discuss the "dream" I just had with a group of people while still dreaming!

Dreams are funny that way.  They pretend to be reality.  Just like movies, which are really only dreams on film.

By the way, another movie that succeeds in capturing the feel of dreaming is Living in Oblivion.  This film gives a very realistic view of what it's like to make a movie.

So how about you?  Do you dream in dreams?  Get lost in dreams?  Have trouble telling where the dream ends and reality begins?